Thursday, January 31, 2008

New South Dakota Abortion Law

The South Dakota legislature passed new law requiring that women seeking abortions be offered a sonogram - a chance to see the life that is growing within them before engaging in a "procedure" to end that life.

Abortion politics in SD are in some ways similar to other parts of the country, but we have unique features.

On the pro-abortion side, we don't have the organized feminist faction that one finds in major urban areas. Planned Parenthood is pretty much one building in Sioux Falls, and much of its political support comes in from out of state.

Then there are the West River Libertarians - folks who value individualism and limited government. They tend to vote pro-abortion and were decisive in defeating a strict abortion ban on the state ballot in 2006.

Of course the Episcopal Church and other Liberal Protestant clergy come out for photo-ops in support of the pro-abortion position. (More about TEC in a minute.)

In South Dakota as elsewhere, Roman Catholic and Evangelical Christians are the heart and voice of the pro-life movement.

The D/Lakota people also have strong cultural and spiritual affirmations of women as life-givers. Although there are a few pro-abortion Indians, most here are pro-life. The Oglala Sioux leadership impeached a pro-abortion tribal leader and shut down efforts to put an abortion clinic on the Pine Ridge Reservation in 2006.

Given this array of positions, I think it is fair to say that the more narrow one's world view, the more receptive to abortion one will be. Libertarians are ardent about the individual as the measure of most things. Organized feminists are factional elitists, measuring things by how they serve the feelings of the club members. (The Episcopal Church... more about that in a minute.)

Conversely, those with a spiritual vision that finds connection and meaning beyond the self or the clique will see abortion as a moral wrong - a degradation of God's design, human love and society.

OK, a few thoughts on the Episcopal Church (TEC).
  • Despite its claims to be a "thinking person's church," TEC will probably scream incoherently against this new legislation. The simple act of presenting the most obvious evidence that the womb contains human life will be rejected - and this by a "church" that grabs any bit of junk scholarship to declare the Bible irrelevant. More and more, TEC asserts its intellectual superiority not via informed debate, but by hiding things.
  • Despite all of its communal jargon about "peace and justice," and its vaunted "Baptismal Covenant" to "support the dignity of every human being," TEC's abortion pronouncements are pretty much Libertarian in their stress on unquestioned individual preference.
  • Since TEC's "thinking" is incoherent, its only role is to play traitor to sincere Christians by providing press statements and photo-ops to say, "See? 'Religious' people are pro-abortion, too!"

Final thought:

Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision that plagued us with millions of abortions, will someday collapse on its own rotting foundations.

  • Roe was based on junk evidence, positing a rape scenario when what was really up was abortion on demand.
  • Roe was based on junk science, positing "three trimesters" of pregnancy that have nothing to do with the scientific realities of life in the womb.
  • Roe was based on junk law, positing a "penumbra" of rights not stated in the Constitution but somehow needing to be asserted by the justices.
  • Roe was, is and for the rest of its wretched existence will be based on junk morality, positing short term human desires in the place of eternal truth revealed by God.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Somewhere around minus 30F

Winter view from my front porch

Monday was downright balmy for January on the Northern Plains. It was up around 42F in Sioux Falls.

But when I got home around 9 p.m. Monday night, a blast of Arctic air arrived , and by Tuesday morning the air temperature was subzero and the wind chill factor was about 30 below.

I have a p/t second job just now (paying down some piled up medical bills). I am a parking valet at a large medical center. This has me out trotting back and forth between the hospital and the parking tower. Most days that's a pleasant few hours of good cardiovascular exercise...but in subzero conditions it is something else altogether.

I don't have any great spiritual or theological insights to pull out of this. Just sharing a slice of life from the Northern Plains.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Parents of Teens

The Gospel according to Luke, Chapter 8

40 On the other side of the lake the crowds welcomed Jesus, because they had been waiting for him. 41 Then a man named Jairus, a leader of the local synagogue, came and fell at Jesus’ feet, pleading with him to come home with him. 42 His only daughter, who was about twelve years old, was dying.

