Sunday, January 29, 2017

Eight or Nine States of Utmost Bliss

This Sunday most churches will start reading the fifth chapter of the Gospel of Matthew. It is not typical of the Sunday lectionary to progress without omissions through an entire chapter of anything over four Sundays in a row, so the next month of Sundays gives pewsitters a chance to knit things into a coherent whole (if they can remember where the readings left off the previous week).

Once, as part of an interview, I was asked to name my favorite Bible verse. I answered that I would name a passage rather than a verse, and I said, "The Beatitudes".

How many souls over the ages have been comforted by these words.
When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:
 ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
 ‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
 ‘Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
 ‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
 ‘Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
 ‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
‘Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
 ‘Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. Matthew 5:1-12
Matthew gives us nine "blessed are's" beatitudes, but some count eight lumping "persecute you" and "revile you" together to come up with the lesser number. Luke in Chapter 6 gives us just four beatitudes.

Webster defines beatitude as,

Either a state of utmost bliss or a title for a primate especially of an Eastern church, and in Christianity it means any of the declarations made in the Sermon on the Mount (Mt 5:3–11) beginning in the Authorized Version with “Blessed are”. 
The derivation of the word appears to have been borrowed from Latin beātitūdō, from beātus “happy, fortunate” + -tūdō (paraphrased and by me).
All of us have experienced times when we could identify with one of those groups who could count their blessings no matter how down we felt simply by remembering our Saviour's words from this part of the Sermon in the Mount.

I know they helped me through some tough times.

Thank you Lord!

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Episcopal Women March on Washington for the Dignity of (not) Every Human Being

During last week's Women's March on Washington, the women below were photographed carrying an ironically labeled sign.
From Facebook
What is wrong with this picture?

Was it the pink pussy cat hats? They do not create a very dignified look. Those were worn in protest of President Donald Trump's boasting of grabbing women's privates. I doubt any of those women were marching back in 1998 when Bill Clinton was being impeached for messing with his intern.

No, the main thing wrong is the sign and the "for the dignity of every human being" slogan.

As I posted last July,

There goes that Baptismal covenant argument again. The key word here is "dignity". When the writers of the 1979 BCP created this little gem, did they know that the definition of "respect" would come to mean "accept" and that dignity would come to mean an individual's unwise choices? Roberta Green Ahmanson explained the new meaning of "dignity" in a post at Public Discourse,  "The New Dignity: Gnostic, Elitist, Self-Destructive Will-to-Power", the new dignity to be respected/accepted is an individual's freedom to do the following, 
"to remake our gender, to marry someone without regard to sex or the procreative potential of the union, to choose our time to die and enlist the medical profession in ending our lives, to not only abort a child developing in the womb but also to harvest his or her body parts for commercial gain. It also calls for new negative freedom, freedoms from—from all unwanted pain or discomfort, from limitations on what I can do to or with my body, from language or ideas that offend me or that challenge decisions I have made.Dignity is no longer so much about who or what we are; it is about what our unfettered will can do, and what it can forbid others to do."
Every time someone pulls the Baptismal covenant argument, you might as well give up because the meaning of the words "respect the dignity" has been reduced to "Don't hurt anyone's feelings by disagreeing with them".
Many of those marching on Washington last week were rabid pro-abortionists. Many women in the Episcopal organization do not believe that the unborn are human beings. Many must believe that a baby is just a collection of cells, a tissue that can be disposed of if the mother so chooses, no dignity there. Many must not believe that God plays any role in the creation of life. Many do not believe the scriptures which say,
 For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. Psalm 139:13
“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” Jeremiah 1:5
And sadly, many of those who claim to believe in God do not believe that God cares about the dignity of the unborn, and that is one step away from not believing in God himself.

Once you believe that God does not care about unwanted children, you are in serious trouble.

For a better take on respecting the dignity of every human being, read the words of the late Fr. Richard John Neuhaus,
"We contend, and we contend relentlessly, for the dignity of the human person, of every human person, created in the image and likeness of God, destined from eternity for eternity—every human person, no matter how weak or how strong, no matter how young or how old, no matter how productive or how burdensome, no matter how welcome or how inconvenient. Nobody is a nobody; nobody is unwanted. All are wanted by God, and therefore to be respected, protected, and cherished by us." Fr. Richard John Neuhaus 2008, h/t James Gibson
When women worship at the altar of abortion, they wind up worshipping their own bodies and desires and set themselves up as Goddesses, with power over life and death, displacing the God that they claim to worship from His rightful position in their lives.

