09 January 2009

TEC wins another round in court

Once again the judicial system has ruled in favour of the National Church in a lawsuit.

The State Supreme Court sided with the Episcopal Diocese of Central New York, which means members of the Church of the Good Shepherd, must vacate their building in Binghamton.

The congregation was notified of the decision Thursday night and began moving their belongings from the church on Conklin Avenue.

In the case of the Diocese of Central New York v. The Rector, Church Wardens and Vestrymen of the Church of the Good Shepherd, the court held that
Title to all real and personal property of Good Shepherd including the church building and rectory rests with the Diocese and that the Diocese is entitled to immediate possession thereof.
The court also stated they will not look into the validity of the Dennis Canon.

Savvy readers will instantly recognize that the Church of the Good Shepherd is the parish whose rector is Matt Kennedy. Kennedy is one of the most well known and chief slanderers of TEC. He is also a prolific poster at SF. His URL is probably the most virulent of all the schismatic sites on the web.

Here is a video news clip from the local news.

In this victory for TEC, because of Fr. Matt's viciousness in attacking TEC, it is very difficult not to feel a since of vindication and righteous retrubition. But I feel very sorry for Fr. Matt, his wife and their congregation.

Here is the press release from Good Shepherd to it's congregation

As you may or may not have heard, the judge has ruled and we have lost our building and all of our assets. There is, at the moment of this writing, no time specified for our departure. We expect an order to arrive sometime in the next few days that will give us some indication of how long we will remain here. It could be a matter of days, it could be a month or more, we simply do not know. When we do, we will get the information to you as soon as possible. Pay attention to the website, the blogsite, Sunday announcements and your phone messages for news. In the meantime, we must prepare our hearts and minds to go.

This little white church on the corner of Livingston and Conklin has been a part of all our lives and the lives of those in our neighborhood for many years. Some of us have spent our whole lives here. This is painful news.

This may seem especially difficult given the fact that there is no discernible good in the future of this building. It will, we presume, no longer be used to feed people or to proclaim the Gospel. It seems as though we have lost. But we must remember what we know about God, what He has revealed about His character:

The Lord passed before him [Moses] and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin.” Exodus 34:6-7

God is gracious, merciful, loving and provident towards his children. His greatest provision was sending his own Son, Jesus, to die on our behalf. As sons and daughters of God through faith in Jesus Christ, the darkness is never final. The light is greater than the darkness. God's providence is greater than the destruction of sin. Jesus died but he also rose from the dead. So it is for His people. There is no “end” or “death” or “despair” for us because we know that in all things God works for his glory and for the good of those who love him (Romans 8:28). Because God is faithful to his promises, we look to our future knowing it to be one full of hope. God has been faithful to us in the past. He is faithful to us now. He will be faithful to us in the future

We have been praying for the better part of a year now, asking for God's guidance and direction. God has answered our prayers. He has closed one door and now all that remains is to go forward into the new future and new home God has prepared. Our location will change. Our mission will not. We will continue to share the good news of eternal salvation won by Jesus Christ. We will continue to serve our neighbors, feed the hungry, and help the poor, just as we have in the past.

But there is something else that we must do that, at least for the moment, may be far more difficult: Love those who are forcing us out. Perhaps they do not know what they are doing. Perhaps they do. Either way, ask God to forgive them and pray that he will give us the grace to do the same. Anger is not always sinful but it can easily and quickly become so. Unchecked anger leads to bitterness, hatred, and resentment and all of these things hurt our relationship with God and damage our capacity to reflect his love and beauty into the world. Just as God has been merciful to us, daily forgiving our sins and wickedness, so we must, by his grace and help, return good for evil and pray for those who persecute us.

The vestry is very sad, but we are also thankful. Our future is now clear. What wonderful things God has in store for us. He has set us free from the bondage of this lawsuit and free, finally, of the turmoil in the Episcopal Church. We are not only thankful to be free, but thankful that we have been tested and found worthy by his grace of suffering loss for the sake of Christ, of being purified by sacrifice. We know that what we have been enduring is only preparation for greater things to come and that all of this being worked out for the good of those who love Christ.

