Stump the Rector – On the Lottery

Lottery

Good Morning!
I’m listening to the radio as I get dressed and hear one of the radio preachers say that if you’re a good Christian, you won’t ever get involved in playing the lottery. It’s dishonest.
Thoughts about that?

I don’t think that the preacher should have gone there in the first place. Why would you possibly lose a listener’s attention over such a trite matter as the lottery?

I was talking to a parishioner who became the lone Anglican in his family as a teenager. He said that what brought him to Anglicanism was that in his previous church he heard a sermon one week on the need to be saved and the next week on the evils of smoking. Both were preached with equal passion and in his young mind they seemed to be held as equivalents. Then he attended an Anglican church and when he heard the Creed being recited he realized that Anglicans make a difference between essentials and non-essentials. It is the essentials of the Creed that unite us. We can and do have very different opinions on even important matters such as politics and the like.

Some may believe the matter of the lottery to be a moral issue but I would put it in the non-essential category. As such I do not consider it a worthy standard of whether someone is or is not a good Christian. By way of contrast, I just read an article about the Dean of the National Cathedral who calls himself a “non theist Christian.” If by “non theist” he means that he does not believe in God, I would put that in the essential category and it would be yet one more reason why people should be leaving The Episcopal Church in droves.

Legalism is a danger for any of us who take the Scriptures seriously and want to walk in holiness. That is why it is so helpful to remember St. Paul’s words “All things are lawful but not all things edify.” (1Cor 10:35) If something falls in the non-essential category, then the next thing to ask is “does it build you up or does it tear you down?” Then you will know whether or not it is something in which to participate. A very helpful old adage is “In the essentials, unity. In the non-essentials diversity. In all things, charity.”

Sermon – 14 Pentecost C

Kingdom

Normally when preparing a sermon, preachers look for a theme in the lessons and then expound upon that theme. That is my usual approach but today I want to take a different tact. This passage in Hebrews before us is important for us to understand, but it can be lost by all of the imagery. So I want to take a more exegetical approach. That is where, rather than looking at an overall theme, we take the text apart, piece by piece, so that we can get into the meat of it and discover it’s message for us. Think of it today as a pulled pork sermon.

You have before you the RSV but I am going to read from the New American Standard, both because it is closest to the original Greek and so that you can have a comparison. So please look again at the lesson from Hebrews.

Verse 18. For you have not come to [a mountain] that can be touched and to a blazing fire, and to darkness and gloom and whirlwind, and to the blast of a trumpet and the sound of words which [sound was such that] those who heard begged that no further word be spoken to them.
What a dramatic image! Already some of you are wondering how the writer of Hebrews knew about the Lord of the Rings. I hate to disappoint you but that is not where he was going.

One of the themes of the Book of Hebrews is how superior the New Covenant is to the Old and this theme continues in these words. The writer is harkening us back to the time after the Exodus, in the wilderness of Sinai, when Moses went up the mountain to meet with God and to receive the Law. Listen to these incredible words that God said to Moses as he summoned him up the mountain. “…I bore you on eagles wings and brought you to myself. Now therefore if you will obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine, and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.”

The Lord was offering a unique relationship with Him among all the nations. Israel would be set apart as priests to minister to God. If that was what God was offering them in the Old Covenant, and the New Covenant is infinitely better than the Old, then what is He offering to us today? We will get to that later. But first, what about the scary stuff of blazing fire and darkness and blasts of trumpets etc.? What is that all about?

Because man cannot look on God and live, God came to Moses in a thick cloud on the mountain. He told the people to wash their clothes and be ready on the third day to be consecrated or set apart for God. Until that time they were not go up the mountain or to even touch it. Why? Because God is holy and they were not. He gave them this warning to protect them, because for an unholy people to approach a Holy God, it would be like a moth flying into an open flame. The moth would perish, not out of malice or judgment, but just because the two cannot be together.
Then on the third day thunder and lightening and a thick cloud was on the mountain and a trumpet blasted to assemble the people. Exodus 19 says, “Now Mount Sinai was wrapped in smoke because the LORD had descended on it in fire.”

It puts me in mind of the scene in the Wizard of Oz where Dorothy and her companions appear before the Great Oz and they shake in their boots as he speaks to them while fire and smoke and thunder crash all around. In even a greater way the people of Israel were filled with fear and were told to stay away from God. Only Moses and the priests could approach God.