She's still "preteen", but this girl would be one of our middle schoolers. Notice how a parent intercedes for her, setting aside his own status to seek her best from Jesus. And dads should note that the Bible urges them to be self-sacrificing spiritual leaders for their families.

As Jesus went with him, he was surrounded by the crowds...

Yes, our lives seem too busy. But Jesus is not bound by any of the things that sap our energy and attention. Jesus goes with the dad, stopping along the way to meet other needs. He has power to spare.

... a messenger arrived from the home of Jairus, the leader of the synagogue. He told him, “Your daughter is dead. There’s no use troubling the Teacher now.”

We give up. "They're going to drink and have sex anyway." And our culture confirms our resignation.

But when Jesus heard what had happened, he said to Jairus, “Don’t be afraid. Just have faith, and she will be healed.”

Just a tiny glimmer of faith is all Jesus needs to help our children. Yes, we are imperfect and the culture is not supportive. But Jesus speaks to us with encouragement.
51 When they arrived at the house, Jesus wouldn’t let anyone go in with him except Peter, John, James, and the little girl’s father and mother.

Yes, Jesus uses the church (represented by three of his apostles) to help our teens. But look who else he brings in for the miracle to come: dad and mom. Do not ignore how important you are to Jesus and how he wants to bless the love and care you have for your teens.

52 The house was filled with people weeping and wailing, but he said, “Stop the weeping! She isn’t dead; she’s only asleep.” 53 But the crowd laughed at him because they all knew she had died.

The fallen culture around you doesn't have hope. It is all about "Go along to get along." We might feel the pressure, but Jesus doesn't. We can find hope and act on it if we stay close to him.

54 Then Jesus took her by the hand and said in a loud voice, “My child, get up!” 55 And at that moment her life returned, and she immediately stood up! Then Jesus told them to give her something to eat. 56 Her parents were overwhelmed, but Jesus insisted that they not tell anyone what had happened.

Sometimes we are told to "Bring our teens to Jesus," but perhaps the better approach is to bring Jesus to our teens. Jesus doesn't send the parents out to talk up the miracle, but to stay with its reality and minister to their daughter in day to day things (hey, what else to do with a teen but give food?) The parents are "overwhelmed" but that's OK. Teens need role models in faith - people who might not have all the answers but who really strive to do what Jesus says.

The Second Sunday Before Lent

In the 1928 Book of Common Prayer, the following Epistle is assigned today:

The Apostle Paul's Second Letter to the Corinthians, Chapter 11
19For you gladly put up with fools, being wise yourselves! 20For you put up with it when someone makes slaves of you, or preys upon you, or takes advantage of you, or puts on airs, or gives you a slap in the face. 21To my shame, I must say, we were too weak for that!

It is hard to refrain from anger over people who let an anti-Christian, corrupt denomination like The Episcopal Church prey upon them - and thereby sentence others to suffer spiritual confusion and harm. Among the angriest letters received by our American Anglican Council/South Dakota chapter are those with words like, "I don't want to hear about any of this" or "I want to die Episcopalian." Can't force 'em to look at the facts (like Paul, "we were too weak for that!"), but we must pray for those who are prey.

But whatever anyone dares to boast of—I am speaking as a fool—I also dare to boast of that. 22Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they descendants of Abraham? So am I. 23Are they ministers of Christ? I am talking like a madman—I am a better one: with far greater labours, far more imprisonments, with countless floggings, and often near death. 24Five times I have received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. 25Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I received a stoning. Three times I was shipwrecked; for a night and a day I was adrift at sea; 26on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from bandits, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers and sisters; 27in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, hungry and thirsty, often without food, cold and naked.

OK, most of us aren't going to suffer as much as Paul. But we certainly know what it is to be rendered second class in our own church. We are shunned. Requests for letters of transfer are ignored. Emails and letters go unanswered. We are not included on important committees, even if we have valuable skill and experience. Just as Paul was maligned by his fellow Jews, traditional Episcopalians/Anglicans are portrayed as "fundamentalists" or some kind of outsiders - no matter how many decades we've been Episcopalians. (BTW, no matter how much one wants to imitate Paul, it is very hard to be shipwrecked in South Dakota.)

