Wednesday, January 7, 2009

What Is Our Message?

I've been writing a series of sermons on the Sunday propers for Morning and Evening Prayer, intended for the use of layreaders. The link to that site is elsewhere on this blog. This one I felt needed to be shared a bit more widely.

A sermon for Evening Prayer on Trinity 17

First Lesson: Mal 2:1-10
Second Lesson: Luke 13:10-17

The Prophet Malachi and Our Lord Himself had some harsh things to say, at different times and in different places, to some powerful and respected people. These are not polite and respectful sayings that we heard today, are they?

And who were these powerful and respected people? Malachi spoke to the priests, the descendants of Levi, who had been chosen by God to offer sacrifice,. to lead worship, and to teach the Law to the people. Jesus spoke to the ruler of the synagogue, and also, we can assume, to the other leaders of the house of prayer and study. These were the experts in the Scripture, the ones Jesus said sat "in Moses’ seat". In both cases it was the respected religious leaders, the clergy, we might now say, the ones one was supposed to listen to, whose word should ordinarily be obeyed. They knew the Scriptures. They quoted the Scriptures. They interpreted the Scriptures. And that was what they were supposed to do.

For the most part, they seem to have done it fairly well. Jesus, after all, told his followers to hear them, but …

There was a problem in what they did with the truth they had. In their hands the truth became a weapon, a tool for excluding those of whom they did not approve, for judging and battering down those whom they judged to be sinners, for dividing men from men, and for labeling themselves better than others.

But God is love. He desireth not the death of a sinner, but that all men should live. He came not to confine His people in a crowded and crabbed little corner, but to give life, and to give it more abundantly. He came not to condemn sinners, but to call them to repentance, to invite them to sit with Him at a heavenly banquet.

But they took this precious gift of truth and used it as a club to beat down those who did not conform, to exclude them and declare them unclean, and even rejoiced that the wicked (so they thought) could not be saved.

And why do we have this message? What instruction does it contain for those of us who believe we have truth, who have sometimes left much behind for the sake of that truth?
Is the Lord Christ saying something in these passages that we need to hear? Are we perhaps somewhat less than perfect in our handling of the words of life? Is there perhaps truth in the criticism we hear from outside?

Let’s ask ourselves a big question: What is it that we show most clearly about ourselves to those around us? What are we loudest about in public?

Are we known by the beauties of what we believe? Do the truths of the Creeds come alive to those who watch and hear us? Is it an invitation to the wonders of salvation, and to a truly abundant life that they perceive in our words and actions? Do we convey our love for the Lord Jesus, and His love for us, and for them? Do we raise up a hunger for what God can do in the Sacraments He has given us?

Or does it appear that what is most important is the things that we oppose? Yes, it is well known that we are against the ordination of women, that we condemn sex outside of marriage, that we oppose so-called "gay marriage", that we are fiercely opposed to abortion, that we dislike much of what is known as ‘contemporary’ worship style, and most of modern ‘liberal’ theology.

Yes , we do oppose these things, and should.

But is that who we really are? Is that what we present ourselves to be? As an angry and oppositional group of people that just won’t be satisified? Is that the message we have to offer the world? Sometimes it appears that way. Sometimes even we ourselves seem to see it that way. But that is no different from the Pharisees, from the ruler of that synagogue, from those narrow-minded priests, and what sinner is going to be drawn by that?

We have a treasure. We have a message. We have a promise and an invitation.

How beautiful on the mountaintops are the feet of them that bring good news, said Isaiah..
but how ugly is a message of condemnation without Good News.

Let us pray.
Open our mouths, O Lord, to speak the wonders of thy grace. Help us to show sinners thy promise. Give us the words of peace and invitation, and help us so to live that they love be shown. Deliver us, heavenly Father, from bitterness and anger,
that our opposition to what is wrong may become an invitation to what is right, and beautiful, and saving, the Cross of thy dear Son Jesus Christ, in whose Name we pray. Amen.

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The Celibate Homosexual

An article written for publication, but never accepted.

This is not an easy thing to write. There are issues that touch the very heart of one's personality and, at the same time strike into the heart of prejudices and passions of those around. I've been open about these issues in several forums where I am an active participant, and was asked by a friend to consider submitting something to a certain publication. which decided not to accept it.

I am a lifelong Christian, brought up in the Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod, later, after a rather strange and wandering period, moving on to The Episcopal Church as a committed Anglo-Catholic, then becoming a pastor in Pentecostal and Evangelical circles for a quarter-century, before returning to Anglicanism in what is known as a Continuing Anglican Church. Even in my strangest and most rebellious period, my life was bounded by a respect for Scripture and a commitment to a doctrinal and traditional religion, to the person and work of Jesus Christ and to His Word.

