Saturday, January 28, 2006

6 Gig Icon memoirs

I just had one of those experiences that accidentally occur and need to be recorded somewhere. My newly acquired 6-Gig CD Tincan Experiment (they're a hard rock band from Portland, Maine is the source. They broke up about 7 months ago, but they're older stuff is mad good if you like that stuff and listen to it all the way through a couple of times.

Anyhow, 6-Gig's T.E. has about six songs on it that remind me of certain people I know and moments I've shared with them - moments in my life that are inexorably linked with this specific person.

In one of my typically nostalgic moments I opened up some computer photos of one of them and just stared at it as the corresponding song played. It's like the entire economy of my time with this individual flashed before me, even events that never occured...might have occured... had this been that and that been this, which of course it isn't and can't be.

As the songs kept playing I felt like watching a musical. I'd open another picture and more events... more timeline... more shoulda coulda woulda's... more did's and didnt's... like icons on the church while the choir sings...mirroring lives long gone but never you look at the eyes and the choir chants...they're martyrd again, I'm on the beach again...they're silently smiling with a subdued joy as the crowds lift them in hatred...death to the ones who would free us...and men preferred the I prefer the darkness...why dwell on things that never were?...How the hell does that relate to icons and choirs...but it does...but it's illogical...but it does

bah! whatever.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Bible as First Context - Orthodox Sola Scriptura!

It's becoming increasingly obvious to me that as Orthodox we need to stress more and more the foundational basis of Scripture in our faith. Although we tend to say like Florovsky that "Tradition is Scripture read rightly", we tend to think of it as Scripture being usurped by the authority of Tradition.

I think it is more proper to emphasize our Tradition, and indeed the location of its claim to be the 'fullest expression of the Christian Faith' specifically in the way our Tradition exegetes Scripture.

Many don't realize that our Confessional decisions, anathmatizations, hymns, icons, and prayer and SAcramental/liturgical language are all claims on ways to read Scripture - over and against other ways of reading Scripture. This is why converts into the Church take a vow to "read and interpret the Holy Scriptures as they have been understood and interpreted by the Fathers and life of the Church". It isn't simply a vow to assent to certain dogmas and come to the same conclusions as certain Fathers - it's also a vow to use our methods and not those of others!

Few realize the exegetical dimensions of the Christological debates in the 4th and 5th centuries. there's actually an exegetical difference between Arius and Alexander/Athanasius! It is this exegetical difference that allows both heretics and orthodox to quote the Scriptures. Our decision to side one way and not the other provides but one of our hermeneutics. hermeneutics which are not universal, but rather somewhat particular to the life of our community.

If we start with Scripture as our First Context - the foundation of all else we do in the Church - and we begin to mean this not in some sort of spiritualized way where Scripture creates a 'general trajectory' that we follow up on, but rather in a specific way that all parts of our Church are a particular and often polemical claim on the way we read Scriptures, I think it would greatly illumine how Tradition functions in the Church, and by couching it in Scriptural language it will be much more approachable to those from sola scriptura backgrounds.

It'll also make us take our Scriptures much more seriously. Everything hinges on these books! We are not claiming to be the creators of Scripture so much as we're claiming that we are the best at reading them. We have maintained the decisions of right and wrong exegesis from the Christian body throughout all Christian history in a way others have not. We're not only not a historical/critical Church claiming that we have more historically and more critically read Scripture, but we are a claim of reading them over and against this method.


Tuesday, January 17, 2006

How popular is "popular" religion?

Much of our time as concerned seminarians is spent wondering how exactly we can put our training in the gospel message into "everyday language". Hmm... well.

We're always having to dumb it down, simplify it, etc. Now I'm the last person who would have time for an intellectually elitist faith. It's not per say intellectual snobbery but rather a function of priorities that prompts me to ask - How popular is "popular" religion?

I mean seriously. If we're going to be a witness to the world, and the world we Westerners live in is certainly a very intellect-heavy world, then how far can be expected to dumb down the message while still expecting to be a meaningful part of people's lives?

It seems that if our parishioners aren't willing to spend at least a couple of hours a week besides church time in study, prayer, and intentional reflection on their faith, then faith will always be at a disadvantage in the intellectual sphere. I don't think it's a function of IQ. Aside from grades I could teach a monkey most of the basics that we learn in seminary... but the monkey and I would need a lot of time.

