Saturday, July 30, 2011

Stump the Priest Question #12- What is the difference between Episcopalians and Anglicans?

The question is about the difference between “The Episcopal Church” and “The Anglican Church in North America,” both churches in the Anglican Tradition.  Let me start by explaining a bit about Anglicanism.

Anglicanism has its roots in the 1900 year history of Christianity in the British Isles.  Today there are approximately 80 million Anglicans worldwide.  Anglicans see themselves as one expression of God’s One, Holy, Catholic (meaning “universal”) and Apostolic Church and is characterized by an emphasis on liturgical and sacramental worship, Protestant beliefs and a love of the great traditions of the Church.  Anglicans are bound together by a “common worship,” which is expressed and propagated in the “Book of Common Prayer” first drafted in 1549 during the Protestant Reformation in England.  Anglican churches are also largely bound together in what is known as the worldwide Anglican Communion. 

The Episcopal Church was formed after the American Revolution as an ongoing expression of Anglicanism in the United States.  In recent decades, however, the Episcopal Church has progressively taken on a revised view of Anglicanism and of the Apostolic Faith, what is known as Modernism and Modernist Theology.  The Episcopal Church today, particularly among many of its clergy, understands the Faith in some ways inconsistently with the Faith of the Apostles as recorded in Scripture and the Faith of much of the Anglican Communion throughout the world.

Two salient issues differentiating Apostolic Christianity (classic Anglicanism) from Modernism (The Episcopal Church) are the authority of Scripture and the uniqueness Christ.  This is far too limited a venue to fully explain, but in modernist thought the revelation of God in Scripture in many of its facets is seen as outdated and overridden by modern experience and human intellect.  Similarly, the uniqueness of what God has done in Christ has given way to an openness and inclusivity that trumps the apostolic understanding and eyewitness experience of the person and work of Jesus. 

This theological drift in the Episcopal Church and all its ramifications has caused a fragmentation in the Anglican Communion.  Presently the Episcopal Church finds itself in what has been termed “impaired communion” with much of the Anglican Communion.  North American Anglicans who could not go where the Episcopal Church is theologically headed and who wanted to stay with the broader Anglican Communion appealed to other provinces of the Anglican Communion to take them under their wing, at least in some interim fashion.  This congregation, The Church of the Holy Trinity, is a good example.  Holy Trinity was a church plant under the authority of the archbishop of Nigeria.  The foreign archbishops subsequently have encouraged the formation of a new Anglican province under which orthodox Anglicanism could re-gather in North America.  The Anglican Church in North America thus came into being.  An Archbishop of this new province was consecrated, and dioceses have formed.  

We thus have two expressions of Anglicanism in North America, one modernist, the other traditionally orthodox.  We should note that there are many orthodox believers still in the Episcopal Church, particularly among the laity.  There are also whole dioceses still in The Episcopal Church that are orthodox, such as the Diocese of SC (lower part of the state).  But the Episcopal Church leadership and clergy have a strategy to redefine Episcopalianism.  That process is essentially complete.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Sermon: 7th Sunday of Pentecost(Year A), July 31, 2011- Genesis 22:1-14, "Abraham", The Rev. Nancy Kenney

God tested Abraham. He said to him, "Abraham!" And he said, "Here I am." He said, "Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains that I shall show you." So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac; he cut the wood for the burnt offering, and set out and went to the place in the distance that God had shown him. On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place far away. Then Abraham said to his young men, "Stay here with the donkey; the boy and I will go over there; we will worship, and then we will come back to you." Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. So the two of them walked on together. Isaac said to his father Abraham, "Father!" And he said, "Here I am, my son." He said, "The fire and the wood are here, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?" Abraham said, "God himself will provide the lamb for a burnt offering, my son." So the two of them walked on together.
When they came to the place that God had shown him, Abraham built an altar there and laid the wood in order. He bound his son Isaac, and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to kill his son. But the angel of the LORD called to him from heaven, and said, "Abraham, Abraham!" And he said, "Here I am." He said, "Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me." And Abraham looked up and saw a ram, caught in a thicket by its horns. Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son. So Abraham called that place "The LORD will provide"; as it is said to this day, "On the mount of the LORD it shall be provided."
One day, a Pastor was making a wooden trellis to support a climbing vine. As he was pounding away, he noticed that a little boy was watching him. The youngster didn't say a word, so the preacher kept on working, thinking the boy would leave. But he didn't. Pleased at the thought that his work was being admired, the pastor finally said, "Well, son, trying to pick up some pointers on gardening?"

