Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Letter to the Editor

In case you missed it, Terri Beam, one of our newer parishioners wrote a letter to the editor of the Press and Sun which was published this morning. Here is the letter:

The little white Anglican church at Livingston Street and Conklin Avenue is a very special place. For me and many more people it is a home and an extended family. Others, such as the Episcopal Diocese of New York, claim ownership since we are no longer Episcopal, but remain Anglican. Recently the Episcopal Church attempted to evict the Anglican faithful.

I love to look out my window and see this church. It fills me with love, hope and a sense of comfort. This church has come to be a place of healing because of the amazingly human pastors (Matt and Anne, a married couple with young children), who draw us to this church. They care for so many folds in this special place.

Many people count on this church for a hot dinner on Thursday evening or some soft and comforting words from the pastors or elders.

Please help us prevent the Episcopal Church from taking our church home.

Terri Tex Beam

Responding to Newsweek

I'm not sure if you've read the recent Newsweek cover article suggesting that scripture is favorable toward homosexual behavior. If so, the following article is a fine response:

from the Washington Post
...In the latest issue of Newsweek, editor Jon Meacham explains: "To argue that something is so because it is in the Bible is more than intellectually bankrupt--it is unserious, and unworthy of the great Judeo-Christian tradition." Indeed, he continues, "this conservative resort to biblical authority is the worst kind of fundamentalism." Curiously, he intends this as a defense of Lisa Miller's cover story, which announces that we should approve homosexual marriage because the Bible tells that Jesus would want us to.

On any plane of argument, the contradiction would appear stunning, but, then, neither Jon Meacham nor Lisa Miller are engaged in argument. They're speaking, instead, in familiar tropes and fused-phrases and easy clich├ęs. They're trying to convey a feeling, really, rather than an argument: Jesus loves us, love is good, homosexuals love one another, marriage is love, love is loving--a sort of warm bath of words, their meanings dissolved into a gentle goo. In their eyes, all nice things must be nice together, and Jesus comes to seem (as J.D. Salinger once mocked) something like St. Francis of Assisi and "Heidi's grandfather" all in one.

In truth, of course, Meacham and Miller actually know what everyone else knows: The Bible offers no support for homosexual marriage. Christianity teaches love, mercy, and forgiveness for those who do bad things, true enough. Look, for example, at the story in the Gospel of John where Jesus offers his divine love, mercy, and forgiveness to a woman guilty of adultery. He shamed those who would stone her. He taught us all that we are sinners and often hypocrites. And then he told her, "Go and sin no more." He did not reinterpret the Old Testament to proclaim adultery another life-style choice.

...more

Monday, December 29, 2008

Sermon: The "Christmas Spirit"

Monday, December 29, 2008

Download "The" in MP3 format

sermon by Matt Kennedy

text: Isaiah 61:1-10


Soon after I became a Christian I became fascinated by “end time” prophesy. The book series “Left Behind” had just come out and everybody at my church wondered about whether we were living in the final days. How many have read the Left Behind series? Possibly the most difficult parts of scripture to understand are those that deal with the future. Revelation, for example, is John's inspired record of a vision given to him by Christ of things that would happen in his future. And at least some of the events he saw will take place in our future. He saw beasts, angels, dragons, plagues, a world war, fire shooting out the mouths of prophets...all kinds of images both beautiful and terrifying, some may be figurative, some may be literal. We just don't know. There are many who think they know and they disagree with each other and fight about it a lot. And that's just fine. The “end times” prophesies are manifestly unclear which means there is room for vigorous debate and discussion. In my view fighting over end-time prophesy is like fighting over tomorrow's weather. We know tomorrow will come. We know tomorrow will have weather. But we can't be definitive about it until it gets here. We know Jesus is coming back. We know there will be a resurrection of the dead and a final judgment. We know that he will establish his kingdom here on earth. But beyond that, we can't draw many firm lines. The Left Behind series presented one point of view about the end times based on one reading of scripture. There will be a seven year tribulation that begins with the rapture in which all believers will be taken up to heaven, bodily, in order to be protected from what comes next. Then the beast, the Anti-Christ will come promising peace and the world will love him, the Jewish Temple will be rebuilt on the Temple mount. Midway through the seven years, Anti-Christ will enter the temple and claim to be God and will be worshiped by all people, except for the Jews who will refuse and instead recognize Jesus as messiah. There will be world war. Christ will return. This viewpoint is called the “Pre-Tribulation” position. I don't agree with it, but it's not heretical and makes for a great novel. Left Behind sold millions of copies world-wide. One reason that book series sells so well is that so many Christians consider the present state of the world and wonder: How Long can the Lord let this go before he comes back?” We've been waiting 2000 years.


On Christmas Day, we celebrate another Day long promised by prophets. God promised Abraham that he would bring the light of salvation “to all the nations” through his “offspring” in 2000 B.C. Who was that promise pointing too? Jesus Christ. From Abraham to Jesus, people waited, longing for the promise. And they were as confused as we are about how, exactly, God was going to do it because the prophets of the Old Testament, like the apostles of the New, gave many different images and visions predicting what the future would look like. It was as easy for an Israelite to be confused about the first coming as it is for Christians to be confused about the second coming.


By time Isaiah began his ministry in the city of Jerusalem, in 740 BC, Abraham's descendants were divided. There'd been civil war in Israel and two kingdoms had been established; a southern Kingdom, called Judah, and a northern kingdom which took the name “Israel.” Israel established its capital in Samara and was ruled by non-davidic kings. The kings of Judah, reigning from Jerusalem were Davidic, descended from King David. During Isaiah's time, a powerful, expansionist empire rose the north called Assyria. Assyria, bent on bloody and unstoppable quest to conquer all the kingdoms between her and Egypt, had both Israel and Judah in her sights. Because the Israel rejected YHWH and worshiped Baal, God gave her over to the Assyrians; Israel was destroyed...its inhabitants dispersed. Judah, herself corrupt, rebellious and idolatrous, often led by wicked kings stood alone. That is the setting for Isaiah's ministry.


God promised a number of things to Judah through Isaiah. First. Judah would not fall to the Assyrians. They did not. Second, if they refused repent of their idolatry and wickedness, God would raise up a greater empire and give Judah over to it. Third, Judah would not repent. Fourth. Babylon would become great, destroy Jerusalem, and send the people of Judah into exile. Fifth after the exile, the people would return to Jerusalem and God's salvation promised to Abraham would finally come.


What kind of Salvation?


The answer to that question for Jews during Jesus' day was incredibly important.


Isaiah's first four predictions and promises had already come to pass. Only the fifth remained, the promise of God's salvation. As Peter tells us, people poured over the scriptures trying to understand the time to which the Spirit of God pointed and the kind or type of salvation he promised (1 Peter 1:10-11) And it was incredibly confusing because Isaiah, like John in Revelation, gives a number of apparently conflicting images of it.


God's savior, Isaiah says, will come in the form of a servant: Isaiah 42 “Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him and he will bring justice to the nations.(1). He will be a “light to the gentiles” (6). He will open the eyes of the blind and set captives free (7).


There's more about the servant in Isaiah 49. His words will be powerful, like a sharpened sword (2) He will gather the exiles and, as in 42, be a light to the gentiles (6) He will be honored by the nations (7) He will call the Lord's people back. The divided dispersed nation of Israel will be restored and united (8-26) and its enemies will be judged (26)


In chapters 42 and 49 Isaiah predicts a spirit-filled servant savior who comes with power and compassion; who restores what's been broken, heals the sick, gives frees prisoners, restores Israel, brings light to the Gentiles and establishes an era of peace. Notice that king language is not found in these chapters. The servant is not necessarily a king. He is a powerful servant sent to do God's will.


But in chapters 52-53 an entirely different sort of servant is described; a servant who is sent not with a powerful word, but to suffer. The “servant” is mentioned there in 52:13. “My servant will act wisely...” But what will happen to him? V3. He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering.” And he's not suffering at the hands of enemies. Notice the “we” language in verses 3-4. “We” esteemed him not. There was nothing to attract “us” to him. His own people disregard the servant. But that is part of his call “he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. (Isa 53:2-6)


So on one hand Isaiah speaks of a powerful spirit filled “servant” will heal, free, restore and bring light to the gentiles. On the other hand a “suffering servant will come who will be despised by his people and die to atone for their sins. How can these descriptions possibly be fit together? The picture gets even more confused by yet another saving figure in Isaiah, the Anointed one...the Messiah. We meet him in Isaiah 11: “A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.”(1) a Davidic king will come. He, like the first servant, will be filled with the Spirit of God (2). The Spirit will give him wisdom and power. Unlike the kings of Judah, he will be obedient. His words will effect change. “He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth”(4) He will establish a kingdom characterized by justice for the wicked, help for the poor, and peace (4-9). The effect of his reign will be that the whole world comes to know the Lord (9). Nations will flock to him (10). He will gather the exiles Israel and Judah and restore the kingdom of David (10-12).



So will the promised salvation come at the hand of a spirit-filled servant who frees captives, heals the sick and binds up the brokenhearted? Or from a suffering servant, despised by his own people, condemned to die for their sins? Or from a davidic king who will establish God's rule worldwide?


In Isaiah 61 we find something that they may have overlooked. In Chapter 60, the Lord has been speaking, promising to be the light of his people when he restores and redeems them(19). Then in 61, an new unidentified speaker comes: “The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me”(1). He is “anointed”as a king is anointed. His words effect what they proclaim. They lift up the poor, bind the brokenhearted, free captives and release prisoners. He distributes both wrath and compassion. (2-3). He “plants” his people like oaks and brings them honor and not just joy but “everlasting joy”(7) because he will establish an everlasting covenant (8). He takes away ashes, mourning, despair (3) devastation (4), shame, disgrace(7) and iniquity (8)


This speaker, brings together the spirit filled servant who cares for the poor and sick, the suffering servant who takes away shame, despair, and iniquity; and the anointed king who reigns with justice. The images of God's salvation come together in one Redeemer. As Christians, looking backwards, it seems simple...But before Jesus, it wasn't so simple. Most Jews of Jesus day missed the significance of Isaiah 61 and latched on to one of the savior figures in Isaiah.


Who remembers what Jesus did with Isaiah 61? Turn to Luke 4:16-19. Jesus stood up in his hometown synagogue and read from this very text, sat down and said, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing."(21) I am the Spirit-filled Servant. I am the Suffering-Servant, I am the Sovereign King who will bring God's day of salvation. Can you imagine what it must've been like. 1st century Jews lived longing for the fulfillment of the promise of God. And in their day, before their very eyes, the Promise personified walks in and gives the first reading. They tried to throw him off a cliff. They couldn't see it.


