Fr. Ric Bowser: Marriage, Money, and Sex—Part 3

Sermon delivered on Trinity 6A, Sunday, July 27, 2014 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Columbus, OH.

Lectionary texts for today are Genesis 29.15-28; Psalm 105.1-11; Romans 8.26-39; Matthew 13.31-33, 44-52.

Today Fr. Bowser preaches the final part of his three-part sermon series on marriage, sex, and money. In today’s sermon, Fr. Bowser focuses on money, especially as it impacts our relationships within family systems. Check out what Fr. Bowser has to say and see what you think. There is no text for today’s sermon.

Please note that due to a technical glitch, the sermon recording ends before Fr. Bowser does. We apologize for the inconvenience.

Listen to the sermon

Living Among the Weeds (and Sometimes Being One Ourselves)

Sermon delivered on Trinity 5A, Sunday, July 20, 2014, at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Columbus, OH.

If you prefer to listen to the audio podcast of this sermon, usually somewhat different from the text below, click here.

Lectionary texts: Genesis 28.10-19a; Psalm 139.1-11, 22-23; Romans 8.12-25; Matthew 13.24-30, 36-43.

In the name of God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

It has been an awful week, news-wise, hasn’t it? Renewed conflict in the Middle East, relentless acts of terrorism, the mass murder of innocent civilians shot out of the sky by an anti-aircraft missile, a police officer lured into an ambush and shot in the head by someone who wanted his moment of fame, and a makeshift memorial built for the officer’s murderer, to name just a few. Closer to home some of you are dealing with serious physical and emotional struggles and it all takes a toll on every one us, even if we are not directly afflicted. We are tempted to throw our hands up in fear and desperation and wonder where in the world (literally) God is in it all, and that is what I want us to look at briefly this morning.

Whether we are aware of it, we all have been infected to one degree or another by the Enlightenment bug with its deist teachings. Deism is the modern variation of an ancient teaching that God (if there is a God) is in his heaven and we are on earth and never the two shall meet. In this particular lie, God is portrayed at best as a distant (and by implication, an uncaring) cosmic landlord who only occasionally checks in on his tenants and then usually just to collect his payment and/or harass us by zapping us with some new catastrophe or affliction. And of course this notion of an absent and uncaring God gets reinforced almost every time we read about some new disaster or experience something bad in our lives or world. If God really were all powerful and loving, he’d intervene to stop all this stuff, we cry out indignantly. Let’s face it. When evil strikes and nothing seemingly is done about it, we are tempted to think the deists have probably gotten it about right concerning the nature of God.

And at first blush, the Bible offers frustratingly few answers to our “why does God allow evil to operate in his world” questions. In our gospel lesson, for example, we see in Jesus’ parable about the wheat and the weeds a typical biblical answer to our various why questions. Jesus observes that “an enemy” has sown the weeds among the good wheat but does not offer an explicit reason why God allowed the enemy (Satan) to do this in the first place.

But we have to learn to read and study scripture at a far deeper level than a superficial one if we are ever going to rid ourselves of our false and faith-destroying deist beliefs because the God of the Bible is emphatically not a deist God. Scripture in fact proclaims that God really is in charge of his good but infected world, even if at the same time it does not address directly our why questions. This can maddening to us to be sure. But think about it a minute. Even if we knew why God allows evil to operate in his world, would that knowledge make any difference in how evil afflicts us? Planes would still be shot down by hate-mongers and innocents will still suffer and die for various reasons, in part, because we all have some weeds in us. Make no mistake. As Jesus makes clear in his parable, God will judge the weeds. But given that we are all weeds to some extent do we really want the holy and just God issuing an immediate judgment on each of our actions? No, a far better question to ask is how God is addressing the problem of evil and scripture has plenty to say about that. If we learn to ask the right questions, God in his mercy and grace will help us to live faithfully and with joy in a world of wheat and weeds.

Take, for example, our OT lesson. Jacob is on the run. He has cheated his older brother Esau out of his rightful inheritance and Esau has vowed to kill Jacob because of it (who needs reality TV?). Now Jacob is literally running for his life and that is where our story picks up. It’s not hard for us to imagine what Jacob must have felt. He surely was terrified that he might not escape Esau’s hand. He might have been wondering why God was not doing more to protect him (never mind that he had deceived his own father and cheated his brother, where’s God in it all?).

