Thursday, August 21, 2014

A Modern Day Renewer of the Church

Norwegian Bishop Børre Knudsen died quietly in his home near Tromsø Sunday morning, August 17, 2014,surrounded by his family. Norway’s most prominent pro-Life leader had suffered worsening Parkinson’s Disease in recent years. His passing sparked a wave of praise from Christian and even secular publications across Norway. An editorial in the Christian daily Dagen entitled “Heartfelt Thanks, Børre Knudsen” described him as “a unique person. His warm heart, his gentle zeal and his steadfastness stand as strong testimony to a life of selfless service for the Life that God created.”

“When the history of our times is written,” Dagen continues, “Børre Knudsen will be one future generations will hear about. Knudsen’s struggle is not driven by opposition to women’s rights or the preservation of traditional gender roles, but by a strong commitment to protect life itself.”

Vårt Land writes, “Børre Knudsen will go down in history as one of the most important churchly personalities of our time, but both he and his family had to pay a high price because he stood out front in the abortion battle.”

Bishop Knudsen was known throughout Norway and beyond for his gentle demeanor but uncompromising struggle against legalized abortion, beginning when the Norwegian law was adopted in 1978. Protesting the law, he refused to carry out government duties assigned to state church pastors, such as keeping official records, and refused his salary, but continued his pastoral service to his congregation.

Also, a movie, entitled A Priest and a Plague has been made about his life.  It was released in Norway and was shown on nationwide television there a few days ago.  It will be available in this country in October.

HT to Chris Barnekov

Or you could just call her Mom. . .

Having heard of the great and pressing need for a new term for the rather distasteful term surrogate mother, I have been appraised of its replacement.  Temporary mobile gestational carrier.  Ahhh, now that fall off the tongue about as naturally as the idea is unnatural.  But it certainly fits.  It fits a culture in which mom and dad are relative terms and families may have two moms or two dads or some other combination -- including trans-moms and trans-dads (for the transgendered).  It fits a culture in which babies are like possessions to be purchased by those desired and thrown away if the desire passes before the sound of the child's cry.   It fits a culture in which test tubes and medical procedure is replacing love, marriage and the baby carriage.  It fits a culture in which gender neutral terms are used in every possible way to remove the taint of gender from the public conversation.  Yes, I suppose babies need a temporary mobile gestational carrier.  They really do.  But more than this rather sanitized ideal, babies need a mom and a dad, courageous enough to marry and live together in fidelity and smart enough to know that parents are not puzzle pieces but essential and unique parts of the divinely intended and established ideal of family.  Imagine that instead of farming out the messy business of conception, pregnancy, and birth, a mom and a dad find this responsibility to be part of their sacrificial service to their children and a duty to be born by mom with the loving support of dad (a joyous duty at that).  Or is that too much to ask??

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

My Kind of Legoland

My kids have always loved Legos.  My oldest son is not too old to remain in love with the little colored bricks and the world of wonder an imagination can create with them.  My kids have made some awesome Lego builds but nothing like this...  Okay, so many Dad helped these kids out a bit.  Either way it is my kind of Legoland!

Note that this is a traditional church, cruciform in shape, altar ad orientum, with all the appointments, and, it appears, a processional in process, probably to a full, sung, liturgy (whether or not it is a Pontificial High Mass is hard to guage without seeing it in person).  Note the baptistry and confessional...  Hmmmm Very creative!

Now this is how kids ought to spend their creative moments!

You can read about it here... or look at the rest of the pictures below:

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

An embarrassment of riches. . .

Sermon for Pentecost 10, Proper 15A, preached on Sunday, August 17, 2014.

