A Different Kind of Advent Wreath

I just wanted to share an idea I used in Advent a few years ago. Instead of one Advent wreath, I had two–a dark one and a light one. For each week, we extinguished something and lit something else. This way, the darkness slowly overcame the light throughout Advent. We also used crackled glass with floating candles in colored water. This is the only picture I have of it. Feel free to use it and make it your own.

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The Story of Luther and His 95 Theses

The following is Jordan’s sermon from October 1.
You can listen to the sermon by CLICKING HERE.

The date was October 31, 1517. A relatively unknown professor, Martin Luther, nailed 95 arguments or theses for academic debate to the doors of the church in Wittenberg, Germany, where he lived, taught, and preached. This should have been an unimportant moment. In fact, this Augustinian monk had posted theses to that same door a month before that got no response. But that simple act and that ordinary date, the eve of All-Saints day 500 years ago this month, would be the match that lit a fire to the world, and that fire continues to impact your life every day, though you probably don’t even realize it.

There would be no Presbyterians without Luther and no Protestants. We might all be Catholic. Worship would be in Latin without Luther. Pastors could not marry without Luther. That means there would be no Rimmer children without Luther. In fact, the great importance you probably place on marriage and some of your views on marriage are developed by Luther. Luther developed the printing industry. You have pretty books because of Luther. Law and Education are different because of Luther and his movement. There would be no United States of American without Luther. In fact, the idea of a nation-state would not exist without Luther. People did not emphasize following their conscience before Luther. There would be no Bible in English, let alone in German, without Luther.

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500 Years of Reforming- Worship Resources

October 31, 2017 marks a monumental moment for the church and the world. It was on that day 500 years ago that Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses to door at Wittenberg.  This is typically noted as the beginning of the Protestant Reformation. It was a moment that sparked a movement that continues to influence not only the Christian faith but also daily life.

To celebrate, I am planning to do a whole month of worship and preaching around Martin Luther. They are not perfect or in their final form, and I am sure the will take a little different shape by the time October comes around, but I thought I would offer them to others as a starting point for celebrating this important date.

You can click HERE or the picture below for the document. Please adapt it and use it, and I would love to hear what you do with it.

 

Sermon: True Freedom

The following is a sermon given July 2, 2017 with thoughts for the 4th of July. You can listen to the sermon HERE.

Galatians 5:1 For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.

Today, with the 4th of July this Tuesday, we are taking a break from out series on the Bad Habits of Jesus. Instead, I want to take a biblical look at the themes of the Fourth, namely, words like liberty, independence, and freedom. What does biblical freedom look like?

Freedom is a major theme in the Bible, but to understand it, you have to understand the cultural contexts that were the opposite of freedom. Freedom in the Bible is not defined by itself, as grace or love might be. Freedom is defined by its opposites.

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Religious but not Spiritual…and Phone Booths

It is very popular today to say that you are “spiritual but not religious.” It is one of those over-used phrases that I am not sure has a real meaning. I think it means that people want to have experiences with the Divine, but they don’t want to have those experiences in a structured religious settings.

This is a dynamic that churches need to get their heads around. I heard a lot of church people who claim that the world is not spiritual at all. In fact, there is a narrative in the church that the world is becoming more secular. In fact, the opposite is happening. The world is becoming more sacred. In fact, everything is sacred. People talk about their pets, their sexuality, their gun rights, and their conservativism as holy. And people are more open to spirituality than ever before, they just find it in other ways. Continue reading

The Bible as One Big Story

This is the third is a blog series I am doing about the Bible in the Christian Faith.

The Bible is primarily story. Even the law is written in the context of the story of the law. The book of Numbers is the story of the Numbers as much as it is a catalogue of the numbers. The teaching we have from Jesus is not arranged categorically or even chronologically. They are written in stories of where he was at, who he was with, and where he was going. Even the works of Paul are written in the context of a story. They are letters with instructions for particular churches at particular moments in their stories.

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5 Levels of Reading the Bible

This is the second in a series of blogs I am doing about the Bible in the Christian Faith.

