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Sunday, October 03, 2010

The Bible is Not An Answer Key

Epistle: I Cor. 1:4-9
Gospel: Matt. 22:34-46

Growing up in home with a teacher wasn't always easy. We couldn't get away with as much because Mom knew all the tricks. At the same time, I learned early one of the tricks of teaching: All of Mom’s school books had the answers in them. They were usually in the back of the book or embedded in the margins. This was the teacher's Answer Key.

Of course, one problem was also that I never took any of the classes my Mom taught.

There are people who would use the Bible as an answer key. There are some who always need the right answer: When is Christ returning? How do you baptize people? When should Church be (Saturday or Sunday)? Should women speak in Church? Etc.

Some want to use the Bible to exclude the "wrong ones." For Catholics the issue is Communion. They're nice about it, but unless you're one of them, you're out. There are “closed groups,” like the Amish who want to stay separate from worldliness. Other splinter groups within denominations use the Bible to prove their point.

There are also some who use the "Answer Key" to practice religious “one-up-manship.” These folks like to say, "I know this and you don’t."

What does the Bible say about itself?

The Lord gives us an example in today's Gospel: The Law of Love is the filter for understanding the Bible. When queried by the teachers of the Law, “Love the Lord your God” and “Love your neighbor” were not the answers they expected.

What they expected was for Jesus to take sides, with either Sadducces or Pharisees. In Matt. 22:15, just a few verses before today's reading, it says that "they laid plans to trap Him."

Even better for them would have been for Jesus to trap Himself. They looked for a chance to say, "Well, Jesus, you said this in Galilee and now you're saying that here." Or, "We thought we heard you say this and now you mean that?"

These teachers of the Law sought to align Jesus with one or the other of them by creating a hierarchy of which verses meant more than others – the Law, the Prophets, or the Wisdom literature? But Jesus uses the filter of love to demonstrate to them that "all the Law and the Prophets" hang on loving God and loving their neighbor.

Another thing the Bible says about itself is that it is intended to bring us to Christ. We have this printed on the back of our weekly bulletin for everyone to see: The Bible is the schoolmaster to bring us to Christ (Gal. 3:24).

Instead of being an "Answer Key," the Bible tells us that the Answer is Jesus Christ and the Bible is our guidebook to Him. Without the Answer (Jesus Christ) everything else is simply argument.

We should be clear about this: The Bible doesn’t save us – Jesus Christ does. The Bible wasn't crucified for us. The Bible didn't descend into hell. The Bible didn't raise again on the third day or ascend into Heaven. Jesus Christ did. The Bible shows us the way to salvation through Him.

Another aspect of the Bible is that is is a light, “a lamp unto my feet” (Psalm 119:105). I remember seeing an Amish farmer on Whitley Road leading his horses and hay wagon in the pitch dark. All he could see was the glow of that light in about an eight foot radius. But that's all he needed to see to get his team home.

Jesus Christ is the Light of the World and we walk in the daylight of God’s light. The Bible – a lamp unto my feet – a flashlight for finding our way in the darkness until we get to the Light – who is Jesus Christ

Finally, we understand that the Bible is inspired (II Tim. 3:16), which means "God-breathed." It should be treated as inspired, not a quiz book or novel. The same Holy Spirit Who inspired the Bible is that same Holy Spirit
Who inspires you.

Inspiration transcends what we understand to help us understand things by faith. Things that are hard for our maodern skeptical minds are understood by faith in God's inspiration, from miracles – Red Sea Crossing, the Resurrection - to Christ's difficult teachings – heaven and hell, sin and justification.

How do you understand the Bible? Is it God's written word, your guidebook to Christ? Instead of using it as an Answer Key, do you know Him who is the Answer?

Monday, September 13, 2010

The Queen and The Cross

The Exaltation of the Holy and Life-Giving Cross
This is from my sermon on Sun., Sept. 12, 2010.

Epistle: Phil. 2:5-11
Psalm 34
Gospel: John 12:31-36

As remembered the 9/11 attacks yesterday, I was put in mind of the story of St. Helen and the discovery and lifting up of the Cross.

If anyone had brought to Church a piece of the steel from Ground Zero, we likely would have a sense of reverent awe about it.
* We would wonder about where in the Towers it had been.
* We might ask if any of the survivors would have somehow touched it.
* We might have asked if any of the victims had been killed by it.

This shard of metal would hold a great symbolic meaning to us because it would have brought us emotionally to the place of such a great tragedy.

St. Helen's discovery of the Cross may have been a very similar experience. She was the Christian mother of Emperor Constantine, a pagan at the time. (Constantine was converted and baptized very late in his life. The prayers of a mother for her son sometimes last a lifetime.)

St. Helen would have been familiar with, dismayed by, and prayed about the persecutions of the Church in the late 3rd and early 4th centuries. She would have been influential in Constantine's Edict of Toleration, which decriminalized Christianity in the Roman Empire. Like many Christians of the time, she finally had the freedom to practice her faith openly, travel freely to Christian meetings, and to make a pilgrimage to Jersalem.

And, like many millions of Christians since Helen, she wanted to walk where Jesus walked, she wanted to see if somehow His voice still echoed in the walls of Jerusalem, if His image remained in the minds of the people of Palestine.

In a unique and profound way, God gave Helen the desire of her heart, to feel the wood on which He died, to be brought emotionally and spiritually in the place of such a great tragedy.

Jesus said: "If I be lifted up from the earth, I will draw all men unto me."

Helen had a memorable encounter with God.

Have you had a memorable encounter with God?

I know we are supposed to encounter God in our daily lives, but I made a list of some encounters I've had with God that stand out to me:
1) Koinonia, which was a retreat of sorts that I was involved with in high school, similar to Cursillo or the Emmaus Walk. They made a deep impact on my soul.
2) In high school and after I moved back home I was involved in a Tuesday night prayer and praise meeting. Karen and I went after we were married. In those quiet prayerful moments, we shared the presence of God with some very Godly men and women.
3) I experienced a miraculous healing of a badly sprained ankle. While loading my car at college to go home for summer break, I fell down a flight of stairs and sprained my right ankle. I went to the campus clinic, took some Tylenol, and went to my exams on crutches. That Sunday, I walked into a Church I was visiting on my crutches. After the service, some people I didn't know and have never seen again came to me and said they felt led to pray for my healing. My ankle was instantly healed. I walked out of Church carrying my crutches.
4) At our wedding reception, I had an inspiration to read the latter half of Proverbs 31 aloud to Karen in front of all the reception attenders. It seemed to seal the meaning of our vows.
5) On a number of occasions, Karen and I have taken "days of prayer" before we faced a major decision. Those were definite encounters with God.
6) In January 2004, I had an accident on the ice that nearly killed me. It totalled the car and I ended up in a creek bed 300 feet off the road. After the impact of the car hitting the tree on the driver's side door, I crawled out the passenger's side door and all I could say was "Thank you Lord" over and over again. After going to a nearby house to call for help, the Lord seemed to speak to my heart saying, "It's time for you to get serious about your faith and doctrine."