    I don’t think there is a family that does not have an uncle or grandpa or father who does not delight in embarrassing his kids.  My brother and I used to say it all the time. “Awww, Dad.”  Have you ever been embarrassed by the words or actions of a friend or family member?  Sometimes it is the truth that embarrasses us – the truth the everyone knows but no one says.
    Have you ever been embarrassed by the Bible?  Ever read something shocking to you that you wish God had not said?  Have you ever been embarrassed by Jesus?  Statistics tell us that one of the reasons people give for not inviting people to their church is the fear of being embarrassed by their church or their pastor.  Have you ever been embarrassed in that way?
    Today we found the disciples embarrassed.  They were embarrassed by this pest of a woman from the wrong side of the tracks who refused to shut up and leave them alone.  They were also embarrassed that Jesus did not seem to be bothered by this woman.  And they were embarrassed that Jesus did not do something about her and send her packing.
    They were even more embarrassed when the Lord stopped to listen to her, engaged her in conversation, and then gave to her grace they thought should have gone to more deserving folk.  Jesus listened to her.  She was not a follower of Jesus.  She was a woman with a past.  She was a pest.  She was bothering the Lord with her concern for her daughter.  This was embarrassing to them.  Why didn’t she just go away or Jesus send her away.  Even when Jesus insulted her, she did not deny it.  She was a dog, all right.
    But Jesus then gave her what she asked for – more than crumbs and a shocking display of mercy.  Jesus not only listened to her and talked with her but gave to her daughter the healing for which this woman had begged.  How embarrassing.  Jesus should have known better.  This woman was a dog and she did not deserve His kindness.  Yes, sometimes kindness embarrasses us.  Grace embarrasses us.
    Jesus transcended right and merit and worth to display the nature of God’s love and His kingdom and to give to her the grace she did not deserve and show her the mercy that was His gift.  It was an embarrassment of riches toward someone who did not deserve any bit of it.
    You worry about being embarrassed.  You are the embarrassment.  You are sinners.  Not just little sinners like the person who sticks a toe in to test the waters.  Nope.  You have jumped in head first to every kind of filth, evil, shameful, and scandalous sin.  You are an embarrassment to the Lord.  You have no right to stand on and your only appeal is the same as this woman's -- grace, pure grace, and grace alone.
    That is the gift of God.  God does not give His mercy to those who deserve it.  God does not reserve His grace for those who are holy or righteous or good.  God gives His grace to dogs.  He does so every Sunday.  We deserve nothing of His kindness and yet He is kind to us.  He forgives our terrible sins for the sake of Jesus Christ and counts us as His own righteous and holy children by baptism.
    Every Sunday we come and receive an embarrassment of riches from the Lord.  None of us gets what we deserve from Him – thanks be to God – and each of us receives what we none of us deserves.  Grace upon grace.  Mercies new every morning. Forgiveness for the dirty and shameful sins we commit.  The clothing of righteousness to cover our evil.  The flesh and blood of Christ as our true and glorious food of everlasting life.  The privilege of serving Him who served us by dying on the cross.
    You and I worry about what others will think of us but we do not fear God.  We act like we deserve what He gives to us.  We presume the right to be here in His presence.  We are an embarrassment to the Lord and still He forgives us and calls us His own.  Every week we face this same embarrassment of riches – more that we deserve or dare ask.  It is grace alone!
    We are all barking dogs who are not worth the crumbs but Christ has set a place at His table.  We are all mutts whom the Lord has given pedigree by baptism and faith. We don’t deserve to be heard but He hears us. We don’t deserve to be mercy, but He forgives us. We don’t deserve to eat but He feeds us.
    Grace is the surprise of God to all our sin and unworthiness. Every Sunday we face an embarrassment of riches.  We come with our money thinking we are giving God something big and He gives us His own Son that embarrasses our offerings.  We give Him our worship and think it is a big deal sacrificing a Sunday morning and He gives us our lives back from death.
    Every Sunday it is the same... we come deserving nothing, not even the crumbs due the dogs.  Every Sunday our Lord presents an embarrassment of riches to us. . . And too often, we walk out that door without a real hint of just what a lavish and giving God we have.  You ought to be embarrassed in Church – embarrassed that God would be so kind, so merciful, and so gracious to you, a sinner who deserves none of it.  Today we pray for just such a heart – shamed by mercy into joy!  Amen

Liberal Baptists... not an oxymoron

I had this passed to me. . .

When you hear the word “Baptist,” what ideas pop into your head?  Southern accents, Jerry Falwell, political conservatism, etc?  I suspect that that’s true for most people.  But the truth of the matter is that if you factor out the SBC, Baptists are some of the most ferociously liberal Christians in America, at times exceeding even the Episcopalians.

Case in point:
A transgender woman who attended George W. Truett Theological Seminary and pastored a church in Central Texas as a man has returned to the pulpit.

Allyson Robinson began June 23 as transitions pastor at Calvary Baptist Church in Washington. The calling is temporary — helping with preaching, mentoring and pastoral care duties along with the deacons until the church names a longer-term intentional interim pastor — probably this fall.
Calvary Baptist reaffirmed Robinson’s ordination June 15, prior to Pastor Amy Butler’s departure to become senior minister of the historic and progressive Riverside Church in New York City.

“Allyson Dylan Robinson is a minister of the gospel, trained for the task, and ordained to the gospel ministry by another community in which she has served as pastor,” Butler said in an ordination litany later posted on her blog.

“Over the course of her journey, God has invited her to step into the faithful witness of a new identity, a true identity, and a new name,” she continued.