28And, besides other things, I am under daily pressure because of my anxiety for all the churches. 29Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to stumble, and I am not indignant?

For clergy and lay leaders who really care about souls, the sorry state of The Episcopal Church is an open, burning wound. It hurts to see well intentioned people, loved by God, being led into spiritual harm.

30 If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness. 31The God and Father of the Lord Jesus (blessed be he for ever!) knows that I do not lie.

The grace that comes from all the heartache is that our own egos and desires must give way to the glory and sovereignty of God. "Victory" in church politics is not the goal - pointing away from ourselves to Jesus Christ is the victory of truth.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Sermon for 3 Epiphany

Sermon for 3 Epiphany
January 27, 2008
(Annual Meeting of Good Shepherd Parish)
Fr. Tim Fountain

Well, here’s our last day to chant the old Army cadence:
Everywhere we go
People want to know

Who we are

Where we come from

So we tell them

About Jesus…

About Jesus

Today’s Collect asks God for two particular blessings for our church:
+ That we will "proclaim" the Good News of Jesus
+ That the world will "perceive the glory of his marvelous works"
+ In other words, what the church says and does should always point to Jesus

We find this double gift of "saying and doing" in two of our lessons today:
+ Paul tells the Corinthians about the "message of the cross" and its active "power" for those who are finding Jesus (I Corinthians 1:10-18)

+ Jesus went about "proclaiming" his good news and demonstrating its power by healing the sick (Matthew 4:12-23)

This is a "both/and" message:
+ Some forms of Christianity are rightly faulted for talking about Jesus but not doing his marvelous works
+ Other forms of Christianity (and Episcopal churches often fall into this group) are rightly faulted for doing good works, but never pointing to Jesus as their source

Today our parish meets to hear about our Lord’s message and work for us in the coming year:
+ Growth by sharing Jesus with others and serving their needs in His power
+ Education and Fellowship that teach us more about who Jesus really is and how he is really present with us in the Holy Spirit
+ Lay Ministry that really helps each of us find our part in the living body of Christ, and to work with His power, for His glory
+ Outreach that surprises the community beyond our church with living signs of the Heavenly Father’s love and favor

Let us pray:
Heavenly Father, pour out your Holy Spirit upon the Annual Meeting of this parish. Where we are too much about words, give us works by which others can perceive the power and presence of Jesus. And when we are too much about works, give us words that point away from ourselves and to Jesus. We ask this for the sake of your Son, our Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

Monday, January 21, 2008

January 23rd...1988

TLF+ Chrismates Brody Allen at Church of the Good Shepherd, Sioux Falls, 2007

20 years ago, I was ordained as a priest.

The preacher was the late Cedric Mills, retired as Bishop of the Virgin Islands and legally blind, but still in strong, deep voice and faithful ministry at the altar (he memorized both traditional and contemporary Communion rites before losing his sight).

He preached on Isaiah 40:1, Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God. He drove home the point that this message was given to a prophet to strengthen God’s people. To “comfort” was not to coddle them, but to assure them that God would forgive their past failures and give them power to build a holy future. My ministry, insisted Bishop Mills, would be to strengthen God’s people to share Christ’s work.

It’s played out that way over the last twenty years. The great joy and good fruit of my work has always been to watch people, groups and congregations grow as they learned who they could be with God’s help. I’ve seen things “greater than I could ask or imagine” happen when I did little more than receive what God provided – the Bible to read, the people to encourage, some words to preach, some prayers to lift, and a bit of bread and wine to offer.

My other main ordination memory is how the late Bishop Oliver Garver, always one for ceremony, anointed my hands with oil. Can’t say that my hands have always done good over the two decades since, yet God has used them to bless in the Name of Jesus, whose innocent hands were wounded for all of us.

