Month: April 2015

Baltimore and the Ancient Failure

I have always enjoyed visiting family in Baltimore.  I remember taking a solo road trip up there.  I visited the Frederick Douglass Maritime Museum, checked out a few local shops, ate a really good steak and cheese somewhere in the Fells Point area.  I had the opportunity to eulogize one of my relatives in the city.  I was warmly received the times I preached there.  Baltimore is really a nice town check out.

What about the rioting?  That is a case of the invisible ugliness becoming visible.  Now, the whole world has seen what happens when a power structure has kept people powerless for decades.  Now we see how some powerless people respond when they feel threatened and vulnerable.  Yes, I am saddened, angered, disappointed, and deeply wounded that yet another black man died in the hands of a few policemen and that some blacks took to rioting.  But, I am also aware that something like this could happen anywhere where there is invisible ugliness.  All it takes is one trigger and a seaside city that is the home of generations of strong, black families can be the home of a violent outbreak in the struggle between the haves and have-nots.  Who knows, tomorrow, we could hear something about Hampton, VA (where I am typing from).

Many will disagree with my point of view.  But, I don’t believe that race nor racism is the ultimate source of the invisible ugliness.  The root of the problem goes back to the very roots of human history.  In an attempt to be like God without direction from God, Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit.  Immediately after their eyes were open, they couldn’t be vulnerable to each other and hid themselves from the God they wanted to be like without Him.  Cain killed his brother, Abel, rather than to listen to God’s instructions to overcome sin.  In both situations, people sought to obtain the heavenly and earthly power on their own terms and the results have been spectacular failures.

The Europeans who came to these shores only wanted more land and opportunity than they had in their homelands.  But, rather than to do so in compassion and humility, they made their gains by inflicting a selfish and narrow-minded judgement on the Native Americans and (by purchase and theft) obtain African slaves to generate the wealth for the new nation.   Many of their descendants feel that they are in their right to do whatever they wish to maintain dominance in a kingdom that they obtained by wrong instead of right.  The Africans, for many years, held a moral high ground as they found the Gospel truth hidden in the wrong-headed doctrines of their slave masters.  But, over too much time and too many broken promises,  too many of us descendants have succumbed to having a heart and mind as mindlessly cruel as any oppressor.  Rather than leave vengeance the Lord, too many of us want a justice that punishes rather than a justice that restores the flesh and blood that is not our real enemy.  Like Adam & Eve, the racist and the rioter are too impatient to enjoy the good things they have and wait for something better.  Like Cain, the racist and the rioter would rather kill his own kind than to admit that he is wrong and live a life of repentance.

To be fair, not every white policeman is hunting Negroes.  Not every African American is running around with a stolen TV set.  But, too many of us replay the ancient failure in our hearts and minds.  We all want more and greater things and positions rather than patience and spiritual correction.  We want the world to revolve around us rather than for us to follow God.  Until this changes, your city and mine have the potential to be a Baltimore.

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, Have Mercy on Us, Sinners.

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Don’t Spill Your Grace

CHRIST IS RISEN FROM THE DEAD, TRAMPLING DOWN DEATH BY DEATH, AND UPON THOSE IN THE TOMBS BESTOWING LIFE! I couldn’t wait to sing and hear these words this past Sunday!  Pascha (Easter) is the greatest celebration on the Christian calendar.  Sure, the Feast of the Nativity (Christmas) is important as the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.  But, the mission of the Incarnate Word destroyed our greatest enemies; death and corruption (sin) with His death on the cross and third day resurrection.  No other time of worship means more to Orthodox and non-Orthodox Christians alike. But, I suspect that some Orthodox Christians suffer from the same problem that I have seen (and sometimes suffered from) when I was Baptist.  Evangelical author and speaker, Dr. Tony Campolo noted the problem of Revival Services.  “During Revival, Baptist sing 20 verses of the hymn, “Just As I Am,” come forward to the altar to be saved just as they are, and go back to living just as they were.”  It is not uncommon for people to feel the spiritual urge to live more Christ-like when there is good preaching and singing during a three to five day series of revival services.  But, when revival is over, it is too easy to be distracted from the goal of living better and even worse to set aside the desire to live better when the guest preachers and choirs have returned to their churches. I suspect that this happens among too many Orthodox believers as well.  After 40 days of fasting during Great Lent and Holy Week, attending Akathist and Pre-Sanctified Liturgy services, making many prostrations during the Liturgy of St. Andrew of Crete and the prayer of St. Epherm the Syrian; we want to celebrate and relax during Bright Week.  For those of us in the Antiochian tradition, we don’t begin the Wednesday and Friday fast  again until after the Feast of the Ascension.  So, there is that temptation let our hair down until we let our heads down as well.  We can be lured to putting aside the period of spiritual renewal until next year.  Eating bacon and cheese on everything at every meal can cause us to forget our personal prayer rules, the lessons from the spiritual books we read, and even make church more of an option of tradition rather than the place where we stand in the presence of God with our fellow believers. When this happens, the cry, “We have found the true faith,” rings hollow.  What is the point of becoming an Orthodox Christian if you aren’t going to take the faith seriously and grow in it?  A Baptist, Pentecostal, or other Christian who has never heard the Nicene Creed or read a “Jordanville” prayer book acts in seriousness and sincerity shows more spiritual maturity than the Orthodox that takes the faith for granted.  Our Lord warned us that judgment day will be more tolerable for those who had never heard the Gospel than for those who heard the words of salvation and failed to act on them.  Father Seraphim Rose describes the failure of not striving to live to one’s spiritual renewal as “spilling one’s grace.” For anyone who has celebrated Easter, Pascha, Revival, or whatever; Fr. Seraphim’s words are worth heeding.  Don’t spill your grace.  If there was a prayer that you have used that had brought you closer to God’s presence, a suggestion from a spiritual book that helped you to overcome a bad habit, maybe a song or word from a sermon that reminds you to make time for personal worship or confession; don’t sit around and wait for the next such service to use these God-given tools on your spiritual journey.  Sure, you don’t have to make 100 prostrations until the next Cannon of St. Andrew.  But, adding a few of these acts of humility in your time in your prayer closet isn’t a bad idea.  Yes, have that bacon and chili cheese burger until the celebration of our Lord’s Ascension (if that is your tradition).  But, why not skip the red meat on the Wednesdays and Fridays out of respect for the brothers and sisters in the other jurisdictions that return earlier to the weekly fast? The early Church Fathers didn’t expect everyone to live as a monastic all year long.  Even monks and nuns are guided not to be extreme in their ascetic disciplines.  But, we must be diligent to work out our salvation.  Applying a little of what we have gained during our prescribed seasons of spiritual renewal will cause us to become more spiritually mature.  Speak with your pastor as you look to see what can be added to your walk with the Lord and how to add it.  Don’t spill your grace.  Grow in it.

