Category Archives: New postings

In the Lord we have an altar

In the Lord we have an altar

A refuge that warms our heart

Like a homely hearth that brightly burns.

 

Come to the altar of God.

Come and receive from His heart.

With lives open wide

To His gifts falling down

Oh come, to the altar of God.

 

Come receive at the altar of God.

Come and receive new vision and dreams.

With lives open wide to His kingdom of love

Oh come, to the altar of God.

 

Come to the altar of God.

Come and receive hope from above.

With lives open wide

To His love coming down

Oh come, to the altar of God.

Throughout Scripture and Christian traditions, altar is a constant image.  There are also subtle themes and artworks, which depict God’s heart as an altar.  When described as a homely hearth, we have here a helpful symbol of a sacred place that helps us negotiate experiences of loss, closed doors, and dashed hopes.

At God’s altar we find our place;

A home where we belong.

A refuge that warms our heart

Like a homely hearth that brightly burns.

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Preaching the story and symbol of Pentecostal tradition

With help from Wolfgang Vondey’s 2017 book, Pentecostal Theology: Living the Full Gospel (Bloomsbury T&T Clark).

Earlier this month, just before Good Friday, I was invited to preach a three message series for a church camp this coming June. I was given a theme (“Let Your Light Shine”) and asked to come up with something, “inspirational.” On Saturday before Easter, I prayed to God, “Lord, what am I going to do? What would you have me to say? Keep in mind that that the Saturday before Easter is traditionally called, Holy Saturday. And it was surely for me, a Holy Saturday for within an hour’s time, the whole series flashed before me: “Pentecost.” Moreover, what also emerged that hour was a very clear outline, preaching texts, themes and aims, for the whole three nights. That was a real “ah ha” moment; a redemptive, or redeeming insight.

Now I what greatly aided this sudden inspiration was that I had spent several months extensively reviewing and engaging Wolfgang Vondey’s 2017 book, Pentecostal Theology: Living the Full Gospel (Bloomsbury T&T Clark). I have earlier written some reviews on his book (see below for links). In my earlier reviews, I stress the book’s aesthetic qualities, imagery rich yet simple vocabulary, and highly readable and profoundly edifying prose. For these reasons, I also described it as a systematic theology that may richly fund Pentecostal preaching and congregational liturgical leadership with formatively-powerful imageries, symbols, and themes—evocatively calling people to God at the altar of Pentecost.

Now that I have actually started crafting some messages with help from Vondey’s text, it seems to me that some of you may benefit from these practical examples on how his work can function as a powerful resource for structuring messages on core Pentecostal themes. I will thus proceed in two steps. I will begin by presenting the broad outline I have developed, along with the main points of my first two messages. Then in Part Two, I will explain how Vondey’s Pentecostal Theology book funded my sermon preparation.

PART 1: three sermons on “Back to Pentecost”

Introduction to preaching series

Pentecost. Back to Pentecost.

Back to the light that comes from the fires of Pentecost.

Fires that warm the heart / make bright the face / and empower us—

For overcoming / fruit-bearing / victoriously prospering— Christian life.

Yes, let it be our aim for these nights before God

In whom within Himself burns an altar that generates—

Life-giving fires of Pentecost.

Let us come back— to Pentecost.

That’s why Church camp is often called, “retreat”; church retreat.

We cannot advance, without times of “retreat”— to holy ground.

Coming back to the mountains of sacred encounter.

Coming back to the fires of Pentecost

Falling down from the heavenly altar— where burns the loving heart of God.

We’ll be encountering this light, through a journey.

A transforming journey— across three mountains. Three mountain peaks.

Where at each mountain top, we’ll encounter God— at the altar / on holy ground.

A map for the journey:

1st session 2nd session 3rd session
Mountain Horeb Zion/Upper Room Bethany
Text Ex 3.1-5 Acts 1.8; 2.1-4; 17-21 Mt 5.1-3, 16; 28.16-20
Title “Behold the Light” “Receive the Light” “Show Forth the Light”
Main worship

movement

To the altar

Behold

At the altar

Receive

From the altar

Show forth

1st sermon outline (“Behold the Light”; Exodus 3.1-5):

  1. The desert is the place— of God-encounter.
  2. The holiest God-encounters are always— altar calls.
  3. God’s heart is an altar: it generates— Pentecost.
  4. Coming to God’s altar, starts with focused worship.

