January 26, 2010

The Standing Committee of the Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh responds to Bishop Price

To: The Rt. Rev Kenneth L. Price, Jr.

Dear Bishop Price,

We were gratified to read, in your letter of January 20, that you were writing in a conciliatory spirit. As you know, a number of us in the Diocese have been working diligently with those in your fold to find helpful ways of moving forward in this difficult season. As the Standing Committee of the Diocese, we heartily endorse your desire for conversation with us, especially if it leads to concrete ways in which we might work through our mutual misunderstandings and divisions. For our part, we in the Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh continue to be eager to welcome back those parishes and clergy who have left our diocese. As you know, we continue to recognize the orders of those clergy who have left the diocese and make no claim on the property of parishes who are in your fold, making any transition back to us a simple transaction.

To this end, we would be grateful if a few of us, clergy and lay leaders in the diocese, could meet with you at your earliest convenience to see how we might together forge a better way forward, particularly concerning the litigation that is currently before the courts.

It would be most helpful to all if we could discuss our mutual hopes, desires and concerns for the future in a way that created space for reconciliation in the truth of the Gospel and mission in the Diocese of Pittsburgh.

In Christ,

The Standing Committee, The Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh

The Rev. Karen Stevenson, President
Mrs. Gladys Hunt-Mason
The Rev. Geoffrey Chapman
Mr. Kenneth Herbst
The Rev. Jonathan Millard
Mr. William Roemer
The Rev. Daniel Crawford
Mr. Stuart Simpson

TEC Bishop Wants to Talk to Anglicans in Pittsburgh

The Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh

January 20, 2010
(City, State, Zip)
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
You may be surprised to receive this letter from me, but please receive it in the same conciliatory spirit in which I am sending it.

Despite the events of the recent past, The Episcopal Church in the Diocese of Pittsburgh remains vibrant and united in Christ. To learn more about our mission, vision, values and actions, I encourage you to read the postings at our website, www.episcopalpgh.org.

I believe that much of the recent pain and turmoil in the Diocese of Pittsburgh has been caused by misunderstandings about The Episcopal Church. An important part of my ministry in Pittsburgh will be attempting to address these misunderstandings, which I believe is best done in face-to-face meetings.

While I acknowledge that your congregation is not actively participating in the life of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh, and may well even regard your parish as belonging to a separate Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh, in our eyes, all parishes that were part of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh before the Convention of October 2008 remain part of our Diocese. I do not say that to provoke disagreement, but only to convey our perspective on the matter.

I know that before I became the Bishop of our Diocese, the Standing Committee expressed their desire that all congregations be invited to reconcile and return to active participation in The Episcopal Church. I share that desire and believe that in Christ, all things are possible. I would welcome the opportunity to meet you and to learn more about you and your hopes, desires and concerns for the future. If you have questions or criticisms of The Episcopal Church, this would provide me an opportunity to address them. If you are open to such a discussion, please let me know.

May God’s blessing be upon you as you seek to serve our one Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.


Bishop Kenneth Price
TEC Diocese of Pittsburgh

January 15, 2010

URGENT: Earthquake Devastates

Haiti, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, was struck
by a magnitude 7.0 earthquake on Tuesday, January 11. The
quake was centered southwest of Port-au-Prince, a city of about 2
million inhabitants. Aftershocks have sparked fear and panic.
Reports indicate that most buildings – including hospitals, relief
agencies and churches – have collapsed or are unsafe. There is
extensive loss of life, and unimaginable injury.
The Anglican Relief and Development Fund (ARDF) is working with
our partners to respond with assistance to the victims.
"Having led several medical missions to Haiti in the 1970s and 80s,
I am particularly concerned for our response to those good and
suffering people in our hemisphere’s poorest country. We Anglican
Christians need to respond to the devastation both with our
prayers and resources," said Archbishop Robert Duncan.
You can help Haiti now. Please give generously to the Anglican
Relief and Development Fund: www.anglicanaid.net or checks
may be sent to:

The Anglican Relief and Development Fund
PO Box 3830
Pittsburgh PA 15230-3830
Memo line: “Haiti”

Wicca’s Invitation

Pagan practices are meeting with an increasingly receptive audience in the Episcopal Church. Is it the consequence of an unmet need?
Jeff Walton
January 14, 2010
The following article originally appeared in Forward in Christ Magazine

The monthly meditation had a playful air about it.

“A crone is an old woman. A crone is a witch. A crone is a wise woman. Which one will you be, my friend? Which one I?”

Wrapped around a rite for “croning”, the meditation embraced a history of mystical women and offered prayers to “Mothering God” and “Eternal Wisdom.” But the article was not in a new age publication or Wiccan blog: it was on the pages of the September newsletter of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington.

Entitled “Crone Power”, the meditation innocuously sat opposite a story about choosing a children’s Bible and next to a column on St. Jerome. The newsletter quickly drew the attention of Anglican bloggers, many of whom found the placement of what appeared to be a Wiccan ritual to be jarring in an official church publication. But intentionally or not, the publication and placement of the rite were reflective of a new reality: one in which practices drawn from or inspired by pagan belief, including witchcraft, are increasingly finding acceptance within the ranks of the Episcopal Church.