I believe we've moved into a new age in faith. This age will be less church-centric in the physical sense. It might not be ideal, but it will be a reality. We must adapt. There are thousands of tools thought up in dark corners of seminaries and parish councils on a regular basis, but few make it into the church's bloodstream.

It will be important for priests to gradually adopt a similar motif that Rabbis serve in Jewish communities, or ministers in many Protestant communities. Liturgical services and Sacramental celebrations are great, but in my honest opinion they will need to become less and less important in terms of our cultural DNA, replaced by more time spent in small groups, meeting parishioners where they are and when they have time, teaching them the faith through Scripture studies and small group ministries.

This will also be made possible primarily by the empowerment of small group leaders so that priests don't have to do everything. Lay leaders will be the key to promoting the faith in a more and more geographically disconnected reality that moderns find themselves in.

Gay Love Fest

The Golden Globes were held last night, and as usual Hollywood couldn't wait to get on its moral pedastal and preach morality down to the throng (us).

I think these comments kind of capture the 'spirit' of the events:

The cowboy romance "Brokeback
" led the Golden Globes on Monday with four prizes, including
dramatic film and the directing honor for Ang

It was a triumphant night for films dealing with
homosexuality and
transsexuality. Along with the victories for "Brokeback
Mountain," acting honors
went to Felicity
in a gender-bending role as a man preparing for sex-change
in "Transamerica"
and Philip Seymour
as gay author Truman Capote in "Capote."

know as actors our job is usually to shed our skins, but I think as
our job is to become who we really are and so I would like to salute the
and women who brave ostracism, alienation and a life lived on the margins to
become who they really are," Huffman said as she accepted her

Director Lee's "Brokeback Mountain," the story of two rugged
family men (Heath Ledger
and Jake
) concealing their affair, has emerged as a front-runner for
Oscars — which occasionally have handed out top acting prizes for
performers in
homosexual or gender-bending roles but have never given the
best-picture Oscar
to a gay-themed film.

"Brokeback Mountain"
also won for best screenplay and song, "A Love That
Will Never Grow Old."
I think that I'm definately going to be ill.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Article on sex and relationships for Catholic website

Although I will not list the website I submitted this to unless it is printed (and it's not well written... I've gotten sloppy in popular writing) I still wanted to put it up here.

Asking Christian Questions: How Church Imagery Guides Sexual Ethics
- by Roland Ray Fulmer III

(author's note: Although I'm an Orthodox I've written this article presuming the role of a Roman Catholic out of respect for the audience and because the imagery and points do not vary much between those confessions.)

It is a fact that most Catholics never speak about ethics in a uniquely Christian way. We often overlook the most obvious point of logic - that Christian ethics are not the same as world ethics because they’re based on a reality that is accepted only by the faithful. I believe that before we can speak sensibly as Catholics about ethical issues, we must first learn how to ask evaluative questions based on the Biblical and Sacramental images that distinguish Catholics from other groups of people. This little essay is my proposition on how we might begin to form a uniquely Catholic approach to asking questions concerning our sexual ethics and marital relationships.

In order to clarify Christian ethics against secular proposals, let me address (in oversimplified form) some responses to a couple of typical secular alternatives.

There's the Realist, who assumes that humans do not possess the self-control necessary to tame our sexual passions, and should therefore concentrate on ensuring the physical safety of sexually active persons. We differ from the Realist in that we believe sex to have spiritual ramifications that are beyond mere security threats such as STD’s.

We’re equally not at liberty to assume the view of the Romantic, who holds that sex is the proper result of a subjective (often completely undefined) "level of depth" in a relationship.
For all that they might differ the Romantic and the Realist are two sides of the same coin. Both see sex as a matter of private personal fulfillment. Both at some level see sexual ethics as a discussion about the cost/benefit analysis between physical gratification and potential insecurities. There’s a good reason that this equation sounds like the social and economic conversations of Western liberal democracies like the US. It’s our culture and nothing more.

As Christians we are not a voluntary association of autonomous sexual beings who might seek a public symbol like marriage if the "depth of relationship" seems to demand it. In fact, there is no language in the Bible or worship tradition of the Church that recognizes the myriad of intermediary relationships between the married and single states that we often reference as if they had some sort of divine sanction - "dating", "boyfriend/girlfriend", "just friends", etc.
What we are is a community of God’s servants who form a single spiritual family - the Church - which exists to continue Christ’s redeeming ministry on earth. As members of this family, we have the option of marriage as one way to live a Christ-centered life within the spiritual family.

