Sunday, March 30, 2014

The Lectionary Turns a Blind Eye to the Morality in Ephesians 5

This Sunday's Epistle reading, Ephesians 5:8-14,  was passed over by our preacher today (Bishop Andrew Waldo), and I suspect it got the short shrift from many a pulpit throughout the Church as folks tend to get a bit of tunnel vision when faced with preparing a homily based on the story of Jesus healing the blind man from the rather lengthy Gospel selection for today,  John 9:1-41.

One of the reasons for our blindness to the letter to the Ephesians is that the Sunday church crowd is presented with a partial picture of Paul's message. It is what was unseen that I found myself reviewing today.

Here is the text that was read today,
"For once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light— for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true. Try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to mention what such people do secretly; but everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for everything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says,
‘Sleeper, awake! Rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.’" 
Ephesians 5:8-14
Expose "the unfruitful works of darkness"... hmmm.

How can we know what those might be? Maybe we should read what precedes and what follows this fragment of Ephesians.
"But fornication and impurity of any kind, or greed, must not even be mentioned among you, as is proper among saints. Entirely out of place is obscene, silly, and vulgar talk; but instead, let there be thanksgiving. Be sure of this, that no fornicator or impure person, or one who is greedy (that is, an idolater), has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God." "Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes on those who are disobedient. Therefore do not be associated with them." (verses 3-7)
"Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise, making the most of the time, because the days are evil. So do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery; but be filled with the Spirit," (verses 15-18)
Why are we blind to these evil things? It can't just be that the modern church doesn't like to talk about them. Is it that we have been led to believe that we have already been brought into the light, and those shameful things are no longer present? Isn't the denial of sin just another form of blindness?

One characteristic of the new eyes which our Lord has blessed us with is that we are able to see beyond the limitations of our lectionary. We are now keen to see that there is more to the story than the picture that gets painted each Sunday morning by the artists in charge of the church service.  

Open the Bible today, and let the light pour in.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

The Death of Truth

"Pilate said to Him, 'What is truth?' And when he had said this, he went out again to the Jews, and said to them, 'I find no fault in Him at all.'" John 18:38
Several blog posts recently highlighted the all pervasive notion that there is no "Truth" that anyone can ever hope to grasp, and reminded me that for most people today, "my truth" is just as good as "your truth." One consequence of this philosophy is that its corollary is often assumed to be just as acceptable. When "your truth" is just as good as "my truth", I become subject to following whatever proposition I cannot totally reject out of hand. The error of Pilate, which was to initially find no fault in Jesus but to later accept the crowd's finding of fault as sufficient justification for legal condemnation, might also be explained by this philosophy. While we see some of this same error playing out in legal cases today (the accuracy of eye-witness testimony to the truth is increasingly called into question), the larger problem occurs in the public arena before issues become cases for the courts. For example, our society gets tangled up in all kinds of problems and issues such as same sex marriage in part because people try to pull moral judgments out of the vacuum of moral relativism in which we live. The consequence of that for many bloggers is as Bill Muehlenberg points out,
"If there are no objective moral absolutes, then to make a moral judgment is seen as the height of intolerance and bigotry."
The problem runs deeper than the periodic moral dilemma of the day. It strikes at the core of our belief in God, in Jesus, and in the Apostolic witness. How can modern Christians proclaim the truth of the Gospel to a world that is hostile to the idea of "Absolute Truth"? To the world, "Gospel Truth" = "Intolerance and bigotry," and as such, the deeper meaning of truth must be eliminated from the minds of men.

