Come Out of Hiding

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Photo courtesy of Diocese of Phoenix, retrieved from dphx.org

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(Guest post by my friend, the Rev. Louise Samuelson)

I remember listening to Jesus’s words against public displays of prayer and fasting while waiting for the priest to smear a very noticeable swath of black ash onto my forehead. Isn’t this inviting the very hypocrisy Jesus seems to be condemning?

But what if the practice of putting on ashes is not hypocrisy at all but rather irony? The people of Jesus’s day would make a great show of their humility by covering themselves with ashes. We on the other hand are masters of cleaning up. We spend a great deal of time and money to look good. We practice slapping a smile on our faces and letting the world know we are fine. We hide behind façades we create, knowing too well that to often our outsides do not match our insides.

Maybe this practice of smearing our foreheads with ashes gives us an opportunity to reveal our hidden truth. Maybe this liturgy we participate in on Ash Wednesday stage manages us into public exposure: we are not what we seem.

These burned up particles of carbon remind us that we are made of the stuff of the earth. To be human, to be humble, and to be humus or earth, all come from the same root word for “ground.” The ashes we spread on our foreheads “ground” us in the reality of who we are: human beings, created by God, and connected to every other created thing.

These ashes also remind us that we are not what we seem, but sinners living hidden lives. The ashes remind us to be real and vulnerable. To show the world what is true about me. I’m not perfect. I’m a bit of a mess.

We are invited on this day by the prophet Joel to come out of our hiding places and return to the Lord. The great irony is that we are called to return in vulnerability to the God who knows in secret and sees in secret. The God who spoke carbon particles into existence and created us in his image, this is who we return to. This is the God who is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. The God who sees our secrets is the God whose property is always to have mercy.

The grace of God is the setting in which we return. God’s natural inclination is mercy. As we come out of hiding and acknowledge that this God of mercy sees us, we are ready to begin a Holy Lent, to practice disciplines that will lead us to integration. We can begin to become people whose insides match our outsides.

How does this transformation to integrity come about? Jesus mentions three practices used for millenniums to become who God intended: Giving to the needy, fasting, and prayer. It is through generosity, dying to ourselves, and meeting intimately with God that we become the people God designed us to be.

I love the definition of intimacy as “in to me see.” As we practice the disciplines of generosity, fasting and prayer in secret, where our loving Father sees us, we allow God to see into us…and intimacy is developed.

Many people like to give up or take on something during Lent. The three disciplines that Jesus mentions could be could be divided into things that we take on that help others, things that we give up that keep us from being who God intends us to be, and things we take on that help us grow in intimacy with God.

I remember a time in my life that I was painfully aware that my insides did not match my outsides. I looked like a good Christian mother, leading bible studies, and homeschooling my children. But I had doubts about God and felt far from him. I also felt if I shared that with anyone in my circle I would be rejected. I also had some unhealthy habits that seemed to have total control over me.

The first step I had to take was to come out of hiding to a couple of trusted friends. I needed to allow them to see into me. Fortunately in the midst of my doubts I had a trust in God’s Grace and mercy.

I’ll never forget that first Lent when I was a part of this particular group of safe friends. I decided that I would fast from all food every Wednesday. I wanted to look at the hold that excess food had over me. I also took on an extra time of prayer Wednesday nights. My sweet husband would take our three children out to dinner. I would light a candle, get out my bible and journal and spend the evening with the God who sees me and loves me in secret.

Giving up food for a day, and taking on a special date with God changed my faith. I became a more integrated person free to be honest about my struggles and free to be available for others. It all started with a loving place where I could be real and a simple trust in God’s never ending love for me.

As you enter this Lenten season, let these ashes be a moment of honesty for you. Allow yourself to be seen as a bit of a mess. Then allow yourself to go inside and meet in secret with the God who loves you. Let him show you what you might take on or what you might give up. Then find a small group of people you can be real with, allow them to be that safe space for you to be seen.

I hope that each of us we will experience a deeper more intimate relationship with God this Lent. God will reward you with more of himself and with a life of integrity, where your insides and outside will reveal the beautiful person you are in Christ.