We also acknowledge singleness, which is a chaste calling whether it is temporary or permanent. We do not acknowledge or validate third, fourth, and fifty-seventh alternatives. It is the ideal of Christian marriage and its counterpart, singleness, which judge both our sexual behavior outside of marriage and our rationales for seeking to be married.

Christian marriage is not an endeavor to find self-fulfillment in another person. That’s idolatry, and it makes our marriages another form of self-centered usury. Marriage is part of the Church’s collective mission to live out and witness to the gospel on earth. For Christians marriage is not a default condition. That’s important. The Church has always taught that singleness and marriage are different vocations, but for the same goal of building the spiritual family. Marriage is no less of a vocational choice than singleness, and requires the same level of seriousness and sacrifice to succeed. Marriage, like lifelong singleness, is a vow that the Christian takes after trying to discern which state enables him/her to more fruitfully live the gospel. Living the gospel in a manner which is more beneficial to the public mission of the Church should be the primary criteria for our choice of singleness or marriage. The Church family grows and prospers through new births, disciple-centered partnerships, and unburdened single servants. The family does not grow by individuals inventing radically different alternatives that contain unspecified meanings for a handful of people outside the Church.

As opposed to the Romantic’s fluid view of ‘love’, which might or might not eventually manifest itself as a commitment, Christian love is a commitment, one that is coupled with powerful symbols which are recognized by the entire body. Our Sacraments are not primarily the recognition of a reality that already exists, but are ritual promises that declare what our roles and commitments in the community will be.

For Christians there are no "secret commitments". Universal meanings and public titles must be shared if the Church is truly to be ‘one’ and ‘catholic’ (universal) in the creedal sense. Besides it’s only reasonable; there are few if any situations where we are more susceptible to self-deception than when we’re trying to balance objectivity with sexual desire. Public formality is needed to define the rights and responsibilities of arrangements so that we are not so easily confused.

Think of it this way - what if people started assuming the role of priests by taking ‘private vows’? What if each local church got to determine what they considered a priest without the consent of the larger Church. I dare say that the very idea of what we mean by "priest" would be endangered in a very short amount of time. How could a Church in Vancouver accept the priesthood of person from San Francisco who had not taken the priestly vows necessary to be a priest in Vancouver? Not a very ‘catholic’ way of doing things.

Christians are necessarily limited in their vocational options. Limitation is vital for clarity and public understanding, but it rubs against the selfish grain of American society. Perhaps this is why we’re so eager to create fourth and fifth options for ourselves and demand that the Church ‘keep up with the times.’ We want to impose our individual views of right and wrong on the Church and force it to bless what we want rather than being corrected by the collective ideals of the family. That mindset was once unique to Protestantism, but American Catholics today are equally guilty.

The Church holds that its words and symbols create new realities, and do not merely recognize old ones. For example, the wording of marriage vows begins with "Will you..."? It doesn’t ask if this vow is your current practice, nor if you have practiced it in the past, but rather it asks if you will (from this point forward) grow into the promises you’re now making. Marriage in this sense is like an ordination to the priesthood or taking monastic orders. A woman does not make vows because she is a nun, she becomes a nun because she takes the appropriate vows. A Christian marriage forges a commitment, one that is manifestly different than it was before the vows.

An interesting point is that the Sacramental language the Church uses for marriage is also the biblical language used for fornication. Sex makes the two people "become one flesh", just as marriage does. Paul is scandalized in 1 Corinthians 6 not so much because there’s illicit sex going on, but because the marriage-through-fornication is an affront to the Body of Christ (the Church). So the real sin is not fornication in the sense of sex without marriage, but according to this image sex is a marriage - one that lacks the approval of the spiritual family. It’s a very radical idea - for Christians there is no per say "sex outside of marriage"; there are only false marriages that do not include the vows that bind them to the larger spiritual family. So, fornication is never beneficial to the Church community because it presumes the rights of marital unity without integrating the relationship with the responsibilities imposed by the Church family - therefore fornication cannot "serve God" in a Christian sense.

By taking our imagery seriously we come to see that Christian questions cannot be those of the Realist or the Romantic. We have to establish first and foremost that we’re all speaking the same Biblical/Sacramental language of the Church. Then we have to understand our relationships as being part of the Church’s mission to create new and better disciples of the gospel. Once these understandings are in place, we can only conclude that Christian ethical questions must be by design public, confessional, and tied to the mission of the Church.

