Test Everything

In the name of the F, S, and HS. Amen

Man is a funny creature. For the most part we like the status quo—I understand what is happening right now and I don’t really know about what might be happening later so let’s insulate ourselves from drastic change by making rules that protect the things we like to do and keep them that way. This has been happening over and over since the beginning of time.

This happened with the Jews and the 10 Commandments. “God told us to do this, so if we need to make rules that reflect this so that the 10 Commandments are the standard to which we look, and then we will be in his good graces.” It is a noble and understandable mindset to have. God spent a lot of time with establishing and developing the relationship with them and they then adopt his standard as theirs and base their way of life around it.

But the 10 can be a little vague in the details (yet surprisingly specific in others) so in an effort to protect themselves from breaking these beloved 10, a fence was set around them—No Trespassing—and lesser rules were adopted that allowed people to still be able to live yet not come close to breaking a law. And then that works so well that another barrier is placed between these laws and daily life to make it even harder to break the 10.

Eventually 613 laws are thought up to protect the normal standard of living. This is legislating to the point where there is a fence so large that the 10 cannot possibly be broken, though it is also so large that it began to hinder. Everyone’s personal fence was so large that when you put everyone together there was actually very little room to move.

The problem is that they were so surrounded by protective gear that they forgot how to live according to the 10. So distant was their view that as they journeyed through life with the protections in place, they strayed further and further away from the course.

Enter Jesus who, in an attempt to get everyone back on course, does something drastic—he begins showing the holes in the fences. He does this to show that the closer one gets to the source, the fewer obstacles there are to restrict one’s view and the easier it is to follow the course. Jesus showed them that the status quo is not necessarily the best thing for their soul. He taught them to push back and not just take things at face value, but to truly look at them and examine them, truly interact with it so that the knowledge becomes owned rather than merely received.

I had a wonderful conversation with a buddy from Camp Crucis last night. He was asking me about the validity of something we believe and how he could best relay that to someone else. We were talking about the validity of ordaining women or not. The impetus behind his calling me was the news that Bishop Iker has resigned his position as trustee of Nashotah House as a result of their decision to invite the Presiding Bishop to preach.

My friend called me because he was in a conversation with someone who was convinced that this was simply an issue of our diocese oppressing women. He was looking for help in this because when he had finished giving the standard answers that he had always been taught, the other party was not convinced. To the other person, there was simply a wall that oppressed women.

I told him that this push back was actually a very good thing. It causes both parties to take a deeper look at the issue to see if there really is a human rights violation or if there is a real reason that prevents this. Some restrictions are present because they really need to be there, not just to protect us from ourselves. In fact Jesus put up further barriers in today’s Gospel saying that if one even becomes angry with another they are guilty of breaking one of the 10. Some barriers are present for a reason.

I told him that the reason for our refusal to support the ordination of women runs deeper than merely refusing to do so because they lack genitalia. It goes down to the complementary nature of man and woman, who are both created in the image and likeness of God thus making them equal to each other, yet equality did not mean that they were intended to be the same.

St. Paul tells makes this argument very well when he tells the Corinthians that they were created as pieces of the greater whole, not the same piece but some are to have roles as eyes, and others ears, and so forth. Each performs the role that God called them to and should not be jealous that some have a role that is perceived to be higher than another, because all roles are equally important in that they all allow the body to function properly.
The argument at hands boils down to the relationship that man and woman have with each other and the way in which God uses that to explain the deeper meaning of his nature. Man and woman are created to compliment each other and their worship of God and their ministry to those around. God set it up as a family. He set marriage as a sacrament, not only because it is foundational to human life, but also because it helps us to understand more about God and his relationship with us.

The husband is spiritual head of the family because Christ is head of the Church his bride. Christ offers his sacrifice on behalf of the Church and leading them in their pilgrimage to the Father. The Church is to be the complement to His role as priest and to bring in new members and teach them the ways of to participate fully in his one sacrifice. The wife in this is family is to do the same, take charge in the making sure that the family is equipped to be able to participate in the worship. Complementary, not the same.

