Sermon – 5 Easter C – 2013

I have decided, since nearly every soul that comes to Nashville comes here to either write music or to perform music that I needed to get with the program. To that end I have written some lyrics that I want to share with you and if I do say so myself these words are as complex as they are profound. Here we go. “All you need is love. All you need is love. All you need is love, love. Love is all you need. Love is all you need. Love is all you need.” Deep, no?

You recognize immediately that I didn’t pen these words. This was a song written by John Lennon and in a 1971 interview, when asked if it was a propaganda song, Lennon said, “Sure…I’m a revolutionary artist. My art is dedicated to change.” Lennon had hoped to change the world through love but as you well know, the world is not a safer, nor more loving place all these years later. Ironically the man with the message of love was gunned down by a madman. So what do we do? Do we become cynical and give up on the message of love? Our Gospel lesson today tells us that we cannot because it is a commandment from our Lord. What we must do is to clarify our understanding of love so that we can be certain that we are living and proclaiming what Christ means by this commandment.

The first challenge is how we define the very word. Our language is of little help here. We say that we love God but we also love our dogs and we love chocolate. So what does it mean to love? In popular culture love is defined principally as a feeling; as in “You’ve lost that loving feeling, now its gone, gone, gone, woh oh, oh.” But love has to be more than that or else how is it that our Lord would command us to love one another? You can’t command someone to have a feeling can you? For ease of discussion and more importantly for aide in remembering, let me suggest to you that love, properly understood, is three things. It is spiritual, it is service and it is sacrifice and this is the love that Jesus commands us to have for one another.

First, love is spiritual. By that I mean that genuine love is rooted in God and if we try to remove God from mix, the end result is not genuine love. Lennon’s or anyone else’s attempt to change the world through love will fail apart from God. I’m not sure what Lennon’s religious upbringing was but we saw him make a very public move towards eastern spirituality and then away from that to a more humanist understanding of love. In his hauntingly beautiful song “Imagine” he offered a vision of a communist utopia where he calls us to imagine that there is no heaven above, no hell below, no possessions, no countries and he adds, no religion too. This is how John thought that the world would become one.

But we read these words in John’s first Epistle. “Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” Since love comes from God and God is love, we cannot know genuine love apart from Him. He is the source; He is the fountainhead of love. So when Jesus commands us to love one another, we don’t try to work up an emotion, rather we turn to God and ask for His love to pour through us to others. Love is spiritual.

Second, love is service. Just before Jesus gave the command to the disciples to love one another, he got on His hands and knees and washed their feet to give them an example of the love to which He was calling them. It is not always an easy thing to do, but He never promised us that it would be easy.Let me tell you about an event in my life.

One day when Beth and I were living in Chattanooga, I was coming out of the bank on my day off when I saw a woman, who was obviously a lady of the night, having a grand mal seizure on the sidewalk. She had fallen with such force that she split her head wide open and all I knew to do was to cradle her and apply pressure to the wound in her head. Because it was my day off I was dressed in civilian clothes and therefore not recognizable as a priest. Out of what seemed like nowhere her pimp showed up and because he didn’t know what had happened, he started yelling at me and threatening me. I took it at first but as the tension mounted I couldn’t take it any longer and at the top of my voice I yelled, “I’m a priest. Back off sucker.” To my delight he did and after the ambulance arrived I went back into the bank to wash off the blood that was covering my hands and arms.

Now I know that first responders, like some of our own parishioners, face this kind of thing every day, but I don’t and so I was a little rattled by the whole thing. I sat in my truck for a while, reviewing the events and wondered if I had done the right thing. HIV/Aides was all over the news and I had her blood all over me. Her pimp could have shot me as easily as he did back off or a bystander could have misinterpreted my actions and called for the police. All of these negative results were possibilities but as I thought about both Jesus’ teachings and His example to us, I concluded that I didn’t have another good alternative. I didn’t want to be the priest in Jesus’ story of the Good Samaritan who saw the man beaten and robbed and crossed over to the other side of the street. Jesus calls us to love and to love is to serve and service isn’t always pretty. Service is action, not an emotion. We as His disciples are called to act. That is how we love.

In this light I would like to challenge all of us, as a parish and as individuals, to raise our vision. We had about 6 years in what we called the wilderness. We had left our church home, turned over money and possessions; we sought alternative spiritual oversight from other parts of the Anglican Communion, and we met in a school cafeteria. Frankly during that time, our chief goal was simply to survive as a parish. But God blessed us to survive and now that we are on our own land, and in our own sacred space, now would be the perfect time for us to raise our vision beyond surviving to servant hood.

I’m not talking about finding the latest church growth gimmick or the newest program to boost membership. Rather I am calling on us to ask God to give us wisdom and opportunity to serve our community in the name of Christ. We did not build this chapel to be a bunker where we hide from the world. We built it to be a visible presence of Christ IN the world. In our baptismal vows we promise to seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbor as ourselves. Jesus said that the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many. So we need to be looking for Holy Spirit inspired ways to serve our neighbors, to make an impact on our community so that we truly love as Jesus called us to.