Isaiah in our text this morning reveals the right response to Jesus coming. Isaiah 61:10 is the response of delivered people to their redeemer. Israel, the church, all believers say, “I delight greatly in the LORD; my soul rejoices in my God.” that is how the people in Nazareth ought to have responded when the Servant King walked through the door. That is the “Christmas Spirit.” It is delight in the Lord, delight that he has in Jesus fulfilled the promises he gave Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets including Isaiah. Delight in the promise himself, in the person of Jesus beyond anything he can give you...a simple pure delight that Jesus is who he is and he loves you and has made his home here with his people and in your heart.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christmas Eve at Good Shepherd

Dear Friends,

Celebrate Christmas at Good Shepherd. Invite your friends and family.

Worship begins at 4:30pm with Christmas Carols in the sanctuary.

Then at 5:00pm, when darkness falls, the first celebration of Christmas day begins. The Christmas Pageant first followed by a sermon and then Communion.

The Word became Flesh and dwelt among us(John 1:14)

In Christ,
Matt

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Christmas Carols at 4:30pm: Christmas Eve Service begins at 5:00pm

I forgot to put it in the bulletin, but its important to remember that a half-hour before the Christmas Eve Family Service begins at 5:00pm, everyone is invited to listen and sing along with Christmas carols lead by the Good Shepherd choir.

If you are in the Pageant be sure to remember to be at the church tomorrow by 3:00pm

Can a Christian Deny the Virgin Birth?

from Here:
In America, the public denial of the virgin birth can be traced to the emergence of Protestant liberalism in the early 20th century. In his famous sermon, "Shall the Fundamentalists Win?," Harry Emerson Fosdick--an unabashed liberal--aimed his attention at "the vexed and mooted question of the virgin birth." Fosdick, preaching from the pulpit of the First Presbyterian Church in New York City, allowed that Christians may hold "quite different points of view about a matter like the virgin birth." He accepted the fact that many Christians believed the virgin birth to be historically true and theologically significant. Fosdick likened this belief to trust in "a special biological miracle." Nevertheless, Fosdick insisted that others, equally Christian, could disagree with those who believe the virgin birth to be historically true: "But, side by side with them in the evangelical churches is a group of equally loyal and reverent people who would say that the virgin birth is not to be accepted as an historic fact. To believe in the virgin birth as an explanation of great personality is one of the familiar ways in which the ancient world was accustomed to account for unusual superiority."

Fosdick explained that those who deny the virgin birth hold to a specific pattern of reasoning. As he explained, "those first disciples adored Jesus--as we do; when they thought about his coming they were sure that he came specially from God--as we are; this adoration and conviction they associated with God's special influence and intention in his birth--as we do; but they phrased it in terms of a biological miracle that our modern minds cannot use."

Thus, Fosdick divided the church into two camps. Those he labeled as "fundamentalists" believe the virgin birth to be historical fact. The other camp, comprised of "enlightened" Christians who no longer obligate themselves to believe the Bible to be true, discard this "biological" miracle but still consider themselves to be Christians.

More contemporary attacks on the virgin birth of Christ have emerged from figures such as retired Episcopal Bishop John Shelby Spong and German New Testament scholar Gerd Luedemann. Luedemann acknowledges that "most Christians in all the churches in the world confess as they recite the Apostles' Creed that Jesus was born of the virgin Mary. Now...modern Christians completely discount the historicity of the virgin birth and understand it in a figurative sense." Obviously, the "modern Christians" Luedemann identifies are those who allow the modern secular worldview to establish the frame for reality into which the claims of the Bible must be fitted. Those doctrines that do not fit easily within the secular frame must be automatically discarded. As might be expected, Luedemann's denial of biblical truth is not limited to the virgin birth. He denies virtually everything the Bible reveals about Jesus Christ. In summarizing his argument, Luedemann states: "The tomb was full and the manger empty." That is to say, Luedemann believes that Jesus was not born of a virgin and that He was not raised from the dead.

...more

Monday, December 22, 2008

In Defense of Miracles: A Virgin Conceives

Sermon by Matt Kennedy (4th Sunday of Advent)
text: Luke 1:26-38

Monday, December 22, 2008

Download "In Defense of Miracles: A Virgin Conceives" in MP3 format


Our gospel reading begins the middle of an ongoing story. Luke tells us in verse 26 that the events occurred, “in the sixth month.” In the sixth month of what? In the sixth month of Elizabeth's, Mary's cousin, pregnancy. Luke links the announcement of Mary's conception to Elizabeth's pregnancy. Why is that? Who was Elizabeth's son? John the Baptist. John was the last prophet of the Old Covenant. His mission was to go before the messiah, the Christ, to prepare for his coming by calling the people of Israel to repentance. His conception six months earlier than Jesus' is a sign illustrating his mission. He is to go before Jesus.

But that's not the only link between Elizabeth's pregnancy and Mary's. The manner of their conception was also very similar. What was special about Elizabeth's conception of John? Elizabeth was barren. Even if she were not barren (1:7), her age made childbearing, naturally speaking, impossible(1:18). And yet we read in Luke 1:13-18 that God sent an angel...who was this angel? Gabriel, the same who was to visit Mary, to tell Zechariah that his wife, Elizabeth would bear a son.

Elizabeth's conception was “natural” in the sense that she got pregnant in the normal way, but it was supernatural, it was miraculous, in the sense that God had to intervene to create the possibility of life where none existed before. John was a miracle baby. That is the most important link between Elizabeth's and Mary's pregnancy—both were the result of miraculous divine intervention.

Now when the bible speaks of miracles, some people, even some Christian people, start feeling uncomfortable. Seas do not part. Bread does not multiply. Water does not come out of rocks. Men do not calm storms. Dead men don't rise. Barren women past childbearing age do not conceive. Now when the bible speaks of miracles, some people, even some Christian people, start feeling uncomfortable. Seas do not part. Bread does not multiply. Water does not come out of rocks. Men do not calm storms. Dead men don't rise. Barren women past childbearing age do not conceive. How can modern people believe that the miracles recorded in scripture really happened?

If you're an atheist, then it is sensible to feel this way. Only God has the power to perform miracles and since you do not believe God exists, you cannot believe in miracles either. Perfectly logical. Wrong, but perfectly logical.

But there are many who agree that God exists and yet reject the possibility of miracles. A few years back Rabbi Kushner, wrote a book arguing that while God exists, and created the cosmos, and is perfectly good, the persistence of evil in the world means that God is unable to intervene in human affairs. Because if God does not put an end to evil when he has the power to do so then he cannot be called good. Since evil exists and is rising, God is feeble. There are no miracles, no divine interventions. He relies on us to make his world a better place. Many Christians share the rabbi's skepticism about miracles. Kushner provides a rational basis for it. But for many it's simply a case of disbelief. The calming of the seas, the resurrection, the virgin birth. It's just too much. Some of you might feel that way too.

If you accept that a creator God exists, it makes no sense to reject the possibility of miracles. Everything we see in the material universe exists because something else caused its existence. Babies, stars, cells, nothing pops into existence on its own. Everything that exists within the cosmos was caused by another thing. And nothing in the cosmos is eternal. It either had a beginning or has an end or both. Nothing in the universe has the power of self-existence.

The sum is no greater than its parts. If nothing within the cosmos has the power of self existence, it's irrational to believe that the cosmos as a whole is “self-existent”--that it just is and always has been or that it just popped into being. So the question becomes, how did it get here?

And the only reasonable explanation is that something self-existent, with the power of being, brought everything else into being. Whether through the big bang or what doesn't matter right now. Nothing comes out of nothing, so for anything to exist there has to be an eternal self-existent power source out there beyond time and space. You can call that thing whatever you want. We call him, God. Since the discovery of the big bang, many scientists, including, the once staunch atheist Anthony Flew, while rejecting the biblical accounts of creation, have come to accept the existence of some kind creator God because it is impossible to explain the existence of the cosmos without him.

But if you grant that God created, then you lose the rational basis for rejecting the possibility of miracles. If God, has the power to bring the universe into being out of nothing, then he has the power to intervene in the universe he's created. Creation ex-nihilo requires far more power than simply parting a sea or raising the dead.

So while you might still have an historical objection to Luke's account of Elizabeth's miraculous conception, you might argue that he got his facts wrong, but if you believe that God created, you've lost a scientific basis for rejecting it outright.

And there's really no historical case to be made either. There's simply no other credible primary source, no other historical record of John's conception, other than the New Testament. To argue that Luke got his facts wrong you've got to have another record from the time contesting what he wrote. There's nothing. So if you reject the miracle of Elizabeth's conception your doing it without any basis whatsoever in reason or in history.

Everything I've just said about Elizabeth's conception is also true about Mary's. Luke tells us that Jesus was conceived in Mary's womb without the benefit of Joseph or any other man.

Now if you watch the history channel or read a skeptical study of the gospels, you'll find lots of theories Mary's pregnancy. Some say that she was raped by a soldier. Others say she and Joseph had sex before they were married. Still others say that Mary was so wild that there's no way to know who the father was. All have one thing in common. They reject of the possibility of miracles. And that forces them to concoct some other explanation for Mary's pregnancy.

So you have learned men and women basing their careers on speculative guesses without a shred of evidence. People who chase UFOs and big foot have more credibility. They have eyewitness accounts and documentation. Skeptics about the virgin conception of Mary have nothing but blind, dogmatic, unbelief.

Having established that divine miraculous intervention is possible and that the gospels provide the only credible historical accounts of Jesus' conception, let's look more closely at the exchange between Mary and Gabriel beginning in Luke 1:30. We've already been told in verse 27 that Mary is a “virgin”. The Greek word is “parthenos” and the word means in Greek precisely what it means in English. A “parthenos” is someone who's not had sexual relations with a man. The point is made explicit in verse 34. Gabriel tells Mary that she will conceive and bear a child. “And Mary said to the Angel, How will this be since I am a virgin?” Your text probably has the single word “virgin.” But “parthenos” is not used here. The Greek reads, “How will this be since I do not know a man.”