Turn next to the philosophers who have been doing their best in the war on truth. The following was posted by Kendall Harmon on March 3, 2014 at T19,
If you study any philosophical treatise of our present era you will with almost absolute certainty not encounter the concept, and much less the expression, “the truth of all things.” This is no mere accident. The generally prevailing philosophical thinking of our time has no room at all for this concept; it is, as it were, “not provided for.” It makes sense to speak of truth with regard to thoughts, ideas, statements, opinions—but not with regard to things. Our judgments regarding reality may be true (or false); but to label as “true” reality itself, the “things,” appears to be rather meaningless, mere nonsense. Things are real, not “true”!  
Looking at the historical development of this situation, we find that there is much more to it than the simple fact of a certain concept or expression not being used; we find not merely the “neutral” absence, as it were, of a certain way of thinking. No, the nonuse and absence of the concept, “the truth of all things,” is rather the result of a long process of biased discrimination and suppression or, to use a less aggressive term: of elimination.
--Josef Pieper: An Anthology (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1989 E.T. of the 1981 original), pp. 95-96
I posted the following comment at T19,
"I guess any meaning one might give to Philippians 4:8 has been 'eliminated'.
'Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things.'
C.S. Lewis would probably classify the elimination of the concept of "the truth of all things" under what he called 'the death of words.'"
If there is no truth, nothing pure, then nothing is praiseworthy, and there is nothing upon which to meditate.

Let me expand on that comment by quoting Lewis,
"But the most important sense of a word is not always the most useful. What is the good of deepening a word's connotation if you deprive the word of all practicable denotation? Words, as well as women, can be 'killed with kindness'. And when, however reverently, you have killed a word you have also, as far as in you lay, blotted from the human mind the thing that word originally stood for. Men do not long continue to think what they have forgotten to say."

C.S. Lewis, "The Death of Words" From (C.S. Lewis On Stories, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich 1982, p. 107)
And all of this may lead to why mankind appears to not spend much time thinking about this,
"Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me." John 14:6

Sunday, March 23, 2014

When Someone Who Does Not Believe in Traditional Marriage Encounters Jesus

Today's lesson (John 4:5-42) of Jesus' encounter with the Samaritan woman at Jacob's well is usually cast by modern preachers as a beautiful example of radical hospitality. I find that rather curious since there are some aspects of the story that feminists and revisionists alike should find troublesome.

Let's look at the story as if it happened today,

Jesus: "Give me a drink."
Modern woman: "Get your own d*@! water."
Jesus: "Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life."
Modern woman: "So now my water is not good enough for you."
Jesus: "You have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband."
Modern woman: "What I do in the privacy of my bedroom is my own business. Besides, this is the twenty first century if you haven't noticed, and I can sleep with as many men as I want to."
Jesus: "Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem."
Modern woman: "Enough with the masculine imagery for God already. Jeez Louise, haven't you ever heard of God the Mother?"
Modern woman: "Oh, and don't try that line on me that you are God's gift to women."
Jesus: "I am he."
And perhaps the most potentially irritating part of the story,
People: "It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves."
Modern woman: " I am sick and tired of being treated as a second class citizen around here. People still think of me as just another pretty face when I am a serious news reporter!"
All joking aside, Jesus' encounter with the woman and the men of the Samaritan city is an important reminder that the Gospel is to be spread to those who do not believe in God, and to even target those who are happily settled into a life of sexual immorality. The Gospel has the power to change us both as individuals and as a society by first exposing our sinfulness, and then by offering us that living water by which we may be cleansed of our sins.

That would present an offer of "radical change" and not "radical hospitality" to someone who does not believe in traditional marriage.

Maybe we should discuss same sex marriage, bisexual relationships, polyamory, polygamy, and adultery all in the context of how belief in Jesus leads people to leave what they are doing and to come and learn at His feet, and how by studying His word as passed on to us by the Apostles, we will find that we are called to love Him as well as to follow His commandments, and that just might require us to change, or to sacrifice something that we feel is very important.

Give it up people! 

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Do Equinox Celebrations and Lent Mix?

