Monday, May 18, 2015

The PCA: Not My Circus, Not My Monkeys

But I Bought a Ticket

I was baptized, admitted to the Lord's Table, and in 1972 ordained a Presbyterian. In 1973 I cast my lot with the PCA. I am sure I am one of the only ministers, if not the only minister, to have his name on the rolls of two different Presbyteries as a charter member (Gulf Coast and Mississippi Valley). My signature is on the "Address to All the Churches." I was the second RUF Campus Minster, served as minister in four different states, and was a moderator of four Presbyteries. I served on the Creation Study Committee and the Mission to the World Committee. For 40 years the PCA was my circus, and I was one of the monkeys. So, though I am now a Presbyter of the Reformed Episcopal Church, I think I bought a ticket to the circus and the right as a long time monkey to comment once in awhile on the performance of the monkeys in my old circus.  

Recently Dr. Bryan Chapell published The State of the PCA. He posited that there are three groups in the PCA - the Progressives, who hold a slim majority, the Traditionalists, and the Neutrals (who usually vote with the progressives but are sometimes scared into voting with the traditionalists). Dr. Chapell wrote from the perspective of a Progressive. He was soon answered by a Traditionalist, Mr. Rick Phillips. Dr. Benjamin Shaw responded to both.

I was somewhat surprised that Dr. Chapell chose the label progressive" for the progressives in the PCA. The term "progressive" is used by political conservatives as a label for liberals and as a preferred term by liberals who perceive it as having fewer negative connotations than "liberal." (Perhaps peculiarly in Mississippi, very conservative Republicans are fond of labelling conservative Republicans as "progressives" - truly an Alice in Wonderland perspective). It is probably because I am old and conservative, but I have a negative response to the word "progressive." If I were in Dr. Chapell's progressive wing of the PCA,  I would try to stake a claim on being something other than "progressive." 

But perhaps the day has arrived in the PCA when progressives need not worry about any negative connotations of the term "progressive." However, it might still be proper to ask, "Towards what are the progressives asking their church to progress? If we follow the path of progress or get swept along by its tide, what will be left behind and where will we end up?"  (Or, for real traditionalists, "where up will we end?") 

Dr. Chapell places the label "Traditionalists" on those who are "highly committed to Confessional fidelity and are often worried about perceived doctrinal drift." Is there a more pejorative term in America, where you buy your laundry detergent because it is "new and improved," than the term "traditional"? Not even conservatives want to be traditionalists unless they are appealing to "traditional values" (as in "family" or , peculiarly in Mississippi, "traditional Mississippi values" - wink, wink, hint, hint, get it?). Americans fought a great War for Independence so we wouldn't have to be traditional like those stuffy old British.  The last thing a true American wants to be is a stick-in-the-mud old fuddy-duddy traditionalist.

In the churches it's the old and soon to pass from the scene folks who attend the "traditional" service, which may not be traditional at all but a service in which gospel hymns are sung with a song leader rather than praise and worship songs with a praise team. The cool kids flock to the contemporary service, where they will not be turned off by robes, minsters leading worship, and too much Scripture and prayer -  until that comes to feel like it is traditional in which case they may join Rachel Held Evans who likes her doctrine and morals progressive but her liturgy sort of traditional in The Episcopal Church.

That Dr. Chapell strikes a nerve with the label "traditionalists" is evident with Mr. Phillips' response: "We are not traditionalists and never identify ourselves this way." He does qualify his denial with,"Unless, by tradition, you mean the faith of our fathers and the great confessional and ministerial heritage of the Reformed churches."  Then he returns to his protest: "But I travel pretty widely in confessional circles and never hear anything about 'tradition.' This seems to be a way to marginalize us as having a regressive attitude. In fact, we are zealous activists..." Does the traditionalist protest too much?

Mr. Phillips takes Dr. Chapell's labelling of himself and his fellow "confessionalists" as "traditionalists" as inaccurate, unfair, and negative. He is a son of the Reformation, and one of the things protested by Protestants is the traditions of Rome which Trent elevated to a second and authoritative source of doctrine and practice standing beside the Holy Scriptures. 

It is true that Jesus and Paul said  some very negative things about the traditions of men which undermine or contradict the Word of God. But tradition itself is not a negative concept. Tradition is what we received that was handed down to us by others and what in turn we deliver to others who follow. "For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you..." (1 Corinthians 11: 23). Paul writes positively of tradition:

Now I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I delivered them to you (1 Corinthians 11:2).
So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter (2 Thessalonians 2:15).

Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us (2 Thessalonians 3:6).

Traditions are necessary to the preservation of institutions - even in America where the novel and the new are so highly valued. "Without traditions our lives would be as shaky as a fiddler on the roof." Military institutions would lose their identities, morale, and discipline without their conserved traditions, examples of which are their uniforms and ceremonies. How often do you hear a family say, "Let's stop being traditionalists and have a progressive Christmas this year"? Try reading John Grisham's Skipping Christmas to see how that works. Watch "A Christmas Story" or "Christmas Vacation" to see how important those traditions are even when they are accompanied by irritation and frustration and hindered by circumstances beyond famlies' control.

Frankly, "traditionalist" is something I'm happy to be called.  I might be so traditional as to be an iconoclast. Traditional grammar. Traditional punctuation. Traditional dress. Traditional conservatism. Traditional weddings. Traditional women. Traditional manners. Traditional kids. Traditional food. 

Traditional sports.Whatever game is played in the NBA isn't basketball. Baseball pants should end just below the knee and be worn with stockings. I could be happy if they brought back one platoon football and faceguard grabbing coaches. There should be no soccer played south of Canada or north of Mexico. But I digress... 

Tradition has an acknowledged role among us Anglicans. It is not, as some say, one leg of a three legged stool, the other two of which are Scripture and Reason. Richard Hooker put the relationship this way: “What Scripture doth plainly deliver, to that the first place both of credit and obedience are due; the next whereunto, is what any man can necessarily conclude by force of Reason; after this, the voice of the church succeedeth.” 

The Articles teach that Holy Scripture is primary and supreme:
Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation: so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man, that it should be believed as an article of the Faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation (VI). is not lawful for the Church to ordain any thing that is contrary to God's Word written... as it ought not to decree any thing against the same, so besides the same ought it not to enforce any thing to be believed for necessity of Salvation (XX).
General Councils.... may err, and sometimes have erred, even in things pertaining unto God. Wherefore things ordained by them as necessary to salvation have neither strength nor authority, unless it may be declared that they be taken out of holy Scripture (XXI).
Tradition is secondary and subordinate: 
The Church hath power to decree Rites or Ceremonies...(XX).
It is not necessary that Traditions and Ceremonies be in all places one, and utterly like; for at all times they have been divers, and may be changed according to the diversities of countries, times, and men's manners, so that nothing be ordained against God's Word (XXIV).

