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Musings of an Anglican/Episcopal Priest

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500 years after Luther, the law/gospel insight remains almost true – Covenant

Good thoughts from Dr. Garwood Anderson. The Law/Gospel hermeneutic, as attractive and helpful as it is and can be, is rightfully only a tool, and becomes distorted when taken as foundational or intrinsic to the text as opposed to the human psyche.
-JBH

Five centuries this side of the Reformation, Zahl and his colleagues understandably find an urgency to repristinate Luther’s vision for the present hour. The law/gospel antithesis has both fallen on hard times in certain circles while, perhaps not accidentally, simultaneously enjoyed a revival in others. A substantial cadre of New Testament scholars doubts that Luther got this distinction quite right, and some think he got it quite wrong. Count me among the former. Reading Zahl’s article illustrates two things for me: the tremendous liberating appeal of this “almost right” understanding of the gospel and the grave hermeneutical consequence of being almost right in this way. I might say that the article demonstrates that the law/gospel antithesis has much greater psychological appeal than it has hermeneutical integrity.

Source: 500 years after Luther, the law/gospel insight remains almost true – Covenant

The Rev. Mrs. Fleming Rutledge is Not Ashamed of the Gospel | Mockingbird

Thank you Sarah Condon. Keep up the sin talk:

The Rev. Rutledge spoke of kerygma, which is to say, the proclamation of the Gospel. She pointed to scripture and clearly named Jesus Christ moving from “he did mighty works” to “my Lord and my God.” And finally, that woman preacher reminded us that our church is not a memorial society; it is the body of the Lord and Living Christ.I looked around, and we were all weeping: men, women, young, old, ordained, and laypeople.We needed it. And we needed her to say it.

Source: The Rev. Mrs. Fleming Rutledge is Not Ashamed of the Gospel | Mockingbird

Easter is bonkers – Covenant

Great thoughts from Father Mark Clavier on the strangeness of Easter–and therefore our faith–and the fact that we can infer from this that God is neither boring, nor cares much for boring people:

As I said, God can’t abide bores. If you want a bore, find the devil. Now, there’s someone tedious beyond endurance, which C.S. Lewis portrays so brilliantly in Perelandra. Look at his temptations in the wilderness. Utterly unimaginative — even a toddler could come up with food, angels, and worldly power. No, the devil is a bore. He’s self-obsessed, and we all know what it’s like to be stuck in the company of the self-obsessed.

Source: Easter is bonkers – Covenant

Evangelism of the weird – Covenant

Good thoughts on the necessary weirdness of the Christian faith by Father Jonathan Mitchican:

This past Epiphany, I blessed chalk during the Mass. It was the first time our parish had engaged in this particular practice. Each person who attended was given a piece of chalk to take home with them, along with a set of instructions for scrawling the formula for a blessing over the doors of their homes: “20+C+M+B+17.” It was a strange thing to do. People in the neighborhood would later stare at our doors and wonder. It made no sense to the world. Many people thought it was weird.To that I say, good. It is good that Christians are weird. The weirder we can be, the better.We in the West live in a culture in which Christianity is increasingly alien. Despite the fact that much of our cultural understanding of things like human rights and social responsibility is still loosely based on a Judeo-Christian ethic, our societies in America and Europe have become increasingly secular and hostile to Christian faith. Our culture’s priests today are celebrities and scientists (and the celebrity scientist is the most prized figure of all — witness the recent controversy over Bill Nye’s new show). Our houses of worship are football stadiums. Our creeds are sound-bite versions of political platforms delivered over social media and cable news.

Source: Evangelism of the weird – Covenant

Seven Stanzas at Easter: John Updike

Make no mistake: if He rose at all
it was as His body;
if the cells’ dissolution did not reverse, the molecules
reknit, the amino acids rekindle,
the Church will fall.

It was not as the flowers,
each soft Spring recurrent;
it was not as His Spirit in the mouths and fuddled
eyes of the eleven apostles;
it was as His flesh: ours.

The same hinged thumbs and toes,
the same valved heart
that–pierced–died, withered, paused, and then
regathered out of enduring Might
new strength to enclose.

