Thursday, January 31, 2019

On the Subject of Spiritual Gifts - II

As promised, the audio link to the Homily on St Paul's first letter to the Church in Corinth.  I want want to give a hearty thanks thank you to Miles and the Technical Ministries at All Saint's Church for work in the AV booth. Like anything else in life, it seems that those who labor unseen and out of sight are those who make the most difference in our daily lives.

 You can Click Here to access the *.mp3 file of the message.

Saturday, January 26, 2019

Australia Day 2019

I've had the opportunity to meet, interact, and work with a number of groups through my work as Deacon and Electronics Technician.  Of all of them, I've experienced the greatest joy & affinity of working/interacting with our Australian Siblings.  Siblings?  I purposely use this as with the fact that we along with our Canadian neighbors are all products of our Mother Britannia. May our roots bind us together and our LORD continue to bless, preserve and keep you Australia.

Monday, January 21, 2019

On the Subject of Spiritual Gifts

The Holy Spirit, by Louis Comfort Tiffany
The past weekend marked the tenth anniversary of an Ankle fracture which had me cast bound, and in a Boat for an additional four weeks.  (Step into the Wayback Machine to see that tale.)  Short Story:  I was putting boxes up on the top shelf in the garage, standing on my tip toes instead of a step ladder.  My balance shifted and my ankle rolled resulting in reconstructive orthopedic surgery.  As an upside, this opened a season of "Reading for Orders", and ten months later I was ordained into the order of Vocational Deacons.  So in retrospect, I don't consider it to be a coincidence that a Decade later to the day of the spectacular fracture, I'd be delivering the morning sermon at All Saint's Anglican in Woodbridge, VA.  After the message is uploaded, I'll link to it here on the Seat.

Yesterday's sermon was drawn from the our New Testament reading, taken from Saint Paul's first letter to the Church at Corinth, Chapter 12:1-11.  In general, this letter leads like both a rebuke accompanied by remedial instruction.  Chapter's 12 through 14 address the idea of "Spiritual Gifts", their purpose and place in the Church. Here's the message's manuscript:


Spiritual Gifts.  The topic of Spiritual gifts is one that many in the church avoid for a number of reasons.  I suspect that if we were survey the church at large this morning, we might encounter a range of thoughts as to how they operate, and just what their place in today’s church may be.  Are the gifts for today?  Do we still have Apostles in our midst? If Spiritual Gifts are still extant in the church, who has them?  Do I possess a Spiritual Gift?  Let’s pause here to consider some of these questions, and as we unpack these ideas, we’ll draw our thoughts from this morning’s Epistle, Saint Paul’s First Letter to the church in Corinth.  I suspect that we’ll find his words to be both insightful and instructive.  

The city of Corinth, which still exists today, has roots which stretched deep into antiquity past.  It had been first settled prior to the second Millennium B.C. It’s rise to prominence around 800 B.C. paralleled Jerusalem’s glory days. It’s location on a narrow isthmus between the Mediterranean and Aegean Seas made her a natural crossroads for goods, thoughts, and religious practice.      The Church in Corinth was planted by Saint Paul on his 2nd Missionary journey, following the Macedonian Call which diverted his intentions in what is now modern day Turkey.  This was at a time that Christianity was beginning its transformation from a regional faith in the Eastern Mediterranean Basin into one that now had a beachhead on the European Continent.   At the time of this first letter to the young church, Paul was addressing Believers who had been walking in the faith for only a handful years. 

At this time, the Corinthian Church was in chaos, if not in outright crisis.  She was dealing with a wide range of issues that were effecting her ability to grow and thrive as a healthy, reproductive church.  They weren’t merely debating over the color of the drapes; these were problems that could pull the church apart at her seams.  The church was divided along sectarian fault lines where groups were stating their allegiances to various apostles.  Scandalous sin was being swept under the rug.  Worship gatherings seemed to take place without a sense of purpose or direction and their celebration of the Eucharist bordered on Blasphemy. It’s no wonder that the Epistles to the Corinthians read the way do, both as a rebuke and like remedial instructions.   

So in our time this morning let’s consider St. Paul’s words concerning these Spiritual Gifts, which the Father bestowed not only on the Corinthians, but to His Church in general.  Too, I want to challenge you to consider your Spiritual Gift.  And yes, every child of God has been entrusted with at least one Spiritual Gift.

