Thursday, January 9, 2020

Musings from Around the World- Day 5- January 9- The Caribbean

Nancy and I have begun our long-anticipated around-the-world cruise.  This is a special time and a special year for us in that we have been married 50 years this year.  We have declared this our 50th year celebration.  We sailed from Fort Lauderdale on Sunday the 5th.  Sonny and Polly Goldston will be joining us in Los Angeles in a few weeks.

I had to stop and think if this was now the 4th or the 5th day of our 111-day cruise.  I am already losing track.  We are presently headed west through the Caribbean Sea for the Panama Canal. 

This morning we passed along the Columbian Coast. The mountains are amazingly high.  I could view them fairly clearly in spite of the dozens of miles we were away.  I am sure Juan Valdez was up there somewhere picking coffee beans with his burro.

We arrived in Aruba early yesterday and spent the day exploring this wonderful and interesting island.  Aruba is only 18 miles off the Venezuelan coast, and one of our group finally asked the question we were wondering about: Given the terrible economic conditions in Venezuela, how are they managing those fleeing that situation.  Teh answer was that the Dutch and Aruban Coast Guards (they are a Dutch Protectorate) stay very busy intercepting and returning them to Venezuela.  What a sad situation!  We should all be praying for the people of Venezuela.

During our first full day at sea we skirted the northern coast of Cuba.  It was fascinating to see the coastline and also to be close enough to have offers popping up on our phones for Cuban wireless phone service.  

Nancy and I are both enjoying the routine we are settling into on “sea days” between ports.  I try to catch the sunrise each morning, which, so far, I have done.  Since we are heading predominantly west, it usually means drinking coffee on the fantail with a few other early risers, enjoying the beauty of the morning, spending time in the Daily Office of Morning Prayer, and doing Bible readings.  There is a walking/jogging track on the top deck, and my goal on sea days is to walk a mile each morning and afternoon .  The view from teh track is wonderful, and it makes walking extra enjoyable. 

Swimming, reading and taking in the other activities on board fill the rest of the day.  This morning Nancy and I attended a lecture on the history and construction of the Panama Canal.  There is a detailed and more technical lecture I will take in later today.  Sonny Goldston had recommended a book on the Panama Canal tilted “The Paths between the Seas” which I have downloaded and am finding fascinating.  (Thanks Sonny!)   I look forward to our traversing the Canal tomorrow.

The weather continues to be great.  Being this close to the Equator calls for drinking lots of fluids, but I know it doesn’t all have to be beer.  (Fr. Ross, they have a less than adequate selection of IPA’s on board this ship; I know I can count on your sympathy.)

Rob... and Nancy sends her love!

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Loving People Right where They Are

    Christianity is a way for living life that says we are to love others just the way God loves us.  St. John in his Gospel quotes Jesus as saying, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” (John 15:14)

    So, how does God love us?  The answer is unconditionally, just as we are, even while we are less than perfect according to the mind and will of God.  St. Paul expresses this in Romans 5:8 thusly, “God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”  This is the immense and unqualified love of God for each one of us.  

     There is, however, a phenomena very prevalent in some quarters today that equates not agreeing with someone with not loving them.   For instance, this is often the case in the ongoing homosexual debate in which Christians are stereotyped as homophobic.  There are surely Christians who are indeed homophobic, just as there are plenty of non-Christians who are homophobic, but the fact is that the Christian is commanded not to be!   It is simply un-Christian to hate anybody and not want the best for them.  Jesus gives us examples of this throughout the Gospels; two good ones are the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4) and the woman brought to Jesus who had been caught in adultery (John 8).

    One of the marks of the Kingdom of God is loving people right where they are, regardless their actions, beliefs, behaviors, sins and dysfunctions, and regardless of whether we agree with them of not.  This is the way, of course, that God loves us, but  if you know God, then you know He loves us too much to leave us where we are- This is what Jesus is all about.

     By the Spirit of God in us, we can love with this same Godly unconditional love.  This is part and parcel to the authentic Christian journey.  In our fallen humanity, however, this is a tough road to learn to walk.  Albeit imperfectly, I strive to love people right where they are, want the best for them, and be their friend in the truest sense of the word.  I think my homosexual friends will largely affirm this in me.  One of the great freedoms to be found in Christ is the power and wisdom to love people with whom one disagrees and to love them right where they are. 

