Monday, June 29, 2009
When I learned of his death, all I could think of was this:
David Caradine (of Kung Fu fame) died. But we're not through yet
Ed McMahon died. Hold on! We're just getting getting started
Farrah Fawcett and Michael Jackson died.
But wait, there's more!
I know. It is "gallow's humor" but I would like to think that Billy Mays had enough of a sense of humor about himself and his profession to laugh at this.
Is the world really diminished by the loss of yet another pitch man? I believe it is because the world is always diminished by the death of any human being. I don't know the state of the souls of any of these persons above. But that is not my job. I can entrust them to God's mercy and care.
While Billy Mays always promised us "more," his products often did not deliver on their implied promises. But God's promise is that there will always be more! God promises us abundant life and never ending grace and growth in the new live we receive through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ! Why do we spend our time wanting "more" and "easier, faster, cheaper?" We should focus on the only source of "more" in all creation - God. Do you want more? Seek God; for with God there is always more.
Friday, June 26, 2009
Why are we so fixated on celebrities? Why do we invest so much of our selves in them? Why do care so much about such people as Michael, Farrah and Ed? I believe it is because we long to be connected to someone, but we don't want to risk being hurt by them. We cannot really be hurt by a celebrity, but we can be connected to them by tabliods, Entertainment Tonight, TV, and by the the internet. We can feel we know them and we can project on to them all our hopes and fears. Celebrities are as real to us as we want them to be. We know about them but we don't know them. We say we love them, but we can't love them because we don't know them.
I find that in the Church, there are many who see Jesus as a celebrity. We've all seen and heard about what people project onto Jesus. Jesus the Pacifist. Jesus the Socialist. Jesus the Communist. Jesus the Vegetarian. Jesus the fighter for Social Justice. Jesus the (fill in the blank). Perhaps we do this ourselves? We project our desires and needs onto Jesus.
C. S. Lewis called this "Christianity and...." We've seen people claim that Jesus would be a strong supporter of the pro-choice movement. We've seen people claim that Jesus would be a strong proponent of the pro-life movement. What happens is that we assume that our cause is Jesus' cause. We assume that Jesus would find what we deem to be important to be as important as we think it is.
I believe this is the state that most "Christians" are in. We are enamored of the Celebrity Jesus and don't take the time to know the real Jesus. We are satisified with the "Entertainment Tonight" version of Jesus where we know enough about Jesus to know that he thinks like we do, likes what we like and approves of us.
So, what is the solution? The solution is to know Jesus, not just know about Him. The solution is to have a personal relationship with Jesus. So, how do we do that? The tried and tested method to do that has been handed to us over the centuries. The method includes three things:
Piety - a rich prayer life can be for everyone. The Book of Common Payer is a great resource for prayer life. In addition to discursive prayer, try some meditative and contemplative prayer. Be involved in the worship life of a congregation. Knowing Jesus is not just a personal effort - I would say it is not even primarily a personal effort. Knowing Jesus can best be done in community (See my sermon on the Holy Trinity and Community). Be involved in the sacraments of Holy Communion and Confession.
Study - Learning about Jesus through study of the Holy Scriptures and book about Christian living is critical to every Christians life. Study tells us about the Jesus we meet in prayer and worship. Every Christian should be reading Holy Scripture every day. Studying is simply learning what others who know Jesus know about Jesus. Like piety, study should have its personal and corporate aspects. Are you involved in personal study as well as a corporate study? If not, you should be. As Archbishop Rowan Williams said, only the whole Church knows the whole Truth.
Ministry - The place where I meet Jesus most often is in ministry. Ministry helps me to know Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit because it shows me that I am not up to the job given to me. If you really want to know Jesus, go serve him in ministry. When we minister, we are not so much acting as Jesus as we are meeting Jesus. When we teach Sunday School, we are meeting Jesus in the students. When we visit the sick or shut in, we are meeting Jesus there. When we are ministering in prison or at a homeless shelter, we are meeting Jesus there too. To know Jesus, go visit him in ministry.
In the deaths of McMahon, Fawcett, and Jackson, great talent has left the world. But there is a greater power than celebrity. It can and will change your life. Are you ready to know Jesus as a person and not as a celebrity?
Thursday, June 25, 2009
President Obama insists that he can save money by having a government run insurance system. The savings will come from efficiencies of scale. The problem is that "government effeciency" is an oxymoron.
Reducing the costs of a process entails two things. The first is efficiency - doing thing right. Effeciency is concerned with doing something in as few steps or with as little effort as possible. Touch typing is more efficient that "hunt and peck." (I and am very glad I took a typing class my freshman year of High School!) Government bureaucracies are notoriously inefficient.