Have you had a memorable encounter with God?

Some people may wonder about St. Helen's encounter with God in  the finding of the Cross, just like they may question the encounters with God I've had in my own life. But the truth of the Gospel remains:

"If I be lifted up from the earth, I will draw all men unto me."

Helen's enounter with God lifted the Cross of Christ and has drawn thousands of people to Him since.

My hope is that in some small way, my enounters with God will at least draw someone to Him as well.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Should You Pray With Glenn Beck?

Radio host Glenn Beck
Glenn Beck has been in the news a lot this past weekend. He hosted a rally with over 300,000 people in Washington, D.C.

I like to listen to Glenn on WOWO Radio in Fort Wayne for about ten minutes each day, then I've usually had enough.

The thing is, Glenn and I agree on many things. He's a conservative libertarian, I'm a conservative libertarian. He's pro-life, I'm pro-life. He's in favor of the tradtional family, I'm in favor of the traditional family.

It's when Glenn starts talking about God that I simply have to shut him off.

Glenn Beck is a Mormon, a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. In itself, there's nothing really wrong with that. We have freedom of religion and he can be whatever religion he wants to be.

But I am a Christian. I believe in One God, God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit, undivided and consubstantial, God, "ineffable, inconceivable, invisible, incomprehensible, ever-existing and eternally the same..."

This is not the god of the Mormons. This is not the god to whom Glenn Beck prays. The LDS Church flatly denies the Trinity. They have extricated references to the Holy Trinity from hymns and music they sing. Their denial of the Trinity means their denial of everything that God is: the Eternal, Universal Divine Nature of God the Father Who created all things visible and invisible. To the Mormons, God the Father is god of this planet, but not the Sovereign Lord of all.

Their denial of the Trinity means that they don't believe that Jesus Christ is the embodiment of God, fully human and fully divine. They don't accept that everything of God was conceived in the womb of the Virgin Mary, that all of God walked with His human family, and that God Himself surrendered His life to bring new life to all men.

Their denial of the Trinity means that the Holy Spirit is less than fully God. That means that the energies of God cannot work in the life of the believer through the Mysteries, that the fruit of the Spirit is not the manifestation of the life of God.

To some this may seem like trivia or theological mumbo-jumbo.

In fact, it goes to the kernel of Glenn Beck's movement. Glenn asks his faithful to join him in prayer every morning. He tells his radio audience that we need to get back to God. He said at the 8/28 Rally that America's only hope is to get back to God.

But which god? The LDS Church believes that different worlds have different deities. They think that men in the LDS priesthood will become gods of other worlds. They teach that human life on earth is intended to bring "spirit children" into being from various levels of heaven so that they may become deities of other worlds. They reject almost all aspects of the historic Church claiming that historic Christianity is apostate and that the movement establised by Joseph Smith is the true embodiment of what the Lord intended.

I appreciate Glenn's call to get America back to its roots. His clarion call to return to the Constitution is well made. His efforts to renew American interest in our Founding Fathers are commendable. His challenge to ever encroaching and swelling government intrusion are needed.

But I can't pray with him. I can pray for him, but not with him.

I hope I've made you think.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Transfiguration: The Things We Don't Forget

Epistle: II Peter 1:13-18
Gospel: Luke 9:28-36

Karen is a school teacher and she has taught me a lot about the way people learn. Some of us learn with our hands, some with our ears, some with our eyes, and some of us with a combinations of ways.

One of the things that she has taught me about learning is that we don't forget the things we learn that have an emotional impact on us. We don't forget when we've fallen in love, we don't forget our marriage, we don't forget when we've been treated with gentle affection.

I remember my Grandma. I don't remember a lot about her intellectually, but I remember that she always greeted us with warm wet kisses and had the best hugs. (She also made peanut butter toast on sesame seed bread that was the bomb.)

We also remember those things that have an emotional impact that are very negative: abuse, pain, rejection.

These things connect with us on a deeper level than merely our intellect.

I'd like to add that those things which impact us spiritully are also things we remember.
* We remember those quiet times we had when we prayed at home with our kids before bed.
* We remember moments with God when we face a time of crisis.
* We remember our conversion, that time when we realize that Jesus Christ is alive, that He loves us, and that we want to be His follower.
* We remember times of nurture: retreats, camps, holy days.

This is St. Peter's experience of the Transfiguration as he tells it in II Peter. St. Luke gives us the details in chapter 9 of his Gospel: eight days after Peter's confession that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God, on a mountain, with James and John. They saw Christ's appearance change and His robes become brilliant, "glistering white" as Coverdale translates it.

Peter's confession took place in a discourse with Jesus Christ and the Apostles after the miraculous feeding of the 5,000 earlier in Luke 9, which occured after the Apostles completed their ministry of healing, exorcism and preaching.

Peter's emotional response was three-fold:
1) To "do something." You know how you respond in a crisis, don't you? Many of us want to "do something" to help, to provide relief, to take care of the situation. In Peter's case, he wanted to build tabernacles for Jesus Christ and Elijah and Moses (who were with Jesus in that glorious cloud).
2) Peter knew it was good to be there on the mountain with Jesus Christ. Even in the midst of a situation Peter didn't understand at the moment, he and the others knew "it is good for us to be here."
3) He had a sense of awe and fear. He and James and John had to have been thinking, "Is this really happening?" and "What's going to happen next?" Wouldn't you?

This emotional response is echoed by St. Peter's spiritual account given to us in his epistle:
1) He was an "eyewitness to His majestic glory." This is an honor very few have seen. Moses saw the glory of God in the Burning Bush; he saw it again in the cleft of the rock passing by (Ex. 33). Elijah saw God's glory when he was taken up the chariot. Isaiah saw the glory of God in the Temple (Isaiah 6). And now Peter, James and John joined this honored group.
2) Peter "heard the Voice of God" without question. He recalled specifically what God said. How unlike us: We think we hear the voice of God, but we're not sure... maybe it's nerves, maybe it's self-will, maybe it's just fatigue.
3) Peter knew the closeness of God. He says, "we were with Him."

By commemorating the Transfiguration we are witnesses, like Peter, James and John.

We are witnesses to the Divinity of Jesus Christ through His glorification on that mountain top.

We are witnesses to the Presence of the Holy Trinity. There is God the Son in the cloud of majestic glory with God the Father represented in Moses the Law Giver and God the Holy Spirit represented in Elijah the Prophet.

We are witnesses to the faithful truth of Scripture.

Especially, by commemorating the Transfiguration we recall again those times when God has impacted our own lives:
* Those times when we have seen God in His glory. Just this morning I took a walk. It was foggy and pre-dawn. The sky was brightening, but I couldn't see anything specific. I turned the corner and walked up the hill about half-mile. Suddenly above the eastern horizon, above the purple shadows of the trees and Schuler's barn, there was the sun, a bright tangerine of light warming away the dewy chill. I thought how appropriate that was for Transfiguration: the sudden glory of God warming away the dewy chill of the Apostles sleep.
* Those times when God was real to us "in the moment" - as real as He was on that mountain. We remember how we felt, what we saw, how we responded in that moment.
* Those times when we retell about our encounters with God to others:
- "This is what God has done for me"
- "This is what He said to me in His Word"
- "In my time of need, God was with me"

The Collect for Transfiguration
O God, who on the mount didst reveal to chosen witnesses Thine Only-Begotten Son wonderfully transfigured, in raiment white and glistering; 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 reigneth, one God, world without end. Amen.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Who Needs FIFA?