At St. Brigit's Episcopal church in Frederick, Colorado they are trying to mix a "Celtic" equinox celebration with Lent. From their web page,
Consider joining us for our first annual "Vernal Equinox" service on March 20, 2014 at 6:00 p.m. Please join us for a special evening of as we celebrate the return of Spring! Our service will include prayer, live Celtic music and meditation in sacred spaces uniquely created for this event. Feel free to come early to walk our outdoor labyrinth before the service begins, weather permitting. Older children are welcome. Childcare for children under age five will be provided. Click for details!
Ce'ad Mile Fa'ilte Romhaibh! (100,000 Welcomes, traditional Celtic greeting for guests arriving at one's home)
 The local news provides a few more details,
"St. Brigit will host its first spring equinox celebration, Ait Caol, at 6 p.m. Thursday — one of four services planned this year around the changing seasons."
I had to search for "Ait Caol" and I found "Caol Áit" that means,
"thin places" in the world, where connections are made and amazing flows occur. These are known in all cultures, but seldom discussed because we know so little. In some places the feeling is closer to the people, and the experiences more real, so that stories are told today, and visions are still present. The Gaelic name for the thin places is CAOL ÁIT*, and this is a living and natural part of life. The Gaelic expression was given to me by my friend Sean O'laire, who walks through the curtains, and brings back to us tales that we want and need to hear.
Amusingly, the Coal Ait page near the end questions,
"Are we beginning to see thin places in consciousness?" 
 Back to the local news piece to get an answer to that one,
The service, which is open to the public, will incorporate Celtic traditions in honor of its eponym St. Brigit, said project manager C.J. Joplin-Jack.
"We have a unique connection with Celtic Christianity that sets us apart from other Episcopal churches," Joplin-Jack said. "The Celts lived close to the land and had a strong connection to nature that we'll be celebrating with these services."
Joplin-Jack said she hopes the quarterly services will attract members of the community who have not attended or don't know much about St. Brigit.
Oh yeah, these equinox observances just rake em in. I remember what happened to one former Upper South Carolina rector's church after a few years of this nonsense. There is a reason why he is a former rector. 

So what does the rector of St. Brigit's have to say about all this?
 "We honor and value questions as an exploration of faith," said Rev. Felicia SmithGraybeal. "We're hoping this service encourages our parishioners to ask questions and explore their faith."
Preparing for a celebration of spring in the midst of Lent, which is a more solemn time, was a challenging task, SmithGraybeal said.
Thursday's service will act as a break from the somberness of Lent in preparation for upcoming Easter services...


I guess if any of you go to this celebration and get bored, you can always walk their labyrinth,

"There is no set way to walk a labyrinth. Every one can walk it in the way that has meaning for them.
Labyrinths have been used for thousands of years to help people forget the hassles of their everyday lives and draw closer to God." (From St. Brigit's web page)
In my opinion, this is all a bunch of hocus pocus neo-paganism which somebody has passed off to gullible clergy as a means to connect the Church to the people.

St. Paul would tell us to have nothing to do with such shenanigans,
"Ye observe days, and months, and times, and years. I am afraid of you, lest I have bestowed upon you labour in vain." Galatians 4:10-11 (KJV).
Neither should we.

And the answer to the question, "Do Equinox celebrations and Lent mix?" is a resounding "No!"

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Nathan, the Kinder, Gentler Version Presents a Kinder, Gentler God... According to the Lectionary Editors

Oh God, who from the family of your servant David raised up Joseph to be the guardian of your incarnate Son and the spouse of his virgin mother: Give us grace to imitate his uprightness of life and his obedience to your commands; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Today is St. Joseph's Day, and I think the story of Joseph's submission to God's will by listening to angels and dreams is something that is not currently in fashion. The assigned (Eucharistic) Old Testament reading of 2 Samuel 7:4,8-16  carries on in the tradition of silencing the voice of God's will by the means of Lectionary edits whereby a new teaching is heard by the pewsitters, most of whom will never be aware of the subliminal effects these changes are having on their theological foundations.

