Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Atheist Bullies Correction

Project 21 [http://www.nationalcenter.org/P21Index.html] received a note from the American Humanist Association asking for some corrections to a recent New Visions Commentary [http://www.nationalcenter.org/P21NewVisions.html] — “Atheist Bullies” [http://www.nationalcenter.org/P21NVNeddAtheists90313.html] — written by member Archbishop Council Nedd II [http://www.nationalcenter.org/bios/P21Speakers_Nedd.html].

Council replies:

My apologies to the American Humanist Association. I mistakenly stated that the AHA placed their offensive KidsWithoutGod.com ad campaign [http://www.americanhumanist.org/press/KidsWithoutGod] on a billboard in Moscow, Russia (population 10.5 million [https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/rs.html]). In fact, their billboard was erected in Moscow, Idaho (population 24,000 [http://www.google.com/publicdata/explore?ds=kf7tgg1uo9ude_&met_y=population&idim=place:1654550&dl=en&hl=en&q=moscow,%20idaho%20population]).

The AHA also noted that, contrary to my claim that their effort was “huge” and featured thousands of ads: “The AHA did not purchase tens of thousands, but rather around 200 ads.” They also only bought bus ads in Washington, D.C.

As regretful as I am about the mistakes in places and numbers, pointing out my unfortunate lapse more clearly illustrates my main point about atheists being bullies.

In my commentary, I said: “If it was a dialogue the atheists wanted, why not choose places with more opportunity for true engagement.” A billboard in the very religiously diverse Moscow, Russia [http://www.moscowhotels.ws/moscow/religion.htm] would surely, in my opinion, generate far more productive discussion about the utility of faith than in a small city tucked away in the American Pacific Northwest that features a much lower religious affiliation [http://www.bestplaces.net/religion/city/idaho/Moscow] that the nation as a whole. Pardon me, but that’s singing to the choir (at least it is to those of us who go to church).

In discovering my unintentional mistake, I am now more solid in my belief that AHA’s true goal in their ad campaign is not to effect real discussion. Instead, I believe they are merely trying to shock a few people with hopes of also earning a squib on MSNBC or CNN.

Monday, 25 March 2013

Atheist Bullies

by Archbishop Council Nedd II

A New Visions Commentary paper published February 2013 by The National Center for Public Policy Research, 501 Capitol Court NE #200, Washington, D.C. 20002, 202/543-4110, Fax 202/543-5975, E-Mail Project21@nationalcenter.org, Web http://www.project21.org. Reprints permitted provided source is credited.

On the History Channel, they’ve turned the Bible into a miniseries.

It’s a hit. Nielsen reports the first installment had over 13 million viewers — a record for basic cable in 2013.

According to one of the network’s presidents, the channel “launched an incredible and coordinated [media] campaign” to lure viewers to this faith-based programming.

This got me thinking about media coverage of the Christian faith and how atheists choose to attack God.

In late 2012, the American Humanists Association targeted American children. The group unveiled a web-based campaign informing young people they are “a bit old for imaginary friends.”

The huge atheist media buy included online display ads on youth-oriented websites including Google and YouTube as well as the Cheezburger sites, Pandora, Reddit and Facebook. Disney, National Geographic Kids and Time For Kids were approached, but rejected the ads.

AHA also bought tens of thousands of interior and exterior bus ads in New York City and Washington, D.C. and a billboard in Moscow.

The atheist media strategy left me curious. Why didn’t they run advertisements deriding faith in Detroit... or Cairo, Riyadh, Kabul or Abuja?

If it were about money, they certainly could have stretched their dollars further in those markets. If it was about reaching more people, they could have generated more significant buzz in places where faith — Islam, for instance — is more prominent in everyday life.

If it was a dialogue the atheists wanted, why not choose places with more opportunity for true engagement. Christians, Western Christians and American Christians in particular are less likely to talk openly about God. Most Muslims, however, even those who are not particularly devout, always seem willing to talk about their faith.

Atheist ads mainly fall on the deaf ears among Western urban dwellers. They usually only draw attention from people like me who are willing to defend my faith and publicly counter their claims. By choosing the high-profile but low-interest areas, what they did indicates a bid for media attention.

Realistically, atheists could run ads in Jakarta, Indonesia if they really wanted impact. Why don’t they?

The likely case is the organized atheist/humanist movement is being a bully. While Christians are bound and encouraged to express their faith and proclaim the gospel, they are, by nature, more understated.

Consider the passive nature of Christian martyrdom. Islamic martyrdom can be quite proactive when under real or even perceived attack.

Remember the Christian reaction to the atheists’ “mock nativity scene” at the Wisconsin State Capitol this past Christmas? There were no mob scenes, riots, burnings or other actions garnering international attention. In comparison, reaction in Cairo, Benghazi and Sana’a to Internet postings from the film “Innocence of Muslims” resulted in all of the above.

In general Christians may get outraged. For most, it ends there. Muslims, on the other hand, may respond openly and actively to an attack on what they consider holy.

The writer and activist Andrew Vachss once said: “Life is a fight, but not everyone’s a fighter. Otherwise, bullies would be an endangered species.” I’m not aware of the American Humanist Association mocking the practitioners of zoolatry, Sikhs and Hindus or Jews — and I don’t encourage it.

What I’m pointing out is that organized atheists seemingly target only Christians. The bully can dominate the playground of the mockery of God, and Christians maybe won’t fight back — at least not in the way to stop the bully.

We seldom, if ever witness the atheist bully attack Muslims. Bullies don’t typically attack when they know there will be an open and active response. We don’t witness the bully attacking Hindus. This would be politically incorrect and morally repugnant.