In addition we traditional Anglicans are proud about being "traditionalists." On my parish's websitejust under the church name on the homepage, is this phrase: "Traditional Anglican Faith and Worship." On the church sign are the words: "Traditional Prayer Book." We hold to the traditional catholic faith of the Apostles' and Nicene Creeds and the traditional reformed faith of The (39) Articles of Religion.  Our worship is not charismatic, revivalistic, regulative principle, or Roman, but traditional Prayer Book worship based on the 1662 BCP.

What has this to do with the PCA? Well, I think Traditionalist Presbyterians ought to be happy to be called traditionalists. Traditional Presbyterian doctrine (Warfield and Machen) . Traditional Presbyterian polity (2 1/2 offices, deliberative assemblies) . Traditional Presbyterian worship (bound by a Directory for Worship). But, that would be the OPC, wouldn't it?

The problem with being traditional in the PCA is that, while there are lots of inviolable traditions (check our for instance the Rules for Assembly Operation), there is no substantive historically-rooted theological, ecclesial, and liturgical tradition. Yesterday's revivalists have become today's much more sophisticated progressives. Columbia has become Covenant.  Machen has become Chapell. Warfield has become Frame. "Holy, Holy, Holy" has become "Shine, Jesus Shine." Schaeffer has become Keller. Black robes have become black polos. Assemblies have become conventions.

Yesterday's traditionalists are pretty much yesterday. The might as well say, "Goodnight, Gracie."

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

If You're Not Mad Already, This Will Help

Round Up the Usual Suspect

It's the System, Stupid

Rick had to shoot the evil Major Strasser so that Ilsa, the woman he loved, and her husband, Laslo, a member of the Resistance, could get on a plane to escape Casablanca and continue the struggle. When the police arrived at the airport, Vichy police Captain Renault instructed, "Round up the usual suspects."

The death of Freddie Gray while in police custody which was followed by peaceful protests, followed by street riots, has led some evangelicals to identify the usual suspect - systemic racism. 

Pastor Don Hyun, a Korean American church planter in Baltimore wrote for The Gospel Coalition: 
These protests and riots...are the collective groaning of years of brokenness from systemic sin in our city under a brewing simmer that had finally reached this boiling point. In a city experiencing the gentrification of its neighborhoods, urban renewal often comes at the expense of the poor and disenfranchised. We are observing the collective despair of a city that has been like a powder keg waiting to explode, and the tragic events with Freddie Gray have been the match to light the fuse. 
As much as we may rightly despise the personal offense of the rioter, do we also condemn the sinful systems of the city that contributed to these events? 
Dr. Mike Higgins, whose blog for his congregation in St. Louis was published at the Reformed African American Network, wrote:
While there are some differences between Ferguson and Baltimore, especially when it comes to the larger area that Baltimore authorities have to cover, there is one basic sameness; Blacks in Ferguson, like blacks in Baltimore, like blacks in most US cities, do not trust the police. They know that not every police officer is racist or even close. This mistrust and resentment is not so much towards the individual cop as it is the systemic racist force that police departments sometimes reflect.
We must also condemn the division caused – and the damage done – by the vague communication, race or class driven bias, and dehumanizing actions of authorities. When members of our community suffer at the hands of people in power, we all suffer. When those who seek answers are treated as if they will never be heard, we have all been ignored...
...I believe black folks are tired of cities paying more attention to their sports teams than they do to joblessness, bad housing policies, racial profiling, abusive policing, increasing incarceration rates amongst blacks, and a justice system that tends to favor whites...The message is clear still: people of color have long been deemed unworthy of equal treatment, and there is no tactic, no plan or scheme that can be crafted to hide this fact.
John Richards, a writer, was published at RAAN:
Baltimore is a Black city through and through. A majority of its residents are Black. Many of the officials and politicians who represent Baltimore City are Black... 
... Black elected officials should not serve as evidence that we live in a post-racial society. Not when 1 in 3 Black men can expect to find their way to prison at some point in their lives. Not when private prisons use third-grade reading data to plan for future prison beds. Not when the economic disparity in urban communities like Baltimore tell us that people live in “food deserts”, neighborhoods where there aren’t many healthy food options.
There’s been so much talk about the Black community’s relationship with White officers, but what can be said of the Black community’s relationship with Black officers? It hurts to think that three Black officers were involved in Freddie Gray’s death. It indicates that there’s a possibility to esteem one’s shared vocation more than one’s shared humanity—and, in this instance shared ethnicity...
Doug Wilson, not my favorite flavor of ice cream, is right when he observes that, while people say that Baltimore calls for a conversation about race, it is nearly impossible to have an honest one:
In light of the recent events in Baltimore, everyone wants to have an honest conversation about race. The difficulty is that in this honest conversation about race, nobody is allowed to say anything that is true...if you really want an honest conversation about race, stop saying what you are expected to say, and start saying what you actually think. 
So, here's a little honesty on my part about some systems where reform may be needed:

1.Legal system. Mr. Richards says that one in three Black males will at some point end up in prison - compared with 1 in 6 Hispanics and 1 in 17 Whites. (This is apparently true while his claim about 3rd grade education and prison building, according to the very source to which he linked, is not true.) It may well be true that Blacks are more likely than Whites to be arrested for the same behavior, but it remains that the primary explanation of the statistic is that Blacks commit more crimes. 

However,a factor that may be overlooked when noting how many black citizens end up in trouble with the law is the legal system itself. Consider drug laws. Could they need major revisions? William F. Buckley, more than anyone else responsible for the modern conservative movement, argued that drug laws should be repealed in part because the goals of criminalization had failed. Moreover, drug laws did more than criminalize possession and usage for drugs; they increased crimes such as theft and murder. Nowhere are crimes related to drugs more prevalent than in predominantly Black inner cities.

We don't arrest people for possession, use, manufacture, or sale of alcohol (Prohibition failed), but we do regulate these activities. We don't arrest people for alcohol abuse, but we do arrest them for driving under the influence; we do hold them responsible for accidents; and we do throw the book at them for deaths they cause. If they want to stop their destructive use of alcohol, we help them, but we don't put them in jail for their abuse.  

How many black males would be spared prison time if there were serious reform of drug laws?

2.Prison system. In general we as a society want to be tough on crime. We demand mandatory and lengthy prison sentences. "Lock 'em up and throw away the key." Unless we, or a family member, or someone we know ends up incarcerated, it's "out of sight out of mind." We have given up on prisons as "correctional institutions." So we build more prisons, hire more guards, and spend more money. But what if there were alternatives to prison for some crimes? And are lengthy sentences for people who will eventually be released wise? Lengthy sentences create hopelessness which leads to despair and hardness. Prisons become schools for criminal behavior. Prison records make it hard to find employment which leads to more crime. 