The third definition of love is sacrifice. Going back to the verse in First John that I quoted earlier let me read the next verses. “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.”

Love as sacrifice. Don DeWolfe is leading a course on Thursday nights called ALPHA where we discuss lectures given on video by an Anglican priest named Nicky Gumble. Last week Nicky told a famous story of sacrifice that is worth repeating. It took place in the Nazi concentration camps of World War II. After a prison escape, the Nazi’s randomly chose 10 other prisoners to punish in order to dissuade further attempts at escape. When they chose one man, he cried out in pain for what his death would mean to his wife and his children. Another prisoner came forward and explained that he was a Roman Catholic priest and since he did not have a wife or children, he offered to take the other man’s place. The priest’s name was Maxamilian Kolbe.

Fr. Kolbe had been a Franciscan friar and scholar earning 2 doctorates, one in philosophy and one in theology. After being ordained a priest in 1918, he returned to his homeland of Poland where he founded a monetary, a seminary, a radio station and started several organizations and publications. In 1930 he left Poland for Japan where he founded another monetary, another seminary and a Japanese newspaper.

When WWII broke out Fr. Kolbe was back in Poland. He managed to hide over 2,000 Jews in his monetary until on Feb 17, 1941 he was arrested by the Gestapo and in May sent to Auschwitz. It was there that he volunteered to take the place of a stranger. He and 9 others were placed in a starvation bunker where he led the men daily in hymns and prayers. After two weeks of starvation and dehydration, Fr. Kolbe was the only man left, and because they wanted to empty the bunker, the guards killed him by injecting him with carbolic acid. He was canonized by Pope John Paul II in 1982 and he is also honored by the Anglican Church with his statue being placed above the Great West Door of Westminster Abbey in London.

Such examples of self-sacrifice and martyrdom fill the pages of Christian history and to be honest, when I read them they make me wonder if I would have the metal to do such a thing. My hope is that to those whom God gives the martyr’s crown, He also gives the grace to wear it. But in any event, we can be inspired by such examples to look for ways to love, for ways to sacrifice in our daily lives. The easiest thing in the world to do is to be selfish. The greatest challenge is to be selfless and Jesus set the bar for that. He said, “Greater love hath no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friend.” And while this kind of love includes martyrdom it does not have to be limited to martyrdom. It includes a dying to self so that we can put the needs of others first. It is being, as we hear each week in the Mass, a living sacrifice, where we put God first and offer to him the best of our time and our talent and our treasure. Sacrificial love is, as Jesus taught, visiting the sick and feeding the poor and taking in the stranger. Once again we see that love is not an emotion it is an action.

The last thing I would like to point out from our Gospel lesson today is that I see a link between Jesus’ discussion about being glorified and glorifying the Father and His command for us to love one another. He told His first disciples that others would know that they are His disciples by their love for one another. Christian love points others to Christ. We don’t love so that people will think what great folks we are. We love to bring glory to God, who is the source of our love. We don’t serve so that people will think how humble we are, we serve to point them to the One who came to serve and give His life a ransom for many. We don’t sacrifice to prove how spiritual we are, we sacrifice to point to the Son who is the atoning sacrifice for the sins of the world. Love points the spotlight away from us and onto the One who alone is worthy of glory.

So in the end, we join Jesus in glorifying the Father when we obey His command to love one another. May we receive it from Him as a divine commission and not just a kind suggestion. “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.” Amen.

Reflections on the Lessons of the One Year Bible

Luke 19:1-27

In his wonderful book on Grace, Max Lucado retells the story of Zacchaeus as only Max could. He calls the chapter “Unscrooged Hearts” and he says, “When grace happens, generosity happens. Unsquashable, eye-popping bigheartedness happens.” That certainly was true for Zacchaeus. When the grace of God touched his life, he told Jesus the he would give half of his wealth to the poor and to anyone whom he cheated, he would give them back four times as much. He did not do this to earn his salvation, rather he did this in response to the Salvation that had spent the night in his home. St Augustine said “For grace is not given because we have done good works, but in order that we may be able to do them.”

Immediately after this uplifting story Jesus tells the story of the wicked servant who buried his talent and only returned to the King what he was initially given. These bookend stories confront us with our own responses to the grace of God.

First we see that having no response is not an option. If the life of Christ has come to you then there must be some signs of life. This is the danger of the kind of easy believism that is prevalent in the Church today. In an effort to avoid salvation by works, people are told that all they need do is raise a hand or pray a prayer at a meeting and then are given assurance of their salvation. While I am not saying that such responses to God’s love could not lead to salvation, if that is the only thing that has happened in your life, then you would be justified in wondering if “Salvation has come to this home today” as Jesus declared of Zacchaeus. We are saved by grace alone, but the grace that saves is never alone. Good works flow naturally from the spring of salvation. Justification leads to sanctification.

