Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Who Was The Most Reluctant Convert?

I used to think that I was the most reluctant convert. As a teenager, I fought the Lord, and the Lord won. My struggle lasted seven years, but C.S. Lewis' lasted much longer as I learned this past weekend after attending a play in Charlotte,


This production by Max McLean was much like his earlier excellent dramatizations of "The Screwtape Letters" which I saw in NYC and "The Great Divorce" which I also saw in Charlotte.

In "The Most Reluctant Convert" C.S.Lewis speaks to the audience and relates his early life and upbringing through the time of his conversion which occurred after he was established at Oxford. I found myself relating in some ways to Lewis' struggle, but while he was an intellectual whose private education grounded him in literature, Greek, Latin, and logical discourse, my education was in the American style in which all are forced to study a wide range of subjects: science, mathematics, social studies, English, foreign language,  etc. We excel at creating "masters of none" in American High Schools. Our young folk must look to specialize after they gain admittance to a university, and even then young adults usually have to take required courses that are not in their major field. I have always assumed this is intended to produce a more well-rounded adult. I am not sure that is always desirable. C.S. Lewis turned out okay in spite of or because of his more directed educational experience.

Although Lewis' arguments against Christianity as presented by McLean were not identical to mine (in large part due to our differing upbringings, education, and natures), I found myself relating to the forces influencing the young mind to keep up its opposition to God. No matter what argument an apologist tries on a reluctant, or like Lewis and myself, a combative potential convert, something has to happen to that individual apart from the action of the apologist. Max McLean presented that something using his hands demonstrating Lewis having his heart opened by God. Following that, McLean stated that Lewis did exactly what I did. He got down on his knees and for the first time really prayed, confessing the sins against God and his Word and accepting his forgiveness.

For me, the take home message of the story is that God comes to each of us as individuals, He might use our friends, and He breaks down our defenses in a highly individualized way, using the Gospel, but we always must accept Him on his terms, not ours.

In the course of the play, there was much, much more to chew on, some of which was serious and some of which was presented with a touch of humor. I highly recommend this show to Anglicans and non-Anglicans alike. Indeed, the audience in Charlotte contained a large number of church groups from denominational as well as non-denominational congregations. I believe most attendees were not Anglicans.

Cheers!

Sunday, July 16, 2017

You Can't Hear What Ain't Been Said

You probably didn't hear it if you attend a church which uses the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL), but Jesus quoted Isaiah in the verses that got cut from this Sunday's Gospel reading where the prophet accuses the people of being blind and deaf in their ability to perceive God and his directions. Regular visitors to this blog would have spotted the omission in  the RCL selection, Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23, right away.

First, we will read the passages as they were presented in church today which contained the parable of the sower and its explanation,

That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the lake. Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach. And he told them many things in parables, saying: ‘Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. Let anyone with ears listen!’....
...‘Hear then the parable of the sower. When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart; this is what was sown on the path. As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet such a person has no root, but endures only for a while, and when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, that person immediately falls away. As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing. But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.’

Now I will admit that it flows nicely once you cut out the missing verses, but look at the challenges contained in the section that got the ax,

Then the disciples came and asked him, ‘Why do you speak to them in parables?’ He answered, ‘To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. For to those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. The reason I speak to them in parables is that “seeing they do not perceive, and hearing they do not listen, nor do they understand.” With them indeed is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah that says:“You will indeed listen, but never understand,   and you will indeed look, but never perceive.  For this people’s heart has grown dull,   and their ears are hard of hearing,     and they have shut their eyes;     so that they might not look with their eyes,   and listen with their ears,and understand with their heart and turn—   and I would heal them.” But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. Truly I tell you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, but did not see it, and to hear what you hear, but did not hear it.
Here are some of the challenges that the average preacher will not have to address,

  •  To the average listener, knowledge of the kingdom of heaven has not been given.
  •  From those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away.
  •  The people are blind, deaf, and can't understand Jesus' message.
  •  The people are not blessed because they have dull hearts, deaf ears, and shut eyes.
  •  All the people need to do is open their eyes and ears to understand and be healed.
  •  The disciples are blessed because they have been open to Jesus' message.
Matthew Henry, in his commentary on this chapter of Matthew, takes up the challenge and preaches the words that most pewsitters in RCL churches will never hear,

That seeing, hearing, and understanding, are necessary to conversion; for God, in working grace, deals with men as men, as rational agents; he draws with the cords of a man, changes the heart by opening the eyes, and turns from the power of Satan unto God, by turning first from darkness to light, (Acts 26:18). 2. All those who are truly converted to God, shall certainly be healed by him. “If they be converted I shall heal them, I shall save them:” so that if sinners perish, it is not to be imputed to God, but to themselves; they foolishly expected to be healed, without being converted. 3. It is just with God to deny his grace to those who have long and often refused the proposals of it, and resisted the power of it. Pharaoh, for a good while, hardened his own heart (Exod. 8:15, 32), and afterwards God hardened it, Matt. 9:12; 10:20. Let us therefore fear, lest by sinning against the divine grace, we sin it away.