Study the lesson as heard today in many services,

But that same night the word of the Lord came to Nathan:  Now therefore thus you shall say to my servant David: Thus says the Lord of hosts: I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep to be prince over my people Israel;  and I have been with you wherever you went, and have cut off all your enemies from before you; and I will make for you a great name, like the name of the great ones of the earth.  And I will appoint a place for my people Israel and will plant them, so that they may live in their own place, and be disturbed no more; and evildoers shall afflict them no more, as formerly, from the time that I appointed judges over my people Israel; and I will give you rest from all your enemies. Moreover, the Lord declares to you that the Lord will make you a house. When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come forth from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom for ever. I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me. When he commits iniquity, I will punish him with a rod such as mortals use, with blows inflicted by human beings. But I will not take my steadfast love from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away from before you. Your house and your kingdom shall be made sure for ever before me;* (before you) your throne shall be established for ever.
 David is going to be pleased to hear that, even if it means that his offspring may get smacked around a few times for being naughty.

But is that really what Nathan was instructed to tell David, and why did God send Nathan to the king in the first place?

To answer those questions, we need to fill in the missing verses (1-3 and 5-7) which I will highlight in red. Read the whole thing once again,

Now when the king was settled in his house, and the Lord had given him rest from all his enemies around him, the king said to the prophet Nathan, ‘See now, I am living in a house of cedar, but the ark of God stays in a tent.’ Nathan said to the king, ‘Go, do all that you have in mind; for the Lord is with you.’But that same night the word of the Lord came to Nathan: Go and tell my servant David: Thus says the Lord: Are you the one to build me a house to live in? I have not lived in a house since the day I brought up the people of Israel from Egypt to this day, but I have been moving about in a tent and a tabernacle. Wherever I have moved about among all the people of Israel, did I ever speak a word with any of the tribal leaders* of Israel, whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, saying, ‘Why have you not built me a house of cedar?’ Now therefore thus you shall say to my servant David: Thus says the Lord of hosts: I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep to be prince over my people Israel; and I have been with you wherever you went, and have cut off all your enemies from before you; and I will make for you a great name, like the name of the great ones of the earth. And I will appoint a place for my people Israel and will plant them, so that they may live in their own place, and be disturbed no more; and evildoers shall afflict them no more, as formerly, from the time that I appointed judges over my people Israel; and I will give you rest from all your enemies. Moreover, the Lord declares to you that the Lord will make you a house. When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come forth from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom for ever. I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me. When he commits iniquity, I will punish him with a rod such as mortals use, with blows inflicted by human beings. But I will not take my steadfast love from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away from before you. Your house and your kingdom shall be made sure for ever before me;* your throne shall be established for ever.
Uh oh, the King is not going to be happy to hear that. What a difference a few verses make. Thanks to the red line verses we see that David takes it upon himself to build a permanent structure to house the ark without God's instruction, and Nathan is also erring by giving David approval to "do all that you have in mind."

Many Old Testament lessons teach us what happens to individuals and to the people when they act according to their own counsel and set themselves up as agents independent of God.

This may not be the worst mistake that David will make in his life (1 Chronicles 21), but it highlights the problem of the misuse of free will. Despite this, God loved David, and so He sternly corrects him.

The way today's reading was cut and pasted back together presents a misleadingly soft version of God's loving kindness.

The power of the Old Testament prophetic voice to deliver to a ruler a stern rebuke from God is also undermined by these edits. Yes, even the prophets need correction form time to time, but as presented today, Nathan is a flawless seer.

The subliminal message to the pewsitters, "Carry on as you are doing. You are God's chosen poeple. God only delivers "nice" messages. All will be well."

It is a dangerous path to travel when one walks without God's rod and staff as a guide.

Thank the Lord that St. Joseph listened to the voice of God and did not take his counsel from our modern day lectionary editors.  I can only imagine hearing something like this in the future... 
Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: After His mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Spirit. Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not wanting to make her a public example, was minded to put her away secretly. But while he thought about these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.”
So all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying: “Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which is translated, “God with us.”
Then Joseph, being aroused from sleep, did as the angel of the Lord commanded him and took to him his wife,  Matthew 1:18, 22-23
I hope that never happens, but I suppose it is possible.

