Sunday, November 22, 2015

All the Tribes of the Earth Will Wail

Today's reading from Revelation 1:4-8 contained the line in the title to this post. "Wail" has also been interpreted as "mourn" as wailing is a form of mourning in many cultures.

John to the seven churches that are in Asia:
Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.
To him who loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood, and made us to be a kingdom, priests serving his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen. 
Look! He is coming with the clouds;
   every eye will see him,
even those who pierced him;
   and on his account all the tribes of the earth will wail.
So it is to be. Amen.
I am the Alpha and the Omega’, says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty. 
All the tribes of the earth will wail/mourn/beat their breasts because there is no tribe that is so righteous that it has nothing to fear. I wonder how many sermons glossed over this point.

Gill's Exposition explains it this way,

"And all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of him; all the wicked, in the several parts of the world, will lament, and wring their hands, and express the inward terror and horror of their minds, at his appearing; they will fear his resentment of all their wicked words and actions; will dread his wrath, and tremble at his righteous judgment:
even so, Amen, says John, and so say all true believers; what the wicked lament, they rejoice at; they desire the coming of Christ, they love it, look and long for it; they believe it shall be, and wish it may be quickly, as in Revelation 22:20; And all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of him; all the wicked, in the several parts of the world, will lament, and wring their hands, and express the inward terror and horror of their minds, at his appearing; they will fear his resentment of all their wicked words and actions; will dread his wrath, and tremble at his righteous judgment:" 

John Gill (1697 – 1771) preached in the same church as C. H. Spurgeon over one hundred years earlier, Wikipedia notes that he
"...was an English Baptist pastor, biblical scholar, and theologian who held to a firm Calvinistic soteriology."
That Calvin reference will probably make some readers immediately dismiss Gill's point because too many assume that it is the other guy or the member of the tribe or church down the street who is the wicked one.

Lord forgive us when we wail.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Local Churches Slowly but Surely Dropping Boy Scouts

I was in scouting as a youth in the days before Boy Scouts of America cracked down on homosexuality in the ranks and in its leadership. Ours was a large inner city scouting program based at a Presbyterian church. Our city also had a large homosexual community, and I was unfortunate enough to witness first hand the dangers to youth and to the scouting program that the presence of gay leaders creates.

Our local rag, The Herald, ran a reasonably well balanced article recently about a large Presbyterian church in our current town that made the decision to drop its sponsorship of a Cub Scout Pack and Boy Scout Troop (full story here).
"Westminster Presbyterian Church, sponsor of Boy Scouts for nearly three decades, has decided to sever its ties with the organization after a national policy change earlier this year that lifted the ban of gay men serving as volunteers..." 
"Westminster has been home to one of York County’s largest Boy Scouts troops and plays a central role in many local youth organizations. In a statement this week, Westminster church elders called their move to not renew the church’s charter agreement with the Scouts 'one of the most gut-wrenching decisions we have ever had to make.'" 
I am familiar with this church's elders, and I am sure that they made the decision after study of scripture and following much prayer. They are not the only local Presbyterian church to do this,
"Westminster is the second local church to drop its charter with the Scouts since the summer. There are nearly 140 children who participate between Troop 205 and Cub Scouts Pack 205 at Westminster." 
"In August, First Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church of Lancaster announced its decision to drop its sponsorship of Boy Scouts – also over the Boy Scouts of America vote to allow gay volunteers. That church said the 63 Scouts affected by the decision were invited to join troops with other sponsors, or join the church’s newly formed Trail Life USA – a Christian club with a similar outdoor activities focus as the Boy Scouts." 

Here are a couple of interesting statements from the local scout leadership,
"Despite the adults debating the issue, Leitch (Greg Leitch, Scout executive/CEO of the Palmetto Council) says the BSA and all local volunteers take serious that discussions of sexuality are never appropriate with children involved in Scouting programs.”
Tell that to the scout leaders in Seattle who let their boys march in that city's gay pride parades.
'We are a character education program that develops young people to achieve their full potential in adulthood. Leaders who violate the behavioral standards of the BSA by discussing these issues will be removed from Scouting.'"
I am confident that the current adult leaders of Troop 205 are doing their best to raise their boys right, but what assurance do parents have that their children will not be exposed to risk at regional or national scout gatherings?

Word on the street is that a large local United Methodist church will take in the homeless scouts. Pity, because there are alternatives to Boy Scouts of America.