Mary knew lots of men. She was betrothed to Joseph. That phrase, “I do not know a man” used in this context means, I have not have sexual relations with a man”. She was betrothed to Joseph. Betrothal was far more serious than engagement. It was a legal contract binding two people together. It was a binding promise, so sacred that it was considered adultery to cheat on your betrothed. You could be stoned for it. That, if you remember is the dilemma Joseph faced when he heard that Mary was pregnant. He thought she'd cheated on him until Gabriel appeared to him as well. But while you could not cheat on your betrothed it was considered fornication to have sex with your betrothed during the betrothal period. The biblical standard then as it is now, is that any sex before marriage or if you are married, beyond the marriage covenant, is displeasing to God and sinful.

So Mary, who is virtuous, saving herself for her marriage night, is confused. Is God telling her to break the biblical standard...how is she supposed to get pregnant? Listen to Gabriel in v. 35:
“The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God.” The power of the Most High, the power of the creator God is going to create again. God created the cosmos by the power of his word. He spoke and the world lept into existence. God created Adam from the dust of the earth and breathed life into by his Spirit. Now he creates Jesus, not from the ground, from the dust, but from Mary. Mary is Jesus mother. But his Father is God. Notice the “therefore” in this text, “Therefore” the child to be born will be called holy—the son of God. Jesus is fully God and fully human, but his humanity is specifically in view here. The question Mary asked was, how will I get pregnant, how will I a human mother, give birth to a baby without a man. And God's answer is that he will create a baby in the womb. God will cause th fertilization of her egg with human seed. Where does the seed come from? God creates the seed. The child is going to be “holy” because he is a new creation. God intervened in the process of human reproduction to create a human baby who is holy. Why? Why did he do this? For what purpose?

As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, 2in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. 3All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath.

God interrupted the natural transmission of the sin nature to make Jesus “holy” in the very same way Adam was holy. But where Adam failed Jesus would be victorious. Where Adam sinned. Jesus would be obedient so that all who are now, because of Adam, under the curse of sin and death can through faith in Jesus, come out from under the curse and be found not in Adam but in Jesus Christ. The name Jesus means, God saves. God intervenes in human history directly to reverse sin and death in the person of his human and divine son Jesus Christ.

Maybe you can see another link with John the baptist here? God intervened in Elizabeth to bring about a natural pregnancy in a barren woman. John the baptist was sent by God, after Israel had been barren of prophets for 400 years, he was sent to a dead people who were not bearing the fruit God had called them to bear. So God brings a true prophet from a barren woman as a sign that he was about to bring life to his barren people. But Jesus came not only to save Israel, but to save humanity, a race in which every baby born is by nature turned against him

It was not enough to have a normal pregnancy and a normal baby. God reforged humanity in Christ. Jesus was conceived as a true human without spot or blemish. God's not interested in reforming the world. He's not just interested in nagging you into being a better person. He's making all things new.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Bishop Minns writes about the Anglican Church in North America

A New Start for the Anglican Church in North America

Once upon a time, the Anglican Church was a powerful presence in the U.S.A.­ known as the Protestant Episcopal Church in the U.S.A. or more recently as The Episcopal Church.­ It claimed a large percentage of the population (16% in 1789) and an even larger representation among the leaders of our great nation.

The language of its liturgy shaped much of our culture and its cathedrals and churches were a witness to the community. Today however, it is wracked with internal conflict, shrinking numbers (less than three-tenths of one percent of Americans regularly worship in Episcopal Churches) and is known more for its rejection of biblical authority and its willingness to litigate against its own clergy and congregations than for its passion for Christ. But that isn't the end of the story.

A growing number of Anglican Christians have realized that they cannot continue down this path. On December 3, as the Bishop of CANA (the Convocation of Anglicans in North America) I joined the bishops and representatives of 14 other Anglican dioceses and networks to introduce the provisional constitution of a new Anglican Church in North America.

We are making a new start. This new Church already represents more than 700 congregations across the nation with a diverse leadership that is committed to the centrality of Christ and the trustworthiness of the Bible as we seek to live out our faith in an authentic way. We are convinced that our Anglican heritage with its balance of Word and Sacrament, historical roots and present day concerns, has a great deal to offer to the challenges of our contemporary culture.

We believe that we have very good news to share with those who are struggling with personal and corporate brokenness. We also know of the transforming power of the Gospel from our own personal experiences. We are passionate about mission­ both in our immediate communities and around the world.

We are planting new churches in urban centers and in rural settings. We are working in homeless shelters. We are working to strengthen marriages and protecting children at risk. We are fighting HIV/AIDS and other pandemics in the Majority World. We are moving forward with Jesus' ministry of radical inclusion, profound transformation and inspired service. We believe that lively Christian communities are one of the best ways to strengthen the foundations of a just society.

We have already received great encouragement from Anglican leaders around the world who have welcomed and blessed this new development. Earlier this year, leaders representing more than half of the world's 77 million Anglicans called for the creation of this new Anglican Church in North America during the June 2008 Global Anglican Future Conference held in Jerusalem.

We are not looking back to the good old days of power, privilege and prestige, but looking forward to a bright new tomorrow. We believe that the message of the angel heard in those Bethlehem fields more than 2,000 years ago is still true. We have good news of great joy for all people!

The Rt. Rev. Martyn Minns is Missionary Bishop of the Convocation of Anglicans in North America.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Thursday Notes

Dear Good Shepherd,

Happy Thursday. Here are your Thursday notes...

Greening of the Church: The Greening" of the Church will take place on December 21 after the 10:30 am service. If you don't know what "greening" means...well come and find out. It has to do with Christmas...and there will be free food so you don't want to miss out.

Pot Luck Lunch: After during or before the Greening (not sure which) there will be a pot-luck luncheon so be sure to bring something to pass around.

Christmas Eve Pageant and Family Service and Christmas Day service Schedule: Good Shepherd's Christmas Eve service starts at 5:00pm. The Pageant will be part of the worship service. In fact, it will take the place of the "liturgy of the word" or the readings so we'll go directly from the pageant to the sermon and then a high liturgical Christmas Eve service. Christmas Eve is, alongside Easter, the highest or most holy day of the year and it is one of the most beautiful worship services. Come, give yourself to Christ in worship, bring your friends.

The next day, Christmas Day, there will be one service at 11:00am. This is usually a very quiet and small service, but it is one of my favorite of the year. There will be a sermon (probably the same from the night before) and communion.

And then don't forget, there's church on Sunday too : )

Articles: Here are some articles on Christmas I've posted this week. The first, definitely worth a read, is by Pastor John Piper (who recently wrote a very good book on Justification in case anyone is interested) on the Humility of Christmas. The second is an article on the Virgin birth I wrote last year.

Kris Kindle Gift Exchange: will take place on Epiphany Sunday.Remember to pray for your person all during Advent and send them a card signed only "Your Kris Kindle." Also...don't put your return address on the envelope. On January 4th, we will celebrate the Epiphany and you will bring a small gift for the person you have been praying for all this time. Then, and only then, reveal your name on the gift card.

Anne's Sermon: Anne's sermon from last week was recorded, but I discovered that the recording device was broken. I ordered a new one that we should have availible by Sunday, but for now that means that you'll just have to read the text of Anne's sermon rather than listen to it.

Hearing: We don't know the outcome of the hearing yet and we may not know until around the end of January...but we'll let you know as soon as we do.

Men't Bible Study Cook: Tom and Brian...if you're a man, join us for Men's Bible Study and breakfast every Friday at 6:30am

Pledge Cards: If you've not turned yours in yet, please do so that the budget committee can start planning for next year.

Youth Group news from Micah:
Youth Group will be meeting at its regularly scheduled times. We are going to be doing a white elephant gift exchange this week. If you have never done one before, all you have to do is find something that you don't want anymore (could be an old dvd, poster, Barbie doll...) and wrap it up. Then we are going to play a game in which you will exchange your gift for another. Senior High, Sunday, 6-8; Junior High, Monday, 6-8.

Annual Meeting: The annual meeting this year will be between services on Sunday February 1st. Please ignore the duty rosters which have the meeting in January. We decided to move it to February because we hope to know the judge's decision by that time and be able to talk about our future.

Homeschooling News: Classical Conversations is a homeschooling group for families interested in educating their children according the old tried and true Classical Method. The director, Samantha Kubic, will be hosting both an informational meeting and an open house for families interested in learning more about the program. If you are interested or know of families who might be, please put them in touch with me (Anne, 773-4810) and I will put them in touch with Mrs. Kubic. This is a great opportunity for anyone interested in a rigorous program of education for their children.

Well, that's all for now.

The Virgin Birth

I wrote the following article last year:

In his “Rescuing the Bible From Fundamentalism” John Spong, writes the following:

“When I became aware that neither the word “virgin” nor the concept of virginity appears in the Hebrew text of Isaiah that Matthew quoted to undergird his account of Jesus’ virgin birth, I became newly aware of the fragile nature of biblical fundamentalism. The understanding of “virgin” is present only in the Greek word “parthenos,” used to translate the Hebrew word “almah” in a Greek version of the Hebrew Scriptures. The Hebrew word for virgin is “betulah.” “Almah” never means “virgin” in Hebrew. I had to face early on in my priestly career the startling possibility that the virgin tradition so deep in Christianity may well rest on something as fragile as the week reed of a mistranslation.” (pg 16)

There are two primary manuscript sources for the Old Testament. The first is the Masoretic Text (MT) which is the Old Testament in Hebrew. The second is the “Septuagint” (LXX) which is the Old Testament in Greek.

When translating the Old Testament into English or another language you might naturally think that the MT ought to serve as the foundation for translation rather than the LXX. The problem is that generally speaking the extant Greek manuscripts are more ancient than the extant Hebrew manuscripts.

Thus, again generally speaking, translators will use both the MT and the LXX in their translations, comparing and contrasting the two texts to come up with the most accurate representation of the original possible.

But the text of Isaiah is something of a unique story. The Great Isaiah scroll found in the caves at Qumran in 1948 dates to the first century. When compared to the second earliest Hebrew manuscript of Isaiah (about 1000 years later), there are amazingly few textual discrepancies.

This lends a great deal of weight and credibility to the current MT because it testifies to the extreme care taken by Hebrew scribes in the process of transmission.

At the same time the LXX version of Isaiah still predates the Great Scroll by some 200 years at least.

That means that the use of the word “Almah” found in MT text of Isaiah 7:14 does not necessarily trump the use of the Greek word “parthenos” in the LXX.

Why?

Because the Greek manuscript was based on an even older (now lost) Hebrew manuscript that may well have used the Hebrew word “betula” or “virgin.”

However, even if the Hebrew word “almah” is taken as primary the word is not mutually exclusive of and rather quite congenial to the concept of virginity because in Genesis 24:43 the word is used to refer to a young woman “about to be married,” a maiden.