We Christians worship the One True Living God. His ways are not our ways, and his thoughts are not our thoughts. Christians are expected to be faithful to God’s word, which often requires turning the other cheek and trusting in God’s ultimate protection. God has promised to take care of his own.

So maybe the atheists should rethink their approach.

# # #

Project 21 member Council Nedd II, the bishop of the Chesapeake and the Northeast for the Episcopal Missionary Church, is the honorary chairman of In God We Trust (http://www.ingodwetrustusa .org) - a group formed to oppose anti-religious bigotry. Comments may be sent to Project21@nationalcenter.org.

Note: New Visions Commentaries reflect the views of their author, and not necessarily those of Project 21.

Sunday, 17 March 2013

Passion Sunday


We Have The Jesus That We Have
by Bishop Council Nedd II

When I was in seminary, my now deceased former mentor and bishop gave me a copy of Mere Christianity. When I finally opened it to read it, I dusted it off, and devoured it. Having recently read it, I cannot say that I do not know of a clearer or more direct presentation of the essentials of Christian belief. You don't need to be a priest to understand it. In fact not being a priest probably helps.

I am telling you this now because C.S. Lewis lays out the same issue that this morning's Gospel presents. Lewis’ argument goes essentially like this: based on what Jesus says about himself in the New Testament, we are left with only three choices:

  • Either Jesus is the devil, the father of all lies.
  • Jesus is crazy on the level of the imaginary gentleman I talked about bursting in here last week that we wanted to send over to the church next door…or
  • Jesus, or rather Yeshua, is precisely whom he claims to be.

 If our sweet baby Jesus is a liar or a madman, then Jesus and the church he founded represent the most successful and pervasive con game ever perpetrated on mankind. However, if Jesus is who and what he says he is, then everything about him is of infinite and eternal importance and we should all listen intently and learn and inwardly digest what he says to us.

In today's Gospel Jesus proclaims that he is God. This morning he doesn’t make clever allusions to it, make riddles, or show his hands for inspection. This morning he proclaims it in a bold and direct fashion for the authorities to believe or disbelieve.

Some contemporary New Testament scholars deny that Jesus ever said any such thing. They argue that what we hear in St. John's gospel is part of a massive deception on the part of the followers of a hippyish, wandering, first-century rabbi who decided to make him a deity.
However we worship the Jesus of the New Testament. We don't have available to us some different, more rational or less supernatural Jesus. We are denied a safe middle-ground position.

We have to choose. Jesus is either a liar, madman, or God. Those are the only three choices we have.

The action in today's Gospel lesson is the end of a particularly passionate and vitriolic exchange between Jesus and some of his Jewish opponents. The gentle accommodating Jesus that many people hope to find in the New Testament is notably absent from this story.

Jesus is challenging and confrontational, and he baits his opponents into ever-increasing levels of antagonism and anger. They call him a devil. They cast doubts upon the legitimacy of his birth, which was then and always has been an insult worth fighting for.

He tells these people, the scribes and priests, who have made religion their profession, that they haven’t a clue as to who God really is, and that every time they open their mouths about God and the nature of God, they are only trapping themselves in a stickier web of lies.

In turn, they ask Jesus, "Who do you think you are, saying if people pay attention to you, they will never die?” They point out that all of the great heroes of the religion are dead. They ask if he really thinks he is greater than they were. However, also implied in this conversation is the fact that they view Jesus as a backwoods hick from Nazareth, so why would anyone of any importance ever pay attention to him.

Knowing full well that Abraham lived about two thousand years before the first century, Jesus replies, intentionally and provocatively, "Abraham was the happiest man in the world the day he met me." As you can imagine, the crowd was astonished and building into a frenzy.

According to our best estimates, Abraham lived sometime between 2000 and 1800 B.C. Jesus lived in the first century A.D. That makes him about as far removed in time from Abraham in one direction as he is from us in the other. So it is no wonder that after Jesus said, "Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day: and he saw it, and was glad." The crowd takes the bait and says, "You aren't even fifty -- how can you dare to say you met Abraham?"

With Jesus’ words, "I am telling you the truth-before Abraham was, I am", thus ends the discussion phase. With these words, the let’s kill him phase of things, really heats up.

You see, Abraham had come into the conversation because of another of Jesus' outrageous statements. His enemies had been insulting him, saying, "You're a dirty old Samaritan, you have a devil," and he snapped back at them with, "Verily, verily, I say unto you, if a man keep my saying, he shall never taste of death -- whoever obeys my teaching will never die."

His enemies responded, "Now we know you have a devil -- we're sure you're crazy. Everybody knows that the greatest heroes of our religion -- including Abraham and the prophets -- are all dead. Are you saying you are greater than they are? Who do you think you are, anyway?"
Jesus had already had a discussion with his fellow Jews about the dead people in Israel's past history.

Last Sunday’s lessons, after he fed a crowd of five thousand with a small amount of bread and fish, they came back the next day and asked him to perform another parlor trick.

They reminded Jesus that they have seen food tricks before, God had given their forefathers manna from heaven. Manna is miraculous food with which God fed the Israelites during their wanderings. Jesus said, "Yes, they ate the manna, but they all died later on anyway. The real food from heaven is my flesh and blood – if you eat that, you will never die."

So Jesus is not only being so bold as to utter God’s name, which was taboo, but he compounds the infraction, by also applying God’s name to himself. He says, when you want to know how I can make all these outlandish claims, and say I knew Abraham, and I can give you my flesh to eat, and if you obey me you'll never die? I can say all those things because I am God, that's why."

Later on the crowd picks up stones again and threatens to beat in Jesus' head with them again.

He asks, rather condescendingly, "I've done quite a few good works here. Tell me, for which of them do you want to stone me?" The crowd replies, "We don't want to stone you because of your good works. We want to stone you for your blasphemy, because you are only a man, and you are trying to make yourself into God.