One of these is Trail Life which has a 127 acre camp in Greenville, South Carolina. Their web page shows their Christian foundations reflected in the following,
Our vision is to be the premier national character development organization for young men which produces Godly and responsible husbands, fathers, and citizens.
Our mission is simple and clear: to guide generations of courageous young men to honor God, lead with integrity, serve others, and experience outdoor adventure.
“Walk Worthy”
Colossians 1:10  “… that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God;…”
On my honor,
I will do my best
To serve God and my country;
To respect authority;
To be a good steward of creation; And to treat others 
as I want to be treated.
Local churches that stand firm will stand apart from churches that don't.  Churches can expect negative press and worse when they reject BSA troops, but the Boy Scouts have left them with no choice. For the Church the question is, "Who will you follow, Jesus or the Boy Scouts?"

Maybe this is a litmus test for our churches.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

For Nation Shall Rise Against Nation

This Sunday's Gospel reading was Mark 13:1-8,
"And as he went out of the temple, one of his disciples saith unto him, Master, see what manner of stones and what buildings are here! And Jesus answering said unto him, Seest thou these great buildings? there shall not be left one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down. And as he sat upon the mount of Olives over against the temple, Peter and James and John and Andrew asked him privately, Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign when all these things shall be fulfilled? And Jesus answering them began to say, Take heed lest any man deceive you:  for many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many.  And when ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars, be ye not troubled: for such things must needs be; but the end shall not be yet.  For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be earthquakes in divers places, and there shall be famines and troubles: these are the beginnings of sorrows." Authorized (King James) Version 
How many wars has mankind endured since Jesus spoke those words?  No one knows the answer to that one, but I expect they are too numerous to count, and these are just the beginnings of sorrows.
Most of those wars were local or regional conflicts and only two have been so big that they earned the name of "World War."

I believe that WWIII has recently been openly declared in Paris even though we have been in this war for many years already. This world war is with radical Islam, and if history tells us anything, this war will have to be fought differently than the last one. I can only pray that the battles will be smaller in scale, and it does look like they might be as bombings and shootouts in which casualties are measured in the dozens or hundreds will be the manner of war that will be brought to us (as long as our enemies do no acquire weapons of mass destruction).

How do we defend ourselves in these times of sorrows? I have heard voices calling for violence and voices calling for prayer, and yes prayer is what we should do at all times and at all places, but what should we pray for?

Psalm 21 came up in my Bible study today, and I suggest that this is a good place to start (with emphasis on verses 8-13).

1 The king shall joy in thy strength, O Lord;
and in thy salvation how greatly shall he rejoice!
2 Thou hast given him his heart’s desire,
and hast not withholden the request of his lips.
3 For thou preventest him with the blessings of goodness:
thou settest a crown of pure gold on his head.
4 He asked life of thee, and thou gavest it him,
even length of days for ever and ever.
5 His glory is great in thy salvation:
honour and majesty hast thou laid upon him.
6 For thou hast made him most blessed for ever:
thou hast made him exceeding glad with thy countenance.
7 For the king trusteth in the Lord,
and through the mercy of the most High he shall not be moved.
8 Thine hand shall find out all thine enemies:
thy right hand shall find out those that hate thee.
9 Thou shalt make them as a fiery oven in the time of thine anger:
the Lord shall swallow them up in his wrath,
and the fire shall devour them.
10 Their fruit shalt thou destroy from the earth,
and their seed from among the children of men.
11 For they intended evil against thee:
they imagined a mischievous device,
which they are not able to perform.
12 Therefore shalt thou make them turn their back,
when thou shalt make ready thine arrows upon thy strings against the face of them.
13 Be thou exalted, Lord, in thine own strength:
so will we sing and praise thy power.
WWIII is going to be as much a spiritual war as a physical one.

Pray for Divine Justice, and in the meantime, consider how best we might defend our families, our nation, and our freedom.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Bishop of the Diocese of San Diego: A Positive Spin on a Death Spiral

Over at Anglican Ink, they have posted the Bishop of San Diego's statement regarding the closure of one church, one mission, and the change in status of another church to mission.

The Diocese of San Diego has seen a drop in Sunday worshipers of about 33% over the past 10 years. In any other business, this type of disaster might result in the firing of the CEO. This never happens in the Episcopal church.

Instead, we get statements like these excerpts,
"I am deeply grateful for their faith, perseverance, and resilience as faith communities. They have embraced the challenge with joy, honesty, and hard work, and they make me proud. It is notable that the vestry of All Saints' is committed to the mission action parish process. The people of St. Anne's and All Saints' will have new opportunities to continue their mission and ministry through creative structures of Christian community."
Translation: I hope you know how to swim because I am pushing you into another leaky lifeboat.
"Funds recovered through the sale of property will be re-directed toward expanding ministries where we believe God is calling us to stretch and grow, and to ensure that we offer ongoing pastoral ministry to those most directly affected by these decisions. As this process unfolds, we will draw significantly on financial reserves to care for the communities of St. Anne's and All Saints', and to help them, and other congregations, to grow in new ways."
Translation: More successful parishes thank you for the cash. If there is any left over, we may send some back to you.
"I anticipate additional actions and unifications in the coming months. In several cases, I imagine that small, struggling congregations will forge partnerships with neighbors in ministry such as the recent collaboration between St. Paul's Cathedral and St. Luke's, San Diego. Some of these partnerships may lead to actual mergers of congregations."
Translation: This is a warning to others, "You may be next."
"I dream of an assembly of strong congregations of various sizes. I see us expanding our presence by developing communities that hunger and thirst for justice and knowledge of God. I see us growing stronger as we adapt to changing conditions. This will not necessarily translate into building new buildings. It may mean that we use our current buildings more, but differently - in greater collaboration with the community and our ecumenical partners."
Translation: I know that is not going to happen, but it sounds good, and if all else fails, we can let our Muslim friends use the buildings.
"Each of our congregations will be surrounded by small communities. Reminiscent of house churches of the first century, they may be drawn together by shared ages and locations, or by a rule of life, or by a missional focus. We will have fewer institutions, but more communities, more people gathered around altars, more people involved in ministry, and more souls touched by Jesus."
Translation: How many chairs do you have around your breakfast tables?

I don't know what the Bishop has been smoking in order to dream like this, but whatever it is, I wonder if they pass it around at Episcopal seminaries because it seems like most Episcopal bishops share the same dream.

Fret not, San Diegans, the upcoming Prayer Book revision will solve everything, and it will equip you to spread the good news of the welcoming church to an unwelcoming world.

Sunday, November 08, 2015

My Two Cents Worth on, "Don't Worry, Be Happy," Or So Said the Captain of the Good Ship TEC

This Sunday's Gospel reading was from Mark 12:38-44. and contained a warning against the teachers of the Law, and the story of the widow's offering,
As he taught, Jesus said, “Watch out for the teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and be greeted with respect in the marketplaces,  and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets. They devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. These men will be punished most severely.” 

As I watched the grand procession of the bishops of the Episcopal church at the installation of +Curry as Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal church last Sunday, I couldn't help but think of my last two posts on clerical fancy dress and what Jesus might say if he were to add a comment to one of the numerous Facebook posts I saw on the service.
Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents.
Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.”
As the TEc elite fly to Washington to beat their drums and strut their stuff as an offering to God, I think about the poor conservative priests working in small, struggling parishes somewhere in post-industrial middle America. Their sacrifice is of far greater significance to God than all of the excesses of his or her superiors.

After reading the text of Bishop Curry's sermon delivered at his installation, I can't help but put in my two cents' worth.

1st cent's worth: Over and over again Presiding Bishop Curry repeated, "Don't worry, be Happy," which is a reference to a hit song from 1988 by Bobby McFerrin. Wikipedia notes:
"The song's title is taken from a famous quotation by Meher Baba,  The Indian mystic and sage Meher Baba (1894–1969) often used the expression 'Don't worry, be happy' when cabling his followers in the West. However, Baba also communicated variations of the sentiment; fuller versions of the quote – such as, 'Do your best. Then, don’t worry; be happy in My love. I will help you' — incorporate responsibility with detachment, as well as the master/disciple spiritual relationship."
I for one won't fawn and fall until he stops the lawsuits against fellow Christians, until he disavows same-sex marriage and abortion, and until he sweeps 815 clean of all the flowing robed wolves who have been devouring the Church from within. Then and only then will I stop worrying and be happy.

2nd cent's worth: Over and over again he repeated. "And God is not finished with The Episcopal Church yet." 

Since every progressive move of the Episcopal church over the past 40 years has been justified as "A movement of the Holy Spirit", and since those forty years have seen a disastrous decline in membership and regular Sunday worship, you have to wonder just what it is that God is doing, and whether or not He is finishing off the Episcopal church. Yes, God is not finished with the Episcopal church yet, and if the past is an indicator of the future, He won't be finished with it until the last parish church is shuttered and put up for sale.

TEc loyalists are fawning over +Curry, and I wonder what hold he has over them.

To me, it looks like the same policies in a new dress.

Wednesday, November 04, 2015

Where Do Those Crazy Liturgical Costumes Come From?

This is a follow-up on my last post on clerical costumes.

Challwood Studio is one of the sources Episcopal clerics go to when looking for new ways to express themselves. If you visit Challwood's web page, you may see some familiar outfits including Presiding Bishop Schori's miter, Bishop Gene Robinson's garb, and other monstrosities.

A little digging turns up the fact that the name "Challwood" is the result of the fusion of the last names of the two partners in the studio, Paul Woodrum and Victor Challenor who are also fused at the hips.
"The Rev. Paul Woodrum is a retired Episcopal priest who lives in Brooklyn, NY, and supplies in the Dioceses of Long Island and New York. Since 1985 he and his husband, Victor Challenor, have been partners in Challwood Studio, designing and crafting contemporary liturgical vestments and ornaments." (Episcopal Cafe
This explains a lot. It is more than fitting that a gay, married, retired Episcopal priest is the go to guy for our inclusive, progressive leaders. It is also telling that the vestments our priests and bishops go for all scream, "Look at me" for narcissism is at the heart of the gender identity confusion that has swept the Episcopal church off the mainline of Christianity and onto its current trajectory.

From now on, whenever I see our bishops and priests wearing these overly expressive and distracting garments, I will hear the words of "Dedicated Follower Of Fashion" by The Kinks coming to mind,

They seek him here, they seek him there,
His clothes are loud, but never square.
It will make or break him so he's got to buy the best,
'Cause he's a dedicated follower of fashion.
And when he does his little rounds,
'Round the boutiques of London Town,
Eagerly pursuing all the latest fads and trends,
'Cause he's a dedicated follower of fashion.
Oh yes he is (oh yes he is), oh yes he is (oh yes he is).
He thinks he is a flower to be looked at,
And when he pulls his frilly nylon panties right up tight,
He feels a dedicated follower of fashion.
Oh yes he is (oh yes he is), oh yes he is (oh yes he is).
There's one thing that he loves and that is flattery.
One week he's in polka-dots, the next week he is in stripes.
'Cause he's a dedicated follower of fashion.
They seek him here, they seek him there,
In Regent Street and Leicester Square.
Everywhere the Carnabetian army marches on,
Each one an dedicated follower of fashion.
Oh yes he is (oh yes he is), oh yes he is (oh yes he is).
His world is built 'round discoteques and parties.
This pleasure-seeking individual always looks his best
'Cause he's a dedicated follower of fashion.
Oh yes he is (oh yes he is), oh yes he is (oh yes he is).
He flits from shop to shop just like a butterfly.
In matters of the cloth he is as fickle as can be,
'Cause he's a dedicated follower of fashion.
He's a dedicated follower of fashion.
He's a dedicated follower of fashion.

Sunday, November 01, 2015

"Ye Fearful Saints, Fresh Courage Take..." William Cowper, 1774

This Sunday many churches will celebrate a combined All Hallowed/Saints/Souls Day by singing, "For All the Saints", listening to the story of Lazarus being raised from the dead, and by reciting the names of our beloved friends and families who have entered into God's kingdom while waiting for coffee hour to munch on candy left over from last night's trick or treating.

Our sense of loss over the death of friends and family is natural, but as Christians it is softened by the knowledge of the promise of forgiveness and of eternal life.

In spite of our intellectual knowledge that everything is part of God's plan, we are not comforted when someone near to us dies and we are offered the words, "It is part of God's plan" by a well-meaning friend.

God's plan usually remains hidden to most of us, especially during times of grief, but over time we can sometimes come to a better understanding of His intentions.

For this All Saints Day, I would offer up the following as we remember our loved ones along with the saints of old and as we ponder God's mysterious ways.

"God Moves in a Mysterious Way" from,

"God moves in a mysterious way
His wonders to perform;
He plants His footsteps in the sea
And rides upon the storm.
Deep in unfathomable mines
Of never failing skill
He treasures up His bright designs
And works His sov’reign will.
Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take;
The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy and shall break
In blessings on your head.
Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
But trust Him for His grace;
Behind a frowning providence
He hides a smiling face.
His purposes will ripen fast,
Unfolding every hour;
The bud may have a bitter taste,
But sweet will be the flow’r.
Blind unbelief is sure to err
And scan His work in vain;
God is His own interpreter,
And He will make it plain."
- William Cowper, 1774
For those interested in learning more about William Cowper, here is a link which tells the story of his battle with mental illness, suicide attempts, interesting associations with important Christians of the time, and finally, his hymn writing.