Sunday, June 27, 2010

What to Believe

When our rector started today's sermon by saying that scripture must be understood from a historical contextual viewpoint in order to know what to believe, I recognized that this sermon should probably best be ignored. I closed my eyes, and sixteen minutes later I awoke from my reverie and resumed the group worship of the Lord.

A few bits and pieces of what was said during the sermon did break through to my consciousness. The rector tried to compare the Roman empire with America by equating the empire's love of athletics, manly behaviors, and spending more money on an army than their rivals with the current times. He went on to focus on Paul's letter to the Galatians which was one of today's readings.
Galatians 5:1,13-25
"For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.

For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.
Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. For what the flesh desires is opposed to the Spirit, and what the Spirit desires is opposed to the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not subject to the law. Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit."
Thanks to the wisdom of the RCL, some verses got cut out, including this humdinger,
12 "I wish those who unsettle you would castrate themselves!"
I was alerted when the rector got to the warnings of Paul. According to the rector those warnings about sexuality are "dated." I guess sexual morality has progressed to a higher state in today's U.S.A. Maybe that is why the local paper's birth announcements contain more unwed mothers than married couples as parents of the next generation. Maybe the high divorce rates amongst married people are also evidence of how highly evolved we are from the time of the Galatians. By failing to bring up these modern problems, I am afraid the rector glossed over a good comparison of life in the Roman empire with life today. "Dated" indeed! What an appropriate term to use in an historical contextual exegesis.

Later, he tried to salvage the sermon by focusing on Paul's list of the fruits of the Spirit, but he ignored the fact that you have to crucify the flesh and its passions to enjoy those fruits. I guess we should be able to pick and choose which passions we believe we should enjoy and which ones we should crucify. That has all the makings of a build your own religion by taking one from column A and one from column B. This is one of the dangers of trying to weasel your way out of a pure historical exegesis. The danger is that you can rationalize a way to ignore large chunks of very good teachings. The only problem is that when you try to make your new rewritten scripture relevant to the present, you are not staying true to the historical contextual approach. You are, in fact, attempting to move beyond the restrictions that you see the Bible placing on your desires and passions. You wish to "live into" your passions when Paul tells us to crucify them. In order to continue in your charade of being a Christian, you then have to redefine the passions of the flesh. I am sorry, but they have not changed from Paul's day. They are not "dated."

So, what do people in the pews believe? We desire to believe whatever we want. Give me a little from column A and a little from column B any day. God, on the other hand, has done His best to say to us, "That does not work. Listen to me!"

What do you believe?


  1. Well, I believe that Paul was inspired by the Holy Spirit to write what he wrote as God's Word for us.

    I believe that the Spirit gifted Paul to be a great missionary, who understood that the context into which he wrote included Greek thought. Greek thought included ideas, such as Plato's, that our mind and virtues should rule over the survival/pleasure instincts we share with any other animal.

    So the context of the lesson was that a gifted missionary was inspired by the Holy Spirit to write an eternal message in words that made sense to his original readers.

    "Context" can help us understand the complete meaning of a Biblical text rather than just cherry pick phrases that suit us.

    Context cannot be an excuse to dismiss a passage, only a tool to explicate it.

  2. TLF+ nailed it.

    I think he's spot on about Paul, especially regarding the Holy Spirit's direction to deal with people where they are and draw them forward to God's saving grace.

    Consider Paul's sermon on Mars Hill in Athens. Paul was a well-educated, erudite man, who obviously spoke Greek. It's inconceivable that he would not have been acquainted the great philosophers of Greek antiquity and that the Holy Spirit inspired him to use that knowledge to preach the Gospel to the pagans, or to disciple or discipline those who'd accepted the Gospel. See, e.g. both letters to the Corinthians where he uses a lot of platonic imagery to make his point.


  3. Anonymous6:29 PM

    I think you are showing the fruit of the Spirit maintaining your composure during worship especially at the time that the works of the flesh are being made manifest.

    I think I would never hear the end of it if I had preached something like that (according to your notes) this past Sunday.

    I think a server dedicated not only to helpful insights to the next Sunday's lessons but ALSO the free submission of sermons that were given AFTER that Sunday (for comparison) could be a great source of encouragement (and fodder). I know there are websites out there right now that contain those elements, mostly not within that format though. But there are none dedicated to TECUSA, or that matter the mainline denoms.

    Even what you are doing in review, rather than having the entire sermon in front of us, would be helpful in a comprehensive way, and could be linked from such a website.
    Perhaps the Holy Spirit will quicken someone to do so.

  4. Fr. Eaton+,

    Thank you for the words of encouragement.

    As far as a sermon resources go, there is a highly screened and politically correct set on the Episcopal church's web pages (Sermons That Work). I have read a few, and I don't think these are very helpful except to say that, for the most part, they seem to be chosen to be non-controversial and trance inducing. Do they work? I think it would be best to look at the number of converts to Christ in each congregation represented by these sermons to tell if they work or not. That might a lot of hours of digging by the Statman.

  5. UGP,
    "There is no law against such things." I prefer the KJV which states "Against such there is no law". I believe Paul is saying that the Fruit (singular)of the Spirit is not produced by the the law. I don't think Paul is saying it is simply not illegal to possess the Fruit of the Spirit. I have not seen this in commentaries but believe that is the mind of Paul on the matter. What do you think?

  6. Dale,

    The translation I used is the one used during services at ECOOS. One of our lay readers (pardon the expression) does read from the KJV, much to the consternation of those who try to follow along with the version printed in the Sunday bulletin!

    I agree that Paul is saying the Fruit of the Spirit is not produced by the law. After all, it is "of the Spirit." The commentary you seek might be something along the lines of the relationship of the law to the Spirit and vice versa. That might be a bit above my pay grade, but it is worthy of consideration.

    I think Paul is saying that the obvious sins of the flesh are against the law and did not need any elaboration to the Galatians. The modern liberal minds desires elaboration and believes the warnings are not eternal truths. Therefore they have to put Paul in a box and pick and choose which verses are most pleasing to current passions and which ones to keep confined to the limits of the historical context.

  7. Anonymous2:24 AM

    You might remember "Sermons for Layreaders", for which "Sermons that Work" is the successor series. In each series, submissions had to be made to get them included. So once again, if nobody sent in their favorite or a good sermon preached by their priest or bishop then no one would ever know. I check those out from time to time just to see where somebody went with the lessons. I hate to say it, but I think some preachers would send in their sermons just for visual recognition in hopes of being nominated for something episcopal or less.
    In general, I find the sermons to be too short, too trite and less than clear in directing the listener toward application for discipleship.
    Too, the RCL change has rendered an archival use of older sermons almost useless.
    But all that is pre-Sunday preparation using pre-written sermons. I'd like to see post-Sunday submissions so folks can compare what they just heard with what was preached elsewhere and they can compare and contrast for their own edification. And perhaps spiritual sanity.

    BTW, here are a couple of resources I found in a quick search. Couldn't find a link to the old TEC series, though.