Sunday, December 10, 2017

The Revised Common Lectionary: Wishing Everyone a Wrath Free Advent

My readers should be well aware of the problems with the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) that I like to point out. The most common problem is the sin of omission. The lectionary routinely cuts and splices readings, and these edits usually remove those verses which might prove upsetting to the Sunday morning pewsitters who aren't there to hear about things like God's wrath, Sin, and Hell. 

Advent is generally approached by mainline liberal churches as a period of anticipation and hope.
Last week, at my new not so mainline church, we heard a sermon in which the word "sin" was mentioned more times than I had heard in decades of sermons in various Episcopal churches. It was  refreshing that the RCL's edits were ignored. Unfortunately for most pewsitters, they will read the expurgated version of  Psalm 85 this Sunday. I have highlighted the verses that won't be heard (vs 3-7),


Psalm 85:1-2,8-13
1 You have been gracious to your land, O Lord, *
you have restored the good fortune of Jacob.
2 You have forgiven the iniquity of your people *
and blotted out all their sins. 
3 You have withdrawn all your fury *
and turned yourself from your wrathful indignation.
4 Restore us then, O God our Savior; *
let your anger depart from us.
5 Will you be displeased with us for ever? *
will you prolong your anger from age to age?
6 Will you not give us life again, *
that your people may rejoice in you?
7 Show us your mercy, O Lord, *
and grant us your salvation.
 

8 I will listen to what the Lord God is saying, *
for he is speaking peace to his faithful people
and to those who turn their hearts to him.
9 Truly, his salvation is very near to those who fear him, *
that his glory may dwell in our land.
10 Mercy and truth have met together; *
righteousness and peace have kissed each other.
11 Truth shall spring up from the earth, *
and righteousness shall look down from heaven.
12 The Lord will indeed grant prosperity, *
and our land will yield its increase.
13 Righteousness shall go before him, *
and peace shall be a pathway for his feet.

A God without wrath is a God blind to our sins, and the God I know, Jesus, has a keen eye for Sin, and he is a God who I suspect would not be pleased with some of these lectionary edits.

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

The "Travel Ban", the Drop in Muslim Refugees, and the Rise in Christian Refugees

This week's news that the Supreme Court of the United States upheld the "travel ban" issued by the Trump administration did not get much attention on the mainstream news. As I watched NBC Nightly News on Monday night, there was no mention of the decision. Instead, the main message of the nightly news was NBC's presumption that President Trump will eventually be impeached for obstruction of justice.

The "travel ban" is a separate issue from immigration, but as we have learned, many who "travel" here stay for years beyond their initial declared intention and somehow become immigrants.

The mere suggestion that President Trump is anti-muslim, and the threat of the "travel ban" may have been factors behind the drop in Muslim immigration reported this summer by Pew research and the Religion News Service (a liberal outfit),

 (RNS) "Christians made up the majority of refugees admitted to the U.S. in the first five full months of the Trump administration, reversing a trend that saw Muslims entering the country at higher numbers under President Obama, a new Pew Research report shows."
I am encouraged by the increase in Christian refugees as the world is becoming increasingly hostile to us.

Let 'em in!

Sunday, December 03, 2017

New Church Year Resolutions

The following is a re-post of one I wrote 3 years ago, and I still think the idea of Advent resolutions is a good one since we are beginning a new church/liturgical year.

Advent Resolutions:

Today is the first Sunday of Advent, and it marks the beginning of a new Church year. I never have been too keen on New Year's resolutions as the whole new year thing always seemed rather arbitrary to me.

After all, who made January 1 the first day of the new year? Julius Caesar?  Pope Gregory XIII?

Do we really want our year's beginning be a remembrance of a two faced god?


Janus: the god of beginnings and transitions, thence also of gates, doors, doorways, endings and time. He is usually a two-faced god since he looks to the future and the past.


Nope, not me, no way.

Perhaps every day should mark a new beginning, and it should demand new resolutions from us.

Nope, that would be too tough.

The liturgical year begins today, so why not start the year with Advent resolutions?

I can hear it now, "Are you nuts?"

Yes I am.