To put it simply, we should pray and listen for God's response and stop relying on ourselves so much. God has already communicated a great deal to us through Holy Scripture. What are we telling God when we decide that we can live without parts of his fabulous gift?
Therefore we must give the more earnest heed to the things we have heard, lest we drift away. For if the word spoken through angels proved steadfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just reward, how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation, which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed to us by those who heard Him, God also bearing witness both with signs and wonders, with various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit, according to His own will? Hebrews 2:1-4 NKJV

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Cut Out All the Talk About Circumcision Please!

I am re-posting this one which I composed 3 years ago with only a few changes. The Lectionary cycle is such that the same lessons get read every three years and problematic lectionary edits get yet another opportunity to deprive the congregation of important bits and pieces of God's word.

In 2011 the sermon was delivered by our Deacon who did a good job with the story of Nicodemus and the "born again" question in John 3:1-17. Not bad for someone coming back from major surgery. I still wonder if many have their foundation firmly established enough so that when asked, "Have you been born again, and are you saved?" they can proclaim in the affirmative, "Yes I have been born again, and Christ is my Saviour!" I suspect our Deacon is correct in saying that many Episcopalians tend to want to run when the subject comes up.

The saving grace of our Lord is a gift from above that is recognized by those being reborn. It is such a wonderful gift that people have to pass it on, even to strangers on the street.

The lectionary editors, in their wisdom, excised part of the gift today when the service called for the reading of Romans 4:1-5,13-17.
What then are we to say was gained by Abraham, our ancestor according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the scripture say? ‘Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.’ Now to one who works, wages are not reckoned as a gift but as something due. But to one who without works trusts him who justifies the ungodly, such faith is reckoned as righteousness.
*cut verses go here*
For the promise that he would inherit the world did not come to Abraham or to his descendants through the law but through the righteousness of faith. If it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. For the law brings wrath; but where there is no law, neither is there violation.
For this reason it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his descendants, not only to the adherents of the law but also to those who share the faith of Abraham (for he is the father of all of us, as it is written, ‘I have made you the father of many nations’)—in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist.
Paul's reasoning is undermined by excising all the talk about circumcision in verses 6-12,
So also David speaks of the blessedness of those to whom God reckons righteousness irrespective of works:
‘Blessed are those whose iniquities are forgiven,
and whose sins are covered;
blessed is the one against whom the Lord will not reckon sin.’
Is this blessedness, then, pronounced only on the circumcised, or also on the uncircumcised? We say, ‘Faith was reckoned to Abraham as righteousness.’ How then was it reckoned to him? Was it before or after he had been circumcised? It was not after, but before he was circumcised. He received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. The purpose was to make him the ancestor of all who believe without being circumcised and who thus have righteousness reckoned to them, and likewise the ancestor of the circumcised who are not only circumcised but who also follow the example of the faith that our ancestor Abraham had before he was circumcised.
When Paul is speaking about "the law" in this chapter he is in large part alluding to the question of whether or not one had to be circumcised to be one of the brethren. Cutting this section out results in pulling Romans 4 out of its context.

And I thought revisionists were usually guilty of trying to put Paul into a context, that of a misogynistic first century male, so as to minimize the importance of his letters and their contents.

The letter to the Romans is hard enough to follow without modern day redactors messing with it by trying to protect our virgin ears on Sunday morning by cutting away the unpleasant bits.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

The Church Must Adapt or Die? Adapt and Die Might Be More Like It

How many times have you heard someone say, "The Church must adapt or die"? I heard it the other day from a member of another denomination, and he was echoed by NBC's David Gregory in a recent interview with Roman Catholic Cardinal Timothy Dolan on "Meet the Press."

