Dissing Christmas: The Church Fathers Pile On

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Starbucks. Target. City halls refusing to put up nativities. This relentless attack on Christmas must stop! Who is going to do battle with our cherished celebration next? The early church fathers? Say what? Listen to a “Justice League” of early fathers ruin Christmas by pointing out that, outside of the holy family, pretty much everything in your nativity crèche is based in fiction rather than biblical reality.

Assumptions v. Reality: The Church Fathers straighten us out on Christmas Night

Let’s contrast our modern version of the Christmas story with the perspective of the early Fathers who stood far closer, both chronologically and culturally, to Jesus’ birth than we do.Justice League Christmas Dis.002

  1. Not Announced by a star

We assume a star over the manger announced the King’s arrival. Like many of our beliefs about the Christmas story, we get that idea from Christmas carols. “The stars in the sky looked down where he lay…” Reality: The star came later (See assumption 3). The heralds were angels, who, as Cyril of Alexandria said in the 5th century, “never oppose the will of the one whose message they bear.”[1] God’s personal messenger service brought the news. For God, when it comes to salvation, it’s personal.

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  1. No Wise Men

Regardless of the school nativity play or the crèche on your mantel, the wise men were not even present at the birth. They arrived a year or so later. (Which explains Herod putting a hit on anyone under two years of age[2] and why the church celebrates the coming of the wise men as Epiphany on Jan 6.) In reality Shepherds were the first non-family to greet Jesus at his birthIn the 200’s Origen wrote, “the host of heaven brought the message of humanities’ good shepherd.” Bonus: There is also no indication from the text that it was the shepherd’s status on the peasant rung of the working-class ladder that amazed the public. What amazed was the message: “peace on earth.” From the divine perspective, “peace on earth” is only possible if there is peace with God – the enmity brought between humanity and God by sin removed. When the ones raising lambs for the temple system were sent to find a baby swaddled the way they swaddled their lambs to keep them spotless for the atonement sacrifices, everyone heard an implication: This baby would be “the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.”[3]

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  1. Not an Inn

In the pop culture version Mary and Joseph were rejected, turned away from a packed Inn In the Greek New Testament, the word for “Inn” is pandocheion, a place travelers paid for a common kitchen and dormitory, like a hostel. But that word isn’t in this text. Joseph and Mary instead went to a kataluma, “the spare or upper room in a private house…no payment was expected.”[4] A kataluma is where the disciples ate the Last Supper, not an “inn,” an “upper room.”[5] Joseph, seems to have done what Middle Easterners do to this day: showed up at a relative’s so that family could extend hospitality. Presumably, coming from a distance with a pregnant wife, other family perhaps already have the guest room for the census. Although despised and rejected by men[6] as an adult, Jesus was welcomed on his arrival. In the 3rd century Chrysostem wrote, he was “not in some small room but in the home before numerous people.”[7]

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  1. No Stable

Regardless of what your mom said, you probably weren’t born in a barn and Jesus probably wasn’t either, since animals were not kept in barns in 1st Century Palestine. They were kept in the lower level of the main house. The manger is on the main level so that the animals could put their faces in and eat.[8] Jesus was born in the main room and, as Gregory of Nazianzus said, “bound in swaddling bands at the manger to release humanity from the swaddling bands of the grave at the resurrection.”[9] No wonder his mother named him, Jesus, meaning, “God saves.”

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  1. Not on Christmas.

Jesus’ had a Christmas birthday, right? Wrong. Because the shepherds were in the field, scholars conclude Jesus’ birth was in Spring or Fall. How did we get Dec. 25? A common theory is that we co-opted the Roman feast of the Unconquerable Sun. However, the church, long before it gave a rip about the holidays of Rome’s pantheon of gods, believed Jesus was both conceived and crucified on March 25. They counted forward 9 months from conception, giving us, viola, Dec. 25. In reality, it is the era rather than the day of Jesus’ birth that is important. Jesus was born during the Pax Romana, the peace of Rome, allowing the news of him to spread. 7th century historian Bede wrote, “Jesus was born at the time of utmost worldly peace to lead the world back to heavenly peace.”[10]