So this year I resolve to...

Oh God, I hate resolutions, and I hate to write them down. That makes them so permanent.

Alright, I resolve to pray daily.

Today I will pray for peace as our Choral Society will today when they sing Vivaldi's  Gloria which includes "Et in Terra Pax".


Luke 2:14 "Gloria in altissimis Deo et in terra pax in hominibus bonae voluntatis."
There.

Done.

Peace.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

"A full-time job involved in the death of people is probably a bit too much, and ‘probably’ is a euphemism.”

The euthanasia (or physician assisted death) movement is alive and well in the Netherlands where the demand for physicians is increasing according to a recent article in the Guardian,
"The number of people euthanised in the Netherlands this year is set to exceed 7,000 – a 67% rise from five years ago – in what has been described by the director of the country’s only specialist clinic as the end of “a taboo” on killing patients who want to die."
"Steven Pleiter, director at the clinic, said that in response to growing demand he was now on a recruitment drive aimed at doubling the number of doctors and nurses on his books willing to go into people’s homes to administer lethal injections to patients with conditions ranging from terminal illnesses to crippling psychiatric disorders."
The article goes on to describe a 60 year old man with obsessive compulsive disorder that the clinic "helped".  The fact that they have expanded their market by taking on the non-terminally ill is chilling.
Prof Theo Boer, a professor of ethics at the Theological University of Kampen, added: “In the beginning, 98% of cases were terminally ill patients with perhaps days to live. That’s now down to 70%.
Is that something to be proud of? Who will be next?

The effect on physician providers strikes me as exactly what one would expect for executioners, not enough are signing up for the job, and this is a problem for the business of death,
“We ask the doctors to work eight to 16 hours a week for this organisation. A full-time job involved in the death of people is probably a bit too much, and ‘probably’ is a euphemism.”
The next statement sounds like an echo of an evaluation of a death camp by a superior officer,

“There is no dispute about the good intentions of the people at the end of life clinic. [But] they may have become too used to doing euthanasia. Yes they have expertise but they are too experienced. You should never get used to helping someone die.”
I have a sick feeling from reading this, and I apologize to my readers if it has caused any distress, but this is what happens to a society that walks away from Jesus.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

The Dilemma of the Sheep and the Goats

This Sunday's Gospel reading is Matthew 25:31-46 and contains the prediction of the separation of the sheep from the goats.

‘When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. Then the king will say to those at his right hand, “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?” And the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family,* you did it to me.” Then he will say to those at his left hand, “You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.” Then they also will answer, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?” Then he will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.” And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.’

The message of the importance of charity is clear, but the dilemma revisionist preachers face this Sunday is that they have to revise the parts of this reading that do not fit the message they want to send to their sheep. You see, the revisionist preacher wants to focus on how his sheep are really good at bringing meals to each other when a member is sick, and how their congregation welcomes "strangers" (meaning: LGBTs), but they have to do this while studiously avoiding all of Jesus' talk about Hell and damnation.

Or maybe that is no dilemma at all to the devoted revisionist.

Yeah, no problem at all. In fact, I have heard it handled quite easily in the past. The revisionist preacher starts out with a story about their Thanksgiving family dinner and how they treated the rest of their family and then they find a way to tie it into the first part of the Gospel reading all the while ignoring the harshness of the second half. Presto, change-o, Biblical Jesus becomes revisionist Jesus.

This season is the time in which we all express our thankfulness for God's blessing, not the least of which is the fact that He deems to save us from the eternal damnation and Hell fire awaiting those who reject Him.

Like it or not, we need to be continually reminded of this.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

The Scandal of Lust: A Very Old Problem

The recent spate of sex scandals in the U.S. involving celebrities and politicians differ in some respects from past scandals, but they share the same the same root cause: our failure to listen to Jesus.

Today's scandals tend to involve touching, speech, and "sexual harassment" along with abuse of power to gain sexual favors, whereas past scandals usually were the result of the physical act of adultery and also the abuse of power in a relationship.