Would that their eyes be opened...

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Drop Everything

This Sunday's Gospel reading, Matthew 4:12-23, continues with the early parts of Jesus' ministry. We hear of his second encounter with Andrew who last Sunday left John the Baptist and this Sunday leaves his family business.

"Now when Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the lake, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, so that what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: ‘Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali,   on the road by the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles— the people who sat in darkness   have seen a great light,and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death   light has dawned.’From that time Jesus began to proclaim, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.’ As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the lake—for they were fishermen. And he said to them, ‘Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.’ Immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him.
 Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people."
 Andrew, Peter, James, and John all left their nets and followed Jesus. A net is something that traps things, confining and holding them. The more the net catches, the heavier it gets, and the harder it is to drag it through the water. The nets that we tend are all those things in life that hold us back, all those things that keep us from following Jesus.

If only we could be more like Jesus' first disciples and drop our nets, dropping all those things that we desire more than our desire to walk with him.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

"Save ObamaCare" Protests Outside Local Episcopal Church

Churchgoers were surprised to find a handful of "Save ObamaCare" protesters marching around the Episcopal church in Rock Hill South Carolina this past Sunday morning (see the story and a short video at "The Herald"). Since Episcopalians represent a minuscule minority in York County, I am not sure what the protesters were expecting to gain by targeting the corner of Caldwell and White streets. Plus, they were preaching to the choir at the Episcopal church, which at its highest levels is likely to be supportive of the protest. As evidence, just look at TEC's history of backing the passage of the "Affordable Care Act" in the first place. The following is from 2010 h/t George Conger,

"The Episcopal Church’s Office of Government Relations and the Episcopal Public Policy Network had lobbied lawmakers to pass the Democrat bill, and sent emails to Episcopalians across the country urging them to contact their congressmen to back health care reform.
The Episcopal Church’s national office endorsed a Feb 24 letter prepared by the Faithful Reform in Healthcare coalition that urged legislators to 'complete the task at hand on behalf of the millions who are left out and left behind in our current health care system,' and pass the Democrat health care bill.
'We now stand closer than ever before to historic health care reform. Turning back now could mean justice delayed for another generation and an unprecedented opportunity lost,' they argued."
This Sunday in downtown Rock Hill, there was no one who spoke up in opposition to the protesters, but more telling is that it reveals the spiritual desert in this part of town, a corner bordered on three sides by church buildings, as it appears that no attempts were made to invite the protesters to stop worshiping their cause and instead come in to worship the Lord!

Disappointed by the apathy shown by local Episcopalians, our protesters marched across the street to demonstrate in front of the much larger and better attended Methodist and Presbyterian churches who seemed equally unperturbed.

I have to question the motives of people who try to disrupt Sunday church services. I wonder if they represent an atheistic, secularist segment of the population, and if so, then those are the very people we should be inviting inside to hear the Gospel.

Shame on us for failing to do so.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

"What are you looking for?"

This Sunday's Gospel reading, John 1:29-42 has John the Baptist declaring Jesus to be the Lamb of God not once but twice. John's proclamation led his disciple Andrew and another to leave him and follow Jesus. Jesus asks John's disciples the question that should strike each of us and stop us dead in our tracks, "What are you looking for?"

The next day he saw Jesus coming towards him and declared, ‘Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, “After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.” I myself did not know him; but I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel.’ And John testified, ‘I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, “He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.” And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.’ 
The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, ‘Look, here is the Lamb of God!’ The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, ‘What are you looking for?’ They said to him, ‘Rabbi’ (which translated means Teacher), ‘where are you staying?’ He said to them, ‘Come and see.’ They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon. One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He first found his brother Simon and said to him, ‘We have found the Messiah’ (which is translated Anointed). He brought Simon to Jesus, who looked at him and said, ‘You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas’ (which is translated Peter).
Note that John's disciples did not answer Jesus. Their answer can be deduced from their description of Jesus to Peter, "We have found the Messiah", but they should have also mentioned John's description of Jesus as the sacrificial lamb, not exactly the kind of Messiah that Israel was expecting.

