Sunday, November 16, 2008

The Rich Get Richer or The Awful Gospels

The Awful Gospels.

Did anyone else have a sense of deja vu at today's service at ECOOS? I sure did. In fact, the reading from 1 Thessalonians presented was the same as last week's reading. It should have been this,
1 Thessalonians 5:1-11
Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers and sisters,* you do not need to have anything written to you. For you yourselves know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. When they say, ‘There is peace and security’, then sudden destruction will come upon them, as labour pains come upon a pregnant woman, and there will be no escape! But you, beloved,* are not in darkness, for that day to surprise you like a thief; for you are all children of light and children of the day; we are not of the night or of darkness. So then, let us not fall asleep as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober; for those who sleep sleep at night, and those who are drunk get drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, and put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. For God has destined us not for wrath but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep we may live with him. Therefore encourage one another and build up each other, as indeed you are doing.

Continuing in this theme, Charlie in his sermon brought up the bridesmaids and the lamp oil parable from last week and presented his opinion that this and today's parable were "awful." Today's parable from Matthew 25 was of the slaves and the talents. I had a hard time with today's sermon from the get go. Was it something about the lack of virgins in America or was it trying to make the parable more difficult to understand? Perhaps it was trying to paint the master as a greedy cheating person (for how else does one get rich), or maybe it was portraying the good and trustworthy slaves as also being cheats and bad, or maybe it was an unspoken "God can't be that way" at the conclusion where the worthless slave is thrown into the darkness, where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Of all the sermons I have heard on this parable, this was the most bizzare. Because he could not explain his problems clearly, I am left speculating as to why it gives Charlie such difficulty. Why is liberal theology unable to come to grips with the closed door of the parable of the unwise bridesmaids, or the casting out of the worthless slave? I think that liberal theology has certain assumptions about God that lead to this difficulty. Is it the assumption that God = Love? Has this led us to think that God's love is the same as the human experience? Human ideal love would not be compatible with the closed door or the weeping and gnashing of teeth. Surely a loving God would not keep the unwise or lazy out of the kingdom of heaven.

I think the parables are trying to tell us that this is a dangerous assumption, and that we had better be prepared for the bridegroom, and we should be spreading the Gospel message, multiplying the gift of the spirit that our Lord has given us. God has given each of us the gift of Christ, wouldn't it be wise to increase his gift and not keep it to ourselves?


  1. God = Love = Holy = rightous = Jealous = perfect = unable to be in presense of lazy and unwise = has to close the door = we have to spread the TRUE gospel message

  2. Welcome back Reg. I thought you had given up on blogging. I know you gave up on Lowell as a lost cause.

  3. As to the parable of the talents, one should note, it is the failure to use the talent, i.e. burying it, which offends the master. We are not told how the master would react, had the slave invested it and the investment had lost money. That omission is striking to me.

    P.S. Both of those readings were used in Missouri Synod Lutheran churches yesterday, BTW.


  4. R.,

    I had the same thought as I reflected on my 401K statement.

  5. A number of points come to mind regarding yesterday's sermon:

    1) Why would the Rector choose to preach about a passage which he admits he doesn't understand? It seems that if the teacher doesn't know his material, how can he expect his students to get the point?

    2) The Rector's use of the verb "to screw" was totally out of line and unacceptable in a mixed audience. I looked around and noticed a substantial number of children and teenagers. While many of them may have heard the word before, and perhaps even know what it means (the Rector's accompanying hand gestures notwithstanding), it is inappropriate in that venue.

    3) The Rector's smarmy comments about lack of virgins was also inappropriate and out of line. Can you imagine one of those little 8 year olds poking Mommy in the ribs and asking "what's a virgin"? Or, better yet, one of those 18 year olds?

    Perhaps if he prepared his sermons in advance, rather than adlibbing, these lapses in judgement might not occur.

  6. (Diane's comments have been moderated. U.P.)

    You know Pewster, I wonder why you do not find, for your own peace of mind, a congregation where the pastor is limited by the denomination from wandering off into philosophical speculations.

    I am not disparaging your intelligence. You're clearly smart, of course, and you're thoughtful in the literal sense, but you are not an adventurous thinker regarding anything other than the concrete world.

