Sunday, May 14, 2006

Shocked! Shocked, I Tell You!

Reflections on this morning's lectionary from clergy colleague Michael (no relation that I know of) Russell:

I was shocked, shocked! to read Acts this morning and realize that Philip took unilateral action to include the outcast eunuch. Who in the world authorized him to circumvent Deut. 23 which excludes men with genital disfigurement?

Did he check with the rest of the Apostles? Was there a Council? Was there 30 years of discussion?

Nope, there was water nearby and so, violating the scriptures, and without an authorized liturgy for the purification of the permanently outcast, he just Baptized the eunuch.

In the same Deut passage the children of illicit marriages are excluded to the tenth generation. No purification or restoration possible for that. Who changed that and was it done unilaterally too? Shocking morning.

Geesh that Holy Spirit just blows where it wills, hasn't it heard about councils and reception and making sure everyone is on board with these kinds of massive changes? Who is in charge of informing the Holy Spirit of proper Anglican process?

Would he or she get on the ball, please!

Michael Russell, Rector
All Souls' Point Loma


Catherine + said...

Imagine the consternation at not being able to vilify the New Testament radicals that would dare usurp the legalism of the Old Testament by today's Schismists!
But seriously, those of us who would threaten to leave this Communion, please consider the words of this day's New Testament reading and think again about leaving we who love you in spite of our disagreements.

overtheline said...

May the division happen quickly so we can all get on with the missions of our different traditions. This sniping helps no one.

Catherine + said...

Maybe I didn't make myself clear: I was referring to those who are threatening to leave the Communion, to please DON'T as it only would only grieve the heart of God for them to do so. They need to stay, as Susan has often said, and try to work things out through reconciliation...that is what I was trying to convey, but apparently not very well.

Jeff Martinhauk said...

What a wonderful reminder of the history we have lost in the building up of the tradition of the church!

I love to look back into the historical teachings of the literal Bible with this kind of context, comparing it to our current teachings, to see what revisionists we have become.

Shame on us. I guess the reappraisers turn out to be the reasserters after all. Who knew after all this time I was really a traditionalist?

Eve said...

"I love to look back into the historical teachings of the literal Bible with this kind of context, comparing it to our current teachings, to see what revisionists we have become."

Please, Jeff, keep on looking!!

revsusan said...

to the nice person who emailed me -- yes, this is "tongue in cheek": Michael is not suggesting Philip shouldn't have baptized the eunuch but that we should "go and do likewise."

to Jeff -- Bingo, Amen, You Betcha. Reframing the argument to take away from the radical religious right the fiction that they claim sole possession of truth, justice and the Anglican Way is the most important work we can be doing. I wrote something about that a year or so ago ... let me see if I can dig it out.

Anonymous said...

Such sarcasm should not make its way into the pulpit and IMHO the seriousness of the issue or issues is effectively mocked when one speaks this way. It is no easy issue to figure out which practices of the past are to be 'conserved' and which ones are to be abandoned (and BTW we don't know what the actual practice of the Israelites was in the enforcement of much of what was on the books) so pulling out an obvious no brainer does little to advance the arguments in a good way

Remember also speaking flippantly about God the Holy Spirit is one way of taking God's name in vain.

And, one more time, the "schimists" to use Catherine's pejorative and unhelpful word, are not who she thinks they are.

Laura said...

"Let no foreigner WHO HAS BOUND HIMSELF TO THE LORD say,'The Lord will surely exclude me from his people.' And let not any eunuch complain, 'I am only a dry tree.' For this is what the Lord says: 'To the eunuch WHO KEEPS MY SABBATHS, WHO CHOOSE WHAT PLEASES ME AND HOLD FAST TO MY COVENANT-to them I will give within my temple and its walls a memorial and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that will not be cut off. And foreigners WHO BIND THEMSELVES TO THE LORD TO SERVE HIM, TO LOVE THE NAME OF THE LORD, AND TO WORSHIP HIM, ALL WHO KEEP THE SABBATH WITHOUT DESECRATING IT AND WHO HOLD FAST TO MY COVENANT- these I will bring to my holy mountain and give them joy in my house of prayer. " Isaiah 56:3-7

God accepts all- that has already been established. But there are requirements...conditions. The eunuch was willing to embrace all of the requirements of being a follower of Christ, therefore Phillip was right in baptizing him. There were sacrifices that he was willing to make...sacrifices that he obviously had already had to make, whether by choice or not.

