Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Why Didn't We Think of That?

Trolling through the Internet, I was led to the web pages of St. Michael and All Angels Episcopal Church in Lake Charles, Louisiana. (September 29 is the feast of Saint Michael and All Angels -see North Woods Anglican for a discussion of that.) The folks down in Lake Charles have a Fall Educational series going on and are posting the class notes on-line. The Christian Education page can be accessed by clicking here. They are studying the 39 Articles of Religion and if you start now you will only be 2 weeks behind because they have only posted the first 2 weeks of notes. Here is a teaser from week 2,

"Of the Justification of Man

We are accounted righteous before God, only for the merit of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, by faith, and not for our own works or deservings. Wherefore, that we are justified by faith only is a most wholesome doctrine and very full of comfort, as more largely is expressed in the Homily of Justification.

Reformation Background

At the time of King Henry VIII’s death in 1547, the English Reformation was focusing on three things: Holy Scripture as God’s Rule of Faith, Original sin and the results of sin, and the Salvation of mankind through justification. In so far as the church in England needed to differentiate itself from the teaching of Rome, English thinking on justification mostly urgently needed clarification.

Expressed simply the righteousness we receive by way of justification owes nothing to human effort or human works. Justification is God’s work about us as opposed to God’s later work within us, how as persons we stand in God’s sight. It has to do with how God reckons or counts us as righteous, how God takes the merit and righteousness of Christ’s death and imputes that righteousness to us. Our justification is completed by reason of Christ’s death alone. Justification neither grows nor increases beyond this fact."

As Wednesday p.m. family services at ECOOS are but a dim receding memory, it might be good to take a virtual class at St. Michael and All Angels this fall. Let us hope that they continue to update the class notes.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Who is Against Us?

Today at ECOOS, our new Deacon delivered the sermon and focused on verse 40 from the lectionary reading Mark 9:38-50. "Whoever is not against us is for us." Curiously, He studiously avoided the parts of the Gospel that talked about auto-amputation of offending body parts, and focused instead on things that keep people together.

Drawing from a recent personal visit to the hospital, and describing the diverse people he encountered in the Emergency Department during his long wait, he noted how many were praying to Jesus. On reflection, I realize that he was also drawing upon the lesson from James. (Go ahead Deacon, quote the verses!)
"Are any among you suffering? They should pray." James 5:13-20.

He also noted a happy toddler in the E.R.
"Are any cheerful? They should sing songs of praise." James 5:13-20

All those people in the Emergency Room were brought together due to not just illness, but prayer to God.

Today's sermon should be a reminder to us all that we tend to go about our lives thinking that we are in charge. Time and time again our Lord reminds us in His Holy scriptures that we are not in control, He is Lord of all.
Why do we wait for times of stress or illness to our senses and pray for help?

I had a personal experience in the early morning hours today where the Lord said to me, "Okay, you don't like the bumps along My road, and you want to be in charge, fine. I'm outta here!" The resulting feeling of emptiness had me praying for His return, which came amazingly quickly. I know that I should be giving my self to Him during every minute of every day of the secular work week, but it is so very hard to keep from falling into the trap of self-control.

Coming back to the reading from Mark, is it that controlling sinful part of me called "self" that I should amputate? Can I do it by myself as an auto-amputation? Common sense would be to call in a specialist, and in this case, I'd better ask for a referral to the Master Physician, the Lord of all.

And no wise cracks about whether or not the procedure will still be available after "Health Care Reform!"

Friday, September 25, 2009

Will Lutheran CORE be Inside or Outside?

This weekend there will be a convention of 1200 CORE members. This Lutheran group had a recent surge in registration for the event probably due to the recent decisions of ELCA to swing in favor of same-sex marriage, etc. There are eerie parallels between ELCA and the Episcopal church (T.E.C.). In his news release of Sept 15, 2009, Mark Chavez wrote,
“We are not leaving the ELCA. The ELCA has left us...”

Doesn't that sound familiar? Substitute T.E.C. for ELCA and you have what many Episcopalians have been saying for years.

As an outside observer, I am not familiar with this Lutheran CORE group, but a little snooping shows that the steering committee at this time is made up of ten (8 male/2 female) "The Revs," and one "Mr.", so they are clergy top-heavy. I don't yet know if this is a good or bad thing.

