finally…an update

Grace and peace be with you!

Many of you have encouraged me to continue blogging so that you are able to get a glimpse into my field of study (liturgical studies and preaching), a field that is the “road less traveled” in contemporary theology. Others of you want me to write so that you can stay up-to-date with my academic pursuits. Either way, I owe you both an apology since it has been too long since I last posted.

To bring you up to speed here, let me list the two classes I am taking and try to explain what they are about.

1. Early Christian Ritual and Symbol: This course is part of my Christian Worship major and deals with the evolution of early Christian rituals (namely baptism and the Lord’s Table) and symbols (we’ve discussed literally dozens of symbols ranging from the Cross to the peacock). The main point here is that the way in which early Christians chose to practice baptism and the Lord’s Table (two sacraments for which there is little practical instruction in Scripture) tells us a great deal about what they believed. Likewise, the symbols that Christians used in their primitive art tells us something about their belief. An example of this is the prevalence of the symbol “Chi-Rho” (as seen below).In this symbol, the two Greek letters “Chi” (the X) and “Rho” (the P) are placed on top of one another. These two letters are the first two letters in the Greek word Christos, which translates the Hebrew meshiach, which means ‘Anointed One.’ We commonly refer to Jesus as the ‘Christ’, which is the English equivalent of these terms. The fact that this symbol appears often in many places in antiquity speaks to the fact that these early Christians placed the most emphasis on Jesus Christ as they distinguished themselves from the rest of the culture.

Though symbols like these are interesting, I am writing my final paper on an early Christian ritual that we still practice today: Baptism. There was a Christian pastor named St. John Chrysostom who lived in Antioch and in Constantinople in the mid-fourth century. As the local pastor, he was responsible for guiding and teaching those who wanted to become part of the Church. Many months before they were baptized, they would come to church and listen to sermons that taught them the meaning and implication of baptism. Then they would be dismissed from the sanctuary before the Eucharist was celebrated since only the baptized could see and participate in the Eucharist. This would happen week after week during the season of Lent. Then, on Easter morning, those who remained in the group would be baptized as the Church remembered the resurrection of Christ. My paper for this class is on St. John Chrysostom’s sermons that he preached to the soon-to-be-baptized. I’m interested in how he communicated what actually happens during the baptism.

2. Knowledge Claims in the Ministry of Preaching: Okay, that’s a mouthful. This class is basically a toned-down philosophy class dealing with the way we know things. Every preacher who gets into the pulpit to preach claims to know certain things that are based on different foundations. Some base their knowledge in the words of the Bible, others in their day-to-day human experiences. Many preachers are unaware that they do this, and often their preaching suffers because of it.

This class has introduced us to many different approaches to “epistemology” (the study of knowledge) and how they encounter Christian faith. For this class, I am writing a paper on the preaching of John Calvin, the sixteenth-century reformer of Geneva, Switzerland. In this paper, I am reading sixteen sermons that Calvin preached on the Ten Commandments and analyzing how Calvin thought the Law helped us know God and God’s will.

I am taking two classes this quarter, which is one more than is normal for doctoral students. I’m having a difficult time keeping up with all the work, but I think it makes the most sense with what is coming up next for Katie and me, namely, having a baby. At this rate, assuming I can fulfill my second language requirement (Ecclesiastical Latin) in due time, I will be in a good position to finish my first round of coursework this time next year and be ready for my comprehensive exams next Spring (2011). I would appreciate your prayers and your comments.

God be with you.


No updates this week

Hi everyone. I just wanted to let you all know that I will most likely be delaying any more updates to my blog until next week due to finals and everything.

I just arrived home from the Academy of Homiletics annual meeting and I have thought of several topics to consider next week. Hopefully you will find them interesting.

Until then, I will be knee-deep in my research and writing for my paper for my liturgical theology class. My professor has encouraged me with the fact that this paper stands a good chance of being published, pending his review. While certainly exciting, I also feel an incredible amount of pressure.

The paper is due on Friday, so if I don’t respond to your e-mails or texts or comments until then, I apologize in advance.

Thanks everyone. See you next week!


Second Week of Advent (Year C)

Weekly lections for the Second Week of Advent (Year C). Enjoy!

