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Hoosier Musings on the Road to Emmaus

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Sermon - 7th Sunday after Pentecost

Proper 11B
Isaiah 57:14b-21
Ephesians 2:11-22
Mark 6:30-44
Psalm 22:22-30


Have you been listening to the radio lately? I tend to turn it on a lot more often than I do the television, as a rule-- and I’ve been doing so even more lately as we’ve waited for the TV receiver to get hooked up. It’s been fun, to learn where the different stations are on the dial, and what sorts of programming they offer.

I will say, however, that what has not been fun has been listening to the political ads that are being broadcast. It seems as though every time I turn on the radio, I hear some candidate growling about how his opponent is a threat to “Truth, Justice and the American Way,” and how voting for him will send America straight down into a sinkhole of moral depravity and financial ruin.

Now, I’ve not been here long enough to know one blessed thing about the incumbent legislators or their opponents. So it’s hard for me to have any idea how much of what I’m hearing has some basis in truth, and how much of it is simply name calling in the name of campaign rhetoric. It’s hard to believe, however, that any one man-- or woman-- could really lead us down the path to perdition quite so thoroughly as the commercials would have us believe. Further, I don’t believe that sort of talk will result in any improvement in the culture or the American Condition. On the contrary, name calling and fear-mongering are not only not the least bit helpful, and actually do more harm than good in the long run. It sounds a lot like the sort of mean-spirited behavior that causes kids to lose recess privileges at school. It’s not any more appropriate in politics than it is on the playground.

Unfortunately, this sort of accusatory language is not limited to the political sphere and the school yard. If you’ve been paying any attention to the goings on in the national church, you may well have heard some of the same tone. “Liberal” and “Conservative” are only the tip of the iceberg. If you read the press releases, or the online news sources and weblogs you’ll hear things like “Overzealous, Self-Righteous Pharisees” (or worse) from one group, and “Revisionist Heretics” (or worse) from the other. It’s hard to see any example of Christian discipleship amid all the fearful finger-pointing and angry name calling, condemnation and threats of schism.

In the New Testament reading this morning, it seems that Paul was also dealing with some name calling. Calling one another “Circumcised” and “Uncircumcised” sounds a bit odd to our modern ears, but in that time and place it reflected a serious barrier and a cause of profound division. It had to do with identity, and tradition, and people’s understanding of how they were to faithfully follow God, in ways that ran soul deep.

Just like the conflict we find ourselves in today.

So let’s look at how Paul handled it. He did not fall into the name calling trap, pointing to one side as right and the other wrong. He did not urge the Gentiles to be circumcised, to prove their righteousness, or their commitment to God-- nor did he insult the traditional Jews for following what he clearly taught in other places was not necessary to salvation or faithful practice.

So, what did he do? He spoke about Jesus. He pointed to their common ground, at the foot of the cross. He reminded them that in Christ is found the only hope of reconciliation, and that all people are offered the salvation to be found in his life, and death, and resurrection. Jesus stretched his arms apart precisely for the purpose of offering all people a way to come together.

Brothers and sisters, the Good News is that this is still true. in Jesus we have a way to break down the walls, to “put to death the hostilities” between us, if only we will remember it.

Now, understand that I am not talking about denying there is division; there certainly is. It is deep and profound, and there are sins and errors on both sides. A so-called “conservative” in the church can easily point to “liberals” who disregard scriptural teaching and wander away from faithful discipleship into nearly pagan practice. And a so-called “liberal” can easily point to “conservatives” who pick the few verses they like (usually out of Leviticus) and use them as weapons, judging and condemning anyone who does not meet their standards of perfection. Both extremes are wrong, and neither does anything to advance the cause of Christ or the Kingdom of God in this world.

However, we need to acknowledge that there are also many honest, committed, faithful Christians on both sides, who read and study scripture, who pray regularly and consistently, who do the best they can to follow Jesus as Lord-- and who profoundly disagree with one another in the process. We need to remember that these are also our brothers and sisters, redeemed sinners adopted by grace, just as broken-- and in Christ, made just as holy-- as we are. This is why the way we treat one another in the process of disagreement is just as important, just as vital a witness to the Gospel, as any commitment to dogma or doctrine we may uphold.

