Monthly Archives: August 2007

St. Bonaventure on faith and reason

I’ve been involved in an online conversation over at Thom Chittom’s blog about faith and reason which sparked a memory of my Medieval Philosophy course in college. Evidently Thomas Aquinas was condemned in 1277 along with the Latin Averroeists, though his condemnation was later lifted. Be that as it may, the condemnation of 1277 was based upon St. Bonaventure’s Conferences on the Hexaemeron.

This is what Bonaventure says about faith and reason:

Thus there is danger in descending to the originals; there is more danger in descending to the summas of the masters; but the greatest danger
lies in descending to philosophy. This is because the words of the originals are pretty and can be too attractive; but the Holy Scripture does not have pretty words like that. Augustine would not take it for good if I should prefer him to Christ because of the beauty of his words, just as Paul reproached those who wished to be baptized in the name of Paul. In the course of study, then, caution must be exercised in descending from careful attention in reading Scripture to the originals. There should be a similar warning about descending to the summas of the masters, for the masters sometimes do not understand the saints, as the Master of the Sentences, great as he was, did not understand Augustine in some places. Whence the summas of the master are like the introductions of boys to the text of Aristotle. Let the student beware, then, lest he depart from the common way.

Likewise, the greatest danger is in the descent to philosophy. “Forasmuch as this people hath cast away the waters of Siloe, that go with silence, and hath rather taken Rasin, and the sons of Romelia: Therefore behold the Lord will bring upon them the waters of the river strong and many” (Isaiah. 8, 6-7). Whence there is no going back to Egypt for such things.[…]

Again, take note of the sultan to whom the blessed Francis replied, when we wished to dispute with him about the faith, that faith is above reason, and is proved only by the authority of Scripture and the divine power, which is manifested in miracles; hence he made the fire which he wished to enter into their presence. For the water of philosophical science is to be mingled with the wine of Holy Scripture merely so that the wine is transmitted into water, which is indeed a bad sign and contrary to the primitive church, when recently converted clerics such as Dionysius dismissed the books of the philosophers and took up the books of Holy Scripture. But in modern times the wine is changed into water and the bread into stone, just the reverse of the miracles of Christ.

(From Hyman and Walsh Philosophy in the Middle Ages, 458-459)

I think this is interesting because it demonstrates the tension between those who consider reason higher than faith and those who considered faith higher than reason–a tension that I think broke out again in the Protestant Reformation with its largely Augustinian outlook. I once read that the Franciscans were the root of some tendencies in Evangelicalism… I think one can see that in Bonaventure in some ways… consider the way he talks about scripture… he sounds like the Baptist preachers I grew up listening to. :-p

The original post that this was written as a comment on, was about Pope Benedict XVI’s discussion of faith and reason. The position that Benedict takes is one that sees faith and reason as not being in competition, but rather, faith as–for lack of a better concept at the moment–the supreme reasonable response to the reasonable God revealed in Jesus Christ the incarnate Word.

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Thirteen Moons by Charles Frazier

I just finished reading Thirteen Moons, the second novel by author Charles Frazier. I came to this novel with high expectations given my appreciation for his first work, Cold Mountain, and Frazier did not disappoint. In fact, I believe this effort may even be better than his first, though the differences in story, and the distance in time between readings could color that assessment.

I enjoy Frazier’s writing. He’s easy to read and he has a gift of making his characters seem real and alive. While he has chosen to base his characters on historical figures, he has used these traits primarily as markers along the way and is quite adept at filling in the details of personality and character.

In Thirteen Moons Frazier again finds his subject in the Mountains–indeed in the same general era, though taking in a broader sweep of time, both before and after the War between the States. Whereas Cold Mountain was a fictional tale inspired by one of Frazier’s Inman ancestors, Thirteen Moons was inspired by the story of William Holland Thomas, the “White Chief of the Cherokee,” but, as Frazier is quick to point out in the author’s note, the main character, Will Cooper “is not William Holland Thomas, though they do share some DNA,” and readers who are familiar with the history of the region should be able to pick out the bits that are more or less based on Thomas’ life.