Verse 22. But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to myriads of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the Judge of all, and to the spirits of [the] righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood, which speaks better than [the blood] of Abel.

We do not come to a Mount Sinai filled with fire and smoke and blasting trumpets where we are afraid to approach God. Under the New Covenant we come to Mount Zion and as we look around, we see angels and elders and saints and martyrs and all who have gone before us. We see Jesus who made it possible for us to be with God. So instead of the fear and dread of the Old Covenant, we realize that under the New Covenant, literally we have come to a family reunion. “Therefore with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven, we laud and magnify thy glorious Name, evermore praising Thee and saying, Holy, Holy, Holy…” We have come from the blood of Abel, murdered by his brother and crying out for justice, to the blood of Jesus, who gave His life to satisfy the just demands of a Holy God. He invites us to enter the Presence. No longer is God hidden in a cloud. Under the New Covenant, we see Him face to face and live.

Verse 25. See to it that you do not refuse Him who is speaking. For if those did not escape when they refused him who warned [them] on earth, much less [will] we [escape] who turn away from Him who [warns] from heaven.

It seems to be a natural tendency in us to take things to an extreme. The Lord said to Moses, “Go down and warn the people, lest they break through to the Lord to look and many of them perish.” God was going to be their God and they were going to be His people but that did not give them the right to treat God however they wanted. The relationship with Him was going to be on His terms. He did not give them license to take advantage of His grace and do whatever they wanted. Their relationship was going to include Commandments by which they kept the Covenant.

Today people hear the good news of God’s grace and they make all kinds of false assumptions. “Well if Jesus died for the sins of the whole world, then everyone is saved. So it doesn’t really matter what you believe as long as you believe something.” Or I have heard this argument. “Since I’m saved by grace and not by works, I don’t need to do anything or I can do whatever I want to do”

Whoaaaaa! Hold on there Sparkey, you’ve just made some dangerous leaps. Saying that Jesus’ sacrifice has the potential to save the whole world is not the same as saying that everyone in the world is saved. In fact Jesus said just the opposite. “Someone asked him, ‘Lord, will only a few be saved?’ He said to them, ‘Strive to enter the narrow door, for many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able.’” Then He goes on to speak of people standing outside where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. Does any of that sound like universal salvation to you? It certainly does not to me.

I think I understand the temptation of universalism. It sounds nice and even loving to say that all roads lead to God. But it is not nice or loving if it is not true. In fact I would argue that to lie or to mislead someone about such an eternal matter is downright evil.

Or look at it another way. If I can receive salvation through meditation or praying five times a day or by doing good works, what sense can I make of the torture and death of Jesus? Why would God have put His only Son through such unimaginable anguish unless there was no other way to save us? What would it say about the wisdom or even the justice of God if you can receive eternal life either by trusting in the shed blood of Jesus to atone for your sins or by giving money to the building fund? We negate the sacrifice of Jesus when we suggest that all ways lead to the Father. So as the writer of Hebrews tells us, we had better hear Jesus warning from heaven. “Strive to enter through the narrow door.” And as you know from the Gospel of John, the door is Jesus.

Jesus’ warning also applies to those who suggest that since we are saved by grace that we can do anything we want or do nothing at all. “Strive to enter the narrow door” does not sound like carte blanche to me. Salvation is not getting a ticket punched. Jesus said, “He who endures (or perseveres) to the end will be saved.”

Verse 26. And His voice shook the earth then, but now He has promised, saying, “YET ONCE MORE I WILL SHAKE NOT ONLY THE EARTH, BUT ALSO THE HEAVEN.” This [expression], “Yet once more,” denotes the removing of those things which can be shaken, as of created things, so that those things which cannot be shaken may remain.

When Moses was on the mountain and God spoke, the earth shook. But there is a greater shaking coming and that is when Christ returns to judge the living and the dead. He comes to separate the wheat from the chaff. He separates the sheep from the goats. He comes, as I mentioned last week, to test our works with fire. Our works of wood and hay and stubble will be burned up but our works of gold and silver and precious stones will be purified by the fire and we will be rewarded.