We do not have to try to start at our opposite ends to find common ground; that’s already been done for us. In the midst of oppression, and conflict, and murderous rage, Jesus stretched his arms wide in love and mercy. He reached as far as he could... poles apart... to allow us to come together, to give us a place to gather. At the foot of the Cross, and at the Table.

This is where we start, brothers and sisters. Not by name calling and finger pointing and “walking apart” in schism, but “in the apostles teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread and in the prayers,” with Jesus in the middle of it all.

16 Comments:

Blogger The young fogey said...

First of all, secular politics, certainly locally, often aren't about matters of eternal consequence - objective truth, salvation or damnation (always a terrifying possibility).

Second, if there are no absolutes (which is itself an absolute), no such thing as right or wrong, why oppose the war in Iraq or racism for example? Is standing up for a cause only noble if it's a this-worldly matter approved at the moment by the secular world? And if the secular world calls the shots regarding morals, why go to church? Why not lie in or have fun somewhere else on Sundays instead? More and more the social class that makes up the Episcopal Church has come to that conclusion.

Niceness can be meet and right: a humble application of charity. But it's not an end in itself. Jesus himself, whom of course Christians believe is literally God made man, often wasn't necessarily 'nice'. Remember the bit about the moneychangers in the temple? Or as I've written earlier, did he scream 'Wait! Come back! I didn't mean it!' when his followers left him in droves because of a 'hard saying' from him?

There is a difference between a coffee klatsch or debating society on one hand and a church on the other. People don't resist authority (not a 'nice' thing to do) unto death for the former. They did and do for the Christian faith and church. The church fathers didn't say to the Arians and other heretics, 'Never mind - let's have Communion together', nor did the martyrs offer prayer to the emperor and Roman gods, then share the Eucharist with their pagan neighbours instead of enduring torture and death.

And a so-called “liberal” can easily point to “conservatives” who pick the few verses they like (usually out of Leviticus) and use them as weapons, judging and condemning anyone who does not meet their standards of perfection.

Good rhetorical sleight of hand: the conservatives aren't defending God's standard, a universal (Catholic) standard, in this reading but rather are being prideful and uncharitable. Actually this slant is condescending to homosexuals - the poor dears can't help themselves so Leviticus doesn't apply.

A friend - a modern Central Churchman I know in real life who accepts the attempted ordination of women BTW - recently observed in my com-boxes that C.S. Lewis, thoroughly orthodox and the very model of British/Anglican geniality (niceness in the best sense), is HATED by liberals in the Episcopal blogs.

Lewis wrote that Aslan isn't a tame lion (or a declawed moggie for that matter). And Catholics and other traditional Christians don't worship a tame (neutered?) God who's only fit to preside over a coffee klatsch.

July 24, 2006 10:21 AM  

Blogger Reverend Ref + said...

Fogey:

A few things came to mind as I read your response.

First, you are correct, secular politics aren’t a matter of eternal consequence, but the conservative candidates sure can play to that fear and get people to believe it.

No absolutes? Where did you pick this up? She never said there were no absolutes. She said that radical extremism is wrong, on both sides, and, “[Paul] reminded them that in Christ is found the only hope of reconciliation, and that all people are offered the salvation to be found in his life, and death, and resurrection. Jesus stretched his arms apart precisely for the purpose of offering all people a way to come together.

“Brothers and sisters, the Good News is that this is still true. in Jesus we have a way to break down the walls, to “put to death the hostilities” between us, if only we will remember it.”


That sounds like Jesus is pretty absolute to me.

And where exactly did she talk about “niceness” in the derogatory sense that you use? She is talking about common decency and regarding those different from you with love. Something I have noted you either lack or ignore in your dogged determinism to shoot down any who might disagree with your correct and superior orthodoxy.

Then you use this: And a so-called “liberal” can easily point to “conservatives” who pick the few verses they like (usually out of Leviticus) and use them as weapons, judging and condemning anyone who does not meet their standards of perfection.

Good rhetorical sleight of hand: the conservatives aren't defending God's standard, a universal (Catholic) standard, in this reading but rather are being prideful and uncharitable. Actually this slant is condescending to homosexuals - the poor dears can't help themselves so Leviticus doesn't apply.


