Angels

Angels

Angels are mentioned in the Liturgy because we see them throughout both the Old and New Testaments, from the angel in Genesis that prevented fallen Adam’s return to the garden, to the countless host of angels in the Book of Revelation who continually worship the Lord. There is an interesting prayer in Evening Prayer where we pray “that thy holy angels may lead us in paths of peace and good will.” I take this prayer not as seeking guidance from the angels, for that is the role of the Holy Spirit. Rather I see it as a prayer for protection since that is one of the roles of the angels.

Years ago I was invited to preach at a Church in Winter Garden, Florida. While there I met a young woman living in the cleric’s home with his family. She had been raised in the Church of Satan in California and was sent to Florida as a “missionary.” She was listening to the radio and came under conviction through a Christian station and called my friend and asked to be rescued from the cult. As he left to pick her up he almost flippantly prayed that the Lord would send an angel to protect his family. When they returned to his home the young woman refused to get out of the car for fear of the “giant man” standing in his front door. My friend could see nothing and at first he was confused but then he remembered his prayer. Still not seeing the angel he released him. The young woman was able to enter his home. She was baptized and found work in a retirement home doing the Lord’s work.

These beings minister to us in ways of which we are not aware and that is as it should be. They are more evidence of the Father’s love for us but they are not sent to take our eyes off of Jesus who is the Author and Perfecter of our faith.

It’s Not A Head Problem, It’s A Heart Problem

Hard Heart

Lessons: Ephesians 41-7, 11-16; St. Mark 6:45-52

“for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened.”

It’s not a head problem, it’s a heart problem. And the problem with the heart is that it has been hardened. And just in case you don’t think that is possible, I remind you of the recent video of the Planned Parent doctor talking about different ways to kill an unborn baby to successfully harvest the organs, all while she is sipping on wine and eating a salad. She is a doctor so she has to be a brilliant person. But it’s not a head problem, it’s a heart problem and only the Lord knows what has happened to her heart to harden it so.

So yes, it is very possible to suffer hardness of heart. In fact when you read the prophets you learn that an entire nation suffered from it. But the remarkable thing about this passage in the Gospel is that it is not referring to an abortion doctor or to the ancient Jewish nation. It is referring to the disciples. They were the ones with the hardened hearts. What makes it even more remarkable is that at this point we are over a third of the way through the Gospel of St. Mark. They were hand picked by Jesus and had seen him heal multitudes, cast out demons, calm a storm, raise Jarius’ daughter from the dead and feed well over 5,000 with a few loaves and fishes. But still their hearts were hard and so their understanding was limited.

While I have seen a few healings and a demon or two cast out, I have never seen a storm calmed, someone raised from the dead or thousands fed. And most importantly of all, I have never seen Jesus. So what is the possibility of me having the same malady as the Apostles? I would say that is a constant threat to which I need to be vigilant and protect myself. I strongly recommend that you do as well.

As we consider what we need to do to protect or address hardness of heart, let’s also consider its causes. The most obvious one being pride. God used another part of the body to describe Israel’s hardness when He called them a “stiffed neck people.” That is such a clear image of someone just consumed with pride.

We all know folks like that. You can’t tell them anything, there is not a topic of which they are not an expert, and anyone who disagrees with them is seen as an idiot. If you don’t know anyone like that then you may want to ask someone who loves you a lot if it is you.

There is a more subtle form of pride that also hardens the heart just as surely as the arrogance that I just described. The person who comes to mind when I think about this kind of pride is the professor on Gilligan’s Island. Most of you know that the characters on that show were patterned after the 7 deadly sins. The Skipper is anger, Gilligan is sloth, Ginger is lust etc.. Well the professor was pride. He was a very likeable figure because his pride was in the form of self-reliance. If they needed a tool or a special kind of widget he could take a coconut or a fern and make it happen. He rarely asked for help and he believed that there was nothing that he could not figure out eventually.

Of course there is nothing sinful about being intelligent or handy or even self reliant to a degree. But how often do we try to handle things on our own without first going to God and asking for His wisdom and grace? How often do we treat the Lord as the last resort rather than the first? When you think about it you must conclude that is a form of pride. A person who is totally self-reliant is rarely one is led by the Spirit and that is because there is too much flesh in the way.

So what is the answer? How do we keep our hearts from being hardened by pride? I want to be clear that St. Paul is not addressing that question in our readings today; nonetheless I believe that we can draw from his wisdom and make an appropriate application.

“I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called with all humility and gentleness.” What is the calling to which we have been called? It is to follow Jesus and become like Him who did not come to be served but to serve and give His life as a ransom for many. St. Paul, the prisoner in the Lord, certainly saw himself as a servant. He calls himself so in many of his letters. How does being a servant keep us from pride that hardness of heart? Because a servant, as St. Paul says, has humility and gentleness. These two qualities are the opposite of pride. To boil it down pride focuses on self while servant hood focuses us on the Lord and others. That is how we keep our hearts from hardening.