"Touching" is used as a way of testing the receptiveness of a potential mate. Back in the 1960's there was a hit song by the Beatles, "I wanna hold your hand" which shows one way of initiating touch, and that is by asking first. About that time, I had a friend in my Christian school who was very "touchy" with girls. He would put his arm around a girl without asking. His behavior stood out as atypical among his peers (teenage boys) and was not always welcomed by girls, but it was welcomed often enough to encourage the behavior.

"Speech" had certain norms back then as well. It was presumed that boys would be the ones to telephone the girls and also be the ones to initiate physical contact and not the other way around. That was also a time when boys talked a lot about "getting to first base" and beyond in what is now frowned upon and referred to as "locker room talk".

"Sexual harassment" is a newer concept and it is becoming so hard to define as it encompasses more and more variations that one has to conclude that like beauty, it is in the eyes of the beholder. In other words, each generation makes it up as they go because they do not hold to a higher, absolute moral standard.

"Power", in my youth, was exerted by parents, adults, teachers, the Headmaster, and the Assistant Headmaster. We all heard the rumors of what happened to young boys in the Assistant Headmaster's office.

Since the sexual revolution, things have changed. As far as speech and touch go, it is now not uncommon for teenage girls to be the first to call boys on their phones and even to send nude photos of themselves via "sexting". Abuse of power has been stood on its head as female teachers are caught seducing teenage boys with increasing frequency. Sexual harassment, while it no doubt existed in the past has only recently come into the lexicon and, as I mentioned earlier, is hard to define exactly.

Or have things changed?

Remember my friend from school? His younger sister, along with another girl, once pulled a shy young boy into the girl's restroom and pulled down his pants in what was the big scandal of the Eighth Grade.

Adults were expected to behave differently from young teens, but the idea of the "Playboy" and the "Playmate" introduced by Hugh Hefner showed that you didn't have to grow out of childish behaviors. It should be obvious that those behaviors may persist into adulthood, particularly if they prove successful in the mating game.

On a number of occasions, I have observed elderly men trying to grope nurses who were trying to start intravenous lines in their arms. When discussing this issue with the nurses, I had to conclude that the behavior, while unacceptable, "Must have worked for them at least once".

Not only do helpless frail old men do it, but people in positions of power are most prone to use their status when attempting to make "first contact". We can learn from the Bible that the abuse of power in this way is displeasing to God and results in great harm not just to individuals but to entire peoples, especially when sex is involved. Remember the sin of David and Bathsheba? How about the sin of Lot's daughters?

So maybe things haven't changed in that while the human sex drive is the same, the rules governing its expression keep changing because people have tossed out the rules laid down in the Bible. Society has made its own bed, and now we have to lie in it.

Our society's response to the current sex scandals is like that of a post sexual-revolutionary mob, a mob that has rejected Jesus as its guide, a mob that glorifies sex for fun, and a mob that, without guiding principles, can only cause more destruction. So all we can expect from the revolutionaries are the confused and logically inconsistent responses to today's scandals and lame suggestions on how to stop them that we get from the mainstream news media and the worldly pundits as they dare not speak one word about what the Bible has to say on the subject.

We need to teach our children, our friends, and the powerful to love God and others as ourselves just as God's Commandments and as Jesus taught.

Today's celebrities and politicians should also not forget that the commandments about lust and adultery are still in there.

They need to be taught that Jesus said that adultery is more than just a physical act, something that former President Clinton erased from our cultural heritage with just a few words, "I did not have sex with that woman."

The old joke goes like this,
The Hebrews sent someone up the mountain to check on Moses and to find out about how the negotiations with God over the Commandments were going. Moses told him, "Tell the people that I have some good news and some bad news. The good news is that I've got Him talked down to ten. The bad news is that the one about adultery is still in there."

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Lectionary Options: Your Parish and Its True Colors

Churches following the Revised Common Lectionary sometimes are faced with options when selecting readings from the Bible for their Sunday worship services. This Sunday gives us two very different options from the old Testament,  Option A: Judges 4:1-7 (Deborah is the star) paired with Psalm 123 (mostly harmless), or Option B: Zephaniah 1:7,12-18 paired with Psalm 90:1-8,(9-11),12 (full of reminders to fear the Lord).

