23Apr

Cove’s Tenebrae Service - Friday, April 19, 2019

On Friday, April 19, the Cove community gathered for our annual Good Friday Tenebrae Service, a special service of readings and songs focused on the passion of Jesus Christ. Below you'll find the following:

  • The meaning of the service
  • The bulletin used
  • The videos used
  • A podcast of the service

 

The Meaning of the Service

 

This service, adapted from the ancient Tenebrae, a word meaning “shadows,” originated during the early years of the church. The service depicts the events that led to the crucifixion.

 

The people, entering silently, should meditate on the fact that it was on Maundy Thursday that the twelve disciples were with Jesus in the upper room for the last time, and that he and they stood in the shadow of the cross.

 

The extinguishing of the candles and the gradual dimming of the lights of the several portions of the story are read that symbolize the flight of the disciples and the approaching hour of the crucifixion. The moment of total darkness recalls the hours Christ was in the tomb. The return of the light is prophetic of the Easter soon to dawn.

 

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23Apr

Cove’s Maundy Thursday Love Fest - Thursday, April 18, 2019

On Thursday, April 18, the Cove community gathered for our annual Maundy Thursday Love feast, a special time when a simple meal of soup and bread is incorporated into the service. Below you'll find the following:

 

  • What is Maundy Thursday
  • The Background of the Love Fest
  • A copy of the bulletin we used
  • A podcast of the service itself

 

 

What Is Maundy Thursday?

Maundy Thursday is observed during Holy Week on the Thursday before Easter. Also referred to as “Holy Thursday” or “Great Thursday” in some Christian denominations, Maundy Thursday commemorates the Last Supper when Jesus shared the Passover meal with his disciples on the night before he was crucified. In contrast to joyful Easter celebrations when Christians worship their resurrected Savior, Maundy Thursday services are typically more solemn occasions, marked by the shadow of Jesus’ betrayal.

While different denominations observe Maundy Thursday in their own distinct ways, two important biblical events are the primary focus of Maundy Thursday solemnizations:

  • Before the Passover meal, Jesus washed the feet of his disciples. By performing this lowly act of service, the Bible says in John 13:1 that Jesus “showed them the full extent of his love.” By his example, Jesus demonstrated how Christians are to love one another through humble service. For this reason, many churches practice foot-washing ceremonies as a part of their Maundy Thursday services.
  • During the Passover meal, Jesus took bread and wine and asked his Father to bless it. He broke the bread into pieces, giving it to his disciples and said, “This is my body, given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” Then he took the cup of wine, shared it with his disciples and said, “This wine is the token of God’s new covenant to save you--an agreement sealed with the blood I will pour out for you.” These events recorded in Luke 22:19-20 describe the Last Supper and form the biblical basis for the practice of Communion. For this reason, many churches hold special Communion services as a part of their Maundy Thursday celebrations. Likewise, many congregations observe a traditional Passover Seder meal.
What Does “Maundy” Mean?

Derived from the Latin word mandatum, meaning “commandment,” Maundy refers to the commands Jesus gave his disciples at the Last Supper: to love with humility by serving one another and to remember his sacrifice.

Mary Fairchild, About ReligionThis service is an attempt to blend Moravian and Church of the Brethren traditions.  As we prepare our hearts and minds for the Love Feast or as we reflect on this experience, the following background material about the traditions of the Moravian Church in America and the Church of the Brethren will prove helpful for those not already familiar with the history and the meaning of the meal.

THE LOVE FEAST

Church of the Brethren Tradition

Historically the love feast has been the high point of Church of the Brethren liturgical life.  In preparation for the love feast the deacons would conduct the annual church visit to each home asking whether the members were still in the faith, in peace and union with the church, and still willing to labor with the Brethren for an increase of holiness.  Large crowds gathered for a weekend event including hospitality, food, lodging, preaching, singing, and prayers around a three-to-five-hour love feast.

In the twentieth century the weekend love feast has been replaced by shorter meetings, often on World Communion Sunday and Maundy Thursday.  These services are designed to dramatize anew the central events of the Upper Room basing the love feast on a literalistic piecing together of the biblical narratives concerning the Last Supper.  The first part of the service is based on the thirteenth chapter of John — with foot-washing, or sometimes in modern times, hand-washing — and the second part comes from the primitive practice of an agape meal, a common meal around the  tables.  During the entire love feast, hymns are sung, prayers are offered, silence is observed, and scriptural passages are read and interpreted.

THE LOVEFEAST

Moravian Church Tradition

The Moravian  Lovefeast finds its roots with the earliest gatherings of Christians who often met for devotions and spiritual growth and in the process would share a simple meal to demonstrate their unity and equality.  As the early church grew and gained acceptance, these meals began to lose their importance, and soon were forgotten altogether.