Second, the wicked servant illustrates how easily we can take the grace of God for granted and what a disconnect results in our lives when we do. In this story we see what happens when we “bury” God’s grace. We can stand in church and sing Amazing Grace at the top of our lungs and right after church harbor resentment in our hearts by refusing to give grace to others. But the one that we need to forgive does not deserve our forgiveness. Ah, but neither did we. But what if the one that we forgive does not appreciate it, or worse yet, abuse our forgiveness and use it as an excuse for more wrongdoing? That possibility did not stop the Father from sending His Son to a race of God haters. As Max Lucado put it, “He dispenses his goodness not with an eyedropper but with a fire hydrant.” So as his children we need to exchange our eyedroppers for a fire hoses. Jesus said, “Freely you have received, freely give” (Matt 10:8).

Third, grace is not to be confused with a blanket dispensation or universal salvation. Those who “bury” God’s grace and those who reject God’s grace will face judgment. The servant who buried the talent had it taken away from him and given to another. And for the enemies of the King, the King said, “Bring them in and execute them here in front of me” (Luke 19:27). These shocking words from the lips of Jesus, even taking into account that He is telling a parable, should give us pause. The modern Church has turned Jesus into such a friend and buddy that we have lost a holy fear of Him who will return to judge the quick and the dead. Even clergy who call themselves “evangelical” have concluded, contrary to the very teachings of Jesus, that everyone will be saved and hell will be empty. While that is a wonderful thought, it cannot be supported from what Jesus taught. The days that Paul prophesied, when the Church would no longer endure sound doctrine but would gather teachers to tickle our ears, those days are among us (2 Tim 4:3). Jesus speaks the truth in love and when out of love He gives us such warnings, we should accept His love and heed Him.

The simple conclusion from these two stories is that as recipients of grace we are to become ambassadors of grace. The good news is that we don’t have to do this alone. In fact we can’t do it alone because to be a servant you need someone to serve. It is through the Church, His Body, that we “spur one another on to love and good deeds” (Heb 10:24). It is as His Church that we let our lights shine and as we do this the Church becomes a fire hydrant of God’s grace.

Stump The Rector – The “T” word

A parishioner writes asking,”I was just wondering. Does tithing mean 10% to your church solely or to give 10% charitably (missions, other ministries, etc).”

Great question. Let me start to answer that by first looking at the principle of the tithe. Our foundation is that everything belongs to the Lord because He made it and is Lord of all. We are merely His stewards. So when we give our tithes we are returning to Him a portion of what is already His. That is why we quote the passage in the Mass, as we present our gifts, “All things come of Thee O Lord, and of Thine own have I given Thee.” (1 Chronicles 29:14). Additionally when we give our offerings we are stewarding His resources where He wants them to go. Note that I am making a distinction between tithes and offerings and I will return to that shortly.

It is important to realize that the idea of tithing to the Lord came before the law. In Genesis, after Jacob had his famous dream of the angels ascending and descending on the ladder that connected heaven and earth, we read these words of Jacob. “If God will be with me and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat and clothing to wear, so that I come again to my father’s house in peace, then the LORD shall be my God, and this stone, which I have set up for a pillar, shall be God’s house. And of all that you give me I will give a full tenth to you.” (28:21,21). But this did not begin with Jacob. His grandfather Abraham gave a tithe to the Priest and King Melchizedek after Melchizedek brought out bread and wine and blessed him (Gen 14:18-20). Jesus also commended tithing as He was correcting the Pharisees when He said, “What sorrow awaits you Pharisees! For you are careful to tithe even the tiniest income from your herb gardens, but you ignore justice and the love of God. You should tithe, yes, but do not neglect the more important things.” (Luke 11:42 New Living Translation).

Beyond the tithe, the Scriptures also speak of offerings. In fact there are quite a few kinds of offerings mentioned; “Free Will Offering” “Thank Offering” “Wave Offering” “Meal Offering” to name just a few. While there is no instruction in the New Testament about where to give our tithes and offerings I can offer some guidelines that I have followed. In the Old Testament the tithe was brought to the temple. In Malachi the Lord said, “Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down a blessing until there is no more need.” So following that principle, we give our tithe to our parish. There are other charities that we support, like Food for the Poor, but they receive our offerings, not our tithe.

I heard an old preacher put a very common sense spin on it. He said that you should tithe where you are fed. You don’t eat at McDonalds and go across the street and pay at Burger King. And so you should not be fed at your local church but then send your tithe somewhere else.

The other way I look at it is that God should get our first and our best. The Bible uses the term “first fruits.” So the first “bill” we pay is our tithe and if we have an abundance, after the other bills are paid, then we give offerings. Some times of course, like the widow and her mite, the Lord leads us to give not from abundance but from need and in that too we are blessed. Jesus said, “Give, and you will receive. Your gift will return to you in full–pressed down, shaken together to make room for more, running over, and poured into your lap. The amount you give will determine the amount you get back.” I have seen this to be true in my life.

