Sunday, November 19, 2017

Lectionary Options: Your Parish and Its True Colors

Churches following the Revised Common Lectionary sometimes are faced with options when selecting readings from the Bible for their Sunday worship services. This Sunday gives us two very different options from the old Testament,  Option A: Judges 4:1-7 (Deborah is the star) paired with Psalm 123 (mostly harmless), or Option B: Zephaniah 1:7,12-18 paired with Psalm 90:1-8,(9-11),12 (full of reminders to fear the Lord).

First let's take a look at Option A,
Judges 4:1-7 
The Israelites again did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, after Ehud died. So the Lord sold them into the hand of King Jabin of Canaan, who reigned in Hazor; the commander of his army was Sisera, who lived in Harosheth-ha-goiim. Then the Israelites cried out to the Lord for help; for he had nine hundred chariots of iron, and had oppressed the Israelites cruelly for twenty years. 
At that time Deborah, a prophetess, wife of Lappidoth, was judging Israel. She used to sit under the palm of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim; and the Israelites came up to her for judgement. She sent and summoned Barak son of Abinoam from Kedesh in Naphtali, and said to him, ‘The Lord, the God of Israel, commands you, “Go, take position at Mount Tabor, bringing ten thousand from the tribe of Naphtali and the tribe of Zebulun. I will draw out Sisera, the general of Jabin’s army, to meet you by the Wadi Kishon with his chariots and his troops; and I will give him into your hand.” ’
Psalm 123 Ad te levavi oculos meos 
1 To you I lift up my eyes, *to you enthroned in the heavens.2 As the eyes of servants look to the hand of their masters, *and the eyes of a maid to the hand of her mistress,3 So our eyes look to the Lord our God, *until he show us his mercy.4 Have mercy upon us, O Lord, have mercy, *for we have had more than enough of contempt,5 Too much of the scorn of the indolent rich, *and of the derision of the proud.
Those were pretty harmless, and the inclusion of Deborah who sat as a Judge of ancient Israel is sure to cause progressive rectors to lean towards choosing Option A to be read during their parish's Sunday services.

Contrast that with Option B,

Zephaniah 1:7,12-18

7 Be silent before the Lord God!   For the day of the Lord is at hand;the Lord has prepared a sacrifice,   he has consecrated his guests.12 At that time I will search Jerusalem with lamps,   and I will punish the peoplewho rest complacently* on their dregs,   those who say in their hearts,‘The Lord will not do good,   nor will he do harm.’13 Their wealth shall be plundered,   and their houses laid waste.Though they build houses,   they shall not inhabit them;though they plant vineyards,   they shall not drink wine from them.

14 The great day of the Lord is near,   near and hastening fast;the sound of the day of the Lord is bitter,   the warrior cries aloud there.15 That day will be a day of wrath,   a day of distress and anguish,a day of ruin and devastation,   a day of darkness and gloom,a day of clouds and thick darkness,16   a day of trumpet blast and battle cryagainst the fortified cities   and against the lofty battlements.17 I will bring such distress upon people   that they shall walk like the blind;   because they have sinned against the Lord,their blood shall be poured out like dust,   and their flesh like dung.18 Neither their silver nor their gold   will be able to save them   on the day of the Lord’s wrath;in the fire of his passion   the whole earth shall be consumed;for a full, a terrible end   he will make of all the inhabitants of the earth. 
Psalm 90 Domine, refugium 
1 Lord, you have been our refuge *from one generation to another.2 Before the mountains were brought forth,or the land and the earth were born, *from age to age you are God.3 You turn us back to the dust and say, *"Go back, O child of earth."4 For a thousand years in your sight are like yesterday when it is past *and like a watch in the night.5 You sweep us away like a dream; *we fade away suddenly like the grass.6 In the morning it is green and flourishes; *in the evening it is dried up and withered.7 For we consume away in your displeasure; *we are afraid because of your wrathful indignation.8 Our iniquities you have set before you, *and our secret sins in the light of your countenance.9 When you are angry, all our days are gone; *we bring our years to an end like a sigh.10 The span of our life is seventy years,perhaps in strength even eighty; *yet the sum of them is but labor and sorrow,for they pass away quickly and we are gone.11 Who regards the power of your wrath? *who rightly fears your indignation?12 So teach us to number our days *that we may apply our hearts to wisdom.
The differences between Option A and Option B are so striking that I suggest they be used as a litmus test to determine your parish's true colors. Are you attending a church that covers up our sinful and undeserving nature and the judgement we deserve, or are you attending one that tells it like it is?

