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Friday, May 31, 2013

the god of this world

One recurring theme of my thinking/preaching/blogging has to do with the question, "Who is in charge here?" I regularly have this rekindled when I run across a verse like what I saw in 2 Corinthians 4:1-12 today. It is timely as I am reading Peter Enns' blog and he has asked the question, "Why are you still a Christian?" recently. He comes from a more conservative evangelical background and is wrestling with the issues from that perspective. If you want to take a peak you will find him here:

I was raised in a different stream of Jesus-loving disciples and many of the evangelical "problems" (couched in terms like inerrancy or evolution) are not as big an issue for me. However, the question of believing is existentially a huge one for me. I have wondered if I believe or if I should believe or if I can believe better most of my life. I know faith is a gift but as I have shared before it seems that there is a great deal of effort and struggle involved in receiving that gift. I  have known many people who verbalize the desire for faith and bemoan the sad reality that they do not  have it. While I am not always sure I trust people's insight into their own hearts (I do not think most people are very adept at it) I cannot say I think they are totally deceived. The reality is, believing does not come easily, especially in our Western culture. Unbelief is common and growing.

Paul reflects on that today. He says that the gospel is veiled to those who are perishing. Now such language is rather off-putting and it lends itself to diatribes from religio-warriors. As I tend to overstatement and emotionality, I get Paul. I also know that sometimes it is best to not be too, too woodenly literal. (like when Paul says he is the worst of all sinners) What is Paul's point?

There are basically two kinds of people. One group does not love and serve the Lord. They are in a different kingdom. The other group worships YHWH (later revealed as the Triune God). They recognize that the God (revealed to the Jews) who created all things is the God Who rescued Israel from slavery and made covenant with His people, Who planted them in the holy land and set them up as a light to the nations, and Who seeks to reach the entire world in and through His covenant people. In these last days, the Jewish Messiah (God the Son Incarnate, as it turns out) has come among us, told us the truth about God, suffered and died on our behalf and was raised and exalted as Eternal King. In Jesus, Paul again (2 Cor 4), we see "the image of God" and we have "knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ." This Jesus proclaimed God's Kingdom is at hand and invited all manner of people to become citizens of the reign of God.

Paul says that his ministry is "by God's mercy" and therefore he "do[es] not lose heart." Why would he lose heart? Every sincere minister gets this! Because people do not respond more enthusiastically. They just do not care about God and His ways as seriously as they should. Most people like salvation talk and blessing talk but they bristle when discipleship talk gets too focused on Jesus' demands (that whole pick up your cross thing, or sell what you have and give to the poor, or that negative harping on repenting of sins).

Why are some on board and others aren't. Paul says that they are blinded by "the god of this world." Such language is stunning. It runs against much of the providence talk I was raised on (and I have written about this a bunch so I do not want to be repetitious here). God may have been able to do it another way, but He has chosen to have a creation which is run by someone else. Among those are humans (given dominion on day one) and the spiritual forces, including the demonic (god of this world here; in John Jesus talks about the "Prince of this World," elsewhere Paul talks of principalities and powers) which hold sway over created reality. God is not (totally) running the show right now. He is present among us. He interevenes and exerts influence and control in places. However, like with that tornado recently, the world runs on its own in many ways. The flesh and the devil have their sway as well. God is NOT running things, He is in the process of redeeming them!!!

The problem of evil is real, it is just misunderstood. For most people the problem of evil is expressed "if God is all powerful why is there evil/suffering." In fact the message of The Book (ta biblia in Greek, or Bible) is that the gates of hell shall not prevail against you (the Jesus follower). Folks, we are not passive victims, we are called to be active warriors. The problem of evil is eradicating evil. The problem of evil is people do not join forces with God in taking a stand against it, taking on their God-given role as co-redeemers ina nd through Jesus, taking on their Holy Spirit-filled vocation as the Body of Christ on earth here and now! The world is under the influence of a god-demon until our Lord establishes His kingdom. We are "not yet" even if we "already" are assured of victory (when the Son/God Incarnate took on human nature and died then rose). We are impatient for the full flowering of that victory (and well we should be) but the angel said that we should stop staring up into heaven for Jesus who has ascended. He will be back, but we await the fullness of the kingdom in God's choice of the time. Until then we live in a world where the dying and perishing live behind a veil, not seeing or understanding (and arguably we who live unveiled still see unclearly as in an ancient mirror). We who trust in Him are called to give ourselves over to the battle, that apocalyptic battle of the children of God vs. the children of the god of this world (the Prince of Darkness). Be clear, for most of us our citizenship is in both worlds. Even those of us who belong to Jesus continue to see the world through the lense of this world. The Truth is twisted and perverted even by us. We are saved by faith/trust in God. We rely on Him. In the meantime, aware of our own brokeness, we humbly proclaim Him. I loved that point Paul emphasizes in 2 Cor 4. We do not proclaim ourselves, we proclaim Jesus. In the meantime, forgive my failures to do just that! This dual citizenship (serving God and demons) is a constant source of problems, but I look to Jesus for final deliverance.

Thursday, May 30, 2013


The word orient comes from the word East and in 1727 (see online etymology dictionary) it emerged as a word which means "to face east so as to have your bearings and be able to set your course." The sun rises in the east so it is a good way to start your day oriented. 

Orientation is most commonly used to identify beginning a new school year (or job). We spent Monday-Wednesday traveling back and forth to the University of Alabama with an orientation sandwiched in between. My daughter is one of a bevy of National Merit Scholars who will be new students at Alabama this fall. While famous for their football team they have made a huge commitment to drawing excellent students. I was impressed by the kids I saw and met.

I woke early this morning and my mind immediately was in a reflection on the parallels between orientation and life. Here are some reflections on what hit me.

Choices matter, but do not panic. Our decisions certainly set us on a path. Some choices can never be taken back. There are few pure 'do-overs' and we can miss opportunities which will never come around again. Sometimes we lose valuable time which cannot be recouped. Heading in a direction precludes some other directions. Even so, there is usually time to make changes and there is no need to simply limit ourselves for fear of starting over. Declaring one's Major is not a life commitment. You can get a BA in history and end up in social work or a priest (like me!). Degrees are not handcuffs. However, what one chooses does have impact. I had three declared majors. I was an acounting major, switched to English in seminary (because I was a sophomore with 12 hours in English) then changed to History. Which leads to a related insight....

I enterred seminary with a year and a half of college credit. My options were to go two years and cram 18 hours each semester or go three years. I chose the latter which made all the difference in my friendships. However, I chose English because it looked "easier." I only needed 16 hours in three years (the problem was I did not like English that much). Easier is a bad word in making college choices. So often people look for an easier way. This is true in life as well. How many of us embrace what looks like an easier way? Now I am not advocating harder for the sake of being harder (although I have been told that is what I do). I think efficiency matters and it makes sense to not waste time and effort. However, choices should not be based on easy/hard; they should flow out of what is best. If the best is harder, then go hard....

Choosing the right thing and accepting the challenges (including 'harder') which go along with that are best in the long run. I have counselled my kids to get degrees in areas which are harder (math, science, techonolgy), but which fit their interests and skills. It has to match up or else it is torture. What each of us does for a living would be very hard for someone without the desire and aptitude. (And I remind them the fun stuff makes a nice Minor!)

In life we need to orient to our goals. What is my purpose? Why am I here? What choices will make my life what it can be and should be? Have I acted with courage and integrity in my choices? Am I doing what is best or settling for what is easiest? Am I wasting time and energy on hard stuff which is not leading me to my destination?  Do I actually project the future (four year plan) and beyond (ultimate goal) and make choices which lead me to the goal.?
If our life in Christ is our purpose for being, then what should we be "majoring in"? And in light of that major (discipleship) what classes should we opt to take (Bible, prayer, community living)? Do we go through the motions or are we learning and growing? Do we "miss" class and try to cram for tests to get a passing grade or do we passionately embrace the opportunity for deep life offered though Jesus?

Many people never actually reflect on their choices and end up living an "accidental" life. I always wanted a PhD but never got one. It was a wish. I sort of wanted to teach at a college some day. Probably will not happen. I wanted other things more (family and providing for family). I put it off for the future (and the new baby means the future will look like the past) and it will not happen now. I guess I could win the lottery, but that is not likely (and I do not buy tickets). However, in the grand scheme, I study and learn constantly and that means I am growing, even if I do not have a degree to prove it. So my goal (being a faithful pastor) is met by a non-academic plan. That is fine, too. And never teaching in college is not a tragedy in my case.

Orientation is always possible. There are always new "jobs" (=things to do) and new "classes" (=things to learn). Sitting down and making the choices is always available to us. We can decide to grow in Christ and take on a discipline (disciple = student) of prayer, work and study. We can map out the next few years and get going. And it doesn't matter if we are the other side of 40 or not. Why let the 18 year olds have all the fun and excitement?

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Friendly Three

Today is Trinity Sunday. It is a feast. Sadly, it is not much celebrated. Most Christians do not give much thought to the Trinity. That is why very little contemporary Christian music mentions the Trinity. I googled it and came upon this article a few years ago which references research in 2004.

He states what I thought, that at that time there was little contemporary Christian music about the Trinity (He said a Christian record executive told him it was because 'no one cares' and the purpose for music is to make people 'feel' Jesus). Another blog which focuses on this issue can be found here and he seems to be aware of how serious a problem this is. It is a deep problem which has to do with truth, orthodxy and right worship.