So there really is going to be “a whole lot of shaken going on.” Judgment is coming and the things of the world will be shaken away and the things of eternity will remain. This calls us to examine our lives and see where we are spending our time and our resources and how we are utilizing our gifts. Are we putting them into things that will be shaken off like crumbs from a tablecloth or are we sowing our lives into things that will remain? What do we seek first? Where are our hearts?

Verse 28. Therefore, since we receive a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us show gratitude, by which we may offer to God an acceptable service with reverence and awe; for our God is a consuming fire.

Some of you have heard this story so please bare with me while I repeat it for those who have not. In 2003 when The Episcopal Church voted to take a direction that was contrary to Holy Scripture, I was on vacation. It was devastating to me because I knew that by taking such a stand, that this Church that I loved and had given some the best years of my life to, was in heresy and that my days with it were numbered.

While wrestling with what to do I received a call from the Bishop. He told me that he was stuck at a meeting up north and he needed for me and Beth to pick up the former Archbishop of Canterbury and his wife at the airport in Nashville and take them out to dinner. It was like asking a kid from New York if he would like to have dinner with Mickey Mantle. We had an incredible time with Lord Carey and his wife and at the end of the dinner the Archbishop leaned over and said to me. “Well father, what do you think is going to happen to the Church?” I said, “I have no idea, Your Grace, I was hoping that you would tell me. I have to step into the pulpit this week and I have no idea what to say to my flock.” He said “Tell them to keep working for the Kingdom and don’t confuse the Kingdom with the Church.” His words were a great relief to me and that is what I preached the next Sunday.

World systems like Communism fail. Empires like the Great Britian wax and wane. Christian movements like the YMCA start out strong in the faith and end up having nothing at all to do with Christianity. And as we well know, entire denominations can go from being a light on the hill to rejecting of the truth. All these are shaken. These are not where we put our hope.

But God is establishing a kingdom that cannot be shaken. He is working through His Church to build a kingdom where His will is done on earth as it is in heaven. If that were not so then Jesus would not have told us to pray that way every day of our lives. It will culminate in the new heaven and new earth and we are privileged to be a part of Him making all things new.

And our response, as Hebrews tells us, is first of all to be filled with gratitude and then to worship Him with reverence and awe. I hope that is what brings you here today. That your heart is filled with thanksgiving for Jesus reconciling you to the Father and that you are here to worship Him with reverence and awe.

We must always remember that all that goes on here is not about us. We are not to here be entertained or to experience a certain emotion or even “to get something out of the service.”

We are here to offer to Him the sacrifice of praise. We are here to offer to Him ourselves, our souls and bodies to be a reasonable sacrifice. We are here to intercede for the world saying “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” We are to commune with the Holy One; “that we may dwell in Him and He in us.”

So do yo see? YOU are the people that God spoke about to Moses. Under a new and better covenant the Church is the fulfillment of God’s desire for a treasured people, a holy nation, a kindgom of priests. YOU are that people and so the only reasonable respone we can have is to be filled with gratitude for His mercies and then to worship Him in reverence and awe. Amen.

Stump the Rector – Ghosts and Angels?

the-annunciation

A child in our parish asks if angels and ghosts really exist.

We know from Holy Scripture that angels do indeed exist. We find them from Genesis, guarding the Garden of Eden (Gen 3:24) and then all through the Bible until the Book of Revelation where they are joining in the worship of God (Rev 7:11). So yes mam, we certainly believe in them.

The word “angel” means “messenger.” We see the angel Gabriel delivering God’s message to the Blessed Virgin Mary that she will give birth to Jesus. When Jesus was born the angel of the Lord delivered that news to the shepherds and two angels were present at Jesus’s empty tomb to tell the men and women that Jesus was not their.

While it is not clear how it all works, the Bible indicates that we have what people call a guardian angel (Mt 18:10). (I have had days when I think I must be wearing mine out). But we must be careful about angels because also we are warned not to worship them (Col 2:18). We are to worship God alone. So while we are to be grateful to God for angels, we are to keep our eyes on Jesus.

The question about ghosts is not as easy to answer. There is a story in the Bible where a witch brings up a ghost at the request of King Saul. But the Bible also warns us against witchcraft and forbids us to try to contact the dead through such ways (Deut 18:9-12). It also refers to evil spirits as “deceiving spirits” ( I Tim 4:1) which leads me to wonder if the witch truly brought up a ghost or was it an deceiving spirit posing as a ghost?