While we might try to scrape by with the excuse that, "We never heard about that", in this day and age, there is no excuse. Keeping the Bible shut is just as bad as keeping your eyes shut to the sight of Jesus.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Episcopal Priests Gone Bad

In the current issue of "Episcopal Priests Gone Bad", we have a North Carolina rector cruising through Florida in his Corvette accused of pulling a handgun on someone in an apparent road rage incident.
"William Rian Adams was arrested for aggravated assault with a deadly weapon this past July 5th in Martin County.
Adams listed his occupation as a priest at Calvary Episcopal Church in Fletcher, North Carolina.
According to an FHP (Florida Highway Patrol) incident report, Adams was driving a newer model Corvette and attempted a brake check in front of the victim’s Silverado.
As the victims attempted to pass the Corvette, FHP says Adams pointed a semi-automatic hand gun at the victim." MARTIN COUNTY, Fla. (CBS 12)
A look at Calvary Episcopal's web page shows that they are proudly "Welcoming and Affirming". Pointing a gun at another driver is neither welcoming or affirming.

To the uninitiated, "Welcoming and Affirming" means that they are all on board with the LGBT agenda. The consequence of this stance is falling attendance, and as the stats below show, the parish average Sunday attendance has dropped from approximately 210 in 2005 to approximately 140 in 2015.

Such a precipitous decline should be enough to enrage anyone.

Still, it is a good sized parish by TEc standards, and it is doing well enough for the Rector to afford to drive a Corvette.

My advice to anyone visiting this church is to be sure to empty your wallet when the offering plate is passed around because the ushers might be packing heat, and the rector's discretionary fund is going to need more cash.

I wonder, how do they practice passing the peace? 








Sunday, July 09, 2017

Did You Miss Hearing Jesus at His Sharpest This Sunday Morning?

This Sunday's Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) selection for the Gospel reading, Matthew 11:16-19,25-30, provides another example of how the RCL removes verses which the docile Sunday morning sheep might find offensive. First, read the Gospel as most pewsitters heard it,

"‘But to what will I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the market-places and calling to one another,
 “We played the flute for you, and you did not dance;
   we wailed, and you did not mourn.”
For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, “He has a demon”; the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, “Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax-collectors and sinners!” Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.’
 
At that time Jesus said, ‘I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. 
‘Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.’"
I suspect most preachers will focus on the last verse because it fits with the current trend to picture Jesus as a softie who never threatens people with damnation.

And thanks to the RCL, the Sunday sheep missed Jesus at his sharpest. Just read the omitted text,

"Then he began to reproach the cities in which most of his deeds of power had been done, because they did not repent. ‘Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the deeds of power done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I tell you, on the day of judgement it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon than for you. And you, Capernaum,will you be exalted to heaven?   No, you will be brought down to Hades. For if the deeds of power done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I tell you that on the day of judgement it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom than for you.’"
An important part of the Gospel message that churchgoers should be hearing is, "Repent or else", but instead all they hear on a typical summer Sunday is something similar to, "Don't worry, be happy".





Always remember to read the whole Gospel, not just the bits and pieces someone else wants you to hear.

Wednesday, July 05, 2017

S.O.S.: Sinking Diocese Grabs Millstone

Okay, imagine you are on a sinking ship. Most of us would be trying to secure all watertight doors, minimize flooding, unload ballast, and prepare the lifeboats. Who in their right mind would want to add more dead weight to the bridge? That would seem to increase the risk of capsizing and taking all hands down to Davy Jones' locker.
"In some stories, evil and wicked sailors who died at sea were locked up in the chest (locker) by Davy Jones and had to spend eternity trapped in there."
Episcopalians in the Diocese of San Diego may be headed in that direction because their diocese is such a sinking ship. Just take a look at the following plot of membership and Sunday attendance from 2005-2015 (source the Episcopal organization's statistics page),




















During much of this time period Katharine Jefferts Schori served as the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal group (2006-2015), and during her tenure her Episcopal organization shrunk dramatically. At the same time, the Episcopal Diocese of San Diego shepherded approximately 7000 members into lifeboats while their Sunday attendance sank by 3500 souls.

So what is the logical thing for Episcopal San Diegans to do in response? This, of course,

"Katharine Jefferts Schori to be Assisting Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of San Diego"
Genius!