The precise questions we should therefore be asking are too numerous to sort out, but I think the three qualities of Christian ethics are themselves good guidelines if stated as questions: Am I publicly comfortable acknowledging my sexual behavior? Are my sexual activities governed by rights and responsibilities imposed from the Church? Does my relationship serve to bring the self-emptying love of Christ to a broken world, or am I primarily in this relationship business for my own self-fulfillment?

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Confessions of a Militant Homophobic

Apparently medical textbooks are now defining 'Homophobia' as "The presumption that heterosexuality is the only normative or ideal sexual orientation for a human person."

lol. Count me in.

Let me give you a little history on this BS. First of all, it began with the 1973 decision by the American Psychiatric Association to take homosexuality off the list of disorders in the DSM IV which could be treated as Psychiatric issues. Now of course the reasons were purely political - in point of fact there is no criteria that can be applied to homosexuality that cannot also be applied to bestiality as a concept of desirable behavior. Increased level of disease contamination (both), antithetical to widely held sensibilities of society (both), consent of all human persons involved in the sexual activity (both - we kill chickens for food, you're not going to sell me on the cruelty of using one to get jollies, that would mean that rape is worse than murder - im not buying it), violation of the function-by-design principle (usually crudely dubbed 'natural law' - both): Indeed I fail to see any reason other than a change in the general sensibility of our society for one to be legal and the other not.

Here's the blunt fact - We can accept or not accept homosexuality as a disorder, but few if any of us want to have a homosexual child. Deep down I think we're all painfully aware that we don't think of it as just another option. Also, we all know wonderful gay people. Gay relationships are not ever necessarily worse than hetero relationships in terms of self-fulfillment, if indeed that is the basic point of committed relationships (which as a Christian I feel that it isnt). From a Christian perspective 'love' is a force of will in any case, and so gay people can in fact love each other - these things are not in question.

Even with all of that, it strikes me as absurd how freely we are now defining phobias in medical textbooks so that people can be labled for taking a stand against what society wishes to become normal. That's just revolting.

Episcopal Church sermon - Epiphany

A friend of mine at an Episcopal Church here asked me to do their sermon at the Epiphany service yesterday. Here is the sermon I actually gave and the readings I had to work with.

Sermon for the Epiphany service, Jan. 6, 2006; Matthew 2:1-12 & Psalm 72:1-2, 10-17.

A Tale of Two Kings

Our service today began with the Prayer for Light, which asks that all the nations of the earth serve the King Jesus Christ . The Kings of Tarshis and Arabia should kneel before him and do him service.

If I could give a title to the Gospel reading today I think I would call it ‘A Tale of Two Kings’. It’s a showdown between a man-made King, Herod, and a God King, Jesus Christ, both of whom are demanding full obedience. The three wise men, gentiles and strangers to Israel, make the issue abundantly clear when they ask Herod, the ruling King of the Jews, where the King of the Jews has been born. In effect they’re not really asking Herod a question so much as they’re telling him something - this one who is born is the real King of the Jews, and you my friend, are not.

When we speak in Scripture about the nation of Israel, we should keep in mind that the Church has always thought of itself as the New Israel. So, Israel’s story is our story, and Israel’s problems are still our problems. So when I tell you about Israel’s history, these are our people... in point of fact, they’re us.

Of all Israel’s problems, perhaps the most obvious is that in their public worship they’ve always prayed in the Psalms for a certain kind of King. Today we’ve prayed this same Psalm. We pray for a King who is as Just as God. A King who is so wonderful that all the nations will kneel to him and pay him homage... a King who defends the needy, rescues the poor, and so that we’re being fair to the full Psalm, a King who will crush the oppressors. We are praying for a King that does for us what God did for the Hebrews in Egypt. Now praying for such a King is no problem. But, the King Israel prays for has never been the King we’ve actually had.
This is an issue which goes back to the seldom read book of I Samuel, when the Jews ask God for a King like the other nations. God, speaking through Samuel, gives the people a choice: He says to them - you can have this King like the other nations, but the whole point of being my people is that you’re supposed to serve Me, unlike the nations. So, you can have your King, but he will be a King exactly like the other nations... like Egypt’s Pharaoh who I liberated you from. Pharaoh who ignored the commands of your God, made you build his palace, ignored your poverty, drafted you for his wars, and finally killed your children to protect his own self-interest - this is going to be the model for your new King. And if you choose this King, then you’re rejecting me as your King. The people reply - "give us a King".