Young Hebrew women about to be married were, as a matter of law, economics, and cultural necessity, virgins.

And if you actually look at the word, whether “virgin” or “young woman” in the context of Isaiah 14, you will see that it really makes little difference.

Isaiah probably did not intend to foretell the Virgin birth of the messiah in Isaiah 7:14. In context, Isaiah was apparently using his own betrothed, as a sign and a portent for King Ahaz of Judah who was afraid of being attacked by an alliance of surrounding kingdoms. King Ahaz was told to ask God for a sign but he refused, not wanting to put God to the test. But nevertheless God gave him a sign through Isaiah. Isaiah essentially said to the king, “Before the young woman to whom I am pledged to be married (necessarily a virgin at the time the sign is given) has a child, the enemies you fear will be laid waste...”

Whether the MT or LXX is preferred, the concept of virginity is almost certainly assumed.

And yet, it is tangential. Isaiah, again, was not suggesting that a future savior would be born of a Virgin.

Rather, Matthew, inspired by the Holy Spirit, applied this text, as a sort of typological foreshadowing, to Mary.

The question then becomes why would he do this?

The revisionist answer puts the cart before the horse. They assume that Matthew superimposed Isaiah 7:14 over the true story of Jesus’ natural (if violent) conception because of the use of parthenos in the LXX (the version of the Scriptures with which he was most familiar).

But this makes no logical sense. It was not expected or necessary (at least by Jews of the first century) for the Jewish messiah to be born of a Virgin. In fact, it would complicate matters somewhat as the coming King was supposed to be a direct descendant of David. There was, therefore, no motive to take Isaiah 7:14 out of context and impose it on the birth narrative.

Other revisionists suggest that Isaiah 7:14 was employed in Matthew’s gospel to point to Jesus’ “divinity.” A virgin birth, they suggest, would put Jesus’ on par with members of the Greek pantheon of gods.

But that Matthew, whose gospel was obviously written from within a Jewish context for the benefit of Jewish readers, would feel the need to import a pagan concept like the pairing of a god and a human female into his text and defend it by taking Isaiah 7:14 out of context, is inexplicable unless facts on the ground forced him to rethink the text.

This is, in fact, NT Wright’s argument in his article God’s Way of Acting. It is far more likely that the fact of the virgin birth drove Matthew, inspired by the Holy Spirit, to reassess Isaiah 7:14 than that the text of Isaiah 7:14 compelled him to falsify his birth narrative.

“No one used Isaiah 7:14 this way before Matthew did. Even assuming that Matthew or Luke regularly invented material to fit Jesus into earlier templates, why would they have invented something like this? The only conceivable parallels are pagan ones, and these fiercely Jewish stories have certainly not been modeled on them. Luke at least must have known that telling this story ran the risk of making Jesus out to be a pagan demigod. Why, for the sake of an exalted metaphor, would they take this risk-unless they at least believed the stories to he literally true?"


It is important at this point to note that the claim found in Matthew and the claim found in Luke are generally thought to represent two distinct traditions rather than one.

In general scholars tend to think that Mark was the first gospel and that both Luke and Matthew used Mark as the foundation of their own narratives. However, they did so separately. Matthew and Luke share the Markan material but little else. The rest of their gospels represent relatively independent narrative strands.

That means that together the virgin birth narrative in Luke and that in Matthew provide “multiple attestation.” They represent two distinct and/or independent witnesses to a single event.

In strictly historical terms, all things being equal, this ought to lend both birth narratives a great deal of weight and credibility. That two distinct contemporary witnesses from two distinct narrative traditions publicly testify with one voice to a single event within 70 to 80 years of its occurrence and that one witness (Matthew) likely published within the very region and among the very people who would have been able to falsify the account, would, under normal circumstances, provide more than enough substantiation.

But, of course, we are not operating under normal circumstances. The attack against the doctrine of the Virgin Birth has much more to do with a general attack on classical theism than it does the historical veracity of the biblical text.

Let’s face it, if God exists and his character is consistent with theistic claims, then the Virgin Birth, Miracles, and Bodily Resurrection, attested as they are in the text of the New Testament, are not only possible, but, given the NT witnesses, are highly likely. And if these are true, then the arguments against the verbal inspiration of the text itself begin to crumble. That would mean that the actual words of scripture represent the actual Word of God. And, in turn, that means that mainline liberal Protestantism in general is all wet.

So, you see the stakes.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

John Piper on the Humility of Christmas

Here's an excerpt from the longer article:

...Jesus wasn’t humble for the same reasons we are (or should be). So how can looking at Jesus’ Christmas humility help us? Our humility, if there is any at all, is based on our finiteness, our fallibility, and our sinfulness. But the eternal Son of God was not finite. He was not fallible. And he was not sinful. So, unlike our humility, Jesus’ humility originated some other way.

Here’s my favorite Christmas text. Look for Jesus’ humility.

Though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:6-8)

What defines Jesus’ humility is the fact that it is mainly a conscious act of putting himself in a lowly, servant role for the good to others. His humility is defined by phrases like

  • “he emptied himself [of his divine rights to be free from abuse and suffering]”
  • “he took the form of a servant”
  • “he became obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross”

So Jesus’ humility was not a heart disposition of being finite or fallible or sinful. It was a heart of infinite perfection and infallible truthfulness and freedom from all sin, which for that very reason did not need to be served. He was free and full to overflow in serving...more

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Good Shepherd Update in Brief

Dear Good Shepherd,

With the excitement of the last week, I have not written an official update, but there are some important things that need to be passed on.

A Time of Waiting: The judge did not give a ruling yesterday. He reserved judgment. It is difficult to wait, I know, but I think that this too is a way for God to test and strengthen our trust in him. And we can take the first step in that trust by expressing our thanks and gratitude to him for the wonderful gift of letting us celebrate Christmas together at our present location. That in itself is an answer to prayer. Be confident and sure that God is for us in all things, even this.

In the News: If you have not seen the news reports on television from yesterday, or read the newspaper articles, I've linked them here

Thank you: Thank you to everyone who was at the courthouse yesterday. It seemed like we packed the place out and it was so encouraging to Raymond.

Last Week's Sermon: The Truth about Tithing

Pledges/tithes: Last week was "Stewardship Sunday" and we have achieved enough to cover only one-half of our proposed budget for 2009. We have a very long way to go, especially if we have to move to another location. If you have not filled out your pledge sheet yet, please do so. You can find some in the Narthex on the table or ask an usher. When you have it completed, please give it to Cookie so that all amounts will be held in confidence. Please remember that the Vestry needs a definite number to plan for our future.

Kris Kindle: if you put your name in the basket, please draw out a name. In order for this to work, the number of names put in must match the number taken out. Remember to pray for your person all during Advent and send them a card signed only "Your Kris Kindle." Also...don't put your return address on the envelope! On January 4th, we will celebrate the Epiphany and you will bring a small gift for the person you have been praying for all this time. Then, and only then, reveal your name on the gift card.

Christmas Flowers: There are sheets in the pews for you to remember a loved one with flowers on the altar for Christmas. They must be returned by December 21 to be included in the Christmas bulletin.
Christmas: "Greening" of the Church will take place on December 21 after the 10:30 am service. Please bring a dish to pass for the pot luck lunch and stay after to get all the decorations up for a festive Christmas service.

Christian Education: will continue our look at Christ and Culture this week...focusing on Jesus clashes with his culture...then moving on to start an investigation of our own culture.

Good News for the Week
He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High
will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.
2 I will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress,
my God, in whom I trust.”

3 For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler
and from the deadly pestilence.
4 He will cover you with his pinions,
and under his wings you will find refuge;
his faithfulness is a shield and buckler.
5 You will not fear the terror of the night,
nor the arrow that flies by day,
6 nor the pestilence that stalks in darkness,
nor the destruction that wastes at noonday.

7 A thousand may fall at your side,
ten thousand at your right hand,
but it will not come near you.
8 You will only look with your eyes
and see the recompense of the wicked.

9 Because you have made the Lord your dwelling place—
the Most High, who is my refuge
10 no evil shall be allowed to befall you,
no plague come near your tent.

11 For he will command his angels concerning you
to guard you in all your ways.
12 On their hands they will bear you up,
lest you strike your foot against a stone.
13 You will tread on the lion and the adder;
the young lion and the serpent you will trample underfoot.

14 “Because he holds fast to me in love, I will deliver him;
I will protect him, because he knows my name.
15 When he calls to me, I will answer him;
I will be with him in trouble;
I will rescue him and honor him.
16 With long life I will satisfy him
and show him my salvation.”


Hope all is well, see you tomorrow
In Christ,
Matt

News Coverage of the Hearing

Here is the television report from WBNG Binghamton on yesterday's hearings. Great coverage all around. They even seem to grasp some of the canonical issues at stake. Take a look here
And here is this morning's Press and Sun report:
...The pastor and parishioners at Church of the Good Shepherd will go to worship Sunday not knowing whether the congregation can stay in its Conklin Avenue building.

A state Supreme Court judge decided Friday to reserve a decision in the legal dispute between the local church and a regional diocese over who owns the property in the wake of Good Shepherd's withdrawal from the Episcopal denomination.

For now, the congregation will focus on Christmas, according to the Rev. Matthew Kennedy...more
Here is the first posted television news report from yesterday on Channel 10 News. You will see Raymond Dague, a lot of our parishioners, Paul Curtin the diocesan chancellor, and me. Thank you to Channel 10 for the fantastic coverage.
Here is the text:
It's been almost eight months of legal battles between the Episcopal Diocese of Central New York and a former parish in Binghamton and it seems they'll have to wait a couple more months before a conclusion is made. The Church of the Good Shepherd left the Diocese after they disagreed on homosexuality. Our Karen Lee was at state Supreme Court and tells us it's now up to the judge to decide who keeps the church building.from here

All in all, excellent reporting.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Today's Hearing Results: Judgment Reserved

Just got back from the courthouse. The judge has reserved judgment on all motions. He pressed Raymond Dague (our attorney) hard and Raymond did not get flustered or exasperated. He argued our position earnestly but respectfully.

Now we wait.

I am thankful for your prayers and intercessions on our behalf. No matter the outcome, God has granted us Christmas at Good Shepherd. Thanks be to God.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Two Local TV News stations Report on Good Shepherd (Video)

from Binghamton's CBS affliliate: WBNG
Here is the video report.
And here is the article
A Binghamton congregation could lose its church.

