Sunday, December 04, 2016

Bear Fruit Worthy of Repentance

This Sunday's Gospel reading is Matthew 3:1-12 and contains the story of John the Baptist and his encounter with the Pharisees and Sadducees,
In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.’ This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said,
‘The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:“Prepare the way of the Lord,   make his paths straight.” ’  
Now John wore clothing of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to him, and all the region along the Jordan, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 

But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, ‘You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit worthy of repentance. Do not presume to say to yourselves, “We have Abraham as our ancestor”; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Even now the axe is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.
‘I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing-fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing-floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.’
John judges the Pharisees and Sadducees as perhaps not ready for his baptism and warns them that if they do not bear the fruit one expects from a truly repentant heart, then they will face the punishment from God, a trip to the unquenchable fires of Hell.

Scary stuff for them, but shouldn't we also take heed of John's warning?

Matthew Henry in his Commentary brought things into the present when he studied these same verses,
 (1.) There is a wrath to come; besides present wrath, the vials of which are poured out now, there is future wrath, the stores of which are treasured up for hereafter.  
(2.) It is the great concern of every one of us to flee from this wrath.  
(3.) It is wonderful mercy that we are fairly warned to flee from this wrath; think—Who has warned us? God has warned us, who delights not in our ruin; he warns by the written word, by ministers, by conscience.  
(4.) These warnings sometime startle those who seemed to have been very much hardened in their security and good opinion of themselves.
Al Mohler  in a commencement address this past Friday warned the newest ministers of today to take heed as well,
"Ministers of Christ: Never settle for the comfortable but false existence of the religious professional. Preach the Word, proclaim the Gospel, herald the truth that the kingdom of heaven is at hand. Be humble, take courage, be not afraid. You go with the prayers and the hopes of this faculty who have taught you, this congregation who has loved you, and Christians far beyond this place.Remember this: His winnowing fork is in his hand — and so are you."

All of us who have been baptized have a great responsibility to ourselves and to others, and that is to share the Gospel of Jesus to an unbelieving world and to "bear fruits worthy of repentance".

Heaven help us if we don't.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Rowan Williams Won't You Please Shut Up

The immediate past-Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, had a distinctive style of writing while he was Archbishop that is hard to describe. Sonorous, mind numbing, and in the end always inconclusive, I found him to be an exasperating read.

Now that he is retired from his High Priest gig, Rowan Williams still can find an occasional audience to bore to death. His most recent opinion piece, "Mass democracy has failed – it's time to seek a humane alternative" in The New Statesman is classic Rowan Williams. In it he goes after the things that he perceives that were behind the election of Donald Trump,
"This election represents a divorce between the electoral process and the business of political decision-making. It is the ersatz politics of mass theatre, in which what matters most is the declaration of victory."
"The politics of mass democracy has failed. It has been narrowed down to a mechanism for managing large-scale interests in response to explicit and implicit lobbying by fabulously well-resourced commercial and financial concerns (ironically, one of the things that Trump has undertaken to change). The 2008 financial crisis sent a tremor through that world but failed to change its workings. The effect has been a growing assumption that what goes on in public political debate does not represent any voices other than the privileged and self-interested. And so, for significant parts of a population, 'theatrical' politics comes to look like the only option: a dramatic articulation of the problems of powerlessness, for which the exact details of economic or social reality are irrelevant. This delivers people into the hands of another kind of dishonest politics: the fact-free manipulation of emotion by populist adventurers."
Never short of words, but always short of solutions, Williams concludes with more questions than answers,
"Naught for our comfort; but at least an opportunity to ask how politics can be set free from the deadly polarity between empty theatrics and corrupt, complacent pluto­cracy. What will it take to reacquaint people with control over their communities, shared and realistic values, patience with difference and confidence in their capacity for intelligent negotiation? It’s the opposite of what Trump has appealed to. The question is whether the appalling clarity of this opposition can wake us up to work harder for the authentic and humane politics that seems in such short supply."
As Archbishop, Rowan Williams worked to pacify the growing unrest in the Anglican Communion using what he considered to be an "authentic and humane" politic that in the end caused more harm than good. The fractures in the Anglican Communion are deeper than ever and part of the blame has to fall on him and his methods to "reacquaint people with their shared and realistic values" in the Church (the Indaba approach). His long, tortured, indecisive  letters left "we the people" dangling, and the polarities in the Church were left unresolved. His use of the dialectical method's ability to resolve issues was not an appropriate way to handle the marked theological differences that we have in the Anglican Communion, but he persisted in pursuing that approach in spite of nothing positive ever coming from it. Applying that same failed approach to what he calls the failure of "mass democracy" is not going to change American politics, a political battle field which has always been scruffy, mud-slinging, nasty, dog eat dog, and will probably always ruffle Williams' feathers.

