Monday, April 13, 2015

Not Quite But From a Similar Cloth

We’re In It Together
Delivered Sunday April 12, 2015
 Ephesians 4:1-6 -   
1 I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. 
When I was a teenager my Dad had a small commercial subcontracting business where he installed, among other things, rolling steel doors. You may be familiar with these doors. They are steel slats interlaced together to form a curtain. The curtain fits between two channels on either side of the opening and rolls up on a large spool at the top. Well, I helped him install a bunch of these doors, everything from 2 foot by 2 foot counter shutters to 40 foot by 30 foot monsters that two railroad boxcars could pass through side by side. As he got older he got away from it and retired but a few years later, not long after Joanne and I married I decided to restart the business.

After being in business for a couple of years I got a contract to install one of these rolling steel doors on a union job site. This meant I had to go to the local steel workers union hall and ask the union president for a temporary permit to do the job. It was either that or join the union which had no real benefit for me. Now, let me give a little background here. When Pop was still running the business he also, on occasion would have to do the same. You see, installing one of these steel doors was a bit technical and not everyone was qualified to tackle the job which left the union president with no one in his organization able to do it. Knowing this, and decidedly not a union man, Pop would go round and round with the president. I was never privy to conversations but, according to the stories I heard, the president would tell Pop he had to join the union and Pop would tell him what he could do with his union. The president would threaten to not give him a permit so Pop would tell him to have one of his own members do it which would irritate the president no end and would lead to prolonged arguments with the eventual and final result being Pop would leave - with his permit.

Now it was my turn. Like I said, I had heard the stories but never really knew how accurate they were. We can all tend to embellish now and then and Pop was certainly no exception. As I went in to the president’s office, and this was a pretty stereotypical union boss – not quite Tony Soprano but of a similar cloth. There were photos of him shaking hands with high ranking politicians on the walls and other trophies attesting to his connections on his desk.
I really didn’t know what to expect. It had been quite a while since Pop had visited and fought his battles. I went to his office but before I could say anything, he began a tirade about the treatment he got from my Dad and how Pop should have joined the union but had refused, what a hard time he had given him about not having qualified members and how I was probably just like him. Within
20 seconds I realized that nothing had changed. The union still had no members qualified to do what Pop had qualified me to do and the president had no choice but to give me the permit.