But then a most remarkable thing happened. Stopping for the night, Jacob had a strange and wonderful dream. He saw a ladder reaching to heaven with the angels of God ascending and descending on it, powerful biblical symbolism reminding us that heaven and earth are not far away or separated realms but rather intricately linked together and under the active and sovereign rule of God. And there is no distant God in this story because God stands beside Jacob and reaffirms the promises he made to Abraham and Isaac, Jacob’s grandfather and father.

God says to Jacob, “It is through your family, Jacob, that I am going to restore my rule on earth and put to rights all that is wrong with my world that bedevils it. I know you are a deceiver. That’s why your name is Jacob. I know you’ve led a life that is not exactly exemplary. I know you fear for your life because of your evil and are running from your problems. But despite all that, don’t be afraid because I am good to my word and will not renege on my covenant promises to Abraham and Isaac. I know this is hard for you to believe and understand because your human perspective is limited and fallible. But I am not limited and do not make mistakes. I am the Creator and ruler of heaven and earth and things are unfolding exactly as I intend. So fight your instincts to be afraid because I am with you and through you and your family my promises to rid the world of evil will be fulfilled, despite the fact that you act more often than not like a weed instead of the wheat I intend you to be. I do this because I am loving and merciful and faithful and one day after you have wrestled with what appears to you to be my deeply ambiguous promises, you will learn to trust me and I will change your name to Israel. It certainly won’t be easy, but stay with me and you won’t be disappointed in the end.”

And of course the psalmist affirms God’s rule and care in our psalm lesson this morning. God is not far away. There is nowhere any of us can flee to escape God’s attention! God is so familiar with us he knows our very thoughts before we know or speak them, and God’s care starts when we are conceived in the womb. (If you are looking for a go-to passage that addresses why abortion is so desperately wrong, look no further than Psalm 139.) In other words, God is ever present to us in his creation, working to address the problem of evil through his chosen people Israel and ultimately through Jesus their Messiah, the one true and faithful Israelite. Listen if you have ears.

This storyline is what prompted Paul to write the magnificent chapter in Romans that we have been reading the last two weeks. In today’s epistle lesson, Paul reminds us that because of Jesus’ death and resurrection we no longer experience enmity with God but are now God’s adopted children who possess his Spirit. As a result, we are no longer to live in fear. Just like God was present with his stubborn and rebellious people in the pillars of cloud and fire as they wandered in the wilderness after God delivered them from their slavery in Egypt, so God is present with his people who are followers of Jesus the Messiah in the person and presence of the Holy Spirit after God rescued us from sin and death. God’s victory over evil is not yet completed but it is accomplished and so Paul encourages us to live with the ambiguity of the already-not yet reality of God’s rescue of us.

And because God has defeated evil in the death and resurrection of Jesus and is present with his people in the person of the Spirit, all creation now rejoices as it eagerly anticipates its redemption from its suffering at the hands of God’s sinful image-bearers. In other words, when humans get rescued, creation gets rescued. What Paul is talking about here, of course, is new creation. Just as God told Jacob his covenant promises were a done deal, Paul is telling us that the promise of new creation is a done deal. As God promised Canaan to his people Israel, so God promises the world to his people Israel reconstituted around Jesus the Messiah. It may not be obvious to us at the moment. But as Paul told us in our epistle lesson a few weeks ago, we are to do the math. The God of the OT who is faithful to his promises and to his original creation is the same God of the NT who is faithful to his promises in and through Jesus and the operation of the Holy Spirit in and through his people. Because of Jesus’ death and resurrection, our rescue is a done deal and we can take it to the bank, appearances to the contrary notwithstanding. This is why Paul had the sure and certain hope about which he speaks today despite the evil that existed in his life and world, and this is why we as Christians can have that same hope, even in the midst of a hellish week like this past one. Let the Church say: Amen!

So what are we to do? We are to take this hope out into the world and work patiently to help bring about God’s kingdom on earth as in heaven by embodying the love of Christ to those around us and in our lives. But to have that hope we are going to have to be people of the Bible and the Holy Spirit. Because our perspectives and knowledge are limited and fallible, and because we place such a premium on feelings these days, we are going to have to think soberly about God’s promises and recall all that God has done for his people, especially what he has done for us in our own lives. We are going to have to support and care for each other during the difficult times and always take the time to encourage each other, especially in tough times. Doing so will, by God’s grace and power, help us overcome the deist infection that has afflicted us so thoroughly.