So 715 million people are watching the World Cup. Yawn.

If you want real sport, you need to find adolescents in your local 4-H Club getting ready for the fair.

They're out this time of year, training show hogs to walk with minimal guidance from a cane. They're in barns giving haircuts to calves, taming and brushing rabbits. They're canning fruits, drying vegetables and arranging flowers They're in kitchens decorating cakes and making perfectly stacking cookies. They're out taking photographs, making scrapbooks and posters, and pulling together craft projects.

Walking show hogs is one of my favorite 4-H sports to watch. There's something both athletic and humorous about watching a 12 year-old trailing his pig and she belches her way around a field. The hogs have a look of contempt, unaware of what awaits them after the fair auction sale is over. The kids have a look of anticipation, mentally spending the money their hog will bring.

Karen was in 4-H for nine years. (This is to the chagrin of her sisters who were all Ten Year members.) In those years she learned to sew, show animals, make a tea ring, and was involved with 4-H Junior Leaders.

She knew the sport of 4-H from the inside and has carried it on in the form of life-skills she still enjoys. (I once joked with friends that when Karen gets the itch to walk a hog, she has me strip down and chases me around the house with a cane.)

FIFA and the World Cup are important in their own right, but I wouldn't give a vuvuzuela for the opportunities these kids gain on their way to a blue ribbon at the county fair. :-)

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Living in the Mystery of God

Trinity Sunday: Old Testament Lesson - Isaiah 6:1-8

Those of us who are "baby boomers" will remember these familiar words from the television in 1963:

"There is nothing wrong with your television set. Do not attempt to adjust the picture. We are controlling transmission. If we wish to make it louder, we will bring up the volume. If we wish to make it softer, we will tune it to a whisper. We will control the horizontal. We will control the vertical. We can roll the image, make it flutter. We can change the focus to a soft blur or sharpen it to crystal clarity. For the next hour, sit quietly and we will control all that you see and hear. We repeat: there is nothing wrong with your television set. You are about to participate in a great adventure. You are about to experience the awe and mystery which reaches from the inner mind to... The Outer Limits.”

I'm not trying to take control of anything, but I’d like to challenge us to yield control of our hearts and souls to God.
* Do not attempt to adjust the picture: God has set us in life where we belong
* He controls the volume, He controls the horizontal, He controls the vertical
* He can change the focus from a soft blur to crystal clarity
* Sit quietly: With God, You are about to participate in a great adventure

Reflecting on the Trinity is where the Mystery of God begins to take shape. But before we can reflect, we must yield control. Our every day lives are shaped by what we can control:
- Our to do lists
- Our relationships
- Our living arrangements
- Our decision making
- Our use of time
* And so forth

Because we want control, we have a way of explaining everything that we have some kind of control over:
- The "To Do List" is an example: We tell ourselves, "I have so many things to accomplish, I need to keep track," "I need to prioritize," "I need to remember"
- Relationships are another example: "I determine the people in my life who are important, who’s not," "I check Caller ID to see if I want to take your call," "My associations, clubs, and places I go, tell you who's important to me"

The mystery of God begins to appear in the things of life that are beyond what we can control.

Look at Isaiah. He was from the nobility of Judah at that time. He was a married man (Isaiah 8:3) with at least one son (Isaiah 8:18). Isaiah had his own control of his own life: Other than the “nobility” part, his life was probably not much different than our own. In his daily life, he conducted business, family affairs, decision making, etc. His religious life was controlled: going to Temple, participating in the rituals, making sure his son was in Sabbath school and bar mitzvah, etc.

The mystery of life for Isaiah wasn’t in his circumstances, but in God.

We often encounter mystery in our own lives and expect God to provide an explanation. Rather, we need to come to the point of seeing our lives as a gift from God and find meaning for life in His Divine Mystery.

Isaiah encountered the Divine Mystery of God in the Temple in Isaiah 6. He stood awestruck at the Presence of God:
the sights - Cherubim and Seraphim, the Divine train filling the Temple, the glory of God;
the smells - the smoke of incense, the sweetness of Heaven;
the sounds - the Thrice Holy Hymn "Holy, Holy, Holy!" the brush of angels' wings, the trembling threshold and Temple walls;
the Angel and the coal - the trumpet voice of God, the heat of the coals, the intimate closeness of the Bodiless Host of Heaven

So it is for us when we encounter God in the Trinity. We know the “letter” of the doctrine. The mystery comes not in knowing the doctrine, but living in it.
God the Father – our Creator, the Giver of the Law, the “King of the Universe.” He is “ineffable, inconceivable, invisible, incomprehensible, ever-existing and eternally the same” as our Communion Liturgy describes.
God the Son – our Creator (the Co-Creator, in John 1), the Fulfiller of the Law, Incarnation of God
God the Holy Spirit – our Creator (hovering over the waters of Gen. 1), Guide in the Law of Love (Gal. 5), the manifestation of God in our day

Is the mystery of God relevant in our time?
* For those who want Christianity to be a matter of “tell me how to live” and “spell it out for me” and “if it’s not practical it’s not relevant”, then No
* For those who want to control their own lives, keep their own schedules, live by their own rules, be their own boss, then No
* For those who want to live by faith, who want to see God at work in things great and small, who see life beyond the limits of the cradle and grave, then YES: the mystery of God is infinitely practical

Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen (Heb. 11:1)
Faith hopes in God’s steadfast love, waits for the Lord, is glad in the Lord (Psalm 33:18-21)
Faith is the Gospel sent to us by the Holy Spirit from Heaven (I Peter 1:12)

When we understand that understanding has little to do with life and faith in the Mystery of God has everything to do with life, the our life becomes infinitely practical.

Look again at the rest of Isaiah 6 and his life from the time of that encounter in the Temple. He prophesied for 60 years. He stood up to kings, corruption, injustice, poverty, and heresy. He didn’t have a popular message; no book sales, no radio or TV show, no Dove Awards, no concert contracts. Died a martyr’s death at the hands of pagan king Manasseh: He was sawn in two for standing up to the idolatry and falsehood of his era.

Look at your life: Do you live by the list? Do you live by the explain-able? Do you live by what you can see?
* Do you live by faith in God, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit?
* Do you revel in the mystery of God?
* You are about to experience the awe and mystery which reaches from "the inner mind to... God's Outer Limits”?