They got their wish, and God kept his promise. Israel’s Kings in Scripture govern them pretty much exactly like Pharaoh would have. Herod is just the latest model in a long line of defective products.

On some level we all want the King that the Psalmist describes more than we want a Pharaoh. But although we want the right kind of King, we’re usually more comfortable serving a Pharaoh - a false King of our own making. Why in the world is that true? Is it that we’re illogical? I don’t think so.

No, the allure of Pharaoh is that, for all his many faults, he’s very secure. Pharaoh gave the Hebrews bread when they were starving. Pharaoh’s armies were strong enough that outsiders didn’t come poking around. Pharaoh did not stand for chaos - he decreed laws and enforced them. No doubt theft and murder were not big problems in Pharaoh’s Egypt. You could have a very nice life if you did what Pharaoh commanded. At the time Moses was called by God he was a prince in Egypt. The rub is that Pharaoh does all of these things for his own good. You see... Pharaoh’s bread keeps you alive, but it’s the bread of slavery. No matter how good life is, Pharaoh is merely taking care of himself. He will turn on you in a heartbeat. When he feels threatened, he kills the innocent Hebrew children and loses no sleep over it. Herod also kills the Hebrew children to protect his position. God’s chosen or not, no baby is taking Herod’s spot! Man’s Kings haven’t learned very much.

But according to the wise men there’s a new King in town - one who will live up to the Psalm we pray. In fact, at the end of the reading they are the first among the many nations to kneel before him and pay him homage as the Psalm anticipates. Jesus Christ is called by the wise men "King of the Jews". He is never again called by this title until the end of the Gospel, when he is on the cross and the people in their rage put a sign above his head that reads "Here is Jesus, King of the Jews." He is on the cross, mockingly proclaimed a King, on his head is the only crown he ever wears - a crown of thorns. This is not a King who guarantees his subjects physical security. In fact, it’s not even a King who guarantees a long or happy life. If we do things the way our King says to do them, if we serve his Kingdom as we pray to do in the Lord’s prayer, then we can expect the same sort of reception that he received - in Christ’s words "if the world hated you, it hated me first."

The cross is the price we pay for our freedom. Like Pharaoh gave the people bread so that they could work for his kingdom, God also gives us our heavenly bread so that we might serve His Kingdom. But unlike Pharaoh’s bread of slavery, God’s bread is the bread of freedom and righteousness. This is the bread of heaven that we take at the Eucharist. But notice that when we eat the bread of heaven, we also drink the blood of the covenant. It’s a constant reminder that this is the price of our freedom from the powers of this world. "If you would be my disciple, take up your cross, and follow me." Blood and suffering are the prices we must be willing to pay if we’re going to serve the true King. Try to sell that message on the shopping network.

Brothers and sisters in Christ this is a hard teaching, but we can’t shy away from it. This is the very faith we Baptize our children into. This is what it means to die in the waters of Baptism and rise to a new life - serving a new King.

Now of course dying to ourselves sounds like a bold calling, but how do we start? It’s not exactly a standard New Year’s resolution. You know, Betty says she’s going to diet, Tom’s decided to exercise three times a week, Bill’s going to die to the passions of this world and not serve its false gods. No, it’s at least a lifelong process. But we can start.

Scripture tells us that if we’re faithful in a little, we’ll be faithful in much. So let me propose a couple of little things that you and I can do when we leave this service.

First, let’s make a pact, as a body, to be honest about which King we serve. Don’t over-
spiritualize this. Don’t try to be a spiritual lawyer. As a wise man once told me - " it’s very simple, wherever your money and time are, there is your King and your God."

Look at the small and often innocent assumptions that give us away: We think nothing of the government of our nation taking half of our income, but we think the priest is a money-grubbing bad guy if he suggests ten percent. It’s disturbing how little Christians protest about the ease with which our nation can order its people to kill and be killed, but I dare say that we all consider being martyred for the faith entirely outside the realm of acceptable behavior. Our government can even draft us against our will, and seize our property, you know, when something "really needs to get done". Imagine what we would say if the Church tried to pull that one.