    I admit that I flinched at a few of the things Charlie said Sunday, and anticipated exactly what your blog on his sermon would say. He was not at his best. When he is at his best, his sermons are mystical, literate, and enlightened. When he is not, they still contain nuggets of wisdom. He never fails to give me something to ponder. What Charlie's sermons do not contain is a prosaic explication of the readings along traditional lines.

    If you wish to hear the usual sorts of sermons, the Episcopal Church, with its history of encouraging liberal arts education, is not perhaps not where you should be looking. I enjoy your company, but you seem acutely uncomfortable.

    Some of us go to church to experience the ineffable -- which, with all due respect, I am not sure you would recognize if you fell in to a pool of it.

    I actually hope myself that you stay in our congregation; but please do not mock what I most admire about Charlie. Count the organ pipes during Charlie's sermons if you do not find them edifying, and then after church go find some commentary that makes you happy.

    All the best, in spite of our differences, and with every hope that you manage to find.

  7. John,

    I agree that those references offend my "virgin" ears.

    I also agree with the need to prepare the sermon in advance. The liberal theology presented in these sermons would be easier to discuss if there was something in writing to refer to rather than relying on memory alone. My memory missed the "screw" up, but I heard about it from other witnesses; therefore, I believe your account is corroborated. I guess I was counting the organ pipes at the time (see next comment).

  8. Loose lips sink ships, and loose cannons roll around on deck and injure the crew. Secure your rector so that your ship and crew arrives safely in port.

  9. I fully expected my post to be moderated. However, I don't think I left that last sentence dangling like that. I believe you must have inadvertently moderated away the phrase, "what you are looking for," or something like that. (I did not save the post myself, but I am generally a careful writer.)

    Diane Rudulph

  10. I think that should have been "arrive." Sorry about that Skipper.

  11. Diane...

    I'm intrigued that you fully expected your comments to be moderated.

    Before you put pen to paper, if you recognize that your comments are so far out of line as to require moderation, why continue?

    Is it some deep-seated need for self-aggrandizement?

  12. Anonymous12:09 PM

    You know - I was not offended by the virgin comment - neither was my daughter - when we discussed the sermon during lunch she was able to inventory all of her female friends who were sexually active and those who weren't. Lets face it - in our current society - one in which the Media celebrates 16 year olds and movie stars having children with out the benefit of marriage - there is a great deal of grounds for Charlie's comments.

    In regards to his "screw" reference - well it did exactly what Charlie probaly intended - you are thinking about his sermon.

    The purpose of a sermon is to educate, to inspire thought, as well as inspire an emotional response. Sometimes, in the better ones, the preacher also allows the congregation glimpses of his thoughts and feelings. I would say that on Sunday - Charlie hit that nail on the head.

    Charlie is and will continue to be a wonderful spiritual leader for ECOOS. Over the years we have all discovered that he will occaisionally say something unexpected and sometimes offensive to our "Sunday" ears. However, if the same thing was said in general conversation very few of us would be offended. It is time we put away our "Sunday" ears and started listening with our true years.

    I found Charlie's telling of the story of a former Parish member who left because the church was not "feeding" her. Wouldn't that have been a better commentary for this blog? Can you benefit from the church if you are a Chreaster or only listen with "Sunday" ears?

    Signed - C2G

  13. Hello, John -

    No, I don't think I posted expecting censorship out of any desire for self-aggrandizement. For one thing, how would being moderated aggrandize me? For another, you clearly don't know me well. When I argue (with the pewster or anyone else), it is out of interest in the topic, and it is not personal in the way you suggest.

    Also, I did not expect substantive censorship. I simply expected moderation because the Pewster has shown himself morbidly sensitive about anything that might give a clue to his identity. I think that's both wrong silly, so I did not moderate my own comments to insure that no clue to his identity slipped through in my posts.

    I continue with my remarks because, other than that one weakness, the pewster has a pretty thick hide -- and now that I know who he is, I have a genuine regard for him, and no qualms about having discussions with him on a wide variety of topics. I still think it is silly and wrong for him to say things anonymously, but other than that, I have no quarrel with him that I do not feel he and I can deal with in a civilized manner.

    I am beginning to have the feeling I so often have when I stumble into an all-boys club. You really need to be careful about what your own comments reveal about you, John. I can take care of myself.

    Diane Rudulph

    P.S. C2G -- you have put your finger on the part of Charlie's sermon that most troubled me and my husband. I think we have a right to be "fed" by our church, and that we are right to seek another church if we are not being fed by the one we're in. I felt that Charlie was wrong in denying the validity of that person's concern.

