Sunday, May 29, 2016

Pentecost Lectionary Readings: Get Ready to Hop and Skip Through Galatians Part 1

Springtime is a time when Sunday worship service attendance typically starts its decline into the summer doldrums as children and parents go off for summer vacations and other excuses for skipping church.

Speaking of skipping, the absentees will miss (unless they visit this out of the way blog) the readings from Galatians that hop and skip through Paul's letter each Sunday from May 29 through July 3. It may be difficult for even the weekly church goer to get the gist of Galatians over that period of time, especially since most preachers will probably avoid any discussion of the Epistle during their sermons. For the next several Sundays I shall try to fill in the gaps by offering up the missing verses as they come along and adding commentary from a few old-timers so that casual Sunday goers can get a taste of what they are missing from this important letter.  

This week we get to hear Galatians 1:1-12. First Paul's qualifications,
"Paul an apostle—sent neither by human commission nor from human authorities, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead— and all the members of God’s family who are with me,"
Next, a concise theological statement can be found in Paul's prayer to the churches,
"To the churches of Galatia:
 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to set us free from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be the glory for ever and ever. Amen."
Then a strong admonition,
"I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— not that there is another gospel, but there are some who are confusing you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should proclaim to you a gospel contrary to what we proclaimed to you, let that one be accursed! As we have said before, so now I repeat, if anyone proclaims to you a gospel contrary to what you received, let that one be accursed!" 
 Followed by a little explanation for why he has to stick to an unpopular (to the Galatians) gospel message,
 "Am I now seeking human approval, or God’s approval? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still pleasing people, I would not be a servant of Christ."
And saving his strongest defense for last,
 "For I want you to know, brothers, that the gospel that was proclaimed by me is not of human origin; for I did not receive it from a human source, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ."

Matthew Henry (d. 1714) in his Commentary writes,

The churches in Galatia were formed partly of converted Jews, and partly of Gentile converts, as was generally the case. St. Paul asserts his apostolic character and the doctrines he taught, that he might confirm the Galatian churches in the faith of Christ, especially with respect to the important point of justification by faith alone. Thus the subject is mainly the same as that which is discussed in the epistle to the Romans, that is, justification by faith alone. In this epistle, however, attention is particularly directed to the point, that men are justified by faith without the works of the law of Moses. Of the importance of the doctrines prominently set forth in this epistle, Luther thus speaks: "We have to fear as the greatest and nearest danger, lest Satan take from us this doctrine of faith, and bring into the church again the doctrine of works and of men's traditions. Wherefore it is very necessary that this doctrine be kept in continual practice and public exercise, both of reading and hearing. If this doctrine be lost, then is also the doctrine of truth, life and salvation, lost and gone."
Smith's Bible Dictionary describes Galatia as,
(land of the Galli, Gauls). The Roman province of Galatia may be roughly described as the central region of the peninsula of Asia Minor, bounded on the north by Bithynia and Paphlagonia; on the east by Pontus; on the south by Cappadocia and Lycaonia; on the west by Phrygia. --Encyc. Brit. It derived its name from the Gallic or Celtic tribes who, about 280 B.C., made an irruption into Macedonia and Thrace. It finally became a Roman province. The Galatia of the New Testament has really the "Gaul" of the East. The people have always been described as "susceptible of quick impressions and sudden changes, with a fickleness equal to their courage and enthusiasm, and a constant liability to that disunion which is the fruit of excessive vanity. --The Galatian churches were founded by Paul at his first visit, when he was detained among, them by sickness, (Galatians 4:13) during his second missionary journey, about A.D 51. He visited them again on his third missionary tour.
The "fickleness" of the Galatians is not that much different from the behavior of today's churches. We see in our Episcopal church how easily people can be taken in by false teaching and how the admonitions of traditionalists fall on deaf ears.

It will take the perseverance of Paul to turn things around in today's churches. 