For me, the great gift of Thirteen Moons is that it provides an interesting narrative overlay of the time period it covers. Certainly it is a work of fiction, and every detail is not historical, but that doesn’t take away from it. Indeed, where it departs, it is probably a benefit. The story follows the life of Will Cooper, a “bound boy” sent into what was then the frontier wilderness of the Southern Appalachians–beyond the white man’s land–to work at a trading post. In so doing it demonstrates in a very effective way the dissonance between the simplistic view of the “outside world,” particularly the government, and the reality of life in the region in all its complexity. But the novel doesn’t achieve this by setting up a sort of “us/them” conflict, it doesn’t say “this is how life is here” or add “and it’s better than where these other folks are,” instead it illustrates abiding and over arching principals through focusing on a particular story.

Above all the novel is a book about identity and mortality. By bringing up the complex question of what defined an Indian–was it blood or adoption etc..–it demonstrates how ill-equipped a society built on rigid color lines was to deal with the realities of human life. Tangled up with this theme of identity, and eventually becoming more predominant, is the theme of mortality. This mortality is not nihilistic however. It might better be called ironic, almost defiant. Everything changes the book confirms, people grow old and die, borders and ownership–such as it is–shift and become ephemeral, but in the midst of all this there is the truth of living–of friendship and love and history and place. Things may change, we may grow old and the world we know may even precede us in passing. But through it all, there is an assurance that life is to be lived and not regretted or fretted over. Indeed, one of the most believable aspects of the book is that while reading it really seems as though one is involved in a conversation with Will Cooper, that this old gentleman is sitting there with you on the porch telling you about his life, warts and all… and the best part of it is that the conversation doesn’t stop when you finish the book…

Another thing I love about Frazier’s writing is the humor he includes. Not to betray too much of the story, there is a wonderful description of John C. Calhoun and Andrew Jackson in the novel that had me laughing out loud (not the only place):

Jackson and Calhoun had the two most alarming manes of hair I had ever seen on white men. I qualified the judgement in that way because as a boy I knew a few old Indian warriors who still sported coifs from their youth way back in the previous century, styles that involved plucking half ones head with mussel-shell tweezers and letting the other half grow long, festooning random braided locks with colored beads and silver fobs and making part or all of the remainder elevate in spikes with the assistance of bear grease. But in a contest of extravagant hair just among white men, Jackson and Calhoun would have split the prize. they hated each other and yet continued to share their lofty hairstyles, which struck me as having all the features of placing exploding possums on their heads. Of course, they were both from South Carolina and thus given to strange enthusiasms.

Being from North Carolina (as is Frazier) I nearly rolled out of my chair laughing at that–especially the last line. But if you’re not from the South, don’t get any ideas–one thing you should know is that proximity and family ties makes it more like old friends having fun with one another when someone from NC, SC, TN etc.. says something about the other… but if somebody else says it–especially if they’re from the north east… well, that’s not good at all–it’s down right insulting.

All that is to say, Thirteen Moons is a wonderful book, and you should read it. Soon.

Update: The Eastern Band of the Cherokee have some information about Thomas on their web site:

A short note on politics today

I just had an interesting conversation with one of my friends from college. We always talk politics when we chat, and one of the things we talked about was the upcoming presidential election and the state of the political parties. Both of us in different ways count ourselves conservatives and inheritors of the traditionalism eximplified by Russell Kirk among others. But my friend said something in regards to US party politics: “unfortunately, Kirk is dead. Around in a few educated, semi-libertarian circles–but on the national level: dead.” This made me think a bit of Rod Dreher’s book “Crunchy Cons” because he deals with what one could call either a reemergence of (neo)traditionalism or a diaspora of neotraditionalists out of party politics. And if the realignment that seems to be taking place in the Republican party comes to pass, it won’t be long until the denizens of the Christian Right find themselves out here in the wilderness with us.

in regard to the million-dollar industry of “conservative” talk, Dreher wants to edge out the predominance of “market-mad consumers who vote Republican . . . whose commitment to conservative ideals ends the moment it costs us something.” He proposes a sacramental vision, something akin to Vaclav Havel’s antipolitical politics, whereby individual ethical choices, discerned and hashed out within communities (families, neighborhoods and churches), might somehow serve to transform the collective.