Last year, with all kinds of church, family and financial troubles swirling around me, I lifted the bread and wine at the altar one Sunday and snuck in a quick, silent prayer. I said to Christ, “I put myself in your hands.” And before I could take a breath or think a thought, I heard him answer in the Spirit, “I’ve put myself in yours.” I will never understand his inefficient system, sharing the wonder of who he is through the feeble ministry of people who are so unlike him. But I love him and bless his Name for entrusting this work to me.

I give you thanks, Heavenly Father, that you called me to this ministry, and that you continue to use me in it with all my flaws and failures. Thank you for letting me serve as a precious and powerful part of Christ’s Body on Earth, by the power of the Holy Spirit poured out on that day, twenty years ago. Amen.


P.S. On Sunday the Altar Guild presented a green chasuble, and my family the matching stole, made by Br. Sebastian of Blue Cloud Abbey. It was a complete surprise and humbling honor.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

So we tell them...

Sermon for 2 Epiphany
Fr. Tim Fountain

Back to our Army cadence chant:

Everywhere we go
People want to know

…So we tell them

Today’s Collect asks that God use us to spread the message of Jesus:
+"Grant that your people (that’s us!) illumined by your Word and Sacraments (that’s what we are doing right now!) may shine with the radiance of Christ’s glory, that he may be known, worshipped, and obeyed to the ends of the earth…"

Remember the two prior sermons in this series:
+“Who we are” – we are people chosen by God to point to Jesus
+“Where we come from” – we are people who came from all kinds of backgrounds, through the waters of baptism, to share Jesus’ life and work with others

So we tell them…about Jesus!
+God’s vision for the church is in today’s lesson from Isaiah 49:6 – "I will give you (that’s us again) as a light to the nations (that’s “them”), that my salvation (that’s Jesus) may reach to the end of the earth."

A case of easier said than done! Here are some things that get in our way (and why they are just excuses)
+Lack of credentials. “I didn’t go to seminary. I don’t know all the answers.” But the first apostles didn’t know all about Jesus. They had no established Creeds, ceremonies or organization on which to lean. They learned by doing – and they invited others to do the same.
+Embarrassment. “I don’t want to seem weird.” Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair is a Christian, and he admitted in an interview: "You talk about it (Christian faith) in our system and, frankly, people do think you're a nutter.” But that’s always been the case. Jesus himself was called crazy and demon-possessed, and tells us to expect the same (Matthew 10:24-25). Besides that, think of all the trivial things about which we argue with others. We embarrass ourselves over all kinds of things – why doesn’t Jesus deserve equal time?
+Sense of unworthiness. “I’m no saint.” Well, you are a saint, if you understand that word as it is used in the New Testament. But besides that, you are worthwhile enough that somebody trusts you. Somebody is willing to give you a hearing. Andrew had enough credibility with his brother, Peter, to invite him to meet Jesus. And Jesus did the rest. We point to Jesus’ holiness, not our own.
+No personal testimony. This is the biggest problem we face. If Jesus has no significant meaning in our lives, what can we say to someone else? But, as I’ve set out in the other sermons, we really are people chosen by Jesus to share his life and his work. If we ask Jesus to show us how he’s been doing this, and we look over our lives, we will discover signs of his presence – enough evidence that we can tell someone else how Jesus makes a difference in who we are.

So we tell them…and here’s how we start
+Passion. If Jesus Christ is not important to you, you are not going to point others to him. Our Collect asks that Jesus be “known, worshipped and obeyed” – those are strong words! Think about it – do you sincerely adore or willingly obey anybody or anything for which you have no passion? This is where worship is so important – we can “shine with Christ” if we are receptive to the Word and Sacraments.
+Prayer. We need to ask Jesus to show us his presence in our lives. We need to be praying for others, because Jesus will open our hearts to point us at people he wants to reach – through us! And it goes without saying that we should ask God to make us “shine with the radiance of Christ’s glory” – other people will be drawn to that! We should be praying strategically, as a church, that the Holy Spirit give the gift of evangelism to many of us. And we need to pray that Jesus will use our church to reach people who do not know him.
+Practice. “So we tell them” isn’t true if we aren’t out there telling them. John the Baptist had to say, “Look! The Lamb of God!” several times before anybody responded and went to Jesus.
+Patience. Do not be discouraged. We will be rejected, sometimes politely, sometimes rudely. There are countless stories of people who met Jesus Christ only after decades of prayer and invitation. Just know that it pleases Christ to see us taking part in the effort.