The second way to get cost reduction is effectiveness - doing the right things. Here is a possible cost saving from government payment for healthcare. By eliminating or reducing the "defensive medicine" that doctors often do in order to defend against malpractice suits, we can reduce costs. The problem is that there is no guarantee that the defensive medicine will stop or that malpractice suits will slow or cease.
Another issue of effectiveness is fraud prevention. Private insurance companies are very diligent about finding and preventing fraud. After all, fraud affects the "bottom line". Government programs, such as Medicare and Medicaid or the VA, are nortorious for fraud and waste. The idea that the government will be more diligent about fraud than a private insurance company is not one that is borne out by experience.
Right now, the government runs several health programs such as Medicare and the VA. These are not well loved by either providers or by many of their patients. I propose that the current administration show us it can create efficiencies of scale and increase the health care outcomes by first fixing these programs such that people look forward to being on Medicare or going to the VA. Next, we can let the government employees (including Congress and the congressional staffers) use these programs exclusively for their care. After we get these programs in order, and our elected representatives have shown their trust in them by using them for their own care, then we can look at expanding government run care to the rest of the nation.
Tuesday, June 23, 2009
We baptize GLBT persons, so they are full members of the Church, so they should be eligible to be ordained.
Now, on its face, I have no argument with that statement. It is true. If that is all that the Chicago Consultation and TEC want to say, then I can only agree with them.
However, the undertone of this group is that we are talking about men and women who are sexually active in GLB (not so sure about the "T") relationships. Men sexually active with men or women sexually active with women. In this case, it is not their orientation that disqualifies them, but their unrepentant sin.
All sexual activity outside of marriage is sinful. Sin breaks the relationship between the person and God, the person and the Church, and the person and him/her self.
Part of our baptismal covenant is this question:
Will you perserver in resisting evil, and, whenever you fall into sin, repentThe candidate answers: "I will with God's help."
and return to the Lord?
In the document, there is no section that even questions whether homoerotic behavior is good or blessed. It simply assumes that it is.
Does this mean that homosexual persons are not loved by God? In no way do I hold that homosexual persons are not loved by God. They are indeed loved by God and full members of the Church by the virtue of their baptisms. But they are not wholesome examples of a Christian life if they are sexually active outside of marriage. The drug addict, the cleptomaniac, the serial adulterer, the sinner (any sinner) are all loved by God and are full members of the Church. But when they put their personal understanding of morality above what the Church teaches, then they are not wholesome examples of those called to lead the Church.
If we are going to move past the "he said/she said" dialogue that we have been having, then we need to be able to show, from Scripture and Tradition, where God blesses same sex unions or we need to go back to a status quo ante where we don't bless same sex unions and the only people we ordain are people who are either celibate or sexually active only inside of marriage (as traditionally defined).
Assuming what you want to prove is an old game, but it doesn't move the conversation along.
Sunday, June 21, 2009
Almighty God, give us ears to hear, minds to understand and the will to do those things that you teach us today. Amen.
Today the Church is setting aside two persons to be deacons. It is a joyous occasion in the life of the Church and in the lives of Betsy Randall and Beverly Patterson.
So, what are we doing today? Is today a kind of “graduation” ceremony where we are telling the world that we have two people who have “made it” – that they’ve successfully navigated through a rather complicated and frustrating Ordination Process? Are marking the completion of an arduous journey and rewarding two people who have been faithful members of the Church?
No, today we are not marking the completion of anything and being ordained is definitely not a reward for past service. Being ordained is not a reward for anything nor is it a sign of any special competence. As one of my past Rectors said, proof that God loves His Church is that she has survived her clergy.
Ordination is setting apart a person for the ministry of Word and Sacrament. Today, we set apart Beverly and Betsy as Deacons in Christ One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.
The word “deacon,” “diakonos,” means “servant” or “minister.” It is translated as “minister” 20 times in the NT and as “servant” 8 times. In the passage we heard from Acts today, the Apostles say “it is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve (diakeno) tables” and “we (the apostles) will devote ourselves to prayer and the ministry (diakonia) of the word.” So the congregation (not the Apostles) picked out seven men, the apostles laid hands on them and the Church had its first deacons – assistants to the Apostles. Many scholars today don’t think of the 7 as deacons as we understand that term today. In one sense they are right, the office of deacon has evolved just as the office of Bishop and of Presbyter has. The Church has almost always taught that they were deacons and I tend to agree with the Church rather than modern scholars on what the Church did 2000 years ago.