The revolution might be nothing more than a determined witness in which people choose lifestyles of mindfulness and communal consideration, an art of being in the world. Dreher notes that joining the volunteer fire department or a local farmers’ food co-op might be more authentically conservative than joining the Republican Party.

Compared to the conditioned reflexes of today’s politics (our values versus their values, or our Swift Boat Veterans against their Swift Boat Veterans), there’s something noteworthy and redemptive in the character type that Dreher sketches. It reminds me of many Protestants my age (I’m 36) whose dabblings in Dostoevsky and other Russian writers eventually took them toward Eastern Orthodoxy and homeschooling or whose discovery of Flannery O’Connor or Walker Percy as they emerged from Baptist youth groups took them all the way to G. K. Chesterton and Roman Catholic catechism.

As I read the book, I kept a list of potential honorary members of the Crunchy Cons. It was headed by Dorothy Day, followed by Daniel Berrigan, William Stringfellow, Martin Luther King Jr. and Will Campbell (with folks like Cornel West, Bill McKibben and Brian McLaren as more contemporary candidates). And I kept wondering what Dreher would say about such people. With my more obviously Crunchy Con peers, names like these sometimes lead to a strain in the conversation, a parting of the ways.

Like Dreher, these figures conspire toward or hope for a socialization of conscience even when they’re skeptical as to how much their moral vision will be popularly realized. They are also remarkably vigilant against the Manichean impasse whereby we assume that our kind of people with our values (homeschoolers, soup kitchen workers, draft-file burners) are the only ones who are really trying to do something to change the world. They don’t bother much with liberal or conservative labels.

“We don’t want our kids to be in a school where they’ll pay a price for being a nonconformist. We want them to learn in an atmosphere informed by our religious, moral, and philosophical values,” writes Dreher. While I’m very sympathetic to Dreher’s hope (I teach at a school that advertises itself as Christian), I see something problematic in a kind of greenhouse theory of conservative education in which students are reared and taught within an engineered, not-in-the-world atmosphere. This isn’t to say that any old public school will do. But there is tension between the biblical imperative of receptivity toward the ostensible outsider and the ethic of the enclave—between love and safety. I don’t pretend to have resolved this tension.

Dreher reports the following conversation:

“What will happen to the public schools if good people give up on them?” a liberal friend asked me one night. She was near to tears trying to convince me of the moral offensiveness of choosing to homeschool. She said it was un-Christian, and implied that there was something racist about our decision. All I could say was that our first responsibility as parents was to our children’s welfare, and we would not put them at risk for the sake of living up to a political or social ideal that we believed, rightly or wrongly, conflicts with what’s best for our kids.

I’m not sure where I’d land as a partaker in this particular conversation or what label might be added unto me at its conclusion, but I’d want to throw in, as an attempted testimony, that the coming kingdom of God is an appropriate hope within which to place our hope for our children’s welfare. What it will mean to try to bear witness to it in various contexts (to homeschool or not to homeschool?) will always be the work of communal discernment.

More than any explicit reference to the kingdom come, Dreher refers throughout the book to Russell Kirk’s “permanent things”—”those eternal moral norms necessary to civilized life and which are taught by all the world’s great wisdom traditions.” I can imagine a great deal of common ground in conversations relating Jesus’ gospel to the “eternal moral norms” of Dreher’s Crunchy Cons, but I sense some tensions too. Are the norms whatever should be obvious to all sensible people of good will? Might the gospel occasionally be foolishness to the Greeks and the world’s great wisdom traditions? Might Day and the Berrigans and Will Campbell prove scandalous in their attempted multipartisan, enemy-loving witness? Aren’t we all only now (and still and later) coming to the faith?