And we love Christ. This has been the defining mark of our church body. Let Christ be our banner and our seal, the Rock to which we cling. Let Christ go before us and behind us. Above all let His holy name be praised.

The above statement was issued by Fr. Matt, the wardens and the vestry.

As soon as I locate the court's decision, I'll post the URL.

Remember that, regardless of how wrong they were, they are grieving. Please pray for the Kennedys, the Church of the Shepherd, and the schismatics.

This is the third major ruling in favour of TEC. So far, the only unfavourable ruling has been in Virginia where the courts allowed a Civil War era law dealing with slavery to be used to determine ownership of church property. But even there, the case has not been completely settled.

This is also the third time a court has stated they will not entertain arguments about the Dennis Canon. The consistency certainly looks bad for the the schismatics.

If you are going to comment on this post, do not gloat. I will remove any comment that does so.

UPDATE: Some of you may notice that I changed the title of this post. To use a Pentecostal phrase, I was under conviction for the previous title. I apologize to Fr. Matt for any distress my original title may have caused him. I also wish him and his congregation all God's blessing as they move into a new phase of their spiritual journey.

Presiding Bishop calls Ft. Worth to Convention

Our friend Katie Sherrod informs us that the Presiding Bishop has called for a special convention to reorganize the Diocese of Ft. Worth. The convention will be held 7 February. You will find the document here. Take a moment and read Katie's post about the excellent news.

It is wonderful to be part of the network of Episcopalians who are keeping the church up to date on what is going on with TEC and the AC via the WWW and the miracle of blogging. Although I'm just a very small stitch on the extreme edge of the tapestry border, it really is an honour to be part of that tapestry.

The Bish' got a wonderful, awful idea.

As many of you know, on 8 January the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh asked the courts to release to it the property and assets that belong to it by right of being the continuing diocese.

According to the diocesan web page:

Today, January 8, 2009, the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh asked a court for control of church assets still held by former diocesan leaders who have left the Episcopal Church.

The request was made in the context of an existing court order which stipulated that local Episcopal property must stay in the control of a diocese that is part of the Episcopal Church of the United States.

“We’re not asking for anything the court has not already addressed, or for anything former leaders have not already agreed to,” said the Rev. Dr. James Simons, President of the diocesan Standing Committee, the group currently leading the Pittsburgh Episcopal Diocese.

The original court order was issued in October 2005 as a result of a lawsuit filed by Calvary Episcopal Church in East Liberty. The order prohibits any group that separates itself from the Episcopal Church from continuing to use or control Diocesan property. The order specifically defines the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh as being part of “the Episcopal Church of the United States of America.” In negotiations leading to the 2005 Order, former Pittsburgh Bishop Robert Duncan and his attorneys agreed this stipulation would apply regardless of the circumstances surrounding any separation, even if every parish were to leave. ...

“Whatever Robert Duncan and his followers may claim to be, they cannot claim to be ‘the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh of the Episcopal Church of the United States of America’,” the Diocese argues in its papers filed today.

Take particular notice of the emphasized portion above. Part of the press relasae of the schismatic group states:
The Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh (Anglican) will defend itself.

In an expected, but disappointing decision, the newly forming Episcopal Church diocese in southwestern Pennsylvania announced today that it intends to move forward with legal action against The Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh (Anglican) by attempting to claim all diocesan property.

“The document filed today in the Calvary litigation by Calvary and the new diocese created after the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh withdrew from The Episcopal Church is both procedurally and substantively improper. Moreover, it is regrettable that these groups have chosen to pursue more litigation rather than agree to equitable division of the assets.” said the Rev. Peter Frank, diocesan spokesman.
First, the facts prove it is the schismatics who have formed a new organization. The group that petitioned the court is the continuing Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh.

Second, the schismatic group's press release sounds like they have amnesia or are being blatant dishonest.

Third, telling the court that the same court misunderstood the terms of the 2005 agreement won't endear the schismatics to the legal establishment. Each time the schismatics speak, there is a new spin on the facts.

But the standard tactic is to tell the lie long enough and loud enough and people are sure to believe it -- eventually, hopefully.