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Anglican Diocese of Toronto Canada on Decline: Making a Silk Purse Out of a Sow's Ear

The Bishop of Toronto, Colin Johnson revealed a dire prediction last week.
"The demographic projections for the Diocese project that in 15 years we will have 50-70 fewer parishes (and clergy?), although there may be more non-traditional forms of ministry and gathered missional communities." (source: Anglican Ink)
The reasons behind the decline of the Anglican Church of Canada have been speculated about elsewhere, but don't look to the Bishop to admit that progressive policies and revisionist teachings have anything to do with it. Instead, he will change the subject,
"The visioning, coaching and pastoral care involved in amalgamations and closures requires substantial resources, direction and leadership if done well (and even more if it is done poorly!).
Is there a handbook out there on how to close churches well? If there is one, I bet it says that you need more clergy and staff to close and amalgamate parishes than to build them up.
The same is true for establishing new forms of ministry. We are learning about that from other dioceses and from our own experiences." 
I guess that means the diocese has to get more top-heavy for these new forms of ministry. What new forms of ministry he is talking about? I always thought that if you go out and preach it, teach it, and live it, they will come.

Next, in the fine tradition of Anglican spin, rather than get to the causes of the decline, he tries to make a silk purse out of a sow's ear,
 "We are leaders in this area and other dioceses, including English and American dioceses, look to us for advice, though the learning is usually mutual."
Can he cite one example?

Leaders in the area of establishing new forms of ministry shouldn't result in the closure of churches. Any advice these folks can give to the declining American or English dioceses can only contribute to the death spiral we have been witnessed.

Or maybe he is boasting about being a leader in downsizing.

I am at a total loss for words...

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Trinity Marching Orders

This is an update of a post originally published in 2012. 

Today is Trinity Sunday, and I stopped to reflect on how long the Trinity has been a part of my life.

As a child attending Trinity Grammar School, the following was our Alma Mater,
"O Trinity we sing to thee, our love and praises hear and see. Be with us now and always give the strength we need to grow and live. O guide us well and make us free to honor and remember thee."
That Alma Mater is as fitting a praise of the Holy Trinity as one can give. No need to sermonize any further.

In grammar school, we had chapel daily and "big church" on Wednesdays. I can't say that I remember any of the sermons on the Trinity I heard back then, but of all the things that Trinity School taught me, the most important skill was the practice of being still and quiet in daily prayer with others in a sacred space. The importance of this earthly trinity of people, place, and worship remains one lesson that did "take".

Another lesson came from the song we had to sing during our sixth grade graduation ceremony, and that is the lesson to always look heavenward for Truth,

Come my friends and comrades
We’ll sing a song today
As on the path of learning
We take our happy way
Oh sing... our song... today...ay...ay...ay...ay. 
Chorus: We’re marching, marching together
To hills far away.
On the path of learning and duty
We’re marching today,
And we will never forget our school days
When truth shone on high
So march, march on my comrades,
Truth’s still in the sky.
Sing then friends and comrades
Wherever we may be,
And always we'll remember
Our days at Trinity
Oh sing... our song... so
We’re marching, marching together
To hills far away.
On the path of learning and duty
We’re marching today
And we will never forget our school days
When truth shone on high
So march, march on my comrades,
Truth’s still in the sky.
I believe the words were written by the school's founder and our Librarian, Miss Aiken. This was back during the Cold War and we always suspected Miss Aiken of being a Communist because of the repetitive use of the word "comrades."

Sadly, on one of my visits to my old school and its historic church, I saw that the Wednesday speaker series invited people to learn about "being a good Muslim parent in the modern world". I was also disappointed in the Sunday sermon. I was obliged to write a tactful letter to the preacher regarding the negative comments he made in the course of his sermon about evangelists and fundamentalists. His reply was that he said nothing wrong, and that he hoped I found a church where the preaching was more to my liking.