If both were to fulfill the same role, how would the other get accomplished? This is the deeper theological nature as to why this is not possible, because the Church is bride not the groom. The bride’s role is to participate in the worship, bring in new members and to equip them to worship. This is a role that only she can fill, just as the complementary role is the role that only he can fill. It is not a matter of the right to fill the position because since both man and woman were created in the image and likeness of God they are equal to each other—they are just not the same.

All this being said, Jesus calls us today to make sure that the rules we are following today are not merely rules to protect the status quo—that prevent us from changing simply because we do like change because it is unknown. Jesus tells us to push back and examine everything because in our push back were take ownership. But he also calls us to have humility in this ownership—sometimes walls are there for a reason and to knock them down is to our own peril and detriment. Sometimes the answer to the question we seek is no, but we are called to ask the question nonetheless.

No question should go unasked. Every barrier should be pushed against to make sure that it is load-bearing. Jesus shows us today that we need to remove the things obscuring our vision causing us to veer off course. He also shows us that some things are present to cause us to lean in the right direction that way we may stay on track. Lord grant us the wisdom to know difference between the two.

In the name of the F, S, and HS. Amen.


The Ability to Choose Yes

There was a much better sermon preached at my church today at the late service.  Based on the idea that you are the light of the world from Jesus’ words words in Matthew 5:14-16, Father Scott Wilson  gave an excellent sermon on evangelism.  Stay tuned to when we bring his program TELET, which we will have later in the year and I am very excited about.

But I did not preach his sermon, I preached mine at the early service.  So here is my contribution to the day:

In the name of the F, S, and HS.  Amen.

What an interesting first reading we have here today.  It starts with the line: “If you will, you can keep the commandments, and to act faithfully is a matter of your own choice.”  From this reading it seems rather easy.  There are two choices, one good the other bad, so pick the good one—duh.  Alas, if it were only that easy that easy. 


Sure some things it is easy enough for us to decide not to do—like committing mass murder—for me, I have never been tempted to take someone’s life, let alone multiple people.  But from our Gospel lesson, Jesus lets me know that even becoming angry with a person causes me to become guilty of murdering them.  Uh oh, becoming angry is something over which I do not have mastery.  I have this bad habit of losing my temper from time to time.  But our OT lesson seems to say it should be as easy as choosing the good rather than the evil.


Let’s take a little closer look at the text of the OT and see what’s going on, shall we?  Going back to the beginning of the chapter, the entire thing is about the acquisition of God’s wisdom.  The wise man learns God’s wisdom, His ways, and holds on to them, and in clinging to them will find gladness and a crown.  Not doing so makes one a fool.


If we do not choose to unite ourselves to God’s wisdom, we are fools and it is not God’s fault if we choose to do so.  What the author is trying to do here is place the blame where it properly belongs, squarely on our shoulders.  We cannot blame God because we chose not to listen—He cannot force us to choose that which is good for us.  If only he could, there would be no need for me, because we would have no sin.  But we do sin, and this passage tells us to own up to it.


It says earlier, “Do not say, ‘Because of the Lord I left the right way’; for will not do what he hates.  Do not say, ‘It was he who led me astray’; for he has no need for a sinful man.”  “It was he who created man in the beginning and he left man in the power of his own inclination.”  This is what comes directly before our reading today.  The author relieves God of any wrongdoing because we decided to sin. 


It’s like Adam rounding on God when confronted with his sin say, “The woman, whom you gave me, gave me the fruit of the tree and I ate it.”  Adam was admitting it yes, but first he tells God that had he not given him the Eve—whom he was very pleased to have mind you—then he would not have sinned.  “God had you not placed that person in my life, I would not have become angry, and thus you having done that caused me to sin.”


But the author tells us that the fact that God created people and may have even placed it on the person’s heart to be involved with me, but it was not he who caused the sin to take place, it was me.  “Before a man are life and death and whichever he chooses will be given to him.”  God has given us the free will in all situations, and it is that free will that can either save us or damn us. 


