Archive for ‘Hospitality’

Renewing worship: Lessons from the Prophets (part 2)

by   |  07.06.10  |  Baseball, Bible, Caregiving, Christianity, Church, Hospitality, Prophets, Theology, Worship

This overly long post — overly long because of too little time to make it shorter — tries to pull together two difference experiences to comment on a third.  Perhaps you can make it all make sense.

First an allegory from baseball: Last week, my family and I were sitting in the Ballpark in Arlington during a two and a half hour rain delay.  It was misting a little (okay, a lot), but still was enjoyable enough.  People played everywhere, with kids and parents enjoying time out together.  On the whole, it was a beautiful time, and it reminded us of the grace that meets us everywhere if we are still long enough to notice it.

But as we sat talking, I started to think about the people around me, and being a theological educator, began to muse a bit about what the experience might say about worship, which after all is a human event (to which the Holy Spirit puts in an appearance, to be sure).  The ritual of baseball, with its numerology, focus on proper administration of rules, and appropriate acknowledgment of the keepers of the story (umpires and sportscasters and wise old players) inevitably reminded me of worship.  But that’s an old story, and there are lots of books on the theology (or Zen or whatever) of baseball.  So that’s not worth pursuing much here.

What is interesting is how much pleasure we all took in a game that is steeped in ritual and has been performed countless times before.  We did not know the precise outcome, though we did know that after nine innings or so, someone would win and would do so in a way that has been done before, maybe many times.  There is comfort in that mix of predictability and unpredictability.

So it is with Christian worship.  Some things are expected, and we know that the meaning of what we do lies not in our own volition or desire but in something far older and deeper and more beautiful.  And yet within the context of a tradition, a set of practices by a community over time, lies room for the unexpected and even the startling.  In worship, we become better people because we learn to care for things that matter, and thus for each other.

Watching families at the ballpark teaches you something else about worship, the importance of caring for one another.  I got to explain to my daughter about triples and infield flies, just as on Sunday I can initiate her in the far deeper and more holy experiences of God’s grace.  Care for the other before God figures prominently in Christian worship.  It is part of how that experience makes us better.

Second, a citation from a delightful article:  In the current issue of Harvard Magazine (, the anthropologist Arthur Kleinman talks about his life with his wife Joan, formerly a leading scholar of classical Chinese, now stricken with Alzheimer’s disease.  He writes about his experiences, “… caregiving is a foundational component of moral experience.  By this I mean that we envision caregiving as an existential quality of what it is to be a human being.  We give care as part of the flow of everyday lived values and emotions that make up moral experience.  Here collective values and social emotions are as influential as individual ones.  Within these local moral worlds — family, network, institution, community — caregiving is one of those things that really matters, but usually not the only thing.”

For me, this call to give care in order to be fully human (which, for Christians, means made in the image of God) clarifies what worship is about too.  It is prayer for those in need, whether Christian or not.  It is proclamation of God’s tender care for the least of us.  It is celebration of our togetherness.  It is defiance of the silences that cripple lives and keep us from each other.  Worship knits together the insecure and lonely teenager with the widow who has no one to talk with.  Worship humbles the proud and exalts the humble because it allows us to see ourselves, to some extent, as God sees us, neither more nor less.  It is thus the ultimate act of caregiving.  Often it is painful, often it is difficult, but always it is an experience that pushes us from our comfortable seat and allows us to slow down enough to find grace.

Next time, worship as a means of grace.  Your comments to this post, meandering as it is, would be appreciated!

Dr. Mark W. Hamilton
Associate Professor of Old Testament and
Associate Dean
ACU Graduate School of Theology
Abilene, TX 79699
Editor, The Transforming Word

When Mommy Gives You Lemons, Make a Lemonade Stand

by   |  06.14.10  |  Contextual Theology, Hospitality, Students

After setting up a lemonade stand for mommy and daddy in the living room, our son decided to take his show on the road. Though ostensibly to grow his “Toy Story 3” fund, I think he really just enjoyed making the homemade, freshly squeezed treat and sharing it with others. He sold it cold in the doorway of my seminary office for “one, ten, or twenty-five cents.” The “customers” responded well to his approach- most payed a penny and left a quarter tip. He was also was quick to tell folks it could be free if they questioned the pricing structure. Thanks to all who stopped by!

