Saturday, February 23, 2008

Drinking the Spirit

Sioux Falls, South Dakota
Fr. Tim Fountain
Sermon for Lent 3, 2008

Drinking the Spirit

Water is a powerful symbol
We are made of it – without it we die
It refreshes us – without it we are distracted by thirst

Our lessons today present the Holy Spirit as our "living water"

The Holy Spirit fills our reborn life
Jesus says, "…those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life" (John 4:5-42). Just as our physical self is made of water, those who receive the Holy Spirit are reborn with a supernatural life source within. (Remember last week's sermon: We all have a natural birth, and Jesus calls us to a rebirth that is spiritual).
We believe that the Holy Spirit – "the spring of living water" – is placed within us in our Baptism, and flows when we live as part of Christ’s body, the church. I Corinthians 12:13 "For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink."

The Holy Spirit is our constant refreshment in all of life’s discomforts and distractions
The Apostle Paul says, "God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us." (Romans 5:1-11)
Because we have the Spirit, we can come through sufferings into endurance, character and hope.
We can contend against discouragement because the Spirit constantly reminds us how much God loves us. Paul says that this love is so great that Christ died for us even though we were "weak, sinners and enemies of God." God’s love is much greater than our worst stuff.

So, what keeps us from "drinking the Spirit"?
"Hard hearts" (Psalm 95:8, a comment about our lesson from Exodus 17:1-7) "Meribah and Massah" mean "quarreling and testing." A bad attitude that is overly critical of the church and arrogant toward God will leave us spiritually thirsty and unsatisfied. The people leapt to criticism of Moses and questioned God’s presence, even though they had been set free by God’s miracles done through Moses in Egypt. We all have times when we question the church, or when our faith in God is challenged. But we have to be careful because if we stay with those negative approaches, we will "wander in the wilderness" and "not enter into God’s rest." A stony heart will dam up the well of living water.
Cold hearts: Jan. 28, 2005 Release from the University of New Hampshire. "DURHAM, N.H. -- ‘People just don’t feel as thirsty when the weather is cold,’ says Robert Kenefick, UNH associate professor of kinesiology. ‘When they don’t feel thirsty, they don’t drink as much, and this can cause dehydration.’"
If we are cold enough, we can come to believe that we don’t need a drink, and dry up. Spiritually, we can tell ourselves that occasional religious rituals or sentiments are enough. But Jesus says that blessing is found by those who "hunger and thirst for righteousness" (Matthew 5:6). We need to keep ourselves hot and thirsty by regular prayer, Bible study, worship, Christian fellowship and acts of Christian service.

What can help us "drink the Spirit"? The ACTS prayer model (used at our Men’s Prayer Groups)
. Psalm 95:1, used always at Morning Prayer, "Come, let us sing to the LORD…" Jesus says the well of living water will "gush up".
Confession. The Samaritan woman at the well was honest about her "serial monogamy" and received Jesus’ word to her. He gave her the living water.
Thanksgiving. "…we even boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation." (Romans 5) Paul experienced the "pouring" of the Spirit through thankfulness for God’s saving help.
Supplication (asking). "The woman said to him, ‘Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty…’" Jesus tells us to "Ask, seek and knock" (Luke 11), and promises that the Father will always give the Holy Spirit to those who ask.

Let us pray.
Father, let us drink the Holy Spirit. Pour into our hearts the assurance of your love, shown to us by Jesus on the cross. By the Spirit’s guidance and inspiration, let us confess our ungodly ways, ask for your help in our needs, and give you thanks and praise now and through eternity. In Jesus’ Name we pray. Amen

Saturday, February 16, 2008

An inspiring parish initiative

Our Good Shepherd, Sioux Falls vestry challenged itself and the parish to mount a service to the community that the community really wanted.

Vestry members, led by a gent named Craig Friedel, met with Mayor Dave Munson and other civic leaders.

