"The Preachers chiefly shall take heed that they teach nothing in their preaching, which they would have the people religiously to observe and believe, but that which is agreeable to the Doctrine of the Old Testament and the New, and that which the Catholick Fathers and Ancient Bishops have gathered out of that Doctrine." A proposed canon of Elizabeth I, 1571

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Location: Bedford, Texas, United States

I am a presbyter in the diocese of Fort Worth, Texas (Anglican Church in North America). I serve as Chaplain at St. Vincent's School and as a canon of St. Vincent's Cathedral Church in Bedford, Texas. In addition to my parish duties and teaching Religion classes in the school I am also the Middle School Social Studies teacher.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

A Sermon for the Fifth Sunday in Lent

About 12.5 miles from Athens, Greece, there is an ancient pagan shrine known as Eleusis. For more than two thousand years—from Homer’s time until 392 A.D.—pagans gathered there to undergo a strange set of secret initiation rites into the cult of Demeter, the Greek goddess of agriculture, and Persephone, her beloved daughter and the wife of Hades, lord of the Underworld. So effectively were these “Eleusinian mysteries” kept secret that today we are not sure exactly what they entailed, but we do know that participants were taught arcane prayers and performed ecstatic dances on their way to an underground chamber where the greatest mysteries of life and death were supposedly revealed and a future immortality of the soul in bliss conferred upon initiates.

During the first century A.D. pagan “mystery religions” such as the Eleusinian mysteries were flourishing all over the Roman empire. There was a general hunger in the ancient Mediterranean world for the promise of immortality. Greek and Roman pagans were known to go on long pilgrimages looking for the secret of eternal life, and they were willing to look into any cult if it held the prospect of life after death. Perhaps that is what brought the Greeks mentioned in today’s Gospel lesson to Jerusalem at Passover. Perhaps they thought the wonder-working Jewish rabbi from Nazareth they had heard about would be able to give them another piece of the puzzle of immortality. Maybe the mysteries Jesus revealed could finally give them the eternal life they for which they so longed.

There is, of course, much that is “mysterious” about the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It boggles our feeble human minds, for example, to think that the sovereign Lord of all Creation would humble Himself and become one of us—the Almighty Creator become a frail creature, the Infinite willingly bound by finitude, the font of Life made subject to decay and death. Yet what is even more amazing than the mysteries of Christianity are the openness and clarity of their proclamation!

For our God speaks to us plainly. God’s holy nature and boundless power are set out for all to see in the works of creation. The saving acts of the one, true God have been openly displayed throughout human history. And His sovereign will for the world is available to anyone who would seek it through His revealed Word written. These truths are not the preserve of a small band of initiates huddled in the darkness. They are meant for the entire world, and they have been so from the beginning.

When Moses went up the holy mountain to receive the Law at Sinai the very earth itself testified to the revelation with lightening, thunder, fiery clouds, earthquake, and a groaning from its very depths like the blast of a mighty trumpet. This Sacred Law wasn’t given in secret formulas known only the enlightened few, but in a normal human speech Moses could share with the people of God in his time--and for all time--in the words of Holy Scripture. We worship a God we cannot see, but we may hear His voice calling out from every page of every Bible with infallible words even a child can understand. Nothing could be farther from the murky mysteries of the ancient Greeks than the plain Truth of the Living God.

Of course, the mighty acts and awesome words of God revealed in the Old Testament will crescendo in the Lord’s ultimate act of salvation and His most perfect revelation—the Incarnation of God the Son in our Lord Jesus Christ, God-with-us. When the true God revealed Himself fully to the world in Christ, it wasn’t done through hushed whispers in secret, underground lairs. It was done in a stable outside a crowded inn, on a boat in a stormed-tossed lake, on a hillside where thousands were fed from a boy’s lunch basket, and in the bedroom of a dead twelve-year-old girl. The saving truths of eternal life were spoken aloud by Christ in the ordinary language of everyday people and proven through the testimony of countless sufferers freed from their torments, in throngs of demons cowering in terror, and by graves that yielded up their occupants to life restored anew. In the earthly ministry and teaching of Jesus of Nazareth, the saving love of God is an indisputable fact for anyone with eyes to see it.

Yet if one wishes to see the most powerful manifestation of the glory of God, he must look not to the miracles of Christ’s earthly ministry, nor even to His words of holy Wisdom. Instead, as both our Lord Jesus and the voice from Heaven make plain in today’s Gospel lesson, the fullest, most perfect manifestation of God’s glory is found in “the Hour” of Jesus, when He is “lifted up from the earth.”

For as Jesus was raised up from the stony soil of Calvary fixed to the hard wood of the cross, God’s glory radiated from one end of the cosmos to the other with an intensity unknown from the foundation of the world. For there, at that moment, through the free gift of God every sin ever committed by mankind from Eden to the End of Days was redeemed by Christ’s obedience, and every affliction the human race had ever known or would ever know was swallowed up by the divine love through the tortured flesh and battered soul of the only-begotten Son. At that Hour Jesus Christ draws all mankind to Himself because He has identified with us perfectly in our sin and our mortality. His cross becomes a vortex of perfect Light that swallows up the darkness haunting our hearts and minds.

