"Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." Paul to the persecuted at Philippi (2:5-11)

24 March 2009

Do I even need to make commentary?

22 March 2009

Nationalized Health Care in a Culture of Death (moved)

My husband, who I suspect is trying to use my blood pressure to subtly murder me, sent me this:
Baby's right to life appeal fails
Parents battling to keep their seriously ill baby alive have failed to overturn a ruling allowing him to die.

The nine-month-old boy has a rare metabolic disorder and has suffered brain damage and respiratory failure.

The couple had appealed against a judge's ruling on Thursday that it was in the boy's best interests to withdraw his "life sustaining treatment".

They said they were "deeply distressed" by the decision and the life of their "beautiful boy" was worth preserving.

The rest is here.

Think about this, America. Imagine that this is your child. You love this child and are utterly powerless in the court's decision to execute him. That's all this is, execution of the innocent. His only crime, which even the media doesn't have the courage to state, is being too costly on the socialized health care system. Just do the math:
A culture which believes in the equation: Abortion = taking innocent life is morally acceptable
A culture which believes in the equation: health care = price on human life
A culture which believes: taxpayer support = government authority to make decisions (consider the Nadya Suleman case in which the people of California were vehement that her children be taken from her, not because she was in any legitimate way declared an unfit parent, but because the taxpayer did not want to foot the bill for their care... Whatever you think of the mother, you should be outraged at the people of California trying to exert this authority.)

Now, let's add those variables together... Abortion+ taxpayer supported health care= taking innocent human life is morally acceptable if the price is one which the state considers too high to pay.

Jesus died for our sins. This little one has to die for all the wallets of England. Jesus died because human life is beyond price. This little one dies because there is a price on his living. And nobody has the courage to say it out loud.

If imagining this were your child is not sufficient, imagine this is you. You have been in an accident, you are elderly, you have a disease. You are too expensive for life, you have no say in your future. With no crime on your record, the state issues your death.

I blogged about this a while ago (The Perfect Storm) and will likely blog about this again. Does anyone listen? America is putting a price on your head, folks. Your price is calculated this way (while we're doing the math): AMOUNT PAID IN TAXES- AMOUNT OWED IN HEALTH CARE= NET VALUE OF HUMAN LIFE

Britain's word to needy babies... drop dead.

19 March 2009

A Sigh. (moved)

So, I noted today that the TEC bishops have put out a pastoral letter. It begins like this:

>>A Pastoral Letter from the Bishops of the Episcopal Church meeting in Hendersonville, North Carolina, March 13-18, 2009 to the Church and our partners in mission throughout the world.
I have learned to be content with whatever I have. I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

–Philippians 4:11b - 13<<

I couldn't help myself. My very first thought was "Oh, so that's why they're suing us." To my friends across the aisle, I'm sorry, but I'm about to snap! The blatant hubris and hypocritical thinking which is demonstrated when a church which is currently forging ahead with lawsuits and property grabs in every quadrant of the nation, with attorneys' fees in the millions of dollars, for the sole purpose of evicting faithful Christians from the properties where they've worshiped Jesus Christ for generations is overwhelming. The Episcopal Church has no idea what it means to have little, when their presiding bishop jets around the country blaming "global warming" on everything but her own emissions, when UN objectives and human efforts are the new gospel, and peace and perfection are believed to be accessible in our time if only man works hard enough; these things are antithetical to having little. TEC clergy don't go to bed hungry at night. These supposedly contented bishops have stipends and pensions and retreat centers in the mountains of North Carolina. They rest secure in the reasonable assumption that none of them will be gunned down, jailed, or otherwise persecuted for believing in Jesus. And yet they do not rest content, but call in the lawyers and sue, contrary to the command of Scripture, others who are faithful Christians.

The letter goes on to shake a finger at corporate greed, ignoring ecclesiastical greed. There is mention of wars and rumors of war, natural disaster and environmental scare mongering, but no peace which only Jesus can give, no Gospel. They even have the gall to compare our economic situation to the slavery of Israel in Egypt! (Oh for crying out loud! Pharoah is not murdering our children (at least not without parental consent to do so under the gentled term "abortion") or forcing our labor in the brickyards!)

