Sunday, January 22, 2012

A most inspiring sermon from Mark's Gospel!

      This morning, the Gospel reading was from Mark Chapter 1 verses 14-20.  These words are probably the earliest recorded words of Jesus as the Gospel of Mark was the first Gospel to be written dating from the mid first century (50-60s) AD. These verses deal with Jesus calling the first of his disciples; Simon, Andrew,  James, and John.  The Rev. Luke Lucas preached on this Gospel reading and focused on Jesus' call not only to his disciples but also to each of us. Luke had three main points: 1) Jesus' call to us is unique, 2) Jesus' call to us is a process,  and 3) Jesus' call to us and  his supporting grace.

1)    How is Jesus' call to his first disciples and also to us unique???  Yes, in a sense, everybody's call is unique but one point Luke made was that in the first century students sought out a rabbi to follow not the other way around. Thinking from an academic perspective, nothing much has changed in 20 centuries. Students still seek out the best colleges and/or graduate schools based on faculty, their reputation, etc.  Luke's point was that Jesus called Andrew, Simon, James and John. Not the other way around.  TRULY RADICAL !!! Remember this is not just any ole rabbi, this rabbi is also the Creator, King of the Universe! God's only begotten son!!  I was incredibly humbled to realize that the Creator of the Universe sought out me !!  AND YOU!
       Another point Luke made was that many world religions are more about advice than anything else. As Luke said, there is nothing wrong with advice. There is place for it. However, Luke's point was that so many religions of the world from Buddhism to Islam simply are codified ways to get from where we are to somewhere else- Nirvana, Paradise, etc- thru a lot of advice. If you will just do these things, you will become a better person, you will live in paradise for eternity, etc.  Jesus' call to the disciples does not promise nirvana, or living in paradise if you do certain things. What is Jesus' call? Repent and believe in the Gospel! Also to be fishers of people! What? fisher of people? What does that mean?
        Luke went on to explain that the sentence "Follow me and I will make you fisher of people" is more accurately translated in the ESB as "Follow me  and I will make you become fishers of men. AH...... crucial difference. Becoming........ versus.... be. This lead to his next point which is Jesus' call to us is about a process.

2) Jesus' call to us is a process.  Often in Evangelical Christianity, the emphasis is on the conversion experience. The favorite question often being- "Are you saved?" As if you are O K if you just experience being "saved".  The use of "becoming" here really speaks to that Jesus' call is a process not just a one time event. A call that is a process takes a lot of faith and trust.  Luke mentioned a story, The Princess and the  Goblin written by George MacDonald. While I have not read the story, here is a very brief synopsis from

      "Princess Irene lives in a castle in a wild and lonely mountainous region. One day she discovers a steep and winding stairway leading to a bewildering labyrinth of unused passages with closed doors - and a further stairway. What lies at the top? Irene's mysterious and beautiful great great grandmother, who lives in a secret room at the top of the castle stairs. Filled with images of dungeons and goblins, mysterious fires, burning roses, and a thread so fine as to be invisible and yet--like prayer--strong enough to lead the Princess back home to her grandmother's arms. Can the ring the princess is given protect her against the lurking menace of the goblins from under the mountain?" 

         Luke mentions that the ring Irene is given by her great great grandmother has a very fine thread (as if made of glass) attached to it.  She is told to "follow the thread" by her great great grandmother. When Irene hears some goblins getting closer and closer to the castle and becomes afraid that they will capture her, she starts to follow the thread thinking it will lead her outside and to safety. It does lead her outside but it keeps going, and going, and going until she ends up at a large pile of boulders. She decides to keep following the string and finds she is digging deeper and deeper into the rocks. As her hands are bloodied by the sharp boulders, she keeps digging until she finds a miner boy named Curdie.  How patient are we that we will "keep following the thread"despite being "bloodied" by life's events/problems?  Are we willing to "follow the thread" and trust where it may lead us in life?  This idea reminds me of the response to the questions in the BCP's service of Holy Baptism where we renew our own baptismal covenant: I will, with God's help.  Which leads me to the third point: Jesus' call to us is supported by His grace. 
3)    Jesus' call to us and His supporting grace. I must admit by this point in the sermon, my mind was  spinning with the new ideas that Luke had introduced that I am not sure I "got" the 3rd point. So for this 3rd point, I will depend on what Dietrich Bonhoeffer says about Grace and christian discipleship in his book, The Cost of Discipleship.  [italics mine].

         Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man must knock. Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life. It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner. Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son: “ye were bought at a price,” and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us. Above all, it is grace because God did not reckon his Son too dear a price to pay for our life, but delivered him up for us. Costly grace is the Incarnation of God.  Now one point, I do remember Luke making is that Christianity is different in that God comes to us in our form as a human. In many other religions, the goal is for followers to come nearer to the divine however that may be achieved. This Incarnation of God in human form is truly RADICAL in that it is the opposite of what most other religions exhort their followers to do.   

