Monday, October 31, 2005

Go to Hell

Every single post trying to spam my blog in order that I go visit your lame-o site just know this: I hope you go to HELL. And I don't mean some wussy little neo-Patristic Orthodox hell where you don't get to see the uncreated light or something weak like that, I'm talking about the dark yet extremely hot Protestant hell like I grew up with where you fry forever at a temperature that would make my well-burdened sausages tremble with fear while various demons take turns poking you with pitchforks sharper than an Arkansas toothpick.

Oh yeah and on that note - Happy Halloween!

Converting the heretics

TheSpiritOfRain: 7 mintues is the ideal sermon length

mat: heh based on?

TheSpiritOfRain: the fact that I don't want to write any more on it

TheSpiritOfRain: :D

mat: haha

mat: nice

mat : any more and you'd need a commercial break after all

TheSpiritOfRain : exactly!

TheSpiritOfRain: its sad how much of a crowd it's drawing

TheSpiritOfRain: just so that people can be disappointed with a relatively uneventful homily

TheSpiritOfRain: :-
mat: haha

mat: oh we'll make it eventful if need be

TheSpiritOfRain: lol

TheSpiritOfRain: you and theo in thongs?

TheSpiritOfRain: :-*

TheSpiritOfRain: as I preach
against porn

TheSpiritOfRain: better yet

TheSpiritOfRain: I peach against the viles of fire-water

TheSpiritOfRain: while we bring in a plastered George and Binoy

mat: hahaha

mat: and then you'll convert us all

mat: baptize us in front of the icon of

mat: and you should still have 30 seconds left to say "oh and do your community service,

TheSpiritOfRain: LOL

TheSpiritOfRain: today Jesus is saying non-chalcedonian heathens repent!

TheSpiritOfRain: then theo from the back

TheSpiritOfRain: aaaaAAAA

TheSpiritOfRain: when the storm of e-cu-men-is-m

TheSpiritOfRain: began to rage oh savior against thy holy church

mat: hahaha

Friday, October 28, 2005

Give me that oooorganized religion

I just spent an hour on the phone catching up with a dear friend of mine who has a true heart of gold. Definately she's one of the few people who can out-talk me in a given conversation :O!

Anyhow, she's doing wonderfully, but one thing she said kind of disturbed me. She said that she'd considered being a nun, but that she has problems with organized religion in general.


It's always mildly disturbing to me when intelligent and well-meaning people say such a thing. It seems that it's the one comment I can't get used to because I simply don't get it. Sure, we organized religion folk have our issues, but then, what's the alternative?

Who's there to keep the faith? Who's there to teach our ways and pass on our understandings? How is it that God would be so bloody interested in chatting with individuals and so amazingly uninterested in our relations in community?

Have you ever noticed that although every organization has its problems, religion is a singular beast in terms of having to account for them? I wonder if my friend, who is well on her way to her PhD, listens to her own bemoanings about the cut-throat nature of academia? Or should I say, Organized Learning!

Don't all the same critiques apply? Cant I learn on my own through books? Do I need annoying other opinions? Isn't it enough that my heart is in it? can't the parents just teach it? How can we learn truth if so many academics are corrupt and only looking out for their agendas? What about all the different schools of thought - how can one be correct!

Doesn't this extend even to the evils of organized living? Corrupt families...corrupt politicians... etc. But can anarchy be the answer?

It occurs to me, who presumes God as a First Principle, that God is a God who prefers order to chaos - indeed the first 2 chapters of the Bible/Torah are precisely God bringing order from Chaos. It is only within order, when there is a Law be it civil, legal, Natural, or Divine, that true contemplation of the Good and the Bad can even begin. It is only once we have an organization and a structure that we can begin to evaluate the positives and ills of that structure. Ultimately it seems to me that for something to be of any value, to be passed on, to learn from its own mistakes, Order is a pre-requisite. Oftentimes that order makes me want to pull out my hair. Then again, all the good we do is only possible because of these same ponderous and irritating structures and resource pools: schools, clinics, a place for the lost and lonely and marginalize, a place to hold the rich and powerful accountable.

Don't think that I or anyone else deeply involved don't know the evils of massive religious structures...perhaps better than the outsiders who criticize us so much. I do. But I also know how much I owe to that very structure, to those before me, even to those before me and around me who taught me precisely what doesn't work and how not to behave.