August 13, 1727 marked the return of this simple meal to the significance it once had with the earliest Christian.  Accepting the invitation of the Lutheran Pastor Rothe in nearby Berthelsdorf, the members of the Herrnhut congregation joined in the service of Holy Communion.  During the service the members experience what could only be described as “the outpouring of the Holy Spirit”.  Following Holy Communion, the members stayed together to discuss the spiritual events that had occurred.  The excitement of the communion so affected them that they refused to stop talking, even to go home and eat.  Feeling the importance of what was happening among the members, Count Zinzendorf provided a meal for them that was shared in true Christian love.  This event reminded those involved of the agape meals of the early church, so inspiring the members to use Lovefeasts for special events in the community.  Initially used in small or private groups for events such as weddings and funerals, Lovefeasts were not used in congregations until 1737.

Today the Lovefeast is used in two forms, a Communion Lovefeast and a Festival Lovefeast.  The Communion Lovefeast precedes the Communion service to prepare members by eliminating the desire for food, so that the Communion may be devoted to matters of the spirit.  The Festival Lovefeast commemorates special events of the Christian Church year and certain occasions of Moravian history, such as the Great Sabbath before Easter and August Thirteenth.

Hymns and prayers are selected for the Lovefeast service with a devotional progression that mirrors the thought of the day, be it an anniversary of the congregation or a religious holiday, so that while singing, the message can be shared without a sermon or address.  The dieners (leaders who serve) then bring in an easily distributable food and beverage — which is served quietly, without interrupting the singing.  While the congregation partakes, anthems are sung by the choir and conversation, guided by the diener, related to the thought of the day may occur.

 

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23Apr

Cove’s Celebration Service - Sunday, April 14, 2019

The members and friends of Cove gathered to worship on Sunday, April 7. Our worship is intended to be a free expression of our love for God and the joy we feel when we accept that love. Of course, there are many ways for us to express that love and joy.

 

Why would we celebrate Palm Sunday on the first Sunday of Lent? Because Holy Week is a sacred time for Christians everywhere; but the week passes by so quickly that we don’t have the time to reflect deeply on what it means. Instead of cramming our reflection time into one schedule-packed week of special services, we are going to slow down and spend the entire season of Lent on the events that took place during Holy Week.

 

It just makes good sense that if Jesus' final week begins on Palm Sunday in Jerusalem that we begin there. Each week afterwards we will spend our time examining a day-by-day account of what Jesus did during his final week before his crucifixion and resurrection. During this sixth message, we considered Mark 15:1-41 and discussed the crucifixion of Jesus.

 

Instrumental and vocal music are important to our worship. Songs give us the chance to praise God and to help focus our attention on the theme of the service. During the service, we’ll have the opportunity to sing songs that reflect different musical styles. Since God has called into his church as individuals with a variety of tastes, this offers us the chance to display our sensitivity for our fellow worshipers and to grow in our knowledge of how we might praise God.

 

Our worship service began with the Bible coming in as a video played. We then sang “Were You There?.” Once we'd finished the song, prayer concerns were shared. We prayed together and closed with the Lord’s Prayer and the Gloria Patri. We then collected our offering while a video played. Pastor Rudiger offered the message dealing with Jesus's crucifixion. We sang “At the Cross." The service ended with a charge and blessing.

 

A podcast of the entire service is below. Next week, we’ll conclude our sermon series dealing by looking at the resurrection of Jesus (Mark 16:1-8).

17Apr

The Final Week of Jesus - The Crucifixion of Jesus

Why would we celebrate Palm Sunday on the first Sunday of Lent? Because Holy Week is a sacred time for Christians everywhere; but the week passes by so quickly that we don’t have the time to reflect deeply on what it means. Instead of cramming our reflection time into one schedule-packed week of special services, we are going to slow down and spend the entire season of Lent on the events that took place during Holy Week.

It just makes good sense that if Jesus' final week begins on Palm Sunday in Jerusalem that we begin there. Each week afterwards we will spend our time examining a day-by-day account of what Jesus did during his final week before his crucifixion and resurrection. During this sixth message, we considered Mark 15:1-41 and discussed the crucifixion of Jesus.

 

Now, y’all may not know this, but on the church calendar, today can have two very different meanings. I mean, on one hand, it’s called Palm Sunday, because on this day we can generally remember the way Jesus entered Jerusalem. And of course, that makes sense, because that marked the beginning of Jesus’s last week. On the other hand, though, this can also be  what’s called Passion Sunday, because it gives us the chance to focus on what happened to Jesus between his prayer in Gethsemane and his death. And I’ll tell you, when you put these two events next to one another, I’m not sure you could have a greater contrast, because in one, the people are celebrating the coming of their king and in the other, they’re shouting for his crucifixion. 

 

And since we’ve been using the seven weeks that lead up to Easter to consider the last week in the life of Jesus, we’ve already dealt with the stuff folks normally talk about on Palm Sunday, you know, how Jesus entered Jerusalem but not as the kind of king they expected. And then we looked at what’s called the Cleansing of the Temple, you know, at how Jesus either chased out or overturned the very things that were absolutely essential for Temple worship. Then we talked about some of the lessons Jesus taught during the next few days, also in the Temple, and about how they might shape our view of the future and our lives in the present. During the next message, we looked at the role Judas played in the story. And last week, we focused on the final meal Jesus shared with this disciples and then the prayer he prayed in Gethsemane. Now that’s what we’ve already covered.