A second way that our hearts get hardened is when they are broken. You hope and trust and believe and then something happens to break your heart and you decide somewhere deep inside to never hope and trust and believe again so that you are never hurt that deeply again. This pattern happens to us romantically, it happens with people that we thought were our friends, it happens within families. But it can also happen in our spiritual lives. Proverbs tells us “Hope deferred makes the heart grow sick.”

I wonder if one reason that the people of the Old Testament suffered from hardened hearts was because they longed and looked for the Messiah for so many centuries and were disappointed so often that they just found it easier to no longer have hope. God tried to tell them through the prophets not to lose hope but they did not listen to the prophets. So their hearts became hard and when the Messiah finally did come they did not understand it was He. As with the Apostles the condition of their hearts affected their understanding. It was not a head problem it was a heart problem.

St. Paul gives an answer to the Bee Gees question, “How do you mend a broken heart?” He says, “with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” Again he is not addressing our question but we can draw from the truth proclaimed. It is love that heals a hardened heart.

But note that St. Paul is describing here the real thing and not a feeling-based love that some have called “sloppy agape.” He says that we are to exercise patience, that we are to bear with one another, that we are to make every effort to maintain unity. This sounds like work and it is because genuine love takes a lot of work. It is not just a pile of emotions.

I can bear witness to this. God has sent people into my life at times when my heart was hardened and they loved me, they were patient with me and I’m sure even had to talk themselves into bearing up with me, but that kind of love broke through to me. It really does work.

Also I want to point out that this passage, calling us to love, is in the context of the Church. How do we come, as he says, “to maturity, to the measure and full stature of Christ.”? It is through the Church the Body of Christ. If Christ is the Head and we are all individual members that make up His Body, how can we possibly come to maturity by ourselves? We cannot, it is impossible. An amputated part of the body does not grow, rather it dies.

Why do I bring this up? I bring this up because I am meeting more and more people who consider themselves Christians but have no Church or consider it of low priority. Some are even using the term “Christ Follower” to distinguish themselves from members of the Church. What they are saying is that they want to follow Christ, they just don’t anything to do with His Body, regardless of the fact that it is Christ’s Body. These are some seriously confused folks. You cannot accept the Head of the Church but reject the Church. You cannot call Him “Lord” and reject His ways. The caution that they need to hear is that Jesus said that not everyone who says “Lord, Lord” would enter the kingdom of God.

I parked behind what I supposed to be one of these Christ Follower folks the other day. I had to stop and take a picture of the two stickers that they had on the back of their car. The first sticker said, “Christ Follower.” The second sticker said, “I solemnly swear that I am up to no good.” How can you possibly put those two ideas together? Dr. Jekyll, meet Mr. Hyde. This leads me to my third point.

A third way that our hearts are hardened is through deception. To be honest I almost left this third point out because I was concerned that I would lose credibility with some for these next comments. But I decided that the risk is worth it because I believe the danger is that great.

In John chapter 8 Jesus calls Satan “the father of all lies” and Jesus says to those who are opposing Him, “You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires.” These leaders went on to be the puppet masters that influenced the crowd to go from crying out “Hosanna” to crying out “Crucify him.”

You may disagree with me and even consider me a conspiracy nut but I believe that the Scriptures teach that there are principalities and powers that control some very powerful human puppet masters throughout the ages whose goal it is to deceive as many of us as they can into fulfilling their agendas and ultimately into carrying out their father’s desires. Some of these human agents may not even be aware of the powers that are controlling them but the Church needs to be.

Various tools are used to disseminate the lies and the lies are told so often and in so many ways that they first desensitize us and then they deceive many of us. Often the lies begin with comedy. Look back and history and see how the Nazis used cartoons and sarcasm against the Jews. Why did they do this? Tell enough jokes about the Jews and after awhile you no longer see them as humans. That is the first step in the Final Solution.

Other lies are told under the guise of the State looking out for what it best for us. It is not God who knows what is best it is the State. We just need to go along and shut up. That is how Communist countries enslaved and even murdered millions.

Other lies are told as if they are being reported as genuine news. The Germans were at least honest enough to have a Minister of Propaganda. We call ours ABC, NBC and CBS. If you think that you are being given unbiased news then please hear my wakeup call. They seek to influence and control what you think, even at the beginning of the process by what they choose and don’t choose to report on. That is why you have to go to the Internet to find out that thousands of Christians are being martyred around the world while the mainstream media wants to have you outraged over a TV show. No one ever thought to be offended by the Dukes of Hazard until they told us that we should be. I take that back. The acting was pretty offensive but you get my point.