We discovered that Sioux Falls had an urgent need for "moving assistance." There are seniors needing to move to assisted living, women and children escaping abuse, folks on wait lists for subsidized housing and others who just can't afford movers and sometimes miss opportunities to improve their living conditions.

So, Craig, the vestry, the parish and tons of other folks Craig persuaded have incorporated and launched the Moving Assistance Program (MAP).

Check it out. Pray for it. If you're local, volunteer (the first move is coming up!). Donate if you have the means [It is a 501(c)(3) - not a donation to The Episcopal Church]. Praise God for guiding and blessing the initiative. At a recent meeting, Craig said, "I can't tell you how many hours of prayer have gone into every step of this."

By the way, are you born again?

Fr. Tim Fountain
Sermon for Lent 2, 2008

Born of the Spirit

Jesus answered him, "Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above (or anew or again). John 3:3

"Born again" – we hear it as a controversial label
A spirituality based on personal enthusiasm
Conservative politics
Aggressive personality

So, what is "Born Again"?
Greek gennao anothen = "to generate/give birth from above/anew/again."
It is to receive an inward and spiritual life not included in our natural birth. (John 1:11-13)

Different Christian traditions can confuse us about how this rebirth takes place –(warning – gross oversimplifications on the way):
Traditional/liturgical churches give away new birth as God’s gift, conferred by baptism.
Baptist/ "Born Again"/other Protestant churches withhold new birth until one consciously repents of specific sins and personally accepts Christ as Lord and Savior.
Pentecostal/Charismatic churches don’t recognize one as reborn without the activity of "sign gifts" such as speaking in tongues or spiritual healing.

A full Biblical explanation of rebirth in the Spirit harmonizes these "competing" Christian points of view:
New birth is a gift from God, not based on our own good deeds or emotions (Romans 4 – Today’s Readings). Faith is a gift to the ungodly – Liturgical churches are right!
New birth is about leaving our current ways to live God’s way. Abraham (Genesis 12:1-4a – Today’s Readings) leaves all that is familiar and supportive to go "as the LORD had told him." Baptists are right!
New birth is the exercise of God-given gifts in the mission of the church (example coming up). Pentecostals are right!

The fullness of being "born again" is in our current prayer focus, Ephesians 4:7, 11-16
7 But each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift.
Rebirth in the Spirit is a gift. Like our natural birth, it is not our own doing. Thus sacramental baptism, in our tradition, is treated as "regeneration" – the washing away of original sin and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. It is done for us, not by us.
11The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, 12to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ,
Rebirth in the Spirit gives us supernatural gifts to do Christ’s work in the world. Some of these gifts, like teaching, are similar to things done in day-to-day life; others, like healing, are dramatic signs that the Spirit of God is at work.
13until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ. 14We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming.
Rebirth in the Spirit means that we must be changed. We grow and mature and learn lessons. Just like with natural birth, we are not "complete" when "born again." There is a lifetime of change in store – changing from the ways of the world to the Way of Christ.
15But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16from whom the whole body, joined and knitted together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.
We are changed to be more like Christ, both individually and as members of the church.

A question: Are you born again?
Have you received sacramental regeneration in Holy Baptism?
Has your life changed over time, based on your understanding of Jesus Christ?
Are you exercising your God-given gifts in the mission of the church?

A challenge: The next time we have a Bishop’s visit, I want every adult at Good Shepherd to make a sincere, public reaffirmation of faith. I want all of us to say with confidence, "I am born again." AMEN.

Shaken, Not Stirred

As mentioned in an earlier post, my Lenten discipline has dragged me into the none-too-cozy Book of Amos.

Sitting with that grim prophecy last week, I was struck by Chapter 9, verse 9:

For lo, I will command, and shake the house of Israel among all the nations as one shakes with a sieve, but no pebble shall fall to the ground.

A few days later, I was speaking with a Baptist friend who expressed her sense of the church (this is across denominations) being "sifted."

