The Rector's Blog
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June 4, 2015, 11:38 AM

Reading the Bible the OLD Way

How did early Christians Read the Bible?

I’m so glad you asked!  They read it very differently from the ways we do now, and I am sure that doesn’t really surprise you, when you stop to consider it. 

Nowadays, we have the “advantage” of the “historical critical” method for examining Scripture, which helps us fill out the context as to when something might have been written, by whom, to whom, and why. 

Archeological finds continue to provide new bits of text to place next to the received versions, and the texts we do have are often updated with earlier manuscripts.  The historical critical method and new discoveries of ancient texts, for example, tell us that the Gospel of Mark originally probably ended at the tomb, with the women too frightened to follow the instructions to “go and tell the disciples to meet Jesus in Galilee.”

But of course, the ancients did not have the benefit of the historical critical method.

Their Scriptures consisted of the Jewish texts: the Pentateuch (the Law of Moses; the first five books), the annals of the kings, the prophets, and the psalms, and of course, the New Testament gospels and letters.  They mined these writings for far more than the obvious, surface meaning; that would have been very superficial.

In fact, they did not value these books so much because of the stories they contained, which they considered just a basic garment, but for the things one could do with these stories.  Hence, we see advice from the 4th century Egyptian monk Evagrius to turn to Psalm such-and-so if you are angry at someone, or to this-or-that passage from Isaiah if you are downcast, and so on.

The Scriptures were a tool, a technology, to guide one through the vicissitudes of life.  You could put yourself in the midst of the story of the Israelites in Egypt when you were seeking a way out of difficulties or temptations, for example.

The Scriptures were used to remind the early Christians of the saving grace of God, and as a means of ensuring that people would have the means to live out their lives in the presence of God every day.  The faith was a 24/7 proposition, a full expression of what it means to be human.  To do any less was to be lost.

 




May 21, 2015, 5:13 PM

Is it the Holy Spirit?

COME HOLY SPIRIT!

OK, the question of the day is this:  How do we know it’s the Holy Spirit?
In 1st John, we skipped a paragraph in our Sunday readings where John said, “By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God.”

If you’ve heard my sermons (or read them online) or been part of the Bible Study over the last few weeks, you know that John has a particular problem:  some of the members of the community of which he is a part have left, because they don’t accept that Jesus came “in the flesh,” that is, they thought that he wasn’t really a human being like us, but more an appearance or a “seeming.”

John believed most strongly that unless Jesus was human, unless Jesus really suffered as we do, unless Jesus actually and really died, the whole incarnation project was a fraud, and we are not saved.

For John, the crucial test for the spirit, as for believers, was their answer to the question, “Who was Jesus?” 

But John lived in a time when spirits were a dime a dozen, as it were.  Jesus cast out evil spirits, Paul wrote about the Spirit of Christ entering our bodies, Jesus breathed the Holy Spirit into the disciples in John’s Gospel, and in the Book of Acts, the Holy Spirit filled the disciples with the ability to speak in many languages, which certainly must have aided the evangelism effort of the time.

But in our time?  It’s hard to discern spirits, because we lean on psychology instead. 

So, perhaps our question should be: how do we know if we are getting faith right?

Perhaps for us, it is easier to focus on what else Jesus was besides human and divine, to focus on how this particular unique individual, who was both God and human, lived his life, and to ask ourselves if we do the same.

This particular Jesus, whom we meet in the Gospels, whom Paul met on the road to Damascus, who washed the disciples feet, who corrected the Pharisees and gave his life in an ultimate act of service to humanity…this man reveals God.

How might we do that?




May 7, 2015, 12:00 AM

Change and Transformation

Wow, just one week after temps in the 20s we are seeing temps in the 70s and 80s and perhaps in the 90s.  The pace of change as spring takes over is impressive.  Soon the long hot season of summer will come and we will give thanks for things like Crystal Beach, ice cream, and air conditioning (using the lovely new system just installed in the church.)

Spring is a bit of a metaphor for other changes in our lives, and how swiftly they can make themselves felt.  Change, it has been said, is the one constant in our lives.

Did you see the cartoon of a speaker asking his audience, “Who wants change?”  They all raised their hands.  Then he asked them, “Who wants to change?” and they were all suddenly looking at their feet and out the window…. None wanted to change.

Yet isn’t that exactly what we are called to do when God reaches out?  In every exchange between Jesus and other people reported in the Bible, it seems, was meant to change something about their lives. 