I was still shaking the dust from my shoes over that one, when I returned to deliver the homily for my mother's funeral. The priest sat silently as started with Matthew 5:8 and quoted
Athanasius (373), then Richard Sibbes (or Sibbs) (1577–1635), John Newton, and finally the Anglican evangelical great, J.C. Ryle,  first Anglican bishop of Liverpool,  1885.  I preached on the subject of Heaven as something that is rarely spoken about from the Episcopal pulpits these days. I hope the lesson "took". At least the roof didn't fall down and the priest didn't say one positive or negative word about my sermon.

Thank you Trinity church, I shall return one final time. In the meantime, I have been given my marching orders.
Marching on my comrades...
Oh sing... our song... so

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

The Tenth Anniversary of Not Another Episcopal Church Blog!

First, let me thank all of my followers and weekly visitors for their support over the years. I never expected to have gained so many virtual friends when I started blogging.

This blog was started ten years ago, and you should all remember that this blog is a personal journal of sorts, so here are a few thoughts summarizing my journey thus far.

After the election of the first openly homosexual bishop in the Episcopal church in 2003, conservatives like myself were told, "It is time for the Church to "move on" from debates over human sexuality. I found that a lifetime spent as an Episcopalian had not properly prepared me to formulate an opinion that would allow me to "move on". Neither was I confident enough to condemn the actions of the greater church publicly. For example, my earliest response when asked what I thought was something to the effect of, "This has to be the dumbest thing they have ever done." A little bit later, I progressed to saying something like, "If Gene Robinson really cared for the Church, he would graciously step down and not go through with this."

At that point, I committed myself to a continuing effort at discerning God's will, and the message that I kept hearing was to first do my homework and study, study, study, and only after having agreed to do that should I join in public discourse on Church matters.

For the past ten years, I have studied the Bible alone and in groups. I have studied the heretics of the past and present, theology, and the world's religions. Daily Bible study has become my morning cup of coffee.

Through Bible study, dissection of bad sermons, analysis of lectionary deletions, observation of and participation in the political processes in the Episcopal church, following religious news and speaking to religious leaders, as well as participation in on-line theology and Bible study, battling internet trolls, and getting kicked in the teeth a few times, I have come to a greater appreciation of the need for each and every one of us to do the homework for ourselves while at the same time staying connected to mentors who will correct us when we are wrong and who can direct our further efforts wisely if we are arm ourselves for battle with the real enemy, the one who opposes God's will.

Opposition to God's Word and therefore, God's will, is what I named as the great error of Gene Robinson, an error that has spread throughout the Episcopal church, and ten years later I continue to hold that position, but I also know that I too must daily confront that same temptation. So many Old Testament stories hammer home the point that we are a stiff-necked and rebellious people when it comes to following God's will. Even when His commandments are written in stone, we break them.

What will the next ten years hold? I can bet that the debates over human sexuality will continue and that the Episcopal church in its quest to be relevant will come up with fresh abominations and outrages to draw attention to itself. Whatever happens, do the work needed to sow in your heart and mind a solid foundation, immerse yourself in scripture, prayer, worship, and service to the Lord, and spread the good news that Jesus came to save us from Sin.

And if you don't believe in Sin, keep coming back; we'll work on it.

For the rest of you, raise a glass in a toast!

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Pentecost and the Transformation of Peter

Today we hear about Pentecost in Acts 2:1-21. At the end of this reading, Peter quotes from the prophet Joel. This is not something we are used to hearing from Peter who has stumbled and bumbled his way through the earlier gospels. The transformation of Peter from simple fisherman to fisher of men has occurred thanks to the power of the Holy Spirit.

