Hymnody and Liturgy, the undercurrents of Christ’s Church

By Joe LaGuardia
Did you know that the pulpit in the sanctuary of First Baptist Church of Vero Beach is not the original pulpit?  That pulpit is in storage.  When I first came to First Baptist, the “powers that be” gave me a choice between three pulpits: the one in the sanctuary, the original one, and the one my predecessor used in the contemporary service, a plexiglass podium-style pulpit.
I got a good look at the original pulpit, and I was overwhelmed by the sheer size of the thing.  Built in 1962, it is three-times as wide as the current one, and a bit higher.  I joke that I can’t see over it; and, if I were to use it, I’d feel like I was lording over the congregation.  It is regal, however, and communicates the majesty of our church’s legacy and the architecture.
The plexiglass pulpit is in our Family Life Center, and we use it for Bible studies and other events.  It communicates a teaching-style of preaching.  That would not work for me (in the sanctuary, that is), and it is too informal for my own preaching style.
The one they had in the sanctuary–the one we currently use–is just right!  It is heavy enough to communicate the weight of the authority of scripture and of our preaching heritage, but it is light enough to move off the stage when we have special events.  It matches the rest of the sanctuary, and I can easily move around it when I preach and want to “connect” with the congregation.  It is an easy pulpit to stand in and to stand beside.  I can see over it, too.  That helps.
The Old-Fashioned Hymn Sing we hosted at church last Sunday reminded me, however, that with all of the pulpits and preachers that pass through churches over the years, it is liturgy–the worship of the people and the hymnody–that sustains churches over the years.  Preaching styles and pulpits come and go, but the Word of the Lord  grounds us, worship unites us, and the Lord strengthens and provides for us.
Singing the hymns last Sunday allowed this feeling of continuity to rise in my heart.  For all that makes us unique and diverse, it is our worship that makes us one Body in Christ.  And for that I am grateful, and for that I can celebrate and know that this God whom we serve has lifted us up and has carried us “through the ages” (Isaiah 63:9).
We don’t sing to be nostalgic, we sing to bring glory and honor to God’s name.  We don’t sing because it makes us feel good (though that happens!), but to declare the mighty works of the Lord and to praise Jesus for being our Lord and Savior.
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Pentecost: In Unity and in Christ, there is Boldness

By Joe LaGuardia

My Pentecost sermon this Sunday is on the unity of Christ’s Church.  Based on Acts 2:1-11, unity comes when God’s people gather to preach God’s Word, listen to God’s Word, and act on God’s Word.I won’t go over the whole sermon here–you will need to come to church for that!–but I was impressed that one of the results of unity (at least in Acts) is boldness in Christ.

Boldness is a major theme in the book of Acts.  Luke, the author of Acts, mentions at least eight times that the Church is bold when empowered by the Spirit.   But it not about speaking only, but the boldness that the righteous exhibit when they are pursuing God’s purposes.

When a church is united in Christ, there is boldness to…

Announce the Lordship of Christ. The disciples in Acts needed boldness to preach that Christ was Lord and Savior because that message was treasonous in Rome.  Back then, the Caesar was lord and savior–claimed as “God’s son,” by Roman writers–and to claim that there was another who was king over Caesar was a dangerous message indeed.

The disciples preached boldly in the face of hostility and danger.  When they were imprisoned, they did not relent, nor did they try to defend themselves by way of violence.  They saw every circumstance as an opportunity to preach Christ and him crucified.

Live as Christ’s Ambassadors of Reconciliation in the world.  Another important theme in Acts is that, in Christ, God bridged the divide not only between himself and the world, but between Jew and Gentile.  Christ’s salvation is inclusive, it is not a monopoly of one ethnic, religious, or socio-economic group.  Rather, the message of Christ’s salvation is one of reconciliation: that anyone and “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Acts 2:21).

Christians are ambassadors of this Word.  Ambassadors are not citizens of the countries in which they venture; rather, they are citizens of a host country and go afar to foreign and strange places to bring people together and build coalitions of peace.  As “ambassadors” (according to 2 Corinthians 5), we are citizens of the Kingdom of God, sent into the world to speak on Christ’s behalf.