 

And so instead of returning to the palms, we’re going to talk about the passion and the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, and as we’ve done in the other messages, we’re going to use the story as written by the Evangelist Mark as a guide. And that’s important to say because even though Matthew, Luke and John also deal with all the stuff that happened as Jesus moved to the cross, each perspective is slightly different, which means we can learn something unique from each account. And since we’ll go through the whole story on Friday evening during our tenebrae service, this morning we’re going to focus primarily on the crucifixion and what that event meant to Mark and why it should be important to us. 

 

Of course, if you know anything about the crucifixion, you probably understand that pain was definitely involved. In other words, Jesus suffered during his passion and death on the cross. But you know, what I find interesting is that the physical part of the suffering really wasn’t emphasized in Mark’s story. I mean, in spite of all the graphic scenes of Jesus being beaten and nailed to a cross, something that, in some movies, go on and on, Mark really didn’t devote a lot of time to describe the physical suffering of Jesus. For example, after his trial by the Jewish leaders, this was what he wrote, “Some of the people started spitting on Jesus. They blindfolded him, hit him with their fists, and said, ‘Tell us who hit you!’ Then the guards took charge of Jesus and beat him.” [Mark 14:65, CEV]  And then after appearing before the Roman governor Pilate, Mark wrote, “The soldiers led Jesus inside the courtyard of the fortress and called together the rest of the troops. They put a purple robe on him, and on his head they placed a crown that they had made out of thorn branches. They made fun of Jesus and shouted, ‘Hey, you king of the Jews!’ Then they beat him on the head with a stick. They spit on him and knelt down and pretended to worship him.” [Mark 15:16-19, CEV] And finally, right before the crucifixion itself, Mark wrote, “The soldiers took Jesus to Golgotha, which means ‘Place of a Skull.’ There they gave him some wine mixed with a drug to ease the pain, but he refused to drink it. They nailed Jesus to a cross and gambled to see who would get his clothes.” [Mark 15:22-24, CEV] That’s what Mark wrote. Now let me be clear, I’m not saying the physical pain wasn’t real, because it was. Still, when you compare it to what we see in a movie like The Passion of the Christ, it just doesn’t dominate Mark’s account.

 

But that’s certainly not to say suffering wasn’t involved; it was just not physical. You see, when we look at the whole story, there was one source of pain that comes up over and over again, and right now I’m talking about how Jesus was abandoned and how he faced his fate absolutely alone. I mean, just think about happened. According to Mark, the Jewish leaders had already rejected Jesus. In fact, they wanted to get this troublemaker right from the beginning. As Mark wrote in chapter three, “The Pharisees left. And right away they started making plans with Herod’s followers to kill Jesus.” [Mark 3:6, CEV] And so it really wasn’t a surprise that, after his arrest, “The chief priests and the whole council tried to find someone to accuse Jesus of a crime, so they could put him to death. But they could not find anyone to accuse him. Many people did tell lies against Jesus, but they did not agree on what they said.” [Mark 14:55-56, CEV] Now, that kind of rejection we sort of expected. But Jesus was also abandoned by the people closest to him, and I’m talking about his disciples. I mean, when Jesus was in Gethsemane, this happened. “Jesus was still speaking, when Judas the betrayer came up. He was one of the twelve disciples, and a mob of men armed with swords and clubs were with him. They had been sent by the chief priests, the nation’s leaders, and the teachers of the Law of Moses. Judas had told them ahead of time, ‘Arrest the man I greet with a kiss. Tie him up tight and lead him away.’ Judas walked right up to Jesus and said, ‘Teacher!’ Then Judas kissed him, and the men grabbed Jesus and arrested him.” [Mark 14:43-46, CEV] And this was how Peter dealt with the arrest. “While Peter was still in the courtyard, a servant girl of the high priest came up and saw Peter warming himself by the fire. She stared at him and said, ‘You were with Jesus from Nazareth!’ Peter replied, ‘That isn’t true! I don’t know what you’re talking about. I don’t have any idea what you mean.’ He went out to the gate, and a rooster crowed. The servant girl saw Peter again and said to the people standing there, ‘This man is one of them!’ ‘No, I’m not!’ Peter replied. A little while later some of the people said to Peter, ‘You certainly are one of them. You’re a Galilean!’ This time Peter began to curse and swear, ‘I don’t even know the man you’re talking about!’” [Mark 14:66-71, CEV] Frankly I think the cursing was a nice touch. And so the disciples let him down and let him alone. And remember the crowd who called Jesus king as he entered Jerusalem, the one who scared the Jewish leaders so much, well they ended up crying for his crucifixion as they stood in Pilate’s court yard. No, when Jesus was nailed to the cross, he’d been abandoned by everyone. But I’ll tell you, that feeling of rejection and isolation and despair was made even worse, when “...about noon the sky turned dark and stayed that way until around three o’clock. Then about that time Jesus shouted, ‘Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?’ which means, ‘My God, my God, why have you deserted me?’ ... Jesus shouted and then died.” [Mark 15:33-34, 37, CEV] You see, as written by Mark, Jesus felt absolutely alone when he died on the cross, abandoned even by God himself.