In an old sermon, "The Effect of Pentecost" by Joseph Parker (1830-1902), we get a full exposition on this transformation as he preaches on the verses of Acts that follow those included in today's reading. I have chosen a few excerpts to give you a taste of preaching and teaching the likes of which you are unlikely to hear today.
This is a full length portrait of Peter himself. If we see clearly the effect upon Peter, we shall have a true idea of the effect of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the entire church... 
...Peter is not an egotist in this case, but, so to say, the passive instrument through which the Holy Spirit delivers new and gracious messages to the church. Fix your minds therefore upon Peter in the first instance. We know what he has been up to this time-ardent, impulsive, unbalanced, enthusiastic, cowardly. Since we last saw him, during the days of the bodily-present Christ, he has been the subject of Pentecostal influence. We have therefore to look on this picture and on that, and upon the change discoverable between the two pictures you may found your estimate of the value of spiritual inspiration.
 ...Already therefore in the mere matter of eloquence, we discover a wonderful change in the man who denied his Lord with an oath. He was always an ardent man, but now he bums as he says the elements themselves will one day "burn with fervent heat." 
...Who had ever known Peter before as a reader-who was aware until this moment that Peter ever opened the sacred Book and perused it with a student's curiosity and eagerness? We had never thought of Peter as an expositor; an errand-runner, a zealous, not always well-balanced friend, a crude thinker, an incoherent speaker-under these terms we may have formed some conception of the apostolic fisherman, but certainly it never entered into our minds that he had been a reader, a student, an inquirer into the deep decrees and hidden things of the sanctuary-yet in a moment he opens the prophecy of Joel, and reads it in the language and tone of his own day, and then he searches into some of the richest psalms of David, and quotes from them enough to establish the continuity and solidity of his great argument,
...We have in Peter a standard whereby to measure ourselves. When the Holy Spirit falls upon us we shall go to the Bible with a new reading power, and we shall see wonders where before we saw nothing because of our spiritual blindness. There are portions of the Bible with which we are nominally familiar, but what do we know of its inner meanings, of the minor prophets, the out-of-the-way histories, the deep things of God? Under the enlightenment of the Spirit we shall see that everything grand in thought, thrilling in poetry, tragic in experience, noble in heroism, is in the Bible. This is the Book out of which all other books are made. All science is here, all history all fiction, all philosophy, all poetry, even the best titles of all books are in the Bible. There is nothing in any literature whose root is not to be found in the inspired volume. This is the Book out of which all other books are made, as the earth is the quarry out of which all its palaces have been dug, and as there are grander palaces in the rocks and woods than have yet been built, so there are more glorious visions in the Bible than we have yet beheld.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

The Wrath of John

I posted on this in 2010 and again in 2013, and thanks to the lectionary cycle, you get to read about it again. This past Sunday's particular reading, Revelation 22:12-14, 16-17, 20-12, creates what I call the "Abbrevelation of John". When read without the imprecatory verses, the Abbrevelation of John sounds sweet, soothing, and perfect for the unsuspecting Sunday church crowd. Unfortunately, most lectionary edits seem to result in this, a pasteurized scripture designed to keep the sheep peaceful.

The lectionary cycle is such that once a reading is written into the schedule, like clockwork, like a meteor shower, and sometimes like a bad penny in this case, every three years it keeps on re-appearing. So, I will repost this from May 16, 2010.

A Warning to the Writers of the RCL

I usually blog about the Sunday sermon, but this was really bugging me today.

This Sunday's readings highlight one of my pet peeves, and that is the problem of the "missing verses." We use the Revised Common Lectionary for the assigned readings, and quite frequently this presents us pewsitters with an expurgated version of the Bible. What they did today to Revelation 22:12-14, 16-17, 20-12 sounds innocent enough,
12 ‘See, I am coming soon; my reward is with me, to repay according to everyone’s work.
13 I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.’
14 Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they will have the right to the tree of life and may enter the city by the gates.
******expurgated v 15***************
16 ‘It is I, Jesus, who sent my angel to you with this testimony for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star.’
17The Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come.’
And let everyone who hears say, ‘Come.’
And let everyone who is thirsty come.
Let anyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift.
******expurgated vs. 18-19***************
20 The one who testifies to these things says, ‘Surely I am coming soon.’
Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!
21 The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all the saints. Amen

I wonder if they just wanted to make things sound pretty by cutting the verses of warning,
v. 15
"Outside are the dogs and sorcerers and fornicators and murderers and idolaters, and everyone who loves and practises falsehood."