God “has not commanded any one to be ungodly, and he has not given anyone permission to sin.”  This is an important thing for us as Christians to which we should pay attention.  We should never be so bold as to think that there is any sin that we have carte blanche to commit.  Yes we have been provided with the opportunity to have our sins forgiven, but this does not mean that we should willingly commit sins just because they can be forgiven.  Sin is always bad, and our OT lesson tells us that we should own up to our shortcomings because we had the opportunity to choose the good and have no one to blame but ourselves for the fact that we did not choose it. 


This is actually a key component to confession—admitting the sins we committed one by one.  It is very humbling to do so, and very therapeutic to be forced to examine our lives and see the unsavory parts.   And then in admitting to them sin by sin, we are forced to admit that they are wrong.  Like a horse that gets spooked and throws its rider, the rider then shows the horse that the thing that caused it to freak out was just a branch that it did not see.  Now it needs to be led back and forth so that it gets used to that feeling and will not be spooked by it in the future.


The same thing is true in confession, we see our sins for what they are—our sins—our choices to make bad decisions and not make good ones.  Once we see this, we are reminded that God has promised that he will not leave us helpless and in times of need, we can call upon him and he will deliver us.  This is something that is not dealt with in our OT lesson, but something that is true nonetheless, that God provides us with the grace to be able to overcome our temptations should we ask. 


We cannot do it alone, we prove this over and over in our lives, that is what Paul tells us is the result of God giving us the Law—it shows us that we cannot do it alone.  But if we do not realize there is a problem then we can take no steps to correct it.  The author of our lesson does tell us the correct thing to do, though he does not have the verbiage to explain the later grace provided by our incorporation into the live and death of Jesus Christ.  The author tells us to seek and cling to the wisdom of God and in following that we shall choose the good.  The wisdom of God also provides the grace to remain in God’s ways. 


For us in our lives this requires frequent examination of conscience and confession of sins because it is only with familiarity that we can combat our sins.  If we know what is coming then we know to ask God to help us to avoid it.  If I know the things that set me into a furious rage, I can see the beginnings of it and pray for peace and calm down, but if I have no clue that it is coming then before I can get a handle on the situation it is full-blown Hulk-rage bounding down the path to hell without a care to the consequences.  But at that point, it is not God’s fault it is mine.


I sin and I have to take the blame.  When I do so, God is there to forgive my misdoings, and to provide help in my time of need.  And I thank God for this, now the goal is to head this off at the pass, and ask for God’s grace to make the good choices at the trail head, not when I have gotten myself lost. 


In the name of the F, S, and HS.  Amen.

Reaching Out

I have recently found a problem in my decision to post my sermons here on the blog–weeks that I don’t preach, I don’t have anything to post.  Oops.  So I decided to turn student and take notes on the sermons/presentations that I do not give in an attempt to have something to post. 

This last week we had Michelle Baldwin from VISTO http://www.vistohelps.com/ a local community outreach come and talk to us about what they are doing.

VISTO means Volunteers In Service To Others.

She began by giving us a rather eye-opening survey entitled “Poverty Survivor”.  Here are the questions (check all that apply to you):

__ I know which churches/agencies give free clothes and shoes

__ I know how to use torn up clothing for toilet paper and sanitary napkins.

__ I know the rules for visiting people in prison.

__ I know how to give off an aura of violence to avoid trouble or get what I want.

__ I know which attorney to go to get disability faster.

__ I know how to wash clothes without money, laundry soap, or a machine.

__ I know how to cook without a stove and how to keep food cold without a refrigerator

__ I/my family use payday lenders, rent-to-own places, and/or car title loans.

__ I know how to live without electricity and a phone.

__ I know where to go for help if my water is being shut off.

__ I know which organizations/churches will provide assistance with food or shelter.

__ I know how to move in half a day and all of my belongings will fit in the backseat of a car.

__ I know how to get and use food stamps or an electric card for benefits.

__ I know how to get a two-week supply of groceries home without transportation.

__ I am used to constant crises; someone I care about being arrested, evicted, heat shut off, sick, kicked out of school, out of food, and so on…

__ I can get by without a car.

__ We pay our cable-TV bill before we pay our rent.

__ I know where to go to file a tax return that will get me a refund even though I didn’t work all year.

How many of us could pass this test if we were suddenly placed in a situation in which our lives depended on it?  I know I couldn’t.  Michelle gave us this survey to show that people in poverty do have skills, they are just a different set of skills than are required for those living well above the poverty line.  We could not survive there in their world, and they cannot survive in ours.  The skills required to live in such a world, I believe they are called “street smarts” need to be handed down the same way that “book smarts” need to be handed down in order to survive.  And the parents in (generational) poverty  pass on to their children the only education they have amassed, the ability to survive.

