Today I had a mystical experience.
I bumped into my friend Horace (name changed to protect the innocent!) outside our church hall. Horace and a few of his friends like to hide behind the hall and drink sometimes, and he’s always passing through our property. Over the last year or two I’ve come to know Horace quite well.
Horace started the conversation by coming to tell me he was quite sober. I guess sobriety’s a relative concept. We had a bit of a chat. Like me, Horace grew up in New Zealand, and he always likes to talk about it. At the end of the conversation, Horace lent in, pointed to his nose, and said, “Give me a hiding.”
I replied, “Why would I want to give you a hiding?”
“Not a hiding!”, he said. “A hongi!”
Now, I’m not that well acquainted with Maori traditions, but I know enough to know that a hongi is a form of greeting involving rubbing noses and foreheads together. It’s more than just the Maori equivalent of a handshake though. It involves exchanging breath, which is a rather intimate act. I believe this has something to do with joining each others spirits together. If any of my Maori friends and whanau out there can explain further, I’d appreciate it!
So there were Horace and I touching faces in a way that some might find awkward. Two things happened.
First, as I shared Horace’s breath I couldn’t help but notice how fruity it was. It wasn’t objectionable. It was sweet yet tart, like a cheap Moselle or a Riesling. It probably was.
Second, I heard a voice say, “Breathe in the Holy Spirit.”
I didn’t hear the voice with my ears. It was inside my head, but it was as clear as anything I’ve ever heard.
Horace shook my hand and walked off, just stopping to turn and yell “WILLIAM BOOTH! GOOD GUY!” as loud as he could.
I couldn’t help but think of the opening chapters of Genesis, in which God creates a creature out of dirt and puts his breath into it, making the first human. The word for ‘breath’ in the ancient texts is the same as the word for ‘spirit.’ God imparted life to our first ancestor by breathing spirit into a bit of dirt. I wasn’t breathing the fumes of Horace’s liquid breakfast. Horace wasn’t breathing the consequence of my not having time to brush my teeth before I left home this morning.
We were sharing the Spirit of God. We were imparting life to one another.
It also brought to mind a song I used to like back in the days when I listened to Christian radio. Not only is the title perfect, but the song pretty well sums everything up too. It’s the Lost Dogs, singing “Breathe deep, the breath of God.” (I can’t embed this—please click through. The song’s wonderful.)
Here’s my sermon from Sunday, January 18, based on Matthew 4:1–17.
Here’s my sermon from Sunday, January 11 based on Matthew 3:1–17.
I’ve been wanting to start recording my sermons for a while. I don’t actually write anything down, so having some sort of a record of what I said for future reference would be useful. I also get a few requests from corps folk for recordings. So a few weeks ago the corps bought a small recorder we could plug into the sounddesk, and it works really quite well.
I haven’t done a lot of processing—just tidy up the beginning and end, run a noise removal filter, and that’s about it. I might try getting fancy later on, but in the meantime, I’m sure this will suffice. Eventually I want to be able to set it up as a podcast, get a proper web host and so one but one thing at a time!
Oh, apologies for the file size. I’m going to fiddle with a few settings to get the size down a bit in the future.
This sermon is based on Matthew 2:13–23.
Over the last few months I’ve been involved with a Facebook group called the ‘Progressive Salvationist.’ The aim of the group is simple: “This group is for Salvationists with a liberal/progressive worldview to talk freely about their beliefs without fear of condemnation. We’re not heretics, just heterodox!”
I was having a conversation on the group a while back, and somebody suggested we come up with a manifesto. I was looking for a writing project, so to cut a long story short, here we are.
This post isn’t intended as that manifesto. Rather, I just want to kick a few ideas around in case I ever get to writing the thing. Feel free to weigh in!
At this stage I’m assuming we know what is meant by ‘progressive.’ There are plenty of descriptions around the internet.
Towards a Manifesto for Progressive Salvationism
We march behind one flag
In another context I’d prefer to say, ‘There’s plenty of room at the table.’ It’s an historical peculiarity that this metaphor doesn’t work so well for the Salvation Army, but we have some good metaphors of our own.
Generally speaking, we see Progressivism as not only compatible with the fundamental core of Salvationism, but consonant. Progressive Salvationists identify as Salvationists and gladly serve in the same Army as non-Progressive Salvationists. We’re happy to work and worship alongside brother- and sister-Salvationists who might disagree with us on many points.
Progressive Salvationists affirm the Eleven Articles of Faith. It is recognised that there are a range of interpretations of these articles.
There’s room behind the flag
We’re committed to welcoming as many people as possible into the Army’s fellowship. Welcoming the ‘whosoever’ has been an historical strength of the Salvation Army and we wish this to continue as a defining aspect of Salvationism.
Progressive Salvationists particularly see that the mission of the Salvation Army to the poor is a necessary response to the claims of the Gospel. It is incumbent on the Progressive Salvationist not only to help meet the material and spiritual needs of poor people, but to advocate for poor people as a matter of justice.
Progressive Salvationists do not believe people should be excluded from soldiership or officership on the basis of their sexuality or gender identity. Moreover, we affirm the right of same-sex attracted people to live fulfilled sexual lives according to the same standards as opposite-sex attracted people. We do not believe the gender of either party in a relationship should prevent them from being married.
There’s only one flag for me
Progressive Salvationists see that their loyalty is to the Commonwealth of God rather than a particular state or nation. Whilst they may enjoy a particular affection for their country, and they may legitimately and conscionably take part in some celebrations, observances and obligations of their country, they recognise that their allegiance is to God alone.
