Wednesday, January 28, 2009
I saw The Exorcist when I was in my 20s. It presented an image of exorcisms that was pretty frightening if anyone were to actually believe the story told in this film.
When I was in high school and later in college the scientific method of inquiry was presented as the path to knowledge and truth. It is true that science helps us discover more and more about the world in which we live.
For a theory to be accepted as a working model in the scientific community, the phenomenon must be observable and repeatable. That is the discipline of science and exorcism as it is popularly understood seem to be at odds.
As someone educated in the twentieth century, I placed demon possession in the category of psychiatric disorders or physical illnesses that the people of Jesus' day simply did not understand. Had they had the advantage of our 2000 years of scientifically verifiable data, they would certainly no longer believe in unclean spirits or demons.
After many years of seeking to make the exorcism stories of the Gospel understandable and acceptable to my modern mind I decided to reject the idea that Jesus and his disciples simply were misinformed about the nature of the conditions that were called demon possession.
Our Gospel reading for Sunday comes at the very beginning of Mark’s Gospel.
Jesus and his disciples went to Capernaum; and when the Sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught. They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, and he cried out, "What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God." But Jesus rebuked him, saying, "Be silent, and come out of him!" And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, "What is this? A new teaching-- with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him." At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.
Jesus had just proclaimed that the Kingdom of God was drawing near. He invited people to turn away from what separated them from God and from one another. The truth of this proclamation is then demonstrated to the people of the synagogue of Capernaum.
Notice that Jesus is not only a messenger of God, but the very message and the incarnation of the Kingdom he proclaimed. In him the Kingdom of God was made visible, flesh and blood, reality. When he enters the synagogue the Kingdom of God entered into the community of faith.
The appearance of a man with an unclean spirit within that community is really not that unusual. We continue to identify people in our own scientifically sophisticated day who we consider unacceptable to our various communities. Jesus understood the dynamics and ecology of evil. This man bore the burden of his community.
Of course, in order for this system to work, the community must be totally ignorant of the very process in which they are trapped. In fact, this ecology of sin where someone is assigned the blame on behalf of the community was the current teaching or cultural understanding in that community. The community was exonerated of sin by reassigning it to a chosen scapegoat.
The man may have been afflicted with one of the many emotional or physical diseases that persist today and made him an undefended victim of the community. Rather than throwing the man out of the synagogue or leading members of the community to kill him, Jesus separated the community’s accusing spirit from this person.
Jesus broke the authority and power of the community to label a person as unclean or possessed of an evil spirit that adversely impacted the community and the response from the members of the community was a recognition of this act of liberation as a “new teaching” offered to them with authority and power.
There is nothing about this understanding of exorcism that does not square with the scientific method. The “old teaching” by which we still live is very clear, observable, repeatable, and predictable. Such was the case in Jesus’ time too. What is yet to become clear, observable, repeatable, and predictable is our liberation and transformation into communities of faith which no longer follow the old teaching, but in sheer amazement and awe begin to follow the “new teaching” that has the authority and power of our Creator. What is new to us was never new to God, but was God’s very heart and promise to us from the beginning.
So, what did these exorcisms really mean to Jesus and how can we understand them without apology or surrendering our God-given intellect?
Sunday, January 18, 2009
Scripture Passage for 2009
"If you want a place of honor, you must become a slave and serve others!”
Mark 9:35b (Contemporary English Version)
Have you ever wondered what exactly God expects from us? So often we focus on what we think God wants us to avoid, rather than what he wants us to be and to do. The passage for this year is about what God expects us to be and to do. Most of us do not fancy being “slaves” to others or serving others, but Jesus is offering us a chance to discover the exact opposite of what we think of when we hear the word, slave.
Consider the firefighters who responded to the May 11th fire at Christ Church. They put their lives and the futures of their families on the line to serve others. I know that they get paid for doing this dangerous duty, but there is more than just a pay check that motivates these folks. At the core of their being, they have chosen to serve others even if that service results in personal injury or even death.
Of course, after they put out the fire and helped calm us down by their very presence, they returned to their post at the station across the street and continue to prepare and train themselves for the next time the sirens will blast and they will be off to another act of service. They are committed to serve and we, as a parish family, honor their service to us and to others whose lives and property the firefighters have promised to value, protect, and save.
