Joshua 24:1-3a, 14-25
We should call this “Billy Graham Sunday,” so strong is his evangelical connection to the lesson from Joshua. Graham’s tv program for years was “The Hour of Decision,” or in Joshua’s terms, “Choose you this day whom you will serve.”
Joshua decides for himself and for his whole family that they will serve the lord. He gives a choice to the others, but insists that the Israelites know what is at stake in their decision. He warns against too easy assent. He asserts that God will not forgive them if they choose to serve God now and then turn to serve other gods.
Note that the decision Joshua calls for is not the individual choice that Billy Graham calls for. Joshua decided for his family and presumably for their descendents, with no indication that individuals had significant input to the decision.
It is also not clear whether the choice Joshua offers is a free and equal one. He says that God will punish if they decide for God and then desert to other gods, but Joshua does not say whether God will punish those who choose other gods from the beginning.
The Episcopal Church has no one document that collects all of its doctrine, nor any series of ‘confessional statements,’ such Presbyterians write to clarify their beliefs.
On September 30, 1990 Rt. Rev. Walter Righter, then the Assistant Bishop of Newark, ordained to the diaconate Barry Stopfel, an out gay male with a male partner. Ten Bishops with jurisdiction signed a presentment to bring Bishop Righter to trial. Later a total of 76 bishops, signed the presentment, most of them retired. On May 13, 1996, almost six years after Righter‘s alleged offence, the Court for the Trial of a Bishop exonerated Bishop Righter, saying that in the ordination, he had not violated any core doctrine of The Episcopal Church. Core doctrine for the court was to be found in in the creeds, in Scripture, and in how we pray. All else is Adiaphora, i.e., matters not regarded as central to the faith but allowable. See my collection of materials about the trial
When push comes to serve, the BCP has major status in determining what Episcopalians “choose to believe.” Treating the BCP as a source, what beliefs do we find in today’s collect?
O God, whose blessed Son came into the world that he might destroy the works of the devil and make us children of God and heirs of eternal life: Grant that, having this hope, we may purify ourselves as he is pure; that, when he comes again with power and great glory, we may be made like him in his eternal and glorious kingdom; where he lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.The collect asks us to affirm that the devil is real. Are we heretics if we reject the notion of a devil?
The collect assumes that Jesus’ purpose in being in the world was to make us God’s children and heirs of eternal life. It invites us to assert that to accomplish this purpose, Jesus had to destroy the works of the devil.
Why is the devil not mentioned in the creed? Obviously Christians would not pay allegiance to the devil, but are we really required to believe the devil exists?
Or is the devil just a literary device to personify the works of evil? If so, then is god just a literary device to personify the works of good?
Suppose a friend says to you, “I have had a real battle with the devil over the last few weeks.” How much farther will the friend need to go before you determine that the person is mentally unstable? Or would that sentence alone convince you?
Suppose a friend drives your car without permission, wrecks it, and cannot afford the repairs. The friend tells you, “I am so sorry, but the devil made me do it.”
Or coming at it from another angle, suppose you return from a vacation to find that in your absence, the Doukhobors have entered your home, collected anything that could be called ‘a modern convenience,’ and have burned those things in your yard while dancing naked around the bonfire to abjure these works of the devil.
In the 1960s artist Walter Sorge painted a series of abstractions depicting grotesque, obese nude Doukhobors dancing to purify the community of all of the works of modernity.
What in your own theology is ‘core doctrine’ and what is Adiaphora?
If today you could make or re-make a religious choice that would save your soul for eternity, what would it be?
When others around you are saying the creed, how much do they really believe, and in what sense?
Mother and Dad died six months apart, in 1982. During the second funeral, I stayed with Mama Moore, a close family friend, my parents’ contemporary, and my tutor in Latin 30 years earlier. Mama Moore was a pillar of the Baptist Church where she belonged, as well as a smaller pillar of the Episcopal Church nearby, where she would often sneak to worship.
After the funeral, we sat in her back garden for supper.