Today the Office of Deacon is evolving still. In this diocese, we have a deacon responsible for Christian formation. We have deacons who handle pastoral care for congregations. We have deacons who are hospital chaplains, who work in ministries related to senior citizens, deal with end of life issues as Hospice Chaplains, work in translating Holy Scriptures in to various languages, and are involved in prison ministry. The office of deacon is one that ministers on the margins of society. We deacons have a mission of being the voice for those who have no voice and for helping them to find their voice. We deacons have changed from, what all the Books of Common Prayer from the Ordinal in 1550 to the 1928 BCP called “this inferior office” to an order with its own dignity and personality.
Today, I would like to discuss the Office of Deacon in three images: the Deacon as Icon of Jesus Christ, the Deacon as Prophet and the Deacon as a Walking Sacrament of Ministry.
Deacons are Icons of Jesus Christ the servant. In the Gospel we just heard, Jesus says that he is among us as “one who serves.” Jesus, the Second Person of the Trinity incarnate, the one through whom all things were made – this same Jesus comes among us to serve. We hear that often, but do we really believe it? Let’s stop to think about it for a second. God. Comes. Among. Us. To. Serve. How many of us really believe that Jesus is among us as one who serves? George Herbert, the wonderful priest and poet of the 17th century, wrote thus:
Love bade me welcome, yet my soul drew back, / Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-ey'd Love, observing me grow slack / From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning / if I lack'd anything.
"A guest," I answer'd, "worthy to be here"; / Love said, "You shall be he."
"I, the unkind, the ungrateful? ah my dear, / I cannot look on thee."
Love took my hand and smiling did reply, / "Who made the eyes but I?"
"Truth, Lord, but I have marr'd them; let my shame / Go where it doth deserve."
"And know you not," says Love, "who bore the blame?" /"My dear, then I will serve."
"You must sit down," says Love, "and taste my meat." / So I did sit and eat.
St. Ignatius of Antioch in his letter to the Magnesians, describes deacons as being entrusted with the ministry of Jesus Christ. That is an awesome responsibility to lay on any person and today we lay that responsibility on two new deacons. Deacons, entrusted with the servant ministry of Jesus Christ are icons – windows through which the Church and the world can see Jesus and see the joy in giving themselves to the service of others. We human beings, made in God’s image, were designed to give. We, by design receive more when we give more. We were not designed to hold and horde. Our society has lied to us over and over again and we have all too often bought into that lie. Society tells us that we are individuals who exist for our own self-defined good. That is a lie. The truth is that we are persons designed by the Triune God to live in community whose life together reflects the inner life of the Holy Trinity where each person gives himself to the others. Our life together should reflect that inner life and it is the Deacon who should be the window, the Icon, into that life by showing us Our Lord who is among us as one who serves.
In addition to being Icons, Deacons are prophets. In the Examination, the Bishop tells the candidates that they are to “interpret to the Church the needs, concerns, and hopes of the world.” This entails speaking to the Church things her members may not want to hear. In the Episcopal Church, we hear a lot about “prophetic voice” or the need to be “prophetic.” I think we hear that because we have forgotten what a prophet is or what a prophet does. The prophets never called Israel out of its covenant. They always called Israel to repent because they were not following their covenant. Likewise, the Deacon calls the Church to remember her Covenant and to repent. This is why the Deacon is the preferred person to invite the people to confess their sins in the Eucharistic liturgy. All too often we look the other way when confronted with the needs, concerns or hopes of the world – particularly if they are embodied in a person who is smelly or homeless or dying or poor or mentally ill or in prison. It is the deacon’s task to stand up to the Church and say “No! We promised we would care for them! It is not ‘someone’s’ responsibility to care for the poor, the sick, the uneducated, the smelly, and those we don’t like. It is our responsibility to care for them.” In caring for those on the margins of society, we are caring for Jesus himself.
Finally, I would like to talk about the Deacon as a walking sacrament. As we all know, a sacrament is an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace, give by Christ as a sure and certain means by which we receive that Grace. Now, I am not trying to add to the list of Sacraments. But Deacons are outward and visible signs of the grace that is ministry. God gives us work to do for His kingdom, not because He needs us to do it but so that we can participate with God in the growth of His kingdom. Ministry is, itself, a gift from God and as I said earlier, we were designed by God to receive much more than we give when we are involved in ministry. The Deacons among us remind us that we were designed to give and we receive and grow more when we give than we do when we take or when we hold on to what we have.