"GREGORY: On the issue of same-sex marriage, you said the last time we spoke that you felt the church was being out-marketed. Do you feel that it is-- that views are changing so rapidly that church is going to-- is going to feel the power of that change, it must change if it's going to-- to keep people seeking god through the church?" (From NewsBusters)

  The underlying and often repeated message people hear from society and the media, as expressed by David Gregory, is that the Church had better follow the direction in which society is moving or else. If society is approving of abortion, then the Church must accept abortion or the Church will die. If society is approving of easy divorce and remarriage, then the Church should change its teachings or the Church will die. If society is approving of same-sex marriage, then the Church should bless those marriages as well or the Church will die. Does anyone remember the hue and cry for the ordination of women and how it must happen or "the Church will die"?

Some believe that the reason for the decline of the main-line protestant denominations is that they have failed to adapt to a changing world.

Speaking from the standpoint of someone who has spent a lifetime in a denomination that has for the past 40 years been adapting again and again as it encounters new issues, I would say that "Adapt and die" is what actually happens.

Exhibit A:

There are lesser adaptations than the ones cited above such as "contemporary worship" services, or tambourines both of which should probably be classified as "non-life threatening" mutations that, since they do not confer a survival advantage, are likely to fade away as would any temporary fad or fashion.

Language changes and worldviews change over time, and this will demand different styles and methods of communicating the unchanging Gospel to a changing world. Apologetics must respond to new challenges, but the underlying Gospel must remain something that the human must adapt to and not vice versa.

Exhibit B:
"For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each one’s work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one’s work, of what sort it is. If anyone’s work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.
Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?  If anyone defiles the temple of God, God will destroy him. For the temple of God is holy, which temple you are."
1 Corinthians 3:11-17 (New King James Version)
There is one form of adaptation that most people fail to think of when they say that the Church must adapt or die, and that is the method historically used by humans when they must adapt to a new environment, and when their bodies will not immediately sprout thick fur or spontaneously grow webbed feet: migration. If the land dries out, they shake the dust from their feet. If the ice sheets advance, people advance a little quicker, and if the land sinks, they sail to new shores. These movements, like changing means of communication are expressly not adaptations that change the basic design of the human.

So maybe the Church should respond in the following manner to those of us who would rather have the Church conform to our personal desires than for us to conform to Jesus' sometimes challenging desires for mankind,
"And whoever will not receive you, when you go out of that city, shake off the very dust from your feet as a testimony against them.” Luke 9:5
Kudos to Cardinal Dolan for going on "Meet the Press" to try to set the news media straight, but it is starting to look like Luke 9:5 time.

Let us pray that the Church will start being welcomed and received in our hearts for what it is and not rejected for what it is not.

When we apply the rule that it is people who have to adapt to the Church by accepting the life changing gift of Christ rather than the Church adapting to society's way, a way which leads to sin and death, then perhaps there does come a time when the Church has to shake the dust from its feet when someone or an entire culture refuses the free gift of God. Thinking in larger terms, perhaps society itself tends to evolve to the point where it will inevitably shut the door on the Gospel. Once we recognize that is happening, then that is the time in which the true otherworldliness of the Church becomes apparent, and the time that the world needs that otherworldliness the most. The Church's mission then returns to its roots: to spread this unbelievable and unacceptable truth to which we are witness and not to be a mere reflection of a dying world... or else,

Exhibit C:
"Take any church on earth, the most renowned for wisdom, the most famous for age, the most apostolic in her government; and we are bold to tell you if that church is unfaithful to the Bridegroom Christ Jesus, if she does not hold forth the light of the pure gospel, if she leaves her first love, if she allows false prophets to teach and seduce, if she becomes lukewarm, and says "I am rich and increased with goods," if she rests content with having a name to live while she is dead, and plumes herself on keeping hold of the truth while she does not witness to it—we are bold to tell you, however long God's mercy may spare her, her candlestick shall sooner or later be removed, for we know this fearful threat has been over and over again made good." ~ J.C. Ryle Tract: The Unchanging Christ