This is not a call for softness or sentimentality. Most prisoners are not nice guys just waiting for a second or third chance. But, how many Black males might benefit from changes to the prison system?

Police system. Police stand between society and lawless chaos. They have to deal with the bad guys, and they face dangers most of us never experience. 

But that does not mean that the policing system is beyond criticism. Bruce Bagus wrote at Reformation21 of fishing next to a Black couple on the Chesapeake:
The husband...lived his whole life on Pennsylvania Avenue, epicenter...(the) riot. He had finally moved away in despair, however, but was still passionate about the place...his hatred of the drugs, gangs, violence, and prostitution that plagued the nighttime sidewalk outside his front door was clear. But the issue that finally drove him out was the apathy and corruption he observed among the police assigned to his community...(He) was exhausted by the injustice of living under a police presence authorized to use up to deadly force who appeared to care very little for the good of those they were supposed to serve, some openly abusing their power for selfish gain. He wanted the police to do their jobs and do them well, lamented the breakdown of trust and hope...
Baugus reports the comment of the now famous Black mother who pulled her son off the streets: 
Toya Graham, mother of the would-be rioter, thinks throwing rocks and bottles at police officers is "stupid" and not the way to seek the justice she and her neighbors want out of their city officials. When asked the next day why she drove her son off the streets, however, she tellingly explained, "that's my only son and I don't want him to be a Freddie Gray."
Flip comments like "my son would never do something so stupid" are just that...Whether this mother's fear of the police for her son is justified or not--and whether the charges brought against these six officers are warranted or not--the people who live in the neighborhoods along Pennsylvania Avenue in Baltimore...have seen and heard enough not to trust the authorities they need to make their communities livable.
He goes on to commend the police, but to suggest that changes may be needed:
The police in America's violent cities have a very dangerous and nearly impossible job to do and deserve our respect and support as they do it, including decent pay and reasonable protections under the law. Stoning them, literally in the streets or metaphorically in the courts, just piles injustice on injustice. But refusing to hear or take seriously the complaints our neighbors have been making for decades is also unacceptable, and to act as though this problem is all one-sided is theologically and morally naïve...
I heard a veteran policeman point out on a Public Radio show that we have no idea to what dangers police are exposed every day. True. But I don't feel that way when I see the cop sitting on the side of the road with his radar gun to catch people coming home from work or out running errands or see him writing tickets to old folks and school moms. I expect that is the way many Blacks feel about the phenomenon of Driving While Black. 

I have written before that police might consider showing more respect for the Constitutional rights of citizens to move about freely, initiating fewer confrontations, and limiting taser use. Perhaps I am wrong, but it seems there is little doubt that reform of policing systems could improve police relations with communities, not least predominantly Black ones. Russ Douthat, writing about police unions pointed out that the Baltimore case points to the need for reform but how difficult it is to achieve it. 

Family System. I have read Black evangelicals who have said that Whites ought not to bring up this topic, but I do not know why. Honesty requires saying that the family as an institution is in crisis among all races but more among Blacks than any other ethnic group, and that the family system needs reform. Consider this statistic: 72% of Black mothers today are unwed. That compares with 8% in 1965. In 1950 17% of Black children lived in a home with a mother but not a father while in 2010 50% did. In 1950 53% of Black women were married and living with their husband, while in 2010 25% were.

White and black conservatives are quick to point out that there is a cause and effect relationship between these statistics and the welfare system. No doubt that is true. But the welfare system cannot suddenly dismantled in order to try to fix the problem. More important, the question right now is, What can be done to encourage and enable Black people to marry, to have stable homes, to care for their children?

When I watched and cheered Toya Graham as she took on her son, I kept thinking, "But what if that son had a father at home?" Maybe the kid would have been home. But, if he were on the streets, what if the father had gone, grabbed his son by the scruff of the neck, and dragged him home, where a serious talk would ensue? The institution of the family is going the wrong direction (check out statistics for Whites) and needs change for all races but most acutely for Blacks.

Education System. Blacks are particularly harmed by the failings of the public schools to educate children. The Baltimore City school system consists of 88% Black, 8% White, and 7% Hispanic. Apparently the system is improving in preventing dropouts. The question is, however, how well are these children being educated and prepared for life and employment? Lousy education systems are one factor in Whites, businesses, and industries leaving communities and in their not coming or coming back. 

The question is what can be done to reform the education system? Decreasing the power of the teachers' unions and making teachers and bureaucracies more accountable surely will help. But what else?

Perhaps Mississippi, where I have spent more of my life than any other state, can illustrate the question. Mississippi has a population of almost 3 million with 37% black. The Black public school population is 51%. The percentage of Black males graduating from high school is 51%. Bureaucracies probably contribute. Teachers' unions do not. So what can be done to educate Mississippi's largely poor black children?

Recently what has occupied some White politicians and (mostly) White parents is Common Core. A great campaign was carried on to convince the Governor to veto a bill that that had passed both Houses of the Legislature that these politicians and parents felt did not do the job of abolishing Common Core and telling the state Superintendent of Education what to do. The Governor vetoed the bill, and this is tauted as a great victory for education in Mississippi. (I have read some of both sides on Common Core and don't consider myself to have a dog in this fight.) But my question is, What are you going to do about the children in the 100% Black public schools in the Delta or the 97.5% Black Jackson city schools? What is it that they need to learn? How are we going effectively to teach it to them? Besides getting rid of Common Core (or as some want to do getting rid altogether of federal aid to education), what are you going to do to educate the children? To improve the quality and effectiveness of education?

The education system, especially in predominantly Black communities, needs systemic change.

I am doubtful about "systemic racism." Slavery was systemic racism. Segregation was systemic racism. But Baltimore suffers from systemic racism? It is controlled by Black people, has a Black Mayor, a Black Police Commissioner, a Black Prosecutor. Three of the six indicted policeman are Black. Systemic racism does not explain the death of Freddie Gray.

We live in world in which almost anything a minority person does not like can be called racism and where innocent words and actions are labelled racist microagressions. In such a world the whole concept of systemic racism tends to become meaningless. The system explains the acts and the acts prove the system.

I do believe that there are systems that have problems. Specific problems with specific systems can be addressed - and ought to be. 

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Shut Up and Listen!

Shut Up and Listen

Epistle Lesson: James 1:17-21 (KJV)

17 Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.
18 Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.
19 Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath:
20 For the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God.
21 Wherefore lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness, and receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls.

Susan and I have a bad communication habit. We tend to “talk over” each other. She begins to say something; I assume I know what she is going to say; so I begin to answer before she finishes talking. (I might add this is not a one way problem!)  So sometimes she says, “Will you be quiet and let me finish?” which being interpreted means, “Shut up and listen!”

