Sunday, December 31, 2017

John 1:1-18

This Sunday's Gospel reading is from John 1:1-18,
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own,* and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.
And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. (John testified to him and cried out, ‘This was he of whom I said, “He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.” ’) From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known. 
Growing up, I considered John's Gospel my least favorite of the synoptic Gospels. He repeated his themes way too often and his Jesus was the least approachable and least human to me. As I matured and studied the Bible more, I think I am coming around to John. I see his Gospel as presenting the most theologically developed message and therefore I think that is consistent with the view that it is was written after Mark and Matthew. John repeats his themes over and over because he knows that his audience sometimes needed it to be pounded into them before they got it.

I once had a revisionist rector who declared that the Gospel according to John was his favorite. I never could understand that.

While I still prefer Luke/Acts, at least I can now read through the entire Gospel of John with both eyes open.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Pope Francis and His Christmas Eve Homily

This past Sunday, 24 December 2017, Pope Francis gave his homily for the Christmas Eve Midnight Mass at the Vatican Basilica.  I have been trying to get my head around it because I think he is leading people into the "Joseph and Mary were refugees on Christmas Eve" trap in order to make a point about immigraton. Let me break it down for you. The Pope starts out with what might be an error of translation. 
"Mary 'gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn'” (Lk 2:7)."
Bill Muehlenberg over at his blog points out,
"Note that Mary and Joseph were already in Bethlehem for a while. And newer translations (in this case, the NIV) translate the Greek term in question more accurately as 'guest room'. The same word, kataluma, is used in Luke 22:11: 'Where is the guest room where I may eat the Passover with My disciples?'”
The Pope is telling the people the story that they are used to hearing, and much of what he has to say rings true as he continues,

"In these plain and clear words, Luke brings us to the heart of that holy night: Mary gave birth; she gave us Jesus, the Light of the world. A simple story that plunges us into the event that changes our history for ever. Everything, that night, became a source of hope."
But he starts leading us down his rabbit trail subtly in with the following,
"Let us go back a few verses. By decree of the Emperor, Mary and Joseph found themselves forced to set out. They had to leave their people, their home and their land, and to undertake a journey in order to be registered in the census. This was no comfortable or easy journey for a young couple about to have a child: they had to leave their land. At heart, they were full of hope and expectation because of the child about to be born; yet their steps were weighed down by the uncertainties and dangers that attend those who have to leave their home behind."
The subtle introduction of the premise that they were forced to journey to a strange land is what I am talking about. Bethlehem was not a strange place to Joseph. I would suspect that he had family and friends there. The Pope continues with this premise,
"Then they found themselves having to face perhaps the most difficult thing of all. They arrived in Bethlehem and experienced that it was a land that was not expecting them. A land where there was no place for them."
Next, the Pope makes a leap,
And there, where everything was a challenge, Mary gave us Emmanuel. The Son of God had to be born in a stable because his own had no room for him. “He came to what was his own and his own people did not accept him” (Jn 1:11). 
And I always thought John 1:11 was referring to Jesus being rejected by the Jews and ending up being crucified.

I am not sure where the Pope got his information for his next statement,
"And there, amid the gloom of a city that had no room or place for the stranger from afar, amid the darkness of a bustling city which in this case seemed to want to build itself up by turning its back on others… it was precisely there that the revolutionary spark of God’s love was kindled."
Bethlehem, a city that wanted "to build itself up by turning its back on others..."? I didn't see that one coming.

I kind of get what he says next,
"In Bethlehem, a small chink opens up for those who have lost their land, their country, their dreams; even for those overcome by the asphyxia produced by a life of isolation."
Jesus' birth opens up heaven's gate for all who call him Lord, but Joseph and Mary had not lost their land, country, or dreams, so Francis is obviously trying to drag the modern controversy over refugees and immigration into the Christmas story, and he continues down that road,

"So many other footsteps are hidden in the footsteps of Joseph and Mary. We see the tracks of entire families forced to set out in our own day. We see the tracks of millions of persons who do not choose to go away but, driven from their land, leave behind their dear ones. In many cases this departure is filled with hope, hope for the future; yet for many others this departure can only have one name: survival. Surviving the Herods of today, who, to impose their power and increase their wealth, see no problem in shedding innocent blood."
Francis is starting to remind me of an Episcopal priest I knew,

"Mary and Joseph, for whom there was no room, are the first to embrace the One who comes to give all of us our document of citizenship. The One who in his poverty and humility proclaims and shows that true power and authentic freedom are shown in honouring and assisting the weak and the frail."
This next bit I have definitely heard before from pulpits in Episcopal parishes,
"That night, the One who had no place to be born is proclaimed to those who had no place at the table or in the streets of the city. The shepherds are the first to hear this Good News. By reason of their work, they were men and women forced to live on the edges of society. Their state of life, and the places they had to stay, prevented them from observing all the ritual prescriptions of religious purification; as a result, they were considered unclean. Their skin, their clothing, their smell, their way of speaking, their origin, all betrayed them. Everything about them generated mistrust. They were men and women to be kept at a distance, to be feared. They were considered pagans among the believers, sinners among the just, foreigners among the citizens. Yet to them – pagans, sinners and foreigners – the angel says: 'Do not be afraid; for see – I am bringing you good news of great joy for the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is the Messiah, the Lord' (Lk 2:10-11)."
Enough of the progressive message, mow he gets back to sounding reasonable,
"This is the joy that we tonight are called to share, to celebrate and to proclaim. The joy with which God, in his infinite mercy, has embraced us pagans, sinners and foreigners, and demands that we do the same.
The faith we proclaim tonight makes us see God present in all those situations where we think he is absent. He is present in the unwelcomed visitor, often unrecognizable, who walks through our cities and our neighbourhoods, who travels on our buses and knocks on our doors."
Oops, I spoke too soon,
"This same faith impels us to make space for a new social imagination, and not to be afraid of experiencing new forms of relationship, in which none have to feel that there is no room for them on this earth." 
Ack, there goes that "relationship" word again.

Francis ends with a call to "Open wide the gate for Christ" which I hope does not mean to open the gates for wolves to enter into the sheepfold.

"Christmas is a time for turning the power of fear into the power of charity, into power for a new imagination of charity. The charity that does not grow accustomed to injustice, as if it were something natural, but that has the courage, amid tensions and conflicts, to make itself a 'house of bread', a land of hospitality. That is what Saint John Paul II told us: 'Do not be afraid! Open wide the doors for Christ' (Homily for the Inauguration of the Pontificate, 22 October 1978).
In the Child of Bethlehem, God comes to meet us and make us active sharers in the life around us. He offers himself to us, so that we can take him into our arms, lift him and embrace him. So that in him we will not be afraid to take into our arms, raise up and embrace the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick, the imprisoned (cf. Mt 25:35-36). 'Do not be afraid! Open wide the doors for Christ'. In this Child, God invites us to be messengers of hope. He invites us to become sentinels for all those bowed down by the despair born of encountering so many closed doors. In this child, God makes us agents of his hospitality.
Moved by the joy of the gift, little Child of Bethlehem, we ask that your crying may shake us from our indifference and open our eyes to those who are suffering. May your tenderness awaken our sensitivity and recognize our call to see you in all those who arrive in our cities, in our histories, in our lives. May your revolutionary tenderness persuade us to feel our call to be agents of the hope and tenderness of our people."
Pope Francis is a welcoming guy, and we should welcome those who wish to obey our laws and live in peace. Unfortunately, in today's world, we cannot assume that everyone wishes to do so. 

Sunday, December 24, 2017

A Re-post: The Denunciation of the Annunciation

I posted this 3 years ago and thanks to the three-year lectionary cycle, I am dusting it off again.

In church today, many of us heard the story of the Annunciation.
In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin's name was Mary. And he came to her and said, "Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you." But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end." Mary said to the angel, "How can this be, since I am a virgin?" The angel said to her, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God." Then Mary said, "Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word." Then the angel departed from her. Luke 1:26-38

This story is close to my heart. I was raised in a church of that name: "Annunciation". I held fast to that little church... literally. As children, we used to climb along a ledge on its outer walls pretending to be little cat burglars and little spidermen while our mothers performed their altar guild duties (until the sexton came outside and swatted us with his broom). I have circled the most difficult corner for us spider-people to negotiate.