This reminded me (I'm slow, but not impossible) of a prophetically inclined Anglican friend in California, who was led to Luke 22:31-32

‘Simon, Simon, listen! Satan has demanded to sift all of you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your own faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.’

God's judgment takes the form of "sifting." One shakes material in a sieve so that what is good and useful will remain, while pollutants fall out. Whether God is doing the sifting, or standing back to let Satan do it, sifting seems to be happening all over North American churches just now.

In recent readings from various Old Testament books, my wife and I have lamented how the seemingly innocent (or at least less guilty) suffer when God shakes things up. Amos reminds us that there is little to do but endure it. "Not a pebble will fall" means that all will be stuck in the shaking, and

Therefore the prudent will keep silent in such a time; for it is an evil time. 5:13

When things get so bad that God has to take remedial action, there is not much use in piling up words (a humbling thought for bloggers). Things will get harsh for good and bad alike, at least for awhile.

Is there anything to hold onto in the shaking? Praise God, yes...

Jesus warned Simon Peter that the sifting would come, but that he (Jesus) had prayed so that Peter's faith would not fail. Peter would be shaken, but not stirred. He would not have his faith polluted by Judas' betrayal of Jesus, but his (Peter's) own denial of Jesus or by the seeming triumph of darkness as Jesus died on the cross. All would be shaken, but Peter would not be corrupted. He would "turn again to strengthen the church."

Even the gloomy days of Amos did not pollute the light of God's revealed future:

On that day I will raise up the booth of David that is fallen,and repair its breaches, and raise up its ruins, and rebuild it as in the days of old... 9:11

Those of us who endure the shaking can pray that we be part of "the remnant." In all judgments, God preserves those who will renew and rebuild. Peter would strengthen the staggering church. The Old Testament prophets always included hope - whatever God had to destroy for justice, he would rebuild for mercy and love. Though much would be shaken away as pollution, God would preserve a remnant to show His glory. They would be shaken, not stirred.

The Rev. Dr. Kendall Harmon, Canon Theologian for the Diocese of South Carolina, host of the super-blog TitusOneNine and utility infielder for the Sioux Falls Canaries, speaks and writes about how The Episcopal Church (all of us - not just the people "on the other side") are under judgment and in exile. The shaking and sifting are already underway. That's why I've decided to NOT blog about some of the proposed actions of the upcoming (2009) General Convention of the Episcopal Church (and I had permission to use a quote from Brad Drell, dammit), or the upcoming election of a new Bishop for South Dakota. The church we knew is already demolished. My words - my arguments, my prayers, nothing of mine - will change that reality, because it is something that God has done (or has allowed Satan to do).

But I WILL pray to be part of the remnant. I will pray for others who want to be part of the remnant, and even for some who don't seem to care but who I HOPE will be part of the remnant. Because there WILL be a remnant and there WILL be renewal and rebuilding, with or without me/us. (I'm hoping for WITH).

As Canon Harmon encourages at the end of a talk, "Nobody is saying it isn’t tough right now - it’s very tough. And we need one another and we need to depend on the Lord. But we have confidence grounded in the character of God. And we have a future - and we have a hope."

We're being shaken - may God preserve us from being stirred in with the debris. And may God bless us to be preserved for renewal and rebuilding of a faithful witness, wherever we are.

How did this get past us?

The South Dakota Legislature failed to move a bill that would have capped the interest rate on short term "payday" loans.

Some of these loans, marketed heavily on TV and radio in the state, carry actual interest of 400% (no typo, that's four hundred percent).