The Hidden Blessing in the Gay Marriage Movement

Let’s get this clear.  I believe as the Church fathers and the scriptures teach that homosexuality is a sin.  It is no more vile than any other sin, including fornication which no one bats an eye at these days.  Marriage is the sacramental union ordained by God between one man and one woman as described in the Adam and Eve story.  This sacred union imitates that of Jesus Christ with his bride, the Church. Technically, it is to be performed in the Church.  Both the man and woman are to be devout Christians and active in the Church.  The members of the congregation and the families are to provide whatever food, decorations, and whatever else is needed for the reception.  Thus, a wedding, when taken as a holy sacrament is not a business opportunity for florist, caterers, and photographers.  It is far deeper than a mere social event for family and friends.  And while it may be good for the state to record who lives together as a married couple, it is more than a legal contract.  A Christian wedding ceremony and reception is a celebration within the body of Christ.  With this in mind, I think the gay marriage movement may not be the worst thing in the world for Christianity.  In fact, it may be a blessing in disguise.

Bring back the crowns and what they mean.

As a result of modernism and money, Christians (even too many Orthodox) have relaxed their views and standards of marriage.  A sacrament that was once done in the church is now performed in mountain lodges, back yards, beaches, bowling alleys, or wherever the couple think the “mood” is right.  This act of holiness once done by pastors and higher clerics is done by local magistrates and anyone with a “certificate” including Elvis impersonators.  The event is planned by a professional coordinator working alongside professionals from the photographer to the limo service.  In some cases, the couple doesn’t even have to belong to the church they get married in or know the pastor that will perform the service (let alone agree to have pre-marital counseling) as some churches and clergy rent themselves out to whomever wants to wed.  Thus, heterosexual marriage and weddings have too often become mere productions and social gatherings celebrating love and a legal contract rather than the holy sacrament that Jesus and Paul held in honor.  Homosexuals have every right to demand that they can demand to have such celebrations as we heterosexuals do.  Rather than to try to pass laws against the inevitable, I believe we Christians should respond in a better way.

Pastors and congregations need to re-teach the sacramental nature of marriage and the communal nature of the Wedding  celebration within the body of Christ.  There is no point in a straight engaged couple shouting against a gay engaged or married couple when they are having sex before marriage and not repenting of it and confessing it before God.  The homosexuals are not in your bed, you and your future spouse are and you shouldn’t be yet.  Get the log out of your eye before worrying about the specks in someone else’s.  Pastors and other clergy need to put the holiness of the sacrament before the dollar signs. If the prospective couple are not members of some other congregation, they should either become members of yours, or have their pastor marry them.  You bear the responsibility for proclaiming salvation through the Gospel and taking care of people’s spiritual needs.  Blindly performing a ceremony without directing  the future bride and groom to some sort of spiritual accountability and preparation is dereliction of duty.  Friends, family, and brothers and sisters in Christ; you love this couple and you trust their taste buds and stomachs to strangers?  Really?  And does God concerned that the images of your special day was done with 60 megapixels?  Uncle Bob may have put part of his thumb over the lens of his smart phone.  But, he is the uncle that showed you how to make that soft ball pitch and knew how to solve that Algebra equation that you struggled with.  There are horror stories of Christian businesses being forced out of lucrative wedding gigs because some gay or lesbian couple is suing them for not providing services for their wedding.  But, is holy matrimony to be a celebration of divine love, or a pursuit of lucre and profit?

In the presence of God and these witnesses

No, I don’t support homosexual marriage at all.  It is a shame that good Christian business people have to choose between their faith and their bottom lines.  But, the blessing in disguise is that we Christians can take a hard look at ourselves and bring back our marriages and weddings to what they are supposed to be.