February 25, 2011

Resist Him, Firm in Your Faith!

A couple of people asked if I would post my sermon from Sunday, Feb 13th. Here it is:
Sermon, Matthew 5.21-37 Fr Scott Homer
In the Name of God Almighty, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

As you may know, I was on retreat with 12 men from the parish last Sunday. We had a very good time. We learned a lot about being Christian men.
I was a bit anxious to leave you on the Sunday following the dramatic bad news about the diocese but the retreat had been planned for a long time and I trust Denny, and so I decided that the trip ought to go on as scheduled.

On my way back last Sunday afternoon, I called Brenda and asked her how the services had gone here. She responded quickly and enthusiastically, “Fabulous!” …I was hoping for a positive response but not quite that positive! My competitive side felt a little stung. But I am thankful that we have Denny here and I suspected he would be fabulous, so thank you Denny for your great work and I really am glad to be back with you all this Sunday.

If you have not read the Bishop’s letter and my letter, you need to. We have been saying for three years that separation from the Episcopal Church was critical if we were going to preserve the faith and we did separate by a unanimous vote of the congregation two years ago. And we have been saying for three years that we may have to pay a high price for our decision, that the Episcopal Church will come after us, that they will challenge our ownership rights for this building, its contents and our bank accounts. And it now appears that day is immanent. Barring a miracle—and I believe in miracles—and I earnestly pray for a miracle in this case—barring a miracle we can expect a formal challenge from the Episcopal Church against Trinity, Beaver sometime in the next six months to a year. And so, we as a parish are now being called to stand, to be faithful, and to respond well to the day of trouble. It is a dangerous time for us as a parish—not because we may lose our building but because we could lose our fellowship. And so I would like to look at our readings this morning in light of how they instruct us to act, as we face our times of trouble.

Jesus makes a fundamental point in the Sermon on the Mount. He makes it over and over again. Each time he uses a different illustration but each time he is making the same point:

The real enemy is not without—the true and genuine threat to your well-being is within—the fox is in the henhouse. The spiritual battle that we are called to fight is the battle for the human heart—and not the heart of the guy at work who doesn’t believe, and not the person sitting next to you in the pew whose shortcomings are so obvious to you. It’s not getting your spouse to be understanding. It is not exerting your will to shape the world in a way that will cause God’s glory to shine. The heart that needs transformed is the one beating in my chest. The powers of light are battling the powers of darkness for your heart, and my heart. That is where the battle must be fought. That is where the victory must be won. Jesus is transforming the world one person at a time, and that one person is me.
So Jesus says, forget about killing someone. You are not innocent simply because you don’t have someone’s blood on your hands. Murder is just the outward and visible sign of a black heart—a person is dead because someone expressed in deed what they felt in his heart. The crime is sourced in the human heart. The human heart conceived it and the human heart gave it authority to act. It is the anger in our hearts and our willingness to grant anger authority over our actions that poses the real problem. And Jesus says, forget about committing adultery. Have you lusted after someone, have you looked longingly at dirty pictures, have you fanaticized about a relationship with that other person? Then you have already committed to real crime. You have allowed your heart to be possessed and consumed by evil. And yes, as our reading from Ecclesiasticus points out, sin is born out of our will, not God’s. So for Jesus, the battleground is not in the world around us. The battleground is in the human heart BUT it has real life consequences—the fruit of the heart manifests themselves in the behavior of man.

So Jesus tells us, for the time being, forget about giving gifts to God. Go fix your broken relationships. Go apologize and ask forgiveness of the person you have hurt. Go make peace with the people you have wronged. Don’t divorce except by reason of your spouse’s adultery. Instead of granting authority to the black heart and being governed by evil, give authority to God, choose out of the redeemed heart, act out of the heart that is being transformed by Christ. And, of course, Jesus is not just talking about murder or adultery. He means in every moral and ethical way. The examples he uses in the Sermon on the Mount are not exhaustive. As much as we would like to objectify sin, it is always internal, always about choosing darkness over light, always looking for blessing in the external world rather than seeking unity with God in our internal world. And the solution is always to choose God’s salvation as the source of our motivation and strength.