The proper punishment for blasphemy under Hebrew law was stoning -- blasphemy was a capital crime. There is no doubt at all that Jesus was formally guilty of that crime. He uttered God's name and he applied the name to himself; and he said that he and the Father were one.

The passion of Jesus, specifically, his suffering and death, was not a mistake. On Good Friday, the Jews in the crowd who hate Jesus will tell Pontius Pilate, "We have a law, and by our law he ought to die, because he made himself the Son of God." The crowd may have thought Jesus was both a liar and a madman, but they had absolutely no doubt about what he was claiming, and they weren’t going to pass his claims off without responding to them.

The claims that Jesus made before the crowds in Jerusalem in the first century are the same claims Jesus makes before us today. "Before Abraham was, I am." "if a man keep my saying, he shall never taste of death." And so he asks us exactly what he asked his disciples, "What do you think about me?" "Whom say ye that I am?"

Our answer should be, you are Yeshua Adonai, Jesus the Christ.

Having said all that, let us think a bit more about God's name. I am – I am that I am.

The most significant thing about God is that, he is. He was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be. In the sacraments of the church and in the teaching of the New Testament, God offers to share his being, or for lack of a better English word, his “is-ness” or his everlasting life with each and every one of us. And he shares this with us, not only collectively, but individually.

When we are baptized we become part of Jesus. We share his eternal life. We share his endless being from that point forward. We are in eternal life now. It doesn't wait until we die for it to begin. We renew the eternal life of Jesus in us when we receive Holy Communion. When you receive communion listen to the words that are commanded by the celebrant, or rather, should be commanded.

“The body of our Lord Jesus Christ which is shed for you. Preserve, thy body and soul unto everlasting life. Take and eat this is remembrance that Christ died for thee and feed on him in thy heart by faith with thanksgiving.”

Pay attention to what I say when I give you the Body and Blood. We are living forever already, because we are united to the eternal existence of God himself and those words are a reminder of that.

Shortening it from the command to just the mere statements, “the Body of Christ” or “the cup of Salvation” or whatever happens to be in vogue is a disservice. I liken that abbreviation to what they said in the musical 1776, it’s a lot like calling an ox a bull, he is thankful for the distinction, but much rather be restored what is rightfully his. There is a fullness of God, which is missing from other words of institution, which we humans need constant reminding of.

Of course, that doesn't mean we won't die physically.  Unless Jesus comes back first, we surely will.  But our eternal life in God persists even through physical death. Jesus says, "I am." And Jesus makes it possible for each and every one of us in this room to say, "I am too."

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost.  

Sunday, 10 March 2013

Lent IV

With God Nothing is Impossible
by Bishop Council Nedd II


Jerusalem, my happy home, when shall I come to thee?" The person who composed that hymn was not referring to the problematical, largely Arab city in the state of Israel. The hymn is talking about heaven, and it is meditating upon how nice it is going to be to be in heaven, and how interesting it is going to be to finally see so many famous people from the Bible.

But the hymn calls heaven "Jerusalem." The New Testament's identification of Jerusalem with heaven begins with today's epistle selection from St. Paul's letter to Galatians. It reaches its consummation in St. John's description of the end of all things in the book of Revelation: "I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband."

One of the large, overarching themes of the Bible is the movement of God's people from the country to the city. Mankind starts off with Adam and Eve in a garden, but the final destiny of mankind lies in the city of God, the heavenly Jerusalem.

Israel was a nomadic people, and their national identity was forged as they wandered in the wilderness for forty years. But King David conquered the heathen city of Jerusalem in the eleventh century B.C., and he made it his political and military capital. When King Solomon built the temple in Jerusalem as a place for God to live, Israel had finally settled down with permanent central institutions in a city which focussed their collective attention.

Earthly Jerusalem's New Testament importance comes, quite obviously, from the fact that Jesus died and rose again and ascended into heaven there. He goes to Jerusalem to die for Old Testament reasons. Jesus tells his disciples, "It cannot be that a prophet perish outside Jerusalem."

In this morning's epistle, St. Paul builds a large and imposing structure on a story from the Old Testament book of Genesis. What he has to say about the contrast between Jerusalem on earth and Jerusalem in heaven is part of the structure.

His overall intention in Galatians is to address the question, "How can I get into a proper relationship with God?" St. Paul says that we have two basic choices: either we can try to earn the relationship by our own efforts; or we can accept what God has done for us in Christ.

We can either act as though the sure road to salvation is through impressing God with our many admirable accomplishments and our general wonderfulness, or we can accept the fact that we cannot please God by anything we do.

We can either proclaim, "I am good" or, at the very least "I'm not so bad." Or we can say, "I'm not much good at all, but Jesus died for me." We can continue to try to assert our own control over the situation, or we can relax in the confidence that God can run the universe better than we can, so the best we can do is either cooperate or just get out of his way.

In Genesis, God tells Abraham that he is going to have many descendants. His wife Sarah is long past the age of childbearing, so they laugh, and then they decide to help God out. Since they are certain that God can't possibly mean that Abraham's child is going to come from Sarah, they agree to let Abraham try to impregnate Sarah's slave girl Hagar. A child born of that union would be as legitimate as a child born to Abraham and Sarah.

Hagar has a son named Ishmael. Sarah gets jealous. God insists that the son through whom Abraham is going to have all the descendants be through Sarah. Abraham and Sarah conceive a son Isaac. Ishmael picks on Isaac, and, at Sarah's behest, Abraham throws Hagar and Ishmael out of the household.

St. Paul sees this story first of all as an object lesson about why it is better just to go along with whatever God says. He takes off from there to use the story to reflect the contrast between the law and the gospel, between bondage and freedom, between contracts and promises, between false motherhood and true motherhood, between the earthly Jerusalem and the heavenly Jerusalem, between the flesh and the spirit, and between the covenant with Moses at Mount Sinai and the covenant in Jesus' blood.