To their credit, the letter ends well, but you have to cut through all the junk to get to the part about Jesus being the Incarnate Word. It fails to ring true; how can we comment on poverty when we have never really experienced it. Much like the bishops' march against hunger that ended in a sumptuous banquet at Lambeth last year, it is easy for us to say that God provides in tough times because we're still eating well, dressing well, and jetting around happily from place to place. How does that encourage hope, folks? I just don't get it.

I know some of my dear friends who read this blog are still in TEC. I know they are faithful brothers and sisters in Christ. My arguements are not with them. I just don't understand how what was once so great a church, connected to the faith in a way which drew me from the church of my birth, can, in so brief a time, become something so vapid, so empty, as this.

If you care to read the letter yourself, it's here: http://www.episcopalchurch.org/79901_106036_ENG_HTM.htm

17 March 2009

Another sermon (moved)

Another Sermon... I need to post something "real" soon, I know.

It’s a typical day in the Temple. Inside, priests and people are making sacrifices, celebrating their relationship with God, sharing a meal in the presence of the Almighty. Because the Passover was coming near, the Temple was especially busy. The population of Jerusalem doubled at Passover time as pilgrims came in from the countryside to celebrate the feast. During the rest of the year, they could worship in their synagogues, but the only place they could make their sacrifices was at the Temple, and Passover required a sacrifice, specifically a lamb, which was then the centerpiece of the Passover feast.

We think of the Temple as being like church, but it wasn’t. There were no pews, people didn’t sit in neat rows and hear one specific speaker. Synagogue was a little more like church, but in the Temple, there was wide open space, rabbis taught and disciples would gather around, there was the noise of animals being led to the sacrifice, sheep bleating, cows lowing. God’s temple had the sounds of an active barnyard.

And the animals themselves, God makes demands on what kind of animals they had to be. They had to be perfect, without blemish or defect. God didn’t want the second best, the leavings, the sheep not worth breeding, the cow with too little flesh on its bones to use for the next expected family celebration. It was understood that all things came from God and therefore it was fitting and right that we should return some of it to him. And it was understood that our God who gives us everything good and right, who is sovereign over all creation, deserved the very best of the flocks and herds and fields.

At times, in Israel’s history, though, people didn’t obey. They didn’t give their best to God. Instead, they reserved the best for themselves, offering to God sacrifices that were not sacrificial at all. Here, God, this lamb won’t live anyway, you can have it. This goat is diseased, this cow is lame, let us sacrifice what we won’t miss. The people seemed to believe that God wouldn’t notice, or maybe they believed that God wouldn’t provide for them the very best if they didn’t hoard these things for themselves in the first place. To them, their greed was larger than their god.

God has words with these people throughout the Old Testament. He is clear with the people, he’s not interested in their leftovers, he wants the first-fruits. Anything less is failing to live up to the standard which God called his people to uphold. Anything less is failing to give God what is rightfully his. Anything less is robbing God. In Malachi, God asks the people, especially the priests who are responsible for what is going on, "A son honors his father, and a servant his master. If then I am a father, where is my honor? And if I am a master, where is my fear? says the LORD of hosts to you, O priests, who despise my name. But you say, 'How have we despised your name?' By offering polluted food upon my altar. But you say, 'How have we polluted you?' By saying that the LORD’s table may be despised. When you offer blind animals in sacrifice, is that not evil? And when you offer those that are lame or sick, is that not evil?" God goes on to note that the people did a better job of paying their taxes faithfully than they did of sacrificing to God. What’s up with that?

In Jesus time, these things were still going on. Instead of offering the best of their own herds, travelers from scattered towns thought it would be easier to buy a new lamb for the sacrifice, and like kitschy gift shops at your local tourist trap, there were plenty of guys ready to make a shekel or two selling an over priced, often pitiful quality, lamb for the sacrifice and feast. And because money with Caesar’s image on it could not be used in the Temple, for the Jews believed the graven image of any man was an abomination to God, there were plenty of guys out there who would gladly change your Roman coins for Temple money, for a fee, of course. It was a Disney World meets Cathedral sort of affair, with plenty of scam artists ready to make a quick buck, plenty of needy greedy religious tourists ready to part with a dollar for convenience and ease of living.

And Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. Suddenly the hero enters the scene. If your image of Jesus is "gentle Jesus meek and mild" forget it. Meek and mild wouldn’t have gotten anyone crucified. No, instead, Jesus is a fighter, and in this case he’s like a tornado through the Temple! Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. He told those who were selling the doves, "Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father's house a marketplace!" Matthew tells us that Jesus accused them of making the Temple a "den of thieves," an appropriate allusion to those Old Testament passage where these practices are exposed as robbing God.

Perhaps, if you were there that day, you would understand the Jews’ question. To put it in the vernacular, the Jews, Temple regulars, many of whom would never consider knowingly making any misstep in the obedience of the Law, they ask the natural question: "Hey! Who told you that you could come in here and make this mess? What do you think you’re doing??" The Jews wanted to know, by what authority Jesus was doing these things.

No matter how you slice it, Jesus’ reply is astonishing. He’s claiming to have some serious power. The Jews hear him as claiming to have the power to build an entire temple on his own in three days. This is the great architectural wonder of the ancient near East! Even with our modern machinery this is impossible. And of course, we know Jesus could do this, because he is the Word through which everything that is came into being. It wasn’t until later that the disciples realized that Jesus is telling them that his authority comes from himself because, first off, he is the Temple, he is where God uniquely resides, and two, he can’t even be held in the bonds of death. Jesus’ authority rests on the fact that he can even raise himself from the dead.

So what do I want you to take out of this? It’s a great story, right, but what does it mean? Well there are two things that I’d like you to take home today. The first is that everything hinges on whether or not Jesus really rose from the dead. It’s not a metaphor, it’s not a myth, it’s not a nice story to tell the kids. It’s real, historical fact, or its worthless. As St. Paul said, if Christ is not raised, then our hope is in vain. The difference between us and the rest of the world, what it is that makes Christianity unique, is that we know that Christ was raised. He was the perfect offering, fulfilling the requirements of the Law that the sacrifice be without blemish. He was without sin. He was the final sacrifice. He was truly crucified and buried. But if he was not also raised from the dead, what good is it all? If we worship a god who can be defeated and murdered, what strength do we have?

But Jesus also is the first-fruit. In the Old Testament that’s another fitting image of offering God the best in faith of his provision for our needs. Paul says Jesus is the first fruits of the dead, he is the first one raised so that we can have faith that God will raise us, will provide more fruit, you and me. If Christ is not raised, our hope is in vain.

But, and here is point number two, if Christ IS raised, he has authority. He comes into the temple like he owns the place because, if he is who he says he is, if he is the Lord, he DOES own it. He has the authority to call these greedy God-robbers to task because he is the one being robbed. And he has authority in our lives, also, to call us to task. By his sending his Holy Spirit, we become his Temple, and he has to have authority in our lives to do the necessary housekeeping, to call us to task.

It’s a difficult thing for Americans to place themselves under authority. In this world where we all are supposed to want to "be your own boss" and independence and even rebellion are virtues, we Christians have to come to terms with the fact that we are indeed under the authority of another. If Christ is raised from the dead (and he is!) then we must accept that he has authority over us, our lives are not our own.

Douglas Jones and Douglas Wilson, in their truly excellent book, Angels in the Architecture, put it this way: "in the modern world, authority of any kind is a dirty word. True authority is written off as arrogance, but this simply shows how the arrogance of individualism dislikes any organized competition. Authority is built into the world. In any given situation, someone is going to wield authority; someone is going to make the call. Our concern should be to place authority where Scripture places it." Jones and Wilson go on to say, in summary, that Jesus Christ is the ultimate authority. His will is given its most clear and authoritative form in the Scriptures. For your life, the Bible is your marching orders, and if you haven’t read the directions, you can’t follow them. Jones and Wilson go on to note that the Church also has authority, delegated by Jesus and passed down through the centuries, to help us order our lives. The creeds, the prayers, the faith, those who are in spiritual authority over you, none of these may claim any kind of authority over and above the Scriptures, but all of these have a delegated authority from the Scriptures.

This is a tough bite to swallow for us independent Americans, but in the end, we are being called to submit ourselves, to be placed under authority. If Christ is raised, he is King. Kings rule kingdoms, not democracies, their people are subject to him. If Christ is king, you are subjects.