And also left out was the part that the RCL really, really should not have tried to expurgate, vs. 18-19
"I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to that person the plagues described in this book; if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away that person’s share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book."

Uh oh...

So, if you did not hear the full text in church, and if your preacher did not point out the omissions during their sermon, please ask them if they believe that John's Revelation is important, and next ask them if they believe that God wants us to hear the whole thing, and finally ask them why they feed God's sheep skim milk instead of whole milk.

Then, advise them to read the whole text, or face the wrath of John. 

Sunday, May 08, 2016

"Never could it be possible for any man to estimate what he owes to a godly mother" - Charles H. Spurgeon

Taking time off from my usual post on the Sunday readings (to resume on Wednesday), this Mother's Day I am thinking about my late mother and how blessed I was to have been raised by such a godly woman, even if she did keep an autographed copy of  "Beyond Anxiety" a 1953 book written by the late  Bishop James Pike in her library.

Nobody is perfect, not even my dear mother, but I owe so much to her for raising me in the Church, teaching me patience and the value of listening, and many, many other things.

The following is by Charles Spurgeon presented with a tip of the hat to Tolle Lege,

"Fathers and mothers are the most natural agents for God to use in the salvation of their children. I am sure that, in my early youth, no teaching ever made such an impression upon my mind as the instruction of my mother.
Neither can I conceive that, to any child, there can be one who will have such influence over the young heart as the mother who has so tenderly cared for her offspring. A man with a soul so dead as not to be moved by the sacred name of 'mother' is creation's blot.
Never could it be possible for any man to estimate what he owes to a godly mother.
Certainly I have not the powers of speech with which to set forth my valuation of the choice blessing which the Lord bestowed on me in making me the son of one who prayed for me, and prayed with me.
How can I ever forget her tearful eye when she warned me to escape the wrath to come? I thought her lips right eloquent. Others might not think so, but they certainly were eloquent to me.
How can I ever forget when she bowed her knee, and with her arms about my neck, prayed, 'Oh, that my son might live before Thee!'
Nor can her frown be effaced from my memory,-- that solemn, loving frown, when she rebuked my budding iniquities.
And her smiles have never faded from my recollection,-- the beaming of her countenance when she rejoiced to see some good thing in me towards the Lord God of Israel."
--Charles H. Spurgeon, The Autobiography of Charles H. Spurgeon, Vol. 1, 1834-1854 (New York: Fleming Revell Co., 1898), 68-69.

Wednesday, May 04, 2016

United Methodist Church in Charlotte Applies "The Facts on the Ground" Tactic

One of our local rags, The Charlotte Observer (if its LGBT, print it) reported on a recent same-sex marriage ceremony held in a Charlotte, NC church,

"On Saturday, the Rev. Val Rosenquist and retired Bishop Melvin Talbert defied the United Methodist Church's ban on same-sex marriage by performing a wedding at Charlotte's First United Methodist."

Of course that is against the rules of  the United Methodist Church (UMC) , and their Bishop has warned the clergy that if charges are brought, he will follow the "Book of Discipline".

In the UMC, that might result in a church trial and a suspension, but if history holds true to form, the wayward minister will probably get her job back even if she is suspended.

