At The Death Of An Unborn Child

Grief

The Book of Common Prayer does not do a good job addressing miscarriages. The older liturgies that I found may have been pastoral in their day but they lack current sensibilities and this is not an occasion to get it wrong.

I found a Roman liturgy that I have heavily redacted and rearranged to follow an Anglican model. The Bishop has given me permission to use it in a hospital setting and so I wanted to share it with my brother clergy and all who minister to those who share this grief.

It can be found in the link below. It prints out well on legal sized paper in booklet form to distribute to participants.

At the Death of an Unborn Child

Laetare Sunday: It A’int Pink!

rose-vestments

Laetare Sunday

The fourth Sunday in Lent is called Laetare Sunday, Laetare is Latin for “Rejoice.” This would have been the first word of the Introit of the Mass from Is 66:10 “Rejoice O Jerusalem.” The rose-colored vestments signal that the end of our Lenten fasting and prayer is quickly approaching and that our joy and expectation of Easter is growing. This has also been called Mothering Sunday because of the Epistle which reminds us that we are “beloved children” of God and the offerings were given to the cathedral as the mother church of the diocese.

Much More

Much More

Over the years as I have done pastoral counseling a common theme has presented itself. It often takes awhile to get to it because it is so embarrassingly basic but it comes down to some very personal questions. Folks don’t always put it in these words but variations of this come out. “I believe God loves the whole world. Everybody knows John 3:16. But does He really love me? “I know that Jesus died for the sins of the whole world, but did He truly die for mine?” “I know that Jesus forgives the sins of the whole world but does He really forgive me?” “If He does all these thing then why don’t I feel loved and free and forgiven?”

While Romans is the most theological of all of St. Paul’s writings it is also very pastoral. I say that because in it St. Paul answers these kind of real questions that real people have. He does not philosophize. He does not tell us how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. But He does let us know the heights and depths of God’s forgiveness and love. He moves us from being dependent upon the shifting sands of our emotions to a solid rock of truth on which to stand.

And he does it with two wonderful words. “much more.” “Much more.” As Moses instructed Israel I want you to bind these two words as a sign on your hand, make them as frontlets between your eyes and write them on the doorposts of your houses. (And just to be clear I’m not suggesting you go out and get a tattoo, I am being symbolic here.)

Four times St. Paul uses “much more” in chapter 5 and each time it opens the door to a greater vision of what God has done for us in Christ Jesus and if we will embrace this vision then it will significantly address our doubts.

First he says in verse 9. “Since therefore we have been justified by his blood much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God.”

“Justified” is the language of the court. This is a “not guilty” verdict. We have lost the weight of our sins and so our old clothes no longer fit us and as the saying goes, “if it doesn’t fit, you must acquit.”

And notice what has made us justified, what has given us the “not guilty” verdict. It is not our good works. It is not our sincerity. Nor may we choose any path believing that they all lead to the same place. There is only one thing that brings us the “not guilty” verdict and that is the blood of Jesus. His sacrifice on the cross, and His sacrifice alone, pays for the sins of the world. So St. Paul is arguing here that if we have been acquitted by the blood of Jesus, then we have nothing to fear on the Day of Judgment. If we have been acquitted in the past then much more will be acquitted in the future.

The second time St. Paul uses “much more” is in verse 10. “For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.”

“Justified” was the language of the court, but “reconciliation” is the language of relationships. When a married couple has struggles they sometimes choose to separate. But when they go through counseling and work through their problems they are then said to be “reconciled.”

This is a beautiful word because it is far more interpersonal than “justification.” A judge can acquit you but still think that you are guilty as sin and believe that you should hang. But “reconciliationspeaks of healing, it is an end to separation. Reconciliation is the father embracing the prodigal son. Reconciliation is forgiveness and starting again, new and fresh. Reconciliation is tearing down the walls and making loved ones out of enemies. And that is exactly what God has done for us. “While we were yet sinners Christ died for us.

“Does God really love me?” “Does God really forgive me?” “Does God really care for me?” In saying “much more” St Paul is saying “Are you kidding me? He did all these wonderful things for you when you his enemy so just imagine how much more he will do for you now that you are his child.”