 

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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

 

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

Spiritual but not religious? Beliefs matter.

The Feasts for Newbies: Trinity Sunday (Part One)

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Trinity Sunday is that feast in the Christian Year that is about a doctrine rather than an event. And let’s be honest, doctrine sounds like divisive, dusty stuff. You may be one of the many who avoid doctrine with, “I’m spiritual but not religious, I feel no need of your divisive, dusty doctrines. I have the real thing.

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I am sympathetic. Experiencing the Holy One is certainly where it is at, but the “spiritual but not religious” answer is a bit too pat. Here’s why: My son’s college offshore sailing team just sailed the Annapolis to Newport race. My son was navigator. Getting ready for three days offshore meant lots of prep work – 20 hours pouring over charts, marking shoals with yellow and red highlighters.

Saying, “I have the real thing,” though, is like standing on the dock looking out over the water excited about how beautiful it is on the shore. Why would you want to pour over dusty doctrine instead of enjoying the shore? For the same reason a sailor learns his charts. Yes, charts can be divisive – people will argue over which route to take. Yes, it is boring to turn from actual water to paper facsimiles of ocean. My son, who invested hours in those charts, agrees with you: Charts are boring.

They are also necessary. At least they are if you want to get someplace truly amazing. Standing at the dock is fine. But making landfall in Newport and seeing the great homes of the Gilded Age from the Sea is truly amazing…and you can’t get there without charts. Theology is our chart. Doctrine is the vetted, agreed upon experience of thousands who have sailed before – utterly necessary to go anywhere truly spectacular.

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When we are young we think that what we want is to appropriate spiritual wisdom as it fits us, the way we would pluck entrees at a cafeteria, picking what “fits” us. But what we need is not a “spirituality” of our own contrivance, but to surrender ourselves to something, someone greater.

One can be vaguely “spiritual but not religious” on the humid shore in Annapolis, or you can venture into the open ocean and journey to the perpetual cool breezes of the Rhode Island summer. At Pentecost, Christians are empowered to get off the dock and experience the real thing. but doctrine is the chart warning us of the shoals, and pointing us toward deep waters. And the doctrine that really matters, the single doctrine that all other doctrine hangs on is the Trinity. Here is why:

We humans spend our lives answering the Great Questions…questions we hoped would get answered in college only to be told, “Don’t talk about that. Get a major that will score you a good paying job, here’s a beer and a condom, stop thinking so deeply!” But the Great Questions stalk us through life like store security follows suspected shoplifters. Those questions include…

  • Why am I here? (The God Question)
  • What went wrong? (The Pain Question)
  • How is it fixed? (The Salvation Question)
  • Who am I to be? (The Existential Question)

You might be surprised to find out that the early Christians camped out on the first question: Why am I here? The God Question. They realized that if one gets the God Question right, everything else works out. Unlike many other theological questions, the answer to the God Question is specific, agreed upon by all Christians: The God who made us is the One who reveals himself as a Tri-unity…one God in three Persons: The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. The God Question is how we ended up with the Nicene Creed. It took 300 years to articulate One God in three Persons. The Nicene Creed Christians recite is a very broad statement. All major branches of Christianity: Catholics, Protestants, Greek Orthodox, and Pentecostals…all stack hands on that really, really, really broad answer to the God Question. Unlike later confessions which sought to define what Christians should believe, the Nicene Creed is the least one must believe to be considered Christian by other Christians – the minimum admission to the Christian “playground” of the Holy Trinity. “Without the Trinity,” Christians say, “no harm, no foul, but you are just not one of this tribe.”

A later creed, the Athanasian Creed would elaborate…

“We worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity; Neither confounding the Persons; nor dividing the Essence.”

They are three and they are one. And they are both at the same time.

That matters because beliefs have outcomes. What we believe about God seeps into everything we are and do.