That is a lot to wring out of one soap opera-like episode. But his simplest point is the clearest, God knows what he is doing. Don't complicate it. Just accept it. God saved us and forgave us and promised us a ticket to the heavenly Jerusalem when Jesus died on the cross. Don't complicate it. Just accept it.

A lot of contemporary theologians are quick to claim that Jesus never proclaimed himself as the Messiah of Israel or as the Son of God. This is nothing but twaddle. The Gospels are clear, and the Gospels say otherwise…many times over.

In the passage from St. John's Gospel immediately preceding today's gospel is just one such instance. In the fifth chapter of St. John’s Gospel, he records Jesus copiously, declaring not just his divinity but also his relationship to God his heavenly Father. He says. "You search the scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life. “These [scriptures] testify of me . . . But I know you do not have the love of God in you. I have come in my Father's name yet you do not receive me."

We know from the gospel of St. John that statements like this from Jesus made people want to kill him. They thought Jesus was a blasphemer and a nut case.  However, we should have some sympathy for these misguided individuals and not judge them.

If a guy showed up here in church talking like that, we may not try to kill him, but we would probably want to call the cops or do just about anything to make him go away and visit the Presbyterian church next door.

Anyway, in the very next chapter, we have Jesus demonstrating the legitimacy of his claims by performing a feat only God could perform. Jesus takes five barley loaves and two small fish and, he creates enough food to feed five thousand men, plus the women and children they had brought with them.

Jesus’ feeding of the five thousand was an act of creation. He takes a little bit and turns it into a lot just as he did when Abraham and Hagar produced all the Arabs and then Abraham and Sarah produced all the Jews.

What do I mean? What we saw in today’s feeding miracle, was a glimpse into the extraordinary and supernatural. It was a demonstration in microcosm of God's creation of the universe.

It should have left the people speechless. It was an event no less miraculous than Jesus’ virgin birth and resurrection. For man, it was impossible, but for God it was effortless, because through him all things are possible.

Christians today often assume if they had been present they would have recognized Jesus' miracles for what they really were, which are awe-inspiring demonstrations of the power of God.

However don’t be so sure.

Let’s think for a moment about the individuals who actually participated in the miracle. There were those who heard him preach and those who ate of the fish and bread. Yet, they didn’t fall to their knees, bowing their heads, hailing Jesus as their God, and savior, and king.
However, St. John tells us the people responded with, "show us another trick and how about making us some desert".

I would like to think that are a bit wiser today, but experience tells me that I should not bet the rent money on that fact.

Not too much later on… just as he did in the feeding miracle… Jesus will take and bless and break and pass out some other bread.

He will hold up that bread to his disciples and say, "This is my body. Do this in remembrance of me." We take him at his word. Don't complicate it. Just accept it.  Like his Father, he knows what he is doing.


Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Lent III


The Power of Repentance
by Bishop Council Nedd II
March 3, 2013

Unto thee, O Lord, will I lift up my soul; my God. I have put my trust in thee.  Let me not be confounded, neither let mine enemies triumph over me.  In the name of the Father, the Son and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen

Nobody gets terribly excited about the devil in the gospels.  Today's gospel lesson finds Jesus casting a devil out of a man who cannot speak.

This morning’s Gospel reading concerns an event typical of the craziness that too often takes place among Christians of all persuasions.  This morning we hear an account of an argument between Jesus and a group of decent and pious people who should have been in complete agreement with him.  Jesus’ critics were Pharisees, members of a Jewish religious sect in which he, himself, had been raised.

It probably sounds a bit weird to hear Pharisees described as good, pious people.  For the people who were at the Bible study on Thursday, it may sound particularly strange to hear me call them decent and pious. 

The Pharisees have gotten a lot bad press in the Bible.  Regardless, the Pharisees were the most sincerely religious people in the Holy Land.  They, above all people should have believed that sweet baby Jesus was the Messiah of Israel.  However, today we find them not just saying Jesus is wrong, but claiming that Jesus is in cahoots with the devil.

That’s what happens today.  When Christians have a falling out, they don't merely say they disagree, they denounce them as being the worst kind of individual in the world.  However, like most of the most controversial Christians of today, the Pharisees cannot be excused on grounds that they were backwards and uneducated.  In general, the Pharisees enjoyed great educations and many were well traveled.

Because they had been clearly foretold in the Scriptures, the Pharisees knew precisely the signs by which the Messiah would arrive and be recognized.  But when confronted with a large body of evidence that Jesus was, indeed, the fulfillment of the scriptures, they refused to acknowledge the signs for what they no doubt were.

Instead of hailing Jesus as Messiah, they went looking for reasons to reject him.  The best excuse they could come up with on this occasion was absolutely illogical.

"Your miracles,” they declared, “are the work of the devil."

In the Bible, when the devil shows up, Jesus either casts him out or puts him down some other way, as Jesus did in the wilderness two weeks ago.  The Bible tells us to watch out for the devil, because he is clever and deceitful.  The Bible tell us that we can only beat him if we call upon Jesus for help; and it assures us that in the end the devil is not going to prevail.  When the final curtain does fall… Jesus wins.

There is vague exorcism-like language in the Prayer Book's baptism and healing services and in the prayers I use when I bless someone's house.  I have only performed what one would consider a full-on exorcism once in my years as a priest.

However, don’t think for a moment that I don’t take the devil seriously.  St. Paul says we are in a constant battle with devils – and he is right about that.  The devil exists to cause trouble and stir discontent.  The devil wants to divide people and get us fighting with one another over anything that will keep the pot stirred.  And he will do what he can to keep people from their simple and ordinary Christian duties of coming to church, reading their Bibles, praying, and giving money away.