Russ Kirby
Director of Student Services
ACU Graduate School of Theology

Assigned Seating

by   |  05.20.10  |  Church, Hospitality, Ministry, Mission of God, Society, Worship

The other day I was reading the Didascalia Apostolorum (DA), like people do on a bright May morning. Chapter 12.4 has an instruction for bishops in the worship service:

If, after you are seated, some other man or woman should arrive who is honored in the world, whether from the same region or another congregation, you should not leave off your ministry of the word—whether you are speaking it or hearing it or reading it—in order to show them to a place. Instead, remain as you are and do not interrupt the word.

For those who may not know, DA is an anonymous manual of church order, written largely in the 3rd century. Originally composed in Greek, it survives today mainly in Syriac. Though not especially well studied yet, DA gives us fascinating glimpses into early church life before Constantine’s time.

In this passage, DA counsels church leaders not to do what would come naturally. In the ancient world, when people of worldly dignity show up, it would be normal to drop what you are doing and receive them amidst the pomp and circumstance that fits their status. Not to do so would be rude and politically unwise, since surviving and thriving in that society depended so much on playing long-established games of patronage and preferment. From a worldly perspective, one would expect that the ranking “dignitary” of the congregation, the bishop, would be quick to court the favor of local luminaries and visiting VIPs by privileging their position in the church assembly. In public gatherings, the seating chart was a primary way of making and reinforcing a person’s significance in society. But here DA encourages the bishop to recognize that attending to the word is more important than attending to worldly status—and that in the eyes of God a minister of the Gospel outranks those whom society would privilege on account of wealth and power. Like it or not, any bigwig who walked in expecting special treatment would get hit squarely with a different set of values than he or she was accustomed to outside the church.

Later in the chapter (12.6), DA gives bishops further advice about seating arrangements:

But if a poor man or woman should arrive, whether from the same region or another congregation, especially if they are elderly, and if they have no place, then you, bishop, should act for them from your heart, even if it means sitting on the ground yourself. There should be no respect of persons with you, but you should please God through your ministry.

The arrangements are deliciously ironic: When big-shots show up, yanking the minister’s chain to receive attention and trying to impose their privileged status on the congregation, ignore them. But when someone arrives whom the world would naturally place last, someone poor or feeble and insignificant, quickly move to find them a place—even the place of highest honor, the bishop’s own seat! By subverting the toxic norms of a sick society, the minister’s seating chart becomes a pointer to the Kingdom.

Not everything in DA would naturally be to the liking of the contemporary minister, but here we have a worthy teacher. Following Jesus’ lead in Luke 14:7–11, DA instructs ministers to embody the gospel in ways that will foster the world of God’s new creation.

Is there a need to rearrange some of the seating charts in your context?

Dr. Jeff Childers
Carmichael-Walling Chair of NT and Early Christianity
ACU Graduate School of Theology
Abilene, TX 79699

Does the Gospel Sell Itself? (part 4)

by   |  05.04.10  |  Bible, Change, Christian, Church, Gospel, Hospitality, Identity, Ministry, Society, Theology

Mark Hamilton, PhD - Associate Dean, Associate Professor of Old Testament, ACU Graduate School of Theology

Mark Hamilton, PhD - Associate Dean, Associate Professor of Old Testament, ACU Graduate School of Theology

Does the Gospel sell itself?  That’s how I began this series of posts, and that’s how I’ll end it.  If we are on a road alongside of which are exits to narcissism, self-indulgence, and self-promotion, and the Heavenly City seems further away in our rearview mirrors, then how do we change directions?  (I’ll drop the metaphor there, if you don’t mind!)  I’ve tried to set out some of the interpersonal and intellectual challenges because to reflect theologically and to act on the basis of that reflection, we need to consider several factors.

But here’s the final one, and the decisive one.  What does God want?  Now, I know that this question is tricky and easily hijacked by various sides of any given debate.  If you want change, you point to the God of renewal, and if you don’t want change, you mention the old paths.  Both sets of languages — both descriptions of the nature of God — have biblical warrant.  Which one applies at a given moment depends on several factors, not all of which everyone will agree upon.  Moreover, Christians have a wide range of views of just how specific God intends to be.  Neo-Calvinists assume that the sovereignty of God implies a very high degree of planning of human lives, while most other Christians are content to think of God painting in the cosmic picture in broader, more impressionistic strokes.  I do not say any of this to be cynical, but simply to note that I am aware of the hazards.

