Thursday, August 24, 2017

The Lectionary, God’s Providence, and Harvey

Back in my very non-Anglican days, I heard my favorite Bible teacher, whom I’m still a fan of, Tommy Nelson of Denton Bible Church note that God knows where you are going to read in the Bible, and he knows what you are going through in life.  And he can bring the two together to speak right to you.

Well, I have seen the Lord do that with the Lectionary.  This past Sunday, the 10th Sunday after Trinity, I intended to teach a group from 1 Corinthians 12.  Some of the group goes to my REC parish, so I usually check what the readings at church are to see if they go with something I will teach.  And I saw that Epistle for Holy Communion was from . . . 1 Corinthians 12.  I guess I wasn’t the only one who wanted 1 Corinthians 12 taught!

Today, I woke up early and ill at ease due the overnight ominous forecast changes concerning now Hurricane Harvey.  I decided to do my Morning Prayer early.  With it being St. Bartholomew’s Day the assigned Psalm was 91.  And that turned out to be the perfect Psalm for me to read.  I would practically have to quote the whole psalm to tell how it comforted me and encouraged me.  God in his good providence definitely used the lectionary in a gracious way this morning.

By the way, do pray for us near the Texas coast.  I intend to pray the Litany in the morning myself.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Apple Feeds Hate

Combating hate is a laudable goal.  Although I will say combating the nutcases of the KKK and neo-Nazis while giving the far more dangerous Antifa and BLM a pass is like going after piss ants in your yard while ignoring skunks living under your house. (I’ve experienced that.  It was not pleasant.)

But the way to combat hate is not to feed hate.  Yet that is exactly what Apple and its CEO Tim Cook have done in contributing to the Southern Poverty Law Center.  For SPLC is itself a hate group, using that old trick of lumping traditional conservatives, such as the Alliance Defending Freedom and even David Barton, for goodness’ sake, in with Nazis, the KKK and the like.

Apple’s contribution perpetuates a double standard that has become even more rampant in recent days – hate from the “Right” is horrible; hate from the Left is not an issue or even praiseworthy, and if you condemn hate from both sides, you’re practically a Nazi.  And that double standard, too, feeds hate.

Sadly, that double standard has infected the church as well, but that's another subject.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Post-Charlottesville, The Double Standard Continues

After the awful events in Charlottesville, there has been an odd, but familiar phenomenon.  There are the rightful denunciations of the Nazis, KKK, etc.  But if someone even asks the denouncers if they have ever also denounced Antifa and Black Lives Matters, two groups who also have demonstrated racism and political violence, then even that question gets denounced.  Those who denounce both the Nazi types and Antifa and BLM, and who denounce double standards also get very similar treatment.  I’ve seen this sorry exercise even on the Facebook group page of the Anglican Church of North America, which is shameful.

This is an in-your-face example of a big double standard that has poisoned politics and the study of history since World War 2.  While the atrocities of the “Right”* are emphasized, the atrocities of the Left are downplayed or ignored, even if those atrocities are of a much greater scale.  The History Channel once was dubbed the Hitler Channel because of the frequency of its emphasis on Nazism and its atrocities. And certainly we should “never forget.”  But how often does one see documentaries of the atrocities under Lenin and Stalin, who killed millions more than Hitler?

Of course, there is much more to the study of history than the History Channel – thank God – but the phenomenon can be found across academia as well.  And when someone tries to provide some balance and focus on Communist evil, they often get grief for it.  The controversy that surrounded the publication of the Black Book of Communism is one example.

I detest this double standard, which only enables the Leftist New Totalitarians, who are a much greater danger than the KKK, neo-Nazis, and other loons.  If someone has been silent for over a year as Antifa has violently attacked peaceful demonstrators, Trump supporters, free speech, even those who simply wanted to hear a speaker, then his/her display of indignation over white supremacist violence is worth very little to me.

And, yes I will say it, President Trump was right to denounce violence from both sides.  And he was courageous to do so in the face of those who hate truth-telling about the Left.