Let us pray.
Father in Heaven, we confess that we have neglected to tell others about your Son, our Savior Jesus Christ. But we give thanks that you are patient and gentle, and we ask you to give us the Holy Spirit, to make us more passionate for Jesus and to give us the gifts we need to point others toward him. We pray this in Jesus’ Name. Amen.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

God punishes.

Nathan Admonishing David (Rembrandt)

For the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes each one he accepts as his child.
(Hebrews 12:6, New Living Translation)
I'm still reflecting on my angry Tuesday night post. One of the things I understand today is how I willfully disobeyed God. I knew that he did not want me to post all my sarcasm, even while I typed it. I rationalized. "Hey, I process my thoughts and feelings by writing. Writing is part of who I am. I wither if I don't get to do it. I'm using a gift that God gave me."
The next morning, I woke up agitated (figured it was just a lack of coffee at the time). Then, with a pile of things I wanted to do before going off to work, my wife got busy with something she was doing and ignored my agenda. I was hurt and angry.
Today I understand that this was God's discipline - "chastisement" as the King James Bible puts it. God was saying, "What you perceive your wife to be doing is actually what you did to me last night. You (Tim) ignored my (God's) priorities and did what you wanted."
Uncomfortable and embarrassing? You betcha. But there was a profound peace once I confessed that I was in the wrong and repented of it by deleting the offending words I'd typed.
The peace came because God's discipline is always an expression of love for those who belong to Him.
Thank you, Father, for disciplining me. Thank you for caring enough to keep me in the way that leads to life with you.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Diocese seeks new Bishop - a "Theological Statement"

You can read it without my editorial comments here. South Dakota plans to elect a new Bishop in 2009.

Last night, I posted the statement with a bunch of my own comments interspersed. You know what? Some of it was good analysis and fair questioning, but much was sarcasm. God doesn't need my sarcasm to run His church. The fact is that the Diocese has issued a theological ("knowledge of God") statement that does not once mention or point to Jesus Christ. Yes, they are wrong, but my sarcasm does not improve things a bit and only adds to the devil's work.

Lord Jesus Christ, I pray for a true, loving, healing and healthy Anglican witness to the Dakotas. In whatever you are doing, may you be glorified and people brought to new life in you. Forgive me for letting my harsh words distract from your glory and your work. Pray the Father to pour out the Spirit on all who are languishing under theological confusion or error. I ask this in your Name. Amen.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

The Baptism of Our Lord

Sermon for the Baptism of Our Lord
January 13, 2008
Fr. Tim Fountain

Continuing my nostalgic Army cadence chant:
Everywhere we go
People want to know
who we are...


We come from all different backgrounds and life circumstances
· Peter (Acts 10:34-43) preaches that “God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.” That’s good news for all of us, and for all kinds of people all around us.

We come through the water of Baptism
· As Peter preaches his message, the Holy Spirit fills the house and Peter is moved to baptize all who are there(10:44-48).
We come from Jesus Christ, who sends us to do his work in the world
· Jesus began his earthly ministry by being baptized (See Mark 1).
· Although he did not “need” baptism in the same way that we do, he submitted to it, in order to present a perfect offering on God’s terms.
· We might better understand this by a visit to the Old Testament – Exodus 30:17-21. The ancient priests who prayed for God’s people and offered their sacrifices passed through water to perform their duties. Jesus begins his ministry on earth with a ritual washing. He goes on to make himself the perfect sacrifice in payment for our sins and to live forever, praying for us.
· Jesus has an “eternal priesthood”, because his death on the cross stands as an eternal offering and he lives to intercede (pray) for us (Hebrews 7:23-25).
· We are a "royal priesthood", chosen by Jesus to "proclaim the mighty acts of him who called (us) out of darkness into his marvellous light.” (I Peter 2:9).