Which option do you think most Episcopalians will hear? 

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

The Church of England: Evidence For Collusion With the Secular Agenda

A while back, Brett McCracken  posted "7 Good Reasons to Leave a Church" and at the top of the list was,
1. The church abandons orthodoxy. 
If your church begins to fudge on matters of orthodoxy, placing cultural relevance or social gospel initiatives above sound doctrine and biblical authority, look for another church. Sometimes a church outright embraces heresy and it is loud and clear, but more often the march away from orthodoxy is a slow and hard-to-discern series of small compromises. If you see your church headed in that direction and your alarm bells go unheeded, get out sooner rather than later.
For those of us who were once in the Episcopal organization, we saw the series of compromises, and we sounded the alarm, but the alarm went unheeded.

Everyone has predicted that the Church of England, which shall from henceforth be referred to as "That Certain Organization in England" (TCOinE), will follow in the way of the Episcopalians. While the TCOinE has not yet produced a blessing for same-sex couples, their difficulty in dealing with matters of human sexuality shows that the series of compromises leading away from orthodoxy are beginning to pile up.

We have already seen the Archbishop of Canterbury's inability to share the Gospel with Muslim schoolchildren,
In 2015 I noted how un-evangelical the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, acted when speaking to a group of mostly Muslim school children.  The Archbishop faced a number of “challenging” questions from pupils at the Church of England school (St Alban’s Academy in Highgate), where 80 per cent of its pupils are Muslim.Answering a pupil who asked whether he would encourage him to convert from Islam to Christianity, the Archbishop said: “I am not going to put pressure on you, and I wouldn’t expect you to put pressure on me.” (BirminghamMail)
We have witnessed his acceptance of Islam in May of 2017 when he posted a video message to Muslims a few days after a terrorist attack in Manchester, blessing them and wishing them a,
"very good Ramadan".
Now we have the issue of transgender people and how TCOinE schools will teach the Gospel of Christ to children growing up in the age of gender confusion. Basically TCOinE won't spread the parts of the Good News that relate to the traditional/Biblical view of human sexuality because if it did, TCOinE would run afoul of the law.

The gruesome details are in a publication called,
"Valuing All God’s Children Guidance for Church of England schools on challenging homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying"
 In it, we find the rationalization used to justify the next step away from orthodoxy,
"...the Government has placed a duty on schools to prevent extremism and to teach British Values (this came into effect in February 2015). Schools must now ensure that they promote British Values which include challenging extremist views, understanding the importance of identifying and challenging discrimination and the acceptance of individual liberty and mutual respect. In July 2016, following a rise in hate crime after the Brexit vote, the Government issued Action Against Hate. This plan for tackling hate crime includes the need to challenge homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying in schools."
 It would appear that teaching the former Church of England's position on marriage as being between one man and one woman would run afoul of current "British Values" and thus be a violation of secular law.

