Sunday, May 29, 2011

Christ Will Come Again

The second coming of Christ is something that people are always predicting to occur in this year, that month, or even on such and such a day. Why do we need more predictions than those that are given to us from Jesus and the Apostles?

Today's readings point to the importance of being aware of promise of the day of judgement.

First a commnand for all people to repent in Acts 17:22-31,
While God has overlooked the times of human ignorance, now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will have the world judged in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed, and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.’
Next the words of Jesus promise us the Spirit of truth who will be with us for ever and the promise that Jesus is coming.
John 14:15-21
‘If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you for ever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.
‘I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.’
Thomas Tallis set it to music so well (using the KJV "Comforter" in place of "Advocate"),

I get the sense that when that Comforter and/or Advocate is really present in one's life, that one tends to not get too obsessive over the coming day of judgement.

Still, for those who remain in the world and have not received Him, the prediction of an impending judgment might make them want them to reconsider their position, in which case maybe a little time spent obsessing over these verses would be time well spent.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Let Them Fall Where They May?

We planted this Catawba Rhododendron (Rhododendron catawbiense) a few years back in part because we always enjoyed hiking in the mountains when the rhododendrons were in bloom, and in part because we live so close to the Catawba river and the "catawbiense" in the name struck a chord.

For the first few years, we weren't quite sure it would survive, but this year it really showed its colors. I wonder if it was because of the cold winter?

There is a large dead tree nearby that we will have to fell this year, and I hope we can preserve this rhododendron. If it hadn't bloomed, I might have let it get crushed.

Then I thought of a parable told by Jesus,
"Then he told this parable: ‘A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none. So he said to the gardener, See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil? He replied, Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig round it and put manure on it. If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.'” -Luke 13:6-9.
Maybe this is its way of saying "Save me!"

If you catch the gardener spreading manure around my feet this year, please remind me of this parable.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Prayers Requested

This week we learned that our assistant priest has taken a position in N.Y. and will be leaving us in August.

Today, during the announcements in church, our Senior Warden informed us that someone had been caught stealing from the church. Hopefully this puts an end to what was an ongoing problem.

Prayers are requested for our church as it seeks a priest in charge, and as we come to grips with the face of our fallen nature in the knowledge of this reported thievery.

Pray also for the accused.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Muslim call to prayer to ring out at Episcopal Church on "Left Behind Sunday."

In comments to my last post, R. Sherman pointed to this link about an "interfaith service" at St. John’s Parish in Montclair (Diocese of Newark) to be held the day after the predicted "Rapture Saturday" of May 21, 2011.

"Reverend Andrew Butler, Rector of St. John’s parish since September 1, 2010, decided to have this service in order to demonstrate that both Islam and Christianity stem from Abrahamic roots, as well as to dispell negative stereotypes about the Muslim faith."

"During the interfaith service, verses from the Holy Qur’an will complement readings from the Holy Bible, including during Communion, embracing the traditions of both religions."

"The Reverend went on to say, 'We are trying to find ways to blend our community through religion. It’s hard, but we can accomplish it through this organic event and working together through outreach and other ministries of compassion.'”

This seems oddly appropriate for those who find themselves left behind.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Catawba River Spider Lily Kayak Trip May 2011

In a post last year, I wrote about the Catawba river spider lilies at South Carolina's Landsford Canal State Park. I said that I would try to kayak to the site this year, and last Sunday, after church, we made the trip. Launching from the park entrance and taking out at the lower parking area you can either head upstream for a half mile and cut over to the main channel before turning south or you can head straight down stream which is a little more difficult because of the depth (or lack thereof) of the river (which is why they built the canal system in the first place). We, as expected, chose the more difficult path. Once again, I advise anyone planning this trip to take your most beat up kayaks because the water is very shallow and you will get hung up on rocks, but it is fun trying to avoid them when the water is flowing well as it was on this day. The whole trip took about an hour and a half. Because of the shallow waters, I was able to step out onto the rocks once we reached the lilies and took these pics.