This is going to be an essential teaching for us as a community over the months to come. We, as people whose property is being threatened, and as members of the Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh, whose faith claims are being challenged, are experiencing spiritual warfare. And we are being called to the battle—not just for building and grounds—but for our hearts, and the hearts of our brothers and sisters in Christ. Hang on to this teaching in the months ahead: Jesus is transforming the world one person at a time, and that one person is me. Our hope is in becoming more like Jesus through his grace and power, and acting more like Jesus by choosing Him over Barabbas. Jesus is fighting with us for the welfare of our soul and our challenge is to let him.

In a little while I want to talk about how a person might fight the good fight for their own heart. First though, I want to talk a little bit about the corporate aspect of this same principle—that our well-being depends less on the externals than it does on the internals, less on what happens around us and more on what we grant authority in our hearts.

St Paul writes to the church in Corinth. He writes out of a variety of lesser concerns but he writes for one overriding concern: There is division in the community. The church is taking up sides, struggling for power, and it is tearing the church apart. St. Paul recognizes the extreme threat this poses to the church’s future, and to its mission. And so, if this little community cannot find unity, it will most certainly be destroyed by the forces of evil that seek to silence the message of Gospel. And so, St. Paul writes a rather lengthy letter asking the people of Corinth to unite around the truth of God, to conform to the teachings He brought to them from God, and to choose to unite around Jesus Christ rather than create factions fighting for various points of view.

At first blush we may conclude that the challenge facing Trinity, Beaver is that someone wants to take our building away from us but that is not the real threat. The deadly threat we face is division that we will become like a pack of dogs biting one another’s backs until we finally part ways and Trinity Church becomes a distant memory. The real threat is that we will not find the courage to really love one another and that we won’t really rally to the love of God that he has placed in our hearts. The real threat is that we will begin honoring the differences that divide us over the love of Christ that unites us.

Have you seen this happen? A group finds themselves in a difficult fix. There is a lot of fear and anxiety in the community. It doesn’t look like there is anyway forward. And so, people start talking to each other—not as a united community—as little clicks of people here and there—they start lamenting—they start placing blame—after all somebody always has to get blamed—these little factions start making conclusions without the rest—they decide what ought to be done to fix it—which usually includes new people in power—usually the people making the plan. Other little factions form in the same way but draw different conclusions. The factions begin to exert themselves and it isn’t very long before the spiritual battle is no longer over our hearts but has spilled out into our lives and this is death to a church. You old timers have seen it happen in this congregation before over lesser issues. Little factions start arguing with the each other, or talking about one another behind each other’s backs, feelings get hurt, tempers flare, real battle lines are drawn and the community begins to unravel. Some people get indignant and stomp out vowing never to return. Some people start withholding their contributions until they get their way. Some people start a campaign to oust the leaders that they think are to blame. Some people just quietly disappear—they just want to avoid the conflict and Satan chuckles and says, “Well, that was easy. Who’s next?” Travel to the Middle East. You will see that it is full of the ruins of ancient churches that lost the spiritual battle. Is that the way it has to end? Do we have to watch this community be torn apart?

No, there is an alternative. There is a way through this battle that ends with our family united and with our ministry flourishing. And I call you to commit yourselves, each one of you to this alternative. The battle can and will be won if we can remember and apply these things to our lives:

1)The Battle is not for stuff. The battle is for each and every heart in this community. Home is not the house. Ultimately, the house doesn’t matter. Any house can be home. Home is the family gathered together. It’s the family’s love for one another. It’s the family’s celebration of our life in Christ, together as one body. As the old expression goes, home is where the heart is.