Conclusion: When Jesus arrived and God dwelt among us[11] he didn’t just, as Eugene Peterson paraphrased, “move into the neighborhood,”[12] he moved into the front room. As Athanasius wrote in the 3rd century, “He became what we are that we might become what he is.”[13] That is the point of Jesus entering what pagan philosopher Celsus called, the ragtag and bobtail of humanity.[14]

What do we learn of Christmas from the Fathers? It would be good to learn our Bibles and our story and defend our faith against shallow thinking and ministers who lack the training to teach the scriptures rather than simply critiquing the culture. The truth of Christmas we learn from the scriptures is that angelic messengers let us know that, for God, “it’s personal.” He may have been a helpless baby, but more than a helpless baby, Jesus would be the spotless lamb of God to be sacrificed, shattering the separation of sin. Jesus was at home in the world he had made,[15] in the midst of the stuff of life. His name means “God saves” and his birth is an invitation to that salvation: God joined us “in the fullness of time” to bring peace to the world, that we might be united to him eternally.[16]

Your crèche might be bogus, but the incarnation most certainly is not. Christian, reclaim Christmas by worshipping the manger-born King, walking with God rather than expecting non-believers to, learning our scriptures in the context of historic teaching, and bear witness to the power of that babe to bring “peace on earth, goodwill to those in whom he is well-pleased.”  

*And yes, I do know Perpetua isn’t a “Father,” but someone had to be Gal Gadot.

[1] Commentary on Luke, Homily 2

[2] Matt 2:16

[3] John 1:29

[4] ISBE, 2004

[5] Luke 22:12

[6] Isaiah 53:3

[7] Against the Anomoeans, 7.49

[8] There are a plethora of references on this one. Google it.

[9] Oration 29.19

[10] Homilies on the Gospels, 1.6

[11] John 1:14

[12] The Message,

[13] On the Incarnation

[14] Contra Celsus,

[15] John 1:1

[16] Galatians 4:4

 

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History’s First Courtroom Drama: Will the Real Jesus Please Stand Up?

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“The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers”

Lawyers have gotten a bad rap ever since wisecracking bad guy Dick the Butcher uttered his famous line in Shakespeare’s Henry VI. Most of us must admit, however, that we appreciate a good courtroom saga. Did you know the Gospel of John might be histories’ first legal drama?

Writing five or so decades after Jesus, John sought to answer an obvious question: Why should folk place their faith in a religious leader who made astounding self-claims, was executed as an enemy of the state, and whose followers, (with claims Jesus rose from the grave) seemed unhinged? John provides Jesus a gripping defense:

The Prosecution

Jesus had been nabbed by Jewish religious authorities and tried at night for blasphemy (John 10:33). He was then turned over to the governor of the occupying Romans and killed on a different charge (John 18:29-31), insurrection, a charge that allowed the Romans to keep the peace by eliminating Jesus.

The Accused Pleas? Guilty.

John’s Gospel opens with “In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God and the word was God…and the word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld his glory, glory of the only begotten of the father full of grace and truth” (John 1:1,14). John opens his book by equating Jesus with God at the creation of the universe. That is a pretty tall claim. In fact, it is such a stunning claim John can’t really have been serious. Surely, we must have misheard him.

Just to make sure we are picking up what Jesus is laying down, John tells us that Jesus made a habit of equating himself with deity by referring to himself using God’s covenant check-signing name, a name given when God told Moses, “I am who I am” (Ex. 3:14). And this isn’t a one-off. Jesus repeats it at least seven times:

  • I am the bread of life. (6:35)
  • I am the light of the world. (8:12)
  • I am the gate for the sheep. (10:7)
  • I am the good shepherd. (10:11)
  • I am the resurrection and the life. (11:25)
  • I am the way and the truth and the life. (14:6)
  • I am the true vine. (15:1)

For Jews, monotheistic then and now, were so serious about the holiness of God they substitute the generic “God” for “Yahweh” even to this day. Jesus’ “I am” statements were an unmistakable gauntlet thrown. The religious leaders of Jesus’ day, playing their own version of C.S. Lewis’ classic, “Lord, Liar, Lunatic” argument, vacillated between questioning Jesus’ sanity (“He has a demon, and is insane…” 10:19), and trying to kill him for blasphemous lies (10:33) before they finally grabbed him in a garden and had him executed.