The Church of the Good Shepherd says it will stick with its bible over the diocese when it comes to homosexuality.

Action News reporter Erik Burling tells us, it's a debate dividing Episcopalians.

This house of worship has belonged to the Church of the Good Shepherd since 1879.

But the current congregation could be forced to hand it over to the Episcopal Diocese of Central New York.

"We would lose everything. We would lose the building, the furniture, and all of the money we have in the bank," said Matt Kennedy, Pastor of The Good Shepherd.

Pastor Matt Kennedy knew it was possible when the church disaffiliated from the diocese in 2006.

The Good Shepherd was displeased when the diocese took steps to embrace homosexuality.

...more

ABC Affiliate Channel 34 also shot an interview:
Here is the video
And here is the written article
More than 100 people who worship at Church of the Good Shepherd on Conklin Avenue in Binghamton may soon have to find a new place to go on Sundays.
That's because Good Shepherd recently disaffiliated itself from the Episcopal Church when the Diocese decided that same sex relationships were permissible.
"We believe that the Bible teaches that it's not. That God thinks that that kind of behavior is wrong and that it's harmful to people's souls and bodies."
Now, the Diocese is asking Pastor Matt Kennedy to find a new place to worship.

Bishop of the Diocese of Central New York Skip Adams says it was Good Shepherd's decision to leave the Church, and that means leaving the building dedicated to teaching that faith...more

An analysis of the case from an Anglican blogger

AS Haley a well known Anglican blogger and attorney thinks we might have a case. Here's his analysis of the motions we filed yesterday:
The Diocese of Central New York (and ECUSA) need the Dennis Canon to establish their case that a trust in their favor was imposed on the property of the Church of the Good Shepherd. (As Father Kennedy's declaration states, the Church preceded the creation of the Diocese by more than fifty years [para. 9], and the deed to the property is solely in its name [para. 19].) If the Dennis Canon was not properly enacted, then their case would fail.

The facts presented in the Conger affidavit, based upon a personal examination of the original records, are sufficient to raise a classic issue of disputed fact as to whether or not the Canon properly passed both Houses at General Convention 1979.

Therefore, even with my pre-announced bias, I have no difficulty in opining that the motion brought by the plaintiff Diocese should be denied on that basis. The plaintiff should be required to present its evidence of passage at a trial, and let the trier of fact decide whether it is good enough in light of all the evidence...more
Below you will find some of the documents we filed yesterday including our Cross Motion, an exhibit from a 1979 General Convention Jounal, and my affidavit. The Rev. George Conger's Affidavit may be found here. All are in PDF format:

The Cross Motion Filed on Behalf of the Church of the Good Shepherd (PDF)
43. This entry, when compared with C-150, the place it references, creates a problem as noted, supra: the Dennis Canon is nowhere to be found! The above-quoted entry does not contain the text of what they adopted in the House of Deputies on that date. Were amendments made? Did one or more committees alter the text of the resolution from the House of Bishops? What was the text of the resolutions from the House of Bishops? Was the language identical to what the House of Bishops adopted? What in fact did they adopt that day, if anything? The record is silent on these points. With no text of the resolution set forth in these printed minutes of the House of Deputies, and no summary of the resolution, all of these questions are left open, and we can only speculate as to the answers. But one thing is indisputable: when we look at the reference cited at D-154 “(See pg. C-150)” we find no Dennis Canon, but rather something quite different.

44. The quoted reference in parentheses to C-150 (the citation to the report of concurrent actions of both Houses) as indicated, supra, shows concurrent action only as to the technical correction amendment (HB # 78) which contains no trust provision, as mentioned. Only HB # 76 and HB# 75 had any reference to the trust provision of the Dennis Canon, and that is absent from the “concurrent actions” recorded at C-150 of the 1979 Journal.

45. The Dennis Canon placing a trust on church property is, for that matter, set forth nowhere else in the 1979 Journal except in the verbatim recitation of B-60. 46. Given the cross reference to the adoption of a wholly different amendment and the fact that the actual language before the House of Deputies is not quoted in the journal of the House of Deputies proceedings at D-154 or anywhere else, the official record of the General Convention of 1979 supports the conclusion that the House of Deputies never adopted the Dennis Canon.

...more (PDF)

General Convention Journal entries(PDF) regarding the Dennis Canon

My affidavit (PDF):
3. One of the many exhibits contained in the papers of the Diocese is Exhibit W attached to the affidavit of Bishop Gladstone Adams III is a resolution of the Diocesan Convention of the Diocese of Central New York adopted on November 15, 2008 which declared that the Church of the Good Shepherd is no longer in union with the convention and that our vestry no longer meets. Attached hereto is copy of that resolution of the Diocesan Convention of the Diocese of Central New York adopted on November 15, 2008 as Exhibit “A”

4. Our case here is different from the Court of Appeals case of Diocese of Rochester v. Harnish, because in that case the Convention of the Diocese of Rochester on November 19th, 2005, declared All Saints parish to be “extinct”.

5. The Diocese of Central New York by this resolution has indicated that the Church of the Good Shepherd continues to have existence even though we are no longer in union with them. Indeed the Church of the Good Shepherd is not in union with the Convention of the Diocese of Central New York, its bishop, or the Episcopal Church. But we most certainly continue to worship formally as a parish and we regularly hold official vestry meetings on the third Wednesday of every month and call special meetings when necessary.

6. Our most recent vestry meeting was held on Saturday December 6, 2008. At that meeting we adopted a resolution agreeing in part with the Diocesan Convention resolution adopted on November 15th, 2008 stating that the Church of the Good Shepherd is no longer “in union” with the Diocese of Central New York nor with the Episcopal Church. Attached hereto is copy of that resolution adopted on December 6, 2008 as Exhibit “B”

....

12. Because the Diocese of Central New York by the action of its diocesan convention has declared itself to be no longer in union with us, we doubt that they have any standing to oppose this request of ours to amend our certificate of incorporation. But knowing that the Diocese of Central New York has sued us and is seeking to seize all of our property, we are here putting the plaintiff on notice of our amendment to our certificate of incorporation.

13. There is no issue that we were once affiliated with the Episcopal Church. There is no issue that this affiliation, by the actions of both the Diocese of Central New York and Church of the Good Shepherd, is now terminated. There should be no issue that we are an ongoing church, since we clearly are...more (PDF)

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

An Article about Good Shepherd

Here is an article from the blog, "Transfigurations" regarding our motion papers that were filed this afternoon at the Broom County Courthouse:

...The Church of the Good Shepherd filed motion papers today seeking the dismissal of the lawsuit brought by the Episcopal Diocese of Central New York against the 100 member parish in Binghamton, New York. The motion to dismiss and for summary judgement by the parish was based on the lack of proper adoption of the Dennis Canon by the Episcopal Church. The Diocese previously served a motion against the parish for summary judgment based largely on the Dennis Canon. Both motions are scheduled for oral argument at 9:30 am Friday, December 12, 2008 at the courthouse in downtown Binghamton. Judge Ferris Lebous could issue an immediate ruling, but a written reserved decision from the judge sometime early next year is also possible.

Syracuse attorney Raymond Dague is defending Good Shepherd. The diocesan motion papers were notable for their great bulk, commented the attorney. “The 9" tall stack of motion papers they served against the parish was too big for an envelope,” said Dague. “A messenger dropped it off at my office in a box.” Today’s more modest filing by the parish claims that the Dennis Canon was not adopted by the 1979 General Convention, and hence the Diocese has no basis for their lawsuit. “Despite that enormous pile of papers, they just assume that the Dennis Canon is the law of the church, but don’t bother in a single sentence to argue that it was properly adopted,” said Dague. “We are going to call them on that. Since the Dennis Canon is the basis of the lawsuit to take away the church building, the judge will need to address this issue one way or the other.”

...read more
Please keep us in your prayers. If you are a member of Good Shepherd, there will be a prayer meeting Wednesday night at 6:30pm at the church.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Sermon: The Truth about Tithing

by Matt Kennedy

Monday, December 8, 2008

Download "Sermon: The Truth about Tithing" in MP3 format

Contrary to popular belief, tithing is not a topic that preachers enjoy. It plays into the stereotype that the church only wants your money. Some preachers focus on tithing because they know the fastest way to get rich is to tell people that Jesus wants their cash. Others are more sincere, they truly believe that God wants everyone to be wealthy and healthy. When Jesus says, “ask for anything in my name and it will be given to you” he means, they believe, literally, that whatever you ask for using the name Jesus, so long as you believe it, God is obligated to give. If you want a Pony, name it, claim it in Jesus’ name, and then God will give you a Pony. The only reason you might not get it is because you're not believing hard enough. If you have the faith of a mustard seed you could move mountains. Obviously the only reason you do not have a Pony, or that you are sick, or that you live in government housing is that you do not have even the faith of a mustard seed. See how this works? The preacher in the mansion and Mercedes must be a great man of great faith. The poor sick guy just needs more faith. And, of course, the sign of his faith will be giving a good portion of his cash to the rich preacher with the Mercedes and the mansion. You send me 200 dollars God will give you 2000 Dollars. This is the ‘prosperity gospel’ and it's a serious distortion of scripture. It ends up embittering people toward the church and toward Christianity in general. Scripture never says “give to get.” Christians are to give because God has given first; to Give for the love and the glory of God. God doesn’t promise profit, he does promise provision.

Before getting started, let's address three common mis-perceptions.

The first has to do with the common stewardship slogan: Give your “time, talent and treasure.” The slogan is not, “give your time talent OR treasure.” God provides all three so the biblical model is to tithe all three. What if God decided to give you time or talent or treasure? “ You could have lots of money and be dead. You could be alive with all sorts of talent but starving. Or you could be alive, with money, but physically paralyzed and brain dead. God graciously provides time, talent, and treasure. Out of gratitude, we offer him the same.

Second, the tithe is the God ordained vehicle by which the ministry and mission of the church, is sustained. From the very beginning of the Church (Acts 4:32-36) believers were called to bring money and possessions to the leaders of the church who distributed them “to each as any had need.” It is great to give to secular charity, but biblically speaking it’s not a true tithe. A tithe is specifically for the building the kingdom.