We represent not the interests of the world, but the interests of God.  I am not a big fan of St. Augustine’s theology which posits that we are citizens of two worlds–the kingdom and the country in which we reside.  The Bible makes clear that once we call Christ Lord, we belong to Him and Him alone.

To Stand on the Side of Justice.  We represent Christ’s prophets, those harbingers of hope who declare what God is up to and communicate the deepest values of God in a world that has misplaced priorities.  We follow a Lord who claimed that “the first shall be last, and the last first,” and that we are not to worry as the world does.  We seek the kingdom of God first, and let all other things fall into place as God so allows.

This message of justice reaches back into the heart of the Old Testament.  From the very details of God’s Law given to Moses to those proclamations by the likes of prophets like Isaiah and Amos, justice insures that we don’t push for what is always “fair”, but for what is moral and right.  Christ plants churches in local communities to anchor those communities in the morals and values that are godly, biblical, and just.

So goes boldness in the Bible.  My sermon this Sunday will hit on boldness briefly, but I thought that this fuller treatment will provide you with something to ponder until then.  I hope to see you Sunday!

Fasting, and other disciplines for Lent

IMG_1370By Emily Holladay

This is one article in an on-going series for Lent 2018 by the Reverend Emily Holladay.  Check out her other articles at her blog, Rev on the Edge.

Chocolate. Facebook. TV. Telephone. Soft drinks. Fast Food.

Every year, Lent conveniently falls just far enough after New Year’s that the practice of fasting often becomes a new way to attain the resolution we previously dropped. We stop eating chocolate or give up soft drinks with the “side benefit” that we will lose weight in the process. But, other than giving us something to complain about at our friend’s birthday party when we can’t eat the cake, what do these fasts do?

Do we meet with God during dessert time, or take remembrance of Christ, the living water, when we take a sip of a non-bubbly drink? When we are tempted to cheat, who are we failing – ourselves, or God?

Jesus fasts before his ministry begins. For 40 days and 40 nights (read: a long time), he abstains from food and drink, approaching God in the wilderness as an empty vessel.

Jesus knows what I often forget – it is in our emptiness that God fills us. Even at our most depleted, God welcomes us to a life of sustenance beyond measure.

In Christ’s fasting, though, he does not just revel in time with his creator. In Christ’s fasting, his mind and body disoriented from lack of nutrition, he meets the one who challenges hope. He is tempted, possibly by his own desperation, to feed himself, quench his own thirst, and prove who he is.

And Jesus knows all these things are possible. Even in his deepest hunger, he is fully God. He could end his own fast as easily as he could turn water into wine. He could shut the tempting on up “for good.” He could restore his own mind.

But he understands that he does not fast for himself. He does not go hungry to prove a point, nor does he feed himself to prove who he is. He meets temptation with a clarity of purpose that runs far deeper than hunger or thirst. Whatever does not serve his purpose does not earn his energy. His drive to be filled by God runs through his bones.

Delirium. Exhaustion. Dehydration. Nothing can stop Jesus from his pursuit of the divine.

This is how I wish I could live during Lent. Driven towards God by a sense of clarity and purpose. I wish I approached the Lenten season with hope that God would meet me in my emptiness. I wish I could more easily name the fast that would cause my bones to cry out for God.

Maybe, however, it’s not the fast, but the heart that needs changing.

And so, I meet God with my pen. I find God in the wilderness of my mind. I sense God filling the emptiness of my soul as the ink fills my pages, and I know that resurrection looms around the corner.

This year, I eat my chocolate and remember that something sweeter is coming. I meet God on the empty page, as visual representation of the fast I need; the fast that fills my soul like ink on paper.

This post is a part of a Lenten discipline I am participating in to write each day on a specific word. These posts reflect daily thought processes and conversations with God as I journey through this season of repentance and reflection. I hope they will be meaningful to those of you who find this space and journey with me.