With all the things that churches pray, work and fight over, there was little if any Christian noise about this issue. But God is pretty loud about it:

If you lend money to one of my people among you who is needy, do not be like a moneylender; charge him no interest. Exodus 22:25

He lends at usury and takes excessive interest. Will such a man live? He will not! Because he has done all these detestable things, he will surely be put to death and his blood will be on his own head. Ezekiel 18:13

And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even 'sinners' lend to 'sinners,' expecting to be repaid in full. Luke 6:34

Yes, I know. We live in an economy where all of us borrow and just about everything runs on credit. But for a long time the Church stood against "usury." For some time, this meant any kind of lending at interest - later, this was interpreted to be "excessive interest."

Even with the later, more permissive definition, what's going on here in SD offends God.

I've already contacted some other Christian leaders and hope to bring this issue back for public attention. Please pray that this wicked practice will be curbed in South Dakota.

Obama finding help in, from South Dakota

Chicago used to be the place for political machines. But Illinois Senator and Presidential hopeful Barak Obama is building his apparatus with parts from South Dakota.

Former SD Senator Tom Daschle (D) is co-chair of Obama's national campaign. Sioux Falls Argus Leader political writer David Kranz reports that Daschle is credited with coaxing the recent Kennedy family endorsements for Obama.

Last week, Daschle was named as one of eight South Dakota "superdelegates" to the Democratic Party National Convention (Aug. 25-28 in Denver). The Democratic Party allows each state a number of uncommitted delegates. Usually, these are symbolic honors for state Party leaders. But, with Obama in a close race with Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY), the Convention could wind up deciding the candidate. Superdelegates could prove decisive.

South Dakota's superdelegates, inlcuding State Party Chair Jack Billion, support Obama. Daschle is a large exclamation point. Only Representative Stephanie Herseth-Sandlin is not a declared Obama supporter (she was for John Edwards). But Kranz reports that Herseth-Sandlin's most recent comments have favored Obama and been critical of Clinton.

Obama also has a cordial relationship across the aisle: South Dakota Republican Senator John Thune. At a 2005 interfaith meeting in Sioux Falls, I heard Thune describe Obama as someone capable of rising above DC's partisan pettiness. That same year, Thune and Obama went on CNN for a series of respectful debates. In 2006, they co-sponsored an alternative fuels bill.

Thune has endorsed GOP front-runner John McCain (AZ) for President. But, should Obama win the White House, the two young Senators seem to have a constructive working relationship.

Monday, February 11, 2008

"The church, its Lord and his word"

A fine article by The Rev. Dr. Mark Thompson of Moore Theological College, Sydney, Australia is here. A quote:

"Some contemporary methods of reading the Scriptures fail at precisely this point: they treat them as imaginative literature without paying due attention to the way they testify to Christ. In contrast the Bible itself constantly points beyond itself to the reality of the risen Christ. No church is taking Scripture seriously if it fails to acknowledge unreservedly his unique lordship. Again, neither Christ himself nor the word God has given us which speaks of him can be separated from the Spirit of God. The Spirit of God is indeed the Spirit of Christ (Rom. 8). It is the Spirit who breaks through the stubbornness of our personal rebellion to bring to bear the gift of faith. And this same Spirit is the one who superintended the production of the Scriptures so that what we have before us is in fact what was breathed out by God (2 Tim. 3:16)."

Compare this to the slippery word tricks at The Episcopal Church's official site:

"The Scriptures emerged from the experience of a community who believed that God had been and was mysteriously, but clearly, present and active in their midst. Beginning as an oral tradition, the Hebrew people and the Church gradually gathered and developed its sacred texts and established a final, unchanging canon to be a measuring rod or standard for the Christian life of faith. These Scriptures, however, were intended to be interpreted and reinterpreted over and over again in the light of contemporary knowledge and experience within a believing and worshiping community open to the leading of God's Spirit into new truth."

These two quotes summarize the current disintegration of the Anglican Communion and The Episcopal Church. One view places the church under the authority of the Bible (the traditional view, expressed by Prof. Thompson); the other view buries the Bible's clear teaching under a pile of other "authorities" (as in the Episcopal Church site quote).