I have held fast to Luke's account as well in spite of all efforts to sweep the story away.

I read one such attempt the other day at, and I think it should be required reading because it shows what Christian apologetics is up against. The post is craftily worded and rather lengthy and will seem quite convincing to many modern readers (not that our youth are much into reading these days). I will only quote the conclusion because, in the end, this is where all such attempts to explain away the Bible wind up.
 "Instead of taking the nativity stories in Matthew and Luke literally, and thereby doing a disservice to historicity and rational thought, we should accept them as religious myths. They are beautiful legends embodying faith in the supernatural and the efficacy of prophecy. They are attempts by these gospel authors to put into words their conception of a momentous, divine event. And they do so in a manner consistent with what credulous people in ancient times expected.
Although we shall never be sure about the exact circumstances of Jesus' birth, we do know that about two thousand years ago, there was born in what is now called Palestine an extraordinary Jew who was to change profoundly the course of human history." -
 R.C. Symes "Myths surrounding Jesus' birth," as interpreted by Progressive Christians. 
They end in heresy.

In this case, Arianism?

In any case, the ultimate conclusion from any argument that attempts to prove that the virgin birth is a myth is to find that God is not omnipotent. The argument thus ends up saying that, "Here is something that God cannot do."


The above example of a denunciation of the Annunciation is just one of many attempts to discredit the Christmas story that you might see each year around this time. In my opinion, these are showing up with increasing frequency. They sometimes are heard within the walls of the church itself (case in point Bishop Spong). This increase means that the enemies of the Gospel are growing in power, and the apocalyptic part of me is concerned that the day is coming when the followers of the Gospel will be "bombed back into" the first century, maybe not with bombs made from explosives, but instead with the social bombs of discrimination, name-calling, and isolation.

If this happens, the Gospel will of course survive, but it will be up to determined defenders of the Faith to help pass it along to some future generation that will respond to its call.

And when revisionists have taken over the historic church buildings, it just might take a new generation of little cat burglars and little spidermen to break in and shatter the myths of the modern mythologists.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Have a Merry Episcopalian Winter Solstice Roundup

Each year I publish a list of a few of the winter solstice celebrations to be found in Episcopal parishes. I do not agree with these services, and I print these as a warning to others that if you see anything like this promoted by your church, run for the hills.

First off, a new church makes the list, and it is a surprise. How could you, Bryan Owen?
Longest Night Service Dec. 21November 14, 2017
The St. Luke’s Episcopal Church community invites all greater Baton Rouge area residents to attend “Longest Night,” a special service of remembrance and healing on Thursday, December 21. Coinciding with the winter solstice, the annual “Longest Night” service is designed to honor and recognize “a loss of some sort, whether it’s a person, a dream, no matter the cause,” notes Becky Williams, pastoral care facilitator for St. Luke’s. 
“The service is a service of hope, and acknowledging that this can be a time of losses coming to the surface, as not everyone has the ‘Norman Rockwell’ type of celebration,” continues Williams. 
Open to anyone in the community, the “Longest Night” service will begin at 6:30 pm on December 21 at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, located at 8833 Goodwood Boulevard.
The healing theme must have been part of a workshop because Palmer Memorial Episcopal in Houston has one too,

 The Longest Night Service will be held on Wednesday, Dec 21st at 6 pm in St. Bede's. This service acknowledges the physical reality of the longest night and shortest day associated with the winter solstice and the darkness some feel emotionally in the midst of preparing for Christmas. If the holiday season finds you experiencing concern or sadness due to illness, grief, loss or personal and family issues during this season, come for a quiet time of worship and acknowledgement of our need for hope and the coming Light of Christ. Special prayers and a time of remembrance will be offered along with healing prayer, Holy Unction and the Holy Eucharist. Plan to stay a few minutes afterwards for holiday refreshments.
St Luke's Granville Ohio has this,
The Health and Wellness Ministry recently met and planned several events for the upcoming months.
On Thursday, December 21, at 7:00 pm, there will be a Solstice Healing Service. Jimi James is leading the coordination of this service. It will include music, prayer, and blessings in our beautiful candlelit church. More to come as this service is finalized.
Meanwhile, in Oregon,
Music & Meditation: Winter SolsticeDecember 8 @ 6:00 pm - 7:00 pmSt. Aidan’s Episcopal Church presents its second Celtic-themed Music & Meditation (Winter Solstice) on Friday evening, December 8, from 6 to 7 p.m. The Music & Meditation hour is filled with readings, poetry, music, with an open mic for an opportunity for anyone to present their own offering of poetry or music. Music & Meditation is a multi-ethnic, multi-faith, and intergenerational time. In the Winter Solstice tradition a Wassail Party will follow Music & Meditation.
And in East Lansing Michigan, All Saints Episcopal throws in the labyrinth this year,

Candle-light Labyrinth Walk, Wednesday, December 20, 6 - 9 p.m. As we approach the Winter Solstice, the longest night of the year, a self-guided, candle-light labyrinth walk will be offered in the church. 
From Frederick Colorado, we have a repeat offender,
 St. Brigit Episcopal Church invites the community to take a break from the hectic pace of the holidays and reflect on the cycle of nature. On Thursday, December 21, 2017, at 7:00p.m. St. Brigit will celebrate the Winter Solstice with a special contemplative service. All are welcome to attend.
The Winter Solstice Service is part of St. Brigit’s Áit Caol (Gaelic for “A Thin Place”) series. These are unique services marking the Winter and Summer Solstices as well as the Spring and Autumnal Equinoxes. The services incorporate live Celtic music, meditation areas designed to reflect the chosen scriptures and a contemporary liturgy (order of service). All aspects of the services reflect the seasonal theme, and are quite different from their regular services. Attendees sometimes travel as far as 50 miles to experience Áit Caol services.
Áit Caol services combine ancient Celtic spirituality with Christian theology. Although the ancient Celts regarded winter as the season of dormancy, darkness and cold, the coming of lighter days after the Winter Solstice brought a more festive mood. To the Celts, this return of the light was a reason to celebrate that nature’s cycle was continuing.
Some believe that Christmas, celebrating the birth of Jesus, the Light of the World, was set in synchronization with the Winter Solstice because, from that point onwards, the days began to have more daylight. The tradition at St. Brigit is to observe the Solstice by reflecting on God’s presence with His people, even in the midst of darkness.
Christmas also is referred to as Yule, a pre-Christian festival observed at the time of the Winter Solstice. Fires were lit to symbolize the heat, light and life-giving properties of the returning sun. St. Brigit’s Winter Solstice Service will end with a bonfire. Attendees will be invited to symbolically release anything that represents darkness in their lives by writing its name on a piece of paper and burning it in the bonfire.
St. Brigit Episcopal Church is located at 110 Johnson Street in Frederick
 As always, St. John the Divine in NYC has its extravaganza,

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.
And one last Celtic themed event for you from St, Andrews Lake Chelan WA,
Dec. 21 - Winter Solstice followed by Soup Dinner: Join us at 5 p.m. for a Celtic celebration to begin the Winter season. A celebration of lights will warm your heart and renew your spirit on the longest day of the year. Following the service, a soup dinner will be served in the Parish Hall.
I close with a warning from St. Paul.
"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).

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Bringing in the Sheaves

This Sunday Psalm 126 is scheduled to be read, and is likely to be glossed over or not discussed at all in most sermons.

126 In convertendo

1 When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, *
then were we like those who dream.

2 Then was our mouth filled with laughter, *
and our tongue with shouts of joy.

3 Then they said among the nations, *
"The Lord has done great things for them."

4 The Lord has done great things for us, *
and we are glad indeed.

5 Restore our fortunes, O Lord, *
like the watercourses of the Negev.

6 Those who sowed with tears *
will reap with songs of joy.

7 Those who go out weeping, carrying the seed, *
will come again with joy, shouldering their sheaves.

If the Psalm gets any mention at all, verses 6-7 will probably not be part of the commentary. These verses are critical to understanding the psalmist when he talks about going "out weeping carrying the seed".