St. James has a similar message for his readers, but before we can make sense of his command we need to understand the context for it.

1. The Context

One of the mistakes we make reading the Bible, and particularly a book like James, is to read as though the message is, “Do this! Don’t do that!” or “Be good! Don’t be bad!”  We might say that we know we can’t be saved by good works, but because our tendency as humans is to try to get God’s favor by obedience, we turn the Bible into a moral code we are to obey.

However, while God communicates to us in his Word clear moral standards and exhortations, the Bible is first a book about redemption of sinners who have broken God’s moral code. Adam and Eve sin, and God intervenes to announce his plan to save them. Israel is enslaved in Egypt and helpless to achieve their own deliverance, and God intervenes to set them free. David is an adulterer and murderer, and God intervenes to show him his sin but also to promise forgiveness. Peter denies his Lord, and Jesus, having obtained Peter’s forgiveness by his death, intervenes to restore him. We must never forget this big story of redemption when we read the Bible.

In our Epistle lesson today, St. James points to two realities of redemption that form the context for the commandment he will give.

The first is God’s goodness. God is a good God who gives good gifts.

It can be hard to believe that God is good and that he generously gives us good gifts.  Sometimes that is because we are going through difficult trials in life, and we find it hard to think that, if God is good and gives good gifts, he would send such things into your lives. How can God be good if our health, or finances, or marriage, or feelings are bad?

Sometimes it is because we believe the devil’s lie that God is not generous but like a parent whose hates giving gifts to his children. We think that only when we have been very good, or when we can overcome God’s natural tendency to turn us away and say no, that God gives.

I hate Christian cliches, and some irritate me more than others, such as “God is good all the time, all the time God is good.” To say that cheerily to a person in pain or grief is cruel. But,  understood in the light of the Bible and of Jesus Christ, it is true. James tells us that God is always good and takes pleasure in giving us good things.

God is not like humans who can be good and bad in attitude toward others within seconds, who can be generous one day and stingy the next. There is no variableness or shadow or turning about God’s goodness. Yesterday morning it was sunny and warm so we decided we would have lunch at our favorite place with outdoor tables. We got there, and promptly the sun went behind the clouds. Soon Susan was freezing. That’s the way is with the light of the sun. Not so with God; his goodness never wavers or varies. His gifts are always good. Even the trials he sends are meant for good not evil. God is good.

We need very much to remember that all God’s commands to us come from one who is good and giving.

The second reality is that God in his goodness gives us the new birth.

Jesus told Nicodemus that his natural birth would not save him - the he needed to be born again, or born from above. As with Nicodemus, so with us all. We need a new birth to enter God’s kingdom.

But, as with natural birth, so with the new birth. We don’t birth ourselves. It is the will of our parents that gives us birth. So James tells us that God of his own will gives us the new birth. As John puts it we are “born not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of a man, but of God” (John 1:12).

James calls our  attention that God’s uses his word to give us the new birth. He “begat” us by the “word of truth.” The word of truth is the gospel which Jesus and the Apostles preached. It is the gospel preserved in the Holy Scriptures and proclaimed by Christ’s ministers. St. Peter tell us that we “ have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God...And this word is the good news that was preached to you” (1 Peter 1: 23-25). God gives us new life and continually renews it through his Word.

The new birth is the good gift of a good God. By the gospel he has given us a new life to respond to him with faith, love,  and obedience. By the new birth he begins a work of renewal in us so that we find his commandments are not burdens but blessings. The new birth teaches us that obedience is not against our happiness but for it. The new birth enables us, when we fall, to find forgiveness and then to get up and and start again in the Christian life.

God is good, and he has given us new life. These realities create gratitude and undergird all our obedience.

2. Commandments

Now in the context of God’s unfailing goodness and his gift of new life we can consider his commandment.

“Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger.”  

Listening is not an easy thing to do - especially when we think that the other person doesn’t know what we know or that the other person is wrong. We want to give them a piece of our minds - either to impart knowledge or correction. We want to even more  when our emotions are running high. Talking first is destructive to communication and nowhere more so than in the life of the church.

Real listening is not just holding your tongue while another person speaks. We can be quiet while all the time we are listening we are putting together what we are going to say in response. Listening means focusing on what the other person is saying so that you understand what that person is saying. Sometimes it means listening “beneath the words” to discern what a person is feeling and why the person is saying what he or she is saying.

Listening also means we consider that the other person may be telling us something we need to know - maybe something we thought we knew but really don’t, or maybe  a word of correction we had no idea we needed. It means we consider that the person may be right and we may be wrong, when we thought it was the other way around.

St.  James tells us to reverse the order. Listen first, then  speak.

Along with being quick to listen and slow to speak, we should be slow to anger. Anger can lead to slow listening and fast speaking, but James focuses on the other end of the problem. Not listening but rushing to speak can make us become angry or make us angrier than we already were. Have you ever noticed that getting something off your chest often does not defuse your anger but makes it worse? The more you say the angrier you get.

We will be wise to listen to the Proverbs: “Whoever is slow to anger has great understanding, but he who has a hasty temper exalts folly” (14:29). A soft answer turns away wrath but a harsh word stirs up anger” (15:1). “A hot-tempered man stirs up strife, but he who is slow to anger quiets contention” (15:18).  

Sinful anger is contrary to the righteous nature of God and the righteous character and conduct he fants of us as people who been born again by his Word and who are constantly receive his good gifts. To please God let us open our ears, close our mouths, and control our tempers.

James classifies anger with “all filthiness superfluity of naughtiness” or “all filthiness and rampant wickedness.” For some reason in the church when we hear the words “filthiness and rampant wickedness” we tend to think of sexual sins, of promiscuity and perversion, but we don’t think so much of sins of the tongue and sins of the spirit. James tells us that these sins of the tongue and spirit belong to the category of filthiness and wickedness.

These we must “lay aside” or “put away” or “take off” as we would dirty clothes. My wife was known to make our boys get out of their muddy clothes right at the door before sending them to the shower. This is what we must do with our slow listening, fast speaking, and fast tempers. By God’s grace, we take them off and put them out out of our lives.

But there is something positive we can do that will help us. The word by which God gave us new birth we can also continually receive with meekness - as we pray for ourselves every time we celebrate Holy Communion - that “with meek heart and due reverence, (we) may hear and receive thy holy Word” (BCP). When we continually receive God’s Word with open and submissive hearts that Word can choke out what is evil in us and strengthen what is good.

Brothers and sisters, we are born again, but there is much sin that remains within us and is produced by us. We need the Gospel. As our souls are nourished with the Gospel when we receive its reading and preaching with faith so may they be fed with the Gospel as with faith we receive from this holy Table our Lord’s Body and Blood.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Call Me Father Tim

Or Pastor Bill
(But not Raymond J. Johnson, Jr.)