Sermon – 3 Easter C – 2013

“This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.”

It was all still sinking in for the disciples. If you have ever lost someone that you were very close to, then you know how different that makes your world. You feel lost emotionally, sometimes you can’t cry and sometimes you can’t stop crying. Time fluctuates between seeming to stand still and flying by so fast that you are not sure what day it is. There are times when it all seems more like a dream than reality and you think that any moment you are going to wake up and life will be back to normal. But then reality sets in and you know that life will never be back to normal.

All of that is a natural part of the grief process and no doubt the disciples were experiencing some or all of that over the death of their Master. But now add to that the women telling them that they went to His tomb but found it empty and Mary Magdalene claiming to have talked with Him. And what did He say to Mary? “Go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to My Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”

What was that supposed to mean? Does that mean that He is going away, that we will never see Him again? Maybe the women in their grief were mistaken about what they saw and heard.

But that night, Jesus appears in their hiding place and pronounces peace to them and breathes on them the Holy Spirit. Thomas was not there and did not believe their testimony so that next Sunday Jesus appeared again behind their locked doors. Once again pronounced peace and showed Thomas His hands and His side. This was the second time He revealed Himself to them.

The weeklong Feast of Unleavened Bread was over and the disciples returned home to Galilee. But more importantly, we are told in Matthew’s Gospel that they went there because both the angel at the tomb and later Jesus told them to meet Him in Galilee. It would be on the mountain in Galilee that Jesus would give them what has come to be known as The Great Commission.

So they did as they were told but things were still not clear to them. Where was He? How long were they supposed to wait? Peter announces “I’m going fishing.” The way I interpret this is that Peter meant it very differently than if Steve Thompson said, “I’m going fishing.” Peter was not going to pop into the Galilee Wal Mart, get some bait and Vienna sausages, and go bass fishing to kill some time until Jesus showed up. Fishing for Peter was not a hobby, it was a career. When Jesus found Peter he was fishing and now Peter was back full circle. I have no doubt that Peter considered himself unworthy and disqualified to be one of the twelve after having denied Jesus a few days earlier. What was left for him to do but to go back to his old job?

In biblical days fishermen fished at night so that they could sell the fish fresh at the morning markets. So the others joined Peter and they fished all night but to no avail. As morning breaks, Jesus is standing on the beach and asks, “Children you have no fish, have you?”

Even as a hobby fisherman it stings a bit to spend a whole day fishing and get skunked. But some of these guys were professionals so they must have been their ego’s bruised. And here is where we see the nature of Jesus shine through. This was a perfect time for a divine ‘I told you so.”

“And the reason that you didn’t catch any fish is because you did not follow my orders. Did anybody tell you to go fishing? Did the angel at the tomb perchance lend you a net? Did one of you guys get 30 more pieces of silver and decide to buy a boat? What were you thinking?”

But Jesus does none of this. He does not chide them or rebuke them or even question them. He simply tells them to put the net on the other side of the boat and they catch so many fish that they cannot not haul them all in.

To me this is a great illustration of Jesus meeting us right where we are. He had spent over three years of His life pouring Himself into these men, and especially to Peter, James and John, and when He finds these apostles fishing instead of spreading the news of His resurrection, what does Jesus do? He helps them to fish.

When I was younger I used to worry a good deal about missing the will of God for my life. Someone invites me to a meeting and don’t really want to go but what if God had planned for me to meet someone there who could change my life? What if I pick the wrong college or choose the wrong major or pick the wrong career? For whatever reason I thought that it was all up to me to discern the will of God and then get where He wanted me to be or I would miss the boat. But as my understanding of God’s nature grew I realized that it did not all fall on me. He is the One who is all powerful and all knowing and He is the One who is love. And I can expect Him to deal with me in love, just as Jesus dealt with his fishing apostles.

Sure I needed to seek guidance, to read Scripture, to pray to do His will but in the end I’m just a sheep. It’s up to the Shepherd to get me to green pastures and quiet waters. My responsibility is to obey the Shepherd’s voice but it is the responsibility of the Shepherd to get this dumb sheep where He wants me to be. So peace comes when I realize that if for a time I am headed in the wrong direction, if I am fishing instead of preaching, that He will meet me where I am and get me where I need to be.

I have always loved that this passage gives us the exact count of fish. The text does not say “about 200.” It says “153.” If you research it on the web you will find about as many theories of why the number 153 is used as you will about the number 666. And like the theories on the number 666, most if not all of them will be wrong.

St. Jerome of the 4th century said that there were 153 types of fish in the Sea of Galilee and so catching one of each was an illustration that the Gospel would catch people, as we heard in the Revelation lesson, from every tribe and language and people and nation. While I have doubts that the good saint was accurate about the number of species of fish in the Sea of Galilee, I think he is on to something. The abundant haul and the unbroken net is a foreshadowing of when Jesus sends them out to be fishers of men, that the nations will come into the Church and the Church will not only be able to contain them but will thrive from them. The true treasure of the Church is that we do indeed have people from every family and language and people and nation.