2)The reading from Ecclesiasticus makes an essential point for us. God does not choose evil. Human beings have the ability and the right to choose. The outcome of our battle depends on our free will—that is, our willingness to cooperate with God and with one another in order that God may save us. God wants us to succeed. God will provide for us. But as He fights for each of our hearts and for our common life in Christ, you are given the power to fight to advance his goals or fight to impede them. The question I need to ask myself is will I be a part of the solution or a part of the problem? Each one of you will decide if this community draws closer or divides—every time you choose not to speak ill of someone, every time you choose to listen and understand rather than insist on being understood. Every time you forgive you cause the community to draw closer. But it involves choice and sometimes making the right choices feels very difficult indeed—when the chips are down, when your heart feels like it is breaking, when all seems lost, when you doubt your leaders, when you feel fed up with it all, or like it would be easier to just walk away--choosing to stay, choosing to love, choosing to be honest about your feelings, unwilling to hold a grudge, and quick to admit we were wrong, these are the hard choices that will support God’s work in redeeming us. In other words, we are being called to be Christians, not just in word but in deed, not just with our lips but in our lives, not just when it is comfortable but most especially when we are called to suffer for the Kingdom. Of course, none of this is possible apart from God’s power and grace.

3)God is saving this community through his own strength. Even though we cannot see His mighty hand at work, even though, through human eyes our future may look uncertain, God is saving us. The cross of Christ stands as living testimony that nothing can prevent God’s good plan for our lives becoming a reality. Even death is, in the end, an imposter. Nothing can He will make our way clear to us—as a community—one step at a time. Be strong and courageiosWe simply must accept the fact that God is revealing his will for us—not me, us—and that if we remain faithful to Him and to one another—God’s power, God’s authority and God’s mighty purpose will show forth in our lives. We will know God’s salvation, in the land of the living. And the day is not too far off when we will sing his praises for parting the Red Sea for us, for vanquishing our foes for us, for bringing us into a land flowing with milk and honey.

We like concrete things. We like things that we can grab hold of, especially, especially when we are threatened and we feel afraid. That’s why we have doors with locks on them. That’s why we spend billions of dollars on a strong army. These concrete forces provide us with a sense of security—they allow us to swallow our fears and get on with living. It’s good to have a hospital just up the hill—most of the world doesn’t have that. It’s reassuring to have 24 hour grocery stores, just in case—most of the world doesn’t have access to any grocery store. And that steeple that rises high into the sky over at 4th and Beaver Streets, it’s good to know that God has established a fortress here in Beaver, that even if we can’t hear him in our prayers, or know him relationally, at least we know where to go looking for him. And the threat of losing the concrete things that shield us from our fears calls those fears forward. Have you seen the way a child reacts to having a bandaid removed? It’s just the same thing. Take away my hospital—what will I do if I have a medical emergency? Take away my grocery store—where will I find food to sustain me? Take away my church—where will I find the Lord?

“The Church is what remains after the building burns down.”

But concrete things can never really assuage our fears, nor can they satisfy our needs. A photograph of a loved one is a poor substitute for actually being in their presence. Home is not the building in which we dwell. Home is where the heart is—it is where the loving relationships happen. It is where we are able to be ourselves and be accepted for who we are, and not the caricature that we have created to put a bandaid over our fears of being rejected by others. And the church must be our spiritual home. It is anyplace where Christians actually experience the love of God and their love for one another. Church is meeting a Christian friend in the store and spending a moment catching up, perhaps praying with one another. Church is a group of Christian men or women gathered around a picnic table in the woods somewhere, sharing Holy Communion with one another. Church is in jail, in a room full of handicapped guests, in a shelter at 2 Mile Run, out in the courtyard, under a tree somewhere. The where doesn’t really matter because the Church is us, joined together by a common bond—a loving God who casts out our fears, who encourages us to share the love we have received, who leads us and guides us through life’s uncertainties, always reminding us the Kingdom of heaven is right here, right now, in the midst of us—AND the Kingdom of heaven is also forever—AND that you, by virtue of your faith in Jesus Christ are residents of the Kingdom of heaven!

Fear divides but love unites. St John says, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. “ (1 John 4.18)

If you have ever prayed the service of Compline at the end of the day, you may recall reading a passage for 1 Peter: “Be sober. Be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith.” This passage has been edited because of its uncomfortable content. They actually had to sever a verse in half. The whole of verse reads “Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same experience of suffering is required of your brotherhood throughout the world.” (1 Peter 5.8-9) Amen.