"My beloved is gone down into his garden, to the beds of spices, to feed in the gardens, and to gather lilies. I am my beloved's, and my beloved is mine: he feedeth among the lilies." - Song of Solomon 6:2-3

Thank you Lord for the flowers of spring, the waters that feed them, and the hard plastic bottom of my kayak.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Inconvenient Lectionary Edits

One of my pet peeves is the habit of the lectionary to cut out certain verses at the strangest times. Today, we had Wisdom 1:16-2:11,2:21-24
as the O.T. reading which left out Wisdom 2:12-20.

I happen to like those verses, and I think they have a prophetic quality that should not go unspoken or unread. These are the words of the mockers,

12 "Let us lie in wait for the righteous man,
because he is inconvenient to us and opposes our actions;
he reproaches us for sins against the law,
and accuses us of sins against our training.
13 He professes to have knowledge of God,
and calls himself a child of the Lord.
14 He became to us a reproof of our thoughts;
15 the very sight of him is a burden to us,
because his manner of life is unlike that of others,
and his ways are strange.
16 We are considered by him as something base,
and he avoids our ways as unclean;
he calls the last end of the righteous happy,
and boasts that God is his father.
17 Let us see if his words are true,
and let us test what will happen at the end of his life;
18 for if the righteous man is God’s child, he will help him,
and will deliver him from the hand of his adversaries.
19 Let us test him with insult and torture,
so that we may find out how gentle he is,
and make trial of his forbearance.
20 Let us condemn him to a shameful death,
for, according to what he says, he will be protected."

Is it because these verses sound more appropriate for Holy Week that they get left on the cutting room floor during the Easter season?

Whatever the reason, they are words that make me shiver. I see how easily we might err and find ourselves condemning the Lord, perhaps not this graphically, but through our disobedience.

There but for the grace of God go I.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

The Denomino Theory

"The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly." -John 10:10 (From today's readings).

The old Protestant denominations are falling like dominos. I have to conclude that this is one way in which the thief kills and destroys. He picks the weakest denomination first, topples it, and the next ones fall like dominos.

I call this the "Denomino Theory," and it is one reason why it makes no sense to try to run from one denomination to the next.

This week's news that the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has dropped its ordination standards to the level of the secular culture has met with nary a wimper from society as a whole. Here is their announcement from,
To congregations of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)

Dear sisters and brothers in Christ,

May grace, mercy, and peace be yours in abundance (Jude 1:2).

The debate about ordination standards has been a Presbyterian family struggle for much of the last three decades. We have sought to find that place where every congregation and every member, deacon, elder, and minister of the Word and Sacrament can share their gifts in ministry while, at the same time, the integrity of every congregation, member, deacon, elder, and minister is respected.

This year, the conversation has focused on Amendment 10-A that was passed by the 219th General Assembly (2010) and sent to presbyteries for approval. While we wait for official tallies, it appears that 87 presbyteries will approve10-A during the week of May 9, which is the majority required for approval.

If this becomes official, the new language outlining the gifts and requirements for ordained service will say the following:

Standards for ordained service reflect the church’s desire to submit joyfully to the Lordship of Jesus Christ in all aspects of life (G-1.0000). The governing body responsible for ordination and/or installation (G.14.0240; G-14.0450) shall examine each candidate’s calling, gifts, preparation, and suitability for the responsibilities of office. The examination shall include, but not be limited to, a determination of the candidate’s ability and commitment to fulfill all requirements as expressed in the constitutional questions for ordination and installation (W-4.4003). Governing bodies shall be guided by Scripture and the confessions in applying standards to individual candidates.

This decision begins with an unequivocal affirmation that ordained office will continue to be rooted in each deacon, elder, and minister’s “joyful submission to the Lordship of Jesus Christ in all aspects of life.”

This action also has important effects on our life together as a church, namely:
in keeping with our historic principles of church order, each session and presbytery will continue to determine the suitability of individuals seeking ordination within its bounds.
persons in a same-gender relationship may be considered for ordination and/or installation as deacons, elders, and ministers of the Word and Sacrament within the PC(USA); and
all other churchwide standards for ordination remain unchanged.