One commentator that I read saw another lesson being taught by the 153 fish that they caught after Jesus told the apostles to put the net on the other side of the boat. He called it “the secret of effective mission” and that secret is the connection between obedience and effectiveness. That should be a no brainer but look around and witness how easily the Church loses that connection.

When we were a part of the Episcopal Diocese of Tennessee, our diocese was one of the few dioceses in the nation that was growing and we were growing primarily through church planting. The National Church put together a large task force to figure out how to grow the church and they flew down to interview us to find out our “secret.” Since I was a church planter at the time the Bishop ordered me to meet with them. He had to order me because I did not want to go because I knew that they were considering all kinds of silly gimmicks and some downright heretical things to grow the church. A hip hop Mass, giving communion to pets, lay people presiding over the Eucharist, offering communion to the unbaptized, performing same-sex marriages, the crazy list goes on and on.

I thought back to a professor whom Fr. BE and I shared in seminary. He recently died. His name was Don Armentrout and he had a wry sense of humor. He was a Lutheran and chided us for having a required course on pastoral theology. He said, “I’ll tell you how to provide pastoral care. You bring them in and tell them the story. Then you give them some body and some blood and you send them out and you go home and have a beer. Next week you bring them back and do it all over again.” What in his own way he was telling us to do was to be faithful and to be obedient. So that in essence was what I told the task force we were doing. There was no secret and we didn’t need gimmicks. We just needed to do what Jesus told us to do. Some of them did not like what I had to say but as I was getting into my truck an Australian Bishop ran outside, threw his arms around me and said, “Thank you. I don’t know why we have to make it so bloody difficult.” The large haul of fish was a consequence of the apostles doing what Jesus told them to do and while the Church should not be in a numbers game, we should be concerned about being effective for the sake of the kingdom.

Our lesson stopped too short today. After Jesus blesses the apostles with an abundance of fish, He had breakfast with them. As in the case of showing them His hands and His side, He is proving to them that He is not a ghost or a spirit, but that He is resurrected. They are going to die for that truth so He is gracious to prove it to them again and again.

But where it stops short is it leaves out His exchange with Peter. As they were finishing breakfast “Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?’ ‘Yes, Lord,’ he said, ‘you know that I love you.’ Jesus said, ‘Feed my lambs.’ Again Jesus said, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ He answered, ‘Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.’ Jesus said, ‘Take care of my sheep.’ The third time he said to him, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, ‘Do you love me?’ He said, ‘Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said, ‘Feed my sheep. Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.’ Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, ‘Follow me!’”

I have heard sermons on this that emphasize that Jesus and Peter were using different Greek words for love here but I think that the overarching point is that Jesus had Peter confess his love three times to restore him after denying Him three times. It was a way to let Peter know once and for all that the slate had been wiped clean.

And we believe that Jesus offers to each of us a clean slate as well. It is offered to us every time we come here and confess our sins and receive His absolution. The same resurrected Jesus that revealed Himself to those men and fed them on the shores of the Sea of Galilee is present here to reveal Himself to us and to feed us with Word and Sacrament. That is what makes us an Easter people, and like those first disciple, we know beyond a shadow of doubt, that He is risen indeed. Amen.

Stump the Rector: God’s will

My mother writes asking me to explain the difference between God’s perceptive will and His decretive will. (This is payback for all the times I didn’t make my bed).

God’s will is revealed through His precepts. His precepts tell us how He wants us to live our lives. We don’t have to wonder if we should covet because God’s precepts, as revealed in the 10 Commandments, make it clear that to covetousness is against God’s will.

God’s will is also revealed through what He has decreed. His decrees are what He has determined will be. The prophet was able to prophecy that Jesus would be born of a Virgin because it was decreed by God and no man or power can prevent what God has decreed.

The mystery for us as mere mortals is when God’s precepts are broken but God’s decrees are still fulfilled. The ultimate example of this is Judas’ betrayal of Jesus. Judas broke God’s precepts of loving your neighbor as yourself when he sold Jesus for 30 pieces of silver. Yet God had decreed before the foundations of the world that Jesus would be betrayed and handed over to sinful men. Yet Judas was not ordered by God to betray Jesus so he was responsible for the evil that he did. The Scripture says that Satan had entered his heart so we cannot blame this act on God. And yet it played perfectly into God’s ultimate plan for the salvation of the world. (I know….at this point the mind starts to run out of RAM).

Where this becomes more than a theological mind game is when we apply to our daily lives. You hear people all the time say “I believe things happen for a reason.” The Scripture says that they do and that should be a great comfort to us. “All things work together for good for those who love God and are called according to his purpose.” Rom 8:28. So even if bad things happen to you as a result of man breaking the precepts of God, no one can derail what God has decreed for you. And what has God decreed for you? The next verses tell us. “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.”

