Sermon Easter 2013

Hi, my name’s Ray and I’m a theologyoholic. (Hi Ray). Actually I’m exaggerating. I’m not addicted to it, but as geeky as it sounds, I do love theology. Years before attending seminary, I gathered with some friends before work every week to discuss great Christians’ writings like Calvin’s Institutes or Luther’s Bondage of the Will. At seminary I was exposed to some classic systematic theologians like Berkhof and Barth and I sat under some amazing scholars like Dr. John Jefferson Davis and Dr. Roger Nicole. But more recently I have come across some new theologians, who are quickly becoming my favorites, and I would like to introduce you to them.
Duck Dynasty
These are the Duck Dynasty boys. Papa Phil is on your left and son Willie is on your right. Twenty-five years ago Phil began making duck calls in a dilapidated shack in Louisiana, the business took off, and they became millionaires and now have their own reality TV show. As you can guess by their appearances, money hasn’t changed them a great deal and one reason for that is because they are men of deep faith. Son Willie said that has met plenty of people who have fame, and as Willie describes it, “So much money it is silly.” But when they come to him with questions it’s not about business. They come to him with questions about how to live life. He says that they do so because in spite of fame and fortune, many of them are miserable. What does Willie do? He listens a lot and then he opens the Bible to show them the way. Willie said in a speech to a University that there are two things of major importance, given how brief life truly is. First is to know where we are going after this life and second is how to tell others how to get there also. Now that’s some pretty good theology.

Papa Phil has his testimony on YouTube and it is powerful. He describes how when he was 28 years old he was into drugs, sex and rock and roll. One day a man with a Bible came into the beer joint that Phil was running and wanted to talk to him but Phil chased him out. But when his life started to go south, Phil looked the bible man back up and what he learned changed his life. He said that he listened to the story of the One that we are all counting time by, meaning by that, this it is the year of our Lord 2013. He said that he decided to follow this Lord when he heard that He was God in the flesh and that He died for our sins. As Phil put it, “It took the blood of God to remove my sins.”

When I heard him say those words, it struck because I have never heard anyone put it quite like that before. Theologians talk about substitutionary atonement, the Prayer Book speaks of “propitiation” but sometimes such expressions can make the whole thing sound sterile or even clinical. But when a Louisiana duck call maker says, “It took the blood of God to remove my sins” you understand that we are now where the rubber hits the road. Phil spoke from such personal conviction and experience and there was nothing sterile or clinical about it.

And he is so right in what he says because nothing else but the blood of Jesus will remove our sins. But why is that? The short answer is because God is that holy and we are that sinful. But what about doing good works? Aren’t they important? Sure they are, but we could never do enough good works to pay the debt to God that we have accrued due to our sins. You see God does not judge us by using a scale, placing our sins on one side and our good works on the other. And let me tell you that is very, very good news, because the scale would never, ever be in our favor.

I say that because the prophets tell us that God’s standard for holiness is so high that even our good works by comparison are like filthy rags before God (Is 64:6). That may sound insulting but if we will be painfully honest with ourselves then we will understand that is the truth. In our fallenness, even the best things we do have mixed motives. We hold to an ideal of unconditional love but even our love, because of our sin, is tainted. We give love so that we can receive love, and most of the time, when we no longer receive, then we stop giving. Compared to God’s true unconditional love for us, my love truly is a filthy rag. Heck, if I am honest, compared to the unconditional love of my dog, my love is a filthy rag. So our good works, which are at best mixed with questionable motives, won’t get us there.

What about the sacrificial system? Why doesn’t that save us? World religions, especially the ancient ones were filled with sacrifices. An ancient historian described the rivers of blood that flowed from the temple mount on the Day of Atonement but even those sacrifices fell short. They were still important because they pointed to a greater sacrifice, to Jesus as the Lamb of God who will take away the sins of the world. But in and of themselves the sacrifices could not remove sin. This is how the writer of the letter to the Hebrews put it. “The old system under the law of Moses was only a shadow, a dim preview of the good things to come, not the good things themselves. The sacrifices under that system were repeated again and again, year after year, but they were never able to provide perfect cleansing for those who came to worship. If they could have provided perfect cleansing, the sacrifices would have stopped, for the worshipers would have been purified once for all time, and their feelings of guilt would have disappeared. But instead, those sacrifices actually reminded them of their sins year after year. For it is not possible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. That is why, when Christ came into the world” (Heb 10)
So Phil was right. It does take the blood of God to take away our sins, and in classic Southern understatement Phil, said when he realized this, “And I thought that was a mighty kind thing to do for a scumbag like me.” That’s not exactly a line from the hymn Amazing Grace, but he gets the point across.