The old song comes close, but makes the weeping personal and brings it into the present age,
Sowing in the morning, sowing seeds of kindness,Sowing in the noontide and the dewy eve;Waiting for the harvest, and the time of reaping,We shall come rejoicing, bringing in the sheaves. 
Refrain:Bringing in the sheaves, bringing in the sheaves,We shall come rejoicing, bringing in the sheaves,Bringing in the sheaves, bringing in the sheaves,We shall come rejoicing, bringing in the sheaves. 
Sowing in the sunshine, sowing in the shadows,Fearing neither clouds nor winter’s chilling breeze;By and by the harvest, and the labor ended,We shall come rejoicing, bringing in the sheaves. 
Refrain:Bringing in the sheaves, bringing in the sheaves,We shall come rejoicing, bringing in the sheaves,Bringing in the sheaves, bringing in the sheaves,We shall come rejoicing, bringing in the sheaves. 
Going forth with weeping, sowing for the Master,Though the loss sustained our spirit often grieves;When our weeping’s over, He will bid us welcome,We shall come rejoicing, bringing in the sheaves. 

Matthew Henry (1662 – 1714), in his commentary comes close as well, 
It was with reference to some great and surprising deliverance of the people of God out of bondage and distress that this psalm was penned, most likely their return out of Babylon in Ezra’s time. Though Babylon be not mentioned here (as it is, Ps. 137, ) yet their captivity there was the most remarkable captivity both in itself and as their return out of it was typical of our redemption by Christ. Probably this psalm was penned by Ezra, or some of the prophets that came up with the first. We read of singers of the children of Asaph, that famous psalmist, who returned then, Ezra. 2:41 . It being a song of ascents, in which the same things are twice repeated with advancement (v. 2, v. 3, and v. 4, v. 5), it is put here among the rest of the psalms that bear that title. I. Those that had returned out of captivity are here called upon to be thankful (v. 1-3). II. Those that were yet remaining in captivity are here prayed for (v. 4) and encouraged (v. 5, v. 6). It will be easy, in singing this psalm, to apply it either to any particular deliverance wrought for the church or our own land or to the great work of our salvation by Christ.A song of degrees.
Suffering saints have a seedness of tears. They are in tears often; they share in the calamities of human life, and commonly have a greater share in them than others. But they sow in tears; they do the duty of an afflicted state and so answer the intentions of the providences they are under. Weeping must not hinder sowing; when we suffer ill we must be doing well. Nay, as the ground is by the rain prepared for the seed, and the husbandman sometimes chooses to sow in the wet, so we must improve times of affliction, as disposing us to repentance, and prayer, and humiliation. Nay, there are tears which are themselves the seed that we must sow, tears of sorrow for sin, our own and others, tears of sympathy with the afflicted church, and the tears of tenderness in prayer and under the word. These are precious seed, such as the husbandman sows when corn is dear and he has but little for his family, and therefore weeps to part with it, yet buries it under ground, in expectation of receiving it again with advantage. Thus does a good man sow in tears. (2.) They shall have a harvest of joy. The troubles of the saints will not last always, but, when they have done their work, shall have a happy period. The captives in Babylon were long sowing in tears, but at length they were brought forth with joy, and then they reaped the benefit of their patient suffering, and brought their sheaves with them to their own land, in their experiences of the goodness of God to them. Job, and Joseph, and David, and many others, had harvests of joy after a sorrowful seedness. Those that sow in the tears of godly sorrow shall reap in the joy of a sealed pardon and a settled peace. Those that sow to the spirit, in this vale of tears, shall of the spirit reap life everlasting, and that will be a joyful harvest indeed. Blessed are those that mourn, for they shall be for ever comforted.

Close, but I think that the seed the weeping sowers are carrying out of Jerusalem and into captivity is the seed of the future generation that would eventually return to Jerusalem. The generation that was carried away weeping not only survived their captivity, they multiplied and returned a stronger people in many ways. The sheaves they were carrying included the history of the people Israel which was recorded and passed along to us in the form of the Old Testament.

The Psalm does speak to those of us today who are oppressed by personal or cultural enemies or enslaved by Sin, and we should be encouraged that our tears are not in vain, but we must remember that we should be working hard to sow the seeds of Christ's memory for the next generation so that His heritage will be a joyous burden to bring in at His coming again. 

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Why I Will Not Be Donating to My Episcopal Alma Mater

This is the time of year in which we are bombarded with requests for year end donations to vatious charities and other non-profit organizations.

My Episcopal Grammar School and my Episcopal High School have been sending letters and glossy brochures which for the past several years have been a source of irritation to me, and it is not that I am offended by the ask, but it is what these schools seem to be deliberately omitting from their descriptions of their achievements and how they prepare students for life after graduation that upsets me. You see, they scrupulously avoid mentioning the name of Jesus in all of their literature. So this year I finally got around to writing the letter that I have been meaning to send to my Alma Maters.

To: The Reverend ********
       ****** Episcopal School
       Head of School

Re: Titan Fund

Date: 12/05/2017

Dear Mr. ******,

Thank you for your kind solicitation for the ****** Titan Fund. As an alumnus of both ****** Episcopal School and ****** Episcopal School, having been married in your Episcopal Church, and having preached sermons in the Chapel for both of my parents' funeral services, I have a deep connection to the school and the church. Before I contribute financially to any of the aforementioned institutions, I would like to know that the money was going to promote the Gospel of Christ. I have been disappointed by the one word avoided in both ******'s and *******'s requests this year, and that word is the name of our Lord. Are we afraid to mention His name, or is that not part of the mission of our schools? My ****** years as an Episcopalian taught me that we assume too much that our children will “get it” passively, and that we need to work harder to create new disciples out of these young people. Yes, it is good to focus on “kindness, stewardship, goodness, competence, responsibility”, and developing a “moral compass” as you noted in your solicitation, but it is more important for them to learn from whence those things flow, and to understand to whom we owe thanks.

I hope that these concerns will be addressed in future fund raising drives, but more importantly that they will become a visible mark of a Christian education, something that the founder of the school wished all of her children would show to the world.

Yours truly,

P.S. The Titans were Greek Gods descended from Gaia and Uranus. Needless to say, the Titan Fund could be re-named to better reflect the goals of Trinity Episcopal School.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

The Revised Common Lectionary: Wishing Everyone a Wrath Free Advent

My readers should be well aware of the problems with the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) that I like to point out. The most common problem is the sin of omission. The lectionary routinely cuts and splices readings, and these edits usually remove those verses which might prove upsetting to the Sunday morning pewsitters who aren't there to hear about things like God's wrath, Sin, and Hell. 

Advent is generally approached by mainline liberal churches as a period of anticipation and hope.
Last week, at my new not so mainline church, we heard a sermon in which the word "sin" was mentioned more times than I had heard in decades of sermons in various Episcopal churches. It was  refreshing that the RCL's edits were ignored. Unfortunately for most pewsitters, they will read the expurgated version of  Psalm 85 this Sunday. I have highlighted the verses that won't be heard (vs 3-7),

Psalm 85:1-2,8-13
1 You have been gracious to your land, O Lord, *
you have restored the good fortune of Jacob.
2 You have forgiven the iniquity of your people *
and blotted out all their sins. 
3 You have withdrawn all your fury *
and turned yourself from your wrathful indignation.
4 Restore us then, O God our Savior; *
let your anger depart from us.
5 Will you be displeased with us for ever? *
will you prolong your anger from age to age?
6 Will you not give us life again, *
that your people may rejoice in you?
7 Show us your mercy, O Lord, *
and grant us your salvation.

8 I will listen to what the Lord God is saying, *
for he is speaking peace to his faithful people
and to those who turn their hearts to him.
9 Truly, his salvation is very near to those who fear him, *
that his glory may dwell in our land.
10 Mercy and truth have met together; *
righteousness and peace have kissed each other.
11 Truth shall spring up from the earth, *
and righteousness shall look down from heaven.
12 The Lord will indeed grant prosperity, *
and our land will yield its increase.
13 Righteousness shall go before him, *
and peace shall be a pathway for his feet.

