Dancing on the Head of a Pin

There is a legend of St Thomas Aquinas asking "How many angels can dance on the head of a pin?" At this blog we ask all questions dealing with our faith and spirituality. Some are down to earth, rubber meets the road questions, while others are more lofty...like, how many angels can dance on the head of a pin?

Sunday, July 31, 2005

Growing inside out


This is a real tomato that once rested on my kitchen counter. As my wife was about to slice it for supper, she saw something strange just under the skin. When she peeled back the outer layer, this is what she saw. A call to a horticulturist revealed that this is an example of seeds sprouting in the fruit (or vegetable, depending on your view of tomatoes). When all the conditions are right (heat, etc.) this can happen. New life growing from the inside. Sounds spiritual doesn't it? New life coming from within. It brings new light to the words to Nicodemus - "you must be born again." This, too, can happen to us - new life bubbling from within...when the conditions are right.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Bon Voyage!

Last night members of St Michael's attended a going away party. Who is going away? Ultimately, every one of us! So many times we are reluctant to talk about the end of life - especially the end of our own lives. And when that day comes around (which it will!) many of the difficult decisions are left to our loved ones who may or may not know what to do or what our wishes are. The result is a lifetime of guilt not knowing if the deceased's wishes were fulfilled. We tried to alleviate some of the morbid stress that goes along with planning for our departure. Last night we had a fabulous meal, great fellowship, and a guide to help us determine what we want in our medical directive (living will), our funeral service, and some talk about wills. It shouldn't seem strange to plan for our end of life. After all, we prepare for our baptism and for our wedding, why not plan for our funeral as well? It helps us understand the Christian hope in the face of death, it allows us to pick our beloved hymns and scriptures, and it shows our survivors that we did not face death unprepared or with fear and trembling. The Episcopal Church has put out a wonderful resource to help individuals plan for their end of life. This booklet helps guide you through your medical directive, healthcare proxy, funeral, and will.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

The Kingdom of Heaven is like a 14-year-old kid


Today's sermon.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Ockham's Razor


William of Ockham (Occam) was an English Franciscan friar who is known for coming up with the scientific and philosophical razor that states (essentially) all things being equal, the simplest explanation is the best. This was put into great use this morning at St Michael's. For months we have been suffering from poor air flow in our nave and sanctuary. We have been afraid our air conditioning would need to be replaced or at the very least, major duct work would need to be done. No less than two companies have been to the church to diagnose our problem. This morning, our Junior Warden happened to walk to the units where he noticed a gray box. Curious, he opened the box and lo and behold, there was an off/on switch. One of the units was turned off! All the time, effort, and money was spent looking for the solution, while the simplest, most obvious one was overlooked. How often do we, in our own lives, overlook the simplest, most obvious solution to what troubles us? In our Gospel readings the past few weeks (and this week coming) Jesus kept his descriptions of the Kingdom of God very simply and obvious. The kingdom of God is like seed...is like dough...is like a pearl...is like fish. We don't have to spend hours in the library learning philosophical theories and abstract notions of why we are here and who we are. Look at the seeds that grow. Look at the dough that rises. Look at the pearl that is treasured. Look at the Kingdom of God.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Now in Print


Today I debut as a columnist for the local paper The True Citizen. I will write a bi-monthly column not about religion. My charge is to write social observations, etc. It is my hope that faith will be evident among the jokes, sarcasm, and witty attempts. You can read the column from our website or you can download the .pdf of the newspaper one week after it is published. Don't look for a Pulitzer!