As members of the church, we have a high calling of service too, but so often it seems that not much is really required of us. We sometimes begin to believe that simply coming to church is all that we need to do in order to fulfill what it means to be and do as Christians. To be sure, our time of worship together is terribly important, but our first call is to be slaves of others in imitation of Jesus.
Firefighters entered their vocations with a clear understanding of four things:
1. It is a high calling to serve and save others.
2. It is a dangerous calling to serve and save others.
3. It is a calling that requires continuous formation and training in order to serve and save others.
4. It is a calling that requires that our God-given gifts and talents be offered for the sake of serving and saving others.
Our vocations as Christians, as slaves of others in service require these same four components in order for us to be fully true to the vows and promises we make at our baptisms and when we are confirmed. Being a Christian is not a part time job or a passing fancy, but a life long commitment to God who is the Servant of us all and to those whom God directs us.
God can sometimes sound like the siren and bells on the firehouse, alerting us to quickly and compassionately take action on behalf of someone in need. There can be no higher calling or more honorable thing than to be of service as slaves to others.
This year we will begin to explore this high calling. This vocation can sometimes be dangerous; it requires training and formation; and it demands that we find ways to offer the God-given gifts and talents to the high adventure of serving others at a moment’s notice.
May God be with us as model, guide, inspiration and empowering Spirit in this new year of grace. It is time for us to reach beyond our usual ways of being and doing and be transformed into the likeness and image of the One who came among us as a slave.
God’s Peace in the High Calling of Our Lord,
Saturday, January 10, 2009
Dear Friends: This week while I am recovering from sinus surgery,I am offering some small commentary on the readings for this coming Sunday, January 18th. Bob+
1 Corinthians 6:12-20
"All things are lawful for me," but not all things are beneficial. "All things are lawful for me," but I will not be dominated by anything. "Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food," and God will destroy both one and the other. The body is meant not for fornication but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. And God raised the Lord and will also raise us by his power. Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Should I therefore take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! Do you not know that whoever is united to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For it is said, "The two shall be one flesh." But anyone united to the Lord becomes one spirit with him. Shun fornication! Every sin that a person commits is outside the body; but the fornicator sins against the body itself. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you were bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body.
Here is the passage that some folks have asked about for this coming Sunday, January 18th. This is really an interesting bit of writing by Paul (of Saintly fame). This passage is not about overeating or fornication, or hooking up with a prostitute, but about none of these things that we can make into gods, like food, sex, drugs, alcohol, shopping, etc. can easily rob us of our freedoms as human beings. Paul is simply saying that to be united to God is to be free from those things which can begin to dominate and rule us. I guess he was talking about addictions way back then, but in those days addictions were called idols.
There may be also a hint of Paul suggesting that just because something is "legal" as in religion or government doesn't mean that is beneficial (bringing the good to us) and then he says it all: "All things are lawful for me," but I will not be dominated by anything. So, Paul does not seem to be all that focused on fornication, as some have thought in the past, but really about what we substitute for God and even legalize. Having seen Jesus murdered under the law and having used the law himself to persecute others, Paul was pretty keen on this one.
And, I guess it is true that what we consume, we become, including hotdogs.
Does that make sense?
God's Peace in the Evening,
Tuesday, January 06, 2009
A Pastoral Letter
from the Right Reverend J. Jon Bruno,
Bishop of the Episcopal Church in the Diocese of Los Angeles
This letter is to be read aloud during services on Sunday, January 11, 2009, in
all congregations of the Diocese of Los Angeles.
Grace and peace to you, sisters and brothers in the Diocese of Los Angeles, and to
all in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
This week’s gospel readings bring accounts of good news, of new beginnings
made possible through Jesus’ baptism by John.
Our own baptismal covenant within the Episcopal Church asks of us these
“Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of the bread, and in the prayers?
“Will you persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord?
“Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ?
“Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?
“Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of
every human being?”
To each of these questions, we answer anew, “I will, with God’s help.”
This week we have also received from the California Supreme Court news of a
conclusive decision regarding Episcopal Church properties within the Diocese of Los Angeles. Our response to this news remains consistent with our covenant in baptism, and we especially continue to “strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being.”