Let us pray: O God, from whom all holy desires, all good counsels, and all just works do proceed, and whose service is perfect freedom, give unto thy servants that peace which the world cannot give; that our hearts may be set to obey thy commandments, and also that by thee we being defended from the fear of our enemies may pass our time in rest and quietness. Amen

13 March 2009

h/t: Paul Hoemke
Image credit: http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3657/3345146738_ba07f40645.jpg?v=0

02 March 2009

Sermon on the Baptism of Jesus (moved)

We often think of the Bible as being so very old that we could never really get a handle on the real dates or even places where the stories are set. Cities are lost or destroyed, records are lacking, things just seem to get fuzzy when you’re thinking about going back almost two thousand years or more in history. But the more you look into these things, the more you will realize that those dates can be put together, places can be found. There is a lot of evidence. Ancient near eastern history helps us put a pretty decent dating on Abraham. We can pretty much guess when the Exodus took place by the lists of Egyptian kings. Counting from there, the Bible gives us enough evidence to put David at 1000 BC or so. And the nearer things get to our own time the better we can put those dates to the events.

Luke gives us a lot of evidence for when Jesus was born, living in Nazareth, and when he began his public ministry. Once you add up all of that with Luke’s comment that Jesus was about thirty years old when he began his public ministry, you have a general date for the baptism at about 29 AD. It helps, I think, to put a date on it like that because it makes the events more real to us.

The way Mark tells the story seems far from real sometimes. Jesus appears out of nowhere. Mark has told us that Jesus is the son of God, but unlike Matthew and Luke he shows no interest in birth narratives or Jesus growing in wisdom and stature. First we meet John the Baptist, out preaching and baptizing by the Jordan, and then suddenly Jesus is on the scene. Only in Mark is there no sense of Jesus having a human origin, maybe because Mark understands that this one was from the beginning. All Mark tells us is that in the days of John, Jesus came from the place called Nazareth, which was a small town in the northern region of Galilee. He has a human home on one hand, but on the other hand he seems to appear out of nowhere.

Mark remains pretty matter-of-fact about it all. We don’t see the exchange between Jesus and John where John proclaims that he should be baptized by Jesus, not the other way around. John doesn’t tell us that he knows who Jesus is or that he’s unworthy to untie Jesus’ sandals. Jesus simply shows up and was baptized in the Jordan by John, just like any other guy.

In fact, the whole scene smacks of an eerie first century normalcy! Baptism was a pretty normal thing, believe it or not. When ever a good Jew found himself unclean and therefore unfit for Temple worship, it was custom to go wash in the ritual bath, called the mikveh, and after full (sevenfold) immersion, that person would be considered clean. John is offering nothing new, though it may be a little interesting that John’s preaching ties baptism to repenting of sin.

The only thing about the scene that is not really normal is John himself. He’s out there dressed up like Elijah dressed, in camel’s hair clothing, and he’s claiming to be the prophet that Isaiah predicted, the voice of one crying in the wilderness "make straight the path of the Lord." But we still have no sense as Jesus enters onto the scene that he is this Lord, that he is anyone different.

But we know the truth, we know better. Something strange is indeed happening, something which has puzzled the church for two millennia! Mark has made it clear that the purpose for John’s baptism is for those who are repenting of sins, and here is Jesus, who has no sin, being baptized. Mark doesn’t even record John’s objections to baptizing the one who should be baptizing him. Mark tells us nothing, he just brings Jesus in as if Jesus were some ordinary Joe-Sinner coming to repent.

Mark is setting the scene, of course. Our first vision of Jesus is to see him humbled, looking like a sinner. He seems to be just a guy, nobody special, coming out of podunk Galilee looking to be baptized as if he were repenting of sin. Nathanael was recorded as asking "can anything good come out of Nazareth." We have no clue (yet) that anything good has come.

If you think about it, what Mark is doing makes perfect sense. He wants us to see some of what it meant for Jesus to leave the glories of heaven, the place he really did come out from, and walk among us as nobody special. He wants us to see that for thirty years, Jesus didn’t stand out, he was fully human despite also being fully divine. There were no trumpets that sounded his arrival, he had made no name for himself, he was a man, having emptied himself of the power and glory of heaven, and nobody could see that he was also fully God. In short, he didn’t wear a halo.