First let's take a look at Option A,
Judges 4:1-7 
The Israelites again did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, after Ehud died. So the Lord sold them into the hand of King Jabin of Canaan, who reigned in Hazor; the commander of his army was Sisera, who lived in Harosheth-ha-goiim. Then the Israelites cried out to the Lord for help; for he had nine hundred chariots of iron, and had oppressed the Israelites cruelly for twenty years. 
At that time Deborah, a prophetess, wife of Lappidoth, was judging Israel. She used to sit under the palm of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim; and the Israelites came up to her for judgement. She sent and summoned Barak son of Abinoam from Kedesh in Naphtali, and said to him, ‘The Lord, the God of Israel, commands you, “Go, take position at Mount Tabor, bringing ten thousand from the tribe of Naphtali and the tribe of Zebulun. I will draw out Sisera, the general of Jabin’s army, to meet you by the Wadi Kishon with his chariots and his troops; and I will give him into your hand.” ’
Psalm 123 Ad te levavi oculos meos 
1 To you I lift up my eyes, *to you enthroned in the heavens.2 As the eyes of servants look to the hand of their masters, *and the eyes of a maid to the hand of her mistress,3 So our eyes look to the Lord our God, *until he show us his mercy.4 Have mercy upon us, O Lord, have mercy, *for we have had more than enough of contempt,5 Too much of the scorn of the indolent rich, *and of the derision of the proud.
Those were pretty harmless, and the inclusion of Deborah who sat as a Judge of ancient Israel is sure to cause progressive rectors to lean towards choosing Option A to be read during their parish's Sunday services.

Contrast that with Option B,

Zephaniah 1:7,12-18

7 Be silent before the Lord God!   For the day of the Lord is at hand;the Lord has prepared a sacrifice,   he has consecrated his guests.12 At that time I will search Jerusalem with lamps,   and I will punish the peoplewho rest complacently* on their dregs,   those who say in their hearts,‘The Lord will not do good,   nor will he do harm.’13 Their wealth shall be plundered,   and their houses laid waste.Though they build houses,   they shall not inhabit them;though they plant vineyards,   they shall not drink wine from them.

14 The great day of the Lord is near,   near and hastening fast;the sound of the day of the Lord is bitter,   the warrior cries aloud there.15 That day will be a day of wrath,   a day of distress and anguish,a day of ruin and devastation,   a day of darkness and gloom,a day of clouds and thick darkness,16   a day of trumpet blast and battle cryagainst the fortified cities   and against the lofty battlements.17 I will bring such distress upon people   that they shall walk like the blind;   because they have sinned against the Lord,their blood shall be poured out like dust,   and their flesh like dung.18 Neither their silver nor their gold   will be able to save them   on the day of the Lord’s wrath;in the fire of his passion   the whole earth shall be consumed;for a full, a terrible end   he will make of all the inhabitants of the earth. 
Psalm 90 Domine, refugium 
1 Lord, you have been our refuge *from one generation to another.2 Before the mountains were brought forth,or the land and the earth were born, *from age to age you are God.3 You turn us back to the dust and say, *"Go back, O child of earth."4 For a thousand years in your sight are like yesterday when it is past *and like a watch in the night.5 You sweep us away like a dream; *we fade away suddenly like the grass.6 In the morning it is green and flourishes; *in the evening it is dried up and withered.7 For we consume away in your displeasure; *we are afraid because of your wrathful indignation.8 Our iniquities you have set before you, *and our secret sins in the light of your countenance.9 When you are angry, all our days are gone; *we bring our years to an end like a sigh.10 The span of our life is seventy years,perhaps in strength even eighty; *yet the sum of them is but labor and sorrow,for they pass away quickly and we are gone.11 Who regards the power of your wrath? *who rightly fears your indignation?12 So teach us to number our days *that we may apply our hearts to wisdom.
The differences between Option A and Option B are so striking that I suggest they be used as a litmus test to determine your parish's true colors. Are you attending a church that covers up our sinful and undeserving nature and the judgement we deserve, or are you attending one that tells it like it is?

Which option do you think most Episcopalians will hear?