A God without wrath is a God blind to our sins, and the God I know, Jesus, has a keen eye for Sin, and he is a God who I suspect would not be pleased with some of these lectionary edits.

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

The "Travel Ban", the Drop in Muslim Refugees, and the Rise in Christian Refugees

This week's news that the Supreme Court of the United States upheld the "travel ban" issued by the Trump administration did not get much attention on the mainstream news. As I watched NBC Nightly News on Monday night, there was no mention of the decision. Instead, the main message of the nightly news was NBC's presumption that President Trump will eventually be impeached for obstruction of justice.

The "travel ban" is a separate issue from immigration, but as we have learned, many who "travel" here stay for years beyond their initial declared intention and somehow become immigrants.

The mere suggestion that President Trump is anti-muslim, and the threat of the "travel ban" may have been factors behind the drop in Muslim immigration reported this summer by Pew research and the Religion News Service (a liberal outfit),

 (RNS) "Christians made up the majority of refugees admitted to the U.S. in the first five full months of the Trump administration, reversing a trend that saw Muslims entering the country at higher numbers under President Obama, a new Pew Research report shows."
I am encouraged by the increase in Christian refugees as the world is becoming increasingly hostile to us.

Let 'em in!

Sunday, December 03, 2017

New Church Year Resolutions

The following is a re-post of one I wrote 3 years ago, and I still think the idea of Advent resolutions is a good one since we are beginning a new church/liturgical year.

Advent Resolutions:

Today is the first Sunday of Advent, and it marks the beginning of a new Church year. I never have been too keen on New Year's resolutions as the whole new year thing always seemed rather arbitrary to me.

After all, who made January 1 the first day of the new year? Julius Caesar?  Pope Gregory XIII?

Do we really want our year's beginning be a remembrance of a two faced god?

Janus: the god of beginnings and transitions, thence also of gates, doors, doorways, endings and time. He is usually a two-faced god since he looks to the future and the past.

Nope, not me, no way.

Perhaps every day should mark a new beginning, and it should demand new resolutions from us.

Nope, that would be too tough.

The liturgical year begins today, so why not start the year with Advent resolutions?

I can hear it now, "Are you nuts?"

Yes I am.

So this year I resolve to...

Oh God, I hate resolutions, and I hate to write them down. That makes them so permanent.

Alright, I resolve to pray daily.

Today I will pray for peace as our Choral Society will today when they sing Vivaldi's  Gloria which includes "Et in Terra Pax".

Luke 2:14 "Gloria in altissimis Deo et in terra pax in hominibus bonae voluntatis."



Wednesday, November 29, 2017

"A full-time job involved in the death of people is probably a bit too much, and ‘probably’ is a euphemism.”

The euthanasia (or physician assisted death) movement is alive and well in the Netherlands where the demand for physicians is increasing according to a recent article in the Guardian,
"The number of people euthanised in the Netherlands this year is set to exceed 7,000 – a 67% rise from five years ago – in what has been described by the director of the country’s only specialist clinic as the end of “a taboo” on killing patients who want to die."
"Steven Pleiter, director at the clinic, said that in response to growing demand he was now on a recruitment drive aimed at doubling the number of doctors and nurses on his books willing to go into people’s homes to administer lethal injections to patients with conditions ranging from terminal illnesses to crippling psychiatric disorders."
The article goes on to describe a 60 year old man with obsessive compulsive disorder that the clinic "helped".  The fact that they have expanded their market by taking on the non-terminally ill is chilling.
Prof Theo Boer, a professor of ethics at the Theological University of Kampen, added: “In the beginning, 98% of cases were terminally ill patients with perhaps days to live. That’s now down to 70%.
Is that something to be proud of? Who will be next?

The effect on physician providers strikes me as exactly what one would expect for executioners, not enough are signing up for the job, and this is a problem for the business of death,
“We ask the doctors to work eight to 16 hours a week for this organisation. A full-time job involved in the death of people is probably a bit too much, and ‘probably’ is a euphemism.”
The next statement sounds like an echo of an evaluation of a death camp by a superior officer,

“There is no dispute about the good intentions of the people at the end of life clinic. [But] they may have become too used to doing euthanasia. Yes they have expertise but they are too experienced. You should never get used to helping someone die.”
I have a sick feeling from reading this, and I apologize to my readers if it has caused any distress, but this is what happens to a society that walks away from Jesus.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

The Dilemma of the Sheep and the Goats

This Sunday's Gospel reading is Matthew 25:31-46 and contains the prediction of the separation of the sheep from the goats.

‘When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. Then the king will say to those at his right hand, “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?” And the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family,* you did it to me.” Then he will say to those at his left hand, “You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.” Then they also will answer, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?” Then he will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.” And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.’

The message of the importance of charity is clear, but the dilemma revisionist preachers face this Sunday is that they have to revise the parts of this reading that do not fit the message they want to send to their sheep. You see, the revisionist preacher wants to focus on how his sheep are really good at bringing meals to each other when a member is sick, and how their congregation welcomes "strangers" (meaning: LGBTs), but they have to do this while studiously avoiding all of Jesus' talk about Hell and damnation.

Or maybe that is no dilemma at all to the devoted revisionist.

Yeah, no problem at all. In fact, I have heard it handled quite easily in the past. The revisionist preacher starts out with a story about their Thanksgiving family dinner and how they treated the rest of their family and then they find a way to tie it into the first part of the Gospel reading all the while ignoring the harshness of the second half. Presto, change-o, Biblical Jesus becomes revisionist Jesus.

This season is the time in which we all express our thankfulness for God's blessing, not the least of which is the fact that He deems to save us from the eternal damnation and Hell fire awaiting those who reject Him.

Like it or not, we need to be continually reminded of this.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

The Scandal of Lust: A Very Old Problem

The recent spate of sex scandals in the U.S. involving celebrities and politicians differ in some respects from past scandals, but they share the same the same root cause: our failure to listen to Jesus.

Today's scandals tend to involve touching, speech, and "sexual harassment" along with abuse of power to gain sexual favors, whereas past scandals usually were the result of the physical act of adultery and also the abuse of power in a relationship.

"Touching" is used as a way of testing the receptiveness of a potential mate. Back in the 1960's there was a hit song by the Beatles, "I wanna hold your hand" which shows one way of initiating touch, and that is by asking first. About that time, I had a friend in my Christian school who was very "touchy" with girls. He would put his arm around a girl without asking. His behavior stood out as atypical among his peers (teenage boys) and was not always welcomed by girls, but it was welcomed often enough to encourage the behavior.

"Speech" had certain norms back then as well. It was presumed that boys would be the ones to telephone the girls and also be the ones to initiate physical contact and not the other way around. That was also a time when boys talked a lot about "getting to first base" and beyond in what is now frowned upon and referred to as "locker room talk".

"Sexual harassment" is a newer concept and it is becoming so hard to define as it encompasses more and more variations that one has to conclude that like beauty, it is in the eyes of the beholder. In other words, each generation makes it up as they go because they do not hold to a higher, absolute moral standard.

"Power", in my youth, was exerted by parents, adults, teachers, the Headmaster, and the Assistant Headmaster. We all heard the rumors of what happened to young boys in the Assistant Headmaster's office.

Since the sexual revolution, things have changed. As far as speech and touch go, it is now not uncommon for teenage girls to be the first to call boys on their phones and even to send nude photos of themselves via "sexting". Abuse of power has been stood on its head as female teachers are caught seducing teenage boys with increasing frequency. Sexual harassment, while it no doubt existed in the past has only recently come into the lexicon and, as I mentioned earlier, is hard to define exactly.

Or have things changed?

Remember my friend from school? His younger sister, along with another girl, once pulled a shy young boy into the girl's restroom and pulled down his pants in what was the big scandal of the Eighth Grade.

