Wednesday, August 23, 2017

The Bible knows nothing of solitary religion

This week as I left my new church family to attend to my father's funeral, I was reminded that even though I was far away, we were still connected through prayers and bonds of Christian friendship. As I presented the homily to those assembled for the funeral, I saw Christians and non-christians together and realized that in order to reach the un-churched and the anti-christians we need to not wait for special occasions like weddings and funerals in order to share the Faith. We can't keep it to ourselves. The story must be told.

A post at Patheos last December by Ben Witherington titled "The Narcissism of ‘Solitary Religion’"
reinforces my impression.

"Augustine tells the story of Victorinus, professor of rhetoric at Rome. Victorinus had a lot of sympathy with Christianity, and used to read the Bible and Christian books. He would say to Simplician ‘You know I really am a Christian already.’ Simplician would reply ‘I will not believe it, nor will I rank you among Christians, until I see you in the Church of Christ.’ Victorinus would reply ‘Do walls make Christians?’ He kept the jest up for a long time, but in the end the professor came where he knew he belonged, and joined the mixed company of the Church of Rome.It has always been so. It was at the beginnings of Methodism when a ‘serious man’, we do not know his name, said to John Wesley, ‘Sir, you wish to serve God and go to heaven? Remember that you cannot serve him alone. You therefore must find companions or make them. The Bible knows nothing of solitary religion.’"

We have to share His story. I believe that in order to do so we have to study, study, study, and live and grow in Faith with a Christian community.

They are out there.

Don't be fooled by cheap imitations.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Paul, Paul, Why Do We Ignore Thee So?

This Sunday, the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) cuts out 80% of the 11th chapter of Romans (Romans 11:1-2, 29-32). As I am prone to do on these pages, I point out the gaps and present the verses as intended by the original author. If you went to church today and only heard the RCL version, here is what Paul really wrote to the Gentile Christians in Rome as he tried to explain how they relate to the Jews,

Romans 11
I ask, then, has God rejected his people? By no means! I myself am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, a member of the tribe of Benjamin. God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew. Do you not know what the scripture says of Elijah, how he pleads with God against Israel? ‘Lord, they have killed your prophets, they have demolished your altars; I alone am left, and they are seeking my life.’ But what is the divine reply to him? ‘I have kept for myself seven thousand who have not bowed the knee to Baal.’ So too at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace. But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise grace would no longer be grace.
What then? Israel failed to obtain what it was seeking. The elect obtained it, but the rest were hardened, as it is written,‘God gave them a sluggish spirit,   eyes that would not see   and ears that would not hear,down to this very day.’ And David says,‘Let their table become a snare and a trap,   a stumbling-block and a retribution for them; let their eyes be darkened so that they cannot see,   and keep their backs for ever bent.’So I ask, have they stumbled so as to fall? By no means! But through their stumbling salvation has come to the Gentiles, so as to make Israel jealous. Now if their stumbling means riches for the world, and if their defeat means riches for Gentiles, how much more will their full inclusion mean!
Now I am speaking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch then as I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I glorify my ministry in order to make my own people jealous, and thus save some of them. For if their rejection is the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead! If the part of the dough offered as first fruits is holy, then the whole batch is holy; and if the root is holy, then the branches also are holy.
But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, a wild olive shoot, were grafted in their place to share the rich root of the olive tree, do not vaunt yourselves over the branches. If you do vaunt yourselves, remember that it is not you that support the root, but the root that supports you. You will say, ‘Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.’ That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand only through faith. So do not become proud, but stand in awe. For if God did not spare the natural branches, perhaps he will not spare you. Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity towards those who have fallen, but God’s kindness towards you, provided you continue in his kindness; otherwise you also will be cut off. And even those of Israel, if they do not persist in unbelief, will be grafted in, for God has the power to graft them in again. For if you have been cut from what is by nature a wild olive tree and grafted, contrary to nature, into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these natural branches be grafted back into their own olive tree.So that you may not claim to be wiser than you are, brothers and sisters, I want you to understand this mystery: a hardening has come upon part of Israel, until the full number of the Gentiles has come in. And so all Israel will be saved; as it is written,‘Out of Zion will come the Deliverer;   he will banish ungodliness from Jacob.’ ‘And this is my covenant with them,   when I take away their sins.’ As regards the gospel they are enemies of God for your sake; but as regards election they are beloved, for the sake of their ancestors; for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. Just as you were once disobedient to God but have now received mercy because of their disobedience, so they have now been disobedient in order that, by the mercy shown to you, they too may now receive mercy. For God has imprisoned all in disobedience so that he may be merciful to all.

All too often, the Epistles are glossed over on Sunday morning, and I predict that will be the case today in many churches that follow the RCL. As a child, I found Romans very difficult to understand, probably because all I heard was little snippets and not the entire letter and never a Bible study about Romans. If you are just a Sunday church goer, you may get a similar distorted view of Paul and his letters.  It pays to read the whole thing, and it would be even better to study it with a group of fellow Christians. 

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Do Liberalism and Sexual liberation lead us to "Transhumanism"?