“Croning rituals have been a part of modern day witchcraft since [English occultist] Gerald Gardner invented it in the 1950s,” explains Catherine Sanders, author of Wicca's Charm: Understanding the Spiritual Hunger Behind the Rise of Modern Witchcraft and Pagan Spirituality. Sanders, an evangelical Christian, spent several years researching pagan practices and witnessed their incorporation into the church during the writing of her book. Sanders said that croning, the practice of honoring a woman who has gone through menopause, became more popular in the 1970s with the women’s movement.

“Most of the mainline denominations had people within them experimenting with pagan rituals,” Sanders said. “A lot of these people were searching for a way to affirm what they were going through in their lives.”

While the croning ritual was notable for its prominence in a diocesan newsletter, such pagan-inspired practices are not new in the Episcopal Church. In 2005, Pennsylvania Episcopal priest Bill Melnyk was outed as a Druid (he belonged to the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids) after posting a druid ritual to an Episcopal Church Women’s website. Melnyk, who had taken the name “Oakwyse,” was forced to resign by his bishop.

Pagan influences in women’s spirituality were also a prominent part of the “Reimagining” movement that appeared among some mainline Protestant feminists in the early 1990s. The Reimagining movement encouraged worshippers to refer to God as a feminine deity known as “Sophia,” loosely based on the Greek concept of the wisdom of God. Controversy eventually subsided after denominational leaders, responding to pressure from traditionalists, distanced themselves from the Reimagining liturgies.

The diocese of Washington itself has a track record of embracing mystical rites, most recently hosting a Native American “smudging” ceremony at the National Cathedral. During an interfaith conference, Sacred Circles: a Celebration of Women’s Spirituality, smoking tobacco was offered to the spirits of the four cardinal directions.

Crone Power

The author of the rite that appeared in the Washington Window was herself far from the traditional images of covens and witchcraft. An older parishioner at St. Alban’s Church, Helma Lanyi arrived from the Roman Catholic Church ten years ago after taking issue with Catholicism’s hierarchy and patriarchy.

Situated near the highest point in Washington, D.C., next to the prestigious school of the same name that educates many of Washington’s elite, St. Alban’s is more reflective of the reserved and upper-class mainstream of the Episcopal Church, rather than the fringe congregations that have previously entertained pagan ideas and practices. Its rector was recently elected to become the new bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Georgia.

“I had become aware for a while that it’s really not cool in our society to be an older woman,” Lanyi said. “At one point I picked up a book on crones. That describes very much the whole pagan point of view about being an older woman.”

Lanyi, a first generation immigrant from Germany, found the topic interesting. Nevertheless, it did not appeal to her as a Christian.

“I’m really not into Earth mother thinking,” the St. Alban’s parishioner explained. Among other concerns that she had with pagan practices, Lanyi did not like the portrayal of female power as superior to male power. But the idea of croning seemed to resonate along with a book she had read by liberal Catholic nun Joan Chittister. Lanyi saw being older as a gift, and she had grown tired of what she saw as a cultural expectation to hide one’s age.

“Why is the joy of life considered to be something that it isn’t part of [life] for women when they are older?” Lanyi asked. “I felt that God hasn’t taken his concern away from me now that I am older. Why should that only be between me and God?”

In her words, Lanyi wanted to be “properly an old lady without being out of the picture.” So she investigated croning further. Normally engaged with her work as co-chair of the Episcopal Peace Fellowship at St. Alban’s, Lanyi visited Wiccan websites that her daughter had found, complete with a variety of croning rituals.

“It blended perfectly with my nonviolence training and interest,” Lanyi said of some of her folk religion readings. Lanyi found in folk religion an element which “emphasized the more female elements of being non-judgmental.” The St. Alban’s parishioner saw those elements as being compatible with Christianity as she understood it.

“That’s what Jesus came for, working together and everyone is equal,” Lanyi claimed. “Jesus came not to go against all of that [folk religion], the same way he didn’t go against the Jewish religion, Jesus came to affirm our nature.”

But whereas Lanyi found value in folk religion, some of the Wiccan croning rituals themselves were wild and over the top.

“I couldn’t see asking people to do that in my living room,” the elderly German laughed. She decided that authoring her own rite was the best way to proceed.

“I pretty much made it up, that ritual doesn’t exist anywhere as I know it,” Lanyi explained. “I thought it was a little like baptism rituals, this idea of asking questions: what are you seeking, what do you want?”

She wrote her ritual a little bit tongue in cheek, she admitted. Then, last year, Lanyi gathered seven friends and performed the rite. They stood in a circle, one lighting a candle and placing it on a center table. They took turns reading the poem “Woman's Work,” by Maya Angelou, as a sign of solidarity with all women. Then they invited the newest crone-to-be into the circle.