This post is my sermon for Trinity Sunday, May 30, 2010. The Sunday after Pentecost is Trinity Sunday. (In the Eastern Orthodox Church, it’s All Saints Day. They celebrate the Trinity on Pentecost.) The Church Year is about half way through: Advent, Christmas, Epiphany-Theophany, Epiphany Season (Christ’s teaching and ministry), Great Lent, Holy Week, Pascha, Ascension, Pentecost, and now Trinity Sunday. Trinity Season depicts the life of the Church as the living testimony of Jesus Christ. It seems appropriate that most of the year is spent on the Living Testimony of Jesus Christ – how the Holy Spirit works in your life and my life, the life of the Church today.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Why I Am Not On the Anti-Obama Bandwagon

There's hardly a day that goes by that I don't get an e-mail forward from someone bashing the President.

Some of them would say they are "bashing Obama, not the Presidency."

They have a right to do this. In fact, I agree often with these e-mail senders on the issues they have with the President. I am pro-life. I am against government control of everything. I believe in reducing taxes. I believe in cutting government spending. And so forth.

Usually, posts about the President go beyond the issues. They disagree with his decision making, they impugn his character, they mock his politics.

Those are the things that keep me off the "Anti-Obama Bandwagon."

We are coming up on Memorial Day and we will remember the literal sacrifices of life made by men and women since 1775 to provide freedom in our nation, to defend our liberty, and to create our Constitution and government. These soldiers died in defense of our republic and our laws, our interests and our way of life.

For whatever anyone may think, President Obama is part of the reason these men and women fought and died. He was duly elected - freely elected. The ballot box is still alive and well in the U.S. There was no coup, there were no riots, there was no assasination, there were no back room deals. The President won his election hands down, fair and square.

Isn't this what we remember on Memorial Day?

In my opinion, there is little to be gained by attacking Mr. Obama. (I have posted several times in this blog that he needs our prayers more than anything.)

Another reason I don't get on the bandwagon is the "he's not my president" crowd. It's interesting to me how this crowd has changed in ten years. I remember after President Bush defeated Al Gore in 1980: there were liberals all over the country with "Not My President" on the back of their Volvos. This is the mentality that drove the very successful grassroots movement of

In fact, he is my president. He is our president. In many ways, I don't like it. Every day tax dollars are sent overseas to provide abortions for women in developing countries. Every day, more and more people are entrapped in government sponsored programs and its subsequent drainage of personal responsibility and drive. In spite of his campaign promises to provide openness and honesty in government (in contrast to President Bush), he still has closed door proceedings to bring about, among other things, the "health care reform bill."

None of that reduces the fact that Mr. Obama is the president of all of us.

There is little to be gained in wasting words and energy attacking him personally.

To oppose the President, we do another thing that Memorial Day stands for: We participate in our government. We vote. We write letters. We make speeches. We run for office. We publish our opinions. We hold meetings.

These freedoms are as essential as supporting the President as president. It's all part of being America, being American.

I'm on the bandwagon that says this fall we'll elect a new Congress. I'm on the bandwagon that says in 2012 we may (or may not) elect a new President. I'm on the bandwagon that says our government may not be perfect, but it's the best around and it takes all of us, whether we agree with each other or not, to make it work.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Take Up Your Mat

Epistle: Acts 9:32-42
Gospel: John 5:1-15

I’ve been in the ministry now for over 30 years, as a volunteer in college, a youth minister, and as a pastor. In college I was a volunteer at Pendleton Prison near Anderson. A group of us went twice a week for three years, once a week for worship and once a week for what we called "Christian Dialogue." We met one-on-one with various prisoners just to talk.

Straight out of college I worked for Campus Life and then Karen and I were houseparents in a boys home. After that I realized that I was too old for youth ministry any more so I went into the pastorate. :-)

In those 30+ years, I couldn't tell you the number of times I’ve prayed for renewal of faith for someone, renewal of faith for myself, healing, wisdom, understanding and guidance.

In that time, I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve read passages like the Epistle and Gospel for today and I’ve wondered why not today: Where are the miracles? Where are the healings?

I've come to realize that passages like these tell us something pretty straightforward: The Christian Life is a matter of “being” not “doing.”
This simple change of perspective makes all the difference in how you live your Christian life.

Take a look at the peripheral issues presented in the healings in today’s readings:
* Who of us doesn’t have sympathy on the frailest in society? We naturally want to help the handicapped, less fortunate, elderly, etc.
* Who of us can’t relate to the encounters in these Biblical situations? We want to help panhandlers we think are genuinely in need, by giving to Helping Hands, Salvation Army bell ringers, etc.
* Who of us doesn’t do what we are able to do? We'll give a few extra dollars, make a donation of clothes, give a few hours to volunteer for a worthy cause.

These things are all well and good, but they speak to our matter of “doing.” Doing is in the present, a matter of the right now. We can see what we've done and feel good about it. But "doing" clouds our perspective: we want healing now, we want wisdom now, we want renewal now.

A mindset of "doing" shapes our expectations of God. We think, "He’s God, He can-should-will-must-would DO something."

It shapes our expectations of ourselves. We tell ourselves, "We’ve done good so we’re good; we do bad but we’re forgiven, so we’re good." Our logic tells us "We’re forgiven because of what God has “done” so I can do what I want."

Christianity is not a matter of "doing": it’s a matter of "being." You can’t “do” good at Church and then go home and “do” bad things. You are a Christian here and a Christian at home, at work, at play.

This reflects the nature of God. To Moses in Exodus God revealed His Name which is translated to English as "I Am Who I Am.” God's Name is a "being" verb.

As a Christian, "I am who I am" in Christ. I’m not a Christian because of what Christ has “done.” Note that. We are not Christians because a man was nailed to a tree. It is Who that Man is: We are Christians because the Son of God was nailed to a Tree.

We are Christians because of Who Christ is. Christ is the Savior, therefore I am saved. Christ is the Resurrection, therefore I have life in Him. Christ is the Good Shepherd, therefore I am in His care.

The healings at the Bethesda Pool and Lydda demonstrate this. Look at John 5:8. Did Jesus Christ pick the man up and put him in the water at the time of stirring?

No. He simply told him to get up and walk. He said this because of Who He is.

In Acts 9:34, did St. Peter make crutches or bandages and make the man better?
No. St. Peter simply said, “The Lord heals you.” Peter healed the man not because of who he is but because of Who Christ is.

This leads me to four simple observations:
1) God knew that both of these men needed His help before they were healed. The man in Bethesda Pool had been paralyzed since birth, 38 years. The man in Lydda had been paralyzed eight years. Do we really think God didn’t know about them before these encounters in Scripture?
2) In both cases, there were plenty of other people who needed healing and didn’t get it. All around the Bethesda Pool were people needing a miracle. Lydda was a typical small town with people of every condition you might find anywhere. Did God turn a blind eye to these others?
3) Do you think God doesn’t know that you need His help for whatever it is you’re dealing with?
4) Do you think God has turned a blind eye to you while He cares for others?

Being a Christian is a matter of God identifying Himself with you and you identifying yourself with God. It is a matter of Who God is and who you and I are.

How often do we want God to do something for us to prove Who He is? We want Him to give us a new insight into the Bible, so we go and get a Bible with helps, or a Bible with counseling, or a Bible for couples, or a Bible in a language I want to read. There are Bibles for charismatics, Bibles for Catholics, even a Bible for atheists.