I'm reminded of a sermon I gave recently on Matthew 23. Read it sometime, it's a most interesting little ditty. First Jesus tells the people to listen to the scribes and pharisees because they sit on Moses' throne. In other words, they teach the Will of God truly with their words. Then...after establishing their places of honor and authority... Jesus lambasts and condemns these same scribes and pharisees for their hypocrisy and ostentatiousness. I think what's going on here is a matter of responsibility. What's important is the God that the Church stands for and teaches. After all Christianity is not a religion that promises that it's members will all become perfect. Quite the opposite. We're a haven for sinners and for the fallen. We confess every Sunday before taking the Lord's body and blood: We are the "first of all sinners". We who are in charge will be accountable on that day before God's throne for all that we taught and practiced. But since we live in a world distorted by our own iniquities, we are at least an honest faith in that we admit to it up front and don't quit on each other. True Christians do not shoot their cowards and wounded. We reconcile them, we take the pain for them, and we do as the apostle Paul exorted us: Therefore bear one another's burdens. I think it's a matter of authenticity that our faith teaches the shortcomings and non-eliteness of those in the faith. It seems to account for the very shortcomings that are seen and criticized. There is only one Good one, and it is Him who we preach - not ourselves.

Just food for thought. ;)

Thursday, October 27, 2005

The sermon I actually gave for Luke 8:26-40

Well the good prof liked my actual sermon. So, here it is... albeit the written version is always a little different than my Chrysostom-like oratory:D

Being healed God’s way is always sacrificial. As seminarians we need to internalize this point. Hear it, learn it, inwardly digest it, write it down on the little piece of paper so that we have the same answer about it, and then go into the world and preach it - God’s way is always sacrificial. What’s more, God will sacrifice what is yours for his glory.

You don’t believe that? In today’s story Jesus makes the contrast between earthly and heavenly wholeness stark and obvious - he destroys the economic base of a community to save a single soul without apology. Jesus does not say "I'm sorry" for his ways. There you have it, God will liberate you. He will deliver you from the powers and provinces of the earth whether they be the fallen angels or the Caesar’s with their Legions. But, it’s only salvation if we’re willing to pay the price for each and every soul. If we’re not, we’ll probably kick and scream and wonder how God could do such things to our earthly wealth and security.

As the future pastors and teachers within Christ’s Church, we must ask ourselves - are we willing to pay the cost, sometimes in blood, sweat, and tears, for the salvation of each and every soul who feels the sting of God’s Love working in their life? Do you not think that Jesus will test you as he tested those in the country of the Gadarenes? Some souls out there take a lot of work. They take daily counseling, they take inordinate resources of time and money, they take acts of unreturned kindness and the assumption of an unequal yoke of mercy and forgiveness. Don't expect the person to return the love you gave them before the end. They may even break you before they understand what they are doing. It's like a drowning man who cannot swim and fights the lifeguard trying to rescue him. Nevertheless, the lifeguard is accountable for saving him. It is only with total confidence in the ultimate victory of Jesus that we can truly live our our vocation as pastors.

It is not a popular message. What is popular today is moderation. Everything in moderation. Moderation is always better.

Really? Pick up your cross in moderation? Serve your own demons and Caesar’s and the True God, all in moderation? If the Bible is a collection of books about moderation, then saints preserve us when we encounter God in a zealous mood!

Don’t be fooled, God is unimpressed by lukewarm self-justifying. Of all groups, does Orthodoxy need one more lesson in the problems encountered by trying to serve two masters? Of all people, shouldn’t we be the first to witness to the futility of trying to blend desire for worldly grandiosity and prosperity with the life of sacrifice we are called to by God?

God’s way is the hard and singular way of sacrifice. It always has been. It was sacrifice and hardship for Christ on the cross. In the garden of Gethsemane Christ is faced with the Father’s method and he asks "Is there any other way?" Then the silence.... then the inevitable conclusion: Of course not. There is never another way. There never has been.

It was sacrifice in the desert for the Hebrews. It was sacrifice unto death for Paul, and Peter, and Thomas, and for over half of the names that we Christians now bear. It was sacrifice in Moscow for those who told the Communists that God did not share Marx’s view on class warfare, it was sacrifice of social prestige and wealth for all of those under Islamic Shari’a who would not bow their knee to the Sultan. We only have the two options, put so well, albeit accidentally, by the Punk band Clash - Death and Glory, or just another story. It is precisely that Christ's story is one of Death and Glory and not just another story that keeps his tale ringing in our ears and hearts long after more practical stories have died out.

For those of us in ministry our cross is often small. It’s usually nothing more than the collection of all those small things we’re supposed to do but find so difficult. Can we go before the throne on that day and say that we didn’t have the patience to teach our lay?, that we didn’t have the money to help the poor?, that we didn’t have the desire to support our missionaries or even perhaps the zeal to be missionaries ourselves?, can we let our laity ease by with the excuse that they don’t have time to gather in community once a week?

