Friday, January 30, 2009
Dear Good Shepherd,
This morning at men's bible study, we finished chapter 11 and started to dig into chapter 12 of the epistle to the Hebrews. Chapter 11 is a famous chapter--a catalogue of the great heroes of faith, men and women who were willing, when called, to surrender their lives and possessions for the sake of the Promise of God. The promises God made to the great prophets and leader in the Old Testament were and are fulfilled in Jesus Christ. They gave up everything because they believed God's word even though they could not see God and did not fully grasp the meaning of the Promise.
But what was concealed to those who lived during the times recorded in the Old Testament, was revealed to us in Jesus Christ. We've not only heard the promises of God, but we have the Promise living in our hearts through Christ. So given the witness of their faith and deeds, given the courage of those who gave up everything for the sake of Promises they did not see in their lifetimes, how much more faith and courage and selfless sacrifice ought we, who have the Promise with us, to have and show?
This is how the author of the book of Hebrews puts it:
"Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us..."
Notice that "sin" is not the only thing that hinders us. There are other "weights" that prevent us from running "the race that is set before us"...things that are not necessarily sins, but that entangle us, preoccupy us, take our focus and energy away from following Jesus.
I wonder whether God might have wanted to move us from our old building and rectory for that reason...perhaps these things, good as they are in themselves, might have become “weights”, distracting and entangling us, consuming our time and energy?
Many parishioners have since the move said that they feel a new sense of “freedom”. The worry over the lawsuit is no more and Good Shepherd is free now to worship God without fear...even if we are unsure precisely where we will be doing so in the future. And that uncertainty is, without a doubt, intended to compel us both to prayer and to deeper trust in God's faithfulness and provision.
So in the course of three weeks, God has moved us into circumstances in which the fear of loss is gone (we've already lost) and the necessity of faith is ever-present (we don't even know what will happen tomorrow).
And somehow I think that we are precisely where God wants us to be.
Thursday, January 29, 2009
Happy Thursday....no new news to report regarding St. Andrew's. I do feel an extraordinary sense of gratitude to God and to Msgr. Meaghar for allowing my family to live here and Good Shepherd to worship here.
While we certainly hope to purchase St. Andrew's in the near future, at the moment we are still guests and as such it is important to do our best to be good ones. On Sunday mornings the sanctuary and the parish hall need to be cleaner than they were when we arrived. There are people from the Catholic church in those buildings almost every day. It would not do to have them find a mess...or worse to clean up after us.
This has not happened yet, but its important to be proactive. I should also say that the whole cleaning thing is something that we can all do...me too. It is not something to be left, as it often is, to the senior ladies of the church...especially while everyone else is sitting around talking. I agree that fellowship needs to come first but and sometimes the cleaning starts up waaay to early after the service is over, but in general about 5 or 6 people clean up after the mess left by the remaining 90 or so.
In any case, if you are feeling really guilty about all of this (as I am) there is a way for you to work off some of your accumulated time in purgatory. This Saturday, we're having a work party...that's right a "party" but instead of cake and stuff, there will be work. And, what's more, you're invited. If you come please bring cleaning supplies...vaccuum, brooms, dusters, sprays, extention cords, anything you might think of because we don't have much to work with...we had to leave most of our stuff behind.
In any case, I'll be there and I hope to see you too.
Here are the rest of your Thursday notes...
Men's Breakfast and Bible Study will go on tomorrow as usual...this time we will meet in the parish hall of St. Andrews...Ray and Charles are cooking. I'll get in touch with the cooks about the details...
Podcast sermons: several have asked where the last two sermons are and the lectures...well I would like to blame it on technical difficulties but I really just keep forgetting to turn the iTalk recorder on. I bring it with me, set it on the stand and then forget to push play. I'll try to re-record last week's sermon and put it online.
Annual Meeting: Remember, the Good Shepherd Annual Meeting will be held between services this Sunday. So there will be no Adult Education. This year's meeting, as you can imagine, is very important. We will be talking about the present circumstances and begin to think about our future mission and ministry. Plus there will be some very very good sweat rolls.
Welcome Back Ethnic Potluck: On Sunday February 8th, we will all enjoy a multi-ethnic potluck to "celebrate" the end of winter break and to welcome back our university students. This will take place immediately following the 10:30 service. We would like to have many cuisines represented so please sign up to prepare your ethnic specialty. (Sign up sheet and suggestions are downstairs in the Parish Hall.)
The Shepherd's Bowl this week remains at St. John's the Evangelist and barring any emergency I'll be there to lead the Thursday night bible study.