 

And I think it was right here where Mark believed Jesus showed himself to be the Son of God. You see, after Jesus died, this is what the Evangelist wrote, “At once the curtain in the temple tore in two from top to bottom. A Roman army officer was standing in front of Jesus. When the officer saw how Jesus died, he said, ‘This man really was the Son of God!’” [Mark 15:38-39, CEV] Now I think what was said is really important, because this was the first and only time in the Gospel of Mark that a human being called Jesus the Son of God. Now, we’ve heard it from God at his baptism and his transfiguration. And we’ve heard it coming from demons, but never from a person. And yet it was when that centurion witnessed how he died, abandoned and alone, it was at that point when he saw the Son of God. And I’ll tell you why. For the Evangelist Mark, that’s exactly what God’s Son came to do; he came to experience the very depth of human pain, and I’m talking about the pain that comes when people feel rejected and isolated and separated from one another and from God. And this was the same kind of thing Paul understood when he wrote this to the Philippians: “Christ was truly God. But he did not try to remain equal with God. Instead he gave up everything and became a slave, when he became like one of us. Christ was humble. He obeyed God and even died on a cross.” [Philippians 2:6-8, CEV] You see, that’s why Jesus came, so he could be like us and to do it on our worst day.

 

And you know, I believe this is the very best news of all and I’ll tell you why. When we feel as though we’ve been abandoned by everyone, when we feel absolutely alone and when we even feel separated from the one who loved us before he created the universe and will love us after time has lost it’s meaning, God understands. For example, when we’ve had an incredibly bad day at work or at school and it seems as though our boss or teacher has it in for us, God understands. And when we find that some of the folks whom we may have trusted most actually have feet of clay and to protect themselves they’ve thrown us under the bus, God understands. And when things have gotten so bad that we feel as though we’ve been abandoned by God himself which means that we’re sure our trust has been a waste of time and our future is grounded in sand, I’m telling you, God understands because he’s felt that same way on the cross. And you know, because he understands us, regardless of what we say or do, he never stops loving us. And when we’re ready to vent all our frustrations and sadness and pain in his direction, he’s ready to listen. It’s like the writer of the Letter to the Hebrews said, “We have a great high priest, who has gone into heaven, and he is Jesus the Son of God. That is why we must hold on to what we have said about him. Jesus understands every weakness of ours, because he was tempted in every way that we are. But he did not sin! So whenever we are in need, we should come bravely before the throne of our merciful God. There we will be treated with undeserved kindness, and we will find help.” [Hebrews 4:14-16, CEV] You see, because Jesus Christ, the Son of God, suffered the rejection and isolation of the cross, the curtain that separates us from God has been torn apart forever and our Lord and Creator can identify with us. And that’s good news.

 

And in my opinion, that was the reason the cross was so important for the Evangelist Mark. And even though it may have other meanings to the other evangelists and writers in the New Testament and those reasons are also important, I think we should include what Mark had to say in our thinking. You see, Jesus showed himself to be the Son of God by suffering absolute isolation and separation on the cross. And for that reason, God really does understand when we feel the same way ourselves. That’s a given. And next week, as we look at the resurrection as written by Mark, I think we’re going to hear a challenge that we’re going to be able to apply long after the peeps are gone.

17Apr

The Wedding Service for Daniel Vicker and Lisa Aughenbaugh, Saturday, April 12, 2019

On Saturday, April 12, I officiated the wedding of Daniel Vicker and Lisa Aughenbaugh in New Kensington Pennsylvania. Below is a podcast of and a couple of pictures from the service. If you're planning your wedding and need an officiant, please give me a call at 304-479-3402.

 

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11Apr

The American Century (Session 2 - From Neutrality to the War to End All Wars)

The 1900s have been called the American Century, because of the influence the United States had over international relationships. During this 6-session series, we'll look at the different approaches to foreign policy shown over the last the 100 years. We'll also consider the role the United States will play in the future.

 

On Wednesday, April 10, I led a discussion of American foreign from 1910 to 1920. Below are the PowerPoint slides and a podcast of our discussion.

 

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11Apr

Within the Body of Christ: Exploring the Different Belief Systems within Christianity (Session 11 – Mormonism)

On Tuesday, April 9, at 6:30 p.m., we started a new series entitled “Within the Body of Christ: Exploring the Different Belief Systems within Christianity.” During each session we’ll consider what makes each Christian denomination or group distinct. We’ll discuss their basic theology, their interpretation of scripture and how their understanding of faith shapes their lives. This week we focused on Mormonism.

 

A podcast of the discussion is at the bottom of the page, and an outline of the session is below.

