Sunday, May 28, 2017

A Sermon for the Sunday After Ascension

For Morning Prayer this Sunday after Ascension, I, as Lay Reader, delivered the following sermon.  I don’t think I committed any major heresies; I will leave it to you whether I committed any minor ones.  Enjoy and be edified.


“God’s Ways Are Not Our Ways”

This Sunday, we are in the short season of Ascension.  It began Thursday and will end with Pentecost next Sunday.  And – I don’t know about you – but I find it a slightly awkward season.  During this season, we celebrate that Jesus is no longer physically with us.  That’s a rather odd thing to celebrate! No wonder that churches tend not to emphasize Ascension season that much.

Now, of course, the Ascension of our Lord is something to celebrate.  For Jesus, having departed after winning the victory over Satan, sin and death for us, is now at the right hand of the Father in glory.  And there he ever intercedes for us.  Further, Jesus’ departure prepared the way for the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.

Now I could attempt to go into these glorious aspects of the Ascension.  But Father Ben is better at that than I am, so I will leave it to him to do that next year as he has in years past.

What I do want us briefly to focus on this morning is the reason behind why we may find Ascension season slightly awkward as I do.  And that reason is that God’s ways are not our ways.

Isaiah 55, beginning with verse 6 reads:

           Seek the LORD while he may be found;
                  call upon him while he is near;
7          let the wicked forsake his way,
                  and the unrighteous man his thoughts;
            let him return to the LORD, that he may have compassion on him,
                  and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.
8          For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
                  neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD.
9          For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
                  so are my ways higher than your ways
                  and my thoughts than your thoughts.

Note the context in which God, through Isaiah, says His ways are not our ways.  The context is the proclamation of God’s salvation and forgiveness. 

Isaiah exhorts us to turn “to our God for he will abundantly pardon.”  Why will he abundantly pardon? Because God is so impressed with our agendas?  No, just the opposite.  The reason God pardons and the manner in which he pardons follows in the very next verse: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD.”  God pardons because His love and grace and power far exceeds that of man and is far different from man’s.  And it follows that God’s agendas and methods are far different as well.  That is certainly the case in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ – and, yes, in His ascension as well.

Jesus’ agenda was certainly very different than man’s.  When Jesus fed the 5000, the people just fed were about to try to make him king by force.  But Jesus would have none of that. His kingdom was to be far different than what the excited people had in mind.  He withdrew to a mountain by himself.

On the other hand, pious Jews were not expecting their Messiah to be God Himself.  They were looking for a Messiah King, not Christ the Lord. So when Jesus said He was God, when he said, “I and the Father are One” and “Before Abraham was, I AM” they sought to kill him.

And, certainly, zealous Jews were hoping in a victorious Messiah that would free them from the yoke of the Roman Empire.  And these were surely among the throng that cheered Jesus as he entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday.

So when, later that week, many of that same throng saw Jesus whipped, bloodied, and by all appearances completely defeated by the Romans, the crowd turned on Him.  That was not the Messiah they were looking for.  A humiliated Jesus did not fit their agenda at all.  “Crucify Him!”

Now we may look with disdain at those in the crowd who called for the crucifixion of Jesus.  But have we ever been upset with God, even angry with God when His agenda turns out to be different than ours?  I have.

God’s ways are not our ways.  And that can be perplexing at times.

Jesus’ followers wrestled with the ways of the Lord, even right up until His Ascension.  Just before the Ascension, as recorded in the Acts 1, some of them asked, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?”  Understandably, they wanted Jesus not to ascend but to stick around and establish His kingdom right then and there in Israel.  Even after the Resurrection and being taught by the risen Christ, they still didn’t get it that His kingdom was to be far far bigger and better than a sovereign Israel free from Rome.  And that kingdom was to be ignited by the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.

Jesus therefore answered, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority.  But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the end of the earth.”  And then he ascended.

The disciples once again found out God’s ways are not our ways.  And, in a way, that was disappointing.  They wished Israel would be a free and sovereign kingdom again.  They surely wished Jesus would stay and become king.  But they soon discovered the kingdom God had in mind was so much better.

And isn’t that way with us.  We hope God will provide us with . . . fill in the blank.  And God at times says, No.  And we may be disappointed.  But then God goes on to say, “I have something even better for you.”  In the Bible again and again and again, God tells us He has something better for us far beyond what we can even imagine.

The Ascension is very much a part of that.  For one thing, Jesus is right now interceding for us before the Father.  We ask friends to intercede for us, to pray for us, and that’s good.  How much better it is that Jesus intercedes for us!

Further, Jesus told the Twelve of His good purposes for us behind the Ascension when he said:

“In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.” (John 14:2,3)

In the Ascension, Jesus bodily departed for a time so that the reunion when he returns will be that much better, including better for us.  Jesus’ prayer in John 17 when he prayed - “Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me.” – that prayer will be perfectly fulfilled.