Let me go back to the Planned Parenthood doctor. Surely she did not decide when she was 9 years old that she wanted to grow up and traffic in human organs. She was deceived. She had to believe a lot of lies before she could be so hardhearted that she could have such a discussion over lunch.

The lie propagated by the media is that it’s not a human being it is a “fetus.” This lie she believed in spite of the fact that every time you allow a fetus to come to full term you end up with a human being…not a puppy or a gerbil but a baby. She also believed that women should have rights over their own bodies. We can agree with here there except when it is taken further to say that she has a right over an unborn child’s body. She has no rights over another’s body, including her unborn baby, except to steward and love it.

I could go on for hours about how lies are being disseminated but my point is that there is a grave danger of being deceived by these lies. And these lies have an extremely negative impact upon our lives as individuals and upon our society.

And it is important to understand that there are powers and principalities behind these lies so that we don’t make our warfare against flesh and blood. Do not, do not, hate the Doctor. Love and pray for her because she has been deceived. Save your righteous anger for the powers that deceived her.

What is the answer to a heart hardened by deception? It is the truth as taught through the ages by the Church. St. Paul says, “We must no longer be children, tossed to and from and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming. But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, even Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together….. promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.”

It is important to see that this text connects “truth” and ‘love.” We are to speak the truth in love and the truth builds up the Church in love. For many years it seemed like our culture and the Church were on parallel paths, sharing similar values and goals. But as our paths are going increasingly in divergent ways, it is important for us as Christians to be determined to walk in truth and in love. This will keep us from being deceived.

If you know me then you know that I am not into end times stuff. I’m that classic panmillennialist who believes that all of it will pan out in the millennium. Even so as I see the culture going one way and the Church another I go back to Jesus words in Matthew 24. “And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another. And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.” It is by being bathed in the truth and walking it love that we will not have our love grow cold but we will endure to the end.

If the apostles had a hard heart so can we. We need to be vigilant to protect our hearts. It’s not a head problem it’s a heart problem and that is why we ask Jesus to come and make His home there. Amen.

 

 

 

Church Customs

The Creeds

I Believe

Anglicans look to the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds as sufficient statements of the Christian Faith. The Apostles’ Creed is said at Baptisms and Funerals while the Nicene Creed is said at the Mass. They contain the essence of what we are to believe and what the Church catholic has taught to all people, at all times and in all places. The Creeds act as a great unifier for the Body of Christ because they focus us only on the essentials of the faith.

The seeds of the Creeds are found in Holy Scripture. One of the earliest Creeds is found in St. Paul’s first letter to Timothy

“By common confession, great is the mystery of godliness: He who was revealed in the flesh, Was vindicated in the Spirit, Seen by angels, Proclaimed among the nations, Believed on in the world, Taken up in glory.” 3:16 NASB

Making a Temple for God

Christ the Cornerstone

Lessons: Amos 7:7-15; Ephesians 1:1-14; St. Mark 6:7-13

I was listening to a podcast of a priest last week and he made an interesting statement. He said, “We are always asking Jesus to answer our prayers, why don’t we work to answer His prayers?” The prayers that he was referring to was the prayers that our Lord prayed in the Garden, where He prayed that we would be one even as He and the Father are one. It’s pretty safe to assume if Jesus was praying for our unity on the eve of His death, knowing full well that it was the eve of His death, that our unity is of utmost importance to Him.

After St. Paul give this glorious introduction to the nature of the Church, being chosen before the foundations of the world and being blessed with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places, he calls the Church to unity in the next chapter.

But St. Paul doesn’t just speak of unity there. This is from his first letter to Corinth. I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought.” This is from another part of Ephesians. “It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” This if from Colossians. “Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.” This is from Romans. “Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.” This is from Galatians. “You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

I could keep going. I don’t think that there was an occasion that St. Paul didn’t speak about unity and yet with all of these biblical references it does not seem to be a priority in the modern church as it was in biblical times. Are our divisions so great that we have simply given up on the idea of unity? Perhaps but given Jesus’ prayer and St. Paul’s admonitions can we call ourselves biblical Christians and not care about unity? I don’t think so, therefore let me offer some words of encouragement to get us thinking biblically, having the same goal as Jesus had, that we all would be one.

First, it is my assumption, based on experience, that there is so much talk about unity in the Scriptures because it is not easy to do. If the early Church was already unified St. Paul would not have spent so much time calling for it. So even in the early Church unity was a challenge. And why is unity in the Church so difficult? That is simple to answer. It is because everyone does not agree with me. If everyone would just agree with ME, then there would be no divisions.

And therein lies the problem. Unity is so difficult because of our pride, our willfulness. That is why St. Paul said, “Don’t be conceited.” It is no great mystery how we can take a giant step toward unity, we just need to get out of the way. If I lay down my will in order to do Jesus’ will and you lay down your will in order to do Jesus’ will then unity is inevitable. If you think of a pyramid with Jesus at the top point and you and I on the bottom points, the closer we grow to Jesus, the closer we grow to one another.