Women's Bible Study will meet on Saturday in the St. Andrew's Rectory as they've done for the last two weeks..
Capital Campaign: If you've not pledged yet to the Capital Campaign, there will be pledge cards availible on Sunday. Here is a letter I wrote to the parish last week that includes a mailing address for those who would like to help out without filling a pledge form.
Pictures: I posted Photos of the transition from our old building here and here and pictures of the various places we've worshiped and studied together since then here. Please send any pictures you might have and I'll post them up.
Youth Update from Micah: will not take place this week because of the . Junior High Youth Group, however, will be going to the movies to see Paul Blart: Mall Cop. Meet at the Regal at around 2:25pm this Sunday. Senior High, please remember to look at your schedules and find a few possible dates to go skiing at Greek Peak (most likely a Saturday--or perhaps a day off from school). , we are still looking to replenish our game stash. A few favorites that are currently missing: Apples to Apples, , , Uno. We could also use a few extra sets of cards if you have them. Thanks!
This Sunday is Superbowl Sunday...but the Superbowl isn't until much much later, so that leaves plenty of time for church...see you there and don't forget to invite guests...
This is our first Sunday at what used to be St. Andrew's Catholic Church. As many of you know, we hope this will be our permanent location.
Wednesday, January 28, 2009
early Thursday after the call from the lawyer...
Matt talking to someone.
Crucifix in the rector's office
Thursday evening after the verdict...looking out the rector's office window
Friday morning Bible Study...Brian, Darrell, and Bob...ready to eat
The last Sunday morning in the building...
A cross we left behind...
Last time around the altar
A last look at the "choir loft"
Jesus and the children
Empty Bulletin Board
Empty Parish hall
Final email to the parish...
Aedan (4yrs) commemorates the loss of house and church with a drawing of bishops (below) in pitched battle. The "bad bishops" in purple with black hats on the right are destroying churches (those peak-like things with crosses on the top...one has already been destroyed on the far right--all that remains is the cross) while "good bishops" on the left try to stop them. The left side is full of things Aedan likes...clouds, balloons, watermellons...it looks like a "good bishop" is standing on a watermellon on the far left. Another "good bishop" is trying to stop a bad bishop on top of a church building in the center right of the drawing...very sad but pretty accurate drawing.
Micah exercises disciplinary procedures on errant Kennedy children at St. Andrew's Rectory...days after the move
Next...things getting back to normal
Morning sun through the sanctuary windows...
Special vestry meeting on the night of the verdict
The sanctuary the morning after...
Calls, decisions, discussions...
The press arrives...
Tuesday, January 27, 2009
Saturday, January 24, 2009
"Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross…" (Hebrews 12:1-3 NIV)
In the past two weeks, the courts of California and New York have not been kind to those who have left TEC with their churches which were built and paid for by the generous, sacrificial giving, sweat, tears and prayers of generations of Christ followers - all of whom would be scandalized by the heresy-racked leadership of TEC now asserting by fiat a trust interest in their churches.
Without going into the merits of the cases, I’d like to share a word of encouragement to those who are facing difficult choices right now: whether to fight on in the courts or to walk away and build again.
I write as a "son" of one of those congregations that lost in court, St. James Newport Beach. The morning the California Supreme Court released their decision, I was reading from Hebrews 12:1-3. As I have reflected on that text, three words of encouragement come to mind:
1. We are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses: I remember Nell, Bill, Grace, Anne, Helen, Frank, Harlan, Don and so many "saints" and witnesses at St. James who helped lead me to Christ and who have gone on to be with the Lord. They surround us and stand with us in Christ. When we think of the church, we need to remember again that it is not the building but the people. Whatever happens to the buildings of St. James or any other church, the legacy of its witness and ministry will continue. Hebrews reminds us that there is a dimension of Kingdom life and ministry that is always more than meets the eye. Nothing that any court says or does can ever diminish that or take it away.
2. We have a race to run: Our fundamental mission is the Great Commission (Matthew 28:16-20) - to make disciples who will make disciples, churches that plant churches, and to turn irreligious people into those who will live their lives as Jesus would. We need to do whatever we can to build a robust, growing, missional Anglican Church in North America - churches who are daily bringing unchurched people into a personal encounter with Jesus Christ and the abundant, Kingdom life he alone offers. We need to grasp the hands of fellow Anglicans all over the world - the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans - who are equally committed to the Great Commission in Word and deed.
3. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus: In court and out, we need to live our lives as Jesus would, speaking life and hope as he did - even as he lived in the ever-looming shadow of the cross. The joy set before him far outweighed the pain of the cross. May we never forget the incomparable gift of life and joy we have in Jesus Christ, and the priceless gift we have to offer others who do not yet know him. Its value far outweighs the value of any buildings we may have to surrender, or the cost of any legal battles we may have to fight.
Yes, it hurts. But thank God we serve a Savior who has already marked out the course set before us. Even though we do not yet fully see the way ahead, He does! He stands with us, he has gone before us, and he brings a great cloud of saints around us to cheer us along the way.
With love in Christ, and standing with you,
Rev. J Philip Ashey, Chaplain and Chief Operating Officer
Friday, January 23, 2009
Thursday, January 22, 2009
What an amazing week. I know intellectually that God provides and I have experienced that provision in the past, but nothing quite like what has happened in the last two weeks. The Sunday before last we were without a place to worship, the Shepherd's Bowl was without a place to serve meals, and my family was without a place to live. Then, out of the blue, Msgr. Meagher called to offer the former St. Andrew's rectory, his parish offered to host the Shepherd's Bowl, and Pastor Hollinger and the Conklin Avenue Baptist church offered their gym and classrooms for Sunday morning.
Saturday, Msgr. Meaghar called, again out of the blue, and offered the former sanctuary of St. Andrew's to us for this coming Sunday. We confirmed the arrangements this Monday. What strikes me about his call, on top of his sheer kindness and generosity, is that I had planned, prayed, and was worried about calling and asking him for the very thing he offered.
What generous neighbors we have on the South-side and what an amazing God we serve. His mercies and grace have been poured out on us.
"When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion we were like those who dream. Then our mouth was filled with laughter and our tongue with shouts of joy; then they said among the nations, 'The LORD has done great things for them.' The LORD has done great things for us; we are glad" (Psalm 126:1-3)
There is still much to be done and, I am sure, much to sacrifice. The capital campaign needs many more contributions in order to make a good down payment offer for a purchase of property. We've lost many items we use for worship. We may well lose the Branan bequest (which is currently frozen). Given those needs along with regular salaries, insurance, any rent and utilities we pay at our present location, we are basically living month to month.
If, moreover, we stay in this neighborhood for any length of time, there is a lot of work to be done. The people of the Saratoga Apartment housing projects, within sight of St. Andrew's, need help with food and clothes. And, more than that, judging by the high crime-rate, many of them need to hear the gospel of Jesus Christ.
We are living on the edge. These are the times that James tells us produce godly endurance and character (James 1:2-4). Every day we experience his grace. Every day we are thrust into circumstances that demand courage, trust, love and obedience.
Meanwhile, God is faithful. He has and will give us everything we need. Our task is not to lose heart, not to shrink back, but give ourselves to this great work to which we have been called.
Here are your Thursday Notes:
Men's Breakfast and Bible Study will be held here at the St. Andrew's rectory Friday morning at 6:30am. Don Dean is cooking. If you've never been here before, here is a map and the address.
Contact Information: If you've been trying to reach us here using the old rectory phone number, you've no doubt been unsuccessful. For the time being, use my cell phone: 621-9944. Here is the rest of our contact information
Sunday: If you have not heard, we will be at St. Andrew's for worship on Sunday. The service times will be as usual and there will be Sunday school for all ages at 9:15 as usual. Be sure to invite your friends and if you know of someone who needs a ride, please call to see if you can help.
Thank you to everyone who helped us pack and get everything and everybody out of the old rectory. I cannot properly express our gratitude. We were incredibly moved by your support and generosity.
Women's Bible Study will meet at the regular time at St. Andrew's rectory.
The Shepherd's Bowl will remain at St. John's this week and there will be bible study afterward.
Prayer requests: 1. That God will give us his blessing and that we will be able to enter into an agreement to purchase property. 2 Growth in faith, love, and holiness. 3. God will use our ministry here to convert many to Jesus Christ. 4. Bitterness, resentment and/or anger toward those who have taken our property will be not be suppressed or repressed but consumed by forgiveness, love, and gentleness.
Wednesday, January 21, 2009
Here is the office phone number for now:
My email remains: firstname.lastname@example.org
And the present physical address for the church office is: 356 Conklin Avenue, Binghamton, New York, 13903
The website remains the same
Tuesday, January 20, 2009
Here is the map to St. Andrew's
We are also so very grateful for the generosity of Conklin Avenue Baptist Church and Pastor Hollinger who offered their gym for services last Sunday.
Monday, January 19, 2009
BINGHAMTON, N.Y. -- This gym at Conklin Avenue Baptist is the Church of the Good Shepherd's new home of worship; at least for now.