Third, the tithe is not one of those Old Covenant commands no longer valid under the New Covenant. There are some Old Testament regulations we no longer follow. Why do we follow the ten commandments and not the kosher laws? The only reason we do not follow kosher laws is because the New Testament explicitly in Acts 10 and Mark 7 tells us that they have been fulfilled in Christ. There is no passage of scripture explicitly overturning the command to tithe. In fact, in Acts 4 believers sold all their possessions and gave everything to the apostles. Paul, as he records in his epistles, goes from congregation to congregation collecting their offerings for the Church in Jerusalem. Yes, these are offerings, the word tithe is not used, but it is an example of regular abundant giving. I know there are some very good Christians who argue otherwise, but I cannot find the expectation to tithe superseded anywhere in the NT and so I don't see how we can set it aside.

So what it is a tithe and why it is important?

Let’s start in Genesis 4:2-7:

“Now Abel kept flocks, and Cain worked the soil. In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the LORD. But Abel brought fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The LORD looked with favor on Abel and his offering, but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor.” (Genesis 4:2-4)

Why is God pleased with Abel’s offering and not Cain’s? Cain brought “some” of the fruits of the soil. Abel brought the “fat” portion of the “first-born” from his flock. Abel gave God his best. For us, “fat” is bad but if your life depends on getting enough calories into your body, fat is precious. Abel gave the fattest of his flock to the Lord. Cain did not. He gave a portion. A bit from what he harvested, keeping the best for himself.

Abel trusted that God would provide so he gave his best freely. Cain did not trust God. He provided for himself first and then gave the remainder to God. The author of Hebrews says that those who have faith do what Abel did. They give their first and best. They set aside time for worship and bible study first and schedule everything else around that time. It’s not I’ll go to church if there’s not a soccer game or I'll do bible study unless there's something good on TV. They commit to a ministry and make that commitment sacred--be it vestry, choir, or mopping floors, they consider service a service to Christ. They set aside their treasure before paying taxes and bills not after. They give the first and best to God trusting that the God who promises to provide will provide. And he does.

Turn to Deuteronomy 14:22-29.

“Be sure to set aside a tenth of all that your fields produce each year. Eat the tithe of your grain, new wine and oil, and the firstborn of your herds and flocks in the presence of the LORD your God at the place he will choose as a dwelling for his Name, so that you may learn to revere the LORD your God always…Then you and your household shall eat there in the presence of the LORD your God and rejoice….” (Deuteronomy 14:22-23, 26b-7)

This text defines tithe is a tenth. Note that Israelites were to eat their tenth in the presence of the Lord. The tithe is not a bill. It’s intended to deepen your fellowship with God. God invites his people to enjoy the fruits of his provision and blessing in his presence. “Eat it there in the presence of the Lord and rejoice!” Do you rejoice when you put your offering into the plate? Do you enjoy your time at worship and bible study? Do you enjoy your reading or acolyting? When you give anything to the church you lay it at the feet of Jesus Christ himself. It is an act of fellowship. You're saying: Lord I want to enjoy the best portion of my time, talent and treasure with you.

Let’s turn to Malachi 3:8-12:

""Will a man rob God? Yet you rob me. "But you ask, 'How do we rob you?' "In tithes and offerings. You are under a curse—the whole nation of you—because you are robbing me. Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house.”

Everything we have and enjoy is a free gift directly from God. When you tithe you are not giving God some of your hard earned money. You're giving back to God only a small portion of what he gives to you. Who do you think gives you the strength, intellect, skill, time, energy, and resources to earn the money you ear? God. Everything you and I have is ours because God graciously provided what is necessary to get it. God does not ask you to invest your hard earned money to the church. God calls you to give back 10% of what he has given. Giving none of it or giving only the leftovers is, in his eyes, a form or robbery. And there’s a cost. How many believers worry about money or time or having enough energy to get through the day? That’s not the way God wants you to live and if you live according to his standards he provides so that you don’t have to. God does not give you 1000 dollars every time you give him 100. But he replenishes what you expend in his service. If you give him time first, you will always have enough time for other things. If you give him your tithe first, you will always have money. If you give him your best effort, he will always provide strength for your other responsibilities.

“Test me in this," says the LORD Almighty, "and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it…Then all the nations will call you blessed, for yours will be a delightful land," says the LORD Almighty. (Malachi 3:6-12)”

When I am praying and studying scripture every day, I have enough time. When I let that commitment falter, there is never enough time. When I commit to pour out my best for the church, I find I had a lot more energy than when I think of my work here as a chore that I have to fit in around other things. You give God your first and your best, and God opens the floodgates. You don’t you’ll always be worried about money, overstretched for time and tired.

So a tithe: 1. comes from the first fruits or the gross of your time, income, and talent. 2. in monetary terms it’s ten percent. And 3. If you tithe your time talent and treasure God promises to provide all three in abundance.

Tithing is one of the most difficult and profound steps of faith a believer can make. If you’re not there yet, don’t feel like less of a Christian. I don’t know who tithes and who doesn’t. I don’t ask. That’s between you and God. But I do know that it’s brought joy and blessing to my life because it forced me to change my priorities. God doesn’t call for a tithe because he’s short on cash. He doesn’t need anything from us. He calls for a tithe because he knows that left to ourselves we’d put everything else in the world, money, schedules, sports, classes, careers, before him and he knows that when we do that, we’re not living in accordance with the way he designed us to live and so our lives spin out of control. God doesn’t need your money. He wants your heart.

The best way to build up toward a tithe is to start small. Make a commitment of your first fruits like Abel did. If ten percent is too much, start with 2 or 3 and take it from the gross. Commit to Church every Sunday. Find a ministry and commit to it. And build from there. God's promise is that you'll have what you need when you need it and as you see that his word and promise is true, your faith will increase and you’ll want to give more and more as God pours his blessings into your life.

Prayer.

Rector's Journal: Failed Negotiations, Email Exchanges, An Ambush, the Rest of the Story....

On Friday December 12th, 2008, the Diocese of Central New York will attempt to takeover both the property and the assets belonging the Church of the Good Shepherd. In 2007 the Church of the Good Shepherd disaffiliated from the Diocese of Central New York and the Episcopal Church because the Episcopal Church with the full support of the Diocese, embraced teachings with regard to human sexuality that are contrary to scripture and that, if followed, will do grave harm to souls and bodies. As a result of Good Shepherd's disaffiliation, the Diocese of Central New York filed a lawsuit claiming all parish property and assets. Though Good Shepherd sought to settle the matter out of court, making two formal monetary offers the diocese cut off negotiations and filed the suit. If the Diocese wins the lawsuit, the over 50 people we feed at our soup kitchen each week on the south side of Binghamton will go hungry, the message of the good news of Jesus Christ will be silenced on the corner of Livingston and Conklin, and there will be one more empty and darkened church in Binghamton...

The history is a lot more involved of course. My wardens, treasurer, and I sat in Bishop Adams' office in October of 2007 and drew up a protocol for property negotiations. The protocol stipulated that before the diocese could hear any settlement offers, the Church of the Good Shepherd would have to formally disaffiliate from the diocese and the Episcopal Church. The timing of departure, then, was coordinated with the Bishop face to face.

Failed Property Negotiations with the Standing Committee:
We disaffiliated formally, in accordance with the protocol, on November 8th, 2007 by a unanimous vote of the vestry expecting, on the basis of Bishop Adams' word, to engage in a process of negotiation whereby, if successful, we could depart with our property. The protocol, drawn up with the bishop's participation, called on us first to present proposals to the diocese which, if accepted by the Standing Committee, would make it possible for the diocese to relinquish their claims to our property and assets.

Our first settlement offer was refused by the Standing Committee outright. No written explanation. No counter offer.

Our second settlement offer was, again, refused without explanation or counter offer.

We began to think about preparing a third. When this was mentioned, the diocesan representatives grew quite cold, suggesting that "the time had now come" to think about "surrendering" our property and assets and moving on.

The Standing Committee seemed a dead end. One aspect of our confusion was the assumption on our part, at this point still entertained, that we could use our assets to make offers for a property settlement. As this exchange of emails shows, the problem was basically that the Standing Committee rejected our offers because they were going to claim our assets as well. How could we offer to settle the property claims using what they considered diocesan money?

This was made clear by Bishop Adam's Canon to the Ordinary, Karen Lewis in a conversation I had with her by phone.

Realizing what was happening, we decided to see if we could get a face to face meeting with Bishop Adams and perhaps find a way to negotiate regarding the assets first.

Hoping for a Meeting with the Bishop: The Struggle for Dialogue with Canon Lewis
In the past our negotiation meetings with the bishop had been warm and friendly. This time our request for a meeting was met with the following from the Canon to the Ordinary, Karen Lewis:
Matt,
The Bishop and I are willing to meet with you, however, prior to the meeting, we will need to receive from you a written listing of the items we will be discussing and any requests you will be bringing to the meeting. We will be unable to set a meeting date/time until we have had a chance to review your proposal. As to the speculation and confusion, we are clear on what we understand the next steps to be and will be more than willing to share those with you.

I realize xxxxx mistakenly sent you an email intended for me regarding the date of the 19th – again, we will be unable to set a date for a meeting until we have a chance to consider your proposal. I look forward to receiving something in the mail or via electronic means sometime in the near future...

We simply wanted a face to face meeting to find out what was going on. The diocese would not meet without a formal meeting agenda and proposal of some sort. I wrote back:
Dear Karen,

I think this leaves us only more confused.

I understood that we were in a process of negotiation. Is that true?

The process you propose does not seem conducive to negotiation. If we met, you might tell us what you find objectionable about any proposal we bring and offer a counter and we could, perhaps, work something out together in a context of mutual regard and respect.

The problem so far, at least as we perceive it, is that we have put forward a number of proposals, under the impression that negotiation was a possibility, only to receive rejections with little or no explanation and no counter proposals at all. That does not seem like a process of negotiation.

Is this is a real process?

If so, please be assured we are more than willing, as we have already shown, to dialog and negotiate in good faith.

I think we need to speak face to face or at least over the phone before we send a proposal.

We need to know more about the process you are proposing.

In Christ,
Matt

She responded:
Matt,

Gosh, I’m now more confused than you. I remember in our phone conversation approximately two weeks ago, I shared with you that I am not privy to the Standing Committee’s discussion or why they make the decisions they do. I also said that I am not able to respond to your property concerns, that I only could be involved in conversations regarding the financial assets. And so I requested that we separate the two areas of concern: property issues and financial assets. I further requested and I thought you had agreed, that what would be necessary was for you to provide in writing, your understanding/needs/concerns regarding the financial assets. That would provide us something to be responsive to and the basis for further conversations.

Standing Committee’s have a canonical duty to approve all property sales. Thus, I have no ability to influence or even deal with that situation.