When Jesus told a story of the afterlife He spoke of one man being in a type of heaven and the other man suffering in a type of hell. Also He told the thief on the cross “Today you will be with me in paradise.” That I know of, there is no indication in the Bible that our souls roam the earth apart from our bodies after we die. So when I die I hope to go be with Jesus instead of living in my attic scarring Miss Beth. But that’s just me.

When it comes to ghosts, I think it is best that the only one we have anything to do with is the Holy Ghost. Jesus said He will lead us into all truth. Who else would we need?

Sermon – 13 Pentecost C – 2013

Fire - Jesus

When I was a student I was a part of Campus Crusade for Christ for a couple of years. At our gatherings we would sing what were supposed to be uplifting songs but to me most of them were dreadful. One very popular song was called Pass It On. The opening verse was:

It only takes a spark


To get a fire going


And soon all those around


Can warm up in the glowing


That’s how it is with God’s love


Once you’ve experienced it


You’ll spread His love


To everyone


You’ll want to pass it on



This song is a good example of why we should be careful about the images of God that we paint through our prayers and our hymnody and our preaching. This song gives us a sentimental view of God, where the Christian experience is standing around warming ourselves in the fire of His love. Contrast that image of fire to what we just heard Jesus say in the Gospel. “I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled….Do you think I have come to bring peace to the earth? No I tell you but division.”

If we have a sentimental view of the fire of God’s love but we experience His fire as Jesus preached it, then it has the potential of confusing us and throwing our spiritual lives into a tailspin. “Man I thought the Christian life was to make me feel good and all I seem to be getting is heat. What am I doing wrong?” It is a problem when we sing of one thing but experience another. Instead of wanting to sing Pass It On we sing that old song from Hee Haw.

Gloom, despair and agony on me
Deep dark depression, excessive misery
If it weren’t for bad luck, I’d have no luck at all.
Gloom, despair and agony on me.

But before we look more closely at this fire that Jesus has come to bring to the earth, let’s first consider why He brings it. It is so important for us as Christians to understand that when we are in the fire, it is not to condemn us. It has nothing to do with bad luck or karma or God being against us. Rather it is a sure sign of His love. Listen again from our reading in Hebrews. “…for the Lord disciplines those whom he loves, and chastises every child whom He accepts. Endure trials for the sake of discipline. God is treating you as children; for what child is there whom a parent does not discipline?”

I have noticed a shift in our way of thinking as evidenced from how we pray. We do not accept this perspective of Hebrews today. Listen to this prayer from an old manual for priests. This is what a priest used to pray over his parishioner.

“Almighty and everliving God, Maker of mankind, who dost correct those whom thou dost love, and chastise every one whom thou doest receive; We beseech thee to have mercy on this thy servant visited with thy hand, and grant that he may take his sickness patiently, and recover his bodily health if it be thy gracious will….”

However the prayers for the sick in the 1979 Book of Common Prayer tend to tip toe around the idea that God may use our sickness to chasten us. Instead focus more on relief of pain and restoration of health. We are not comfortable today talking about the fire of God but if we do not then we end up with an imbalanced understanding of the ways of God. And the serious problem with that is it potentially opens the door for the accuser of the brethren to enter and attack our faith and destroy our hope.

Please understand. I want to be very clear here. I am NOT saying that all sickness is God’s discipline of us. No matter what kind of saint you are, in a fallen world, you’re going to get the flu sooner or later and that is not necessarily the direct hand of God. And I also am pretty safe in believing that unless the Lord returns we all are going to die of something. Nevertheless we must be open to the reality that when trials come our way, they could be coming because the Lord has allowed them and He allows them because He loves us and wants to discipline us. The truth is that some of our most important spiritual growth comes when it seems like all hell is breaking lose and not when things are going wonderfully.

When I was living in Chattanooga, before entering the priesthood, I was a caseworker at a shelter for teens. One day I was doing an intake on a teenage girl and I asked her how she came to the shelter. She told me that she had run away from home. When I asked her why she had run away she said that she ran away because her parents don’t love her. I said, “How do you know that they don’t love you?” She said, “Because they let me do anything I want.” I thought that was pretty profound insight on her behalf and this is exactly why God disciplines us. He doesn’t let us do whatever we want because He loves us too much.