But I don’t want to over simply the issue. It is still a great challenge. So the next thing we should consider is an effective approach toward unity. How do we go about it?

There is a quote, attributed to a Roman Catholic Bishop who converted to Anglicanism, that has proven helpful for centuries. Ironically, even splinter groups like the Moravians use it as a kind of motto. It says, “in the essentials unity, in the non-essentials diversity and in all things charity.” To put it another way, we attain unity by not allowing the non-essentials to divide us.

The next $64,000 question is “How do we determine what is essential?” I had a pastor friend of another denomination tell me his denomination actually split years ago over whether women were allowed to wear feathers in their hats to church. I guess there is a “First Feathered Church” and the “First Non Feathered Church” somewhere. How do we avoid such pettiness?

A great place to start is the historic Creeds because the Creeds focus only on the essentials. I have given you a brief statement about the Creeds in the back of your bulletin that you can use to educate someone who would object that the Creeds aren’t biblical. It is obvious from 1 Timothy 3:16 that the New Testament Church used creedal statements to unite the Church. Any way you cut it, those verses are a Creed.

Let me give you an illustration of how we can use the Creeds to unite us. Let’s take our Baptist brethren since there are so many of them and so few of us in these parts. While they do not recite the Creeds in their worship services, there is nothing in the Creeds to which they would object. We might have to explain what we mean when we say that we believe in the “holy catholic Church”, but once we got over that hump it would be smooth sailing in terms of agreement with one another.

One of the key doctrines that divides us from the Baptists is infant baptism. It is an anathema to them because they claim that it is not in the Bible, while we take great offense when they insist on rebaptizing someone who had been baptized as an infant. So this is not exactly a fight over feathers in hats. How do we get past it?

Here is how we can look to the Creed to unite us. In the Creed we confess that we believe in “one baptism for the remission of sins.” Notice it does not stipulate infant or adult, sprinkling or immersion. The essential point is that we must be baptized. We can agree on that and thereby honor one another. An Anglican is going to be baptized as an infant and then publicly confess Christ at their confirmation. A Baptist is going to make a public confession of Christ first and then be baptized. In both cases the person is going to publicly confess Christ and the person is going to get wet. And both will be in glory. “On the essentials unity.”

There is one caution about seeking unity and that is that we must not seek unity only for the sake of unity. We must have a higher purpose, otherwise unity leads to compromise and the loss of the essentials.

When the Episcopal Church was circling the drain theologically many of us wrested for a long time before we were willing to call it quits. Ours was one of the few churches that did not split during the Civil War because it is simply not in our spiritual DNA to divide. There was no Northern and Southern Episcopal Church. The confederate bishop were simply marked as absent during the war and marked present after the war. So it was an incredibly painful decision to make to split from the Episcopal Church. So why did we do it?

The theological drift was so significant that the only reason to stay was unity for the sake of unity and that was not reason enough. When the Presiding Bishop publicly denied Jesus to be the Way and the Truth and the Life, leaving was no longer an option. In fact my perspective was, since we still believed Holy Scriptures and worshipped using in the Book of Common Prayer, they were the ones who left us!

But I will never forget during the debates, that one of the liberal bishops actually said, “If you have to choose between heresy and schism, chose heresy.” What he meant was that we should chose unity over the truth but we cannot do that because the fact is that there is no unity outside of the truth. We do not seek unity for the sake of unity.

Then what is our reason for seeking unity? St. Paul gives us that goal in the next chapter. “In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God.”

As we come together, built on the foundation the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the chief cornerstone, we become a holy temple, a dwelling place for God. How is that for a reason to seek unity?

We learn in the Old Testament that while God is everywhere, He chose to be uniquely present to His people in the tabernacle first and then in the Temple. We learn in the New Testament that the Temple was a foreshadow of the Body of Christ that now is the temple of God and where again God is uniquely present.

When I was in college I was a part of several campus ministries. The one thing that they had in common was a very low view of the Church. Each group taught the importance of what they called a “quiet time” where you would go off by yourself and read the Bible and say your prayers. This approach promoted a “me and Jesus” version of Christianity where the Church and receiving the Sacraments was optional at best. These groups were so big on having a quiet time that it felt like the unforgiveable sin to skip it, which I did quit often, so I knew that God was constantly mad at me for being such a slacker.

As I studied the Bible and the history of the Church I realized that this “me and Jesus” form of Christianity is a modern, western aberration. The Christians we read about in the book of Acts thought that gathering together for Word and Sacrament and fellowship was so important that they did it daily. St. Paul speaks of the Church gathering on the first day of the week and he even gives the command not to avoid the assembling of the brethren as is the custom of some.

