Wednesday, September 21, 2016

The Anglican Communion Secretary General Needs a Little Bible Study

The Anglican Communion's Secretary General, Dr Idowu-Fearon, issued the following statement posted by Kendall Harmon at T19 concerning the Bishop of Grantham, Nicholas Chamberlain, who announced that he was in a homosexual relationship and that this was known to the Archbishop of Canterbury last year at the time Chamberlain was made a bishop. Because the relationship is reportedly celibate, the CofE believes everything is hunky-dory.

Dr Idowu-Fearon said: “It is clear that Bishop Nicholas has abided by the guidelines set down by the Church. In fact, his lifestyle would make him acceptable to serve the church at any time in its history. I reject the suggestion that his appointment is an ‘error’.

“The Anglican Communion is a worldwide family and, like any family, we don’t agree on everything,” he added. “But we are committed to working together on difficult issues. I want to reassure the Communion of my commitment to what was set out at the Lambeth conference in 1998 – that human sexuality finds it full expression in marriage between a man and woman. But all baptised, faithful and believing people are loved by God and full members of the body of Christ regardless of their sexual orientation. The Anglican Communion has never made sexual orientation a condition of eligibility to hold office within the church and I reject the suggestion that it has.”  Read it all.
The Secretary General's argument begins with a false statement,

“In fact, his lifestyle would make him acceptable to serve the church at any time in its history.”
This is not a fact, it is a fabrication. For thousands of years the qualifications to be a bishop of the Church  had been traced to 1 Timothy 3:1-7,

This is a true saying, If a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work. A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt to teach;  not given to wine, no striker, not greedy of filthy lucre; but patient, not a brawler, not covetous;  one that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity;  (for if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?)  Not a novice, lest being lifted up with pride he fall into the condemnation of the devil.  Moreover he must have a good report of them which are without; lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.
Granted, the Church may not have always followed that advice and raised up blameless bishops, but it is a recent innovation to say that one male can be the wife of another male.

As I said about Gene Robinson so many years ago, if the Bishop of Grantham cared about the Church, he would step down.

Since he has not, we know where his priorities lie.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Grappling With the Parable of the Unjust Manager

Every three years the parable of the unjust steward rolls around in the Sunday lectionary and preachers have to struggle with the difficult problem of the master praising his shrewd  but crooked steward. Three years ago, I posted this,
I have taken the radical view that this parable is all about advising the shrewd preacher to undo any harm he has done to his congregation by earlier sermons. ;-) 
This year I would like to present a more serious approach to the parable from the late John Richardson, A.K.A. "The Ugley Vicar" who died a year and a half ago. John was a virtual friend and fellow blogger who supported me in my journey through helpful comments and at least one book that he sent me. He posted his sermon notes from 2010, and I will reproduce them here for those who may not have heard a good explanation of the parable, and I only wish I had been there to hear him preach it live.