But then our theologian Phil made a second vital point. This is what he said. “It would do no good to have my sins removed, which are many, if something couldn’t be done about the six foot hole in the ground I’m going to…and you too by the way.” What he is so poignantly expressing is that Good Friday would not really be good if it were not for Easter Sunday. As important as it is for the blood of Christ to wash us from all of our sins, we still needed more. We are more than washed and forgiven. We are more than atoned for and made guilt free. Our destiny, as we heard in the lesson from Colossians, is to be raised with Christ, to be seated with Him in heavenly places. This is not done in some angelic form nor will we spend eternal life as spirit beings. We will live with Him forever in resurrected bodies that are free from corruption because Jesus has defeated death. St. Paul told the Corinthians. “So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.”
Phil went on to say, “It’s too wild a story to be dreamed up by human beings, especially sinful ones.” I could not agree more. We have always been taught that if something is too good to be true then it probably is. But in this case, we are not being promised things that are too good to be true by men of questionable reputation. The promises of eternal life come from Jesus Himself. Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life, the one who believes in me will live, even though they die, and whoever lives by believing in me will never die.” And if Jesus words were not assurance enough, the apostles sealed the testimony of His resurrection with their own lives, most dying horrible deaths in His Name. So even though the Gospel story sounds too good to be true, it is in actuality not only true, but it is even better than we can think or imagine.
As Phil was completing his testimony, he left his listeners with a challenging comment. He said, “If you are not a believer and you don’t believe that God really exists at all, about the only hope that you have is that He will not be there. What we are saying is that we trust that He is.” This duck hunter’s logic reminded me of the argument of a 17thc Christian philosopher name Pascal. Both men argue that there is nothing to be gained by disbelief but everything to be gained by belief in Christ.
While I understand and agree with the points of both men, I want to offer a caution that there is more to what God is offering us through the resurrection of Jesus Christ than making one bet that wiser than another. Being a Christian is more than choosing theism over atheism. It is, as the very name implies, having Christ within. It is being united with the resurrected Lord. It is being a branch that derives its very life by being connected to the Vine. It is being filled with His light and as a consequence having this light so shine before men that they see our good works and glorify our Father in heaven. In his powerful book on Grace, Max Lucado puts it this way. “The Christian is a person in whom Christ is happening….Rather than telling you to change, he creates the change. Do you clean up so he can accept you? No, he accepts you and begins cleaning you up. His dream isn’t just to get you into heaven but to get heaven into you.” (p10).

When I look back over my story, I think that it was this kind of grace that entered my life while in the University. I imagine that many of you have had a very similar experience. I had the right beliefs about the Lord but what I was lacking was the right relationship. I believed in Him and would even confess Him, but I cannot say that I was allowing Him to work in me the way that Max Lucado says that He should. But then I became, by yielding to God’s love for me, as Lucado put it, “a person in whom Christ is happening.” I have not done it perfectly. I have been inconsistent and had starts and stops. I have even failed Him many times but His love has kept me on this journey. He transformed my right beliefs into a right relationship just as He has done for many of you.
So as I said at the beginning of this sermon, I love theology, but I also know that theology does not save us. Good theology is like a good road map. It gets us to our destination but the map itself is not our destination. Again from Max Lucado. “He (Jesus) placed a term limit on sin and danced a victory jig in a graveyard. To be saved by grace is to be saved by him – not by an idea, doctrine, creed, or church membership but by Jesus himself, who will sweep into heaven anyone who so much as gives him a nod.” While the last part of that quote seems a little extreme, all we have to do is to remember Jesus words to the thief on the cross who only asked to be remembered when Jesus came into His kingdom. Jesus said to him, “Today you will be with me in Paradise.” The thief didn’t deserve that, nor did the thief do anything to earn it, but then again, that is what grace is all about.