How the esrtwhile church came to taking this step can be discerned from the words of the Archbishop himself,
"Central to Christian theology is the truth that every singleone of us is made in the image of God. Every one of us isloved unconditionally by God.We must avoid, at all costs,diminishing the dignity of any individual to a stereotype or aproblem. Church of England schools offer a community whereeveryone is a person known and loved by God,supported toknow their intrinsic value.This guidance helps schools to offer the Christian message oflove, joy and the celebration of our humanity withoutexception or exclusion." 
- +Justin CantuarThe Most Revd and Rt Hon JustinWelbyArchbishop of Canterbury
I wonder when the Christian message became one "the celebration of our humanity without exception or exclusion"? Our humanity is what gets us into trouble time and time again does it not? Not a whole lot to celebrate there. Instead, how about if we celebrate our new life in Christ?
That can't happen in the secularized former church schools in England because worship services must now honor current "British values",
7. CollectiveWorshipIn collective worship the importance of inclusivity anddignity and respect for all should be explored, as well asother themes and values that play a part in challenging allforms of prejudicial bullying, including HBT bullying andlanguage.
Teachers in the classroom must also actively indoctrinate the children in the new British value system,
Opportunities to discuss issues to do with self-esteem,gender identity, and anti-bullying including HBT bullyingshould be included in physical,social, health and economiceducation or citizenship programmes.The curriculumshould offer opportunities for pupils to learn to valuethemselves and their bodies. Relationships and sexeducation should take LGBT people into account. Sexualorientation should be included within RSE in thesecondary phase. The Church of England’s teaching onhuman sexuality and a range of Christian views should betaught, as well as a range of perspectives from other faithsand world views.
So here we have Welby the Weak. He gives in to the government's rules regarding education, effectively eliminating teaching the whole Gospel of Christ to children in CofE schools.

And to think, he was from the "evangelical" wing of the former CofE.

As I have said before, the word "evangelical" must mean something different across the pond.

"Secular collusion" must be taking place.  A full investigation is called for!

Sunday, November 12, 2017

The Parable of the Ten Somethings

Does anyone else remember a time when bridesmaids were supposed to be unmarried and were presumed to be virgins? Well, that was the way it was back in Jesus' day. In this Sunday's Gospel reading, the "Parable of the Ten Virgins" found in Matthew 25:1-13 becomes the "Parable of the Ten Bridesmaids" in many of the translations commonly read in Episcopalian parishes.
‘Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this. Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them; but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. As the bridegroom was delayed, all of them became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a shout, “Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.” Then all those bridesmaids got up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish said to the wise, “Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.” But the wise replied, “No! there will not be enough for you and for us; you had better go to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.” And while they went to buy it, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went with him into the wedding banquet; and the door was shut. Later the other bridesmaids came also, saying, “Lord, lord, open to us.” But he replied, “Truly I tell you, I do not know you.” Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.
I am not sure when the virgin bridesmaid went out of style, but in my experience, it was sometime after the introduction of "the pill" when virgins got harder and harder to find. This also resulted in a shortage of virgins to sacrifice to the volcano gods.

The modern translations do keep priests from putting the thought of "foolish virgins" into the minds of their somnulent Sunday morning pewsitters which might keep those pewsitters from getting the point of the parable which is to be prepared at all times for the coming of the Lord, and that, for most of us, will probably translate into being prepared at all times to "meet our maker".

The consequences of not being prepared are to be shut out, and I am willing to bet that most Episcopal priests would rather not and probably will not speak very much about that part of the parable this Sunday.

Wednesday, November 08, 2017

Why People Are "Fed Up With" Thoughts and Prayers

I don't know why the Huffington Post exists other than to give us insight into the minds of the people who are contributing to the cultural and spiritual decline of America, and a recent post, "People Fed Up With ‘Thoughts And Prayers’ Demand Action After Texas Church Massacre", is a perfect illustration of what I am talking about.

In this post, people are upset that,
"President Donald Trump, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and many other political leaders sent their “thoughts and prayers” to Sutherland Springs, Texas, on Sunday after a gunman killed 26 people and injured 20 more at the First Baptist Church."
Clearly, those responding with outrage at the political response perceive gun control as being more effective than prayer.