There is a passage in the Bible that I have always found unsettling and I think that it is there for that very reason…to unsettle us. We will come across it in next week’s lesson from Hebrews. It says“…let us give thanks, by which we offer to God an acceptable worship with reverence and awe; for indeed our God is a consuming fire.” I much prefer thinking of Him as our Heavenly Father than a Consuming Fire,
but both are true. And so while it may not be the kind of news that we want to hear, the good news is when we are experiencing the fire, we are experiencing God.

And what is interesting about God being a consuming fire it that the effect of His fire is different depending upon who we are. The note on verse 49 in the NLT Study Bible says, “Jesus’ ministry radically changed the status quo, bringing judgment on the wicked and purifying the righteous.” (p.1734). Did you get that? For some it brings judgment while for others it is for purification.

This put me in mind of the passage in Corinthians that speaks of our good works being tested by fire. If our good works are focused on the world, and therefore are of wood, hay and stubble, then they will be burned up. But if our good works are focused on the kingdom, and are therefore gold, silver and precious stones, then they will pass through the fire and we will be rewarded. So the SAME fire for some results in destruction while for others it leads to rewards.

What is so very humbling about this fire is that for Jesus it was for judgment and not for purification. Why do I say that? First, there was nothing from which Jesus needed purification. He was without sin. But second, there was plenty for which we needed to be judged. And so He took OUR judgment upon Himself. “He who was without sin became sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Cor 5:21). That is why Jesus said “I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed.” That is what we are saying in the “comfortable words” of the 1928 Mass when the priest declares that Jesus Christ is the Propitiation for our sins. He took God’s wrath against sin, so that we don’t have to.

How does the purifying fire come? One way we heard in our Old Testament Lesson. “Is not my word like fire, says the LORD, and like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces?” God’s word is God’s fire. You will recall that after Jesus was resurrected when He spoke with some disciples on the road to Emmaus afterwards they said, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?” Scriptures are God’s purifying fire to our souls. They convict us where we are doing wrong. They light the way, showing us where we are to walk. By declaring God’s unchangeable truth they also create a fire that divides one side from the other. As Jesus said, son against father, mother against daughter, mother in law/daughter in law. I have family members who are not walking by the light of God’s Word. It grieves me deeply and I love them dearly, but I cannot compromise the truth to try to heal the division. The reality is that we are divided from one another on the most important topic of life. All I know to do is to pray for them daily to one day walk in the light.

Those of us reading the One Year Bible are in Nehemiah now. It is a great story, how through the leadership of Ezra, the people of God return to the Scriptures and purify their lives of idols and idolatrous living. The surprising part of the story is that they have not heard the Scriptures for generations. So when they finally hear them they are so convicted that they weep and tear their clothes. But instead Nehemiah and Ezra call for a festival to rejoice in the renewal brought about by the cleansing fire of God’s Word.

I was sitting in my office thinking, “How in the world can an entire generation lose God’s Word?” Then I recalled some statistics that I have read about our generation. 50% of Americans cannot name ANY of the 4 Gospels. Over 1/3rd of Americans read the Bible LESS than once a year. 60% of Americans cannot name 5 of the 10 Commandments and 50% of High School Seniors think that Sodom was married to Gomorrah. (http://www.demossnewspond.com/americanbible/press_kit/bible_statistics) Why would we think, that if we keep going in this direction, that we would be different from all of the other nations before us who have rejected the purifying fire of God’s Word? When we reject purification, we invite judgment.

Another way God’s fire comes to us is through the ministry of the Holy Spirit. John told his disciples that Jesus would baptize them with the Holy Spirit and with fire. Jesus said when the Spirit comes that He will convict the world of sin and righteousness and judgment. (Jn 16:8).

This role of the Spirit is why blaspheme against Him is such a horrible thing. It is the unforgivable sin because if you refuse to be convicted of sin and righteousness and coming judgment then how will you ever repent? How will you atone for your sins? Only the Holy Spirit can turn a heart of stone into a heart of flesh. Only He can takes our sins, which are like scarlet, and wash us whiter than snow.