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

St Macrina


Macrina (340-379) was a monastic, theologian and teacher. She founded one of the earliest Christian communities in the Cappadocian city of Pontus. Macrina left no writings; we know of her through the works of her brother St. Gregory of Nyssa (page 181). In his Life of St. Macrina, Gregory describes her as both beautiful and brilliant, an authoritative spiritual teacher. Macrina persuaded her mother Emmelia to renounce their wealthy lifestyle and to help her establish a monastery on the family’s estate. Macrina’s ideal of community emphasized caring for the poor and
ministering to the wider community. She literally picked up young women who lay in the road starving. Many joined her order. Gregory credits Macrina as the spiritual and theological intelligence behind her siblings’ notable careers in the Church. Gregory, and their brothers St. Basil (page 269), St. Peter of Sebaste, and Naucratios went to her often for theological counsel. Macrina frequently challenged her celebrated brothers. She told Gregory his fame was not due to his own merit, but to the prayers of his parents. She took Basil in hand when he returned from Athens “monstrously conceited about his skill in rhetoric.” Under her influence, Basil and Peter renounced material possessions and turned away from secular academia to become monks and theologians. Basil and Peter wrote a Rule for community life, ensuring that Macrina’s ideas for Christian community would have lasting authority. Basil, Gregory and Peter all became bishops, in no small measure because of Macrina’s influence, and became leading defenders of the Nicene faith. Gregory visited Macrina as she lay dying on two planks on the floor. He relates Macrina’s last words as a classical Greek farewell oration imbued with Holy Scripture. In both his Life of St. Macrina and in his later treatise of The Soul and Resurrection, Gregory presents Macrina
admiringly as a Christian Socrates, delivering beautiful deathbed prayers and teachings about the resurrection.

Merciful God, you called your servant Macrina to reveal in her life and her teaching the riches of your grace and truth: May we, following her example, seek after your wisdom and live according to her way; through Jesus Christ our Savior, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

- Lesser Feasts and Fasts, July 19

Monday, July 18, 2005

Nation's Largest (Attendance) Church

In a recent article on the Augusta Chronicle's website the nation's church with the largest weekly attendance (Lakewood Church in Houston) recently purchased the Compaq Center (a sports arena) and added five stories to it. Lakewood Church has an average of about 32,000 worshippers per weekend. There are two things of interest in this article. The most attended church in America does not have a cross displayed in the church or any other traditional religious symbols for that matter. Recently Fr. Frank Logue from King of Peace posted an article about "sugar glazed theology." What does it mean when the largest attended church in our country doesn't have a cross, the symbol of Christianity, in its worship facility? Is this an example of "sugar glazed theology?" Is this a commentary on the state of the church? The cross certainly is offensive - it was meant to be. The cross is representative of a form of capital punishment. But the cross has been transformed into a symbol of Christ's victory over death. The cross represents (re-presents) the irony of our faith - our victory over death comes when we graft ourselves into Christ who died in order that we might live. In order to live we must die (to self, sin) and through death comes life. It is also to note that the pastor of the most attended Church in American Christendom has never been to seminary. Not that you have to go to seminary to be an educated leader, a faithful disciple, or anything of the sort, but without any denominational accountability, 32,000 people per weekend are listening to and buying the books of a pastor who has never been trained. The article stated that the pastor, Joel Osteen, didn't preach a sermon until a week before his father's death and he took over the leadership of the church. This is not meant to be critical, but to invite thought about how we view our Christian leaders. Would you go to a doctor who has not been to medical school? A lawyer who has not been to law school. Of course not. In the Episcopal Church, there is no national rule (canon) requiring priests to go to seminary (while this is the norm), however, there is a rule that the priest must at least undergo extensive theological training administered by the Diocese. Every parishioner in the Episcopal Church can have confidence that their priest has been trained most likely in an accredited seminary, or by the Diocese. In any event it is always a good idea to learn about the people we listen to on the radio, on television, and whose books we read.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Towering above the Stool


In Anglican circles, the traditional sources of authority when "doing" theology - that is, thinking, writing, and speaking about God - have been scripture, tradition, and reason. This idea came from the writings of Richard Hooker in "Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity." Later theologians came to describe this way of Anglican theology as a three legged stool. Without one of the legs (scripture, tradition, or reason), the stool would fall down. The idea being, scripture must be in conversation with tradition and with reason. The problem this illustration creates is one of equality - that scripture is equal to tradition and reason. Certainly most Anglicans would not agree with this statement. In the latest edition of the Anglican Digest Nashotah House Dean The Very Reverend Robert S. Munday offers a new illustration - one of the tower.
Instead of a stool where all legs are equal, he suggests we view the sources of authority as creating three ascending levels of a tower.
"Scripture is the foundation. Tradition, rests on Scripture and is built upon but cannot go where there is no foundation. Reason rests on Scripture and Tradition and builds upon it but, again, cannot go where there is no supporting foundation."