Adults were expected to behave differently from young teens, but the idea of the "Playboy" and the "Playmate" introduced by Hugh Hefner showed that you didn't have to grow out of childish behaviors. It should be obvious that those behaviors may persist into adulthood, particularly if they prove successful in the mating game.

On a number of occasions, I have observed elderly men trying to grope nurses who were trying to start intravenous lines in their arms. When discussing this issue with the nurses, I had to conclude that the behavior, while unacceptable, "Must have worked for them at least once".

Not only do helpless frail old men do it, but people in positions of power are most prone to use their status when attempting to make "first contact". We can learn from the Bible that the abuse of power in this way is displeasing to God and results in great harm not just to individuals but to entire peoples, especially when sex is involved. Remember the sin of David and Bathsheba? How about the sin of Lot's daughters?

So maybe things haven't changed in that while the human sex drive is the same, the rules governing its expression keep changing because people have tossed out the rules laid down in the Bible. Society has made its own bed, and now we have to lie in it.

Our society's response to the current sex scandals is like that of a post sexual-revolutionary mob, a mob that has rejected Jesus as its guide, a mob that glorifies sex for fun, and a mob that, without guiding principles, can only cause more destruction. So all we can expect from the revolutionaries are the confused and logically inconsistent responses to today's scandals and lame suggestions on how to stop them that we get from the mainstream news media and the worldly pundits as they dare not speak one word about what the Bible has to say on the subject.

We need to teach our children, our friends, and the powerful to love God and others as ourselves just as God's Commandments and as Jesus taught.

Today's celebrities and politicians should also not forget that the commandments about lust and adultery are still in there.

They need to be taught that Jesus said that adultery is more than just a physical act, something that former President Clinton erased from our cultural heritage with just a few words, "I did not have sex with that woman."

The old joke goes like this,
The Hebrews sent someone up the mountain to check on Moses and to find out about how the negotiations with God over the Commandments were going. Moses told him, "Tell the people that I have some good news and some bad news. The good news is that I've got Him talked down to ten. The bad news is that the one about adultery is still in there."

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Lectionary Options: Your Parish and Its True Colors

Churches following the Revised Common Lectionary sometimes are faced with options when selecting readings from the Bible for their Sunday worship services. This Sunday gives us two very different options from the old Testament,  Option A: Judges 4:1-7 (Deborah is the star) paired with Psalm 123 (mostly harmless), or Option B: Zephaniah 1:7,12-18 paired with Psalm 90:1-8,(9-11),12 (full of reminders to fear the Lord).

First let's take a look at Option A,
Judges 4:1-7 
The Israelites again did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, after Ehud died. So the Lord sold them into the hand of King Jabin of Canaan, who reigned in Hazor; the commander of his army was Sisera, who lived in Harosheth-ha-goiim. Then the Israelites cried out to the Lord for help; for he had nine hundred chariots of iron, and had oppressed the Israelites cruelly for twenty years. 
At that time Deborah, a prophetess, wife of Lappidoth, was judging Israel. She used to sit under the palm of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim; and the Israelites came up to her for judgement. She sent and summoned Barak son of Abinoam from Kedesh in Naphtali, and said to him, ‘The Lord, the God of Israel, commands you, “Go, take position at Mount Tabor, bringing ten thousand from the tribe of Naphtali and the tribe of Zebulun. I will draw out Sisera, the general of Jabin’s army, to meet you by the Wadi Kishon with his chariots and his troops; and I will give him into your hand.” ’
Psalm 123 Ad te levavi oculos meos 
1 To you I lift up my eyes, *to you enthroned in the heavens.2 As the eyes of servants look to the hand of their masters, *and the eyes of a maid to the hand of her mistress,3 So our eyes look to the Lord our God, *until he show us his mercy.4 Have mercy upon us, O Lord, have mercy, *for we have had more than enough of contempt,5 Too much of the scorn of the indolent rich, *and of the derision of the proud.
Those were pretty harmless, and the inclusion of Deborah who sat as a Judge of ancient Israel is sure to cause progressive rectors to lean towards choosing Option A to be read during their parish's Sunday services.

Contrast that with Option B,

Zephaniah 1:7,12-18

7 Be silent before the Lord God!   For the day of the Lord is at hand;the Lord has prepared a sacrifice,   he has consecrated his guests.12 At that time I will search Jerusalem with lamps,   and I will punish the peoplewho rest complacently* on their dregs,   those who say in their hearts,‘The Lord will not do good,   nor will he do harm.’13 Their wealth shall be plundered,   and their houses laid waste.Though they build houses,   they shall not inhabit them;though they plant vineyards,   they shall not drink wine from them.

14 The great day of the Lord is near,   near and hastening fast;the sound of the day of the Lord is bitter,   the warrior cries aloud there.15 That day will be a day of wrath,   a day of distress and anguish,a day of ruin and devastation,   a day of darkness and gloom,a day of clouds and thick darkness,16   a day of trumpet blast and battle cryagainst the fortified cities   and against the lofty battlements.17 I will bring such distress upon people   that they shall walk like the blind;   because they have sinned against the Lord,their blood shall be poured out like dust,   and their flesh like dung.18 Neither their silver nor their gold   will be able to save them   on the day of the Lord’s wrath;in the fire of his passion   the whole earth shall be consumed;for a full, a terrible end   he will make of all the inhabitants of the earth. 
Psalm 90 Domine, refugium 
1 Lord, you have been our refuge *from one generation to another.2 Before the mountains were brought forth,or the land and the earth were born, *from age to age you are God.3 You turn us back to the dust and say, *"Go back, O child of earth."4 For a thousand years in your sight are like yesterday when it is past *and like a watch in the night.5 You sweep us away like a dream; *we fade away suddenly like the grass.6 In the morning it is green and flourishes; *in the evening it is dried up and withered.7 For we consume away in your displeasure; *we are afraid because of your wrathful indignation.8 Our iniquities you have set before you, *and our secret sins in the light of your countenance.9 When you are angry, all our days are gone; *we bring our years to an end like a sigh.10 The span of our life is seventy years,perhaps in strength even eighty; *yet the sum of them is but labor and sorrow,for they pass away quickly and we are gone.11 Who regards the power of your wrath? *who rightly fears your indignation?12 So teach us to number our days *that we may apply our hearts to wisdom.
The differences between Option A and Option B are so striking that I suggest they be used as a litmus test to determine your parish's true colors. Are you attending a church that covers up our sinful and undeserving nature and the judgement we deserve, or are you attending one that tells it like it is?

Which option do you think most Episcopalians will hear? 

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

The Church of England: Evidence For Collusion With the Secular Agenda

A while back, Brett McCracken  posted "7 Good Reasons to Leave a Church" and at the top of the list was,
1. The church abandons orthodoxy. 
If your church begins to fudge on matters of orthodoxy, placing cultural relevance or social gospel initiatives above sound doctrine and biblical authority, look for another church. Sometimes a church outright embraces heresy and it is loud and clear, but more often the march away from orthodoxy is a slow and hard-to-discern series of small compromises. If you see your church headed in that direction and your alarm bells go unheeded, get out sooner rather than later.
For those of us who were once in the Episcopal organization, we saw the series of compromises, and we sounded the alarm, but the alarm went unheeded.

Everyone has predicted that the Church of England, which shall from henceforth be referred to as "That Certain Organization in England" (TCOinE), will follow in the way of the Episcopalians. While the TCOinE has not yet produced a blessing for same-sex couples, their difficulty in dealing with matters of human sexuality shows that the series of compromises leading away from orthodoxy are beginning to pile up.

We have already seen the Archbishop of Canterbury's inability to share the Gospel with Muslim schoolchildren,
In 2015 I noted how un-evangelical the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, acted when speaking to a group of mostly Muslim school children.  The Archbishop faced a number of “challenging” questions from pupils at the Church of England school (St Alban’s Academy in Highgate), where 80 per cent of its pupils are Muslim.Answering a pupil who asked whether he would encourage him to convert from Islam to Christianity, the Archbishop said: “I am not going to put pressure on you, and I wouldn’t expect you to put pressure on me.” (BirminghamMail)
We have witnessed his acceptance of Islam in May of 2017 when he posted a video message to Muslims a few days after a terrorist attack in Manchester, blessing them and wishing them a,
"very good Ramadan".
Now we have the issue of transgender people and how TCOinE schools will teach the Gospel of Christ to children growing up in the age of gender confusion. Basically TCOinE won't spread the parts of the Good News that relate to the traditional/Biblical view of human sexuality because if it did, TCOinE would run afoul of the law.