This is classic on your part. I see that you’ve become quite the expert of not only proof-texting scripture, but sermons as well. What she said in her entirety was, “Now, understand that I am not talking about denying there is division; there certainly is. It is deep and profound, and there are sins and errors on both sides. A so-called “conservative” in the church can easily point to “liberals” who disregard scriptural teaching and wander away from faithful discipleship into nearly pagan practice. And a so-called “liberal” can easily point to “conservatives” who pick the few verses they like (usually out of Leviticus) and use them as weapons, judging and condemning anyone who does not meet their standards of perfection. Both extremes are wrong, and neither does anything to advance the cause of Christ or the Kingdom of God in this world.”

But you conveniently ignore the context and cherry pick those sentences that you can use to show she’s one of those irrational liberals. Nice move.

“Actually this slant is condescending to homosexuals - the poor dears can't help themselves so Leviticus doesn't apply.”

Why is this argument sounding familiarly flawed? Oh yes, Paul: “He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it.”

I’m curious: being the good orthodox person that you are, do you hold to Levitical teachings? Are you a kosher and law abiding person? Or do you believe that Jesus abolished the law and put to death hostility? I have to think, reading previous comments, that you aren’t much for putting aside hostility.

And this one has to be the best: “A friend - a modern Central Churchman I know in real life who accepts the attempted ordination of women BTW - recently observed in my com-boxes that C.S. Lewis, thoroughly orthodox and the very model of British/Anglican geniality (niceness in the best sense), is HATED by liberals in the Episcopal blogs.”

I’m trying to think of where I’ve heard this before . . . Oh, right: “I like black people; in fact, some of my best friends are black BTW” Not to mention that I haven’t had the experience of running across liberal blogs who hate C.S. Lewis. But if one liberal says it, it must be true for all liberals.

And, “the attempted ordination of women”?? Are you implying that when a bishop ordains a woman to the priesthood, and other priests gather around her and lay hands on her, that the Holy Spirit sort of just . . . bounces off . . . because she has a vagina?

So it was okay for Jesus to send Mary to the apostles directly after his resurrection (Apostle to the Apostles), but it’s not okay for us humans to acknowledge that fact and keep women out of holy orders? How very certain of you to know the mind of the Holy Spirit; you’re a better man than I.

You amaze me. Reading other comments you’ve made in the past, it’s clear to me that charity and listening and working out this thing called Christianity and loving your neighbor isn’t on your agenda. From my perspective, you seem bent on clobbering others with your definition of orthodoxy, and, when they disagree, clobbering them harder.

July 24, 2006 8:14 PM  

Blogger The young fogey said...

As any reader of my blog knows I don't agree with the so-called political conservatives' religious scare tactics/diversions to cover their warmongering any more than you do, but my reasons for opposing them are the same Catholic faith that forms all my other views. A seamless garment if you will.

As somebody who went to a theological college you jolly well know that these aren't just my opinions. I'm not much but stand on the shoulders of giants as Russell Kirk said. Or better still, I'm surrounded by a cloud of witnesses, none of whom would recognise the religion you seem to preach as the one many of them died for. It's not Fogey's orthodoxy, vicar. By itself that would be as worthless as 'radical inclusion'. It's the Catholic faith.

I'm surprised you haven't f-bombed me with the word 'fundamentalist'. If I am one then the church fathers you probably commemorate in Lesser Feasts and Fasts or the US 1979 BCP (I don't follow the new trends in worship) were nothing but a bunch of proof-texters as well. Any kid with a catechism education knows that man-made laws like dietary ones aren't the same as doctrine or morals.

Still haven't found any record of the church fathers coming together to 'celebrate their differences' with the Arians, Sabellians, Novationists, et al., by having Communion with them. St Maximus the Confessor had his tongue hacked out for not doing that sort of thing. Must have been nothing but a big blue meanie then.

Nice try, vicar. Quite clever really.

July 24, 2006 10:14 PM  

Blogger Warwickensis said...

"And, “the attempted ordination of women”?? Are you implying that when a bishop ordains a woman to the priesthood, and other priests gather around her and lay hands on her, that the Holy Spirit sort of just . . . bounces off . . . because she has a vagina?"

Yup, that's right.

Might as well baptise a stone.

July 25, 2006 9:41 AM  

Anonymous Mark J. said...