Father Tim doesn't exist. Nor Cynthia. Nor Barnabas. Nor Lord's Chapel. Nor Mitford. Nor the Episcopal Church in which Fr. Tim served.

Our dog Murphy exists, but unlike Barnabas he doesn't respond to Scripture recitation. Nor do humans all that much. Including me. Would that it were that easy to bring dogs or ourselves under control.

Covenant Reformed Episcopal Church exists. I first attended the parish just after we moved to Roanoke in the summer of 2013. I did not begin to attend regularly until January of 2014 just after my reception as a Presbyter into the Reformed Episcopal Church. (My pilgrimage to Anglicanism.) When I was received as a Presbyter and had my orders regularized, I thought that I had found a "parking place" for my orders for the rest of my life, not that I would have opportunity to exercise ministry, surely not to be Rector of a parish. The parish was appreciating the labors of its Vicar while continuing to look for a Rector and had no thought whatsoever of my exercising ministry. 

However, the Vicar, retired Presbyter Richard Workowski, invited me to assist him with the liturgy and from time to time to preach. Neither he nor I had any idea how much patience would be required of him to mentor me in saying the services and in Anglican ways. But he is a man of patience. 

Through his mentoring of me and guiding of the parish, and over a period of more than a year, the point was reached that the Vestry indicated they would like to consider issuing a call me. Many conversations ensued with Fr. Rich and Bishop Morse, and I sought counsel from friends both Anglican and Presbyterian, and my family. There were also two meetings for questions and answers, first with the Vestry and then with members of the parish. During this process the Vestry submitted a call to the Bishop and Standing Committee and received their approval. Yesterday, after another conversation with Bishop Morse, I indicated my desire to accept the call.

In a little over two weeks, on May 17, during his episcopal visit to the parish, Bishop Morse will, God willing, institute me as Rector. (The Anglican lingo can be a little challenging. Trying to tell one of our sons about this, my wife said I would be "institutionalized." I am not sure her choice of words was not a Freudian slip.) 

The challenges are many and substantial. I do not have answers or solutions for them and have told both the Vestry and the parish so. 

One of the greatest challenges is succeeding
Fr. Rich
(definitely not replacing) Fr. Rich. He has spent his whole ministry in the Reformed Episcopal Church. (His wife, Joan, or, as I call her, St. Joan is that rare member who was born into the REC.) Rich has a wealth of experience and wisdom. His talents seem endless - pastoral, liturgical, theological, artistic (he designed the REC shield), musical, executive, architectural, horticultural, to name a few. He is consistent, persistent, wise, caring, genuine, temperate, energetic, indefatigable. Those who know him will know I do not exaggerate about him. Those who know me will know that I am not that man. To use contemporary terms, I don't have his "gift set" nor, for that matter, his character set.

He is in many ways a Father Tim. Or, if you will, a Christian pastor.

I could, like the writer of Hebrews, go on to speak of Joan, a model pastor's wife
and parish coordinator. But that would be another lengthy blog, and she would probably kill me. 

Rich and Joan are not going anywhere - else I would quite possibly not have accepted the call. There are a number of projects of his we need to complete. I have asked him to "assist" me as I have assisted him. Both are a vital part of our parish.

Another challenge is that we are small and our average age is high. We have 19 confirmed members which we trust will increase by 2 when the Bishop visits. As a Presbyterian pastor I have gone to a number of places with a number of ideas, some good, some bad, about leading, planning, strategizing, working with the leadership to help a congregation grow and develop. I have told the parish that I have no ideas about what to do here except to believe the 39 Articles, worship by the Book of Common Prayer, minister the Word and Sacraments, and work and pray with them that God might look on us with favor.

One of the things I do remember from the Mitford novels is how often Fr. Tim prayed the prayer that is always answered - "thy will be done." It is a prayer that is always effective, but, while it must condition every petition, it is often the hardest prayer to pray. May God work his will and be pleased to show his favor among and through us at Covenant Reformed Episcopal Church. 

O God, Holy Ghost, Sanctifier of the faithful, visit, we pray thee, this congregation with thy love and favour; enlighten their minds more and more with the light of the everlasting Gospel; graft in their hearts a love of the truth; increase in them true religion; nourish them with all goodness; and of thy great mercy keep them in the same, O blessed Spirit, whom, with the Father and the Son together, we worship and glorify as one God, world without end. Amen.(From the Office of Institution of Ministers into Parishes or Churches)   


Monday, April 20, 2015

Your Church Is Just Too Ordinary

Does Everything Have To Be Extraordinary?

Excellent husband that I am I am able to understand both what my wife says and what she means. When we go out for dinner, and she begins to eat the food she has ordered, I almost always ask, "How is it?" If she says, "OK," I know it is not OK but disappointing. What she means is that, while it has the virtue of being food, she wishes she had not ordered it and/or that we had not spent the money. "OK" means "disappointing." But if she says, "Good," then I know it's OK. And if she says, "Really good," I know it's good. If she says, "This is great!" then I know it is extraordinarily good, and that she will order it again. In fact, knowing her as I do, I know that it is highly likely she will never again order anything other than that dish at this restaurant.

No matter what I think about my meal, I am always disappointed if her food is not extraordinary. This is another evidence that I am too much of this world, thinking that the ordinary is bad and that only the extraordinary is good. 

Take church. If someone asks me, "What did you do today?" I might answer, "I led Morning Prayer," to which this the person might reply,"Don't you find saying those same prayers over and over dulls your spirit? Don't those prayers become rote? At my church we rarely, if ever, say even the Lord's Prayer, because we don't want it to become ordinary. And, while we want prayers to be only a sentence or two, we want them to be heartfelt like, 'God, we just really thank you that we can be in this great church and be part of this great worship experience that really moves our hearts.'" 

I say, "Well, our prayers are longer and more theological; they include many themes every week, including the confession of our sins; our prayers are connected to the worship of the church through the ages; we have a sense that we are praying with God's people all over the world and across the ages." "Oh," says the person, "that sounds too old, too long, and too stiff for me. I really need something that that's up to date and meets my needs."     

That same person may ask, "Did you preach?" I answer, "Yes, I had the homily today." He says, How did it go?" I answer, "I preached from the Bible, and I think the congregation could understand what I was saying."  

The person, unsatisfied, may then ask, "But was it Spirit empowered?" Or, "Did you have the feeling the people were really being moved?" Or, "Was it transforming for those who heard it? Or, was just one of those ordinary normal ones?"