Sermon Notes: Luke 16:1-13 (15), The ‘Unjust Steward’
Just out of interest, I thought I'd post my sermon notes for Sunday on the 'parable of the unjust steward'. I sweated long and hard over this one, though in the end the sermon itself was quite straightforward. There are still puzzling things in the text, but I think I'd almost got the hang of it. As readers will see, I went beyond the set lectionary reading (I was preaching 'away') in order to round off the point of the parable. These are raw notes, so the preached version varied somewhat. 
Opening question: Is your money working hard for you?
Lots of people these days have investments, whether it's in shares or bonds or in the bricks and mortar of a house. We don’t just save money – we want our money to do a bit more, to make money.
As one advertiser puts it, it makes sense to make sure your money is working as hard as you do.
Jesus agrees:
And Jesus agrees – you’ll be pleased to know.
Here in Luke’s gospel this morning he is talking about attitudes to salvation.
Back in chapter 15:1, we discover that he was talking to a crowd of tax collectors and sinners – people most people regarded as beyond salvation, or at least beyond the pale.
And we’re told in v 2 that the religious leadership were complaining about this, because instead of having a go at them, Jesus welcomed sinners and ate with them.
So he began to tell parables. First he told a parable about a man who lost a sheep – wouldn’t you rejoice if you’d lost a sheep and found it? So heaven rejoices over a lost sinner who is found.
Then he told a parable about a woman who lost a coin – wouldn’t you rejoice if you lost a coin and then found it?
Then he told a parable about a man who lost a son. Wouldn’t you rejoice if your wayward child came home? And don’t be like the brother who resented the fact that his father was so pleased.
All these parables were really directed at the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, grumbling about Jesus welcoming lost sinners who were coming to him.
But then in chapter 16 we have a parable told to the disciples: Jesus’ followers who would later take on the same task of reaching the lost.
And this time the parable is not about a man who has lost a sheep or a woman who has lost a coin, or another man who has lost a son, but about a rich man who has a useless manager.
Please note, the parable is about the rich man, not the shrewd manager – it is his reaction we have to watch.
The story is simple, subtle and amusing. A rich man had a man managing his affairs who was useless, so he called him in for a staff review.
The manager realized the game was up, and that he would lost his management post. What was he to do? The answer was make friends while you can, call in the debtors and get them to rewrite their bills.
The question – as in each of the previous parables, is how is the man going to react? And what can we learn from this?
And the way he reacted is in v 8, and it is a bit of a surprise this time. We might expect rage. Jesus said, “The master commended the dishonest manager ...”
Two points to make here. There is no doubt (in my mind) that this is still the man in the parable, not Jesus, though actually it doesn’t really matter.
Secondly, the word ‘commended’ means almost ‘bragged about’, ‘boasted about’, ‘praised publicly’ – ‘Look, I’ve had this useless manager for years, but you’ve got to admire him in the end’.
And the reason is, Jesus says, because the rich man could recognize a shrewd man – a ‘wheeler-dealer’. Commending someone who has cheated you twice over is a strange reaction, but Jesus says
... the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light.
And that’s the message to us – or rather the warning. These guys doing the wheeler-dealing in the city, they all know what it takes to make money work for them.
But Christians are stupid when it comes to money and worldly wealth. He asks, “What are you doing with your money?” And most of us would say we’re investing it. And he would say, “Are you?”
In v 9, he says,
... use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.
And that’s the question: is your money working to gain you a place in heaven, or is it just making you more money? In fact, the question becomes, “Is your money working for you, or are you working for your money?”
We all like to think we are shrewd about money. But the disciple who is not investing their money in their heavenly future is not shrewd at all!
Parallels about wealth:
And to bring this out, Jesus draws some parallels. In v 10, your trustworthiness in big things is measured by your trustworthiness in small things.
The contrast is not between ‘little’ and ‘much’, but what doesn’t matter and what does. And the parallel in v 11 draws this out: worldly wealth is not the same as true riches.
And v 12 makes a third point along the same lines. Your worldly wealth doesn’t even belong to you.
Someone was once told a rich man had died. He asked, “How much money did he leave?” The answer, “All of it.” And that’s how much you and I will leave – it is not ours. If it were, we could take it with us.
We can’t take it with us. But it could be we are going somewhere where we will be welcomed because of how we have made our money work for us, we will be given something of true value, and it will be ours to keep forever.
Working hard for the money:
Donna Summer once sang a song titled, “She works hard for the money.” What she meant was, she works hard to earn money. But what a lot of us don’t realize is that we are working hard to serve money.
We think the money is working for us, but actually we are working for it. Jesus caps this parable with a saying in v 13:
No servant can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.
And he uses an unusual word here – not ‘money’ but ‘Mammon’. He only uses it twice in his teaching: once in this saying and once in the parable where the NIV has ‘worldly wealth’.
Why does he use it? Because it gets across the idea that money easily takes on a life of its own, it becomes not just money but a force, a power, something that rules us, instead of us ruling it.
You see, we are like the master in the parable. If we were shrewd we would recognize the wisdom of money working for us, making us friends in the next world. Unfortunately, too often we become the servant of money itself.
Now our set reading stops there, but we have to read on, because remember all this started with the reaction of the pharisees to Jesus welcoming sinners.
How do they react to this idea? V 14 tells us:
The Pharisees, who loved money, heard all this and were sneering at Jesus.
And isn’t that going to be most people’s reaction. Try telling your mates at work, or your family, really our money should be working hard for us, making us friends in heaven.
Won’t they sneer at you? But what made it worse was these were the religious leaders. They could find a way of squaring the circle. You can have God and you can be just the same as everyone else when it comes to money and material things.
They loved money, we are told, and yet they also wanted to appear to be looking forward to eternity – to the coming of God’s heavenly kingdom and to the place where our kind of money and wealth would be worthless.
Jesus said to them, v 15:
You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of men, but God knows your hearts. What is highly valued among men is detestable in God’s sight.
The Pope’s visit has raised the suggestion that the big challenge in our society is between aggressive atheism and faith. The big challenge Jesus raised was between half-hearted faith and wholehearted faith. As a disciple, I think this is a much bigger challenge to me. And I think the same is true for all of us.
The internet has preserved his blog and I encourage everyone to explore John Richardson's legacy through his blog musings.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

