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?