I close by giving you a personal example of how God often works. I hope it will stimulate you to think about ways God works in your life as well. When Dondra and I were up at Mackinac Island we were sitting at an outdoor bar enjoying ourselves. I had ordered a beer with a really interesting name and when it came I took a picture of the can to send to my friend because I thought the name was so funny. As I was getting ready to send the picture, out of the blue, Dondra said to me, “Why don’t you send it to Don B. too. He collects unusual beer cans.” I had not thought of Don for awhile and her request struck me as a bit odd, but I sent it nevertheless. In a few minutes, back came a response from Don that his wife, Brenda, was about to undergo emergency surgery for a ruptured colon and could we keep her in our prayers? I immediately called Don and offered him some much-needed pastoral support. I also alerted our old small group and they too have been ministering to them. Trust me. They both needed it.

Coincidence? Hardly. And in responding to the Spirit’s prompting, please note the kingdom came a little nearer. The psalmist would have understood and so do countless other Christians across time and culture. How about you? And now we return to Jesus’ parable about the wheat and the weeds. It teaches us that the kingdom comes gradually and mysteriously, and we are to wait patiently for God to sort it all out in his wonderful providence, even has God uses us to help in that process. We obey God’s command to be his kingdom workers because we believe God’s promises. And because we believe God’s promises, we know we have Good News, now and for all eternity. To him be honor, praise, and glory forever and ever.

In the name of God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Fr. Ric Bowser: Marriage, Money, and Sex—Part 2

Sermon delivered on Trinity 4A, Sunday, July 13, 2014 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Columbus, OH.

Lectionary texts for this week are Genesis 25.19-34; Psalm 119.105-112; Romans 8.1-11; Matthew 13.1-9, 18-23.

Today Fr. Bowser preaches the second of his three-part sermon series. In today’s sermon, Fr. Bowser focuses on sex, laying out God’s original and good intention for sex—love, passion, commitment, bonding, procreation et al.—and examining how we have distorted and perverted God’s good gift to us. The results have not been pretty—objectification, alienation, abuse et al. Check out this lively and provocative sermon and see what you think. There is no text for today’s sermon.

Listen to the sermon

Huffington Post: Lights, Camera, Mortician! The Rise of ‘Fun Funerals’

Uh-huh. As I have said repeatedly to those who have ears to hear, the only true balm and Good News for those who grieve at a funeral is the Resurrection of Jesus Christ and those who belong to him. Anything else is utterly futile and essentially cruel nonsense. You can not make chicken salad out of chicken you-know-what, no matter how hard you try.

n-I-WANT-A-FUN-FUNERAL-largeThe wide range of what’s considered “creative” or “unusual” when burying a loved one means there are little to no statistics on such practices, but industry experts say redesigning the standard funeral is increasingly popular. For the 2.5 million Americans who die each year, families are “making funeral decisions based on different values than previous generations,” said Jessica Koth, a spokeswoman for the National Funeral Directors Association.

Cremations are now used in 43 percent of deaths, and environmentally friendly“green funerals” are becoming more common. From customizing the casket to offering surprising music, costumes, themes and performances at the service, families are “seeking experiences that are different than those they perceive as part of a ‘traditional’ funeral,” said Koth.

Cultural, religious and political upheaval in the U.S. in the 1960s and 1970s led to more diverse views about death, noted Gary Laderman, a professor of religious studies at Emory University and author of Rest in Peace: A Cultural History of Death and the Funeral Home in Twentieth-Century America. And, as those in the baby boomer generation age, that has led to more recent changes in how people imagine their funerals.

Read the whole sad thing.

Cranmer: Canon Rosie Harper Attacks Lords Who Oppose Assisted Suicide

Pay attention to this debate in England because with the Affordable Health Care Act, the decline of Christian influence  and thinking in this country, et al., it is coming to a hospital, nursing home, and other health care facilities near you and will hit you between the eyes before you know it. Be prepared, therefore, to think Christianly and soberly about this huge and important issue. As usual, his grace is unapologetically blunt and direct and so should we be. From Archbishop Cranmer’s blog.

