Good Friday

“The functional avoidance of Good Friday among many Christians is a heresy of long standing. Its tacit justifications seems to be that Easter Sunday signals a victory so complete that God effectively annihilated Golgotha. Such confusion makes for a theology that is not merely bad, but heartless and even dangerous. It…dares to attempt what even God refused: obliterating the wounds of Christ Crucified.”–Clifton Black, “The Persistence of the Wounds, in Lament: Reclaiming Practices in Pulpit, Pew, and Public Square (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2005), 57.  Quoted in The Crucifixion by Fleming Rutledge (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2015), 65.

A Parable

There was a corporation that was known for being the best in its business.  It was one of the premier steakhouse chains. It was well-known and beloved and many of the leading citizens used its services.  It was old and venerable and respectable.  It had a structural model that divided the territory and set up districts for its business. Each district offered local franchise opportunities when enough people asked them to move a franchise into the community.  Many districts were set up and headed by strong managers. Some early managers went out and organized local franchises.  The franchises felt a strong connection to the district and even the corporation. 

So the corporation grew as the franchises and districts grew.  Great profits were had, and many people felt that the product sold by the corporation through its districts and franchises was the best available in the market.  The customers were loyal and ate there once a week, often inviting their friends.  Their children enjoyed keeping the tradition alive.

               Over time, the corporation rested on its laurels. It came to see its business model as merely keeping the doors of the franchises open. Attention to quality diminished and it began to feel entitled to its customers.  It was believed that the customers owed the corporation loyalty and their needs began to take second place.  Service began to suffer.

 In fact, many of the managers of the districts and franchises began to doubt that the steakhouse should even exist.  Some thought there was no real steak, others that it was a metaphor and still others that there were many paths to steak, so they wanted the ability to change the menu at their own initiative.  Many even removed steak from the menu.  Customers, their friends, and families began to drift away.  This was not blamed on the need to serve what the corporate menu promised, but on the fact that the districts and franchises were not innovative enough.  New managers needed to be brought in who would do this. Those who thought this began to scheme for advancements in the corporation. One district manager publicly stated that steak did not exist, and the corporation did nothing about it.  One manager even wrote articles claiming that the menu needed to change or die. Again, the corporation did nothing and allowed this manager to do talk shows in his managerial uniform and publically represent the corporation. This despite the fact that the corporation till clung to the idea of steak as its core business.

               Eventually, these district  and franchise managers began to move up the corporate chain.  No one thought about truly reinvigorating the business in caring for customers and providing quality by restoring the essential menu that people had come to expect.  Instead they gathered in the boardroom and turned the steakhouse corporation into a buffet.  No longer would customers be expected to order off the menu, but they could have whatever they wanted, even if it was an imaginary steak.  The corporation announced this new model to much fanfare. It developed a national marketing strategy to brand the corporation and sell its new buffet approach to current and future customers.  Only those who agreed to this new branding would be allowed to serve as district managers.  Any who did not would be allowed to retire gracefully if they wished, but their successors would have to swear loyalty to the new buffet model.

               Unfortunately, this did not help the market share, but the corporation did not seem to mind as it had done the right thing and changed from being that stodgy steakhouse. Buffets were the future.  Of course, a few buffet fans did begin to use the corporation, some loyal customers were loyal to their local franchise, some just liked the name of the corporation and its atmosphere, but many current customers started eating elsewhere and some districts and franchises left the corporation.  This was a time of turmoil. 

               Some districts and their franchises, and some franchises in buffet districts, did not like the new buffet model, but still stayed with the corporation.  They were laughed at and derided and given second status in the boardroom as they were outnumbered. They were the tolerated minority of districts and franchises, and many believed in just a generation or so they would get with the new program.

               Now, the districts and franchises that wished to serve the old menu struggle to announce that they have not changed, but continue to serve the steaks that made them famous.  However, most new customers have only seen the nationwide advertising campaign for a buffet and do not want steak.  These feel that they have fallen for a “bait and switch” and do not become regulars.  Others, who do want steak, also have seen the national advertising and refuse to even try the local franchise.