By the way, these kind of double standards just feed hate.  Denouncing rightist hate while being silent about or even praising Leftist hate throws gasoline on hate.  The double standards must stop.  The political violence from both sides must be denounced and stopped.


* I use “right” very loosely here.  Placing, say, Nazis on the right is highly questionable as they are a form of totalitarianism not very different from Communism.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Book Review: The Myth of the Andalusian Paradise

As a student of Western medieval history for over ten years now, the Muslim rule of Spain has been a subject that interested me, but that I had not quite gotten around to in any detail.  So when I heard good things about Dario Fernandez-Morera’s The Myth of the Andalusian Paradise, I decided to read it for myself.

The book is even better than I expected.  D. F. M. well debunks the hoary academic myth that Muslim Spain was a tolerant multi-cultural paradise. But it is the manner in which he does so that most impresses.  He begins his chapters with quotes from those holding the prominent viewpoint of the “Andalusian paradise.”  He frequently acknowledges their views, including points on which they are correct.  Also, he thoroughly documents that Christians and Jews in Spain, not only Muslims, were harsh in a number of their laws, restricted contact with each other, and were largely segregated, contributing to the lack of tolerance in Spain.  The Muslims were not the only bad guys, if you will.  So this book is no one-sided polemic.

Instead, this work is thoroughly scholarly.  D. F. M. quotes primary sources so much, it is almost overkill at times.  But he is debunking the dominant academic view of Muslim Spain; his near overkill is necessary.  Further, his notes and long bibliography take over a hundred pages!  The main text only goes to 240 pages – this is not a hard read.  But combined with the notes and bibliography, this is both a good introduction to the subject and an excellent resource for further study.

Sadly, the current state of academia is so averse to truth-telling about Islam and its history, one may have difficulty finding other books on Muslim Spain that are this good.  That makes this already (The publication date was 2016.) that much more a must have on the subject.

A personal note - I was struck while reading that the atrocities of ISIS and other Islamonazi groups are nothing new.  For example, how several medieval Muslim rulers turned executions into outlandish spectacles much like ISIS stood out to me.  These included mass executions that Muslims bragged of.  Trust that bragging is not too strong a word.  Actual history, as opposed to fashionable academic revising of it, and the view of Islam as a benign peaceful religion are not compatible.

But even if one disagrees with me on that observation, any open-minded student of Muslim Spain needs to get The Myth of the Andalusian Paradise.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

A Sermon for the Ninth Sunday After Trinity

I preached the following sermon today during Morning Prayer.  You have been warned.

The Struggle: The Good Fight

Today one often hears from pulpits, particularly television pulpits, sermons stating that you can do anything you set your mind to do and have everything you want in life.  You can do it if you just have enough faith (and send a contribution to P. O. Box…)!

This is not one of those sermons.  Yes, God can and does use his people for remarkable things even beyond what we can imagine.  And God is a gracious and generous provider indeed.  But, at the same time, the Christian life involves endurance, struggle, and discipline.  You may not hear that on T.V. but you will hear that from scripture particularly from Hebrews chapter 12 read this morning.

By the way, Hebrews 12:1 was a favorite verse of mine as a High School distance runner.  I took “let us run with endurance the race that is set before us” very literally.

However I admit that I did not like verse 4 quite as much.  You may remember that reads, “In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood.”  I preferred to stick to distance running.

But the Christian life is to be a struggle against sin and a struggle for what is good and right.  Even St. Paul struggled against sin in his life as he confessed in Romans chapter 7.  He said he desired to do what is right, but he struggled with inward temptation and sin that wanted to do what is not right.  And often he found himself doing wrongful things he did not want to do.  If St. Paul had to struggle, I suspect we all have to struggle.

So what do we do as we struggle against the wrong and for the right and somehow run with endurance this race of life that is set before us?  Well, it so happens that a major theme in the readings of this long Trinity season is striving to live as disciples of Christ.  But that is a matter for several sermons, and I do not wish to add to your struggle by attempting to summarize this theme.

But I do wish to make two observations about the struggle of the Christian life.  These two points are simple, although you may not ever see them on television.