{read it all}

Archbishop Akinola: A Most Agonizing journey to Lambeth 2008

The Primates’ meeting at Lambeth Palace in October 2003 issued a pastoral statement condemning ECUSA’s decisions at General Convention describing them as actions that “threaten the unity of our own Communion as well as our relationships with other parts of Christ’s Church, our mission and witness, and our relations with other faiths, in a world already confused in areas of sexuality, morality and theology and polarized Christian opinion.” They also declared that if the consecration proceeds “the future of the Communion itself will be put in jeopardy” and that the action will “tear the fabric of our communion at its deepest level, and may lead to further division on this and further issues as provinces have to decide in consequence whether they can remain in communion with provinces that choose not to break communion with the Episcopal Church (USA).” They also called on “the provinces concerned to make adequate provision for Episcopal oversight of dissenting minorities within their own area of pastoral care in consultation with the Archbishop of Canterbury on behalf of the Primates.” [[xii]] ECUSA responded the following month by proceeding with the consecration of Gene Robinson thereby tearing the fabric of our Communion and forcing Nigeria along with many other provinces to sever communion with ECUSA.Earlier, in June 2003, we in the Church of Nigeria had cut our links with the diocese of New Westminster and sent a clear warning of reconsidering our relationship with ECUSA should Gene Robinson be consecrated. [[xiii]] As always, we were ignored.During 2004 there was a growing number of so-called ‘blessings’ of same-sex unions by American and Canadian priests even though the Windsor Report released in September 2004 reaffirmed Lambeth 1.10 and the authority of Scripture as central to Anglican Common Life. The Windsor Report also called for moratoria on public rites of same-sex blessings and on the election and consent of any candidate to the episcopate living in a same-sex union. [[xiv]]One consequence of this continuing intransigence by ECUSA was the alienation of thousands of faithful Anglicans who make their home in the USA. The attempts by the Primates to provide for their protection through the Panel of Reference proved fruitless. So the desire of these faithful Anglicans for alternatives for their spiritual home led to many impassioned requests to the Church of Nigeria and a number of other provinces within the Global South. The Standing Committee of the Church of Nigeria (CofN) recognizing this urgent need during their meeting in Ilesa in March 2004 and as a result initiated a process for the provision of pastoral care through the formation of a Convocation within the USA.

{read it all}

From the Guardian (Nigeria): A note from Archbishop Akinola

I have been somewhat critical of the stance of some in the global south that they will boycott Lambeth. In a way, it seems almost like snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. However, despite my criticisms, I think some very real spiritual concerns underly these statements. And I agree with them–we really need to deal with these issues before Lambeth, so that it can be a fruitful conference. How can we restore communion before hand? Obviously I think repentance is needed all around, but I think this is especially the case for those of us in the Episcopal Church. We acted arrogantly and self-righteously and the rest of these events have unfolded as a result of what we have done–and we can’t say we weren’t warned.

People forget that Akinola was one of the harshest critics of Archbishops Yong and Kolini when they formed the AMiA–the actions of the American Episcopal Church persuaded him that intervention was a justified option. Archbishop Akinola, so demonized in the west, has written a good summary of his thinking on the current issues in the Guardian.

Like a joke, they thought that as Africans, we don’t know what we are doing; particularly, the Americans and you know they always have their ways politically and economically. So, we have been dragging it since 1998 and Africans and some of our other colleagues in America, England and South Asian, we have maintained our stand that we will not continue with any of our church that ignore what the bible says. We have had several conferences and several meetings, attended several commissions to see how we could reconcile the western people with the so-called conservatives, all to no avail. In fact when America tried to ordain a practising homosexual as bishop, many conservatives broke communion with them. So today, we are in a state of a broken communion in the Anglican Church wordwide. This is critical and fundamental because when we say we are in a state of a broken communion, it means that the other group has been ex-communicated as it were or orstracised and you are not in fellowship with them anymore until that communion is restored.