This eliminates the temptation to view scripture and reason as equal. It also provides balance between the extreme Protestant sola scriptura and the Roman primacy of the Magisterium. Many critics of the Episcopal Church argue that we put other things (such as reason) ahead of scripture. Perhaps Munday's tower will offer more clarity into our theological method.

Steve

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

"Sudden Death?"


"In silk black-and-gold pajamas, velvety black robe and slippers, James Henry Smith is at rest.

His feet are crossed, his pack of cigarettes and a beer by his side. Steelers highlights are playing on a high-definition TV screen nearby. With the TV remote in his hand, leaning back in his recliner, a Steelers blanket across his legs, it's like a game-day Sunday.

Except that it's not.

It was last night at Samuel E. Coston Funeral Home in Lincoln-Lemington, and family and friends were filing in to pay their final respects to Smith, whom they called one of the biggest Steelers fans in the universe."
You may have heard about the "die" hard Steelers fan mentioned above who was positioned as if he were watching Sunday afternoon football game. You may have laughed when you first heard the report, but after a while, it just seems strange. When we die there are certain rituals and traditions many families do to honor the life of the deceased. Some families lay out pictures of the persons life and family members and friends will gather around and remember good times shared by all. Most families will tell stories, the good, the bad, and the ugly, all the while celebrating life. But what is most important when celebrating the life of a deceased person? Is it the fact that we were avid football fans? Or were good cooks? What about our faith? When members in the Episcopal Church die, we celebrate their faith, their inclusion into Christ through baptism, and we celebrate their life eternal. We celebrate that they are "in the arms of God's mercy and into the blessed rest of everlasting peace, and into the glorious company of the saints of light." We cover the casket or urn with a beautiful white pall, reminiscent of their baptismal garment and we place the pascal candle, the same candle lit during baptisms and during Easter beside them as well. It is important to remember the lives of our deceased loved ones. It is important to remember their interests and what made them happy. But what is more important? Faith. Hope. Love.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

The Reverend James Tramel

The Reverend James Tramel was ordained a priest in the Episcopal Church on June 18. The interesting thing about this ordination is that he is serving a life sentence for second degree murder. To learn more about his story, read Prisoners of Hope from the St Michael's sermon archive.

Steve

Monday, July 11, 2005

Wrath


The wrath of God is a way of saying that I have been living in a way that is contrary to the love that is God. Anyone who begins to live and grow away from God, who lives away from what is good, is turning his life toward wrath. Whoever falls away from love is moving into negativity. So that is not something that some dictator with a lust for power inflicts on you, but is simply a way of expressing the inner logic of a certain action. If I move outside the area of what is compatible with the ideal model by which I am created, if I move beyond the love that sustains me, well then, I just fall into the void, into darkness. I am then no longer in the realm of love, so to speak, but in a realm that can be seen as the realm of wrath. When God inflicts punishment, this is not punishment in the sense that God has, as it were, drawn up a system of fines and penalties and is wanting to pin one on you. "The punishment of God" is in fact an expression for having missed the right road and then experiencing the consequences that follow from taking the wrong track and wandering away from the right way of living.


-from God and the World, Pope Benedict XVI

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Open Ended

There is a story written by Frank Stockton entitled "The Tiger or the Lady?" that leaves the resolution up to the reader. It's not like the "Choose your adventure" books young adults read, but psychologically it is unresolved. It much the same way the parable of the sower is unresolved. Jesus describes things the way he sees them. The resolution is still open. What kind of soil is God's Good News finding in us?
Today's sermon

Saturday, July 09, 2005

In light of disaster and terrorism

O God, the Creator and Preserver of all mankind, we humbly beseech thee for all sorts and conditions of men; that thou wouldest be pleased to make Thy ways known unto them, Thy saving health unto all nations. More especially we pray for Thy holy Church universal; that it may be so guided and governed by Thy good Spirit, that all who profess and call themselves Christians maybe led into the way of truth, and hold the faith in unity of spirit, in the bond of peace, and in righteousness of life. Finally, we commend to Thy fatherly goodness all those who are any ways afflicted, or distressed, in mind, body, or estate; that it may please Thee to comfort and relieve them, according to their several necessities; giving them patience under their sufferings, and a happy issue out of all their afflictions. And this we beg for Jesus Christ's sake. Amen.