First, we are to struggle well.  We are to run with endurance the race of life that is set before us.  We are to fight even.

Now “fight” is a strong word! I would not venture to use such strong language except that St. Paul uses it.  Something I recently noticed – by the way, a big reason to keep studying the Bible is you will notice gems of truth you did not notice before even in passages you’ve read many times before – as I was saying, something I recently noticed is that in his first letter to Timothy, towards the end, Paul exhorts Timothy:

O man of God . . . Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. I charge you in the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who in his testimony before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, to keep the commandment unstained and free from reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, which he will display at the proper time—he who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see. To him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen.

That’s better than Braveheart!  So in 1st Timothy, Paul exhorts Timothy to fight the good fight of the faith.  In 2nd Timothy, near the end of his life, Paul states:

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.

In 1st Timothy, Paul exhorts, “Fight the good fight of the faith.”  In 2nd Timothy as he nears the end of his race of life, he says, “I have fought the good fight.”

So, yes, we are to struggle; we are to fight against sin and for what is right, for Jesus Christ, for his Holy Gospel, and for his kingdom.

But, second, we are not to fight alone - thanks be to God.  Numerous Bible passages testify to this.  At the beginning of the famous passage about the armour of God in Ephesians 6, St. Paul exhorts, “Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might.”  Psalm 46 proclaims, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.”  This psalm further emphasizes the strong presence of God by twice saying, “The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.”  And note how Jesus concluded The Great Commission at the conclusion of the Gospel of St. Matthew:

All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.

We are to trust in our omnipotent and ever present Lord Jesus to help us to struggle and to fight well, to fulfill his Great Commission, to run with endurance the race that is set before us.

The collect for this 9th Sunday in Trinity reflects this reliance on God to help us to live right and to run well.  In our REC prayer book and in the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, it reads:

Grant to us, Lord, we beseech thee, the spirit to think and do always such things as are right; that we, who cannot do any thing that is good without thee, may by thee be enabled to live according to thy will; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

That “we… cannot do any thing that is good without thee” is a radical statement indeed.  It joins a number of other collects of Thomas Cranmer in expressing a radical dependence on God.  But the collect we have here is a revision of Cranmer’s collect.  In his first Book of Common Prayer, Cranmer wrote even more radically “that we, which cannot be without thee, may by thee be able to live according to they will, through Jesus Christ our Lord.”  And this was not an invention of Cranmer.  He closely translated a Latin prayer that dates back to at least the 7th century.

Thus the original collect says not only that we cannot do anything that is good without God, but that we cannot even exist without God - and rightly so!  It is God who has created us, not we ourselves.  And it is God who has recreated us by making us new creatures with new hearts in Christ.  So Cranmer was right to express a radical dependence on God.  And that should be our attitude as well.

But that is not a passive dependence.  We are to depend on him, his help, his strength, his presence as we seek to do always such things are right, as we seek to live according to his will, as we seek to fight the good fight of the Faith, as we seek to fulfill the Great Commission, as we seek to run with endurance the race that is set before us.

Thanks be to God that he has given us such a glorious calling, such a noble task, along with his very present help and the assurance of victory in Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

And now we will pray Thomas Cranmer’s original collect.  Let us pray.

Grant to us Lord we beseech thee, the spirit to think and do always such things as be rightful; that we, which cannot be without thee, may by thee be able to live according to thy will, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Wednesday, August 09, 2017

BREAKING: Dr. Rah Will Not Be Speaking to Matthew 25 Gathering

I’ve just been informed by Canon David Roseberry that Dr. Soong-Chan Rah will not be involved in the Matthew 25 Gathering in September.  Previously, he was scheduled to be the keynote speaker.

In Canon Roseberry’s words, those in charge felt they “needed to focus on building the base, expanding Archbishop Beach's vision . . . and serving those workers who carry on the work of Matthew 25.”

I heartily support the decision and the refocus, but will refrain from further comment at this time.

Archbishop Foley Beach will be in attendance and will be asked to speak.