If you ever find yourself strangely prevented from doing any of those things, you should recognize who has hold of you.  St. Paul tells us, "We wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities (and) powers."  We can only win this wrestling smackdown if we arm ourselves with Christ.  However, if we become overconfident in our ability to resist we will most assuredly wind up worse off than we were when we started.

As those who have attended the Bible study have seen, there are passages in scripture that make me want to erupt with laughter. 

The woman who interrupts Jesus’ teaching at the end of today's lesson is a favorite of mine.  Jesus decides to use the exorcism as a teachable moment about the demonic.  This woman pipes up with, "Your mother must be so proud to have a son like you."  She sounds at first like a typical, polite, nice religious lady.  After all, she is saying nice things to the holy man and throwing in a good word about his holy, dear old, and non-ever virgin, mom.

But the fact is that she has interrupted him and changed the subject.  Anybody who has ever attended any sort of religious education class…or gone to school for that matter, knows that similar things happen all the time.  Someone either craves attention and tries to take over the class with constant chatter, or the subject under discussion becomes so personally threatening that they try to move the conversation onto safer ground.  

This woman puts on full display the boring, mundane, everyday power of the demonic.  This is even more destructive and damaging than the dramatic displays of the dumb man in today’s gospel lesson.  People instinctively know to stay away from someone with their head spinning spitting green pea soup.  But what the old woman does lures people in, and away from what they should be focused on.

The devil has been clever in creating the idea that he does most of his work in a red suit, with a pitchfork and behind clouds of smoke – so that throws us off his scent when we don’t see the grand display.   

Anyway, after Jesus performs his exorcism, the crowd is divided between those who accuse him illogically of cahooting with the devil to cast out demons and those who, "sought of him a sign from heaven."  After all, making the dumb speak was amusing, but, come on Jesus, what have you done for us lately?

Jesus' response to the demand for a sign does not come until after today's selection ends.  When he is done fending off the interrupting woman, he says, "This is an evil generation: they seek a sign; and there shall no sign be given it but the sign of Jonah the prophet. For as Jonah was a sign to the Ninevites, so shall also the son of man be to this generation.”

He’s referencing the fact that God sent Jonah to the pagan city of Nineveh to tell the people to repent…and, shock of all shocks, they actually repented.  The heathens repented at the preaching of Jonah, so why would the Jews not repent at the preaching of Jesus?

The most powerful defense we have against the demonic is repentance.  We need to admit our sins and claim the forgiveness that comes with Christ’s death on the cross.  The devil wants us to believe that there is no such thing as sin.  If we insist upon believing that sin does exist, he wants us to persist in our sins and rationalize them and learn to recognize sin primarily in other people and attempt to judge them. 

Eve told God, rather lamely, "The serpent beguiled me, and I did eat." The devil works mainly through guile and deception.  St. John writes, "If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us; but if we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness."

This doesn't mean we have no role to play in God's judgment process.  Unfortunately for our egos, the role Jesus has given us is different than the role of judge.  Our job is to help others reconcile themselves to God and to help them share in the gift of salvation that he has given us.

Again, and unfortunately, it is not our job to point fingers at fellow sinners, as enjoyable as it might be.  The almighty God “unto whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid” can see all sins crystal clearly without our assistance.

If we reach out our hands to love and comfort others, ours will be a house united.  And against God's house united, the powers of hell can never prevail.

In the Name of the Father, the Son and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Lent II


Behind the Red Door
by Bishop Council Nedd II

1 I cried unto the LORD with my voice; * yea, even unto the LORD did I make my supplication.
2 I poured out my complaints before him, * and showed him of my trouble.
3 When my spirit was in heaviness, thou knewest my path; * in the way wherein I walked, have they privily laid a snare for me.
4 I looked also upon my right hand, * and saw there was no man that would know me.
5 I had no place to flee unto, * and no man cared for my soul.
6 I cried unto thee, O LORD, and said, * Thou art my hope, and my portion in the land of the living.
7 Consider my complaint; * for I am brought very low.
8 O deliver me from my persecutors; * for they are too strong for me.
9 Bring my soul out of prison, that I may give thanks unto thy Name; * which thing if thou wilt grant me, then shall the righteous resort unto my company.

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. Amen

Our Collect for today says:
Almighty God, who seest that we have no power of ourselves to help ourselves; Keep us both outwardly in our bodies, and inwardly in our souls; that we may be defended from all adversities which may happen to the body, and from all evil thoughts which may assault and hurt the soul; through Jesus Christ our Lord.

An agitated man runs screaming into a church yelling “Sanctuary, Sanctuary!” at the top of his lungs.  He is evading the law for either just or unjust reasons. 

For most of the Christian era, the ability to claim this safe harbor was recognized by most countries.

A distraught woman shows up in church on Sunday.  She is sitting off by herself, eye lids swollen from shedding lots of tears.  The woman doesn’t appear to be unfriendly… however the expression on her face says, “please don’t bother me with small talk”.

The one thing that we know for certain that these two people have in common is that they were seeking, something that only the church can offer.  Something they can’t find at a friend’s house, in a bar or even at a police station.

They are seeking the hiding place of David found in Psalm 32:7 or 8, depending on which translation you are using… but it says, “Thou are a place to hide me in; thou shalt preserve me from trouble; thou shalt compass me about with songs of deliverance…

Of course as soon as the man or the woman leaves the church – sanctuary is ended.

History of the Red Door

Historically, the red doors of a church have always been a symbol of sanctuary promising refuge to those in peril. The color red evokes the blood of Jesus Christ, which protects the wayfaring soul from spiritual harm.  The red doors symbolize the blood of Christ, which is our entry into salvation. They also remind us of the blood of the martyrs, the seeds of the church.