God's fullest revelation of Himself to humanity is in and through Jesus. We also "hear" God in what we commonly refer to as revelation namely the Bible. Most Christians also think that God reveals Himself in and through His Church. The communication to us from God is that the One God is a Trinity of Persons. One God. Three Persons. This sublime mystery is so far beyond our limited minds to comprehend. Yet, not understanding, we still know. We know that.... God is one in three and three in one: Father, Son and Spirit.

Celtic Spiritualilty was thoroughly Trinitarian. I once read a Celtic Prayer which included the words "Friendly Three" and my image of God was forever changed. I am good about seeing that God is holy and transcendent. I get God should be worshipped. I am not always attuned to the 'friendly' and it was very inviting. The Friendly Three just seemed to say, "The life is great, come on in." It is a helpful insight for me.

I have made a focused effort to be more Trinitarian in my prayer for several months. This seems to be more faithful and closer to the truth of reality. And in a world (and church) swirling with lies and deceit TRUTH is a sweet tonic! I also think that the word Trinity is foundational for understanding God and ourselves. As I said in my preaching today, when someone says the word "Trinity" is not in the Bible it makes me want to scream. The question is, is the Trinitarian Nature of God in the Bible? The answer there is yes, over and over. The reality of Trinity is there. We use the word, which was coined a couple hundred years after Jesus, to express what has been revealed. Trinity matters because it is the reason why the Incarnation is possible and the reason why sanctification is possible. (There are reasons why Muslims have a very different understanding of the God revealed to Abraham.) I think that should be sufficient motivation for any Christian to ponder the mystery more.

Also, we are made in the image of God. This is from chapter one of the Book! Early church Fathers made much of the words "Let us make man in our image and likeness." While the original authors would not say God was a Trinity, one cannot help but wonder what they did think. (OT reference to pre-existent Wisdom, the Spirit of God and, of course, extra-Biblical reflection on pre-existent Torah all remind us that their view was more complex than we might otherwise expect) If God is triune than what does that do to our anthropology? What does it mean to be human? How would God's image and likeness be expressed in authentic human living? I would think Jesus gives us a big hint when He tells us the Great Commandment is loving God and  the second is like it, love your neighbor.

God is love. The Trinity is a relationship of love: self gift in love, self denial in love, other focused in love. We are the beneficiaries of the Love Who is God. It is why He created us, made covenant with us, forgives and heals us, becomes incarnate for us, pours His life into us, reaches for us even as we ignore or reject Him. It is why we hunger for relationship and know that we want more than we can ever find here on earth (at present). It is why we can face our sin with hope. For He is the Friendly Three. Source and Companion. He is on our side, more than we are on our own side! He (They) has given us a small slice of knowledge about Him (Them). We do not know much, but what we know explains a great deal: about Who He is, who we are and what we are called to be! It is sufficient reason to perhaps ponder Trinity over and over again.

Happy Memorial Day wishes to you! I return to my blog on Thursday. We have family activities which preclude me writing the next few days.

Friday, May 24, 2013

One Angle on the Oklahoma Tornado

So it happened again. I was home and my wife told me there had been a tornado. I turned on the cable news and watched the screen. A helicopter seemed to be circling a large town and it appeared that every single house was gone, replaced by a pile of lumber and broken walls. one after another. rows and rows of destruction. Just like in New York some months ago where a fire wiped out an entire neighborhood. totally. Just like New Orleans. Just like, just like, just like....

The vastness of the destruction is what is hard to take in. A mile across? I am able to imagine my own homeland in similar straights. I know it is 1.1 miles from my front door to the park where I run. I know how many houses are between my house and that point. I can imagine all of them leveled. It is horrifying. And then the horror went on steroids as the announcer said that they were no longer searching for survivors in the school, they had called in a team to gather up corpses. And as tears came, uncontrollable, I thought of two dozen dead little nine years olds. And then I remembered the shootings and a similar feeling. More tears... O my God in heaven, have mercy on us. Dozens of kids means dozens of families. Parents and siblings, uncles and aunts, grandparents, cousins. Coaches, boy scout leaders, piano teachers. Most of us are connected, deeply, to over a hundred people. Most of us know many more. I could see that web of life, connecting each child to hundreds of others locally, nationally, even globally. Thousands of hearts pierced with the sadness of tragic loss. Thousands of people crying and crying out, "But s/he was only a baby! How can life be crushed out of one so young with so much to live for?" And I wept. I wept and prayed.

What is God's role in the tornado? He created the world, so in the end He is ultimately responsible. But there are so many moving parts in this universe and our brains are so small and limited. We cannot even begin to start to imagine how it all works together. How does divine causality actually unfold in the world, what is the place of active and permissive will, the role of wrath and the part played by mercy? How exactly is God at work? What is left on its own? What is under direct manipulation? We cannot understand and I am not interested in trying. I know that weather is weather and there are good scientific reasons why warm and cold air create high winds. I know that there are many times that those high winds occur in places uninhabited and so they go undetected and unknown. Sometimes the storm hits here, instead of there, and here is where people live. Suddenly the winds mean death and the death means questions and the questions mean anger, doubt and a million other things. In a world where people live in some places and not in others, in a world where nature produces all manner of events, some of which are helpful for life and others which imperil life (and many which do both) that means statistically we will see tragedies like this. I cannot see how a material world could be any other way.

In the end, however, it is still all about the same things: Will you love, serve and worship God? Will you love and serve your fellow human beings?
Sunny days? Rainy days? Peaceful days? Stormy days? When the kids are laughing and at play? When the kids are dressed in tha pretty little dress and laying in a coffin? It does not matter the circumstance, the question is the same: will you love and worship God? Will you love your fellow humans?

The life of Jesus (God incarnate) reminds us that God's answer to tragedy is to share in it and redeem it. Redemption is the key. I do not know how God factors into causality. I do know how God factors into making all things new. The repair work began with incarnation and proceeds through the passion and cross and is renewed by resurrection. Our hope (and joy) is someday He returns to make all things new. Some day every tear is wiped away. How? That, too, is a mystery.
Why did God let this happen? I do not know and neither does anyone else on this planet. (and people who act like they do really tick me off, especially when they do it theologically....)
What difference does it  make? That is the question. Does it increase your commitment to help others? Does it lead you to treasure this day and make the most of every moment with your kids and loved ones? Are you more attentive to them right now because you got a tornado sized wake up call that life on planet earth is tenuous and our big houses and schools are just made of sticks with a thin brick veneer? Do you live differently today, conscious of the fact that there is not one single reason why it shouldn't be you interviewed on the news saying, "I have lost everything..."

I pray regularly for God to protect me and mine, but I pray most intensely for God to make me and mine holy. The latter is the primary. If all those children are in glory with Jesus right now then the tragedy is not so bad as it seems. And if the children who were spared grow up to live lives in isolation from God, unloving and never worshipping, then the true tragedy is that those are the lives that are really lost. It is, in the end, about how things end up. Not negating the reality of the storm or the loss. Not minimizing the horror, the sadness or pain. It makes me cry right now to think about it. It terrifies me to the bone to imagine it happening to me. So I am not saying "no big deal." What I am doing is just remembering that there is a bigger perspective. Just remembering that resurrection changes the meaning of the crucifixion. Resurrection, redemption and new creation can take today's tragedy and rework into something beautiful, alive and eternal.
Just remembering and hoping and trusting...

Thursday, May 23, 2013

The Pope and Good Atheists

Found in British news story:

I think this pope is a nice person. What I have read indicates that he has the sort of humility and holiness which I love best about Catholicism. I started reading Les Miserables a few weeks ago and the opening pages about the "good bishop" who sets the protaganist on the right path (godliness) are stunning in there similarity to what we read about pope Francis. At its core it contains two elements: a distinct indifference to power and wealth coupled with a gentle kindness and openness to people, especially sinful people, which is best characterized as grace. Unmerited kindness and acceptance is always scandalous.

I am clear on what the Bible says, well, what the new testament says. There is no salvation outside of Jesus. I am a pretty hard core Jesus believer and I am not friendly with any attempts to limit His centrality. So the question is, is the pope doing that? He makes clear that "everyone is redeemed by Jesus." So this is not about a lack of faith in Jesus, it is about a theological debate on what redemption is and what it means and how far it extends. I read recently the words of Paul (1 Timothy 1:15) The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners to which Paul adds (of whom I am the foremost). He goes on then (2:1-3) to demand from Christians supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgiving be made for everyone...This is right and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires everyone to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth.

The pope (according to the article) is not saying we are saved by works. He is saying that Christians and non-believers can find a place of meeting in doing good works. He is saying, for example, that the Christian missionary and the humanist doctor can find much in common as they serve the destitute in some far off place. [as I made crystal clear yesterday, it is Jesus and Jesus alone who provides ultimate and essential healing. But He redeems all acts of kindness and demands that His followers engage in mercy and love.] The culture wars are not making our society a better place to live. It is easy to demonize those with whom we disagree and miss the points of common cause. For a starving mother the food is a pressing need, more pressing than theological debates or atheistic arguments. Perhaps God is met best in the act of love (sacramentally) and probably the Pope is well aware of that from his own ministry to the poor.

Doing good and being good are, of course, relative terms. No one is perfect and our goodness is always mixed with pollutants. However, it is silly to say all sin is sin and blather on about how stealing a stick of gum is the equivalent of blowing up a school bus of children. There are levels of sin just as there are levels of righteousness. The issue is not about good, it is about do you love and worship God? Obviously, an atheist has a serious dilemma there. If you do not believe God exists and are 'good' it does not reflect love or worship. It cuts God out of the picture. If you do not worship God who (or what?) is left? The prime candidates are self, satan, or some partial value (family, reputation, money, etc) blown up into a "total value." This is a lie. Can good people believe a lie. Yes. That happens regularly.