And yet the glorious “Hour” of Christ is not exhausted even by His precious death on our behalf. Jesus was also “lifted up from the earth” when He rose from the cold stone slab of the tomb on Easter morning. Kicking down the gates of Hell and crushing the head of that ancient serpent under His nailed-pierced heel, Christ—the seed that had been dead and buried—broke forth from the tomb and an abundance of fruitful life followed after Him, enlivening all those who turn to Him in faith. Furthermore, the Incarnate Son was also “lifted up from the earth” forty days after His Resurrection when He ascended back to His Father, taking our human nature into the Godhead, allowing Christ to serve as our eternal High Priest before the throne of Glory and cementing the bond between humanity and our Savior God forever.

All this taken together—Christ’s saving death, His life-giving resurrection, and His glorious ascension—comprises “the Hour” of Christ by which God glorified Himself most perfectly: a moment of supreme humiliation transmuted by divine Love into one of unbounded glory—an Hour so awe-inspiring that it inexorably draws us in and pulls us along in Christ’s wake on the way of the Cross. This is a glory in comparison with which the petty pomps of this world fall away as of no account. For the Hour of Christ—the hour of unmerited forgiveness for all those who, with penitent hearts, turn to the Savior in faith—the hour when death is swallowed up by Life and darkness by divine Light—the hour when our primeval union with the Creator is restored to its fullness—this is the hour of the judgment of our fallen world, when its false ruler is cast out and the King of the New Heaven and the New Earth take up His throne. And this glorious Hour is right now if you and I will forsake our old lives of complacency and ignorance and lift Christ up high for the whole world to see.

Behold the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world! We must tell them, brothers and sisters. Behold the wood of the cross whereon hung the world’s salvation! Behold the broken power of the empty tomb! Behold the Hour of Christ when He draws all men to Himself!

Glory be to God on high. Amen.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

A refresher from the group "Celtic Woman"

Monday, March 23, 2009

The Diocese of Fort Worth Responds to the Rump Diocese's Demands for All of Our Property

March 10, 2009

Ms. Kathleen Wells
Taylor, Olson, Adkins, Sralla & Elam, LLP
6000 Western Place, Suite 2001-30 at Bryant lrvin Road
Fort Worth, Texas 76107-4654

Re: Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth property transition

Dear Ms. Wells:

I represent Bishop Iker. We acknowledge receipt of the letter delivered by you to Chancellor William T. McGee and thank you for your communication. Regrettably, the ambiguity of your letter prevents any manner of meaningful response. If the letter's purpose (as your concurrent "press release" seems to indicate) is to arrogate (then publicize) an agenda for property confiscation that would contravene the expressed wishes of the vast majority of this Diocese, then I fear that there is little we can discuss. On the other hand, if the letter intends to initiate a considerate and devout resolution of property issues between well-meaning Christian brethren, then we welcome (as we always have) a virtuous and dignified discussion of the achievement of that goal.

We shall look forward to your clarification.

Very truly yours,

Marshall M. Searcy, Jr.

Hat tip to Stand Firm, which has posted the PDF of the letter.

Mr. Searcy is a highly experienced trial lawyer and I feel very confident knowing that he is handling our diocese's "great matter." His CV may be found here. Give it a read.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Rump TEC "Diocese" in Fort Worth Demands Hand Over of All Church Properties, Assets, and Records in the 23 Counties of our Diocese

Well, this could be seen coming a mile off--the final legal i-dotting and t-crossing before the lawsuit is filed. From the Episcopal News Service (emphasis added by RWF):

The standing committee of the continuing Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth (Texas) and Provisional Bishop Edwin Gulick have written to former bishop Jack Iker to request a "peaceful and orderly transfer of property and other assets."

"Our hope is to work together with those who left the Episcopal Church to make this period of transition as painless as possible in what has been a sad time for all of us," said the Rev. Frederick Barber, president of the standing committee. "Those who left remain our brothers and sisters in Christ. But we also know we have a sacred responsibility to the Episcopalians of the diocese to be good stewards of property that is held in trust for generations of Episcopalians past and to come."

The March 3 letter, written by chancellor Kathleen Wells, also asked that Iker and others not interfere with the reorganization of the continuing diocese; refrain from using the diocesan logo and seals and meet with representatives of the continuing diocese “to plan the orderly transition” of property and assets. Last November, Iker and some members of the diocese voted to realign with the Argentina-based Anglican Province of the Southern Cone. [RWF note: Remember, the "some members of the diocese" who left TEC in November made up more than 80% of the clergy and lay delegates of the diocese! This really is shameless.]

"On behalf of Bishop Gulick, the Diocese and the corporation, I respectfully request that Bishop Iker and those working with him or otherwise claiming authority from him take no action inconsistent with the reorganization of the continuing Diocese or with the continuing interest of the Episcopal Church in church property of the Diocese and its congregations," Wells wrote in the letter addressed to William T. McGee, a retired Fort Worth judge who serves as Iker's chancellor, or legal adviser.