UMC and the Book of Non-Discipline

Anyone who has followed the decline of the Episcopal church should understand the problems that ensue once a church decides to ignore discipline in cases where false teachers are on the side of the progressive/revisionist wing of the Church.  For those of you who are interested in more background, our Anglican Curmudgeon described some of the problems TEc has had with discipline in his 2008 post on "The Ghost of Bishop Pike".

One of the methods used by progressive/revisionist Episcopalians in their successful efforts to bring about same-sex blessings and weddings was to go ahead and first ordain openly gay priests and bishops and to then perform same-sex blessings in defiance of the Book of Common Prayer and the Canons of the church. Failing to encounter any disciplinary action along the way assured the revisionists that their innovations would eventually be written into the Prayer Book and the canons.

The United Methodist group (UMC) is trying its best to follow the lead of the Episcopalians by conducting unauthorized same-sex weddings in violation of their "Book of Discipline".

The only thing keeping the UMC from "legalizing" same-sex marriage is the fact that their governing body includes a large number of conservative African churches. Even so, a large number of American Methodists are fighting to change the stance of the greater Church.

Revisionists in the UMC are taking a similar route in their quest to bless gay marriage, and last week's headline in our local rag says it all,

"Charlotte pastor who married same-sex couple will keep job, avoid church trial"
This sounds like the death knell for the UMC. In an effort to avoid a messy trial (one that should be an open and shut case) they have given the go ahead for others to follow where this Charlotte pastor has led. Here are some of the details of how they handled it,
"A United Methodist pastor in Charlotte will not face a church trial or lose her job for officiating at the same-sex wedding in April of two members of her church in uptown.
The Rev. Val Rosenquist married John Romano and Jim Wilborne, who became the first same-sex couple in North Carolina to be wed – at least publicly – in a United Methodist church.
A 'just resolution' of the case involving Rosenquist of First United Methodist Church of Charlotte has been reached, the Western North Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church announced Tuesday.
But it is uncertain what that resolution involves. That’s because Rosenquist and those who filed complaints against her for allegedly violating the denomination’s Book of Discipline agreed to keep the details confidential. And the resolution will remain sealed until at least 2018, when the United Methodist Church could convene a special General Conference to act on future recommendations relating to same-sex marriage and the ordination of gay and lesbian clergy.
Currently, the denomination’s Book of Discipline states that ceremonies that celebrate same-sex unions 'shall not be conducted by our ministers and shall not be conducted in our churches.' Clergy who violate it can lose their jobs, face a church trial, even lose their clergy credentials."

By keeping the details under wraps, the UMC may be trying to prevent a massive "move of the Spirit" by other pastors who wish to officiate at same-sex weddings themselves, or they may be trying to prevent a stampede of conservative parishioners rushing out the door for safer ground.

What good is it to have a Book of Discipline if it is never used to spank people?

But of course in order to spank, someone must pass judgement, and that is something that nobody seems to want to do today with the end result that folks just do what they please which is nothing new.
"In those days there was no king in Israel; all the people did what was right in their own eyes." Judges 21:25

Sunday, September 11, 2016

The Ground Zero Bible: Matthew 5 Fused to a Piece of Steel

 BibleGateway sent me this video link a couple of days ago. 
"On March 30, 2002, a firefighter searching for victims of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks at the World Trade Center in New York, discovered a burnt Bible fused to a piece of steel. The barely legible top page is open to the Sermon on the Mount from Matthew 5, where Jesus speaks of 'an eye for an eye' followed by 'resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.'”