Sunday was the congregation's first service since being evicted last week.
"At first, when it started, I felt kind of empty. Because it's a gym and I've never been here before, but as the service took place and with the music going and the communion, it just brought us back together as a whole," said Pauline King, who has attended services at Good Shepherd for more than 45 years.
The Binghamton-based congregation was forced from its Conklin Avenue church by the Episcopal Diocese after a court ruling last month.
Thursday, January 15, 2009
. Ice on the ground...7 below zero Fahrenheit... It's a great day to move! The rectory is just about packed up and we will begin moving the daily essentials to the St. Andrew's rectory today, tomorrow, and Saturday. If you would like to help, please feel free to come on by (78 Kendall Avenue) there is more than enough work for everyone.
will continue Tuesday through Friday at 8:30am. For this week we're meeting for morning prayer at this weekJoyce Copolla's house. Here is the address and phone number:
106 South Washington St.
Binghamton, NY 13903
Here is a map from mapquest
Please join us.
Morning prayer NEXT WEEK, bible studies and all vestry meetings
Will be held in the rectory at what used to be St. Andrew's Catholic Church. There is a large and good space in that can be use for all of these purposes.
The St. Andrew's rectory is only 1.4 miles from Good Shepherd's previous location. If you are leaving the Good Shepherd parking lot:
1. take a right on Livingston
2. Turn right on Conklin
3. Travel for 1.34 miles (3 minutes)
4. Turn right into the large parking lot at what used to be St. Andrew's Catholic Church. The rectory is directly in front of the church, facing Conklin Avenue.
Here is a mapquest map that will take you from Good Shepherd to St. Andrew's
Here is the address: St. Andrew's :
For Worship this Sunday: We will be at Conklin Avenue .
Here is a map that includes the locations of Good Shepherd, Conklin Avenue Baptist, and St. Andrew's Catholic...
As you will see Conklin Avenue Baptist is right between Good Shepherd and St. Andrew's. Conklin Avenue Baptist is directly accross the Street from Benjamin Franklin elementary school.
From Good Shepherd:
1. take a right on Livingston
2. Turn right on Conklin
3. Drive for .48 miles (one half mile)
4. You will see Conklin Avenue Baptist on your left hand side.
5. just past the church, still on Conklin, you will see the large parking lot...also on your left but accross a residential street from the church.
6. You may park there.
7. The gym is the large building connected to the church right accross the residential street from the parking-lot...you will see ushers and signs.
The Phone Numbers: If you have any questions about any of the directions above...please call us at:
Men's Bible Study and Breakfast: Bob Shaller has reserved the back room of Denny's on Vestal Parkway for us this week. We'll meet there at our regular time Friday morning at 6:30am.
Women's Bible Study: will meet on Saturday at the St. Andrew's rectory at the usual time 10:00am.
Pray for God's help: God has been exceedingly gracious and good to us in this first week. We have a place to worship, a place to meet for bible study, meetings, and morning prayer, and my family has a place to live. We are so very thankful. Let us, in response to his grace, model our lives after Christ. Pray every day for Bishop Skip Adams and the diocese of Central New York. Pray every day for God's help and direction and wisdom for us as a body.
The times ahead will be difficult...but as we pass through them, please ask God for:
1. patience, as he shapes us...sometimes through hardship, into the people he wants us to be,
2. a sense of joy and excitment as we contemplate the future he has for us,
3. a sense of gratitude not only for the great blessings he has already provided, but for the trial and testing itself because we know that it will bear fruit in increased trust and reliance upon him.
4. a sense of mission...recognizing that we are being sent out into the world to call more people to the knowledge and love of Jesus Christ
A Note About Items from the Church: Friends, I recognize that many feel that the decision of the court was unjust. I do too. But it was and is a legal decision made by someone who holds legitimate civil authority over us. Compliance with the court's judgment does not require us to break God's command or to do anything against God's law. That means that as believers we are called to give the decision our full obedience.
Paul lived under the laws and governance of the Roman Empire. Rome, during the first century and into the second, was increasingly hostile toward Christians...and unjust. The churches to which Paul wrote his letters often suffered persecution and sometimes had their property confiscated like we have. Nevertheless, here is what Paul wrote to Roman Christians about the civil authorities:
"Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. 2 Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment."
We are under a lot of stress right now. But it is important to remain obedient to the authorities over us. We do so not because they are "fair", but because we love Christ and we recognize that he did the same--remember, Pontius Pilate made the most unjust judgment in human history and yet Christ willingly submitted. Christ, through his obedience, brought glory to his Father. We must do the same.