               So, what happens?  Will the steakhouse districts and franchises simply become boutiques or even survive?  Will the buffet corporation? How will the market decide?

               Let the reader understand.

La Diva

Today started rough.  It was quite difficult to be mindful at Morning Prayer, and I actually found myself repeating the salutation and Lord’s Prayer when I should have been moving on to the suffrages.  Too much on my mind, I guess.  So, I did do a little Benedictine kneeling for my unmindfulness.

Yet, that was not the worse.  I realized I had not taken my medication (prophylactic antibiotic after a run in with a cleaver on Monday), so I left for home in my “trusty” 1500.  Not a good move.

A week ago my RAM 1500 with 40k miles was in the shop for warranty work on an oil pump. I get that problems develop and am thankful for warranties on new vehicles.  Today, however, it flooded out.  Upon restart, it went 100 meters then did it again.  Realizing I was developing a new problem, I resolved to take it to the dealer about 1/2 mile away.  Well, we never got there.  After a series of thunks and thuds, I pulled into a local business and saw a trail of gas/oil behind me.  So, called for a tow to the dealer.

I do not believe in coincidences, so am betting there is a connection to the repair work from last week.  I was pleasant with the service folk, but will be pushing for more than just a warrantied repair.

Anyway, since they won’t give a rental unless kept overnight, I was forced to cancel a few appointments and return to my study for the day.   I confess it did take me a bit to wind down from my frustration.

After finishing some admin work, I then sat to catch up on a couple of journals and read some Martin Thornton (B/T to Matthew Dallman).  For this, I thought a good cigar in order.  Thus, I delved into the depths of my humidor for one of my last La Divas.

This cigar has been discontinued for years, and the stick I chose was purchased in the fall of 1998 at the PX at Ft. Jackson, SC while training as a Chaplain Assistant.  I still remember purchasing a half-box for “victory” cigars with a good friend in the class.  We smoked a few the day of graduation and went our separate ways. The rest went into the private stash.

After 17 years this cigar did not disappoint. This is a natural wrapper 7.5×49 cigar.  It burned well, and after two hours was palatable to the end.  The tasting notes included cream and coffee with a slight peppery finish. Room note was quite pleasant, reminding me of a sweet campfire.

It was a joy to read a classic work on ascetical theology while enjoying a classic cigar and reminiscing about the good old days.

Relaxing indeed.

Now, I should probably go for some penance for my uncharitable thinking this morning.

The smoking lamp is lit!

 

 

 

 

Fourth Sunday after Epiphany 1016

Luke 4:21-30

“Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?” He said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Doctor, cure yourself!’ And you will say, ‘Do here also in your hometown the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.'” And he said, “Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown. But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land; yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.” When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff. But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.

 

Notes:

On my home cable remote, there is a magic button that says “On Demand”.  Push this button and a world of entertainment opens up, when I want it, as I want it.

Notice that one of Jesus’ objections is to the attitude of the people in Nazareth.  He understands that they have an “On Demand” attitude.  He has done great things in Capernaum, now he must do them in Nazareth!  It is only fair, and since it is his hometown he must do them for us! The people of Nazareth have an attitude that assumes they are entitled to the great things of God.  They want the “On Demand” button pushed.

But notice Jesus response.  He irritates them by pointing out that though there were many widows Elijah was only sent to the widow at Zarepath, and though there were many lepers only Naaman the Syraian was cleansed.  This is more than Jesus being counter-cultural, or pointing out that gentiles are worth saving, or tweaking the beards.  He is saying something entirely profound if we will but listen.

Jesus is not about doing things “On Demand”.  He is about doing things for those who truly desire.  The difference between the people of Nazareth and the Widow of Zarepath and Naaman is one of obedience and faith.  When presented with the words of the prophets, even if they did not understand or if they argued, the Widow and Naaman, believed and obeyed.  This is why the Nazareans are so upset, Jesus is calling them out on their faith and obedience.  This is what drives them to attempt to drive him off the cliff.  He is to be scapegoated for their lack of faith and obedience.  They are not getting the great things of God to which they feel entitled “On Demand”.