Reactions to this change will span a wide spectrum. Some will rejoice, while others will weep. Those who rejoice will see the change as an action, long in coming, that makes the PC(USA) an inclusive church that recognizes and receives the gifts for ministry of all those who feel called to ordained office. Those who weep will consider this change one that compromises biblical authority and acquiesces to present culture. The feelings on both sides run deep.

However, as Presbyterians, we believe that the only way we will find God’s will for the church is by seeking it together – worshiping, praying, thinking, and serving alongside one another. We are neighbors and colleagues, friends and family. Most importantly, we are all children of God, saved and taught by Jesus Christ, and filled with the Holy Spirit.

We hold to the strong affirmation that all of us are bound together as the church through Jesus Christ our Lord. “There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all,” Paul wrote to the Ephesians (4:5-6).

It is Jesus Christ who calls individuals to ordained ministries, and all those who are called to ordained office continue to acknowledge Jesus as Lord of all and Head of the church. It is this same Jesus Christ who is the foundation of our faith and to whom we cling.

No doubt, there will be several news stories and other reports about this change in the days ahead. A number of resources, including frequently asked questions and liturgical resources, are available for you at Office of the General Assembly website. In addition, for those who wish to comment on or inquire further about 10-A, please contact or call (888) 728-7228, x8202.

We invite you to join us in prayer:

Almighty God, we give thanks for a rich heritage of faithful witnesses to the gospel throughout the ages. We offer gratitude not only for those who have gone before us, but for General Assembly commissioners and presbyters across the church who have sought diligently to discern the mind of Christ for the church in every time and place, and especially in this present time.

May your Spirit of peace be present with us in difficult decisions, especially where relationships are strained and the future is unclear. Open our ears and our hearts to listen to and hear those with whom we differ. Most of all, we give thanks for Jesus Christ, our risen Savior and Lord, who called the Church into being and who continues to call us to follow his example of loving our neighbor and working for the reconciliation of the world. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Gradye Parsons
Stated Clerk of the General Assembly

Cynthia Bolbach
Moderator, 219th General Assembly (2010)

Linda Valentine
Executive Director General Assembly Mission Council

Landon Whitsitt
Vice Moderator, 219th General Assembly (2010)
People will probably want to add the U.C.C. Denomino as the first to fall, but I got tired of drawing curved letters, so my illustration is incomplete.

For those interested, the United Church of Christ pages proudly claim to be the lead denomino on their web page:
The PCUSA joins at least 10 other Reformed churches that welcome LGBT clergy, including ancestral churches in the Netherlands, Switzerland and Germany, said Lang in the statement. "But this victory also reminds us that our ultimate goal still lies in the future; a day when all of our churches will welcome everyone, and exclude no one," he said.

The change, which opens the possibility that people in same-sex relationships can be considered for ordination, is expected to take effect July 10. It is the latest move by a Protestant denomination toward the inclusion of gay and lesbian clergy.

In 1972, the UCC ordained the Rev. William R. Johnson as the denomination's first openly gay pastor.

In August 2009, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) voted to eliminate a ban on partnered gay clergy and committed to allow people in same-sex relationships to serve as church leaders. The nation's largest Lutheran denomination had previously permitted openly gay and lesbian clergy as long as they remained celibate.

Last year, the Episcopal Church consecrated its first openly lesbian bishop – the Rev. Mary Glasspool of Los Angeles – in the face of objections from some conservative Anglicans.
When dominos fall, they do not pick themselves up.

When denominations fall, they will not be able to pick themselves up.

A more powerful force from above has to reach down and pick them up, or it will come to sweep the board clean.

In either case, there will be lots of wounded to care for, so don't run from the disaster area. Instead, head straight in, with your Bible in your bag to help treat the survivors.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Strategic Planning and the Church

I never was very good at this game.