A rather lengthy article crossed my desk the other day from Crisis Magazine. In it, the author discusses the "transhumanism" movement which I describe as certain people's goal to move their consciousness into an artificial intelligence, to leave their brains and bodies behind and become a non-human or "transhuman". To me, this is a natural progression of the trans-sexual movement with which our society is currently enraptured. Where "liberalism" fits into this trend depends on how one defines liberalism and that is why you should probably take the time to read the entire article. If you just want some key points, let me provide them here.
"Liberalism, remaining officially neutral on the subject of ultimate goods, serves to enshrine preference satisfaction as the ultimate good. Liberalism can’t help but privilege rights over duties and so undermines, even to the point of erasure, the conception of human dignity out of which duties arise. By making preference sovereign, liberalism communicates what we might call a proto-transhumanist anthropology. It says, humans are what they desire to become. You are what you want."
The current gender confusion that today's children are being taught is exactly this, "You are what you want." This liberal indoctrination creates questions of personal identity for our young which are unlikely to be answered by the ever changing "wants" of their all too human minds. I suspect transhumanists want an improvement upon the human mind. Who knows what wants a transhuman intelligence will desire next?

Connecting the dots of liberalism's technological understanding of sex as something that satisfies "wants" to the transhuman movement which proclaims the superiority of the artificial brain and body, the author continues,
"The liberal understanding of sex sanctions the pursuit of mastery over natality, and it is a short step from desiring control over natality to desiring control over mortality. Transhumanists explicitly conceive of the two as linked; their goal to defeat death is frequently parsed as a goal to manipulate life."
"As Michael Hanby explains it,
'if knowledge of nature is really engineering, then the truth of this knowledge is essentially whatever is technically possible. But since the ultimate limits of possibility can only be discovered by perpetually transgressing the present limits of possibility, a technological view of nature and truth commences an interminable revolution against every antecedent order or given limit. A thoroughgoing technological society will therefore establish revolution as a permanent principle, paradoxically giving it the stability of an institutional form.'"
"Revolution as a permanent principle", where have we heard that before?

What does all of this have to do with God and religion?
"To surrender to technology, just as to surrender to sexual license, is to abandon the possibility of discovering transcendent truth. Both sexual liberation and transhumanism are blind to the historical, philosophical, and theological foundations that make truth humanly attainable. Both movements devote their energies to engineering a world where truth is no longer necessary, where the givenness of the world we inhabit is entirely subverted. This is surely what makes an anti-culture: the labor to erase every trace of an order that demands reverence for permanent things (the marriage bond, parenthood, the sexual lineaments of the soul…)."
Welcome to the present world, the world of the "anti-culture". It is hard for most of us to understand its attraction. The way of Jesus seems much more attractive to me.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved

This week's Gospel reading relates the story of Jesus walking on the water and Peter sinking in the same sea. I have commented on this every three years for a while now so I am going to ask my dear readers to look over this Sunday's Epistle selection, Romans 10:5-15

Moses writes concerning the righteousness that comes from the law, that ‘the person who does these things will live by them.’ But the righteousness that comes from faith says, ‘Do not say in your heart, “Who will ascend into heaven?” ’ (that is, to bring Christ down) ‘or “Who will descend into the abyss?” ’ (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). But what does it say?‘The word is near you,   on your lips and in your heart’(that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved. The scripture says, ‘No one who believes in him will be put to shame.’ For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him. For, ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’
 But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him? And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!’
As I write this, I am grieving the death of my father who passed away today. Grief mixed with gladness because just last year he confessed to me his belief in Jesus and that he knew that he was saved. My father was very old, and he knew that his days were numbered. Not everyone is so aware, and for that reason these verses from Romans should be kept in our minds as we interact with unbelievers.
But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him?
Confess out loud that Christ is Lord. The world is dying to hear it!

Wednesday, August 09, 2017

Where Dying Congregations Go To Die

The story came from Waco Texas and The Waco Tribune-Herald: "Dwindling congregation forces sale of 133-year-old Waco Lutheran church", and it made the rounds on social media a couple of weeks ago. I waited and waited for someone to pick up on the irony hidden in the story. Seeing none, I present it for your puzzled minds.

In the story, a Lutheran parish that is part of the liberal wing of American Lutherans was forced to sell their building because their average Sunday attendance had fallen drastically. They sold it to an up and coming Anglican Church in North America congregation. This might seem ironic to some, but what it really says is that there are consequences to be had from promoting a faulty theology of human sexuality.

The real irony is where the dying congregation is going to meet for worship in the future,
"The membership will meet temporarily now at Connally-Compton Funeral Directors on West Waco Drive until plans for a more-permanent location are finalized."
I will leave it to my reader's imaginations as to what that more-permanent location might be.

Grab your shovels folks.

Sunday, August 06, 2017

Why Did They Keep Silent?

This Sunday is the Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord, and the assigned Gospel reading is Luke 9:28-36,
 "Now about eight days after these sayings Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. Just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, ‘Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah’—not knowing what he said. While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. Then from the cloud came a voice that said, ‘This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!’ When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen."
We are left to speculate as to why Peter, John, and James kept silent. They were not instructed by the Lord to do so. I always thought that they were afraid that if they spoke, no one would believe them, or worse, they would be accused of blasphemy. After the resurrection and the reception of the Holy Spirit, these three were transformed and given the courage to testify as to what had occurred on that mountain.