We want God to do something for us by giving us a new experience. Since I was in high school I've seen God do supposedly "new things": There were the “Jesus People” (God loves you, dude); the charismatic renewal with Kathryn Kuhlman and Oral Roberts; the televangelist phenomenon with Jim Bakker, Jimmy Swaggert, and Oral Roberts; the prosperity Gospel with Benny Hinn and Robert Tilton; the right-wing political Gospel preached by Pat Robertson and James Kennedy; the left wing political Gospel preached by Tony Campolo and Jim Wallis.

God isn’t trendy or faddish or whatever happens to be the latest thing on Christian radio. God is God!

The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is God.
The God of Moses, Joshua, and Caleb is God.
The God of Ruth, Naomi, and Esther is God.
The God of Isaiah, Jeremiah and Daniel is God.
The God of Peter, James and John is God.

God is the unchanging One. As we pray in the Communion Liturgy, He is ever-existing and eternally the same. He simply is Who He is. He is Being.

This is your faith and mine. Faith is not a matter of what God does in our lives, it is a matter of Who God is.

Is God any less God because you have or because you haven’t experienced divine healing?
Is God any less God because you have or have not had a miracle?
Is God any less God because you are rich or poor or somewhere in between?

No. God takes us through whatever it is we face in life because of Who He is. Experiencing these things in life makes us who we are in Christ. More importantly, the daily living of Christian life is daily living with God. Faith that experiences God in daily life is faith that experiences God’s Being and experiences all that God is:
- peace that surpasses all understanding
- joy unspeakable and full of glory
- love unbounded

These are the things that matter:
Peace in the tumult of whatever life brings you.
Joy in the face of hardship, adversity, and discouragement.
Love for everyone, the difficult and our friends, our enemies and our neighbors.

And if God throws in a miracle along the way, we’ll be ready to take up our mat and walk.

This is based on the outline for my sermon at Peoria Church, April 25, 2010, the Sunday of the Paralytic.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Country Speed Bumps

Rural living is not for "Type A" people.

Whenever we go to the city, I am amazed at how fast people seem to think they need to go. They hurry up and pull out in front of you. They rush to park close to the store. They can't seem to get from one place to the next fast enough.

I was reared in a city, so you might think I'd be a little like that. But I grew up close to downtown and walked or rode my bike everywhere. In my family, we walked to school, walked to the grocery, walked downtown, walked to Wilson's, the movies, the playground, the park and Church. Even though we lived in the city, we were pretty slow-paced and low tech.

Actually, my Mom was the epitome of slow-paced living. She lived two blocks from the Church and had a twisted sense of pride in the fact that she would leave the house for worship as they were tolling the bell for the beginning of the service. She had a gift for delay. Talk to the clerk at the grocery. Flirt with the waiter at Rocking U. Chat with the neighbors. If you happened to be running a few minutes early, Mom always found something important to discuss with the cat just to prevent you from running on time.

But I digress.

One of the things I appreciate about living in rural Indiana is the fact that there really isn't too much to hurry about. And just to make sure you understand this fact, there are several built in "speed bumps" to remind you that there's really no good reason to go too fast.

Turkeys are great fun to watch. Once I was on the way to work on the Laketon Road and a turkey hen was standing out in the middle of the road. She looked at me like Gandalf looked at the Balrog in the Moriah mines. She stared me down as if to say, "You shall not pass!"

I tooted the horn. I was in our 1970 Beetle and the horn seemed appropriate for the moment.

The turkey hen started to run. Not off the road, but straight away from me, down the center of the road.

I followed her about 1/4 of a mile and she ran faster and faster. Finally she looked back at me as if to say, "Apparently he's not going to leave me alone." With a flying leap, her four foot wingspan lifted her with grace over the fence. Two or three flaps of those beautiful feathered fans and she was in the middle of the field. An elegant touch down and away she went, likely to forget my blue Beetle as soon as I drove off.

No hurry could have appreciated the moment.

Our rural infrastructure is designed to keep things apace - slowly apace. State roads, county roads and township roads are sliced between fields of corn, soy beans and wheat. This is only natural: agriculture rules the roost here.

Where there are no fields, there are marvelously narrow passes through woods and along the rivers, over 100 year old iron bridges and through romantic covered bridges.

These roads are made for meandering. How else can you view the great blue herons fishing? Or the turtles sunning themselves on the macadam? Or the birds playing in the trees over head.

Rural life and roads are designed to appreciate these sorts of things more than to provide a speedy means of going from Point A to Point B.

Finally, the ultimate country speed bump is the auction sale. (I know "auction sale" seems redundant, but that's what they are. Deal with it. :-)

An auction sale is no small event. It's part festival, part block party. In some ways it's our answer to the big box stores. There's also a measure of voyeurism: under the pretense of finding out what your neighbor has to sell you get a chance to see what he has in the back shelves of his closets, the drawers of his workshop, and the corners of his barn.

Auction traffic can frustrate town people because the lanes and ditches around the sale double as parking lots. Crowds of people swarming around the auctioneer move to the cadence of his call. Buyers make their way down the berm with headboards and mirrors, farm equipment, tools, and miscellany. They are as disinterested in the hurrying drivers as those in a hurry are disinterested in the auction.

The difference is that the hurrier is in rural Indiana and there is little to hurry about here.

No, rural living is not for "Type A" people. It's for the Type of people who take life a little more slowly, who appreciate everyday blessings. It's not for everyone, but it definitely is for me.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

What Do You Expect?

Gospel Reading: Luke 24:1-12

I always like this Sunday when we remember the Myrrh-Bearing Women. It's always good to remember that great things can happen when no one cares who gets the credit for it. These Myrrh-Bearing Women were simply doing a basic task for Someone they loved, simply because it needed to be done. They didn't care who knew or didn't know. (Although they did get their names in the Bible, so that is some credit :-)

These women had expectations when they went to the Tomb, expectations that would be expectations you and I would likely have were we in the same position.

They expected to prepare Jesus' body for burial. (Luke 24:1)
They expected to find the Tomb closed and sealed. (v. 2)
Finding the Tomb open, they expected to find Jesus' Body. (v.3)
Finding the Tomb empty, they expected to figure out the problem. (v. 4)
Finding Angels there, they expected fear and harm. (vv. 5-8)
They expected the Apostles to believe their account. (vv. 9-10)
They expected wonderful things to happen. (v. 8)

On each count, their expectations were turned upside down.

Expecting to prepare Jesus' body, they didn't realize that this had already been done by St. Nicodemus and St. Joseph of Arimathea before they laid Him in the Tomb (John 19:39-42).

Expecting a closed tomb, they found the stone door of the Tomb rolled away, the seal broken.

Expecting to find Jesus' Body, the found the Tomb empty.

Expecting to figure things out one their own, they met Angels who greeted them, admonished them, encouraged them and commissioned them.

Expecting fear and harm by the Angels, they were filled with awe - according to Matthew 28:8, they were "filled with joy."