The third time St. Paul says “much more” is in verse 15. “For the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by that grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many.” What is this free gift of which he speaks? He will tell us in the next chapter. “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Do you see the progression here and how it is getting better and better. Do you see how everything truly is “much more?” We have gone from being justified or acquitted by the Father; to reconciliation or restoring our relationship with Him; to now to being given the free gift of eternal life. Did you know that there are some forms of Judaism that does not believe in an after life. Just to walk with God in this life is seen as gift enough. But He offers us much more in having this restored relationship last for an eternity. And as if that is not good enough there is one more “much more.”

In verse 17 St. Paul says, “For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.”

Mini Pearl had an expression “I’m just so proud to be here.” I would guess that would be an appropriate expression for most of us when it comes to heaven. We’d be just proud to be here. But God has much more planned for us than just an entrance. St. Paul is saying that we will not only be with Christ but that we will reign with Christ. It is an amazing idea to think that we will go from being forgiven by Christ all the way to reigning with Christ but that is what the Apostle taught. He says it so matter of factly to Timothy, “If we endure with Him we will reign with Him.”

I don’t pretend to know what that honor will look like but it certainly harkens back to the role that Adam lost in the fall when he was to have dominion over the earth but lost that position through sin. Perhaps reigning with Christ will look something like having that position restored, only not surprisingly, much more.

So let’s assume that the early Church embraced these truths. They replaced their doubts about God’s love and care for them with the knowledge that they have been forgiven, that they have reconciled to God, that they are invited into an eternal relationship and were even destined to reign with Christ. But then real life hits them. I can imagine after some time a little hand written note coming back to St. Paul. “Sir, all this sounds well and good but you are about to be arrested and we are getting pummeled. The Jews have kicked us out of their synagogues and the Romans are feeding us to the lions. How does all that fit with your ‘much more’ talk?”

Perhaps expecting such objections St. Paul makes a preemptive strike and puts suffering in perspective with being justified by faith and having peace with God. He points out in verses 3 & 4 that being reconciled with God does not exempt us from suffering. Rather being reconciled with God is what gives meaning to suffering. There is a great line in a hymn that we recently sang. “When through fiery trials thy pathway shall lie, my grace all sufficient shall be thy supply; the flame shall not hurt thee; I only design they dross to consume and they gold to refine.” (#636 – How Firm A Foundation).

And so St. Paul tells us that we are to have faith that suffering produces endurance and endurance produces character and character produces hope and we have hope because of God’s love for us. So neither Paul’s arrest, nor their excommunication from the synagogues (and as he goes on in chapter 8) “nor death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separated us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.” St. Paul strengthens our weak knees by calling us to the trinity of faith, hope and love. This is how we anchor our souls. 

If you are doing this Lenten journey correctly then you too may be facing the questions with which I began this sermon. They tend to come up in this penitential season as this season is designed to be a time of serious soul searching. Besides embracing St. Paul’s “much more” I want to call two things to your attention.

First remember that this kind of doubt does not come from God. Faith is God’s gift to us. I believe that some forms of wrestling with God can be fruitful but this is not one of them. The kind of doubt that questions if you are loved or if you are forgiven comes from the enemy of your soul, whom the Scriptures call “the accuser of the brethren.” Remember his words to Jesus that we heard a couple of weeks ago? “If you are the Son of God?….If you are the Son of God?” He was trying to sew doubt. So if in you heart and mind you hear, “If you really are loved?….if you really are forgiven?” then you can bet where it is coming from.

Second it is important to confront these kinds of doubts as lies and hit them head on with the truth. Do what Jesus did and come back with “It is written…..” You may find a passage of Scripture or a prayer that centers you when you are under attack. The Eastern Church uses what is called the Jesus Prayer and many in the West find praying the rosary as a means of stabilizing themselves in the storm.

I have woven together two texts, one from Ephesians and one from Hebrews, that are very meaningful to me. I recite them like a mantra when I am feeling weak in the knees. When I hear “If you are…” I come back with “I am accepted in the Beloved and His kingdom cannot be shaken.” (Eph 1:6 with Heb 12:28). It has been my experience that that truth recited a few times goes a long way in warding off “ghosties and ghoulies and things that go bump in the night.” You may choose a completely different approach but the point is to confront the lies of the enemy with the truth just as Jesus did and like Jesus you will come through Lent as a victor.