I can see from the following letter from the steering committee that it does not appear that they have had any more success in their attempts at "inside strategy" than people and clergy have had in the Episcopal church.

From here:
"Over the past three years Lutheran CORE has worked for the reform of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Our chief goal has been to serve as a voice for the Word of God within the Lutheran CORE - Coalition for Reform ELCA. We have sought to maintain the Christian doctrine of marriage and the normative use of the Biblical names for the persons of the Holy Trinity – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Within the ELCA we have sought to uphold both Biblical authority and Lutheran identity. To effect these reforms, we have used the constitutional structures of the ELCA – synod assemblies, churchwide assemblies, and the election processes for synodical and churchwide leaders. The results of our efforts to reform the ELCA have thus far been uneven."

"Uneven" would be an understatement.

What interested me about this meeting is the number of participants, and the fact that it appears to be more of a national gathering. I do not recall a similar large gathering by concerned Episcopalians crossing diocesan borders since the current troubles in our denomination began.

Could a large group of reasserting Episcopal lay leaders ever dare to gather together in their own convention? What good would it do?

While it is doubtful that the "inside strategy" will help rescue ELCA from it's current path, it might be good to observe their approach to the problem. We might learn something.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Be Careful What You Sing, or A Discourse on "Nearer My God to Thee"

Someone may be listening to the words.

This might be a little something to get under the skin of Wallace Hartley and draw him out from his self imposed isolation:

From Chapter 6 of Christianity and Liberalism by J. Gresham Machen originally published in 1923 (Macmillan, NY)

"The Christian doctrine of the atonement, therefore, is altogether rooted in the Christian doctrine of the deity of Christ. The reality of an atonement for sin depends altogether upon the New Testament presentation of the Person of Christ. And even the hymns dealing with the Cross which we sing in Church can be placed in an ascending scale according as they are based upon a lower or a higher view of Jesus' Person. At the very bottom of the scale is that familiar hymn:

Nearer, my God, to thee,
Nearer to thee!
E'en though it be a cross
That raiseth me.

That is a perfectly good hymn. It means that our trials may be a discipline to bring us nearer to God. The thought is not opposed to Christianity; it is found in the New Testament. But many persons have the impression, because the word 'cross' is found in the hymn, that there is something specifically Christian about it, and that it has something to do with the gospel. This impression is entirely false. In reality, the cross that is spoken of is not the Cross of Christ, but our own cross;..."

(I wonder if he would have ranked the hymn higher if it was worded "Thy cross?")

"...the verse simply means that our own crosses or trials may be a means to bring us nearer to God. It is a perfectly good thought, but certainly it is not the gospel. One can only be sorry that the people on the Titanic could not find a better hymn to use in the last solemn hour of their lives.

But there is another hymn in the hymn-book:

In the cross of Christ I glory,
Towering o'er the wrecks of time;
All the light of sacred story
Gathers round its head sublime.

That is certainly better. It is here not our own crosses but the Cross of Christ, the actual event that took place on Calvary, that is spoken of, and that event is celebrated as the center of all history. Certainly the Christian man can sing that hymn. But one misses even there the full Christian sense of the meaning of the Cross; the Cross is celebrated, but it is not understood.

It is well, therefore, that there is another hymn in our hymn-book:

When I survey the wondrous cross
On which the Prince of glory died
My richest gain I count but loss,
And pour contempt on all my pride.

There at length are heard the accents of true Christian feeling—'the wondrous cross on which the Prince of glory died.' When we come to see that it was no mere man who suffered on Calvary but the Lord of Glory, then we shall be willing to say that one drop of the precious blood of Jesus is of more value, for our own salvation and for the hope of society, than all the rivers of blood that have flowed upon the battlefields of history.

Thus the objection to the vicarious sacrifice of Christ disappears altogether before the tremendous Christian sense of the majesty of Jesus' Person. It is perfectly true that the Christ of modern naturalistic reconstruction never could have suffered for the sins of others; but it is very different in the case of the Lord of Glory. And if the notion of vicarious atonement be so absurd as modern opposition would lead us to believe, what shall be said of the Christian experience that has been based upon it? The modern liberal Church is fond of appealing to experience. But where shall true Christian experience be found if not in the blessed peace which comes from Calvary?"