Let us not mock God with metaphor,
analogy, sidestepping, transcendence;
making of the event a parable, a sign painted in the
faded credulity of earlier ages:
let us walk through the door.

The stone is rolled back, not papier-mâché,
not a stone in a story,
but the vast rock of materiality that in the slow
grinding of time will eclipse for each of us
the wide light of day.

And if we will have an angel at the tomb,
make it a real angel,
weighty with Max Planck’s quanta, vivid with hair,
opaque in the dawn light, robed in real linen
spun on a definite loom.

Let us not seek to make it less monstrous,
for our own convenience, our own sense of beauty,
lest, awakened in one unthinkable hour, we are
embarrassed by the miracle,
and crushed by remonstrance.

John Updike, 1960.

From “Elements of Rite: A Handbook of Liturgical Style” – Aidan Kavanaugh

This confirms my biases, so I thought I’d share it:

Churches are not carpeted.

While rugs and runners may occasionally enhance liturgical place by adding festal color, carpeting in quantity wearies the eye and muffles sound. Even with a good electronic sound system, which is a rarity, a carpeted church often has all the acoustical vigor of an elevator. The ambience of a carpeted church, moreover, is too soft for the liturgy, which needs hardness, sonority, and a certain bracing discomfort much like the Gospel itself. Liturgical ambience must challenge, for one comes to the liturgy to transact the public business of death and life rather than to be tucked in with fables and featherpuffs. The liturgy challenges what Quentin Crisp calls the general notion of Christianity as a consolatory religion, as something nice Jesus of Nazareth could say to those who turn to him for comfort.

Source: Elements of Rite: A Handbook of Liturgical Style – Aidan Kavanaugh – Google Books

Driven by the Spirit

Sermon notes for 3 Easter, 2017
Scripture: Acts 2:14a, 36-41

What drives our actions as Christians?

I don’t mean what drives our actions as human beings, full stop. I think we can probably arrive at a number of acceptable answers fairly quickly when we reflect on that. We’re driven by wants, needs, appetites, fears, frailties, sins, hopes, dreams, virtues and so on. That’s true of everyone.

But what drives our peculiarly Christian actions?

Is it our conscience? Perhaps in part. But what inspires our conscience toward particularly Christian actions in situations where acting like every other human being who is not like Jesus would be so much easier?

I love the movie Inside Out, and its depictions of emotions. I love it even more because it gives me a chance to use one of my favorite words: homunculus. A homunculus is a tiny person. In philosophy the term is used to describe an idea that there is a little person or persons in our heads who drive us around like biological robots–at least in a manner of speaking. In various psychological and philosophical theories it’s used as an example that poses the problem of infinite regression. If there’s one little person in our heads, then who’s in their head, etc.

In Inside Out there are a series of little homunculi who drive characters in the film around. Each one represents an emotion. They stand at a console in the character’s heads, and work together to operate the person. It’s quite brilliant. But only as a metaphor or analogy. No one who worked on the film, I presume, believed there were actual little people in our heads. They even admit that they had to leave some things out. They show the emotions, but not reason. Reason was in early drafts of the script. If I remember correctly, one of the writers said they had the idea of having Reason thrown out the window by Anger. But it didn’t work. They had to leave it with just the emotions. And it works. The film is, I think, a fantastic way to visualize emotional development, and the way our emotions drive or prompt us to certain actions. But emotions do not and cannot explain everything about us. They don’t explain our reason or our logic. Oddly, I’m not even sure emotion is a good descriptor even of the deeper aspects of things like love, commitment, hatred and so on.

There is more driving us.

What drives us as followers of Christ? What pushes us beyond our emotions, beyond our reason, beyond our simple human capacities?

