Sunday, April 22, 2018

So many hired hands

This Sunday's reading, John 10:11-18, is usually preached focusing on  the good shepherd,

"I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away—and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father."

Most sermons will totally ignore the story of the hired hands, for good reason.

I have seen so many hired hands occupying leadership roles in various churches that it no longer surprises me when I hear of a priest, bishop, or archbishop abandoning Jesus' teaching on marriage or his teaching on the relationship between men and women. These leaders have either bought into the arguments supporting same-sex marriage or they have no backbone to stand up for what the Bible has to say about it.

Clergy with no backbones, like so many hired hands.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Holy Shacking Up

The Episcopal Sect is holding its triennial General Convention this summer. There will be a number of resolutions put forward which will most assuredly speed the decline of the denomination. The proposed revision of the Prayer Book and new worship resources relating to human sexuality lead the list as always. Once the sect gave permission for the blessing of same sex couples three years ago, and called for a task force to study Prayer Book revision, everyone knew that the long denied goal of full marriage rites for same-sex couple was within reach, but that would require substantial changes in the Prayer Book's language in the marriage rite. The blessing of same-sex couples also opened up a can of worms because other groups might want a blessing of whatever living arrangement in which they were currently engaged. 

People "living together" are the next group who might be offended by not having a blessing of their own. Hence, Resolution A087, or what I call, "Holy Shacking Up" will be up for debate. Here is the full text of the resolution.

RESOLUTION A087 DEVELOP RELATIONSHIP PASTORAL RESOURCESResolved, the House of ____________ concurring, That the 79th General Convention acknowledge and minister to the growing number of persons entering into sexually intimate relationships other than marriage by calling for the development of resources that provide pastoral guidance and teaching on relationships that involve sexual expression; and be it further 
Resolved, That the following statement guide the development of these resources: “Qualities of relationship that ground in faithfulness the expression of sexual intimacy include: fidelity, monogamy, commitment, mutual affection, mutual respect, careful and honest communication, physical maturity, emotional maturity, mutual consent, and the holy love which enables those in intimate relationships to see in each other the image of God”; and be it further 
Resolved, That the 79th General Convention provide guidance to persons seeking to honor God’s call in all aspects of their lives by calling for the development of resources, including but not limited to spiritual practices, to aid individuals and couples in discerning their vocation to relationship, be it to singleness, celibacy, marriage and/or parenting; and be it further 
Resolved, That the Presiding Officers of the House of Bishops and the House of Deputies appoint jointly a task force to develop these resources; and be it further 
Resolved, That the task force report and offer these resources to the 80th General Convention for their consideration; and be it further 
Resolved, That the General Convention request that the Joint Standing Committee on Program, Budget and Finance consider a budget allocation of $30,000 for the implementation of this resolution.
EXPLANATION 
In 2016, the number of U.S. adults in cohabiting relationships was eighteen (18) million persons. This represents an increase in cohabiters of twenty-nine (29) percent over a nine (9) year period. In 2016, persons aged fifty (50) and older accounted for twenty-three (23) percent of cohabiters, or roughly 4.1 million persons. This represents a seventy-five (75) percent increase in older cohabiters over a nine (9) year period.* Over the past fifty (50) years cohabitation in the U.S. has increased nearly nine hundred (900) percent.** Clearly the number of persons in sexually intimate relationships outside of marriage is increasing rapidly. Yet when it comes to nuanced and sensitive guidance and teaching regarding sexual intimacy, many people feel largely alone, having found the Church’s counsel to remain sexually abstinent outside of marriage, insufficient and unreflective of their experience of the holy in relationship. This resolution calls on the church to develop resources that provide pastoral guidance and teaching on relationships that involve sexual expression. These resources may be used by individuals or couples, they may be used by Church small groups or in college chaplaincies, they may be used by middle-aged or mature Christians who are seeking guidance and direction as they seek to live in a way that is both faithful to God and expressive of the love and commitment they deeply feel. 
In the work of the Task Force on the Study of Marriage in this triennium, a number of qualities have come to the fore that ground the expression of sexual intimacy in faithfulness. This resolution directs a task force to use these qualities as a foundation to guide the development of pastoral guidance and teaching on relationships that involve sexual expression. God’s call pervades all aspects of our lives, including our relationships. We may have a vocation to a state of relationship, be it singleness, celibacy or marriage; we may be called to form particular relationships with specific people, as God called Joseph, Guardian of Our Lord, to be Mary’s husband (Matthew 1:18-25). Parenthood was once taken for granted as an inseparable part of marriage, but is now a choice—one that can sometimes involve the physically, emotionally, and financially costly processes of adoption or assisted reproduction. 
As with any vocation, God’s call to relationship requires careful, ongoing discernment. Also, God’s call to us can change over the course of our lives. A person called to singleness as a young adult may be called to marriage in middle age, or a person called to marriage may be called to singleness after the death of a spouse. This resolution would lead to the creation of resources, including spiritual practices of listening for the voice of the Holy Spirit, that can be used by individuals and couples, with the help of their faith communities, to discern theirvocation to relationship.
It is interesting that they keep "monogamy" in there. This is terribly unfair to the poly-amorous. But, never worry, the Episcopal Sect will get to them eventually.

