Sunday, December 29, 2013

Back To Normal?

For several years, our church has treated the Sunday after Christmas worship service differently than the usual Sunday service. In place of a sermon or homily, a "carol sing" is done with members of the congregation calling out hymns they would like to sing and everyone joining in for two verses of each selection.

This Sunday, our guest priest used his authority to deliver a homily during the time set aside for "Announcements".  Our preacher has served us many times in the past, and as he is rather advanced in years, his style of delivery tends to be "deliberate" which can cause some to lose track of the message.  

I hope people were able to stay focused as this was one of his best efforts. He emphasized the awesome thing that really, really happened 2013 years ago. God came into the world, and people need to be reminded of this as a time dividing event. We prefer to live in the darkness, but light has entered in.

It is rare for us to hear about our natural inclination to keep God in heaven while we have fun in the darkness, and I thought back on how quickly the Church can turn to darkness after a time in the light. Such is the time of the Episcopal church as it immerses itself deeper and deeper into the darkness with each successive season. This year I have witnessed the darkness creeping into our little church with such innovations as a Baptism during which the "parents" were two men and the Godfather was the rector's husband, and I have witnessed the introduction of "open communion" proclaimed by the new rector on several occasions (especially on high holy days).

As our guest priest described the mystery of this supernatural occurrence which we call Christmas, I thought about how good it was to get back to normal, if only for a Sunday. I was reminded that while we are only a generation away from pulling the shades against the light, we are also just a generation away from stepping out of the darkness. As the current generation of aging revisionist priests fades away, let us pray that the damage they have done will be repaired by a future generation of leaders who reallyreally believe all that stuff the Gospel writers attested to all those years ago.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Christmas Really Scares Me

I was thinking about this before I saw a neighbor's Christmas display which contained,

Saurus Claws?

What really scares me about Christmas is not the thought of reindeer hooves damaging the roof,  or of a fat elf coming down the chimney, or the thought of having to pry my presents from the vestigial hands of a Tyrannosaurus  Rex, but it is the thought that there is something that has come into this world that is so otherworldly, so powerful, and so beyond my ability to control it that I should be afraid for my life.

It is the thought that there is a God who could create my world.

It is the thought that this God could enter my world.

It is the thought that it isn't my world but His.

It is the thought that someone really does know when I have been naughty or nice.

It is the thought that if I believe in Christmas, then there is all that other stuff that I must believe.

It is the thought that if I believe in the baby Jesus, then I must believe in the man Jesus and all that God-incarnate stuff.

It is the thought that I must accept that He died on the cross for me.

It is the thought that I must lose my life in order to gain life.

It is the thought that Christmas convicts me.

And all this is a gift from above?

Scary, scary stuff.

Why can't I have Christmas the way I want? I would much rather have toys and candy canes.

God came down at Christmas with a gift far beyond anything I could have dreamed up or wished for.

And he sneaked in while I was sleeping and left it in a manger.


Have a Merry, Scary Christmas everyone!

Monday, December 23, 2013

A Hope That is the "Googly-Eyed Dogma of Religious Primitives"

That quotation is found in the last paragraph, but read it all.

From the President of the Trinity Forum:

The Singularity of Grace

In What's So Amazing About Grace? author Phillip Yancey recounts:
During a British conference on comparative religions, experts from around the world debated what, if any, belief was unique to the Christian faith. They began eliminating possibilities. Incarnation? Other religions had different versions of gods' appearing in human form. Resurrection? Again, other religions had accounts of return from death. The debate went on for some time until C. S. Lewis wandered into the room. "What's the rumpus about?" he asked, and heard in reply that his colleagues were discussing Christianity's unique contribution among world religions. Lewis responded, "Oh, that's easy. It's grace." 
Lewis was not asserting that other faiths did not value or extol mercy or kindness, but that they each posit steps to earning a deity’s approval (or at least placating divine anger), rather than declare the love of God as a gift to be received. It is hard to overstate how radical the doctrine of grace must have seemed – the idea that God’s love was offered freely even to lowlifes and losers; that it could not be earned, no matter how hard one tried; that even the best of humanity could not claim an entitlement, while the worst of the lot could still receive the gift. 
The implications were incredible. It had been long and widely believed, even assumed, that those who prospered had earned supernatural favor; those who suffered had culpably piqued some deity. One got what was coming to him. The idea of grace offered a new lens through which to view the reality that we each experience both suffering we did not cause and goodness we do not deserve. It invigorated the virtue of gratitude, which requires recognition of blessings to which one is not entitled. And it made possible a new realization of forgiveness, and the spiritual freedom that attends it.
Of course, the Christian conception of grace was not merely the introduction of a doctrine, but the arrival of its incarnation. And once Grace showed up, He turned the world upside down. The late philosopher Dallas Willard spoke of “The Great Inversion” in which Jesus demonstrated, through his revolutionary way of life, a new way of understanding God, the world, other people, reality as we know it. He deliberately flouted the metrics of virtue and respectability in his age, choosing to heal the sick on the Sabbath, hang out with scoundrels, speak privately with women, even verbally assault clerics. He forgave and healed those who asked, even when it broke the law to do so. He claimed that “abundant life” was realized apart from position or wealth, and asserted that love of God and neighbor was the highest end and deeper purpose of elaborately codified laws. 
He did not give easy answers to the deep questions of pain and suffering, but offered himself as a means to wisdom and understanding. His arrival was steeped in humiliation – a suspect birth, in a dirty cave outside a backwater town. His brief life was terminated by a horrific death – flailed to deformation, nailed naked to crossbeams between criminals, jeered and taunted by crowds. Yet he lived to show that Grace overcomes not merely the petty powers of the day, but the great powers of darkness and death. The world has never seen His like. 
The season of Advent anticipates not only the coming of Grace over two millennia ago, but also a second arrival. In our modern age, such a hope may seem foolish and fantastical, the googly-eyed dogma of religious primativists. Yet the orthodox Christian faith has always held out this promise – that Grace will return again, to make all things new. It is this hope that is foreshadowed in the individual transformations of Grace-struck lives, as well as the birth we celebrate this week: 
Come, thou long expected Jesus,
Born to set thy people free;
From our fears and sins release us,
Let us find our rest in thee.
Israel’s strength and consolation.
Hope of all the earth thou art;
Dear desire of every nation,
Joy of every longing heart. 
Cherie Harder

Sunday, December 22, 2013

T'was the Sunday Before Christmas

T'was the Sunday before Christmas, and all through the church,
not a creature was stirred by an imprecatory verse (Ps 80:16).
The congregation sat nodding as the lessons were read.
With visions of lunch and bowl games filling their heads.
The congo in their warm coats and their outstretched toes,
Had just settled in for a nice sermon's doze.

When up from the back pew there arose such a tattler
Who claimed that the all of those missing verses really did matter.

So I opened my Bible app and anxiously read,
Romans 1:18-32 when a loud voice said,
"Heed Romans, heed Isaiah, heed Jonah and Job,
Heed Galatians, Ephesians, Titus and Jude."
Don't slash away, don't stash away,
But read away, read away, read them all.

Then down by the lectern, Bible pages started to flutter,
and verses began flying causing the congo to sputter.
The people were filled with verses so bold
They screamed and they shouted "Why weren't we all told!"

"That God might care that we should follow His call,
That He might be judge and ruler of all.
That He would chance send us His one and only son
To engage us, to enrage us,
And by the Word enlighten us
That His victory be won!"

And they sang, and they prayed, and their knees became weak
Until the church doors flew open, and they dashed to the street.

And I listened in wonder as they cried as they ran,

"Thank God for Jesus, God's gift to Man!"


Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Why Would God Become Vulnerable?

Practicing succinctness today:
"To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal." C.S. Lewis, Four Loves
 "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life." John 3:16 (New KJV)

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Playing the Odds

In today's sermon, our preacher touched very lightly on the risks of Faith while taking a pot-shot at dogma by calling it a low risk approach.

(From ReverendFun)

With this week's lottery jackpot soaring to 550 million dollars, millions are spending a dollar on the incredibly tiny chance of hitting the winning combination of numbers. The odds of winning are estimated to be 1 in 250,000,000.

Ever wonder why some of the same people who buy a lottery ticket won't buy this ticket:
"He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him." John 3:36 KJV
For those folks, the odds of getting struck by lightning really are greater than the odds of winning the lottery.

Those troubling points of dogma, that we are called to believe in Jesus as Lord in order to have everlasting life, are things we must take the chance to accept. I have this idea that dogma is a way the Church has of putting one's Faith into words, and that may be taking a riskier approach than many people appreciate. For one thing, once you declare your Faith in Jesus, out loud or in writing, odds are that you will become a target.

What are the odds that you will ask someone to take a chance on Jesus as you stand in line for your lottery ticket this week?

Play the odds.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Rather than Celebrate the Solstice, Why Not Lament Jephthah’s Daughter Instead?

It has been two years since I last reported on this, so it is time for an update of Episcopaganism Solstice celebrations with an added suggested alternative.

  • St. Cyprian's Episcopal Church in San Francisco has a Celtic Winter Solstice Concert Saturday 21 December 2013
  • New York's Cathedral of St. John the Divine Winter Solstice Celebration, by Paul Winter
"In ancient times, observers watched the sun sink lower in the sky each day, and feared it would disappear completely and leave them in darkness.
People practiced special rituals intended to entice the sun’s return. Bonfires and candles, with their imitative magic, helped fortify the waning sun and ward off the spirits of darkness. These symbols live on in our modern seasonal customs: the candles of Hanukkah and Christmas are kin to the fiery rites of old, which celebrated the miracle of the earth’s renewal.
These traditions reflect our need to come together in times of extended darkness. We celebrate not only the rebirth of the sun, but the community of life on earth."
  • Camp Bratton-Green Mississippi whose goal is
"To foster and nurture the spiritual growth of children and young people
through a Christian camp experience."
offers a
"Winter Solstice for high-schoolers over the Christmas break each year."
  • St. Paul's Cathedral Syracuse, Syracuse Community Choir Winter Solstice Concert 2013
  • The Episcopal Church of the Redeemer Cincinnati has a
"traditional Celtic Winter Solstice program featuring the Clark-Jones trio is scheduled for 4 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 21."
  • I suspect St. Michael and All Angels in Columbia SC (formerly know as St. Michael and All Druids but now mercifully under new administration) needs to update their web page which still lists (but not on the calendar),
"On the appropriate dates, the Winter and Summer Solstices and Fall and Spring Equinoxes are observed in the Outdoor Chapel of Refuge and Grace."
"A Winter’s Night: Music and Poetry for the Solstice: music perfect for the holiday season, interwoven with text and poetry narrated by special guest, NPR’s Neal Conan."

Thankfully the list of Episcopal churches advertising their Winter Solstice celebrations is getting shorter. I guess all the negative press might have had something to do with it, but more than likely it is the poor attendance of these services by informed pewsitters or it is due to the apathy of pagans who would rather stay home and worship the sun at home.

If the Solstice services are a poor draw for your church, might I suggest a sure fire crowd magnet?

How about a Lament for Jephthah's Daughter?

From RitualWell

"The story of Jephthah’s Daughter (Judges 11) tells us that Jephthah the Gileadite made a vow to the Lord before going into battle with the Ammonites. He vowed that if he succeeded in battle he would offer up to the Lord as a burnt offering whatever first came forth from his doors of his house to meet him. When his daughter (who is unnamed in the text) comes out with timbrels and dances to greet him, he rends his clothes, saying that she has brought him very low and troubled him, but that a vow to God cannot be retracted. She does not protest, but obtains permission to spend two months in the mountains with her companions, to bewail her virginity. When she returns, Jephthah fulfills his vow. An epilogue tells us that it was a custom for the daughters of Israel to lament her death for four days each year. This is the earliest example in recorded history of the fact of women gathered together in an annual ceremony."
"This ritual of grieving may be performed on 11 Cheshvan (Oct 25-26), the date of mourning for the death of Rachel and an occasion for mourning the exile of the Shekhinah and the loss of the feminine. Alternatively, this ritual may be performed on the winter solstice, which according to medieval Jewish tradition is the date on which Jephthah's daughter died."
I can see it set to music with dancers, wailing women, angels, and choirs all performing in a darkly lit church representing the longest dark night of the soul.

I think it might work.

Sunday, December 08, 2013

Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord or Suffer the Consequences

Every Advent we listen to the story of John the Baptist. This year, as I make my way through the Old Testament prophets, I heard the prophesy of Malachi, 

Malachi 3:1-7
New King James Version (NKJV)
The Coming Messenger 
“Behold, I send My messenger,
And he will prepare the way before Me.
And the Lord, whom you seek,
Will suddenly come to His temple,
Even the Messenger of the covenant,
In whom you delight.
Behold, He is coming,”
Says the Lord of hosts.
“But who can endure the day of His coming?
And who can stand when He appears?
For He is like a refiner’s fire
And like launderers’ soap.
He will sit as a refiner and a purifier of silver;
He will purify the sons of Levi,
And purge them as gold and silver,
That they may offer to the Lord
An offering in righteousness.
“Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem
Will be pleasant to the Lord,
As in the days of old,
As in former years.
And I will come near you for judgment;
I will be a swift witness
Against sorcerers,
Against adulterers,
Against perjurers,
Against those who exploit wage earners and widows and orphans,
And against those who turn away an alien—
Because they do not fear Me,”
Says the Lord of hosts.
“For I am the Lord, I do not change;
Therefore you are not consumed, O sons of Jacob.
Yet from the days of your fathers
You have gone away from My ordinances
And have not kept them.
Return to Me, and I will return to you,”
Says the Lord of hosts.
“But you said,
‘In what way shall we return?’
John echoes Malachi in the last two verses of today's Gospel reading with some words we would prefer to ignore (verse 12),
"I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing-fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing-floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire." Matthew 3:11-12 (NRSV)
Jesus is never reluctant to throw out a little fear of the Lord.

Caught up in Advent hope and anticipation we all too often forget that the One for whom we are awaiting is not exactly Santa Claus. For that reason, and because we love him more than Santa, Advent should also be a time of repentance and turning back from our foolish ways for,
"The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom: a good understanding have all they that do his commandments: his praise endureth for ever." Psalm 110:10 (KJV)
And it is a time for remembering His wisdom,
 "And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell." (Matthew 10:28 New KJV)
Fear (of the power) and love (that he would be born to die for me) bound together might describe how I feel today as I reflect on how many of God's commandments I rejected this past week.
“Remember the Law of Moses, My servant,Which I commanded him in Horeb for all Israel,With the statutes and judgments. Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet Before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord.And he will turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, And the hearts of the children to their fathers, Lest I come and strike the earth with a curse.” Malachi 4:4-6

While I try my hardest to prepare in myself the Way, I understand that it is a task so monumental that I cannot possibly succeed on the strength of my will.

I need a Saviour to make straight the crooked highways of my heart.

I (trembling) can hardly wait.

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

It's Not Fair! Bless Their Hearts.