I had to find the lyrics to "Nearer My God to Thee" at Cyber Hymnal, and review them to see how I would rank them. Here they are:
"Nearer, my God, to Thee, nearer to Thee!
E’en though it be a cross that raiseth me,
Still all my song shall be, nearer, my God, to Thee.


Nearer, my God, to Thee,
Nearer to Thee!

Though like the wanderer, the sun gone down,
Darkness be over me, my rest a stone.
Yet in my dreams I’d be nearer, my God to Thee.


There let the way appear, steps unto Heav’n;
All that Thou sendest me, in mercy given;
Angels to beckon me nearer, my God, to Thee.


Then, with my waking thoughts bright with Thy praise,
Out of my stony griefs Bethel I’ll raise;
So by my woes to be nearer, my God, to Thee.


Or, if on joyful wing cleaving the sky,
Sun, moon, and stars forgot, upward I’ll fly,
Still all my song shall be, nearer, my God, to Thee.


There in my Father’s home, safe and at rest,
There in my Savior’s love, perfectly blest;
Age after age to be, nearer my God to Thee.


How about that "So by my woes to be nearer, my God, to Thee?" Maybe we could re-write it to say, "So by thy blood to be nearer, my God to Thee?"

Maybe the "upward I'll fly" would be objectionable to Machen as well. Would a better alternative be, "Or if carried on your loving arms...upward I'll fly?"

Come to think about it, Machen might be right. After all, it is God who came to us to deliver us. I cannot, by my efforts, climb the stairway to heaven alluded to in verse three. So maybe the hymn needs a new title to go with the re-write. How about, "My God, You came down to be nearer to me."

As our hymns are an offering of thanks and praise to God, the onus is upon us to get the words right.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

The Price of Greatness

Mark 9:30-37

They went on from there and passed through Galilee. He did not want anyone to know it; for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, ‘The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again.’ But they did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him.

Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, ‘What were you arguing about on the way?’ But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another about who was the greatest. He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, ‘Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.’ Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, ‘Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.’

How we go from there to convicted murderers being ordained, the three strikes you're out law, and America bashing is probably beyond me, but that never stopped me before.

One way to get there is to give a rambling 25 minute sermon without notes. Here is my take.

Jesus catches his disciples arguing over who is the greatest among them, puts them in their place, and teaches them a lesson in humility. Translating this into modern liberal speak means that we should look to promote the least to the first, and if this includes ordaining a convicted murderer, then the Episcopal church has interpreted Jesus' lesson as a lesson in radical affirmative action. (I am not aware of the case our rector cited of a man serving a life sentence (for killing his wife with an arrow) getting ordained in the Episcopal church in Virginia, but I do recall the case of James Tramel in California, and you can see what happened to him here)

Moving on to the three strikes law, according to the Rector, this has been a miserable failure. I think we got there from taking a look at God's mercy. I guess California would be better off letting repeat offenders go. I am no expert in the California justice system, but I see where the AP published this story that California's recidivism rates declined to 27 year low in 2006. Also, if NC had a three strikes law, the Gaffney serial killer would not have been out and free to kill. I know we are supposed to show mercy, but are we supposed to be stupid?

Last but not least, we have the case of America and the price of greatness. I don't know what our rector has against America, but it has come out in little bits and pieces in several of his sermons, today's included. Maybe there is a collective guilt in the liberal mind over living in such a properous land. The guilt comes from the notion that America has prospered through exploitation of resources, people, and nations. I think that is a false simplification of a more complex history. Is our prosperity hard to reconcile with Jesus' message? I will argue that America is the best country in the world, and if that puts us last through the gates of heaven, then that's okay. If by becoming a lesser nation, we could move ahead a few places in the line to enter heaven, would that be right?

Doesn't an ebb tide ground all boats?

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The Empire of Desire

Hie thee over to First Things for this piece entitled "Marriage, Morality, and Culture" by R.R. Reno, features editor of First Things and professor of theology at Creighton University who writes,
"Our secular elite culture believes that desires—as long as they do not directly harm others—should command and shape culture. We should be able to make of marriage what we wish.

Result: the emerging postmodern Empire of Desire."

How does the Church interact with the Empire of Desire? How should the Church interact with the Empire of Desire?