So what to think of the Pope's statement? God desires that all people are in right relationship with Him. Being good is part of the deal. If an unbeliever is good that better prepares his/her soul to encounter God. If God desires that all people be saved and if Christ came to save sinners, then it is safe to assume that in and through Jesus God will seek a way to gather in atheists. I, for one, am hopeful He is successful in this. And part of why I write this blog is the hope that it may be a tool for God's saving work to unfold in the lives of His people and those who reject Him.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Shouldn't a Priest Believe in Jesus?

On Sunday morning we had two Australian visitors. This couple had met two of our parishioners come time ago and wanted to visit at our church. So they did. Afterward, they were telling me some stories when the husband told me something that was shocking. They were in New York and it was Good Friday. Desiring to attend a service, they found the local Episcopal church was the only one in town which had a service, so they attended. Apparently what he heard led him to think that the priest was not a believer. So after the service he asked, "You don't believe in Jesus, do you?" To this the priest replied, "No." The follow up, "Why would you be a priest then, if you do not believe?" Which produced this painfully naive response, "It seemed like an easy way to do some good."

There are people who are drawn to the ministry without a living faith in Jesus. It is motivated, in part, by a positive impulse to "do good." Priests, after all, provide counseling, influence charitable giving, educate people and have numerous opportunities to make things better than they were. While some may be critical of these things, they certainly reflect the ministry of Jesus in the Synoptic Gospels. However, all those find their meaning in a deeper role of priest, prayer leader and preacher. Jesus is the center of this House of Prayer. Jesus is its heart, its source and its purpose. Jesus is not negotiable, He is required.

All the good we do is only temprorary and it is always imperfect and incomplete. Jesus redeems that. Jesus is the one who perfects it and makes it whole (and holy). Every problem we priests solve is replaced by a new problem later. In the end, death takes us all. What good we do disappears with the passage of time. This was illustrated for me last week at my daughter's award assembly. Several of the scholarships were in memory of former teachers who were well beloved in the community. The presenters, who remembered these teachers, were older than me. The teachers are long since dead, their memory obliterated except for those who were old enough to have known them. In a few more years, like many streets names, it will be just that, a name, with no living attachment to a real person. That is the power of death. It is also the power of Jesus to overcome death and restore life. In the end, as a priest, that is the only lasting good I can achieve. Connecting the Dying (all of us) to the Lord (Victor over sin and death).

Sadly too many clergy are not believers. In fact, many bishops are as bad if not worse. This is not unique to our own age. In every time there have been those who took church offices for other reasons. In fact, faithful clergy may actually be the exception rather than the norm. Just like some teachers do not like kids, some doctors do not like people and some cops are actually criminals. It is very hard to keep things pure because you cannot see within a person's heart. And it is not easy to differentiate between struggles with doubt and unbelief.

Should a priest believe in Jesus? YES! and love, honor and serve Jesus, as well. He is the sacrament of God, He is the way and He is life. In Jesus we encounter God and in Jesus we find our true selves. I preach Jesus because I know helping with the light bill, providing meals for your family this week or providing a compassionate ear as you shared your woes is all a band aid to what really ails you. I may help a bit, but in the end Jesus is the Cure to what ails us all. Anyone who is a priest and does not believe in Jesus is like itch cream on small pox. They treat some symptoms but not the disease itself. Jesus is the fullness of salvation. He does all the good that anyone could ever need, and I would serve Him.

So maranatha... Come Lord Jesus!

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Church and the Demonic

I have long kept an eye on Europe and the state of the church there. I was educated in Leuven Belgium and saw first hand an aged church in decline. We used to say that when we were old men we would be able to say "I know that priest in Holland." It was gallows humor. I am now that old man I once fantasized I would become. The decline of 25% (to just under 4.3 million) of the Catholic population there is signficant. There are more than one priests in that nation, but far fewer than in 1984 when I was ordained.

England's Christian population is also in stark decline. According to an article, much of  the Christian population was artificially inflated by Polish and African imigrants. The bottom line fewer (and older ) Christians and increasing (and younger) Muslim populations.

Along with that there is the disturbing concern for Roman Catholics (and by extension I would think traditional Anglo-Catholic and Evangelical Anglicans) about gay "marriage" legislation in Great Britain. It all circles around lawsuits about discrimination. If you want to see the originals go to the links, or read the exerpts with my comments to follow.

From The Telegraph

Prof Christopher McCrudden said that there are serious questions over whether the 120-year-old legal basis on which 8,500 Catholic weddings a year are performed can even “survive” the passage of the bill currently before Parliament.... Catholic bishops may have to reconsider whether priests can carry on performing weddings, in effect, on behalf of the state.... proposed protections for churches against legal challenges under human rights or equalities laws for refusing to marry gay couples completely overlook the position of Catholics and other denominations. 


It suggests that only a minority of people will describe themselves as Christians within the next decade, for first time. Meanwhile almost one in 10 under 25s in Britain is now a Muslim.The proportion of young people who describe themselves as even nominal Christians has dropped below half for the first time.While almost half of British Muslims are under the age of 25, almost a quarter of Christians are over 65.

So here is what I think. We are in a time of decline and shrinkage in the western church. This may be God's pruning as I am not sure how robust the Christian faith is in times of affluence and worldly acceptance. Is it not the case that nominal Christians have dominated the church in times of abundance? I look at my own paltry Christian life style and my comfort with "Christian-lite" forms of discipleship and wonder how deep it really is. As we age into this new period for the church it is my hope and prayer that the next generation, literally my kids and their peers, will find a way to deep love and faith as a small and not unpopular Spiritual movement.

The unpopularity will be manifest, in part, because of gay "marriage." My opinion has been consistent. I am against being mean to gay people. I am convinced that the word "marriage" is misapplied to homosexual relationships. The error in language betrays deeper errors in Biblical exegesis, philosophical reflection and the confusion of theology and sacramentology (which are based on truth) with pastoral care (based on mercy) and politics (based on power and voting). However, in my own studies of the issues, begun with robust focus a decade ago, I sensed a power behind the pro-homosexual movement that gave me greater concern. I was not interested in the debates at first. I felt sorry for the gay guys growing up and my compassion was my biggest motivator. The Biblical mandate did not seem any more forceful than the mandate not to lust, covet or speak maliciously (all wide spread). I guess you could say I was reluctant to give voice to anything which added my words to the often hurtful and judgmental (even hateful) things I heard regularly from my conservative Christian neighbors.

Something changed, however, as I entered the world of this debate because of my role in the Episcopal church as a deputy to national convention. I saw how closely connected the movement was to more sinister movements. I have documented the early partnership of man-boy love and gay rights. What is more distressing is the quick movement from "anti-discrimination against homosexuals" to "tolerance of all manner of sexual expression" to "intolerance toward anyone who is not unboard" to "Crush the homo-phobes (ie. any religious group which does not bless what we are doing)." I use the word demonic intentionally. Satan is at work in this. It is a direct attack on the church and a full assault on traditional Christian faith. This is obviously not, as some Christian Progressives naively seem to believe, something that people of faith can peacefully disagree about. I wish it were. I  have taken my stand and I honestly believe it is true. It is obviously consistent with what the church has understood God's revelation to teach. In my own Episcopal Church I am seriously marginalized and in the days ahead under direct threat to lose my standing as a priest. What is more chilling, however, is what is taking place in the broader civil culture. The rapid cultural and political changes have provided endless examples of good people losing jobs and being brought before judges for their faith. There seems to be increasing energy to hunt down and prosecute those who are not "on board."

I am hopeful this whole mess is somehow part of God's plan of salvation. He reveals Light and Darkness in our human conflicts. In the end, once you pull back the veil, it is all about angelic and demonic armies at war for the souls of humans prior to the final Great Battle when Jesus arrives. He wins. So there is reason to rejoice! I also know that I am old and tired and not looking forward to the struggle ahead. My only hope is this: God is the source of strength...

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Pentecost and the End

Christmas. Easter. Pentecost.
Incarnation. Death & Resurrection. Holy Spirit.

These three tie together the key elements of what we call God's work of  "salvation."
The Bible understands salvation as new creation. God creates a people, they sin and go into exile, then God reformulates the people and returns them to the land--a new creation. The Apocalypse talks of the old heaven and old earth passing away and a "New Jerusalem" coming from above.

In Christmas celebrations we remember the nativity of Jesus, His birth, but we ponder the incarnation, God become flesh. The fallen human nature (do we understand there is a "something"--our shared humanity--which has been ruined by sin?) is taken up into God. His act of becoming human sanctifies our very existence. This is a great grace and it is salvific. It also means that what happens in that human body--Jesus' life and death--can now be a bridge. He is in both realms: human and divine. He is the stairway to heaven.

In Easter we celebrate the victory of God. His Chosen One was crucified (He is High Priest and Lamb) and His shed blood is the sacrifice which makes us clean, the sin offering which sets us right with God and the embrace of the realm of death into the Creator of Life. Can Hades hold Heaven? Not long... On the third day He rose again from the dead. Death has no more power. Sin has been defeated. We belong to a new King and our human nature now has a wonderful new quality. We are made Sons (and Daughters) of God!

In Pentecost the last piece is put in place prior to the Final Trumpet. Jesus is enthroned in heaven; this is expressed in John's Gospel by the words "raised up" and "glorified" in reference to the cross. Luke provides a timeline, forty days and an ascension. Jesus hands over His spirit on the cross (in the Fourth Gospel) and then at His appearance He breathes on them and says receive the Holy Spirit. Luke identifies today (Pentecost) as the event where the promised gift was received. The Gospel authors are trying to express in words a process which unfolded over time in the lives of the believers. This process continues today. Even now the Holy Spirit is among us. He makes us holy, godly and provides us with gifts and strength. The work of God among us and within us is hardly discernable much of the time. We know that we are made His by the presence of His "breath" (or wind, or Spirit) which animates us. We are in the final preparations for His coming.