In our lesson from Acts, we hear more from Peter’s sermon after the coming of the Holy Spirit in Pentecost. Peter is laying it all on the line to his listeners. You remember last week, he pointed out that they had crucified the Lord. The crowd and religious leaders with the “lawless” folks–that is the gentiles, the Romans–had conspired in such a way that Jesus, an innocent man–more than that: the Messiah–had been executed. Peter reiterates the charge in today’s portion:

“‘Therefore let the entire House of Israel know with certainty that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified.’ Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and to the other apostles, ‘Brothers, what should we do?'” (Acts 2:36-37)

Peter doesn’t pull any punches. He nails them again. “This Jesus whom you crucified…” This isn’t a compliment sandwich. Peter isn’t following the accepted patterns of how to get a crowd on your side. Jesus. An innocent person. Crucified. And you, Peter says to his hearers, are responsible. And yet they don’t respond with anger. Miraculously they respond with regret. “When they heard this, they were cut to the heart.” Actually, they’re responding with more than regret. This is conviction. This is repentance. “What should we do?” they ask.

They want to know, given the charges against them, what should they do? What can they do?

Peter tells them. And the amazing thing is this: before they are even told what to do, and what will happen when they follow the Apostle’s instruction, the work of God is already manifest in them.

Repent.

Be Baptized–every one of them–in the name of Jesus Christ.

That’s what they can do. And when they do, Peter tells them, they will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. Of course, the Spirit is already at work. We know the Spirit is at work with Peter and the other Apostles, including, by the way, Mary the mother of Jesus. It descended on them like tongues of fire and a mighty wind. It was hard to miss. But something inspired the hearers as well. They were cut to the heart. They wanted to make amends. They wanted to repent, they just didn’t know what that entailed. Peter tell them.

Their actions, from before the time when they converted, was prompted by the Holy Spirit. Did all of them convert? We don’t know. We do know that scripture tells us 3000 were converted in a single day. We know that some among them at least, were convicted enough to ask Peter what they needed to do. That was evidence of the work of the Spirit. And for those who were Baptized, who died with Christ and rose with him, they could look for more of the Holy Spirit in their lives.

That’s what drives us as Christians. That’s what drives our peculiarly Christian acts. They’re inspired. We’re inspired. We’re filled with the breath of God, and we act accordingly.

Consider: the Spirit drives Jesus into the wilderness after his baptism at the beginning of his ministry. The Spirit descends upon the apostles and empowers them to preach and teach in ways they never imagined. The Spirit speaks to the hearts of the listeners and prompts remorse and repentance. The Spirit animates the Christian life.

God breaths out, we breath in. And we go to work.

Repentance is a beginning.

–That frees us from bondage to the past, while encouraging us to redress wrongs.

Baptism is a beginning.

–In it we are buried with Christ, and Christ now lives in us.

—In it we receive the Holy Spirit

Receiving the Spirit is a beginning.

–Not an end point or an end goal, but a beginning.

—A beginning that equips us to grow more and more into the likeness of Christ.

—-To follow the great commandment to love God and love our neighbors as ourselves.

—–To fulfill the mission of the Church “to restore all people to unity with God and one another in Christ” (BCP 855).

We don’t talk about the work of the Spirit enough. Especially as it is the Spirit that Jesus promised to send us as a comforter, an advocate. Because it is the Spirit that intercedes for us with sighs and groaning too deep for words when we cannot articulate our needs or concerns ourselves.

When human language fails us: There is the Spirit.

-When human love fails us: There is the Spirit.

–When human capacities of any sort fail us in our efforts to follow Jesus: There is the Spirit.

We see the work of the Spirit in this selection from Acts: The Spirit indwells the apostles, the Spirit inspires the preacher, the Spirit works in the hearts of the hearers, the Spirit inspires repentance, the Spirit is the gift of repentance in Baptism, the Spirit then works the work of God in and through human beings who become agents of the divine calling.

And what does this agency of God accomplish in us?

The Catechism tells us “The Holy Spirit is revealed as the Lord who leads us into all truth and enables us to grow in the likeness of Christ” (BCP 852).

It is in growing in the likeness of Christ that we become able to be reconciled with one another. We must be reconciled to God first, and as we are drawn closer to God, and we receive the gifts of the Spirit, we are equipped to fight the alienation that separates us from one another, even as we are being drawn together by the love of Christ.