I also realized that all the stories Pop had told about his encounters with this man were true. Although it had been a little while since Pop had passed away, I don’t know that was ever more proud of my old man than at that moment. It was true. He had stood toe to toe with this powerful union boss and put him in his place.
 And I was reaping the benefits from it. I didn’t have to fight or argue. Pop had already defeated this foe. He had fought and won the battle and I was benefiting from it. While the president continued to rail I held my peace and thanked my Dad for who he was, for giving me a skill that not everyone could do and also for the path he had cut for me in that union president’s office. I was smiling on the inside and trying hard not to smile on the outside. All I had to do was hold my ground, hold my peace, be patient and wait for the inevitable work permit to come my way. The hard work had already been done for me.
Even though Pop had passed on, he was still there with me, not only in spirit but in what he had accomplished beforehand. He and I were in it together - and you and I are also in it together - this thing known as the Church.
When I think about the Church, I tend to think about this fellowship, the unity and the love we share and enjoy here at Good Shepherd but Paul is reminding the Ephesians, and us, that the Church is much larger than our local body. He says there is one body, one Spirit, one baptism, one Lord and Father, one faith.
When we look around at the Church today we don’t necessarily see one Body but seemingly a divided body. There are currently approximately 43,000 Christian denominations in the world – and growing.
So, how can Paul say that there is one body when there appears to be thousands of different expressions of that body?? I’m not going to talk about that today. Instead, I’m going to talk about our Anglican expression of the Body.
Joanne and I came to the Anglican Church from the independent Charismatic Church where we met and married. As a result, we didn’t really see the need for or the purpose of Church traditions – though in reality, every church I’ve ever attended created its own traditions.
Over all, the Independent/Charismatic movement is a wonderful expression of the Church. We learned a lot, grew a lot and made lots of good friends. At the same time, through the years we also experienced a few interesting challenges and interesting personalities. After returning from the mission field we visited several churches in the area but none of them seemed to scratch our itch. We had some friends that had supported us on the mission field that had become members of a local Episcopal Church. They invited us to join them so we decided to give organized religion a try and see if it offered something more than the disorganized religion we were accustomed to.
This Episcopal/Anglican church was Spirit filled and had been very instrumental in the local charismatic renewal in Jacksonville so the transition was a little easier. The rector loved God and loved the Anglican Church and its traditions.
I have to admit that for the first several months I was suspicious of what was going on in the service and particularly the Eucharist or Lord’s Supper. Why this procession, these silly dresses, these same refrains we sing every Sunday (Praise God from whom all blessings flow, etc)?
 Now, I was, and am a saved by grace through faith Christian so I didn’t really see the purpose or the value in the pageant, but, at the same time there was something about it that attracted me.
 I listened carefully to the creeds and to the prayers of the priest, especially as he blessed the elements, analyzing in my mind all that I saw and heard to be sure it agreed with what I understood to be Biblical – and it did.
 But, it was in the new comers’ class taught by the rector that I got my first glimpse of understanding of the Eucharistic pageant and its significance.
 In one of the classes, Father Charles began talking about the Apostles’ Creed, or Baptism Creed as it is often referred to. I had listened to it enough to know that I agreed with it but I did not know anything about it or its source. When I learned that the Apostles’ Creed, or some form of it had been in use by the Church since almost the very beginning 2000 years ago, something clicked for me. I was suddenly connected, not only to Christ but also to the saints throughout the ages. I began to get a revelation of the Church beyond the local body, beyond my region and even beyond the current world.
 I began to think about the apostles and their disciples 2000 years ago, the thousands and millions and even billions of Christians in every corner of the globe through every age and event of history that had passed during those 2000 years. I began to think of all the Christian heroes and missionaries, the martyrs and saints, the Popes and the reformers, the mystics and theologians and how the Church has been attacked in every age by detractors and heretics, despots, politicians and outright haters and how She has overcome every single one and still stands strong. And, by God’s grace She will continue to stand strong long after the current challenges She faces have become forgotten bylines of history.
 I wasn’t alone. They were there with me, as I confessed the creed with my fellow church members and especially at the rail where we receive the bread and wine of the Eucharist. I was connected
 I didn’t know, and still don’t know every detail of the traditions behind every aspect of the pageant. I know that some are ancient, like the creeds, and that some are more modern like the surplices worn by the choir and others. But, the creeds, the Eucharist, the pageant, the surplices and the refrains all played a part in connecting me, here and now to the Church Universal, the Church Eternal. We are one body, united by one Lord, Jesus Christ.    
 As Anglicans we take the Eucharist pretty seriously but, in reality, it is not something we have to do. Instead, it is something we get to do. It is central to the pageant and worship service and illustrates the centrality of Christ and His sacrifice in our lives.
 There is no rule that the Eucharist has to look a certain way or that the players in the passion play must dress a certain way. But, you will notice that Fr Shay is leading us through all of the essentials of the pageant with nothing left out – praise, Word, confession of sin, prayer, proclamation, affirmation of faith and the Eucharist just as it has been practiced for 2000 years by billions of believers like you and me.
 At the same time, let’s be clear about this. Participating in the Eucharist, in and of itself is not going to save you or keep you saved. There is no magic in it. Although, if understood for what it is and practiced in faith it is a huge encouragement and help in bringing us to Christ and keeping us there. It is a pageant, a passion play if you will, to be a profound reminder, a mysterious touch point of faith that is deeply representative of the completed work of Christ in our lives through faith. It connects us, not only to Christ but also to our fellow travelers in the local body where we attend, to the billions of Christians around the world today, the billions of Christians that have gone before us and the billions of Christians that, God willing are yet to come.
 Just as I was standing on my Father’s shoulders when I went before that union president, benefiting from his work, so also we stand on the shoulders of the apostles, prophets, saints, missionaries, theologians and martyrs that have gone before us. They have given us a rich heritage to follow. They have laid a solid foundation for us. They have defeated more enemies than we know. They have cut a path for us. And, the Eucharist pageant is a powerful reminder of what they have done on our behalf and points us to the source of our salvation upon which we stand.  It connects us with our Savior. It is life and encouragement and food for our very soul. It also connects us to those around us, to those who have gone before us and to those who come behind us.
We are not alone. We are a vast army. We are in this together.
There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. 


Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Hi all,
Sorry I've not been posting for a little while. Hopefully that will change soon. In the mean time here's a small gallery of my photos to let you know that I still love you.

Friday, February 6, 2015


That old time religion:

I John 4:1-5
Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already. Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.They are from the world; therefore they speak from the world, and the world listens to them.

The ancient Aztecs were a well ordered, prosperous and successful people. By the time Cortez arrived they had conquered most of what we now know as Mexico (Mexica Рpronounced Me-shí-ka Рin the original Aztec language). When Cortez and his men were at the top of the pass between the mountains Popcatepetl and Iztaccíhuatl on the way to the capital of the Mexica Empire, Tenochtitlan (Mexico City), they looked down into the valley and in the middle of Lake Texcoco they saw the city for the first time. They were utterly amazed at its grandeur and beauty. Cortez said that it looked like a jewel shining brightly in the middle of the lake and, after he had entered the city and saw its well-ordered canals, its glorious temples and palaces and its industrious people he claimed that there was not another city in all of Europe that could compare to it.

Cortez and his men also found a highly organized religion being practiced by the Aztecs, one that revolved around a variety of gods, the main ones being Tlaloc the rain god, Huitzilpochtli the war god, Quetzalcoatl the god of wisdom and Coatlicue the Earth mother god. You might call the Aztecs pantheistic New Agers. Of course, they weren’t New Agers in their day since all the surrounding tribes held the same or similar beliefs. But, as there is nothing new under the sun, if we happened upon them in today’s world we would be inclined to think of them in that way mainly because the word “Pagan” is out of style.