Or, I might say in answer to the question, "We celebrated the Holy Communion." The person says, "How often do you do that?" I say, "We celebrate Holy Communion first and third Sundays, though many Anglicans celebrate it every Sunday." The person responds, "Well, at our church we do it four times a year. We don't want it to become ordinary. We want it to be special." 

I respond, "We believe it is part of ordinary worship." But the person says, "I want it to be an extraordinary experience when I take Communion, and, besides, if we celebrated it every Sunday, it could cut into the pastor's sermon time in our carefully timed service that gets us out in an hour." 

The person may pursue our practice of frequent Communion, "But do you find it meaningful to celebrate the service that often?" to which I respond, "Well, that's not really the point. Jesus told us to do this and that he would nourish us with his body and blood when we come with a true and lively faith. But the truth is I do find it tremendously meaningful to press the wafer into a parishioner's hand and say, 'The Body of our Lord Jesus Christ which was given for thee, preserve thy body and soul unto everlasting life. Take and eat this in remembrance that Christ died for thee, and feed upon in thy heart by faith with thanksgiving,' and to put the cup to the congregant's lips and say, 'The Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, which was shed for thee, preserve thy body and soul unto everlasting life. Drink this in remembrance that Christ's Blood was shed for thee, and be thankful.'"

Consider a parishioner who comes in contact with the same person. He asks, "What did you do yesterday?", and the parishioner answers, "I went to church." The person asks, "What did your minister preach?", and the parishioner answers, "His homily was from the Gospel lesson." "Well, how was it?", and the parishioner replies, "It was an ordinary homily, taken from the text. I could understood what Jesus was saying to the to the Samaritan woman." 

"Yes," the questioner persists, "but did it move your heart? Did it transform your life? Was it powerful?" The parishioner answers, "Well, I don't really think about homilies that way. They are the ministry of the Word which goes with the ministry of the Sacraments. Together they feed my soul." The interested questioner says, "Well our pastor is just so powerful; his sermons are just extraordinary. I never go away without my heart stirred and several things I can use in the next week. And I just don't get having the Lord's Supper that often." 

The person pursues his questioning, "Is your church a great church?", and the parishioner says, "Well, I guess I would say it's an ordinary church." "Oh," the person says, "we have a really special church that meets our needs. The youth program, and the music, and our pastor are just great. And our church is doing so much for the good of the community. We want to practice justice and transform our city with Christian values. My church is just so extraordinary." 

The parishioner asks, "Have you always attended this church?", and the questioner replies,"No, we were in another church for several years till we found this one." The parishioner inquires, "What happened? Why did you change?" The person replies, "Well it was a good church for us for those years, but we just got bored. The praise band seemed stuck in the last decade. The minister's sermons didn't have the old zing. All we did for outreach was to visit the nursing home and volunteer at the soup kitchen. Then the kids our kids play soccer with didn't go to our old church anymore, and the kids were getting tired of the youth minister who, after all, was ten years older than when we started there. We felt we needed to move on, that God must have something better for us." 

"Oh," the parishioner says, "I guess my church is an ordinary parish with the ordinary services and ordinary expectations about how God works through the Word and Sacraments."

The ordinary is the new extraordinary.  

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Walter Scott Was Not Michael Brown

Officer Slager Is 
Not Officer Wilson

The shooting of a young black man, Michael Brown, by white Officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, MO, created no little outrage among the civil rights activists and even, disappointingly, among some Reformed students and ministers. This event and its aftermath were responsible for the moving of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission's Leadership Summit on The Gospel and Racial Reconciliation to an earlier date. In my opinion those who chose the shooting of Mike Brown to highlight racial problems in America chose a bad case. The grand jury chose not to indict Officer Wilson and not even Eric Holder and the Justice Department found cause to indict the officer for violation of Brown's civil rights.

Now, however, we have what appears to almost all reasonable citizens to be a case of the unjustified shooting of a black man, Walter Scott, by white Officer Michael Slager in North Charleston, SC. The video of Officer Slager's firing eight shots, four of which struck the fleeing Scott in the back, is available for anyone who wishes to see the evidence for him/herself. The shooting has been condemned by both the the Mayor and the Chief of Police, and the Officer is charged with murder and being held without bail. It remains to seen if race played any role in the shooting. 

However, there have been those who have made arguments that the killing may not qualify as murder but as a lesser crime. It is reasonable for those who look at the evidence and the law and reach such conclusions to make such arguments. There is an ongoing investigation; the charges will get scrutiny; and a trial will be held. We hope and expect that eventually justice will be done.

Of a different nature are the attempts of some to show that Scott was deserving of being killed and that Office Slager engaged in a "righteous shoot." The most egregious example of this I have come across is by "journalist" Charles Johnson and his GotNews site.

Chances are that I would not be aware of GotNews if I did not follow Mississippi politics. GotNews is linked on the website of Mississippi Conservative Daily which exists to promote state Senator Chris McDaniel, his run last year against Thad Cochran, his United Conservatives Fund, and the stirring of public support for what he supports or opposes. Last summer Charles Johnson got some attention by charging that the Cochran campaign engaged in race baiting and vote buying in the runoff primary. Since then Johnson has refused to appear before a grand jury that was investigating whether he paid a witness to claim that there was vote buying.

On Thursday Johnson began by posting BREAKING: #Walter Scott Called For Violence Against George Zimmerman . He included with the story a picture of a July 2013 Facebook posting by Scott saying justice in the Trayvon Martin case would be done if Martin's parents were each given a gun and could put them at George Zimmerman's head and pull the triggers simultaneously. Evil sentiments for sure. What Johnson did not do was to show how this was relevant to Scott's being shot in the back by Slager. Had Slager known about this post, would he be justified in shooting Scott because of it? Now that we know, should we justify the shooting?  He also pointed out Scott's failure to pay child support and his being charged with assault and battery 25 years ago. So Scott was not a choirboy, but this, too, is irrelevant to his being shot in the back. Johnson also alleged that the video showing Scott's killing had been "selectively edited." 

Friday Johnson followed up with an "anonymous" reporter's BREAKING: Yes, It Was Legal To Shoot A Fleeing #Walter Scott. As is often the case with tabloids, the sensational headline does not match the content of the story which says that maybe the Tennessee vs. Garner decision will apply. Tennessee vs. Garner held that, while deadly force is not justified to prevent most escapes, deadly force may be used against a fleeing person if he has threatened an officer with a deadly weapon or if he has committed is threatening to commit a crime involving the infliction of death or of serious injury. Thus it does not appear that this court decision will apply.

The case of Walter Scott raises a problem with police work that might by called "the parental syndrome." My wife and I raised 5 boys. My parental theory was that, once engaged in a conflict that involved your authority, you had to win. I still think that most of the time, once such conflicts are joined, the parent has to win. My wife and I find ourselves thinking like old people when we see parents in public trying to reason with a three year old, or watching helplessly as the child throws a tantrum, or giving in to the child's demands rather than risk a confrontation, or inflicting the child's bad behavior on us as we try to enjoy a meal in a restaurant. 