Jesus Christ is our refuge. The red doors here at St. Alban’s should remind us that our parish community must be a refuge for all those who enter through them. What the red doors should say to everyone is that in this holy place, there will be no outcasts. Our doors are open to all!

The red door tradition goes back to the middle ages.  Nobody would dare to do violence on hallowed ground and, in any case, the Church was not subject to civil law.  The red door was fair warning to pursuers that they could proceed no further.  One who claimed sanctuary in this way would then be able to present his/her case before the parish priest and ask that justice be served.

We never know why someone comes through the Door, but our obligation remains the same, to love them as ourself and love them where they are.

Every week we come to a holy place of worship.  We call it a church, but in reality it is the Lord’s Sanctuary.  Do we really know the power of the edifice and more importantly, this specific room?  Do we know what God’s design was for the sanctuary as well as its purpose?  Do we understand exactly how we should reverence this building and this room?  Do we enter it reverently?  This is what we shall discuss today.

What is the definition of Sanctuary: A sanctuary is a place set aside as sacred and holy, especially a place of worship. It is also a place set aside for protection.

In Exodus 25: 8 says, “have them make a sanctuary for me, and I will dwell among them." This Sanctuary is the abode of God.  Its importance should be of paramount interest to us.  In the Bible there are 169 references to the "Sanctuary".

We know that God is Holy and this tells us that He is worthy of our reverence and worship. 

We show our dependence on God by worshiping his Holy person.  When we worship at home, do we do it in quiet, without distraction? Do we go to a quiet room or closet? Do we hold our private worship in reverence? Reverence means respect or honor. 

Even if the answer to all of these questions is yes, what I maintain is that it is not a sacred space dedicate solely to holy purposes.

When we worship God in sacred space, we should be worshiping reverently.  I don’t mean just when the service begins, but from the moment you step into this sacred building designed and dedicated to God’s holy purposes. Ellen White tells us in The Faith I Live By, that Those who assemble to worship Him should put away every evil thing. Unless they worship Him in spirit and truth and in the beauty of holiness, their coming together will be of no avail.

With that I’m straying off my initial course, but it was a worthwhile segue.

Just about everyone here knows that I like to travel.  If you travel around the globe you will notice the different types of churches. Some are small, some large, some plain, some fancy, some without windows, and some with exquisite stained glass windows. Each of these buildings however has one thing in common, they are dedicated to the worship of our triune God.

I’ve never had anyone running into my parish screaming and begging for sanctuary per se.  However the story about the woman is a true story.  However, my obligation as a bishop is to provide, guard and protect that sanctuary. The obligation as laity is to respect that sanctuary. 

When we step out of the secular world and through the red doors, we are walking into a supernatural realm… a supernatural realm that God established for us to be a bit of heaven on earth.  That’s why church is a sanctuary in the most true sense.

This morning epistle tells us to possess our vessel in sanctification and honor.  There is a clear literal and specific interpretation of this.  We should all be working to keep from muddling the profane with the holy.  That includes protecting the inside of this building from what goes on outside of this building.  

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. Amen

Friday, 22 February 2013

For Egyptian Cancer Patients

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Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Lent I


That's Life
by Bishop Council Nedd II

It’s good to see that everyone has recovered so nicely from their day of fasting on Ash Wednesday.

I think we did all we could to get the point of Ash Wednesday across. We had a good group of people in church which was really nice. Those of you who were not here, or who were to exhausted from fasting that you couldn't keep your minds on the sermon; the point of Ash Wednesday is that unless Jesus comes back first, we will all die at some point.  We are made from dust, and we will return to dust. As we say during funerals, "Ashes to ashes, dust to dust."

The point of the First Sunday in Lent is rather different though. Today's theme is that you are going to live until you die, so you had better figure out what life is all about.  To help us sort out what life is all about, St. Matthew tells us a deceptively complex tale involving Jesus and the devil.

St. Matthew wrote his gospel for the Jewish Christians and for Jews he hoped to convert to Christianity.  He wanted to convince his audience that Jesus is the Messiah of Israel.  He wanted to convince his audience that Jesus was one whom God promised to send to earth someday to set everything right for his chosen people.

St. Matthew presents Jesus as the one who relives all of Israel’s history in his life of thirty-some years.  The first chapters of St. Matthew’s gospel is devoted to showing how the life of Jesus fits a series of Old Testament prophecies and how his life is a replay of the whole history of Israel as the Old Testament tells it.

Jesus goes to Egypt to escape murder, just as the Israelites went to Egypt to escape famine. John the Baptist baptizes Jesus on the spot at which Joshua led the Israelites across the Jordan River and into the promised land. Jesus goes up onto a hill to talk about the Law, just as Moses went up Mt. Sinai to get the Law.

The story of the temptation of Christ in the wilderness is a microscopic replay of Israel's wandering in the wilderness.  Israel was in the wilderness for forty years between the Exodus from Egypt and the entrance into the Promised Land.  Jesus is in the wilderness for forty days after his baptism and before the start of his earthly ministry.

The location where Jesus' testing and temptation took place is on the west bank of the Jordan River overlooking Jericho, which is where the Jordan empties into the Dead Sea.  On the opposite side of the valley is Mount Pisgah where Moses died, and where God showed him the Promised Land.

All of that happens in the book of Deuteronomy.  A good portion of Deuteronomy is taken up with Moses' final words, in which he recaps what has happened to Israel under his leadership and gives his explanation for why God let it happen.

If you trace back the three Bible verses which Jesus uses against the devil, you discover that they all come from Deuteronomy.  Each of them, in turn, refers back to some event during the wilderness wandering when God tested Israel in a particular way.  In each case, the fundamental temptation is not to trust God -- not to believe that God knows what he is doing, and that if one tries to obey him and hang in there with him he will work everything out.