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Surviving in Dark Places

An article originally published in the August newsletter of the Anglican Church of the Holy Trinity, North Augusta, SC:

Back in my electrical engineering days, I was the interim manager of a power generation and transmission system on the island of New Guinea. It was a great assignment that I thoroughly enjoyed, although it was not without its personal, cultural and spiritual challenges.  Even though it was to be a very short assignment, I told my company I would take it if Nancy could come with me.  Nancy couldn’t believe I told them that! Nonetheless, she packed her bags, and off we went.

The region was a spiritually oppressive place with most of the people being either Muslim or native Animist.  Since Nancy and I were used to living in the Light of Christ, it was not hard to perceive the darkness. We knew we were aliens in a foreign land, both literally and spiritually. 

Looking back on it, I can list three things that helped spiritually sustain us:
·   First was our willingness to boldly and unreservedly be Christian in spite of the darkness, remembering who we are and whose we are.  This meant loving people right where they were, being different from the culture when we needed to be, and being unafraid and vocal about our relationship with Christ.

·   Secondly was staying in Scripture and continuing to seek the mind of Christ in all things and in all ways.

·   And last but not least, was finding other Christians with whom to fellowship, worship and continue to grow spiritually. There were not many of us in that place, but Jesus said that when two or three are gathered in His name, He will be in the midst of them.  So true!

But one does not have to go 11 time zones away to find spiritual darkness.  We are living in the midst of it right here, right now.  If you and I are not careful and intentional about our life in Christ, the darkness can consume us.  You and I are part of the People of the Light in a dark land.  What are you doing to stand firm in your faith and flourish in your life and relationship in Christ?                                                         Father Rob

Saturday, April 13, 2019

The Cross at the Center of History

Homily delivered by the Reverend Rob Hartley at the North Augusta Community Lenten Service, April 10, 2019

Philippians 2:5-11 (ESV)
5Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.  8And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.  9Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

        On Good Friday, this church family will gather in this place, as many of you will do in your churches.  We will read the passion narrative from John’s Gospel, and we will also read this beautifully moving passage from Philippians.  It is called the Christ Hymn because it takes us the central act of Salvation History, which is the Cross of Christ.    
        Historians, sociologists, or anthropologists look at the broad sweep of human history and see it as events stitched together, often as a result of circumstances, human effort, or just chance, all contributing to bring humanity to where it is today.  But how about us Christians? How do we view history? From what perspective?  Hopefully, we view it from God’s perspective?
        Human history is wildly chaotic and messy for sure, but we know that God’s plan is being played out in spite of you and me.  We know that God’s providential and redemptive hand has been upon human history from the beginning.   He gives us one of His first hints to this in Genesis 3 after the couple falls into sin and rebellion. Gao says they will someday Crush Satan’s head; in other words, they will have victory over the powers of darkness that have now come to inhabit creation and the human heart.  God has overlaid human history with Salvation History. We know that this eventual and inevitable victory belongs to our Lord Jesus Christ for it says in Scripture, “In the fullness of time, Christ came to die for us… and as Paul puts it this morning in Philippians, “Christ being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”
        So, as surely as Creation has a beginning and an end, it has a center, which is the Cross and Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, the climax of God’s great redemptive plan.  And this amazing cosmic event is what we are preparing for this Lent.  Jesus has redeemed us; we have been rescued from ourselves, which is why Paul writes this morning- “At the name of Jesus, every knee shall bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord, to the glory of God the Father!  Amen.

Saturday, March 9, 2019

“Holy Trinity- A beacon drawing people to God and into the fellowship of God’s People.”