“What we read in these Wiccan rituals that my daughter shared with me, they used dirt or soil, and that didn’t make sense, so we used a hand-woven stole,” Lanyi added. She recalled the rite in her article:

She [the new crone] tells us of the phases of her life up until now. The others ask her: "What is it you are seeking for this phase of your life as a crone?"

She answers: "I seek wisdom."
We say in unison: "Mothering God, grant her Crone Wisdom."

We ask: "Beside wisdom, what is it you are seeking?"
She answers: "I seek judgment."
We reply: "Mothering God, grant her Crone Judgment."

Finally we ask: "Besides wisdom and judgment, what is it you are seeking?"
She says: "I seek Joy."
We respond: "Mothering God, grant her Crone Joy."

We take turns anointing her forehead with special oil and present her with a stole, or wreath, inviting her to go forth into the world and share her Crone power.

We pray:
Eternal Wisdom, source of our being and center of all our longing, In you our sister has lived to a strong age: A woman of dignity and wit, in loving insight now a blessed crone. May the phase into which she has entered bear the marks of your spirit. May she ever be borne up by the fierce and tender love of friends and by You, most intimate friend; and clothed in your light, grow in grace as she advances in years, For your love's sake.

“I wanted to indicate that this was now a passage, now a part of life,” Lanyi said. “It meant a lot to us, most of us were of that age.”

An Unmet Need

After years of researching Wicca, Sanders has empathy for women like Lanyi that have looked to pagan ritual.

“There definitely is a hunger,” Sanders explained. The author observed that croning rituals tend to draw older women, while younger women seek rituals involving nature. Many times, the rituals grew out of desire to be recognized or acknowledged.

“Older women have a lot of wisdom, and they do have a special place in our society,” Sanders said. “But the fact that our society has this view that women need to make themselves better (through things like plastic surgery), that’s the result of sin and the fall.”

“A lot of these women are looking to affirm something that they don’t think is being met,” Saunders said. Quoting author Arthur Lindsley of the C.S. Lewis Institute, Sanders surmises that sometimes “people are interested in neopaganism because of the unpaid bills of the church.”

One example that Sanders cites is the church’s lack of a response to miscarriage or stillbirth. While the Episcopal Church has historically offered no rite acknowledging these traumas, Wicca does.

“The problem that exists with a lot of these pagan rituals is that they don’t bring the redeeming life of Jesus into them,” Sanders said. “They’re all about the participants, and that is where the problem lies.”

For such needs to be properly addressed within the Christian Church, rites made for them have to be about what Christians believe, Sanders says. “It has to focus on Jesus and what he did for humankind.”

The evangelical author notes that many of the pagan rituals do not focus on a personal God, since they presuppose a god revealed or contained only in natural forces.

“As Christians, we just go so much further than that,” Sanders says. “It’s perfectly fine to have a service of worship to praise Him for His creation. There can be a certain need for churches to do more of this thing, but not pagan rituals that stop short of praising God and that step outside of Christian theology.”

Additionally, Sanders has concerns about feminized language that can be found in such rituals, including Lanyi’s croning rite.

Lanyi said that the Washington Window editor “did come back to me to ask if I could make it more Christian.” In her published meditation, Lanyi backed the feminized wording with references to Christian women in the Celtic tradition such as Hild, Ita, and Brigid. She also cited the 14th century writer Julian of Norwich, who described God as a Mother. Lanyi labels all these Christian women crones, along with Catholic school pioneer Mother Seton and Mother Theresa of Calcutta.

“In calling God Mother, the thing that is confusing for pagans or Wiccans is that we are ‘part of that’ but in Christianity, we are not part of God, he is wholly separate,” Sanders explained. She noted that mothers give birth, a trait ascribed to the goddess in the mainline Reimagining movement. In contrast, Scripture does not describe God as possessing reproductive organs or giving birth, traits common in depictions of pagan deities.

“Obviously God is not human, he is wholly other,” Sanders said. “In calling God father, that’s what Jesus did. He didn’t call God his mother or she, he called him he.”

Sanders says that the draw toward such feminized depictions of God sometimes comes from the personal history of the practitioner.

“You have these women that are very hurt, upset because of a relationship with their father, but Christianity says God can heal you of past hurts through the redeeming love of Christ,” Sanders said. During the course of her research, Sanders also found that difficult marriages or encounters with a pastor that were unsatisfactory could also leave a woman wounded and drawn to Wicca.

A Service of Remembrance

Some churches are taking notice of the need for spiritual acknowledgement of events like miscarriage. At the Falls Church, an Anglican parish in suburban Washington, D.C., the pastoral care staff worked on a liturgy of remembrance for a special All Saints’ Day service. Sensing a need for women who had experienced losses through miscarriage, abortion, stillbirth, or early childhood death, the 275-year-old parish began the service in 2008.

“It wasn’t about us, it was all about the redeeming work of Christ,” Sanders said. “The subject of the ceremony was to remember the children and what happened to the parents there, but it was all focused on God and deeply rooted in Scripture.”

“It was very much about glorifying God,” the author said. “It marked the loss, but it pointed to Jesus Christ.” The special All Saints’ Day service proved extremely popular, with the sanctuary reaching full capacity. The pastoral care staff plans to repeat the service this year.