The Corinthian’s were familiar with “Spiritual Gifts”, albeit counterfeit gifts (Vv. 1-2)

Saint Paul begins by acknowledging  their knowledge and experience with what the Corinthians believed to be “Spiritual Gifts”, and in the same breath points to their counterfeit nature.
[1Co 12:1-2 ESV] 1 Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be uninformed. 2 You know that when you were pagans you were led astray to mute idols, however you were led.
Ancient Corinth was a city steeped in pagan worship and ritual, having the god Apollo as its patron deity.  The worship of Apollo was significant in this region, and Corinth was also within a few hours sailing distance across the Corinthian Gulf to Delphi, the seat of Cult of Apollo, where the oracles like Pythia would prophesy.  Itinerant prophets and prophetesses walked the streets, claiming to speak on behalf of the gods. Paul and Silas had an intimate knowledge of this fact, recalling their encounter with the street prophetess in Philippi, another devotee to Apollo. Paul speaks to the counterfeit nature of these “gifts”, their only purpose was to lead people away from the knowledge of the truth and into the bondage of idolatry.  This isn’t a first century problem.  There are several places in our own world today where pagan deities are still revered and false prophets and demonic utterances can be heard. Nascent Neopaganism is on the rise; it is our challenge even here in the DMV (D.C., Maryland, Virginia).  It’s clearly a time for Followers of the Way to exercise Godly wisdom and discernment.  

So, in light of this, Paul provides us with a litmus test of sorts that allows us to easily discern which manifestations of Spiritual Gifts are genuine, and which ones are false or counterfeit.

The mark of a true Spiritual Gift (V.3)
[1Co 12:3 ESV] 3 Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking in the Spirit of God ever says "Jesus is accursed!" and no one can say "Jesus is Lord" except in the Holy Spirit.
Let’s consider for a moment how a gift will reflect the heart of the giver.  Aside from the “gag” gifts we give on occasion, our gifts will nearly always reflect the esteem in which we hold the gift’s recipient.  We see this dynamic in play with Spiritual Gifts and how they reflect the heart of the Holy Spirit.  Let’s unpack this.

Jesus, speaking to His disciples, spoke of the work of the Holy Spirit.  Christ described the many facets of the Spirit’s ministry as essentially bearing witness to the Son.  Christ’s words also spoke of the Spirit as one who is the advocate and the comforter of the saint.  So it should stand to reason that the one operating under the unction of the Holy Spirit would be constrained to declare the glories of God, rather than curse Him. And any alleged gift that would pull attention away from God the Son, or God the Father must be viewed suspiciously and considered to be a counterfeit. 

 A Variety of Gifts, Originating from one Giver Vv. 4-8)
[1Co 12:4-6 ESV] 4 Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; 5 and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; 6 and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone.
As we read this passage, we risk a temptation to write it off as unnecessary redundancy, calling to mind that scene in Monty Python’s Holy Grail where Brother Maynard is providing instruction in the use of the Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch. Yet, we’re lead to believe that the seeming granularity in Paul’s words are both deliberate and instructive. 

For a purely cultural context, the Corinthians existed in a pagan culture where the devout pagan worshipped a pantheon of twelve major gods, and scores of minor gods and demigods.  In total these Corinthians would have been familiar with a pagan host approaching 360 separate entities.  Each of these would have been patrons of any number trades, animals, or objects, and were believed to endow mortals with a wide range or gifts, blessings or curses.  Yet the God of all creation was the sole wellspring of all true Spiritual Gifts. All who received them, received them by Him alone, by the agency of the Holy Spirit.  Yet there are even more important reasons for Paul’s words. 

In their spiritual immaturity, there were Corinthians who looked at this gifting as a source of personal pride.  By their own imaginations, they were applying a pecking order to these gifts, believing that they conveyed a spiritual/moral superiority to the possessor.  Saint Paul’s words deflated this carnal puffery.  Each Spiritual Gift was truly unique, of incomparable value, and given to accomplish a specific purpose.  No gift was of greater or lesser value. The Discerner wasn’t subordinate to the sharer of Wisdom.  Nor was the Speaker of Tongues superior to the one who interpreted them.

Each of these gifts are given through the grace of God, that His Spirit can be expressed to the body of Christ, and to the world.  These gifts differ, but their difference doesn’t diminish any of them.  

Examples of these Gifts (Vv. 7-11)
[1Co 12:7-11 ESV] 7 To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. 8 For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, 9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 10 to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. 11 All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills.
These Spiritual Gifts haven’t been given to us for our own benefits, but rather given to the saint for the common good of the Body of Christ.  In writing to the church in Ephesus, Paul speaks to how this common good is benefited when he declares that they’ve been given:

[Eph 4:12-14 ESV] 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, 14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.

Saint Paul outlines other gifts, in addition to these, in Verse 29.

[1Co 12:28 ESV] 28 And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues.