Our church is in the process of finding a new rector. One of the things the Diocese of Upper South Carolina is asking for is a "Strategic Plan." Talk about reinventing the wheel! I think this a ridiculous waste of time. Why make being a Christian more complicated? Are we to be guided by some new strategic plan reluctantly drawn up by volunteers, or should we read the plan written by saints and martyrs that has been around for the past 2000 years?

C.S. Lewis had something to say about that plan.

"May I come back to what I said before? This is the whole of Christianity. There is nothing else. It is so easy to get muddled about that. It is easy to think that the Church has a lot of different objects—education, building, missions, holding services. Just as it is easy to think the State has a lot of different objects—military, political, economic, and what not. But in a way things are much simpler than that. The State exists simply to promote and to protect the ordinary happiness of human beings in this life. A husband and wife chatting over a fire, a couple of friends having a game of darts in a pub, a man reading a book in his own room or digging in his own garden—that is what the State is there for. And unless they are helping to increase and prolong and protect such moments, all the laws, parliaments, armies, courts, police, economics, etc., are simply a waste of time. In the same way the Church exists for nothing else but to draw men into Christ, to make them little Christs. If they are not doing that, all the cathedrals, clergy, missions, sermons, even the Bible itself, are simply a waste of time. God became Man for no other purpose. It is even doubtful, you know, whether the whole universe was created for any other purpose. It says in the Bible that the whole universe was made for Christ and that everything is to be gathered together in Him."

C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: Touchstone), pp 170-171.

Forget your strategic planning sessions, anything you create will just be put on the shelf to collect dust.

As an alternative, send a copy of your well read Bible to the Diocese with a little note attached saying, "I hope this plan meets with your approval."

That's my stratego and I'm stickin with it.

Sunday, May 08, 2011

Jesus Incognito

Today's Gospel reading from Luke 24:13-35 (Cleopas' walk with Jesus on the road to Emmaus) is one of those resurrection appearances of Jesus that once again brings up the question of the authority of witness. Most Christians accept the stories of these encounters with an incognito Jesus,  a vanishing Jesus, or  a Jesus who can get into a closed room as accurate reports of real events. Sadly, many have let doubt and disbelief cause these stories to be classified as delusions, or hallucinations.

During the course of today's sermon, our preacher related stories of her personal encounters with God. Nice, but where was the link to testing things against scripture?

As I related last week in a post entitled "Things Not Seen",
"Personal experiences and feelings become problems because all too often they can be shown to be contrary to scripture.

This is also how we discern the Holy Spirit; we have to go back and study scripture, and discuss things amongst others who have studied the scriptures.

The study of the Bible and Christian history therefore become vitally important, because ignorance of scripture and the errors that others have made in the past will lead us into the way of error ourselves with the inevitable consequence of a weakening or even the loss of personal and corporate faith."

In the present age when the reliability of witnesses, and the trustworthiness of leaders and governments are usually doubted, and when truth itself is a nebulous thing, can I believe these stories from 2000 years ago? For that matter, can I believe that Osama Bin Laden is really dead?

In a world full of conspiracy theories and mistrust, is it any wonder that people have a hard time accepting the truth that has been passed down to us in the form of Biblical witness?

In a world where authority figures are constantly being exposed as liars, self serving, or otherwise untrustworthy, can people put their faith and trust in a God of authority and power?

Or are people searching for a god more like themselves?

Addendum: 1 John 4:1-6 was in Monday's readings.

Testing the Spirits

"Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God; for many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus* is not from God. And this is the spirit of the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming; and now it is already in the world. Little children, you are from God, and have conquered them; for the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. They are from the world; therefore what they say is from the world, and the world listens to them. We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us, and whoever is not from God does not listen to us. From this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error."

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Off Topic and Political to boot: "Organize Against Change"

After this week's news of the death of OBL, all eyes are watching the President's approval ratings. Now might be the perfect time to test the waters for new campaign slogans for the President since they are already gearing up for the next Presidential election. Who can forget those sound bites from the last election that won the American public's hearts.

Over at I found this list of some of the common phrases used by a certain current incumbent during his first election campaign.