He couldn't solve the problems in his own backyard, so he should keep his bloody nose out of ours,

After wasting my time reading his latest piece, I came away wishing he would just go away and shut up.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Which is better to be taken or to be left?

This Sunday's Gospel reading is Matthew 24:36-44. In it we hear the prediction of those who are taken and those who are left.

36 “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son,[a] but the Father only. 37 As were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of man. 38 For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, 39 and they did not know until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of man. 40 Then two men will be in the field; one is taken and one is left. 41 Two women will be grinding at the mill; one is taken and one is left. 42 Watch therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. 43 But know this, that if the householder had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have watched and would not have let his house be broken into. 44 Therefore you also must be ready; for the Son of man is coming at an hour you do not expect.
The meaning of these verses has been a subject of debate since Luke's gospel adds a possible explanation as to what happens to those who are taken (Luke 17:35-37),
Two women will be grinding grain together; one will be taken and the other left.”
 “Where, Lord?” they asked. He replied, “Where there is a dead body, there the vultures will gather."
whereas  Matthew places a similar verse before the section about people being taken or left apparently making the verse refer to "the coming of the Son of man"  (verse 28),
26 “So if anyone tells you, ‘There he is, out in the wilderness,’ do not go out; or, ‘Here he is, in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it. 27 For as lightning that comes from the east is visible even in the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 28 Wherever there is a carcass, there the vultures will gather.

So was the author of the "Left Behind" series.

I think the key thing for believers to remember is that they have nothing to fear when that time comes and to not waste time worrying about it.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

The Archbishop's Chaplain

I never knew that he needed one, but the Archbishop of Canterbury has a new chaplain. If anyone needs proof that the "evangelical" Archbishop Justin Welby is calling his engine room asking for more steam as his sinking ship plows into the waves of progressive post Christian religion, all they have to do is take a good look at the research interests of his new chaplain.

From the Episcopal Digital Network we get a hint as to how influential the Archbishop's chaplain might be,

"The Rev. Isabelle Hamley has been named as the new chaplain to Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby. As well as her duties as chaplain she will have responsibility for developing the archbishop’s priority of prayer and the renewal of religious life, especially through the Community of St. Anselm."
“I am delighted to welcome Isabelle to the team at Lambeth,” said Welby. “The chaplain is a central part of life here, supporting the archbishop and the family, maintaining the rhythms of worship and prayer and providing pastoral support for the community who live and work here.”
“Isabelle comes to us highly commended by her diocese where she has served in several ministry roles, lay and ordained, in university, college and parish. She brings a pastoral heart, a spiritual richness and a rigorous theological understanding to what is a demanding role."
SO what exactly does someone with a rigorous theological understanding present as her PhD thesis?

"Hamley is in the final stages of a Ph.D. in biblical studies, (Relational identity, Otherness and Victimisation: An Irigarayan Reading of Judges 19-21)"
Judges 19-21 contains the story of the Levite and his concubine. You remember, the unfaithful concubine who was retrieved by her "husband" and on the way home they spent the night in Gibeah, a town belonging to the tribe of Benjamin. That night the wicked men of the town bang on the door demanding the Levite come out and be sodomized. Instead of going out himself, the man sends out his concubine who gets raped to death. The man cuts his dead concubine into twelve pieces and ships the parts to the four corners of Israel setting off a war against the tribe of Benjamin. The Benjaminites are defeated but six hundred escape. A ban on them prevented them from marrying an woman from Israel, but in order to save the remnant, Israel allows the Benjaminites to abduct four hundred young virgins of Shiloh (the women belonged to a group that did not join Israel in the war against Benjamin).

What could be wrong with any of that, and what could "An Irigarayan Reading" of these chapters possibly entail?

According to the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Luce Irigaray, 

" a prominent author in contemporary French feminism and Continental philosophy..."
"Irigaray alleges that women have been traditionally associated with matter and nature to the expense of a female subject position. While women can become subjects if they assimilate to male subjectivity, a separate subject position for women does not exist. Irigaray's goal is to uncover the absence of a female subject position, the relegation of all things feminine to nature/matter, and, ultimately, the absence of true sexual difference in Western culture. In addition to establishing this critique, Irigaray offers suggestions for altering the situation of women in Western culture. Mimesis, strategic essentialism, utopian ideals, and employing novel language, are but some of the methods central to changing contemporary culture."
I wonder if the Archbishop's new chaplain shares those same goals? The Rev. Isabelle Hamley surely must be familiar with the fact that Irigaray is a culture warrior out to remake the world into her own image.
"Irigaray's analysis of women's exclusion from culture and her use of strategic essentialism have been enormously influential in contemporary feminist theory. Her work has generated productive discussions about how to define femininity and sexual difference, whether strategic essentialism should be employed, and assessing the risk involved in engaging categories historically used to oppress women. Irigaray's work extends beyond theory into practice. Irigaray has been actively engaged in the feminist movement in Italy. She has participated in several initiatives in Italy to implement a respect for sexual difference on a cultural and, in her most recent work, governmental level."
Warning sirens are blaring in my mind telling me that Canterbury itself may be next target for "strategic essentialism" if this new chaplain is a of disciple of the feminist philosopher Irigaray.