Rev. Nicholas Lubelfeld, an Episcopal Priest on staff at the Falls Church, explained a distinction between the church’s All Saints’ service and pagan rituals.

“It’s one thing to try to conform our lives to God’s will; it’s another thing to try to shoehorn God into our goals and aspirations,” Lubelfeld said. The priest said that the difference was between prayer through Jesus Christ and bringing God “into play into our plans.”

“Who’s agenda is it?” Lubelfeld asked. “My need is what I bring to God, but I don’t try to shoehorn him into my plan -- magic has as its aim the securing of a particular end; prayer has the end of bringing our hopes and fears to God.”

“It would be good for churches to consider ways to honor who God created us to be, the things we are experiencing,” Sanders said. But Sanders added that if rituals do not point to Jesus, they don’t have a place in the church.

“The Gospel is the best answer for those people,” Sanders said. “As a result of sin, we don’t honor women the way we should, and therefore they are reaching out. These are people that are in our midst that are hurting, and if it means reading up on these rituals, that will help us understand where they are coming from.”

“In modern 21st century America, we think we know what we need, and that’s a dangerous place to be in,” Sanders said. “We need to constantly glorify him.”

Since publication of her croning rite, Lanyi has received a subdued response.

“I’m aware that this may be not entirely what people are used to,” Lanyi said. “Women my age have come to me and said, ‘I loved your article’-- but not a lot. I’m not sure if they know what to think of it.”


Jeff Walton is Communications Manager and Anglican Staffer for the Institute on Religion & Democracy

January 10, 2010

Why I Love C.S. Lewis

Here is a great quote from
Mere Christianity

Christianity tells people to repent and promises them forgiveness. It therefore has nothing (as far as I know) to say to people who do not know they have done anything to repent of and who do not feel that they need any forgiveness. It is after you have realized that there is a real Moral Law, and a Power behind the law, and that you have broken that law and put yourself wrong with that Power - it is after all this, and not a moment sooner, that Christianity begins to talk. When you know you are sick, you will listen to the doctor. When you have realized that our position is nearly desperate you will begin to understand what the Christians are talking about. They offer an explanation of how we got into our present state of both hating goodness and loving it. They offer an explanation of how God can be this impersonal mind at the back of the Moral Law and yet also a Person. They tell you how the demands of this law, which you and I cannot meet, have been met on our behalf, how God Himself becomes a man to save man from the disapproval of God....I quite agree that the Christian religion is, in the long run, a thing of unspeakable comfort. But it does not begin in comfort; it beings in the dismay I have been describing, and it is no use at all trying to go on to that comfort without first going through that dismay. In religion, as in war and everything else, comfort is the one thing you cannot get by looking for it. If you look for truth, you may find comfort in the end: if you look for comfort you will not get either comfort or truth - only soft soap and wishful thinking to begin with and, in the end, despair.

--C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

January 5, 2010

Behold the Star

The Reverend Scott Homer

In the Name of God Almighty, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.
Merry Christmas! This is the tenth day of Christmas. So, on the tenth day of Christmas my true love gave to me??? (Twelve lords leaping, Eleven ladies dancing, Ten pipers piping, Nine drummers drumming, Eight maids milking, Seven swans swimming, Six geese laying, Five gold rings, Four calling birds, Three French hens, Two turtle doves and A partridge in a pear tree) Today is the second and final Sunday of Christmastide. But in anticipation of the Epiphany we are actually looking at the classic Epiphany story this morning. It is from the Gospel according to St Matthew. It is, as you heard, the story of the visit of the three magi, or as my toddler son used to call them, “the three wise guys.” ( I still get images of black suits and white ties, a bulge under the arm, Fedora hats, a scar on the cheek, driving a Cadillac—black of course. What are those guys doing in Bethlehem?) We better stick with the Magi!

Why is this story of the Magi visiting the Christ associated with Epiphany rather than Christmas? Well, in Christmas we see Jesus revealed to God’s chosen people. He is born in Bethlehem—in the City of David—born of the kingly line of David—heir to David’s throne. In Christmas messiah has come to his people Israel—the savior of the chosen people of God—and he is called by the Hebrew name “messiah.” But in Epiphany our focus shifts. In Epiphany we celebrate very good news for those of us who are not Jews by birth. We celebrate God letting the whole world in on the secret. We celebrate that God no longer plays favorites. He has revealed this savior not just to Jews but to gentiles too—to the entire earth, all its tribes and tongues and nations. He has opened up the real possibility of salvation and eternal life to you and me (Did you know you were not entitled to God’s salvation? Did you know it was an act of charity on God’s part?). God has opened up the gates of heaven to everybody! The entire world has been invited to enter into eternity—to become a part of the greatest story ever told—and to find, in that story, their true meaning and purpose in life. Almighty God has caused the entire cosmos to conspire together to lead and guide you and me into the presence of the Christ, and his goal is not just to save us from our sins but to provide a chorus of believers who worship the King and sing his praises forever, because this King deserves eternal praise. He is worthy of our worship, in fact even our best efforts fall short. He deserves our praise. God has swung wide the gates for anybody and everybody—the more the merrier and He invites us to make the journey, to come and behold the Christ, and to join the eternal choir that bows down and worships Jesus Christ the Lord. Now that is a grand theological statement but lets take a walk in the woods to see if we can bring this teaching down to earth a bit.