 

The History 

  • The Latter Day Saint movement, including Mormonism, originated in the 1820s in western New York. Restored by Joseph Smith, Jr., the faith drew its first converts while Smith was dictating the text of the Book of Mormon. This book described itself as a chronicle of early indigenous peoples of the Americas, portraying them as believing Israelites, who had a belief in Christ many hundred years before his birth. Smith claimed he translated over 500 pages in about 60 days, and that it was an ancient record translated “by the gift and power of God”. During production of this work in mid-1829, Smith, his close associate Oliver Cowdery, and other early followers began baptizing new converts into a Christian primitivist church, formally organized in 1830 as the Church of Christ. Smith was seen by his followers as a modern-day prophet.
  • Smith told his followers that he had seen a vision of God the Father and Jesus Christ in spring 1820 in answer to his question of which sect (see denomination) he should join. Sometimes called the “First Vision”, Smith’s vision of God the Father and Jesus Christ as two separate beings was reportedly the basis for the difference in doctrine between Mormonism’s view of the nature of God and that of orthodox Christianity. Smith’s 1838 written account of this vision is considered by some Mormon denominations to be scripture and is contained in a book called “The Pearl of Great Price.” Smith further claimed that in answer to his prayer: “I was answered [by Jesus] that I must join none of them, for they were all wrong; and the Personage who addressed me said that all their creeds were an abomination in his sight; that those professors were all corrupt; that: “they draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me, they teach for doctrines the commandments of men, having a form of godliness, but they deny the power thereof.” By 1830, Smith reported that he had been instructed that God would use him to re-establish the true Christian church and that the Book of Mormon would be the means of establishing correct doctrine for the restored church.
  • Smith’s church grew steadily, but from the beginning in 1830, its members were persecuted. To avoid persecution from New York residents, the members moved to Kirtland, Ohio and hoped to establish a permanent New Jerusalem in Jackson County, Missouri. However, they were expelled from Jackson County in 1833 and forced to flee Kirtland in early 1838. In Missouri, the Mormon War of 1838 resulted in the “Mormon Extermination Order,” resulting in the expulsion of Latter Day Saints from Missouri, and they settled in Nauvoo, Illinois. In 1844, Smith was killed by members of the Illinois militia, precipitating a succession crisis. The largest group of Mormons accepted Brigham Young as the new prophet/leader and emigrated to what became the Utah Territory, where they incorporated The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The church began to openly practice plural marriage, a form of polygamy that Smith had instituted in Nauvoo. Plural marriage became the faith’s most sensational characteristic during the 19th century, but vigorous opposition by the United States Congress threatened the church’s existence as a legal institution. In his 1890 Manifesto, church president Wilford Woodruff announced the official end of plural marriage, though the practice continued unofficially until the early 20th century.
  • Several smaller groups of Mormons broke with the LDS Church over the issue of plural marriage, forming several denominations of Mormon fundamentalism. Meanwhile, the LDS Church has become a proponent of monogamy and patriotism, has extended its reach internationally by a vigorous missionary program, and has grown in size to 14 million members. The church is becoming a part of the American and international mainstream. However, it consciously and intentionally retains its identity as a “peculiar people” set apart from the world by what it believes is its unique relationship with God.
Doctrine
  • Restoration - Mormonism classifies itself within Christianity, but as a distinct restored dispensation. According to Mormons, a Great Apostasy began in Christianity not long after the ascension of Jesus Christ, marked with the corruption of Christian doctrine by Greek and other philosophies, and followers dividing into different ideological groups. Additionally, Mormons claim the martyrdom of the Apostles led to a loss of Priesthood authority to administer the church and its ordinances. Mormons believe that God re-established the early Christian church as found in the New Testament through Joseph Smith. In particular, Mormons believe that angels such as Peter, James, John, and John the Baptist appeared to Joseph Smith and others and bestowed various Priesthood authorities on them. Mormons believe that their church is the “only true and living church” because of the divine authority restored through Smith, and that Smith and his successors are modern prophets who receive revelation from God to guide the church. They maintain that other religions have a portion of the truth and are guided by the Light of Christ.
