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)

Wars and Rumors of Wars

By request, I am outlining (and expanding a bit) several of the points from last Sunday’s homily (11/15). The base text was from Mark 13: 1-8.  I discarded my original outline in order to speak from my heart in response to the events of 13 November 2015.  As I stated then, I expect it to be controversial and maybe even offensive, but I will not apologize for that.

The reason that history repeats herself is that we are deaf. It is said those who do not know history are doomed to repeat it.  Events like 13 November 2015 do not happen in a vacuum and there is a connection in history with this date and events in the Islamic world.  It is not coincidental that 13 November was chosen, as 13 November 1918 was the day that the allied powers entered Istanbul/Constantinople as occupiers at the end of the First World War, marking the first time that Istanbul/Constantinople had been occupied since the Turks had captured it from the Eastern Roman Empire (Byzantine) in 1453.  Istanbul as the capital of the Ottoman Empire represented the capital of the last caliphate as the Sultan was also caliph.  In fact, the Sultan/Caliph Mehmed V had issued a Fetva/Fatwa against the Allies calling for Jihad on 14 November 1914. (I do find it ironic that the first openly Muslim prayer service offered at the National Cathedral (Episcopal Church) occurred on 14 November 2014). Remember that dates are important. 11 September 2001? Look to the lifting of the Turkish siege of Vienna by the Poles in 1683.

  1. We must admit that we are at war and that it is a religious war. Militant Fundamentalist Islam is at war with the West, with Christianity and even with their coreligionists.  This cannot be denied and the goal is not containment.  Whether we see this as a religious war, those who hold this ideology do so and we must honor that.  There are no civilians in this war and it is a war of the “righteous” against the infidel.  We cannot forget this or deny the religious character of this war.  The question is what is our response to be?
  2. I must admit my, very human, response was one of “more bombs now”, however this is not the correct response from a Christian viewpoint. This might be the appropriate secular response, but it is not the way to conduct a religious war.  The Secular State may need to go to war, send soldiers into combat, to protect and defend the nation, but to truly fight a religious war we need religious weapons.  An ideology will not be defeated by bombs and guns, only God can do this.

As Christians we need to return to our religious arsenal.  Our chief and most powerful weapon is prayer.  We need to be people of prayer, praying for our world, our fellow Christians, for peace, and even for those who have made themselves our enemies.  Ideology can only be defeated by conversion and we need to pray for conversion, both our continual conversion and the conversion of the world.  We need to pray and attend the Sacraments, this is our first spiritual combat.

  1. Our Lord told us there would be wars and rumors of war. That nation would rise against nation. We also know that Jesus is the Prince of Peace. However, there will not be peace on earth until Jesus is Lord of All.  Only Jesus can bring peace. Peace for our restless hearts. Peace for the world.  There is no other who can do this.  Do not be lead astray.  Any priest, any preacher, who claims that Jesus is our way to God or a way (among others) is a false priest, a false preacher and a false teacher.  Only Jesus makes intercession for us and establishes the way to a relationship with God.  Only when we are converted to the Lordship of Jesus, and only when the nations of the world find Jesus as the King of kings will the world know true peace.  It is our obligation to pray and work for this.  There is no other hope.  And hope there is, because Jesus has conquered death and hell.
  2. The retired Bishop of Rochester, England, The Rt. Rev. Michael Nazir-Ali, is also the Archbishop of Canterbury’s representative to the reports that Jesus is doing remarkable things in the Muslim World. People are converting to Christianity in large numbers, although in secret due to Islamic Law that calls for the death of “apostates”.  These conversions have been accompanied by visions and dreams of Jesus and by miracles. Often, these conversions are associated with healing, thus medical missions are important.  Even with the suffering of the Church in the Middle East, Jesus is still making disciples.  We need to pray for these new Christians, support them as we can, and pray that Jesus continue to reveal himself to the world as we pray for our continual conversion.  For only in him will there be peace.

Tales of the Old Republic

Not Star Wars.

Horatio by Charles Le Brun

Horatio by Charles Le Brun

As a child, I was enamoured with the lives of the noble Greeks and Romans.  I especially loved to read anything that had to do with The Republic.  Lucius Junius Brutus, Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus, and Publius Horatius Cocles were among my heros.  Brave men and true who took up the cause of their people despite its potential cost. I would read their stories and imagine myself striking the blow against tyranny, leaving behind the plow only to return at the height of fame and take it up once again, or holding the Pons Sublicius (bridge) against the forces of chaos and barbarism nigh on single handedly.  The heroes of my youth were these servants of the Old Republic.

There were also the stories of my family’s service to the New Republic.  The Revolution, 1812, Texas, Civil War, Spanish-American, WWI, WWII, and Vietnam Era, it seemed that each generation had “gone for a soldier” to do their duty as best they could.  These men were also my heroes, and though they did not romanticize their service, those I knew would speak merely of doing their duty or job. They may have had medals, but the heroes were someone else.

This was the example set for me: one of service, of doing one’s duty as a citizen of a free republic and in service to her people.  It sounds corny and cheesy in today’s cynical age, but yes this is why I enlisted and served The Republic.

On this day, we offer thanks to all those who have stood their watch on the walls.  Some served in days of peace, some in times of war and terror.  Whether in combat or in the rear, draftee or volunteer, each one answered the call of this Republic and her people when needed, even when people of this Republic cared not for where and why they were sent. Patriotism may be passé, but our gratitude should never be.  Pray for our vets and continue to work for their care in a time when so many are cast off and forgotten.

I pray God that my children may live in peace and not need to take their watch, but should the day come when the forces of Barbarism stand at the gates, it is my hope that they will be inspired by our stories of the Old Republic and take their place to protect and defend their people.