I love to walk in the woods because when you get out into the woods God’s creation takes on a magnitude far greater than it is allowed here in the towns and the hamlets. In town our attention is drawn to buildings, and cars, and all the hustle and bustled of daily living but out in the woods the Creation dominates. Our attention is drawn to the trees and the animals. We begin to see the intricate detail of nature again: trees have bark, the ground is covered with a carpet of little plants and flowers. We can feel the wind and the sun on our skin again. And at night! At night you can’t help but notice the sky. The sky dominates after dark. City lights drown it out making it a vague gray blanket overhead but out in the country the sky reveals millions of stars—each a distinct point of light in an otherwise inky black darkness. The night sky in all its vastness also reveals a near perfect order. Nothing is random. Every star is in its proper relationship to every other. It is the same night after night after night.

The night sky is so reliable you can navigate by it. (We use Global Positioning Systems for our directional guidance but for thousands of years our ancestors found their way by being led by stars) If you know the time, and you know the horizon line, you can precisely calculate your current position and your desired course from the location of the stars. This is not modern science. It is ancient wisdom. Going back to a time before recorded history people understood that although the stars were constantly moving, they moved in a pattern—over and over again they were repeating the exact same course through the sky, and you could always rely upon the position of the stars to determine your direction on earth. The night sky seems to be a certainty, an immutable, unchangeable, fact.

And that makes what St Matthew tells us all the more important because what he says is that the heavens are not always constant. They are not completely unchanging—that, in fact, once a star appeared that did not belong in the normal night sky. It appeared for only a short time. St Matthew claims that the heavens can and do change—or at least they did once. And he makes a second, even more spectacular claim. He claims that this change in the celestial order was no random accident. He claims it occurred by intelligent design—the star was made to appear in order to announce an event here on earth. (Maybe we are not so small and inconsequential as we thought) St Matthew says that a star appeared in the sky for a relatively short time and that the star served to reliably guide three foreigners, called magi, or wise men, to a particular place. Spectacular!

But perhaps even more spectacular, St Matthew claims that this celestial phenomenon, whatever it was, had been foretold. Unscientific men, knew it about. People knew it was going to occur. And they had been told that it would have a meaning. The immutable sky was changed in order to announce the birth of a baby. Please note that the magi did not invent its meaning. Its meaning had been revealed to them. And so, the wise men were not just following some celestial oddity—they were pursuing a story—and not any story but the story of the birth of a great king. In our day some people travel all over the globe to see total eclipses just because of they are rare and novel. But wise men don’t pursue novelty for novelty’s sake. Wise men undertake difficult journeys in order to see God’s promise fulfilled. Travel was tough but they travel because the star announces the birth of a messiah. The Magi have made a great journey so that they can worship this newborn “King of the Jews.” (Flash forward to the sign Pontius Pilate has nailed onto the Cross. It too declares this Jesus, king of the Jews. King of the Jews stands like book ends at the beginning and the end of Jesus’ life. But remember too that the sign was written in all the common languages of the day.) I hope we will not miss the fact that if the eternal sky is altered in order to announce a King—that king must be very special indeed. The birth of this king seems to be of major importance, not just to folks in the Middle East around the time of Herod the Great, and not just for human beings at all times and all places (although that is pretty important), but it also seems to be of great importance to whoever it is who directs and manages the night sky. He has only seen fit to change the stars and planets a couple of times after all. (Can you name the others?)

But we have been raised in the cynical philosophy of atheist scientists. We have been drinking the poison Koolaid they have been serving us for generations. And we are sick. Our society, even Christians, are afflicted by a lack of meaning and purpose to life. We despair that it is all just pointless and meaningless. Addictions consume us. Our pursuit of selfish pleasure leaves us jaded and unfulfilled. Our indifference towards anybody or anything that does not serve our personal purposes threatens the fabric of our society. But the universe is not an endless series of random accidents. The universe is ordered—by God. It is ordered according to his will. And we find our meaning and purpose in this fact—God sent a star into the night sky to announce the birth of his Son our Savior Jesus Christ.
Eternal God—who creates all things—who orders the universe—who loves his creation and continues to look after it day after day—eternal God thinks that the birth of this Christ child in Bethlehem is of major importance to everybody, not just the Jews. He puts a special light in the sky saying, Come here and look at your future. Come here and behold your joy and your peace. Come here and bow down before the source of your life—worship this Light of the World Jesus. Do you wonder about your purpose in life? Wonder no more. Your purpose is to worship the Christ. Are you searching for meaning in your life? Search no more. Your purpose in life is to announce the coming of the Salvation of the world. That is what the star did. That is what the Magi did. It was what John the Baptizer did, and the Apostles, and St Paul, and what Christians have done down through the generations. Our purpose is to support God’s purpose. Our purpose is to point at the Christ and to say, “He is the meaning of life. He is the reason for living. Come and behold him! Come and worship him!”