  • Cosmology - For many Mormons, Joseph Smith’s cosmology is the most attractive part of the restoration. Mormon cosmology presents a unique view of God and the universe, and places a high importance on human agency. In Mormonism, life on earth is just a short part of an eternal existence. Mormons believe that in the beginning, all people existed as spirits or “intelligences,” independent of God. In this state, God came among the intelligences and offered a plan whereby they could progress and “have a privilege to advance like himself.” The spirits were free to accept or reject this plan, and a third of them, led by Lucifer (slated to become Satan) rejected it. The rest accepted the plan, coming to earth and receiving bodies with an understanding that they would experience sin and suffering. In Mormonism, the central part of God’s plan is the atonement of Jesus Christ. Mormons believe that one purpose of earthly life is to learn to choose good over evil—godly over worldly. In this process, people inevitably make mistakes, becoming unworthy to return to the presence of God. Mormons believe that Jesus paid for the sins of the world, and that all people can be saved through his atonement. Mormons accept Christ’s atonement through faith, repentance, formal covenants or ordinances such as baptism, and consistently trying to live a Christ-like life.
  • Ordinances - In Mormonism, an ordinance is a religious ritual of special significance, often involving the formation of a covenant with God. Ordinances are performed by the authority of the priesthood and in the name of Jesus Christ. The term has a meaning roughly similar to that of the term “sacrament” in other Christian denominations. Saving ordinances (or ordinances viewed as necessary for salvation) include: Baptism by immersion after the age of accountability (normally age 8) ; Confirmation and reception of the Gift of the Holy Ghost, performed by laying hands on the head of a newly baptized member; ordination to the Aaronic and Melchizedek priesthoods for males; an Endowment (including washing and anointing) received in temples; and Marriage (or sealing) to a spouse. Mormons renew their baptismal covenants through weekly participation in the Lord’s supper (commonly called Sacrament). Mormons also perform other ordinances, which include naming and blessing children, giving priesthood blessings and patriarchal blessings, anointing and blessing the sick, participating in Prayer circles, and setting apart individuals who are called to church positions. In Mormonism, the saving ordinances are seen as necessary for salvation, but they are not sufficient in and of themselves. For example, baptism is required for exaltation, but simply having been baptized does not guarantee any eternal reward. The baptized person is expected to be obedient to God’s commandments, to repent of any sinful conduct subsequent to baptism, and to receive the other saving ordinances. Because Mormons believe that everyone must receive certain ordinances to be saved, Mormons perform ordinances on behalf of deceased persons. These ordinances are performed vicariously or by “proxy” on behalf of the dead. Mormons believe that the deceased may accept or reject the offered ordinance in the spirit world. Ordinances on behalf of the dead are performed only when a deceased person’s genealogical information has been submitted to a temple. Only saving ordinances are performed on behalf of deceased persons.
  • Scripture - Mormons believe in the Old and New Testaments and the LDS Church uses the King James Bible as its official scriptural text of the Bible. While Mormons believe in the general accuracy of the modern day text of the Bible, they also believe that it is incomplete and contains errors. In Mormon theology, many of these lost truths are restored in the Book of Mormon, which Mormons hold to be divine scripture and equal in authority to the Bible. The Mormon scriptural canon also includes a collection of revelations and writings contained in the Doctrine and Covenants and Pearl of Great Price Those books, as well as the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible, have varying degrees of acceptance as divine scripture among the different denominations of the Latter Day Saint movement.
  • Revelation - In Mormonism, continuous revelation is the principle that God or his divine agents still continue to communicate to mankind. This communication can be manifest in many ways: influences of the Holy Ghost, vision, visitation of divine beings, and others. Joseph Smith used the example of the Lord’s revelations to Moses in Deuteronomy to explain the importance and necessity of continuous revelation. Mormons believe that Joseph Smith and subsequent church leaders could speak scripture “when moved upon by the Holy Ghost.” In addition, many Mormons believe that ancient prophets in other regions of the world received revelations that resulted in additional scriptures that have been lost and may, one day, be forthcoming. Latter Day Saints also believe that the United States Constitution is a divinely inspired document. Mormons are encouraged to develop a personal relationship with the Holy Ghost and receive personal revelation for their own direction and that of their family. The Latter Day Saint concept of revelation includes the belief that revelation from God is available to all those who earnestly seek it with the intent of doing good. It also teaches that everyone is entitled to personal revelation with respect to his or her stewardship (leadership responsibility). Thus, parents may receive inspiration from God in raising their families, individuals can receive divine inspiration to help them meet personal challenges, church officers may receive revelation for those whom they serve. The important consequence of this is that each person may receive confirmation that particular doctrines taught by a prophet are true, as well as gain divine insight in using those truths for their own benefit and eternal progress. In the church, personal revelation is expected and encouraged, and many converts believe that personal revelation from God was instrumental in their conversion. 