Sunday, March 09, 2014

Your Labyrinth Won't Get You Into Heaven Anymore

I am filling in for my friend the Undergroundpewster who had a dizzy spell today. Before spinning out, UGP asked my opinion on the following announcement in the parish newsletter,  

March 9 
"The Labyrinth will be set up in the Parish Hall during both coffee hours. Everyone is invited to walk the Labyrinth and experience a quiet time of prayer and resolve...  The Labyrinth is an archetype, a divine imprint, found in all religious traditions in various forms around the world. It has only one path, so there are no tricks to it and no dead ends. The path winds around and doubles back on itself, becoming a mirror for where we are in our lives, a metaphor for our spiritual journey; it touches our sorrows and releases our joys. The pathway in and the pathway out are the same; only the pilgrim has changed in the process."

That has Lent written all over it. I can hardly wait to see what the second week in Lent has in store for the poor pewster.

Feeling inspired, I composed a little song based loosely on something John Prine once wrote. I call it, "Your Labyrinth Won't Get You Into Heaven Anymore."

While pickin up the Sunday bulletin
As I walked in the church door,
A little card with a spiral on the front
Fell out on the floor.
Well, I picked it up, and I ran inside
Sat right down on my pew,
And I can't wait to pass the peace
To tell folks what to do.

But your labyrinth won't get you
Into Heaven anymore.
All that spiraling inward
Won't open Heaven's door.
Keep your eyes on Jesus,
And off those patterns on the floor.
No your labyrinth won't get you
Into Heaven anymore.

Well, I went to the church this morning,
And the priestess said to me,
If you pay your Episcopal pledge,
We'll let you run around the labyrinth for free.
Well I didn't mess around one bit,
I took her up on what she said.
And I went into the parish hall
With a blessing on my forehead.

But your labyrinth won't get you
Into Heaven anymore.
All that spiraling inward
Won't open Heaven's door.
Keep your eyes on Jesus,
And off those patterns on the floor.
No your labyrinth won't get you
Into Heaven anymore.

Well, I went round and round that thing
So many times I couldn't see.
I went into a seizure,
That the folks thought was ecstasy.
I lost control and fell down hard
Right onto my head.
By the time they got the priestess down
I was already dead
And I'll never understand
Why the man
Standing at the pearly gates said,

But your labyrinth won't get you
Into Heaven anymore.
All that spiraling inward
Won't open Heaven's door.
Keep your eyes on Jesus,
And off those patterns on the floor.
No your labyrinth won't get you
Into Heaven anymore.

Thanks John!

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

TEc's Carbon Fast and Fasting Lite

While searching for helpful resources for Lent, I got off track and wound up with some unhelpful ones such as the following gem from TEc's friends at the United Church of Christ that I found thanks to the helpful link the Episcopal church Lenten resources web page provided,
Ecumenical Lenten Carbon Fast 
"An invitation to you AND to your congregation: 
Please Join Us in a Lenten Fast . . . From Carbon
Make this your Congregation’s Lenten discipline!"
"One of the smartest things I've done in my 85 years."
 "My electric bill dropped $78 monthly on average."
"2014 will be the fourth year we have provided a day-by-day opportunity to fast from carbon as a Lenten discipline. Initiated by the UCC and endorsed by other denominations and faith groups, people of every Christian perspective – and people who are not Christians – have benefitted from this opportunity to become more conscious and conscientious in their daily lives...
...We invite you to join us as we commit to fasting from carbon during Lent. Beginning Ash Wednesday and throughout Lent, participants will receive a daily email with the day's suggested carbon-reducing activity. Many will also suggest ways to engage others. Each daily email will also provide material that can be the basis for a weekly congregational conversation."
When the Episcopal church's House of Bishops penned "A Pastoral Teaching" in 2011, they did not exactly name it a "Carbon Fast", but they essentially called for the same thing by linking fasting to reducing one's carbon footprint. The letter is way too long to reproduce but may be found at this link.

