Saturday, August 20, 2011

Proper 16A August 21, 2011

          Was Moses a Jew or an Egyptian? He was born into the tribe of Levi, but he was raised as an Egyptian prince. We’d call him bicultural. Bicultural people are equally comfortable and uncomfortable in two cultures.

          Saturday two weeks ago a school friend from Richmond came to visit three cousins, all retired children of China missionary parents. At lunch we talked about their lives as bicultural people equally comfortable and uncomfortable in two cultures.

          St. Paul says, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God-- what is good and acceptable and perfect.” Christians are bicultural people. We live in this world, and spiritually we are citizens of the kingdom of heaven. We are transformed by the grace of God in the death and resurrection of Jesus, made new people, given a new life.

          For over 1600 years the Christian church has taught that Jesus is both truly human and truly divine. The definition is the first of the Historical Documents on Prayer Book page 864. Jesus is our example and his Holy Spirit gives us the power to live both in this world and in the kingdom of heaven.

          First let me set the scene, then discuss Peter’s confession of faith and Jesus’ response, and finally call us to our own confession of faith. Last week we heard of Jesus and his disciples moving from Galilee to what is now southern Lebanon. Today we find them moving back again across the mountains into more Gentile territory to one of the sources of the Jordan river. I was there some years ago. It is a cool, refreshing place at the foot of Mount Hermon; a big spring feeds into a large pool from which flows a little brook with a park and a cafĂ©. There is a shrine to the Greek god Pan and the place is now called Banyas. When Jesus came there it had been recently been rebuilt in the Greek style as a resort town by Herod Philip. He was one of the sons of Herod the Great who had massacred the innocents when Jesus was born. Herod Philip’s wife had recently left him for his brother Herod Antipas, and when John the Baptist criticized Herod Antipas for adultery, Herod Antipas had John arrested and executed.

          We can understand Jesus wanting a rest from the constant conflict with the Jewish intellectual and religious leaders, the Scribes and Pharisees, who had refused to accept Jesus’ teaching that the kingdom was at hand. We can imagine the disciples at the pool, rested and refreshed, ready to talk as good friends do at the end of the day. Jesus begins with a broad question, “You’ve been out in the crowds, ‘Who do people say that the Son of Man is?’” We can imagine the eager responses.  “Some say John the Baptist” come back to life. Others Elijah – returned (as the Passover ritual still expects) to prepare for the Messiah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets. John the Baptist had recently been executed; Elijah had been taken up to heaven in a fiery chariot, and though his return was expected he had not been seen for over 800 years; Jeremiah had survived the fall of the kingdom of Judah to Babylon in 586 and was taken to Egypt, but that was also over 500 years ago.  What all these historical figures had in common was that they were dead.

          Then Jesus asks the disciples, “’But who do you say that I am?’ The first to speak was Simon Peter, good, impulsive, bold Peter who blurted out “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” I can imagine an almost audible sigh, partly from being off the hook of the question, partly from agreement that Peter had put their common feeling into words.

     We know Judas Iscariot remembered because when he betrayed Jesus he told this to the high priest who used it as his final accusation before the council, (St. Matthew 26:62-68) “Then the high priest said to him, “I put you under oath before the living God, tell us if you are the Messiah, the Son of God.” Jesus said to him, “You have said so (that’s right). But I tell you, From now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven.” Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, “He has blasphemed! Why do we still need witnesses? You have now heard his blasphemy. What is your verdict?” They answered, “He deserves death.”

     At Caesarea Philippi Jesus said, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven.” “Blessed” is the same word as in the Beatitudes. “Blessed are you, Simon” for you are speaking what God my father has put in your heart. Peter called Jesus the Messiah, Hebrew for “anointed one.” Kings were anointed and the Dead Sea scrolls witness to the wide-spread expectation that David’s kingdom would soon be restored. Peter knew Jesus power – he had recently saved him from drowning – and he remembered Jesus proclaiming that the kingdom of heaven was at hand. Peter reflected on his experience and concluded that Jesus was the promised Messiah. But Peter’s confession went on to say, “you are the son of the living God.” Peter recognized in Jesus a new life. All the others were dead; Jesus offered new life. In Jesus Peter found the supernatural experience of being made new. He expressed this supernatural experience as the faith of his heart, and Jesus blessed him.

          On this rock of Peter’s confession of faith Jesus promised to build his church. Remember that when the people of Israel were about to die of thirst in the desert God provided for them water from the rock. Remember that Jesus and the disciples were right there where the water came from the rock from which the river Jordan flowed. The water that comes from the rock of faith is the life-giving Holy Spirit of God.

          We all have an individual experience of Jesus as the Messiah, the son of the living God, for ourselves. We are not saved by any one else’s confession of faith; we get to do that ourselves. We all take out our own individual passport in the kingdom of heaven. We are by adoption and grace made citizens of that kingdom, transformed by the renewing of our minds.  I invite you to make that personal confession, to renew your confession of faith, to be reborn again as you come to the rail today.    Was Moses a Jew or an Egyptian? Are we citizens of this world only or of both this world and the kingdom of heaven?