In the legal case before the courts, the tactic seems to be "Tell enough versions of the story one of them is bound to be swallowed by someone with enough power to give us a victory and legitimize the new organization."

The heart of the matter is "A rose by any other name." The schismatics must convince the courts that they are the continuing diocese. At stake, as mentioned in the application to the court yesterday, are multi millions of dollars in cash and real estate.

In 2005, the court in Pennsylvania stated that the property must remain with the continuing diocese. This is the reason the schismatics have retained the diocesan name (and in three cases the name "Episcopal") - hoping the courts will be so obtuse that they won't notice who actually left The Episcopal Church.

The recent ruling in California has most certainly ended any hope Schofield might have of retaining the property and money appropriated from The Episcopal Church. That is the prevailing opinion of the legal experts.

Two courts have ruled in favour of the National Church. We surmise that, given precedent being established by two state courts, the same will be true in Ft. Worth and Quincy. Texas courts are certainly unpredictable, though.

When the new Duncan organization has to vacate the buildings and turn over the cash (including that cash spent since they misappropriated TEC funds), we shall see how deep their conviction is. David Schofield will not enjoy giving up the trappings of the cathedral and moving into a store-front with only the vestments he purchased with his own money and a fruit crate as the altar.

That is the main reason they did not do the honourable thing and just walk away. They don't want to start anew - they want the spoils of others labours and donations. They want a ready made church with ready made buildings and endowment funds. It's all about greed, not theology.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect to the recent events is that there is dead silence from the Global South cohorts. But, that is intentional, in my opinion. These must be seen by the world as an internal U.S. squabble. If the Africans or Sydneyites weigh in, it will not bode well. Also, those GS primates are hard at work trying to secure (read bully) enough AC primates to back the schism at the February meeting. If they lose there, it's all over but the shouting, and they realize that.

The photo was sent to me my a reader and I added the caption. My apologies to the unknown artist. If you contact me, I will gladly credit you or remove the image if you so request.

07 January 2009

MacBurney to lead schismatics in Quincy.

Well, Mark Harris commented yesterday that things were too quiet in schismatic land. The events of yesterday and today certainly make that statement void.

According to a source in Quincy, +Edward MacBurney, retired, who was briefly inhibited by the Presiding Bishop for performing illegal episcopal acts, has agreed to lead the schismatic diocese of Quincy.

As you may remember, the inhibition came as the result of his performing confirmations in the Diocese of San Diego on behalf of Presiding Bishop Venables.

MacBurney did not seek or receive the permission of +James Mathes, Ordinary, before performing the episcopal acts. The canons of TEC (and virtually every province of the Anglican Communion) state, no presbyter may exercise any priestly act without the express permission of the Ordinary of the diocese.

The inhibition was lifted last September after MacBurney apologized. and promised not to repeat the illegal episcopal acts. However, he did not renounce his presidency of Forward in Faith which is a member of whatever Duncan's followers are going to call themselves. [David reports that Ackerman, whom MacBurney replaces, is not president of FiF.]

In November he assumed a limited administrative responsibility in the Episcopal Diocese of Quiny upon Ackerman's resignation.

We have a bishop of TEC who thrice promised before God to be faithful to the Episcopal Church, without reservation. Each Maundy Thursday he renewed that vow. Now, he has accepted oversight of a schismatic group -- an act, in my opinion, which constitutes abandonment of TEC.

Therefore, one may only conclude that the bishop was grossly duplicitous in his apology -- he was neither sorry nor repentant as his actions today testify.

He has presented us with another example of the type of "morality" of the schismatic clergy.

UPDATE: Episcopal Cafe has a report here.

Armstrong guilty of theft says cheif detective for the court

According to the Colorado Springs Gazette, the Rev'd Donald Armstrong, a former TEC presbyter who fled to the African protection has received a scathing report by detective Michael Flynn.

As you recall, in November the courts ordered the removal of records from Grace Church including computers. After examining the removed records, Flynn told the court that after considering all the information available, Armstrong was guilty of embezzling nearly $400,000 from his church to pay for his children's' education.