Matthew Henry (1662 – 1714) in his Commentary puts it this way,
"Lastly, The apostles are here said to have kept this vision private. They told no man in those days, reserving the discovery of it for another opportunity, when the evidences of Christ’s being the Son of God were completed in the pouring out of the Spirit, and that doctrine was to be published to all the world. As there is a time to speak, so there is a time to keep silence. Every thing is beautiful and useful in its season."
"Everything is beautiful"? Sorry but I couldn't resist,

I cannot keep silent. I have seen a lot of ugliness and can testify that not everything is beautiful.

Wednesday, August 02, 2017

A Welsh Bishop's Mad Belief

In case you missed it, the Welsh have gone all in for women's ordination to the point where they just "enthroned" their second female bishop, and now women make up 1/3 of Welsh bishops. June Osborne, the 72nd Bishop of Llandaff in Wales was enthroned on July 22, 2017 (H/T Ancient Briton).

If history is our guide and the Episcopal organization (TEc) is the reference to which one looks for the effects of women's ordination and female bishops on a Church, the Church in Wales is in for a slide into irrelevance. TEc has been losing members by the millions and women's ordination has done nothing to slow the decline. If anything, the decline seems to have accelerated since women started filling the ranks of the clergy in 1977.

Why is it that the presence of women in the priesthood has done nothing to stem the tide? I think that Bishop June Osborne gave us a hint in her first sermon as Bishop of Llandaff when she said,
“I believe truly, madly and deeply in pastoral ministry within a local context."
Now don't get me wrong, I believe in pastoral ministry too. It is an important part of caring for people. The only problem with a true, mad, and deep belief in pastoral ministry is that it can create an imbalance in the other important components of ministry. Administration, handling staff, teaching, preaching, and most of all evangelizing all tend to become  subordinate to pastoral care. The consequence of an imbalance in ministry is the ruin of the Church.

So here comes the sticky part. Many people entering Episcopal and probably Welsh seminaries already have a strong caring personality type. This may be one of the factors leading to their feeling of a calling to serve others as a priest. Note that I did not say "serve God as a priest". Once placed in a parish, all the years of education cannot keep the average priest from slipping into "pastoral care mode" once they are given charge over a congregation of needy individuals. This is a particular problem for smaller congregations who cannot afford an assistant priest or a deacon.

Like it or not, women are often seen as more caring and therefore may be considered by a bishop who comes from a pastoral background to be better suited for the role of delivering pastoral care.

Once a diocese gets a critical mass of women priests, and enough become bishops, guess what type of priests those bishops are more likely to bring in to take charge of their parish churches?

You got it, priests who also believe "truly madly and deeply" about local pastoral care. More likely than not many of those will be female.

Not an evangelical will be found in the lot.

And the Church will decline.

It is truly maddening. 

Sunday, July 30, 2017

"We are predestined, yet free"

While this Sunday's Gospel readings contain great parables which will likely be the subjects of most sermons today, I would like to draw your attention to the reading from Romans 8:26-39 which contains a problem that will probably not be discussed today, Predestination (vs 28-30 which I have highlighted below),

"Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. 
We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn within a large family. And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified.
What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, 
‘For your sake we are being killed all day long;
   we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.’ 
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord."
The problematic verses have challenged philosophers for generations. The idea of the predestination of the elect is difficult enough without getting into the concept of "double predestination", the predestination of the damned. When one considers God's omniscience and omnipresence along with his eternal nature we can get a glimpse of the problem. God knows what is going to happen to each and every one of us. He knows the bad choices we will make. He knows who will choose to follow Christ and who will reject him, and all of that seems terribly unfair to our modern minds that He would not step in and change our course when we stray particularly when, as Paul teaches, nothing will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.

Unfair until you remember that he has stepped in. He came and died for all of us once. Who are we to demand that He do it again.

Back in 2012 an article titled CATHOLICISM, CALVINISM AND THE THIRTY-NINE ARTICLES by Fr. Victor E. Novak (link to his blog), a priest in the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (ROCOR), appeared on David Virtue's blog which I hope will help us come to grips with this issue.

Article XVII, "Of Predestination and Election," does not say a word about the Calvinist doctrine of double predestination, and ends by saying: "Furthermore, we must receive God's promises in such wise, as they be generally [meaning universally] set forth to us in Holy Scripture: and, in our doings, that Will of God is to be followed, which we have expressly declared unto us in the Word of God." God's promises are general, or universal, not particular and limited to the elect. Anglicanism does not believe that God predestines some men to salvation and others to eternal damnation.
What is the Anglican understanding of Predestination and Election? Anglican theologian Vernon Staley explains it this way: "Predestination does not mean that some souls are fore-ordained to eternal life, and others to eternal death, for there is no purpose of God to bring any man to eternal death. God 'will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.'
"There is a purpose in everything, both in the order of nature and in that of grace. In the order of grace, Predestination corresponds to some extent with Providence in the order of nature. An acorn is naturally predestined to produce an oak, but it may fail to realize that purpose: all acorns do not produce oaks. If it does fail it misses its predestined end. So the soul is predestined to a life of grace and obedience here, leading to a life of glory hereafter; but it may fail, and miss the mark. If the laws which determine the germination and growth of an acorn are observed, the oak will be produced from it. In a like manner if the soul obeys God, and corresponds [cooperates] with his grace, it will come to eternal life. God who calls and elects, also bids us 'to make our calling and election sure'... Everyone is called to, and is capable of salvation, but God alone knows who will 'make their calling and election sure'" (The Catholic Religion, A Manual of Instruction for Members of the Anglican Communion; Vernon Staley, 1893, pp. 317-319).
Calvinists are monergists while Anglicans, like all Catholic Christians, are synergists. Calvinism teaches that grace ravishes the soul and is irresistible, while Anglicanism teaches that grace woos the soul and that man must cooperate freely with God's grace. God always acts first through prevenient grace, but man must cooperate with that grace. We are predestined, yet free.
 Free to choose to follow Him... or not. 