Here are a few choice quotes,
"They were in church. They had the prayers shot right out of them. Maybe try something else."
“Thoughts and prayers” again, @realDonaldTrump, idiot?These people were in CHURCH. They WERE praying. -Keith Olbermann 
"To all those asking for thoughts and prayers for the victims in #churchshooting , it seems that your direct line to God is not working."
"Clearly your prayers aren't working if a mass shooting can take place in a church. Maybe we can try a legislative solution now?"
"They were in a *church*. Prayers are not helpful; action is. "
Let me speculate and guess that these people believe that government is more effective than God when you want something done to right a wrong. I do not know if they are atheists or agnostics or progressive, revisionist, social activist Christians, but clearly, they have placed God on the back burner and are neglecting the great commandment, "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind."

Actually, the real reason people are fed up with the words "thoughts and prayers" coming from the mouths of politicians is that the politicians are named Donald Trump and Paul Ryan. If a President Hillary were to offer up those same words, I doubt that you would hear a peep out of these poor misled souls.

Before I go, one more thought, maybe, just maybe God did answer those prayers by sending an armed neighbor to intercept the gunman.

Just a thought, and a prayer. 

Sunday, November 05, 2017

Brothers in Christ: You Are Not My Father!

This Sunday's Gospel reading is from Matthew 23:1-12. In it, Jesus advises his disciples to avoid honorifics and to stay humble servants to one another.

"Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, ‘The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; therefore, do whatever they teach you and follow it; but do not do as they do, for they do not practise what they teach. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them. They do all their deeds to be seen by others; for they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long. They love to have the place of honour at banquets and the best seats in the synagogues, and to be greeted with respect in the market-places, and to have people call them rabbi. But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all students (brothers/brethren). And call no one your father on earth, for you have one Father—the one in heaven. Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Messiah. The greatest among you will be your servant. All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted."
Growing up in a "low church" Episcopal parish, the priest was always referred to as "Mr. so and so" and never "Father so and so" as that was an honorific typically used in reference to a Roman Catholic priest.

Somewhere along the line, I think it was in the early seventies, it became more common for Episcopal priests to accept being called "Father".

Oh yeah, that was about the time that the Episcopal seminarians stopped believing the Bible. Women's ordination was around the corner and, inconsistently, nobody wanted to call female priests "Mother".

Matthew Henry (1662 – 1714) explains it in his Commentaries,
"They are forbidden to ascribe such titles to others (Matt. 23:9); 'Call no man your father upon the earth; constitute no man the father of your religion, that is, the founder, author, director, and governor, of it.' The fathers of our flesh must be called fathers, and as such we must give them reverence; but God only must be allowed as the Father of our spirits, Heb. 12:9. Our religion must not be derived from, or made to depend upon, any man. We are born again to the spiritual and divine life, not of corruptible seed, but by the word of God; not of the will of the flesh, or the will of man, but of God. Now the will of man, not being the rise of our religion, must not be the rule of it. We must not jurare in verba magistri—swear to the dictates of any creature, not the wisest or best, nor pin our faith on any man’s sleeve, because we know not whither he will carry it. St. Paul calls himself a Father to those whose conversion he had been an instrument of (1 Cor. 4:15; Phlm. 1:10); but he pretends to no dominion over them, and uses that title to denote, not authority, but affection: therefore he calls them not his obliged, but his beloved, sons, 1 Cor. 4:14."
"The reason given is, One is your Father, who is in heaven. God is our Father, and is All in all in our religion. He is the Fountain of it, and its Founder; the Life of it, and its Lord; from whom alone, as the Original, our spiritual life is derived, and on whom it depends. He is the Father of all lights (Jas. 1:17), that one Father, from whom are all things, and we in him, Eph. 4:6. Christ having taught us to say, Our Father, who art in heaven; let us call no man Father upon earth; no man, because man is a worm, and the son of man is a worm, hewn out of the same rock with us; especially not upon earth, for man upon earth is a sinful worm; there is not a just man upon earth, that doeth good, and sinneth not, and therefore no one is fit to be called Father."
I am sure this will upset the Anglo-Catholics passing by, but from now on, I will call you "Brother".  

Wednesday, November 01, 2017

The Sins of Our (Founding) Fathers: Christ Church Philadelphia, You Are Next!