Of course! Duh! The Holy Spirit only works within the confines of the boxes we make for it, didn't you know that, Jane?!

July 25, 2006 10:48 PM  

Blogger The young fogey said...

I think I've been told to go to hell, Broad Church fashion!

I deal with known facts; Fr Young presumes to know the state of my soul, a power I certainly never claimed over others and which would make the Pope blush!

Seriously, is God limited by the church and holy orders? Of course not. Did he create them as the usual means of grace? There is the Catholic answer and then there is the very different Broad one.

I can respect anybody, including a non-priest, who's got a real congregation and doing some good work among them. But even so I won't pretend we're of the same faith when we clearly are not. And again that's the difference between the God of Judæo-Christian revelation and the 'nice' God of 'radical inclusion'.

July 25, 2006 11:27 PM  

Anonymous M_David said...

What the young fogey said.

Heck, let's just call this new Christian religion the Rodney King Club: can't we all just get along? Sure, as long as what we believe doesn't really matter anyway.

One ray of light in all of this. The modern West: feminism, the sexual revolution, obsession with wealth and comfort, the homosexual movement, cultural arrogance, and yes, woman priests - they all have the same roots and lead to the same place, demographic decline and cultural death as we are witnessing it today in all liberal cultures. Argue now, young fogey, as they are imploding faster than you can talk.

God is clever but he is not malicious.

July 25, 2006 11:37 PM  

Blogger The young fogey said...

One need not be a Christian to be Broad Church. It's liturgical Unitarianism. 'Can't we all just get along?' trumps reality.

July 26, 2006 6:54 AM  

Blogger Warwickensis said...

"Of course! Duh! The Holy Spirit only works within the confines of the boxes we make for it, didn't you know that, Jane?!"

No, He requires us to work within the boxes to which we are limited by virtue of our humanity.

July 26, 2006 7:32 AM  

Anonymous Anonymous said...

"No, He requires us to work within the boxes to which we are limited by virtue of our humanity."

So there's something biological about being a woman that sets a boundary in which she must work? Something about the human state? I know I'm a sinner... And yet I also feel called by God to this ministry. But my humanity, the same humanity we all share, should I consider it a limit, would have stopped me well before ordination.

Those stones Jane mentions in a later entry are limited: They can't think, don't have souls or voices. And yet Christ said that they would indeed sing out to praise God if the humans stopped. I guess God, through Grace, allows us to transcend our "human limits." Good thing, too.

July 26, 2006 12:52 PM  

Anonymous M_David said...

I know I'm a sinner... And yet I also feel called by God to this ministry. But my humanity, the same humanity we all share, should I consider it a limit...

Nothing you have said here even resembles a logical argumment. I could just as well say: "I know I'm a sinner... And yet I also feel called by God to _____ (insert whatever)."

The issue of woman's ordination is not about what you (or any ego-driven individual) feels they are called to. It is about the community, the church Christ set in motion and what Christ wanted (12 men, for example as apostles) and 2000 years of male priesthood.

I am in awe at the navel-gazing progressives in this culture. Let's just call it the Myopic generation. It is so 1960s, only more self-absorbed. Only the most ideological cannot see that progressive churches are shrinking and dying, while their populations are imploding as feminists cannot even have enough children to match a replacement population.

Meanwhile, traditional types the world over are breeding like rabbits as they at least accept basic natural law regarding male and female roles.

I know liberals won't read Leviticus or Paul, but can't y'all at least read and accept Darwin?

July 26, 2006 2:33 PM  

Anonymous Mark J. said...

12 men, yes... And yet somehow His resurrection was first revealed to and proclaimed by... Gosh... Women.

How odd that throughout his earthly life Jesus lifted up women above what the culture of his time promoted.

Ah, well. You believe your way, I'll go mine, we're obviously both committed to calling each other's arguments non-Biblical and illogical, and I do have better things to do.

July 27, 2006 3:35 PM  

Blogger The young fogey said...

The church that gave you that gospel disagrees with you. (Face it: the Protestants made up the attempted ordination of women, whole cloth. Find undisputed evidence from the time of the church fathers or earlier that there were lady bishops and presbyters, and you've got an argument. Till then...) You may be a fine fellow, and your friends fine women, but I'll side with the church every time.