Even in terms of education - spending four to twelve years in higher education is something we encourage all our kids to do, but how often do we suggest to them that they should take some real time out of their life to learn their faith. I don’t mean any of this to condemn our nation, or a particular administration, or least of all the best intentions of good parents, but I do want us to be up front about what our priorities are and what they say about the King we serve at any given time.

Secondly, before making any meaningful decisions, why don’t we all try and develop the habit of taking one or two minutes to open our hearts, lift our voice in prayer to God, and ask our Father in Heaven - "In this situation, how can I do your will and not my own?" Simple isn’t it? This prayer works for people of all ages and it works no matter what the situation is. It’s nothing but a variation on the Lord’s Prayer - Thy Kingdom come, Thy Will be done, on earth, as it is in heaven. It’s simple prayers like this that form new saints and new servants for the Kingdom of God. It’s in the opening of our hearts to God’s prayerful answer that we can ensure that we’re following the King Jesus Christ, who we prayed for in the Psalm, and not some other King of our own making who offers us security and profit... at the cost of our souls.


Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Sermons Matthew 2:1-12

i'm giving the sermon for the Epiphany service at an Episcopal Church in my home town. The Gospel reading is Matthew 2:1-12 and the chanted Psalm is 72:1-2;10-17.

When the Wise men ask Herod where the King of the Jews is located, meaning the baby Jesus, they are doing more than simply asking an innocent question. They’re well aware that Herod is the ruling King of the Jews. They’re not just asking a question, but they’re also making a statement - this baby Jesus is the True King, and you, my friend, are not.

But, the Gospel reading isn’t really about Herod anyway, it’s about Pharaoh. Herod is none other than the Egyptian Pharaoh of Exodus. If there’s any doubt about this, read the first four chapters of Exodus and the first two chapters of Matthew side-by-side. Herod and Pharoah, man they’re two peas in a pod. Both hear God’s will, both know that if they heed it they will lose power and position, and both react by denying God’s will and trying to serve their own will, especially by killing the innocents, who are always the first to feel the bitter sting of a Man-made King who wishes to rule like a God.

The problem with Kings is always the same, from Pharaoh to Saul to Solomon to Herod. Kings think they are God. They want their will to be done, and they want God to keep his mouth shut. This isn’t just true of Herod. It’s also true at times of every ism and ology, every political movement and nation on earth. It’s true of every other master who tells us that they will give us salvation and paradise if only we would follow them instead of our Lord Jesus Christ.

The Gospel reading is presenting us with a choice - we can choose to serve earthly man-made kings, or we can choose to serve Jesus Christ, the King of Kings. It’s not accidental that we began the reading of the Gospel by saying "Glory to you, Lord Christ". Bishop NT Wright points out that we may as well say "Glory to you, King Christ." It’s hard to understand the kingly language that we use for Christ unless we first realize that it is, at its root, a claim against other kings. We can only fully serve one King in our lives. That King can be Christ, or it can be any of the Pharaoh’s, Saul’s, Herod’s, nations, philosophies or man-made concepts that we choose.

This is a hard saying for us because we like our many identities. As a college professor of mine put it: "The more identities a person has the more moderate they are." It’s undeniable! Every identity that we have, if none takes priority over the others, is one more set of values and priorities we have to square with before we can take an action.

Sure, we like being Christian most of the time, but we also like being American, and we love our families, and we love our professional identity, and we love our sports teams, and we love our money. Ultimately we love moderation, because moderation is comfortable. The world often tells us that this is the way. "Everything in moderation! All things are good in moderation. Excess and devoutness are the paths to disaster." Of course, there’s nothing inherently wrong with loving all of these things, but there is something wrong when we begin to see them as equal. It’s impossible to serve a King like Christ and think we can pick up our cross, in moderation. Or that we can treat our bodies as a temple of God, in moderation. Or that we can count others above ourselves, in moderation. No, moderation of our Christian faith is the road to irrelevance. It’s moderation in our faith that causes the rest of the world to say "Christians... seriously... for all your talk you don’t look any different than the rest of us." And they’re right.

You cannot serve God and another master equally. God’s way it too hard for that. Christianity is an extreme calling, it’s a counter-cultural movement no matter what culture we live in. If it’s true that multiple kings and identities lead us to be more moderate, then it’s also true that multiple kings will moderate our service to the true king, Jesus Christ. That’s a problem.

Evaluate your own priorities sometime. Is it not true that most of us think nothing of people willingly giving their lives for their country? Is it any news to anyone in this church who has ever paid taxes that the government gets half of what you earn without question? How many of us invite the poor and needy to our parties and wedding receptions?