Regarding the process of negotiations – any negotiation requires a basis from which to begin. That is what we need and have requested from you. Again, we need to have a basis for conversation prior to any face-to-face interaction. I’m only trying to understand where you are coming from at this point in time. A written piece will provide time for reflection on our part and clarity of your understandings.

Faithfully,
Karen

I had not agreed to provide in writing our "understanding/needs/concerns regarding the financial assets". Rather I noted that we would like to try to work something out from the asset side rather than the property side and at this point I had no idea what that might be or how it might work. But to get a handle on just what possibilities there might be, we needed to meet face to face with the bishop. We really had no idea where we were in the process of negotiations or what was going on and to keep things from spinning out of control and into litigation we thought a sit-down would be best. I sent the following reply:
Thank you Karen,

That helps. Email conversations are sometimes difficult due to the medium.

I think I understand more clearly now and it does sound more consistent with our phone conversation although I do not believe you mentioned that a written proposal would need to be in hand before you would even agree to a meeting. We were hoping to meet in order to get ideas for framing the proposal.

The reason we requested to meet is that, as you might imagine, after working very hard on two proposals and receiving so little feedback, we would like to understand the parameters within which we are negotiating before sending another proposal up blindly.

Matt

Good Shepherd's Treasurer, who had been copied on these exchanges, wrote back as well:
Karen,

Isn’t our position on our finances obvious from our second proposal to the standing committee? Clearly, the desire is that we are working towards some sort of settlement here and I am pleased that we are still talking, but come on!? You know what we want.

Our position is you have no claim to our finances, material effects, or property; your claim is that you have rights to all. Currently, we have gone down the path of settling this outside of court with you by giving you our finances in exchange for you releasing your supposed claim to the property and material effects. Since, the property is apparently off of the table based on the inability of the Standing Committee to make any compromise at all, where is the middle ground? Where is the “settlement” that keeps us out of court on this? I think it is obvious what our position is and I don’t think we need to send any more proposals, right?

I’m sorry if I appear a bit discourteous here, but I feel like we are getting the run around and somehow we need to come to a resolution. I speak for the entire Vestry when I say we are still committed to coming to a fair settlement here. However, based on the standing committee’s response, and your attitude (at least as I perceive it), the likelihood of this seems to be slipping away from us. If we can’t even sit down and talk together like two Christians groups without stipulations how does this get resolved?

Look, I know you feel you are in the right and that you believe you have rights to everything. We disagree and you must know that everyone in our congregation has struggled hard to get us to the position our Good Shepherd is at right now. We are growing; we are serving Christ in our community; we are making a difference and we desire to keep doing that. Do you really want to try to crush that? Is that in best interest of Christ’s Church as a whole?

Even before we were split there were three Churches in the Binghamton area within 2 miles of one another. Good Shepherd was always on the chopping block, but we have made it work to the betterment of our community and congregation. What is the point of attempting to close us if the congregation wants to make it work? If anyone disagrees that Good Shepherd should remain open, they left our congregation four years ago and there is only a vocal minority (two, I believe) within your district clergy that would see Good Shepherd burned to the ground. I don’t understand why the Presiding Bishop’s opinion on selling the Church to us even enters into the equation when this Church should have been closed years ago as voiced by this vocal minority?

We have approached this process with the hope that both sides have been honest and open with one another and I hope this desire still stands.

Is your perception of what is going on here different?

In Christ,

Chris

To which Canon Lewis responded here:
Chris,

I have taken considerable time to reflect on your recent communication. I am somewhat surprised at your choice of words and assumptions regarding what you believe I think or feel, but I choose to put those aside so that I may be responsive to your statements.

It is helpful that you have stated clearly your position – it has not been articulated with such clarity prior to this time. My understandings are:

1)That you are the spokesperson for the leadership of the congregation,
2)That your position is that all financial assets, tangible personal property, and real property are legally those of Good Shepherd, and
3)That your understanding of a “fair settlement” is that the leadership of Good Shepherd receive the property in exchange for the financial assets you currently hold

If I have articulated the position of your leadership accurately, then our options have obviously narrowed significantly in scope. Although a meeting is not out of the realm of consideration, I’m wondering as to what our meeting will entail since, as I stated previously, neither the Bishop nor I have an ability to deal with the property issue. I would urge you to contact Holly Eden for a conversation on their decision-making process.

Please let me know if I have been accurate in understanding your recent email, and let me know what it is you hope to accomplish via a meeting.

Faithfully,

The Rev. Canon Karen C. Lewis

Now our treasurer did not write that he was the "official spokesman" for Good Shepherd. He wrote: "I speak for the entire Vestry when I say we are still committed to coming to a fair settlement here...". Secondly, Canon Lewis' suggestion that we return to the Standing Committee was a non-starter since, again, we received no word from that Committee regarding what an acceptable proposal might look like. With that dead end fresh in our minds, we simply wanted to meet with the bishop to assess where we were and where we might go next to avoid litigation. We just wanted a meeting.
Dear Bishop Adams and Canon Lewis,

Blessings. Just a brief note, sorry for the late reply...it's Lent and a busy time for everyone I think. I did not hear Chris suggesting that he is "the spokesperson" for Good Shepherd. I understood him simply to be reiterating the position we have taken in our written proposals. We initiated our discussions with the bishop last year because we wanted and continue to want to do all we can retain our property while at the same time maintaining the high level of cooperation and respect between us and the diocese. I think, if nothing else, the email exchanges and phone calls we've had lately demonstrate the need for face to face discussions so that we do not misunderstand one another. How many conflicts, I wonder, might be avoided through clear charitable and respectful communication? That is all we were asking for with regard to the meeting, a chance to meet and talk and find out where we are.

May God bless you and keep you

In Christ,
Matt

Finally, we were granted our wish:
Matt,

I think you are accurate in saying that a face-to-face discussion will help clarify a number of things. As such, the Bishop’s schedule is tight with HOB meetings and such, and my travel and such, but have cleared a time slot when we can both be present to you and whomever else you bring for conversation. This time is next Wednesday, February 27, 2008 at 3:30 pm in the Diocesan Office. I appreciate your willingness to come here for our conversations – both the Bishop and I have meetings on either side of that time slot. Please let me know of your attendance at that meeting. Thanks.

Faithfully,
Karen

We were grateful for this opportunity, but since my wardens and treasurer work, the day chosen was a difficult one. I wrote back:
Dear Bishop Adams and Karen Lewis,

Thank you for this. We are both grateful and appreciative. That date and time is quite good for me but not so good for Chris Jones or my wardens who, unfortunately, to a man, will be out of town.

If that is the only time you will agree to meet, then I will certainly be there.

However, it might be better for the process in general if I were able to bring my treasurer and/or wardens so that they would be in on the discussion as well and not have to hear about it second-hand. Would a later or earlier date be possible? We'd certainly be willing to wait for a convenient time.

In Christ,
Matt

Apparently rescheduling was impossible:
Matt,

I appreciate the difficulty of the nearness of the date and how that conflicts with the schedules of folks, however, we would like to go ahead with Wednesday's meeting so we can move this conversation forward. Unless I hear otherwise from you, we will see you then.

Faithfully,

Karen

Fortunately, some vestrymembers were able to fill in:
Dear Karen,

Weather permitting, we will be there today. Might you be so kind as to let me know how much time you have to meet with us. The vestrymembers attending our meeting today also have tight schedules.

In Christ,
Matt

Her reply:
Matt,

The roads are okay today and we’ll hope they stay that way. We have an hour and one-half available before I need to leave for another meeting. I believe that will be adequate time for our conversation.

Faithfully,

Karen+


An Ambush Meeting With Bishop Adams -- and Bunches of Lawyers
We did make it up safely.

On previous visits with the bishop, we had been ushered into his office where we would sit comfortably and discuss matters informally. This time we were ushered into a conference room.

Bishop Adams and Canon Lewis, however, did not arrive alone. Two attorney's, the diocesan chancellor, Paul Curtin, and one of Syracus' best and most expensive lawyers Jonathan Fellows, arrived.

Here is the report of the meeting I wrote to my vestry afterwards:
We did not have a good meeting with the bishop yesterday. Before going on, I will ask that everyone who receives this email not forward it or discuss it with anyone at least until after Sunday. As a vestry we will want to spend time on Saturday (at the retreat) thinking about how to present this to the parish in a united way and a way that communicates our trust in God. This passage in particular is, I think, important to study and digest at present:

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ's sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler. Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name. For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? (1st Peter 4:12-18)

John Chaney, Don Dean and I arrived in Syracuse at 3:30pm on Thursday for a meeting that was supposed to include the bishop and his Canon to the Ordinary, the Very Rev. Karen Lewis.

Every meeting we've had with the bishop in the past has been held in his office. This time we were ushered into a larger conference room where we were joined not only by the bishop and the canon, but by two attorney's, Mr. Fellows and Mr. Paul Curtain (the diocesan chancellor).

In sum, the position of the diocese is that there has never been a process of negotiation and that this was our understanding, not theirs...this despite the bishop's own words to the contrary. The proposals we offered were, they suggested, so far below what they could even consider as near acceptable that there was no way for the Standing Committee (SC) to do anything but reject them. Since the SC has rejected our proposals and since the bishop cannot make property decisions without their approval, they suggest we are at an impasse.

When asked whether they would consider an agreement according to which the ownership issue might be set aside and an agreement reached that the diocese would not to pursue the property legally in exchange for a certain amount of money (thereby circumventing the Standing Committee), the chancellor, Paul Curtain, stepped in along with Canon Lewis to say that such an arrangement is "impossible" and "illegal". Of course, having discussed this plan with our attorney and others, I have serious doubts that it would be "illegal" and I am certain it is not "impossible."

When discussing how and why the "tone" of our discussions has changed, Karen Lewis mentioned her email exchanges with our treasurer, Chris Jones and her telephone conversation with him in which he indicated that we are unwilling to simply hand over our property and assets. The bishop, also, expressed a sense of being "hurt" over the way that I have been writing on the internet regarding this crisis. While acknowledging that I have not named him nor specifically referenced him except in a positive way, he feels "hurt" that I consider the position of the Episcopal Church to be heretical and soul-destroying. I asked him why he would ever believe that I thought otherwise? If I did not think this matter one that has to do with the salvation of souls and the truth of the gospel, I would never have left the Episcopal Church nor would Good Shepherd have done the same.