But, in my dotage I have realized some weaknesses in my approach to parenting. One is that some conflicts can be avoided or are not worth having. For instance, before you order a child to his room, you can ask yourself, "Do I need to do this?" Once you say that he must go to his room, then either you have to force him or risk his concluding you don't mean what you say. But do you really need to face him and yourself with this potential conflict? Or, if you offer the kid some cookies, and he says, "I don't want cookies; I want chocolate ice cream," and you have chocolate ice cream, why not give him the chocolate rather than say, "I offered cookies, and it's cookies or nothing"? There are also times that you have got yourself into a conflict, and you are now faced with winning or losing this confrontation. Is every confrontation worth winning at all costs? You told your daughter to clean her room. She didn't. Is this a case where you want to win by forbidding her to go to her prom because she did not clean her room? 

It appears to me that police face similar dilemmas. They feel that, once they get into a confrontation and assert their authority, they have to win. It may be personal: "I'm the authority here, and I have asserted my authority, and I am going to win." Or it may be institutional: "I represent society and the law, and people have to obey or else we have chaos." How many confrontations of these sorts don't need to happen? In other words, think about choosing your battles carefully and wisely. You may not need to create that conflict of the wills in the first place.

Further, and this is relevant to the Scott shooting, how far are you willing to go, or do you need to go, to win the confrontation, whether joined wisely or unwisely, once it occurs? Scott was stopped because he had a broken taillight. He apparently thought he might end up in jail that night because of his child support issues. He bolted, and the officer pursued. There was some kind of scuffle, perhaps involving the officer's taser. At some point Scott decided just to run. The officer pursued, drew his weapon, fired eight shots, and killed Scott. This seems clearly to be the kind of situation where an officer should, no matter how frustrating it is and how angry it makes him, watch the person get away.

I also have a thought about tasers. I have heard that they provide an option of using non-lethal (usually) force so that lethal force is not required. I have a question. Is there a temptation to use them just because they are rarely lethal? Do officers sometimes use them as unreasonable force just because they are not lethal?

Most conservatives, and many others, are pro-police, pro-law-and-order. They see police as doing a dangerous job for which they are not adequately paid. They think of the police as the thin blue line that protects them from the dangerous elements of society. Except for what I observe of some traffic enforcement, that is my first response, too. But I wonder, however, if such conservatives have forgot the value of freedom - freedom to be left alone, to move about without interference by authorities, to possess and exercise one's rights without the permission of authorities. Sometimes, when a person expresses misgivings about, or criticism of the police, it is said, "Next time you're being mugged call the ACLU." No, when you're being mugged, you call the police. That does not mean you want to be driving on a highway and encounter a roadblock where one's "papers" are checked by the police when there is no presumption that you have committed or are committing a crime.

Moving on, it is disappointing that that some segments of the civil rights community in a knee jerk fashion assert "racist murder" when a black man is killed by a policeman. It is equally disappointing when some in the "law and order" community feel they must say "righteous shoot" every time an on duty policeman kills someone. A black man can be killed by police because he is a dangerous criminal. A policeman can kill a man because the officer makes a wrong decision in the heat of the moment. 

We should have compassion for the family of Mike Brown. The killing of any human being is tragic because it is the killing of one made in the image of God. We should have compassion for the family of Walter Scott, who did nothing worthy of death. We can also be thankful for the Christian statements made by some members of his family.

We should also have compassion for Officer Slager. Who of us has not made bad decisions - that cannot be called back and that have lifelong effects - in the heat of the moment? I, for one, hope he gets mercy when his trial is done. Surely we should have compassion for his mother, for his pregnant wife, and for their children.

God have mercy on us all.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Pentecost Preview

Sent by the Son

First after Easter

Gospel: John 20:19-23  (KJV)

19 Then the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled for fear of the Jews, came Jesus and stood in the midst, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you.
20 And when he had so said, he shewed unto them his hands and his side. Then were the disciples glad, when they saw the Lord.
21 Then said Jesus to them again, Peace be unto you: as my Father hath sent me, even so send I you.
22 And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost:
23 Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained.

We don’t go to the movies much, but, when we do, we find it a little irritating that we have to sit through 20 minutes of previews before the movie starts. I wish I could fall asleep during them rather than the movie I am paying to see.

But those previews have a purpose - to give you an idea, which may or may not be accurate, of what coming movies will be about and to try to interest you enough to go see them. As you watch them, you find yourself saying, “No, maybe, yes.”

When Jesus met with 10 of his Apostles on Easter evening,  he gave them a clear preview of what would happen 50 days later on Pentecost.

1. The Meeting

When Jesus was arrested his disciples scattered, though they remained in Jerusalem. The disciples kept a low profile through the weekend. Then on Sunday evening 10 of them met together. Judas had taken his own life, and for some reason Thomas was not there.

  • Though they met, they were still cautious because they were fearful of what the Jewish authorities might do, if they found them. So they locked the door. Like people in Communist Russia and Nazi Germany they may have dreaded the knock at the door, being arrested, dragged out, and tried as Jesus had been.

  • Then Jesus came and stood among them. John probably implies some kind of miracle with this appearance though he does not tell us the nature of it or dwell on it. The important thing is that Jesus is there, and that he speaks to them, “Peace be with you.”
    • That was the usual Jewish greeting. It was originally wishing for another the blessing of God’s peace. But it had come to be used without thought of what it meant - like we use goodbye - which means “ God be with you” - without the meaning. But Jesus intends the full meaning when he says, “Peace be with you.”
    • These were men needed peace. They had experienced extreme emotions. Jesus had been arrested, tried, condemned, crucified, and buried on Friday. Saturday must have been a very low day as they grieved the loss of Jesus and the loss of the hopes they had put in him. Now on Sunday some women and Peter and John said the tomb was empty and that Jesus had risen. But had he really?
    • And, if he was alive, then how would he treat them? Their faith had failed miserably. They had deserted the Lord in his greatest trial. What would that do to their relationship with him?

  • So Jesus says, “Peace be with you.”
    • When we think of peace, it is primarily negative - the absence of war between nations, of conflict within families.
    • But in the Bible the word is positive. The Old Testament word for peace - “shalom” - means wholeness or total well being because of God’s favor on you. The New Testament shows us that peace is first and foremost being reconciled with God by the forgiveness of sins. Jesus had accomplished that by his death. It means that you have no need to fear God’s condemnation, that all is  right between you and God, that, not only will he not condemn you, but that he loves you, favors you, and takes you into his fellowship.  
    • This peace in relationship with God is the basis for personal peace - freedom from guilt, anxiety, and fear. If we have peace with God, then peace within is possible. Peace with God is also the basis of good relationships with others. If we have peace with God, peace with others is possible.
    • Jesus wanted his disciples to know that God was at peace with them, that he was at peace with them, and that they could live in that two-fold confidence.