Blessed George and Martin of Tours, pray for us.

Scouts out!

107th_Cavalry_Distinctive_Unit_Insignia

It’s Too Late to Stop Now

The title of Van Morrison’s 1974 album is appropriate for our Sunday morning experience here at St. Matt’s as a van was unable to stop due to a medical event with the driver and made a new drive-thru window in the Nave.  We were fortunate that the Stairway to the Choir LHole in the walloft is composed of I-beams otherwise it would have been a lot worse for the building. It was a hole-y incredible experience for all of us.  I suppose the puns are going over like lead zeppelins, so I will get serious.

I am incredibly grateful that the only damage was material.  Buildings can be rebuilt, holes can be filled, but people cannot be replaced.  It is truly miraculous that no one was seriously injured.  The driver only suffered minor injuries and no pedestrians or other vehicles were in the path of the vehicle.  Oakland Avenue is a busy street and usually has pedestrians on the walks as well.  The accident occurred between services at the best moment something like this could happen.  In fact, a minute in either direction and the story would have been much worse as vehicles leaving St. Matt’s would have been in the direct path of the oncoming vehicle for a side impact.

I have walked the path of the vehicle and even here there are small miracles to be seen.  I could not have driven this path at full throttle, through two power poles, three yards, and St. Matt’s driveway, stone cold sober and awake, yet the van took a course that avoided houses, huge maples, and a memorial cross.  If either of the trees had been hit, it most likely would have been a fatal accident.

After the accident had been cleaned up, we decided to continue to hold the second service in the Parish Hall for we had much for which to be thankful. It was a joyous service of thanksgiving and one we will not soon forget.

In all of this, I believe that God was present.  There is no doubt that only a miracle prevented loss of life.  You may call it a coincidence, but I will not.

Higgins and George

I have been quite absorbed on working some issues related to my pursuit of a Doctor of Ministry degree.  Those seem to have been dealt with finally, and successfully, as St. George dealt with the dragon.

As a part oaf that, I have been wrestling with the concept of world-views.  While I am not ready to do a full post (or reveal–as they say on the home improvement shows) the difference between what NT Wright calls the “modernist” and what I will term the “orthodox” is increasingly clear.

With that, I will leave you with two favorites from a companion I know only through his literary works.  Ladies and Gentlemen, I present to you…Mr. Gilbert Keith Chesterton.

The Song of the Strange Ascetic

If I had been a Heathen,
I’d have praised the purple vine,
My slaves should dig the vineyards,
And I would drink the wine.
But Higgins is a Heathen,
And his slaves grow lean and grey,
That he may drink some tepid milk
Exactly twice a day.

If I had been a Heathen,
I’d have crowned Neaera’s curls,
And filled my life with love affairs,
My house with dancing girls;
But Higgins is a Heathen,
And to lecture rooms is forced,
Where his aunts, who are not married,
Demand to be divorced.

If I had been a Heathen,
I’d have sent my armies forth,
And dragged behind my chariots
The Chieftains of the North.
But Higgins is a Heathen,
And he drives the dreary quill,
To lend the poor that funny cash
That makes them poorer still.

If I had been a Heathen,
I’d have piled my pyre on high,
And in a great red whirlwind
Gone roaring to the sky;
But Higgins is a Heathen,
And a richer man than I:
And they put him in an oven,
Just as if he were a pie.

Now who that runs can read it,
The riddle that I write,
Of why this poor old sinner,
Should sin without delight-
But I, I cannot read it
(Although I run and run),
Of them that do not have the faith,
And will not have the fun.

The Englishman

St George he was for England,
And before he killed the dragon
He drank a pint of English ale
Out of an English flagon.
For though he fast right readily
In hair-shirt or in mail,
It isn’t safe to give him cakes
Unless you give him ale.

St George he was for England,
And right gallantly set free
The lady left for dragon’s meat
And tied up to a tree;
But since he stood for England
And knew what England means,
Unless you give him bacon
You mustn’t give him beans.

St George he is for England,
And shall wear the shield he wore
When we go out in armour
With battle-cross before.
But though he is jolly company
And very pleased to dine,
It isn’t safe to give him nuts
Unless you give him wine.

h/t poemhunter.com

St. Matthias

NB—I transferred the commemoration of St. Matthias from 2/24 (Tuesday) to 2/26 (Thursday) for our regularly scheduled Thursday Mass.

St. Matthias, in many ways, is the unknown saint.  All we can say about him with confidence comes from Acts 1:15-21. Here we find that he meets the requirements for replacing Judas in that he was a follower of Jesus  from the beginning until the Ascension, and was thus to be (and was) a witness to the Resurrection.   Even his selection was not overly noteworthy, in that there was at least one other who met the requirements (Joseph Barsabbas AKA Justus), and after prayer lots were cast between the two.  Matthias’ lot came up and he became an Apostle.  (This may actually not be a bad way to elect ecclesiastical authorities, especially the part where the qualifications are to be a follower of Jesus and a witness to the Resurrection.)

Other than that, there are scattered traditions about his ministry in what is now Georgia and his method of death circa 80 AD.

So he is not well known, and I expect among Christians is essentially unknown or un-thought of today.  Yet, I find this strangely comforting.  Today we remember an Apostle who was simply faithful and lived out his vocation.  In today’s environment of “rock star” pastors doing the publishing and talk show circuits, who attract crowds of devoted fans, and over whom the media fawn, it is a comfort to remember Matthias.   Matthias is truly a patron saint for those who quietly work the vineyard of the Lord and striving to remain faithful to their vocations and their Master.  May Matthias be an example to all Christians in their work, and as we remember Matthias may we be assured that our God will remember us in the same way.

Blessed Matthias, pray for us.