The Defense 

But what of Jesus’ astounding self-claims? John never tries to shrink from the statements or lesson their blow. Instead he seeks to prove Jesus’ claim of divinity with 7 miraculous signs recorded in escalating levels of difficulty:

  • Changing water into wine (2:1-11) – “the first of the signs.”
  • Healing an official’s sick son remotely (4:46-54)
  • Healing a paralyzed man (5:1-15)
  • Feeding 5000 (6:5-14)
  • Walking on water (6:16-24)
  • Healing a man blind from birth (9:1-7)
  • Raising Lazarus from the dead (11:1-45)

Jesus makes 7 Claims to be God. John provides 7 Signs to support Jesus’ claim.

The Witness List: A legal showdown occurs in John chapter 5. Again attacked for his claims to be God in human form (5:18), Jesus lays out his witness list to corroborate his identity: Jesus himself (5:31), John the Baptist (5:33), Jesus’ miracles (5:36), God the Father (5:37), and the Old Testament scriptures (5:39). Jesus calls two more witnesses in later chapters: the Holy Spirit (15:26), and his followers (15:27), giving us a witness list numbering…wait for it…seven.

An airtight Case

 Seven is the number of divine completeness: Seven claims to deity. Seven miracles to support his claim. Seven witnesses. Jesus’ case is perfect. John is arguing that the case for the deity of Jesus is airtight.

A Star Witness

3/4 of the times the verb “witness” (the Greek martureo) occurs in the NT it occurs in the Gospel of John (28 of 39 occurrences). In all its’ forms (witness, witnessing, bearing witness), the word “witness” occurs 90 times in the New Testament. Half of them are in John. This legal emphasis in the Gospel of John gives us different perspectives on biblical characters from the other Gospels. Jesus’ cousin, John the Baptist, is a good example. In the other Gospels John appears as a preacher of repentance and baptizer of multitudes. In John he is witness for the defense. John 1:6-8 introduces John saying, “There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.He came as a witness, tobear witness about the light, that all might believe through him.He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light.”  In the Gospel of John, baptizing is mentioned, but barely. His important role is witness. And not any witness, but a key witness, a star character witness. Appearing more frequently in the Gospel of John than in the other Gospels, John the Baptizer shows up in four places in John (ch. 1, 3, 5, 10), each time specifically labelled a “witness.”

Jesus’ well-born cousin makes a particularly credible witness. A big-city kid from an influential priestly family. While Jesus preached to the ordinary, his cousin garnered audiences with the king. And what does this highly regarded witness say? Look at the first chapter of John:

v20 “I’m not the Messiah.” v21 “I’m not Elijah.” And “I’m not Moses.”

v22 Exasperated the religious leaders ask, “Enough of who you aren’t. Who the heck are you?” John answers with scripture, “I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, ‘get ready for God!’”

In v26 the religious leaders follow up, “Why then are you baptizing?”  John goes from talking about who he is not, to talking about the one who is, “I am”: “Someone so great, so glorious, is coming that I hesitate even to be his foot-washing servant.”

In v. 29 and 30, John literally points to Jesus: “The lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. This is the one I was talking about.”  John the Baptist provides our case with unambiguous testimony.

Will the real John the Baptist please stand up?

John the Baptist has a very different emphasis in John’s Gospel. He is not the bug-eater in a hair-suit. Nor the man of influence speaking truth to power. Nor the powerful preacher waist deep in the waters of baptism immersing an adoring public. Nor the prophet whose end gave us the expression, “getting your head served on a platter.” This John is a simple witness.

-Not the light, but bearing witness to the one who enlightens the world.

-Not the promised deliverer, but crying out to the one who is.

-Not the lamb of God, sacrificed for the world, but pointing to one who would be.

John’s job might have been preaching and baptizing. But John’s vocation was witness. “Vocation” comes from the Latin word vocare, “Call.” John’s paying gig was one thing, his call was to witness. That makes John a great model for Advent. While the world follows Santa to the mall and bows at the altar of Amazon Prime, the church follows Advent: a time of preparation, of listening, of remembering that what we need isn’t socks or a sweater, but a savior.

We may have a lot of different jobs: Lawyer or landman, teacher or tradespeople, parent or pediatric nurse, student or stockbroker. But followers of Jesus have a higher calling: Witness. We are sent to testify, as John writes in another place, to “what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have touched with our hands.”