The following additional Lenten resources were complied by the Mission Staff of the Episcopal Church.
- Seeking God’s Justice for All:  Exposing the Doctrine of Discovery Part Three: (Link to .pdf)

- Elder Abuse Awareness: (Link here)
I didn't find any of that very helpful, so I swam the web's Tiber and turned up what I shall call "Rome's Rules for Fasting",

The Rules for the Roman Catholic Church:
The Code of Canon Law prescribes (Canons 1250-1252):

Can. 1250: The penitential days and times in the universal Church are every Friday of the whole year and the season of Lent.
Can. 1251: Abstinence from meat, or from some other food as determined by the Episcopal Conference, is to be observed on all Fridays, unless a solemnity should fall on a Friday. Abstinence and fasting are to be observed on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.
Can. 1252: The law of abstinence binds those who have completed their fourteenth year. The law of fasting binds those who have attained their majority, until the beginning of their sixtieth year. Pastors of souls and parents are to ensure that even those who by reason of their age are not bound by the law of fasting and abstinence, are taught the true meaning of penance.
Growing up, my mother claimed that fish was not meat, so we were permitted to eat fish on Friday. From reading the canons above, it appears that as long as we were under 15 we could have eaten a whole cow and gotten away with it.

In the United States, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has declared that "the age of fasting is from the completion of the eighteenth year to the beginning of the sixtieth."

A great reason to look forward to that 60th birthday!

Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are obligatory days of fasting and abstinence for Catholics. In addition, Fridays during Lent are obligatory days of abstinence.
For members of the Latin Catholic Church, the norms on fasting are:
1) Obligatory from age 18 until age 59.
2) When fasting, a person is permitted to eat one full meal. Two smaller meals may also be taken, but not to equal a full meal.
3) The norms concerning abstinence from meat are binding upon members of the Latin Catholic Church from age 14 onwards (also from USCCB).
1.9 meal equivalents still sounds like plenty of carbon. And all this time I thought fasting was "to abstain from food".

Maybe I ought to stick to reliable sources like Sanctuary Red Quiver's Facebook page which is working on Lenten resources for traditionalists in South Carolina.

Sunday, March 02, 2014

The Aaronic Error is Alive and Well

(Please note that when I write "Aaronic Error" I am not referring to any error of Joseph Smith.)

One of the stories from Exodus came to mind as I thought about the "atomic heresy" mentioned by Bishop Selwyn back in 1854 (see previous post). The tale of Aaron giving into the Hebrews desire for gods and the creation of the golden calf is in some respects an example of the deterioration of an ordered system into a disordered one.
"For they said to me, ‘Make us gods that shall go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.’  And I said to them, ‘Whoever has any gold, let them break it off.’ So they gave it to me, and I cast it into the fire, and this calf came out.”  (Exodus 32:23-24)  
People have attempted to justify Aaron's actions by saying that he was buying time for Moses' return, or that he was frightened into casting the golden calf, but these have always sounded like poor excuses for someone who was left in charge and who would become the High Priest of the people.

So what was Aaron's error? Should he have stood firm and repeated the commandments?
“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.
“You shall have no other gods before Me.
“You shall not make for yourself a carved image—any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them nor serve them. For I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me,  but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments. (Exodus 20:2-6)
Should he have engaged the people in a facilitated conversation about the usefulness of idols in some individual's spiritual development?

Should he have asked to Indaba about it?

I think you can see where I am going with this.

Our modern priestly class in the Episcopal church may be following in the path of Aaron. When they approve of one innovation after another (gender neutral language, removing references to the devil from baptisms (CofE), open communion, same sex blessings), they are following the lead of culture (the people). When they are awed by the results (the election of Gene Robinson = the calf walking out of the fire), and when they bluster and blather and cast blame far and wide (it is all those fundamentalists fault, so sue them) when they are caught defying the commands of God, they show themselves to have fallen into the Aaronic error.  

Can our modern Aarons look forward to the reward of Aaron?

Perhaps, but only if they repent.