Sunday, April 27, 2008

The Best Defense is a Good Offense (As Long as You Have Steve Young at QB)

Charlie delivered today's sermon on the subject of Christian Apologetics (I understand, apologetics is not about saying you are sorry but rather about defending your position) at it's customary starting place in 1Peter with the "Always be ready to make your defense..." line and weaving in Paul's speech at the Aeropagus. It sounded to me like Paul was more on the offensive at the time as he was "proclaim"ing Christ's resurrection and averring that God "commands all people everywhere to repent." Why, because the world will be "judged in righteousness." Not exactly, "Believe or you are going to H...," but pretty close. If I get the gist of Charlie's theme, we should not be evangelical to the point of threatening people with damnation if they do not become confirmed Christians. Nor should we threaten our new confirmands with the eternal fires if they fall away from "organized religion." Charlie seemed to say that we should let our actions speak for themselves. Is that all there is to it?

This gets back to last week's theme of how to interact with the unchurched. Does anyone remember the "Decade of Evangelism?" I will be the first to admit that I did not stand on the street corner preaching or handing out "Be Episcopal or Burn" pamphlets. Like many Episcopalians, I felt ill equipped for evangelism despite a lifetime in the Church, arguing with my Sunday School teachers, being forced to attend as a teen, and punching my time card on Sundays. We do not train our young people to go out spread the Good News. It has taken years for me to develop my own apologetic to the point where I can even write this blog. Perhaps our religion has been too accepting of our scriptural illiteracy and passive Christianity.

While there is more than one approach to the issue of evangelism, Paul's approach worked, and logically it would seem a good approach to emulate. First, he knew his Bible. Second, he knew the Lord (the road to Damascus). Third, he was willing to "witness" and tell his personal story. Fourth, he was willing to spread the Gospel far and wide. Fifth, he was a good debater and had a strong apologetic. Sixth, he took on the burden of leadership, correcting and guiding the churches when they strayed. Last, he was ready to die as part of his apologetic. Now, I just don't see Paul as someone who would have been comfortable sitting back quietly making tents, leading a simple Christian life, and waiting for someone to come and challenge him on his faith. Rather, he was on the offensive. For this reason, I disagree with Charlie's thesis. I don't think we can sit on our Episcopal haunches and watch the decline of the Church.

Look around you, people are still acting as if they can walk the walk alone. I see plenty of people who could stand to hear the Good News, to walk the good walk, to live the good life, and to find eternal life, through Christ our Lord. Lord, give us the courage to throw the ball down field, but could you just send us the next Jerry Rice to run alongside Steve Smith?

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Getting Personal

Mary Cat gave today's sermon. The readings inspired her to give a personal account of her youth and journey along the Way. Jesus as "the way, and the truth, and the life..." John 14:1-14. She left out the tough bit, the part about "No one comes to the Father except through me," and this is the part that inspired me to think about another controversial area. This verse never sat right with me, and I have found that when I am made uncomfortable, that is the time for more reflection. The other option would be to ignore those parts of the Gospel that one does not like. Reflection gets personal. Over the years, my thinking about this verse has evolved from believing in the literal exclusiveness of the statement (which seems to say that only Christians would find the Father, and all others, such as the oppressed souls in China, or beings in another galaxy, were condemned), to leave me open to the possibility that Christ may lead others through ways we don't understand. To some, this is a grave error. It could certainly lead some to say, "Well, in that case, who needs Jesus, I can do this on my own." It seems that when you stray from the literal, you might indeed stray into such heresy.

I have seen the literal interpretation become a stumbling block to evangelism. Other religions may also teach that their path is the one exclusive route towards truth. It is not particularly helpful to point at them and say "You are going to h..." because they point right back at us and say the same thing for our belief in the Holy Trinity is blasphemy to some. The literal exclusivist track may lead to this unchristian condemnation. If you take an exclusivist attitude towards others, you may sabotage the message of Christ, "For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved." (John 3:17). As a Christian, I have the assurance that Jesus lives and is guiding me, other religions and the non-religious lack this particular assurance. Their paths are different, most of their simple pewsters have not studied the Gospels (nor have most of us studied their scriptures). Some have their own exclusivity rules, and would kill any members becoming Christian. Others are more tolerant as in the notion that the world's religions are like rivers, they all eventually will take you to the same ocean.

We believe in one God, one ocean, but the question is this, is there more than one way to the Father? Personally, I have found the Way through Jesus. Now, how do I share it with someone who has found another way? Is the Episcopal way the way for you? Why not become a Baptist? Some don't think we are on the path, but come to a similar conclusion
"In conclusion the intelligent reader is reminded that in a little while (Job 16:22) the name by which persons are known here will be a small matter; the supreme issue will be their standing before the Lord. No tradition, or sentiment, or human creed will then avail; but the Word of God will be the test of faith and character (John 12:48). Search the Scriptures. Fight the good fight of faith. Lay hold on eternal life (1 Tim. 4:16; 6:12)."

