Archive for May, 2014

The Sacred Page: God Mounts His Throne with Shouts of Joy: The Readings for Ascension Day

May 28, 2014

Our Roman Catholic friends have some fine analysis of Ascension Day, which is properly celebrated on a Thursday, 40 days after Easter. Not many RC jurisdictions celebrate the correct day, moving it over to the following Sunday. Anglicans use the same readings which are discussed in detail on the Sacred Page blog.

The Sacred Page: God Mounts His Throne with Shouts of Joy: The Readings for Ascension Day.

And, by the way, I double-dog date my Anglican clergy friends to read the traditional, and amazingly beautiful, Collect for the feast.

GRANT, we beseech thee, Almighty God, that like as we do believe thy only-begotten Son our Lord Jesus Christ to have ascended into the heavens; so we may also in heart and mind thither ascend, and with him continually dwell, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, one God, world without end. Amen.



Supremes weaken church, strengthen state, damage wall of separation

May 6, 2014

The consequence of the unfortunate high court ruling to allow prayers before town meetings will not be a good thing for those who take prayer seriously. The triumphalism of the most vocal and obnoxious Evangelicals will place Christianity in an even worse light as seeking the power and privilege of a class ruling by divine right. It is as if these Christians have never heard of gay marriage. This small supposed victory will be paid for at a dear price.

Some of us traditionalist Christians think the Supreme Court was completely wrong, that prayer is, in one sense, part of a sacred relationship between individuals and their Creator and, in another sense, between the Church and its head and redeemer, Jesus Christ. We understand that civil religion is no religion and serves only the state interests. Christianity suffers because of the inherent trivialization of our practices. Justice Kennedy says the prayers should be seen as “ceremonial” and part of the national tradition.

That sounds good, unless one believes that there is an Entity on the other end who cares, listens, and acts upon our supplications. “The inclusion of a brief, ceremonial prayer as part of a larger exercise in civic recognition suggests that its purpose and effect are to acknowledge religious leaders and the institutions they represent, rather than to exclude or coerce nonbelievers,” Kennedy said.

The decision echos the mega-church notion of ego driven and materialistic mega-preachers. And do not think that any other less colorful religious leaders will be called up on except in the rarest circumstance. I grew up as a Roman Catholic in Alabama, so I know what the underside of a Baptist’s thumb looks like. Although Roman Catholics must make up a substantial portion of Mobile’s population (40% ?), I never recall any Roman Catholic clergy ever being allowed to lead a public prayer – not even once.

And some of my friends actually call that a victory?

What if the purpose of public prayer (we Anglicans call it Common Prayer) is to give glory and worship to the One who is the King of Creation, a being who reigns far above Supreme Court Justices? What if prayer is intended to request good weather, bountiful harvests, safety in battle, good grades, physical healing and a host of blessings that only the Triune God of orthodox Christianity may mercifully grant.

But Justice Kennedy is a modern man whose public positions could never conceive of an all-powerful God who sets up and brings down nations. Kennedy’s God is an artifact of culture, an idol. This bad ruling is a sorry reflection on our system of constitutional interpretation.

Christian life and the sacraments

May 5, 2014

A former vice-presidential candidate is in some trouble because of a comment that many have taken to be disrespectful of sacraments. Some have called the statement blasphemy, but that seems unlikely. It was in poor taste and disrespectful, both of which fall well inside the American understanding of permissible free speech. I am not worked up against the offending party and you can scroll immediately down to find out why. This is about a religious idea and not part of the wide world of vicious political attacks.

Those of us who attend churches with a “high” sacramental comprehension find that this outlook leaks into every aspect of our world. There is no need to call the plumber. It is a good thing. Many believers cringe at the word, apparently fearful that admitting to such things as sacraments might turn them into Roman Catholics. It is not a biblical word, but has to do with “mystery.” It is a “sure and certain” sign that God shows his favor toward believers. This gets pretty deep. Roman Catholics and some protestants (Anglicans and Lutherans, for example) do not quite agree on the finer points. God uses his stuff (bread and wine, or water) as symbols to show the good things he does.

This is foundational in worship that celebrates the Light of the World with candles, rising prayer with incense, and strengthening with oil. In Baptism, the believer is buried with Christ and rises with him. The old man is put to death and the new person rises from a watery symbolic grave. It’s in the Bible (Rm 6). In Communion, Christians are fed with the “bread of life.” We become one with Christ and he dwells in us.

The sacramental idea is that we live in a good world in the care of a good God. This is not a naive viewpoint. Sacramental Christians watch the 10 o’clock news and we know that things are a mess. God took on our human form to bring peace with man. Jesus lived in a real human body, had real friends and enemies, ate regular food, experienced pain, died a human death and ascended bodily into heaven. He is coming back to reign over this earth and his people are coming with him. That is the Christian hope.

In the meantime, the Church’s job is to preach the word of God and rightly administer the sacraments. This is a demonstration of God’s work in the world today. God deals with his people in his church and we do his work in the world by living out the gospel. Sacraments remind us of God’s generosity, so it is a little unnerving to hear them misused.



Why I am not jumping up and down over Sarah Palin’s comments on Baptism

May 1, 2014

Have a seat and this won’t hurt a bit. Let’s be quick about it too.

Everybody who follows politics (which is really not good for your brain, but that is another essay for another day) knows by now that the former Republican Vice-Presidential candidate popped off an ill-considered comment concerning terrorists, torture and one of what Anglicans would call Dominical Sacraments – a sacrament instituted in form and matter by Christ.

The most offensive part of the event was the audiences’ laughter and cheers. I suppose this will label me as one of Sarah Palin’s despicable liberals, but it is hard to imagine what anybody might find funny or agreeable about torture. Those who go along with this kind of yahooism are moral cowards. There is no reason to be surprised by such indifference. Every instinct of modern American culture and most of our institutions point to and encourage moral weakness. The reaction to Palin, both at the event and afterwards by supposedly sober observers, is astounding.

Now let us turn to Mrs. Palin, Follow me carefully because this has several steps in the discussion. Palin attends a Bible church up in Alaska and one might easily presume that it does not teach or practice very much in the way of sacramental theology. I am not trying to offend anybody.Anglicans have a high view of sacraments and a fairly well articulated doctrinal position in the 39 Articles. I have a hunch that a large number of the people who attend my rather large Anglican church in Little Rock, Arkansas could not tell you the first thing about sacraments. So, one should be careful about coming down too hard on Palin’s innocent display of ignorance.

I wonder if they ever read the Old Testament in Sarah Palin’s Bible church. The young men who would become the patriarchs of Israel got in quite a bit of trouble over a bloodthirsty act of vengeance (Gen 34). This was a mass murder responding to the rape of their sister Dinah. The sons of Jacob required that the men of Shechem be circumcised as part of the negotiated settlement, but the real intention was to murder the whole bunch of them during the recovery period. Simeon and Levi carry out the acts of violence and, as a result, are demoted in the tribal inheritance (Gen 49:5-7). One of the most important aspects of this passage is the misuse of God’s covenant ordinance and symbol, circumcision. There are certainly similarities between this story and Mrs. Palin’s outrageous suggestion, or joke, or whatever it was.

God’s “stuff” is important and people who give such marvelous lip service to serving some sort of higher power might know better than to make light of the Christian sign of initiation. This is the level of public discussions in the United States. It is a darned shame.