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Proper 15 August 14, 2011

          When I read today’s gospel I remembered the Prayer of Humble Access in the old Prayer Book, “we are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy table, but thou art the same Lord whose property is always to have mercy.”  In Romans we are  reminded, “God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew. For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.” And Joseph is reunited with his brothers.

          The lectionary leaves out some of the good stories about Joseph. Last Sunday we left him sold as a slave to Midianite traders on his way to Egypt. In Egypt he was bought by Potiphar, the captain of imperial guard, and became his overseer. After a time Potiphar’s wife cast her eyes on Joseph and said, “Lie with me,” but he refused her, so she accused him of attempted rape and Potiphar had Joseph imprisoned. He became a trusted prisoner. The royal cup-bearer and baker offended Pharaoh and were also imprisoned. Joseph interpreted the dreams of both men. The cup-bearer was restored and the baker hanged.  The cup-bearer restored to office forgot Joseph for two years until Pharaoh had a dream about 7 fat and 7 ugly, thin cows. Joseph interpreted Pharaoh’s dream as prophecy of 7 good and 7 lean years, and proposed a 20% income tax to store up grain in the good years for the coming time of famine. The Pharaoh put Joseph in charge of the project and gave him a daughter of an Egyptian priest as a wife. They had two sons Manassah and Ephriam.

          When the famine came Pharaoh sold the grain collected in the good years and gradually collected all the money, all the livestock, and title to all the land. Jacob sent his ten sons to buy grain, keeping Joseph’s full brother Benjamin at home. After testing their sincerity by requiring them to bring Benjamin to him, Joseph accepted their repentance in the scene which is our Old Testament lesson. Their life experiences had brought the brothers to repentance for selling him into slavery and brought Joseph to accept that repentance, to desire and to accomplish reconciliation.

          Historically the stories explain how the people of Israel came to be in Egypt. The story of Joseph seems to fit into the period from about 1750 to about 1550 BC when northern Egypt was ruled by the Hyksos who had invaded from the north and east.. Genesis says that Joseph lived long enough to see his great great grand -children and to have these part-Egyptians included among the people of Israel. Today we heard the last of the stories of Abraham, his son Isaac, his grandson Israel, and his great-grandson Joseph and his brothers.  Next week we begin the stories of the slavery of the people when a Pharaoh arose who knew not Joseph, of Moses, and the Exodus, the 40 years in the desert, and the coming to the promised land. At the Exodus Joseph’s descendants took his body with them and eventually buried it at Nablus in the West Bank where Palestinians and Jewish settlers continue to fight over it.

          Joseph is a lesson about God’s ability to bring good out of evil, about God’s will for repentance and reconciliation, as the psalm says, “how good and pleasant it is, when brethren live together in unity.”

          But unity, and repentance and reconciliation are hard work. It is easier to exclude those who are different. In today’s Gospel Jesus went to what is now southern Lebanon – perhaps to get away from the crowds seeking healing. It didn’t work. A woman of that country cried after him, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David, my daughter is tormented by a demon!” The disciples were also tired of the crowds and wanted to shut up the noise. Jesus’ response is “"I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel." It is a strange response to us who know Jesus as the savior of the world. But Jesus knew the limitations of time and space. He knew that the responsibility and authority to heal the world would be the gift of the Holy Spirit to the whole body of believers after his death and resurrection. Jesus’ earthly ministry was limited in time and space; the spiritual ministry of Jesus by his Holy Spirit in the church is limited only by the short time remaining until Jesus comes to earth at the end of time.

          Jews and Canaanites called each other names. The Greek has kuna’ria. We vary that some, and not always do we use it as an insult. The bread of the children can refer to God’s special gift of manna in the desert. But the woman gives it right back, in words that we used to hear in the Prayer of Humble Access, ““we are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy table, but thou art the same Lord whose property is always to have mercy.”  Jesus recognized her faith and not only healed her daughter but in doing so brought her into the fellowship of saving faith. “’Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.’ And her daughter was healed instantly.”

          God’s can bring good out of evil. God’s will is for repentance and reconciliation. “How good and pleasant it is, when brethren live together in unity.”   

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Civil and Religious Marriage

          I recommend the Wikipedia article on Civil Marriage for a review of the history of civil marriage and its relationship to religious marriage, and I offer these comments based on my work on the Church of England clergy who served in British America before 1785.

          In England from about 1215 to 1837 marriages were normally celebrated in the parish church after the banns had been read on three Sundays and were registered in the parish register. Lord Hardwicke’s Marriage Act 1753 made publishing banns a legal requirement.  Couples who wished to avoid marriage by banns could pay the bishop’s office for a common license to be married at a particular church or pay the archbishop for a special license to be married in any church.  England’s registry office marriages begin in 1837.