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Innovation or Return?

I recently had the pleasure of attending a service at an ACNA parish and heard a sermon that was so far removed from what my Episcopalian ears were accustomed to hearing that I kept wondering what would happen if this preacher was to give the same sermon in front of a group of Episcopalians.

Let me summarize his points:
  • The Reformation was a "return" and not an "innovation". 
  • The primacy of Scripture in the Anglican tradition.
  • The roles of tradition and reason in Anglicanism (not the same as the three legged stool Episcopalians teach).
  • Innovation is not derived from Scripture or tradition but from (flawed) human reason.
  • One should apply Scripture, tradition, and reason in that order to answer the question, "Is this an innovation or is it a return?" 
He then proceeded to give us a few examples of ancient and old issues the Church has faced.

Can you guess which examples would have caused an audience of Episcopalians to rend their clothes?

Yep, divorce, cohabitation, same-sex blessings, transgender liturgies, etc. Which were all correctly identified as innovations contrary to scripture and tradition.

The ACNA congregation nodded in agreement.

A congregation of Episcopalians would have turned into,

Or maybe not. A crowd of Episcopalian clergy certainly would have been irate, but a crowd of pewsitters just might have had their ears opened.

Just imagine what effect a steady diet of correct information might have on the Episcopal congo.

Ah, tis but a flight of fancy I know.

But, just imagine...

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Fear the Reapers

This Sunday's Gospel lesson from Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43 continues with another of the parables of Jesus, but unlike two weeks ago, this week churchgoers get to hear Jesus at his sharpest, speaking about the fiery furnace and those who wind up in it with "weeping and gnashing of teeth".
24 He put before them another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; 25 but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. 26 So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well. 27 And the slaves of the householder came and said to him, “Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?” 28 He answered, “An enemy has done this.” The slaves said to him, “Then do you want us to go and gather them?” 29 But he replied, “No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. 30 Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.” ’ 
36 Then he left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples approached him, saying, ‘Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field.’ 37 He answered, ‘The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man; 38 the field is the world, and the good seed are the children of the kingdom; the weeds are the children of the evil one, 39 and the enemy who sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. 40 Just as the weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. 41 The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, 42 and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43 Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Let anyone with ears listen!
The Revised Common Lectionary cut out the parable of the mustard seed for some strange reason since it seems both innocuous and enlightening in its description of the kingdom of heaven. I am sure most pewsitters would prefer hearing these words,

31 He put before them another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; 32 it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.’
33 He told them another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with* three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.’
34 Jesus told the crowds all these things in parables; without a parable he told them nothing. 35 This was to fulfil what had been spoken through the prophet:*
‘I will open my mouth to speak in parables;
 I will proclaim what has been hidden from the foundation of the world.’

The typical Episcopalian is never taught to actually fear the reaper. It might be interesting to sample this Sunday's sermons from various Episcopal parishes to see how they handled Matthew 13:40-42. If their preachers glossed over the dangers Jesus so dramatically presented, their sheep would have been given an illusion of safety. The message they have been fed for many years is that there is no Devil and no one has to fear the reaper.

"All our times have come
Here but now they're gone
Seasons don't fear the reaper
Nor do the wind, the sun or the rain, we can be like they are
Come on baby, don't fear the reaper
Baby take my hand, don't fear the reaper
We'll be able to fly, don't fear the reaper
Baby I'm your man 
Valentine is done
Here but now they're gone
Romeo and Juliet
Are together in eternity, Romeo and Juliet
Forty thousand men and women everyday, like Romeo and Juliet
Forty thousand men and women everyday, redefine happiness
Another forty thousand coming everyday, We can be like they are
Come on baby, don't fear the reaper
Baby take my hand, don't fear the reaper
We'll be able to fly, don't fear the reaper
Baby I'm your man 
Love of two is one
Here but now they're gone
Came the last night of sadness
And it was clear she couldn't go on
Then the door was open and the wind appeared
The candles blew then disappeared
The curtains flew then he appeared, saying don't be afraid
Come on baby, and she had no fear
And she ran to him, then they started to fly
They looked backward and said goodbye, she had become like they are
She had taken his hand, she had become like they are
Come on baby, don't fear the reaper" - Blue Oyster Cult 

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.


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"

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"?

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Go Tell It On the Roof Top

This Sunday's Gospel reading, Matthew 10:24-39, contains more of Jesus' instructions to the twelve who he was sending out to the lost sheep of Israel. Like last Sunday, preachers are presented with some challenging material and it will be interesting to see what they choose to expound upon and what they choose to ignore.