I have a sneaking suspicion that St. Paul’s unfolding of “much more” in Romans is only meant to act as highlights of all that God has in store. He writes the Corinthians, “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love him.” (NLT). So when the doubts and questions arise, “Am I truly loved? Am I truly forgiven?” you can tap into the abundance of assurance from God’s Word and them smile to yourself and say “O yes….and much more.”

 

 

The Temptations: The Big Picture

Temptaion of Chirst:Bible

In his book, Justification, Bishop NT Wright argues that a common mistake of those who engage in theology or interpret the Bible is in making mankind the starting point rather than God and His kingdom. When we do this we make theology all about us rather than about God. Bishop Wright says that this false thinking is like believing that the sun revolves around the earth rather than the other way around. The fruit of this is seen when we come to worship asking “What’s in it for me?” rather than “How can I better serve and please the Lord?”

I believe it best to heed Bishop Wright’s correction as we begin to look at the temptations of Christ because while He did this FOR us, the temptations were not ABOUT us. There is an overarching story or what is called a metanarrative going on here that we must not miss before we begin to apply this Gospel to our lives.

So I ask you to imagine a beautiful 60-inch TV screen (the kind you should not be coveting, especially during Lent). And down in the right hand corner of that huge screen is a small picture, a picture within a picture, showing a similar but different story. The huge screen is the metanarrative, the overarching story. The small picture within the picture is how this story impacts our lives. But alla Bishop Wright, we must always remember that this story is first and foremost about God and His kingdom.

To understand why these temptations were even necessary we must go all the way back to God’s relationship with Israel in order to see Jesus fulfilling what had been left unfulfilled. In one sense it is a shame that we split the Testaments up by calling them the Old and New Testament because that seems to imply that they are two separate stories, but there are not. It is one long beautiful story of redemption that begins with creation of heaven and earth and ends with a new heaven and a new earth.

Earlier in the story God referred to Israel as His son. God told Moses to say this to Pharaoh. “Thus says the Lord, Israel is my firstborn son, and I say to you, ‘Let my son go that he may serve Me.’” (Ex 4:222,23).

But we know by reading the Old Testament that Israel was a prodigal son and not only broke God’s commandments but also even sought after other gods. The prophet Hosea wrote, “When Israel was a child, I loved him and out of Egypt I called my son. The more they were called, the more they went away, they kept sacrificing to Baals and burning offerings to idols.” (Hosea 11:1,2). One professor I studied under in seminary did a dig in a post conquest village. Supposedly Joshua had conquered the land and driven out the pagans and yet they found a fertility goddess buried in every home. So outwardly they were following YHWH but they had a plan b in case YHWY did not come through.

And yet in His Fatherly love, God called Israel back to Himself through the prophets. Did Israel return? Sometimes. Briefly. But in the end Israel killed the prophets. So in the fullness of time God sends His only begotten Son to be the faithful Son that Israel had failed to be.

The clue that connects Jesus’ temptations with Israel’s unfaithfulness comes from the fact that Jesus quoted Scripture to the tempter from the Book of Deuteronomy. This tied His temptations to Israel’s wilderness story and it is in the time in the wilderness where we see Israel again and again failing the test and missing the mark.

The first temptation of Jesus was that of turning stones into bread. This temptation reflects the episode where God gave them bread from heaven and still they failed to trust Him, always calling out for more. They even grumbled that they missed the garlic and leeks of Egypt and longed to return. But Jesus as a faithful Son chose not to live by His appetites, not by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.

The second temptation was for Jesus to put God to the test by throwing Himself from the temple height. This reflects the episode in which Israel put God to the test by complaining that He had brought them out of Egypt only to have them die of thirst at Massah and Meribah. But Jesus as a faithful Son refused to put God to the test.

The third temptation to worship Satan reflects the time when Israel were afraid that Moses was not going to return from the holy mountain and so they made a golden calf and began to worship it. But Jesus rebukes Satan and declares that He will worship God alone. Again we see that where Israel as a son failed God’s tests, Jesus passed them all. He fulfilled all righteousness.