Matthew Henry (1706) in his concise commentaries had this to say,

"Verses 29-36 John saw Jesus coming to him, and pointed him out as the Lamb of God. The paschal lamb, in the shedding and sprinkling of its blood, the roasting and eating of its flesh, and all the other circumstances of the ordinance, represented the salvation of sinners by faith in Christ. And the lambs sacrificed every morning and evening, can only refer to Christ slain as a sacrifice to redeem us to God by his blood. John came as a preacher of repentance, yet he told his followers that they were to look for the pardon of their sins to Jesus only, and to his death... "
"Verses 37-42 The strongest and most prevailing argument with an awakened soul to follow Christ, is, that it is he only who takes away sin. Whatever communion there is between our souls and Christ, it is he who begins the discourse. He asked, What seek ye? The question Jesus put to them, we should all put to ourselves when we begin to follow Him, What do we design and desire? In following Christ, do we seek the favor of God and eternal life? He invites them to come without delay. Now is the ( 2 Corinthians. 6:2 ) is, wherever it be. We ought to labor for the spiritual welfare of those related to us, and seek to bring them to Him. Those who come to Christ, must come with a fixed resolution to be firm and constant to him, like a stone, solid and steadfast; and it is by his grace that they are so."
 What are you looking for? I suggest sitting down and making a list, and then thinking about how Jesus fulfills each of those desires, and if there are any wishes, wants, or dreams that do not seem to be answered by following Jesus, then you probably should cross them off your list.

CS Lewis in "Mere Christianity" put it this way,
"The Apostles themselves, who set on foot the conversion of the Roman Empire, the great men who built up the Middle Ages, the English Evangelicals who abolished the Slave Trade, all left their mark on Earth, precisely because their minds were occupied with Heaven. It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this. Aim at Heaven and you will get earth 'thrown in': aim at earth and you will get neither."
What are you looking for?

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Small Congregations With Old Church Buildings: A South Carolina Example

The story of a typical Episcopal congregation's problem was published at the "Index-Journal" a week ago. The problem is that the average Episcopal congregation is very small, aging, shrinking, barely able to pay for a full-time priest, and often stuck with an old church building that has not been properly maintained due to lack of funds.

ABBEVILLE -- Trinity Episcopal Church’s 36-member congregation is working to repair and renovate the 156-year-old church.
“It’s not just a church effort, but it’s a community effort because the church is not ours -- it belongs to the community,” said the Rev. Todd Oswald, who has been the priest at Trinity for about a year.
Trinity, which was completed and consecrated in November 1860 -- just days before Abraham Lincoln was elected president and weeks before South Carolina voted to secede from the Union -- is the oldest church in Abbeville County, and maintaining its aging structure is a constant challenge. Oswald said, “There have been numerous efforts to restore the church.” In 2014, the congregation enlisted Charleston-based Meadors Inc. to conduct an architectural assessment of the building, which is on the National Registry of Historic Places and the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Oswald said the study found it would cost $2.3 million to fully restore Trinity -- a steep price for a small congregation.

For photographs and the complete story go to the Index-Journal's post.

Trinity Abbeville is in the Diocese of Upper South Carolina. The following chart illustrates the trouble they are in.

With only 28 active members (based on average Sunday attendance, a 2.3 million dollar renovation would cost each member $82,000, which is more than the total Plate/Pledge the entire congregation gives each year. So, the renovation is not going to happen without outside help, hence the priest's call for a "community effort" and his claim that that the church "belongs to the community".

Poor guy, I think he is living in a dream world, but that would be exactly what one would expect from someone who stayed with the rump "Episcopal Diocese in South Carolina", that self-deluded remnant which did not do the sensible thing and leave "The Episcopal Organization" after its rejection of important parts of the Bible. Talk about jumping from the fire into the frying pan.

As is typical for a church in the frying pan with not enough cooks in the kitchen, the renovations will have to wait and patches to the roof are about all that can be done (source: their newsletter).

Multiply this small congregation's mess by several thousand similar churches nationwide and you can start to paint a picture of the issues The Episcopal Organization will face over the next several decades as its membership numbers continue to decline.

Taking a look just at Upper South Carolina, we see that out of 59 parishes, 23 (38%)  have an average Sunday attendance (ASA) of 50 or less. 14 have an ASA of 30 or less (data from 2015, source: The Episcopal Organization's Statistics Pages).