February 4, 2011

A Battle to Fight and a Beauty to Win

February 4, 2011

Dear Parish Family,

I am on retreat with some of the men of the parish this weekend. We are looking at what it means to be created in God’s image and how that plays itself out in the life of a man. We will hear the author of the book we are reading say that for each of us (maybe for all of us together?) there is an adventure to live, a battle to fight, and a beauty to be rescued. These archetypes represent God’s true calling upon each of our lives and if it is our desire to be faithful to God we must embrace the adventure, the battle and the pursuit of beauty wholeheartedly. They are not things to dabble in. They are at the heart of our meaning and purpose and engaging them will require all the courage and all the fortitude we can muster. We had no way of knowing, when this retreat was scheduled, that the message would be delivered in such a concrete way.

This has been a tough week for the Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh. On Tuesday the third largest parish in the diocese announced that they had been negotiating with the Episcopal Church (TEC) for nearly a year and had voted to break communion with us as part of an agreement to secure the release of their property from the pending litigation against the rest of us. St. Philip’s is, thereby, free even if the rest of our interests have suffered as a consequence. (Make no mistake about it. One of the primary goals of the Episcopal Church is to destroy the Anglican Church in North America movement. That is why they insisted on St Philips separating as a condition of settlement.) I am not going to judge the men and women who made this decision for St. Philips. I am sure they have persuaded themselves that they are doing the right thing. I would say, however, that compromising the interests of our brothers and sisters for personal gain rarely, if ever, winds up being the right thing.

The tough week continued on Wednesday when the appeals court verdict was read. The appeals court decided that the decision of the lower court was correct, that all diocesan property belongs to the Episcopal Church. This has been a major defeat for the diocese and for all of us. While Trinity, Beaver’s property is not named in the suit originally brought by Calvary Church, the decision probably makes our legal position much more tenuous.

These two events were delivered like a double barrel shotgun blast, one barrel late Tuesday, the other mid-day Wednesday, and many of the clergy and people of the diocese are still reeling from the news. None of us have had a chance to think through all the implications but we will. None of us fully understand the adventure that the Lord has drawn us into but we will. Our way forward has not been made clear but it will be. We simply must remain principled, attentive to doing the next right thing, seeking God’s face, and relying upon God’s strength to carry us through. In other words, walking the Christian walk with integrity is the surest road to fulfilling God’s purposes in our lives and God’s purposes for our lives are good.

We are in no imminent danger of losing our property but we are in danger. The diocese will ask for a judicial review of the appellate court’s decision. If they fail in that, and they probably will, they have expressed the will to appeal the case to the Supreme Court. It is possible that the Supreme Court may agree to hear the case but you ought to know that the Supreme Court only agrees to hear a very tiny percentage of the appeals made to them. So, the diocese is rapidly exhausting its legal remedies and when they are finally through, whether that is in six months or a year (probably not longer than that), we can expect that our property ownership claims will be challenged by TEC. I am not an attorney and while I have an opinion about how that might play itself out in court, as do lots of us, the only opinion that ultimately matters is the judge’s.

The time has come for us to address the issue of how we intend to proceed as a parish. If the lower court decision stands our options become clear: turn over the keys, mount a legal defense, or negotiate a settlement. I will be calling on many of you to listen to you, to seek your counsel and to offer the little information I have at my disposal. I am interested in your opinions, your concerns, and your hopes and I will do my level best to listen carefully and respectfully and to represent your views to the leadership of the parish as they meet to plan. This is a team event.

In the meantime, the most important thing we can do as a church family is fast and pray. I am following our bishop in this. He has committed to fasting and praying for our welfare and for wisdom and guidance of the Holy Spirit as we all attempt to discern a way forward that honors Christ and protects Christ’s body, that is, the churches of the Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh. I also am committing myself to a time of fasting and of prayer devoted to petitioning God on behalf of the Diocese and Trinity Beaver. Will you join us?