Prof. Thompson shows that the Bible is inspired by God, points always to Jesus, and provides language by which the Holy Spirit transforms our lives.

But before we can do what the Prayer Book asks, and "read, mark, learn and inwardly digest" the Holy Bible, the Episcopal Church orders us to:
  • Accept that the Bible was invented through historical accidents and questionable human opinions ("a community who believed...that God had been present");
  • Accept that any values ("measuring rod") in the Bible must be "interpreted and reinterpreted." Wish I could do that at the gas station. If I could "interpret and reinterpret" liquid measure, I could save a bunch of money by arriving at a new interpretation of "gallon."
  • Submit the Bible to "contemporary knowledge." Anybody who has spent 5 minutes at any Episcopal Church function knows that this means pop-psychobabble, junk science and politically correct platitudes. In many Episcopal Church functions, facts are suppressed and events are managed to get a desired outcome. It is not true inquiry.
  • Submit the Bible to the "experience" of the "community." That is, whatever the church bureaucracy and activist factions repeat over and over with enough volume trumps the clear language in the Bible.
  • Assume that the Holy Spirit is a "free agent" who will show us something "new", working apart from, rather than in perfect relationship with, the Father and the Son as the Holy Trinity.

The Anglican choice is between Christ, revealed to us and renewing us through the word of God in the Bible, and "churchianity" that makes the Bible into a meaningless relic - the position of those who "hold a form of godliness but deny its power" (II Timothy 3:1-5).

Sunday, February 10, 2008


" feel the conflict of being pulled in two directions, is to have found the gateway to a new path."

Diogenes Allen, Temptation, Cowley 1986

South Dakota's Primary might matter?

South Dakota's Presidential Primary is the very last in the nation - not until June 3rd!

This year, with an especially close Democratic race shaping up, and maybe the same for Republicans if Huckabee can gain momentum, might South Dakota's 3 (yeah, three) electoral votes mean something?

Saturday, February 9, 2008

A pro-life win: SB 164 defeated

The State Senate Bill, which would have forced pharmacists, parents and others to go against their consciences, was defeated. The bill appears to be a "canned" Planned Parenthood approach that has showed up in other states.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Intersting Bits of History - Civic and Episcopal

Yesterday's Sioux Falls Argus Leader had a fascinating bit of local history. Early in its existence, Sioux Falls was America's divorce capitol. Taking advantage of a ridiculously short residence requirement in the territorial law, rich folks from the East came out here to undo their marriage vows.

Who was one of the most vocal critics of this practice? The missionary Bishop of South Dakota, William Hobart Hare. In a 1912 biography of the Bishop, M.A. de Wolfe Howe wrote that Hare mounted "an elaborate critical and argumentative dissertation on divorce law in South Dakota..." Hare was known to reject large "donations" from people seeking his complicity in their divorce and remarriage plans.

Finally (at the "biography" link above, which is a pdf file), there are fascinating statistics of the growth of the Diocese, both among Indians and Whites, during Hare's episcopate.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Prayer Requests

Please pray for the members of the South Dakota National Guard. More are set to deploy overseas.

Almighty God, we commend to your gracious care and keeping all the men and women of our armed forces at home and abroad. Defend them day by day with your heavenly grace; strengthen them in their trials and temptations; give them courage to face the perils which beset them; and grant them a sense of your abiding presence wherever they may be; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Please pray for the South Dakota Legislature, in session this month.

O GOD, the fountain of wisdom, whose statutes are good and gracious and whose law is truth; We beseech thee so to guide and bless the Legislature of this State, that it may ordain for our governance only such things as please thee, to the glory of thy Name and the welfare of the people; through Jesus Christ, thy Son, our Lord. Amen.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Ash Wednesday: open up my internet and here's the news...