Other things I’d like to put in here…
I haven’t really dealt with theological things yet. I’d like to put in something about evangelism and reaching the lost, perhaps with an explanation of what we mean by ‘lost.’
Do I offer a run-down of some of the interpretations of the Eleven Articles? For example, it would be good to mention that Progressives don’t necessarily like the idea of Penal Substitutionary Atonement, and that there are other ways of reading the Fifth Article.
I’d like to add something about environmental matters. This could also address eschatology, a Progressive view of science and creation…
A sI said above, this isn’t even at the rough draft stage. Comments, please!
The Salvation Army doesn’t generally observe Lent in any organised way, but at the very least I like to use the Sundays between Ash Wednesday and Good Friday to look at the Cross. I try to have an overall theme to tie it all together. This year I took as my theme, ‘Fix your eyes on Jesus.’ All of the Scripture readings expanded on this in some way.
For each week I’ve provided the Scripture reading and a note about the specific verse I looked at. For most weeks I’ve suggested songs that might be particularly appropriate. Most songs suggested are from the Salvation Army Songbook. I also asked artists and photographers in our Corps to contribute artwork for use during our meetings according to a one-word summary I provided.
Please, feel free to use this outline however and whenever you wish!
(Not strictly in Lent, but the title fit the theme!)
Scripture: Matthew 17:1-9
Title: Take a look at that!
Scripture: Hebrews 12:1-12 (verse 2)
Title: Fix your eyes on Jesus
Songs: Never mind, go on! (805); The old rugged Cross (124); Turn your eyes upon Jesus
Thought: Discipleship is an endurance event. We are to fix our eyes on Jesus as our goal, but also as an example. Glory in this race comes not through winning, but through a Cross.
Scripture: Psalm 121:1-8 (verses 1-2)
Title: Look to the Lord for help
Art word: Help
Thought: This is a Psalm of Ascent, meaning it was traditionally sung by pilgrims on their way into Jerusalem to worship at the Temple. It may have been sung by Jesus and his disciples as they approached Jerusalem before Holy week. At the time the Psalm was written it was common for people to set up shrines to their gods on top of hills. It was also common for bandits to hide in the hills in order to prey on unsuspecting travellers. Where does help come from? The hills? The Temple? Or does it come from the God of all, who is the Creator of Heaven and Earth?
Scripture: Psalm 123:1-4 (verse 1)
Title: Look to the Lord for mercy
Art word: Mercy
Songs: A mighty fortress (1); Trust in God (711)
Thought: This is another Psalm of Ascent. Mercy here doesn’t refer to mercy from an angry, vengeful God. Rather, it is a cry for justice from our Master when others would do us harm.
Scripture: Psalm 141:1-10 (verse 8)
Title: Look to the Lord for shelter
Art word: Shelter
Songs: Guide me, O thou great Jehovah (578); Jesus lover of my soul (737)
Thought: On the Jesus road there is no guarantee of safety. Remember, this is an endurance event, not a Sunday afternoon stroll. The only shelter we find is in the one who’s path finished on a Cross. This Psalm finds someone bruised and battered and at the very depth of their experience. It’s not a song we’d usually sing on a Sunday. Even so, the author has just faith enough to see that after all he’s experienced, God will bring him through.
Scripture: John 12:20-36 (Verse 32; also John 3:14-15)
Title: Look to the Lord for life
Art word: Life
Songs: He came to give us life (274); O love that will not let me go (621)
Thought: Looking to Jesus is ultimately about saying that we too will die with him. Yet this is the way to life.
Scripture: Matthew 21:1-11
Title: Look, the Lord comes!
Art word: Majesty
Songs: Crown him with many crowns (156); All glory, laud and honour (Not in the songbook, but easy to find online.)
Thought: Many people watched Jesus go into Jerusalem. What were they cheering? A king? A prophet? A warrior? A suffering servant? What sort of Messiah do we expect Jesus to be? What do we see when we look at him?
Scriptures: Isaiah 53:1-12, Psalm 22, Matthew 27:27-55
Title: Nothing much to look at
Art word: Desolation
Songs: There is a green hill (133); When I survey (136); The Old Rugged Cross (124)
In keeping with the theme of looking at the crucified Jesus I chose songs which gave rather descriptive (but family safe!) accounts of the crucifixion. I also found a reasonably family-safe video of the crucifixion, muted the sound and played it with the old song, ‘Were you there when they crucified my Lord?’ The video had different shots of onlookers—people in the crowd, soldiers, religious authorities, the two men crucified with Jesus and the women disciples watching from a distance. The disciples, as in the Bible, were notably absent.
In my sermon I looked at Isaiah 53:2-3, which might be taken as a description of Jesus on the Cross. I looked at Psalm 22 which suggests that God didn’t turn his face from Jesus, even if Jesus felt differently. I asked the congregation to consider where they might find themselves in the scene.
Scripture: Matthew 28:1-15
Title: Nothing to see here!
Art word: Hope
Songs: Up from the grave he arose (148); Christ the Lord is risen today (143); Thine is the glory (152)
Thought: I printed off many photos (as supplied by Corps members) and gave the congregation a chance to look at them, asking them to choose one that particularly resonated with them. In my sermon I reflected on the way that all the people involved with Jesus’ death must have been feeling. Some felt victorious, others had forgotten, and the disciples would have been at various stages of grief and disbelief. I asked the congregation to think about which photo the various actors would have chosen. Then I asked them to consider which photo they might have chosen after they heard of the resurrection. They were then invited to consider what effect the news of the Resurrection might have had on the photos that they had personally chosen.