It is a remarkable find and a reminder to all of us of Jesus' words in Matthew 5,

Concerning Retaliation: 
38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; 40 and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; 41 and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. 42 Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you. 
Love for Enemies: 
43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect."
There is no retaliation possible against those who have killed themselves in an act of terror. Acting to prevent further such attacks is prudent and not retaliatory.

Is it a greater act of love to take action to protect your neighbor from further attacks, even if that means going after the bad guys?

Wednesday, September 07, 2016

Pelican of Mercy, Save Louisiana

I believe that I heard this story a while back and forgot all about it until recently when the Patheos blog posted a detailed history of the "Pelican of Mercy" the legend of which appears to date back to the third or fourth centuries in an ancient text described a pelican pouring out its blood over its dead young in order to bring the dead back to life, and this became associated with Christ's sacrifice for us. This has been depicted in religious art and stimulated John Turner to write the history at Patheos.
"Some medieval beastiaries, such as the 13th century Aberdeen Beastiary and Harley Beastiary, depict the mother both killing and reviving her chicks.Here is the description of the pelican from the Aberdeen Beastiary:It is devoted to its young. When it gives birth and the young begin to grow, they strike their parents in the face. But their parents, striking back, kill them. On the third day, however, the mother-bird, with a blow to her flank, opens up her side and lies on her young and lets her blood pour over the bodies of the dead, and so raises them from the dead." 
"The image also found its way into literature ranging from prayers to plays. Thomas Aquinas, in a Eucharistic poem later used as a hymn, wrote this verse (in Edward Bouvier Pusey’s translation): 
'Pelican of mercy,
Jesus, Lord and God,
Cleanse me, wretched sinner,
in Thy Precious Blood:
Blood where one drop for human-kind outpoured
Might from all transgression have the world restored.'"
The pelican is the state bird of Louisiana, a state which needs the Lord's mercy after the recent floods of August 2016 literally raised the dead, and a state which, according to the Politico ratings of 2016, ranks 51st out of 50 (okay, they included D.C.) which is worse than terrible.

 Pelican of Mercy...

Sunday, September 04, 2016

That's One Way to Thin the Crowd

In today's Gospel reading, Luke 14:25-33, Jesus places some very difficult demands on the crowd trying to follow him.

Now large crowds were travelling with him; and he turned and said to them, ‘Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, saying, “This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.” Or what king, going out to wage war against another king, will not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand? If he cannot, then, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace. So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.
That's one way to thin the crowd. So much for the radically inclusive Jesus without the radically exclusive Jesus. Everyone is invited to follow him, but he will stop, turn around, and demand that you drop all the baggage you are carrying if you wish to continue down the road with him. This is where most of us fall short as we are unable to let go of the false sense of security we get from our material and spiritual baggage. Jesus calls us to change, and yes, that means giving up sinful desires as well as some things we would never have thought of as sinful such as love for family.

Jesus was building a foundation, an army to carry the cross forward after his death and resurrection.

Oh, how that army has grown bloated with camp followers and slowed by the loads of baggage it has accumulated. Perhaps that is the reason why the mainline Protestant denominations are in decline.

We need to remember that Jesus intended his army to be a mean, lean, fighting machine.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

The 33rd of August

Here in South Carolina, it has been a long, hot and humid, but still drought stricken, August, and we are ready to be through with it. But, it could be worse, as the late Mickey Newbury sang all those years ago,

For those of you at work who can't listen, here are the lyrics,

"Lord today there's no salvation
The bands packed up and gone
Left me standing with my penny in my hand
There's a big crowd at the station where a blind man sings his songs
But he can see what they can't understand

Its the thirty-third of August and I'm finally touchin' down
Eight days from Sunday finds me Saturday bound

Once I stumbled through the darkness tumbled to my knees
A thousand voices screamin' in my brain
Woke up in a squad car busted down for vagrancy
Outside my cell as sure as hell it looked like rain

But now I put my dangerous feelings under lock and chain
Guess I killed my violent nature with a smile
Though the demons danced and sung their songs within my fevered brain
Not all my God-like thoughts Lord were defiled

Its the thirty-third of August and I'm finally touchin' down
Eight days from Sunday find me Saturday bound"

If you want to play it on your guitar and sing along, here is a page with the chords.