The Rev. Donald Armstrong funneled money earmarked for "single, unmarried seminarians" from a Grace Church trust fund to pay for his two children's college tuition, according to Colorado Springs police investigators.

That accusation was contained in a affidavit supporting a search warrant used by police in a November raid on Grace Church and St. Stephen's and its offices in a next door Victorian home known as the McWilliams House at 601 N. Tejon St.

The affidavit, returned by detective Michael Flynn to the court Tuesday, outlines the 18-month police investigation from May 2007 - when they were notified by the Episcopal Church, Diocese of Colorado that it suspected financial wrongdoing by Armstrong - and Nov. 25, when a judge signed the warrant authorizing the search.

"The Diocesan investigation concluded, in part, that the Reverend Donald Armstrong misappropriated approximately $392,000 in parish and Clarice C. Bowton Trust money without authorization," the affidavit states.

Armstrong was indicted and convicted in 2007 in ecclesiastical court - a move that has no teeth outside the denomination.

A former bookkeeper at the church alerted Bishop Robert O'Neill in late 2005 of the alleged wrongdoing, the affidavit states.

Flynn looked at checks issued "on a monthly basis from July 1999 to March 2006 (when the Armstrong children were attending college) amounting to approximately $226,000."

Armstrong would endorse the checks and write them to "College Fund," the affidavit states.

"The Bowton Trust was a restricted trust fund providing scholarships for single, unmarried seminarians from Colorado, and was administered by Grace Church," according to the affidavit. "Father Armstrong's children were not seminarians. The police investigation determined Donald Armstrong was in control of parish finances and the Bowton Trust with no effective oversight and/or internal controls, and misused trust income (averaging about$9,000 a year) from about 1992 until 2001 when the trustee stopped further disbursements (because Armstrong could not prove he was in compliance with the trust fund)."

Armstrong led his congregation out of TEC after the irregularities were discovered. They claim ownership of the church plant and litigation is in progress at the moment. The trial is scheduled for February.

Such is the caliber of the best known clerics who fled to the Global South primates for safe haven from the persecution by TEC.

It's interesting that the news for the no-province-of-nothingland keeps getting worse and worse.

Please pray for Mr. Armgstrong - he's going to need it.

News from the Fantasyland of Ft. Worth

Our fellow blogger, Katie Sherrod of Desert's Child has a wonderful update on the continuing drama in Ft. Worth. Y0u'll find her post here.

06 January 2009

It's Epiphany!

It's also Russian Orthodox Christmas.

As I've said before, I grew up next door to an Italian family. Epiphany was a major deal in their family. A huge party, games, presents and most important, food. So my opinion of Epiphany isn't too holy - it's party. In fact, their Epiphany celebration made any Twelfth Day party I've ever attended look like a funeral. So in the spirit of the celebration, enjoy to photo.

Sorry about two postings yesterday, but I couldn't restrain myself.

05 January 2009

Comedy from St. James', Newport Beach

The parish of St. James' has released a wonderful piece of comedy. You really must read it so I'm printing the full text (minus the "recap").

The California Supreme Court today ruled in Episcopal Church Cases that church property disputes must be resolved by “neutral principles of law,” not by civil courts merely deferring to the decrees of church “hierarchies.” This ruling has wide and favorable impact for churches throughout California that seek to change their denominational affiliation.

While adopting this “non-religious” method of resolving property disputes between churches, the Court seemed to defer to the Episcopal Church’s alleged “trust canon,” which purports to create a trust interest in church property owned by local congregations. The Court made its ruling despite the fact that St. James Anglican Church, Newport Beach, purchased and maintained its property with its own funds and has held clear record title to its property for over fifty years.

In recent years, religious denominations as diverse as the Eastern Orthodox, Baptist and Pentecostal “Assemblies of God” have attempted to confiscate the property of congregations that wish to change their spiritual affiliation. Today’s ruling falls far short of the endorsement of such tactics that the Episcopal Church – and other denominational hierarchies that submitted briefs in support of it – had sought. Many local churches in California will be able to exercise their religious freedom to change their affiliation without having to forfeit their property as a result.