They are so pleased that they released the following statement to the world,

"We are excited to announce the selection of the Rt. Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori as our assisting bishop. Bishop Jefferts Schori will begin her tenure with us on August 13. She will serve three-quarters time performing episcopal functions such as visitations, confirmations, ordinations, and receptions. She will share with the standing committee the task of providing leadership and vision for the diocese and shall generally perform the functions of a diocesan bishop as delegated to her by the standing committee in its capacity as the ecclesiastical authority during the transition. She will work closely with the executive council as well."

So instead of reaching for a life ring, the sheeple of the Episcopal Diocese of San Diego are grasping for a millstone.

They should have signaled the Carpathia with an S.O.S.

I heard a sermon once in which the rector went on and on about how dumb sheep are. I thought then that the rector went overboard, but observing the sheer stupidity of the sheeple of the Episcopal Diocese of San Diego, I see that he was right.


Or maybe that one needs to be re-written as "All we like lemmings".

Wallace Hartley where are you when I need you? 

Sunday, July 02, 2017

Slaves of Righteousness

This Sunday's Epistle reading is from Romans 6:12-23. In it, Paul reasons that even though we are saved and no longer under "the law", we are slaves of righteousness and therefore should not fall to the temptation of sin.

"Therefore, do not let sin exercise dominion in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions. No longer present your members to sin as instruments of wickedness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and present your members to God as instruments of righteousness. For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.What then? Should we sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God that you, having once been slaves of sin, have become obedient from the heart to the form of teaching to which you were entrusted, and that you, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. I am speaking in human terms because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to greater and greater iniquity, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness for sanctification.
When you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. So what advantage did you then get from the things of which you now are ashamed? The end of those things is death. But now that you have been freed from sin and enslaved to God, the advantage you get is sanctification. The end is eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord."

Alas, I think we are still slaves of sin. This should make us desire all the more to serve Christ as slaves of righteousness, and it should make us all the more grateful for his tender mercy.

Or as Paul goes on to conclude in Romans 7:24-25,

"Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!
So then, with my mind I am a slave to the law of God, but with my flesh I am a slave to the law of sin."

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Do the Trans-gendered Need a Special Church Ceremony?

The Church of England will hold a General Synod from July 7 - July 11 this year, and one of the topics subject to debate is how to create ‘baptism-style’ services to celebrate a transgender person's transition all because someone who was going through that process felt that God might not recognize him/her/it.

The paper to be presented can be found here. The motion that is up for discussion is being presented by The Revd Chris Newlands,

Welcoming Transgender People: 
"That this Synod, recognizing the need for transgender people to be welcomed and affirmed in their parish church, call on the House of Bishops to consider whether some nationally commended liturgical materials might be prepared to mark a person’s gender transition."
 "The Blackburn Diocesan Synod Motion was prompted by a pastoral encounter with a young transgender person that took place in Lancaster Priory. I will call him 'George' (not his real name) as he does not wish to receive any unwanted attention at this time. George was wrestling with the spiritual dimension of what was happening to him as he was coming to the end of his process of transition from inhabiting a female body since the time of his birth to his present state as a man, following the long process oftransition. He felt the need to “reintroduce himself to God, with his new name and gender identity.” 
In addition there is a separate background note from the Secretary General of the Synod. In it he states that if anything gets approved, it won't be a "re-baptism",
It is a fundamental belief of the Church that baptism can only be received once. There is therefore no possibility of the Synod approving a form of service for there-baptism of transgendered persons in their new gender who have already beenbaptised. Nor could material to that end be commended for use by clergy inexercise of their discretion under Canon B.5.2 - Canon B.5.3 since these Canons make clear that all forms of service used under that provision “shall be neither contrary to, nor indicative of any departure from, the doctrine of the Church of England in any essential matter”.
He comes up with a clever but potentially dangerous "generous pastoral response",
"The Common Worship library of Church of England services already includes an
authorized form of service for the Affirmation of Baptismal Faith.
This service refers to the fact that the individual has already been baptised, asks them to repeat their baptismal vows and re-affirm their faith. The focal point of this service is on the individual’s faith in Jesus Christ, rather than on the individual’s name or gender
– regardless of whether or not it was different from when they were baptised."
Most importantly we can't have it look like a second baptism,
"This provision responds to requests for more vivid recognition of post-baptismal experiences of personal renewal and commitment withoutgiving any appearance of a second baptism."
So is he ruling out the possibility of coming up with a new liturgy for those "transitioning"? In typical CofE style, not entirely,
"If the Synod passed the Diocesan Synod Motion as drafted, the House of Bishops would need to consider whether some additional liturgical materials should be prepared to supplement what is already provided for in Common Worship. One way of achieving that could be by the House commending prayers and other suitable material for use by the clergy in the exercise of their discretion under Canon B 5 – an approach which would not involve any formal process beyond a decision being taken by the House. Alternatively the House might conclude that existing liturgical materials provided sufficient flexibility to meet this pastoral need ,as in paragraph above."
Why, in the Church, is so hard to just say, "No"?