          Lord Hardwicke’s Act did not apply in Scotland and I find no record of its being enforced in any of the North American colonies. And there were no bishops in America until 1785.

          Remember that the ecclesiastical courts of the Church of England had jurisdiction over marriage and probate cases until 1858. They acted under the royal ecclesiastical prerogative of the supreme governor of the church.

          In the American colonies the royal governors exercised the ecclesiastical jurisdiction of the crown. They issued the marriage licenses and dealt with probate and collected the fees. The fear of losing these fees helped cool the enthusiasm of governors and the legal establishment in the colonies for the efforts by some Church of England clergy to establish an American episcopate.

Each colony established its own laws on marriage. So far as I can tell all the colonies authorized clergy to officiate, and many also allowed local justices to witness marriages. , and in New Jersey, for example, the Anglican clergy objected to local justices conducting marriages. In Virginia in the mid-18th century Presbyterian ministers could officiate at marriages, but the marriage had to be entered in the register of the Church of England.

At the Revolution the new state governments continued the marriage license system and expanded it to require licenses for all marriages. The state continues to authorize clergy to certify that the marriage has taken place and also authorizes a number of other people to do so.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Proper 14A August 7, 2011

“If you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved.”
          “Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’”
“Reuben delivered him out of their hands, saying, ‘throw him into this pit here in the wilderness, but lay no hand on him’ that he might rescue him out of their hand and restore him to his father. . . . When some Midianite traders passed by, they drew Joseph up, lifting him out of the pit, and sold him to the Ishmaelites for twenty pieces of silver. And they took Joseph to Egypt.”

Today’s Bible readings are about salvation. By the death of Jesus our sins are forgiven; by the resurrection of Jesus we receive new life in him. Jesus’ death and resurrection saves us. We receive that salvation by faith as we believe in our hearts that God raised Jesus from the dead, and we witness to that salvation as we proclaim in word and deed that Jesus is our Lord.

St. Paul reminds us that the wages of sin is death. Physical death comes to all living beings with a physical nature, and physical nature dies. But human beings are made in the image of God. We have a physical nature and that physical nature will die. At birth we also receive a spiritual nature, and that spiritual nature is by God’s intention eternal. We are created for fellowship in love with God our creator. One  of the mysteries of God’s creation is that we are given free will. We can choose to live into the promise of our creation in fellowship in love, or we can choose to ignore that promise and deny ourselves that fellowship and love.  The tragedy is that every one of us has at one time or another chosen to ignore and deny God. We have frequently chosen spiritual death over spiritual life.

        From those  bad decision and its consequence of spiritual death we have been saved by Jesus’ death and resurrection, believed in the heart and confessed with the lips. From the moment of belief and confession we begin a new spiritual life in Jesus. Baptism is the sign and seal of belief and confession. At baptism, “candidates who can speak for themselves and parents and godparents speak on behalf of infants and younger children.” Three times they renounce evil: “renounce Satan and all the spiritual forces of wickedness that rebel against God; renounce the evil powers of this world which corrupt and destroy the creatures of God; renounce all sinful desires that draw you from the love of God.” And three times they claim salvation: “turn to Jesus Christ and accept him as your Savior; put your whole trust in his grace and love; promise to follow and obey him as your Lord.” We are baptized and we are saved; we are saved and we are baptized.

        We live not only in the hope of future salvation; we live in the present experience of God fellowship and God’s love. Today’s gospel reading is a witness. After feeding the 5000 Jesus had sent the disciples back across the sea and gone up the mountain to pray. But a storm blew up on the sea; the boat was battered by the waves; the wind was against them. Twice recently, above Danville two weeks ago and yesterday coming up Black Mountain from Hickory Lucy and I were caught in a terrific rainstorm; I slowed down to 20 mph, put the flashers on, and held tight to the wheel. The wind was against us. We’ve all had life experience of the wind against us. Our rain storms didn’t last 20 minutes. We’ve all had longer times to fight against the winds. But it does stop; the storm clears; the wind shifts, and we experience the presence and power of the Lord getting us through.

     Jesus came to the disciples; he comes to us to save us. He called Peter to come to him and Peter did – until he began to fear and to sink. Peter took his eyes off Jesus, but Jesus never took his eyes off Peter. He reached out his hand and saved Peter from drowning. “When they got into the boat, the wind ceased.” Keep your eyes on Jesus.

Today’s Old Testament reading is also about salvation. Joseph’s brothers were almost angry enough to kill him, but two of them saved him from death and sold him into slavery. Later in a time of famine Joseph in Egypt was able to save the whole family from starvation. God’s plan is salvation; his will is best for us, despite what we think.

“If you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved.” 

“Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’”

 “Reuben delivered him out of their hands, saying, ‘throw him into this pit here in the wilderness, but lay no hand on him’ that he might rescue him out of their hand and restore him to his father. . . . When some Midianite traders passed by, they drew Joseph up, lifting him out of the pit, and sold him to the Ishmaelites for twenty pieces of silver. And they took Joseph to Egypt