Wednesday, August 26, 2015

The Call to Ministry

In the book of Judges there is a story about a “call to ministry,” or to be more accurate, about hiring a priest. That confusion still goes on today. You don’t hire a priest, you call a priest, and the call must be validated by the Holy Spirit and by your bishop. When the priest arrives he is not a hireling. If he is, you get what you’ve paid for.  

Here is the story:
This guy named Micah steals 1,000 pieces of silver from his mom, then fesses up and gives it back. She says, “Well, bless the Lord!” Then she takes 200 pieces of the silver and has an idol made and gives it to Micah? Why? I can only speculate; that ought to remind him what a twit he is. He then sets the idol up in a worship center in his house, and then hires a young itinerant Levite to be a priest. He pays him 10 pieces of silver, a suit of clothes each year, and board and room.  Then Micah says, "Now I know that the LORD will prosper me, because I have a Levite as priest” [Judges 17:13]. Many very faithful priests still get only 10 pieces of silver and a suit of clothes, along with modest board and room.

Now the tribe of Dan found claiming their inheritance too hard so they went looking for a place that was easy prey for their conquest. On the way they come to the house of Micah…and say to the Levite, ‘“Keep quiet; put your hand on your mouth and come with us and be to us a father and a priest. Is it better for you to be priest to the house of one man, or to be priest to a tribe and clan in Israel?’ And the priest's heart was glad. He took the ephod and the household gods and the carved image and went along with the people” [Judges 18:19-20].

Now you might think that this only happened in ancient Israel, not so my na├»ve Christian friend. Years ago when I was in a small diocese we called a priest to be our bishop. It turned out that he was a hireling. Six weeks after he arrived he stood in our back yard and told us that now the he was a bishop he was going to look for a larger diocese. Incredible? He became a big name in the larger Church, applied to a number of dioceses but most of them caught on. Years later his persistence paid off and he found a grander “call to ministry” in a much larger diocese.

A call to ministry comes from and God and from the people and is a two-way invitation love and be loved for both priest and people. It is a call to preach the gospel whether or not it tickles the ears of the people. It is a call to be God’s man or woman, in a particular place at a particular time. By the experience of many in ministry today it is also a call to suffer the pains of love.

Now in our diocese we have just called a good man to be bishop, and our previous man was a good man. We took care not to call a hireling; but I wonder if some will try to pay him and treat him like a hireling? Keep your bishop, your priest, and their families in your prayers and remember that they were called and not hired.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

The Basket of Apples

Churches are like a basket of apples; some are very good, but others so bad that they cannot be eaten. When all the apples are sound the basket of apples is sweet. When one apple goes rotten it has to be removed and the apples around it need to be washed. When several apples begin to rot, they need to be thrown out, and all the apples in the basket need to be cleansed. But that is as far as the parable goes. Unlike apples, people in churches have freedom to choose. Sometimes they choose to honour the rotten apples. Are there rotten apples in all churches? Yes, of course there are. The church is like that proverbial field of the wheat and the tares.

Bonhoeffer said, “The old world cannot take pleasure in the Church because the Church speaks of its end as though it had already happened--as though the world had already been judged.  The old world does not like being regarded as dead.  The Church has never been surprised at this, nor is it surprised by the fact that again and again men come to it who think the thoughts of the old world--and who is there entirely free from them?  But the Church is naturally in tumult when these children of the world that has passed away lay claim to the Church, to the new, for themselves.  They want the new and only know the old.  And thus they deny Christ the Lord” [Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Creation and Fall, translated by John C. Fletcher.  (New York: Macmillan, 1959), 11].

The Church is in the redemption business and we should be glad that the children of the world come to the Church; after all “such were some of you.” But care needs to be taken to speak the truth in love to the tares that are in the church, rather follow them. Christians are like salt and are meant to flavor the world, but if Christians lose their saltiness and fail to speak loving words of truth to the grumblers and murmurers in their midst, soon the whole basket of apples will only be fit to be thrown out. In one church there was a row of rotten apples that all sat together in one pew. That is why one morning the minister of music began to sing, “When the row is called up yonder, I’ll be glad.”

“And the LORD said to me, "What do you see, Jeremiah?" I said, "Figs, the good figs very good, and the bad figs very bad, so bad that they cannot be eaten” [Jeremiah 24:3.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Who are the Arabs?

An interesting problem is posed by the King of the Ammonites in the Book of Judges. He declares war on Israel claiming that Israel had taken his land away. (Judges, Chapter 11:1-28). What actually had happened was that the Amorites had taken the land from the Ammonites, and Israel in turn had conquered the Amorites. We have a similar problem today. Muslim Arab claims to Palestine of Israel have at best a shaky foundation.

Muslims make up only part of the Arab World. It doesn't help to lump together all Muslims and Radical Islam with all Arabs, any more than lumping together all Baptists, and all Christians, with Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kansas.

Who are the Arabs? The “Arabs” are a pan-ethnic group, a culture rather than a nation. As long ago as December, 1938, a conference of Arab students in Europe, held in Brussels, declared that "all who are Arab in their language, culture and loyalty … are Arabs.”

The Arab-American Ant-Discrimination Committee defines “Arab” as: "Arab" is a cultural and linguistic term. It refers to those who speak Arabic as their first language. Arabs are united by culture and by history. Arabs are not a race. Some have blue eyes and red hair; others are dark skinned; many are somewhere in between. Most Arabs are Muslims but there are also millions of Christian Arabs and thousands of Jewish Arabs, just as there are Muslim, Christian, and Jewish Americans.”