It has been my experience that the Holy Spirit is a gentle kind of fire. While He is Lord, He does not lord over us like an oppressive master. He convicts, He does not condemn. He guides, He does not drive. He creates awe but He casts out fear. Still we must not confuse His gentleness with ambivalence about our sin. We are His temple and He requires His temple to be a holy place. It has also been my experience that when I quench or grieve or ignore the purifying fire of the Holy Spirit that I end up in places that I should not be. I end up in places where I invite God’s discipline and I have no one else to blame but me.

This passage in Hebrews that compares God’s discipline with our father’s discipline reminds you, if you are a parent, that you dance this dance every day. You tell your kids what to do and what not to do and you don’t do it because you like to hear yourself talk. You do it because you love them and want them do what is right

But when your kids ignore your instructions, or worse rebel against them,
it NEVER and I mean NEVER works out well for them, does it parents? What do you do as a parent? You don’t stop loving them but you take measures to make your message a little clearer. Many of us grew up with the board of knowledge being applied to the seat of learning. That may not be your way but you get my point. God disciplines us as we do our kids and in both cases it is because of love.

Therefore it is important for us to cultivate a habit of listening to the Holy Spirit when He guides or convicts or corrects us. Since He inspired the Scriptures we learn His voice best by reading the Scriptures. Then when He speaks to us in other ways we will recognize His voice. And then we do what He tells us to do because we don’t want to be the kind of stubborn children that continually invite correction.

A third way that God’s fire comes to us is simply through life events. Hebrews says, “Endure trials for the sake of discipline.” This is not a call to become an Eeyore and look at life as one continuous trial. In fact, just the opposite! This is a theological way to truly turn lemons into lemonade. We are not to see trials as something only to endure. Rather we are to see them as God’s discipline
in our life. In other words we are to look for His purpose in them and this makes them bearable.

As I said about sickness, I don’t think that we have to see all of life’s trials as being sent directly by God to discipline us. But what we can do is look for life’s trials to be used by God for our good. We read in Romans that not some things but that ALL things work together for good for those who love God and are called according to His purpose (Rom 8:28).

This may be simplistic but I have found over the years that when we are faced with difficulty we have one of two roads before us. We can become bitter or we can become better. Which way we go has a lot to do with whether or not we see God in it. If you are not a believer then you look to luck or the stars or karma and easily become cynical. But if you are a child of God then you look for the hand of your Father and know that behind it all is His love.

I think that I said recently in a blog that our goal is to be happy, while God’s goal is to prepare us to live with Him for eternity. Sometimes those two goals are in conflict. It is not that God wants us to be unhappy rather He has a higher goal. What He offers us is permanent. He wants to say to us
“Well done good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of your master.”

To prepare us to hear those words Jesus comes to us with fire. He comes not with a sentimental warming fire but a consuming fire that purifies. That is not easy to hear but it is what He said. So instead of being afraid of His words, we need to say, “Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord.” Amen.

Lessons from Nehemiah

NehemiahOrdinaryGuy

I have spoken with some who were concerned that the large amount of resistance or opposition that they were experiencing was an indication that they were out of the will of God. The story of Nehemiah shows us that just the opposite is true and it gives us some ideas on how to respond.

After fasting, prayer and repentance, Nehemiah is given divine favor to return to Judah to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem and to restore its gates. You would think that such a noble endeavor would curry nothing but favor. Instead jealous and greedy men opposed him so vehemently that his workers had to work with a tool in one hand and a weapon in the other.

His principal opponents were Sanballat, Tobiah and Geshem the Arab (didn’t someone write a song about him?). First they tried discouragement. “If a fox goes up on it he will break down their stone wall” (4:4). I can relate to that. When I first came to Middle Tennessee to plant a church, the priest in the next town told me a number of times that there was no way that an Anglican Church would work in Smyrna, Tennessee. Further I was doubly doomed because my vision was to plant a traditional parish and another priest said that that only a contemporary church would have a hope of working.

What did Nehemiah do with this resistance? He went to prayer and called upon God to defend him and he kept working. In fact rather than being discouraged, they intensified their efforts and worked from can to can’t.

Next Nehemiah’s enemies spread lies about him. They said that he was doing this work in order to make himself king.

I can relate to that also. We had such serious problems with the builder of All Saints’ in 2002 that the builder falsely accused me of felony assault. I was arrested and had to go to court and it took some time before my name was cleared. It is an exhausting thing to try to prove your innocence so Nehemiah denied the accusations, refused to meet with his detractors and went on about his work. No dialogue for Nehemiah!