For example, a Mormon friend once asked me to read the book of Mormon and ask God if Joseph Smith is a true prophet. I said I would if they would return the favor and read Hebrews 1 about Jesus being the final revelation of the Father, and ask God if Joseph Smith might be a false prophet. That sounded fair to me, but my friend objected strenuously, “No!” I asked why. In exasperation my friend stammered, “What if God lies?” That sounds shocking to most ears, but when your God is an exalted human, as he is for my LDS friends, God telling a lie isn’t so crazy. But when your God is an uncreated being of infinite, complete and self-contained love…a being who shaped the cosmos out of a desire to share love, the joyful dance of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit with humanity, well, deception is simply an unthinkable violation of that being’s very nature.

So yes, theology can be hard work. But is a good work. The question boils down to this: Will you be satisfied to have a narcissistic, humid little experience from the dock when the offshore adventure of eternity beckons?

Pull out the charts and do the work of learning the doctrines of the faith. They chart the boundaries of the journey of love that has sustained the generations. The captain of our souls invites you aboard.

Trinity Sunday Sermon Link

What’s with the Ascension?

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This Sunday Christians of the Great Tradition commemorate the event in Jesus’ life that most American Christians subtly avoid: The Ascension. After all, the idea of the disciples standing around watching Jesus’ feet disappear into the clouds sounds pretty strange – we know heaven isn’t literally up. American Christians often seem a bit sheepish about the whole Ascension thing. However, the New Testament portrays the Ascension as an essential component of Jesus’ saving acts – even the completion of Jesus’ work. To cite a few examples:

  • In Peter’s Pentecost speech, the climax of what God has done in Jesus is not the resurrection, but Jesus being “exalted to the right hand of God” (Acts 2:33). In support, Luke quotes the most cited psalm in the NT, Psalm 110, with its image of the messiah taking his seat at the right hand of God.
  • In the gospel of John, Jesus, tells Mary not to hold on to him because “I have not yet ascended,” and the message she is given for the disciples is, ‘I am ascending to the Father’ (John 20:17).
  • Luke divides his two books, not at the resurrection, but at the Ascension: “In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach until the day he was taken up to heaven…” (Acts 1:1-2)
  • In Philippians 2, Paul skips the resurrection and goes straight from Jesus’ ‘death on the cross’ to his being ‘exalted to the highest place’ (Phil 2:8-9). Jesus movement was from death to life to glory, but here Paul conflates the resurrection and ascension as one movement.

Why is the Ascension important? (From Ian Paul’s terrific blog Psephizo.com)

  1. Authority. Jesus is enthroned with the Father. Because of the Ascension, the lamb who was slain is seated with the one on the throne and shares his worship (Revelation 4). At the Ascension Jesus said, ‘all authority has been given to me’ (Matt 28:18). It is that authority that gave Stephen confidence in the face of death—his final vision is of Jesus ascended in Daniel 7 terms (Acts 7:55-56). 
  2. Union. In the incarnation, God entered human existence. In the Ascension, humanity is taken up into the presence of God. “We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses” (Heb 4:15-16). Jesus joined humanity that humanity so can join him.
  3. Empowerment. The Ascension marked the end of Jesus’ earthly ministry; Jesus gives humans responsibility to continue His work, empowered by the Holy Spirit. Jesus is neither distant nor indifferent, he has delegated his earthly presence to his body, the Church.
  4. Trustworthiness. Jesus ascended in the clouds promising that he will return “in the same way” (Acts 1:11). (His return, btw, is never called the “second coming” in the NT because it is not paired with his “first coming” [the Incarnation], but rather with the Ascension.) As God has put all things under his feet, one day his authority de jury will be an authority de facto.

So, yeah, the embarrassing miracle matters. Besides, anyone who can believe God can be born from the womb of a virgin, and that a man with his blood drained from his lifeless corpse can walk bodily from the grave three days later, can believe that God can assume that risen Lord bodily into the clouds. So, it may sound strange, but get over it. The Ascension is worth believing in and celebrating, because a lot is riding on those disappearing feet.

Like your salvation.

Please revise your prayerbook. Sincerely, the hipster church that wants your building

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The real question with prayer book revision is “how much will the latte’s in the narthex cost when the evangelical hipsters salivating over your nifty old building move in?”