You Have Been Summoned to Appear

Regardless our business, our true calling is to witness to God’s visitation and redemption of the world in Jesus. In our various roles we are but witnesses, cleverly disguised as lawyers and nurses, stockbrokers and students. We have a high and holy calling: “And you also will bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning.” (15:27)

John bore witness not to his own gifts and abilities, but God’s. He cried out not of his own power, but God’s. He pointed not to himself, but to the Lamb of God already among them.

That is our call, friends: To bear witness, to cry out, to point others to the savior. We are the final witness Jesus spoke of in John, the ones who believe without seeing (John 20:29). Our task is to continue to bear witness, “thatJesus is the Christ, and that by believing you might have life in his name.” (John 20:31)

Like John in his fractured time, we too live in fractured days – days desperate for the hope of God…desperate for a witness to the light, a cry of hope, to be pointed to Jesus.

Can I get a witness?

Did Jesus just say, “Be nice or go to hell”?

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A leader’s final address always warrants a close listen. The Sheep and Goats judgment in Matthew 25:31-46 is just that: The final section of the final sermon in the five sermons Matthew organized his Gospel around.

A laundry list of subjects to avoid at dinner parties

The sheep and the goats is a difficult passage: Heaven and hell and judgment and the poor and imprisoned…a virtual laundry list of topics to avoid in polite circles. When reading this passage religious conservatives tend to take Jesus’ words concerning the afterlife literally and his words concerning the treatment of our fellows figuratively (and often with some sheepish embarrassment and a desire to explain their earthy literalness away), while progressives tend read it seeing Jesus’ words about our fellows literally, glossing over the words about the afterlife with a grain of (embarrassed) salt. The principles of literary interpretation would indicate that the passage is either figurative or literal. In this passage, Jesus, usually the master of parable and simile, uses none of his usual indicators for figurative language, leaving all equally unsettled by his unswerving literalness.[2]

Jesus is sitting on the mount of Olives. The twelve are with him.[1] It is Wednesday, two days before he would be crucified. Jesus shocks them with a description of the way things will play out. Let’s look at the passage:

31 When the Son of Man comes in his glory and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Jesus will be leading angels. His glory” and “his glorious throne” a repetitive emphasis of Jesus’ deity – God alone sits on the heavenly throne.

32 Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.

The question everyone wants answered: Who are sheep and who are goats? There are two theories: A theological view, proposed by those wanting to avoid a conclusion that Jesus is teaching salvation by good works…a conclusion the arc of Matthew’s Gospel and the rest of the New Testament would argue against.[3] In this view the sheep are Christians and goats are non-Christians, and judgment is based on how non-Christian goats treat Christian sheep. The other theory is the grammatical view – that the difference between sheep and goats is, as the text says, the way “the nations” treat “the least of these.” I can give a plethora of reasons for the grammatical view, including it making little sense that Jesus, on the heels of a series of parables about disciples remaining alert in their faith, would abruptly introduce a new subject in a way he hasn’t done in any of his four previous sermons in Matthew, and besides, the normal grammatical reading leaves us without the necessity of textual gymnastics. Let’s look at the passage, letting the text speak for itself…

33 And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. 34 Then the King will say to those on his right, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” Notice the passive voice: “have been blessed by my father,” and “inherit the kingdom prepared for you.” Grace is always a gift, always received. But what have the recipients of God’s grace been up to? Jesus tells us:

35 …I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’  Notice what the sheep give: Food & drink. Hospitality & clothing. Visitation & friendship. First, basic needs. Second, shelter and clothing. Finally, existential needs: time and attention. Abraham Maslow wasn’t the first to notice a hierarchy of needs.  “Sheep,” Jesus points out, “open hearts and hands.” When we open heart and hand to those around us, we open our hearts and hands to Jesus. Or as Henrietta Mears said, “Every person we meet is dying for a drop of love.”[4]

Stunned by the personal pronouns… 37 Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink?38 And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? 39 And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’  40 And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’ Jesus describes all humanity standing before Him, the risen Lord in glory, the leader of the angelic host, a savior who sees all and knows all. 41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. In Ephesians and Colossians Paul tells us the final judgement will bring a blessed reunion. Jesus tells us, that for some, it will also be a time of awful separation.