         Costly grace is the sanctuary of God; it has to be protected from the world, and not thrown to the dogs. It is therefore the living word, the Word of God, which he speaks as it pleases him. Costly grace confronts us as a gracious call to follow Jesus. It comes as a word of forgiveness to the broken spirit and the contrite heart. Grace is costly because it compels a man to submit to the yoke of Christ and follow him; it is grace because Jesus says: “My yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

       WOW! I did not intend for this post to become so long but The Rev. Luke Lucas' sermon was  so incredibly inspiring that I had to share some of my thoughts.  I hope my words will help you understand even a little bit better Jesus' call to us.  

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Further thoughts on "Surprised by Christ".......

Now that I have finished reading the book and have had time to think about it in light of what I learned this weekend at the Mere Anglicanism conference (topic for another post), I have some further thoughts about this book. What follows are my thoughts/my review of this book. I have put this on Amazon's website.

This book was recommended to me by a Greek Orthodox priest. I had enjoyed reading most but not all of it. I enjoyed the autobiographical part which includes his spiritual journey from Judaism to Orthodox Christianity. The story of how Rev. Bernstein comes to faith in Christ is indeed fascinating. But the last half of the book is much more difficult going. Bernstein makes a crucial mistake in thinking that Christianity is divided into Evangelical Protestants, Roman Catholics and Orthodox. This misses one of the largest (3rd largest) groups of Christians- Anglicans. What a shame!

I found it rather difficult to continue reading after this glaring mistake on page 163 in chapter 11. He discusses how Communion among Christians has been *closed* among Christians. This means only baptized Christians can take part in Holy Communion. Yes, I agree that is extremely important. HOWEVER, Rev. Bernstein makes a HUGE mistake with this sentence: "For example, until the beginning of the twentieth century, Anglicans and Episcopalians practiced closed Communion." Ummmm........ that would make one think that Anglicans no longer practice closed communion. I have news for Rev. Bernstein most if not every Anglican group STILL practices closed Communion in the 21st century. Even in TECUSA, Canon Law does NOT allow/forbids open communion. 
In fact, Rev. Bernstein seems to think that the standard was that only baptized Christians could partake in Communion. Wrong again. Among Anglicans, a person not only had to baptized but also to be confirmed BEFORE partaking of Holy Communion. In some ways, a stricter standard than what Bernstein think is universally acceptable for Christians. Now I can understand his confusion as the Orthodox baptize and confirm at the same time but that is not universal. The Anglican position has changed somewhat in that now ALL baptized Christians are allowed to take communion regardless of denomination. That change is fairly recent (since 1979 in the USA). So when Bernstein was writing this book, the Anglican practice was that baptized Christians could participate in communion which was recent change from the baptized and confirmed position previously held. 

I have to admit after this error, I found it difficult to take seriously what Bernstein said about non Orthodox Christianity. While he may understand Jewish and Orthodox Christian theological positions, his knowledge of other Christian denominations is sadly lacking. Unfortunately, this means his "information" about other christian denominations is often misleading and then uses this mis-"information" to put forth the Orthodox position as the correct position. Alas, this meant I was not particularly receptive to his "arguments" about the Orthodox Church being the One, True Church as his arguments for the Orthodox position were based on misleading/inaccurate info about other Christian denominations. While I enjoyed reading about his spiritual path, I am afraid his glaring lack of knowledge of other Christian denominations means the last half of the book is a waste of time to anyone who has any understanding of other Christian denominations. Hence my rating of two stars.

So if you want an understanding of why and how A. James Bernstein came to faith in Christ, this book is an interesting read. However, just be aware that the last half of the book has misinformation about other Christian denominations.If  this is supposed to be a comparison of various Christian theologies, this book is a dismal and total failure.  If this is  considered a "primer" on Orthodox theology, well..........that is enough reason not to become Orthodox. 

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Books I am reading in 2012....

 I am in the middle of reading two excellent books.

The first book is Our Father ABRAHAM: Jewish Roots of the Christian Faith by Marvin R. Wilson,  faculty member of Gordon College. The book is about the history of the early Church as well as the relationship between Church and Synagogue into the late 20th century (1989) when this book was written.
This is an excellent, thought provoking book.

The second is Surprised by Christ: My Journey from Judaism to Orthodox Christianity by The Rev. A. James Bernstein.  This book is part spiritual autobiography and part primer on  basic Orthodox Christian theology. While I enjoyed the spiritual autobiography part,  the primer on basic Orthodox theology was not as enjoyable as it was bit took heavy on how the Orthodox Church is the "ONE True Church"- according to A. James Bernstein...... anyway.  Overall though, I enjoyed the book even if it is a bit too "preachy" for me.