Here is the big picture. Fulfilling the Old Covenant, the story of redemption continues and the kingdom of God is declared to be among us. A New Covenant is pronounced and we are invited into this relationship between the Father and His faithful Son. We are invited as adopted sons and daughters to be heirs of God and joint heirs with Jesus Christ and to work with them to make all things new. That was what was going on in the big picture. That is the metanarrative. Let’s now look at the little picture within the picture to see how Jesus’ victory over temptation impacts our lives.

First, the fact that Jesus faced genuine temptations and overcame them tells us that we are not alone and that we have the promise that we can be victorious through Christ.

How often it seems to be the case that the enemy of our souls employs a divide and conquer tactic. You look around in church and see every one happy and assume that they have their lives together and you are assured that you are the only one who is going through it. The more severe the temptation the more we feel that we are entirely alone in this battle and that no one else could possibly understand. Additionally pride prevents us from asking for support and so we battle on in quiet desperation.

But we are not alone. Jesus promised that He would never leave us or forsake us. And what is more, He fully understands what we are facing. Hebrews 4:15 says “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” Jesus gets it more than anyone else gets it and so it only makes sense to flee to Him who not only understands but also has the authority to do something about it. We cannot win the battle against temptation alone and the good news is that we don’t have to. If you as a sheep are feeling threatened by a wolf, call on the Shepherd. He has a big crook.

A second way that Jesus’ temptations impact our picture within a picture is how He models for us faithfulness and obedience to the Father. And that by the way is the opposite of the metanarrative of the world.

The overarching theme of our society right now is radical individualism that absolutely decries faithfulness and obedience. We don’t want to hear about the sacrifices that faithfulness demands and we certainly don’t want to hear about submitting our wills in obedience to another, even if He is God. We want what we want and we want it right now.

We shouldn’t be too surprises by this because this metanarrative goes all the way back to the garden. “Did God actually say ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden?’….You will not surly die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” Eve wanted what she wanted and Satan told her to go for it.

In our radical individualism we not only claim that we have the right to do whatever we want to do, and be whoever we choose to be, but we also have the right to demand that all others have to agree with us. If they don’t then we will punish them by taking away their rights.

And since we are in an age of “post truth,” truth is whatever we decide it to be or feel it to be and so there is no objective authority that can tell us that we are wrong. So put away your bibles Christians, we don’t want to hear it.

The call of the world is to accept this metanarrative of radical individualism but Jesus shows us a better way. Think about it. If He had walked in radical individualism He would have failed in all three temptations and we would still be lost in our transgressions.

But He overcame them because He walked in faithfulness and obedience. Further it seems clear from Holy Scripture that He was able to walk that way because His relationship to the Father was rooted in love. He says to His disciples in John 15, “As the Father has loved Me, so have I loved you. Abide in My love. If you keep My commandments you will abide in My love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandment and abide in His love.” Radical individualism only serves to fan the flames of hatred and division. Faithfulness and obedience rooted in love is how the kingdom comes on earth as it is in heaven and walls of separation are destroyed.

A third way that Jesus’ temptations touch our story is how He refused to abuse His power and authority. Twice Satan tried to bait Him by starting off with the challenge, “If you are the Son of God….” If Jesus had taken the bait to prove that He was the Son of God it would have involved a misuse of His power and authority. Interestingly He would later use his power and authority to feed 5,000 but He was not going to abuse it by feeding Himself on a dare.

What did Jesus do to keep His power and authority in check? He submitted it to the Word of God. His response when challenged to do something by Satan was to say He would not because, “it is written.” Meditate on that for a moment. If the Son of God, who John refers to as “the Word made flesh” considers Himself to be under the Word of God, how much more should we?

Archbishop Foley does something that is both comical and poignant. When he ordains a man he takes a Bible and thumps him on the head with it and while holding it on his head he looks him straight in the eye and says, “remember that you are under the Word of God.” And so should we and that is how we resist the temptations of the evil one.

Allow me to offer some practical applications from the temptation of Christ as it relates to our Lenten journey.