- “Go, sell all you have, and give to the poor.”
- “Go, and make disciples.”
- “Your faith has made you well.” 

Zacchaeus responded to Jesus foisting himself upon his hospitality saying, “Look, half of my possessions I will give to the poor and I will pay back four times whatever I have defrauded.”

Time after time, people changed their point of view, their actions, and their lives from meeting Jesus!

We all know the world is changing around us, and it always seems to change faster and faster. 

But the changes that God requires of us?  It would seem many folks don’t wish to comply – or may not even want to know what God wants from us if it means we have to change!

I think this is normal.

I also think this is risky – not so much for our immortal souls, although one could argue that, but for the world that is changing around us.  Will our reluctance (fear?) keep us in the old ways until we become completely irrelevant?

Or can we change how we “do church” and “live Christian lives” so that even in the swift changes of the world around us, we still have a message of love, hope, and transformation to offer God’s children in these times?

What changes will we allow to transform us?

 




April 23, 2015, 12:00 AM

The Great 50 Days

Alleluia, Christ is risen!
The Lord is risen indeed, alleluia!

We mentioned that the Vestry is reading a new book on The Agile Church.  We do this because “studies … suggest a paradox: lingering widespread Christian affiliation that often lacks depth, coherence, participation, and practice; rapid erosion of religious identity…; general openness to God and spirituality; and significant resistance to organized forms of religious community,” as author Dwight Zscheile writes.

To the extent we also find ourselves in this paradox, if we want our community to thrive and grow, we need to find the path that will build up the community of God, respond to the needs of those who are seeking deeper relationship with God and a richer spirituality (which may not simply be a place to be on Sunday mornings), and provide opportunities for Christian formation for all ages.

I would like to wave my magic wand to make all this happen, but I don’t have a magic wand!

It will take work and dedication to ensure Christ Church’s future, by all those who value this place, our history, and our potential.  The old ways, the old expectations, the ones that brought many of us here and keep us here, may no longer be working the way they used to!

Churches that are growing now are very intentional about what their strengths are, and what they have to offer to the world outside their doors.  Like you, I also struggle with finding the right combination of factors that will make eyes open and hearts open and minds open.  I think the Bible study will help.  But I also think that we need to do more than just tell people we are here and they are welcome to join us anytime; no, we need to join them, too, where they are, with the questions they have, even with the doubts and trepidations they bring with them from their prior experience with other churches or with news coverage or whatever it is.

No one should fear to seek God; but many do fear being condemned and rejected, so they don’t seek God in church.  We need to bring church to them – not the panoply, not the hymns, not the sermons, but our lives lived in the image of the Living Word, Jesus Christ.

Right there where they can see us living it!




April 12, 2015, 11:48 AM

Low Sunday and The Great Fifty Days

"Low” Sunday really doesn’t mean “low-attendance Sunday,” although we seem to have plenty of those these days anyway.  Now the weather is warming up, I hope you will be able to come join us! 

That’s because Easter is not just one day – it is FIFTY; in which every single day is a chance to explore what the resurrection means to our community and to each of us as part of that community.

In fact, it’s not just 50 days – it’s “THE GREAT FIFTY DAYS.”  Leonel Mitchell, author of Lent, Holy Week, Easter and the Great Fifty Days: A Ceremonial Guide, wrote, that these are “the season of mystagogy.”   That means “the study of mysteries.”

He says that by the 4th century, leading Christian teachers, such as Ambrose of Milan and Cyril of Alexandria, used this time after Easter specifically to teach the newly baptized about the sacraments and their new life in Christ.

I’ll be following their lead.  We’ll use the 1st Letter of John (which we read on Sundays all season long) as our door to enter the domain of mystery and wonder, exploring how Jesus Christ secures for us salvation, forgiveness of sins, and reason for hope despite a very unbalanced and too often unkind world.

In addition to this textual exploration, we will make two liturgical moves:

First, we will be using a new (ancient) canticle in place of the Gloria at the beginning of the liturgy – we’ll be singing the Pascha nostrum, the “Christ our Passover.” This canticle rehearses what Christ has done for us through his Incarnation, Death, Resurrection, and Ascension.  

Second, we will not be using a form of corporate confession, except as included in the Prayers of the People. 

As part of your own personal observance of Easter’s Fifty Days, I invite you to make use pf the daily meditations, “Fifty Fabulous Days,” which are posted on the website http://50days.org.  (An excerpt is printed on page 4 of this newsletter.)  


Alleluia, Christ is risen!
The Lord is risen indeed, alleluia!


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