The single most important thing that Moses says in Deuteronomy is his brief explanation for why God put the Israelites through the forty years of wandering.  He says: "Remember how the Lord your God led you on this long journey through the desert these past forty years, sending hardships to test you, so that he might know what you intended to do, and whether you would obey his command.”

If we can look at the story of Jesus' temptation through the eyes of Moses and through the lens of Deuteronomy, we discover that the story tells us what life is really all about.  In this life we have to live before we die.  Israel's wandering and testing in the wilderness stands for what all human life is.

We are all wandering around… some, way more aimlessly than others.

God is always sending hardships to test us.  God is watching to see what we will do about the hardships.  Specifically, he is finding whether or not we obey what he tells us in these times of testing and difficulty.

The Epistle to the Hebrews asserts that Jesus' temptation is the most powerful proof that Jesus is really human.  Our High Priest is not one who cannot feel sympathy for our weaknesses.  On the contrary, we have a High Priest who was tempted in every way that we are, but did not sin.

The point isn’t that Jesus didn't break God's individual laws, the point is that he always trusted his father.  He believed that God knew what he was doing, and that if he were confident in God and kept on obeying him, everything would work out as it should.

That’s precisely what Council does not do.  I believe that I know how to run the universe better than God does.  I routinely exempt myself from obeying his laws that I find inconvenient or a hindrance to my interest or lifestyle.  When hardships and testing come along, I have a hard time letting God into them.

However, in my better moments, I realize that I need God's help.  I realize that he doesn't send me hardships merely to improve my questionable character.  God allows those hardships to happen so that I will throw myself on his mercy.

While Jesus' temptations are somewhat more dramatic than the ones we come up against on a regular basis, his three temptations boil down to three tests we all know about:

First, not to trust that God will take care of our material needs;
Second, not to trust in God's general good will toward us; and; and
Third, not to trust that it is better to obey God than to have the power and the pleasure the
world offers if we disobey.

Because Jesus went through what we go through he understands us and comforts us and gets us through all the trials and temptations life brings us.  But we cannot do it without his help.

So we dare not forget the words of St. Peter: "God resists the proud, and gives grace to the humble. Therefore, humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time: casting all your care upon him: because he cares for you."

That’s life.

Saturday, 16 February 2013

رسالة من القس كاونسل نيد , رئيس الأساقفة في الكنيسة الأسقفية التبشيرية, بمناسبة صيام عيد الفصح المبارك


رسالة من  القس كاونسل نيد , رئيس الأساقفة في الكنيسة الأسقفية التبشيرية, بمناسبة صيام عيد الفصح المبارك


الى جميع المؤمنين في المسيح,
سلام وبركات سماوية للجميع. ان موسم الصوم الكبير هو موسم أحياء المحبة الألهية.  حيث انني سبق وشجعتكم برسالتي الميلادية بأن نصمد ونتشدد ونصلي بحرارة في هذا الزمن , زمن الحرب, ونحن على يقين بأن النصر لنا , فأنني الآن , وفي زمن الصوم  هذا, اوصيكم ان ننمو معا في المحبة. وقد يكون انه من الاسهل لنا بان نواظب ونتشدد لابسين درع الصلاة والأيمان بكل عزم ونحن متكئين على الانتصار الذي حققه ملك الملوك ورب الأرباب , من ان ننمو معاً بالمحبة.

"ان اول كل الوصايا هي اسمع يا اسرائيل. الرب الهنا رب واحد.  وتحب الرب الهك من كل قلبك ومن كل نفسك ومن كل فكرك ومن كل قدرتك. هذه هي الوصية الاولى. وثانية مثلها هي تحب قريبك كنفسك. ليس وصية اخرى اعظم من هاتين"

كما أوصانا يسوع ان نحب الله والقريب , فهوايضأً سيعلّمنا كيف نحبه.  فيسوع  هو رب فوق الكل ويسوع هو رب المحبة. فما هي اذا الامور التي تمنعنا بأن نحب الله و نحب الآخرين كما اوصانا الله ؟ هذا هو السؤال الذي اطلب منكم ان تضعوه امامكم في موسم هذا الصيام. فبينما نصوم  ونصلي , ونمتنِع ونصلي , ونتأمل ونصلي , في وقت هذا الصيام الكبير , فليعلن لنا الرب وليزل كل المعوقات الحاجبة حتى نسلك بالمحبة من أجل ان  يتمجد هو وحده.

"لذلك نحن ايضا اذ لنا سحابة من الشهود مقدار هذه محيطة بنا لنطرح كل ثقل والخطية المحيطة بنا بسهولة ولنحاضر بالصبر في الجهاد الموضوع امامنا ناظرين الى رئيس الايمان ومكمله يسوع الذي من اجل السرور الموضوع امامه احتمل الصليب مستهينا بالخزي فجلس في يمين عرش الله."

فإن الحياة المسيحية ليست عدوا سريعا بل بالأحرى هي مراثون -  لذلك يوصينا الكتاب بان ننظر الى يسوع – رنيس ومكمل ايماننا. وإذ انظر اليه , أسمعه يقول: " كِفّوا واعلموا اني انا الله" . كما ظهر الله لأبرام وهو جالسا تحت البطمة , وكما كان خادم اسحق مُكِفّاً بجانب البئر فخرجت راحيل حاملة الجرّة .وبينما كان دانيال مصليا تواصل معه الملاك جبرائيل ....