Expecting to be believed by the Apostles, they were not. Interestingly enough, even though each of the Gospels provides various details about the Resurrection, this is one detail on which they all agree: the Apostles didn't believe the women. Hmmm.

Expecting great things to follow, they did. Wonderful things happened on Resurrection Day and the forty days following - Jesus Christ met with the men on the Emmaus Road, He met with the Apostles that evening, He met them in the Upper Room a week later, He went fishing with them in Galilee, visited with them on a mountain in Galilee, and finally ascended to Heaven before their eyes.

All of us expect things from God, don't we?

Many expect God to be an enabler. They expect Him to help them out of every situation, to help them avoid or cover the consequences of their ungodly lives. They expect God to give them the means to continue their sinful ways. Some even expect God to bless their sinful endeavors, to bless their corrupt business practices, to sanctify their undisciplined lives, to approve their immoral choices.

Some people expect God to be their pal. You know, "Everything's cool with me and the man upstairs." They expect that God is Someone that would sit on the sofa with them and watch TV, but not challenge their life or lifestyle. These folks put too much emphasis on "personal relationship" and not enough emphasis on with God. Just like "pals" and "buddies" come and go, sadly so often goes their life with God.

Some people expect God's people to be perfect, just as He is. They blame God for things His people do. Who of us hasn't misrepresented God at some point in their lives? (I'm among the worst.) There are some who look at Christians instead of Jesus Christ. Others perceive Christianity to be too hard or too realistic. As G.K. Chesteron once wrote, "Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; rather, Christianity has been found dificult and left untried."

And there are some who expect God to be like them rather than expecting themselves to be like God. Have you ever noticed how both major parties make God follow their own agenda? (Aren't you glad God is neither Republican or Democrat?) Have you ever noticed that God is conveniently invoked as needed by both politicians and criminals? And have you ever noticed that when God conflicts with someone's ideals, suddenly He becomes irrelevant?

God turns these expectations upside down, too.

Expecting an enabler, we find that God works in a person's heart, at the root of the problem - sin - and change a person from the inside out. God doesn't bless our sinful ways; no matter how hard we try, we can't change our lives on our own. We don't need an enabler, we need God Who renews.

Expecting a pal, God proves Himself to be a truer friend than any casual "pal" or "buddy." God is a "friend who sticks closer than a brother" (Prov. 18:24). When your pals and buddies have moved on, God remains.

Expecting perfect people, we realize that God sees everyone the same: none perfect, but all dearly loved. Perfection is not to be found in people. Perfection is only found in God.

Expecting God to be like us, we come to understand that the more we know God, the less like us we see Him to be and the more like Him we will want to be.

What do you expect from God?

Do you expect to prepare His body, though the task is already done?
Do you expect to find His sealed Tomb, though it is already opened?
Do you expect to find His Body, though He has risen?
Do you expect to explain the empty Tomb rather than listening to the Angels?
Do you expect fear rather than greeting and encouragement?
Do you expect to be believed by those who ought to believe?
Do you expect something wonderful to happen?

Remember His words.

Friday, April 09, 2010

Why I Love EWTN

My wife thinks that I am a closet Catholic. Over the years I've given her plenty of reason to think this:
- I love (LOVE) icons and crucixae.
- On family vacations we've been known to stop at Catholic shrines... Sorrowful Mother Shrine in northwest Ohio is a favorite and has yielded some wonderful (if not a little irreverent) pictures.
- I have a weakness for prayer books (although the 1928 Book of Common Prayer is my all time favorite).
- I own more rosaries than a Protestant ought to own.

BUT her biggest reason for thinking this is that I love (LOVE) EWTN. It used to be a treat when we'd visit my Mom in Findlay to be up early before everyone else to watch the Mass on EWTN (or to stay up late after everyone was in bed to watch the second 'encore' performance).

On vacations we'd stay in motels that had cable TV. (Until two months ago, we had only antenna broadcast TV.) Between trips in and out of the room, I could be caught catching the latest news on The World Over. Once Karen and I were babysitting our great nephews in Indianapolis while their Baptist parents were in Las Vegas watching Donny Osmond. For the boys' mid-afternoon nap, we watched Catholic cartoons.

I'm not really a closet Catholic. I have a very deep appreciation for Catholic spirituality and I think there's a lot we can learn from it. I respect their views on life issues, especially abortion and euthanasia, but I have issues with some little things: the Pope, for example, and purgatory.

My main reason for loving EWTN is because it just is what it is. It makes no pretense of being flashy or attractive or anything more than what it is: Catholic television.

Monks host talk shows. Nuns lead musical services. Mother Angelica leads chaplets and rosaries. Travel programs feature Catholic countries. Catholic movies made in Italy are shown dubbed in English.

It just is what it is.

That seems to me to be the biggest draw. It's actually my ideal for Church: Not to be Catholic but to be 'real'; To be who we are supposed to be and not to pretend to be something we're not.

Too often religious TV smacks of entertainment. It's all about the show, the 'pop', the act. They're trying to sell religion. And they beg for money. Beg. Ugh.

EWTN just shows Catholics doing what Catholics do.

I love EWTN because they aren't condescending about God. God doesn't need to be explained on EWTN, He is simply known and made known. They have programs that explain Catholicism, but Who God is is never doubted. Faith is a way of life for the folks on EWTN and there is simply no reason to doubt.

This is another ideal for Church, in my view. As a pastor I don't feel any compelling need to try to convince someone about God: He simply Is Who He Is and people can choose to believe in Him or not. I don't understand everything that happens in life or all the fine points of theology or why good people suffer or things like that. But I know God and love Him and I trust that He knows what's going on in life. He's never given me a reason to doubt.

Finally, I love EWTN because it is almost always positive. It is positive about its mission, it is positive about the Catholic Church, it is positive about living a life pleasing to God.

Much of life is not positive, and that often creeps into Churches. So many Protestants are into do's and don'ts, running down the government, alterior motives for giving, running down other Churches, Church marketing, and showmanship, it makes me sad.

Church ought to be life affirming, not just pro-life. The love of God takes us through dark times and the Church is a beacon of light, not a place for more shadows and more darkness. The Resurrection makes us participants in the new life of God; He lives and His Life lives in us.

I want to be positive about my faith. I want to be positive about my Church. And I try to be positive about living my life for God.

EWTN helps me do that.

Yes. Thanks, Mother Angelica (pictured above) for bringing EWTN to life. Even an old Protestant like me can grow in faith because of your efforts. :-)

Monday, April 05, 2010

Is Easter Over?

It's the Monday after Easter, or "Bright Monday."

I went into the break room at work and saw another Christian there so I said to her, "Christ is risen," expecting to hear back, "He is risen indeed!"

Instead, I got a dumb look. After a short pause, she looked at me and said, "Um . . .well, yeah."


A few minutes later I saw another co-worker, a Lutheran. I said, "Amy, you know what day this is?"

She smiled brightly, as she always does, "Sure do . . . it's 'Easter candy on-sale day'."


It's like Easter is over and it's time to move on to Mother's Day and "Dads and Grads." We haven't taken the time to savor the holiday, the meaning, of Pascha.