As I said, we have made several efforts in Lambeth Palace, and other places, at reconciliation, but it hasn’t work so far and we in Africa are saying that until we resolve the issue and until we restore communion we can’t come together. What is the point of coming together? Let me give you a clear illustration of what I’m saying:

In Lambeth Palace, we met as Primates, we could not share in the Lord’s Supper. It is as that bad. As Primates and Archbishops, we could not share in the Lord’s Supper – the highest and most important service in our church. So, what is left of the church then? It happened in two other places like that again and again, because the faith once delivered to the saints has been abandoned as far as we are concerned. All we are saying is that, look you don’t have a monopoly of homosexuals in your community. They are in Africa, they are in Abuja here and everywhere, but we don’t celebrate it for God’s sake. Our duty is to counsel people that are involve in it. To pray with them guide and advise them until they will come back to their senses. Many who have this problem have been healed world over. It is an acquired syndrome. But they say no, it is not an acquired syndrome, it is the way they are made. But we say no to that. God did not make a mistake in creation. God did not make a mistake in creating a man and a woman and they cannot re-create what God has already created.

So, when our brother, Rowan Williams, a man I admire so much, a man I respect so much for his intellectual ability, spirituality – and he knows that I love and respect him a great deal- but when it comes to this, his position is baffling and we cannot sweep it under the carpet. Communion must be restored first. We cannot go to Lambeth Conference to go and restore communion. We must do this before we can meet at the Lord’s table.

{read it all}

From the Vicar's Desk, #1

I’ve been doing a lot of reading lately. That’s not necessarily new–I’m a bit of a book worm. But what is new is the number and range of things I’m reading. From books on why men hate going to church, to marital counseling books, Christian sexual ethics, congregational development and a whole host of others. And the thing is–they are all important, all of them have something to say about where we are as a Church or where we need to be. Often they have great practical ideas about congregational life or mission. Some have been extremely helpful to me as I’ve transitioned into this new position at St. Francis and have helped me (hopefully) to not fumble my way around too much.

During all of this change and new reading, and most especially after our congregational meeting on August 5th, it occured to me that there is something very important about the Anglican way of being Christian, something often only slightly grasped, but something that makes Anglicanism unique and special. I think I’ve touched on it in conversations with some of you about how Anglicanism is unique in that it doesn’t have one dominant theological figure–something I think is a strength.

My thoughts finally came together late last night as I skimmed the book The Panther and the Hind: a Theological History of Anglicanism by Aidan Nichols. At one point Nichols notes the disparate ways lovers and critics of Anglicanism have looked at its theological and doctrinal topography:

The Anglican Church is one of the most pluralistic churches in the world, certainly the most pluralistic of the historic churches. It has never had a single theological orthodoxy. Although it has promulgated confessional statements, and above all the Thirty Nine Articles of Religion of 1571, it has never committed itself to a single theological elucidation of those statements. There is no one theologian, in other words, who plays anything like the role of Calvin in the Reformed churches or even Luther in Lutheranism. The theological pluralism of Anglicanism has received very different evaluations. Some regard it positively, calling it ‘comprehensiveness’. [...] Others would argue that the different traditions are not complimentary but contradictory and that their representatives have in fact spent as much time in conflict with each other as they have in peaceful coexistence. (p. xvii)

Nichols continues on to mention the fact that many detractors of Anglicanism would prefer it if it shattered and it’s constituent parties went their various ways. One might dialogue with one segment of Anglicanism on its own they say, but doing so together is an impossibility: what do they actually believe for goodness’ sake, someone might ask.