  • Jesus gave them evidence that they were not hallucinating, that he was not a ghost, but that he was the same Jesus who had died and who had been raised with a physical body. He showed them the nail scars in his hands and the place in his side where the spear had been thrust. There was continuity between the body of the man who had been crucified and the man who stood before them now. His body was glorified - beyond the touch of death and possessing the fullness of eternal life  - but it was the same body that had been laid the grave.  

  • Now the disciples were glad - they experienced joy. Gone was the sadness and anxiety. In its place came the joy that Jesus was alive, that he had conquered death, that he had opened the door of eternal life for all believers. This was a fulfilment of what Jesus has promised the night he was betrayed: “ have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you” (John 16:22).

There is a pattern here that may be repeated in our lives:

  • We can be afraid because of what other people may do to us, because of the uncertainties of the future, because of losses we might suffer, because of how we have failed the Lord. We can be afraid about many things.

  • Fear is countered by the reality of the resurrection of Christ attested to us by witnesses. Paul tells us that Jesus “appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all he appeared to me…” (1 Corinthians 15:5-8). The resurrection is the turning point of history and the foundation of our faith.

  • Because of the resurrection we have peace. We have assurance our sins are forgiven, that we are reconciled with God, that God is in control matter what is happening in life, and that death is our transition into the presence of Christ where we will await the day when he will raise our lowly bodies and make them like his glorious body.

  • On the basis of the resurrection we can have joy from knowing the Christ is victorious over death and the the devil. Christ reigns and will continue to reign till he has placed all his enemies beneath his feet - the last enemy being death itself. We are not immune from life’s tragedies, griefs, and sorrows,  but because of the resurrection we can have joy consistent with tears, joy that will one day overwhelm all sorrow.

2. The Mission

Jesus is risen and is among them but now what? Immediately Jesus addresses that question.

  • Sending.
    • Jesus begins by again assuring them of peace. Then he says, “As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you.” One of the great themes of the St. John’s Gospel is that the Father sent his Son Jesus into the world as the first Apostle - the One the Father sent to represent the Father, speak for the Father, do the Father’s will, carry out the mission given to him by the Father. The reason the Father sent his only begotten Son into the world was to save the world. “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:17). Jesus has accomplished that salvation by his life, death, and resurrection.
    • Now, as the Father sent the Son, the Son sends his Apostles. Where does he send them? He sends them into the world. He had prayed to his Father on the previous Thursday evening, “As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world” (John 17:18). He sends them as his authorized representatives to bear witness to him as the Savior of the world. He gives them their mission, and he gives them their message. As he was sent to save the world, so by bearing witness to him and his saving work, they will seek the salvation of the world, and “whoever believes in him will not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
    • This was the mission of the Apostles, and it is the ongoing mission of the church. This is the apostolic succession that matters most - taking up the mission of the Apostles and proclaiming the message of the Apostles - seeking the salvation of the world by bearing witness to Jesus: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:18-20). We as Covenant Church are sent by Jesus and set down here in Roanoke to make disciples by going, baptizing, and teaching. And you and I as Christians are sent into the world to represent him and by our lives and words to bear witness to him and his Gospel of salvation.

  • Spirit.
    • Now Jesus does something that seems strange to us. He breathes on the ten and says, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” As God breathed into Adam the breath of life, so Jesus breathes into his disciples the Holy Spirit who will use them to give life to the world. What on Easter evening is the breathing of the Spirit into the disciples will on Pentecost become the rushing of the mighty wind of the Spirit into the whole church.
    • The disciples had to be thinking, “The Father sent his Son into this world, but the world was hostile to him, rejected him, and killed him. How can we frail men go into a hostile world as his witnesses?” On the night of his betrayal Jesus had been telling them that, when he left, he would send his Spirit to them to empower and equip them as he sent them into the world.
    • This was a preview of Pentecost, when they - but not only they but the whole church - would be filled by the Holy Spirit. Then they proclaimed the good news of Jesus the Messiah to Jews who had come to Jerusalem and who spoke the many languages of the parts of the world where they lived. It was by the same Spirit that Peter proclaimed Jesus as the crucified Savior and risen Lord, and 3000 repented and were baptized for the forgiveness of sins. It was the same Spirit who set apart Paul to take that same Gospel to the Gentiles. The Spirit Jesus on Pentecost is with us, filling us, equipping us, empowering us so that we can be his witnesses here.

  • Authority.
    • Jesus, having given them the Spirit, says, “If you forgive the sins of any they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.” What is Jesus saying? Is he saying that the Apostles then or the church now through its ministers may choose willy nilly to say grant forgiveness or to withhold it?
    • No. This authority is connected to his sending the church into the world and empowering the church with the Holy Spirit. Proclaiming Jesus as Savior from sin and risen Lord in the power of the Holy Spirit the church faces with the world with  a decision that cannot be avoided. The Gospel creates a crisis for everyone who hears it. Will you be condemned or saved? You can’t be neutral. If you reject Jesus you stand unforgiven and condemned. If you receive him you are forgiven and made an adopted child of God.
We have been given an awesome responsibility and privilege. We are sent by Jesus, and empowered with the Holy Spirit to bear witness to him so that the world through him may be saved.

Margaret Clarkson was a Canadian who born into a loveless marriage that would end in divorce. As child she suffered from migraine headaches and juvenile arthritis as well as a spinal deformity. She took great comfort in hymns and came to appreciate some of the great Christian hymn writers. She became a school teacher,never married, and her life was seldom free of pain, but God blessed her with a gift for writing hymns. She - and, forgive me, she was a Presbyterian -  wrote the greatest missionary hymn of the 20th century.

*So send I you - by grace made strong
to triumph
o’er hosts of hell, o’er darkness, death,
and sin,
my name to bear, and in that name to
conquer -
so send I you my victory to win.

As the Father hath sent me, so send I you.

So send I you - to take to souls in bondage
the word of truth that sets the captive 
to break the bonds of sin, to loose death’s
fetters -
so send I you,  to bring the lost to me.

As the Father hath sent me, so send I you.

So send I you - my strength to know in
my joy in grief, my perfect peace in pain,
to prove my pow’r, my grace, my promised
presence -
so send I you, eternal fruit to gain.

As the Father hath sent me, so send I you.

*Some may remember this hymn beginning, “So send I you to labor unrewarded…”. Miss Clarkson
herself revised to hymn to reflect a more Biblical understanding.