The Living Church is producing an excellent series of well-reasoned articles on the move to revise the Episcopal Church’s 1979 Book of Common Prayer. While there are many solid reasons to put the kibosh on prayer book revision, here is one I have not seen: It would be nice to keep some of our beautiful buildings for our own use.

If there is one thing we Episcopalians are good at it is building tasteful, lovely churches. Some of them even still have enough people in them to stay open. I fear prayer book revision will end that for several thousand of our 6500 remaining parishes and missions.

Consider the following: The median average Sunday attendance in an Episcopal Church is now 58 people per Sunday. To most Christians fifty-eight people doesn’t sound as much like a church as the neighborhood small group they are a part of. In 2015, the most recent year data is available for, we were down yet another 20,000 in total Sunday attendance to 579,000 per week.  An old priest once told me, “No matter how good a new prayer book is 100,000 Episcopalians leave every time we revise it.” Does anyone think we have another 100,000 of us to peel off?

For the benefit of non-Anglican readers, prayer book revision is the biggest of issues because our prayers express and shape our theology. We are together, not on a doctrinal statements (like Evangelicals) or behind a teaching magisterium (like Catholics), but on praying the same words. This makes prayer book revision Anglicanism’s third rail. Grabbing a third rail seems to most folk an ill-advised behavior. Anglicans, however, seem to love the feeling of power it brings.

Why is prayer book revision such a bad idea? First, it is insider baseball. It takes even its staunchest advocates off of mission and distracts us with futzing over words. Second, rewriting prayers has the effect of rewriting our theology. That always leaves a significant group disgruntled and disenfranchised. This is why revision has historically resulted in schism and defections. If there has ever been a time in our collective life that we have needed to let things breathe, after the sea changes in our church over the last decade, now is that time. I am not trying to throw shade, but here is the painful truth: prayer book revision is how old men (and women) institutionalize their schisms…why do you think the ACNA’s Bob Duncan was so hot that the departing churches have their own prayer book before he retired!

And if you think the last decade in which we lost 24% of our attendance was bad, we have not yet begun to see the emptying of our parishes that will happen if a version of the prayerbook revision advocates (including some members of the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music) are telegraphing they want for our future. What sorts of changes are being discussed? Do you like the creed? (Get over it.) Confessing your sins? (Get over that too – sin is now institutional rather than personal.) God? (You get a new one of those as well: Parent, Child, and Spirit. The only member of the Holy Trinity with a gender is the Holy Spirit who goes from neuter to feminine.) All of these will redefine the faith of episcopalians in a way that departs from Scripture, Nicaea, and all other orthodox Christian bodies on the planet. The whole point of a prayer book is that it is the Bible reorganized for public worship. That will no longer be true if the reasons bandied about and the conclusions hinted at come to pass. If we make this collective slide from orthodoxy, many will simply and quietly back down the ladder and go play in another playground.

It takes three triennial General Conventions to pass a new prayer book. The clock is now ticking…

When the nine years of sand in the hour glass runs out and the new prayerbooks are delivered will the result be what the revisionists hope, a heady new era of growth? Or is my old priest friend right, prayer book revision will be the mine that finishes sinking our Episcopal Church, a boat that has been taking on the waters of numerical decline for more than a decade.

If there is a silver lining it is that perhaps other churches will be blessed by our self-destructive inability to keep our hands off of the high voltage. That is where our hipster evangelical friends come in. While the suburban megachurch struggles alongside of us, there are hipster churches melding our sense of place with a robust proclamation of the Gospel, social action, and even a desire to meld historic liturgy with culturally relevant forms. Ancient words and symbols and cultural accessibility – It sounds like what our best churches in the last generation were doing.

One hundred thousand people only represents about 15 people per church. Unfortunately, the ones who disappear when orthodoxy becomes unfashionable tend to also be the ones who tithe, so the 17% estimated decline probably represents double that as a percentage of your budget.

Which is another way of saying, “Would you like that in tall, grande or venti?”

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