But as I’ve reflected on it, I’ve come to believe that people are less negative about Anglicanism per se, than they are simply made uncomfortable by its existence. For those people inclined to nail down every segment of the faith, even those things that are not central, then Anglicanism must be an incredibly frustrating entity. Not to mention the fact that the dysfunction of Anglicanism as it presently is, and the criticisms that raises.

I suppose one of the main things I’ve learned is that while there may be some justified criticism of a lack of authority and discipline in the Anglican Communion, many of the theological criticisms simply come from people with a different understanding of the nature of theology. They may view Anglicanism as a political rather than theological compromise or comprehension, but there are those of us who believe that “comprehension for the sake of truth,” as the collect for Richard Hooker’s day puts it, is an important and needed stance within the Church.

Sermon for Proper 10c

Sermon for Proper 10c
St. Francis’ Church
Scriptures: Deuteronomy 30:9-14; Colossians 1:1-14; Luke 10:25-37; Psalm 25 or 25:3-9

Have you ever wondered what it would really mean to follow Jesus today?

I know sometimes I used to think about it and I’d think it’d take a lot of work…

Like super-human effort

I had this mental list of what I really needed to do and I knew that if I really got done with all of it I would be living a faithful life…

I would’ve been a sort of cross between a monk and a super-hero too, but I had this idea….

And the odd thing was, that as long as I had this idea that I had to accomplish all these amazing things for God…

I didn’t get any of it done…

So how can we be faithful

How can we serve Jesus without trying to be some sort of spiritual super-hero—which we can never really be?

This question becomes even more urgent when we take a look around us and see some of the things that happen on a daily basis, some of the things that we do to one another,

The horrible way many of the weakest and most needy among us are treated for no more reason than they have no way to stand up to the way the world is…

I read an article several months ago about a case of something that has evidently become an increasing problem in larger cities such as Los Angeles: it’s called “homeless dumping.”

Basically this is what happens when a sick homeless person is treated at a hospital and discharged before they are well.

Since they aren’t healthy, they can’t really get themselves anywhere, and since they are homeless they don’t really have anywhere to go, so they end up being “dumped” somewhere on skid row…

The LA times reported that there are more than 10 hospitals being investigated for over 50 cases of homeless dumping by the LA county attorney.

One of these—Hollywood Presbyterian—has been investigated for a situation in February when a 54-year-old homeless paraplegic was discharged from the hospital and later found wearing a soiled hospital gown and with his colostomy bag still attached, crawling in the gutter near a skid row park.

In the article “Police said that as onlookers demanded help for the man, the driver for a van company working for the hospital applied makeup and perfume before speeding off.

Hospital officials acknowledged that some procedures weren’t followed. They said they have made changes and will make more.”

I’m thankful that they are making changes and pray they’re effective…but notice the name of the hospital—Hollywood Presbyterian.

That hospital like thousands—maybe millions—of others founded by Christians since the time of Constantine when Christianity became a legal religion, was founded because Christians wanted to follow our Lord’s command and “Go and do likewise…” in caring for the sick, the injured and the forgotten.

And many, many Christians still get involved in healthcare because they want to help people, to heal people…

There are several people in our own congregation—Shelly and Linda for example, who I know have hearts for those who are in need of help.

I know that my mom, who’s also a nurse, does what she does because she believes in helping people…

But why is it that even as individual Christians are still fulfilling the call, are still stepping into vocations to help and serve others, that the Churches have largely abandoned the institutions they founded and for many years funded?

Why have most hospitals in the Catholic Hospital system been sold?

Why is the most Christian element about many hospitals—besides the Christians who may work there—their name or their letterhead?

I think I have a practical answer—the rising costs of healthcare and administration coupled with a decline in the resources that originally enabled Churches to run these organizations have led to their sell off…

But that doesn’t answer the spiritual question of why we, the Christian people, have allowed things to get to this point…

And Hospitals are not the only place this pulling back, this narrowing of ministry is happening…

Did you know that modern Prisons were also originally founded by Christians as a more humane means of punishment at a time when almost everything—I’m only slightly exaggerating—was punishable by death?