You don’t have to live very long to know that life is very difficult. There is heartache and tragedy all around. But because we know that nothing can separate us from the love of God, that nothing can stop God’s ultimate plan for our lives, then we can live life with a quiet confidence (Rom 8:36-38). Of course this confidence is not in ourselves, but in Him who will perfect the work that He has begun in us (Phil 1:6). Or our approach to life, to put it in more familiar words, can be, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.”

Reflections on the Lessons of the One Year Bible

Proverbs 12:27 Lazy people don’t even cook the game they catch, but the diligent make use of everything they find.

This is a slice of wisdom about stewardship and the motivations behind it. It’s difficult to be a good steward if you are lazy because good stewardship requires diligence i.e. work.

Of course the first step in stewardship is to understand its implications. “The earth is the Lord’s and all that dwells therein.” (Ps 24:1). If everything is the Lord’s then in actuality we do not own anything. We are simply taking care of His things. That’s what stewards do. Also as stewards we can expect the Owner to return one day and ask us to give an accounting of how well we took care of His things. This is the responsibility part of stewardship.

But stewardship also has its rewards. When we were first married, Beth and I tended to waste a lot of food. Neither of us cared for leftovers. In this we were poor stewards. But over the years we have acquired three dogs, fourteen chickens, thousands of worms in a worm farm and tens of thousands of bees in two hives. We have learned that what the dogs don’t eat, the chickens will, and what the chickens don’t eat, the worms will. We also began recycling years ago and we make regular trips to Good Will, so very little in our house now goes to waste. There is an intangible but wonderful feeling that comes from being better stewards.

Another reward is that we get to interact with God’s creatures. Our dogs of course are family but the chickens have such quirky personalities that they too bring joy. The bees and the worms fascinate us as they do what God created them to do.

There is also joy in watching life go full circle. The worm castings are used in the garden, which is pollinated by the bees, and from which Beth feeds us and the dogs. (Yes our dogs love vegetables). And when she throws the weeds from the garden in the chicken house you would have thought that she was serving up filet mignon. In our techno world we have lost touch with life cycles like this and in my opinion we are not the better for it.

Additional joy comes in sharing the eggs and vegetables and honey with others. It is a way of building community and practicing hospitality, which is also an important aspect of stewardship. These are just a few of the rewards of working to be a better steward of God’s earth.

I understand that not everyone has the time or the space to raise a menagerie but we all can focus on being more diligent and making use of what we have been given. There are absolutely no benefits in being lazy and wasting resources, but there is joy to be found in being a good steward, joy both for this life and for the life to come. Of all my goals in life, my ultimate life’s goal is to hear these words; “Well done good and faithful servant…enter into the joy of your Master” (Matthew 25:23).

Stump the Rector: On election

Kelli writes asking how those who are not elect can be condemned on the Day of Judgment for not believing. The idea of everyone not having a chance is troubling to her.

When couched in those terms it is a troubling concept and does seem to paint God in a negative light. Allow me to offer a number of points to perhaps put the discussion in a different light.

First, we must acknowledge that God is love and that He so loved that world that He gave His only Begotten Son so that all who believe in Him would not perish but would have eternal life (Jn3:16). That is our starting point. When speaking of matters of predestination and election we are touching on some deep mysteries and there is so much that we do not know. Just like in matters of the end times, if you meet someone who says that they have it all figured out, then beware.

But we do know is God’s love for us. So while we may speculate about what happens to a person who has never heard the Gospel and how they will be received on the Day of Judgment, our beginning place is that the God who loved the world enough to send His Son to die for it can be trusted to do what is just.

Second, we must remember that He is the Potter and we are the clay (Romans 9). So while it is permissible for us to wrestle with these truths, we must never think that somehow God is accountable to us or that we deserve to understand it all. We must take large doses of humility as we seek the Truth. The Church does not speak with a unified voice on the matters of election and predestination as she does on essential truths like the Trinity and the Divinity of Christ. The debate about election vs. free will has been brewing since the days of St. Augustine and our Baptist brethren are in the midst of it even now. So while I believe the statements in the 39 Articles on Election and Freewill (X, XVII) to be masterpieces, I cling to them lightly. I think of Job when he was asking God to explain why bad things happen to good people and he concluded, “Therefore I have uttered what I do not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I do not know.” If we could wrap our minds completely around God, then He would not be God.

Third, the Scriptures say that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). It is important to remember that the wicked are not condemned due to no fault of their own. They are condemned for their wickedness. They are not neutral beings who would like to believe but are not given an opportunity. Romans 1:18-32 shows us the true state of the wicked, even describing them as “haters of God.” So in terms of equity, the hard truth is that God would be just even if He chose to save none of us. He would have been just to have stopped the whole thing with Adam and Eve for their rebellion. Thus we can turn the question on its head, from “Why doesn’t God save everyone?” to “Why in the world does God save anyone?”

Fourth, as Anglicans we do not see mysteries in the Scriptures as problems to be solved, but rather as truths to be proclaimed. Speaking of the Trinity, St. Augustine said something to the effect that if we try to understand it we will lose our minds, but if we don’t believe it we will lose our souls.