Lohan: `It's Like, What Was I Thinking?'
NEW YORK (AP) — Hindsight is 20-20 for Lindsay Lohan. "When I look back on this last year, it's like, what was I thinking?" the 21-year-old actress says in the March issue...
Full Story
Spears Released From LA Hospital
Paris Hilton Goes to Harvard
Accidental Pill Overdose Killed Ledger

For he himself knows whereof we are made; *he remembers that we are but dust.

Our days are like the grass; *we flourish like a flower of the field;

When the wind goes over it, it is gone, *and its place shall know it no more.

But the merciful goodness of the LORD endures for ever on those who fear him, *and his righteousness on children's children;

On those who keep his covenant *and remember his commandments and do them.

Psalm 103, appointed for the Ash Wednesday Liturgy

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

My Lenten Discipline

The Prophet Amos by Gustave Dore

People who follow the church's liturgical calendar are about to enter the season of Lent.

Traditionally, people try to give up some luxury, a normal pleasure or a bad behavior during this season (we usually fail and learn more about what it means to depend upon Christ instead of ourselves.) Alternatively, one can add a discipline during Lent, such as spiritual study (many churches offer a "Lenten Series" for this reason), acts of charity or added times of prayer.

My discipline will be to pray over Amos 7:2 -

When they had finished eating the grass of the land, I said,‘O Lord God, forgive, I beg you! How can Jacob stand? He is so small!’

God sent a locust plague on Israel because of national corruption. The rich trampled on the poor, justice was partial and corrupt, and people dabbled in all kinds of false religion instead being true to the One God.

The prophet Amos interceded for the people. Seeing the destruction worked by the locusts, Amos worried that God's people would be annihilated. They (The ancestral name Jacob, like Israel, stands for the whole nation) were too small to withstand God-sized punishment.

The verse has been nagging at me for weeks. I've been more aware than usual of my own distance from God in attitudes and behaviors. My own inflated sense of self is giving way to the realization of how small I am in the scheme of things. Personally, the last few years have seen difficulties multiply and some familiar joys disappear. And beyond my personal challenges, The Episcopal Church is wretched beyond description - and the act of describing it only makes things more toxic.

Somehow, this verse speaks to all that mess. Not sure how, exactly, which is why my intention is to spend Lent with Amos 7:2 in a couple of ways:

Recollection: When I find myself anxious, angry or otherwise revved up, I will call this verse to mind and repeat it to myself.

Contemplation: I will set aside quiet time and space to read this verse, be still and give God my best attention, so He can show me what he wants in these words.

May your Lent be a holy season. May you find the compassion, mercy and help of Christ close at hand.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

South Dakota Senate Bill 164

You can look at the bill here.

It contains language such as, "It is the public policy of this state that the interest in freedom from unreasonable government intrusions into the private lives of citizens, and specifically the right of consenting individuals to obtain and use safe and effective methods of contraception without interference by governmental entities, shall be safeguarded and that the laws of this state shall be interpreted and construed to recognize and protect these rights."

Those used to legislative shenanigans know that this kind of language is not about restricting government, but about foisting government mandates on all kinds of people and institutions - pharmacists, Catholic hospitals, empowering bureaucrats against parents where minors are involved, etc.

If you live in South Dakota and want to sound off, there is an automated contact site for State Senators.

Hat tip to The Alpha Center.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Lent is about to settle on the Plains

The Plains are not forgiving. Anything that is shallow - the easy optimism of a homesteader; the false hope that denies geography, climate, history; the tree whose roots don't reach ground water - will dry up and blow away.
Kathleen Norris, Dakota: A Spiritual Geography
Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.
Liturgy of Ash Wednesday
When they had stripped the land clean, I cried out, "Sovereign LORD, forgive! How can Jacob survive? He is so small!"
Amos 7:2
The sacrifice of God is a troubled spirit:
a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.
Psalm 51, appointed for Ash Wednesday
What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?
Thanks be to God— through Jesus Christ our Lord!
Romans 7:24-25
Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
Matthew 6:19-21, appointed for Ash Wednesday