This post was written very sarcastic, and the some of the comments here reflect that as well. Sarcasism gets us nowhere. The reading from Acts yesterday was to give us hope. That the Good News of Jesus Christ wasn't only meant for the Isrealites, but for all who would accept Him, and FOLLOW his commandments. The eunuch was reading the prophecies Isaiah made foretelling the coming of the Messiah. Christ said the road to the Father is a narrow one...all are welcome to travel down it, but few will actually do what is necessay to make it there. WE ALL HAVE SINNED AND FALL SHORT OF THE GLORY OF CHRIST, but if our church doesn't hold us to the line, to that narrow road, fewer still will make it.

Praise Him, because His Grace is sufficient, but it, too, comes with conditions.

(credit for knowledge of that scripture reference goes to the Dean of the Cathderal Church of St. Luke in Orlando, FL, for pointing it out in his sermon that was not quite so tongue-in-cheek as Rev. Russell's about the Acts reading yesterday.)

Chip said...

Before jumping to any conclusions, can we look at the details of Acts 8 a bit more closely?

The Ethiopian eunuch is reading the book of Isaiah when he encounters Philip. Philip explains to the eunuch how the prophecies of the suffering servant in Isaiah 53 apply to Jesus. In doing so, Philip is to the Ethiopian eunuch what our resurrected lord was to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. With his eyes opened by the Holy Spirit, the eunuch sees Jesus Christ as savior and lord and asks to be baptized. Philip, naturally, does so, in obedience to our lord's own command in the great commission (Matthew 28:18 ff.).

In other words, this is a story about conversion. This is a story of someone repenting and turning to Jesus Christ in faith. It's also an example of the Holy Spirit acting in concert with the Holy Scriptures. The Holy Spirit convicts the Ethiopian eunuch. As a result, the eunuch "believes the good news about Jesus" (Acts 8:35). He is justified before God through his turning to Christ.

Is conversion closed to anyone? Are there any "border guards" (to quote Steven Charleston) at the narrow gate that leads to salvation? Nope. The gate itself is hard enough to get through—to get through it means coming to the end of ourselves and our own rule over our lives, and submitting to the authority of Jesus Christ. It means coming to comprehend the depth of our sinfulness, how rebellious we are against God, and our need for both a savior from sins and a lord to whom we submit.

Who is included in the body of Christ? Anyone who comes to repentance and faith in Jesus Christ. There are no other limitations -- not race, not sexual orientation, not sex, not predisposition to any particular sin, not questionable character, nothing. Of course, people who are not Christians sometimes (hopefully often) attend our parishes, and they are always welcome. They are not part of the body of Christ per se, but they are just as valuable as anyone else.

What we're talking about in Acts 8, then, is conversion. We are not talking about rites for any type of blessings, nor are we talking about qualifications for a bishop. Baptism was a "rite" that was already a practice of the early church, practiced by Peter and the other apostles. (See Acts 8:16.) Other apostles were already involved in outreach to the Samaritans. The gospel was moving from Jerusalem, then to Judea and Samaria, and finally to the ends of the earth.

So no "unilateral decision" was made; Philip was continuing in obedience to his lord's command, not violating the Scriptures. Nor was he doing anything against the apostles' teaching. "Inclusion" in the sense of conversion is a different animal from the issues that divide us today.

Peace of Christ,

Down East Leo said...

The older I get, the more I think that it was a grave error for the Church ever to design ceremonies and authorize liturgical rites for blessing marriages, which previously had been secular matters. One cannot find consistent biblical teachings on either polygamy, monogamy, or divorce; Jesus parties at one wedding, yes, but only one according to the scriptural record of his entire life; and Paul and the rest of the authors of Christian scripture are cautious, at best, about any sexual relations between people. If the eunuch had had a male life partner who also had come to faith in Christ, Philip would surely still have baptized them both - but I doubt whether they would have been welcome at eucharistic celebrations.