So, we are indeed, involved in a rather high stakes adventure. It is an adventure brought on by a crisis of conscience. We believe in the pursuit of beauty. We believe it is worth fighting and sacrificing to preserve. And so we battle on to preserve the beautiful truths that God is the same, yesterday, today and tomorrow, that Jesus Christ died and rose again in order to save sinners like us, that God’s desire for humanity is that we live free from sin and death, and that his people are called to lives of holiness and righteousness. The battle is of epic proportion. In earthly terms there are thousands, even tens of thousands of churches involved in the struggle on every continent in the world except perhaps Antarctica. At a cosmic level, the battle is against the principalities and powers, and all the forces of darkness that oppose God. And even though we may not be able to see them, we fight alongside angels. Our decisions have real life implications and real eternal consequences. The battle is costly but the battle will be won.

I pray that all of us will remain faithful, courageous and principled as together we seek the Lord’s way forward over the next several months. Would you pray for me,that God would grant me wisdom, strength and compassion?

We will be talking a lot more about this in the months to come. In the meantime, give me a call if there is anything you need to get off your chest. Blessings to you and yours,

In Christ, Scott+

February 1, 2011

ACNA Concludes Second Annual Church Planting Conference

Anglican Church in North America

Featured speakers included Dr. Tim Keller of Redeemer Presbyterian Church and Bishop Todd Hunter of Holy Trinity Anglican Church.

PITTSBURGH, Pa. (January XX, 2011) - The Anglican Church in North America celebrated its 2011 Anglican 1000 Church Planting Summit which was held on January 25-27, 2011 in Plano, Texas. Roughly 350 church planters and leaders attended the second annual event sponsored by the Anglican Church.

At this year's Anglican 1000 Summit, Dr. Tim Keller of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York and Bishop Todd Hunter of Holy Trinity Anglican Church in Southern California were the keynote speakers. Both of these men are overseeing church planting networks on opposite ends of the United States. Dr. Keller leads Redeemer City to City, while Bishop Hunter leads the Churches for the Sake of Others network in the Anglican Mission in the Americas. Each showed how church planting is part of the Mission of God - not simply a vehicle for denominational expansion or an end in itself. They challenged planters to be focused on evangelism and fueled by prayer.

"It was a blessing to bear witness to the Christ-filled fellowship this week at our second annual church planting summit. As hundreds of church leaders listened to and presented stories of new church life and growth around North America, I was humbled by how the Lord has chosen to spread the faith through the valiant mission of church planting," said the Most Rev. Robert Duncan, Archbishop and Primate of the Anglican Church in North America.

Two years ago, Archbishop Robert Duncan, leader of the Anglican Church, made the astonishing, prophetic call to plant 1,000 new congregations in order to reach North America with the "transforming love of Jesus Christ." A few months later, a team of leaders gathered in Plano to dream about a cooperative movement to plant churches and answer this call. Since that time, many new works have started. Over 100 of these new works are featured on the Anglican 1000 website (www.Anglican1000.org). The Rev. Canon David Roseberry who serves as Chairman of the Anglican 1000 Movement says, "Anglican 1000 is a movement that is popping up everywhere! New churches are being planted, older churches are spinning off congregations, and bishops are tilling the field. It is hard to keep up with it. It is an idea whose time has clearly come."

Over 350 church planters and leaders returned to Plano this week to learn, educate and share resources as they strive to reach this immense church planting goal. Numerous stories from leaders across North America who are working in the field to plant new churches were presented at the conference. At the Anglican 1000 Summit it was clear to Chairman David Roseberry that, "The Archbishop spoke a vision that caught hold. It is a future that we all want to be part of. What the Anglican 1000 Summit showed me is that there are increasing numbers of younger planters that are presenting themselves. The room was full of 20-30 year old missionaries...each of whom is crying out to God, 'Here I am, send me!'"

"This is a movement that was inspired by the Holy Spirit and has come to life through the hard work and dedication of a broad grassroots network. On behalf of the Anglican Church in North America, I offer my profound gratitude to the many volunteers, members and leaders of Christ Church Plano for all of their hard work in making this a successful event. Furthermore, the leadership of The Rev. Canon Roseberry has given immeasurable value and enrichment to the Anglican 1000 movement. My devout prayer is that for years to come, the Lord will continue to refresh our minds and hearts with even more ways to bring the Anglican faith to the unchurched across North America and beyond," continued Archbishop Duncan.