Among the requirements of our present situation is that all items belonging to the , must remain in the building.
This, unfortunately, includes items that were bought and donated to the church in memory of relatives. If you have anything from the church at your home, please return it before Friday when we will give a final accounting to the judge and the diocese. I know it is not fair...I know that...but it is one way we can honor God and show our willingness to give up everything we have for his Son Jesus Christ.
If you have "lent" something to the church...in other words, if you bought an item and then let the church use it for worship or something else, then it still belongs to you and you may take it.
But if you donated money to the church in memory of someone or for some special item, and the church bought it then it belongs to the church and, according to the court order, to the diocese.
I know it is confusing, but that is the law.
In any case, there is no need to worry about the future because everything we lose for Christ, becomes a treasure in heaven and a blessing here on earth. Do not worry about anything. Whenever you feel anxiety or fear, pray. Tell God how you feel, let it all out, and ask him to give you peace and confidence.
The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:5-7)
God is with us. He is "at hand". He will never leave or forsake us. Thank him and praise him this week and be ready to join us for worship on Sunday...inviting your friends and neighbors to come along as well
Sunday, January 11, 2009
Friday, January 9, 2009
As you may or may not have heard, the judge has ruled and we have lost our building and all of our assets. There is, at the moment of this writing, no time specified for our departure. We expect an order to arrive sometime in the next few days that will give us some indication of how long we will remain here. It could be a matter of days, it could be a month or more, we simply do not know. When we do, we will get the information to you as soon as possible. Pay attention to the website, the blogsite, Sunday announcements and your phone messages for news. In the meantime, we must prepare our hearts and minds to go.
This little white church on the corner of Livingston and Conklin has been a part of all our lives and the lives of those in our neighborhood for many years. Some of us have spent our whole lives here. This is painful news.
This may seem especially difficult given the fact that there is no discernible good in the future of this building. It will, we presume, no longer be used to feed people or to proclaim the Gospel. It seems as though we have lost. But we must remember what we know about God, what He has revealed about His character:
The Lord passed before him [Moses] and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin.” Exodus 34:6-7 and faithfulness, keeping
God is gracious, merciful, loving and provident towards his children. His greatest provision was sending his own Son, Jesus, to die on our behalf. As sons and daughters of God through faith in , the darkness is never final. The light is greater than the darkness. God's providence is greater than the destruction of sin. Jesus died but he also rose from the dead. So it is for His people. There is no “end” or “death” or “despair” for us because we know that in all things God works for his glory and for the good of those who love him (Romans 8:28). Because God is faithful to his promises, we look to our future knowing it to be one full of hope. God has been faithful to us in the past. He is faithful to us now. He will be faithful to us in the future.
We have been praying for the better part of a year now, asking for God's guidance and direction. God has answered our prayers. He has closed one door and now all that remains is to go forward into the new future and new home God has prepared. Our location will change. Our mission will not. We will continue to share the good news of eternal salvation won by Jesus Christ. We will continue to serve our neighbors, feed the hungry, and help the poor, just as we have in the past.
But there is something else that we must do that, at least for the moment, may be far more difficult: Love those who are forcing us out. Perhaps they do not know what they are doing. Perhaps they do. Either way, ask God to forgive them and pray that he will give us the grace to do the same. Anger is not always sinful but it can easily and quickly become so. Unchecked anger leads to bitterness, hatred, and resentment and all of these things hurt our relationship with God and damage our capacity to reflect his love and beauty into the world. Just as God has been merciful to us, daily forgiving our sins and wickedness, so we must, by his grace and help, return good for evil and pray for those who persecute us.
The vestry is very sad, but we are also thankful. Our future is now clear. What wonderful things God has in store for us. He has set us free from the bondage of this lawsuit and free, finally, of the turmoil in the Episcopal Church. We are not only thankful to be free, but thankful that we have been tested and found worthy by his grace of suffering loss for the sake of Christ, of being purified by sacrifice. We know that what we have been enduring is only preparation for greater things to come and that all of this being worked out for the good of those who love Christ.
And we love Christ. This has been the defining mark of our. Let Christ be our banner and our seal, the Rock to which we cling. Let Christ go before us and behind us. Above all let His holy name be praised.
The Vestry, Warden, and Rectors of the
Thursday, January 8, 2009
Happy Thursday. Hope all is well. This is our first full week back after the Christmas and New Years Day holiday. We now have a couple of months or so to gear up for Lent.