Jeff Martinhauk said...

My rector has a story he tells about a diner in the south, and how his aunt ordered some food, and some grits that she didn't order came with her food. When she asked her waitress what it was that was on her plate with her order, the waitress replies, "Oh honey- them's grits. They just comes with it."

My rector say the grits are like grace. Grace "just comes with it."

I have really big problems with Laura's statement and the theology that says that Grace has strings attached. The God I serve is a compassionate, loving, merciful God. Nothing we can do can "earn" us grace. Nothing.

I look at the anger here and remember the anger of the Pharisees and the Saducees when the teachings of Jesus-- the teachings of love your neigbor, love God, take care of the outcast, when the traditions that those Pharisees and Saducees and scribes held dear and wanted so much to believe in, were questioned. And I am sorry that you are scared of change. Scared of loss. Scared of full acceptance of all in Christ Jesus.

It is a radical message. It is overwhelming. It is hard to get ahold of because it is so big. But it is the call of the Gospel.

Hold on to your judgements if you choose. Or choose another way. The way of Jesus. The way of unity with the oppressed. The way of service. The way of love. That is my witness. That is the God whom I serve. That is the good news of Jesus Christ that I proclaim. I hope you choose that way too.

Anonymous said...

Some of you folks (i.e., Anonymous of 10:09 AM) need to take your sense of humor in for an overhaul. Mike Russell's wit is perfect -- relevant, provocative, and LOL funny.

Laura said...

I am sorry if I came across in an unkind way...and maybe my wording on the Grace of Christ was not the best choice. (I do try to read over what I write a few times to make sure it conveys the message that I want to send, but I guessed I missed the mark). The only condition I believe Christ puts on his Grace is that of our knowledge of needing it, and repenting and turning back to receive it.

I also have to say that this is not the first time I have been accused of being afraid of what is happening in ECUSA, and again, I feel I need to refute that fact. I am not afraid. I do believe that God is doing great things in our church...He is truely pruning his vineyards to produce great fruit. I am sorry that we are on differing sides of this arguement. You and our church are in my prayers, and believe it or not, there is no anger or animosity from me towards you. Just a great sadness to acknowledge that this church, which has had so much to offer this world, had chosen a different path...and this issue between us is just a small part of the manifestation of those choices. Not the reason for the seperation. (at least for me)

My prayer for all of us in Christ's Church is "the peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep our hearts and minds in the knowledge and love of God, and of his son Jesus Christ our Savior."

God's Blessings on you.

Jeff Martinhauk said...

Laura - I agree with you for the most part. I believe grace is completely unearned, but I absolutely agree with you on everything else.

And, I REALLY agree with 1:59 anonymous. God gave us a sense of humor, let's use it!


rmf said...

I liked Fr. Michael's sermon, I thought it was tongue in cheek but very apt.


i think it's a bit confusing to post that Philip wasn't violating Scripture, when the received tradition clearly stated that anyone with genital characteristics like the eunuch's was banned from the congregation of the Lord.

In the passage, Philip is making of the Lord, what a Book of Moses itself clearly states, is anathema.

Deut 23:1:

" 1He that is wounded in the stones, or hath his privy member cut off, shall not enter into the congregation of the LORD."

Maybe I'm not just not understanding what you're writing.

Kevin M said...

This just in: Lost 1st century Christian document found!
Text as follows:

"Grace and peace to our brother in Jerusalem James, the brother of the Lord. A most abominable act as occurred that tears at the fabric of our communion and dismembers the Body of Christ. Philip, a deacon of all things, has overstepped his bounds and performed a unilateral baptism of an Ethiopian eunuch. Has Philip not read that one whose genitals have been severed shall have no place in the assembly of God? The church in the Decapolis finds itself to be in a state of impaired communion with this rogue. We demand that a council be called to expel him and all who approve of his actions that so grossly violate the clear and unambiguous voice of sacred scripture and to strengthen our instruments of unity so that such violations never again occur. Otherwise, we will be forced to walk apart . . ." [remainder of the text was unrecoverable]

Chip said...