In an ideal world, liberals would all wear the same name, badge, or identity.  We live in a convoluted world in which, like politics, religion is filled with diversity within the labels.  Lutherans are all over the page.  Methodists, too.  There are fewer Episcopalians on the right but a few.  There are fewer UCC folks on the right, but a few.  But Baptists?  They are the iconic face of stern fundamentalism, right?  No.  We already saw how Baptists in the UK fudged things on same sex marriage.  Now we have Baptists in the US who champion a transgendered minister.  Wow.  How are you supposed to know who is who and what is what?  Since people in the pew can no longer simply trust the label, you have to find out what is believed, confessed, taught, and, now the new one, tolerated...

Monday, August 18, 2014

There is no intolerance so great as from those who claim to be tolerant...

The archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby is preparing to drive through legislation to allow women bishops even if it is rejected by the church's governing body, the General Synod.  The synod is poised to vote again on the vexed plan next week but senior sources have told the Guardian that should the move be blocked again, there are now options being considered to force the change on the church.

Options under consideration include an immediate dissolution of the synod so that fresh elections could produce a sufficient majority by November, or even a move by the bishops in the House of Lords to introduce the legislation without synodical approval.  The dramatic intervention would be designed to pre-empt any attempts, which are already being threatened by parliament, to remove the church's exemption from equality legislation.

In other words, if Archbishop Welby of the Church of England cannot get women bishops through the ordinary means, he is poised to change the rules in order to force women bishops upon the church through other, more radical means -- as if anyone ever doubted that the day would come when women bishops would be approved in the good ole C of E.

I love it when those who insist upon tolerance became the intolerant.  They betray their true character when they cannot get what they want.  At that moment, their cause becomes so just that they will bully their point of view on the church.  How much harm has been done by bullies who resort to extraordinary means to infect their radical change upon a church either too slow to accept the change or unwilling to accept it???

This is a perfect example of an abuse of authority.  Women clergy is a modern phenomenon.  Women bishops is even more recent.  It is anti-ecumenical.  It is a radical departure from Scripture and tradition.  It is unnecessary but it is on the must have agenda of nearly all liberal Christians.  No rocks in the road of this social agenda will be allowed to slow or stop the press of change upon the church.  Even schism is an acceptable price to pay for being in tune with the modern mind and the social justice movement of the age.

If Welby had been around when God created, he might well have take over for the Almighty because six days was too long to get it done and Welby had bigger fish waiting to fry down the road.  What will be next?  It is not hard to see.  The Church of England will have gay and lesbian bishops forced upon them and the ecumenical consequences of this act, along with the disconnect from other Anglicans (notably in Africa) will certainly not be a price too high for being able to wave the pink or rainbow flag over Lambeth!

Of course, the threat may have been all that was needed.  The vote on July 14 took place amid cheers -- finally.  Yes, finally...  From the moment the General Synod voted for women priests in 1992, it was inevitable women bishops would follow.  It would have been the ultimate hypocrisy to have had women priests but deny them the episcopate.  One may credit the influence of both Conservative evangelicals and Anglo-Catholics to slow down the process and make what might have been an ordinary and expected decisions wait for some 20 years. Those who feared that this might signal the end of the Anglican Communion and a breach with more conservative groups throughout the world will not have to wait long to see what happens.  This was predictable but in the way death is predictable for those with serious cancer or heart disease.  We do not live in an Alice-in-Wonderland world and so finally Anglicans who remained will have to face up to the fact that any remnant of orthodoxy has flown the coup.

This is the response of the Russian Orthodox, once almost close to recognizing Anglican orders... not so close anymore:

At the session that took place on the 14th of July 2014, the General Synod of the Church of England made a decision allowing women to serve as bishops. The Communication Service of the Moscow Patriarchate’s Department for External Church Relations is authorized to make the following statement in this regard:
The Russian Orthodox Church has been alarmed and disappointed to learn about the decision of the Church of England to admit women to the episcopate, since the centuries-old relationships between our two Churches had shown possibilities for the Orthodox to recognize the existence of apostolic succession in Anglicanism. As far back as the 19th century, the Anglicans, members of the Eastern Church Association, sought “mutual recognition” of orders between the Orthodox and the Anglican Churches and believed that “both Churches preserved the apostolic continuity and true faith in the Saviour and should accept each other in the full communion of prayers and sacraments.”
The decision to ordain women, which the Church of England took in 1992, damaged the relationships between our Churches, and the introduction of female bishops has eliminated even a theoretical possibility for the Orthodox to recognize the existence of apostolic succession in the Anglican hierarchy.
Such practice contradicts the centuries-old church tradition going back to the early Christian community. In the Christian tradition, bishops have always been regarded as direct spiritual successors of the apostles, from whom they received special grace to guide the people of God and special responsibility to protect the purity of faith, to be symbols and guarantors of the unity of the Church. The consecration of women bishops runs counter to the mode of life of the Saviour Himself and the holy apostles, as well as to the practice of the Early Church.
In our opinion, it was not a theological necessity or issues of church practice that determined the decision of the General Synod of the Church of England, but an effort to comply with the secular idea of gender equality in all spheres of life and the increasing role of women in the British society. The secularization of Christianity will alienate many faithful who, living in the modern unstable world, try to find spiritual support in the unshakable gospel’s and apostolic traditions established by Eternal and Immutable God.