"No," he replied. "I'm just waiting to hear what a preacher says when he hits his thumb with a hammer."
That boy was testing the Pastor….checking to see what he would do.
In today’s OT reading, Abraham is facing a TEST, too.
When I was in college, I went to the University of Tennessee. The first day of one of my classes, the Professor told the class that 1 in three of us would be back the next year. He said to look to your left at the person next to you and then look to the right to see that person. Only 1 of you will be back for your sophomore year. I was shocked! So when I had a TEST, I had the impression that they were trying to flunk me out of school and were looking for me to FAIL.
Later I went to Regent University in Virginia Beach, VA. It is a Christian school and the atmosphere was different. I was very anxious about my tests there, because this was Graduate School and I had been out of school for a number of years. When I came into the classroom for my first TEST in more than 20 years, I was surprised when the Professor opened with prayer and prayed for our success. He wanted us to pass the test and do well!
God has a TEST for Abraham in today’s OT reading. Do you think God wanted him to FAIL  or SUCCEED?
Ok, let’s look at today’s reading again and put things into context.
First of all, it is important to remember some background about Abraham.
By faith, Abraham obeyed God and left his own family and country to go where God would show him. God made a covenant with Abraham, promising descendants, land and blessings. He and his wife had been promised a child even though they were in their old age, beyond childbearing years. They did not see the fulfillment of the promise soon enough, so they took things into their own hands and Abraham fathered a child by Sarah’s servant. After that, Sarah conceived a child…..their only child….Isaac….the child of God’s promise.
NOW we look at TODAY’S reading when Isaac is older.
God tested Abraham. He said, "Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains that I shall show you."
God said to take his son…..his ONLY son…..the one God knew he LOVED…….
And do WHAT? Offer him as a BURNT OFFERING!!
BURNT offering? You know what is left of a BURNT offering? NOTHING! ASHES! So give him up completely?? 
This seems ABSURD! UNREASONABLE at best!
God had promised Abraham that he would have many descendants and become a great nation! HOW can that happen when he will have NO children? In fact, God changed his name  from Abram to Abraham which means “Father of a multitude”. How can that happen when Isaac is a pile of ashes?
Gordon Wenham, a biblical commentator, says that what God is calling Abraham to do is to relinquish the FUTURE by offering Isaac as a sacrifice. (Wenham pg 283 (World Biblical Commentary) That must have been confusing to Abraham,……. how God could have made these promises about the future and still be asking for Isaac’s life.   BUT
BIGGER than that was that Abraham LOVED Isaac; nothing was more precious to him than the son of his old age, whom God had promised to him.
God was requiring Abraham to give to God the most precious offering he could give.
SOOO the TEST was to see if Abraham, who loves Isaac, loves God even more.
The question for each of us is…….what would we have done if we were Abraham?
WHAT is most precious to us? Not that God is going to ask us for our children. This was the test for Abraham for a particular purpose….but WHAT do WE  hold most precious?
And….WHAT would our response be if God asked us to give it up?
1)      Would it be….Ok, but let me do it my own way and when I am ready?
a.       After all, don’t I know what would be best?  OR
2)      Would it be…..Will there be any PAIN involved?
a.       Because if there is I am OUT! No way am I going through any PAIN! OR
3)      Would it be……I don’t UNDERSTAND this!
a.       And until I do, I am NOT doing this! Explain it to me and then I’ll let You know! OR
4)      Would it be…..Is this going to COST me any MONEY?
a.       It seems people are always asking me for money, especially the church….You know how that is! I am OUT if it costs me money!
But if we were a people who had FAITH in God, would we remember that He created the universe, can heal our pain, has thoughts that are higher than ours, and that all that we have belongs to Him?
One response, we put our trust in OURSELVES and the other we put our trust in GOD!
I had a friend who was going to be ordained as a minister. The week before her ordination, she told God that if there was anything in her life that she loved more than Him, for Him to remove it. She wanted to love Him above all else.
She had a very close friend at that time that she knew was not good for her. She knew that God did not want her to continue that relationship, but she really liked this person.  Soon after this prayer to God, she noticed that that friend had found another friend that she was close to and no longer seemed interested in her friendship anymore. God removed that relationship and honored my friend’s prayer. My friend truly loved God above all else and put her trust in Him. It was painful to lose such a friend, but it has been for good in her life and she thanks Him now.
Are there things in YOUR LIFE that God wants you to give up to Him? Things that keep you from loving Him above all else?
The point in Abraham’s story is not what might have happened to Isaac, for he was never in danger, but what was Abraham’s response to God?
The rest of our passage today tells us that Abraham responded by getting up early the next morning and taking Isaac and his servants to head for the mountain that God would show them. It was a THREE day journey….plenty of time for Abraham to think about what he was going to do….to reflect on his memories of life with Isaac…and to change his mind. But he did not. He had Isaac carry the wood for the sacrifice and he had the knife and fire, as they climbed the mountain, just the 2 of them. He prepared the altar and wood for the sacrifice; placed Isaac on the wood; lifted his knife to kill Isaac…………………”But the angel of the LORD called to him from heaven, and said, "Abraham, Abraham!"  "Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me."