We must begin applying this teaching to our lives. We have got to find ways of beating back the atheist thought process that is destroying us. And so, I want to leave you with one very practical way of fighting back. I found this quote in a list called Ten Resolutions for Mental Health. This was resolution two:

“2. Instead of the accustomed idea of a mindless and endless evolutionary change to which we can neither add nor subtract, I shall suppose the universe guided by an Intelligence which, as Aristotle said of Greek drama, requires a beginning, a middle, and an end.

I think this will save me from the cynicism expressed by Bertrand Russell before his death when he said: "There is darkness without, and when I die there will be darkness within. There is no splendor, no vastness anywhere, only triviality for a moment, and then nothing.”

The wise men followed God’s leading in their lives. They had no doubt that God was speaking to humanity. They spent their lives looking for God’s revelation and when they heard God’s Word they relied on what God was telling them. When God sent a star, the wise men recognized something very out of the ordinary and they set out to confirm its meaning (its meaning and not its cause). Although travel was dangerous, costly, and difficult in those days, they undertook the long journey to see the fulfillment of God’s promise. They acted on the good news. They followed the star. They came to see the Christ. And God blessed them, and they worshipped their salvation by giving him gifts and by giving him praise and honor. I pray that we would all act wisely in the year to come. Amen.

January 1, 2010

Men's Winter Retreat-Sign Up Now

Wild at Heart

Winter Retreat and Book Study

January 29—31, Lake Chautauqua

Bible Study, Snowmobiling, Good Food and Fellowship with Christian Men, so Come On!
Cost is $100. per participant. Teens welcome with parent or adult sponsor.

“Success is uncommon, therefore not to be enjoyed by the common man.
I’m looking for uncommon people.”

Tony Dungy believes that his primary job as a coach is to build men worthy of being role models to a nation of boys who look up to them: Men of character, integrity, and courage. Men with both confidence and humility. Men who know the value of family and faith as well as career. And his message to them about how to attain real significance in life is one that many people—not just football players—are desperate to hear.

In a culture that defines success by the size of your salary or by the media frenzy surrounding you, Tony Dungy offers valuable insights on achieving uncommon success and real significance. They just may be the most important lessons—on and off the field—that can be applied to your life today.

Christ Has Come

Fr. Scott Homer

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

Merry Christmas! This is day three of Christmas—the third of twelve days—so again I say merry Christmas, as I will again next Sunday. So let’s start with a quiz, in the carol, The Twelve Days of Christmas, what did her true love give to her today? (Three French Hens, two Turtle Doves, and a Partridge in a Pear Tree.)

The season of Christmas is, of course, about celebrating the coming of the Christ into the world. But the season of Christmas is about more than just his birth. Before Christmas is over we will also celebrate his presentation in the Temple where Anna and Zechariah recognize him to be the promised messiah—the one prophesied about who has come to save his people. We will also celebrate the child receiving his holy name Jesus, which means “Almighty God Saves.” And the season of Christmas will not end until feast of the Epiphany—or what many parts of the world call Three Kings Day. Three wise men come to worship the Christ child, they bring him gifts for a king, and a priest, and a man doomed to die, and when these foreigners see Jesus, they bow down before him and worship him as King. Jesus is not just King of Israel but of the whole world—“A light to enlighten all the nations.”

Christmas is about Christ coming into the world—but not just entering history in some small cave in Bethlehem. Christmas is about Christ coming into your heart. Christmas celebrates the light shining in the darkness—and being too powerful for the darkness to consume it—but it is not just about Christ illuminating the darkness around and about us. It is also about Christ illuminating the darkness in our own hearts. It is about the light of life entering into our hearts and driving out the evil that resides there, and transforming us into beacons of faith, hope, and love. Because of Christmas, we become light bearers. We carry the Light of Christ into the world. And Christmas is not just about giving and getting cameras and mp3 players and LCD HD TVs. Christmas gives us another opportunity to grab onto the real treasures—hope, faith and love—and to really know joy and peace—not as concepts or principles—but as realities in our lives. As we look once again on this holy mystery of God becoming man—of Spirit becoming flesh—we are given the opportunity once again to seize the story and make it our own by receiving the Christ into our hearts and by allowing his light to shine in us and through us.