Here are some stats that we were given:

I may have written down the numbers incorrectly, but VISTO sees roughly 13,000 people per year (the population of Gainesville is 16,067 http://www.city-data.com/city/Gainesville-Texas.html).  Per month, they will see 425 adults, 650 children, and 60 grandparents.  VISTO gives out roughly 16,000 lbs of food to 160 families. 

The number one request is toilet paper.

30% of their clients are first-time clients; people who have just hit a rough patch and need a temporary hand until they get the ship righted.  (This was the original target group for VISTO.)

20% are generational, chronic clients who once they come on, do not come off again.  They see second, third, and even fourth (!) generation clients. 

(Sadly, I missed the other what comprised the remaining 50% of this group.  I’m assuming they are repeat clients, though not considered chronic.)


40% are from single-parent families where that parent is a woman. A whopping 84%(!) of children under the age of 6 in a single-female-parent-families live in poverty.  Wow.  That is an amazingly sad and eye-opening stat.  That is twice the national average.  There are 1,200 of these sorts of families in Gainesville.


VISTO has three main programs that they provide to help the people of Gainesville

1) Backpack Buddies – The goal of the program is to deliver two days worth of nutritional snacks to children who have been identified by school officials for being “at risk” of hunger.

2) The Community Garden (located right next to St. Paul’s) – The goal of this program is to teach people in a practical environment to grow their own healthy food.

3) Pathways – The goal of Pathways is to provide self-improvement and self-empowerment opportunities to families with children and help them create a positive support system for themselves and their children.

The government throws $500 BILLION dollars at this problem, yet it doesn’t seem to help.  The problem is not that these people are not given the food and clothing and rent assistance, or whatever else falls in this category, but rather the education for these people.   We were given an example: Susie is in poverty and is given all the help she needs.  She is given food and clothing such that she has enough to sustain her for a month and even is able to get a job with the outside assistance and the clothes given to her.  After her first paycheck of two weeks, she quits the job because she has all that she needs. 

The problem that is not being addressed goes back to that old proverb about giving a man a fish versus teaching him to fish.  Michelle told us that the goal of Pathways is to help break the cycle and teach people who want to learn and help them make better lives for themselves and their families. 


It is now our job here to find out ways in which we can help VISTO to help the people of Gainesville because there are plenty of opportunities. 

Reaching Through Inerrancy

I must admit, I am a bummed that the weather is bad today and most people will (wisely) stay home.  But that doesn’t mean we can’t still have some time together.   If you go here: http://www.missionstclare.com/english/February/morning/2m.html then you can say morning prayer.  And if you are reading this, then we are making the best of the hand we have been dealt.  To top it off, why not add an act of spiritual communion?  http://www.ewtn.com/devotionals/prayers/blsac4.htm


Here is my sermon for today:

In the name of the F, S, and HS.  Amen.


What does the idea of inerrancy of scripture entail?  Does it mean that there are no errors in the Bible?  Or does it mean that the Bible teaches us the truth intended by God for the sake of our salvation?  We must ask this of ourselves this morning because Luke gets a little confused about the details of the Jewish rites of Purification.  (Read Luke 2:22-24) 


It seems as though Luke is making the claim that both parents have need of purification according to Jewish Law.  Leviticus 12:6-7: “When the days of [the mother’s] purifying are completed, whether for a son or a daughter, she shall bring to the priest at the door of the tent of meeting a lamb a year old for a burnt offering, and a young pigeon or a turtledove for a sin offering, and he shall offer it before the Lord and make atonement for her.”  Only Mary had to be purified according to the Law, not both parents.