Like our Diocese of Upper South Carolina, the Church of England appears to be well on its way to allowing some sort of same sex blessing to take place in its temples (see T19 post about the Pilling Report). One argument you are likely to hear in favor of same sex blessings is exactly what a non-Anglican friend, bless her heart, suggested would come next when she read about our church performing a "Blessing of the animals".
“Would you rather bless a sheep and a tree but not them?" Archbishop John Sentamu in House of Lords Debate on Same Sex Marriage June 2013 

We often chafe at God's commandments. Why should He bless heterosexual marriage and procreation and not same-sex marriage? It appears to us to be a case for that childhood lament we used when our brother or sister got special treatment, "It's not fair!" I have been laboring through the Old Testament prophets this month and Ezekiel turns that argument on its head and reminds us of the need for repentance.
“Yet the children of your people say, ‘The way of the Lord is not fair.’ But it is their way which is not fair! When the righteous turns from his righteousness and commits iniquity, he shall die because of it. But when the wicked turns from his wickedness and does what is lawful and right, he shall live because of it. Yet you say, ‘The way of the Lord is not fair.’ O house of Israel, I will judge every one of you according to his own ways.” Ezekiel 33:17-20

For more from Ezekiel 33 click here. I think he might issue a similar warning to today's Church... or maybe he already did. 

Sunday, December 01, 2013

Task Force 10 to Gomorrah Part 5: An Update From the Bishop

Our Bishop is well on his way to blessing extramarital same-sex in Upper South Carolina with his task force happily steaming along (links to Part 1Part 2Part 3, Part 4) under his direction. The only mystery left is exactly when the task force will finally come out from under its smoke screen and start firing live ammunition at us mindless pewsitters. A few clues come from this latest signal from the Admiralty.
"The Rt. Rev. W. Andrew Waldo
November 26, 2013
To clergy brothers and sisters and to all members of DEC, 
Because we are approaching the time in early 2014 when my pastoral letter on same-sex blessings will be issued, together with the task force’s curriculum, and the process of receiving permission to bless unions will be specified, I write to give you an update. 
First, a reminder that in South Carolina the subject is same-sex blessings by the Church and not same-sex marriage. South Carolina law prohibits both same-sex marriage and same-sex civil unions. 
Second, members of the Task Force felt that, in addition to unity, the Task Force’s work has focused substantively and regularly on Christian faithfulness. To reflect that reality, one of task force’s traditionalist members proposed changing the name of the task force to the “Bishop’s Task Force on Unity and Faithfulness.” All agreed that this was an accurate reflection on our work, as did I. So, henceforth, that will be how we will refer to the task force.  
Third, at our meeting on 17 November, we assessed the status of our progress. Our goal remains to release the materials the week of 27 January, to give you time to evaluate its use in your spring programming. However, we are not yet fully confident that our materials will be completed by that date. We believe we will know if they will be ready by the end of the first week of January. On 7 January, we will provide an update on the projected release date. Our first priority is for the materials to be fully completed and reflective of the work we have done. 
Fourth, as I’ve noted at several meetings across the diocese, our work will have the following structure: 
1.     A Biblical, Theological and Pastoral Reflection (not a letter to be read in church) from me on same-sex blessings.
2.     A six-week curriculum with 1-3 additional session options for deeper study and reflection, created by the Task Force. The goal of the Task Force is to produce a curriculum that balances perspectives and offers materials that ask us all to go more deeply into the biblical, theological, traditional, ethical and ritual issues involved. Each curriculum session will include specific topics within these categories, excerpts from resources, and discussion questions.
3.     The process by which congregations seeking to offer same-sex blessings may receive permission. 
Fifth, I reiterate that no priest or congregation will be required to offer blessings, nor be “punished” for refraining for reasons of conscience. 
Thank you for your patience as we go about this complicated and yet important work. We have all been grateful for God’s presence as we’ve explored, debated, studied and prayed together. 
Yours in Christ... "
In other words, if you are sitting on a pew in your bunker thinking that the invasion will be at Pas de Calais and not at you sitting in peaceful Normandy, I hope you are studying up on how to say "I surrender" in Episcospeak.

"Bishop’s Task Force on Unity and Faithfulness" is quite an ironic name. You can't disguise false teaching with a mere change of title. The name is also part of the strategic plan. Anyone opposed to the efforts of the Bishop's Task Force will by default be considered someone who is opposed to unity and faithfulness. In reality, it is the Task Force which should bear the label of "Division and Faithlessness".

The only questions left are whether you will have these blessings in your particular church, and will folks wait until after Lent so they can do it during the Easter season?

I love spring "not-marriages".

I always cry at them too.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Giving Thanks For Your Episcopal Pledge: Is This Anyone's Idea of Good Stewardship?

As our parish wraps up its annual stewardship campaign, news continues to roll in from the legal front of the wars we are funding with our stewardship dollars.

Every good liberal I know complains bitterly about their tax dollars being spent on the U.S. military, foreign wars, and preparedness for future conflicts.

Yet these are the same people who happily send significant monies to the Episcopal church each year (which amounted to $387,927.00 for our diocese in 2013), and rejoice with every litigation bombshell dropped by 815's army of lawyers onto the heads of fellow Christians.

The latest waste of your pledge dollars came this week,
"Episcopal Church seeks to add Mark Lawrence, 3 others, to property lawsuit"
(Link to T19 discussion)

I am sorry to be the bearer of such bad news on the eve of our national celebration of Thanksgiving, but this latest assault will probably fall apart like a Turducken on Thanksgiving Day (see the Anglican Curmudgeon's analysis).

Let us give thanks to God in all things, good and bad, that His purpose will be worked out in His time.

Forgive me Lord for I am having a hard time giving thanks for litigation.

At least the lawyers have something to be thankful about and that would be the feel of your pledge dollars in their pockets.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Is Your God an Elected God?

Today is considered "Christ the King" Sunday. It is the last Sunday after Pentecost and the Sunday before Advent.

I have often wondered if the American aversion to kings affects our feelings towards our heavenly King and His rule. For thousands of years people have lived under the rule of earthly kings and queens, and fear of the king must have been an understood and essential part of people's upbringing. The United States was formed as something of an anti-kingdom with a division and balance of power built into the Constitution of this experiment we call democracy. With the subsequent demise or decline of royal rule in other nations, more people than just Americans may live their entire lives with little or no concept of what it is like to be ruled by a king, and many will also harbor negative attitudes towards the very notion of kingly rule.

How then can we relate to Christ the King?

Look for a moment at how we currently relate to or respect the authority of our earthly governors. While some may worship our elected leaders, most of us respect their authority while at the same time deny their absolute rule over every aspect of our lives. We live in a state of both rebellion from and acceptance of earthly powers. As long as the external power does what we desire, then we will go along with it.

With Jesus as King, we are talking about a power that is far greater than that of any earthly king, queen, president, or prime minister. We have to give up our desires and yield to an awesome God's will, and that is something that is almost unimaginable to us. In fact, we will try to create something more familiar, a god who will agree with us as though He were an elected official.

No, it is not He, but we who are the elected ones. We are to bow to His desires. We are the ones who must change.

It is Christ's Kingdom to which we the un-submitting and rebellious have been graciously invited. Our acceptance of His rule demands an unlearning of much of our upbringing, our history, and our personal desire for autonomy.