This is not to say that private prayer and study are unimportant but they do not replace the need of the Church to gather. It is through the gathered Church that the temple of God is built. It is the gathered Church that becomes, as St. Paul said, “a dwelling place for God.” Thus we are united to build a temple and we build a temple so that God will be in our midst.

Jesus did not say “wherever you have your quiet time, I will be there.” He said “For where two or three of you are gathered together in My Name, I will be in their midst.” In the words of institution, Jesus said “Do this in remembrance of Me.” The modern use of the word “remember” does not do justice to the Greek word, “anamnesis.” When we participate in the Sacrament we are doing more than thinking back to Jesus’ sacrifice some 2,000 years ago. The word “recall” gives us a better understanding of this word “anamnesis.” When we “recall” we do think back to a particular time. But when the President “recalls” the troops he is bringing them present to us. “Remember” has both of those meanings. We are both thinking back to what Jesus did AND we are making Him present with us. The Church gathered for Word and Sacrament makes a dwelling place for God. We unite and gather so that we will be His people and He will be our God. We cannot build the temple if we are alone, or over the internet or if we are in division. That is why we week unity.

Next week we will be given an opportunity to manifest our unity with the Archbishop of Burma coming to be with us. As I mentioned last week his priests, most of whom have families, make $35 per month. Their poverty is hampering their ministries. The Bible says that when one part of the Body suffers we all suffer. So as an act of unity we are going to take up a special offering for him to take back to the part of Christ’s Body that is suffering. I also ask you this week to give more prayers and thoughts about what each of us can do to promote greater unity across the Body of Christ. Don’t stop asking Jesus to answer your prayers but give some thought this week about how you can be used to answer His prayer. Amen.

Gird Up Your Loins and Shine

Shine

Lessons: Ezekiel 2:1-7; 2 Corinthians 12:2-10; St. Mark 6:1-6

In a recent and wonderful blog post Fr. Chris wrote,

The days of convenient Christianity are waning.  All of us have grown up in a predominantly Christian culture and a culture where the Government and society in general were favorable toward Christianity.  That is ending.

Now. We. Shine.

We have to understand that the church of the 21st century has more in common with the 1st century than the 20th century.   We are quickly becoming an unfavored minority. So what?  Seriously.  So what?  When have the people of God ever not faced struggle and difficulty?  Christians around the world have faced this for years –and faced much worse than we are facing.  And yet they grow.  They shine.

Now. We. Shine.

It’s time for us to be the Church.  The time of lukewarm discipleship is over.  The time of mediocre obedience is gone.  You’ve heard the phrase “gird up your loins” in the Psalms?  Wrap ’em up, tie em down, and get ready!

You can read the full post at chrisfindley.com and I would encourage you to do so. I agree with him. We are entering a period in this nation when, while we would like it to be more like the 1950’s, the reality is that it is more like 1st century Rome. Isaiah the prophets described our day when he said, “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil; that put darkness for light and light for darkness.” So we need to be prepared. Fr. Chris’ advice at the end of his teaching suggests that we, as the Psalmist says, “gird up our loins.”

I suggest to you that one way that we can gird up our loins is to look at all three men in today’s lessons and use them as icons of what the Church is called to do as the days grow evil.

First we see the prophet Ezekiel. He is an unheeded prophet. God says to him, “Mortal I am sending you to the people of Israel, to a nation of rebels that have rebelled against me….the descendant are impudent and stubborn.” And Ezekiel said to God, “Don’t you have a nicer parish that you could send me to?”

The first rule of teaching is that you have to know your audience. If you are trying to teach calculus to 2nd graders you should not be shocked that they don’t get it. And when you preach holiness to a nation that is rebellious, impudent and stubborn toward God, as this nation has become, then we should not be shocked that they don’t get it. So what do we do?

Do we give up and quit preaching? No. The Lord said to Ezekiel, “Whether they hear or refuse to hear, they shall know that there has been a prophet among them.” God will have a voice in this land and it is the voice of the Church. St. Paul asks in Romans, How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?”

God speaks to a people through His prophets to call them back to Himself. But He also speaks to them so that His judgments will be proven just on the great and terrible day. America will not be able to say “We didn’t know that it was a sin” on Judgment Day. The prophetic voice of the Church was clear and loud. America chose to ignore it.

So we keep preaching whether they hear us or not. God goes on to instruct Ezekiel “do not be afraid of them and do not be afraid of their words….” If the Church is afraid of being called judgmental or hypocritical or homophobic or a hater, then we will end up disobeying the Lord and not speaking. We must be infinitely more concerned with what the Lord thinks of us than what our fellow man thinks of us. People who live in darkness are blind to the truth. Their values are seriously skewed so why should we care what they think of us anyway?

I don’t know why but the creators of the lectionary left a very interesting part out of this interaction between Ezekiel and the Lord. The Lord goes on to tell Ezekiel that he is to take up the scroll of the Law and eat it. Yes, eat it! Ezekiel literally put God’s Word inside him so that he would know what to speak.