2nd sermon outline (“Receive the Light”; Acts 1.8; 2.1-4, 17-21)

  1. God’s love.
  2. Visions and dreams.
  3. Boundary-breaking prayer: tongues speech.
  4. Passion for God’s coming kingdom.

3rd sermon outline (“Show Forth the Light”; Mat 5.1-3, 16; 28.16-20)

Not developed yet.

End-camp practical take-away:

Three spiritual formation practices in the key of Pentecostal spirituality

The three messages suggest a practical “take-away,” that participants may practice as a “rhythm” within their ongoing spiritual formation. Each cycle comprises a narrative journey, yet can be also viewed as a spiralling process.

Life practice God encountered as:
1 To the altar / Behold Saviour/Sanctifier
2 At the altar / Receive Spirit Baptiser / Healer
3 From the altar / Show forth Coming King

PART 2: Themes retrieved from Vondey’s Pentecostal Theology book

For a summary of and reviews I have made on Vondey’s book, see the following links:

My earlier blog posting: https://monteleerice.wordpress.com/2017/09/23/review-vondey-wolfgang-pentecostal-theology-living-the-full-gospel-2017

My review at Asian Journal of Pentecostal Studies: http://www.apts.edu/aeimages/File/AJPS_PDF/18-1-BR-Monte-Lee-Rice.pdf

Wolfgang Vondey, Pentecostal Theology: Living the Full Gospel (London, UK: Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2017), in Asian Journal of Pentecostal Studies 21. No. 1 (February 2018): 98-103.

What I want to specifically mention here, is Vondey’s main thesis, and how he has conceptualised the Pentecostal Fivefold Gospel as a “narrative” of common Pentecostal practices that are commonly performed within a given movement related to a metaphoric place Pentecostals have historically typified as the “altar.”

Vondey’s main thesis is this:

“Pentecost is the core theological symbol of Pentecostal theology, and its theological narrative is the full gospel.” (p. 1). Coupled to this thesis is another major argument Vondey stresses. Namely, that in Pentecostal liturgical life, the notion of “altar” or “altar space,” is a core “metaphor” describing a “ritual space” (p. 5, 40) around which the Fivefold Gospel narrates Pentecostal movement to, at, and from a place of God-encounter, to the world in mission, and back to the altar (pp. 5, 30-31, 55, 84-85, 90, 108-109, 288-289, 292).[1]

Therefore, and this is most important to note, Vondey suggests that in Pentecostalism the Full Gospel actually functions not just or even primarily as a doctrinal confession, but rather as a narrative of common Pentecostal practices that both shape and emerge from the Pentecostal experiences of salvation, sanctification, Spirit baptism, healing, and reign of God, which Pentecostals also experience as increasing eschatological passion for the soon coming of Christ and God’s kingdom in its fullness (pp. 288-294).[2] Hence, Vondey proposes that the Fivefold gospel expresses a narrative movement around the altar that goes like this:

Saviour: To the altar.

Sanctifier: At the altar.

Spirit Baptiser: Through the altar.

Healer: From the altar to the world.

Coming King: Away from the altar in the world.

We must note that Vondey stresses this narrative movement as a heuristic reading, not an absolute structure. Hence, the narrative is a generalised observation, recognising there are diversities to the movement that do not always necessarily follow this scheme or narrated structure. Yet he also asserts that phenomenologically, the narrative broadly describes the ritual life of Pentecostals worldwide. In my three message series, I have condensed Vondey’s narrative into three movements.

To conclude by reiterating my earlier statement, Vondey’s Pentecostal Theology book provides salient resources for funding Pentecostal preaching and congregational liturgical leadership. It does so through formatively-powerful imageries, symbols, and themes— evocatively calling people to God at the altar of Pentecost. I hope my own present work at crafting out a message series that draws deeply from some of Vondey’s main themes, provides a helpful example to other preachers who may benefit from this germane homiletical resource.