Only then will we be truly free, living in a perfect freedom: a freedom to follow His commands and statutes out of love for Him, our God the King.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

The Litiginous Church: There Are No Rules in a Knife Fight

Over the decade since the election of Gene Robinson (the first openly gay, divorced father, non-celibate male bishop), the Episcopal church has become a feeding trough for attorneys as dissenting parishes and dioceses have left the church. Each successive legal decision leads to more appeals and new motions, all of which keep the cash register ringing. I defy anyone to create a better perpetual money making machine than our legal system. For example,  recently there came the "Decision in Quincy: ECUSA Has no Rule against Dioceses Withdrawing." Game over, TEc lost... right? Right?

You might think that the Episcopal church would have called it quits after that decision, but there are no rules in a knife fight, and TEc filed a new lawsuit (See the Curmudgeon's take) which to my eye looks rather lame and may just be an attempt to keep 815's lawyers employed and to outlast Quincy's lawyers financial resources.

If anyone doubts that the Episcopal church would be so dumb as to believe their attorneys when the attorneys recommend they keep throwing good money after bad, then I have a health care plan that I would like to sell you.  

At this point it is no longer about church properties. Judging from the decline in numbers over the years, it is clear that the Episcopal church can never fill those pews. The money gained by selling any vacant properties might help a failing denomination for a while, but any windfalls will surely be squandered by the church, perhaps in legal fees.

The real threat to a denomination in a death spiral is the loss of people, and that is why I say the fight is not about property.

It is an unspoken but painfully open secret that the Episcopal church's strategy is to fight in such a way that it will intimidate and discourage further dissent from its agenda by any individual, any priest, any vestry member, any bishop, and any standing committee. The whole idea is to make it clear that if dissenters wish to separate themselves from the Episcopal church's mad march down the wayward path, they must be prepared to face the prospect of giving their historic church homes to a church which eschews preaching and teaching the Gospel.
If it weren't for the fact that the Episcopal church is promoting a false gospel, it might not be all that bad an idea to walk away, for it is said to be,
"Better to dwell in the wilderness,Than with a contentious and angry woman." Proverbs 21:19
Things have been pretty ugly in this fight, and it is beyond the capability of peace loving pewsitters to imagine how far the Church is willing to go in its pursuit of property.

People are dragged into a horror show, and I can't help but be reminded of Marlon Brando as Colonel Kurtz in “Apocalypse Now” who explained how he got to where he was, an animal out to wage all out, cruel, and total war.
“It’s impossible for words to describe what is necessary to those who do not know what horror means. Horror! Horror has a face, and you must make a friend of horror. Horror and moral terror are your friends.
The Episcopal church has made friends with horror. Like Colonel Kurtz, it has become an ugly, insane, and loathsome distortion of its earlier well intentioned self. The end (people) has come to justify the means (litigation) which will only lead to the ultimate demise of the organization as it did for the mad Colonel.

If only the church could see itself as it has become, but as one person described the theme of “Apocalypse Now”,
“Through the eyes of the insane, a sane man appears to be crazy."

Through the eyes of 815, those who disagree with them are the ones who must be crazy, especially if they think they are in anything other than a real knife fight.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Judgment: God Can Do That With His Eyes Shut

There is no way I can say this in a non-judgmental way.

You are doomed to be judged.

Okay, what if I say, We are doomed to be judged?

Do we have a prayer at beating the rap?

Psalm 11:4 came up in my daily study last week,
The Lord is in His holy temple,
The Lord’s throne is in heaven;
His eyes behold,
His eyelids test the sons of men.
In looking through various commentaries, it looked like Calvin ignored the eyelid problem, and Matthew Henry tried but could not make it as concise as the title to this post (High five to self).
  "That this God perfectly knows every man's true character: His eyes behold, his eye-lids try, the children of men he not only sees them, but he sees through them, not only knows all they say and do, but knows what they think, what they design, and how they really stand affected, whatever they pretend. We may know what men seem to be, but he knows what they are, as the refiner knows what the value of the gold is when he has tried it. God is said to try with his eyes, and his eye-lids, because he knows men, not as earthly princes know men, by report and representation, but by his own strict inspection, which cannot err nor be imposed upon. This may comfort us when we are deceived in men, even in men that we think we have tried, that God's judgment of men, we are sure, is according to truth."
This week Isaiah 11:1-5 shed more light on the subject and gives hope to some but not to all,
There shall come forth a Rod from the stem of Jesse,
And a Branch shall grow out of his roots.
The Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon Him,
The Spirit of wisdom and understanding,
The Spirit of counsel and might,
The Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord.
His delight is in the fear of the Lord,
And He shall not judge by the sight of His eyes,
Nor decide by the hearing of His ears;
But with righteousness He shall judge the poor,
And decide with equity for the meek of the earth;
He shall strike the earth with the rod of His mouth,
And with the breath of His lips He shall slay the wicked.
Righteousness shall be the belt of His loins,
And faithfulness the belt of His waist. Isaiah 11:1-5
This was echoed in the last verses of today's Psalm 98,
8 Let the floods clap their hands;
   let the hills sing together for joy
9 at the presence of the Lord, for he is coming
   to judge the earth.
He will judge the world with righteousness,
   and the peoples with equity.
For His next trick, He will test/try/judge the sons of men with one arm tied behind His back!

I fear the outcome of that day, but despite all, as the Psalmist sings, the world still rejoices at the coming of the Judge!

Lord forgive our wickedness, may the Lord Jesus save us at the time of trial.
Behold, God is my salvation,
I will trust and not be afraid;
‘For Yah, the Lord, is my strength and song;
He also has become my salvation.’
Therefore with joy you will draw water
From the wells of salvation.
Isaiah 12:2-3

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

+San Joaquin: There Shall Be No Rest

"To be Christian means to forgive the inexcusable, because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you." C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1996), pp. 135-136. (h/t CS Lewis Institute)

A sharp eyed observer noticed the stunning absence of a "Requiescat in pace" for one late former Bishop of the Episcopal church while two others were offered that brief prayer on the home page of the Episcopal News Service on 11/12/2013 (Sorry, I don't know how to capture that except to take a picture with my cell phone):

No need to click on the image. This is how it was listed,

  • RIP: New Hampshire Bishop Douglas Edwin Theuner

  • RIP: Eastern Oregon Bishop William Spofford

  • John-David Schofield, leader of San Joaquin departure, dead at 75
No RIP from the Episcopal News Service for Bishop John-David Schofield. Even his title has been stripped away.

As my sharp eyed observer noted, "Jesus taught us to forgive and pray for our enemies."

In the eyes of our church, where bishops can deny the virgin birth, the Resurrection, and sexual sins, there appears to remain one unforgivable sin

Shame on us.

To quote again from the CS Lewis Institute reflection,
In comparison to sins like adultery, murder, theft, etc., unforgiveness might seem relatively minor. But Christ does not see it that way. Of all the serious sins he could have possibly mentioned in the Lord ’s Prayer, Jesus focused only on forgiveness (Matthew 6:12, 14-15). He knew that offenses come to each of us regularly, and that we are prone to rationalize and justify our unforgiveness of the offender. He also knew that when we do so, we erect a barrier of sin between us and God which blocks our own forgiveness, as well as our prayers and fellowship with him, and leads to backsliding. Unforgiveness is a spiritual abscess that poisons the soul, the only remedy for which is forgiveness, no matter how difficult.
The abscess has been identified. Now if only the patient will agree to have it drained...