“Louie, I suppose I am a Buddhist, because I really don’t believe in the afterlife,” she said. “I believe,” she continued, “that the only immortality that we have is in the memory of those whose lives we have helped shape. Please do not forget your parents.”
I can ‘pass’ the creed with a lie detector test, but I am very glad that up until this point TEC does not require one. We’ll have to wait and see what the proposed Anglican covenant will try to impose upon provinces that want to be in good standing.
Today’s psalm shares Mama Moore’s concern that we re-Member, ‘make a member again,’ emphasizing that we should not forget God’s actions in our collective history:
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
Clearly Mama Moore did not agree with Saint this time, and felt she could comfort me with words quite opposite to these.
[T]he dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up in the clouds together with them to meet the Lord in the air; and so we will be with the Lord foreverIf you do not agree with Saint on this vision of the afterlife , would you see any reason to remain a practicing Christian, as Mama Moore did?
If when you die, that is your end, save as you live on in those whose lives you have helped shape, would you still remain a Christian? Would God continue to love you regardless?
Jesus amplifies Joshua’s urgency. Joshua stressed “choose you this day.” Jesus points out that you must be ready on short notice: you may not have time to get ready if you wait until the last minute.
Is that the same fervor which drives the Doukhobors in their naked acts of ritual purification?
Caveat: Don’t get carried away, as did a passionate country Baptist preacher I heard once exhorting his congregation: “How would you like to be stuck out in the cold dark night with ten foolish virgins?”
Letter to Hong Kong from my 8th-Grade Latin
Teacher in Alabama, 36 Years Later
Vowed I would not let another week pass
before I wrote.
Back from Charlotte for my last checkup for my eyes.
I had surgery there in November.
Did not realize I could not see colors correctly
until the first cataract was gone.
I see fine now.
Don't know from whom you hear in town,
but I'll try first to list those
of your Mother's friend's who've also died:
- Evelyn (57 yrs.), died Thursday after a
three-yr. valiant battle with cancer.
- Ralph from cancer about a month ago.
He had a lovely second wife.
- Harriet, his daughter lost one of her sons in
the Service before Christmas.
She is divorced. He dropped a bomb. They were loaded.
- Mary Francis was found dead in bed last fall.
She was Van's stepmother.
- Fred and his wife were brutally murdered in March.
- Mr. Mill is gone,
- Garvin gone.
- Clarence is still here, in body only. Poor thing.
- Virginia (Mrs. Fred Sr.) is gone. Her house,
in front of Clarence's is vacant still.
- Sunny Sr. is gone. Poor Tommy, his wife, is
senile, and so pathetic.
- Dr. S. (Donald) has Parkinson's disease. They
don't talk about it, but you can surely tell it.
- Marvin has cancer all over him. Pitiful.
- Thomas is in very poor condition.
- Rose still hangs on.
- Doris is gone, as is Catherine.
I've spent today watering it.
And they all have Baptist appetites.
I can't work in it like I used to
because of a bad back and foot and 80 years!
Get the fellows from the Fellowship House, alcoholics,
to help me and they are pretty good for the most part.
I enjoy it, and so do my friends.
What do you think of all the Methodist hullabaloo
about deleting "Onward Christian Soldiers" from the hymnal?
And the Baptists quarreling
about what is and isn't true in the Bible?
Two august bodies spending precious time on such silly things.
By the way, our minister resigned on Sunday.
For my part, I am delighted.
Wish we could get a little more mature fellow than we have had.
And in Charlotte, the minister of the largest Baptist Church
has left the Baptist and going to become an Episcopal priest!
Oh yes, Justin R. is in London with a liver transplant,
doing very well.
Poor Hazel is here on needles and pins.
She was over there for three months. Just returned, in fact.
What are you doing during the vacation? I'd love to see you.
I'm home for good, I think.
Can't take all this running around any more.
I'm surely glad I did all my gadding when I was younger.
Let me hear from you.
Mrs. M. (1986)