Sunday, August 06, 2017

A Sermon for the Feast of the Transfiguration

I preached the following slightly modified this morning while leading Morning Prayer.  Be warned/edified.

Today is the Feast of the Transfiguration of Our Lord Jesus Christ.  And once again I get the privilege of preaching on a neglected holy day.  Last time I preached, it was during Ascension Season, perhaps the most overlooked season of the church year.  The holy day of Transfiguration is even more neglected.  It falls during the heat of the summer in the midst of the long Trinity season and usually during a weekday.  I confess that there have been several years when during my personal prayer times, I completely forgot Transfiguration Day.  Providentially, it falls on this Sunday this year.  So at least this year, I won’t forget it!

But more than its awkward place on the church calendar, the Transfiguration is difficult to understand.  It happened briefly and then everything seemed to be as it was before.  This is unlike Good Friday or the first Easter or the Ascension, in which life was very different afterwards.  Not so the Transfiguration, at least not outwardly. One can honestly ask what was the point of it?  What was the point of the Transfiguration?

I do not presume to know anywhere close to all of God’s purposes in the Transfiguration.  But a close reading of Gospel lesson for Transfiguration from Luke 9:28-36 does reveal one purpose I wish to point out this morning.

Now here is the account from Luke that you may find on p. 265 of the Prayer Book.

[Here Luke 9:28-36 was read.]

Jesus’ three years of ministry revealed the Incarnation, that Jesus was, and is forever, completely man and completely God.  But the God part of that revelation was veiled and indirect during those years.  Jesus revealed himself to be God by signs, such as miracles of healing.  These signs are a theme of St. John’s Gospel.  Jesus also revealed himself as God by his forgiving sins, by his perfect life, and by his authoritative teaching.  But he did not appear to people in his glory . . . until he and Peter, James and John were on the Mount of Transfiguration.

And even then his glory was veiled.  And that for the sake of the three disciples.  As the Bible repeatedly notes, no mortal can fully see the glory of God and live.  It is just too powerful. The full glory of Christ would have been too much for the three to handle.  But Jesus did reveal to the three his veiled glory.  And even that was dazzling and overwhelming.

For in the Transfiguration, Jesus was revealing more fully the Incarnation, that Jesus is very man of very man and very God of very God.  And note that I used the pronoun “is”. Jesus remains very man of very man and very God of very God even now as he intercedes for us before the Father.  But that is a subject for another time.

It could be said that the Transfiguration was an audio-visual of the Incarnation.  That is reflected not only in his glorious appearance as both God and man, but also in the witnesses.

Moses and Elijah appear, illustrating that the Law, represented by Moses, and the Prophets, represented by Elijah, proclaimed Christ and his Incarnation, that Jesus is indeed the Messiah the Law and Prophets proclaim.

And note that Moses and Elijah spoke with Jesus on the subject of his “decrease” or departure from Jerusalem.  The Law and the Prophets also foretell and proclaim the death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ.

The Apostles, represented by three of them, Peter, James and John, were eyewitnesses to the Incarnation, living with Jesus for three years, then seeing the Risen Christ.  The three may also represent the multitude of people who saw Jesus as a man who did things only God can do.  We certainly can know this - along with the Law and the Prophets, the Apostles are very important and authoritative witnesses to the Incarnate Christ.

Those witnesses should be quite enough for us.  But there is another witness, God the Father himself.  “This is my beloved Son.  Hear Him!”

That kinda settles it, does it not?  Jesus is God the Son Incarnate.  With the Father and with the Holy Spirit, he is of the Holy Trinity.  The Holy Spirit might be represented by the cloud that came down, but I am not sure of that, particularly since the Holy Spirit is a Person every bit as much as the Father and the Son.  But God also gave us a demonstration of the Holy Trinity at Jesus’ baptism when the Spirit descended in the form of a dove and when the Father spoke then as well in similar words: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”

And then, after the Transfiguration, it was by outward appearances just the man Jesus again, not in his glory but as a man with no special glory that could be seen. Isaiah prophesied in Isaiah 53 that the Messiah would have “no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him.” And the Incarnation was a great humbling of the Son as St. Paul notes in Philippians:

Jesus made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men.