First don’t put God to the test by making up a Lenten discipline for yourself that would give an archangel heartburn. Don’t set yourself up for failure. The example that I used in my Ash Wednesday sermon was “I will not be angry for 40 days.” It ain’t going to happen. We are a few days into Lent and if you have already found Lent to be an onerous burden then repent of seeking to do something that would put God to the test and move on to a more reasonable discipline. Jesus didn’t try to defy the laws of gravity and neither should we.

Second let Jesus’ model of faithfulness and obedience be a model that you set before your eyes each day. St. Paul tells us in Philippians that He emptied Himself of all of His rights and privileges and humbled Himself to become a servant and isn’t faithfulness and obedience the essence of being a servant? These are the very qualities that Lent is designed to build into us.

Third Jesus defeated Satan by making God the metanarrative. He was not interested in fulfilling His own needs. He was interested in glorifying His Father. He was interested in abiding in the Father’s love. He was interested in bringing honor to His Father by being the faithful Son that Israel had failed to be.

So let’s follow that example and not make Lent about us but about glorifying our Father. Let’s remember that the Son does not revolve around us but we revolve around Him. Amen.

Worship Pastor in Anglicanism?

Worship Pastor

I was perusing the website of my Mother’s new church. (She just left her former one. The last straw, after a grievous series of non Anglican innovations, was when the priest announced that he would only wear vestments on high holy days.)[1] I noticed on the new church’s website that they have a “Worship Pastor.” Also this week I got a prayer request from a church plant that they were looking for “a lead musician.” Look around this new Anglican world and you will see this approach again and again. Can we talk?

First I offer some clarifications of my perspective. It is okay for you to think that I am a dinosaur because I am. But being a dinosaur does not automatically disqualify me from the conversation. My passion for the Church catholic is as strong as the day that apostolic hands were first laid on my head.

Second I was in the Jesus Movement in the 1970’s and pastored a non denom church for 10 years. I recognize that was just after Edison invented the light bulb but even back then we had overhead projectors and worship teams and lead musicians with microphones. I’ve got the T shirt.

What drew me back to Anglicanism (my father was confirmed in 1935) was the numinous. I had enough of songs about Jesus being my buddy or worse yet love songs in which you could substitute “girlfriend” for “Jesus” and not have to change anything else. I was tired of worship leaders trying to manipulate my emotions so that they would feel successful when they saw a response. I was weary of an emotion based religion that left me drowning in a sea of subjectivity.

It was like a drink of cold water to my parched soul to enter worship where God was seen as Holy and Other, where every minute did not have to be filled with noise, where I did not have to gin up my emotions to experience God’s presence. What a joy it was to have the expectation of meeting with God because of His promises, not the least of which was to be united to Him through the Sacrament.

To protect how we worship as Anglicans, it has been the wisdom of the Church to designate the priest as the leader of worship. We do not separate “worship pastor” from “priest” because our priests are the worship pastors. It is the priest who presides over the worship and not a “lead musician.” He is supported by a team that includes assisting clergy, an organ/choirmaster, the choir, and an altar party, to name a few.

It is an artificial and even damaging notion to bifurcate the worship from the Sacrament by having separate “pastors” because it is ALL worship. From the processional hymn, to taking up the offering, to the dismissal, it is all worship. It is a misunderstanding therefore to have separate “pastors” just as it would be nonsensical to have a “Word Pastor” and a “Table Pastor.”

New Anglican church plants are taking their cues from other traditions with their worship teams and stages and song after song of often vacuous praise music that lacks the theology that this emotion driven generation so desperately needs. In some cases Anglicans are jumping on the bandwagon just as others are leaving it. Instead of being relevant or missional or cool we are coming across as grandfathers in bell bottoms.

We need to preserve our identity as Anglicans. We don’t need “Worship Pastors.” We need priests who know how to work with a choirmaster to choose the best hymns that match the propers of the day so that the people experience rich worship and wise pedagogy. Our worship tradition has been tested by centuries when most of those we mimic today will be gone tomorrow. Let’s not sell our heritage for a bowl of porridge.

[1] Addendum. Each innovation was being done in the name of being “missional” and yet they have remained at an ASA of about 35 for years now. Ref. Dr. Phil