"‘A disciple is not above the teacher, nor a slave above the master; it is enough for the disciple to be like the teacher, and the slave like the master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household!‘So have no fear of them; for nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known. What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops. Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground unperceived by your Father. And even the hairs of your head are all counted. So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.
‘Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven; but whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven.‘Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father,and a daughter against her mother,and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.'"
The gist of the message is for the disciples to proclaim the Gospel whatever the cost. If we take seriously the costs listed in the verses above, most of us might reconsider our level of commitment to the Church. After all, this passage comes on the heels of Mother's Day and Father's Day here in the U.S., and now we read that we have to love Jesus more than we love our parents! I am sure that was just as hard for the twelve to swallow then as it is for us today. To modern ears, ears that have heard of the dangers of cults and how cult leaders get their followers to separate themselves completely from their parents, Jesus' teachings might sound scary. If anyone needs reassurance, let me make it clear that Jesus is not advocating separation. He is asking us to love Him above all else, and what that means in practice is that we will love others more than we ever could have before we were born anew.

So go tell it on the roof top, that Jesus Christ is Lord!

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Annual Summer Solstice Service Roundup

Each year I do a brief search for Episcopal parishes that celebrate the Summer Solstice. These services just don't seem to go away. There is a growing trend to call the gathering a "Celtic" event. In fact, it seems that Episcopalians are fascinated by the idea of "Celtic spirituality" without any idea of what Celtic spirituality really is. According to Britannica, what we know about Celtic religion is from syncretism between the Romans, the Celts/Gauls, and Christianity. Episcopal attempts at further syncretism are probably not going lead any druids to Christ but may keep progressive Episcopalians happy for an hour or two.

Oh yes, did I forget to mention that you have to have a labyrinth to have a Summer Solstice service these days? Not exactly Celtic, but a nice touch. ;-)

Celtic Celebration of Eucharist for Summer Solstice
by St. David's Episcopal ChurchDESCRIPTION:
The Fire in Our Hearts
Invigorate your spiritual journey as we give thanks for the longest day of the year by sharing an evening of prayer, song and Christian Communion.
Enjoy fellowship at the potluck snack reception which follows.
Saint Boniface Episcopal on Siesta Key SUMMER SOLSTICE LABYRINTH WALKLet us celebrate Summer Solstice on June 21 at 7:00 p.m. at our labyrinth.  Bring your journal, if you use one, or something in which to write.  We'll walk the labyrinth and ponder this question: "We are all spiritual beings. How is God calling you to express your spirituality?" Not walked a labyrinth before, but are curious about this?? Come along! We will help you get started.

Saint Andrew's SeattleSummer Solstice Labyrinth WalkJune 21 @ 6:30 pm - 8:30 pmGather in Parish Hall or at the LabyrinthCome celebrate the Summer Solstice by experiencing God’s presence as you walk the sacred path of our beautiful St. Andrew’s Labyrinth on the First Avenue side of the church grounds. June 21 is the day of the year where the sun is at the highest point over the equator and, hence, the longest day and the shortest night. We can think of the solstice as a spiritual time reminding us of God’s eternal light and the gift of new beginnings. As we walk the labyrinth, we open ourselves to whatever gifts or lessons the labyrinth may offer. It is an opportunity to slow down and become aware of the beauty and tranquility that can be found both within and outside of us. For those who would like it, there will be some brief instruction in the Parish Hall at 6:30. You are welcome to walk the labyrinth at any time.
Facilitated by ****** *****, St. Andrew’s parishioner who has long loved labyrinths and who served on the Sacred Grounds Labyrinth Design Committee.
Chapel open for silent prayer during Solstice Labyrinth WalkOn the night of the labyrinth walk, June 21, the chapel will be open for unfacilitated silent prayer from 5:30-8:30 pm. You are welcome to sit before and/or after your labyrinth walk.

St. John the Divine Episcopal Burlington Wisconsin is looking for a priest so,
 The 2017 Summer Solstice Auction and Celebration has been rescheduled for June 2018.

St. Giles Episcopal Summer Solstice Labyrinth Walk - June 21
We'll gather to walk the labyrinth (south end of the property, behind the education building) on the evening of June 21 at 7:30, to welcome summer and celebrate God's gift of seasons. All are welcome! Look for upcoming announcements of future walks later this summer!  

St. Brigit Episcopal Frederick CO.
Ait Caol Summer Solstice ServiceWe invite you to indulge in a very special time of spiritual sanctuary and renewal as we celebrate the longest day of the year! Our service will offer prayer, live Celtic music, and a walking meditation to various sacred spaces, including our outdoor labyrinth. *In the Celtic Tradition,  "thin place" is a location where the wall between this world and the next is very thin, where the holy is palpable.

As I explored the web pages of parishes that are holding these services I noticed that most of them declare that they are "welcoming" (meaning pro LGBT agenda) and some even listed Gay Pride parades on their event calendars.

I don't think this new-age syncretism will survive long as the Episcopal organization continues its slow death spiral towards becoming just a footnote in the Encyclopedia Britannica.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

You received without payment; give without payment

Today's Gospel reading from Matthew 9:35-10:23 contains Jesus' instructions to the twelve disciples on how to minister to the lost sheep of Israel along with his warnings to them of the dangers they were going to face.

Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and every sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest.’ 
Then Jesus summoned his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to cure every disease and every sickness. These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon, also known as Peter, and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax-collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Cananaean, and Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed him. 
These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: ‘Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. As you go, proclaim the good news, “The kingdom of heaven has come near.” Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. You received without payment; give without payment. Take no gold, or silver, or copper in your belts, no bag for your journey, or two tunics, or sandals, or a staff; for labourers deserve their food. Whatever town or village you enter, find out who in it is worthy, and stay there until you leave. As you enter the house, greet it. If the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it; but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet as you leave that house or town. Truly I tell you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgement than for that town. 
‘See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Beware of them, for they will hand you over to councils and flog you in their synagogues; and you will be dragged before governors and kings because of me, as a testimony to them and the Gentiles. When they hand you over, do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say; for what you are to say will be given to you at that time; for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death; and you will be hated by all because of my name. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next; for truly I tell you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.
There is so much in these verses that I suspect many preachers will just focus on a point or two. What they omit may be the most telling. I for one cannot recall having ever heard a sermon in an Episcopal church in which "shaking the dust from one's feet" was even mentioned. I guess those preachers were afraid that to do so might result in a mass exodus from the pews.

Similarly, I have never heard, "You received without payment; give without payment" included in any of the approximately 3000 sermons that I have endured.

I guess that is because the sermon is delivered before the plate is passed around and the preacher didn't want to give the pewsitters any ideas. ;-)

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Surprising Research Result: Fear of Loss of Autonomy is the Primary Motivation for Euthanasia; Is that fear a sin?

Whenever I read a research article about euthanasia, A.K.A. Physician Assisted Dying (PAD) or Physician Assisted Suicide (PAS), I get the feeling that I am reading a report from Dr. Mengele. Canadian researchers recently reported their experience with what they call "Medical Assistance in Dying" (MAID) which is legal in Canada. The movement in the U.S. to have similar laws passed by individual states has been gaining momentum, and my worry is that Medicare, the U.S. version of government-run healthcare, will start paying for euthanasia in the states in which it is legal and the system will eventually be forced to extend the "right" to euthanasia to everyone. The Canadian report, "Medical Assistance in Dying — Implementing a Hospital-Based Program in Canada" in the May 25, 2017 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine, is chillingly cold and clinical, including a flow chart outlining the process in order that other hospitals might replicate the program. The report is available only by subscription so I cannot provide a link, but the important conclusion they reached was this,
“Those who received MAID tended to be white and relatively affluent and indicated that loss of autonomy was the primary reason for their request,” the report states. “Other common reasons included the wish to avoid burdening others or losing dignity and the intolerability of not being able to enjoy one’s life. Few patients cited inadequate control of pain or other symptoms.”
This was unexpected since most of the campaigns for euthanasia, PAD, or PAS that I have seen emphasize the relief of uncontrolled pain and suffering as their primary goals. I have yet to hear a pro-euthanasia proposal that puts autonomy at the top of the list of factors as to why people should support legalization of these procedures.

Autonomy (per Wikipedia) is derived from the ancient Greek word: αὐτονομία autonomia from αὐτόνομος autonomos from αὐτο- auto- "self" and νόμος nomos, "law", and means "one who gives oneself one's own law". I believe it originally used to refer to the autonomous rule of the city-states of ancient Greece.

"Autonomy" to the modern Canadian and American probably means something similar to "one who gives oneself one's own law".  It is somewhat akin to social relativism and moral relativism in that each individual makes his or her own rules and the rest of us are supposed to be supportive no matter what the end result might be. In practice, it means that "I am in control of every part of my life including my death even if it means you (the doctor or nurse) must insert the needle and/or prescribe the drugs". Autonomy has become a modern virtue, and the loss of it is felt by those seeking euthanasia to be a fate worse than death.

As Christians, autonomy may mean something completely different. We have accepted Jesus as Lord, and we recognize that we are no longer in control,
"Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God, and that you are not your own?" 1 Corinthians 6:19 (NRSV)
See also,
"and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me." Galatians 2:20 (NRSV)
Why do people fear a "loss of autonomy"? Maybe it is a just primitive instinct that they are unable to overcome, maybe they are agnostic or atheistic and have been operating under the delusion that they have some sort of control over their lives, or maybe they are Christians but have not fully given things over to God and have never completely accepted that God is the one who is in control, and that is not a place Christians should want to be. 

Bill Muehlenberg  in his commentary, The Grievous Sin of Autonomy (Apr 10, 2014) wrote that such autonomy is a horrendous sin,
"But in the biblical and spiritual sense, autonomy means something quite different: it is not a virtue at all, but a horrendous sin. The biblical worldview posits a God who is there, who has created all things, and expects of his moral creatures a loyalty, dependency, and obedience at all times.
The essence of the Fall, and of all sin, is personal autonomy – the idea that we do not need God, that we can pretend we can live a life totally apart from God, and that we in fact are the centre of the universe. That rejection of reliance upon and complete dependency on God is the height of what sin means – a radical independence of God and his standards."
It would have been helpful if the Canadian researchers had included a spiritual assessment in their study so that we could see if there was any association between religious affiliation, church attendance, or faith in God and the fear of loss of autonomy.

The growing acceptance of euthanasia (no matter what the euphemistic acronym) is evidence that the world is in desperate need of the Good News that God is always with us, and He is in control, not us.

And yes, we will die, but we have nothing to fear as long as we have given our hearts, our minds, our bodies, and our souls to Him. 

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Trinity Sunday vs the Great Commission

This Sunday is Trinity Sunday and the reading is from Matthew 28:16-20. While we hear Jesus announcing the Holy Trinity, this is more about spreading the good news of that Trinity.
"Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. When they saw him, they worshipped him; but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’"
This passage should be committed to heart as it provides a scriptural basis for the doctrine of the Trinity, and it contains our marching orders to make disciples. to baptize, to teach obedience. and to remember Jesus as a continuing, living presence.