St Philips, Moon Twp leaves ACNA

Dear Friends,

I write to inform you of a pending decision by St. Philip’s Church, Moon Twp (currently a member of the Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh (ACNA)) to negotiate an individual settlement with the Episcopal Church (TEC). St. Philip’s Sr. Pastor Eric Taylor, and vestry leadership have agreed to buy their way out of the pending lawsuit/appeal against our diocese by agreeing to pay a large sum of money to TEC in exchange for TEC quitting their claim against their property. In addition to the financial terms of the settlement, St Philip’s leadership has also agreed to abandon communion with the Anglican Church in North America and the Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh and Archbishop Robert Duncan for a period of at least five years. I have been told that the stipulation to split with our diocese was a non-negotiable requirement by TEC and their attorneys. TEC is denying it.

The response of the diocese and our bishop is posted on this blog. You will note that he is gracious as usual even though this must feel to him like betrayal and a great personal loss.

My first instinct is to respond to this news in anger but that is rarely the wise response. I have, in fact, taken down an earlier post for that reason. St Philips action makes no sense to me. Perhaps in the days to come we will see some reasonable explanation for why St Philips has done what they have done but for now my prayer is that St Philip’s parishioners will decide against the split when they meet for the vote on Tuesday evening.

This negative news about St Philip’s is only half the story. Good things are happening in the Anglican Church in North America today. I have also posted a news release on the just completed Anglican 1000 Church Planting Event. Please note that after about eighteen months already 100 new churches have been planted by the ACNA and many, many more are in the works. So, while we mourn the loss of St Philips today we also give thanks for the blessing of new churches being born here in Pittsburgh and throughout the United States and Canada.

In Christ,

Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh Calls Proposed Church Property Settlement “Heartbreaking”

Settlement Requires Pittsburgh Parish to Separate from Anglican Family for Five Years

PITTSBURGH, Pa. (February 1, 2011) – The Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh expressed sadness over a proposed church property settlement involving St. Philip’s Church in Moon Township, Pa. In addition to paying a substantial fee to the local Episcopal Church diocese in order to remain in their worship space, the proposed settlement requires St. Philip’s to sever ties for at least five years with the Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh, the Anglican Church in North America, and Archbishop Robert Duncan.

In addition, the Episcopal Church diocese has insisted that St. Philip’s agree that if it starts any new churches over the next five years they cannot be Anglican. The congregation is scheduled to vote on the settlement this evening, Tuesday, February 1. The settlement will then go before the Allegheny Court of Common Pleas.

“It is heartbreaking that even if they agree to pay a substantial settlement fee to keep their buildings, members of St. Philip’s are also being forced to separate from their Anglican family as a condition of the property settlement. Freedom of religion is at the heart of this matter and no congregation should have to stipulate that it will separate from its current body as part of a monetary property settlement,” said the Most Rev. Robert Duncan, Archbishop and Primate of the Anglican Church in North America and Bishop of Pittsburgh.

“Sadly, the separation mandate seems to be specifically designed to hurt both the local diocese and the North American province. If the settlement is approved by St. Philip’s, we urge the Court to strike any provisions of the settlement that abridge First Amendment rights.

“We support the people and clergy of St. Philip’s as they face into this painful decision. It is our sincere hope that The Episcopal Church will stop these abusive and unconstitutional practices so that St. Philip’s can move forward with its mission and ministry. The desire of the Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh is simply to hold fast to the teachings of Scripture, reach the greater Pittsburgh region with the transforming love of Jesus Christ, and serve those in need,” Archbishop Duncan concluded.

The Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh (http://pitanglican.org) unites more than 60 Anglican congregations in the greater Pittsburgh region. The Diocese of Pittsburgh is a founding member of the Anglican Church in North America, which has 1,000 congregations across the United States and Canada. The Anglican Church is a Province-in-formation in the global Anglican Communion. The Most Rev. Robert Duncan is the archbishop of the Anglican Church in North America and bishop of the Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh.