Sunday, October 19, 2014

'Tis Not a Gift

Typically, this time of year people's thoughts turn to church budgets and stewardship campaigns, and appropriately today's Gospel reading was about money.

The Pharisees went and plotted to entrap Jesus in what he said. So they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, "Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and teach the way of God in accordance with truth, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality. Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?" But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, "Why are you putting me to the test, you hypocrites? Show me the coin used for the tax." And they brought him a denarius. Then he said to them, "Whose head is this, and whose title?" They answered, "The emperor's." Then he said to them, "Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor's, and to God the things that are God's." When they heard this, they were amazed; and they left him and went away. Matthew 22:15-22,
All too often people are presented with the idea that "giving to God the things that are God's" means giving money to the church. There is a whole lot more to giving than that, and in fact giving to the church that has strayed from God is definitely not giving to God. Giving money to a church that supports abortion, giving money to a church that has given up on divorce, and giving money to a church that has given up on sex is not giving to God the things that are God's.

The fact that people continue to render these gifts leaves me amazed.

I think 'tis not a gift, but instead 'tis enabling.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The "Wrath" of God: Getting Over a Pons Asinorum

Talking about gruesome stories, in 1 Samuel we are brought face to face with some of those difficult verses we seldom hear preached on Sunday.  I have picked out the verses I believe might cause people to question the Bible.
2 Thus says the Lord of hosts, “I will punish the Amalekites for what they did in opposing the Israelites when they came up out of Egypt. 3 Now go and attack Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have; do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.”

7 Saul defeated the Amalekites, from Havilah as far as Shur, which is east of Egypt. 8 He took King Agag of the Amalekites alive, but utterly destroyed all the people with the edge of the sword. 9 Saul and the people spared Agag, and the best of the sheep and of the cattle and of the fatlings, and the lambs, and all that was valuable, and would not utterly destroy them; all that was despised and worthless they utterly destroyed.

10 The word of the Lord came to Samuel: 11‘I regret that I made Saul king, for he has turned back from following me, and has not carried out my commands.’

32 Then Samuel said, ‘Bring Agag king of the Amalekites here to me.’ And Agag came to him haltingly. Agag said, ‘Surely this is the bitterness of death.' 33 But Samuel said,
‘As your sword has made women childless,
so your mother shall be childless among women.’
And Samuel hewed Agag in pieces before the Lord in Gilgal.

Modern people might question, "Did the Lord order the viscous attack on Agag and the Amalekites, or is this just the Hebrew's way of writing a justification for their war?"

And to add to the confusion for the modern mind, the victorious King Saul is disobedient to God's command because the destruction was not total and spares Agag and the animals, and as a result falls out of favor. You might hear the question, "What kind of God is this?" or the statement, "I would never worshio a God like that."

Was Agag so bad that God ordered him to be punished in such a manner?

Please read the following from C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain Chapter 4 Human Wickedness:
"When we merely say, that we are bad, the 'wrath' of God seems a barbarous doctrine; as soon as we perceive our badness, it appears inevitable, a mere corollary from God's goodness. To keep ever before us the insight derived from such a moment as I have been describing, to learn to detect the same real inexcusable corruption under more and more of its complex disguises, is therefore indispensable to a real understanding of the Christian faith. This is not, of course, a new doctrine. I am attempting nothing very splendid in this chapter. I am merely trying to get my reader (and, still more, myself) over a pons asinorum--to take the first step out of fool's paradise and utter illusion. But the illusion has grown, in modern times, so strong, that I add a few considerations tending to make the reality less incredible."

Would a modern person go so far as to say that God is incapable of wrath, or that He would not act in a punitive way to creatures that have sunk even lower than bad? Have we gone that far over the precipice that we can, from our fool's paradise, dictate to Him?

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Why I Worry About Pride Parade Goers

I am continuing my reading through the O.T. prophets and the following warnings from Malachi struck a chord:

"So now we call the proud blessed, For those who do wickedness are raised up; They even tempt God and go free." Malachi 3:15 
"For behold, the day is coming, Burning like an oven, And all the proud, yes, all who do wickedly will be stubble. And the day which is coming shall burn them up," Says the Lord of hosts, "That will leave them neither root nor branch.
But to you who fear My name The Sun of Righteousness shall arise With healing in His wings; And you shall go out And grow fat like stall-fed calves."
Malachi 4:1-2  

Why do people have to participate in or attend pride parades when in humility we should all stay home and beg forgiveness for our prideful selves? 

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Budget Woes For +Upper South Carolina?

The silence from upstate Episcopalians about the upcoming 92nd Diocesan Convention Of The Episcopal Diocese of Upper South Carolina is perhaps a reflection of the general sense of "who cares" amongst the people in the pews, but perhaps there is more going on than people know.

Apparently a letter from Bishop Waldo went out to clergy recently about restructuring the staff. He attributes it to a financial shortfall this year and projected cuts for 2015, and so the theme for this year's convention is appropriately titled,

Stewardship of People, Place and Money
                    October 17-18
            Christ Church, Greenville
Didn't they used to call that, "Stewardship of Time, Talent & Treasure"?

Stewardship of people means:
1) Gone is the Canon to the Ordinary.
2) Gone is the Canon for Congregational and Leadership Development.
3) Gone is the Executive Assistant to the Bishop.

With pledges decreasing, many smaller parishes are feeling the pain this year from their diocesan assessments. These assessments will drop a little bit the year following a poor yearly income report, so Bishop Waldo knows that he either has to cut his budget or some program that might be particularly precious to someone else, but as far as stewardship of money is concerned, are there any other sacred cows out there to sacrifice?

In previous years, suggestions to cut the 815 pledge have been summarily dismissed. It is hard to see anything good coming out of 815 these days, so why not give them what they have earned? Will anyone stand up this year and ask the delegates to put the knife to this clear and present danger to good stewardship?

Usually, the proposed budget (euphemistically called the "Statement of Mission") has been passed around enough times that most of us are aware of exactly what cuts the Conventioneers might have to debate. This year a cloak of silence has been thrown over the pre-convention debate so that many delegates may find their Saturday afternoon plans thwarted if anyone tries to debate a line item at Convention. This budget has been in development all year, so there shouldn't be any surprises, but what usually happens is that somebody who feels strongly about their particular line item will decide to stand up and give a last minute appeal for that item.

Ah well, Bishop Waldo and 815 are the ones to blame for falling plate and pledge and falling enthusiasm for the Episcopal organization thanks to their progressive changes and insidious revisionism, but don't expect your church leaders to admit it. Instead expect more attempts at rearranging the deck chairs as the ship slips below the waves.

Here is a copy of the Bishop's letter,

I am still trying to figure out "Stewardship of Place". Does that mean that if your church does pay its dues, it will be placed in "Mission" status turning your place into the Bishop's place?

I sure am glad we have a huge mortgage payment that the Bishop would never want to add to his budget woes.

If he is looking for advice from this lowly pewsitter on how to pull the Church from out of its budgetary death spiral, I would tell him to repent of his sins, to say no to same sex blessings and marriages, to cast out the revisionist priests he has allowed to take over the ranks of the clergy, to cast out the remaining "Canons to This That and the Other Things" in order to recruit reasserting clergy with track records of church growth, and to preach the Gospel. Heck, bring them in from DSC if you can't find them in TEC.

If you preach it straight, they will come.

Sunday, October 05, 2014

To Be In Communion or Not to Be in Communion

That is the question this week for pewsitters all over the world who worship in an Anglican style after three news items appeared which might awaken even the most disconnected Sunday card-puncher.

First the news leaked by the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal style church, Katharine Jefferts Schori, that the Lambeth Conference of bishops from throughout the Anglican Communion ain't gonna happen. I think the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, does not want a repeat of the last Lambeth disaster where some bishops refused their invitations and the Episcopal P.B. was told she could not wear her mitre while in ++Welby's jurisdiction. ++Welby may also be confused as to who to invite and who to "not invite", because there is a growing number of bishops out there who claim to be Anglican but who face a powerful group who say that they ain't Anglican.

Imagine inviting a bunch of Jr. High School girls and their cliques together for a party, and you will see the Archbishop's problem.

Secondly, the Archbishop of Canterbury let it slip (Anglican Ink) that he believes that the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) is an ecumenical partner and not a member church of the Anglican Communion. That is a big snub to some 100,000 pewsitters many of whom have a better understanding and a higher regard for Anglicanism than some of the bishops currently controlling the Episcopal church.

Last and perhaps least, from the tiny Anglican Church of North West Australia comes this,
"...recognizes the Anglican Church of North America (ACNA) as a member church of the Anglican Communion, in full communion with Diocese of North West Australia; rejoices that the orthodox faith is proclaimed in word and deed through ACNA and its member churches;" (Link to StandFirm in Faith post).
Does that make NW Australia an ecumenical partner now?

Identity confusion reigns supreme. You can't host a religious gathering like Lambeth when nobody can agree on who belongs there in the first place.

A few questions raised by all of this can be summarized as follows,
1) What is the definition of an Anglican church?
2) What is the definition of an Anglican?
3) What is the meaning of being in communion with another church?
4) What is the meaning of being in communion with another person?
5) What things should exist in order for a church to be in communion?
6) What things might take a church out of communion? 
7) What things might take a person out of communion? 
8) Who makes the call?
9) Who cares?
Maybe only time will answer the questions. To my mind, the Anglican Communion has been high-jacked by those who are enamored by a revisionist approach to scripture and theology and who will do what ever they can to destroy traditionalists. Today's Gospel reading hints at what might await those who would promote non-traditional sexual morality and try to steal the inheritance from traditionalists.

Jesus said, "Listen to another parable. There was a landowner who planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a wine press in it, and built a watchtower. Then he leased it to tenants and went to another country. When the harvest time had come, he sent his slaves to the tenants to collect his produce. But the tenants seized his slaves and beat one, killed another, and stoned another. Again he sent other slaves, more than the first; and they treated them in the same way. Finally he sent his son to them, saying, `They will respect my son.' But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, `This is the heir; come, let us kill him and get his inheritance.' So they seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him. Now when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?" They said to him, "He will put those wretches to a miserable death, and lease the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the harvest time."
Jesus said to them, "Have you never read in the scriptures:
`The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone;
this was the Lord's doing,
and it is amazing in our eyes'?
Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom."
Matthew 21:33-43
In time, those who hold true to the Bible will be given the kingdom and their share in the true Anglican Communion.

++Justin Welby: To be in communion, or not to be--that is the question:
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous traditionalists
Or to take arms against a sea of troublemakers
And by opposing end them. To die, to sleep--
No more--and by a sleep to say we end
The heartache, and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to. 'Tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wished. To die, to sleep--
To sleep--perchance to dream of union in the communion.

Hamlet was a tragedy too...

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Wolfhart Pannenberg: "A church that took this step would cease to be the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church."

Theologian Wolfhart Pannenberg passed away recently.

From Christianity Today,

Of homosexual practice he said the following: "This is the real problem: and it is here that we must deal with the conclusion that homosexual activity is a departure from the norm for sexual behavior that has been given to men and women as creatures of God. For the church this is the case not only for homosexual but for any sexual activity that does not intend the goal of marriage between man and wife—in particular, adultery. 
"The church has to live with the fact that, in this area of life as in others, departures from the norm are not exceptional but rather common and widespread. The church must encounter all those concerned with tolerance and understanding but also call them to repentance. It cannot surrender the distinction between the norm and behavior that departs from that norm. 
"Here lies the boundary of a Christian church that knows itself to be bound by the authority of Scripture. Those who urge the church to change the norm of its teaching on this matter must know that they are promoting schism. 
If a church were to let itself be pushed to the point where it ceased to treat homosexual activity as a departure from the biblical norm, and recognized homosexual unions as a personal partnership of love equivalent to marriage, such a church would stand no longer on biblical ground but against the unequivocal witness of Scripture. A church that took this step would cease to be the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church."
Each week, thousands of Episcopalians recite the Nicene Creed unaware of the fact that they are no longer part of  that one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church.

We say that we believe in it, but our actions speak otherwise.

Lord, help us with our unbelief.  

Sunday, September 28, 2014

My Two Sons

Today's Gospel reading was from Matthew 21:28-32,

Jesus said, "What do you think? A man had two sons; he went to the first and said, `Son, go and work in the vineyard today.' He answered, `I will not'; but later he changed his mind and went. The father went to the second and said the same; and he answered, `I go, sir'; but he did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?" They said, "The first." Jesus said to them, "Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him; and even after you saw it, you did not change your minds and believe him."

Calvin in his commentaries had this to say about the parable.

"This conclusion shows what is the object of the parable, when Christ prefers to the scribes and priests those who were generally accounted infamous and held in detestation; for he unmasks those hypocrites, that they may no longer boast of being the ministers of God, or hold out a pretended zeal for godliness. Though their ambition, and pride, and cruelty, and avarice, were known to all, yet they wished to be reckoned quite different persons. And when, but a little ago, they attacked Christ, they falsely alleged that they were anxious about the order of the Church, as if they were its faithful and honest guardians. Since they attempt to practice such gross imposition on God and men, Christ rebukes their impudence by showing that they were at the greatest possible distance from what they boasted, and were so far from deserving that elevation with which they flattered themselves, that they ranked below the publicans and the harlots For as to the profession which they made of being eminent in observing the worship of God, and of being zealots of the Law, Christ tells them that it is quite as if a son were, in words, to promise obedience to his father, but afterwards to deceive him. So far as regards the publicans and the harlots, he does not excuse their vices, but compares their dissolute life to the obstinacy of a rebellious and debauched son, who at first throws off his father's authority; but shows that they are greatly preferable to the scribes and Pharisees in this respect, that they do not continue to the end in their vices, but, on the contrary, submit gently and obediently to the yoke which they had fiercely rejected. We now perceive the design of Christ. Not only does he reproach the priests and scribes with obstinately opposing God, and not repenting, though so frequently admonished, but he strips them of the honor of which they were unworthy, because their ungodliness was worse than the lasciviousness of the harlots."
While most of today's sermons on this parable probably focused on our personal son-ship and how we as individuals answer God's "asks", let us not forget that the primary target of this parable was the priestly class.

Today's priestly class should take particular note of this parable.

When they lead us in saying, "We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church..." do they really?

They say "Yes," but when they return to their offices on Monday, do they turn back from their headlong rush to bless same sex relationships and same sex marriage?

They say they will join us in the vineyard, but they don't.

Wouldn't it be better if they were to heed the parable?

Yes the parable condemns us too, but it helps us all to return for forgiveness just as it challenges us to follow God's commandments more honestly and happily in the future.

The priestly class of the Episcopal church is welcome to share in that happiness.

We are a welcoming church.