Rosie HarperThe Church of England’s position on this matter is (refreshingly) unequivocal: 

The Church of England cannot support Lord Falconer’s Assisted Dying Bill.. Patient safety, protection of the vulnerable and respect for the integrity of the doctor-patient relationship are central to the Church of England’s concerns about any proposal to change the law. Our position on the current Bill before parliament is also consistent with the approach taken by the Archbishops’ Council, House of Bishops and with successive resolutions of the General Synod.

Death is not simply a divine distalgesic: it is the passing of the soul to judgment and into eternity. Hitherto, God has determined the number of our days. Lord Falconer and Canon Rosie Harper are of the view that people should be assisted to kill themselves, should they so require. This is about ‘rights’ and ‘choice’ and ‘compassion’ and ‘dignity in dying’, because leaving it all to God is a manifest denial of rights and choice, totally lacking in compassion and devoid of any dignity whatsoever. Death can be painful and messy, so let’s make it quick and clinical. 

Those of us who believe in the sanctity of life are cruelly putting our ‘conscience’ above ‘compassion’, and we all know how that language game works.

Canon Harper insists no one will be coerced. But wedges have thin ends, and slopes can be awfully slippery. Make no mistake, this is a step toward terminating the lives of the sick and vulnerable, not to mention those who feel worthless, depressed, lonely, unloved and unvalued. They may not be forced to die, but they will certainly feel less of a burden on their families and on society if their deaths were to be hastened. 

Instead of demanding the right to die, the Church ought to be concerned with optimism, hope and improving palliative care. Indeed, the Church is prioritising these things, but Canon Harper is not. Her mode of compassion prioritises the eradication of suffering, and those who oppose her in her quest are immoral and un-Christian. There is no debate to be had or doubt in her mind.

The suffering of Job was immense: his mental anguish and physical pain made him desire death, and he cried out for it. Had he been ‘assisted’ to that end, he would not have seen his vindication and God’s glory would not have been revealed. He wasn’t protected by a ‘six months to live’ clause, but his comforters wouldn’t have been overly concerned about that. Your GP might know you have nine months or year to live, but he’ll compassionately give you six so you may legally make the choice to ‘die with dignity’. Once the legal right is embedded in our culture, there will be incremental nudges toward expectation and thence to the Belgian option, where they are legally euthanising their children. What is that if it is not immoral and un-Christian? 

Or evil?

Read it all.

Fr. Ric Bowser: Marriage, Money, and Sex—Part 1

Sermon delivered on Trinity 3A, Sunday, July 6, 2014 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Columbus, OH.

Lectionary texts: Genesis 24:34–38, 42–49, 58–67; Psalm 45.10-17; Romans 7.15-25a; Matthew 11.16-19, 25-30.

In our culture a battle is raging to define what marriage is and unfortunately the voice of the Church is rarely heard because frankly the mind of the Church is rather fuzzy on this matter, at least in some quarters. Today, therefore, Fr. Bowser begins a two-part sermon series on marriage, money, and sex. In today’s sermon, Fr. Bowser lays out the history of Judeo-Christian marriage and reminds us of God’s original intent—to bring a man and woman together in marriage for their mutual joy (BCP). Fr. Bowser then outlines the fundamentals of what it takes for a marriage to be a marriage. Check it out and see what you think.

There is no sermon text so listen to it all.

Robert Tracy McKenzie: Should Religious Colleges be Denied Accreditation?

McKenzie’s experience at UW was generally my experience at Miami and it should be worrisome to anyone who values real academic freedom. Conn and his ilk have no such desire to support real academic freedom (and that should also concern those who pay for the tuition). Once again, McKenzie cuts to the chase. Good for him.

If I were to characterize my experience since coming to Wheaton four years ago, these are the words that first come to mind–divided no more.  Wheaton is not a perfect place, nor did I expect it to be one when I came here.  But I can honestly say that I have experienced much greater academic freedom at Wheaton than I ever did at the secular university that I left.  Conn’s assertion that, in leaving UW for Wheaton,  I have necessarily abandoned reason for dogma also mystifies me.  That he assumes such a trade-off suggests that Dr. Conn is not entirely free of dogma himself.  I could tell Conn about the intellectual excitement that abounds at Wheaton, about the brilliant colleagues I am privileged to work with (trained at places like Harvard and Yale and Duke and UNC), and about the extraordinarily gifted and motivated students that fill my classes, but I doubt that such a reasoned argument would sway him.  Reason is rarely helpful in changing an opinion not grounded in reason to begin with.