Today, as we read this lesson, we are faced with the same choice.  Do we think we are entitled to the great works of God?  Do we believe that God is at our demand? Or do we recognize the need to trust and obey?  Are like the Nazareans or the Widow or Naaman?

If we desire to see great things, if we desire to see miracles, if we desire to see God’s blessing upon our lives the life of our congregation, then we must have faith and live in obedience.  Jesus says that if we love him we will keep his commandments.  If we love Jesus, we will obey Jesus, and in that faithful obedience we will be blessed.

That is the choice that lies before us all.  Our way? An “On Demand” religion? Or the way of faith and obedience? The way of Love.  God has opened this way through Jesus the Christ, by loving us first, may God give us the faith and love to obey.

Homily Notes for 2 Epiphany 2016

Homily Notes for 2 Epiphany 2016

John 2: 1-12

 

               The wedding at Cana enjoys a special place in Anglican tradition.  It is referenced every time we celebrate Holy Matrimony in the Charge to the Couple indicating the special blessedness of marriage by the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at the event, and the performing of his first miracle there.  In our nave we even have a window in our East Wall, in the series of the seven sacraments, commemorating the event.

               But what is this passage really about?  What is the point?  Is this a party trick?

               Well you might think it is the latter, as every priest, at some point, makes the joke when handed a glass of water.  But, I will let you in on a secret.  No, it is not a party trick.  If you want to know a deeper secret, this passage is really about wine! Seriously, wine, vino, is the point.  Not to go to Sideways, but it is not so much a conversation on Merlot v. Cab v. Malbec v. Chardonnay v. that pink wine that calls itself white.  It is about wine and what wine communicates in the history and theology of Ancient Israel.  It is about Wine and God.

               Note the setting.  A wedding where wine runs out.  What is important here is not that the wedding cannot continue, but there is no more Wine.  See here is the clue, Mary is upset that there is no more wine and she confronts Jesus with the fact.  “They have no wine”, she says.  Jesus’ response seems at first to be cruel, “Mother, what does that have to do with me, my hour has not come.”  He is asking if she really understands what she is asking.  This is not about cultural embarrassment, or saving face.  He is asking if she knows just what she is asking of him.  Her response, “Do whatever he tells you” shows that indeed she does understand.

               So what is she asking?  She is asking for, wait for it, wine!  Wine is a metaphor of both God’s blessing and judgment upon Ancient Israel.  When the people of Israel keep God’s covenant they are blessed by God as those with wine.  When they fail to keep God’s covenant the wine of God  becomes sour to them. Psalm 4.7 tells us that contemplation of “God puts joy in the heart more than when they have wine.”  Provers 3.9-10 tells the young that if they honor God with their first fruits their vats will be bursting with wine.   Isaiah 24.11 tells of people crying out in the desolate city because there is no wine.  As that passage continues into Isaiah 25.6 the Lord will provide on his holy mountain a feast with well-aged wines, and it will be declared (v.9) that Behold this is our God.

               “They have no wine”.  They have run out of blessing and only God can provide the richness and fullness of the blessing that is sought.  If Jesus blesses the marriage with wine, it will be a statement of who he is, and Mary knows full well what she is asking and commands the servants to listen to her son.

               Jesus commands them to fill the purification vats with water.  The ritual purification rites are hereby transformed.  What will cleanse is not the ritual of the law, but the wine of Christ.  In this we see a foreshadowing of the Eucharistic cup that it taken, blessed, and transformed into the Blood of Christ, or the New Covenant, which is shed for the forgiveness of sins.  Wine the blood of grapes is a sign of the blood of Jesus Christ through which comes our purification.

               In this miracle we see the glory, the presence of God, made manifest.  This is Jesus’ first sign as he heads to his hour the ultimate revealing of God with us in the crucifixion and resurrection.  This is the hour for which he has come, and he reveals himself in the context of a wedding, a prefigurement of the wedding supper of the lamb, which we celebrate with each Mass.  This is the good wine of God’s blessing.