11Apr

America’s Mixed Economy

Although many Americans talk about our capitalism, in reality our economy is a mixture of capitalism and socialism. During this one session, we'll consider how and why this is the case. 

 

On Tuesday, April 9, I led a discussion of capitalism and socialism for the Academy of Lifelong Learning. Below are the PowerPoint slides and a podcast of our discussion.

 

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11Apr

The Wedding Service for Bradley Rich and Bethany Sahr, Monday, April 8, 2019

On Monday, April 8, I officiated the wedding of Bradley Rich and Bethany Sahr in Cove Presbyterian Church, Weirton, West Virginia. Below is a podcast of and a couple of pictures from the service. If you're planning your wedding and need an officiant, please give me a call at 304-479-3402.

 

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11Apr

The Final Week of Jesus - A Last Supper and a Prayer in Gathsemane

Why would we celebrate Palm Sunday on the first Sunday of Lent? Because Holy Week is a sacred time for Christians everywhere; but the week passes by so quickly that we don’t have the time to reflect deeply on what it means. Instead of cramming our reflection time into one schedule-packed week of special services, we are going to slow down and spend the entire season of Lent on the events that took place during Holy Week.

It just makes good sense that if Jesus' final week begins on Palm Sunday in Jerusalem that we begin there. Each week afterwards we will spend our time examining a day-by-day account of what Jesus did during his final week before his crucifixion and resurrection. During this fifth message, we considered Mark 14:12-71 and discussed the last supper Jesus shared with his apostles and the prayer he prayed in Gethsemane. Below is a copy of the message followed by a podcast.

 

You know, I’m always amazed by how fast time passes. I mean, do y’all realize that we’ve only got two weeks before Easter? I’ll tell you, it seems like we just tied up Christmas and now we’re looking at fake grass, chocolate bunnies and marshmallow peeps. Things are just moving too fast for me. And since we’ve been using this time before Easter to look at the last week in the life of Jesus, that means we’re just one week from the cross and another from the empty tomb. 

 

Of course, to get here, we’ve used the story from Mark to focus on four different events in those last seven days. For example, we started by looking at Jesus’s entry into Jerusalem and how he redefined kingship. And then we considered all the ruckus he caused when he kicked out of the Temple all the animals and money changers and how that refined worship. And after that, we went through some of the things he taught in the face of those guys who were looking to trap him and how that reshaped our vision of the both the future and our lives in the present. And finally, last week, we introduced a traitor, a Judas into the story, and even though he certainly betrayed the Christ, he didn’t redirect the course of events. I mean, God was still driving the story. Now that’s what we’ve done.

 

And this morning, we’re going to consider two more things that happened during his final week, namely the last supper he shared with his disciples and then how he prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane. And even though both events are important to us, when we take the two stories together, I think the meal provides some context for the prayer. Let me explain. Just listen to how Mark described the last supper. He wrote, “While Jesus and the twelve disciples were eating together that evening, he said, ‘The one who will betray me is now eating with me.’ This made the disciples sad, and one after another they said to Jesus, ‘You surely don’t mean me!’ He answered, ‘It is one of you twelve men who is eating from this dish with me. The Son of Man will die, just as the Scriptures say. But it is going to be terrible for the one who betrays me. That man would be better off if he had never been born.’ During the meal Jesus took some bread in his hands. He blessed the bread and broke it. Then he gave it to his disciples and said, ‘Take this. It is my body.’ Jesus picked up a cup of wine and gave thanks to God. He gave it to his disciples, and they all drank some. Then he said, ‘This is my blood, which is poured out for many people, and with it God makes his agreement. From now on I will not drink any wine, until I drink new wine in God’s kingdom.’ Then they sang a hymn and went out to the Mount of Olives. Jesus said to his disciples, ‘All of you will reject me, as the Scriptures say, “I will strike down the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.” But after I am raised to life, I will go ahead of you to Galilee.’ Peter spoke up, ‘Even if all the others reject you, I never will!’ Jesus replied, ‘This very night before a rooster crows twice, you will say three times that you don’t know me.’ But Peter was so sure of himself that he said, ‘Even if I have to die with you, I will never say that I don’t know you!’ All the others said the same thing.” [Mark 14:17-31, CEV] Now that’s what happened, and not only do we have betrayal and denial providing bookends for that special part of the meal we celebrated last week and will again on Maundy Thursday, both the bread and the cup pointed toward what was coming, you know his death on the cross. 

 

And so, as they leave this last supper and go to the garden, some pretty heavy stuff is overshadowing the prayer Jesus would pray. And I think that explains why Mark wrote, “Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he told them, ‘Sit here while I pray.’ Jesus took along Peter, James, and John. He was sad and troubled and told them, ‘I am so sad that I feel as if I am dying. Stay here and keep awake with me.’ Jesus walked on a little way. Then he knelt down on the ground and prayed, ‘Father, if it is possible, don’t let this happen to me! Father, you can do anything. Don’t make me suffer by having me drink from this cup. But do what you want, and not what I want.’ When Jesus came back and found the disciples sleeping, he said to Simon Peter, ‘Are you asleep? Can’t you stay awake for just one hour? Stay awake and pray that you won’t be tested. You want to do what is right, but you are weak.’ Jesus went back and prayed the same prayer. But when he returned to the disciples, he found them sleeping again. They simply could not keep their eyes open, and they did not know what to say. When Jesus returned to the disciples the third time, he said, ‘Are you still sleeping and resting? Enough of that! The time has come for the Son of Man to be handed over to sinners. Get up! Let’s go. The one who will betray me is already here.’” [Mark 14:32-42, CEV] You see, what Jesus prayed was the result of the struggle he was experiencing at the time.

 

And I’ll tell you, it seems to me, struggle often shapes our prayers as well. In fact, I think what we’re experiencing influences both what and how we pray. And you know, it doesn’t matter whether the struggle we’re facing is huge, you know, like losing our job or confronting the death of someone we love or facing a post-apocalyptic, dystopian, Australian future,  it really doesn’t matter whether it’s huge like that or only a big deal to us, we still hope that the prayers we make will enable us to do the same kind of thing they helped Jesus do, that is, to get up and go forward into the future. And for that reason, as we move through his last seven days, I believe we can learn a lot about prayer from what happened at Gethsemane. As a matter of fact, I think Jesus demonstrated three qualities as he prayed that we can claim and apply when we approach God.