McGee, reached at his Fort Worth law office on March 6, said, "I have received the letter and passed it on to my bishop." He declined further comment until he and Iker meet to discuss the letter.

Iker was unavailable for comment March 6. He issued the following statement a day earlier: "We will have no comment to make on this letter until we have consulted with our legal counsel. However, we previously indicated a willingness to release property to congregations where a significant majority wish to remain in union with the General Convention of The Episcopal Church and, in fact, have already done so in four cases."

But Wells said that isn't what the continuing diocese is asking for. "We're not here to split up everything," she said during an interview March 6 from her Fort Worth law office. "This meeting is not to negotiate who gets what property, but to work out the details of an orderly transfer or delivering keys and security codes, of getting inventories and determining how they will surrender possession of the diocesan center, and the records there."

The continuing diocese has offered Iker "in a nice way an opportunity to tell us how you're going to deliver the keys to us. The way you do that with people of good faith is to write a letter and say let's talk about this," she said. She added that: "We're hoping of course, that as brothers and sisters in Christ they will do the right thing."

She declined to speculate about the dollar value of disputed property and assets except to say: "It's in the millions and millions of dollars, obviously."

She added that: "We have gone through, in a very painstaking way … appraisal and deed records filed in the various 23 counties that make up the diocese and tried to consult title information … to arrive at a ballpark evaluation. We just haven't pulled it all together yet."

Comparing the situation to that of a tenant moving out of a landlord's property Wells, a civil litigator in state and federal court, said: "They're moving out. They are no longer part of the Episcopal Church. They are no longer entitled to possession of property," so how do we go about turning over the possession of property to the landlord? "It's with a ‘let's meet, I'll deliver the keys on this date.'"

RWF resumes: So now we know. The faithful people who have built these churches and been blessed by God to participate in flourishing congregations that have worshiped in them over the last 25 years have simply been tenants of the General Convention of the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Societies of the Episcopal Church USA, Inc., all along. How foolish it was of them to think they actually might have an ownership stake in churches they paid for and built and maintained all those years! Silly tenants! Now get out and leave the keys on the altar!

Readers of this blog who still harbor any illusions that the rump TEC DioFW might turn out to be a "conservative" voice within the Episcopal church--or even a "moderate" one--may also be interested in the Lenten Series speaker the rump diocese is presenting this week. It is the Rev. Terry Martin, the clergyman behind the now (almost) inactive hard-Left Episcopal blog "Father Jake Stops the World."

Yes, indeed, the few traditionalists Episcopalians still within the rump TEC organization are in for a bumpy ride ahead. The theological Left clearly calls the shots in their little "diocese" now.

Hat tip to MCJ.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Buddhist Bishop-Elect Writes Own Eucharistic Texts

I have made an effort in the recent past to limit my comments on affairs that relate solely to the Episcopal Church, as I am no longer affiliated with that body. But because what goes on within TEC still has an impact on the world-wide Anglican Communion (of which I am emphatically still a part through my diocese's affiliation with the Province of the Southern Cone and--soon--ACNA), the events revolving around last week's episcopal election in the TEC diocese of Northern Michigan merit comment here.

The Rev. Kevin Thew Forrester, recently elected bishop as the only candidate on the ballot in Northern Michigan, has already attracted notice for the fact that he is also a practicing Buddhist who said he had received Buddhist “lay ordination” and was “walking the path of Christianity and Zen Buddhism together.” Now comes word that the bishop-elect also has been composing his own Eucharistic texts, in partnership with his wife. I pass along potions of this story from The Living Church for you consideration.

Fr. Thew Forrester’s parish draws some of its prayers from Enriching Our Worship, which is authorized by General Convention. Many of the eucharistic texts gathered from the congregation’s website were composed or adapted by the bishop-elect or by his wife, the Rev. Rise Thew Forrester.

“No one need go hungry if they eat this bread. No child, no adult, no elder. This bread, broken, is bread for all people,” read a eucharistic prayer for a youth service during Lent 2008. “Jesus broke this bread to remind us that God comes to us in those places where we are broken inside. Where we are lonely, frightened, sick and in sorrow. And God also comes to us in those places where we are joyful, playful and free.”

The same service omitted the Nicene Creed, instead using “An Affirmation of Faith” from A New Zealand Prayer Book.

A eucharistic prayer that the bishop-elect wrote for Easter season 2008 says this: “In the ancient days, at the dawn of time, You leaned over creation[,] scooped it to your breast and breathed the moist breath of life. ... The fire of your Spirit kindled a love between Mary and Joseph; a fire that became the roaring flame of eternal compassion—the heart of Jesus.”
[RWF: N.b., this last sentence appearently constitutes an implied denial of the Virgin Birth right at the heart of the Eucharist. Jesus' origin is the Spirit's action within "the love between Joseph and Mary."]

The lectionary texts are notable for their exclusion of male pronouns, even when the subject of the sentence is a man. A reading from Genesis 2 refers to Adam as “the earth creature” and “it.” Readings from the gospels of John and Mark refer to Jesus as “the Chosen One,” “the Only Begotten One,” “my Beloved, my Own” and “this One.”

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