He did NOT ask if PAIN was involved or if it COSTS MONEY or for an EXPLANATION! He TRUSTED God….had FAITH in God….and GOD PROVIDED ALL THAT HE NEEDED!
As Abraham lifted his eyes, he saw a ram caught in the thicket and Abraham sacrificed him, after he released Isaac, at the angels’ command. And Abraham called that place “Yahweh will provide”.
Hebrews 11:19 tells us that Abraham reasoned that God could even raise the dead, and so in a manner of speaking he did receive Isaac back from death.
AND…. Abraham PASSED THE TEST!!  He had failed his first test from God, but passed the second one!
Now he showed God that He loved him more than the most precious thing in his life!
HE loved God over ALLLLLL  else!! And he had FAITH in Him and His word!
The question for each of us is:
Do WE trust God… we have FAITH in Him when we don’t understand what is happening in our lives; when our lives take an unexpected turn; when someone we love turns against us; when pain enters our life; when God asks us to do things that don’t make sense?
The REAL question is this:
Do we trust in OURSELVES?......OR……in GOD?
Do we trust in what SCRIPTURE says or in what WE think?
A test will surely come in our lives where we have the chance to choose.
God wants us to pass the test, like my Professor at Regent University. Jesus is even interceding for us so that we will pass!
The question is……WHO will we choose to rely on…….OURSELVES or GOD?

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Stump the Priest: Question #10- Why are some denominations against female priests? Is this backed up scripturally? Is it mans law or Gods law?

This is a good question to ask because it is undoubtedly the single largest issue facing our new Anglican Province (the ACNA) as we move forward into the future.  Let me preface a discussion on this by saying that there is integrity in the convictions expressed on both sides of the argument, and there are no villains in this discussion.

Viewing it simply in terms of the health and well-being of the Church, I have seen women’s ordination in the contemporary church as very positive.  Beyond of the more radical feminism infecting the liberal branches of the Church, I have experienced effective and healthy pastorates among the orthodox women priests I have worked with.  They have been allowed in our post-patriarchal culture to become effective priests and pastors alongside men, and I discern that the Holy Spirit is indeed teaching us something new in this regard (The Rev. Nancy Kenney’s ministry is a case in point).  But that is not good enough.  As a biblically anchored Christian, we must support such a position scripturally.

Let me first say that I am not helped by arguments around the fact that Jesus was male, or the 12 apostles were male, or that there were no instances of women’s ordinations (anointing for ministry by the laying on of hands) in Scripture.  I view this as cultural context more so than New Covenant mandate. As an Anglican I am led to argue from what Scripture explicitly upholds (such as the calling of men to ordained ministry) and do not conclude that it prohibits that on which it is explicitly silent (the calling of women to ordained ministry).  Scripture does not explicitly say that women should or should not be ordained.

Nonetheless, Scripture implicitly says a great deal about women in leadership (eldership) in the Church, and we need to look at the broad sense of Scripture on this… how Jesus saw women… the teachings of Paul… the actions and makeup of the New Testament Church.  On this basis, I am led to take Galatians 3:28 as a primary text.  It permeates the New Covenant Scriptural ethos and washes over the social norms reflected there.  This new reality brought to us in Christ is…
There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.
Paul’s words here are consistent Jesus’ treatment and view of women in the Gospels.  This is particularly clear in John’s Gospel. (A good book to check out on this is The Community of the Beloved Disciple, by Raymond E. Brown, particularly Appendix 2, “Roles of Women in the Fourth Gospel”)2.  A case in point is the Samaritan Woman at the Well.  Jesus overrode social barriers, taught her, and perhaps most significantly for this discussion, allowed her to take on the “apostolic” ministry of proclaiming the Good News to her village.