I realize that this week there is no Psalm reading, and that two passages are included from the gospel according to Luke. I think that during Advent, the Psalm reading is moveable (and occasionally optional). Also note that Catholic and Orthodox lections this week include a reading from the apocryphal book of Baruch as an option to the passage from Malachi. As I stand in the Protestant tradition, I have elected to include only the canonical readings.

All passages are taken from the New Revised Standard Version of the Holy Bible.

Malachi 3:1-4 (Old Testament)

3:1 See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple. The messenger of the covenant in whom you delight–indeed, he is coming, says the LORD of hosts.

3:2 But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap;

3:3 he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the descendants of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, until they present offerings to the LORD in righteousness.

3:4 Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the LORD as in the days of old and as in former years.

Luke 1:68-79 (Functional Psalm – Canticle of Zechariah)

1:68 “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them.

1:69 He has raised up a mighty savior for us in the house of his servant David,

1:70 as he spoke through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old,

1:71 that we would be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us.

1:72 Thus he has shown the mercy promised to our ancestors, and has remembered his holy covenant,

1:73 the oath that he swore to our ancestor Abraham, to grant us

1:74 that we, being rescued from the hands of our enemies, might serve him without fear,

1:75 in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.

1:76 And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,

1:77 to give knowledge of salvation to his people by the forgiveness of their sins.

1:78 By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us,

1:79 to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

Philippians 1:3-11 (New Testament Epistle)

1:3 I thank my God every time I remember you,

1:4 constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you,

1:5 because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now.

1:6 I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ.

1:7 It is right for me to think this way about all of you, because you hold me in your heart, for all of you share in God’s grace with me, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel.

1:8 For God is my witness, how I long for all of you with the compassion of Christ Jesus.

1:9 And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight

1:10 to help you to determine what is best, so that in the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless,

1:11 having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God.

Luke 3:1-6 (Gospel)

3:1 In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene,

3:2 during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness.

3:3 He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins,

3:4 as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah, “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.

3:5 Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth;

3:6 and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.'”


“Waiting for the Bus” (An Advent Poem)

In reflecting on the Gospel text for this week in Advent (Luke 21:25-36), I began considering the idea of waiting for the coming of Christ. While I was at Starbucks doing some reading and writing, I noticed a friend of mine waiting for the bus she takes to Hollywood. Inspired by this analogy for waiting, I wrote this Advent poem: “Waiting for the Bus.”

“Waiting for the Bus” (An Advent Poem)
Joseph Novak

I watched her wait for the bus.
Eyes patiently sifting the traffic for the crimson 780.
Mind fixed on each shape in the horizon.
Waiting for the bus.

I watched her wait for the bus.
I watched, but I wasn’t waiting for the bus.
I was reading.

A good book, I might add.
Deep and meaningful.
Rich and inspiring.

I wasn’t waiting for the bus.

My eyes and mind glanced from the page to the floor
to pick up my pen.

When I looked up, she was gone.

The bus had come.
The bus had gone.
The fiery 780 here, then there.
I missed it.

But then, I wasn’t waiting for the bus.

I was reading.


First Week of Advent (Year C)

Hi everyone.

Each week during Advent, I’ll be posting the Sunday lectionary texts so you can stop buy and read some Scripture and reflect on them with me.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the lectionary, let me explain. The Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) was a collaborative attempt by many Christian liturgists and leaders to coordinate and synchronize the public reading of Scripture in local congregations.

Beginning in Advent (usually last week in November) the RCL follows the Church Year and assigns each Sunday an Old Testament text, a Psalm, an Epistle text, and a Gospel text. Some churches choose to preach from the RCL each week, thus never running into the problem of “what text should I preach from?” The RCL is divided into three years of public readings. The idea is that at the end of three years, approximately 80-85% of the Bible is read out loud in church.

Many mainline Protestant churches follow the lectionary, as do Catholic and Orthodox churches. Many evangelical churches are also becoming interested in following the lectionary as well, so don’t be surprised if your church follows these readings!

Here is the OT, Psalm, NT, and Gospel texts for this first week in Advent. All texts are from the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible.


Jeremiah 33:14-16
33:14 The days are surely coming, says the LORD, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah.

33:15 In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David; and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.

33:16 In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. And this is the name by which it will be called: “The LORD is our righteousness.”


Psalm 25:1-10
25:1 To you, O LORD, I lift up my soul.