Book of Common Prayer, pg. 814-5

Friday, July 08, 2005

Demonic

One of my favorite movies of all time is "The Exorcist." I don't know why, but I like it. I have it on VHS, DVD, and I've read the book. I haven't watched in quite a while, however. The problem is, I began to really enjoy it. The occult and exorcisms began to fascinate and in the words of one priest friend, they began to titillate. Now I am certainly nowhere near the same strain as Oral and Richard Roberts, identifying demonic activity left and right and expelling with a firm hand on someone's forehead, but I do believe in evil, and I do believe in evil forces. Yes, the Episcopal Church does have a rite of exorcism, but I don't know what it is. Chances are, I'll never know. The bishop alone determines who can perform an exorcism and what liturgy to use. Why not put it in the Book of Common Prayer? The Episcopal Church is not secretive about our belief in evil, but the Church knows that if we invite unprepared people to dabble in and fight against manifest evil, than we are inviting more harm than good. Evil is not something to play with. The Church Fathers have all been clear that one must be spiritual fit to engage evil head on. This is the whole issue with things like ouiji boards, fortune tellers, seances, and other things that "titillate" our fascination with evil, the demonic, and the occult; it may start out as an innocent fascination, but it could quickly grow into something more, and that is the danger.
A case in point is a former president of a Lutheran congregation.

Steve

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

I love it!

Tigers massacre Indians

That might have been the headline in Detroit this morning. Granted, the Detroit Tigers did not massacre the Cleveland Indians, but they did win the baseball game 3-2 last night. But what if the headline did read something like "Tigers kill Indians?" Even if we aren't die hard baseball fans, chances are we understand the context of the headline, especially if it is on the sports page of the newspaper. But what if that headline was buried for hundreds, maybe even two thousand years? What if people on the other side of the world picked up the headline and read that the Tigers killed the Indians? Do you think they would be thinking about a baseball game or is it possible they would assume the reason why Native Americans no longer populate North America is because of a tiger rout. Better yet, could this be seen as a prophecy to the nation of India? Some great Bengal Tiger might come and demolish one of the most populus nations on the planet!

It sounds silly to us because we understand the baseball symbolism. We know that when we are driving down the road and a pickup truck has the number "3" on the back, that he/she is a Dale Earnhardt fan. We know what the numbers 401k and 1099 mean in terms of the IRS. But people two thousand years from now in another culture may not.

This is the point when reading the Apocalypse (Revelation) of St John. The imagery and symbolism must be looked at in regards to culture and time. Does a beast mean the same to us as it did to them? What about horsemen? Locusts? Lions, Tigers, and Bears, Oh My (all of which are NFL teams, by the way). Tonight we are looking at the symbolism in John's Revelation. Some symbols we will never understand. Some, however, we can make a pretty good guess. In either case, reading Revelation is not near as scary as we once may have thought.

Download the handout

Steve

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

from the Philokalia

"Love is the consummation of all blessings, since all who walk in it leads and guides toward God, the supreme blessing and cause of every blessing, and unites them with Him; for love is faithful and never fails (1 Cor. 13:8). Faith is the foundation of waht comes after it, namely hope and love, since it provides a firm basis for truth. Hope is the strength of the two pre-eminent gifts of love and faith, since hope gives us glimpses both of that in which we believe and of that for which we long, and teaches us to make our way towards our goal. Love is the completion of the other two, embracing entirely the entire desire of all desires, and satisfying the yearning of our faith and hope for it; for that which we believe to be and which we hope will come to pass, love enables us to enjoy as a present reality."
- Philokalia, Vol. II (p. 170)

The Philokalia is a collection of texts written between the fourth and fifteenth centuries by spiritual masters of the Orthodox Christian tradition.

Steve

Sunday, July 03, 2005

O Prisoners of Hope

"Prisoners of hope, arise, and see your Lord appear;
Lo! on the wings of love He flies, and brings redemption near;
Redemption in His blood He calls you to receive;
'Look unto Me, the pardoning God. Believe,' He cries, 'believe!'"
- Charles Wesley

Today's sermon Prisoners of Hope

Friday, July 01, 2005

The Rapture Rupture

Last Wednesday at St Michael's, we took a critical look at the doctrine of the rapture and the "Left Behind" phenomenon. Take a look at our handout to learn a little about the history of the rapture and why this doctrine hurts our belief in the Second Coming and the Christian view of suffering.

Steve