I have yet to hear a theologically sound explanation for blessing any relationship outside of a male-female marriage (recall Bishop Waldo's pathetic go at it). The resolution quoted above fails miserably as well, disguising their attempt at theology through the clever use of  Episcobabble. The explanation,
 "...many people feel largely alone, having found the Church’s counsel to remain sexually abstinent outside of marriage, insufficient and unreflective of their experience of the holy in relationship."
is a typical reaction of a sect that panders to the spirit of the age.

It will be interesting to see if any of those bishops who permit same-sex blessings will voice any opposition to "Holy Shacking Up".  

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Guess Who Came to Dinner?

In this Sunday's reading from Luke 24:36-48, we see that Jesus' sudden appearance was a big shock to his followers. He was even hungry and ate a piece of fish in front of them. Typically, they didn't understand and needed some "splainin",
While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’ They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. He said to them, ‘Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.’ And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, ‘Have you anything here to eat?’ They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate in their presence. 
Then he said to them, ‘These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.’ Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.
For those who wonder why Anglican church services include heavy doses of scripture from the Old Testament, just remember that Jesus taught his disciples how He can be found in the Old Testamentt too.

We just need to have our minds opened to that fact. 

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

The Resurrection: "It is either lunacy or lies" - C.S. Lewis

From God in the Dock C.S. Lewis makes this case for the Resurrection.
We come to the strangest story of all, the story of the Resurrection.  It is very necessary to get the story clear.  I heard a man say, “The importance of the Resurrection is that it gives evidence of survival, evidence that the human personality survives death.”  On that view what happened to Christ would be what had always happened to all men, the difference being that in Christ’s case we were privileged to see it happening.
This is certainly not what the earliest Christian writers thought.  Something perfectly new in the history of the Universe had happened.  Christ had defeated death.  The door which had always been locked had for the very first time been forced open.  This is something quite distinct from mere ghost-survival.  I don’t mean that they disbelieved in ghost-survival.  On the contrary, they believed in it so firmly that, on more than on occasion, Christ had had to assure them that he was not a ghost.  The point is that while believing in survival they yet regarded the Resurrection as something totally different and new.
The Resurrection narratives are not a picture of survival after death; they record how a totally new mode of being has arisen in the Universe.  Something new had appeared in the Universe: as new as the first coming of organic life.  This Man, after death, does not get divided into “ghost” and “corpse.”  A new mode of being has arisen.  This is the story.  What are we going to make of it?
The question is, I suppose, whether any hypothesis covers the facts so well as the Christian hypothesis.  That hypothesis is that God has come down into the created universe, down to manhood – and come up again, pulling it up with him.  The alternative hypothesis is not legend, nor exaggeration, nor the apparitions of a ghost.  It is either lunacy or lies.  Unless one can take the second alternative (and I can’t) one turns to the Christian view.
“What are we going to make of Christ?”  There is no question of what we can make of him, it is entirely a question of what he intends to make of us.  You must accept or reject the story.
The things he says are very different from what any other teacher has said.  Others say, “This is the truth about the Universe.  This is the way you ought to go,” but he says, “I am the truth, and the way, and the life.”  He says, “No person can reach absolute reality, except through me.  Try to retain your own life and you will be inevitably ruined.  Give yourself away and you will be saved.”  He says, “If you are ashamed of me, if, when you hear this call, you turn the other way, I also will look the other way when I come again as God without disguise.  If anything whatever is keeping you from God and from me, whatever it is, throw it away.  If it is your eye, pull it out.  If it is your hand, cut it off.  If you put yourself first you will be last.  Come to me everyone who is carrying a heavy load.  I will set that right.  Your sins, all of them, are wiped out, I can do that.  I am Rebirth.  I am Life.  Eat me, drink me, I am your Food.  And finally, do not be afraid, I have overcome the whole Universe.”  That is the issue.
Let me add that to not believe in the Resurrection, one has to not believe in God, or one must believe in a god of limited power.

Sunday, April 08, 2018

The Skeptical Witness Leads Us to the Truth


Today's reading from John 20:19-31 tells the story of Jesus appearing to the disciples in the locked room.  I posted this a couple of years ago, but it bears repeating.
When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’
But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, ‘We have seen the Lord.’ But he said to them, ‘Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.’
A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.’ Thomas answered him, ‘My Lord and my God!’ Jesus said to him, ‘Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.’
Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name. 
Thomas earned the moniker "Doubting Thomas" because of his statement,
‘Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.’ 
Just remember that the other disciples were shown those same stigmata when Jesus appeared to them earlier. How many of them would have doubted if they had not been shown Jesus hands and side?

Those who were not first hand witnesses to the resurrected Jesus may have been envious of those who had seen Him, but Jesus' blessing of "those who have not seen and yet have come to believe" must have served as an encouragement to the early hearers of John's Gospel then just as it is an encouragement for us now, for we, like generations of Christians before, have not seen and touched him in the flesh.