But make no mistake, this one is not just Joe Sinner. Yes, we see him humbled in a sinner’s baptism, just as we would later see him humbled in a sinner’s death. But just as soon as he goes down (into the waters of baptism, into the grave) he is brought back up again glorious. Our English translations fail us, for they usually read "the heavens were opened." Come on how special is that? We even say that to describe a rain storm, don’t we? That’s not what it means. It’s not a normal feeling word. In fact the word means that the heavens were ripped apart, torn, schizo, from which our word schism is derived. It’s almost violent, the heavens were, like the curtain in the temple later, ripped in two. Access between earth and heaven seems to have come to a new level, and God’s voice is heard to proclaim the identity of this one who is at once humbled and also lifted up in glory. God speaks emphatically to Jesus, YOU, you are my beloved son, with you I am well pleased.

I have to admit I took pleasure in reading the Greek text this week. How significant is it that God is emphatic that Jesus is the beloved son, how amazing is it that the words for being pleased are not tied to a single incident but are a state of being. God is continually pleased with Jesus, it’s not just about the baptism.

And immediately, the Spirit, which has descended on Jesus, casts Jesus out into the wilderness. Again our modern translations fail us, saying such things as "drove him out" or worse "sent him out". The Greek word is ek-ballw… THREW him out! It’s almost physical in its tone. The spirit casts him out into the wilderness (or as we commented around my dinner table this week "booted his butt to the boonies!") Here, Mark paints an even richer image, the wild animals were out there, the danger was great, and Jesus was tested by Satan.

Again, Mark spares us the details, except to say that angels waited on him. Moreover, there is no sense that Satan’s attacks ever cease. By not describing specific temptations or any victory over Satan Mark emphasizes the ongoing nature of Jesus ministry as a continuous encounter with the Devil, not limited to forty nights in the desert. Mark is painting a picture of a fierce struggle, in the wilderness, amid the wild beasts, confronting the Evil one, confronting evil itself.

And then just as quickly as the scene was set, Mark moves on to other things. Jesus demonstrates that authority over Satan by casting out demons, and his public ministry is begun in full force.

But in today’s reading, we have the first impression of Jesus as Mark would have us see him. He’s humble and raised, he’s the son of God with no real ties to a human origin and yet he is human in totality. He is real, from a real place and time, and yet bigger than life.

So what do we take out of all of this. I suppose the biggest hook on which to grab in this passage is how the heavens were torn in two. Suddenly mankind had a better access to God, who seemed until then to be so far off in heaven. Again when the temple curtain is torn at Jesus’ crucifixion, mankind would have access into the holy of holies, which was supposed to be God’s own ‘street address’ if you will. In these two pivotal events where Jesus is humbled to take on the role of a sinner when he himself has known no sin, we are given entry into the very presence of God.

So how then are we to live, as St. Paul would say. We are to live as a people who understand that we are sinners. We have not humbled ourselves in the least to accept baptism. It was a humbling for Jesus, but for us it was a step up. The ashes we placed on our heads marking us as sinners doomed to die, these are nothing more than the truth. We are to understand that we bear the marks of our doom, our dishonor, our destruction until by God’s grace they are taken from us by Jesus’ humiliation. We have no grounds to think ourselves great, for we are constantly trying to fill ourselves up with health and wealth and happiness while our Lord, the only begotten son of God, empties himself of the very glories of heaven and becomes sin so that we might become children of God an heirs with him of immortality and the riches of heaven.

Lent is about emptying ourselves, we who so usually have full bellies and all the riches this world can give. We empty ourselves, just a little, just a token, because Christ first emptied himself of that which was more real and good than anything we know. Lent is about understanding our humility, we who are so often arrogant, well educated and full of our own status, because our Lord left his glory aside to come to us in full humility. Lent is about setting aside the things we think we deserve because our Lord set aside all the things he really did deserve, that which he created and ruled, that which is truly perfect and glorious, to take on a humility and humanity that he didn’t deserve at all. Lent is about recalling that he will bear the brutal scars of his earthly walk and crucifixion into eternity so that we may be raised perfect and whole. Lent is about seeing ourselves for who we are, seeing Jesus for who he is, and giving glory to the one who deserves it.