I mentioned that from our perspective the tone changed when we began to suspect that we had been set up and handled deceitfully (though I did not use those words). We laid out to him the timeline of events from our perspective. 1. We came to him with our concerns last year and indicated that we would like to leave the Episcopal Church but wanted to find a way to do that together that would not hurt the diocese or us. 2. We were told that it may be possible to retain our property but in order to begin that sort of negotiation we would need to actually leave The Episcopal Church. 3. We did so in full communication and coordination with the diocese. 4. Subsequently there has been no hint of willingness to negotiate from the diocese. Instead we have sent two proposals and have received no counter proposals at all. 5. We received only a a letter from the chair of the Standing Committee letting us know that it is time to think of vacating the property and handing over assets.

t appears, from all of this, I said, that we have been misled. We were told negotiations would be possible if and when we left the Episcopal Church. We left and now we are told that negotiations are impossible and that it is time to hand over our property and assets.

Paul Curtain, again, suggested that "negotiation is your [meaning ours] word. It has never been ours [meaning the diocese]."

The meeting ended when it became obvious that the positions were not going to change on either side. We were somewhat hampered in our ability to discuss matters since our attorney was not present.

I suppose we ought to have been more cynical and distrusting going into this meeting. We assumed however, that the bishop would be a man of honor and the diocese would act with integrity.

For lack of a better word, this meeting was essentially an ambush. We ought to have walked out the moment we saw the attorneys but we were not yet sure where the conversation would go and still, at that point, had hope that perhaps there might be a way talk through the issues.

In any case, below you will find the "Settlement Agreement" the diocese would like us to accept. They wanted us to call a special meeting answer by March 14th.

I told them we would answer when we answered, probably after our next regularly scheduled vestry meeting. They cannot and will not dictate a time-line.

I think we will want to speak about it at the retreat on Saturday quite a bit.

My opinion is that the Settlement Agreement will make good lining for my kitty litter pans, but I am not quite pleased at the moment and you must make up your own minds.

Please read the attached documents.

Note: forwarded message attached.

The Stipulation gave us six months to vacate the building and the Rectory and relinquish all assets to the Diocese. The money we collected during that six month period we could keep for ourselves. After the completion of the sixth month period, we might on a month to month basis, remain in the building for another six months if we agreed to pay the diocese a monthly "rent" of $1700.00.

This, as you can imagine, was not received well.

An Angry Bishop -- Who Doesn't Like Stand Firm Either
A few days later I received the following letter from the Bishop:
Dear Matt:

I wish to express my appreciation for the time you and your fellow parishioners spent in conversation with us last Wednesday, February 27, 2008, It was an opportunity to listen to your thoughts regard ting the future of the assets of Church of the Good Shepherd in Binghamton. Although we do not agree in respect to its disposition, it was helpful to hear forthrightly your opinions. Again, I encourage you to contact the Standing Committee with any questions you may have regarding their decision on your recent property proposal.

As we agreed at the end of the meeting, we expect to hear a report on the thoughts you and your leadership have regarding our settlement offer on or before March 14th, 2008. If you have any questions regarding the offer, please contact Canon Lewis at the Diocesan Office at your convenience. You and the people of Good Shepherd remain in my prayers.

In Christ,
+Skip Adams
Gladstone B Adams III
Bishop

I wrote back:
Dear Bishop Adams,

Thank you for your letter. It was good to hear from you.

Your memory of our meeting, however, is mistaken.

We said very clearly that the nearest date at which you might expect a response to your proposal would be March 26th, subsequent to our next regularly scheduled vestry meeting, not March 14th.

We are, moreover, grateful that you set aside time to meet with us but did find that Canon Lewis was somewhat less than transparent with regard to the context of the meeting and the list of participants.

I find it hard to believe that you would give your consent to conceal from us the fact that your chancellor and attorney would be present at the meeting (although, distressingly, others have reported similar experiences with you in the past) and therefore have every confidence that Canon Lewis' lapse in forthrightness will not be repeated. At the same time, I hope you understand that the trust we once shared has been damaged in a significant way.

May God bless and keep you,

In Christ,
Matt

He was not happy:
Dear Matt:

I received your letter on March 14, 2008 and find myself somewhat confused. My recollection of our conversation is that your regularly scheduled meeting was for this week, Holy Week, and you indicated you probably would have to move the meeting, but did not specify any date or time. Furthermore, I am well aware that you had a vestry retreat since our meeting and would be very surprised if the Stipulation of Settlement we presented you was not discussed during that time and was also part of the conversation you had with the congregation during Sunday’s Christian Education time.

I will remind you that you were the one who requested our meeting and also declined several times to provide us with an agenda for the conversation. My decision as to who would be present for our conversation was predicated upon the lack of knowledge as to what was to be discussed and therefore I believed it necessary to prepare for any number of concerns you might bring to the table. Given your lack of forthrightness and your continued writings on Stand Firm (which added an eleventh suggestion to the original 10 suggestions for resistance and differentiation: “Do Not Wage Reconciliation”) I regrettably agree that the trust we may have once shared has been significantly damaged.

Thus, I expect to receive a signed copy of what I perceive to be a very generous Stipulation of Settlement in my office by the close of business ( 4:30 p.m. ) on Thursday, March 27, 2008 . If it has not been received by that time, the Stipulation will be revoked and we will consider other options to bring closure to this situation.

Faithfully,

Gladstone B. Adams III

Bishop

Here is the summary I sent to the vestry along with a copy of the bishop's letter above:
Dear Vestry,

We received this letter on Good Friday. You have probably already heard about it, but you should read it. The bishop is mistaken on several counts here and pretends that he did not know what he clearly knew all along with regard to our position vis a vis the present heresy, namely that we cannot be reconciled until the diocese recants her present unbiblical position

In Christ,
Matt

As a vestry, we sent the following response to the Bishop:
Dear Bishop Adams,

Thank you for your note dated March 20th, 2008. We received it on Good Friday.

You are mistaken on several counts.

First, Fr. Matt, Mr. Dean, and Mr. Chaney made it very clear during their meeting with you on February 27th that you would not hear back from the Church of the Good Shepherd until after our next regularly scheduled vestry meeting. Fr. Matt, Mr. Dean, and Mr Chaney did not then nor did they ever agree that we would send a response to your proposed Stipulation Agreement by March 14th.

Our regular March vestry meeting was postponed due to Holy week until Wednesday March 26th. You are correct that there was a vestry retreat in the interim and you are also correct that we discussed the proposed Stipulation Agreement with the congregation during Christian Education one Sunday morning. These meetings were not, however, for the purpose of articulating an answer to your proposal.

On the evening of the 26th the vestry of the Church of the Good Shepherd considered the proposed Stipulation Agreement and came to a decision. You should receive our written response via the postal service in the next few days.

Second, it is not true that Fr. Matt, Mr. Dean, or Mr. Chaney “declined” to provide you with an agenda for the February 27th meeting. Fr. Matt was very clear as to the reasons we requested that meeting. We were concerned that the once amicable relations we enjoyed together were worsening due to miscommunication and, given that our previous face to face meetings had proven fruitful, we hoped to reestablish respectful dialog. Fr. Matt made this very clear to Canon Lewis in the email note to her excerpted below:

“We initiated our discussions with the bishop last year because we wanted and continue to want to do all we can retain our property while at the same time maintaining the high level of cooperation and respect between us and the diocese. I think, if nothing else, the email exchanges and phone calls we've had lately demonstrate the need for face to face discussions so that we do not misunderstand one another. How many conflicts, I wonder, might be avoided through clear charitable and respectful communication? That is all we were asking for with regard to the meeting, a chance to meet and talk and find out where we are.”

To which Canon Lewis' responded:

“I think you are accurate in saying that a face-to-face discussion will help clarify a number of things...”

Your decision to invite your attorneys to this meeting and then to conceal the fact that they would be present is both disappointing and, as Fr. Matt noted in his letter dated March 12th, less than forthright. As the excepts above show, your decision cannot be rightly attributed to any lack of clarity on our part with regard to the purposes for which we sought the meeting. Your decision to invite attorneys to the February 27th meeting and then conceal that fact has served only to escalate tensions at a time when we sought to alleviate and reduce them.

Third, it is somewhat surprising that you would point to Fr. Matt's writings on Stand Firm as if his position and opinions on this matter have been held in secret. He has, from the very beginning, both in writing and face to face, let you know that he considers your position with regard to human sexuality heretical, wholly irreconcilable with the scriptures. This is why he, with our support, asked that you not preach or celebrate during your canonical visits to Good Shepherd. The Church of Good Shepherd has been equally clear with regard to these matters in writing and in person. We remind you of your last meeting at Good Shepherd when the vestry, out of a sense of charity and Christian duty, warned you that according to the clear teaching of God’s Word you are actively promoting and supporting false doctrine, endangering your own soul, and leading those who follow you away from Christ and into the darkness.

Together, for the last five years, we have said that so long as the Diocese of Central New York and the Episcopal Church continue to reject the clear teaching of scripture on this matter, there can be no reconciliation. If we did not consider your present course deadly to souls, we would not have thought it necessary to disassociate from the Episcopal Church.

That being said, should the Episcopal Church and the Diocese of Central New York recant and return to her biblical foundations, we will most gladly and warmly seek reconciliation. Until then, to do so would be to give the impression that this new false teaching does not, in fact, involve a betrayal of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Neither Fr. Matt's position, nor that of the Church of the Good Shepherd, have ever been held in secret. We have been quite clear (as have you) both publicly and personally with regard to doctrinal matters. Nevertheless, this clarity has not been an impediment to our amicable, even charitable, negotiations with regard to property and assets up to this point and should not represent an impediment to our working toward an amicable negotiated settlement presently or in the future.

Notwithstanding our deep theological differences, we earnestly desire to continue our negotiations and invite you to continue our dialog, praying that the mutual respect and honesty that once marked our relationship might be restored.

Finally, we remind you of St. Paul's words in his first letter to the Corinthian church with regard to litigation:

"Can it be that there is no one among you wise enough to settle a dispute between the brothers, but brother goes to law against brother, and that before unbelievers? To have lawsuits at all with one another is already a defeat for you. Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded? But you yourselves wrong and defraud—even your own brothers!" (1 Corinthians 6:5-8)

Let us heed the Word of God together.

Despite the damage that has been done, we believe that the blood of Christ can heal every wound and bind every broken circumstance. We remain open and willing to restart our negotiations and hope that you will agree.

In Christ,

The Rector, Wardens and Vestry of the Church of the Good Shepherd

The lawsuit was filed soon afterwords.