Today, we need all the encouragement we can get, for we live in an age in which the credibility and reliability of eye witness accounts are increasingly doubted.

In the case of Thomas, we have an example of something like the scientific method at work (an experiment must be duplicated by an independent researcher). Jesus appeared earlier in the locked room, and when this was repeated, we get an affirmation of the original account. So, thanks to Thomas showing up late, we end up with the testimony of multiple witnesses to one event being confirmed by the second event using a new, skeptical investigator.

Wednesday, April 04, 2018

Chipping Away at the Autonomy of Episcopal Dioceses? 815 to Standardize Bishop Elections?

In an attempt to avoid having another Bishop with a substance abuse problem like Heather Cook commit vehicular manslaughter, the Episcopal Sect did what they do best, they created a commission, a "Commission on Impairment and Leadership".

Their full report to the House of Deputies can be seen here, but I want to point out something that may be the camel's nose sniffing under the tent flap of diocesan autonomy.
"We recommend that the bishop with oversight over the Office for Pastoral Development, drawing on the research from this commission, establish a standardized process for conducting episcopal elections." 
Whoa! While this is intended to detect impaired priests, the language is so broad that I wonder if it might spell the end to the possibility that any conservative minded bishops be elected in the Episcopal Sect in the future.

In order to soften the blow, the Commission promises that dioceses will maintain independence in discernment.
"The commission recognizes the diversity and unique context of every diocese, and we are not recommending that the church adopt a one-size-fits-all approach to episcopal elections. Nor do we wish to diminish in any way the independence needed in any given diocese to effectively discern what might be needed in a new bishop for that diocese."
Yeah, right. I can foresee a recommended set of screening questions for candidates to the office of Bishop that go beyond just digging into substance abuse problems. But not to worry, 
"We do believe, however, that establishing a standardized process based on best practices can be tailored to meet the particular characteristics of a given diocese and that doing so can insure that the key components to effective screening and discernment will not be lost in the process." 
So what kind of standardized procedures does the Commission foresee?
"Such a standardized process for episcopal elections may include: 
a. Extensive and substantial orientation with all diocesan leadership with regard to best practices for episcopal elections, including education and training in recognizing and addressing issues of impairment. 
"Best practices" is concerning to me. Who determines what "best" is? Might the election of Gene Robinson be in the running for one of the best ever?
b. Trained consultants to provide informed and consistent guidance, based on best practices, to bishops, standing committees, search committees, and all other parties in the episcopal election process, including checklists and competent counsel for recognizing and addressing any issues with addiction or impairment that may emerge during the course of their work."
"Trained consultants" have a way of becoming trained "indoctrinators". Those "trained consultants" will likely have gained, as part of their training, the ability to sniff out not just the results of a breathalyzer test, but to also detect a candidate for Bishop who might go rogue and attempt to take his diocese out of the sect.

These recommendations could be the beginning of a new Episcopal federalism.

Beware the tentacles of 815.



Sunday, April 01, 2018

The Key Problem With Easter

Last week's post, "The Key Problem With Holy Week", got me to thinking about the key problem with Easter. How can I say that there is a problem with Easter you ask? Okay, I for one do not have a problem with Easter, and that is why I go to church on Easter Sunday and as many other times during the year as I can. This week I am not talking about Easter Christians. I think they have a chance to get it, but probably won't. Rather, I am talking about the unchurched. These are the people who stay away from Easter Sunday services and who think that they know what they are missing.

Why would some willingly avoid church on Easter? Naturally they also never darken the church's door except perhaps for weddings and funerals. I can think of several reasons, but the key one is that a lot of people do not really believe that Jesus rose from the dead. They tolerate the Easter Bunny myth but not the eyewitness accounts of the Apostles.

The resurrection is as unbelievable today as it was back on the first Easter, perhaps even more so in our modern, scientific age. Everybody knows that when we die, our bodies start to rot. All the crime scene investigation television shows tell us so. Everybody knows that dead people stay dead. How can anyone who is convinced that dead men don't walk ever come to see that Jesus did just that?

I once attended an Episcopal sect Sunday school discussion during which the leader mocked me when I said that Bishop Spong was wrong, and that Jesus really did walk out of the tomb. This distinguished professor of Philosophy laughed and said, " You believe he was a walking cadaver!" I replied, "No, He was fully alive." No one in the room backed me up. That was when I realized that we had a problem in the Episcopal sect with finger crossing Christians. I had to quit that class and join the choir where we were permitted to profess our faith in song twice a week.

Finger crossing Christians show up on Easter, make lousy evangelists, and are a symptom of a dying denomination. The same disbelief of the physical resurrection of Jesus has to be the key problem that the unchurched stay at home.

If you deny the Resurrection, you have handcuffed God and you are telling Him, "No, no, you can't do that." Such a god is not the omnipotent Lord of Christianity. Once you create a limited god, you can pretty much turn him into whatever you want him to be.

The key problem with Easter is that many people can't seem to accept that there is a God who can do ANYTHING!

The job for us is to help them to see the truth of the Gospel story, walk with the unbeliever during their progress, and witness to them how we came to believe this impossible sounding story.