42 For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ 44 Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ 45 Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And the final shocking sentence: 46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

A few observations

-Jesus’ first and last sermons tie together. The Sermon on the Mount began with “Blessed are you when you…” The Sermon on the Mount of Olives ends with, “receive now your blessings!

-Judgment is Jesus’ job. Some we think are sheep, apparently are not. Some who appear to be goats, apparently are not. It is not given to us to figure that out. Anyway, other’s status is usually a red herring for our true question.

-Our true question is, “What about me?” What is my responsibility? Answer: To love. Tertullian said, “Have you seen a brother, you’ve seen your Lord.”[5] Do you want to find God? The Lord most high is found in our lowest fellow.

Matthew’s Gospel was written to encourage his Jewish brethren to faith in Jesus. This is not saved by works,but ratherhow faith works.” The formula of scripture is not works lead to grace but grace leads to works.[6] The obvious fruit of receiving grace is to become gracious!

-Our culture’s idea “God accepts everyone as they are” sounds nice, it is just not supported by scripture. God is a holy lover. Jesus welcomes us allAnd bids us all be changed. The difficult truth is that “Depart from me” is part of Jesus’ vocabulary that he says some will hear. As Dale Brunner said, “The Gospel has a two-edged nature: it brings salvation to the repentant and damnation to the obstinate.”

-How does judgement work?[7] I once watched a Palestinian shepherd call his animals out of a pen in the West Bank. He had sheep and goats. As they left the corral they separated themselves. Although mixed in the pen, when the shepherd called them out to take them to pasture, the sheep and the goats naturally separated toward their own, right and left. The shepherd didn’t say, “Sheep, over here. You goat get over there.” They self-selected. I think the disciples would have known that. We will appear before the shepherd/king, and at his glorious presence self-select for eternity based on who we have become. You and I are becoming now, today, who we will be for eternity.

– It is trendy to say, “I can’t believe in a God who would force people into an eternity apart from God.” That does sound like a bad sort of a God. There is only one alternative, one that is infinitely worse: A God who does not trust us to make our own decisions and would coerce folk to spend all eternity with him against their will. Such is the nature of God: His holy love, deep and wide enough to make a path for you and I through his son, yet never coerce us to walk it.

Martin Luther wrote, “O dear Lord God, how are we so blind that we do not take such love to heart! How could we have thought it up that God himself throws himself so deep down into our midst and accepts the works of all those who give themselves to the poor as though they had been done to him. Thus, the world is full of God – in every lane you meet Christ. You find him at your door.”[8]

So did Jesus just say, “Be nice or go to hell? Nope. More, “Become like me now and enjoy me forever.”

 

[1] Matt 24:3

[2] There is no parable language. See Matt 25:1, 14 for examples.

[3] Held by Augustine and many Reformed theologians

[4] Dale Bruner, The Churchbook: Matthew 13-28. (Michigan: Eerdman’s Publishing, 2004) p. 571

[5]Tertullian, Writings Vol. III, Ch 26, Of the Parting of Brethren

[6]Eph 2:8-10, Titus 3:4-7

[7] V. 32 “…as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.”

[8] Luther, Sermons from the year 1526

What’s Next? Hope after Harvey

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Partnering with Academy Sports and the East Houston Civic Club to get inflatable beds to 130 infants who were sleeping on the ground.

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Years from now I suspect what most will remember of Harvey, besides 50 inches of rain in 4 days, was Houstonians rushing to rescue one another. Rescue quickly gave way to relief as we gathered supplies, distributed food, and mucked homes. Six weeks later, for many of us, the mucking is done, the enormous trash piles mostly hauled away. Much of Houston is on the road to recovery: putting life back (mostly) the way it was…removing the dank stench of mold and bringing back the thousands of houses stripped to the studs for the families who call them home.

But what of Houston’s poor? Families at or below the poverty line are often devastated by events such as Harvey. Without flood insurance or financial margin, the poor often find themselves in dire situations as employment is interrupted and expenses pile up. As in Katrina, the forces of gentrification are upon them. Letters have already begun to appear on the doors of the poor telling them their houses will need to be brought up to code or be condemned. People have been forced from apartments but still forced to pay half rent. What people need in large portions of our city is not recovery but sensible, sensitive rebuilding.