Liturgical Christians mark their calendars with these three days (which are also seasons: the twelve days of Christmas and the fifty days of Easter, and, this year, the twenty seven Sundays after Pentecost). In some places today is a high, holy celebration. Not so much in these parts. The pagans, the secularists and the typical Christian is unaware of today's value. Some would even denigrate it. Even we who celebrate it do so as a surprise good fortune (I am glad I am there for the red color and celebrative talk of the Holy Spirit). Yesterday was graduation day at our local high school. I fully expect several families to take today off to recover from the festivities. We place higher value on graduation than we do Pentecost. You can go to church anytime, right?

I often ponder, what if we got it right? What if our lives (my life!?!) were shaped and formed by what matters most. What if the great days of salvation were actually spiritual holidays and high holy days for our heart and souls? What if every day was shaped, first and foremost, by the liturgical calendar, that is, by the worship focused and God centered?

We would all ponder the same words from Morning and Evening Prayer and Eucharist. We would be pondering the same revelation and reveling in the same sacred mysteries. We would all face in the same direction, together, and for parts of the day be shaped by the same saving message.

I do not expect 400 or more to cram our church today to celebrate the third Feast of the Christian "Triple Crown" of Salvation. I wish it would be so, but I know it will not. In fact, we may be down a bit as dozens of my faithful parishioners play hooky. And the unfaithful ones will not give it a second thought. I take some solace in knowing that most think God does not care if you go to church or not. I take some solace in hoping that they are right. God's desire to save does not limit itself to church goers. However, there is a part of me that wonders: if God does not care about what we are doing here in prayer and worship, then should we? Should we do it at all? (I realize this is dangerous either/or thinking, but I am pre-programed in that direction.)

The Bible says that before the Return of the King there will be a time of bitter persecution. Hearts will turn cold and faith will all but disappear. Are we at the brink of another such period of birth pangs? Is the loss of interest in church a warning of coming persecution? For thirty years I have carried this belief within me. I "knew" that "it" was coming. The loss of connection with the liturgical year is but one sign of it, in my mind. The good news? Jesus said "do not fear the world, I  have overcome the world." Need we fear the suffering? Paul will say today in church (Romans 8:14-17) " have received a spirit of adoption....we are children of God...heirs of God and joint heirs of Christ, if, in fact we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him." So, no, the suffering while unpleasant is also part of the salvation.

Be faithful, suffer bravely "and do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid" (John 14:27; today's Gospel). And worship today, worship and celebrate the gift of salvation in the coming of the Holy Spirit!

Friday, May 17, 2013

Most Misunderstood Story in Gospel?

One of the familiar stories in the Bible is the account of Mary and Martha spending the day with Jesus. It is a favorite referrent of many Church women. I have heard so many times one or another of our dedicated ladies make the claim, "I am a Martha, not a Mary." There is a certain degree of pride involved in this statement. At its best it means "I like to serve others," but there is usually more. What it often communicates, between the lines, is something to the effect that "I am the type of church woman who is busy hustling behind the scenes, making sure everything is provided, so that you Mary-types can sit on your rear ends and enjoy all the benefits of another's work." On rare occassion there can even be a hint of resentment or bitterness. "Martha" means "you can count on me to get things done." There are two kind of women, the thinking goes, the ones who work and clean and fix and the other kind, that don't...

I have, on numerous occassions, taught on this little story. Each time I have tried to make clear that Martha is not the hero of the story. Martha, in fact, gets it wrong. There may be something to learn from this. The realization that most church women cheerily identify with the wrong character may show how widespread Pelagianism is. It is also culturally driven, the martyr complex. We just love to see ourselves as the victim, in this case an overlooked hard-worker who gets no gratitude or respect. It is also hard for us to get out of our preconceived ideas and assumptions.

It is noteworthy that only Luke has this story (and interesting that it follows immediately on the Good Samaritan, another Luke-only vignette). As is often the case, John has a complementary story related to Luke. (The story of Lazarus, where Mary and Martha come across with very similar personalities as what we see in Luke) It is significant that the house is her house (Matha's). There is no mention of Lazarus here (although that name is used in a parable of a poor leper who dies at a rich man's front gate) and one would othewise assume the two women live alone, with Martha the matriarch. [Many important ancient Greek texts omit the word hers no doubt an intentional editorial decision because it would be so unusual to refer to a house in that way, or maybe unintentional, because it is unthinkable to talk that way.] The village is unnamed by Luke, a generic stop on the journey to Jerusalem (to die). Martha is the centerpiece, it is she who welcomes Jesus. [Once again an unexpected, even scandalous, behavior. It is the man's role to welcome a man into the house.] It is not unusual for Luke to emphasize the important role of women. We know in ancient times the sex roles were more defined and women  had a lower and more guarded/protected social status. Here we see a woman who has seemingly somewhat transcended her state in life.

First of all we learn that Mary sat at Jesus' feet. While this is not clear to us, it would be for the original audience [which is always the case, we do not read with their assumptions so we miss the point!]. Paul said he was a student of the rabbi Gamaliel, in Acts 22:3 but notice how he states it "I am a Jew...brought up in this city at the feet of Gamaliel." To be at the feet is an expression of being a student. By sitting at Jesus' feet Mary was acting like a man, and Jesus was treating her like one. This is pretty radical.

Martha is not described as being busy, she is distracted. Unfortunately the Greek word only occurs once in the NT, here, so we cannot see how it is used elsewhere. What we do know is it means to be drawn away or distracted. In other words, she is not busy with the demands of hospitality, she is distracted. Simply put, she is focused on less important things. In general, hospitality tasks are those things which make a guest feel welcome and helps the guest enjoy a visit. It is guest focused. Distractions are those things which we do in the name of hospitality which actually are about our own egos (wanting to look good, wanting to make things perfect, focused on how things look and not the guest!).

Martha misses the point. She is distracted, oblivious to what is taking place. Whatever her motivation (personally or socially driven) Luke's wording has provided us with the revelatory key. When Jesus is in the room, sit down and listen. The proper response to a teacher is be a student. The proper response to the Lord is sit at His feet.

Often in the Christian life we seek virtues (like service or hospitality). This is not bad. Unless, of course, it is not obedient. Disicpleship is about following Jesus. Going where He sends us. Sitting at His feet. Listening to Him. Too often we do many things "in His name" or "for His sake" all the while ignoring Him (while we feed our own ego or sense of victimhood or whatever else it is we are actually doing).

Mary chose what was best and Jesus said that she would not be denied it. In Matthew 6 we are told not to perform piety for the eyes of others. If we seek human praise we will get it, but that is all we will get. The Father rewards those who truly seek His glory. It appears that we have the same principle at work here. You get what you seek, you get what you want. If you want everyone to marvel at the dinner or comment on the spotless and tastefully decorate house, so be it. If your goal is to be recognized as the premier hostess, it will happen. If you chase after every distraction and pour your energies into things which are important (but ignore things more important) then you may find yourself working alone and feeling a bit angry.

If you seek the most important thing (Mt, again, "Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteous and everything else will be added") you will not be denied. Ask, seek, knock, Jesus said in Mt 7. That is exactly what Mary is doing. Ironically, Mary, the more passive of the sisters, is perfectly configured to take on the role of disciple. Martha is no doubt the stronger one, but in this case we see her strength is a barrier to Jesus. This is why Jesus says, "Blessed are the poor." This is why the poor and lowly find Him with greater ease. Their need drives them. Their hunger makes them break rules and sit at the feet (while society shakes a finger and tells them they do not belong there). Meanwhile, the strong and powerful get busy with many things. Many, many things. And we complain about all we  have to do, and we bemoan the lack of help, and we resent others for not appreciating us and giving us a hand. We get angry that others are not with us, at our beck and call, taking care of all the things which we think are important.

Busy, and distracted, no time to sit at Jesus' feet. In a back room, by ourselves, while Wisdom Incarnate sits in our house, sharing His Truth, Healing and Saving those who sit at His feet. And later on we brag about it---I am a Martha!!
(please see comment)

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Sola Caritas

At prayer very early this morning, I reminded myself that the goal is always the same, communion with God. Breaking through the barriers of the human condition and connecting with The Source can be frustrating work. I try to remember that feelings are not a measure of one's prayer. What God is doing secretly in the depths of our being (soul/heart) is not always translated into burning feelings, peaceful feelings or soaring feelings. In the end (I remind myself) prayer is a focus on God, therfore, paying attention to my feelings is looking in the wrong direction.

I meditated on the readings today. The first, from Ezekiel 18, is a landmark in Israel's understanding of sin and punishment. In the Torah there is a clear connection to communal guilt. "The sins of the fathers will be visited upon their children to the third generation." It was understood that there was generational solidarity and the wages of sin, death, were going to infiltrate and wreak havoc on not only the sinner, but also the sinner's progeny. In reality this is true. Our family of origin has an obvious impact on who we become. If daddy is arrested for dealing drugs, Junior suffers. However, Ezekiel reveals that God has also declared individual responsibility. If the father sins, it is on him. If the son sins it is on him. The tension between individual responsibility and communal responsibility (see the recent blog on Cain) is hard to hold. We prefer either/or. I think it is important to understand the multi-generational impact of sin. I think we must also have a laser focus on personal responsibility. To keep them both in play is truth!