But today is just the second day of Pascha. Pascha is the Greek form of the Hebrew word for Passover, and, of course, Passover is the context for Christ's Last Supper (which we now recall as the Eucharist). In the original Passover - you know Moses, the Red Sea, the lamb, first borns, etc. - the Hebrews were delivered from their slavery in a miraculous manner by God.

Just imagine what it may have been like the day after the Passover, had the Hebrews sat down about a day's journey from Goshen (where they were enslaved) and said, "Okay, that's over. What do we do now?"

That's what it's like when we think that somehow Easter (or Pascha) is 'over'.

The whole season of Easter lasts forty days, an upbeat, joyful, counter-image of the pentitential, somber, fasting forty days of Great Lent. Lent reminds us through our own discipline, prayer, fasting, and sobriety that Jesus Christ experienced those things on our behalf, on His Way to the Cross. Pascha reminds us that one the other side of that, there is life.

Lent is a preparation time, anticipating the Death of Jesus Christ. Pascha is a celebration time, exalting in His Resurrection.

How can we possibly sit and think, "Okay, that's over. What do we do now?"

What to do on Bright Monday - and the remaining season of Pascha? Here are some ideas:
- Read and re-read the Resurrection accounts from the Gospels. Examine how the Apostles and disciples were changed by this event. How might you have been changed?
- Read again I Corinthians 15, St. Paul's amazing description of the Resurrection and our participation in it, both now and for eternity. Who do you know that has already shared in Christ's Resurrection (I know my mother and my father-in-law have!).
- Spend time contemplating the new life that is surrounding you this time of year. Hyacinths, tulips, jonquils, daffodils, cherry blossoms, etc., are all signs of new life. In the same manner, Christ has brought new life to us!
- Throughout Lent, many of us wore Crosses to remind us of our special commitment to God during Lent. What is something that you might wear to remind you of God's special commitment to you during the Paschal season?
- During Church on Pascha morning, we renewed our baptismal covenant. Where were you baptized? Why not go there and spend some time, praying and reflecting on your new birth? Write down the experience of your baptism and tell it to your family and friends.

Easter isn't over yet . . . it's just beginning! May God bless you now and throughout this joyous season.

He is risen, indeed. Alleluia!

Monday, March 22, 2010

Has the President Gone Pro-Life?


However, if there is to be found a ray of sunshine in the Health Care Bill just passed, it is that unborn children have protections still. Thank the Lord for this.

There are plenty of other problems with the bill. The debt. The government control. The enormous debt. The loss of personal freedom. The gigantic debt.

And there's the coersion. The back room deals. The secrecy. The condescending attitude toward those of us opposed to the plan. Free people and free governments shouldn't operate this way.

But I'm looking for a silver lining right now and this appears to be it.

Here is the text of the order issued Sun., Mar. 21, 2010, in time to garner votes in favor of the bill:

Executive Order ensuring enforcement and implementation of abortion restrictions in the patient protection and affordable care act.

By the authority vested in me as President by the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America, including the "Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act" (approved March ­­__, 2010), I hereby order as follows:

Section 1. Policy.

Following the recent passage of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act ("the Act"), it is necessary to establish an adequate enforcement mechanism to ensure that Federal funds are not used for abortion services (except in cases of rape or incest, or when the life of the woman would be endangered), consistent with a longstanding Federal statutory restriction that is commonly known as the Hyde Amendment. The purpose of this Executive Order is to establish a comprehensive, government-wide set of policies and procedures to achieve this goal and to make certain that all relevant actors-Federal officials, state officials (including insurance regulators) and health care providers-are aware of their responsibilities, new and old.

The Act maintains current Hyde Amendment restrictions governing abortion policy and extends those restrictions to the newly-created health insurance exchanges. Under the Act, longstanding Federal laws to protect conscience (such as the Church Amendment, 42 U.S.C. §300a-7, and the Weldon Amendment, Pub. L. No. 111-8, §508(d)(1) (2009)) remain intact and new protections prohibit discrimination against health care facilities and health care providers because of an unwillingness to provide, pay for, provide coverage of, or refer for abortions.

Numerous executive agencies have a role in ensuring that these restrictions are enforced, including the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), and the Office of Personnel Management (OPM).

Section 2. Strict Compliance with Prohibitions on Abortion Funding in Health Insurance Exchanges. The Act specifically prohibits the use of tax credits and cost-sharing reduction payments to pay for abortion services (except in cases of rape or incest, or when the life of the woman would be endangered) in the health insurance exchanges that will be operational in 2014. The Act also imposes strict payment and accounting requirements to ensure that Federal funds are not used for abortion services in exchange plans (except in cases of rape or incest, or when the life of the woman would be endangered) and requires state health insurance commissioners to ensure that exchange plan funds are segregated by insurance companies in accordance with generally accepted accounting principles, OMB funds management circulars, and accounting guidance provided by the Government Accountability Office.

I hereby direct the Director of OMB and the Secretary of HHS to develop, within 180 days of the date of this Executive Order, a model set of segregation guidelines for state health insurance commissioners to use when determining whether exchange plans are complying with the Act's segregation requirements, established in Section 1303 of the Act, for enrollees receiving Federal financial assistance. The guidelines shall also offer technical information that states should follow to conduct independent regular audits of insurance companies that participate in the health insurance exchanges. In developing these model guidelines, the Director of OMB and the Secretary of HHS shall consult with executive agencies and offices that have relevant expertise in accounting principles, including, but not limited to, the Department of the Treasury, and with the Government Accountability Office. Upon completion of those model guidelines, the Secretary of HHS should promptly initiate a rulemaking to issue regulations, which will have the force of law, to interpret the Act's segregation requirements, and shall provide guidance to state health insurance commissioners on how to comply with the model guidelines.

Section 3. Community Health Center Program.

The Act establishes a new Community Health Center (CHC) Fund within HHS, which provides additional Federal funds for the community health center program. Existing law prohibits these centers from using federal funds to provide abortion services (except in cases of rape or incest, or when the life of the woman would be endangered), as a result of both the Hyde Amendment and longstanding regulations containing the Hyde language. Under the Act, the Hyde language shall apply to the authorization and appropriations of funds for Community Health Centers under section 10503 and all other relevant provisions. I hereby direct the Secretary of HHS to ensure that program administrators and recipients of Federal funds are aware of and comply with the limitations on abortion services imposed on CHCs by existing law. Such actions should include, but are not limited to, updating Grant Policy Statements that accompany CHC grants and issuing new interpretive rules.

Section 4. General Provisions.

(a) Nothing in this Executive Order shall be construed to impair or otherwise affect: (i) authority granted by law or presidential directive to an agency, or the head thereof; or (ii) functions of the Director of the Office of Management and Budget relating to budgetary, administrative, or legislative proposals.

(b) This Executive Order shall be implemented consistent with applicable law and subject to the availability of appropriations.

(c) This Executive Order is not intended to, and does not, create any right or benefit, substantive or procedural, enforceable at law or in equity against the United States, its departments, agencies, entities, officers, employees or agents, or any other person.