And that is as it should be because neither do we deserve it, nor is there anything that we can do to earn it. It is simply ours to receive as a gift and to spend the rest of our lives and the rest of eternity saying, “Thank you.” On this day of all days, God’s grace reaches out to us having defeated our ultimate enemy, which is death, so that even at the grave we make our song, “Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.”.
Alleluia, Christ is Risen. The Lord is Risen indeed, Alleluia.

Stump The Rector

Nancy asks
Why was Abrahams name changed and how was it changed?

Nancy, Abraham’s original name was Abram which meant “Exalted Father” but after making his covenant with God, God changed his name to Abraham, which means “Father of many nations” see Genesis 17:5.

The Lord changes people’s names to depict that the new relationship that they have with Him. Sarai becomes Sarah, Jacob becomes Israel, Simon became Peter etc. It was typical in Christian missionary work to have converts take a Christian name, particularly if they had been named for pagan deities. This new name was given to them at their baptism when the priest asks for their Christian name. The person was then claimed for Christ and that is why some refer to baptism as christening.

Stump The Rector

Kelli writes

There was a reading in the New Testament this week about “end times”. When I read that and think about how confusing Revelation is and hear terms like “rapture”, “postmillennialism” and “amillennialism”, and “eschatological position” it just makes me confused. What is the Anglican view on end times? Can you help clear any of this up?


You are not alone in being confused by end times discussions. I am too and frankly I believe that even those who have it all figured out are also confused, because Jesus is quite clear that we do not know when He will return (Mathew 24:36). The thrust of His teachings about end times is not for us to figure it out, but instead for us to be ready at all times for His return.

The discussions about millennialism is about the timing of Christ’s return in relationship to the 1,000 reign of Christ that is mentioned in the Revelation to John chapter 20. “Premillennialism” says that Christ will return first and set up the 1,000 reign. “Postmillennialism” holds that a 1,000 year reign will usher in the coming of Christ. “Amillennialism” argues that the 1,000 reign of Christ is not to be taken literally, any more than other numbers in the Revelation, such as the 144,000 that will be saved. (Given that there are over 70 million Anglicans, this could be a problem).

While I cannot speak for Anglicanism, my personal position is called “Panmillennialism.” This position argues that everything will “pan out” in the millennium. While I say that in jest, I do not intend to demean the other positions. I simply believe that not only do we not know for certain, but that we are not intended to know. Jesus said, “Therefore keep watch and pray, for you do not know the day or the hour” (Matthew 25:13). I have witnessed fixations over end times create some very unhealthy forms of Christianity that result in distracting God’s people from the work that they are called to do TODAY. Since I do not want to be in that category, I focus on today and leave future things to the Lord. While such a position could be criticized as naïve or simplistic, I would argue that it best fits Jesus’ teachings about the end and what is our responsibility.

There is an old joke of the Pope having a daylong meeting with the Cardinals. At noon they took a well-deserved break and as one of the Cardinals is gazing over the Vatican gardens, he sees the Lord walking towards them. The Cardinal runs to the Pope and says, “Holy Father, I just saw the Lord walking through the garden in our direction. What shall we do?” To which the Pope replies, “Quicka, looka busy!” That is good advice for us as well.

Reflections on the Lessons of the One Year Bible

Deuteronomy 7:1-8:20

This passage contains what is for me, one of the most beautiful words of the Bible. The Hebrew word is hesed (although it helps to use a little phlegm when you pronounce it). It is a word so rich with meaning that no one English word can capture it. Various translations render it “covenant love” or “steadfast love” or “unfailing love” or “mercy,” this list goes on. It is the extravagant love of God towards His people that causes us to trust Him without reservation.

The Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament has a wonderful article on this word and it points out three aspects of hesed. It is active, it is social and it is enduring. Let’s look at each.