Two excellent books that  I hope you will consider adding to your list of books to read in 2012!
Happy reading in 2012 ! 

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Happy Epiphany!

Hello All and Happy Epiphany to everyone!

Despite our secular culture's view that "Christmas" starts on November 1 and ENDS on Dec 25th,  Christmas which actually BEGINS on December 25th  and is twelve days long continues until January 5th. Thus Christmas is a season in the Church's liturgical year. "Christmastide" is another word used to designate these twelve days.  The title, The Twelve Days of Christmas, is not just a nice title for merry Christmas Carol but a statement of fact. While January 6th was this past Friday, many parishes will celebrate Epiphany on the closest Sunday (today)- hence my post about Epiphany. I will say that Orthodox Christians continue to celebrate Christmas on January 6th so Merry Christmas to all Orthodox Christians. The reason they celebrate Christmas on Jan. 6th is they still use the "old style" Julian calendar not our usual calendar (i.e. the Georgian calendar).

What is Epiphany anyway?  From Wikipedia's article about Epiphany:  

General Information:
Epiphany, (Koine Greek: ἐπιφάνεια, epiphaneia, "manifestation", "striking appearance"[1]) or Theophany,[2] (Ancient Greek (ἡ) Θεοφάνεια, Τheophaneia) meaning "vision of God",[3] which traditionally falls on 6 January, is a Christian feast day that celebrates the revelation of God the Son as a human being in Jesus Christ. Western Christians commemorate principally (but not solely) the visitation of the Biblical Magi to the Baby Jesus, and thus Jesus' physical manifestation to the GentilesEastern Christianscommemorate the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River, seen as his manifestation to the world as the Son of God[4]    Epiphany is celebrated by both the Eastern and Western Churches, but a major difference between them is precisely which events the feast commemorates. For Western Christians, the feast primarily commemorates the coming of the Magi, with only a minor reference to the baptism of Jesus and the miracle at the Wedding at Cana. Eastern churches celebrate the Baptism of Christ in the Jordan. In both traditions, the essence of the feast is the same: the manifestation of Christ to the world (whether as an infant or in the Jordan), and the Mystery of the Incarnation. The miracle at the Wedding at Cana is also celebrated during Epiphany as a first manifestation of Christ's public life.

Western Christian Churches

The Three Magi: Balthasar, Melchior, and Gaspar, from a late 6th century mosaic at the Basilica of Sant'Apollinare Nuovo inRavennaItaly.

Even before the year 354,[25] the Western Church had separated the celebration of the Nativity of Christ as the feast of Christmasand set its date as December 25; it reserved January 6 as a commemoration of the manifestation of Christ, especially to the Magi, but also at his baptism and at the wedding feast of Cana.[26] Hungarians, in an apparent reference to baptism, refer to the January 6 celebration as Vízkereszt which term recalls the words "víz" as water, "kereszt, kereszt-ség" as baptism. In parts of the Eastern Church, January 6 continued for some time as a composite feast that included the Nativity of Jesus: though Constantinople adopted December 25 to commemorate Jesus' birth in the fourth century, in other parts the Nativity of Jesus continued to be celebrated on January 6, a date later devoted exclusively to commemorating his Baptism.[25]

Eastern Orthodox Christian Churches
Usually called the Feast of Theophany (GreekΘεοφάνεια, "God shining forth" or "divine manifestation"), it is one of the Great Feasts of the liturgical year, being third in rank, behind only Paskha (Easter) and Pentecost in importance. It is celebrated on January 6 of the calendar that the particular Church uses. On the Julian Calendar, which some of the Orthodox churches follow, that date corresponds, during the present century, to January 19 on the Gregorian or Revised Julian calendar.
Eastern Churches following the Julian Calendar observe the Theophany feast on what for most countries is 19 January[5] because of the 13-day difference today between that calendar and the generally used Gregorian calendar.[6]
The earliest reference to the feast in the Eastern Church is a remark by St. Clement of Alexandria in Stromateis, I, xxi, 45:
And there are those who have determined not only the year of our Lord's birth, but also the day… And the followers of Basilides hold the day of his baptism as a festival, spending the night before in readings. And they say that it was the fifteenth year of Tiberius Caesar, the fifteenth day of the month of Tubi; and some that it was the eleventh of the same month.

National and local customs

Epiphany is celebrated with a wide array of customs around the world. In some cultures, the greenery and nativity scenes put up at Christmas are taken down at Epiphany. In other cultures these remain up until Candlemas on February 2. In countries historically shaped by Western Christianity (Roman CatholicismProtestantism) these customs often involve gift giving, "king cakes" and a celebratory close to the Christmas season. In traditionally Orthodox nations, these celebrations typically center around water, baptismal rites and house blessings.

PS: I apologize for all the odd fonts and print sizes, sometimes Blogger does not allow me to do what I would like to do.