And yet, with the exception of a few strong Prison ministries like Kairos, Christian ministries rarely reach behind bars.

Have we forgotten what it means to love our neighbor?

To go and do likewise?

In our gospel reading this morning, Luke tells us that a “lawyer stood up to test Jesus,” saying “teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

Jesus responds, as he often does, with a question of his own, “what is written in the law? What do you read there?” The lawyer answers “you shall love the lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.”

Jesus tells the man, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.” But our lawyer friend couldn’t leave it there—he had to ask another question…

“Wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “and who is my neighbor?”

You can tell he’s a lawyer…

“I’m not letting you off that easy Jesus,” he seems to say…

“You haven’t answered my question….I can love god well enough. I know who God is…

but who is my neighbor? Could you clear that little bit up for me?”

That certainly sounds like a lawyer to me… of course it sounds like my own response and I suspect many other peoples’ as well.

Rather than respond directly to the question, Jesus tells a parable about a traveler—in those days they had strict cultural laws of hospitality and rules for the treatment of travelers.

They had to have these rules because travel was so dangerous, especially if you were alone, and people needed some sort of assurance or protection.

The traveler in Jesus’ story finds out first hand just how dangerous travel can be as he is beaten, robbed and left for dead.

Here’s this poor traveler, away from his home ad friends, beaten to within an inch of his life, lying in the dirt, broken and bloody… when up the road comes a priest…

Ok, you might say, the priest will take care of him—but instead the priest passes him by….

But he doesn’t just ignore him or pretend he doesn’t see him—he moves to the other side of the road to avoid him.

I imagine him picking up he robes, sort of sniffing the air a little, looking out of the corner of his eye as he moves quickly to the other side.

Then Jesus tells us a second person—a levite, a preist’s assistant—comes by and does the same thing, moving quickly to the other side of the road and walking right past the traveler who’s still laying there in the ditch, hurting and bleeding.

Finally a third person, a Samaritan this time, comes down the road, sees the man and we’re told that his heart was “moved with pity” or “compassion”

After telling this parable, Jesus asks “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” The lawyer gives the only answer he can, “The one who showed him mercy.”

It would be easy to just condemn the priest and the Levite for being hard-hearted…why didn’t they just help the poor guy?

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Sermon for Proper 7c: In the Midst of the Storm

Last sermon given at Trinity Winchester

Scriptures: Zechariah 12:8-10;13:1; Galatians 3:23-29; Luke 9:18-24; Psalm 63:1-8

I’ll never forget a conversation I had once. This person contacted me because he’d seen something I’d written and I suppose he saw that I was a Christian.

I can’t recall what I had been discussing or debating in my writing, and I doubt it was very important, but I remember this guy contacting me and starting to ask me questions about Jesus.

As we talked he stopped asking so many questions and instead started to “inform” me of some of the things he knew about Jesus, my answers having revealed my ignorance of several events he thought were very important for Jesus’ life and teachings.

For example. “Did you know,” he said, “that Jesus went to India…”

Well, no, I didn’t know that… it’s not in the Bible and I really don’t think there’s any evidence outside….”

“Well” he interrupted, “you know that Jesus was a Druid, right? He went to England and Ireland with his uncle Joseph of Arimathea and learned from the Druids while he was there…”

If the DaVinci Code had been written I would’ve been sure I was speaking to Dan Brown’s cousin…and if this guy had read it, I don’t doubt I would have gotten a nice summary of all its theories as well.

It became apparent in our conversation he believed any claim about Jesus except the ones found in the scriptures.

It didn’t matter how much effort I put into trying to explain how improbable it would have been for Jesus or any of his relatives to travel to Britain and back, to say nothing of the fact that the Jews, despite those lapses in the Old Testament, weren’t known for their openness to foreign religion, and I’m sure Jesus would have been even less so.