And so the Church is called to read, learn, mark and inwardly digest God’s Word. We are not to preach to the world our opinions or our politics rather we are to preach to the world the Word of God. If you are not regularly reading and studying God’s Word then you will not be able to fulfill this part of your calling. “Mortal, I am sending you to…a nation of rebels.” So gird up your loins.

Next we come to St. Paul. He is a wounded healer. St. Paul had been exalted. He went up to the third heaven and saw things of which he could not speak. I was asked recently about the third heaven and I had to admit that I didn’t know much about it and so I have done extensive research. Here is what I have found. The third heaven is just above the second heaven and right below the fourth heaven. Hope that helps.

After having this exalted experience God in His mercy keeps St. Paul from being destroyed by pride by allowing a messenger of Satan to give him a thorn in the flesh. We are not certain what that thorn in the flesh was. Some think it was a physical illness, some suggest an emotional illness, others believe it was a mother-in-law (but not mine of course). We don’t really know but the result was that it kept St. Paul humble and reliant upon the Lord.

While no one WANTS a thorn in the flesh, I know that many of you have probably been through things that you would not wish on your worst enemy but have found that it is not all bad. In fact God takes such things and works them for our good and for His glory.

I shudder when I think back to some of the stuff that I taught and believed when I was in my 20’s. It’s a wonder that I didn’t destroy the Church. I was a living example of the guy who said, “I used to have 7 theories and no kids and now I have 7 kids and no theories.”

The Lord allowed some very painful thorns to enter my life but they changed me and opened the door to do better ministry. St. Paul praised God for what he went through saying “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.” 2 Cor 1

Thus a second way that we can gird up our loins is to realize that we are called to be wounded healers. We can ask the Lord to comfort us and give us the ability to comfort others with that same comfort.

And let me tell you, they are going to need us. As this generation strays further and further from God in their rebellion and impudence, they will discover that life is not working out too well for them. They think that they are walking into a party but they are walking into a world of pain and brokenness and the Church needs to be at the back door to catch them when they come out. The Church is to be a hospital full of wounded healers prepared to care for the sick. We need to gird up our loins and get ready.

Lastly we come to Jesus, a dishonored Savior. He was dishonored having done nothing dishonorable. This is an astonishing story. They admit to hearing His words of wisdom and seeing His deeds of power but the text says, “they took offense at Him.” Jesus came to heal them and to lead them into the truth but they were offended. They were not thankful for Him, they were not humbled by His presence, they were offended. And so Jesus was dishonored in His own hometown.

You would have thought that the Gospel was describing our generation. I don’t know when we became so thin skinned but everything offends people these days. Jerry Seinfeld recently announced that he was no longer going to do comedy shows at colleges because these acolytes of political correctness get offended at everything.

We need to gird ourselves with the knowledge that if they took offense at Jesus the we can be sure that they will take offense at us. When we proclaim the truth like Ezekiel or even when we offer ourselves as wounded healers like St. Paul, their first response it not going to be “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” More probably they will cry out “Crucify him.”

If you think that I am exaggerating then I challenge you to make a truth claim on Facebook. It is like hitting a hornet’s nest with a stick and the level of animosity and biblical ignorance that come flying out is astonishing.

“Well Jesus never said that was a sin.” Yes and He never said not to push your grandmother down an elevator shaft but I’m pretty sure I can piece together enough of His teachings to draw that conclusion.”

“Well who are you to judge?” Do you think murder is wrong? You do? Well then who are you to judge?

“Yeah and the Bible says not to eat shrimp but I don’t hear anyone preaching against shrimp.” I’m sorry what did you say? I wasn’t paying attention because I was busy peeling my shrimp! Actually when they display this level of biblical ignorance it is pointless to respond; it a pearls before swine kind of thing.

But again, that does not mean that we stop making truth claims. And when we do, as with Jesus, we can expect for them to take offense. But let me be quick to add that does not give us license to be offensive. There is a difference between making a truth claim and bashing someone with your Bible. The Scripture says that we are to speak the truth in love. St. Peter said in his Epistle Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.”

I have to admit that is not always easy to do, especially when some whippersnapper takes a verse out of context and quotes it to me like I have never heard of it before. It is then that I try to remember what Josh Chestnut told me. He said that no one every came to Christ by losing an argument. So we put the truth out there, and when they get offended, we let it be.