Let me take just a moment to talk about ministry. I remember about 9 years ago when I started my own path towards ordination. I thought that ordination would expand my opportunities for ministry. I quickly learned that not to be the case. Rather than expanding opportunities for ministry, ordination focuses your ministry. And just as focusing light restricts where it shines, ordination restricts your ministry. But where you do minister is brighter because the ministry is more focused. A deacons’ ministry is more focused than that of a layperson’s. Likewise a priest’s ministry is more focused than a deacon’s and the ministry of Bishop is the most focused and the most restricted.
Deacons are outward and visible signs of ministry. Their focus in ministry helps others to see their own ministries. Deacons enable the Church to minister and to find new ministries the Church didn’t know about.
So, we see Deacons as Icon’s of Jesus Christ the Servant by which we more clearly see how God comes among us to serve us and to help us serve others. We see the deacon as the prophetic voice to the Church that reminds the Church of her Covenant with God when the Church forgets and we see the Deacon as a Walking Sacrament of the grace and gift of ministry – as one who models and empowers the ministry that God gives us. Deacons are all these things and so much more.
It has grown customary for the preacher to deliver a charge to the ordinands towards the end of the sermon. Betsy and Beverly, will you please stand.
Today you are being ordained as deacons. You are being set apart to be Icons, Prophets, and Walking Sacraments to help the Church see Jesus, recall her covenant with her Lord and to go forth in Jesus’ name to minister to others. My charge to you is three fold. First, you are to interpret to the Church, the needs, concerns, and hopes of the world. What the world needs more than anything else is Jesus. Give us Jesus. Be that Icon of Jesus so that the world can see its need of Him. Be faithful in prayer and study so that you can give us Jesus. In giving us Jesus, together, we all can give the world Jesus.
Second, you both plan on being ordained presbyters at a future date. That is good. But, let this time be a time to be formed as Deacons – not as Junior Priests. Let God form you into His servants. Find an experienced deacon and let him or her help you become the Deacon you are called to be. In the parishes where you will work, you will encounter pressure to “get on with being ordained a priest.” Don’t give in to that pressure because it is from half-baked deacons that we get half-baked priests. Find some work that is distinctively diaconal. Spend some time at a homeless shelter; work in a food bank; go to prison. Bring members of the church with you and get them involved in ministry. Let God continue to form you as deacons. When you believe you have sufficiently been formed as deacons, then come before the Commission on Ministry and the Standing Committee to be ordained as presbyters.
Finally, never forget that you continue to be deacons even after you are ordained as presbyters. Let your diaconal formation help to form you as priests. Let God continue to form you as deacons even as He forms you as priests.
One of the men I did Clinical Pastoral Education with five years ago was a Dominican monk who was ordained deacon and then priest. I was present at his diaconal ordination. While I have my issues with how Rome does some things, I believe they nailed the Bishop’s charge to the deacons at ordination. In a minute, Bishop Stanton will lay his hands on you and make you Deacons. He will then give you a Bible as a sign of your authority to proclaim God’s word. In the Roman Catholic Church, the Bishop hands the new Deacon a Book of the Gospels with these words (mark them well): “Receive the Gospel of Jesus Christ whose herald you now are. Read what you have received. Believe what you read. Teach what you believe. Live what you teach.” Beverly and Betsy, soon you will join the ranks of Deacons in Christ’s one, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. You will be given the Holy Scriptures. Read them. Believe them. Teach them. Live them.
In the Name of God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Thursday, June 18, 2009
I think it is even more fundamental than that. I believe that the fundamental issue is one of anthropology - what is man (and woman). And, even before that, Who is God. Let's leave the definition of God out of this discussion (for now). I want to discuss anthropology as it relates to what men and women are.
On the conservative side of things (both politically and theologically) we tend to believe that man was created good but is fallen. Thus, we tend to think of man, in his natural state, as a "twisted" individual. We may want to do good and to be good, but we lack the ability to do so. We are so bent by our sin that we don't even know what is good anymore. Thus, we need an external source to help us know and understand what God desires from us. We identify with Paul in Roman's 7
I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I
have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it our. For what I
do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do - this I keep
on doing. (Rom 7:18, 19)
Thus, our natural state is one of brokenness and the inability to do good. Our natural state is one of separation from God. For this reason, God became man in the person of Jesus Christ so that we (and all creation) might be redeemed and be united to God by God's grace. In the conservatives eyes, mankind needs to die so it can be reborn. We've marred God's image and lost His likeness by our sinful actions.