We alluded to the fact earlier, that there’s an ongoing debate today over the Gifts of the Spirit and their place in the Church.  The Cessationists, those who contend that the Gifts ceased at the close of the Apostolic Age, will argue these gifts were for another time, and any charismatic manifestation is not only false but harmful.  Conversely, there are those in Pentecostal/Charismatic schools who stridently contend that all of the Spiritual Gifts are extant in our time. The answer lies between the polar ends of this debate.

While its not our intent this morning, to wade into this debate, we can confidently state that many of these gifts in regular operation within the church, we also recognize that the absence of Spiritual gifts in the life of God’s church would leave her weak, ineffective, and sterile. God has gifted, and will continue to gift his church and his saints, until he brings all things to their conclusion.

So, there is a more relevant and more important discussion this morning concerning the Spiritual Gifts, and discussion poses some important questions:  What’s your Spiritual Gift?  Every follower of Christ has been gifted, yet there are many who’ve neither considered this truth, nor have sought to learn where they’ve been gifted.

So, this is my appeal to you this morning; what is your gift?  If you’re wrestling with this question, I’d invite to visit one of our prayer teams in the rear of the church during Communion.  

Tuesday, January 01, 2019

Flight 2019 is Cleared for Takeoff

And so we begin once more, crossing the threshold of a new year.  Let's see where the road takes us.  I'd urge you, gentle reader, to buckle up and keep your seatbelt firmly fastened as we may experience unexpected turbulence along the route.

Monday, December 31, 2018

Flight 2018 Reports the Runway is in Sight

It's been quite a flight, from January 1, 2018 to the present and in relative moments, we'll be across the threshold and wheels on the ground.  As one incredibly grateful for the blessings experienced in the past 365 days, I am also one who'll be happy to close the calendar on a year that watched civility and public discourse die just a little more.  Friendships were made, friendships were solidified, and some friendships fell victim to  our toxic political climate.

We'll have to see just what 2019 holds for us all and our God willing, in another 365 days we'll take a cup o' kindness yet, For Auld Lang Syne.

Friday, December 28, 2018

In Christmastide, The Feast of the Holy Innocents

From today's Gospel:
Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, saying, "Arise, take the young Child and His mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I bring you word; for Herod will seek the young Child to destroy Him." 14 When he arose, he took the young Child and His mother by night and departed for Egypt, 15 and was there until the death of Herod, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying, "Out of Egypt I called My Son." 16 Then Herod, when he saw that he was deceived by the wise men, was exceedingly angry; and he sent forth and put to death all the male children who were in Bethlehem and in all its districts, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had determined from the wise men. 17 Then was fulfilled what was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet, saying: 18 "A voice was heard in Ramah, Lamentation, weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping [for] her children, Refusing to be comforted, Because they are no more." Matthew 2:13-18, NKJV
"The Feast of the Holy Innocents", a day of which I became aware of very early on in my faith's journey, at the tender age of six.  Back then, it stood in sharp, harsh juxtaposition between the tenderness of the Nativity of Christ Jesus and the Barbaric world that the Logos of God was was born into.  The cries of Mary in the throes of labor were contrasted by the weeping of Rachel crying for her sons who were no more.  At six years old, it was a frightening story, but one that was devoid of personal context or reference.  Today, I can sigh and say that I've heard "Rachel weeping" far too many times.  I've heard this in a mother's wail, whose son had just taken his own life.  I've heard this in an anguish of a grandmother, whose grandson's life was extinguished in an automobile accident.  Both of these specific examples involved those young men who were created in the Imago Dei, in the Image of God, whose lives were taken out of season by the archenemy of the Almighty.

I've encountered skeptics who, when faced with this massacre of baby boys, aged two and under, often question why there's no "independent' account of this event outside of Saint Matthew's Gospel.  I typically offer this response.  Herod, Known as "Herod the Great" was a client of the Roman Empire who ruled the Roman Provence of Judea from 37 BC until his death in 4 BC.  While he may be remembered for his architectural upgrades to the Temple in Jerusalem, he can equally be remembered for his bloody slaughter of many in his own family, to include his wife, three of his sons, 300 of his military staff and countless others as recounted by the Historian Josephus.  From a historical sense, a few dozen toddlers in a rural village would hardly rate a footnote.  Yet for Rachel, the lifeless baby boy in her arms was her world, not a footnote.

The lamentation of this horrific event is captured in the melody we know as the "Coventry Carol", a carol penned in the mid to late Sixteenth Century.
Lully, lullay, thou little tiny child, Bye bye, lully, lullaby Thou little tiny child, Bye bye, lully, lullay. O sisters too, how may we do For to preserve this day This poor youngling for whom we sing, "Bye bye, lully, lullay"? Herod the king, in his raging, Charg├Ęd he hath this day His men of might in his own sight All young children to slay. That woe is me, poor child, for thee And ever mourn and may For thy parting neither say nor sing, "Bye bye, lully, lullay."
I've included it in this version of the carol, as performed by the choir of King's College.

