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.