On the other hand, most progressives I've known tend to think that man is basically good. Our natural state is one of blessedness. They like to speak of "Original Blessing" not "Original Sin." They believe that most people want to do the good and, if we just educate them enough, they will choose the good. Mankind needs fixing, not re-creation. Man still has a lot of the image of God and still bears His likeness.
That is an oversimplification, of course, but I find it to be true to a large extent.
So, how does this play out? In terms of the sexuality debate, the conservatives see homosexual orientation as a consequence of our fallen nature. Progressives see homosexual orientation as a natural occurrence and, therefore, a moral good or moral neutral. In terms of Evangelism, the conservative see other faiths as not participating in the new creation that all men need. Progressives see that all faiths as expressions of man's quest for God and, thus, evangelism is not as necessary.
So, which is it? Is mankind basically sinful and fallen (and thus with a need to die to self and be raised to new life) or is mankind basically good (and thus needs only education and improvement)?
Saturday, June 13, 2009
Well, she started to breath on her own and the hospital eventually sent her home under hospice care so she could die.
But my sister in law kept noticing things that Leila was not supposed to be able to do - such as reacting to outside stimuli or focusing her eyes. She mentioned this to the hospice people and they (of course) thought that Elaine was imagining things as this is not uncommon.
But then they started to notice Leila reacting too. "This isn't possible" they thought. But she was reacting more and more. So, the scheduled an evaluation with yet another group that specialized in retraining childrens' brains after serious injury.
They came and evaluated Leila and determined that, while there is brain damage, Leila is actually in a coma and is not brain dead. There are things they can do to help her - especially after she comes out of the coma!
We serve an awesome God! I know that sounds cliched, but I can't think of a better way to say it. Please continue to pray that God will bring Leila to the fullness of life and continue to heal her.
Thursday, June 11, 2009
[A]n impressive cadre of Episcopalian laity and clergy who are very serious (and usually very educated) about theology and the Anglican tradition. This group tends to agree on matters of theology, liturgy and church order, AND, in regard to the affirmation of women's ordination and the inclusion of all the baptized into sacramental life and leadership.I've known several people who support blessing same sex unions and ordaining men or women involved in same sex unions, but who are believed the Nicene Creed in its "plain sense" rather than redefining the words to fit their worldview. They insist on the Trinity being "Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (Ghost)" rather than "Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer" (a modalistic version of the Trinity as it names three functions, not three persons). They insist on the Incarnation and that Jesus is fully human and fully divine. They insist that Jesus' death on the cross somehow puts us right with God (atonement). They insist on a physical resurrection (as if there were any other kind).
Now, I support the ordination of women in the Church and I believe in "full inclusion" of all people (gay, straight, tall, short, thin, fat, blue, red, green, etc.) in the sacramental life of the Church. The problem is that I don't agree with blessing what the Church calls "sin." That is the heart of the matter.
The whole issue before the Church right now is not "what do we do with sexually active homosexual men and women?" Rather, it is two fold. The first is "what is the limit of authority to define sin?" and "How do we know what is sinful?"
The "How do we know what is sinful?" question has been answered by the Church. Up until recently, there was no question that homosexual sex was sinful. That is still the official position of the Church Catholic and the Anglican Communion as a whole. There are people who are trying to change the teaching of the Church such that life long mutually monogamous homosexual relationships (gay marriage if you will) are no longer considered sinful.
But, until the Church changes its teaching, the teaching stands. Think of the matter of changing the speed limit on a street. There is a street by my house that is four lanes and divided, but the speed limit is 30 mph. It is a rather nice revenue producer for the city as people regularly travel at 40-45 mph on it. Now I think the speed limit should be 35 or 40. I can lobby the city council to change it, but I cannot travel 40-45 while I am lobbying for the law to be changed without paying the fine when I am caught.
Now I do not want to exclude my creedally orthodox brothers and sisters in Christ. So I have a proposal for those who find themselves creedally orthodox, but who support blessing same sex unions and ordaining men or women involved in same sex unions:
- Accept that the current teaching of the Church is that gay sex is sinful. Being gay or even being gay and involved in a long term relationship should not be a bar to membership in the church.
- There will be no public blessings of same sex unions. If you must bless same sex unions, please do them under the guise of "house blessings" or some such private affair
- Only support for ordination those who can articulate and teach the creedally orthodox faith. Put a moritorium on ordaining homosexual men or women involved in any sexual activity outside of man/woman marriage until the Anglican Communion determines that either gay marriage is blessed by God or it is morally neutral.
- Continue to lobby the Church to change her teaching on same sex unions if you disagree with it, but do not publically act outside of that received teaching until the Church changes her consensus.