The gruesome details are in a publication called,
"Valuing All God’s Children Guidance for Church of England schools on challenging homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying"
 In it, we find the rationalization used to justify the next step away from orthodoxy,
"...the Government has placed a duty on schools to prevent extremism and to teach British Values (this came into effect in February 2015). Schools must now ensure that they promote British Values which include challenging extremist views, understanding the importance of identifying and challenging discrimination and the acceptance of individual liberty and mutual respect. In July 2016, following a rise in hate crime after the Brexit vote, the Government issued Action Against Hate. This plan for tackling hate crime includes the need to challenge homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying in schools."
 It would appear that teaching the former Church of England's position on marriage as being between one man and one woman would run afoul of current "British Values" and thus be a violation of secular law.

How the esrtwhile church came to taking this step can be discerned from the words of the Archbishop himself,
"Central to Christian theology is the truth that every singleone of us is made in the image of God. Every one of us isloved unconditionally by God.We must avoid, at all costs,diminishing the dignity of any individual to a stereotype or aproblem. Church of England schools offer a community whereeveryone is a person known and loved by God,supported toknow their intrinsic value.This guidance helps schools to offer the Christian message oflove, joy and the celebration of our humanity withoutexception or exclusion." 
- +Justin CantuarThe Most Revd and Rt Hon JustinWelbyArchbishop of Canterbury
I wonder when the Christian message became one "the celebration of our humanity without exception or exclusion"? Our humanity is what gets us into trouble time and time again does it not? Not a whole lot to celebrate there. Instead, how about if we celebrate our new life in Christ?
That can't happen in the secularized former church schools in England because worship services must now honor current "British values",
7. CollectiveWorshipIn collective worship the importance of inclusivity anddignity and respect for all should be explored, as well asother themes and values that play a part in challenging allforms of prejudicial bullying, including HBT bullying andlanguage.
Teachers in the classroom must also actively indoctrinate the children in the new British value system,
Opportunities to discuss issues to do with self-esteem,gender identity, and anti-bullying including HBT bullyingshould be included in physical,social, health and economiceducation or citizenship programmes.The curriculumshould offer opportunities for pupils to learn to valuethemselves and their bodies. Relationships and sexeducation should take LGBT people into account. Sexualorientation should be included within RSE in thesecondary phase. The Church of England’s teaching onhuman sexuality and a range of Christian views should betaught, as well as a range of perspectives from other faithsand world views.
So here we have Welby the Weak. He gives in to the government's rules regarding education, effectively eliminating teaching the whole Gospel of Christ to children in CofE schools.

And to think, he was from the "evangelical" wing of the former CofE.

As I have said before, the word "evangelical" must mean something different across the pond.

"Secular collusion" must be taking place.  A full investigation is called for!

Sunday, November 12, 2017

The Parable of the Ten Somethings

Does anyone else remember a time when bridesmaids were supposed to be unmarried and were presumed to be virgins? Well, that was the way it was back in Jesus' day. In this Sunday's Gospel reading, the "Parable of the Ten Virgins" found in Matthew 25:1-13 becomes the "Parable of the Ten Bridesmaids" in many of the translations commonly read in Episcopalian parishes.
‘Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this. Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them; but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. As the bridegroom was delayed, all of them became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a shout, “Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.” Then all those bridesmaids got up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish said to the wise, “Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.” But the wise replied, “No! there will not be enough for you and for us; you had better go to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.” And while they went to buy it, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went with him into the wedding banquet; and the door was shut. Later the other bridesmaids came also, saying, “Lord, lord, open to us.” But he replied, “Truly I tell you, I do not know you.” Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.
I am not sure when the virgin bridesmaid went out of style, but in my experience, it was sometime after the introduction of "the pill" when virgins got harder and harder to find. This also resulted in a shortage of virgins to sacrifice to the volcano gods.

The modern translations do keep priests from putting the thought of "foolish virgins" into the minds of their somnulent Sunday morning pewsitters which might keep those pewsitters from getting the point of the parable which is to be prepared at all times for the coming of the Lord, and that, for most of us, will probably translate into being prepared at all times to "meet our maker".

The consequences of not being prepared are to be shut out, and I am willing to bet that most Episcopal priests would rather not and probably will not speak very much about that part of the parable this Sunday.

Wednesday, November 08, 2017

Why People Are "Fed Up With" Thoughts and Prayers

I don't know why the Huffington Post exists other than to give us insight into the minds of the people who are contributing to the cultural and spiritual decline of America, and a recent post, "People Fed Up With ‘Thoughts And Prayers’ Demand Action After Texas Church Massacre", is a perfect illustration of what I am talking about.

In this post, people are upset that,
"President Donald Trump, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and many other political leaders sent their “thoughts and prayers” to Sutherland Springs, Texas, on Sunday after a gunman killed 26 people and injured 20 more at the First Baptist Church."
Clearly, those responding with outrage at the political response perceive gun control as being more effective than prayer.

Here are a few choice quotes,
"They were in church. They had the prayers shot right out of them. Maybe try something else."
“Thoughts and prayers” again, @realDonaldTrump, idiot?These people were in CHURCH. They WERE praying. -Keith Olbermann 
"To all those asking for thoughts and prayers for the victims in #churchshooting , it seems that your direct line to God is not working."
"Clearly your prayers aren't working if a mass shooting can take place in a church. Maybe we can try a legislative solution now?"
"They were in a *church*. Prayers are not helpful; action is. "
Let me speculate and guess that these people believe that government is more effective than God when you want something done to right a wrong. I do not know if they are atheists or agnostics or progressive, revisionist, social activist Christians, but clearly, they have placed God on the back burner and are neglecting the great commandment, "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind."

Actually, the real reason people are fed up with the words "thoughts and prayers" coming from the mouths of politicians is that the politicians are named Donald Trump and Paul Ryan. If a President Hillary were to offer up those same words, I doubt that you would hear a peep out of these poor misled souls.

Before I go, one more thought, maybe, just maybe God did answer those prayers by sending an armed neighbor to intercept the gunman.

Just a thought, and a prayer. 

Sunday, November 05, 2017

Brothers in Christ: You Are Not My Father!

This Sunday's Gospel reading is from Matthew 23:1-12. In it, Jesus advises his disciples to avoid honorifics and to stay humble servants to one another.

"Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, ‘The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; therefore, do whatever they teach you and follow it; but do not do as they do, for they do not practise what they teach. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them. They do all their deeds to be seen by others; for they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long. They love to have the place of honour at banquets and the best seats in the synagogues, and to be greeted with respect in the market-places, and to have people call them rabbi. But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all students (brothers/brethren). And call no one your father on earth, for you have one Father—the one in heaven. Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Messiah. The greatest among you will be your servant. All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted."
Growing up in a "low church" Episcopal parish, the priest was always referred to as "Mr. so and so" and never "Father so and so" as that was an honorific typically used in reference to a Roman Catholic priest.

Somewhere along the line, I think it was in the early seventies, it became more common for Episcopal priests to accept being called "Father".

Oh yeah, that was about the time that the Episcopal seminarians stopped believing the Bible. Women's ordination was around the corner and, inconsistently, nobody wanted to call female priests "Mother".