Saturday, March 13, 2010

The Health Care Bill

I make it a point not to discuss politics in my Country Parson blog. However, the health care bill being rammed through Congress is not a political issue: it is a moral one.

The obvious issue is abortion. What I have read about the bill (though I have not read the bill itself) is consistent with the bill's strongest proponents, President Obama, Nancy Pelosi, and Harry Reid. That consistency is that the unborn are not protected human life. Unborn children are only valuable as experimental medical commodities. These three see no harm in aborting children and they are hard pressed to find a reason to protect them in a federally-funded health care bill.

This is an unfortunate fact of life for we who support life, especially for the unborn. From the top, the three most powerful positions in the U.S. government are admitted, confessed, and practicing pro-abortionists. We can only pray for them, for their repentance, and keep our voices heard. (And we can thank God for pro-life representatives and the stand they take against the Abortionist-in-Chief and his lackeys.)

There are other issues, too. Health care coverage for unmarried adult couples, especially homosexual couples, is in the bill. I'm not opposed to homosexuals having health care coverage. I am opposed to homosexual marriage and to homosexual couples having benefits of marriage.

And, for that matter, non-married heterosexual couples shouldn't have the benefits of marriage, either. Maybe since "shacking up" has become the norm in our culture this seems harsh. But the Truth is that marriage is marriage, and without vows made between a man and woman before God, there is no marriage.

A more grievous threat is the creeping shadow of euthanasia. While over-simplified as 'death panels', the fact remains that the health care bill allows the government to choose who gets what benefits. The comparison is made to private companies which do, essentially, the same thing. The key difference is that we have a choice about private companies with which we conduct business. We do not have a choice when the federal government is involved.

Like abortion, euthanasia's only significant benefit is financial. Rather than protecting life in its latter years, the cost of care is placed in the balance on one side with human life on the other. Keeping terminally ill people comfortable and dignified as they die is certainly the moral option. However, making a decision about how much care is given based on the cost is patently immoral. The Obama-Pelosi-Reid bill is only cost conscious.

Another moral issue is the role of government. The government is not a moral institution; it is a social institution. The health care bill makes moral decisions ad nauseum. It is pro-abortion and anti-marriage. It is also condescending to the individual rights of Americans to lead their own lives without government interference. It increases taxes. It limits personal freedom. It is extra-Constitutional (in fact it is supra-Constitutional).

These Trojan horse issues are a direct threat to the Church. Christian doctors and nurses who oppose abortion may be forced to commit the act because it is federally insured. Hospitals run by Christian denominations would be in the same boat. They could be compelled to allow patients to die because of financial concerns rather than providing decent end-of-life care.

Just as important is the potential for government censorship of the pulpits of those who disagree with the government. If free, taxpayer funded abortion is the law of the land, what becomes of the voice of dissent? If benefits for non-married couples are acceptable to the government, what about those of us who support marriage?

It is imperative to pray for President Obama, Congressman Pelosi and Senator Reid. It is important to pray for our nation that we may find true moral high ground and an ethical, upright way to provide health care for those most needful of it.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

The Cross: More Questions that Answers

Today is the Third Sunday of Great Lent, the Adoration of the Holy Cross. Today's message is in keeping with the Lenten theme for 2010, "For All Things We Know and For All Things We Do Not Know." This theme is taken from our Eucharistic liturgy, and recalls for us that we may trust and thank God for what we know in this life, and for things we simply can't or don't know.

Gospel: Mark 8:31-9:1

When I was a boy, I went to St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Elyria, Ohio. It is one of those downtown Churches that sits on the courthouse square. As a boy, I thought the steeple was the tallest structure I had ever seen. Atop the steeple is a gold cross.

I remember asking my grandfather how on earth they kept that cross so shiny. I remember being a persistent questioner when I was little and my grandfather was an ornery answerer. He told me that the Church had a monkey that had been trained to polish the cross each week. The priest would put the monkey on his leash and let him climb to the top of the steeple to do his duty.

(Deep down, I still believe this story.)

Having questions about the Cross is the beginning of understanding the reality of the Cross.

There are "physical questions" about the Cross:
* How tall was the Cross? * Where was the Cross? * How common was crucifixion? * Why was Jesus nailed and the others tied to the Cross? * How could this have happened to Jesus Christ, Who was so good?

There are "intellectual questions" about the Cross. Many have seen detailed descriptions of crucifixion that are popular this time of year. Movies like The Passion provide depictions of crucifixion in graphic detail. People raise the issue of Jesus Christ’s ‘unfair’ trial.

There are "emotional questions" we ask. Why would God require the Cross of His own Son? How could they have been so mean to Christ Who was so good? Wasn’t there another way besides His death?

I imagine these are the sorts of questions Jesus Christ and the Apostles were discussing in Mark 8:31-32: "He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him."

We may find ourselves in the place of St. Peter. He knew that “for all the things he knew” he didn’t want those things to happen to Jesus Christ. Why? Because Jesus Christ was his friend, his co-worker, his mentor. He loved Him. Why would anyone want to see terrible things happen to anyone they are close to?

When facing a trial in our own lives, how often do we react like St. Peter? We don't want the pain. We don't want the suffering. We don't want the cross.

Jesus Christ rebuked his friend in verse 33: "Get behind me, Satan! You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men."

St. Peter encountered what he did not know.
- The Cross and its consequent salvation are God’s matters to provide.
- The Cross and its affect are matters of “mystery,” and we don't usually like mystery.
- The way of the Cross is not a matter of human will, but of Divine purpose.

The Lord knew that St. Peter is very much like ourselves. We want to provide our own way of salvation. We want to work it own in a manner that suits us. We don’t like ‘mystery’: we want reality, we want answers. We like the Divine purpose as long as it doesn’t run against our own purposes and directions.

For all the questions St. Peter and the other Apostles had, Jesus Christ answered the questions they didn’t ask – the Spiritual questions about the Cross.

"If anyone would come after Me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for Me and for the Gospel will save it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?"

The Lord clarifies for St. Peter, the other Apostles, and for his other hearers that following Him is a matter of taking up your own cross. Your cross may be a life experience that is hard to bear, the results of a poor decision you made that has long-term effects, or even a condition that you had nothing to do with.

What Jesus Christ is saying is that following Him is a matter of losing your life in order to gain it. There are many people who spend their whole lives trying to gain success, material wealth, and pushing their way to "the top" who end up lonely and spiritually destitute.

He underscores the fact that following Him may bring on shame in this life, but reward in the next. We have little to be ashamed of as Christians in this country. There is no arm in wearing a cross here. But think of the Christians in Tehran, or Beijing, or Darfur, or any of the Moslem nations where Christianity is illegal. Those saints have learned what it is to bear the Cross in the face of shame.

This Sunday of Adoration of the Holy Cross, what questions of do you have? Take a moment with your own cross in your hand and reflect on these ideas:
+ What is the cross you are carrying?
+ Have you truly lost your life – or have you simply let God borrow it for a while?
+ Has the Cross been an issue of shame or embarrassment to you? Why or why not?