The Holy Spirit, in other words, is not only the animating force of the Christian life, in doing this, the Holy Spirit becomes the animating force of God in the Community of God’s people. It is not a whim that the Church follows the discussion of the Spirit in both the Nicene Creed and in our Catechism. Community itself is a gift of the Spirit. It would not endure without the Spirit, even as we would not endure in the Christian life without the comfort, advocacy, and intercession of the Spirit in our own lives. As Peter says of the entire gospel: “the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him” (Acts 2:39). God does not call people to a life of solitary faithfulness, without encouragement, without assistance, without bearing witness to the faithfulness of others. God calls us together. And this too is the work of the Spirit.

By the Spirit we are called to repent, to follow, to bear witness to, to imitate. And all as we gravitate toward one another, becoming Christ’s body in the world, becoming members of the collective Body of Christ, existing within the body, even as Christ lives in each of us. As John’s gospel recounts Jesus saying “On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you” (John 14:20).

So what drives us to the peculiar actions that characterize the Christian faith? The Spirit drives us, as the Spirit drove Christ into the wilderness, and beyond.

And as the Spirit’s work was revealed in the solidarity of Christ with us, descending upon him in his baptism, where he threw in his lot with sinful humanity to “fulfill all righteousness,” so too does the Spirit drive us to unity and solidarity with God and with one another:

We recognize the presence of the Holy Spirit when we confess Jesus Christ as Lord and are brought into love and harmony with God, with ourselves, with our neighbors, and with all creation (BCP 852).

The Spirit is at the center of our Christian lives. The presence of the Spirit is a witness to the promises of God. We really shouldn’t shy away from talking about it. After all, it is the Spirit that prompts us in all these things.

“…the various ways in which Christians try to reconcile the reality of evil to their faith in God ultimately tends to implicate God in evil to the point of evil being an aspect of God… If God could directly will evil, then God would in some sense be evil.” -David Bentley Hart

Episode 34 – David Bentley Hart: All Creation Afire as a Burning Bush

“What one does is what one is, and one’s acts are possibilities only because they’re resident in the nature one possesses.” –David Bentley Hart

The God that most Christians worship is evil

David Bentley Hart (left) receives the Michael Ramsey Prize from Archbishop Rowan Williams.

David Bentley Hart lowers the boom  in this wide-ranging podcast interview. From a discussion of the way an understanding of salvation that consists in being saved from God rather than from sin and death makes God into a capricious and wicked idol, the reasons Process Theology is philosophically incoherent (basically it makes God into a god or demiurge rather than the ground of all being in perfect plenitude). Also discussed are the reasons the idea of inherited guilt is based on a mis-translation of Romans 5, the fact that it is fundamentalists and not the hellenistic influenced Christian (and Jewish) intellectual tradition who are thinking like pagans, and worshipping a Zeus-like figure. Great stuff. As always, Hart is erudite and to the point. Enjoy.

[Edit: I thought I’d include this great quote. Hart and his interviewer and discussing their struggles with illness, and how this is reflected in a sensitivity and moral outrage in the suffering in the world, Hart says:

“…I think there is a real problem that we have to deal with in the way that most of us have become accustomed to thinking about God. We preach the gospel of the love of God in Christ as a solution to the gospel of the wrath of God in the Father, for instance. It is, at the end of the day, the way it’s construed, the way it’s spoken, the way it’s preached, fundamentally contradictory. And I don’t blame those who reject it. I think that if the choice is between say, a principled atheism and many forms of Christian belief, that the atheism is closer to a true picture of the Christian God because at least it’s a belief in a reality that doesn’t include the petty despot who predestines some to eternal perdition. But the other thing is just a critical and scholarly concern too… that’s sort of a trivial thing, but I just translated the New Testament for Yale… in translating the New Testament I became somewhat indignant actually at the history of translation that one’s fighting against. In part I mean just the traditional translations which with the best will in the world followed theological orthodoxy in their time and place. And many people who are considered authorities on what, say, Paul taught, learned some Greek in seminary and they learned to translate certain words according to the dogmatic tradition which has determined a lot of translations for 500 years, and more than that actually, even the translations into Latin in earlier centuries. But then there are the modern translations like the New International Version which go out of their way to impose readings on the texts that clearly aren’t there in the Greek in order to make them conform say to certain Evangelical understanding… The New International Version for instance imposes readings that are clearly false.”]

Crackers & Grape Juice Episode 34–David Bentley Hart: All Creation Afire as a Burning Bush.

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