Still, as a Christian, I must always ask myself what God wants.  It is not legitimate to try to escape the question, if you want to think in Christian ways.  Here are some things (not everything!) that Scripture, which I believe to be the best indication of God’s will that we have, seems to think God wants from us:

1. Let’s be passionate about the search for God.  Christians should pray a lot and with passion.  If we spent more time on our knees, we might spend less time wringing our hands or shouting.  As Paul said to the Athenians, God has given us evidence of nearness by raising Jesus from the dead.  The search is not an idle quest for an elusive goal, but the pursuit of one lover for another seeking rest together.

2.  Let’s care about the stranger.  I have long been struck by Exodus’s story of the redemption of Israel and the legal conclusions that the text draws from that experience: “you shall not oppress a stranger; you know the heart of a stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt” (Exodus 23:9).  Perhaps Christians are so hostile to immigrants and other vulnerable people because we have concluded that this land really is our land, not simply a place on loan from God while we move toward our final home.  Have we forgotten that we too are strangers, that we too are redeemed people?

3. Let’s remember that we are in this together.  It is distressing to watch churches split over issues that can only be classified as trivial.  I have always found that praying for those with whom I disagree (which is quite a few people, as it happens!) or whom I found narrow and annoying and petty (also a fairly large group) changes things.  Very few Christians are so alienated from their own calling that we cannot find in them something to cherish.

4. Let’s remember that change can be both good and necessary.  Some folks I know are worried about “change agents.”  I’ve even read journals that argue that all change is to be resisted.  Of course, this is absurd.  Sometimes change is apostasy, true, and that is to be resisted.  But sometimes change is repentance, as when churches quit making one race sit in the balcony while another sat on the pews on the floor.  Sometimes change is simply maturation as when we recognize that our group does not have a monopoly on Christian commitment or understanding.  And sometimes it’s just change, relatively benign and neutral in meaning.  To fear change is to fear life.  The key is to make change rather than suffer it, and to make it with the highest Christian ideals in mind.

5. Finally, let’s remember that to be church is the greatest calling in the world.  We cannot cherish Christ without also cherishing his bride.  The church often needs correction — we are always reforming — but we also need to be loved and to love the magnificent calling we have received to be harbingers of God’s Kingdom, in which no one suffers hunger, no one is alone, no one is disrespected, and all find a place of dignity and honor at the bountiful table of the Lord.

May it always be so!  I’ll start a new series in a few days, after the Pepperdine lectures.  I hope to see you there!

ACU Graduate Chapel Sermon (Ben Fike): January 20

by   |  03.17.10  |  Chapel, Church, God with us, Hope, Hospitality, Jesus, Justice, Mission of God, Students

Every Wednesday, we meet for worship together in the Chapel on the Hill. Sometimes students speak. Here is a sermon by one of them, Ben Fike, who is the preacher for the Maryneal, Texas Church of Christ. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Matthew 2:1-12 – Laying our Gifts Before the King

by Ben Fike

“The church has just entered the liturgical season of Epiphany one week ago today. The Feast of Epiphany in the Western tradition is associated with this story of the wise men coming to Jesus, the first gentiles who come to worship the child king. Today we join our sisters and brothers the world over in our hearing and proclaiming of this text in this season.

I can’t read this story without thinking of my mom’s collection of nativity sets. She probably just took them down a week or two ago, but during Christmas they’re all over the house. Just little miniature versions of the birth of Christ spread out all over every bookshelf and table. The raggedy looking shepherds, the docile ox and lamb, the surprisingly calm and serene looking Mary and Joseph, little baby Jesus, no crying he makes, asleep in the manger. Blonde, and looking quite Scandanavian. And of course the wise men, all exotic and strange with enormous headgear and camels and robes and big bushy beards, bearing gifts.

But although this popularized version of the nativity may fly some places, we know better don’t we? We know better than that naive conflation of Matthew and Luke’s gospels bringing together Shepherds and Wise Men and Livestock in an ad hoc, irresponsible kind of way. We know better, that this story of the wise men bowing down to Jesus is not serene and precious and cute. It is, in fact, subversive to the point that it will directly contribute to a vengeful and maniacal king massacring thousands of innocents to squelch the perceived threat of the child born King of the Jews these wise men have come to worship. And we know better homiletically than to cast ourselves as the distant floating observers looking down on the tiny scene as if Jesus were a insect and we were a bear.

No, WE know better than that. This is a story we must enter. This story is in someway our story. More »