Though I did not recognize it until my twenties, it is apparent in retrospect that, even from childhood, I was not entirely a typical boy. I was always both drawn to and nervous in the presence of other boys, and associated most easily with the girls. In high school I was often called such things as ‘queer’, simply because of that difference, though I didn’t yet even know what homosexuality was. In my early twenties I found that that was an identification I was quite comfortable with, and I lived accordingly for a comparatively brief time. It wasn’t a good time in my life.

It was the knowledge of the Scriptures with which I had been instilled that made it impossible for me to continue the life I was leading. I knew that life was wrong, and thus I was called back to celibacy, and lived that way for about 15 years until I met the woman God had in mind for me and married her. Nearly fifteen years later she died of cancer and I was alone once more, celibate again. Through all that, though I earnestly sought a ‘healing’ from the attractions that had always tempted me, that underlying drawing never did pass from me. I still am, though firmly celibate, very much a same-sex attracted male and likely will continue so to be.

That is a bit about who I am, and perhaps explains a bit of what has drawn me to write a piece like this, but just why did I start this paper, and what do I hope to accomplish by it?

Well, it’s like this: Homosexuality has become more and more prominent in our society, recognized, in fact, as a normal aspect of humanity, to the extent that there is very strong agitation for ‘gay’ civil rights of every sort, including the right of ‘gay’ couples to adopt children, and to enter into civil unions much like (or even deemed to be) marriage. This movement does have major implications for the structure and working of our society.

Those who claim the name of Christian have been divided by this issue (impelled, of course, by differing views of what Christianity is) into two warring groups: those who call themselves ‘open and affirming’ and go so far as to celebrate homosexuality as a good thing, and those who reject homosexuals as unclean, to be despised and rejected, and treat the whole issue as one that merits derision, dismissal, and deep anger. I have felt the impact of both ways of thinking. I have been strongly urged to forget my inhibitions and live the ‘gay’ lifestyle, and I have felt the rejection that arises when I admit what temptations it is that I experience, especially when I admit that, though I have never had improper dealing with a minor, my attraction is far stronger toward boys than toward men. I seem to fall into everyone’s category of people most to be despised.
That is how the issue has impacted me personally, but far more important is its effect on the church and on society in general. This has become the single most divisive issue among those called Christians. When the Episcopal Church authorized the consecration of a "partnered gay" bishop, a man who had left his wife to pursue the homosexual lifestyle, those who had endured all sorts of unbiblical and untraditional errors in both teaching and practice finally rose up in rebellion against the leadership that pushed it through. The ordination of women, the toleration and even promotion of those who denied key credal statements, and many other errors all had come to pass, and these "orthodox" were still there. Why this issue? I call it the "yuk factor". Many of the other issues are, if the truth be recognized, far more important as they touch the core truths of that Gospel without which no man is saved. This issue, however, for reasons more social than theological raises up an emotional revulsion unlike the others, a revulsion both for the sin (which, as for other sins, is right) and for the sinner (which is in essence a denial of the very mission of the One who died to save sinners.

I’m writing this because both attitudes are quite wrong, quite out of accord with Christianity, and entirely unsupported by the Scriptures. Homosexual activity has no place in the Church of God, but homosexual people certainly do. We are all sinners, saved by grace. We are all subject to manifold temptations, and sometimes (often) we fall. Christ died for us while we were yet sinners, and there is still no other kind of person in His church.

He lived among the sinners, scorned by the religious leaders as a friend of sinners. He touched the untouchable, the lepers, the woman with an issue of blood. Presented with a woman caught in adultery, he was so bold as to compare her sin to the secret sins of the religious leaders who wanted her stoned. His word to her as to every other sinner is simple: "You are forgiven. Go, and sin no more." Throughout the history of the Church, He has called the most spectacular of sinners to be the most spectacular of servants, persecutors of the Church (like St. Paul), murderers, libertines (like St. Augustine, who prayed, "Lord make me pure, but not right now" and heard in response, "Now."). He is no respecter of persons, but Lover of all.