One final thought on our patient,
"Heaven has no rage like love to hatred turned, Nor hell a fury like a woman scorned," The Mourning Bride Act III, Scene VIII.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Its About Time, the Second Coming, and Resurrection

Today's Gospel reading was Luke 20:27-38 and was primarily about the concept of a resurrection which might have tied in nicley with the other readings such as Job 19:23-27 if our new rector had so chosen,
“Oh, that my words were written!
"Oh, that they were inscribed in a book!
That they were engraved on a rock
With an iron pen and lead, forever!
For I know that my Redeemer lives,
And He shall stand at last on the earth;
And after my skin is destroyed, this I know,
That in my flesh I shall see God,
Whom I shall see for myself,
And my eyes shall behold, and not another.
How my heart yearns within me!"
Job 19:23-27

In Luke's Gospel, the Sadducees test Jesus with a hypothetical question,
Then some of the Sadducees, who deny that there is a resurrection, came to Him and asked Him, saying: “Teacher, Moses wrote to us that if a man’s brother dies, having a wife, and he dies without children, his brother should take his wife and raise up offspring for his brother. Now there were seven brothers. And the first took a wife, and died without children. And the second took her as wife, and he died childless. Then the third took her, and in like manner the seven also; and they left no children, and died. Last of all the woman died also. Therefore, in the resurrection, whose wife does she become? For all seven had her as wife.”
Jesus turns the tables on the the Sadducees not only by first providing an answer to the marriage question in which He provides no scriptural defense, but by then by using the very same method the Sadducees used in justifying their hypothetical. Jesus uses a literal interpretation of Moses words to answer the ultimate question of whether or not there is a resurrection.
Jesus answered and said to them, “The sons of this age marry and are given in marriage. But those who are counted worthy to attain that age, and the resurrection from the dead, neither marry nor are given in marriage; nor can they die anymore, for they are equal to the angels and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection. But even Moses showed in the burning bush passage that the dead are raised, when he called the Lord ‘the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’ For He is not the God of the dead but of the living, for all live to Him.” Luke 20:27-38
Given the content and substance of these lessons, I was totally baffled by our new rector's meander off into a discussion on Time. She also took Moses literally and concluded that all are alive to God, but the ensuing jumps into and out of the time tunnel created a sermon that confused more than it elucidated. In the interest of time let me summarize,

1) Now was then, and then is now, and we are he and you are all together... goo goo goo joob.
2) And the take home message was that by virtue of #1, "Now is the resurrection."

I have learned to be wary of preachers who try to get their congregation to focus on the here and now at the expense of the hereafter. It is understandable because it is far easier to focus on the here and now than to delve into the scriptural references to the things to come. Our rector attempted to merge the past, present and future into a "spinning pinwheel whose color becomes pure white" the faster you blow it. I suspect she was trying to communicate some transcendental experience of the nature of God, but when she said, "Now is the resurrection," without a good scriptural context, it came across as, you are unborn/alive/dead/risen all at the same time. (St. Paul, a little help here!)

So why did I get out of bed this morning? Or did I? Or will I?

People get into trouble all the time once they try to talk about it (time), especially revisionists because of the problems they have with Jesus' words from today's Gospel reading,
"But those who are counted worthy to attain that age, and the resurrection from the dead..."
Such conditional statements about a future day of reckoning are avoided in your typical revisionist sermon, and I suspect they were left out of many a sermon today.

There is no denying that we believe in a life of the world to come now is there? After today's sermon I heard the words of the Nicene Creed,
"and I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come."
and I heard then a liturgy packed full of Soteriology, Eschatology, and whatever other "-ology" you can think of that might use a language dependant on the use of present, past, and perfect tense.

Perhaps we would have been better served to have wandered over to Colossians 3 and considered,
"If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory."
No way we were going there because Col. 3 has all those uncomfortable references to the here and now,
"Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. Because of these things the wrath of God is coming upon the sons of disobedience, in which you yourselves once walked when you lived in them."
Not to mention all that nonsense about marriage,
"Wives, submit to your own husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives and do not be bitter toward them." (18-19)
It is natural for us to wonder about things to come just as we naturally hold on to memories of the past and are often hopelessly consumed by the present. Maybe an enlightened one can merge all things that have been with all things present and future, but most of us are happy to just hear Jesus speak to us in parables about the kingdom and to hear his promise of joining Him in paradise to the condemned man hanging beside him on the cross.

I am running out of time here, but note that our other reading for today, 2 Thessalonians 2:13-3:5, was part of a letter in which Paul is warning the Church against those who taught that the second comming had already happened and he is advising them to,
"...stand fast and hold the traditions which you were taught, whether by word or our epistle." (2 Thess 2:15)
Tradition, what a thing of the past. Hey I have an idea, how about living tradition in the here and now as well as into the future?

Oh, sorry, I must be time travelling again.


Wednesday, November 06, 2013

Psst... We Can't Type Allah's Name Or Else... uh oh... I Just Did It.

This after news from Reuters that,
"...a Malaysian court ruled on Monday that a Christian newspaper may not use the word "Allah" to refer to God".
It is hard to know exactly how the newspaper was using the term Allah but they appear to claim that it is common practice in Malaysia,
 "Lawyers for the Catholic paper had argued that the word Allah predated Islam and had been used extensively by Malay-speaking Christians in Malaysia's part of Borneo island for centuries."
An interesting argument, but it failed to convince the three Muslim judges who claim total jurisdiction over the "A" word.
"In its case, the government argued that the word Allah is specific to Muslims and that the then-home minister's decision in 2008 to deny the newspaper permission to print it was justified on the basis of public order."
"About 200 Muslims outside the court in the administrative capital Putrajaya, greeted the decision with shouts of "Allahu Akbar" (God is Greatest)."
"'As a Muslim, defending the usage of the term Allah qualifies as jihad. It is my duty to defend it,' said Jefrizal Ahmad Jaafar, 39. Jihad is Islamic holy war or struggle."
I am aware of the arguments about whether or not Allah and God are one in the same (see discussion at FirstThings), and given the denial of Jesus as God's son by the Koran, I conclude that any Christian newspaper that refers to Allah as god is not referring to God. Nor am I when I type,

Hey, Jefrizal Ahmad Jaafar,
Allah, Allah, Allah, Allah, is not Akbar. 
There, I went and did it.

Sunday, November 03, 2013

Blessed Are the Meek: An Echo of the Psalms

Many times I have bemoaned the way or lectionary alters the Psalms through deletions of certain subject matter. There is more than a little danger when we place limits on the Word of God. One easily identified danger is the development of the notion that the Old Testament and the New have little in common.

Last week I was reading the Psalms (all of em) as part of my ongoing Bible study, and this certainly helpd me today during our worship service.

Usually when we hear, "Blessed Are the Meek" we think of the beatitudes (Matthew 5:1-12) as we heard today in church, but we should not forget that Jesus is also quoting from the Psalms.
"But the meek shall inherit the earth,
And shall delight themselves in the abundance of peace." Psalm 37:11
Did Jesus use the commonly known psalms in his teachings as a way to connect with the people of His day?

How can His words still connect us to the Psalter when most church goers are exposed to a small, expurgated version of a limited number of Psalms once a week?

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Zombies, the Next Letter to Add to the Alphabet Soup?

Today's edition of the local rag, The Herald, had this story as frontpage news,
"York County's undead: 'Zombies are people, too'"
I hesitate to use the expression "tongue in cheek" when writing about zombies, but this article tried to do it. I think our local zombie couple did a good job keeping their tongues in their cheeks as the echoes of other's struggles towards full inclusion in society screamed out.
“'They’re making fun of us, actually,' Stalcup said as a group of fake zombies clad in prom dresses walked by."
Don't make fun of those seeking inclusion.

"Although the zombie community once lived in relative obscurity, he said, more and more they’re finding their way of life pushed to the forefront of a national dialogue, one that’s often severely prejudiced against zombies."
They should never have come out of their closets the ground.