There are neighborhoods in Houston for whom Harvey provides an opportunity, a chance to make neighborhoods better than they were…rebuilt into places with access to fresh food, job training, and affordable housing. This is where we at St. John the Divine are focussing next. We have established partnerships with churches from a variety of denominations in the Northeast and Northshore neighborhoods. We have mobilized hundreds of hours and people to work in those neighborhoods. We will begin hosting outside teams at St. John the Divine to help in the rebuilding effort. We will do what our neighborhood partners tell us is needed, and we will emphasize long-range change over charity. We will leverage what we have historically been very good at: connecting the big hearts of Houstonians with big needs. Swinging a hammer is good, but, as Jim Loftis says, its’ time to weaponize our rolodexes.

We’ve done it before. We are about to do it again.

Lives will be changed. The Good News will be shared. God will be glorified.

Join us!

“The city streets will be filled with boys and girls playing there.” This is what the Lord Almighty says: “It may seem marvelous to the remnant of this people at that time, but will it seem marvelous to me?”     -Zechariah 8:5-6, NIV

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North Shore Community Fellowship of Faith

Loving Houston from a distance

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Snark MeterrealMID.003A week ago, while boarding a plane to lead a retreat in Maryland, I naively commented that I was sad to be leaving Houston before my first hurricane. After all, one is not “Real Houston” until you have been there and done that.

That was ignorance speaking.

A week later Harvey has moved on. Behind is the devastation of 50” of rain pummeling one place for four days. Friends and colleagues left their homes with nothing but the drenched clothes on their backs. Friends floated their families out of their neighborhood on air mattresses and pool toys. A few, people with lives and loved ones and stories, didn’t make it out at all.

My wife and teams of our young adults have spent this week gutting homes that were knee deep in flood waters and backed up sewage in a race against the mold that will turn those homes toxic. And all the while, I remain in Baltimore due to airport closures and having booked with an airline that has a single daily flight to Houston. So, like most of you, I have had to love from a distance.

From a distance I worry about those who will spend months in shelters and hotels and friend’s spare bedrooms. I worry about those unable to work and pay bills and buy groceries and gasoline to get back to work when (or if ) their jobs reopen. For thousands, Harvey’s aftermath will mean a second move: the move into poverty.

Knowing that I am on staff at a Houston church that sends more than 1/3 of every dollar directly out our door to others, and that I have some experience serving “the least of these,” many have asked, “What can I do?”* Here is how you can provide helpful help right now:

  1. Pray. Really. (James 5:16) “The Lord sits enthroned over the flood; the Lord sits enthroned as king forever.” (Ps. 29:10) The storm is never the last word!
  2. Stop. Don’t load up a flatbed with blankets and bring 100 of your closest friends next week. That day will come. Right now, shelters, hotels and churches are filled. The last thing Harvey hit areas need right now is more bodies. Don’t send the flatbed with the blankets either. The list of what shelters needs changes daily. If you send it, chances are good your generosity will end up not being used.
  3. Give money. Money is flexible. Money can be used to buy kids groceries and clothes. We spent $1200 today on supplies like masks and gloves to help teams tear out carpet, drywall and cabinets. Thousands of workers will need Hep C and tetanus shots. People (church parishioners and church’s local mission partners with folk in dire financial positions) will need help because people on the bubble will not be able to work hourly jobs, but their expenses won’t stop.

How to give cash? Find a charity you trust. Give some to small local charities…local charities do good work with real people. Give some to church-based national charities. National charities have broad experience. Lots of large secular charities pay huge salaries and have large advertising budgets that church-based charities usually do not have. (For example Episcopal Relief and Development sends 84% directly to programs rather than admin or fundraising).

Here is one place I trust: http://www.sjd.org/harvey/

Thank you for loving from a distance. The Gulf Coast needs you!

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Tuesday clothing collections at St. John the Divine

*If you count the staff necessary to accomplish that, it is more like 50% of the budget of the Church of St. John the Divine goes outside our doors.

Of Priests and Ordinations, FAQs

 

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An informative if slightly snarky look at clergy and their ordinations.

What is a priest?