Hesed is active. It is not just a feeling God has about us. It is a love that leads to action. Years ago a book was written on why bad things happen to good people and the author concluded that while God loves us, He does not have the power to intervene in our lives and prevent bad things from happening. That is not the God of the Bible. In hesed, God is our shield and our protector. And even when bad things happen to us, we know that in hesed God causes all things to work together for our good (Rom 8:28). Nothing can separate is from His hesed.

Hesed is social. God’s love is not a theoretical love, His hesed is directed toward His people. In hesed we are the apple of His eye (Ps 17:8). We are inscribed on the palm of His hand (Is 49:16). He could no more forget us than a nursing mother could forget her child (Is 49:15). I will admit that there are days when it may feel that God has forgotten us, but that is just a feeling and not a reality. Hesed makes it impossible for Him to forget or to abandon us.

Hesed is enduring. God says that His hesed endures to a thousand generations and that He lavishes His hesed on those who love Him and obey His commands (Deut 7:9). A “generation” to the Hebrews was about 40 years, so a thousand generations is the same as saying for an eternity. I have known Christians who believe that it is so easy to fall from God’s grace that their state flower should be the daisy (now he love me, now he doesn’t, now he loves me, now he doesn’t.) A human relationship could not survive such uncertainty so it makes it doubly difficult to grow in a relationship with God if we are never certain of His love. Hesed tells us that we can be certain. To a thousand generations we can be certain.

We must note, especially in today’s moral climate, that hesed is related to obedience. God’s hesed is to a thousand generations to those who keep His commands but “He does not hesitate to destroy those who reject Him” (Deut 7:10). But that’s not unconditional love!!!!!!! That is true because today we define unconditional love as me doing whatever I want to do and God having to accept and love me anyway. That is a distortion of the truth about God’s love.

Hesed contains with it the idea of a covenant and that is why it is often translated as “covenant love.” Let’s consider the idea of the marriage covenant to show how love and keeping the covenant are connected. I have a covenant with my wife Beth and we love each other unconditionally, for better or for worse. Can I argue therefore that because we have unconditional love for each other that I am free to beat her or to cheat on her and she is still required to love me unconditionally? Of course not. Those actions would violate the covenant, be a rejection of hesed and (assuming I survived) Beth could not be accused of being unloving if she decided to prosecute me. Back to the first point about hesed. It is an action, not an emotion and so you can tell by someone’s actions if their love is true, if it is hesed, or if it us just an emotion. Thus Jesus said, “if you love me you will keep my commandments” (Jn 14:15).

So God’s hesed acts on our behalf, it focuses on us as the object of His love and it endures forever. Let His hesed remove any guilt and condemnation from your life and let it cause you to rest secure in His love.

Rants and Ruminations: A Theological Response to Gay “Marriage”

As the Supreme Court is considering the constitutionality of gay “marriage” it is troubling to see posts from Christians who believe in the Word of God but who have succumbed to the unbiblical rationale of the culture and defend gay “marriage” based on arguments of civil rights, or even more indefensible, arguments based on emotionalism. It would be understandable if the Scriptures were unclear on the topic but unclarity only comes when we allow the voice of the culture to drown out the voice of God.

The first question has to do with the definition of marriage. The Church catholic has taught through the centuries that marriage is a sacrament. It did so because as the Wedding Ceremony recites “The bond and covenant of marriage was established by God in creation and our Lord adorned this manner of life by his presence and first miracle at a wedding in Cana of Galilee”. BCP p.423. Thus because marriage was established by God and is a sacrament of the Church, it is not within the purview of the State to redefine it.

Second, our Lord gives a clear definition of marriage in Matthew 19. He does so by quoting Genesis 2. He says that a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife and the two shall become one. Men and women are complimentary halves that together make one in marriage. Same sex relationships are not complimentary, even if they imitate heterosexual relationships, which ironically they do while claiming to be an alternate lifestyle.

Third, tying into Jesus’ teaching about husband and wife being one, St. Paul teaches that husband and wife are icons of Christ and the Church. (Eph 5). Same sex unions assault this image, which is more than an analogy, it is a spiritual reality. Christ and the Church are Husband and Wife. Two men or two women or polygamy cannot reflect that reality.