Now, if you ask most anybody, the story of Christmas is the one found in the second chapter of the Gospel of St. Luke. That’s the story told by most Christmas carols. It’s the story Linus tells Charlie Brown. It’s the one commemorated by the Creches and nativity scenes that we see in store windows and town squares and front yards and Christmas cards. It’s the baby Jesus lying in a manger. It is the story of angels visiting shepherds in a field and announcing to them that the savior—Christ the Lord—has been born. And the shepherds go to Bethlehem where they find the baby lying in a manger just as the angels told them. St. Luke’s account focuses on the humanity of the Christ. The Christ child displays all the characteristics that make us human. He is small and powerless. He is vulnerable. He is weak, unable to care for himself, and must depend on others if he hopes to survive. This is what it means to be human. As much as we like to pretend that we control our own destiny, we do not. Anyone who has suffered or watched someone they love suffer through a dread disease understands that we are not in control. Our lives are not in our own hands. And so, the Christmas story according to St. Luke teaches us that the Christ comes, not as some other worldly, celestial, superior, unsympathetic being but as one who understands us, knows our needs, and sympathizes with our pain. God has taken on flesh. The immortal has become mortal. God is with us, not just in spirit but in flesh too. And the Christ would suffer and he would die in order to rescue us from the certain failure of the flesh. God has become like us. Do you remember what the angel said we would call the child? Emmanuel, which means, “God with us.” St Likes account of the birth of Christ is an important story, but it is only half the story.

There is another account of the birth of the Christ and it is a very different account that serves a very different purpose. In St Luke the good news of Jesus Christ begins in Bethlehem. But in St John’s gospel the story begins in Genesis chapter 1, verse 1. “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” And the way he created it was by speaking a word. “God said,” the writer of Genesis tells us, “God spoke the Word, and the world came to be.” Over and over God spoke the Word and the light shone, and the planet was filled with oceans and fish, the sky and birds, the land and all the animals. God spoke humanity into existence. God spoke and man was given life. This Word that was spoken, this eternal Word, the Word so powerful that it caused the entire universe to be created—what the scientists reduce to a ‘Big Bang’—“[this] Word” St John tells us, “was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God…” Did you notice what St John said? St John calls the word “He.” Now the Greek language is very specific about its pronouns and there can be no mistake here. St John has been very deliberate. He means what he says: the Word is not a what. The Word is a He. And that masculine, singular, “He” was with God in the beginning. In fact it was this Being that was the Voice of God during creation and it is this Creative Force of God that has come into the world. Christmas is the celebration of this immense and all powerful Word becoming flesh. In St. John’s story, God has come into the world. Immortality has put on mortality. Eternity has invaded the temporal world. Strength has taken on weakness, and perfection has submitted to imperfection, for a time, so that the presence and power of God might come into the midst of the people—in order that they might see this Great Light. In order that having seen it the people might believe that Jesus is the savior and redeemer of the world.

Here is the heart of this morning’s readings. St John says, “But to all who received him, who believed in his name [Jesus Christ], he gave power to become children of God…” When we finally receive the Christ we are adopted as Almighty God’s child. When we finally accept the name of Jesus Christ as the only name under heave by which we can be saved, then we are adopted as the King’s kid. And as one of the King’s kids we receive all the rights and privileges that belong to royalty. All that the Father belongs to us. It is an amazing promise. What must you do for this promise to become a reality in your life? You must repent and be baptized. When the Bible says you have to repent, it means you have to change your mind. You have to admit that you have been wrong and you have to make the decision to accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior and live life on his terms, as best as you are able. And you need to be baptized into the household of God. Even Jesus insisted on being Baptized in order to show us that Baptism is essential for all who seek to become children of God.

We celebrate Christmas as an historical fact. The Son of God was born of a Virgin. The Son of God became a human being and humanities isolation from God was ended. God was no longer distant, no longer alien to us. In Jesus Christ we saw God for who he is. In Jesus Christ God sees humanity as it truly was meant to be. But Christmas is more than an historical fact—it is also an existential reality—the Christ has come in order that you might believe and that believing you might become children and heirs of God. This Christmas and every Christmas we are reminded that the Christ child has taken up residence in the hearts of all believers and that we enjoy true freedom, peace and joy because the Light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it. God bless you all and merry Christmas. Amen.

Be Not Afraid

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


On this night some two thousand years ago, a world that had grown weary of faithfulness and increasingly resigned to God’s judgment received a surprise gift. God, who had every reason to bring destruction, acted in an unexpected way and the dark world was not flung into deeper despair. Instead, the world saw a great light and was greeted into a new age of hope.

Have you ever been caught red handed? Maybe somewhere along the line you took something that didn’t belong to you. You thought you could get away with it but you got caught. Or, maybe you said something terrible about a friend behind their back. You didn’t think they would trace it back to you but they did. Maybe you went someplace that you shouldn’t have, or did things you regreted, or maybe you looked at things that you shouldn’t have looked at and somewhere along the line your misdeed was discovered. You got caught. If you have ever had such an experience you know what it feels like to be ashamed and frightened.

After St Luke describes the time and the place where the Christ was born, he says that an angel appeared to some shepherds who were watching their sheep. Now you need to understand that this was a real angel—not the fairytale type of angel like the one’s our mom’s and grandma’s wear as jewelry, or the ones you see in cartoons. The angel that appeared to the shepherds was a real angel. His job was to wage war against the supernatural powers of darkness. He fought demons. He was an avenging angel who brought punishment to all of God’s enemies. Real angels are frightening—strong and powerful. And this angel, along with the others that fill the sky over Bethlehem, are called the “host of heaven.” And “host” is actually a military term for a large army. There was a large army of supernatural warriors hovering over the heads of these poor lowly shepherds. No wonder the angel says to the shepherds, “Be not afraid.”