I am curious as to how much emphasis today's preachers placed on the Trinity vs the Great Commission.

Many might shy away from the Great Commission because of the difficulties and perils involved in carrying out Jesus' final instruction. For one thing, our own house is not in order. If we could get baptized Christians of today to agree on how we obey Jesus' commands, then maybe we could go out to the nations more effectively.

We Anglicans are a royal mess led by Welby the Weak who can't seem to spread the Gospel when he meets persons who do not share the Faith. He needs to study this passage the next time he speaks to the Muslims of his nation.

I confess that I need to do better in my own encounters with unbelievers.

Glory to you, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit;
we will praise you and highly exalt you for ever!

Wednesday, June 07, 2017

Leftovers: Embryos Turned Into Jewelry

"In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what he thought best." Judges 21:25 (NAB)
The modern world seems to be operating like we were still in the time of Judges 21. Fewer and fewer people attend church regularly, fewer still read the Bible regularly, and more and more people are left to figure things out for themselves, particularly when it comes to sticky ethical issues. Left to their own devices, the things folks come up with can be frightening. 

Now I have been totally creeped-out. An Australian company is making jewelry out of unused embryos. These are the extra in-vitro fertilized embryos that were to be implanted if earlier attempts at pregnancy were unsuccessful. What to do with these embryos has always been an ethical issue with the whole in-vitro deal. I do not know the belief system that the following person is operating under, but I assume this is not something the Church would teach. Here is her rationale, 
“Donating our embryos wasn’t an option for us and I couldn’t justify the yearly storage fee."
“I’d heard others had planted them in the garden but we move a lot, so I couldn’t do this."
“I needed them with me.”
“My embryos were my babies - frozen in time."
“When we completed our family, it wasn’t in my heart to destroy them."
“Now they are forever with me in a beautiful keepsake.”
If it were me, donation of the embryos to another couple might be the only option that I can think of that I would be able to live with.

Donation for research would be unacceptable.

Planting them in the garden or turning them into jewelry are just two different ways of destroying them.

Wearing them around my neck is just plain creepy.

Sunday, June 04, 2017

The Glitter Pentecost: "Pentecost is all about diversity"

This Sunday we recall the coming of the Holy Spirit as recorded in Acts 2:1-21

"When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability."
Around here, folks traditionally wear red when they attend church on the Day of Pentecost.

My how things have changed. Religion News reports that more colors are being added by our LGBT friends,

"Fast forward to today’s Pentecost, add a specially crafted liturgy, prayers, blessings and bags of red, gold, orange and black glitter to make what Parity, a New York-based LGBT advocacy group, hopes will be a way to affirm LGBT Christians.
The Pentecost project is a 'collaboration' between Parity and Queer Virtue, an LGBT-affirming organization founded by Rev. Elizabeth Edmund, an Episcopal priest and activist. 
'Pentecost’s liturgical color is red, but the other colors are there to represent diversity, which is what Pentecost is all about,' said Marian Edmonds-Allen, Parity’s executive director. 'It is about the diversity in the church, which is beautiful, just as all of us humans are beautiful in our diversity.' 
As Edmonds-Allen says and anyone who has ever cleaned up after a glittery craft project knows, glitter 'never gives up.' It has a special power, she said, when applied to the forehead by another person. 
'People love to experience the personal touch, especially people who are queer and haven’t been to church in a long time,' she said. 'They haven’t had someone look them in the eye and say, God loves you, just as you are, and when they do, it is very powerful.'”
Oh yeah, Pentecost is all about diversity. It has nothing to do with the life transforming power of the Holy Spirit. "Diversity" demands of  God to "love me just as I am", a sinner in no need of a Saviour.

I am still looking for a scriptural reference for that one.

If anybody assaults me with glitter this Sunday, I'm filing charges!

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Welby the Weak

In 2015 I noted how un-evangelical the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, acted when speaking to a group of mostly Muslim school children.  
The Archbishop faced a number of “challenging” questions from pupils at the Church of England school (St Alban’s Academy in Highgate), where 80 per cent of its pupils are Muslim.
Answering a pupil who asked whether he would encourage him to convert from Islam to Christianity, the Archbishop said: “I am not going to put pressure on you, and I wouldn’t expect you to put pressure on me.” (BirminghamMail)
So I was not surprised when in May of 2017 he posted a video message to Muslims a few days after the terrorist attack in Manchester blessing them and wishing them a "very good Ramadan".

The appropriate Christian response to Islam is to correct its error and to spread the good news of Jesus as Lord. To do otherwise is to deny the Trinity. Weak responses to Islam such as wishing people a "very good Ramadan" only serve to legitimize the heresy. 

When he was announced as Archbishop it was said that he was an "evangelical". 

The word must mean something different in England.

From now on, he will be announced as "Welby the Weak".

Sunday, May 28, 2017

I am not asking on behalf of the world

This Sunday's reading is from John 17:1-11, and in it Jesus prepares his disciples for his ascension,

"After Jesus had spoken these words, he looked up to heaven and said, ‘Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all people, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. I glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do. So now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had in your presence before the world existed.
‘I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours. All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them. And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.'"