Monday, December 24, 2018

Crossing, from Advent to Christmastide

From Yesterday's Gospel Reading:
"In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a town in Judah, and she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, and she exclaimed with a loud cry, "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord." And Mary said, "My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name. And his mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts; he has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate; he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his offspring forever." And Mary remained with her about three months and returned to her home." Luke 1:39-56 (ESV)
Yesterday's Gospel Reading for the final Sunday in Advent gave me much to think about as we enjoyed a quiet Sunday.  Much of it centered on Mary, mother of The Christ.  

In my faith's journey, Ive encountered extremes in how this your maiden of Nazareth has been seen by professing Christians of all sides of the faith spectrum.  Over the years, I've witnessed Mary elevated to the place of Co-mediatrix by some, to being almost completely marginalized by others; reducing her to a status slightly above being an egg donor.  Now in Adventide, 2018, the wackiest of the fringe left have attempted to make her a poster child for the woman "#MeToo" movement by inferring that she was an unwilling victim of a sexual assault.  I want to believe that no serious adult would see this latter assertion as being nothing beyond patent nonsense.  Then, there's the sweet, sentimental Christmas ballad by Mark Lowry in & Buddy Greene, and performed by Michael English and a host of others. This song posited the idea that perhaps the fair Mary may not have known the import of the child developing in her womb.

Given the scope of Old Testament prophecy, only a relatively small population at the time of Christ's birth that could meet the profile of the one who was to bear the Christ Child.  A Hebrew woman, a virgin of the Tribe of Judah and a descendant of the house of David who would be a Nazarene who found herself in labor in Bethlehem could be the one.  Clearly, the providential hand of the Almighty was at work; she was the chosen one. 

In engaging the fringe left or fluffy sentimentality of the popular culture, we can, through Saint Luke's account, demonstrate that Mary was not only cognizant of just what child she'd be carrying, but that she was a fully willing party to this Divine opus of grace.  Her words as seen in the Magnificat capture this.  Within this brief passage of the Gospel, Mary seems to speak as both poetess and prophetess, declaring the praises of the Almighty God and his promises to His people, Israel. 

So, tonight as the sun sets on our individual worlds, the setting sun will light ablaze the fifth candle the Advent Wreath, and churches will be gathering to welcome the Christ Child afresh.  And as we welcome Him once more, may we strive to apprehend an understanding of Mary, one that's rooted in Holy Scripture rather than popular culture.

Wednesday, December 05, 2018

Advent's Longing

Advent, a season characterized by hope, longing, and expectancy.  This season was observed by the faithful as early as the Fourth Century.  It was seen as a time to remember both the Messiah's incarnation as the Christ Child, and a recognition that the infant born of Mary & Joseph that night in Bethlehem, would return to us as he promised.  The swaddled, helpless babe of the manger would (and will) return as King of Kings, and Lord of Lords.  

The promise is more sure that our Earth's axis, and we along with all of creation await the consummation of the promise.  The ancient Antiphon Veni, Veni Emmanuel brilliantly captures this longing.

Tuesday, December 04, 2018

Tuesday Reverie in Advent

Its a bright, cold Tuesday as we press into Adventide 2018 here in Suburbia Majora.  Today is just a bit colder, considering that our Republic now mourns the passing of who might be considered one of our last Kinder, Gentler Presidents of recent memory President George Herbert Walker Bush.

In an age where bluster and bombast seem to be our chief bi-partisan activity, many who know nothing of President Bush would be easily tempted to dismiss him as a meek, milquetoast figure.  This could not be farther from the truth.  Unlike our present age where male adolescence seems to last deep into the 3rd decade of life, President Bush lived in a world where 18 year old males were men in every sense of the world.  Though denied a vote, or even the privilege of legally hoisting a frosty beer in toast to their victories, these young men courageously rose to whatever challenge standing in the way.  Their safe spaces were their foxholes, armor, or aircraft cockpits.  "Triggered" was what happened to their weapons that were wielded in defense of liberty, and the annihilation of Totalitarian Fascism.  Which speaking of, they clearly saw true fascism for what is was, not merely things or ideas that they found distasteful.

I would challenge any would-be rising young person to consider the lessons of lives the like of our late President Bush.  Rather than allowing Leftist organs to tell you what to think, consider the man in his own words.

 George H W Bush
June 12, 1924 - November 30, 2018