 

For example, first, I believe Jesus was absolutely focused, and his focus was on God. I mean, not only was his prayer directed to his Father, he didn’t even become distracted when he found sleeping the very people he wanted to stay awake with him. You see, instead of either letting them have it for their sleepiness or whining about how they were really letting him down, twice Jesus found them sleeping and twice he “...went back and prayed the same prayer.” Now that’s focus. But this focus wasn’t just an accident. Jesus intentionally did certain things and went certain places to keep his inner confusion at a minimum. And you know, we can see that from the very beginning of his ministry, like when Mark wrote, “Very early the next morning, Jesus got up and went to a place where he could be alone and pray. Simon and the others started looking for him.” [Mark 1:35-36, CEV] Or a little later when Mark wrote this: “Right away, Jesus made his disciples get into the boat and start back across to Bethsaida. But he stayed until he had sent the crowds away. Then he told them good-by and went up on the side of a mountain to pray.” [Mark 6:45-46, CEV] Now that’s what Jesus did, and I’ll tell you, so can we. And it doesn’t matter whether we can kind of settle ourselves by praying at night when everybody’s asleep or praying in the morning before everybody’s awake or praying as we’re driving to work or school, we can all find places where we’re able to turn down the distractions and to crank up the focus.  You see, I firmly believe that the less our mind wanders, the more comfort and connection we’ll receive from our prayers. I’m telling you, Jesus remained focused and so can we. And for me, that’s the first thing we can learn from his prayer in Gethsemane.

 

And second, not only was Jesus focused, he was also honest in what he prayed. He didn’t sugar coat it. He didn’t pull any punches. And he sure didn’t launch into some kind of long, elaborate monologue, you know, the kind of thing he accused the scribes of doing when he said, “Guard against the teachers of the Law of Moses! They love to walk around in long robes and be greeted in the market. They like the front seats in the meeting places and the best seats at banquets. But they cheat widows out of their homes and pray long prayers just to show off. They will be punished most of all.” [Mark 12:38b-40, CEV] No sir, I think Jesus laid it right on the line when he prayed, “Father, if it is possible, don’t let this happen to me! Father, you can do anything. Don’t make me suffer by having me drink from this cup. But do what you want, and not what I want.” [Mark 14:35b-36, CEV] Now that’s honesty, and you know, it’s the same kind attitude we’re going to hear when this happened in chapter fifteen: “Then about that time Jesus shouted, ‘Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?’ which means, ‘My God, my God, why have you deserted me?’” [Mark 15:34, CEV] You see, he was so connected with his Father that he could be honest. And I’ll tell you, when we make the decision to trust in the unconditional love and the irresistible grace and the eternal mercy of God and if we decide to make that decision regardless of what we might be experiencing at the time, we can also be close enough to our father that we can share with him what we’re thinking and feeling. You see, if we want to move forward after we pray, we can choose to follow the example that Jesus left for us in Gethsemane and to be honest in our prayers. That’s the second thing was can do.

 

And third, we can remember that Jesus was persistent when he prayed. I remember, years ago, someone told me that we should never make the same prayer twice. In other words, we should only lift a need or concern to God once. And the reason, well, he told me to imagine just how much God must be ticked off when we pray the same prayer over and over again. Now, that’s what he said. But that’s not what Jesus did. As a matter of fact, right here, after he returned and found this disciples sleeping, Mark wrote that “Jesus went back and prayed the same prayer.” [Mark 14:39, CEV] And when he returned again and found the same thing, Jesus went back and prayed some more. Jesus was persistent. And so can we. We can lift up our needs and share them with God as many times as we want. Trust me, God can handle it. In fact, when we run out of words or get so tired we can’t pray anymore, he still wants us to share what we’re thinking and feeling, and that’s something Paul believed when he wrote this to the Romans: “In certain ways we are weak, but the Spirit is here to help us. For example, when we don’t know what to pray for, the Spirit prays for us in ways that cannot be put into words. All of our thoughts are known to God. He can understand what is in the mind of the Spirit, as the Spirit prays for God’s people.” Romans 8:26-27, CEV] Like Jesus, we can be persistent in our prayers. And that’s the third way we can follow his example. 

 

Now after he’d prayed a third time, Jesus said, “Enough of that! The time has come for the Son of Man to be handed over to sinners. Get up! Let’s go. The one who will betray me is already here.” [Mark 14:41b-42, CEV] And with that, a snowball started to roll, one that ended with a cross and an empty tomb. But before we get up and go, let’s remember what Jesus did in Gethsemane, you know, how he prayed to his Father and our Father. And let’s decide to pray like he did, you know, with focus and with honesty and with persistence. And I’ll tell you, when we do, I believe we’ll feel the comfort and strength to move forward regardless of what the future holds.

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