Again, looking at the New Testament broadly, it talks about women congregational leaders such as Lydia (Acts 11), Priscilla (1 Cor. 16, Rom 16), Phoebe (Rom 16).    In fact, Romans 16 list twenty-six church leaders, 8 of whom are women.  The Book of Acts mentions prophets (speaking for God) 11 times, 4 of whom are women.1  All of this points to an equality of call and leadership of women and men, and it is consistent with what Paul is expressing in my selected text, Galatians 3:28.

Based on this alone, one would conclude that God would not and does not withhold callings and gifts for ministry based on any of these differentiators (ethnicity, gender or social status).  But Scripture has much to say that seemingly contradicts itself on this.  That needs to be reconciled.  We cannot look at it all in this short dissertation, but we can look at a two of the big ones.

The two passages (both Pauline) are 1 Cor. 14:34-36 (traditionally translated, “Women are not to speak in worship”) and Ephesians 5:22-24 (“Wives submit to your husbands”).  I understand the 1 Cor. Passage as not being about woman leadership roles, but about women (presumably certain women in the Corinthian church) being disruptive.  I think Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase in The Message captures this idea well:
Wives must not disrupt worship, talking when they should be listening, asking questions that could more appropriately be asked of their husbands at home. God's Book of the law guides our manners and customs here.   Wives have no license to use the time of worship for unwarranted speaking.  Do you—both women and men—imagine that you're a sacred oracle determining what's right and wrong? Do you think everything revolves around you?
I, for one, sincerely hope this passage does not mean that women are generally barred from speaking in church.  This would mean that Larry, presently our only male choir member, would be singing by himself).  The original Greek can perhaps better be translated “clamor” or “tumult,” rather than normal proceedings of worship.

Concerning the Ephesians 5:22-24 passage (“wives submit to your husbands”), John Bristow’s book, What Paul Really Said About Women, is helpful in dealing with the inconsistencies this passage seems to impose.  He makes the point that the usual translations out of the Greek of “be subservient to” can perhaps better be rendered “be supportive of.”  I can’t make Bristows arguments for him in this short document, but I found them convincing in reconciling this text with Paul’s understanding of the Kingdom of God.  For your own study, I recommend Bistrow’s book.

We are, however, a long way from consensus on this in the Anglican Communion, much less in the universal church.  To be in communion means not acting in disregard for our brothers in sisters in Christ, and this is a huge factor in the stance our diocese and the ACNA has taken.  As Paul said, “If eating meat sacrificed to idols causes your brother to sin, then refrain from it” (even if it is not an issue for you). We find ourselves in this position as The Diocese of the South. We as a diocese do not ordain women, but duly ordained women in apostolic orders may be licensed to function as presbyters (priests) at the discretion of the bishop.  Nancy Kenney is being licensed by Bishop Foley to function as a priest at Holy Trinity.  Thanks be to God for that, and for her ministry.
1 What Paul really Said About Women, John T. Bristow (Harper Collins, 1991).
2 The Community of the Beloved Disciple, Raymond E. Brown (Paulist Press, 1979)

Monday, July 4, 2011

Stump the Priest Question #7- How about Pilot’s question, “What is Truth?”

This quote is from John 18:38 where Jesus is being tried before Pilot the governor. Note that John’s Gospel talks a lot about Truth:
·         John 1:14        John says that Jesus was “full of grace and truth.”.
·         John 8:32        “You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.”
·         John 14:6        Jesus says he is the way, the truth and the life.
·         John 14:17      Jesus calls the Holy Spirit the Spirit of Truth.
Jesus is “Truth” not simply because He tells the truth, but because He is Truth.  Jesus is Truth because he embodies the supreme revelation of God, the author of all truth. 

This is a good question because post-modern thinking of our time has moved away from the belief in objective truth.  It has a name, “relativism.”  This is clearly a sign of our movement as a culture away from the one true God who embodies Truth, and toward the Enemy who is the father of lies.

So where was Pilot going to find the answer to his question, “What is Truth?”  His answer was standing right in front of him on that Good Friday.

Stump The Priest Question #6- Was Abraham a henotheist rather than a monotheist before his encounter with Melchizedek?