“If they just slowed down, we’d show them how we feel,” said Renee Stalcup, who lamented how most people she approaches run away in apparent terror. “Zombies are people, too.”
Once you get to know them, you will be more welcoming.

The discrimination doesn’t make sense, Bonnie Stalcup said, because zombies live simple lives and aren’t any sort of burden to society. “I don’t need to work, and we don’t need much,” she said. “The ditch is a great place to sleep.”
Okay, we have touched all the keywords, prejudice, discrimination, the old "we are just like you"...
They used to be able to live quiet lives, the Stalcup family said. They would just go about their business without attracting much attention.
Yep, they were always amongst us, then they came out of the ground.

What will they want next, a blessing?
“All we need is a hug,” she said.
That hug might just be the first step on the slippery slope my friend.

(Read the full story at The Herald Online)

Read more here:

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Daniel is Thrown into the Lectionary Lions' Den

Did anyone notice what the RCL does to All Saints' Day in Year C? Astute observers from the frozen tundra noticed and forwarded this alert to our southern clime. The O.T. reading gets chewed up and spat out as the dream of Daniel gets struck from Daniel 7:1-3,15-18 which in its edited version leaves us with the markedly shortened,
7 In the first year of King Belshazzar of Babylon, Daniel had a dream and visions of his head as he lay in bed. Then he wrote down the dream:*
2 I,* Daniel, saw in my vision by night the four winds of heaven stirring up the great sea,
3 and four great beasts came up out of the sea, different from one another.
15 As for me, Daniel, my spirit was troubled within me,* and the visions of my head terrified me.
16 I approached one of the attendants to ask him the truth concerning all this. So he said that he would disclose to me the interpretation of the matter:
17 ‘As for these four great beasts, four kings shall arise out of the earth.
18 But the holy ones of the Most High shall receive the kingdom and possess the kingdom for ever—for ever and ever.’ Daniel 7:1-3,15-18
Is it something that Daniel did or said that irked the editors of the RCL? I reflected back on the decision of the editors of the NRSV (the version used in our Episcopal church) to change the language of Daniel's dream and visions from,
“I was watching in the night visions,
And behold, One like the Son of Man,
Coming with the clouds of heaven!" (New KJV)
to the more gender neutral,
"As I watched in the night visions,
I saw one like a human being*
coming with the clouds of heaven."
The problem with the NRSV's attempt to force gender neutrality becomes apparent when the "Son of Man" turns up later in the Bible. When the NRSV does opt to retain a gender positive statement such as in Matthew 25:31–46, we lose the connection with the O. T. vision because of the attempt to be "inclusive".

The lectionary committee should have been okay with the gender neutrality, so there must have been some other reason for the edit.

It may be just as well that the NRSV version will not get heard this Friday, but it is a shame that folks will miss out on such wonderful visions as,
"As I watched,
thrones were set in place,
and an Ancient One* took his throne;
his clothing was white as snow,
and the hair of his head like pure wool;
his throne was fiery flames,
and its wheels were burning fire.
A stream of fire issued
and flowed out from his presence.
A thousand thousand served him,
and ten thousand times ten thousand stood attending him.
The court sat in judgement,"
We have already learned what the RCL does to verses that speak of God's judgment (search these pages for "Missing verses"), and maybe it was that, or maybe the references to the Ancient One as male upset someone enough to remove them from the ear of the congregation.

This is one lions' den that Daniel couldn't escape without a scratch.

With all the attacks on him, is it any wonder that modern people can't dig the God of Daniel?


Sunday, October 27, 2013

De-Fund 815: Your Pledge Dollars at Work Part III

This past week a large Anglican gathering, GAFCON 2, occurred in Nairobi, Kenya. Of interest to me was the vast difference between this meeting and similar gatherings of the Episcopal church. Thanks to the internet, I followed reports from the field which provided a list of some of the mini-conferences,

  • The Challenge of Islam – led by Bishop Michael Nazir Ali
  • The Work of the Holy Spirit – led by Dr. Stephen Noll
  • Marriage and Family   -  led by Dr. John & Ruth Senyonyi
  • Children and Youths   -  Rev Zac Vernon
  • Gospel and Culture   -  Dr. Alfred Olwa
  • Being Women of God   -  Christine Perkin
  • Aid and Development   -  Rev Dennis Tongoi
  • Theological Education   -  Dr Andrew Shead
  • Episcopal Ministry   -  Bishop Wallace Benn
Last week our diocese held its annual convention and we had a brief summary presented to the congregation today. It doesn't sound like much happened on this side of the Atlantic other than passing a budget. I suppose no one proposed de-funding 815 this year, but I always thought it would be worth a try. After all, where does all that money go? A quick web search turned up the following recent resolutions from the Episcopal church's Executive Council which will give you some idea,

  • Call upon President Barack Obama and Congress to quickly pass and approve legislation to repair and restore the Voting Rights Act; encourage Episcopalians and especially General Convention deputies and members of committees, commissions, agencies and boards to contact their congressional representatives to urge them immediately to develop legislation that will restore and ensure the protection of equal voting rights for all Americans (AN014).
  • Direct the treasurer to file a shareholder resolution with Southwestern Energy on adopting goals to review its public-policy advocacy on energy policy and climate change (AN015).
  • Direct the treasurer to file a shareholder resolution with ConocoPhillips on adopting goals to reduce greenhouse emissions (AN016).
  • Direct the treasurer to file shareholder resolutions with Anadarko Petroleum and General Motors on conducting a risk assessment for human rights (AN017).

The usual social activism agenda (which is quite a contrast to that at GAFCON 2).

Digging a little deeper uncovered this,
"On the closing day of its Oct. 15-17 meeting here, the Episcopal Church’s Executive Council agreed to spend part of an unexpected revenue increase in the 2013-2015 budget on a new staff position dedicated to racial justice and reconciliation..." 
"...The decision to spend $258,000 in 2014 and 2015 to pay for the work of a staff officer to help foster racial justice and reconciliation came after what Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori later called 'a very hard, conflicted and tense discussion...'” 
This pewsitter is not convinced that such a staff officer at 815 will actually accomplish the intended mission. In fact, the job proposal itself has already stirred up a bit of racial tension which may be the first reconciliation project for the new staff officer to tackle. For example,
 "After the Rev. Jon Floberg of North Dakota spoke of his concern about spending all the new revenue at once and asked what would happen if there was not enough money to continue funding for the Episcopal Church in Navajoland, Diocese of Michigan Wendell Gibbs told his colleagues that he assumed his colleagues were well-intentioned but said 'it doesn’t work when we unintentionally pit one ethnic group against another.'” 
Of course the political activism of the Episcopal church is what this is all about and therefore the Navajos can just eat dirt,
 "'The idea to add the position came in response to developments such as the acquittal of George Zimmerman for the murder of Trayvon Martin and the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling invalidating key parts of the national Voting Rights Act,' Sauls said. 'Those events in particular, he said, prompted church center staff to think that “maybe it was time to return to spiritual leadership in advancing racial justice.'”
I rather suspect that the new staff position is just a way to give an 815 croney a do-nothing job for the next couple of years, and that this is all the more reason to de-fund 815.

If they were really into the racial justice bit, 815 should have sent its officers to GAFCON 2 (just take a good look at the lead picture in this story at StandFirm in Faith).