Read it all.

Robert Tracy McKenzie: America’s Founding May Not Have Been Christian, but It Sure Wasn’t Anti-Christian

See what happens to shoddy thinking when it is confronted by clear thinking. It ain’t pretty (if you’re the shoddy thinker).

51YU-l46UbL._SX140Apart from the hyperbole, what precisely is new about Stewart’s reading of the founding? It’s not his assertion that the religious views of the most prominent Founders were unorthodox. With apologies to David Barton, there is little evidence that the leading Founders were devout Christians who based their political philosophy primarily on Scripture. Whether we label them “deists” or “theistic rationalists” or “Enlightenment Christians,” no historically sound argument can transform them into card-carrying evangelicals. Nor is Stewart being innovative in claiming that the Founders drew extensively from Enlightenment sources in thinking about the proper structure and function of government. Scholars of the Revolution almost unanimously agree with this, and that includes Christian historians who take religion’s role with great seriousness.

But the predominant view within the academy would complicate each of these conclusions. Scholars typically argue that the leading Founders were unorthodox, but not irreligious. Yes, they found much of value in Enlightenment philosophy, but they gravitated toward the Enlightenment’s more moderate expressions, especially Scottish “Common Sense” writings that could be reconciled with Christianity. And to the degree that they embraced deism or something close to it, they adopted a worldview confined largely to elite intellectuals. They were thus hardly representative of the rank and file of Americans, many of whom had been swept up in the religious enthusiasm of the Great Awakening. In sum, the intellectual influences on the Revolutionary generation were numerous and diverse. Orthodox Christian belief was hardly determinative, but neither was it insignificant.

What distinguishes Nature’s God is that it rejects all such nuance. The essence of the American founding was an ardent secularism, period. Whatever the Founders said for public consumption about freedom of religion, what they really wanted was freedom from religion. In this they were joined by a considerable cross-section of independent-minded patriots. Stewart insists that atheism was widespread in Revolutionary America, and the only reason we don’t remember it is that religious zealots in later years would cover up a historical fact they found embarrassing.

Read the entire book review (click the reader mode for best results).

Faith and History: Jefferson’s Faith

A good read. See what you think.

jefferson-peale-1791Were our Founding Fathers devout Christians determined to create a Christian commonwealth grounded on biblical principles?  Or were they secular sons of the Enlightenment who hoped to banish orthodox Christianity from the public square?  This Fourth of July, combatants on both sides of the culture wars will gravitate to one or the other of these extremes as they remember our nation’s birth.  It’s a horrible dichotomy that demands that we choose between two equally untenable positions.

A more defensible position rejects both of these all-or-nothing claims.  As Matthew L. Harris and Thomas S. Kidd observe in their anthology The Founding Fathers and the Debate Over Religion in America, “None of the Founders were atheists . . . but none of the most famous Founders were ‘evangelical’ Christians of the sort produced by the Great Awakening, either.”  Many of the Founders were significantly influenced by the Enlightenment, most notably in their frequent willingness to let reason trump revelation when they seemed to be in conflict.  On the other hand, as Harris and Kidd note, “hardly anyone during the revolutionary era doubted that religion, and especially moral virtue, was important to the life of the new American republic.”   Citing such complexity, they conclude that any broad generalization of the Founders as either “secular” or “Christian” is problematic at best.

Read it all.

The Declaration of Independence

IN CONGRESS, July 4, 1776.
The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America…

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, declaration_of_independence_630Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

Read and reflect on it all. A country without God as its basis and foundation cannot be free.

Another Prayer for Independence Day

Lord God Almighty, you have made all the peoples of the earth for your glory, to serve you in freedom and in peace: Give to the people of our country a zeal for justice and the strength of forbearance, that we may use our liberty in accordance with your gracious will; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

A Prayer for Independence Day

Lord God Almighty, in whose Name the founders of this country won liberty for themselves and for us, and lit the torch of freedom for nations then unborn: Grant that we and all the people of this land may have grace to maintain our liberties in righteousness and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.