ويكلمنا يسوع الكرّام  و يسوع الذي هو ايضا الأغصان في أنجيل يوحنا 15 ويقول: "كما احبني الآب كذلك احببتكم انا. إثبتوا في محبتي".
 هوذا يقول لنا: إثبتوا , خيّموا, إنتظروا, إبقوا , أستمروا بمحبتي. كفّوا. هوذا قائلا...

وفي هذا الصوم ارفع صلواتي كما رفعتها في عيد الميلاد , وأدعو بان لا ترتفع هموم هذا العالم آخذتا مركزا بارزاَ. وأصلي بأن  تنمو محبة جسد المؤمنين وترتفع حتى الفيض. واصلي لكي يعلن حمل الله نفسه للقلوب المنفتحة من خلال صوته وشخصه والكلمة المقدسة.  لنخطو كل يوم في هذا الموسم ونعبر باب قدس الأقداس القرمزي الى ابعاد المحبة السامية التي هي بالمسيح يسوع ربنا. بجلدته شفينا. بالسكينة والثقة تكمن قوتنا. يسوع هو الرب.

باسمه

الأسقف كاونسيل نيد
رئيس الأساقفة

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Ash Wednesday


Pride is a Deceiver
by Bishop Council Nedd II


One of the questions that begins the Jewish Passover feast is , “why do we eat bitter herbs?”  I suppose the Lenten season could begin with the question, “why do we eat pancakes Tuesday night?”  As I have said repeatedly, there should be nothing going on in the church for which there isn’t a reasonable explanation.

Lent is a season of fasting.  There was a time when the this fast was enforced by the church and people would be thrown in prison and forced to pay heavy fines for eating meat during Lent…Unless you bought a special meat license from the bishop.

As I was driving to church this morning, I was talking to an Arab Muslim friend of mine in the UAE.  She knows Lent begins today.  I told her that I was fasting today, but that I needed my coffee.  She was on the phone with me as I went through the Sheetz drive-thru in Altoona.  She was also on the phone with me when I told the girl how much cream I wanted in my coffee.  To which she immediately spoke up and said, you can’t put cream in your coffee because it comes from the cow.

So, why do we eat pancakes on Tuesday?

Because, in the magical pancake, we use up all the ingredients that we traditionally can’t consume during Lent. Pancakes are made up of eggs, wheat, flower and milk. We also eat all the meat that is in the larder that would be bad if it stayed there until after Lent is over.

I’m not sure if anyone here has ever been to carnival in New Orleans, or Toronto or Rio, but they have 40 days of festivals and parades.  However, at the stroke of midnight, the police clear the streets because the great fast has begun.

So when I think about me adding milk to my coffee I retroactively justify it by reminding myself that the law was made for man and not man for the Law.  God did make earth for man.

But seriously, I never thought much about the milk I put in my coffee, and maybe I will address that at some point.  Or maybe I won’t.  Ok, most likely I won't address it.  Maybe that’s my own private rebellion.

Man is rebellious by nature.

We live in a day of great rebellion. We don’t submit ourselves well to authority in our lives. Behind their backs we do and say all kinds of rebellious things, be it to our bosses, spouses, teachers, parents, and…God forbid, to our Bishops.

God doesn’t tolerate rebellion.  He judges rebellion.  King Saul rebelled against God and how did that work out for him?  Submitting doesn’t make you inferior, but obedient.  It’s an organizational principle thru which God works.  Even Jesus, God the Son, submits to the Father by saying, Not my will but Thine be done.  Nothing works properly without some form of order and a chain of command. We are a body with all different levels of functions, and we all answer to different parts of the body as we work together.

A little boy was overheard talking to himself as he strutted through the backyard, wearing his baseball cap and toting a ball and bat.  "I’m the greatest hitter in the world," he announced. Then, he tossed the ball into the air, swung at it, and missed. "Strike One!" he yelled.

Undaunted, he picked up the ball and said again, "I’m the greatest hitter in the world!" He tossed the ball into the air.  When it came down he swung again and missed.  "Strike Two!" he cried.

The boy then paused a moment to examine his bat and ball carefully.  He spit on his hands and rubbed them together.  He straightened his cap and said once more, "I’m the greatest hitter in the world!"

Again he tossed the ball up in the air and swung at it. He missed. "Strike Three!"

"Wow!" he exclaimed. "I’m the greatest pitcher in the world!"

Pride is a deadly virus that will eat away at us emotionally and spiritually.  It is a great deceiver.  Pride has destroyed more marriages and churches than any other thing.  Pride affects our worship when we try to impress God or others with our goodness.  God is no respecter of persons.  We must be careful not to take on the attitude of the Pharisee in the temple.

Being active in the service of God is a privilege.  God loves us and wants to use us in His service –  but He doesn’t need us.  If I walk away from His service today, He will raise up another to take my place.  I cannot worship God with a spirit of pride.  The Psalmist teaches us that, him that hath an high look and a proud heart will not I suffer.

Pride will affect our view of life.  Every person who has attempted to be a world ruler has been defeated, from Nimrod to Nebuchadnezzar to Hitler to Stalin and whatever is going on in the US now and on through to the Antichrist in end times.  Destruction and judgment from God is promised to the one with this attitude.

Too often, we take credit for things that we shouldn’t.  It’s like the beaver told the rabbit as they stared up at the immense wall of Hoover Dam, "No, I didn’t actually build it myself.  But it was based on an idea of mine."

Pride will result in the very thing we most want to avoid…“lest we be scattered”.  God’s power is greater than man’s pride.  A man’s pride shall bring him low: but honour shall uphold the humble in spirit. Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up. 

Humility is necessary for salvation.  No one has been saved by demanding that God let them into the Kingdom of Heaven. No one can climb-up or make their own way in.  Humble yourselves to accept God’s will for what you should do.  Humble yourselves to serve God where he leads.  Humble yourselves in all you do and watch how your life improves.