Matthew Henry (1662 – 1714) explains it in his Commentaries,
"They are forbidden to ascribe such titles to others (Matt. 23:9); 'Call no man your father upon the earth; constitute no man the father of your religion, that is, the founder, author, director, and governor, of it.' The fathers of our flesh must be called fathers, and as such we must give them reverence; but God only must be allowed as the Father of our spirits, Heb. 12:9. Our religion must not be derived from, or made to depend upon, any man. We are born again to the spiritual and divine life, not of corruptible seed, but by the word of God; not of the will of the flesh, or the will of man, but of God. Now the will of man, not being the rise of our religion, must not be the rule of it. We must not jurare in verba magistri—swear to the dictates of any creature, not the wisest or best, nor pin our faith on any man’s sleeve, because we know not whither he will carry it. St. Paul calls himself a Father to those whose conversion he had been an instrument of (1 Cor. 4:15; Phlm. 1:10); but he pretends to no dominion over them, and uses that title to denote, not authority, but affection: therefore he calls them not his obliged, but his beloved, sons, 1 Cor. 4:14."
"The reason given is, One is your Father, who is in heaven. God is our Father, and is All in all in our religion. He is the Fountain of it, and its Founder; the Life of it, and its Lord; from whom alone, as the Original, our spiritual life is derived, and on whom it depends. He is the Father of all lights (Jas. 1:17), that one Father, from whom are all things, and we in him, Eph. 4:6. Christ having taught us to say, Our Father, who art in heaven; let us call no man Father upon earth; no man, because man is a worm, and the son of man is a worm, hewn out of the same rock with us; especially not upon earth, for man upon earth is a sinful worm; there is not a just man upon earth, that doeth good, and sinneth not, and therefore no one is fit to be called Father."
I am sure this will upset the Anglo-Catholics passing by, but from now on, I will call you "Brother".  

Wednesday, November 01, 2017

The Sins of Our (Founding) Fathers: Christ Church Philadelphia, You Are Next!

A few years ago, I was visiting Christ Church (Episcopal) in Philadelphia and noticed brass plaques with inscribed names attached to the pews. As I sat in the pew that bore the name, "Ben Franklin", I felt a little uncomfortable because I was not one hundred percent sure I was welcome to sit there, but that was not a pew breaker for me.


There were other pews with brass plaques, one of which read, "George Washington", and that did not bother me in the least.

Recently, another Episcopal church (also named Christ Church) announced that they were relocating similar markers because the names "George Washington" and "Robert E. Lee"  might make someone feel uncomfortable, unwelcome, and that might be a betrayal of the Episcopal organization's slogan, "All are welcome".

Here is a link to the letter from the vestry of Christ Church in Alexandria to the congregation. It reads (in part),
"Hebrews 13:2 says, 'Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.' Christ Church lives into this call, feeding the hungry with our Lazarus ministry, welcoming the stranger in our refugee ministry, and inviting all to worship with us. The plaques in our sanctuary make some in our presence feel unsafe or unwelcome. Some visitors and guests who worship with us choose not to return because they receive an unintended message from the prominent presence of the plaques.
Many in our congregation feel a strong need for the church to stand clearly on the side of “All are welcome — no exceptions.”
I wonder if they ever considered removing the cross because it is offensive to non-Christians.

Why are those memorials there in the first place?
"The plaques were erected in 1870, just two months after Robert E. Lee’s death, by parishioners eager to memorialize two men who had impact within our parish and an outsized impact on our nation..."
"Washington is unique in our nation’s history: the leader of the Revolution, the visionary who not only refused to be king but also gave up power after eight years, and a symbol of our democracy. He regularly worshiped in our pews and helped shape our city’s character."
"Lee was a longtime parishioner, whose family had a significant presence in our church. From “Light-Horse Harry” Lee’s membership in our parish at the time he memorialized George Washington as “first in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen,” to Mary Custis Lee’s gift of $10,000 to begin the Christ Church endowment, the Lee family was a prominent part of the Christ Church family."
C'mon people, quit trying to erase history.

Years ago, I was touring the St George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle and looking down, I saw that I was standing on Henry VIII's grave.

From On the Tudor Trail

There were no ropes to keep tourists from stepping on old Henry and company.

I wonder if Christ Church Alexandria will consider moving Washington's and Lee's plaques to a suitable place on the floor so that those who choose to respect these men may walk around their memorials, and those who feel unwelcome might be given the opportunity to step on top of them.

Christ Church Philadelphia, you are next! Remove those plaques!

Sunday, October 29, 2017

There Is Someone You Just Can't Question

This Sunday's Gospel selection is Matthew 22:34-46 in which Jesus shows the Pharisees that they just can't win when they put the Lord to the test,
When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. ‘Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?’ He said to him, ‘ “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.’Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them this question: ‘What do you think of the Messiah?* Whose son is he?’ They said to him, ‘The son of David.’ He said to them, ‘How is it then that David by the Spirit* calls him Lord, saying, “The Lord said to my Lord,‘Sit at my right hand,   until I put your enemies under your feet’ ”? If David thus calls him Lord, how can he be his son?’ No one was able to give him an answer, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions. 
When I was young, I could never win a debate with my father. He was always right, and this irritated me to no end, and we children dared not dispute his lengthy sermons on whatever teaching or warning he wanted to share over dinner. This had the effect of silencing us during the family meal because if we brought up any subject, it would result in yet another sermon. As I got older, I found that I could challenge his facts when I was sure he had gotten them wrong and sometimes his assumptions, but once he got going, I still knew that it was best to keep my mouth shut.

Similarly, when we are children we usually accept the presence of God and his teachings, but when we become rebellious teenagers we often question those teachings and we even question His presence. God, however, is not like our earthly fathers. Our earthly fathers are fallible, sinful men. God on the other hand is sinless and has this nasty habit of always being right.

The Pharisees should have learned their lesson in Matthew 22 that there is one person that you just shouldn't question.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

The Difference Between Praise Songs and Hymns

I am posting this as a follow up to last "Sunday's Sing to the Lord a new song, Do I really have to?".

Greg Griffith put this on Facebook a while back. I was not sure where he found it, but after I googled it, I found it at and several other places,
An old farmer went to the city one weekend and attended a large church. He came home and his wife asked him how it was.
“Well,” said the farmer, “It was good. They did something different, however. They sang praise songs instead of hymns.”
“Praise songs,” said his wife, “What are those?”
“Oh, they’re okay. They’re sort of like hymns, only different,” said the farmer.
“Well, what’s the difference?” asked his wife.
The farmer said, “It’s like this - If I were to say to you: ‘Martha, the cows are in the corn,’ well that would be a hymn. If, on the other hand, I were to say to you: 
‘Martha Martha, Martha,Oh, Martha, MARTHA, MARTHA,the cows, the big cows, the brown cows,the black cows, the white cows,the black and white cows,the COWS, COWS, COWS are in the corn,are in the corn, are in the corn,are in the corn, the CORN, CORN, CORN,’ 
Then, if I were to repeat the whole thing two or three times, well, that would be a praise song.” 
Coincidentally, the same week, a young businessman from the city who normally attended a church with contemporary-style worship was in the old farmer’s town on business. He visited the farmer’s small town church. He came home and his wife asked him how it was.
“Well,” said the young man, “it was good. They did something different, however. They sang hymns instead of regular songs.”
“Hymns,” said his wife, “what are those?”
“Oh, they’re okay. They’re sort of like regular songs, only different,” said the young man.
“Well, what’s the difference?” asked his wife.
The young man said, “It’s like this - If I were to say to you, ‘Martha, the cows are in the corn,’ well that would be a regular song. If, on the other hand, I were to say to you: 
Oh Martha, dear Martha, hear thou my cry.Inclinest thine ear to the words of my mouth.Turn thou thy whole wondrous ear by and byTo the righteous, inimitable, glorious truth. 
For the way of the animals who can explain;There in their heads is no shadow of sense,Hearkenest they in God’s sun or his rain,Unless from the mild, tempting corn they are fenced. 
Yea those cows in glad bovine, rebellious delight,Have broken free their shackles, their warm pens eschewed.Then goaded by minions of darkness and night They all my mild Chilliwack sweet corn have chewed.
So look to that bright shining day by and by,Where all foul corruptions of earth are reborn.Where no vicious animal makes my soul cryAnd I no longer see those foul cows in the corn.
Then, if I were to do only verses one, three and four and do a key change on the last verse, well that would be a hymn.”