Count the costs before agreeing with me. There is a price to be paid for doing things God’s way, and God will make that price evident enough when he comes for our demons. When the fire of God’s desire turns to us and it is our Legions that must be cast out, that's when we'll know. When the Lord calls our phone collect we don't have the option to hang up. The wealth we were allowed to Steward was there for a reason, and it is on God's time, and not our that we are called upon to spend it. Are willing to spend all that we have so that our ministry will save one lonely, naked, disgraced soul that is lost in the wilderness? When that time comes the decision will be clear. We can choose the Cross and praise God for the salvation he has wrought in our midst... or else we can whine about our earthly loss and hardships as the Hebrews did in Egypt, or as the swineherders did today, and we can choose Legion.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

The sermon I thought of writing for Luke 8:26-40

I've since decided better of it. Here's how the rant started out anyway:

In 1854 there was a battle fought in the Ukraine between English and Russian forces at a place called Balaklava. After the battle was already over a delayed order reached the Light Brigade, a unit of aristocratic British cavalry. At this point it would be a suicidal move - even in retreat a unit of light cavalry doesn’t charge across open ground against an entrenched enemy. It was suicide. The poet Alfred Lord Tennyson recounts what happened next:

Half a league, half a league,Half a league onward,
All in the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.
"Forward, the Light Brigade!"Charge for the guns!" he said:
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.
Their's not to make reply,
Their's not to reason why,
Their's but to do and die:
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.

Moving isn’t it? Without knowing anything in particular about the cause or personalities involved in this battle, the poem itself has come to epitomize the glory of suicidal dedication to a cause. Don’t we all, at some level, want to be in the service of The King? Don’t we all, at least in the beginning, as children, seek to live and die for a King and a Cause worth serving? Christians are called to exactly this service. The suicidal charge of the Light Brigade is not so different in many respects from what is being asked of Christians: We serve a King, he has given us orders, and those orders will lead to the death of us, one way or the other.

It is no coincidence that Luke uses the word "Legion" to describe the demons confronted by Jesus. A well-trained Roman legion was nearly indestructible on the 1st century battlefield. Legions were the base of power from which one Mediterranean port ruled a vast empire. A person must be truly desperate, or just plain stupid, to have lined up against one of these iron-clad juggernauts four ranks deep with battle hardened veterans. With such warriors Caesar could impose himself on the lives and loyalties of the known world.

The many demonic rulers of this world impose themselves on the minds and realities of God’s people in exactly the same way. In their path is...well... us. At least, we’re supposed to be. We have our General and we have our orders - hold your ground, no weapons allowed, follow King Jesus’ lead. It is a glorious calling, in the same titillating and childish way as was the order given to the doomed Light Brigade. And, just like the Light Brigade, our opponent is already defeated, we are ordered only to join the final charge and show our unflinching loyalty to The King.

It is with this kind of Death or Glory attitude that most of us enter the ranks of King Jesus’ church. Oh to join the ranks of those bold saints before us. To tell the forum of Caesar that they can shoot us, stab us, draw and quarter us, but there is still only one King and he does not share power with Augustus!

Yet, as the famous punk band The Clash says, Death or Glory becomes just another story. Our pettiness dooms us to becoming just another sluggardly victim of the particulars of church: How do the Canons about a Bishop riding a horse apply to hang gliders? Did that spaced out altar boy just walk on the outside rather than the inside of the ikon? How can those two be thinking of marriage when he’s a garbage man convert and she’s the chancellor’s daughter! Why are the OCA students constantly with their faces on the ground during Holy Week? Do they think they’re better than us? Why are the Greeks and Antiochenes just doing a little curtsy bow to the altar? Can you believe that parent opened the very gates of hell itself by allowing their child to trick-or-treat for Halloween? And of course, what if in the process of translating the Byzantine hymns into Western Notation so that our congregations can actually yunno, brace yourselves - sing them - we throw off the original, pristine, authentic Byzantine trill in the eighth measure by a quarter of a note? May as well ask the Papists to teach the next class!

It’s not that particulars don’t have their place, they do. Order does beat chaos. But folks, no young British Count joined the Light Brigade with daydreams of one day cutting down a few stragglers. No Prophet ever said "but God, I can’t go prophesy against Jerusalem, there’s no air conditioning in Jerusalem and besides, my wife doesn’t like the school system."

Likewise, nobody worth having in the ranks of the Church Militant ever signed up for Christ’s martyr brigade just to be chastised for censing wrong their first time as a deacon, or being berated for giving a poor sermon their first time in chapel or, saints preserve us, what about those idiots in class who can’t score an A- on the topic of what Justin meant by the word "Word". How could such a person ever pastor the flock? Sure, there’s martyrdom to be accepted and dying to self to be done, but not too much, lest my grades slip from Summa Cum Laude to regular Cum Laude and Notre Dame reject my application outright! There’s feeding the poor to be done, but I don’t have time or money for that - of course somehow I came up with 75 grand for a wedding ring and reception, but that doesn’t really show any questionable values on my part does it?

How can we criticize the pettiness of our parishioners when we’re the same way? The crucified life... hmm yeah... but also there’s that job I want, the grade I need to make, and the lifestyle I have become "accustomed to" (as they would say in divorce court).