1. "Yes We Can."
2. “Change” versus “More of the Same.”
3. "Vote for Change."
4. "Change We Can Believe In."
5. "Our Time for Change."
6. "It's about Time. It's about Change."
7. "Stand for Change."
8. "Organize for Change."
9. “We are the change we’ve been looking for. Change can’t happen without you.”
10. "I’m asking you to believe. Not just in my ability to bring about real change in Washington . I'm asking you to believe in yours."
11. "A leader who can deliver change."
12. "Change in America doesn't start from the top down. It starts from the bottom up."

He just can't use those anymore.

Now that he has announced that he will run for re-election, I was wondering if there is any kind of positive spin he can put on the old "Change" line.

As an unofficial, unpaid adviser, I worked up a few sound bites for him to try out while his popularity is on its expected upswing.

How about,
1. "Eventually We Can."
2. “More of the Same” versus “Change.”
3. "Don't Vote for Change."
4. "The Same We Can Believe In."
5. "Our Time for More of the Same."
6. "It's about Time; Just Give Me a Little More of It."
7. "Stand Still For a Change."
8. "Organize Against Change."
9. “We are the change we’d been looking for, but change doesn't happen overnight.”
10. "I’m asking you to believe. Not just in my ability to bring about real change in Washington, but because I never really had that ability."
11. "A leader who won't change."
12. "Change in America doesn't start from the top down. It starts from the bottom up. So go change yourself!"

And finally...

13. We got OBL! How's That For a Change!"
See if you can come up with a few of your own.

Monday, May 02, 2011

Pour l'infamie de son nom!

Death comes to the famous, the infamous, and the non-famous alike.

Some are honored by the living, others are to be remembered as shark bait.

And the world keeps rollin along.

Someone sent this along today...

"I've never wished a man dead but I have read some obituaries with great pleasure." ...Mark Twain

I am not much into gloating in part because I understand that the death of one bad guy does not make much of a dent in the numbers of bad guys ready to take his place, and in part because I don't think the Lord would look too kindly upon gloating.

I found the comments of Andy at A Mile From the Beach helpful in this respect.

Pay him a visit.
(h/t Musings From the Hinterland)

Sunday, May 01, 2011

Things Not Seen

"Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen."-Hebrews 11:1

Today's readings from Acts, 1 Peter, and John touched on the question of how we can have faith in something that is unseen.

First the evidence of witnesses:
"This Jesus God raised up, and of that all of us are witnesses."-Acts 2:32
Next, the fruits of faith:
"Although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls."-1 Peter 1:8-9
Then the sign that even for those of us who demand more evidence, the Lord will provide:
"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.’"-John 20:24-28

In today's sermon, I got the impression that our preacher had never felt the need to pray for a "Thomas moment" from the Lord. I, for one, come from the Thomas school; I am the type that always wants more proof.

How does one get more proof than the witness of the Bible?

This where the problem of personal experiences comes into the picture. Personal experiences and feelings become problems because all too often they can be shown to be contrary to scripture.

This is also how we discern the Holy Spirit; we have to go back and study scripture, and discuss things amongst others who have studied the scriptures.

The study of the Bible and Christian history therefore become vitally important, because ignorance of scripture and the errors that others have made in the past will lead us into the way of error ourselves with the inevitable consequence of a weakening or even the loss of personal and corporate faith.

The Lord has blessed me with many personal experiences, and after reading today's scriptures, I can see a little more clearly that while there are those who are so blessed as to have no need to see, to feel, or to similarly experience the risen Lord in order to gain and maintain a solid faith, there are probably others like Thomas who Jesus might tap on the shoulders every now and then just so that they might have a glimpse of what is not seen. I don't discount such modern witnesses, but like my own personal experiences, I have to test them against the ancient ones.

I have heard the witness of our Bishop and many of his clergy and convention delegates who have said that they have seen the blessings of God in same sex realtionships.

I have studied the scriptures which say that this is not the way to go.

When the witnesses disagree, which witness should I have faith in?