At least one person had the courage to object,
"Not everyone was pleased. On Sunday, after Talbert’s sermon at the 11 a.m. service, a former member of the church stood up at his pew to object to the same-sex wedding and to Talbert’s justification for it. His words competed with an announcement that the collection would be taken up, so few in the church heard him.
Former teacher Charles Walkup later told the Observer he said that 'as one who’s personally dealt with homosexuality, I affirm that the Methodist (Book of) Discipline is correct.'
Walkup, who ended his membership in the church after it joined the Reconciling Ministries Network, added that he tried to speak up because “Jesus warned of false shepherds who mislead his precious sheep.”
The United Methodist Church in the U.S.A. has been slouching towards Gomorrah for a number of years, and the only thing keeping them from going all in for same-sex marriage has been the polity of the Church which gives voice and vote to the more numerous conservative member churches from Africa.

The strategy of progressives in the UMC is to use the same techniques that worked in the Episcopal church, and those are to infiltrate the ranks of clergy with increasing numbers of revisionist preachers, to work politically raising the issue of same-sex marriage at their conventions year after year in hopes of wearing down and outlasting the opposition, to bide their time as conservatives depart the church, to work on the lay person's emotions rather than stressing the teachings of Jesus and the apostles, and as this case demonstrates, to proceed with unauthorized same-sex marriages thereby creating the so-called "facts on the ground". Unless quickly squashed, the "facts on the ground" become established as tolerated and acceptable before being codified.

Given their structure, the UMC in the U.S.A. may eventually split in a manner different than the split we saw in TEc. In the case of the UMC, the departing churches will be those that are opposed to the worldwide UMC's traditional stance on marriage, whereas in TEc, the departing churches were those that agreed with the worldwide Anglican Communion's position on marriage.

Sunday, May 01, 2016

Splicing and Dicing Through Revelation: The Passed-Over Verses

A sharp-eyed Episcopal priest was doing their sermon prep this week and called to my attention another one of those curious lectionary decisions that we have presented on this blog from time to time. This one will go completely unnoticed by the pewsitters this Sunday.

Here is a reminder about last week's reading for the Fifth Sunday of Easter which was Revelation 21:1-6,
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,‘See, the home of God is among mortals.He will dwell with them;they will be his peoples,and God himself will be with them;he will wipe every tear from their eyes.Death will be no more;mourning and crying and pain will be no more,for the first things have passed away.’
And the one who was seated on the throne said, ‘See, I am making all things new.’ Also he said, ‘Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.’ Then he said to me, ‘It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life. Rev 21:1-6 

This week's reading for the Sixth Sunday of Easter is Revelation 21:10, 22:1-5

And in the spirit he carried me away to a great, high mountain and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God.
 I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it. Its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there. People will bring into it the glory and the honour of the nations. But nothing unclean will enter it, nor anyone who practises abomination or falsehood, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life.Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. Nothing accursed will be found there any more. But the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him; they will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And there will be no more night; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign for ever and ever. Revelation 21:10, 22:1-5

Notice that between the two Sundays by jumping to Rev 21:10 on May 1, a few verses get passed over. Readers of this blog can easily guess the likely content. For those who are not familiar, lectionary edits tend to soften chapters of the Bible that mention sin, damnation, or things that are particularly imprecatory in nature. These omissions eliminate a lot of things that would otherwise cause unpleasantness for Sunday preachers and church visitors, but the long-term spiritual effects of being fed a diet lacking in essential Bible verses is not healthy for shepherds or for their flocks.

Revelation 21:7-9

Those who conquer will inherit these things, and I will be their God and they will be my children. But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the polluted, the murderers, the fornicators, the sorcerers, the idolaters, and all liars, their place will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulphur, which is the second death.’Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues came and said to me, ‘Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.’ Revelation 21:7-9

In all my years in the Episcopal church, listening to thousands of sermons, not once was Hell fire and brimstone discussed in a sermon except in a negative sense such as, "Those churches over there belief in that eternal damnation stuff."

Seems to me that any Church that follows the Revised Common Lectionary may be in peril of beong sliced, diced, and roasted if they treat their pewsitters to a Gospel that has been sliced, diced, revised, and sanitized.

Addendum: And just wait and see what happens to Revelation next week!