Two important concerns come from the State’s attempt to redefine marriage. First is where it stops. If the criterion is that anyone in a loving relationship can be married, then why not those in polyamorous relationships? If the age of consent is lowered, as is being pursued in Europe, what about man/boy marriage? If every relationship can be defined as marriage, then what becomes of the unique bond that God intended? It becomes meaningless.

A second concern is that if the State turns this into a civil rights issue, then what is to prevent the State from punishing the Church for upholding a moral standard which has now been redefined as a civil right? If you don’t think that could happen just consider what the State is doing currently to Hobby Lobby for its refusal to violate its conscience on the new health care mandates.

What is before the court has massive implications and could reverse centuries of teaching, leading our nation another step away from God’s revelation about life. All of this for a concept, that as one Supreme Judge acknowledged, is newer than computers and cell phones.

Sermon – Palm Sunday 2013

There was a great picture going around the Internet of Francis right after he was announced as Pope and vested in his white cassock and zucchetto, the Christian version of the yarmulke. The Conclave had ended and the bus pulled up to return the Cardinals to their residences while a limo pulled up to take the new Pope to his. Francis waved off the limo and climbed on the bus with the Cardinals and a picture was taken of him from behind. What you see his white zucchetto in a busload of red ones. An informal scene of Francis chillin with his homeys. This first act of humility on his part gives hope that he will guide the Roman Church in a godly direction. It was a small act but actions matter.

Jesus was preaching a similar sermon when He entered Jerusalem on the back of a borrow colt. The people had no doubt seen conquering heroes before. Both Jewish and Roman history was replete with them. But they had never seen a conquering hero like this one. A King on the back of a donkey? The image that He was painting by this action could not be more obvious. As He would demonstrate in a few days with the washing of the disciples’ feet, He had not come to conquer and to impose His will like some Roman prefect. He had not come to be served but to serve, and give His life as a ransom for many.

On this Palm Sunday we join our voices with the crowds that hailed Him as King and we add our Hosannas to theirs. But on this day we read also of Peter’s denial of Jesus and of the crowd, perhaps the same crowd that cried Hosanna, now crying “Give us Barabbas.” We would like to think that we are stronger than Peter and less fickle than the crowd, but when things get quiet and we take an honest look within….if we were there, would we really have acted differently? Let me bring this closer to home. It’s much easier for me to blame the Jews or the Romans for killing Jesus than it is to admit that it was Ray Kasch who killed Him, but since it was for my sins that He died, I am far from guiltless. This is the collect that is prayed at Station 8 of the Stations of the Cross. “O Lord Jesus, we mourn and will mourn for thee and for ourselves, for thy sufferings and for the sins that caused them. O teach us so to mourn that we may be comforted, and escape those judgments prepared for all who reject thee.”

So if you find this liturgy today pulling you in two directions, from Hosanna to Crucify Him, then you are not being confused, you are entering Holy Week. I once was an assistant to a priest who really understood liturgy and also had a lot of money. He had a personal sacristy that most churches would love to have. On Palm Sunday he would begin the liturgy in a bright festival red vestment but at the offertory change into a deep ox blood vestment to take the congregation visually from celebration to passion.

That said, what are we to take away from today? Is Holy Week intended to be one long guilt trip before Easter? Absolutely not! Even in Holy Week there is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus. But saying that there is no condemnation is not the same thing as saying we do not have a need to enter into His passion. St. Paul prayed, “That I may know Him, the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His suffering, being conformed to His death.” But how do we do that? What would it look like for us to fellowship in His sufferings and be conformed to His death? I submit to you that St. Paul gave a very practical answer to this lesson that we just heard in his letter to Philippi. “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking on the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form He humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on the cross.”

We join Christ’s passion when we stop grasping, when we empty ourselves, when we take the form of a servant. This brings about not a literal death, but a death to self that results in a new life in Him, which is the only life worth living.

So, stop grasping. The desires are so strong within us that we believe it to be human nature to demand that things be fair, to demand respect, to demand that we are given honor for our worth. Parts of our culture even inflate these ideals. I have heard that some states have instituted self-worth campaigns where, for example, every kid on a team gets a trophy whether the team wins or not because in their eyes everyone is a winner. That kind of thinking is foreign to me. I certainly wasn’t raised that way nor did I raise my kids that way. When my son was playing peewee baseball, just to encourage him to do his best, I told him that every time he struck out an angel died. Okay, maybe I was not that harsh but I was far more interested in building his character than in inflating his ego, and ego is all it is when we think that respect is something we can demand rather than something we earn.