The Russian Orthodox Church regrets to state that the decision allowing the elevation of women to episcopal dignity impedes considerably the dialogue between the Orthodox and the Anglicans, which has developed for many decades, and contributes for further deepening of divisions in the Christian world as a whole.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

I want you to cry at my funeral. . .

Chad Bird has written well of six things he does NOT want said at his funeral.  I can only echo his comments here.  Don't say I was a good man. Last time I checked good works (neither the abundance nor their poverty) was what commended us before God.  Even if I was all that good, how does it comfort those who survive me to have lost "such a good man?"  Don't call out my name (more than a few times and where liturgically it is directed).  Call out the name of Jesus who forgives sinners, clothes the evil with His own righteousness, raises the dead to life, and prepares the place for the dead to go to be with Him forever.  Don't dehumanize me by saying I am now a happy (though chubby) little angel flapping my new wings around heaven.  Sentiments like this kills the honest hope of Christ's death and resurrection.  Don't celebrate my life or console the folks left by telling stories about me.  Lutherans have funerals.  If my life meant anything, it deserves a funeral.  Tell the story of Jesus because by my baptism this became my own story.  Don't say that what lies in the coffin is but a shell of what I was.  God did not merely make my soul; He also made my body -- fearfully and wonderfully -- and I look forward to the resurrection of the flesh and the new and glorious body Christ already wears and, by His promise, I will, too!

If I could add one thing to what Chad has written, I would only say don't read some banal, trivial, secular poem, piece of literature, or sentimental song and call it Gospel.  Most of the stuff read at funerals is crap.  It only increases the pain or diminishes the loss (falsely) and hardly any of it directs us to the real Gospel.  No, resist the effort to recite some pithy saying that is rich in sentiment but devoid of the faith and the hope into which I was baptized.  Even if you are not a Christian, I was so do not dishonor what God did in my baptism by equating some trivial saying with words of Him who is the way, the truth, and the life.

That said, it is the last thing that Chad said I want to focus on.... Don't say I would not want you to weep.  I DO want you to cry at my funeral.  Grieving as the informed who know the hope we have in Christ does not erase our tears of loss or the pain of death.  Our hope sustains us in our grief.  Our hope is our strength in weakness.  Our hope enables us to endure the crushing loss of those whom we love.  But it does not erase it as if there were no pain left in death, no sorrow, no sadness.  Did Jesus grieve Lazarus' death or did He just put on a show of tears for the benefit of the people?  As we shed our tears we affirm Him who wipes away every tear from our eyes.  When Paul cautions us against grieving as the ignorant who have no hope, I think he has in mind the very idea that we are not here to be sad and shed our tears, but to celebrate the life of the deceased and to comfort ourselves with memories and the laughter of his many foibles.  This IS the ignorance that both fails to acknowledge the reality of death as the consequence of sin as well as a denial of the wondrous miracle of Christ who ended death's reign and transformed the grave into the gate of everlasting life.  I hope you will cry for me and in your tears will be comforted by the mercy of God which endures forever and by the death of Christ that sanctifies our own death and the grave of Christ that sanctifies the graves of all who die in Him.

I have shed many tears at funerals.  Some funerals of beloved parishioners have been every bit as painful as those of my family members.  I can recall standing at the grave and barely being able to utter the final words of the commendation:  Christ is risen!  I heard the people respond through their tears with the same wavering voice.  He is risen indeed!  This is exactly what it means to grieve.  We shed our tears, we admit our broken hearts, but through the tears we also cry out to God both in confession of what we believe and as the invocation of His promise:  Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!

Those Christians who would try to paper over our sadness, dry up all our tears, and comfort us with our memories have failed to acknowledge exactly what it is that the terrible choice in Eden stole from us and what it is that the amazing grace of the cross and empty tomb of our Savior has restored.  There is no glory in death except the glory of Him who died that we might live.  Nope, don't celebrate me or my life or my accomplishments or my memorable moments (as foolish as they were).  Do me the honor of some tears and, if my life has meant anything to you, speak faith through those tears in confessing Jesus Christ through the liturgy, the creed, and the prayers.  Grieve.... but grieve with hope...  Rejoice in Christ... but not by denying what it is that afflicted us sinners or what it is that Christ bore for us.  You can do both.  That is the paradox, the creative tension, in which we Christians meet death and confess Christ at the same time.