The reading ended with a very hopeful statement about God. Repent and turn from all your transgressions; otherwise iniquity will  be your ruin...Why will you die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, says the Lord God. Turn, then, and live. Taken on face value it seems to imply two things. God's desire for all people is salvation. God is not totally in charge of that. He is trying to motivate us to repent (turn around). There is some freedom of action on our part. The grace is in the offer. The choice is ours.

This blends well with the Gospel today, Luke 10:25-37. In Luke's version there is a shift. A lawyer asks Jesus (as a test) "what must I do to inherit eternal life?" but instead of Jesus answering, He asks a question. "What do you think?"

[side note... This is one of  the places where we really see how each Gospel author is "reworking" the story. Luke moved this story up chronologically in his Gospel. Mt and Mk place it later. In Mk there is a dispute and a scribe wanders up to ask the question. Jesus answers in much the same way, though it includes "Hear O Israel" which is the beginning of the verse called "the shema." Mt shortens the saying like Luke, and identifies him a lawyer who is part of a group of Pharisees. However, he has Jesus answer.]

The lawyer's answer, love God and love your neighbor, is his summary of the Torah/Law. Jesus judges him to be correct. If you do this, says Jesus, you will live. What jumped out at me was the obvious lack of hopelessness so often trumpeted in the church. Jesus is either setting the guy up (telling him the answer, when He knew it was impossible) or He really thought that such love was possible in sufficient measure to attain to life. Now I have also said that we need to read the whole Bible, not just a verse. Yet, my reading of the whole Bible indicates that the love talked about here is exactly what God expects. It certainly seems that Paul says this in 1 Corinthians 13 (if I have all faith...but have not love). 1 John says "whoever lives in love lives in God and God in him/her." The Jesus code of ethics is love based, love motivated and love responsive. As we also read in 1 John "God is love." To be holy, sanctified and godly is to be loving. To embrace the will of God (Torah/instruction) is to be loving. To be a disciple of Jesus is to be loving.

Now love is not a feeling, however sweet or tear drenched. It is not warm nor affective. Love is gentle strength. Love is power to give life and power to endure suffering. Love is self-gift and cross, love is also resurrection and new life. Love heals and saves; it's creative making all things new. If you want eternal life, says Jesus, then love God and love your neighbor....

Now in fairness, in Luke 7 a woman, a public sinner, weeps at Jesus' feet. In response to her He declares her sins forgiven. When the Pharisees chafe at such a thing He says, "her sins are many but are forgiven, for she has loved much." People who know Greek better than me say that the love is not causative, it is a fruit of forgiveness. Jesus says those who are forgiven much, love much. Love springs forth from God's mercy, it does not cause it. Then He tells her to go in peace, "your faith has saved you." I am not trying to rekindle a debate on Reformation doctrines or favored scripture verses. I acknowledge faith in Jesus saves. I want only to remind that Jesus calls us to love. Sometimes loving is harder than trusting. After all God is trustworthy, but people are not loveable (not all of them and not all the time).

In order to make clear that love is hard, Jesus redefined the word neighbor. It is not, as in the OT, the fellow Jew. It is, rather, the betrayer of God's people, the half-breed Samaritan. That mixture of ancient Israel (blood of my blood) and ancient pagan (invaders who intermarry and bleed out the faith) come together in a hostile combination just to the north of God's people. If the sworn enemy is neighbor, then I must love everyone?!?! Jesus did not say that. What He said was the neighbor is a behavior (caring for others in their need). Love as a neighbor is a choice to serve the needs of others, even those whom we do not like. Faith is easier then that kind of love. Much easier.

So today I must seek out the one I contend with and see in his/her face the face of Jesus. It is the way of life eternal. It is the way in the Kingdom, how we live and move and have our being. Oh, and I trust to Jesus my failures and weaknesses, and receiving (trusting in) His love, mercy, grace, kindness, I hope that more of that grateful love will well up within me!

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Plans: A Good Way to Make God Laugh

Today is our annual staff planning retreat. The office staff and clergy will pray Morning Prayer (with eucharist) and head off to a local non-profit which provides us with a quiet room. There is even time for us to eat together, a rare treat for me. At the end of the day we will have a calendar of events, times, and places set down which is the working document for the coming year. Of course we have all know "Plans: A Good Way to Make God Laugh" and we also know that many things will be added and other things will be changed. Some changes are even expected.

The two woman in our office and the associate priest are all retiring at summer's end. Poof! In a matter of weeks a most amazing collection of people will be off and suddenly we will all  be new. Thank God our youth ministers intend to spend another year. [our graduating Seniors had the same youth ministers for seven years!] I cannot say enough good things about our outgoing Parish Administrator and Financial Administrator and my good friend who came to be an associate the last three years. So one of our "plans" is TRANSITION. The new folks we hire will be good people. Eventually they will get comfortable in their jobs. They will make changes, some improvements will occur. Other things will not be as smooth. They will bring different strengths and weaknesses. It is the nature of things. I plan to stay here, but we will see. I do enough funerals to know that mortals should never assume anything about the future. I can plan, but plans are what we come up with while we wait to find out what will really happen!

Jeremiah 29:11 is often identified as a favorite verse. [side note, I was interviewed in the local paper today and they asked my my favorite verse. I said I do not  have one.] For surely I know the plans I  have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and  not for harm, to give you a future with hope. Now admittedly, if I were going to have a favorite verse this would qualify as the type of verse I would choose (as opposed to Zephaniah 1:2 "I will utterly sweep away everything from the face of the earth, says the Lord" or Colossians 4:10 "Aristarchus, my fellow prisoner, greets you, as does Mark the cousin of Barnabas")

Of course, most people apply this verse to "me" and think it is an indication that God has good plans for me (and mine). At this time of year lots of Christian graduates are probably getting all manner of inspirational cards quoting this verse as a promise that God will guide them in college and career choices. I do not doubt He is active in such things. I do not think that is Jeremiah's point in all this, though. And that is why I am not a big fan of favorite verses. Out of context they get reshaped into something different from what they mean.

What is Jeremiah saying? First of all, the words come from a letter to Jews in exile. It is the remnant left alive after the terrible wrath (See Zephaniah above for an example) has been manifest in the judgment, fall and destruction of the Holy City. Temple, king and land are a thing of the past. The center of the faith is God, but the main components of the lived faith are no longer evident. Exiles are physically uprooted, but more damaging is they are spiritually uprooted. "Who is God and who are we now?" they ponder in an existential crisis which literally threatened to wipe out their religion and theology from the face of the earth (much as it has their neighbors' religions of the ancient middle east). Will their be any Jews and will the worship of Yahweh continue in any substantial form in the coming days?

Jeremiah makes clear that there will be. Yahweh God is at work in the human machinations. Does God cause it? Yes, indirectly, in and through human choices. One might say in concert with sinful men and women God finds a way to exert His influence. Yet, I recommend that we not push the idea too far. Taken to extremes we have to say that God's plan was for raping women, torturing and murdering helpless children and a host of other evils associated with ancient warfare. If you are not comfortable thinking about a small child being burned alive then it may be a sign you need to be careful about claiming God is the one who does it (without some nuance).

Anyhow, the people receiving Jeremiah's letter are familiar with the horror. First hand they tasted the evil humans can pile on other humans. Now they live, under duress, in a far off land. They are going to have to make a go of it as displaced people under the authority of other gods and foreign rulers. It is in that context that Jeremiah makes the claim that God has a plan. But reading further we see what the plan is. When you call, pray, seek me, I will hear and  be found. (Sound like Jesus' sermon on the mount?) I will prosper you in that day and exclude the oppressors. (Sound like my recent post Great Omission and the verse left out about the unclean?) For an entire generation, seventy years, the Jews would live in exile. Much like the Egypt experience, they would be strangers in a strange land. Someday, the promise of return, someday they would come home. In the meantime, Jeremiah will make clear, they are to make the best of it.

That is a good way to talk about God's plans. His intent is that while in this time of exile we suffer sin and death, suffering and death are not the last words. Sin is powerful but redemption is more so. Death is real but new life is more so. God created the world to be His own, to live in His care under His rule. Someday we will submit, until then, we are in exile. Does God choose our classes and class mates, does He move people around to make sure we get all we want? Does He bring people to help us and kill others to remind us of life's fragility? I do not know. What I do know is low functioning creatures like human beings should be careful about trying to explain any of it. Too complex. Too many moving parts. Too focused on me, me, me, me, me.... (Especially the idea that God is killing someone else to teach me something. Really? Other people are just props in my life?)

As we plan for 2013-2014 we are setting a direction. It needs to focus on being holy and faithful. So that is what we will do. However, there may not be a 2014. Worlds end, after all. We pray for Jesus to come (around here) and maybe He will take note of our pleading and come  back. In glory to judge the living and the dead. I wish we knew when. How awesome would it be to plan for the year ahead and write March 10, 2014 "End of World." Day of vigil prayer in preparation for arrival of Jesus and the New Jerusalam at 3:14pm.... We cannot make such concrete plans. But we can still plan for the new day coming (whenever it comes) and live like people under the promise with confident faith and hope.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013


In the great opening salvo of narrtives about human beginnings, there is an interchange between God and Cain which is often quoted. "Am I my brother's keeper?" The stunning irony, Cain, after all, murdered Abel, is a huge part of the poignancy of the words. But, I think, there is a deeper resonance. The question of our relationship to one another is bigger than the simple story of God searching out a missing man. It seems fiar to say that the answer to the question, is "Yes, you are to take care of your brother, you are responsible." and in typical Hebrew fashion the subtlety of the story communicates a fuller message. The Murderer does not know it, but you should know it, "Yes."