The Episcopal church, through its actions and resolutions has demonstrated an open arms attitude towards the secular mindset. Taking a modern rationalist approach to each issue, the Episcopal church translates the secular "no harm, no foul" into "no harm, no sin." For example, we have relieved ourselves of the burden of the sin of adultery through the church's acceptance of free and easy no-fault divorce and remarriage, and we are moving to the next level of redefining traditional marriage to include anything that "does no harm" between "consenting adults." Along the way, the desires of clergy to freely remarry, to engage in extramarital affairs and premarital affairs is accepted by the church as demonstrated by its failure to discipline Bishops and clergy and its resolutions in favor of "open" ordination. In so doing, the church has chosen to ignore scriptural advice as well as years of tradition. Revision of the Bible by our leaders in order to accommodate their personal desires and changes in culture is akin to building a golden calf as an object of worship. It is a deliberate walk away from God. Since revisionists believe that they are "following the Spirit," and do not believe in all that Old Testament nonsense about the perils of walking apart, the doors to the great congregation are opened wide for any and all "desires" of Man to supersede the desires of God for Man.

How should the Church interact with the encroaching "Empire of Desire?" Looking around for examples, one's eyes are drawn to the teachings of the Bishops of Rome and the mechanisms through which they are developed. The Episcopal church is not so structured as to be able to publish PB "Bulls" or "Encyclicals," and given the current resident of that office, we should be thankful. If, however, a structure were ever to be devised for Anglicans to develop and share in the fruits of such statements, would that be enough to stop the spread of the Empire of Desire?

It appears to me that the Church should stand firm against the spread of this evil empire. How it should do so certainly involves one "stone bridge" at a time, but larger structures will need to be planned for to protect future generations from the false teachings of tomorrow.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Do Words Matter?

If you are Serena Williams they do.

Today's sermon at ECOOS was based on James 3:1-12. It was an opportunity for our rector to apologize for upsetting people from time to time over the years with his words. All in all, he did a good job although he missed at least one good stopping point.

A couple of words in the reading from James struck me as a little odd, and caused me to break out my tattered old King James Version of the Bible.

First the "New Revised Standard Version,"

Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers and sisters (Greek brothers), for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. For all of us make many mistakes. Anyone who makes no mistakes in speaking is perfect, able to keep the whole body in check with a bridle. If we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we guide their whole bodies. Or look at ships: though they are so large that it takes strong winds to drive them, yet they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great exploits.
How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire! And the tongue is a fire. The tongue is placed among our members as a world of iniquity; it stains the whole body, sets on fire the cycle of nature, and is itself set on fire by hell. For every species of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by the human species, but no one can tame the tongue—a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and brackish water? Can a fig tree, my brothers and sisters, yield olives, or a grapevine figs? No more can salt water yield fresh.

The use of "brothers and sisters" came through clearly as a modern, politically correct translation.

I was also struck by the words "species" and "human species" as "species" is part of the modern scientific classification of life, and this just didn't sound like anything James would have written. I had to look back through my tattered KJV to recall how it used to read.

James 3:1-12 (King James Version)

My brethren, be not many masters, knowing that we shall receive the greater condemnation.
For in many things we offend all. If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man, and able also to bridle the whole body.
Behold, we put bits in the horses' mouths, that they may obey us; and we turn about their whole body.
Behold also the ships, which though they be so great, and are driven of fierce winds, yet are they turned about with a very small helm, whithersoever the governor listeth.
Even so the tongue is a little member, and boasteth great things. Behold, how great a matter a little fire kindleth!
And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity: so is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell.
For every kind of beasts, and of birds, and of serpents, and of things in the sea, is tamed, and hath been tamed of mankind:
But the tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison.
Therewith bless we God, even the Father; and therewith curse we men, which are made after the similitude of God.
Out of the same mouth proceedeth blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not so to be.

Doth a fountain send forth at the same place sweet water and bitter?
Can the fig tree, my brethren, bear olive berries? either a vine, figs? so can no fountain both yield salt water and fresh.

Do these words matter? They are just small examples of how the subtleties of translation can change our religious experience. Are these attempts to nudge us into the modern age? I wonder if the use of "human species" in the same passage as "species of beast" is used to reduce man's status to the same level as the beasts, birds, reptiles, and sea creatures by introducing this modern term, "species."