Amazon link:
[1] For further clarity to this theme of the “altar” as a metaphor for the Pentecostal ritual space, see also Vondey, “Pentecostal Sacramentality and the Theology of the Altar,” in Scripting Pentecost: A Study of Pentecostals, Worship and Liturgy, eds. Mark J. Cartledge and A.J. Swoboda (New York, NY: Routledge, 2017), 94-107 (98-101).

[2] For further clarity to how the Full Gospel narrates pentecostal “altar”-rooted practices, see Vondey, “Embodied Gospel: The Materiality of Pentecostal Theology,” in Annual Review of the Sociology of Religion: Volume 8: Pentecostals and the Body, eds., Michael Wilkinson and Peter Althouse (The Netherlands, Leiden: Brill, 2017), 102-119 (103).

Pisgah

In the Bible we read about Moses at Mount Pisgah.
This might be Beach Pisgah, where see the boats sail.

But brooding can mean waiting, like the hen over her not yet born; or when the Spirit of God brood over the waters, giving birth to something new.

Christ the Healer, risen to heal

Through His Spirit, God has raised Christ the Healer

From the dead that all creation be healed

Through the healing of people

Becoming one with Him

In likeness and mission.

 

Grant us Father

Daily life through the Spirit of Jesus

That we may rise daily to Your mission

Before us for the saving of nations

And healing of all creation.

 

This we pray

Through Jesus Christ our Lord

Who lives and reigns with You

And the Holy Spirit, One God

Now and forever.

Amen.

Sunset suburst

Holy Saturday

“On the Great Saturday the body of the Son of God rested in the earth; he had already conquered death but had not yet been revealed as the risen One. The same hold for the prayer of the heart. . . .
Like the myrrh bearers, it learns from the Spirit the inventiveness of divine love.
The most beautiful service the Church renders to this world is to come to the tomb and to stand at the later of the heart, not now to embalm the body of Jesus but to heal the dead who throng the Earth by offering them even now the hope and pledge of the Resurrection.”

Heavenly Father
We thank you that you have delivered from darkness through the coming of Your Son, the true light who by the power of Your Spirit— transfigures our moral bodies for life in your coming kingdom.

As we remember the death of your Son and His resurrection on Easter morning, sanctify our raging fires.

Order them as one single passion towards Your coming kingdom.
Through the life of Your Son before us, and Your Spirit in us—
Transform our diverse passions as one labour joined with You for the saving of nations and healing of all creation, now happening through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead

We pray this in His name
Who lives with you through Your Holy Spirit;
One God, now and forever.
Amen.

Quote from Jean Corbon, The Wellspring of Worship, trans. by Matthew J. O’ Connell (San Francisco, CA: Ignatius Press, 1988), pp. 211.

Reflections from SPS 2018 meeting

Through the relational encounters, stimulating sessions, and hospitable ethos, I have departed from the 2018 Society for Pentecostal Studies meeting with renewed passion towards serving the Pentecostal tradition— for the unifying renewal of the global Church.
 
While this was my seventh consecutively attended conference, I find myself again renewed in conviction that I am a son of the Pentecostal Full Gospel, a steward entrusted with its saving grace for the whole world, and servant to its message of Christ our Saviour, Sanctifier, Spirit-baptiser, Healer, and Coming King.
 
From varied sessions, several themes sustain my departing reflection:
“Church, where is your good news for the poor? Have we traded our prophetic voice for a seat at the table at the privileged?”
 
“Where the margins are, Pentecost explodes.”
 
“Let us pray for those who cannot pray, for ours is simple and humble faith.”
 
“Let us listen to the questions the Majority World is asking, and let their questions shape our answers.” (paraphrase from Carlos Cardoza Orlandi’s plenary session on “The Breath of the Spirit and Our Theological Vocation”)
 
Pentecostal spirituality envisions and fosters:
A way of salvation, where through Christ the Spirit grows us into God’s loving presence, healing us by re-ordering their affections towards His kingdom, and sending them us in mission with God in behalf of its coming.
 
A holy way that forms a new people who embody and enact holy love.
 