    P.S.S. I nearly cut the tip of one finger clear off last night while chopping vegetables for ham chowder, and I have five stitches in one finger. So the heck with any more proofreading, and I hope you all will forgive any typos.

  14. Wouldn't it be preferable if we always had Sunday ears rather than only on Sunday? Wouldn't it be better if we lived our faith seven days a week instead of only on Sundays? And wouldn't it be better to teach our children the way lives should be lived rather than the way they are lived?

  15. D.,

    The Church feeds, challenges, chastises us, but who feeds, challenges, and chastizes the Church?

    Was that ham or clam chowder?

    I am surprised that what I thought would have been considered my most controversial comment about the "God is love" hypothesis has gone unchallenged.

  16. John and C2G,

    I try to encourage daily reading from the lectionary by keeping this link on the main page of the blog, and I also encourage (with a skeptical eye) people to visit Lowell's blog for a daily (or close to daily) liberal moment of reflection on the daily readings (linked under "Mostly Harmless").

  17. Pewster - 1st: We are the church, and I am certain we challenge and chastise ourselves aplenty. The nourishment my be more difficult both to provide and to come by.

    Secondly: Ham chowder; it's excellent. I'd be happy to give you the recipe.

    Lastly: An occasional surprise is good for us all.

    John - Indeed, it would be lovely if we kept our Sunday ears seven days a week -- and even nicer if we kept also our Sunday minds.

  18. Anonymous12:34 PM

    Diane - I happen to disagree with you - I feel that not being "fed" by a religious organization is a stupid reason for leaving that organization - hoever, her attendance indicated that she really was not "into" us anyway.
    I firmly hold that we a Christians do not have a right to expect to be fed by anyone or anything - what we take from our religious experience is strictly personal - between us and God! - by attending a service we chose to "worship" in a corporate manner - but until we actually believe - the service is just a time to hang with your "homies".

    We need to feed ourselves - not wait for someone or something to do it for us. We do this though personal time with God and personal study of the scriptures. The Sunday sermon, Sunday school and any other church organization sanctioned acitivty is purely an educational tool - Wasn't Jesus often referred to by the title "Teacher"?

    Unfortunatley human beings are - on the most basic level - pack animals - all those "ologists" who have studied human interactions tell us that we need each other to feel safe - thus the need for corporate worship - we want to be with our own kind. But even in a pack - we are still responsible for feeding ourselves. The "pack" is responsible for educating us and making us think.

    For me - and this may shock many who read this - that is - until they really think about it - Religion is man made - Belief is personal. You can kneel, sing, cook, mouth the prayers, polish silver, chaperone, coach, and spend hours working at the church and not truly believe in God - you believe when your relationship with God is a truly individual and personal experience - fed by you and no one else.


  19. C2G -

    Well, I seem to recall Jesus specifically telling his apostles to feed his sheep, but in a way I do agree with you. We get out of any experience, including worship and church activities, pretty much what we put in.

    That said, however, I think we all have a part in feeding each other (to continue with that metaphor, which may not be the best). Sure, belief is a personal matter, but as part of a faith community, we have obligations to each other.

    We know essentially nothing of that woman's experience at Our Saviour. Perhaps she was shut out of activities; perhaps we made her feel excluded. Judging from my own experience at Our Saviour, I find it hard to imagine that happening, but one of my daughters, who is attending a Lutheran church, told me that when visiting Our Saviour, she found the congregation somewhat cold, and did not feel very welcomed.

    Are you perhaps being a little hard on this woman? She may have had good reason for feeling the way she did, and her attendance may have reflected her negative experience. Perhaps she has found a church in which she is having her personal, individual needs met. There is a common joke that we tell on ourselves that goes "everyone whom God wants to be an Epicopalian already is one." The joke is generally told a bit ruefully, in recognition of the fact that there is a bit of truth to it. I don't want to see us go all evangelistic, but I think we could do a better job of welcoming the strangers among us.

    Diane Rudulph

  20. Lex orandi, Lex credendi?

    Roughly "how you worship is how you believe."

    Example, a "clown Eucharist" leads to the belief of a clown.

    Are churches moving away from traditional worship? U.S. News + World Report did a story about this last year (reviewed here)