He found me in 1964, living a desperately sinful life, and trying to justify it with the same arguments homosexulalists are now using. He spoke to my spirit just as He spoke to that woman in John 8. I accepted His invitation and asked His forgiveness, and he said, "Go, and sin no more." It's been forty-three years and a bit, and, by His grace, through no strength of my own, I've not fallen back into those sins (though I am still far from perfect - God help me). I've even been married (though, I fear, far from the ideal husband), but I am what I am; that has not changed. After these many years I am still a homosexually inclined male. When temptation assaults me, that is the form it still takes. Yes, I am tempted, but temptation is not sin. Our Lord was tempted in all points like as we are, wrote the author of Hebrews, yet without sin. The battle is lifelong, as it is for every man. We are tempted. Temptation looks good. Left to our own devices, sooner or later we fall, but, with the help of God, we can triumph over all the assaults of the Devil. We can live holy lives. There is no reason at all that we cannot become saints. It is our calling.
Where does this lead in practical terms? First of all, the Church must bear witness to the fullness of the truth, part of which is the sacredness of sex within the marriage of a man and a woman, and its utter sinfulness whether hetero- or homo-sexual outside that holy state. There is no acceptable compromise with that. Secondly, the Church is not a pleasant haven for saints but a hospital for sinners. No matter what sin is being committed, the perpetrator needs to know, without question that God's love and the love of his people, toward him or her is unconditional, that nothing can destroy that love. Thirdly, the sinner needs to know that true Christian love does indeed involve helping him to identify his sinfulness and to lead him to repentance, to salvation, and to the fellowship of the Church. We can't neglect that or we have failed to love. Fourthly, it needs to be very clear indeed that we are all, as members of the Church, under the same discipline, one of whose principles is that, if we do not marry, we do not have sex, with anyone, and, if we do marry, that gift belongs only to our lawful wedded spouse. According to St. Paul the call to celibacy is a high one, and is to be honored.

The One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church has always had godly celibate priests who are tempted in the ways that I am. Though it appears that, at this stage of my life, I will not be among that number. much as my heart yearns for it, I firmly believe that that is as it should be.

----------Edward W. Pacht

Saturday, April 12, 2008

My other sites

Here's a list of sites I have to do with.

1. My Layreader Homilies based on the 1940 Lectionary of the USA 1928 BCP

2. The Continuum, a Blog I cohost

3. Anglican Diaspora, a Discussion boeard on which I serve as a moderator:


Sunday, March 16, 2008

Depression II

My new chapbook, #46 Stones for Seamus is out.
($6.00 postpaid from
ed pacht
223 Wyandotte Falls,
Rochester NH 03867)

This is from the chapbook.

March 8, 2008. For the past few days I've been feeling rather depressed. There seems to be no particular reason for it, but it is there, and very real indeed. There has been a lot of good happening, but also a few things not to my liking. I know better, but my mind and my emotions seem to seize upon what is unpleasant and to bypass all the good. That is not God's fault, nor is it really mine. In the eternal battle of the children of Light against the very real powers of darkness, the temptation to despair is among the enemy's most effective weapons. I'm feeling that force, very much so, but I know better. Depression may be with me, but so is God, and He is good. ...

Depression II

Life is good, and I know it.
God is good, and what He made is good,
and that is also what I know,
but what I know I do not always know,
and what I feel is not always what is true;
and in a world that He has filled with beauty,
often gloomy grayness fills my sight and mind,
and even in the glories of the grand creation,
even in the wonders of the small unseen,
and even in the knowledge that for sin there is redemption,
and that ugliness is outshone by gold,
even knowing as I know, that nothing I can do in error
has the power to undo His loving work;
even then my mind is tinged with darkness,
even then I hover at the edge of bleak despair,
even then I groan, complain, and anguish,
even knowing, as I know, that He is there.

Darkness often seems to fill the world around me,
and the light I know is shining is to me almost unseen,
but in the darkness it is surely shining,
and its beams are pressing up against the gloom,
and the fog of doubt and deep uncertain feeling,
planted by unfriendly, ever-hurtful hands,
and spawned by Hell's fierce darkness of despair,
cannot hold against the unrelenting force of Light,
and shall yield.

And I shall rise,
and shall see beyond the gloom,
where Light forever shines,
and so shall I,
perhaps, it seems, not now, but then,
for God is good and does not ever change.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Beyond the Dust

Guess I really ought to put something in here once in a while. I wrote this today.

February 6, 2008. Ash Wednesday. Lent began today. I drove up the hill through the cold rain to the solemn, yet joy-filled Mass of the day, and emerged with a dirty face, marked with ashes and the words, "Remember, O Man, that dust thou art, and unto dust thou shalt return."

Beyond the Dust

an ending deserved,
an outcome worked for,
by denial of life,
by rejection of Him,
who is Life,
who makes life,
who breathes Life into life,
and loves whom He has made,
and grieves at the death
I have chosen.

Dust and ashes have I chosen,
Love and peace I have rejected.
From the dust my life was formed,
and to the dust I shall return it,
for I have spurned the One who made me,
daily have His loving will denied,
and by my choices choose
the sin,
the dust,
the ashes,
and the dread mortality,
and by my choices hope has faded from me,
and I die
and shall not live,
unless ...
unless ...
unless I hear the loving call,
of Him who came into creation,
and, ruling in a reign of love,
a reign begun in pains upon a torture tree,
a reign that passed into the realms of death,
and dying broke those fearsome gates,
and calls,
and summons me to live,
and leads me past those grey dim ashes
into everlasting life.

--------------------ed pacht

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Bovine Droppings in the House of Prayer - 5. Hermeneutics

This will probably be the final paper of this series that relates directly to Scripture as such, and is a rather difficult one to write for one, like the present writer, who insists on responsible use of Scripture and a fairly rigid orthodoxy of doctrine.
There is a lot of truly dreadful “interpretation” of Scripture being done. There is a dismaying lot of doctrine built upon passages wrest from their context and thoroughly misunderstood. There is, I think, more eisegesis than exegesis being done—more of reading preconceived ideas into the text than of deriving doctrine from the text. There is, moreover, an appalling ignorance among Biblical interpreters of such niceties as historical background, identity of author and audience, and original language, and, just lately, a lot of theology being derived from inadequate contemporary translations.
Opposed to this wasteland of misinterpretation there is a well-developed set of principles which goes under the name of hermeneutics, a set of instructions about context and background, and generally on the ways the intended meaning can be derived from any document. Historical records, scientific texts, other factual and philosophical works, and even works of fiction can be approached in this way and their meaning discerned.
Scripture, too, is usefully approached through the tested rules of hermeneutics. Much is to be learned, and much is to be gained in this way, and one is protected from the worst kinds of misinterpretation, and yet . . .
Jesus said, ‘Search the Scriptures, for in them ye think ye have eternal life, but they are they which testify of me.’ He said this to the Pharisees, who were satisfied that their interpretation of Scripture was thorough and accurate. Jesus seems to have agreed with that, for another thing he said about them was that people should listen to what the Pharisees taught, because ‘they sit in Moses’ seat.’ Sound interpretation, accurate interpretation, even valuable interpretation, but interpretation that was unable to find Jesus—and He is the reason for the Book, both Old and New Testaments.
One of the things that perplex liberal scholars and even many conservative Evangelicals is the use of Old Testament texts by the New Testament writers. Most of the prophetic statements quoted and applied to the Christ are far from obvious in context. In very truth some of them, at least, when read in their original context, appear to be saying something entirely other than what, say, Matthew quotes them as saying. Furthermore, Paul’s extensive use of OT scripture would get a failing grade from any hermeneutics professor. He wrests from context, makes truly surprising applications, and fails ever to take background into consideration. What’s going on?
The word of God is quick [alive] and powerful [effective] and sharper than any twoedged sword piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12)
In effect, it’s alive, and does what a mere unliving book cannot do. It reads the reader. It speaks individually to the individual listener. It says more to those who will seek it out than it appears to be saying. It is, in some sense, the incarnate Christ Himself. The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us . . . refers not only to Bethlehem, but also to the written Word that He has chosen to inhabit. God is in it, and He is not a tame God. He does what He wills. Thus it is that readers of Scripture are often surprised. Often, yea very often, one hears in Scripture things that one cannot actually find on the page. Sometimes one is impressed with a teaching truly Biblical, yet not really supported by the particular passage at hand. Many have come to a saving knowledge of Christ through a completely mistaken understanding of a verse.
I find it no wonder that the dispute raged for so many centuries as to whether the Bible should be understood literally or allegorically. Some of the early Fathers did one, and some the other. Who was right? Both . . . and neither. To refuse to reason out the plain meaning of Scripture is to deny that there is a reliable written Word from God, but to bind the Book with unbreakable chains of logic is to banish the living presence of an unbindable God from its pages.

By all means, study the Scriptures systematically, according to good hermeneutical principles. Use the God-given resource of an intelligent mind to find the plain meaning of the text before you. By all means, approach the Bible devotionally. Let it speak as it will to your heart. Hear what it says to you, even outside the plain text you see.
For both reasons Christians, when they gather together, need to listen together to an orderly plan of readings (a lectionary), that Scripture may speak for itself, independently of what explanations teachers may wish to give. Also for both reasons Christians, when they gather together, need to listen together to an orderly and thoughtful teaching of the scriptures
If you learn something new by either approach, hold it loosely. Check with other Christians. Is it in accord with what generations of Christians have found to be true? Is it in accord with what Christians generally believe? If it’s not, it’s most likely a mistake. Though Christ does make everything ’new’, he does not revel in producing ’novelties. If you still believe you have a correct insight not accepted by others, hold it loosely and humbly. It is far better to love than to be correct, and fighting over doctrinal insights is seldom edifying.
But hold fast to the faith once delivered to the saints.

From the droppings of sacred cattle, Good Lord deliver us. Amen.