Jesus showed us a better way. If ever there was someone who could demand respect it was Jesus. He absolutely was equal with God but instead of grasping at that position, He became a servant. And we need to be eternally grateful that He did. As one commentator put it, “Had he come into the world emphasizing his equality with God, the world would have been amazed but not saved.” (Vincent’s Word Studies, p.432). What a thought! So following Jesus, we are not to be graspers. God will exalt us in due time, we are not to exalt ourselves.

Next St. Paul tells us that Jesus emptied Himself. Please allow me to slip into a bit of theology here because it is too important to pass by. I have read a few sermons that seem to imply that in order to become fully man, what Jesus emptied Himself of, was His divine attributes. So, for example, He had to stop being all knowing, in order to become a man with limited knowledge. That sounds good on the surface but it falls apart under closer scrutiny. God’s divine attributes are more than what He does, they are who He is. So if God were to empty Himself of His divine attributes, He would in essence ungod Himself. That He cannot or would not do. What Jesus emptied Himself of then was His glory, His divine privilege as God, hence the not grasping. But while Jesus was fully man, the mystery is that He was also fully God. That is how He could to the miracles that He did, including how He could know ahead of time that when the disciples entered the village they would find a colt tied up and that they would be questioned as they untied it. We cannot have Jesus emptying Himself of His divinity in order to obey His Father any more than Jesus has us empty ourselves of our humanity in order to obey Him. The Jesus that St. Paul preached, that we declare every Sunday in the Creed was both fully God and fully man.

So if Jesus emptied Himself of His divine privileges, and we are called to follow His pattern, what does that look like for us? Years ago I was approached by a couple to perform their marriage. She was an Episcopalian and he was Armenian Orthodox and they wanted to know if an Armenian Orthodox priest could participate in the service with me. I agreed and after I planned the liturgy, giving the other priest most of the speaking parts, I called him long distance, somewhere up north, to discuss the ceremony. After I laid it out for him, he complained that his part was too small. When I pointed out that all I was doing was what I was required to do, that is the vows and blessing, and that most of the speaking parts were his, he still objected. He said to me, “I am way too important to come all that way down there just to have such a small part.” To which I said, “I guess you are too important” and I called the couple and had them find another priest.

Let me say that all other Orthodox priests I have met have been just the opposite but that particular priest was a model of what it meant to NOT to empty yourself. What should he have done instead? He should have emptied himself of his pride and understood that it was a privilege for the couple to have asked him to participate and he should have been happy to do anything asked of him. Again, remember, our Master was a foot washer.

We have some wonderful models of this right here in our own parish. Get to know the leaders and participants of various ministries at St. Patrick’s, everyone from our Senior Warden to our youngest acolytes, and you will discover Christians who do not consider themselves too important to do whatever is asked of them. They do this not out of some kind of cultish loyalty but because they take their discipleship seriously and when the Lord has need of them then they respond. That is a very practical way in which we empty ourselves.

We also enter into Jesus’ passion when we become servants who walk in obedience. Jesus Himself demonstrated that is not an easy thing to do. Recall how the night before He was crucified, He wrestled with what the Father was asking Him to do. He even asked if there was any other way to let this cup pass from Him. But in the end Jesus said, “Thy will be done.” He was obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

St. Paul in many of his letters identifies himself as a servant of Christ Jesus. Actually he often uses the Greek word for “slave”, which carries with it less dignity than even the idea of a servant. He was a man who did not grasp and had emptied himself and because of this he was a man of great authority and did immeasurable good for the kingdom of God. We too, in whatever ministry or capacity we are called in Christ’s Body are to be first and foremost, servants like Christ.