As for me, I will continue to the Church to maintain her teaching on the subject until I can be convinced, with arguments from Scripture or Tradition that blessing same sex unions better reflects the Will of God and calling them sinful.
How does that sound to you all?
Tuesday, June 09, 2009
There is a question and answer section with the reporter. One of the questions is this:
Q: Oregon seems far removed from the big Episcopal controversy over
gay ordinations --
A: That's a good thing. The controversy isn't that big; it's just noisy in some places.
This is something that I am tired of hearing. This seems to say "What we are talking about not not really a "big deal." It is rather inconsequential to the living of the faith."
Either the people making this statement are blind to what is happening in the Church world wide or they are delusional to think that what is happening to TEC and to the Anglican Communion because of the innovations that they are forcing on us are not "that big."
If the blessing of same sex unions or ordination of those involved in same sex unions is not essential to the Christian Faith, then why are you forcing this innovation on the Church. The rest of the Church has said that the current moral teaching (sex is only blessed inside of marriage and marriage is only one man and one woman) is essential to the faith. The reappraisers/revisionist/progressives must either believe that their innovation is essential or they must believe that the Church itself is not a big deal.
I know there are few reappraisers/progressives that read this blog. Can you say why this issue is worth splitting the Church over? If so, can you share where this is found in Holy Scripture (according to our Presiding Bishop, Holy Scripture is our primary source of authority)?
Please be honest with us. Either admit that you believe this issues is on par with the Creeds or you don't believe that the Church is the body of Christ and can be split over non-essentials.
nb - edited to correct a typographical error - Chruch to Church.
Monday, June 08, 2009
But I believe it is always preferable to Celebrate Holy Communion instead of a Deacon's Administration. My dad is a priest in the Diocese of West Texas and, so, I contacted the Bishop's office and received permission for dad to celebrate yesterday. So, yesterday I and my dad, for the first time since I was ordained, were both leading worship and were the only clergy.
I also had the joy of preaching for my dad on Trinity Sunday. Aware of Dom Gregory Dix's admonition that no one can preach on the Trinity for more than 15 minutes without falling into heresy, I offer this sermon that I preached yesterday.
Almighty God, give us ears to hear, minds to understand and the will to do those things that you teach us today. Amen.
I just prepared a Confirmation Class at St. James. Part of every class is where the instructor scares the students by reminding them that the Bishop has the right to ask any question of a candidate before administering the Sacrament of Confirmation. I’ve travelled with Bishops Stanton, Jecko, and Lambert to many confirmations and I have never seen a bishop do this, but jokes abound about what happens when a bishop decides to ask a question.
At one parish, there was a very shy young man and the Bishop decided to ask him “Tell me about the Holy Trinity” expecting to have the boy say something like “We worship one God in three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.”
The boy mumbles and kicks his feet. The bishop says: “What did you say?
The boy mumbles again, so the bishop, somewhat frustrated says: “I’m sorry. I just don’t understand.”
The Boy also frustrated responds loudly: “You’re not supposed to understand, Bishop, it’s a mystery.”
Today, Trinity Sunday, is the one day of the year set aside for the remembrance of a Doctrine of the Church and not an event that occurred in history. The Resurrection is an historical event. The crossing of the Red Sea is a historical event. Pentecost is a historical event, but there is not a specific day when the Trinity made itself known. While the Doctrine of the Trinity is supported by Holy Scripture, it is not specifically defined there. The Resurrection is defined in Holy Scripture. The Atonement (by which we are made acceptable to God by the Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ) is laid out in Holy Scripture. That God created the heavens and the earth is specifically mentioned in Holy Scripture. But the word “Trinity” never appears in Holy Scripture.
So, what is the Trinity and why do we believe it and even set aside a day to remember it? First, the Trinity is a very simple doctrine to state, but it is very hard to understand. The doctrine of the Trinity simply states that we believe in One God in three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The three persons are co-equal and co-eternal. All are “God” but there is only one God. So, God is three and God is one. When we hear something like that, it causes our minds to boggle, so we try to rationalize it.