               Yet, notice one thing about this short passage, there is a synergistic element here.  Jesus does not draw the water, rather the servants listen to Mary’s instruction and then follow Jesus’ commands.  They fill the jars, Jesus makes the wine.  They fulfill Jesus’s commands and the people are blessed through Jesus’ work.  So too with us.  We are blessed to be a blessing.  When we follow Jesus’ commands, not only do we receive the blessings of God, not only are we purified, but we are then sent to be a blessing to the world.

 

May God grant us the grace and will to follow Jesus, and may Christ always give us his new wine.  Amen.

              

Homily for II Advent 2015

NB–This is not punctuated according to grammar, but rather for my speaking style.  However, as I do not read homilies it served, instead, as an outline.

In the Name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Two items crossed my newsfeed this week that stood out enough to share with you in light of this week’s Gospel.

The first of these was a post by Dr. Everett Piper, President of Oklahoma Wesleyan University, and my former Dean of Students during my undergraduate years.  In his post, he addressed a criticism of a chapel speaker that made a student feel bad about not being loving enough.  Dr. Piper roundly defended the speaker and stated that the purpose of a sermon is not to affirm us in feeling good, but to challenge, and yes, offend the conscience in order to bring about conversion.  The job of a preacher of the Gospel is to preach the Gospel. Sometimes that will make us feel worse about ourselves than better. But the goal is to always bring us closer to Jesus.

This was the purpose of John the Baptist.  He was not on scene to make the residents of Judea happy, or confirmed in their goodness, or feeling alright.  He was sent to prepare the way of the Lord, by preaching the need for repentance and change.  He had come to offend and rebuke, and point out the need for salvation.  He had come to tell the people that they were not good enough on their own, they could not make it on their own, and that the need they felt for something to be done, the desire deep within for a savior, was about to be fulfilled.  He told them what they needed to hear, even if they did not want to hear it.

See part of Israel’s problem is they kept wondering when God would fix it, and without waiting for God, they had repeatedly tried to make things better on their own, under their own best guidance, and it never quite worked out for them.  They wanted a kingdom, but did not want to wait for the king.

The other item was the headline in the New York Daily News that proclaimed, in the aftermath of the events in San Bernardino, that “God Isn’t Fixing This.”  It was a severe criticism of  member of a certain political party that were not being practical enough in proposing solutions to the problem, when we did not really know what the problem was at that point.  This headline was at worst, a materialist atheistic screed, ascribing to Christianity the conception of God as a mere heavenly wish granter. At best it is a classic deistic conception of God as absentee who is unable to influence the mechanistic world that the deity had created.  In either case, the message was clear, we have to do something and if the problems of the world are going to be solved, it is up to us to do it and only government policy is the vehicle to do this.  In other words, “laws must be written” to stop things like this happening again.  This is the way to utopia.

This is the basic secular/humanist position, yet belies the secular humanist position.  In the humanistic worldview human beings are basically good, until they are not, then you need laws that control the basically good and compel them to live out their basicly goodness, until they don’t, then you need more laws, rinse and repeat.  The problem is, from the Christian perspective, humans are not basically good.  If so, we would need no laws.  If laws worked, a simple “Do not murder” would keep it from happening.  You see, we do not have a law problem we have a heart problem.  It will not be laws that keep things like San Bernardino from happening. It is conversion.

God Isn’t Fixing This!  Could there be no better cry in the midst of Advent as we await God’s final rule?  Does that not sound like the cry of Israel when they wished to do their own thing and force God’s hand?  God Isn’t Fixing This.  Make a golden calf.  God Isn’t Fixing This. Give us a King. God Isnt’ Fixing This.  Ally with foreign powers to take on the Empires that threaten us.  God Isn’t Fixing This.  Throw out the Romans.  God Isn’t Fixing This.  Kill a prophet.  God Isn’t Fixing This. Crucify him!