One last thought about what we have come here today to commemorate. As we meditate on the events of this week, let it highlight for us the grace of God from beginning to end. This grace comes into clearer focus when realize that just as Christ knew about the colt that the disciples would find, He also knew of the people’s fickleness and how they would turn on Him and yet He rode into Jerusalem as their King. He knew that Judas would betray Him and yet invited Judas to the Last Supper. He knew that Peter would deny Him and yet He asked Peter to watch and pray with Him in the Garden. He spent over three years teaching and revealing Himself to the apostles, knowing that in His final hours they would leave Him and go into hiding for fear of the Jews. But none of all of that faithlessness was enough to make Him stop loving them.

This says to me that we can call upon that same grace that He offered the others. He who forgave His executioners from the cross saying, “Father forgive them, they know not what they do” can surely be trusted to forgive and restore us who are called by His Name when we have failed and fallen short, even though we do it every day. When St. Paul said in Romans that nothing could separate us from his love, the Apostle meant nothing. So as we enter into this sacred week, and we face the reality of His death on our behalf, and we even hear God reproach of us on Good Friday, we must keep in constant focus that what we are hearing is not the wrath of an angry god but the call to come home from a Father who loves us with an everlasting love. Amen.

Stump the Rector

Billy Crain asked if the statements in Genesis 1:29-31 indicate that both man and beast were intended to be vegetarians. While no one knows for certain, the fact that the Lord spoke only of seed bearing plants and fruit bearing trees as food, indicates that may be the case. It is always a risk to make an argument from silence. If God said, “Thou shalt not eat meat” then we could say with certainty. But it is a weaker case to argue that because meat was not mentioned in that passage about food that man was not intended to eat it. However, it would seem to fit, in a state of innocence, that acquiring food should not require the shedding of blood. After all, God did not create death, it came into the world through the sins of the ones who were to be stewards of the earth (1 Cor. 15:21). The fall changed man’s relationship with all of God’s creation. In the Kingdom to come, God’s original intention for creation will be restored and death will no longer be a part of life. So “the lion will eat straw like the ox, and the nursing child shall play over the hole of the cobra” (Is 11:7,8).

That said, are we to be vegetarians today in an attempt to get back to the garden? Since “vegetarian” is Native American for “bad hunter” I would say no. (Okay maybe that last part is made up.) To be a vegetarian is more a matter of personal choice than it is a matter of theology. We read in 1 Corinthians a discussion of meat sacrificed to idols but the concern was not the eating of meat but the fact that the meat had been sacrificed (1 Cor. 10:23-33).

While St. Paul cautions not to use our liberties in ways that would cause others to stumble, he argues, “Eat whatever is sold in the meat market without raising any question on the ground of conscience. For ‘the earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof.’” (1 Cor 10:25, 26). Add to this that he begins the whole discussion with the thesis statement, “All things are lawful, but not all things are helpful” (1 Cor 10:23). So it is lawful to eat meat but if you do not find it helpful, then you are free also in Christ to abstain. The choice is yours. As for me and my household, please pass the A1.

Reflections on the Lessons of the One Year Bible

Luke 3:23-38

I would guess that many readers today looked at the long list of Jesus’ genealogy and skipped to the next lesson. Why do we need a list of names, most of which are unpronounceable to all but Hebrew speakers? And yet St. Paul tells us that ALL Scripture is God breathed (2 Tim 3:16). So that list is there for a purpose, even if we don’t fully understand why, which brings up an important lesson about Holy Scripture. When reading it we must be careful to avoid the kind of pride that places us as the arbiter of truth. I do not sit in judgment of Scripture; it sits in judgment of me. It sheds light on the thoughts and intentions of my heart (Heb 4:12). Only someone who is self absorbed would consider a text irrelevant just because they don’t understand it, or unbelievable just because they find it hard to fathom. As the Lord made plain to Job, He does not owe us an explanation for His works.

But back to this list of names. I met a gentleman from China who had heard the stories of Jesus’ miracles and of His resurrection but having no religious upbringing, he assumed that they were myths, like the stories of the Greek and Roman gods. When he decided to read it for himself, he began as you would with any book, at the beginning. He began at Matthew 1. And what did he find there? He found a detailed genealogy of Jesus. This was all he needed to put the pieces together. To do what Jesus did was to be divine, but to have a detailed genealogy meant that He was an actual man and not a myth. That was all the information he needed to yield His life to Christ as Lord and Savior. Who knew that a list of Hebrew names could be a gospel tract? Because God’s Word is alive, it meets us where we are and ministers to our very need.