Sunday, April 13, 2008

The Shepherd's Gate

This Sunday's sermon was delivered by Fr. Dunbar. After an initial show of hands on who remembers "Morning Prayer," we were given a sermon about Good Shepherd Sunday which I found enlightening. As Bobby pointed out, Jesus never worked as a shepherd, but we have the image of Jesus the Shepherd ingrained in our traditions. I don't hear any hue and cry to abolish this particular tradition. Of course, that would involve renaming countless Churches, and smashing a horrific number of stained glass windows. Uh oh, there I go with that "don't bash tradition" talk again. I would spank myself, but then I might have to call DSS, and be taken away from myself. Bobby did make one omission which Charlie corrected in the announcements. Charlie pointed out that while we do not have a Good Shepherd window, we have a Good Shepherd Chapel and quilt. Oops.
Getting back to Morning Prayer, since getting dropped from the Sunday schedule, this service will not have a chance to be a memory for the next generation unless they participate in a daily devotion online or have the good fortune to live in a Parish where Morning Prayer is offered daily, and have the time to attend the service. Our youth are being raised to be predisposed to dropping Morning Prayer from the BCP of the future whenever they take over as leaders of the Church. Growing up, we would call the Communion Sunday "Long Church" and Morning Prayer "Quick Church." Today, we broke tradition and finished a full Communion service in 60 minutes! I believe this is a modern ECOOS record. We must have been wearing our new swim suits

Friday, April 11, 2008

The P word

In an earlier post, I raised the spectre of polygamy and other alternative lifestyles. This week's news of a raid on a community of polygamists gave me pause to revisit this issue. I heard several hot words bandied about, brainwashing, cults, compound, and I listened to former and current members of such groups rejecting and defending these "arrangements." The main arguments against polygamy as practiced in the FLDS seemed to hinge on the young girls raised to be married soon after menarche. The impression was that they must be brainwashed to go along with this practice. Several thoughts come to mind. What constitutes brainwashing? What about cultural sensitivity? How about freedom of religion? Was I brainwashed into the tradition of Paul to accept marriage as one man one woman till death do us part? Has the Episcopal Church been brainwashing us to accept serial marriages by practice and by example? (I believe it was the nefarious Episcopal Bishop James Pike who had the dubious honor of having 3 wives present at his requiem as one example.)
I have yet to see any words from the Episcopal Church regarding the raid in Texas. I wonder why.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Why we have Eucharist on Sundays

I enjoyed today's sermon, but it did lead me into a disputed issue, and that is part of the reason for this blog. Those persons who are offended by controversial questions should not read any further on this blog.

Today's sermon started with the subject of communion, sharing meals and having fun together. Charlie described a few of his experiences with meals, mostly those that were fun. Thankfully, he threw in the story of one which he is still uneasy about. Some people might have been uneasy about being invited to a Seder meal (you should be circumcised), but he was more concerned about the time he ignored the stranger who might have interrupted his picnic at Golden Gate Park. I hardly blame him since there are a lot of strange people in San Francisco. The unease was only briefly mentioned as it seemed the theme of the sermon was that we are supposed to come together, share a meal, laugh, have fun. I got the impression that in so doing we are living the religious life, even if we hear no mention of "Religion." (From henceforth, to be referred to as the "R" word.) Oh and let's not use the "T" word (theology) and especially not the "S" word (Sin).
Charlie recalled the parish Harvest Days shared meal as a positive experience. I will add that there was a lakeside service with a baptism ("R") and a blessing ("R") before the meal.
What I am trying to get at is are we content with Christianity as just the Happy Meal? Don't you have to acknowledge the sacrifice and the sin parts? I am fascinated by attempts to remove the confession of sin from the service. So old fashioned all that "S" business. Is Charlie right, and we don't want to hear about it? Or maybe he was trying to say we don't need it (the "S" word) beat into us, instead we should just have fun together?
And what about today's readings? Acts 2:14a, 36-41. Peter saying "Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Christ Jesus so that your sins ("S") may be forgiven..." He was able to baptise 3,000 that day after the people heard about sin and redemption. And what about the second reading 1Peter 1:17-23? "Now that you have purified your souls by your obedience to the truth ("R"?)..." Tough, tough, is this being born anew stuff. Let's see if I get this right. First you hear the Word, you need forgiveness of your "S," then purify yourself by obeying the truth ("R") and be baptised ("R"). Then in the third reading we hear of the two disciples walking with Jesus, getting the scriptures explained ("R"+"T"), eating with him (after the bread was blessed ("R")), then poof Jesus disappears! What is going on here? After reading the lessons I have to conclude that if you meet Jesus, don't eat with Him unless you want Him to disappear.
The question I am getting to is this, are we in the Episcopal Church downplaying the "S" the "R" and the "T" that go along with Holy Communion? I am worried that our National Church seems to be going down this path. Click on the link in the title bar and you will see our National Church leadership has a person in charge of Liturgy with an unusual take on the Eucharist. Does anyone else see a problem with his answer to the question of why do we have Eucharist on Sundays?

I had to look up Clayton Morris to see how he qualified for this position. His application for the North American Academy of Liturgy was interesting.
From the web read here

In his own words:

As Delegate for Membership, I would bring to the table my experience of significant conversation in my professional life over the past decade or so about emerging trends in the worship life of the church. We live in a time in which standards are being challenged on every front. For an organization like the NAAL, it is important to keep traditions and new possibilities in mind consistently.


The following was a nice ditty left on the Stand Firm web site by "masternav" (comment #60)

"Hmmm the new Episcopal You-charist: The Lord’s Brunch
This is my croissant given to you
This is my fine Merlot given for you
Take this finely aged Stilton given for you in remembrance of fine cheesiness past, and feed on it in your hunger with thanksgiving, remembering those who thirst and hunger for righteous repast."

Oh, and what was that unease Charlie mentioned earlier? I have that same unease when I fail to do the Lord's bidding. I call that "S". I am guilty of this all the time, especially when blogging, and I have to time after time repent and beg forgiveness before I come to the Lord's table.

This posting is running too long, and it is getting late, please forgive me if you are confused by any of this, maybe it was something we ate.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

News Flash

I have been recruited by Benny Hinn to comment on his sermons. This will necessitate a prolonged absence from ECOOS to follow my new leader. It is my fervent prayer that I can help exonerate him from any and all accusations against him.