Let me lay out some framework for how to read the Bible as story. I suggest that you look at any particular passage of the Bible on five levels. This may sound pretty basic, as opposed to the in depth exegesis that many of us did in seminary, but the simplicity is what the church is bad at. We have looked at these texts so academically that we have lost our ability to see the stories as story.

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On Mary, Abraham, and John

26 When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, Woman, behold, your son!” 27 Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” And from that hour the disciple took her to ahis own home. (John 19:26-27 ESV)

This is a great moment of compassion and reconciliation. At its most basic level, this saying of Jesus is not hard to understand. Jesus is trying to take care of his mother. They have not always had the best of relationships. You can imagine that it was not easy to be the mother of Jesus. Continue reading

The Meaning of Ash Wednesday and Lent

(This is my sermon for Ash Wednesday 2017)

What is Lent? The word simply means spring. It is a roughly 40 day period that leads from Ash Wednesday to Holy Week, as we walk with Jesus toward the cross. It is a time of self-examination and repentance. The church traditionally participates in prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. Such a time is a little scary to protestants, who seem to fear returning to their catholic roots. It is also more and more counter cultural to believe in anything called sin that we may need to repent from. How depressing an idea? That idea does not have the beauty or the marketability of the Christmas message.I want to take a few minutes to develop for you what Lent is all about, and why we do this odd tradition with ashes. I am not just interested in understanding the traditions. More than that, I think it is critical for your soul that a Lenten spirituality be a part of your faith walk. Continue reading

The Soundtrack of the Church

In any movie or TV show, the soundtrack is tremendously important. The songs chose for the background of the story set the tone for the movie. In many ways, they are critical to the story. The best soundtracks tell the stories themselves.

Let’s think about the famous soundtrack of Star Wars composed by John Williams. This soundtrack is instantly recognizable and immediately takes the mind back to the story. We recognize the theme song, and we automatically think of those credits scrolling across the screen off into the distance in space. That song has a grandeur and excitement to it that sets the tone for the whole movie.    

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Churches with Writer’s Block

People and organizations are living stories. Since live moves in days and season, it can feel like a movie or a play. Normally, the story naturally moves as we accomplishing things, try things, and learn and grow along the way. Sometimes, however, the story stops. As Graham Standish puts it, a church can get “something akin to writer’s block.”

Numerous obstacles can stop the story. Sometimes the church has conflict or crisis that consumes the story. Sometimes the church fails at writing the next chapter and loses their confidence to keep writing. Sometimes they are so focused on all their problems that they can’t see any way forward. Sometimes the church cannot agree on what the next chapter should be. Continue reading

Hints for a Different Kind of Advent

Advent and Christmas can be a crazy time. We hang banners in the church that say faith, hope, joy, and peace. Yet so often we feel the exact opposite of those things at this time of the year. There is lots to do and a lot of pressure to look like you have it all together. So here are a few hints for have a different kind of Advent this year.

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Baptism’s New Testament Beginnings

It is not clear when the practice of baptism began. We know that other cultures had washing rites as initiation rituals at the time of Jesus. The Christian practice begins with John the Baptist. John’s baptism is described as a baptism of repentance. Apparently, John would go out into the wilderness and preach and teach about repentance.

Many Christians do not understand the word repentance. To repent is not to say, “I am sorry.” It is also not a matter of asking for forgiveness. To repent is to relent or to turn the other. It means to go a different direction. Have you ever had someone say they are sorry and then do the same thing to you later? They said they were sorry, but they did not repent. John is calling Israel to turn from their ways and live differently. The implication is that they would turn back to God and be washed clean.baptism of Christ

It is interesting that Jesus is baptized in such a way, since we emphasize so strongly that Jesus was tempted in every way that we are, but without sin. (Hebrews 4:15) What does Jesus need to repent from?

One of the theological terms that is helpful here is the vicarious humanity of Christ. In essence, it means that Jesus lives human life in our place or for us. Jesus becomes flesh, walks around, is without sin, repents, and dies the death that we deserve. But then he is risen from the dead, and the sin that should own us is defeated. And we are given, in what Luther called a magnificent exchange, the holiness and sonship of Jesus. Christ dies for us, but we rise with him.