Radical feminism must have deep roots in the religious schools in England if this type of thesis is accepted and encouraged for a PhD candidate to pursue.

If a PhD is awarded on the basis of a thesis like, "Relational identity, Otherness and Victimisation: An Irigarayan Reading of Judges 19-21" the value of a PhD from whatever institution is offering it is diminished.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Did You Preach on Jeremiah's Prophecy Today?

This Sunday's Old Testament reading will probably not get much attention in the average Episcopal priest's sermon as she/he preaches to mostly empty pews, and for good reason, because in Jeremiah 23:1-6 we hear about God's anger with those who lead his people astray,

Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture! says the Lord. Therefore, thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, concerning the shepherds who shepherd my people: It is you who have scattered my flock, and have driven them away, and you have not attended to them. So I will attend to you for your evil doings, says the Lord. Then I myself will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the lands where I have driven them, and I will bring them back to their fold, and they shall be fruitful and multiply. I will raise up shepherds over them who will shepherd them, and they shall not fear any longer, or be dismayed, nor shall any be missing, says the Lord.The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety. And this is the name by which he will be called: ‘The Lord is our righteousness.’
The really bad shepherd of today will scrupulously avoid discussing Jeremiah, knowing that the words of the prophet of Israel are aimed right at the pulpit where they are standing.

The average bad shepherd of today, believing that their progressive gospel is the right one, will be totally unaware of the fact that it is that very same false gospel that has driven God's flock away, and that is why they are staring at so many empty chairs today.

The slightly bad shepherd will shy away from Jeremiah perhaps by saying that the prophets words were aimed at the priests of ancient Israel and leave it there.

Yes, most sermons today will focus on the story of the criminals on the cross as recounted in Luke 23:35-43, an important text to be sure with Jesus' promise to the one who recognizes him that,
"Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise."
I pray that the false teachers among us will come to the realization that there are some criminal acts, such as driving away God's flock, which put them in jeopardy of God's punishment and that they repent before they wind up like the less fortunate criminal who derided our Lord as he hung beside Jesus.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Presiding Bishop Curry: Living Into the Tension of the Election of Donald Trump

In the aftermath of the 2016 Presidential election, we have seen a week of protests over the outcome, tears, hateful Facebook memes, and far more vitriol from the left wing than I can recall seeing coming from the right after the 2008 election.

In an effort to calm his flock, the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal organization issued the following statement which I will decipher for you,

"Last week I shared what I pray was a reconciling post-election message to our church, reminding us that 'we will all live together as fellow Americans, as citizens.' Today I want to remind us that during moments of transition, during moments of tension, it is important to affirm our core identity and values as followers of Jesus in the Episcopal Anglican way."

What tension? I suspect that a huge majority of Episcopalians voted for someone other than the man who won the 2016 presidential election, and I have been reading all about their "tension" on their Facebook pages. Much of what I see is anger and hate. I guess that is how some people handle tension.

"Jesus once declared, in the language of the Hebrew prophets, that God's "house shall be a house of prayer for all nations" (Mk 11:17)."
The key words are "shall be". We ain't there yet.
"He invited and welcomed all who would follow saying, "come to me all who are weary and are carrying heavy burdens" (Mt. 11:28)."
More key words are "all who would follow". Not everyone, and not every denomination "follows". In fact, the Episcopal organization has chosen to follow its own path especially when it comes to human sexuality.
"We therefore assert and we believe that "the Episcopal Church welcomes you" – all of you, not as merely a church slogan, but as a reflection of what we believe Jesus teaches us and at the core of the movement he began in the first century. The Episcopal Church welcomes all. All of us!"
Not everyone is welcome in the Episcopal organization. Traditionalists, also known as conservatives, have been run out and are not welcome back. When was the last time you heard of any of those in the diaspora being asked to return by their progressive priest?