I could say more of the glory God and His gracious ways have in store for us, but I did promise a brief sermon, didn’t I.

God’s ways are not our ways.  Did any man - except perhaps the prophets, and even they saw only in part – did any man conceive of the Messiah suffering, dying a criminal’s death, but then defeating sin and death, rising from the dead, ascending to the Father and then one day coming again to reign and to be with His people forever?

Did any man even conceive of that?  No.  God’s ways are not our ways.  And thank God for that!

Let us pray.

O God, the King of glory, who hast exalted thine only Son Jesus Christ with great triumph unto thy kingdom in heaven; We beseech thee, leave us not comfortless; but send to us thy Holy Ghost to comfort us, and exalt us unto the same place whither our Saviour Christ is gone before, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the same Holy Ghost, one God, world without end.  Amen.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Unpleasant History the ACNA Holy Orders Task Force Left Out

I have followed Archbishop Foley Beach’s admonition to read all of the Holy Orders Task Force report before commenting.  In full disclosure, I skimmed a bit, but I did work through the whole thing.  So now I have my Commenting License.

To me what most stands out about the report is that it contains one long history lesson.  But what stands out almost as much and is more important is what history is neglected in the report. 

Jesus taught you shall know a tree by its fruit.  A fair corollary is that a tree will grow and produce fruit in line with its roots.   By those standards, women’s ordination, at least in the West and U. S., is problematic.

The roots of women’s ordination in the United States for the most part implanted in mainline denominations now wracked by apostasy.  Perhaps the problem was more to do with the soil than with the roots, but continuing… The roots of women’s ordination in the Anglican Church in North America are, for the most part, in The Episcopal Church of the 1970’s – not the best background.  (Yes, not every ACNA diocese that ordains women has its roots in The Episcopal Church.  Hence I said “for the most part.”)  In large part, WO was baggage carried into ACNA from The Episcopal Church.

As for its fruit, women’s ordination in the West has gone hand in hand with apostasy and preaching “another gospel,” the social gospel.  Now I grant that the argument could be made that connecting WO with apostasy is a post hoc argument.  In the Global South and in ACNA, there are orthodox jurisdictions that ordain women.   But I do have to say that I have noticed, to my alarm, social gospel tendencies from ACNA dioceses that ordain women.

But accurate or mistaken, there is the perception among many Anglicans, including this one, that the fruit of women’s ordination has been tried and wanting.  The theologies of the first women bishops in the Church of England are examples of that.  The marginalization of those who oppose or do not fully recognize women’s orders in the Church of England (See the Philip North affair.) and in The Episcopal Church is another.

Yet the Task Force report barely addressed this concern about the roots and fruit of women’s ordination. I do not know why, do not have any privy information, and do not think speculating why would be edifying.  I do know and concede that addressing the recent roots and fruit of women’s ordination in the West is not at all easy to do in a tactful manner that does not inflame divisions.  Heck, I am trying hard here to be polite, but it would not surprise me if this post upsets some people.

Nonetheless, this concern should have been fully addressed in the report.  The report went through a lot of history.  But unpleasant aspects of the history of women’s ordination in the West were not sufficiently addressed.  If ACNA will continue ordaining women to the priesthood, then we should be told why that is not rooted in The Episcopal Church of the 1970’s, or that such roots are not a besetting problem.  And we should be told why ACNA will not go down the primrose path of apostasy and the social gospel as have other Western jurisdictions that ordain women.  Going down the path of women’s ordination while assuming it will have entirely different results would be a dangerous assumption indeed.

Monday, May 15, 2017

ACNA Holy Orders Task Force Report Released

The Holy Orders Task Force has released their report.  ACNA Archbishop Foley Beach has sent out a letter along with it with the following admonition:

Please note the following:
• The Task Force was not commissioned to resolve the issue, but was asked to develop resources to help the bishops in future conversation on this topic.
• Therefore the report does not answer the questions of what the College is to do, but it is a study presented to the College to help the College in our discussions.
• The report does not change our current practice regarding women’s orders as stated in our Constitution. Our current practice allows each diocese to determine whether it will ordain women as deacons or priests.
• The report will now be sent to the GAFCON Primates for their input and guidance for our discussions.
• The College of Bishops will now be studying the whole report, and we will meet in special session later in the year to discuss how we move forward together.

As your Archbishop, I ask the following from you:
1) Don’t comment on the report until you have read it all.
2) Don’t comment on the report until you can fairly articulate the opposite point of view.
3) Remember that no decisions have been made at this time to pursue changing our Constitution.
4) Remember that we are all followers of Jesus Christ on mission together, holding those with the opposite point of view in Christian love and charity.
5) Lastly, sincerely pray for your bishops as we seek to serve Jesus Christ in this matter.

That first request is a big ask.  The report is 318 pages.  But I intend to abide by my Archbishop’s request.  For all of ACNA so to do will take a miracle.

Both the report and the Archbishop’s letter may be found here.