The headline was right. God Isn’t Fixing This.  God has fixed it!  Jesus has come.  God has entered the human condition.  Jesus has been crucified and risen.  Death and evil have been defeated, though the days seem long, the promise is sure.  God has fixed it! And Jesus will come again.  Do we feel the need to do something? The solution to our problem, is not less prayer, but more.  The call of the prophet is one that cries out “Prepare the way of the Lord!” “Make the crooked ways straight. Make the rough places smooth. Prepare a highway”.  This is not a call for a physical renewal, but the spiritual renewal of God’s people.  We are to be the highway.  Our crookedness is to be made straight.  Our roughness smoothed. The solution is for us to be converted again and again.   We need to do something, so let us address the evil in our hearts, and not deny the evil in the world.  Let us turn these over to God in prayer and fasting and self-denial.  Do we want a solution? Instead of wringing our hands and pronouncing platitudes and fears, preach the Gospel,  be John the Baptists, prepare the way of the Lord by preaching the truth of Sin and Redemption, the need to repent and change, the fact that we are not all OK and good, but rather need Jesus in our lives.    Proclaim that in Jesus Christ God has fixed this, if we would but turn to him.

We do not have a law problem. We have a heart problem and God has provided a way for that to be fixed.  Let us repent, let us draw near, let us be healed, and let us proclaim the lordship of Jesus to all the world. For he is the solution to the world’s problem and pain, and he is our peace!

Amen!

All the Same?

“Don’t we, Muslims and Christians, all believe in the same God?” This has been a recurring question in response to my previous post so I will briefly and inadequately address it.

Since the beginning of the Modern/Humanist period it has become standard fare to believe, and teach in places like seminaries, that religion is the projection of base human desires, needs, and aspirations upon the universe.  Religion, therefore, is simply a sign and response of humankind’s yearning for the numinous and finding a place for itself in the universe.  One should not be surprised, then, to read Marx’s famous statement that “Religion…is the opiate of the masses”1 or Freud’s dictum that “Religious ideas have sprung from the same need as all the other achievements of culture: from the necessity for defending itself against the crushing supremacy of nature”.2

For those who hold this vies, all religion is a creation of humanity. Thus, since humans all have the same desires, goals, needs, and aspirations, all religions are essentially saying the same thing and are simply speaking of the same “God” in different voices.  The analogy often used is that of blind men each describing a different part of the elephant and confusing it for the whole.

While that is a nice analogy, it rings false for a couple of reasons. Firstly, no human being can serve as the omniscient outside observer to see that we are indeed describing an elephant.  Indeed if someone claims this, back away from them while keeping eye contact, as they are obviously not right in the head. The second is that no one has asked the elephant if it is indeed an elephant, or allowed the elephant to have input (hint, Christianity and Islam claim to be revealed religions).

So, if these claims to being revealed religions are taken seriously an exploration of what each means by God is necessary. It is indeed true that the term Allah simply means “God” and is used by both Arab Muslims and Arab Christians.  Despite this, Christians and Muslims do not have the same revelation as to who this God is.

Simply speaking when Christians use the term “God” we are speaking of the Holy Trinity: Father, Son, Holy Spirit. This is the revelation of which Jesus (I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. John 14.6) and the Church speaks. The ancient faith of the Church holds that Jesus is both fully God and fully man (incarnate of the Holy Spirit and born of the flesh of the Virgin Mary his mother).  This Jesus was crucified, died, was buried, and resurrected on the Third Day.  The Holy Spirit is sent to all who believe, and is given to the believer at baptism.  We believe that we shall be raised like him. At a minimum to be Christian is to hold these beliefs.

Islam proclaims that Jesus (Issa) is a great prophet, but is not God and that the Trinity is a corruption. In Islam, there is no incarnation as God cannot have a Son (i.e. reproduce). For Islam, Mohammed is the supreme prophet to whom God revealed his final message, the Koran.

“But don’t we all believe in the same God?”  No. There are two competing truth claims here, and either both are wrong, or one must be right. There is no third option. Either Jesus is who he says he is or he isn’t. Either Mohammed is who he says he is or he isn’t. It really is that simple.

Even if the answer is that simple, we must still be respectful, seek understanding, and live peaceably as far as it depends on us as we continue the Gospel imperative of working towards and praying for conversion, our own and the world’s.

1 Deutsch–Französische Jahrbücher (1844)
2 The Future of an Illusion (1927)