"As the Episcopal branch of the Jesus Movement today, we Episcopalians are committed, as our Prayer Book teaches to honor the covenant and promises we made in Holy Baptism: To proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ; To seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbor as ourselves; to strive for justice and peace among all people, and to respect the dignity of every human being."
There goes that Baptismal covenant argument again. The key word here is "dignity". When the writers of the 1979 BCP created this little gem, did they know that the definition of "respect" would come to mean "accept" and that dignity would come to mean an individual's unwise choices? Roberta Green Ahmanson explains the new meaning of "dignity" in a post at Public Discourse,  "The New Dignity: Gnostic, Elitist, Self-Destructive Will-to-Power", the new dignity to be respected/accepted is an individual's freedom to do the following,
"to remake our gender, to marry someone without regard to sex or the procreative potential of the union, to choose our time to die and enlist the medical profession in ending our lives, to not only abort a child developing in the womb but also to harvest his or her body parts for commercial gain. It also calls for new negative freedom, freedoms from—from all unwanted pain or discomfort, from limitations on what I can do to or with my body, from language or ideas that offend me or that challenge decisions I have made.
Dignity is no longer so much about who or what we are; it is about what our unfettered will can do, and what it can forbid others to do."
Every time someone pulls the Baptismal covenant argument, you might as well give up because the meaning of the words "respect the dignity" has been reduced to "Don't hurt anyone's feelings by disagreeing with them".

Getting back to the Presiding Bishop's letter,
"As Christians, we believe that all humans are created in God’s image and equal before God – those who may be rejoicing as well as those who may be in sorrow."
Only because the vast majority of his flock is in sorrow does he have to write this letter. If they were rejoicing, he would be writing a letter about Thanksgiving Day.

If there are any doubts as to for whom Presiding Bishop Curry cast his vote, the following paragraph should provide a clue,
"As a Church, seeking to follow the way of Jesus, who taught us, "you shall love your neighbor as yourself," (Mt. 22:39) and to "do to others as you would have them do to you" (Mt. 7:12), we maintain our longstanding commitment to support and welcome refugees and immigrants, and to stand with those who live in our midst without documentation.  We reaffirm that like all people LGBT persons are entitled to full civil rights and protection under the law. We reaffirm and renew the principles of inclusion and the protection of the civil rights of all persons with disabilities. We commit to the honor and dignity of women and speak out against sexual or gender-based violence.  We express solidarity with and honor the Indigenous Peoples of the world. We affirm the right to freedom of religious expression and vibrant presence of different religious communities, especially our Muslim sisters and brothers. We acknowledge our responsibility in stewardship of creation and all that God has given into our hands. We do so because God is the Creator. We are all God's children, created equally in God's image. And if we are God's children we are all brothers and sisters."
The underlying assumption is that President-elect Trump, while being opposed to illegal immigration, is out to curtail the civil rights of the LGBT, the disabled, women, "the indigenous people of the world", and Muslims. In addition, he is out to ruin the environment too.

To put the lie into one sentence, Curry finishes by writing,

"The Episcopal Church Welcomes You," is not just a slogan, it’s who we seek to be and the witness we seek to make, following the way of Jesus.
The Most Rev. Michael B. Curry
Presiding Bishop and Primate
Oh yeah, the Episcopal organization welcomes you, but only if you agree with the devastated, mourning, sorrowful, and "feeling the post-election tension" elite.

For a less biased and more Gospel centered approach please read the letter from Peet Dickinson, the Dean of the Cathedral Church of St. Luke and St. Paul in Charleston SC. 

Sunday, November 13, 2016

It Is Not a Question of When

This Sunday's Gospel reading is Luke 21:5-19. In these verses, Jesus predicts future events, and his followers, as usual, ask the wrong question,
"When some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God, he said, ‘As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.’They asked him, ‘Teacher, when will this be, and what will be the sign that this is about to take place?’ And he said, ‘Beware that you are not led astray; for many will come in my name and say, “I am he!” and, “The time is near!” Do not go after them.'"
‘When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for these things must take place first, but the end will not follow immediately.’ Then he said to them, ‘Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven.' 
‘But before all this occurs, they will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name. This will give you an opportunity to testify. So make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance; for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict. You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death. You will be hated by all because of my name. But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance, you will gain your souls.'"
The initial disaster that Jesus predicts is the destruction of the temple. This certainly would be alarming to a people for whom the temple and temple worship were so central to their identity, but instead of asking, "Why will this happen?" the people ask, "When will this happen?"

By asking the question. "When?", the people betray their insecurity and lack of faith. An insecure person, if given the foreknowledge, will opt to get out of Jerusalem before the temple falls. A person of greater faith might resist the urge to flee being secure and trusting in Lord.

If they had instead asked, "Why should God let the temple fall?", perhaps Jesus could have enlightened them on God's plan for himself and for the world, but Jesus responds by doubling down on the prophecy, describing the challenges to their faith that are to come, challenges to their own bodies, and these might strike them as things far more frightening than the destruction of the temple.

Solomon in 1 Kings 8:27 told his people that the temple made of stone is not everything,  “
But will God really dwell on earth? The heavens, even the highest heaven, cannot contain you. How much less this temple I have built!"
In the end, we are taught by God who really dwelt on earth as Jesus that we must stand firm and not let our faith be shaken by terrible things when they happen. He has shown us how to endure the worst even the destruction of our physical temples. He endured the cross out of love for God and neighbor. Are we prepared to do the same?