A priest is someone called by God and set apart by the church to the ministry of Word and Sacrament. It may seem obvious, but the whole operation works better when those ordained to Christian ministry actually believe Christian things. Priests are charged by their bishop to “proclaim the Gospel of Christ and to fashion their lives in accordance with its precepts.” Priests are “to nourish Christ’s people from the riches of his grace, and strengthen them to glorify God in this life and in the life to come.” (BCP, 531) In short, priests point people to the Great High Priest, Jesus Christ. (Hebrews 4:14-5:4, 10:11-12) Occasionally we ordain folk without a deep scriptural faith. Once a colleague spoke of what a gift to the church the panentheist he was ordained with is. I can’t fathom how the fellow could take the ordination vows without his fingers crossed.

In addition, in the opening words of the ordination, priests are called to “pray, offer the Sacraments, preach, declare God’s pardon, and bless and console” (Book of Common Prayer, 531). These actions imply that priests also have gifts of gathering and leadership that they will exercise in the life of the church – ordination works much better for churches when ordained persons have leadership gifts as well.

What does the word “priest” mean?

“Priest” is an Anglicization of the Greek “presbyter,” meaning “elder.” In the Episcopal church, we follow the three historic orders of ministry: bishops, priests, and deacons (episcopos, presbyteros, and deaconos in the original Greek). A quick glance reveals that churches in the historic tradition have transliterated all three ordained roles. Most evangelical bodies combine the first two words (overseer and elder) into one role (elder) that they translate, and then transliterate deacon (which means servant).

How does one become a priest?

Through ordination, the rite in which the church grants authority and God gives the grace of the Holy Spirit necessary for the task. Needless to say, both are vital.

In the Episcopal Church our clergy neither self-select nor self-anoint. We ordain those we believe called by God in a process that is quite involved. Persons are identified by their diocese in a period of vocational discernment, trained according to the scriptures and the canons of the church (usually receiving a three-year Master’s degree from a seminary), are affirmed by a congregation, and ordained by a bishop. This process ordinarily takes around five years.

What do those being ordained do in their ordination?

The person being ordained (ordinand) pledges to be loyal to “the doctrine, discipline and worship of Christ as this church has received them,” and affirm that they “believe the scriptures of the Old and New Testament to be the Word of God, containing all things necessary to salvation.” (BCP, 526) They place themselves under the authority of their bishop and yoke themselves to the ministry of Word and Sacrament at the hands of that bishop who stands in the long line of those touched by the original apostles two thousand years ago. Their first act as an ordained person will be to join their bishop in the celebration of Holy Eucharist. …All of which renders obvious belief in actual Christian doctrines and walking with the One to whom those doctrines refers is essential for those whose job is to “nourish Christ’s people from the riches of his grace.”

What is done to them in the ordination?

The Episcopal Church ordains everyone a deacon first. The role of a deacon is to serve, which reminds every priest that their first calling is to serve. The Episcopal church holds a second ordination (often six months later) to set our clergy apart as priests. This ceremony includes various rituals rich in meaning and history: prostration, laying on of hands, giving of a Bible and stole, and extending the sign of peace. In the ceremony, we will present the candidates, examine them for Christian faith and obedience to God’s calling, and pray over them asking God to set them apart as priests. The bishop will then lay hands on them and present a Bible and other symbols of their ministry. As a church, we believe in Word and Sacrament – that God is revealed through the Word of God, and is also tangibly present in the symbols of the faith: like water, wine, bread. We don’t know how this sacramental presence works exactly, but we believe it is present in ordination. I can tell you that one walks away from a sacramental ordination different…changed.

When are they actually ordained?

At the laying on of hands and prayer of consecration. This is an ancient tradition, grounded in the Bible. (Acts 13:1-5, 14:23, Titus 1:5, 2 Cor 8:19, 1 Tim 5:22, 2 Tim 1:6)

Who can ordain a priest? 

Since priests share in the ministry of Jesus passed down through the apostles through the laying on of hands and extend the ministry of the bishop in a diocese, a bishop who stands in that apostolic line ordains priests. Bishops are joined by the presence and prayers of the other priests in the diocese.
Why does the ordinand lie prostrate during the ordination?

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Not all do. Some only kneel before their bishop. Either way it symbolizes our unworthiness for the office and dependence upon God and the prayers of the Christian community.

What is the meaning of the laying on of hands?