The Anglican Church of teh Holy Trinity uses this mission statement month-after-month in our newsletters and elsewhere.  This, statement suggests that we (the Body of Christ in this place) are a beacon (the light of Christ) shining into dark places (into the world around us steeped in sin and darkness), calling others to something better, which is a new life in Christ.  Our mission statement captures the Gospel Imperative of Matthew 28:19,20 (the Great Commission)-  Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.  And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”  Through the “Good News” we bear and the Godly lives we live, we permeate our culture as a beacon of hope to a perishing world, for Christ is this world’s only hope.  This is the message we project with our mission statement, and the message has probably never been more needed than in these times of moral and spiritual disarray.  
       If we are going to be effective at being Christ to the world around us, we need to understand it.   Edwin Lutzer in his book, The Church in Babylon, outlines some of the sources of the moral and spiritual disarray we have inherited:

·   The bitter fruit of the sexual revolution- From a Christian perspective on sexuality, Western Civilization is in open rebellion.  Like many revolutions, there are consequences and causalities, such as stable biological families, the sacredness of life both born and pre-born, the divine beauty and integrity of life-long, monogamous marital relationships, the virtues of a life sacrificially lived for others rather than for instant self-gratification, and then finally, loss of God’s moral absolutes in the face of man-made relativism. 

·   The bitter fruit of the technology revolution- Television and instant media have proven to be allies the sexual revolution.  Technology has been a blessing in so many ways, but it requires the exercise of Godly virtues to counter its poisonous fruit. 

·   The bitter fruit of the anti-Christian revolution- Secularism has grown intolerant of the Christian worldview.  Alasdair MacIntyre, a moral philosopher who captured my attention back in my seminary days, writes in his book, After Virtue, that Western Civilization has lost its ethical and virtuous moorings.  It is up to the Church to carry the virtues of Godly living through these spiritually dark times and throw a lifeline to those who want to join us.                                                   
To God be the Glory, Father Rob

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Sermon, Sept 16, 2018 (proper 19) "But who do you say that I am?" Mk 8:29

        In Mark 8 Jesus and His disciples take a field trip north of Galilee, to a place known as Caesarea Philippi, almost into what is modern day Lebanon.  In Jesus’ day, it was about as pagan a place as you could find, with temples commemorations to Canaanite and Greek God’s such as Baal and Pan. There was then and still is to this day a yawning cave entrance on the site.  It was considered the entrance to the underworld, the gates of hades. A number of us in this congregation visited Caesarea Philippi together a number of years back.  It is a memorable place.

        It was to this place that Jesus brings His disciples this morning.  The question is why. Why this place?  Jesus, and later His disciples, understood that he was God breaking into this corrupt and evil world and reclaiming it for the Kingdom of God.  What better place could there be than Caesarea Philippi to demonstrate that dichotomy 
        He asks the question, “Who do people say that I am,” but Jesus’ real question to His disciples comes next, “Who do you say that I am?  It is like a single-question final exam, and Peter gives the right answer.  He says, You are the Christ.”  Luke in His Gospel quotes Jesus and Peter in much the same way as Mark, but Matthew, who, by the way, was there on this graduation trip to Caesarea Philippi, provides a bit meatier quote (Matt 16:16-18), “Simon Peter answers, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.’ 17 And Jesus says, ‘Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah!  For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. 18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock (Peter means Rock) I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.’” Hopefully you are catching the scene.

        But Jesus just spent 3 years teaching about the Kingdom of God and God’s expectation of His people in becoming citizens of the Kingdom of God, rather citizens of this world.  So, why, this one particular question?  Why didn’t Jesus ask a question about the significance of his miracles and healings, or his teaching on the beatitudes?  Jesus asks nothing of this sort, just, “Who do you say that I am?”
        I think most of us know the answer.  This exchange between Jesus and Peter takes us as Christians to the central affirmation of our Faith, that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God.  As St. Paul writes in Colossians 1:15 “[Jesus] is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.”  Not that other questions and other answers are unimportant.  It is just that the essence of Christianity is not to be found in the teachings of Jesus, but in the person of Jesus- Who Jesus is.

        The Gospel of John has a unique focus on this question of who Jesus is.  In John 6 ,Jesus say, -  I am the Bread of Life.” [in other words, the essence, source and sustenance of life].  John 8:58- “Before Abraham, I am.” Jesus says.  John 10:30_ “I and the Father are one.”