“Where we come from” tells us who we are
· Before my baptism, I was just another child of earth, born “of the will of the flesh” (John 1:13), a slightly more brainy member of the animal kingdom.
· After baptism, I was “born again,” not by any activity of my own but by the grace of God who chose me.
· In Confirmation I affirmed belief in Jesus as the source of my new life and opened myself to spiritual gifts with which to do his work.
· Peter says that “everyone who believes in Jesus receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” Do you believe that? Do you believe that every human being stands in need of God’s mercy? Do you understand that it was necessary for you to come through the waters of baptism, and that having been baptized it was necessary for you to affirm your belief in Jesus? Do you believe that “Christ is your life” (Colossians 3:4)? Do you believe that he chooses you to serve the world in his Name?

You see, “where we come from” also tells us what we are to do
· Peter says, “God commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that Jesus is the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead.”
· In the letter where he calls us a “royal priesthood,” Peter tells us to “proclaim the mighty acts of Jesus, who called (us) out of darkness into his marvellous light.”
· As I said in last week’s sermon, we are people who should point to Jesus so that others can see him.

Recognizing that we’ve come through the waters of baptism, let us reaffirm our faith in Jesus and accept his work as a royal priesthood by praying for the world in his name:

· The congregation is sprinkled with baptismal water while saying the Apostles’ Creed:
I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried; he descended to the dead. On the third day he rose again; he ascended into heaven, he is seated at the right hand of the Father, and he will come again to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. AMEN.

· The congregation then prays for the church and the world, sharing in the work of Jesus, our eternal High Priest who intercedes for us.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Transforming our Minds

Hadn't heard this song in ages, but it came on the radio today. It is about the historical strife in Northern Ireland, but the lament of destructive thoughts has universal application. This continues my reflections on Jill Woodliff's insights, to which I've linked in the "Out in the Cold" thread below.

"But you see it's not me, it's not my family
In your head, in your head, they are fighting
With their tanks, and their bombs
And their bombs, and their guns
In your head, in your head they are cryin'
In your head, in your head, Zombie, Zombie
In your head, what's in your head Zombie"

Matthew 16:23 Jesus turned and said to Peter, "Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men."

Matthew 22:37 Jesus replied: " 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind."

Luke 24:45 Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures.

Romans 8:5 Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires.

Romans 8:6 The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace

Romans 12:2 Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

I Corinthians 2:16 "For who has known the mind of the Lord that he may instruct him?" But we have the mind of Christ.

II Corinthians 10:3 For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. 4 The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. 5 We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.

Colossians 3:2 Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Out in the cold

Living here in South Dakota has been a reacquaintance for me. A native of Southern California, I first met the cold when a dry, chilly wind cut through me at Ft. Sill, Oklahoma. I got to know the cold more intimately "in the field" during my Army service in Germany.

One thing that always stands out is how the cold needs just a little gap in my warm clothing to get in and make me cold all over.

As you can guess, this is leading to a riff on being spiritually cold. Here are two New Testament descriptions of "getting cold":

1) Matthew 24:12 warns that "love will grow cold" in a wicked world. Jill Woodliff writes perceptively about how all of the current Anglican church conflicts are freezing our hearts. Jesus tells us that our salvation is found by standing firm in Him - His truth and His love - even as the cold stings us. Whatever practical steps we can take to keep the cold at bay are worth the extra effort. Be it insulating ourselves by praying more for others, or disciplining ourselves to avoid Satan's false warmth of rage, it is important to keep love warm. Love is the most important and only eternal virtue (y'all know this lesson - it ain't just for weddings).