I'm presently working on an article about experience and scripture that I hope to have out tomorrow, but it may take me longer. I've been thinking after a few conversations about how easy it is to see the bible as disconnected from your relational experience with God and to neglect it for that reason...in any case, on to the Thursday notes
Bible Study: There will be bible study tonight after the Shepherd's Bowl
Cooking Schedule: Joe Barham is cooking tomorrow morning for the Men's Breakfast and Bible Study.
Women's Bible Study: meets this Saturday at 10:00am. They will be starting the book of Isaiah. If you're thinking about getting in at the beginning of a book, this is your chance.
Podcasting: Here are links to last week's sermon on the "Magi" and the Sunday School class on "Humanism".
is on a regular schedule this week. Junior High will be meeting Monday, 6-8; Senior High, Sunday, 6-8. Junior Highers (and parents), please let me know when it would be a good time to go ice skating. I'm trying to plan a good date, probably on a Saturday. Senior Highers, some of you have expressed interest in going skiing this year. Please let me know when it would be a good date for you as we
The Notes are rather short this week, there is a great deal to catch up with. If you have any news or articles to post, please forward them to me at email@example.com
Wednesday, January 7, 2009
I have finally figured out how to get the Christian Education lecture/discussions online. Here is last Sunday's discussion of "Humanism". It is actually a good one to listen to if you've been out of town and missed parts of this series because the discussion begins with a brief review of "secularism" and "existentialism".
For those of you who do not know, we're in the middle of an Adult Sunday School series entitled, "Christ and Culture" based on Richard Niebuhr's book by the same name. For the last three Sundays we've discussed some of the ideas and philosophies undergirding contemporary western culture. Though the larger series is based on Niebuhr's book, the discussion of our own culture is taken from a series of lectures by Dr. RC Sproul.
text: Matthew 2:1-12
Wednesday, January 7, 2009
The term Magi described a class of pagan magicians, astrologers, and seers. The Magi were not “kings” or rulers. The word originally was very specifically applied to an elite group of court astrologers in Babylon but by the first century it described anyone known for magical ability and proficiency in reading the stars. In Europe, people like the magi were called druids or wizards but Matthew tells us in verse 1 that they were from the East which most likely means that they were from Babylon or somewhere near modern Iraq or Iran...about a forty day journey on camel back.
Now as we've studied the historical accounts of the New Testament I've tried to point out those parts of the biblical record that show the truthfulness of scripture. This account he Magi is one of them. When you look at the features of this account, the moving star, the exotic VIPs from distant lands who see the star and follow it to a newborn Jewish peasant family to honor their new born baby with expensive gifts...it all seems fanciful. But if Matthew is making this up he is a very strange first century Jew. What is the general attitude of Jewish people in the first century toward pagan astrologers and magicians? Not too positive. The Torah is very clear about such things: “Let no one be found among you...who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist...Anyone who does these things is detestable to the LORD, and because of these detestable practices the LORD your God will drive out those nations before you.” (Deuteronomy 18:10-12)
Now don't get me wrong. It would be important to show that Gentiles came to honor the Jewish messiah because that would be a fulfillment of prophesy. God says to Isaiah, for example: “I will beckon to the Gentiles, I will lift up my banner to the peoples; they will bring your sons in their arms and carry your daughters on their shoulders. Kings will be your foster fathers, and their queens your nursing mothers.” (Isa 49:22-23) But, if you're a Jewish Christian, the presence of Magi here, not kings and queens, is embarrassing. If Matthew wanted to make up a story about Gentiles coming to pay homage to the Jewish Messiah, Magi are the last sort of Gentiles he would want to write into the story…for the same reason you would not, if you were making up stories, make women the first witnesses of the resurrection. These are embarrassing facts, not impressive ones for first century Jews. But for historians, the embarrassing features are the most valuable. Because they establish the veracity, the truthfulness of the account. The only reason to include Magi in Matthew’s story is that Magi really did come.
So now that we have established who the Magi were we need to ask, why did they come? What do they say to Herod: “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him." The magi saw a star. Not just any star but “His star”. A star that for them represented the birth of a Jewish king. That, they say, compelled them to travel.
Why would a group of Magi in Babylon see a star and up and decide that it was a star that signifying the birth of “The King of the Jews”? It seems so odd. Well, let's look at this a little more closely. Turn in your bibles to Genesis 49:10. Jacob is blessing his sons before he dies. How many sons did Jacob have? He had 12. The descendants of the 12 sons of Jacob became the 12 tribes of Israel . From which tribe did King David come? Judah . Which means Jesus was also from the tribe of Judah. Okay let's read Jacob's blessing:
“The scepter will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler's staff from between his feet, until he comes to whom it belongs and the obedience of the nations is his.”