The first “rationalization” that we normally run to is to try to describe God as One God with three functions. I’ve heard people try to explain the Trinity using the analogy of the different roles they have in life. For example, I am a husband, a father, and a deacon. They describe God as acting as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit just as I act as husband, father, or deacon. Now this sounds good because it emphasizes the unity of God. There is One God. But let’s look where it leads. If there is only one God and not three distinct persons, then Jesus (God incarnate) cannot be fully God. Because if Jesus is fully God and God is not three persons, then where is God while Jesus walks the earth? Where is God when Jesus dies on the cross? If there is only one person in different roles, then, Jesus cannot be God. If Jesus is not God, he could not have lived a sinless life and his death on the Cross is, somewhat, deserved and, therefore it cannot be a “full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction for the sins of the whole world.” So, if God is not at least two persons, (the Father and the Son) then we cannot be reconciled with God through Jesus Christ. So, the Trinity cannot be one God with three functions. That is actually a classical heresy called “Modalism” – one God with three “modes” of relating to us. The Church actually rejected this heresy in its early days.
While Modalism is a heresy in one direction, there is another heresy in the other direction. This heresy emphasizes the three Persons of the Trinity at the expense of their unity. So, there are three gods, but that only the Father is fully God. The Son and the Holy Spirit are close to God, but not fully God. This comes by an attempt to take the word “Father” too literally. Arius, the first proponent of this thought believed that since there was a time when a human father was not a father – my dad was not a father until I was born – that there must have been a time when the Son did not exist. If the Son is not eternal, then the Son cannot be fully God. And, again, if Jesus, being the Incarnate Son, is not fully God, then he cannot pay the price for our sins. By the way, this controversy rocked the Church to its core. Are you familiar with the phrase “It doesn’t make an iota’s worth of difference?” That phrase actually comes to us from this controversy. Arius – the chief architect of this heresy said that the Son was of like nature – in Greek homoiousious with the Father. Athanasius, the chief architect of the Nicene Creed (which we will say in a moment) said that the Son was of the same nature in Greek homoousous with the Father. The only difference between these words was the letter “I” – in Greek it is called “iota.” Those who were not Christians at the time and those who didn’t want to fight about the nature of God thought that this was an awful lot of fuss and anger and hatred over the smallest letter in the alphabet. It was and is of critical importance, but we’ll get to the reasons for that in a bit.
Scripture witnesses that the Son of God has to be separate from God the Father and still is God. John’s Gospel begins “In the Beginning was the Word and the Word with with God and the Word was God.” A little further on, John writes “…and the Word was made Flesh and dwelt among us.” This simple passage – read each year on the Sunday after Christmas and on Christmas Day itself – witnesses that the Word of God – God the Son – is at the same time With God and Is God. That cannot be true unless there are at least two persons in the Godhead.
Scripture clearly witnesses to two persons, but we say that there are three persons in the Godhead. Why is that? Again, it is the witness of Holy Scripture and the practice of the Church. The New Testament talks about the Holy Spirit or the Spirit of God. Why do we say that the Holy Spirit is God as well? There are several reasons, but let me give the basic one. When we baptize in the Church, we baptize in the Name (not names, but name) of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Our earliest recorded liturgies are mentioned in the Didache (written at the end of the 1st Century or the beginning of the second) and Apostolic Tradition of Hippolytus (written about 215AD and speaks of tradition that Hippolytus received). The person being baptized is dunked three times – for the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Today when we baptize, we pour water on the persons head three times saying I baptize you in the Name of the Father (pour) and of the Son (pour) and of the Holy Spirit (pour). We are baptized into the singular name of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This is something that is attested to in Holy Scripture and it is what we have always done. If the Holy Spirit is not God, then we are baptizing someone into a creature, not into the Creator. If the Holy Spirit is not God, then he cannot bring us into all truth and cannot give us new life as we say the Holy Spirit does in the Nicene Creed.
Now, I’ve tried to keep the theological and historical part of this sermon as short as possible. I find it interesting and fascinating but many of us are more interested in the (big yawn) “so what?” question. What was that big deal about the iota? What does the Doctrine of the Trinity matter?
First, I would say it matters because it speaks to the ultimate nature of God. If God is not a Trinity of persons in unity of being, then we are worshipping a very false God. We are moving away from what is real to what is not real and that movement has eternal consequences for us. We need to understand God as He is (or at least understand Him as much as we are able). Second, the question has to be asked, “How are we saved?” The Sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross has to be a pure sacrifice – it has to be an undeserved death, so it has to be made by a person without sin. God alone is without sin, so only God can put us right with God.
Finally, the Trinity points to one very important truth about God. God is, at his essence, Community. The inner life of God is a constant dance where each person gives himself to the other. Our society does not understand the need for community. We shut ourselves in our homes and surround ourselves with TV and computers and stuff in the hopes that we can generate for ourselves that sense of community that we long for. The internet is full of places where people try to form community, but don’t want to risk themselves in the process. That is not how we were designed to live. God designed us to live, not as individuals who exist for their own benefit and their own good, but as persons whose life together reflects the life of the Holy Trinity. We were designed to care more for the other persons in our community that we do for ourselves. But we are so blinded by our sins that we cannot see the need for or the benefit of caring for the others more than for ourselves, so we erect walls around ourselves and hide our selves from each other.