Nor is the saga over for St. James Anglican Church. “While we are surprised that the Court seemed to give some credence to the Episcopal Church’s purported rule confiscating local church property, the battle is far from over,” lead attorney Eric C. Sohlgren said. “The matter will now return to the Orange County Superior Court for further proceedings, and we look forward to presenting evidence and additional legal arguments that St. James Church should prevail under neutral principles of law.”

The leadership of the Newport Beach congregation is also evaluating a possible appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court and is meeting to discuss other possible steps. Today’s ruling also affects All Saints Church in Long Beach and St. David’s Church in North Hollywood, whose cases were put on hold pending the outcome of the St. James case. Together with St. James Church, these congregations never agreed to relinquish their property to the Episcopal Church upon changing their affiliation, and have consistently maintained that they have the right to use and possess the property which they have owned and maintained for decades.

One must wonder what decision Mr. Sohlgren read; clearly it was not the document released today. In effect, the court took a 2x4 and smacked the "confiscating" fundamentalists upside the head and said, "Thou shalt not steal."

How Sohlgren can read into the decision that other churches may leave their denomination and take the property with them is beyond understanding. Clearly he needs a remedial course in the English language. The court said, "people may leave but they cannot take the property with them." The only way to misunderstand that statement is to deliberately do so.

The confiscators will now argue the validity of the so-called Dennis canon. But they will lose there, too. Another court said to another group using this argument: "You had twenty five years to object and you didn't. Therefore, you submitted to that canon." Additionally, the California court deferred to the National Church for how it legislates internal matters such as canons and constitution. They will not interfere unless those documents violate the California law. The court said, today, they do not violate the laws of California.

They will also argue that all seven justices didn't know the law when they made their decision. It's interesting that al seven justices were appointed by "conservative" governors. I expect them to also argue that the appointment of each justice was invalid for some reason, therefore, the decision is null and void. And who knows, we may just have an initiative on the next ballot to overturn this decision, too. Heaven knows the big "A" has enough money to fund such an endeavor.

I will be surprised if any judge is willing to hear arguments about this case. Judges take a dim view of their opinions being overturned. With the Supreme Court's ruling, the entire California legal establishment knows how the Court will rule regarding confiscation of TEC's property.

Additionally, there is one little phrase in the Court's decision that will cause the confiscators a lot of grief. The Court ruled "on the merits of the case." That means there is nothing else to be decided in this matter. The justices considered every aspect fo the issue and ruled on the matter in totality.

It's over; the fat lady sang and she cracked on that final "high C." But like those on the Titanic, the confiscators are grasping for anything that floats in an attempt to regain some credibility.

It is a major blow to one's credibility and ego to have the court call one a thief and to order the return of "confiscated" property.

Breaking news: TEC wins in California

At Ten O'clock today, a decision was released by the California Supreme Court that says the diocese owns the property. It recognized that local parishes in question have always submitted themselves to the C&C of the larger church.
Applying the neutral principles of law approach, we conclude that the general church, not the local church, owns the property in question. Although the deeds to the property have long been in the name of the local church, that church agreed from the beginning of its existence to be part of the greater church and to be bound by its governing documents. These governing documents make clear that church property is held in trust for the general church and may be controlled by the local church only so long as that local church remains a part of the general church. When it disaffiliated from the general church, the local church did not have the right to take the church property with it ...

[At the time of application to the diocese] The members’ handwritten application “promise[d] and declare[d] that the said Parish shall be forever held under, and conform to and be bound by, the Ecclesiastical authority of the Bishop of Los Angeles, and of his successor in office, the Constitution and Canons of the [Episcopal Church], and the Constitution and Canons of the Diocese of Los Angeles.”
There is additional bad news for the parishes involved, too
We conclude that this action is not subject to an anti-SLAPP motion. Although protected activity arguably lurks in the background of this case, the actual dispute concerns property ownership rather than any such protected activity. Accordingly, this action is not one “arising from” protected activity within the meaning of Code of Civil Procedure section 425.16, subdivision (b)(1). Hence, that provision does not
And there is a major set back for other malcontents:
As stated in one of the out-of-state cases involving the same Episcopal Church "[t]he individual defendants are free to dissociate themselves from [the parish and the Episcopal Church] and to affiliate themselves with another religious denomination. No court can interfere with or control such an exercise of conscience. The problem lies in defendants' efforts to take the church property with them. This they may not d
What a wonderful 12th Day present for the diocese of LA and for TEC in general!