        And the first Christian creed was a simple one: “Jesus is Lord.”  St. Paul states in Philippians 2:10-11, “At the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” 

          The great call of the Old Testament prophets was “Turn to God;” but Jesus says, “Turn to me.”  Matthew 11:28- “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.

        And we might think that the Bible is the story of our quest for God, when in fact, most of the Bible is about our running away from God- disobeying, rebelling, dishonoring, ignoring God.  The Bible is really about God’s quest for us.  John 1:14 – “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” Why does God in Christ come to us? The answer is that God loves us too much to abandon us to ourselves.

        Jesus being God in the flesh is what we call the Incarnation.  The Incarnation, along with eh Cross and Resurrection, what we can call in Salvation history the Christ Event, is the single most significant event in human history since creation itself.  It is God’s great rescue mission of His beloved.  We cannot fathom the Incarnation without standing on this side of the Cross and Resurrection and looking back, and we need to have the Holy Spirit Himself open our minds to the amazing reality of it.  St. Paul writes in 1 Cor. 12:3- “no one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit.  I think it was true for the Apostles at Caesarea Philippi in our reading this morning, and it is true for us.
        So, the heart of our faith is not what church we go to, the things we do or don’t do, the good works we do, or the good life we lead; the central tenant of our faith is the person of Jesus Incarnate, who comes to forgive us, redeem us, and love us, and restore us to eternal life with the Father.

        There is a person who had a great deal to do with my spiritual formation many years ago.  He was a gifted teacher in the Church named Terry Fullam.  He once asked us this question: “You [that is, we Christians] are in on the ultimate secret of history- is it making a difference?  [He is talking about it making a difference both in our own lives and the lives of the people around us.  So, this morning I want to ask you that question.  How has knowing who Jesus is made a difference in your life?  Here are some possible thoughts you may have on that:

         1.     First, because of who Jesus is, you know that you are redeemed and your eternal salvation is sure; so, are you claiming the peace that surpasses understanding and the joy of living in Christ that comes with that?  Joy and peace are your inheritance, a gift from God that the world cannot take away! Jesus says in John 14:27- “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives but as I give to you.”  Worldly struggles can take much from us, but if you really know who Jesus is, it can’t take thist away from us.  You can find such peace and assurance nowhere else aside from the promises of God in Christ Jesus.  Are you claiming your inheritance?
        2.     Another difference it can and should make in your life knowing you are forgiven and are invited to live a life free of guilt and condemnation?  Jesus is Lord, and only God can forgive sins.  Jesus comes to us fulfilling the prophecy of the Psalmist is Psalm 103:12 -“As far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us.”  This world has a way of keeping you in bondage to your past, but Jesus never does.  Jesus forgives your past and cares only about your future.
        3.     A final thought… Is it making a difference in your life knowing that Jesus is God incarnate who loves you un-conditionally and has shown you that you can love others un-conditionally in the same way.  John 13:34- “… just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.”  One of the great blessings of the Christian life is the spiritual gift of loving people right where they are in their brokenness, dysfunction and sin, seeking the best for them.  That is exactly what Jesus does for us all. Romans 5:8- “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” 

        There are probably many other ways that Jesus as Lord of your life is making a difference in how you live it?  I invite you to think about them and perhaps share them with one another at Adult Forum after this service.

         Jesus is asking you, " who do you say that I am?"  Like Peter, you need to get the answer right.

Monday, July 30, 2018

Sermon for 10th Sunday of Pentecost

Sermon for 10th Sunday of Pentecost (Proper 12B), July 29, 2018

The God of Abundance

The Rev. Rob Hartley

         I grew up in the 50’s and 60’s in the small town of Mt. Pleasant on the eastern rim of Charleston Harbor, but I attended grade school and later high school in downtown Charleston.  Each day I would ride a school bus across the old Cooper River Bridge- narrow, spindly and high and scary.  Even then that bridge was old having been built in the 1930’s.  Crossing that bridge each day was, in itself, an act of faith.  The bus would rumble across the bridge and into downtown Charleston.  We would pass through a section of town known as Ansonboro.  Back then, Ansonboro was a poorer section of Charleston.  On the corner of Wentworth and Meeting Streets was a fountain fed by an artesian well right next to the Ansonboro fire station.  The flow was impressive in that it never stopped.  I could imagine the people of the Ansonboro, before indoor running water was available, coming to that well to get water, all the water they wanted.  The abundance of that well was in contrast the impoverishment of the neighborhood around it.