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Sing to the Lord a new song, Do I really have to?

I am not a fan of most contemporary church music, and by contemporary, I mean anything written by a composer who was born after 1890. The Psalm appointed for today encourages me to 
be more open-minded,

96 Cantate Domino
1 Sing to the Lord a new song; *sing to the Lord, all the whole earth. 
2 Sing to the Lord and bless his Name; *proclaim the good news of his salvation from day to day. 
3 Declare his glory among the nations *and his wonders among all peoples. 
4 For great is the Lord and greatly to be praised; *he is more to be feared than all gods. 
5 As for all the gods of the nations, they are but idols; *but it is the Lord who made the heavens. 
6 Oh, the majesty and magnificence of his presence! *Oh, the power and the splendor of his sanctuary! 
7 Ascribe to the Lord, you families of the peoples; *ascribe to the Lord honor and power. 
8 Ascribe to the Lord the honor due his Name; *bring offerings and come into his courts. 
9 Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness; *let the whole earth tremble before him. 
10 Tell it out among the nations: "The Lord is King! *he has made the world so firm that it cannot be moved;he will judge the peoples with equity." 
11 Let the heavens rejoice, and let the earth be glad;let the sea thunder and all that is in it; *let the field be joyful and all that is therein. 
12 Then shall all the trees of the wood shout for joybefore the Lord when he comes, *when he comes to judge the earth. 
13 He will judge the world with righteousness *and the peoples with his truth.
I will try to sing a new song now and then if it demonstrates sound theology, if it is not tediously repetitious, if it fits with the appointed readings from scripture, and if it serves to glorify the Lord and not the performer.

I think that eliminates most contemporary church music.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Churches Without Fathers: We have "produced our own single-parent family parish model in the woman priest."

Robbie Low is vicar of St. Peter’s, Bushey Heath, a parish in the Church of England and his recent commentary on the fatherless church (requires subscription to "Touchstone") cites research done in Switzerland that showed,

"In short, if a father does not go to church, no matter how faithful his wife’s devotions, only one child in 50 will become a regular worshipper. If a father does go regularly, regardless of the practice of the mother, between two-thirds and three-quarters of their children will become churchgoers (regular and irregular). If a father goes but irregularly to church, regardless of his wife’s devotion, between a half and two-thirds of their offspring will find themselves coming to church regularly or occasionally."
Interestingly, the presence of faithful Christian fathers, worshipping regularly, has a greater effect on the developing child than the worship habits of the mother. Why this happens is a matter of speculation of course,
"Curiously, both adult women as well as men will conclude subconsciously that Dad’s absence indicates that going to church is not really a 'grown-up' activity."
"When children see that church is a 'women and children' thing, they will respond accordingly—by not going to church, or going much less." 
Boys raised by a single mom grow up seeing the church from the perspective that it is not for men. When I was young I recall there being a disproportionate number of little old ladies present at Sunday morning services even during the baby boom years. That and the effeminate nature of some of the priests may have turned many a young boy against the Episcopal sect. Episcopalians haven't done anything recently to change the impression left in children's minds, and in fact have added more major innovations that make things worse, just as the Church of England is doing,

"Second, we are ministering in churches that accepted fatherlessness as a norm, and even an ideal. Emasculated Liturgy, gender-free Bibles, and a fatherless flock are increasingly on offer. In response, these churches’ decline has, unsurprisingly, accelerated. To minister to a fatherless society, these churches, in their unwisdom, have produced their own single-parent family parish model in the woman priest."
They have "produced their own single-parent family parish model in the woman priest." Is that the model we want to present to children, to our fellow Christians, to the world?

Of course, the Episcopal organization and CofE are not turning back so Rev. Low's observations will not help them to climb out of their death spirals, but his words are a sharp warning to other Anglican entities,
"The churches are losing men and, if the Swiss figures are correct, are therefore losing children. You cannot feminize the church and keep the men, and you cannot keep the children if you do not keep the men."

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Are All Welcome At the Table?

This Sunday's reading from Matthew 22:1-14 contains the Parable of the Wedding Banquet,

Once more Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying: 2 “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. 3 He sent his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding banquet, but they would not come. 4 Again he sent other slaves, saying, ‘Tell those who have been invited: Look, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready; come to the wedding banquet.’ 5 But they made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business, 6 while the rest seized his slaves, mistreated them, and killed them. 7 The king was enraged. He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city. 8 Then he said to his slaves, ‘The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. 9 Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.’ 10 Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so the wedding hall was filled with guests. 
11 “But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing a wedding robe, 12 and he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?’ And he was speechless. 13 Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ 14 For many are called, but few are chosen.”
Revisionist preachers will studiously avoid comment on verses 11-14 because it goes against their standard message that "All are welcome at the Lord's table", a quote I heard numerous times from my last revisionist rectorette when she announced Holy Communion particularly at funerals when she did not know if some present were baptized Christians or not. Sadly, people who come to the communion rail unprepared may have to face far greater consequences than a polite prayer over them as the cup passes them by. As harsh as it sounds, to let them partake of the Eucharistic elements may do them more harm than good. Remember how Paul cautions us in 1 Corinthians 11:26-30:
"For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died."
Matthew Henry (1662-1714), in his commentaries, gives his take on the "Friend" who did not have a wedding robe and got tossed out of the banquet. Henry was not so much concerned about Communion without Baptism for he probably could not have even imagined it becoming an issue in the Church. I think the parable applies equally to the unbaptized or non-Christian as it does to what Henry calls "hypocrites in the church".
VI. The case of hypocrites, who are in the church, but not of it, who have a name to live, but are not alive indeed, is represented by the guest that had not on a wedding garment; one of the bad that were gathered in. Those come short of salvation by Christ, not only who refuse to take upon them the profession of religion, but who are not sound at heart in that profession. Concerning this hypocrite observe,
1. His discovery, how he was found out, Matt. 22:11.
(1.) The king came in to see the guests, to bid those welcome who came prepared, and to turn those out who came otherwise. 
Note, The God of heaven takes particular notice of those who profess religion, and have a place and name in the visible church. Our Lord Jesus walks among the golden candlesticks and therefore knows their works. See Rev. 2:1, 2; Song 7:12. Let this be a warning to us against hypocrisy, that disguises will shortly be stripped off, and every man will appear in his own colours; and an encouragement to us in our sincerity, that God is a witness to it.
Observe, This hypocrite was never discovered to be without a wedding garment, till the king himself came in to see the guests. 
Note, It is God’s prerogative to know who are sound at heart in their profession, and who are not. We may be deceived in men, either one way or other; but He cannot. The day of judgment will be the great discovering day, when all the guests will be presented to the King: then he will separate between the precious and the vile (Matt. 25:32), the secrets of all hearts will then be made manifest, and we shall infallibly discern between the righteous and the wicked, which now it is not easy to do. It concerns all the guests, to prepare for the scrutiny, and to consider how they will pass the piercing eye of the heart-searching God.
(2.) As soon as he came in, he presently espied the hypocrite; He saw there a man which had not on a wedding garment; though but one, he soon had his eye upon him; there is no hope of being hid in a crowd from the arrests of divine justice; he had not on a wedding garment; he was not dressed as became a nuptial solemnity; he had not his best clothes on. 
Note, Many come to the wedding feast without a wedding garment. If the gospel be the wedding feast, then the wedding garment is a frame of heart, and a course of life agreeable to the gospel and our profession of it, worthy of the vocation wherewith we are called (Eph. 4:1), as becomes the gospel of Christ, Phil. 1:27. The righteousness of saints, their real holiness and sanctification, and Christ, made Righteousness to them, is the clean linen, Rev. 19:8. This man was not naked, or in rags; some raiment he had, but not a wedding garment. 
Those, and those only, who put on the Lord Jesus, that have a Christian temper of mind, and are adorned with Christian graces, who live by faith in Christ, and to whom he is all in all, have the wedding garment.

So no, not all are welcome until they accept the invitation and put on the Mantle of Christ, and then they are welcomed like the prodigal son into the arms of our loving Father.