The full decision is here in PDF format. Make sure to read pages 20 - 22. Given the vitriolic nature of the money people involved at the parish level, one might expect them to appeal to theUS Supreme Court.

But, most likely not.

The California court relied heavily on a previous US Supreme Court decision (Jones v. Wolf (1979) 443 U.S. 595, 597.) In my opinion, which won't even purchase you a cup of tea, the Supreme Court is very unlikely to revisit and overturn a decision unless it involves civil rights. Wayward, what's your opinion?

This was only the clearing of a small rain cloud for the Diocese of Los Angeles. But the prevailing wind is blowing a major hurricane northward over Schofieldland.

Keep praying for our sisters and brothers in San Joaquin - although we hear strains of "the distant triumph song" it's not over just yet.

I Sing a Song of the Torch bearers

Yesterday at the church job (UCC) the gospel was the monumental prologue to the gospel of John -- rather, it was the prologue to the gospel as composed by the Johannian community founded by John.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

As Episcopalian Christians, how many times have we heard those words over the years. After reading the prologue, his sermon dealt mainly with explaining how the "word" was not Jesus, but was, rather, wisdom that existed at the beginning. You should have seen the look on the congregation's collective face as he gave them Borg and Spong (although they didn't know it was Borg or Spong).

I usually zone out during the sermon -- any sermon. I'm enough bible scholar and theologian to know where the preacher is headed within a minute. But before he began to "get into" the sermon, he said, I'm thankful for "Miss N."

As it turns out this woman was his primary Sunday school teacher. Then when he graduated to the next grade, there was no one to teach that class, so she stepped up to the plate and taught it. And it happened the next year, and the next, so that his entire church school education was from this woman. And then he asked a question:
Who, other than your parentes, is it who passed the torch of the gospel on to you?
I didn't even have to think about the question -- I knew as he was finishing the question who it was. For me, it was two people: Pauline Jones and Thomas Hickerson.

When I graduated from the "Cradle roll" class -- they call it nursery today -- "Sister" Jones was my teacher. But she was so much more than that: she was my adoptive grandmother. To her, I was always "my Jimmy."

I never visited her without a bible study being involved. And I visited her a lot. each time she would reach for her well worn bible and off we would go. It was never a cursory study, either; we went deep into the text, running references and seeing how other parts of the bible backed up the gospels. And an hour or three later, she would look at me with a twinkle in her eye and say, "I think it's time for a Peps" (short for Pepsi). I am the Christian I am today because of Sister Jones.

She knew more about the bible than any one hundred people I know combined. If one needed to find a particular scripture, but couldn't remembrer how it went or where it was, a telephone call to her would result in, "Honey, I know that exact verse" and she would quote it, and then add, "but you have to add the three verses before it ... " She could actually quote the entire book of Hebrews from memory! And the look on her face as she began
God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds ...
The other person is the Rev'd. Thomas F. Hickerson who was the presbyter who baptized me. He said that when he was baptizing me, he felt a confirmation that I would have a vocation to the ordained ministry. He told Sister Jones this, and they set me on the path of bible literacy.

Both of these people were firlmy "old school" and both would be following Mr. Duncan, I'm sure. But they are responsible for my knowledge of the bible. And they are also responsible for my love affair with Jesus. The made sure that I not only knew who Jesus was/is, but that I had a relationship with him.

These two marvelous people have been in the Church Triumphant for many, many years, now. But every day of my life they are here with me. Each time I reach for the bible to look something up, or to read the lessons from the Daily Office, Grandma Jones is there looking over my shoulder.

My question to you, readers of this blog, is: who passed the torch to you? Please share your story with us. I believe that these stories need to be known just as much as the stories of the Martyrs and other saints of old.