The ordaining bishop and the participating priests invoke the Holy Spirit to come upon the one to be ordained, asking God to give them a holy character and setting them apart as a priest.

Why does the bishop hand the new priest a Bible? 

Because “the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament are the Word of God and contain all things necessary for salvation” and the ordained will proclaim the Gospel revealed in the Bible and shape their life in accordance with its precepts. (BCP, 531)

Why does the newly ordained priest receive a stole?

The stole symbolizes the authority and responsibility to serve in imitation of Christ. It harkens to: “For my yoke is easy and my burden light.” (Matthew 11:30)

What preparation do priests go through before ordination?

Priests have completed a challenging program of formation. By their ordination they have demonstrated competency in seven areas: The Holy Scriptures, church history, theology, ethics and moral theology, contemporary society, liturgics and worship leading, and theory and practice of ministry, including leadership, evangelism and stewardship. In addition, they have also received training in the prevention of sexual misconduct, civil requirements for reporting and responding to evidence of abuse, Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church, and racism.  (Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church, Title III, Canon 8, Section 5) It is customary that they have also taken courses in biblical languages and a unit of Clinical Pastoral Education, often at a local hospital’s trauma unit.

How is this different from the pastor at my evangelical church? Or the priest at my Catholic church?

It is hard to say, as the training required of pastors in evangelical churches varies widely. Many evangelicals no longer go to seminary, but only go through a training program created by their local church. You could show them this article and ask. In terms of Roman Catholic churches, the Episcopal Church ordains women and does not require clergy to be celibate if married.

What is with the funnyclothes? 

Hmmn. By “funny clothes” I would guess you mean the cassocks and clerical collars that are clergy daily wear. Mostly these are a holdover from the days in which you could tell a person’s profession by their dress. The butcher wore a white apron, the mechanic coveralls, and what not. The Cassock (a long black robe like Neo wore in The Matrix) is a holdover from the daily fare of Romans. The detachable collar was invented in 1827 in Troy New York, and became quite the rage. Catholic clergy wore cassocks as daily dress until the 1960s (watch an episode of Father Brown on Netflix for example). The “collar” was worn originally worn by Protestant clergy. Presbyterians and Anglicans started the trend in England in the early 19th Century. When detachable collars went out of vogue, clergy, who where not as well healed as their parishioners kept wearing the old style. You can see an example of this in the movie It’s a Wonderful Life when Jimmy Stewart comes down for dinner in college you can see his partially attached collar standing out on his neck. Roman Catholic priests historically wear the tab collars, but I wear them in the summer as a piece of plastic around ones neck in a hot climate is less than comfy. Women’s clergy wear is a whole separate ball of yarn. You will have to consult one of them on the fine points of their attire.

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Roman Collar

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Anglican Collar

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What do priests do after the ordination?

Grab dinner usually. After that, though, they begin to serve as priests in our corner of God’s one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church.

 

 

Want to help a cause you love?

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We all have charities that we love – causes and organizations that tug at our hearts. How can you most help those grow? Hint: It isn’t to write them a check or to show up, it is to invest in the thing that makes your thing possible.

For 2,000 years one institution has created people who have hearts for others. That institution’s teaching has helped its’ members generate emotional and financial margin in their lives. The engine that makes your favorite charity and mine possible is the church. When you give first to something else rather than the church, you bypass the foundation that creates and nurtures the next generation of giving people, the very people who will have the time, talent and treasure to support the good works that tug at your heart. Oh, you might say, “There are people who are givers who aren’t and who never have been members of a church.” That is true, but those people have been nurtured in a culture with Christian assumptions: charity, kindness, an emphasis on the other. Even the non-churched in the West have been the recipients of the culture of the church. The data says that when you correct out for giving to the church (and much giving to churches gets then re-gifted to outside agencies), that church attending Christians still out give all other groups. In addition, “households that give to religious organizations donate about twice as much as households that give to secular organizations.”

In other words, the single best investment you can make in the organizations you care for is to tithe to a church. Healthy churches keep the floodgates of giving people open wide. So give to your cause, but give first to a church. It is a method that has worked for 2,000 years. With your help it will work for 2,000 more. If not, churches will continue to close, and, as giving people age out, your charity will be a generation behind it on the list of good things that are no more.

Source: National Center for Charitable Statistics