Maybe I am just whistling Greek for there are bigger fish to fry out there.
I am aware that there are other tennis balls of change that are being, to paraphrase Serena Williams, shoved down our throats.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

R.I.P. κυνάριον

Photo of κυνάριον: Last days.

She never caught any of those pesky squirrels, but she did take on a deer. She once "treed" a possum, and would not come inside until she had led me into the woods that night (flashlight in hand) to point to her accomplishment and receive a "good dog."
Thankfully, she never caught the skunk.

We thank God for the times together, and that she died peacefully on her bed, in her house, with her family.

From Funeral Service for a Dog, by Scooper:

"Our German forefathers had a very kind religion. They believed that, after death, they would meet again all the good dogs that had been their companions in life. I wish I could believe that, too." — Otto von Bismarck (1815-1889)

"Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. And the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality - then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, ‘Death is swallowed up in victory.’ O death, where is thy sting? O grave where is thy victory? The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ." — 1 Corinthians 15:51-57

We give thanks for all the blessings of this life.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Did Jesus Get His Ears Opened?

Today's Gospel reading contained the story of the Syrophoenecian woman (Mark 7:24-30), although the lectionary recommendation was Mark 7:31-37 which immediately follows the story.

"From there he set out and went away to the region of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know he was there. Yet he could not escape notice, but a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately heard about him, and she came and bowed down at his feet. Now the woman was a Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin. She begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. He said to her, ‘Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.’ But she answered him, ‘Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.’ Then he said to her, ‘For saying that, you may go—the demon has left your daughter.’ So she went home, found the child lying on the bed, and the demon gone."

This has been called one of those "difficult" passages. Difficult passages create issues, and even though "we are not an issue church," I think that they must be faced. I have heard the story interpreted in various ways. The last time we had a sermon on this, we heard how insulting the word "dog" would have been to the people of the day. But, there is an issue over the word translated as "dog." Later, I learned that some believe that the word might mean "little puppy" or "house dog." That seems to fit the context a better. A domestic dog would be the kind of animal that would be allowed under the master's table and not a street dog. When I questioned that sermon, you would have thought that I had stepped into the arena; there were so many downward directed thumbs shown.

Today, we had another issue raised as Mary Cat preached on Mark 7:24-37 and James 2:1-18. I thought she did a good job with the passage from James, but when she got to Mark, I started having issues.

My first issue came after the statement Mary Cat made that Jesus was given a lesson by the Syrophoenecian woman. I am wondering, in order for this to be true, Jesus would have had His fully human part turned on, and His fully God part turned off. This leads to the assumption that the fully human aspect of Jesus was prejudiced and needed to learn a lesson. The problem I am getting into is the issue of Christ as being without sin. He can't be prejudiced against this woman and be without sin can He?

The next issue I had with this sermon was the statement that Jesus had His ears opened by the woman. Recall the later part of today's readings from Mark 7:32-35,
They brought to him a deaf man who had an impediment in his speech; and they begged him to lay his hand on him. He took him aside in private, away from the crowd, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue. Then looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, ‘Ephphatha’, that is, ‘Be opened.’ And immediately his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly.

Did the woman heal Jesus? This is not a road that I want to go down. It seems to lead to the conclusion that not only does God have a lot to learn from us, but that God is also in need of our healing powers. This would be a convenient God, one who could be more easily molded to fit my desires.

Needless to say, I don't think this is where the Gospel wants us to go. Unfortunately, the sermon might take some there. Hopefully, susceptible ears remained unopened.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Church Gardener Leaves, Flowers Cry, Thorns and Weeds Rejoice

The note was slipped under the parish office door. Sheree Welsh, a member of the Episcopal church of Our Saviour for 22 years, former Sunday school teacher, cooker of the gumbo for mission and outreach, supper club member, and our volunteer church gardener for the past 10 years, submitted her request to be removed from the rolls of the church this past Monday. When asked for reasons as to why she was leaving, she said that since the Episcopal church has decided to follow a path that will lead to the ordination of non-celibate homosexuals and the blessing of same sex marriages, and since the church has abandoned the Bible as its foundation in order to pursue this path, and since the rector's sermons reflected his commitment to this course, she could no longer support this church. Shaking the mud from her boots, and closing her checkbook, she will be seeking the good soil elsewhere. When asked what she wrote in the note, she said that it simply said, "I believe in the Bible."
Her only regret was that she thinks she misspelled "believe."