The scepter symbolizes kingship, royal authority. Kingship will not depart from Judah until what... “he comes to whom it belongs and the obedience of the nations.” So according to Jacob's blessing, the tribe of Judah one will come who will hold royal authority not only over the nation of Israel , but over what? The nations of the world. Did David possess this sort of authority? No. In the first century this promise/prophesy is still unfulfilled.
Turn forward to the book of Numbers 2:1-3. Numbers was written by Moses during the Exodus, when the12 tribes were being led out of slavery in Egypt to the promised land. During the journey, God gave specific instructions about the arrangement of their camp. When when they stopped, they were to pitch their tents in a great square with three tribes camping on the north, south, east and west with the tabernacle the place where God met with his people in the very center. Listen to God's instructions regarding Judah: “The LORD said to Moses and Aaron: "The Israelites are to camp around the Tent of Meeting some distance from it, each man under his standard with the banners of his family. On the east, toward the sunrise, the divisions of the camp of Judah are to encamp under their standard.”
So every morning, when members of the other tribes woke up and stepped out of their tent, what would they see? They would see the sun, the blazing sun, a star, rise up over the tents of Judah as a divinely given sign of Judah 's authority. Now so far, we've looked at two passages that may seem disconnected to you. Okay, the scepter will never depart from Judah until a ruler comes who will hold world authority and the sun, a star, rose over Judah's tents in the desert so what? Well these two passages were very important to Jews and they were linked together prophetically.
Turn forward in the same book to chapter 24:15. The Hebrews are still wandering through the desert on the way to the promised land. A king paid a pagan seer named Balaam to lay a curse on Moses and the people of Israel. But when he opened his mouth to curse, blessings poured out. One of those blessings is in verse 17: “A star will come out of Jacob; a scepter will rise out of Israel .” In this very short verse, scripture links together, a star, Jacob's offspring, Israel, and a king. Jews, looking back at these texts, did not miss that. An expectation grew up that the coming of God's savior would be proclaimed not only on earth but in the heavens.
But the Magi were not Jewish. How would pagan Magi know to look to the heavens for a sign of the Jewish king and if they saw the sign why would they care? Well an important event took place on or around March 15th, 597 BC that helps answer those questions. On that day, Jerusalem fell to the Babylonians. And in the aftermath the Babylonians carried away into exile the elite, the nobles, scholars, wise men, and young educated men of Jerusalem. Young Jewish men like Daniel and his friends Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego grew up among the Babylonians and were trained to be magi. Through Daniel and Jews like him, the magi of the east became very familiar with the Jewish scriptures. Being astrologers, prophesies having to do with heavenly signs would have been intriguing to them, especially those pointing to the rise of a messianic king who would rule not only Israel but over Babylong and all the kingdoms of the world.
Almost 600 years later, in 7 BC., something important took place visible in the eastern sky. There was a conjunction of the planets Jupiter, Saturn, and Mars, which in eastern astrology related to kingship and authority. They conjoined within the constellation Pisces which, to eastern astrologers, represented the lands to the west, Palestine. Some say that Magi saw this conjuction as a sign that the King of the Jews who would one day rule the world had come and headed to Jerusalem to find him.
And I think they are at least part right. But there's more to this story. The star that compelled the Magi to come doesn't act like natural stars or planets. Look at verse 9. “And the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was.” The Magi may have seen the conjunction of planets and recognized it as a sign. But constellations and planets do not move like the star they describe. Nothing in the heavens naturally moves that way. I have no doubt that the Magi saw the real conjunctions of stars and planets and expected that something important was happening in the west. But I also think God did something more here, something like what he did for the shepherds in the fields at night. God sent heavenly hosts of Angels to the Shepherds to proclaim the birth of his Son. He told them where to go in a specific way.
For these Gentile magi, these pagans, he sends a light that shines in their darkness, leading them to the tents of Judah, to the one who will hold the scepter of Heaven and earth. God uses both the power of heaven and nature to declare the glory of his Son; the skies, as Psalm 19 says, proclaim the work of his hands. They pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard...it goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.
And the Gentiles come. God sends a sign, God calls pagan Magi to his son. They leave everything to follow. But God's people, descendants of Abraham,what do they do? The Magi, Herod, Jerusalem, everyone believes God's Word. Everyone believes prophesy. Everyone believes the King has been born. And everyone knows that this baby will change the world. The difference is in the response. The Magi see the light, see the truth, deny themselves, bend the knee, and embrace him. Jerusalem is troubled. Herod sees only a threat. If this baby is king, I'll be king no longer.