        Scripture makes it clear that our God is a God of Abundance, yet we find ourselves in a world characterized by material, emotional and spiritual impoverishment.  How did this come to be?  We can look at the story Genesis 3 for the answer.  Adam and Eve were created to be in the Garden where there needs were perfectly met.  They communed with God and walked with Him in the cool of the evening, as the story goes.  But this changed when the chasm between God and man came to be as a result of our rebellion and disobedience.  The story goes on with God saying,

cursed is the ground because of you;
    in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life;
18 thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you;
    and you shall eat the plants of the field.
19 By the sweat of your face
    you shall eat bread,
till you return to the ground,
    for out of it you were taken;
for you are dust,
    and to dust you shall return.”…
23 The Lord God sent them out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken. 

        This morning readings, however, give a foreshadowing of our return to a life under an abundant God.  
·        From 2 Kings we have the Prophet Elisha “Give [the loaves of barley and fresh ears of grain] to the people and let them eat, for thus says the Lord, ‘They shall eat and have some left.’” ·        Verse 17 our Psalm this morning- You [Lord] open wide your hand *and satisfy the needs of every living creature. 
·        In our Epistle reading, Paul writes, “I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” (Fullness… Pleroma in the original Geek, from which we get the word Plethora, which means over-abundance. 
·        And finally, from our Gospel story this morning on the feeding of the 5,000, what started with 5 barley loaves and 2 fish, and ended, after all had eaten, with fragments that filled twelve baskets.

        Don’t worry, this is not going to be a prosperity Gospel sermon.  The Prosperity Gospel is preaching a material prosperity.  Jesus himself had nothing except what he wore on his back, yet from a Kingdom of God perspective, he is the richest man to ever walk this earth.  So, let’s not get distracted in thinking about material abundance, although God does materially provide us with all that we need.  Here is what Jesus has to say about this in His Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 6:  “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also…31 Do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.
        From God’s perspective, therefore, what we truly need the most is not material.  What we need is what Jesus comes to give in abundance: abundant grace, abundant love, abundant compassion, abundant forgiveness, abundant self-giving.  As Jesus says in John 10:10, I have come to give [you] life and give it in abundance.
        Do you have the abundant life Christ came to bring to you?  Are you living large in Jesus?  If not, how is Jesus tell you to appropriate the abundant life?
        First is to reset your priorities: We seek after scraps under the table when our Lord has offered us a seat at the banquet.  As we just read from Matthew 6: 33, “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.
        Secondly, if you want the abundant life that Jesus can give, it will require you to walk in fellowship and communion with Him, seek to return to that state when we walked in the cool of the evening with God.  Seek His face. Spend time with him like you are doing right now on this Lord’s Day.  In Matthew 11:28-30, Jesus says, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
        And finally, of course, there is the Holy Spirit whom Jesus asks the Father to send to us to lead us into the abundant life.   The abundant life is the Spirit-filled life of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23), the fruit of a life surrendered to the guidance and governance of the Holy Spirit.  We can see what this Spirit-filled life looks like in the life of the Apostles themselves:  Before the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, the only thing the Apostles had in abundance were failure, fear and faithlessness; after Pentecost, they have an abundance power, purpose and praise for the Lord who has transformed them. 
        So, in conclusion, God is a God of extravagant abundance.  We appropriate the abundant life, the bounty promised to all who follow Jesus, not by gathering scraps under the table, but by taking our place at the great banquet the Lord has prepared for us.  Seek the Kingdom of God, not the kingdom of this world.  Follow Christ, become His disciple, be in union with Him, which is what God desires above all else.  And finally, surrender to the Holy Spirit who lives in you.  The Holy Spirit is the power to transcend the spiritual impoverishment and misplaced priorities of this world, rise above them, and experience the abundant life promised to all of us who are followers of Christ.