The Court has brought us its determination for justice in litigation spanning the past four years, affirming the 2007 opinion of the Court of Appeal, and confirming that all property is held in trust for the present and future mission of the Episcopal Church.
The introduction to the Supreme Court’s decision reads as follows:
IN THE SUPREME COURT OF CALIFORNIA
EPISCOPAL CHURCH CASES. ) Ct.App. 4/3
) G036096, G036408 &
) Orange County
) JCCP No. 4392
In this case, a local church has disaffiliated itself from a larger, general church with which it had been affiliated. Both the local church and the general church claim ownership of the local church building and the property on which the building stands.
The parties have asked the courts of this state to resolve this dispute. When secular courts are asked to resolve an internal church dispute over property ownership, obvious dangers exist that the courts will become impermissibly entangled with religion.
Nevertheless, when called on to do so, secular courts must resolve such disputes. We granted review primarily to decide how the secular courts of this state should resolve disputes over church property.
State courts must not decide questions of religious doctrine; those are for the church to resolve. Accordingly, if resolution of the property dispute involves a doctrinal dispute, the court must defer to the position of the highest ecclesiastical authority that has decided the doctrinal point. But to the extent the court can resolve the property dispute without reference to church doctrine, it should use what the United States Supreme Court has called the “neutral principles of law” approach. (Jones v. Wolf (1979) 443 U.S. 595, 597.) The court should consider sources such as the deeds to the property in dispute, the local church’s articles of incorporation, the general church’s constitution, canons, and rules, and relevant statutes, including statutes specifically concerning religious property, such as Corporations Code section 9142.
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.
We must also resolve the preliminary procedural question of whether this action is subject to a special motion to dismiss under Code of Civil Procedure section 425.16 —generally called an “anti-SLAPP motion.”1 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 apply.
We affirm the judgment of the Court of Appeal, which reached the same conclusions, although not always for the same reasons. [end quote]
The acronym “SLAPP” stands for “strategic lawsuit against public
participation.” (See Equilon Enterprises v. Consumer Cause, Inc. (2002) 29
Cal.4th 53, 57 & fn. 1.)
Therefore, as Episcopalians in this Diocese, our response is grounded in our
commitment to strive for peace that reaches well into the future, with respect for the dignity of all. This applies particularly within the parish communities of Long Beach, Newport Beach, and North Hollywood, as well as in La Crescenta, locations where the Court’s opinion has effect upon parishioners and church sites.
The Episcopal Church continues its long tradition of welcoming among its
members a diversity of opinion, including loyal dissent. Our church remains a large tent expansive enough to include many views and voices while united in common prayer.
Likewise, individuals remain free to choose their own expression of faith, and the
Episcopal Church is free to continue in ministry in locations long established as part of this Diocese.
I ask each of us to keep working for reconciliation and renewal within this
Diocese, and especially within the continuing Episcopal congregations of All Saints, Long Beach; St. James, Newport Beach; St. David’s, North Hollywood; and St. Luke’s, La Crescenta. As we move forward, I will announce the scheduling of Liturgies of Reconciliation and Renewal in each of these communities.
Meanwhile, the mission of the Episcopal Church and the Diocese of Los Angeles
continues as defined by the Catechism in The Book of Common Prayer (page 855): “The mission of the Church is to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ,” and we seek to accomplish this especially in providing food, shelter, medicine, and pastoral care to those in greatest need locally and globally.
In this new year, please join me in renewing our shared work of accomplishing
this mission, carrying out the promises of our baptismal covenant, and affirming both our faith and our future in this Diocese. May God’s peace, with justice, be with us all.
FROM FATHER BOB:
As I will be recovering from sinus surgery this coming Sunday, I would ask that you offer this wonderful prayer from The Book of Common Prayer as we celebrate the Baptism of our Lord this Sunday and reflect on our Bishop's pastoral letter:
A PRAYER FOR THE CHURCH
The Lord be with you
People And also with you. Let us pray.
O God of unchangeable power and eternal light: Look favorably on your whole Church, that wonderful and sacred mystery; by the effectual working of your providence, carry out in tranquility the plan of salvation; let the whole world see and know that things which were being cast down are being raised up, and things which had grown old are being made new, and that all things are being brought to their perfection by him through whom all things were made, your Son Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.