Jesus' prayer to God for his disciples,
"...protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one."
has been considered somewhat problematic since Jesus is leaving out the rest of the world,
"I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me"
Readers should not be dismayed because by the time we get to John 17:20 (not heard today in church) Jesus adds,
"Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word;"
Matthew Henry in his Concise Commentary puts it this way,
Christ prays for those that are his. Thou gavest them me, as sheep to the shepherd, to be kept; as a patient to the physician, to be cured; as children to a tutor, to be taught: thus he will deliver up his charge. It is a great satisfaction to us, in our reliance upon Christ, that he, all he is and has, and all he said and did, all he is doing and will do, are of God. Christ offered this prayer for his people alone as believers; not for the world at large. Yet no one who desires to come to the Father, and is conscious that he is unworthy to come in his own name, need be discouraged by the Saviour's declaration, for he is both able and willing to save to the uttermost, all that come unto God by him. Earnest convictions and desires, are hopeful tokens of a work already wrought in a man; they begin to evidence that he has been chosen unto salvation, through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth. They are thine; wilt thou not provide for thine own? Wilt thou not secure them? Observe the foundation on which this plea is grounded, All mine are thine, and thine are mine. This speaks the Father and Son to be one. All mine are thine. The Son owns none for his, that are not devoted to the service of the Father.

Reading the whole chapter always helps. Just the same, the prayer is for Jesus' disciples and those who will come to believe in him thanks to the ministry of those disciples and not for those who are unrepentant and who reject him. For them we shall pray to be given the strength and courage to spread the Gospel ourselves to that unbelieving world which lacks the protection and unity that we have in Jesus' name.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Anti-Semitic Films Shown at the Washington National Cathedral/Mosque

The National Cathedral in Washington DC is the Cathedral of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington and has been dishing out the Kool-Aid of progressive, revisionist theology for years. As a physical structure, it is an impressive sight, but due to the cancerous theology slowly eating away at its foundations, I can no longer visit the building. The contents of today's blog post nailed the lid on the coffin for one of my friends who has also cordoned off the site as a "no-go zone".

"The Occupation of the American Mind" is an 82 min film that was shown on March 05, 2017 in the Perry Auditorium of the Washington National Cathedral. This film's theme is that Americans have been lied to and brainwashed by the media (who are mere pawns in the hands of Zionists) and that it is the Jews who are the bad guys in the Middle East. 

Reports from Jihad Watch are that this was just one film out of a series promoted by the National Cathedral that follows the same theme. It is unconscionable that any Christian group sponsor such anti-Semitic propaganda. The possible intent of these presentations may be to weaken Episcopalian resistance to any "Boycott, Divest, and Sanctions" (BDS) resolutions that might be brought forward to the next General Convention (GC) of the Episcopal organization thirteen months from now. 

At the last General Convention, resolutions that would have started the Episcopal organization on the slippery slope towards BDS were rejected, much to the chagrin of the Rev. Winnie Varghese (Trinity Wall Street) whose comments can be found in her Huff Post article of 07/10/2015 titled "Episcopal Bishops Did Not Reject Divestment from Israel"
"We didn’t mention Boycott, Divestment, or Sanctions because we don’t believe that is where we are as a church."
(Readers please note that whenever a revisionist uses the words "where we are as a church", what they really mean is "where we need to be as a church")
"However, those who oppose any criticism of Israel, ever, made sure to claim that it was Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions that was being considered every time they spoke of our resolution. It was dishonest, but they were successful. They even got a headline that The New York Times picked up. Maybe a grateful lobbyist will get them another first class airfare to Israel and those awesome international frequent flyers miles."
 Doesn't that sound a lot like what is being preached in "The Occupation of the American Mind"?
"We have been targeted as a church before because of the perceived impact of mainline Protestants on public morality. The Institute for Religion and Democracy targeted us for a decade to try to force a split on sexuality. They are currently targeting other mainline traditions. The tactic is to keep us from hearing our own members and acting on our own beliefs, and it tends to be successful.
We are currently being targeted by advocacy groups whose agenda is to insure no public criticism of Israel, none, not of occupation; illegal settlement; or illegal attack." 
Remember the Rev. Winnie Varghese? She is an Episcopal lesbian Indian-American who was featured in the past at the Huffington Post in a piece called,  "Celebrating The Holy: Marriage Equality As Sacrament." 

Outlook India once did an article on her in which they wrote, 

"Winnie would like to see activists again on the steps and in the graveyard of St Marks like in the sixties, and in the days leading up to the Iraq war. 'Spirituality for me is very embodied. It's who we are on this earth, and how we treat each other on this planet.'"
"Divestment" in anything owned by an Israeli will probably be on the Episcopal General Convention agenda again in 2018. A task force will have to be appointed, and "The Occupation of the American Mind" will likely become part of the curriculum at Episcopal seminaries.

"Boycott" will be saved for 2021 and a resolution to create materials for congregations will be passed. The film series shown earlier at the National Cathedral will be asked to be circulated at the parish level.

"Sanctions" will be tabled until 2014 after which time activists will once again be seen on the steps and in the graveyard of St. Mark's.

If anyone is in the business of spreading lies and trying to brainwash people it is the clergy and staff of the Washington National Cathedral/Mosque by showing these anti-Semitic films.

The more the Cathedral staff continues to promote the Islamic worldview, the closer the Washington National Cathedral comes to becoming the Washington National Mosque. How their liberal minds can side with the same folks who provide us with suicide bombers and ISIS is a mystery to me.