Yet Jesus remained very God of very God just as he always was from eternity past and even as that baby in the manger.

Thus we see in the Transfiguration the Incarnation as witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, by the Apostles, and by God the Father Himself.

In addition to that, as if that is not wonderful enough, I think there is a more personal and everyday lesson here.  Not long before the Transfiguration, Jesus told the disciples, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.”  And as if that was not difficult enough to hear, he then said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.”

That was surely not easy to hear!  Then in the same chapter a while after the Transfiguration, Jesus again foretold his Passion and death.  In the midst of this, the disciples surely needed encouragement.  They surely needed their faith strengthened.  And they surely got that strengthening and encouragement in the Transfiguration.

Not only was Peter’s faith strengthened, but he used the experience to strengthen the faith of others near the end of his life in 2 Peter 1:16-18:

For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,” we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain.

I think a lesson here is that God knows our weaknesses and our hardships.  And he knows how to encourage and strengthen us.

Our part is faithfully to stay close to Him.  Let’s say, when Jesus beckoned him to walk up the mountain with Him, Peter said, “Lord, I’m really tired.  And I haven’t gone fishing in a while.  I think I’ll just relax and go fishing today.”  Then Peter would have missed the Transfiguration and its encouragement.  But instead he stayed close to Jesus.  Peter had his issues, but he was smart enough to do that!

How do we stay close to Jesus?  Certainly a very important part of staying close to Jesus is by listening to Him and talking to Him.  And we listen to him primarily by reading and studying the Bible, God’s written word, and we talk to him through prayer.

And in addition to numerous benefits of reading the Bible and seeking to live by it can come a benefit described by my previous Pastor, Tommy Nelson of Denton Bible Church.  He has noted that God knows where you are going to be reading in the Bible.  And he knows what you are going through in life as you are reading in the Bible.  And he can bring the two together to speak right to you in a very personal way.

Now don’t expect that to happen every time you open the Bible.  But if you are regular in the Bible, reading it just about every day, I bet sooner or later you will experience God encouraging you in a very personal way.  I probably shouldn’t bet during Morning Prayer, but I’m willing to bet on that.

Also, sometimes God answers prayer in ways that are so marvelous that it is a great and very personal encouragement.

Now God is not a Holy Vending Machine, and it is unpredictable just how God may choose to give us the encouragement we need, just like the Transfiguration was very unexpected.  Remember that the three disciples were caught napping at the beginning of the Transfiguration!  But God is a very personal God who loves us more than we know.  And he stands ready to give us the encouragement we need.  Reading the Bible and prayer are very important ways to receive that encouragement.

A wonderful quality of God demonstrated in the Incarnation and in the Transfiguration is that though he is high and lifted up and transcendent and infinite, yet he loves and cares for us, for each of us.

Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.  Amen.

Let us pray.

O God, who on the mount didst reveal to chosen witnesses thine only-begotten Son wonderfully transfigured, in raiment white and glistening; Mercifully grant that we, being delivered from the disquietude of this world, may be permitted to behold the King in his beauty, who with thee, O Father, and thee, O Holy Ghost, liveth and reignth, one God, world without end. Amen.

Saturday, August 05, 2017

South Carolina Justice Kaye Hearn Must Be Disciplined and Removed

I’ve been quiet about the awful Diocese of South Carolina ruling; others were covering it far better than I can.

But what galls me the most about the ruling is the blatant bias and conflict of interest of Justice Kaye Hearn.  Being a member (at least in the past) of the anti-Mark Lawrence Episcopal Forum of South Carolina was grounds enough for her to recuse herself.  But there is more.  Her husband is linked to the lawsuit she ruled on!  And she let her bias hang all out during oral arguments.  She might as well have worn a silly Schori mitre on the stand.

The Anglican Curmudgeon goes over her bias and role in detail.

Judicial behavior like Hearn’s makes me think there is one set of rules for corrupt judges and lawyers and quite another for the rest of us peons.  It too often seems the rule of law is for chumps.