2) Revelation 3:14-16 warns about the "Laodicean" flaw, in which the church becomes lukewarm. The "cold" that sneaks in is material well being. The rich, comfy church loses its willingness receive God's teaching and correction - the heat of "refining fire." The church bases its activity on catering to and preserving its own comfort. It is well documented that people gain weight in cold winters - our primitive thalamus tells us "it's winter, eat more!" even if we are spending the season in warm buildings, well stocked with food. The remedy is to eat with realistic temperance and to increase physical activity. Jesus says,
  • "Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline." We need the Word of God as our personal trainer.
  • "So be earnest, and repent." We need to open our Bibles and stick with the program Jesus gives us.
  • "Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door..." We need to get up and take action in response to the Word rather than sit still and coddle ourselves.
  • "... I will come in and eat with him, and he with me." We need to go on the "diet" He assigns, knowing that He is the bread of life (John 6:25ff) and that we do not live by material provision alone, but by every word from God (Deuteronomy 8:3).

O lamps of fire!

in whose splendors

the deep caverns of feeling,

once obscured and blind,

now give forth, so rarely, so exquisitely,

both warmth and light to their Beloved.

How gently and lovingly you wake in my heart,

where in secret you dwell alone;

and in your sweet breathing,

filled with good and glory,

how tenderly you swell my heart with love.

St. John of the Cross, The Living Flame of Love, stanzas 3 & 4

Friday, January 4, 2008

The Epiphany

Lakota Star Quilt

Sermon for Epiphany, 2008
Fr. Tim Fountain

When I was in the Army, there was a cadence chant we used when running too far, too early in the morning:

Everywhere we go
People want to know
Who we are
Where we come from
So we tell them
We are…

My sermons through January will take their titles from this chant:
  • Jan. 6 - Who we are
  • Jan. 13 - Where we come from
  • Jan. 20 - So we tell them
  • Jan. 27 - We are…


1) We are people chosen by God.

  • The "wise men from the East" (Matthew 2:1-12) stand for God making himself known to all of our pagan ancestors, and to all of us.

  • When Jesus was born, the Jewish people stood in an exclusive relationship with God, but in Jesus God offered this relationship to all people. As our lesson from Ephesians says, In former generations this mystery was not made know to humankind, as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit: that is, the Gentiles have become fellow heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.

  • Romans11:17-18. We are people who God loves and brings to himself, like branches (Gentiles) grafted into a rooted tree (Jews), or like the wise men following the God-given star.

  • We travel from all kinds of backgrounds because God has pointed us toward his presence in Jesus Christ.

2) We are (we should be) people who point to Jesus.

  • Today we celebrate "Epiphany" – a Greek word meaning "manifestation." To "manifest" is to make something "apparent to the senses or the mind, obvious, to show plainly or reveal" (Webster’s New World Dictionary).

  • The theme of this day and this church season is that God is manifested in Jesus Christ.

  • John 1:14. Pointing to Jesus as THE Epiphany of God is what separates us from all other religions or philosophies.

3) We are good news to some and bad news to others.

  • The presence of God in Jesus is good news to some, such as the wise men who were "overwhelmed with joy."

  • But the presence of God in Jesus is a challenge to others: "King Herod was frightened."

  • II Corinthians 2:15-16. Just by being people who are chosen by God and who point to Jesus, we will bring joy to people who seek God and we will offend those who are rejecting him.

4) We are stewards of resources to use in God’s service.

  • We have time. The wise men read a sign in the heavens. Paul was in the right "generation" to spread the news of Jesus Christ. We all exist in a time with special relevance to God’s plan. Our moments have meaning.

  • We have talent. Our lesson from Ephesians says, Of this gospel I have become a servant according to the gift of God’s grace that was given me by the working of his power. We all have "spiritual gifts," given by God to use in his service. Our ministries have meaning.

  • We have treasure. The wise men honored Christ with costly gifts, not to mention the costs they incurred by their long journey. The gold they gave might well have provided for Jesus’ family during a time when they had to hide out from King Herod. Our money has meaning.

"Who we are" is a gift from God, and we are recognized by what we do with it:

  • Do we worship well, thanking God from our hearts for choosing us as his own?

  • Do we take opportunities to point to Jesus so others can find him?

  • Do our words and actions have enough of Jesus to encourage some people and aggravate others?

  • Do we use our meaningful moments, ministries and money to honor Jesus?

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