We don’t know how it is that Mary conceived of the Holy Spirit, but we proclaim it every week in the Creed. We don’t know how it is that “whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me and I in him” but we believe it to be true and we receive Him weekly, veiled in the bread and wine (Jn 6:56). Mysteries are to be celebrated and their implications enfolded into our lives. They do not have to be fully comprehended for us to do so.

Some may call it simplistic to believe in what you do not fully understand, but we live our lives that way every day. I have no idea how electricity works but I trust it to be there every time I throw the switch. Further, treating mysteries as if they are problems to be solved leads to an unhealthy form of scholasticism that gives birth to idle speculation. Instead of trying to figure out how many angels can sit on the head a pin, our calling is to be out visiting the sick.

Fifth, we must keep the teachings of predestination and election in their intended context. They are not given to cause us to fret about ourselves or about others. They are given for our comfort for assurance. They tell us that God has loved us and called us before the foundations of the world and that He who began a good work in us will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus (Eph 1:4; Phil 1:6).

Six, these teachings are for the glory of God. I am a Christian not because I’m better or wiser than anyone else. I am a Christian because God in His love created a new heart within me, healed my blindness and put His Spirit within me. He did it, not me, so He is to be glorified. I can’t even boast about having faith because that too is a gift from God (Eph 2:8,9).

As I said earlier, these are deep mysteries, and certainly cannot be fully explained in a blog. When I find myself being a little overwhelmed by theology such as this, I remind myself of a story about the famous German theologian Karl Barth. Barth’s “Dogmatics” was his master work. It was 13 volumes and over 6 million words. After a lecture in America in 1962, during a Q&A session, a student asked him if he could summarize his life’s work in theology in one sentence. Barth said that he could. “Jesus love me this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” After exploring the depths of God, it is always a good thing to come back to that eternal truth.

Reflections on the Lessons of the One Year Bible

Deuteronomy 33:1-29

“Moses said this about Dan. ‘Dan is a lion’s cub, leaping out from Bashan.’”

Really? That’s it? The tribe of Levi is dripping with praises and the tribe of Joseph is blessed with possessions and power but the tribe of Dan is pronounced to be an overgrown kitten. How is that fair?

And therein lies the problem. The last few generations have been taught that we can be anything we want to be, that we are all equal and therefore things must be fair. This thinking has influenced our theology and image of God and so we have an expectation that a fair God must treat us all equally.

But the reality is that we are not all equal. God may love Dan as He loves Joseph, but God did not make Dan and Joseph equal to one another. When we demand equality and life does not deliver, we complain and covet and try to pull our neighbor down to our level in order to force equality. And in so doing we violate the commandments of God.

Years ago I led an early morning men’s bible study and one of the gentlemen who attended was the epitome of gentleness and grace. We asked him about his upbringing and he spoke of being raised under the teachings of the old prayer book. (To him the newer BCP was the 1928. He was raised under the 1892). He spoke of the catechism that formed his philosophy of life. What follows is a pertinent section of that catechism.

Question. What is thy duty towards thy Neighbour? 

Answer. My duty towards my Neighbour, is to love him as myself, and to do to all men, as I would they should do unto me: To love, honour, and succour my father and mother: To honour and obey the civil authority: To submit myself to all my governors, teachers, spiritual pastors and masters: To order myself lowly and reverently to all my betters: To hurt nobody by word or deed: To be true and just in all my dealings: To bear no malice nor hatred in my heart: To keep my hands from picking and stealing, and my tongue from evil speaking, lying, and slandering: To keep my body in temperance, soberness, and chastity: Not to covet nor desire other men’s goods; but to learn and labour truly to get mine own living, and to do my duty in that state of life unto which it shall please God to call me.

He spoke of the two sections here underlined and what peace they brought to his life. He recognized that he had “betters” and so he did not waste time and energy trying to be equal with everyone. In addition he believed that God had given him a certain “state on life” and that he was to be content in that state to which God had called him. This allowed him to avoid covetousness and resentment towards those who had more than he did.

He was in his retirement years and looked back over his life with gratitude. Gratitude is not possible if you resent others and carry anger that you are not being treated fairly. So if you are Dan you can spend your life resenting Joseph or you can spend your life being grateful that your name was even mentioned. This puts me in mind of Minnie Pearl’s philosophy that contentedly proclaimed. “I’m just proud to be here.” That is a great way to go through life.

Reflections on the Lessons of the One Year Bible

Proverbs 12:18
“Some people make cutting remarks, but the words of the wise bring healing.”

We were told a lie as we were growing up. “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” It sounded like a good retort to a verbal bully but the truth is that words did hurt us. They did so because words have power. God created by the spoken word and blasphemy against the Holy Spirit brings destruction. Read the Letter of James chapter 3 on taming the tongue and you will want to enter a Cistercian monastery. Which reminds me of an old joke.