The third thing that Nehemiah had to face was Tobiah trying to bully him through letters. And we thought cyber bullying was a new thing.

One day when I was quite new to the Internet, I received an email from a stranger looking for dirt on the Bishop in order to bring charges against him. I confronted the person telling him that is not how we did business and that if he did not like the Bishop’s leadership then he was free to find another denomination. The next thing I knew I was being brought up on charges in an ecclesiastical court for behavior unbecoming to a priest. The Bishop thanked me for defending him but he asked me to apologize to the man in order to make the charges go away. I could not do that because I believed that I had done nothing wrong and that the stranger was trying to manipulate us through fear. The Bishop then asked if I would just meet with the stranger, to which I agreed. However the night before we were to meet, the stranger survived a heart attack and I never heard from him again.

Nehemiah’s response to the attempt to make him fearful was to call for a holy day and have a celebration. In doing so he took his eyes off of his enemies and looked to God. He fought fear with worship.

According to the notes on Nehemiah in the English Standard Version Study Bible the theme of Nehemiah is “The Lord’s protection of his people and the need for their faithfulness to the Torah and their faithfulness in worship.” (p. 821).

So when we face resistance or opposition we do not need to fear that we are out of God’s will. In fact, the more we work for God’s kingdom, the more opposition we will face because the forces of darkness fight against the light. We can take a lesson from Nehemiah when the resistance comes and refuse to be stopped by discouragement or lies or fear. Instead we are to look to the Lord to be our defender and shield while we remain faithful to walk in obedience to His Word and be constant in worship.

“ O God, who art the author or peace and lover of concord, in whom standeth our eternal life, whose service is perfect freedom: Defend us, thy humble servants, in all assaults of our enemies; that we, surely trusting in thy defense, may not fear that power of any adversaries; through the might of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.” (BCP p.53).

Cheerios and Holy Communion

Cheerios

Mass 2

There is a recent and very touching Cheerios commercial about a mother and her young son eating breakfast together. On the table is a box of Cheerios. The young boy asks his mother if Nana gave her Cheerios when she was a little kid. When she said that Nana did, then he asks if they were the same as they are now. The mother says, “Cheerios has pretty much been the same forever.” The boy replies, “So when we’re having Cheerios it’s kind of like we are having breakfast with Nana.” The mother’s first reaction is sadness, which tells us that Nana has passed, but then her next reaction is joy about the truth of what the little boy just said.

After you wipe a tear from your eye, you realize that if this is true about Cheerios, then how much more it is true about Holy Communion. When we participate in that heavenly banquet, we are doing so with all those who have gone before us. In my introductory classes on Anglicanism, I describe the altar as the end of the heavenly banquet table that breaks into this time/space world. It’s like the kiddy table at Thanksgiving.

Some might object that we could not be participating in the heavenly banquet because it has not happened yet. Christ and His Bride have yet to be joined in heaven. But we must remember that eternity is not a place where time goes on forever; eternity is a place where there is no time. We think in a linear way of “before” “now” and “after.” But in eternity there just is. God is not “I Will Be” or “I Used To Be.” God is “I AM.” So while Jesus was crucified at one point in history as we view it, from God’s perspective it is an eternal act. Revelation 13:8 says, All inhabitants of the earth will worship the beast — all whose names have not been written in the book of life belonging to the Lamb that was slain from the creation of the world. (NIV)

Therefore Holy Communion is a participation in an eternal act. We do not do it just to think back to what Jesus did, although that is certainly part of it. We also do not do it just to look forward to all that is come, although that too is a part of it. We celebrate to be partakers of the eternal celebration in the heavens. In a very real way we are stepping out of this time/space world by joining our voices with “Angels and Archangels and all the company of heaven.” Together we are participating in the eternal worship of the Lamb that was slain. The Church in heaven and the Church on earth together is the One Body of Christ. This is what we mean by the communion of the saints.

So just as the boy and his mother were “kind of like having breakfast with Nana,” we have the incredible privilege of not “kind of” but actually sharing in the banquet with our loved ones who have entered the larger life. It is a comfort to me to know that I am never closer to my father than when we join our voices together and cry “Holy, Holy, Holy.”

“Alleluia, Christ our Passover IS sacrificed for us.” Please pass the milk.