This is a big part of the imagery of baptism. We die with Christ and are risen again with him. This image is best seen when people are immersed under the water rather than being sprinkled with water. Often people would even change their names at their baptism. This is why to this day during a baptism a pastor will ask for the Christian name of the child. Some traditions, like the Catholic church, still allow people to take on new middle names or Christian names when being baptized into the church.

Jesus is baptized and commands people to baptize, but we have no record that he himself baptized anybody. We do know from John 4 that his disciples did. There seemed to be some conflict over those who were baptized by John or Jesus. Jesus commands Baptism as part of the great commission.

I will look at baptism in Acts and the meaning of Baptism for Jesus in the next couple of blogs.

Baptism: What does the Word Mean?

This blog is the first in a series I am doing about baptism and is a follow up to a number of blogs I did on communion. You can check them out at http://jordanrimmer.com.

The word baptize is actually a Greek word. The word is not translated, but rather transliterated right over from the Greek to English. The word is used after the New Testament almost exclusively of the Christian practice. The only other real English usage of the word is to baptize as in to name something. This comes from the tradition that many people would change their name when they were baptized.

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But before the word was used for the Christian sacrament, the word was used for other meanings. It could be understood as putting something in water. It could be translated or understood in context as plunge, drench, inundate, flood, submerge, or dip. It is used of ships being consumed by the sea. It is used of drunkenness—as if you are so inundated by alcohol that you are baptized. It is used to describe the time Herod drowned another man. He baptized him until he suffocated.

The word also had a metaphoric meaning. As we might say today, you are “trying to keep your head above water” or you are “in over your head.” You could be baptized and not be able to get out.

The use of this word for the Christian rite is an interesting choice. Yes, it aptly describes the act of being put into the water, but it also describes a consuming moment of finality. There was no turning back from baptism. It changed everything.

 

Please comment and ask questions on the website or on social media. I want to know your thoughts and questions.

For more info on Baptism and its uses in Greek, see Robert Gagnon’s contribution to the Encyclopedia of Christian Civilization, available at: http://www.robgagnon.net/articles/EncyclopediaOfChristianCivilizationBaptism.pdf

Ask your Questions about Communion and Baptism

I am finishing a blog series about communion and getting one started about baptism. In light of this, I wondered if I could ask help of my readers. What questions do you have about the sacraments?

  • What questions do you have about communion or baptism?
  • What are your beliefs about communion or baptism?
  • What do you think actually happens at communion or baptism?
  • What was the most special experience of communion or baptism that you have ever had or witnessed?

You can comment on my blog, on Facebook, or on Twitter. I want to start some good dialogue and be able to focus my material on what people actually think about and have questions about the sacraments.

Communion Thoughts #6- Tips for Making Communion More Meaningful

I have been writing a series of blogs about Communion. I talked about WHAT IS COMMUNION and WHAT HAPPENS DURING COMMUNION. I also blogged about HOW IT IS SERVED. I did a blog about WHY I AM NOT DOING COMMUNION BY INTINCTION ANYMORE. In my last blog I gave SEVEN GREAT IMAGES FOR COMMUNION. In my next blog I will give seven specific ways I have tried to enliven communion. Here I just want to list some general tips for making communion more meaningful.

Use different names- If you call it communion, then explain the other terms and use them. Serve Eucharist or the Lord’s Supper next time. This will help take people off of automatic pilot and get them thinking.

Use different images- Communion is not just one image or metaphor. It is loaded with different aspects, images, and thoughts. Don’t get in the habit of saying the same think every time you do it.St_Michael_the_Archangel,_Findlay,_OH_-_bread_and_wine

Decorate the table- The table itself provides lots of opportunities for imagery and creativity. The experience automatically changes if the table is covered in flowers. One time I preached about Daniel in the lion’s den. When people came forward, the table was covered in plastic lions. I read about a sermon that talked about Christ being our safety and security. The image they used was of a kid’s blanket. The table was decorated in children’s blankets. I even think the table can change. What happens if the table is actually a door set up like a table?

Flow from the sermon right into communion- In most of our services the sermon is set up to be the highlight and communion is a response. But what if we reorient the service so that the sacrament is the highlight and the sermon is part of the sacrament. I have even preached from the communion table.