My second question for you is: Are you a torch bearer? It's not just for kids, you know. Who will remember you as the person who passed the light of the glorious gospel of peace to them?
They loved their Lord so dear, so dear,
and his love made them strong;
and they followed the right for Jesus' sake
the whole of their good life long;
And one was a torch bearer, one was a priest
and one taught bible to a kid named Jim;
and there's not any reason, no, not one,
Why I shouldn't pass the torch.
Now, take a moment to go visit Thinking Anglicans for a great post and wonderful comments on liturgy called A Liturgical Christmas.

04 January 2009

Second Sunday of Christmas

The Second Sunday after Christmas
In Nomine Jesu

Isaiah 61:10-62:3; Psalm 147; Galatians 3:23-25; 4:4-7; John 1:1-18

“Fast away the old year passes.” So goes the last verse of the old Christmas carol, “Deck the Halls.” For Christians, our celebration of Christmas is but three days old. We have nine more days, and would that we could have all the world join in; some will, but for many, once the tree is out with the trash, it’s time to move on.

The twelve days of Christmas are intended as days of celebration, but also for reflection. The majestic hymn that opens the Gospel of John sets the stage for a whole new order of life, forged in the beginning of Creation with the presence of the Word, now made flesh among us, full of grace and truth.

Once in awhile, people get a glimpse of what God is doing among us. Once in awhile the light shines so brightly in the darkness that nothing can dim it. Once in awhile people feel an upwelling of joy in their hearts, and they don’t even know where it comes from.

These days of Christmas call us to celebrate, to re-order and perhaps re-frame our lives so that we can live differently, not because it’s the time of New Year resolutions, but because Jesus has come to live among us to show us the way.

As this particular, some might say peculiar, year comes to a close, think about what has happened. The world economic engine has all but collapsed. We are officially in a recession in the U.S. We have a new president-elect who will take office amidst the ravages of war and terrorism and economic chaos. Some have lost their jobs, and more likely will. Others have seen much of their retirement disappear. Many of the things that we rely on for our security have vanished.

So, in the midst of our lowliness, in the time of our testing, the Lord appears among us. God enters our hearts with a love that cannot be extinguished. God offers us a guide to faith and salvation that no economic collapse can erode or cheapen. God takes our puzzlement and our failure and redeems them with new insight.

If the light truly shines in the darkness, then where have we been living? Some would say we have chosen darkness over the light. We have chosen to live on credit. We have chosen to live beyond our means as a nation and a people. We have forgotten that there is always a price to pay for greed – a price paid by all of us. And if we were honest, we would admit that deep down, we all knew this economic splurge would have to end; perhaps “not with a bang, but a whimper,” as T.S. Eliot wrote in one of his poems.

But in that darkness comes the light of the Word made flesh. Within the darkness can always be found the seeds of light.

In a neighborhood shelter there was a financial crisis. Grant money that usually supported the shelter had dried up, and the place that many relied on for a daily meal was faced with imminent closure. A local rabbi came by to see the director and asked, “Why are you closing?”

“We’re out of money, rabbi,” she said.

“Well,” he replied, “then go get some!”

She looked at him oddly for a moment and then realized she hadn’t thought about any alternatives. In a month, with the rabbi’s help, seven churches and a synagogue had taken on support of the shelter. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

So, how is it with you as the old year passes? Are you simply waiting to see when the other shoe will drop? Are you waiting for a new president to do something big and bold? Well, he doesn’t have any money either. It has all been committed to war and bailouts.

It is time to go to work, time to act like the gifted people God created us to be, time to be about God’s business in our churches, communities, and families – business that is committed to redemption, and business that brings graciousness to the lives of all people. That is what we should be doing, because that is what God has done for us.

“Fast away the old year passes;
“Hail the new, ye lads and lasses.
“Sing we joyous all together;
“Heedless of the wind and weather.”

Welcome to the twelve hallowed days of Christmas. May they be days that you see the Word made flesh scatter the darkness from before your path and empower you to give light to others.

-- Ben Helmer will shortly complete an 18-month assignment as interim ministry developer with the Episcopal Church in Micronesia (Guam). He and his wife, Jane, will be returning to their home in West Missouri. E-mail: bhelmer1247@msn.com.