The first male child was presented to God as a remembrance of the Exodus, and the price to buy him back was set in Numbers 3:45-47 as 5 shekels. 


Luke seems to have messed up in the details of these two religious duties—making them one and getting all the details confused.  But what else should we expect from the Gentile Luke, writing to a Gentile audience. He knows that the purification and presentation happened, but maybe he didn’t look up the details.  His main concern was showing that Jesus was presented as holy to the Lord as to the details—they didn’t necessarily matter—details can cloud the issue sometimes.  Or maybe Luke was just on a roll that day during writing and wrote it down with the intent to put in the details later then just forgot.  Oopsy. 


I ran into a similar thing when I was doing some research in Scott Hahn’s Catholic Bible Dictionary.  There was an entry missing—just not there, even though it was one that he specifically referenced in the part I was reading.  Oopsy, errors to happen all the time, even to people trying to convey the faith to others. 


I must admit, I have always been extremely hesitant to place anything I do on the internet—especially my sermons—for this exact reason.  I mean, it’s fine when you are just hearing it while I preach it.  But when I finish and throw the text away, it is gone and I don’t have to obsess about any slight errors that may have made their way into my sermon.  But put it out there on the internet for people to see and show that I really am a fraud.  I don’t like that option.  I don’t believe I am a fraud, but I am at times in need of checking my sources.


But the other day in my reading, I learned that online interaction with the sermon can help others in their walk during the week, and even help to bring others here to St. Paul’s.  So I had to suck it up and place it “out there.”  I must admit, it was a really big step for me.


But the good thing is that if I happen to get something wrong there are plenty of good things that can happen from it as well.  1) I can go back and look up the actual text.  2) I can then learn what it says more fully.  3) I can correct my previous misunderstanding with my new knowledge.  Actually this is the goal—always to be improving.


To make a false step is human.  That is actually why the presentation today is important.  Jesus is presented as one of us.  He is fully human, so he knows all the temptations we go through in our daily lives.  Yet we learn elsewhere that, he was tempted as we are, yet he did not sin.  He was also fully divine, which makes him the perfect candidate for us a high priest, because he knows weaknesses first-hand, yet he still offers his sacrifice for us, that he may present us to the Father holy and blameless. 


One of the many reasons he does this is so that when we make mistakes along the way, a permanent consequence does not result from a momentary lack of judgment.  If we persist in our error then we damn ourselves by refusing to walk along the way.  But the goal is that when we make a misstep, we learn from it and return to following Jesus as he shows us how to be like him that we may be with him always. 


Sadly for our pride, we learn best when we make mistakes.  We learn because then we have to go back to the point of departure, find the mistake, and fix it.  The biggest thing is that we learn the truth, and to learn the truth we must examine the truth.  And when we are learning the truth, we learn it from greatest to smallest.


For example, big truth: “Love God with all your heart, mind, and strength; and love your neighbor as yourself.”  We learn this first, and then we gradually figure out how the details of our lives fit into this and how to live this big truth daily. 

Another example: The best thing I learned from seminary was the story of salvation, and in order to do this I started with the big arch of salvation—God created us to be with him, we rebelled, God sent his son to show us the way and restores us to his presence —and filled in the gaps as I could.


But when God calls us in the midst of our learning of the details, like Luke, to introduce someone to the faith, we needn’t fear our lack of knowledge over the specifics.  We simply need to be aware of the situation and follow the lead, and trust God to either fill in the gaps in your knowledge as you proceed, or to spackle over the holes in their knowledge as a result of your conversation with them and that they would see the clear picture.  To shamelessly quote a cliché: “God does necessarily call the equipped, he equips the called.” 

And so Beloved, God is stretching you, because it is through the stretching that we are able to be molded into the image of Christ.  Do not fear to reach further than you can grasp, for God has called you and will make up the lack.  Trust his knowledge of us and his continual sacrifice for our shortcomings. 


Just imagine the heights that we could reach if we were unafraid of getting it wrong and falling. 


In the name of the F, S, and HS.  Amen.