Yet we usually consider the idea of being martyred for the faith insane. Missionaries and martyrs are crazy people, entirely unsuited for our comfortable world. For most of us, giving 10% of our money to the Church is preposterous and we’d think the priest was money grubbing if he asked for it. As for the poor and the imprisoned - we help them at a comfortable distance. But taking them out to dinner with us? Considering them as potential wedding guests? Absolutely not. We forget that it isn’t just a sack lunch here and there that they need, it’s our love and inclusion. It’s our time and our concern.

It’s not that we’re ‘bad people’ per say, but the Gospel doesn’t let us off so easily. Our standard is not "good person" as opposed to "bad person"... or in the modern lingo "a nice person" as opposed to "a mean person". Our standard is Jesus Christ, who, although having all the power of heaven and earth, decided not to use it against us, but to suffer for us, to wash our feet, to teach us, and to guide us into a better way, even when it hurt.

Do we really give allegiance to Christ’s idea of Kingship? What is that idea anyway? Well, the only other time in Matthew that Christ is called a King is when he is on the cross and the people mockingly put a sign above him that says "Here is Jesus, King of the Jews". The only crown he wears in his life is the crown of thorns. This is not a King that guarantees his subjects physical security. In fact, it’s not even a King who guarantees his subjects a long and happy life. If we do things the way our King says to do them, if we serve His Kingdom, as we pray in the Lord’s prayer, "thy Kingdom come", then we can expect nothing less than to share an end similar to his - suffering at the hands of those who we try to help. As Christ says, if the world hates you, they have hated me first.

This is the King who we claim to serve! This is the faith we Baptize our children into! If we’re going to serve our King, we must die to our worldly wants and expectations, take up our cross, empty ourselves of the temptation to take advantage of any position, privilege, or advantage that we have, and sacrifice ourselves on the altar of serving others... Try to sell that message on the shopping network!

Now of course, while that’s all well and good, how do we start to do such a thing? ‘Dying to ourselves’ sounds great, but how do we start? As usually, the maxim that if you’re faithful in a little, then you will be faithful in much holds true. Martyrs and saints are born one decision at a time, just like they always have been. We cannot simply decide as a New Years Resolution to die to ourselves and do God’s will instead of that of an earthly King. What we can do is begin with a simple prayer of discernment. Before making any decision of consequence, we can simply ask God, in prayer, with an open heart - "If I take this path, am I doing your will, or my own? Am I serving first the Kingdom of God?, or am I serving first the Kingdom of Man?"

Young people and especially young adults, so that you don’t feel left out, let me remind you that you are not the future of the Church - you are the present of the Church. You’re just as Baptized as your parents are. If you accept Christ as your King, then take your faith seriously! It isn’t popular at your age. You’ll be called weird. But, emptying ourselves in order to love others is not something that is limited by age or intelligence.

All your young life you will be peppered with self-centered questions - What do you want to be? How much money do you want to make? What job do you want to have? Are you going to make a lot of money, or will you do what you love? Don’t be mislead by all of these misguided questions. There is only one question that a servant of Christ needs to ask and it is the same at any age - Who do you want to serve? Do you want to serve the kind of King who can get you a nice house, a nice car, a nice looking girlfriend or boyfriend?

Or, do you want to serve the kind of King we prayed for in the Pslam for today? The kind who delivers the poor, helps those who cannot help themselves, and delivers the oppressed from violence? The way for you is the same as it is for your elders - pray with an open heart, asking God if your decisions are serving His will or your own. The answers might be more obvious that you think.

If we’re going to serve our only Lord and King Jesus Christ, then we have to prioritize our other identities. Our other loves, our other kings, can only be taken into consideration once we’ve cleared our ways with Christ. Only after we’re sure that we are doing God’s will can we think about how to take care of our other wants and needs.

So, let’s not remember this evening as another service at the Church. Let’s remember this evening as a time when we prayed the Lord’s Prayer with a little more sincerity than we did yesterday. Let’s all recommit ourselves in the New Year to serve our the King Jesus Christ. Let’s remember this evening as a time when we truly mean it, from the bottom of our hearts, when we pray to God our Father, Thy Kingdom, and not Pharaoh’s, Come, Thy Will, and not ours, be done, on Earth, just like it is in heaven.