The first thing that God says about man is “It is not good for man to be alone.” Why not? Well, it is not good for the man to be alone because he is made in God’s image and God is not alone – God is community.
The Church, in addition to being the Body of Christ, is the place where we learn to live out the life of the Holy Trinity. Here is where we learn to care for others more than ourselves. This place is where we start to give of ourselves and find out that we receive much more than we give when we give. God designed us to live in community and to live by giving away our own life. Bishop Michael Marshall of England said (and I believe he was quoting someone else) that we were designed to love people and use things but we ended up loving things and using people. This place is where to start to undo all the damage that our society has done to us and that we have done to ourselves. Here is where we learn to love by following the example of God who “so loved the world that He gave is only son, that whoever believed in him should not perish but have eternal life.”
This passage from today’s Gospel actually points to my favorite image of the Trinity. We say that God is many things, but one of the most common we hear is that God is Love. Now too many people say that or hear that and hear “God is not judgmental” or “God doesn’t really care what I do because he loves me.” Those ideas are just as false as the two heresies I mentioned earlier. Love absolutely cares what the one loved does – right dad? As the recipient of loving discipline and as a father who attempts to give out loving discipline, I can say that love requires discipline.
But let’s get back to God being love. God is love. That is a true statement. Now, God is also unchanging. If God is love, then God has always been Love. Now Love is a verb. We normally don’t say “I have love for you” we say “I love you.” Love is what is called a “transitive verb.” It always requires an object. It is meaningless to say “I love.” I don’t love. I love someone or something. So if God is love and God alone is eternal, then there has to be an object of that love that is separate from the lover. That object of God’s love is God the Son. God the Father loves God the Son and always has. The Son loves the Father and always has. The Love that flows from the Father to the Son and back from the Son to the Father is the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is Love personified. So, in the Trinity we have the Lover (God the Father), the Loved (God the Son) and the Love itself (God the Holy Spirit). All are separate, but all are required to have or to be love.
Today we celebrate the Holy Trinity. Today we celebrate that God loves us and the whole world so much that He became one of us – to share in our human nature so that he could share his divine nature with us. God calls us to reflect in our lives, His life within the Holy Trinity by living in community and by caring for each other more than we care for ourselves. This can be scary and frightening, but it is also the life we were designed to live. Will you join me in asking God to help us live that life and asking for the strength to let our lives reflect God’s life in the Holy Trinity?
In the Name of God: Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Friday, June 05, 2009
Christ's One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church. Anniversaries are good times for reflections, so here are some of my reflections on beign a deacon?
First, I am still being formed as a Deacon. This is a life long process and I am sure every clergy person will tell you. How am I different today than I was five years ago? I am not so quick to step in. I urge others to step in so that they, too, can find the joy that comes from serving God by serving His people. I understand even better my role as a servant and as a minister. I represent Jesus and the Church to God's people outside and inside the Church. When I was first ordained, I thought that the locus of ministry for a deacon was mainly outside the Church. I now find that deacons minister inside the Church as well as outside the Church.
I also see authority differently. All authority that I have is given to me on a temporary basis. There is very little that I can demand to do and almost nothing I should insist on. I work for the Bishop and serve where and when he chooses. A great example of this came up last week. I had prepared a confirmation class and our Bishop Suffragan was making his first visit to St. James to baptize and confirm on Pentecost. However, there is a small congregation in one of Dallas' suburbs whose supply priest was not available and the diocese could not find another supply priest for Pentecost, so the Bishop sent me to do a Deacon's Administration from the Reserve Sacrament. I would have loved to be at my home parish to see the class I prepared and worked with since January be confirmed and take their place as ministers in the Church, but the Bishop had other needs and sent me to fulfill those needs. As an added bonus, I got a chance to preach on Pentecost! Deacons very rarely get to preach on major feast days.
As a deacon - and especially as a non-stipendary deacon - I stand with one foot in the Church and one in the secular world and I act as a sort of bridge between the Church and the world. I bring the concerns of the world to the attention of the Church (particularly in terms of prison ministry) and I bring the message of reconciliation from the Church to the lost and needy of the world.
In the past five years, I have been changed and I continue to be changed. I find great joy and satisfaction in my service. May God continue to form me as His deacon, servant, and minister.