An apostolic way of life within the mission of God for the renewal of all creation.
Paraphrased points from Dale Coulter’s plenary session on “Recovering a Wesleyan Vision of Pentecostalism: Five Theses”).
stock-vector-pentecost-descent-of-the-holy-spirit-in-form-of-tongues-of-fire-with-symbolic-people-or-645142681670722847.jpg

I am both and more

I am far more “hetro” than “mono”

I am no more either West or East

Yet a product of both and more

I am Pentecostal and Catholic

Yet can we really be otherwise?

With my whole body

I praise the Lord

Speaking in tongues

Yet love doing so

Through well written litanies.

On the earth I am a stranger

A migrant and foreigner

Yet building altars

On the way

The reasons I am preferentially pro-migrant, pro-refugee, pro-racial minority, pro-cultural/racial diversity, pro-whole world, and very anti-nationalist spirit—

Is that I’ve lived almost half life abroad from my homeland,

Have experienced what it means to be a racial minority,

And am part of a cross-national/racial/cultural marriage.

I thus detest xenophobia (“fear of strangers”) in all its forms.

 

The Bible characters I thus identify most with, are people like

Abraham, Moses, Ruth, Ezekiel, and the apostle Paul.

Like them, I have lived in tents,

Walked the desert paths,

And built altars in many foreign lands.

So the biblical metaphors that describe me are those of

Alien status,

Pilgrimage,

Sojourning,

And foreigner.

 

The biblical practices I value most are

Hospitality,

Breaking bread with others,

And embracing otherness.

 

Yet I believe—

All these themes describe what Christian faith is all about:

Learning to enjoy, learn, and receive from one another,

The many tongues of Pentecost.

This is the mystery of the Gospel:

That we who are different and many, learn through the Spirit of fellowship—

How to embrace one another as one new humanity, on the way to new creation.

 

Perhaps for me, the most formative Pentecostal theologian on me remains, Walter Hollenweger, father of the modern critical Pentecostal theological tradition, and early articulator of the Pentecostal giftedness towards “oral theology and liturgy.” Hollenweger was also a poet. One of my favourite pieces from him, is the “Prayer of the Frog.” For the frog is an “in-between” creature: home in two worlds, yet not fully belonging to either world. Both worlds function as a liminal threshold— to somewhere else, a place better than either, yet built on the best of both worlds.

“Prayer of the Frog,” by Walter Hollenweger.

“Sometimes, I feel like a frog,

Happy in the waterpond—

until I run out of air and creep on land.

Happy in the fresh air,

until my skins hurts in the glaring sun and I plunge back into the water.

O God,

Why did you make me an in-between creature, neither fish nor fowl?

Why am I not a flamingo, or an eagle or a mighty roaring lion?

Just a frog?

You did not ask me whether I wanted to be a frog,

Nor whether I wanted to be at all,

Nor did my parents ask me.

So, I am, what I am, an in-between being.

When I am with the feminists they call me “macho”

because I want to pray “Our Father.”

When I am with the pacifists they call me a war-monger

because I do not believe that the abolishment of the Swiss Army serves world peace.

When I am with the military they call me a pacifist

because I find it a scandal how we treat the conscientious objectors.

When I am with the Christians, they say I am not a Christian

because I find many of their convictions superfluous.
When I am with the Non-Christians the say I am a Christian

because I believe in Jesus Christ.

When I am with the progressives they say I am conservative

because I do not know how to re-organize world trade justly.

When I am with the rich people they say I am a leftist

because I expect them to share their riches.

When I am with the Catholics they say that I am a Protestant

because I do not believe in the infallibility of the pope.

When I am with the Protestants they say I am a Catholic

because I like the Catholic liturgy.

When I am with the Ecumenists they say that I am a Pentecostal

because I would like to see more of the Spirit in the ecumenical movement.

When I am with the Pentecostals they say I am an ecumenist

because I am convinced that they need the ecumenical movement.

When I am with the critical exegetes they call me “pious”

because God sometimes speaks to me in Scripture.

When I with the uncritical Bible readers they say that I do not believe in the Bible

because I do not accept their facile interpretations.

 

O God, you alone know what I am.

Help me to believe that this is enough.

You made me an in-between being so that I can be an evangelist.

But God it is a tough job.

Sometimes I am confused and terrified.

Strengthen my faith so that I am

A cheerful in-between creature, a happy frog.

From Pentecostalism: Origins and Developments Worldwide (1997).