Fr. Chris is right. We need to gird up our loins. As I said in my 4th of July sermon, I acknowledge that God can do a miracle for this country and bring us back as He did in the First and Second Great Awakenings. But my gut tells me that we are headed for some challenging times. It was less than a week after the Supreme Court ruling when an editorial in a leading newspaper called for the removal of tax exempt status from churches that do not accept this redefinition of marriage. I wonder how long it will take them to go from taking down flags that offend to taking down crosses that offend. I read recently of a Marine who was court-martialed and given a dishonorable discharge for refusing to remove a Bible verse from her computer. Freedom of religion and freedom of speech are under assault. We need to gird up and be ready. We also need to be very wise and pick our battles. Above all we must fix our eyes on Jesus who is the author and perfecter of our faith. We can take comfort in the fact that if things do grow more dark it will only make our light more bright. So as Father Chris said, “Now we shine.” Amen.

July 4th and Benedict Option 1.2 : Being a Christian in Post Christian America

SaintBenedict

Anglicanism played a key role in our struggle for independence. Paul Revere hung his lantern in the bell tower of Christ Church, Boston to warn that the British were coming. Anglican Patrick Henry gave his famous speech, “Give me liberty or give me death” in St. John’s, Richmond. Anglican Richard Henry Lee first proposed that a Declaration of Independence be written. Anglican James Madison was the father of the Constitution, Anglican John Paul Jones was the father of the American Navy and of course the father of our nation, George Washington, sat on the Vestry of his parish.

Notice in your bulletin that just before the war broke out the Continental Congress called the colonies to a day of prayer and fasting, calling on God “to forgive our iniquities, to remove our present calamities, to avert those desolating judgments, with which we are threatened…” and they ended the call by saying “And it is recommended to Christians, of all denominations, to assemble for public worship, and to abstain from servile labour and recreation on said day.” The Congress called on Christians of all denominations to fast and pray and to stop work and assemble for public worship. Can you imagine that happening today? How far we have fallen.

I have to admit to a deep grief coming upon me last week when I heard that the Supreme Court had in essence changed the definition of marriage throughout the land. I believe we crossed a very significant moral line last week. What God calls sin is now legally sanctioned and I thought of the statement years ago from Billy Graham’s wife who said, “If God does not judge America, He is going to have to raise up Sodom and Gomorrah and apologize.” The two pictures in the news that were icons to me of our present condition were the one of the White House being bathed in the rainbow colors of so called gay pride and the other of the 10 Commandments that the State Supreme Court said must be removed from the Oklahoma capital. We can celebrate immorality on government property but we can’t honor God.

I know that nothing is impossible with God and that, as He did in the first and second Great Awakenings, He could turn this nation around. But I also have to admit to my doubts that this is going to happen. I may be wrong. I hope that I am wrong. But my gut tells me that we are Christians living in a post Christian America and we need to think through the implications of that reality and prepare ourselves accordingly. What are we to do?

There is much talk on the Internet of what is being called “The Benedict Option.” It is particularly discussed among Roman Catholics. This, by way of explanation of the Benedict Option is an excerpt of one such article.

“The question…to talk about (is) whether America is headed the way of the Roman empire. Bureaucratic decay, massive public debt, an overstretched military, a political system seemingly incapable of responding to challenges—the late Roman empire suffered these maladies, and so, some fear, does contemporary America…Rising hedonism, waning religious observance, ongoing break-up of the family, and a general loss of cultural coherence—to traditionalists, these are signs of a possible Dark Age ahead.

Christians have been here before. Around the year 500, a generation after barbarians deposed the last Roman emperor, a young Umbrian man known to history only as Benedict was sent to Rome by his wealthy parents to complete his education. Disgusted by the city’s decadence, Benedict fled to the forest to pray as a hermit.

Benedict gained a reputation for holiness and gathered other monks around him. Before dying circa 547, he personally founded a dozen monastic communities, and wrote his famous Rule, the guidebook for scores of monasteries that spread across Europe in the tumultuous centuries to follow….

They did not keep the fruits of their labors to themselves. Benedictines taught the peasants who gathered around their monasteries the Christian faith, as well as practical skills, like farming. Because monks of the order took a vow of “stability,” meaning they were sworn to stay in that place until they died, Benedictine monasteries emerged as islands of sanity and serenity. These were the bases from which European civilization gradually re-emerged.”

Some have been inspired by this option and are now setting up physical Christian communities to both retreat from the insanity of the world and to act like lighthouses to call people to safety when they realize that their lives are nearly shipwrecked. It is an interesting concept and is one that has worked before. If I may be so bold, however, I would like to suggest a Benedict Option 1.2

First I’m not convinced that we need to move physically into Christian communities. That may be the calling for some, but that was not the pattern of our Lord. He didn’t retreat from the culture, He immersed Himself in it. To the offense of the religious folk, he ate with sinners and tax collectors and He traveled throughout their towns and villages and stayed in their homes.

But where I do think that this option has something to offer us as Christians in a post Christian America is in how we view ourselves. The monks saw themselves as taken out of the world in order to serve in the world. Jesus prayed for His disciples who were in the world but not of the world. Romans 12 says that we are not to conform to the patterns of this world but we are to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. We may not have to physically remove ourselves from the world but we need to spiritually and mentally detach ourselves and live as citizens of the kingdom.