A novice enters a monastery and is told that before he is allowed to make his life vows he must spend three years in silence. The only exception is that he will meet with the abbot once a year and is allowed to say only two words. At the end of the first year of silence, he is called before the abbot. The abbot asks, “How is your time here so far?” To which the novice replies, “Bed hard.” The abbot nods and dismisses the novice. At the end of the second year he appears before the abbot again, who asks the same question. The novice says “Food bad.” At the end of the third year the scene repeats itself and to the same question the novice says “Church cold.” The abbot shakes his head and says, “I’m afraid being a monk is not going to work out for you. All you have done since you have been here is complain, complain, complain.”

Words have power and we must learn to be good stewards of that power. It seems to me that our culture is becoming increasingly crude. We hear words used today in mixed company that would not have been tolerated years ago. Some forms of “music” are filled with such vile that they rot the soul. Social media has a steady stream of profanity and ad hominem attacks, particularly by those who ironically champion tolerance and diversity. Last week on my day off I watched an Irish comedy/mystery, which would have been delightful if they had not dropped the f bomb every other sentence. I don’t offend easily but it did sadden me for the image that it gave to my ancestral land. The impression was that the Irish are so cretinous that they no of no other adjectives, which is simply not true of a people who are famous for their way with words.

I am not sure which is the chicken and which is the egg. Do we speak so crassly because we are on a decline, or are we on a decline because we speak so crassly? Either way, a positive step would be to use words that bring healing and avoid words that tear down. There is a passage in Ephesians 4 that gives us a great guide for how we should use our words. “Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear.” (New American Standard Version). If before we speak, we ask ourselves if what we are about to say will bring grace to those who hear it, we will go a long way towards being part of the solution instead of part of the problem. Words have power. Use them carefully.

Stump the Rector

Kelli wrote that she had been reading in the Bible about angels and wanted to know more.


I don’t pretend to be an expert on angels but I can offer some input both from Scripture and from personal experiences.

First the word “angel” means messenger, which seems to be a primary role for them in Scripture. They communicate God’s will to mankind as preeminently seen in the annunciation of the angel to the Blessed Virgin Mary (Lk 1:26).

Angels are also known as ministering spirits. We are told in Scripture of two occasions in the life of Jesus, once in the wilderness and one in the garden, when they cared for Jesus after He went through those challenging times (Mt 4:11; Luke 22:43). In Matthew we are not told directly how they went about ministering to Jesus but commentator Matthew Henry says that they “supplied him with what he needed and dutifully attended to him.” This makes sense since He had just completed a long fast. In Luke we are told that the angel was sent to strengthen Jesus. It is likely that Jesus received from the angel, what we all need in times of trial, the love and compassion of the Lord. It is a mystery why the Father chose to send strength through an angel, but it is undeniable that He did.

The idea of having a guardian angel comes from a couple of passages. Hebrews 1:14 says of angels “are they not all ministering spirits sent to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit eternal life?” Our Lord speaks of angels in Matthew 18:10 when referring to children, “See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven.” We see their care for us as we see angels rescue Lot and his family from the destruction of Sodom (Gen 19), go before the Children of Israel in the wilderness (Ex 32:34) and open the prison cell for Peter (Acts 12).

Additionally, we taught in the book of Daniel that angels do battle with forces of evil. In Daniel 10, Michael aided the messenger who came to minister to Daniel as he fought his way to Daniel. This theme is echoed in the Revelation, which speaks of Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon and his angels (Rev 12:7).

While angels are real, that may not always be obvious. Hebrews 13:2 says that we should not neglect showing hospitality to strangers because we may actually be entertaining angels without knowing it.

I have spoken with two people who have had direct contact with angels. The first is my mother. One night a stranger came to church and asked for help. The priest asked my parents to give him a room for the night, and although he was dressed like a member of a motorcycle club, they agreed. At first my mother could not sleep for fear of this stranger doing them harm. But after praying for God’s safety, she saw an angel, larger than the doorframe, standing on front of their bedroom door with a drawn sword in hand. After this she was able to sleep.

The second person was a young woman who had been raised in a satanic “church.” She called a local pastor and asked to be rescued, fearing for her life if she was caught leaving the cult. The pastor went to her rescue and as they arrived at the pastor’s home, she saw a giant standing at his front door. The giant so terrified her that she refused to exit the car. When she explained the circumstance to the pastor, while he could see no one, he remembered that he had said a brief prayer before leaving, asking the Lord to send an angel to protect his family while he was gone. Still seeing no one, he released the angel, who then left, and the young woman entered his home. I spoke with her after she had been baptized and was walking in the way.

One last comment about angels. Colossians warns against the “worship of angels” (Col 2:18). Since the word used there can also mean “religion of angels” it can imply more than just the act of worship. This would include not using them as mediators or as amulets to protect from evil. I suggest that any over-fascination with angels would also be included under this warning. Angels are a gift from God to human kind but our eyes are to be “fixed on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith” (Heb 12:2). As Steven Covey put it, “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.”