They were very close to the earth and their deities reflected that. They depended on the fertility of the earth for sustenance so they would sacrifice and pay homage to Tlaloc and Coatlicue, that he would bless her with rain and she would bless the crops with fertility. They would do the same for Quetzalcoatl to guide them in the planting and harvesting and Huitzilpochtli to stir up the passions of the young men and give them victory in battle.

Like the New Agers, the Aztecs were very ego-centric. They believed it necessary to appease their gods in order to attain the material blessings they needed and wanted from them. There was neither salvation nor justice, only capricious gods to entertain in the hope of attracting their attention and impressing them with sacrifice. And the sacrifices were grand.

It was common practice for the Aztecs and other tribes to capture prisoners of war in their battles. In fact, capturing the enemy was more important than killing him for captured enemies were the primary source of their sacrifices, and the more the better. It was reported by the priests who traveled with the conquistadores that the sacrificial celebrations would sometimes go on for days and the sacrifices would number in the hundreds and sometimes even the thousands. The victim would be drugged, led up the steps of the temple, stretched out on a stone and have his living heart pulled from his chest.

I don’t think the Aztecs started out with human sacrifice but devolved to that depraved state by worshiping the creature instead of the Creator. I wonder where New Age beliefs will lead people as they worship Gaya, Nature and the same gods by different names that the Aztecs worshipped. 

Friday, January 23, 2015

Early Road Map

"I remember once when I had been giving a talk to the R.A.F., an old, hard-bitten officer got up and said, ‘I’ve no use for all that stuff. But, mind you, I’m a religious man too. I know there’s a God. I’ve felt Him: out alone in the desert at night: the tremendous mystery. And that’s just why I don’t believe all your neat little dogmas and formulas about Him. To anyone who’s met the real thing they all seem so petty and pedantic and unreal!’
Now in a sense I quite agreed with that man. I think he had probably had a real experience of God in the desert. And when he turned from that experience to the Christian creeds, I think he really was turning from something real to something less real. In the same way, if a man has once looked at the Atlantic from the beach, and then goes and looks at a map of the Atlantic, he also will be turning from something real to something less real: turning from real waves to a bit of coloured paper. But here comes the point. The map is admittedly only coloured paper, but there are two things you have to remember about it. In the first place, it is based on what hundreds and thousands of people have found out by sailing the real Atlantic. In that way it has behind it masses of experience just as real as the one you could have from the beach; only, while yours would be a single glimpse, the map fits all those different experiences together. In the second place, if you want to go anywhere, the map is absolutely necessary. As long as you are content with walks on the beach, your own glimpses are far more fun than looking at a map. But the map is going to be more use than walks on the beach if you want to get to America."

C.S. Lewis - Mere Christianity

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Continuing with the theme of Beauty
and related topics:

Today I'm thinking about love in the context of beauty.
Love = spiritual desire: in this framework, desire is that which draws us spiritually upward toward something or someone. Imagine standing in the Sistine Chapel viewing the amazing works of Michelangelo. Something about his work draws us, causes us to admire and appreciate it. The astounding beauty of it pulls us higher and we open ourselves to the magnificence of it all. The beauty of it attracts us. We love and admire what we see. That is love/desire in this framework.

Love of Beauty

Appetite =  carnal desire: every impulse of the animal flesh to pursue, hunt and kill, dominate, to consume, to devour and fill the belly, to own, to take, to control, manipulate and copulate, to satiate the flesh. It goes without saying that in our consumerism driven world, advertisers and the media as a whole know well how to appeal to the appetite. 

Love of Appetite

As humans we have both impulses and the capacity to experience both. We also have the habit of confusing the two, mistaking one for the other. Actually, what we do is lie to ourselves by justifying our appetites, telling ourselves we’re “in love”(filthy rich, soulless marketers do a great job encouraging us in this direction). We also have the ability to choose between the two, to encourage the one and devalue the other or to exalt the one and dominate the other. We can either be an intelligent beast or we can be a god and ride the beastly part of us to unforeseen victories. Without love there is only appetite.

“Lust is a poor, weak, whimpering, whispering thing compared with that richness and energy of desire (love) which will arise when lust has been killed.
 – C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce

More to come:

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
    the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary;
    his understanding is unsearchable.
He gives power to the faint,
    and to him who has no might he increases strength.
Even youths shall faint and be weary,
    and young men shall fall exhausted;
but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength;
    they shall mount up with wings like eagles;
they shall run and not be weary;
    they shall walk and not faint.
Isaiah 40:28-31

Friday, January 9, 2015

'Do you want to be made well?'

I was struck by today's reading in John 5:1-15 where Jesus heals the man at the pool of Beth-zatha. I've said this before but, did you ever notice how Jesus sometimes sneaks up on people? The sick man had been there for 38 years hoping for a chance to get in the pool. Jesus comes to him. He is a complete stranger to the sick man and asks him if he wants to be healed. Well, of course he does. He's been focused on it for 38 years. In this Jesus is challenging his assumptions. He tells him to get up. The man obeys (how could he not) and is healed - not knowing till later who it is who healed him.

Jesus, sneak up on me today. Challenge my assumptions and heal me, that I may know you and serve you better.