Our culture is more focused on inidvidualism. We have a Cain-like comfort in thinking I am responsible for me (and no other). That sort of tendency ran into a divine wall for me on Sunday as I prayed over the morning prayer readings. It recounted Ezekiel's call from God (3:16-27). In simplest terms God told the prophet, your job is to tell them what I tell you. If they sin and you have  not told them I hold you accountable. I blame you! If you do tell them and they still sin, then it is on them. It is more involved than that, but the point is clear. The prophet's task is to do his (her) job of bringing the word of the Lord to God's people.

The idea of being responsible for the sin of another because I have failed to speak out haunts me. I am a priest, a pastor, a preacher, and I have a prophetic vocation. I am a priest in a church which has faithfulness and sin. I preach to a group which often pushes back, "too hard. too demanding." I wonder if it is true and I worry that I may not have enough grace and good news. Yet these words of God also incite me.

"They are a rebellious house" our God says of ancient Israel. I wonder if His opinion is any different today about Israel (the Jewish people) or about the 'new' Israel (the church). I think not. It seems like we are very much like them. I do not wonder if a priest is the keeper of his brothers and sisters. I know I am. I know I am responsible to speak the word. I know I am responsible to preach even when some bitterly complain and others walk away seeking a more palpable message. To speak God's word to a rebellious people is a gift and a task. It is made all the harder because in my own flesh and soul there is rebellion.

Fortunately, our God is stronger than sin and death, His love is mightier and more constant then our brokeness and rebellion. So good news is there. Turn back and live. That message always ends even the harshest message of judgment.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

The Not So Great Omission

According to the website I visited the Roman Catholic, Episcopal and Revised Common Lectionary all agree on the second reading today (7 Easter, the Sunday after the Ascension). The reading will be from Revelation 22:12-14, 16-17, 20. What this means is, if you have an insert of the readings, you will read straight through without knowing you  are missing verses 5 & 18-19. The great irony is what those verses contain. The vast majority of Christians in this country will not see it and most will not know it.

First of all, readings are often shortened and shaped by the the Church. You cannot read the whole Bible each time you gather so you have to begin and end somewhere. Usually, if a reading is too long, there are bracketed sections, which provides the local congregation the option of focusing on a smaller section or including the whole. The problem with verse skipping is you do not know what is not there. It is imporant to see what gets left out. I do not know who made the choice in today's reading. I wonder what it says about us....

Revelation 22 is the end of the Bible. The last two chapters of Revelation (21-22) are an amazing, uplifting and joy evoking declaration of the end of things (or the Real Beginning!). There is a new Jerusalem, like a Bride. She is God's original plan finally realized. Throughout the OT (Ancient Covenant) texts we see the image of God and Israel as spouses. Finally, we see here, God will dwell among us. He will wed His bride! The description of the City echoes the Garden of Eden and the prophecies of Isaiah and Ezekiel. There are also Psalms which come to mind. I hope to look at that later in  the week.

There is celebrative language. 22:12 begins with the declaration, "See, I am coming soon; my reward is with me to repay according to everyone's works." [Side note, saved by faith does not disclude judgement for works, at least not in the actual Bible] There is much discussion and debate about the meaning of "soon" and some think it refers to the judgment on Jerusalem in 70 AD when the city/people which rejected the Messiah was leveled and wiped out. Others think it refers to a later coming, at the 'end of time.' Personally I think it is both, because that is how apocalyptic language works, historically, literally, spiritually, figuratively, metaphorically. Lots of layers of meaning.

After the text announces another Beatitude (if memory serves me right there are seven listed throughout the entire work. Sevens figure throughout the Book of Revelation, again and again.).  "Blessed are those..." It is typical of how Jesus spoke in Matthew's sermon on the mount as well. Here we hear the Blessed ones are those who have washed their robes and have the right to the Tree of Life. The Blessed are able to enter the city. So far, so good, but suddenly we skip over the next verse (in most churches across America) and do not hear the following: Outside are the dogs and sorcerers and fornicators and murderers and idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood. Hmmmm, wonder why that was cut out?

I think there is a high degree of discomfort with difficult sayings Let's face it, there are worrisome things said here. It is all the more worrisome when you read the rest of the Bible and discover that Jesus says our hearts' desires (anger and lust) are murder and fornication. Yikes! Does that mean I am outside the gates? And idolatry is described some place as greed and in another as sexual immorality.  And falsehood is a way of life in this society. My guess is the content of these verses offend. And in the Episcopal Wars they draw attention to the great marriage debate. We can hardly claim a new sexual morality when the old one is defined in such stark terms. We can hardly tell conservative types, "sex doesn't matter" when the Suunday reading (and big crowds today, it is Mother's Day) openly declares that it matters enough that some will be outside the gates of the New Jerusalem. They will be outside of God's circle.

But the verse will not be read, it will not be preached on and no one will hear or know. Well, if you are reading this you know!

The other verses, 18&19 are even more amazing. I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to that person the plagues described in this book; if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away that person's share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.


Someone sat down, read those words and decide to take them out of the reading today. The lection skips those words but concludes with the next two verses. So someone read, "if anyone takes away" and decided, "we need to take these verse away from the reading." Am I the only one who finds this unbelievable? So we take away the verse that warns against taking away from the words of this reading.....

In the end, we all do, of course. We take away, sometimes consciously and intentionally, but usually unconsciously. We do not even see the words at times. Never even hear them. Our minds are made up already. I am in a conversation about the eucharist with a very Protestant minded fellow. He basically told me my faith is heretical. As he makes his interpretation of the texts he skips over anything which does not fit his arguments. I am stunned by his refusal to read it all. I am sure he thinks I do the same, I am sure I do....

The "great omission" in my life, and yours, is the whole revelation of God. Revelation (apocalypse is the Greek word and it means "unveiling") is God telling us what He wants us to know. Since the Garden, we have regularly edited His message to fit our wants and needs. I am not condemning the editors of the lectionary, though I am curious and a bit skeptical of their motivation. Even so, I am also skeptical of my own motivation. I have my own sins to cover and my own axe to grind. So do you. It is best to learn from this and ask God for the wisdom and courage needed to not edit Scripture. Come Holy Spirit, save us from ourselves! amen.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Our Current Situation

Yesterday we celebrated the Feast of the Ascension. I told my class that it is my favorite feast day because it explains everything. Someone said that they thought Pentecost was more important, to which I agreed. I do not say Ascension Thursday is the most important, I said it is my favorite because it explains everything.

Jesus was born and we celebrate it at Christmas. Good Friday and Easter Sunday/Season recall His death, burial and resurrection. God's saving work is manifest in these three and continues with Jesus' enthronement in heaven (at the right hand of the Father). The sending of the Holy Spirit (manifest at Pentecost) is the seal of the deal. We now live in "the church age" which means the presence of Jesus is mediated in and through people, places and things. Jesus is with us in Word and Sacrament. Jesus is present in the Body of Believers. The Holy Spirit is the mode of that presence. For the most part it is intangible, available only to those with discerning hearts. Sometimes you have to look really hard to see Him.

So what does the Ascension explain? Our current situation. Endless conflict and disunity. Political people are blind to the virtues of their opponents and the vices of their friends because they are so intent on the battle. Little girls are kidnapped and held as sex slaves for ten years. People take from others what is rightfully theirs because they can and then ridicule the person whose pockets they have picked for being a whiner. Jesus asked us to love one another and remain in unity, the same unity He has with the Father. So we split into East and West, then subdivide the West into myriad denominations, and now further into much smaller units called "independent" or "non-denominational." How much longer until we reach the point of "a church of one"?

Salvation is a long process which begins with the creation and continues with the giving of God's word in Law and Prophets. God conquers sin and death in Jesus, God embraces and is in union with us, by His activity. He loves us so He joins with us in the Incarnation (taking on our nature) the mission and ministry (proclaiming the Kingdom in word and deed), His passion (an example of courage, by His wounds we are healed), His death on the Cross (sacrificial Lamb, great High Priest, Model, Victor over sin and death), His descent among the dead (God/Life consumes Death), His resurrection, His enthronement (Jesus Victor) and His gift of the Spirit (I am with you always until the end of the age). It is accomplished (as He said on the cross). Yet one thing remains, "He shall come again in glory to judge the living and the dead and His kingdom shall have no end). Thy Kingdom come. Until the Kingdom comes, we live in 'our current situation.'

In the Kingdom little girls will walk the streets without fear. Political leaders will serve, without ego or self seeking. Truth will rule and light; our lies and darkness will be dispersed like a mist before a great wind. And the body of believers, shorn of personal opinions, will worship as one great body of loving worshippers.

Why can we not do it now? Because of Me. My selfishness and sin still rules. As long as I am around, none of you can successfully create the Kingdom. And when I am gone, there will still be you. Did I mention that you are the problem as well? We need Someone to save us. We need the life and power of God to mend our wounds, heal our brokeness and fix our sin. Every human effort to create a paradise (be it a monarchy, a republic, a communist state, or some sort of socialist democracy) fails. There are always winners and losers. The weak always get trampled by the strong. There are always those whose own foibles prevent the larger whole from success. There are no lack of good ideas about how to make the world a better place; there is a lack of ability to implement the ideas, as well as an inablity to see the unexpected consequences of the choices. In the end, the world is a mess in large part because we  have made it so.

Jesus is gone. Long gone. Taken "up" into heaven (and if you fly space craft you will not find Him) where in the invisible realm of God He waits. He will  be back. Until then, our current situation remains what it is. He rules, but not on earth. Not yet. So we wait and our hearts are hungry, our spirits are thirsty. We discover a great longing within us. Even the best of days, however wonderful, seem as likely to stir up a greater desire than provide satisfaction. We laugh and clap and cry out "this is wonderful" while a small voice whispers "but I want more, need more, seek more..." We want, desire, need the Kingdom. We were made for the fullness of life with God. We were made by Jesus, for Jesus and we will only be truly at peace when we are with Jesus.