Yeah, it probably was confusing. Let me clarify to the best of my ability, though I'm no theologian.

The Scripture that you (and Michael Russell) cite is (I believe I'm right on this) one of the Old Testament ceremonial laws, concerned with keeping out of the temple anything that was "unclean." Based upon apostolic teaching in the New Testament, Christians have traditionally understood the ceremonial laws in the OT to have been done away with in Christ Jesus, but not the moral laws. Probably the most prominent New Testament illustration of this distinction can be seen in the controversy over circumcision: Circumcision, as a ceremonial law, was no longer required (based upon the testimony of Scripture, as quoted by Peter at the council of Jerusalem), but the Gentiles still were to "abstain from food polluted to idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals" (Acts 15:20). Jesus fulfilled the Law of Moses, but did not abolish it; the moral laws (e.g., the 10 commandments) are still expressions of how God wants Christians to live, but the ceremonial aspects are fulfilled in Christ. This fulfillment is perhaps most heavily addressed in the book of Hebrews, where the writer discusses how the sacrifice that Christ made did away with the need for temple sacrifices. The Law also has value today in convicting us of our sinfulness, and our need to turn to God.

So because Jesus fulfilled the Law, he is our righteousness; our righteousness does not derive from our cleanliness or uncleanliness in entering the temple, but from what Christ did for us through his death on the cross. The moral laws, however, are restated in various places throughout the New Testament as binding for Christians: We are not to be envious, commit adultery, commit murder, etc. To do so is to grieve the Holy Spirit and is an expression of our sinfulness, rather than the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit.

The apostles ultimately offered salvation, preaching the necessity of repentance and faith in Jesus Christ, to everyone. Jesus' command in Matthew 28 was their primary motivation, and they saw that such a command was in line with Scripture, as seen through their decision-making at the Jerusalem council and as foretold throughout the Old Testament. In fact, Isaiah 56 speaks of the eunuch as loved by God.

Peace of Christ,

Tony said...

"the radical religious right"

As much as the radical religious left wants to preach love, some just can't get past their hatred of those who disagree with them. I am still wondering why liberals in ecusa don't all join together with the UCC, Unitarians and the Metropolitan Church and stop the dishonest wearing of catholic vestments when catholic belief is nowhere to be found among them.

rmf said...

chip, thank you for your post, i agree with what you wrote insofar as it is a general explication.

it's your conclusions that the lesson is not applicable now, that I disagree with. the principle is that the ceremonies and traditions mentioned, were equated with divine law, and hence essential to being moral, and that it was on this basis, that people were excluded.

Catherine + said...

Thank God some of us were gifted with a sense of humor. I thank Anon of 1:59pm for reassuring me that having a sense of humor is not a bad thing but a blessings. How else could we have made it this far? As for my dear brother or sister Anon who seems to not like anything I say, I say back to you that I love you in Christ and forgive you as many times as it takes for you to know His love and care. It was a humorous piece and I responded humorously. Email and commenting as we do leaves much out of our personal expressions, verbal and nonverbal.

Laura said...

Isaiah 56 speaks of the issues that you are concerned about, and would most likely have been the basis for Phillip to baptize the eunuch.
(I copied parts of Isaiah 56 in an earlier post)

Jeff Martinhauk said...

Tony -

I'm interested in your comments about the hatred of the "radical religious left."

I haven't witnessed it. I have witnessed heated exchange of ideas. I have witnessed contentious debate. I have witnessed people saying (and saying loudly) "I disagree."

I have not seen anyone say, from the "radical religious left" anything like the following: "It must be my way or I will leave." Or "You must agree with me or you cannot be ordained." Or "You must have my theological views or you cannot become a bishop." Or "You straight people may not be married." (although I should note that some more progressive churches in the UCC have stopped performing religious weddings for heterosexual couples until civil marriages for homosexual couples become legal).