Build an action into coming to the table- Have people pick something up or lay something down on the way to communion. Have them write sins on rice paper and dissolve the paper in water on the way to the table.

World Communion Sunday This is becoming one of my favorite Sundays of the year. I have ANOTHER BLOG with ideas on making this day special. We normally serve lots of different colors, textures, and shapes of breads to represent world Christianity.

Do bread together and juice separately- I really like this imagery. I ask people to hold the bread so that we take it together as one body and remember that God saves us corporately. I then ask people to take the juice individually when they get it. Here they are asked to reflect on Christ’s saving work for them personally.

Serve on mirrors- I love the imagery of the sacrament being a reflection of Christ and that we are in some way “lifted up” into His presence. Mirrors help show that.

Have people stand around the table- We have done this a few times in my church and people always find it very special. We have everybody come up and crowd around the table. We then take the elements and pass them around as a family would. I realize not every church can do this, but this is one that small churches need to try. I also recommend have some chairs or the first pew available for those with mobility issues.

What other things do you do to liven up communion?

Communion Thoughts #5- Seven Great Images for Communion

I have been writing a series of blogs about Communion. I talked about WHAT IS COMMUNION and WHAT HAPPENS DURING COMMUNION. I also blogged about HOW IT IS SERVED. In my last blog I talked about WHY I AM NOT DOING COMMUNION BY INTINCTION ANYMORE.

Here is my big point with this blog series: I love communion. I don’t want to get rid of it. I don’t think we should just change to fit the culture. But I do think that we need to take a hard look at the symbols and words that we are using. Sometimes they don’t mean now what they used to. Sometimes they actually mean something else that represents the opposite of what they were intended. Sometimes our practices do not accurately represent our theology or our intention for an act.Jesus communion

With this in mind, I want to shift this blog series from a theological and theoretical focus to a very practical focus. So here are seven images and symbols that I like to use or emphasize during communion. I might use these as I am serving the elements or as part of my introduction. Sometimes I use them in sermons leading up to communion.

  1. The Gathered Loaf– One of the oldest communion liturgies that we have comes from the Didache. It uses this line: “As this broken bread was scattered over the hills and then, when gathered, became one mass, so may Thy Church be gathered from the ends of the earth into Thy Kingdom.” This is such a beautiful image. The bread was once many different grains on many different fields but they were mixed together to make the one loaf. This is what the church is. It is a collection of people God brings together.
  2. Ordinary Grape Juice or Wine– I love the idea that we do not use special or super-holy juice or wine or the sacrament. Somebody went to the grocery store and bought grape juice. The person who bought the grape juice in front of ours just wanted to drink grape juice, but our ordinary grape juice was pulled out for a sacred use. It was used to represent the covenant of Jesus. That is our story. We are ordinary and called out to represent God’s covenant in this world.
  3. Broken and Pressed– Sometimes people pre-cut the loaf of bread so that it is easier for the pastor to break. I sometimes like for that to not be done. I emphasize that it was not easy for Jesus to pay the price for our sin. He did so with His own broken body. It is not easy for us to follow Jesus either. So I emphasize the difficulty as I work to break the bread. A similar image is found in thinking about where the juice comes from. The grapes have to be pressed. This also opens up the imagery from 2 Corinthians 4 that we are “pressed but not crushed.” Communion reminds us that Jesus was pressed and broken for all the places where we are pressed and broken.
  4. The Table– My teacher Leonard Sweet has written a great book about the idea of table called TABLET TO TABLE. We fail to understand the importance of tabling with others because we don’t eat at dinner tables very often anymore. Jesus was crucified in great part because of who He at with. To eat with someone in Jesus’ day was to accept them. The table is the place where we are accepted by God.
  5. Lifted Up– One of the common images in the communion liturgy is to lift up your hearts to the Lord. This is such a great image. We are, at the table, lifted up by the power of the Holy Spirit into the presence of God. Think about that—God is not brought down but we are lifted up. What are the things in your life that you need to be lifted up from? Sometimes communion is served on mirrors to represent this idea that when we look at the table or look at the elements we are peering up into heaven.
  6. Communion Tokens– I bought a couple of communion tokens on Ebay and get them out every once in a while. The idea was that before communion you would meet with the elders of the church who would question you to see if you were living faithfully to Christ. If you were, they would deem you able to take communion and give you a communion token. You would then give that token on your way to the table. The practice did not hang around because it was cumbersome and judgement. We have enough problems nominating elders in many churches. It was a little antithetical to the grace of the table. But it also showed the importance of judging your heart and your faith before you go to the table.
  7. Show forth the Lord’s Death– These words are Paul’s commentary of his retelling of the first communion in 1 Corinthians 11. They orient the focus on the Lord’s death and the meaning of that sacrifice. These words also mean that we show forth. We carry on the image. We bring it forward. But the time is coming when we will no longer do communion. We do it until the Lord comes again. It is a place holder. When Jesus comes it will no longer be necessary to have a symbol because we will have the Lamb.