And as if that were not enough, for hundreds of years the prophets of Israel had been warning the people that the day was approaching when God’s host of heaven would come and destroy them for their unfaithfulness. Generation after generation they had been called to repent and return to the Lord, to make amends before the great and terrible day of the Lord came, before humanity’s rebellion against God would be put down once and for all. So when this host of angels appeared to the shepherds, I suppose they must have wondered if the Day of Judgment had arrived! But of course, God had a different plan in mind.

Christmas reminds us that when God was faced with a rebellious and sinful people God’s answer was not to destroy. God answered the sins of his people by sending a sinless Savior. “Be not afraid!” God has not come to wage war against you. God has come to wage peace! For all who will listen, and to all who will respond in faith, the angel is not a messenger of death but a messenger of new life: “Be not afraid for to you this day is born a savior.”

And so the angels, scary as they must have appeared at first, did not come to destroy God’s people. They came, in fact, to announce a new beginning. God and man reconciled to one another through this newborn child in Bethlehem, this God-man laying in a manger. Instead of a final tragic ending God delivered a new, hope-filled beginning.

The story of Christmas is the story of a new beginning but it is just a beginning. It is a tremendous start, and it will surely end in victory, but this tiny, helpless baby must suffer much before his work is done. He must grow into the full stature of manhood, he must speak God’s truth into the lives of God’s people, challenging them to surrender their lives into his care and keeping. He must grow into a force for good, bringing miracle healing to the lives of thousands, restoring the hope of millions, breathing new life into all who turn to him for help. This little infant represents a new beginning for God’s people, but the fulfillment of God’s promise in their lives and in the lives of all the generations to follow, the completion of God’s promise required the sacrifice of a life. Someone had to die for the people…the birth of this innocent baby is the beginning but it is the death of his innocent Son on the cross that forever seals God’s promise and assures us of everlasting peace. Tonight, we celebrate the beginning of God’s work of salvation in our lives!


The shepherds hear a story told by angels. It is a wonderful story, an amazing story but it is just a story. And the shepherds do not simply take the story on faith. Don’t get me wrong, faith is important, but hearing about Jesus without actually experiencing his presence and power in your life, is simply insufficient. The shepherds want to see the Christ; and so they go and when they see the Christ they are no longer just hearers of a story that may or may not be true, a story that you can believe or not believe as you choose. When they walk up to that manger in Bethlehem and see that child lying there, just as the angel had told them, they see the facts for themselves and they become a part of the greatest story ever told. And they begin to do for others what the angel did for them. They tell others the story of a savior born in the City of David. Once they go and see, once they witness and proclaim what they have seen, it is no longer a matter of mere faith—it has become actual fact—and they are drawn into God’s great work of salvation. So naturally, when they return to their work, they return rejoicing because the story they heard was true—they have been saved—they saw it with their own eyes. Their leap of faith has been grounded in reality.

But, of course, in order for that happy ending to occur they had to take a chance—what some call a leap of faith. They had to believe the story AND they had to go and see. They had to place themselves in the story by going to the Christ and seeing for themselves. Everyone who hopes to come into the presence of God’s salvation has to do the same. For the shepherds taking a chance meant leaving their sheep unattended. They risked their flock in order to go and see this thing that had happened. They put their jobs on the line in order to become Christ’s witnesses. Mary had to risk her reputation in order to bring the Christ into the world. Joseph had to risk being a laughing stock, in order to see the miracle baby. The wise men had to risk a perilous journey. Bartameus, the blind man, the woman with the issue of blood, they had to risk breaking the cleanliness laws in order to see Jesus. The Centurion had to risk his favored status to see Jesus. Nicodemus had to risk his place as a religious leader in order to see his salvation.

On this Christmas Eve I pray that you will set aside a time—even if it is only a few minutes—I pray that you will set aside a time to wonder about God’s Salvation in the person of Jesus Christ. Are we content to just be hearers of the story? Is it enough to simply listen to the old familiar carols year after year? Or do we want to become a part of his story? Do we want to be able to return to work or school rejoicing that all that we heard is in fact true, that God’s salvation really has come into the world, that every one of us really has been set free from our sins, and really is welcome into God’s kingdom forever? And if we want more, if we want to know Christ Jesus, what is it that we are going to have to risk? What must we give in order to go and witness the Christ?

Amen and Merry Christmas.

A New Bible Study for the New Year


“Our God delights in writing straight with a crooked pencil,” says Iain Duguid. The lives of Isaac and Jacob are vivid examples of that principle. Time and again God displays his grace and glory by overcoming their weakness and sinfulness. We can take encouragement in our own shortcomings that the gospel triumphs not through human might or goodness but through God’s relentless grace.


9:15AM TO 10:15AM

(GENESIS 25.19-34)
(GENESIS 29.1-30)