I just don't think that is true of the "radical religious right." I am told, and told repeatedly, by the members of the AAC and the Network, that "If I don't get my way I'm leaving." Or "You gay people shouldn't be ordained." Or "You gay people shouldn't be bishops." Or "Marriage is for me but it isn't for you."

What am I missing? Which point of view is showing hatred?

Anonymous said...

It is just too bad you cannot--ever, it seems-- deal with the issues and arguments and ideas that challenge you. I am all for humor, and have no doubt that it is a gift of common grace and in some way, at times, a testimony to the resurrection by not allowing the present woes to overwhelm us. And I do look forward to the final day when we may laugh about much that is going on now in our common life. But the posting under question here, is really mocking those who think ECUSA has acted unilaterally and who, by the way, know, of course, that there are many biblical examples stepped out in faith in a way that was new to their contemporaries. What they are saying is that the direction of ECUSA, while new, is not godly, nor catholic. The so-called humorous sermon acts as if the people who wrote Windsor, or the Bishops who affirmed the traditional teaching on sexual matters at Lambeth in 1998, were ignorant of the fact that new things have been done. But this is, obviously, not the blog to visit for careful or coherent thought.

For Martinauk's education, as he looks for intolerance on the left, I can cite Barbara Harris who said publically, when asked what to say to conservatives who can't go along with the new direction of ECUSA, 'Tell them 'Good riddance.'

Anonymous said...

Martinauk writes that he hasn't ever heard:

"You must agree with me or you cannot be ordained." Or "You must have my theological views or you cannot become a bishop"

One can only wonder. There are dozens of bishops who will neither send people to TESM, ordain people from there, or let people who support TESM into the process. I can name ten people who left ECUSA because liberal standing committees would not approve them. And the same is true of conservative priests who are often, very often, turned down as bishops for . . .what? For holding the teaching of Lambeth on sex. It happens all the time.

Catherine + said...

Once again i forgive Negative Anon for feeling as he/she does. If it keeps someone else from being personally attacked while exercising free speech on Susan's blog, then so be it. Better me than someone who might truly be broken by Neg Anon's radical zeal. Blessed are the persecuted...and that will be all I have to say to Neg Anon. I will not respond further to his/her pettiness. Joyfully in Christ...The Rev. Catherine+

Anonymous said...

You are a Reverend? You write "Once again i forgive Negative Anon for feeling as he/she does." But there is nothing to forgive here. Do you do the same thing when your parishioners ask you to explain your incautious or biased comments? Yeesh, what a trip.

rmf said...

Given some of the negative and derogatory comments coming from the dean of the Trinity school lately, it is not surprising that some parishes/dioceses do not want anyone coming under his influence. He seems like a crank.

Jeff Martinhauk said...

To those who quote Barbara Harris on the "good riddance" line - in my opinion she should probably apologize for such a statement. AND I also think that a statement of "Good riddance" is different from "Do it only my way" or similar lines. "Good riddance" acknowledges the unhelpfulness of the exclusionary party. "Do it my way" implies exclusive access to the "truth" which invalidates the others' experience.

There is also a fundamental difference between local parishes making decisions that are appropriate for their congregations on discernment and "Decisions from Lambeth" as anonymous 8:26pm implies. We are and always have been a broad church with many parishes having many theological positions. If an aspirant is denied access to discernment by a local parish, they probably weren't a good fit for that parish anyway and would have better results examining their call in a parish more suited to their theology. That's one of the benefits of a diverse and broad church. We can each find what God calls us to be in this wonderful broad house of God. If this "room" isn't working for us we can move to the next room within the same "house." But if somebody tries to make all the rooms look the same, then the whole house is the worse for it.

Lambeth is not and never was intended to be like the College of Cardinals in the Roman Catholic tradition, nor is the ABC like the pope, sending forth decrees on doctrine. They are rather instruments of Communion, holding us together in bonds of affection. See the post on orthodoxy with a small "o".

Again, in my judgement you have to look MUCH harder to find exclusion on the left. I think, given what statements are made here and if they have been given in their proper context, should apologize. AND I don't think it compares to what we have heard from the likes of Duncan, Anderson, Akinola, and the rest.