Rants and Ruminations : On the new Pope

This is from Anglican Archbishop Venables who knew him when he was a Cardinal. This is so wonderful for the Church around the world

“Many are asking me what Jorge Bergoglio is really like. He is much more of a Christian, Christ centered and Spirit filled, than a mere churchman. He believes the Bible as it is written. I have been with him on many occasions and he always makes me sit next to him and invariably makes me take part and often do what he as Cardinal should have done. He is consistently humble and wise, outstandingly gifted yet a common man. He is no fool and speaks out very quietly yet clearly when necessary. He called me to have breakfast with him one morning and told me very clearly that the Ordinariate was quite unnecessary and that the church needs us as Anglicans. I consider this to be an inspired appointment not because he is a close and personal friend but because of who he is In Christ. Pray for him.”

Rants and Ruminations: On Christ and Culture

The focus of the world on the election of a new Pope has brought the Roman Church under closer scrutiny by the media. Both conservative and liberal newsmakers have asked how the Roman Church can be taken seriously or deemed to relevant when it is so out of step with the mindset of the developed world. At the top of the list are the absence of women leaders among the ordained ranks and the failure of the Church to recognize changing standards on matters such as abortion and gay marriage.

The point that the media misses is that the Church is not accountable to the culture as they suggest by their questions/challenges. As surprising as it may sound at first, her goal is not to be taken seriously or even to be considered relevant by the culture. Her goal is to be faithful to her Lord and to keep the faith that was once and for all delivered to the saints (Jude 1:3). The Church is not subject to, what Bishop Vander Horst of Tennessee used to call, “the creeping gangrene of participatory democracy.” Lot and his family would have been condemned if they took their cues from what the majority of Sodom deemed acceptable. While the Church certainly seeks to reach the culture, she is wise enough to know that she does not do so by imitating the culture.

The reason that the media misses this understanding of the Church is because it fails to see the Church as a divine institution. Jesus said “I will build MY church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it” (Matt 16:18). It was to the Church that Jesus gave the keys to the kingdom (Matt 16:19). And so a central role of the Church is to preserve the truth, not to vote on it. If she were the Moose Lodge, then all she would need to do is to change her by laws by a 2/3rds vote. But the Church’s “by laws” come to us in the form of the Old and New Testament. These were written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and therefore not man’s to alter or update. The Church’s challenge is contextualize the truth of the Scriptures, so that modern man can apply it to his life, but the Church is forbidden to compromise the truth in order to gain popularity. Paul referred to such teachers as “ear ticklers” (2 Tim 4:3).

The other reason that the Church need not heed the call to be more relevant is because the culture that is judging it refuses to look in the mirror. Because there are sinners in the Church, she has her problems, but the Church can with confidence ask the culture, when it calls the Church to be more like it, “And how’s that working out for you?” (references below) Our society is killing 3,000 babies per day. The divorce rate hovers at 50% (41% in first marriage, 60% in second marriage and 73% in third marriage). 73% of black children are born out of wedlock. There are more Americans on food stamps than in the history of our nation. Bankruptcy increased by tenfold between 1960 and 2003. One in four girls and one in six boys will be sexually abused before they turn 18, and 1 in 10 Americans are on antidepressants. So when the culture calls upon the Church to get in step, the Church is happy to decline.

A brilliant American theologian named Niebuhr, considered how the Church relates to culture. He identified three ways. There is Christ against Culture which is seen in many fundamentalist sects where they cloister themselves away from the world. There is Christ of Culture, where the Church gets its clues from the culture as seen in many mainline denominations that have all but abandoned the truth of the Gospel. This can be seen particularly in their embrace of universalism. Then there is Christ transforming Culture, where the Church engages the culture with the Good News of Jesus, not to become like it, but to bring people into the Kingdom of God. It is Jesus not running away from the leper nor leaving him in his leprosy but lovingly touching him and giving him a new life.