25:2 O my God, in you I trust; do not let me be put to shame; do not let my enemies exult over me.

25:3 Do not let those who wait for you be put to shame; let them be ashamed who are wantonly treacherous.

25:4 Make me to know your ways, O LORD; teach me your paths.

25:5 Lead me in your truth, and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all day long.

25:6 Be mindful of your mercy, O LORD, and of your steadfast love, for they have been from of old.

25:7 Do not remember the sins of my youth or my transgressions; according to your steadfast love remember me, for your goodness’ sake, O LORD!

25:8 Good and upright is the LORD; therefore he instructs sinners in the way.

25:9 He leads the humble in what is right, and teaches the humble his way.

25:10 All the paths of the LORD are steadfast love and faithfulness, for those who keep his covenant and his decrees.


1 Thessalonians 3:9-13
3:9 How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy that we feel before our God because of you?

3:10 Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you face to face and restore whatever is lacking in your faith.

3:11 Now may our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus direct our way to you.

3:12 And may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, just as we abound in love for you.

3:13 And may he so strengthen your hearts in holiness that you may be blameless before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.


Luke 21:25-36
21:25 “There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves.

21:26 People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.

21:27 Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory.

21:28 Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

21:29 Then he told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees;

21:30 as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near.

21:31 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near.

21:32 Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place.

21:33 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

21:34 “Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day catch you unexpectedly,

21:35 like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth.

21:36 Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.”


Quotes for the Journey – Part I

“Liturgy is theological precisely because here is where God’s revelation occurs steadfastly.” (David Fagerberg)


‘Praise and Worship’ as Sacrament?

I recently read an interesting article by a Yale graduate student named Sarah Koenig entitled: “This is My Daily Bread: Toward a Sacramental Theology of Evangelical Praise and Worship” (Worship 82 no. 2 March 2008, pp. 141-161).

Koenig essentially argues that for evangelical churches, the idea of a concentrated “praise and worship” time, what she describes as “several songs sung one after another [during which] the participants express ‘praise, adoration, devotion, and love’ to God and in turn, ‘through the work of the Holy Spirit, God’s presence is experienced by the worshippers” (143), actually resembles the sacramental understanding many churches have of what happens at the Lord’s Table. She maintains that churches who typically engage in “praise and worship” do not order their worship around Holy Communion, yet they still provide a vehicle in which the participants still engage God in much the same way as their Eucharistically-oriented kindred.

Through the clever reference to “popular” worship songs sung primarily at evangelical churches, and borrowing a structural model from liturgical theologian Gordon Lathrop, Koenig demonstrates some interesting parallels between the Eucharistic theology of more mainline and Catholic churches and the song-singing of Evangelical churches. In the end, she concludes that Evangelical churches are not necessarily replacing the Eucharist (especially since this action is generally held as a universal Christian practice). Instead, she uses this article as an opportunity to get more Evangelical voices engaged in the broader liturgical discussion. She concludes her article by noting that:

“Praise and Worship should be viewed as a new and welcome manifestation of old liturgical elements…It is the old form of song used in a new way to speak the grace of God to the present church. It is a new partaking, a new kind of meal. Used with wisdom and grace, Praise and Worship can enrich, not diminish, the already existing liturgical feast (the Eucharist) as it is included among and fortified by the ‘beloved, holy things'” (161).

Needless to say, it is an intriguing read. Koenig argues forcefully and develops her argument creatively. However, I would offer some general criticisms. She essentially assumes that the music present in evangelical churches functions sacramentally (that is, the participant is drawn into the mystery of God whose grace and presence is made visible in a special manner). However, I wonder if those who sing these songs actually think this way. Furthermore, many of the churches who use these songs are perfectly fine avoiding any use of the term “sacrament” as it makes them feel uncomfortable. This is problematic because she assumes that they are having a “sacramental” experience, even though they have not interest in such language. Secondly, she does not address the role that the Lord’s Supper actually plays in churches who have a “Praise and Worship” time. Finally, I think her argument might be made stronger by broadening out even further in terms of the “praise and worship” songs she referenced throughout her article.

My questions to you this week:

1. Do you go to a church whose music consists of large sets of congregational singing?
2. What do you expect to happen during these songs?
3. Does what you expect to happen actually occur regularly?

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