Our current situation? A time of not yet fulfilled promise... A time of samples, small bites of the Feast, making us hungry for more... A time of joy which longs for greater Joy, love which aspires to perfect Love, and peace which awaits the Shalom of God's Kingdom. So we cry, "Maranatha! Come Lord Jesus!" 

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Is God in control?

There is great tension in theological systems. In a systemic approach to our beliefs, we try to bring all the data of God's revelation together into a unified, coherent expression of the faith. What this means is, in theory, we read the Bible and order its content in a way that is expressable, often times in declarations of "facts." Everyone does theology (including people who deny they do theology!) because theology is our logos word/study of theos God. Most of us do theology without putting enough time and effort into it, but we all do it.

The reason there is tension in theological systems is because the Bible does not provide a neat, clean, easy to assemble expression of faith. Yes, there are core truths, but much of the Bible is narrative, and stories are notoriously open to interpretation. One easy example, does the fact that Jacob or King David has multiple wives mean that God blesses polygamy? [and in the post-gay marriage world, the concept of polyamory has become the next new thing!] What about violence and war? Is God kind and merciful or vengeful and cruel? Does God harden hearts and lead people to sin (Exodus) or rather does God never tempt anyone (James)?

My frequent readers may recall that I believe God is best understood as "the ocean." Like the ocean He is bigger than we can imagine and most of God is outside of our view. We only know God as far as we can "see." Like the ocean there are different currents. What is the ocean temperature? All of us who have visited a beach know that there are many answers to that question. Right here is warm, a step or two over is chilly. Different streams and currents; different temperatures, but the same ocean. And different water as well, some of it clear, others teaming with life, some of it sea weed dense, etc. [this is an analogy so it is pretty limited]. One and many....

So our theological systems tend to ignore datum from the Bible which does not fit into what we believe. We pick and choose. Sometimes we are literally blind to what is  before us because we cannot fit it into our system. For example, the Lord's prayer. I prayed "Thy Kingdom come" since I was a small boy. I did not really understand what it meant. I never understood the Kingdom talk of Jesus so I never noticed it much. My attention was drawn to other things, like how to get to heaven. I lived in a three layered universe. I was on earth. Hell was below and Heaven above. Upon death I was headed down or up, depending on God's decision. My goal was to fulfill the requirements (which in some currents meant trust Jesus, and in other places seemed to indicate my behaviors mattered, too)  I never understood God coming on earth to reign so I never "saw" it when I heard or reasd scripture. I knew about the new Jerusalem and the return of Jesus, but it did not fit into my system (when we die we are judged and go to heaven/hell).

Reading Hebrews 2 today for Morning Prayer I was struck by the verses. In Memphis, many Christians frequently say God is in charge. Everything happens for a reason, that is, all events are controlled by God and therefore whatever  happens God knows what He is doing so it is okay. Yet over the years I have repeatedly encountered contrary evidence in the Scripture. (There are other currents, much colder!) For example, Jesus calls satan the Prince of this World. In other places we hear of the principalities and rulers of the earth. Jesus is, at least in some streams of Christian revelation/theology, not in charge, at least not fully. Let's look at Hebrews 2:8 After quoting Psalm 110 (You made him a little lower than the angels; you crowned him with glory and honor and put everything under his feet) the author of Hebrews continues with these startling words: In putting everything under him, God left nothing that is not subject to him (so far so good, Jesus is Lord of all). Yet at present we do NOT see everything subject to him (and, as Paul Harvey would say, now we know the rest of the story). What do we see? We see Jesus crowned with glory. We see Jesus who suffered death and by grace tasted it for all people. We see God perfect the author of salvation through suffering. We see Jesus who is not ashamed to call us 'brothers.'

In a pretty clear declaration of the incarnation, Hebrews continues Since the children have flesh and blood, He too shared in their humanity so that by His death He might destroy him who holds the power of death--that is the devil-- and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.

We have to at least consider that while God is ultimately in control, He is not currently exerting that control. We must at least ponder what it means that Jesus rules, but not yet; not quite everything at this moment. We need to consider that one reason we are called to pray "Thy Kingdom come" is because the kingdom is not here (fully) and until it is death, suffering and sorrow continue to be the fruit of satan's rule.

Perhaps everything happens for a reason, but the reason is not simply God. Maybe it is satan, sin or other 'powers' at work in the world. Perhaps instead of controlling everything, God is actually busy REDEEMING everything? Perhaps the trust we have in God is that He will find (has found and implemented) a way to remain true to His creative purpose while still allowing His creation to unfold, at least in part, under its own authority (and in an ongoing battle with us, human beings, who are given dominion over the earth--per Genesis)? I do not know if that provides comfort to folks, but it certainly answers the question, "If God is in control and God loves me why do I suffer such terrible things (like being raped, murdered, robbed, betrayed, etc.)?" It also makes sense of the people who have not weathered their personal storms, who lost faith and ceased being faithful because their personal tragedies destroyed them (and did not make them stronger).

So we wait for Jesus to put all things under His feet. And we long for Jesus to come and rule. And the desire for a better world is our deepest longing and hope. So we pray and pray and pray! And we work with God in this endeavor.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013


I got to go to a movie the other day. It was the story of Jackie Robinson, the man who broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball. I recommend it mainly because of the positive spin it gives to Christian faith. I was familiar with the story, I am a baseball guy after all, but did not know about the overt presence of Jesus in the story.

Robinson was number 42, hence the name of the movie. Set in post war USA, it contrasts the very different experiences Blacks had in the segregated south in the 1940's. It was emotionally gripping yet avoided being preachy or over the top. The dangers were palpable without being overblown. (So often in movies they are tempted to make things better/worse for the sake of excitement.) While most white characters are portrayed with a racist attitude, there is one uplifting scene when a white man, who looks rather dangerous, actually wishes Jackie well. He said something to the effect, there are lots of us who feel that way. I think that is accurate. The Klan gets the coverage, but the man-in-the-street tended to be more fair minded, even if they did not always overtly act on it.

Robinson was a grand success as a baseball player. He ranks among the top five second base of all time. He did not get to play until he was 28 which snatched a good five years or more from his career, although most players in this era lost years to war service. However, although he was a fine baseball player the greatness of the man was in what he did. The vicious racism which he endured was examplified by one manager in particular, but it was an illustration of all he suffered.

The most moving scene, for me, was a public embrace from another perenial all-star player during a game. It made me wish I would be the type of person who would publicly (baseball stands held upwards of 30,000 people) make my stand. The movie makes clear that sometimes there are more important things than our desire to "play the game." That is a beautiful metaphor in any age or place. We must set our sights on the things of heaven. This came though most clearly when Branch Rickey, the owner who made this happen, asks the question, "When you meet God what do you think He will say?" A fit question in deed, all the more potent because it was simple and direct. It is a good lense through which to view all of our life. What will God have to say about my thoughts and behaviors here and there?

Jackie retired at age 37, playing  his final season out the year I was born. That same year was the bus boycott began in response to Rosa Parks.
Years ago there was another movie about a young soldier, also named Jackie Robinson (because it was him!). It recounted Robinson's experience in the military when he refused to go to the back of the bus. He was court martialed but found innocent. Had he been found guilty the story would have taken a dramaticly different turn and no one would remember number 42. Amazing, indeed, to think how unfair things were. Even more amazing to see how God's hand was at work.

Today a myriad of Black multi-millionaire athletes are the beneficiaries of the courage of these Black baseball pioneers. We all are. We live in a more just society today than then, in large part because of the courage of people who sought to do the right thing. In the middle of the last century, baseball was a more significant player in the wider culture. The role baseball played in the eventual successes of the Civil Rights Movement was important. The role Jackie Robinson and Branch Rickey played, motivated by their faith in Jesus, is a sign of what God can do with those who seek His will. At the end of the movie there was a song about Jesus. I could not believe the witness to our Lord was taking place in a film (not made by a church)! Jesus be glorified in all we do, I pray each day. How wonderful to see it happen. Let us pray that people will see the redeeming power of Christ in this movie.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Being What You Are

 I have another wedding ceremony tonight. It is my third in four weeks. The norm for me is about three per year. With another next week and one more on  the horizon for the Fall business is booming. The languge around marriage is interesting. St. Paul says it is a sign of Christ and His Church. That bridal imagery is also present in the Book of Revelation. In fact, the second reading last weekend is taken from the chapter where the New Jerusalem descends from heaven like a bride for her groom.

Marriage is under much strain lately. Seems folks are offended by the ideas surrounding marriage in the past. There is talk of property and the negation of woman. (Summed up in the question, "WHo gives this woman to be married to this man?") As I have said before, we are sinners. All of us. If you look at people in the past you will see all manner of sinful behavior. It is certainly going to be found in ancient marriage. However, as sin is in no decline among us my guess is there are new ways of messing things up and we are finidng them....

One debate in church circles is about the sacramentality of marriage. There are some who say "yes" while othes say "no." I am a yes guy and I do not care if people say no. It really does not matter to me. Denying the truth does not negate it. The fact is, a sign is something we see which points to a deeper reality. Marriage does that. A sacrament is something, in and through which God is working out our salvation. Marriage does that (or, better, God does that through marriage). Every married couple is a sacrament of Christ and the church. To say it is not so only means that one is blind to it. We mentioned yesterday that there is a "veil" over the "Jews" whenever they read the Bible (ancient covenant text) because they do not believe in Jesus. They cannot see what is there. Paul's words in 2 Corinthians are no less true about those who do not see sacraments. Sorry, folks, that veil is keeping you from seeing what God has revealed is there.