WHY I AM NOT DOING INTINCTION ANYMORE

Intinction is the style of communion where a person takes a piece of bread (often ripping it off of the loaf) and dips it into a communal cup of wine (or often grape juice). This practice is seen as early as the writing so Julius I in around 340 A.D. It way predates our use of individual cups in the pews, which don’t date until the 1890’s.

Recently I have become aware that the practice of intinction bothers some people. People are touching the loaf and sharing germs. People often end up putting their fingers (and fingernails) into the cup, especially if they only rip off a small piece of bread. If we used wine it would kill more germs, but not all. The other problem is that some people rip off a very large piece of bread and have to awkwardly dip it and take a long time to consume it. Some people don’t care for the texture of soggy bread, and I always end up having to wipe juice off of the floor after we have intinction. I am just glad that we do not have carpeting.

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When I first heard about these complaints from people in my church, I brushed it off. These people just need to get over it, right? But the more I thought about it, the more that I found that needing to “get over it” to come to the communion table is contrary to the message of the table. Communion should be a symbol of welcome, of love, and of gratitude. You don’t have to “get over” the junk in your life—sin, bad habits, guilt, shame. The whole story is that Jesus paid for those on the cross. He “got over” those things for you.

For many people, intinction becomes a time of stress, worry, and disgust. The symbol is backfiring. For many people in the pews today, communion by intinction represents the opposite of what it is meant to represent.

We could change the practice. The bread could be pre-cut. The server could dip the bread. But, in the end, I think I am not doing it anymore. I am doing communion, but that particular expression or style of communion is leaving my practice. I know that some people will love this decision, others won’t understand it, and still others will dislike it. I am personally sad to see intinction go. But the symbol is such a problem for so many people that I am willing to let it go for their sakes.

This is important not just for the practice of communion. This is exactly the kind of discussion that the church needs to be in right now. The church is full of symbols. We have hymns, liturgy, architecture, personal disciplines… We have stories and metaphors. But the problem with all language and especially with symbolic language or practice is that it changes.

Different words, actions, and symbols mean different things in different place and at different times. For example, if I wear a shirt with a rainbow on it, it means something today that it did not mean just a few years ago. The word artificial used to mean “artfully and skillfully constructed,” but now it basically means the opposite.

We have lost touch with our symbols. Do people in our churches know why we light candles at the beginning of worship, why we pass the peace, or why we do communion after the sermon? Do people know that our worship spaces are modelled after the Jewish temple, that our ceilings are meant to look like the inside of a ship, or that stained glass was at one time the only Bible people had?Last supper icon

The problem is that if we don’t understand our own symbols, how can we possibly understand what will work and what will not in our culture today?

This is scary for people, because it might mean we have to change. Here is the reality: many of the things we hold as sacred are not actually sacred. They may represent something sacred—like communion representing the saving life and work of Jesus. But their particular expressions are not. We know that Jesus served communion with a meal in between the elements, so it was clearly NOT inctinction. They were developed to signify the sacred for a particular time and place. Maybe they don’t work as well or mean something else for our time and place.

If others want to do intinction then that is fine. I might revisit it again later, perhaps with some adaptation to help people accept it. But for now, I am going to set it aside.

What are your thoughts on intinction?