In the future, many of these small congregations will go belly up, their buildings will be sold, but hopefully they will be preserved by others and converted into houses of worship for a new generation of the faithful.

Except, gone will be the sign, "The Episcopal Church Welcomes You". 

Sunday, January 08, 2017

Who is this Jesus Fella?

With a large part of the east coast digging out from snow and the west coast dealing with flash floods, many of you may not be going to church this Sunday. Fortunately, you can come here and pass the peace, but before you do, let's review the readings you missed today at church. They all witness to us who Jesus is starting with Isaiah's prophesy followed by Peter's remarkable transformation from Christ denier to Christian evangelist, and ending with John the Baptist's experience of seeing the Spirit of God descending upon Jesus and hearing the voice of God claiming Jesus as His son.

After reading these selections, you should find yourself pretty well armed to go out and proclaim to the world that Jesus is Lord!

Read on,

Isaiah 42:1-9

Here is my servant, whom I uphold,
   my chosen, in whom my soul delights;
I have put my spirit upon him;
   he will bring forth justice to the nations.
He will not cry or lift up his voice,
   or make it heard in the street;
a bruised reed he will not break,
   and a dimly burning wick he will not quench;
   he will faithfully bring forth justice.
He will not grow faint or be crushed
   until he has established justice in the earth;
   and the coastlands wait for his teaching.
Thus says God, the Lord,
   who created the heavens and stretched them out,
   who spread out the earth and what comes from it,
who gives breath to the people upon it
   and spirit to those who walk in it:
I am the Lord, I have called you in righteousness,
   I have taken you by the hand and kept you;
I have given you as a covenant to the people,
   a light to the nations,
to open the eyes that are blind,
to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon,
   from the prison those who sit in darkness.
I am the Lord, that is my name;
   my glory I give to no other,
   nor my praise to idols.
See, the former things have come to pass,
   and new things I now declare;
before they spring forth,
   I tell you of them.

Acts 10:34-43

Then Peter began to speak to them: ‘I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ—he is Lord of all. That message spread throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John announced: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. We are witnesses to all that he did both in Judea and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear, not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead. All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.’

Matthew 3:13-17

Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, ‘I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?’ But Jesus answered him, ‘Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfil all righteousness.’ Then he consented. And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.’

Wednesday, January 04, 2017

Not Another Episcopal Church Blog: Banned in France?

The war for the unborn knows no boundaries, but one country is trying to erect a wall to prevent its citizens from learning about the evils and dangers of abortion.

Alexandra  Desanctis on December 7, 2016 posted the following story at "National Review" in which she reports a bill recently passed by the French Senate,
"...criminalizing the posting of pro-life information online, a measure that was passed by the French National Assembly just last week. Violators face a maximum of two years in prison and over $30,000 in fines. The measure makes it a crime for pro-life individuals or activists to obstruct a woman’s lawful decision to have an abortion, or to cause her guilt after the fact. Its text criminalizes: the act of preventing or trying to prevent to practice or learn about an abortion or prior acts . . . by any means, including by disseminating or transmitting electronically or online, allegations, statements looking to intentionally mislead, as a deterrent, the characteristics or the medical consequences of a voluntary interruption pregnancy."

"Or to cause her guilt after the fact" could be interpreted to mean that any web site that posts something as honest as, "Abortion ends a human life" could face penalties and jail time.

Oops, I think I just got banned.

Mon Dieu!

Sunday, January 01, 2017

If it were not for the darkness, we wouldn't need the light.

This Sunday's reading is the introduction to the Gospel of John. Full of imagery and delivering a well developed theology, it is a favorite of many (although I favor Luke/Acts). The first few lines lay out theology and one of John's major themes, light versus darkness.
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. John 1:1-18
John's message is an enduring one, a message that was not lost on Her Majesty, the Queen in her 2016 Christmas message,
“And yet, billions of people now follow (Jesus).. and find in him the guiding light for their lives. I am one of them because Christ’s example helps me see the value of doing small things with great love.” Queen Elizabeth II.
As preachers give their take on John's proclamation today, I hope they do not forget to mention that if it were not for the darkness, we wouldn't need the light.

And as you begin the new year, don't forget to pack your flashlight!