So the question is not whether or not marriage is a sacrament. The question is, as a married couple, will we choose to embrace our sacramental state? Will we be a good example of the sacrament. Will we cooperate with God, so that in and through our relationship others will see the love and respect and mutual self-gift that more effectively reveals Christ to the world. I think denying marriage does this at all is a bad starting place. Just like denying baptism makes us a member of Christ's body or the eucharist is a share in Christ's life. When one starts from a position of disbelief, it is harder to be open to the presence of God. And God is apparently too polite to force us to comply.

So tonight I will ask the couple "will you commmit to being a holy sacrament?" Will you make every effort to witness in word and deed, to witness in just plain "be-ing"? Will you decide to actually be what you are? Or will you opt for a poorer, less glorious state? Will you call your marriage a merely human event, devoid of God and devoid of eternal siginificance? Will you embrace in-significance?

God has made His choice. He created a physical world, in and through which He is manifest. The world is already sacramental. That is not under debate. What is under debate is whether we will live faithfully as sacraments in a sacramental world. The choice is ours....

Friday, May 3, 2013

How First Century Jews Read the Bible

I have often written about the ancient church's approach to the Bible. Beginning with Paul, I have demonstrated frequently that "the plain sense of Scripture" advocated in "the literal reading" of the text was not the only, nor the preferred approach. The spiritual reading was also vital (literally "alive"). As Paul said, "for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life." [Now he is making a contrast between the two covenants, Moses and Christ, but in a related sense this contrast is a based on a deeper assumption about how God is at work.] I found the verse in 2 Corinthians 3, which ironically reinforced my point here. Moses' veil (because his face was too bright for the Israelites to look at) becomes a metaphor for Paul of the failure of Jews to recognize Jesus as Messiah/Christ in his own time (hence, "when they hear the reading of the old covenant, that same veil is still there..."). Faith, Paul makes clear, is needed so that "when one turns to the Lord the veil is lifted." By extension, when one turns to the Lord then the veil is lifted and the revelation of God (in and through the text) can more deeply occur. Without the work of the Spirit, the Bible is just words. They provide information about God, in various literary forms, but they do not engender an encounter with God. Paul's readings of his Bible, exemplified  here with 'the veil,' are Spirit driven so that he can find a deeper application of the ancient word (OT). The veil of Moses is not just history, it is explanatory theology of the rejection of Jesus by His own.

My intent is not to study Paul's use, that was a sort of synchronos discovery. Rather, I want to look again at the book of "Wisdom of Solomon." Recall, many scholars date this work to the time of Jesus. In chapter 10, the role of Wisdom (personified as a divine being) is traced in salvation history. [A side note, reflections on Wisdom parallel the Christian understanding of Jesus' pre-incarnate being. This is seen most clearly in 7:25-26 ("[Wisdom] is a breath of the power of God, and a pure emanation of the glory of the Almighty...she is a reflection of eternal light, a spotless mirror of the working of God, and an image of His goodness") which shares common language with the great Christological hymns of the NT in John 1 (the Word, Light) and Colossians 1:15ff (the Image); see also Philippians 2). What we see is an idea, that the fullness of God is emanating, i.e., poured out eternally in divine being (Word, Holy Spirit, Wisdom are three ways it is expressed). When Wisdom is called the "breath" we must remember that ruah (Hebrew word) means breath, wind and spirit... The idea of eternal emanation, of aspects of God having a share in (One God) and existence separate from (Three persons) God is the basis of our belief in Trinity. Obviously, this is a second off task reflection, back to the text!]

Like the author of Hebrews 11, who reviews salvation history with the recurring "by faith" attached to the main actor in each scene of the narrative (starting with Abel and Enoch and extending through the whole story of the ancient covenant, ending with a list of names and a generic reference to 'the prophets.'), the author of the Wisdom of Solomon reviews the story of God's people inserting the role of Wisdom. Why does this matter? Simply because the "letter" of the old covenant texts do not make mention of Wisdom's role at all. Because the Jews read the Bible this way (in the century before and after Jesus' birth) so Paul, Peter and Jesus do the same. They lived in that time period. And the early church Fathers read the Bible in the same way (spiritually, typologically, spiritually, metaphorically, "as an example for us," etc.) What we see, then, is that the story is also shaped by the later telling. In psalms this has already taken place. In the Wisdom of Solomon, it continues. The author (fictive Solomon, who lived some 1000 years before the book was written, this, too is another common practice of the time) assumes his readers are familiar with the OT story of salvation as he makes no named references. In fact, there is almost a puzzle-like quality to the writing as one must tease out who "the righteous man" in this or that scenario. Eventually it is clear: Abraham  here, Joseph there, Moses here, Jacob there. But 10:15, which calls Israel "a holy people and blameless race" is not totally in sync with the biblical story, is it? In chapter 16, another reflection on Wisdom and the exodus, we read, "You supplied them from heaven with bread ready to eat, providing every pleasure and suited to every taste. For your sustenance manifested your sweetness toward your children; and the bread, ministering to the desire fo the one who took it, was changed to suit everyone's liking."

Clearly, the author is claiming something beyond the Exodus text on manna. Did everyone like it? (no, they ended up complaining that they wanted meat) From whence this belief? Here we see manifest the telling of the story vs. the story written and frozen at a particuar time. The rabbis (including Paul and Jesus) would continue teaching the stories. In fact, much of the NT is actually sermons and extensions of OT texts (most thoroughly seen in the Apocalypse of John). Our ignorance of ancient ways and our lack of reading the Bible in it original language and setting, are a veil over our eyes. I do not read the Torah and see (God's) Wisdom at work the way this author does. For those who accept the canonicity of this text (and some in the early church did, it was included in a NT canon in one place!) it is a new and deeper reading which informs how we understand the Bible (OT). Much like Peter impacts our reading of Noah and Paul impacts the understanding of Abraham's wives/descendents, so here we are asked to go deeper.

If I were not so busy working on five other things I would read the Wisdom of Solomon straight through. Perhaps another day. But maybe one of you, a reader of this blog, will be led by the Spirit to a deeper enocunter with God by doing that today? In the end, it is why our journey of faith is done together. May holy Wisdom, the Wisdom of the One and Triune God, fill us all this day with a knowledge of God, an encounter with God and a deeper relationship in God.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Listen to Words

One of the popular arguments among "progressive Christians" is that the support of gay marriage is in line with the civil rights movement. We are also told it is the new version of accepting Gentiles into the church. As I sort of laid out yesterday there is a popular (among them) argument that is called the "shellfish argument." Basically it sounds like this: "Well the Bible condemns eating shellfish and we eat shrimp." Yesterday, based on two NT texts, we pointed out how silly this is. Today I want to begin with the end of the Acts reading about Peter's vision. Acts 11:18 in particular.

If one sees a parallel between Gentiles//Gays then it might be helpful to listen to the actual words. Peter said that the Holy Spirit fell on the Gentile household. Seeing that they had received the same gift as he and the apostles (this is the Gentile Pentecost event!) Peter says, "If then God gave them the same gift that He gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?" Ironically, Peter echoes the words uttered by Gameliel in Acts 5:33-39 ("if it is of God you will not be able to overthrow them") at his own trial before the elders. So this is one principle which must be remembered. The work of God may not fit what we expect (as true for conservatives as it is for liberals).

Tolerance and grace are interconnected. Sometimes people assume other groups cannot ever be part of God's people. Our own prejudices undergirds the judgments we make. We need to be attuned to our motivations. The church debates on marriage are fueled by politics and personal feelings (good and ill). The desire to be nice is nice, but it has little to do with truth. The desire to exhibit power over another is political and not inherently evil, but it is not centered in The Cross. No one is exempt from sinfulness.

Where I think the progressives make the error is not carrying the analogy of gay//gentile far enough. The final words of Peter are key. "Then God has given even to Gentiles the repentance that leads to life." Tolerance and openness is true. God's unconditional love is true. God does not rule out anyone ahead of time. He calls all people into relationship with Him. However, that call means one is invited to repent of one's sins. This leasds to the question, "what sins?" which leads to the answer, "those things which God has identified as outside His will." In areas of sexual morality the list is pretty clear.

Recent surveys indicate the younger people, even Christians, are more open to alternative sexual life styles. However, it is also the case that they buy into lots of sexual immorality of all sorts. People who "hook up" are not the ideal judges on sexual morality. We live in a hyper-sexual culture. We live in a relativist culture. So, yes, kids are more accepting and this is another indication that they need to come to conversion as well. Maybe church numbers will drop. Maybe people will say we are too harsh. That is fine. They said the same thing in ancient Rome about our ancestors....

Today we read Romans 14 at Morning Prayer. It is also something tokeep in mind. It is a powerful reminder that we are not to judge one another. Is sexual morality to be paralleled to the issues Paul identifies (debates on holy days and dietary practice)? Perhaps, but I think not. It is fair to ask the question. However, regardless of our opinion, we should embrace Paul's words, "let us not judge one another or put a stumbling block in the way of another." The recent news coverage of the gay professional athlete is but the latest step in this social debate. I have not seen any theological reason to undo church teaching. I have seen no exegetical or theological or moral argumentation that makes it clear that this "new thing" is of God. It is about power. In the past some unfaithful Christians abused homosexuals. In the present some unfaithful Christians have begun to abuse others in the name of tolerance. Sin. We need repentance. All of us.