In spite of all my efforts, I’m not sure I changed anything. He may have left our conversation believing that Jesus was really a Hindu-trained Druid while I, well, I still believed he was and is who the Bible says he is—the Son of God, the Word made flesh, my Lord and Savior.

You see, we all want to claim Jesus as our own. But too often we want to claim him on our terms, as a sort of trophy or trump card for what we already believe, rather than on his terms as our Lord.

And of course if we can truly claim Jesus, it is not because we have chosen him but because, as he says, he has chosen us.

One of the great Christian ethicists of the last century, H. Richard Niebuhr once said that Jesus:

can never be confused with a Socrates, a Plato or an Aristotle, a Gautama (Buddha), a Confucius, or a Mohammed, or even with Amos or Isaiah. Interpreted by a monk, he may take on monastic characteristics; delineated by a socialist, he may show the features of a radical reformer; portrayed by a Hoffman, he may appear as a mild gentleman. But there always remain the original portraits with which all later pictures may be compared and by which all caricatures may be corrected. And in these original portraits he is recognizably one and the same. (Niebuhr, 13)

We live in a day and age when people are trying to justify many things in the name of Jesus. Too often by claiming a Jesus of their creation.

But this isn’t a new thing. And thankfully we’ve been given some guidance.

Consider our gospel lesson this morning, where Jesus asked his disciples “‘Who do the crowds say that I am?’ They answered, ‘John the Baptist; but others, Elijah; and still others, that one of the ancient prophets has arisen.’ He said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Peter answered, ‘The Messiah of God.’”

There are lots of people out there claiming that Jesus is this or Jesus is that—that he’s John the Baptist, or Elijah, that he’s one of the Ancient prophets arisen.

Later on we know that there are enough people calling Christ a blasphemer and traitor to crucify him…

Today we might hear people saying “Jesus was a good man,” or “Jesus was a good teacher,” or “I like what Jesus said, but not what the Bible says he said…” Where exactly they’ve heard anything else legitimate, I don’t know.

We might hear people say that Jesus was a lot like Buddha—a good man who gives us a good example.

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New Resources

I used to have quite a few history and theology resources on my old static site. I’m gradually migrating them all over to wordpress. If you look up top, you’ll see a new “history” tab. There’re some resources there, mostly off-site, but one interesting sermon I’m transcribing from the works of the Rt. Rev. John Stark Ravenscroft, first Episcopal Bishop of North Carolina. Let me know if you know of any resources I should add.

Getting all first century…

Every so often my Baptist roots come back to me. The other day we had a meeting at church to discuss some of the ongoing ecclesiastical pit-fighting discernment in the Anglican Communion. Toward the end of the meeting, after I’d spent a good deal of time and spilled more than a few words attempting to explain the current situation in the Anglican Communion it suddenly occurred to: WAIT MAYBE THIS ISN’T ALL BAD!

What do I mean by that? Well, it’s obvious that we no longer live in Christendom–I’m certainly not the first to recognize that. And with the transition to a post-Christendom society comes a reversion to the missionary stance of the first several centuries of Christianity. No longer the establishment–even where some form of the Church is supposedly legally established–we cannot expect people to have imbibed Christian values from infancy and simply wait on them to walk through the Church door to provide the final missing piece of the puzzle for their lives. For all those churches that have said so often that they want to get back to the first century church–guess what? You got your wish. We’re living in a mission context, strangers in a strange land, where our traditions, morality and values are all up for question and challenge.

And conflict? They certainly had conflict enough in the early Church and I don’t think it’s stopped for any appreciable amount of time since then. We’re just conflicted over something new. So yes indeed, we can be assured that we’ve moved back to a New Testament model of the church–a group of Christians trying to be faithful to the gospel in the midst of conflict while a world awaits that is ready to hear the good news Jesus Christ offers to them. Are we ready to proclaim it?

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