A few years ago, I was visiting Christ Church (Episcopal) in Philadelphia and noticed brass plaques with inscribed names attached to the pews. As I sat in the pew that bore the name, "Ben Franklin", I felt a little uncomfortable because I was not one hundred percent sure I was welcome to sit there, but that was not a pew breaker for me.


There were other pews with brass plaques, one of which read, "George Washington", and that did not bother me in the least.

Recently, another Episcopal church (also named Christ Church) announced that they were relocating similar markers because the names "George Washington" and "Robert E. Lee"  might make someone feel uncomfortable, unwelcome, and that might be a betrayal of the Episcopal organization's slogan, "All are welcome".

Here is a link to the letter from the vestry of Christ Church in Alexandria to the congregation. It reads (in part),
"Hebrews 13:2 says, 'Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.' Christ Church lives into this call, feeding the hungry with our Lazarus ministry, welcoming the stranger in our refugee ministry, and inviting all to worship with us. The plaques in our sanctuary make some in our presence feel unsafe or unwelcome. Some visitors and guests who worship with us choose not to return because they receive an unintended message from the prominent presence of the plaques.
Many in our congregation feel a strong need for the church to stand clearly on the side of “All are welcome — no exceptions.”
I wonder if they ever considered removing the cross because it is offensive to non-Christians.

Why are those memorials there in the first place?
"The plaques were erected in 1870, just two months after Robert E. Lee’s death, by parishioners eager to memorialize two men who had impact within our parish and an outsized impact on our nation..."
"Washington is unique in our nation’s history: the leader of the Revolution, the visionary who not only refused to be king but also gave up power after eight years, and a symbol of our democracy. He regularly worshiped in our pews and helped shape our city’s character."
"Lee was a longtime parishioner, whose family had a significant presence in our church. From “Light-Horse Harry” Lee’s membership in our parish at the time he memorialized George Washington as “first in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen,” to Mary Custis Lee’s gift of $10,000 to begin the Christ Church endowment, the Lee family was a prominent part of the Christ Church family."
C'mon people, quit trying to erase history.

Years ago, I was touring the St George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle and looking down, I saw that I was standing on Henry VIII's grave.

From On the Tudor Trail

There were no ropes to keep tourists from stepping on old Henry and company.

I wonder if Christ Church Alexandria will consider moving Washington's and Lee's plaques to a suitable place on the floor so that those who choose to respect these men may walk around their memorials, and those who feel unwelcome might be given the opportunity to step on top of them.

Christ Church Philadelphia, you are next! Remove those plaques!

Sunday, October 29, 2017

There Is Someone You Just Can't Question

This Sunday's Gospel selection is Matthew 22:34-46 in which Jesus shows the Pharisees that they just can't win when they put the Lord to the test,
When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. ‘Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?’ He said to him, ‘ “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.’Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them this question: ‘What do you think of the Messiah?* Whose son is he?’ They said to him, ‘The son of David.’ He said to them, ‘How is it then that David by the Spirit* calls him Lord, saying, “The Lord said to my Lord,‘Sit at my right hand,   until I put your enemies under your feet’ ”? If David thus calls him Lord, how can he be his son?’ No one was able to give him an answer, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions. 
When I was young, I could never win a debate with my father. He was always right, and this irritated me to no end, and we children dared not dispute his lengthy sermons on whatever teaching or warning he wanted to share over dinner. This had the effect of silencing us during the family meal because if we brought up any subject, it would result in yet another sermon. As I got older, I found that I could challenge his facts when I was sure he had gotten them wrong and sometimes his assumptions, but once he got going, I still knew that it was best to keep my mouth shut.

Similarly, when we are children we usually accept the presence of God and his teachings, but when we become rebellious teenagers we often question those teachings and we even question His presence. God, however, is not like our earthly fathers. Our earthly fathers are fallible, sinful men. God on the other hand is sinless and has this nasty habit of always being right.

The Pharisees should have learned their lesson in Matthew 22 that there is one person that you just shouldn't question.