To be honest we have not done a good job of this as Anglicans. Years ago, even when the Episcopal Church was solid in its orthodoxy, it was known as the “country club in prayer.” It was not uncommon to find folks who were good and faithful churchmen but if they were arrested for Christianity you would be worried if there was not enough evidence to convict them. Many Episcopalians would rather be called a heretic than tacky. We were so busy trying to fit in with the world that you could not distinguish us from the world.

Thus as Anglicans we need to be even more intentional about seeing ourselves as IN the world but not OF the world. We need to think of ourselves as missionaries to America and strategize and discern ways to serve those who are products of a post Christian society. What we must remember is that while many celebrate the breakdown of our society that breakdown will eventually impact their lives and the Church needs to be ready to help them find their way back home.

Benedict’s rule was unique in many ways not the least of which was the vow’s of the monks. The typical vows were for poverty, chastity and obedience but his monks vowed obedience, stability and conversion of life. I believe that having a similar and more clear understanding of our calling will also help us live as Christians in a post Christian America.

First is obedience. Benedict had a saying, “Prefer nothing to Christ.” That is so true and so our first obedience must be to Christ. But it does not stop there. Because the Holy Scriptures are His Words, we are to be obedient to the Scriptures.

After the Supreme Court ruling it was the trend on Facebook for supporters of their decision to color their profile picture in rainbow colors. So many did so that I felt like a milk dud in a box of skittles. But I have to say what shocked and saddened me most was how many Christians did so, oblivious to the fact that they were taking a public stand that was contrary to God’s Word.

One person wrote me and asked who I thought I was to define sin and then asked “isn’t Christianity to be all about love anyway?” I replied to her that I did not define sin, God did by revealing His will through the Holy Scriptures. Also I asked her how it would be loving of me to promote a lifestyle, that according to God’s revealed will, would keep a person out of the kingdom of God? How is that love?

The amount of biblical illiteracy is staggering. We can’t obey Christ if we do not know Him personally and we cannot obey Christ if we are ignorant of His Word. Obedience requires discipline and that involves faithfulness in prayer and Scripture. That is very Benedictine.

Next is stability. Just as the monks were committed to remain in their communities for the rest of their lives, so we need to remain committed to the community in which the Lord places us. It is tempting, with all of the insanity in our country, to want to move to some place like Belize and just sit on a beach. But Jonah is a great reminder that we cannot run away from the Lord or from where He calls us to be. If He wants us in Nineveh, is makes no difference if we want to go there are not. The first vow of obedience means we go to Nineveh. If He has placed us here at this time, then we are here for a reason.

The vow of stability is especially important when things get tough. People find all kinds of convenient reasons to quit but if you bale out on Good Friday, you never get to experience Easter Sunday.

I believe that there is a possibility that we are seeing the beginning of the end for America. If that is so we need to cling to our vow of stability and be like the chaplains on the Titanic who remained behind and sang hymns while the ship sank. Our job as Christians is not to escape discomfort. Our job is to be a witness to the Lord even if and especially if the ship is sinking.

The third vow is conversion of life. To me this is ingenious. If you only had obedience and stability then your life would easily become a rut and a rut is just a grave with both ends knocked out. Obedience and stability keep you put, but conversion of life brings about change while you are staying put. As we offer our souls and bodies to the Lord to be living sacrifices, He molds us and shapes us and changes us to ever be more effective for His kingdom. Sure change can be difficult but it is what life is about. Nothing remains the same but the good news for those of us in Christ, as the Scripture says, we go from glory to glory. We need to see ourselves as disciples, always learning and growing and changing and moving deeper into the hope God has given us.

A Canadian pastor, who has been living with Canada’s redefinition of marriage for 10 years put up a post that offers us the wisdom of experience as we make our way forward. Here are 5 brief points to help us keep a proper perspective.

  1. The Church has always been countercultural and that helps the church more than it hurts it.
  2. It is actually strange to ask non Christians to hold Christian values.
  3. We have been dealing with sex outside traditional marriage for a LONG time, just in different forms.
  4. The early church never looked to the government for guidance
  5. Our judgmental attitudes are destroying any potential relationships.

This last one I want to speak to so that it does not lead to confusion. He does not mean that taking a moral stand is judgmental. He was referring to all of the anger and personal attacks that happened on social media the first 72 hours after the Supreme Court ruling. We will never attract non Christians and sinners into the Church by attacking them just as we won’t attract them into the Church by being just like the world. Like Jesus the Church should be full of grace and truth.

If not the Benedict Option then how about the Benedict Option 1.2? What I really like about learning to think as one who is in the world but not of the world is that it focuses me on the right goal. As I understand Scripture, my goal is not to rebuild America, my goal is to build the Kingdom of God. Amen.