Instead of acting like our politicians and coming up with new spending projects with every hint of the possibility of more money, the Episcopal church's Executive Council needs to remember the notion of saving in times of surplus in order to survive the inevitable famine,
"And let them gather all the food of these good years that are coming, and lay up grain under the authority of Pharaoh for food in the cities, and let them keep it.  That food shall be a reserve for the land against the seven years of famine which are to befall the land of Egypt, so that the land may not perish through the famine.” (Joseph to Pharaoh, Genesis 41:35-36 RSV)

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Be Careful Where You Point That Thing

Back when I was a kid, if you didn't have a toy gun, and the gang wanted to go outside and play war or cops and robbers, and all you had was your finger as a gun, the rule was that you could not make imaginary machine gun sounds when you "shot" at your enemy. One finger = single shot, two hands in position as if you were holding a tommy gun = machine gun and you could go "rat-a-tat-tat" all day long.

But the really cool kid was the one who got a "six finger" for Christmas.

I remember the ads on T.V. had a jingle, and it went something like this,
"SixFinger, SixFinger, Man alive! How'd I ever get along with five?"
We couldn't bring our toy guns or SixFingers to school (although pocket knives were okay). All we had was five fingers (on each hand) and our imaginations to battle invading Nazis, Yankees, or Daleks, and to play cops and robbers, or cowboys and indians during recess. And you had to pull the imaginary pin out of your imaginary hand grenade with your teeth and throw it before the imaginary count down blew it up in your hands but not too quickly such that your enemy might pick it up and toss it back at you.

These days, we would be arrested, suspended, and our case tried in the news media like this boy,

"According to Fox News, an 8-year-old Florida boy was suspended from school after using his finger as a pretend gun while playing cops and robbers with his friends.
Jordan Bennett was suspended for a day after administrators at Harmony Community School in Harmony, Fla., said the gesture was an act of violence, reported.
His mother, Bonnie, told the station she's concerned that her son may labeled violent with a suspension now on his academic record.
'He had nothing in his hand. It was a finger gun, a pretend gun,' Bonnie Bennett said. 'He didn't threaten violence. He didn't utter words that were inappropriate. He made a sound and used his fingers and that was it.'
School district officials told the station its code of conduct prohibits students from playing with invisible guns. Bonnie Bennett believes there are more effective ways the district could have disciplined her son."
Next thing you know, some genius will decide that poor parenting is to blame, and the State's social workers will be making a home visit with an eye to remove the child and place him in protective custody.

I hate to think what would have happened to my parents if today's rules were in place back then.

My shooting spit balls using the barrel of a BIC pen back in 5th grade would have gotten me in big trouble now.

Imagine the carnage!

That plastic pen barrel was far more accurate than the old SixFinger. You could dot the "i" of whatever word your teacher had written on the blackboard (remember those?) from a good ten paces and then quickly reinsert the ink and tip back into the pen before anybody could turn around and identify the shooter.

Now that kids can't play with imaginary weapons, I guess they will have to find something else to play with.

I wonder if they now have the need to play with real guns, and to shoot real people with real bullets.

Such might be the unintended consequences of the elimination of imagination on the playground.

Or am I just firing blanks?

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Who Says Thou Shalt Not Rebuke?

Not St. Paul in his charge to Timothy which was our Epistle reading for today (2 Timothy 3:14, 4:1-5). I went back and believe that we could have benefited from a more extended selection. As I watch the Episcopal church continue its love affair with apostasy and the continual loss of conservative voices in our diocese, I thought that this is one of those times in the life of the Church when "people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own likings, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander into myths." I was reassured by St. Paul who reminds us to continue to preach the Gospel at all times, to convince, rebuke, and exhort, and to be unfailing in patience and in teaching.
 Now you have observed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness, my persecutions, my sufferings, what befell me at Antioch, at Ico′nium, and at Lystra, what persecutions I endured; yet from them all the Lord rescued me. Indeed all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil men and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceivers and deceived. But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings which are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All scripture is inspired by God and[a] profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. 2 Timothy 3:10-17
 I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word, be urgent in season and out of season, convince, rebuke, and exhort, be unfailing in patience and in teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own likings, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander into myths. As for you, always be steady, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfil your ministry. 2 Timothy 4:1-8

The false teachings will pass and the Word will remain, and until that time we shall rebuke and exhort no matter what anguish our false teachers might attribute to what they perceive to be harsh words.  

Friday, October 18, 2013

For St. Luke

Today is the day on our calendar that we honor St. Luke. I have a special fondness for Luke's Gospel. I spent a little time at the Catholic Encyclopedia web page this morning and found the following,

"St. Luke its always represented by the calf or ox, the sacrificial animal, because his Gospel begins with the account of Zachary, the priest, the father of John the Baptist. He is called a painter by Nicephorus Callistus (fourteenth century), and by the Menology of Basil II, A.D. 980. A picture of the Virgin in S. Maria Maggiore, Rome, is ascribed to him, and can be traced to A.D. 847 It is probably a copy of that mentioned by Theodore Lector, in the sixth century. This writer states that the Empress Eudoxia found a picture of the Mother of God at Jerusalem, which she sent to Constantinople (see 'Acta SS.', 18 Oct.). As Plummer observes. it is certain that St. Luke was an artist, at least to the extent that his graphic descriptions of the Annunciation, Visitation, Nativity, Shepherds. Presentation, the Shepherd and lost sheep, etc., have become the inspiring and favourite themes of Christian painters.
St. Luke is one of the most extensive writers of the New Testament. His Gospel is considerably longer than St. Matthew's, his two books are about as long as St. Paul's fourteen Epistles: and Acts exceeds in length the Seven Catholic Epistles and the Apocalypse. The style of the Gospel is superior to any N.T. writing except Hebrews. Renan says (Les Evangiles, xiii) that it is the most literary of the Gospels. St. Luke is a painter in words. 'The author of the Third Gospel and of the Acts is the most versatile of all New Testament writers. He can be as Hebraistic as the Septuagint, and as free from Hebraisms as Plutarch. . . He is Hebraistic in describing Hebrew society and Greek when describing Greek society' (Plummer, introd.). His great command of Greek is shown by the richness of his vocabulary and the freedom of his constructions."
The lectionary pages offer the following prayer,
"Almighty God, who didst inspire thy servant Luke the physician to set forth in the Gospel the love and healing power of thy Son: Graciously continue in thy Church the like love and power to heal, to the praise and glory of thy Name; through the same thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever."
Let me add my special thanks for the orderly witness of St. Luke and what his work has meant to me.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

"What We Shall Become: The Future and Structure of the Episcopal Church" C'MON MAN!

Would you buy Lane Kiffin's Winning Playbook?


That's exactly what I thought when I saw the Episcopal church's newest publication, "What We Shall Become: The Future and Structure of the Episcopal Church” edited by Winnie Varghese+ (who I mentioned in an earlier post) and who has accepted as contributors the likes of,
They have assembled a veritable who's who team of TEc insiders for this book. Who better to shape the next season of the church than those who have done such a bang up job in the past? 
Episcopal church decline in ASA over 10 years
What a playbook for success! C'MON MAN!

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Nine Times Out of Ten

Today's Gospel reading was Luke 17:11-19 and the story of the ten lepers,

"On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, they called out, saying, ‘Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!’ When he saw them, he said to them, ‘Go and show yourselves to the priests.’ And as they went, they were made clean. Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. Then Jesus asked, ‘Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?’ Then he said to him, ‘Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.’"

Our sermon today had thankfulness as its theme and avoided the issue of the nine who kept on going on their way to the priests.

I have always thought that the nine represented the 90% of us who are quick to accept God's blessing but are slow to thank Him.

I found some additional commentary at that you might find helpful and which applies to my last post on the "one stream" issue,

There is one other lesson in the exchange between Jesus and the Samaritan man. God's grace, even though it is extended to all, does not mean that all gain salvation. God blesses humanity in a general way, but only the responsive who appreciate what he has done in Christ receive his full blessing and acceptance. Among the ten former lepers, only the Samaritan hears the comforting words "Your faith has made you well." His gratitude has revealed his faith. Jesus commends him for his response and assures him that the appreciation he expressed is also appreciated.