And he is right. Everyone who hears about Jesus faces that same truth and the same dilemma. Jesus will be king. God has set him at his right hand in Heaven and in the end he will reign on earth. We can deny ourselves and worship him with the Magi or seek to suppress him with Herod. There's no middle way. Everyone born follows one path or the other. And it is not just a decision made once. Herod rises in my heart daily, a desire to kill off Christ, to throw off his yoke, to be king, to sit on the throne. But the light also rises and shines in our darkness, calling us in love and mercy and compassion to the Son, to obedience, to self-control, to daily set all that we have at his feet.
Friday, January 2, 2009
Happy New Year! I hope you have enjoyed the season and I pray you had some time off. After all this feasting, we are stuffed with food, stepping over Christmas toys, and feeling about ready for a good lenten fast.
There is lots to read in this week's Update. I've been taking time off pretty much all week, so there is no article this week, but I hope to get one out by the next Update.
Enjoy the weekend. See you Sunday.
Here's the Update:
The Kris Kindle Gift Exchange: will take place on Epiphany Sunday. I, personally, still have no idea who exactly Kris Kindle is/was, but apparently he has/had something to do with exchanging gifts. And this is good since Epiphany, which we celebrate this coming Sunday is the day we celebrate the magi or wise-men bringing gifts to the new born Jesus. So please remember to bring a small gift for the person who's name you picked out of the basket a month ago and who, hopefully, you have been praying for all this time. And, finally, you get to reveal your name on the gift card.
Pot Luck Lunch: Along with the gift exchange, there will be a pot-luck lunch after the 10:30am service so please remember to bring something nice to share.
De-greening the Church: We'll need the extra nourishment from the potluck because we'll also be taking down all the Christmas decorations from the church. It's not nearly as fun as putting them up, but we do need your help, so please do give us a hand.
Epiphany: I'll bet there may be some out there who do not know what "Epiphany" is or who have never celebrated it in a church before. The word "Epiphany" means "to reveal" or "to make known". During Epiphany the church spends time celebrating the great news that God has revealed himself to the world through his Son Jesus Christ. To the magi he sent a star, to Israel he sent John the Baptist, to the rest of the world he sent his apostles to proclaim or "make known" the God's revelation of his son and his saving purpose for the world. If you would like to know more about Epiphany, some basic information can be found here.
Good-bye to good friends (for now): Chris Jones and Jason Delancy were home for the Christmas season this year. It was great to see them again and to reconnect. Please pray for both of them as Chris heads back to England for another six months and Jason heads back to North Carolina where he is earning a graduate degree in business.
Last Week's Sermon: If you missed last week's sermon, "The Christmas Spirit" you can read the text here and listen below:
Monday, December 29, 2008
Podcasting classes: I've recorded the last two classes on my ipod, but the files are too big to upload to the website. I have to find a way to reduce them. When I do, I'll put them right up. Sorry for the tech problems.
Financial Statements (from Cookie Finch): I will have all year-end financial statements ready to hand to you on Sunday January 4 and January 11. You will need these for your income taxes. Please check with me to obtain your statement. Thank you, Cookie
Letter from a Parishioner: Terri Beam wrote a letter in the Binghamton Press and Sun this week. In case you missed it, I've reproduced it below: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
Youth Update from Micah: I'm back in town after taking a break last week and I've got some big news. Ask me if you haven't heard yet. In the meantime, is back on normal schedule this week. Since we didn't get to do the last time, please bring your gifts this next meeting (both Junior and Senior High). Junior High will be meeting Monday, 6-8; Senior High on Sunday, 6-8.
Women's Bible Study: Next Saturday the Women's Bible Study will start a new study of the Book of Isaiah. If you are a woman (young or older) and looking for a bible study to join, this is a good opportunity to get into a study at the very start of a book. The study, led by Anne, meets at 10:00am every Saturday morning in the parish hall.
Christian Education; Christ and Culture: We'll finish our discussion of Existentialism this Sunday and move into the next idea that has shaped our culture, "humanism". This has been a great series so far. If you are interested in more, please check out RC Sproul's website. He presented the original lecture series on which we are basing this portion of the class.
Don't forget to invite your friends to church...
Good News for the Week:
During those many days the king of Egypt died, and the people of Israel groaned because of their slavery and cried out for help. Their cry for rescue from slavery came up to God. And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. God saw the people of Israel—and God knew. (Exodus 2:23-25)