You believe your way, I'll go mine

But the God of Niceness says you and m_david have to be in sacramental and juridical communion (or else William Swing will be cross with you), essentially pretending to have the same faith!

July 27, 2006 4:55 PM  

Blogger The young fogey said...

Sorry for the double post but getting back to the original point, what one side says is often heard differently by the other!

I (and the boffinish like me will as well) remember a 'Far Side' cartoon titled 'What we say to dogs and what they hear'. (No, I'm not comparing the other side to Fido! I'm just as guilty.) 'Blah, blah, blah, Ginger.' I say, 'The apostolic ministry is a gift from God we've no right or power to change', you hear 'I'm unjust to women' and so on.

Believe it or not, in theory I agree with the original point that talking to clear up those misunderstandings is a good thing. But looking at recent ecclesiastical history it's obvious that the Episcopal Church, unlike likewise liberal ++Cantuar, doesn't care about the Catholic faith, the Global South (whom they seem to look down upon as backward) or the larger Communion, whilst those dioceses and parishes that do are rubbished as 'schismatic'. (What about schism and heresy against the larger church, past and present? Well, they say Americans don't do irony.)

Even if you have dialogue among the four Anglicanisms - Catholic, Central, Evangelical and Broad - ECUSA will do what it wants anyway with its theological Modernism, claimed lady clergy and gay weddings (I realise those three are not necessarily related), effectively telling the Communion, and the Catholics still in it, to clear off. The Broad Churchmen are running the show. Which is why I have a rather jaundiced view of calls to dialogue coming from them.

My home is gone: the Anglicanism that baptised me and introduced me to the Catholic faith. And the Broad Churchmen destroyed it. Why should somebody like me trust such calls?

And my Central Church friends - not mere rhetorical 'tokens' to me; why not go to kingslynn.blogspot.com and ask them yourself? - are in worse straits. Pushed against the wall a Catholic Anglican can always find a Catholic church outside Anglicanism or maybe, in the US, in the Continuum, but they literally have nowhere left to go except maybe a Network parish if one forms near them.

So who again is trying to clobber whom?

It seems that without the state forcing them together (or even with vestigial state control as in England) the four Anglicanisms naturally fly apart. Or rip each other apart.

I won't beg for 'tolerance' as a flavour of 'pluriform truth'. The faith can't be trivialised like that. But I hope you can better understand 'where I'm coming from'. And vice versa of course.

Pax vobiscum.

July 28, 2006 8:01 AM  

Blogger Jane Ellen+ said...

I have not responded before now, in large part, because the tone of the discussion has hovered perilously close to the line between disagreement and disparagement-- and I neither wish to encourage the latter, nor do I care to fall into that behavior myself.

That being said...

Young Fogey: I do appreciate the effort at honest clarity in your last comment, and your obviously heartfelt expression there. Thank you.

So in that same vein, please allow me to clarify something: though my spoken sermons inevitably vary from the printed version, I said nothing at any point about "being nice" or about "just getting along."

What I am trying to foster, and what I hear as a scriptural imperative given to all of us as Christian disciples, is an intentional striving to exhibit the sort of behaviour to which Paul exhorts the Galatians: "...love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control."

Christians of good conscience have disagreed for millenia on a whole host of things. But those disagreements have led (however slowly and painfully) to many good and holy understandings that I would guess you and I share-- the truth found in the Creeds, for example, and a Trinitarian understanding of the God we both worship. So perhaps we as human beings need to butt heads (at least figuratively), to conflict and strive with one another in order to learn and to understand.

But if we cannot work on the things that come between us in a charitable manner-- if we cannot maintain a modicum of loving respect for one another in the process-- then the "fruits of the Spirit" become instead "the acts of a sinful nature." Paul lists these as well-- and "hatred, discord, dissensions and factions" are listed in the same breath as "sexual immorality, idolotry and witchcraft." For good reason-- because in all of those behaviors, we not only damage ourselves and one another, but we serve Our Lord very poorly indeed.

July 29, 2006 7:25 PM  

Blogger The young fogey said...

Just a quick note after Mass for now to say I understand, I'll throw in 1 Corinthians 13 as well (as somebody known to play a mean sounding brass now and then) and thanks.

July 30, 2006 11:28 AM  

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