When one surveys the Scripture to see what we are called to be grateful for, an interesting point emerges. Often biblical texts simply call on us to thank God. No specific reason is cited. It is a "fill in the blank" exercise, an exercise in reflection on how God has been good recently. The perspective seems to be: Look for the sun; do not dwell on the clouds. Don't focus on events or things, but on people and on God. Perhaps if we responded to God and other people in this way, life would be brighter. A typical passage is 1 Chronicles 29:10-13, in which God is to be thanked for his presence and availability. But if we live apart from God, who is there to thank? The pursuit of things, status or power ultimately is a lonely existence.

"A perusal of the Word provides a full list of large reasons to be grateful. God is thanked for his deliverance (Ps 35:18), for loving us and being faithful (Ps 52:9; 107:8), for hearing our cry (Ps 118:21), for safe arrival after a long, arduous journey (Acts 28:15), for other believers and for the testimony of their faith (Rom 1:8), for the gift of salvation that enables one not to sin (Rom 6:17), for delivering us from our tendency to sin (Rom 7:25), for the spiritual gift of being able to address God (1 Cor 14:18), for resurrection hope (1 Cor 15:57), for testimony, deliverance and victory in the midst of persecution (2 Cor 2:14), for the support of a colleague in ministry (2 Cor 8:16), for other believers (Phil 1:3; Col 1:3; 2 Tim 1:3; Philem 4), for those who respond to God's Word (1 Thess 2:13), for being able to serve others for God (1 Tim 1:12) and for his attributes (Rev 4:9). Those are just some of the options for thanksgiving.
Notice that this list includes not one item having to do with things, with possessions. The occasions for gratitude all have to do with relationships or circumstances in relationship to others. Colossians 3:15 says to "be thankful." That is what the foreigner was. That is what disciples are to be. Remember thank-yous, especially to our good, gracious and great God--and let the sun shine in."

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

“There is no other stream”

How many times have you heard the expression, "All streams flow to the same ocean" when someone is trying to support the popular idea that all religions lead to God? I hear it all the time, and in fact I think our own Presiding Bishop might agree with that expression. When I get into it with people over this idea, I invariably fail to communicate the uniqueness of Christ in a way that swings the pendulum in Christ's favor. In the usual course of events, I am the one who winds up being labeled as closed minded or worse. These days, in order to be seen as someone who desires to get along or coexist with those who deny the uniqueness of Christ, you better not disagree with them in writing or out loud. For if you do, your opponents will shout "COEXIST!" and slap one of their bumper stickers on your car. It seems that "coexist" has come to mean "don't contradict", and isn't that what conservative parishes in our diocese are being asked to do as Bishop Waldo moves the same-sex blessing ball forward, to peacefully coexist despite our different belief systems?

In the case of the Diocese of Upper South Carolina, we will be expected to live and let live by not openly disagreeing with our neighboring parishes. What is hoped to be created will be a pluralistic diocese in which the church which performs same sex blessings and the church that refuses to perform them will both be considered to be headed to the same ocean.

Can such a pluralistic church effectively evangelize the Gospel? What happens when a newcomer is presented with two alternative streams from the get-go? One stream clearly emanates from revisionist waters, and the effluent of revisionist teaching is slowly but effectively poisonous. The other stream carries the living water flowing from the Word of God. Those waters just don't mix well. When I try to explain this duality to a non-Episcopalian, my listener winds up shaking his head and walking away. Most people believe that different religions should peacefully coexist even if one or the other is headed in a totally wrong direction, but they recognize that different doctrines cannot coexist within a given denomination without there being serious problems down the road.

When those of us who oppose same sex blessings being performed by the Church speak out that the path chosen by our bishop is a departure from our one and only source of living water, those offended by our opinions will quickly paint us as mean and hateful people who do not want to coexist (which is another way of saying that they themselves are perfectly willing to coexist with anyone except those who are opposed to their worldview).

I won't let it get me down, and my brain keeps working on ideas to change the picture of church conservatives into something more attractive.

Why can't we come up with a bumper sticker as effective as these have been?

One idea I had was "There is only one stream" with John 14:6 referenced.

But that would probably get your car rammed into by someone with a COEXIST sticker on their bumper.

I need to come up with something more positive. How about, "His Way is The Way"?

Bumper stickers are probably not the best way of getting a message across, but they do point to a greater narrative or story. The use of story is a time tested way of communicating essential truths. These days, it may seem that the hardest part in telling a story is to get people to listen, but people still have the potential to be receptive to new stories. After all, they must have listened to and heard the pluralistic message at some point in order to have accepted it as truth. Are there are stories out there that communicate the elements of the Gospel that contradict pluralism in a way that turns people on instead of turning them off?

In C.S. Lewis' book "The Silver Chair", Jill, who is very thirsty, encounters the Great Lion, Aslan, who is between her and a stream of water.
“Are you not thirsty?” said the Lion.
“I’m dying of thirst,” said Jill
“Then drink,” said the Lion.
“May I—could I—would you mind going away while I do?” said Jill.
The Lion answered this only by a look and a very low growl. And as Jill gazed at its motionless bulk, she realized that she might as well have asked the whole mountain to move aside for her convenience. The delicious rippling noise of the stream was driving her nearly frantic.
“Will you promise not to—do anything to me, if I do come?” said Jill.
“I make no promise,” said the Lion.
“Do you eat girls?” she said.
“I have swallowed up girls and boys, women and men, kings and emperors, cities and realms,” said the Lion. It didn’t say this as if it were boasting, nor as if it were sorry, nor as if it were angry. It just said it.
“I daren’t come and drink,” said Jill.
“Then you will die of thirst,” said the Lion.
“Oh dear!” said Jill, coming another step nearer. “I suppose I must go and look for another stream then.”
“There is no other stream,” said the Lion.

h/t C.S. Lewis Society, Reflections August 2010—Communicating Truth Through Story

Lewis has Aslan the Lion (note the capital "L", the Christ figure in Narnia, communicate the message many today need to hear, “There is no other stream,” and that to look for any other one will only lead to death. Yes, Aslan's stream is frightening to approach, and we fear that we may die if we try to drink from it, but there is no other way.

Many see the pluralistic message that all rivers lead to the same ocean as the best way of peaceful coexistence in this troubled world/diocese, but should we agree when the message that the world/diocese sends us contradicts the message of Christ as found in the Gospel?    

Do we dare to contradict the world?

From Acts of the Apostasy
"There is one divine remedy, and only one. It is no mixture. Receive ye it and live—'With His stripes we are healed.' No sprinkling can wash out sin, no confirmation can confer grace, no masses can propitiate God.
Your hope must be in Jesus, Jesus smitten, Jesus bruised, Jesus slain, Jesus the Substitute for sinners. Whosoever believes in Him is healed, but all other hopes are a lie from top to bottom...
Oh, for a trumpet to sound this through every town of England! Through every city of Europe! Oh, to preach this in the Colosseum! Or better still from the pulpit of St. Peter’s!—'With His stripes we are healed.'
Away, away ye deceivers, with your mixtures and compounds. Away ye proud sons of men with your boastings of what ye feel, and think, and do, and what ye intend and vow. 'With His stripes we are healed.'
A crucified Saviour is the sole and only hope of a sinful world."
--Charles H. Spurgeon, "A Simple Remedy," in The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit Sermons, Vol. XVIII (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1872), 491.