Lord’s Prayer

Well, by now, you’ve probably read something in the news that the Pope wants to change the wording in the Lord’s Prayer.

On the one hand, people I know are saying, didn’t Christ give us that prayer?  Doesn’t He outrank the Pope?

On the other, there’s an interesting article written a few years ago that brings up that Christ’s language was Aramaic, which was then translated into Greek, which then went into Latin, and the vulgar languages.  According to documents from the Dead Sea Scrolls, there might be a point to this.  It indicates that a more accurate translation of “And lead me not into temptation” might be “Don’t allow me to enter into wrong thinking or testings”, thereby putting the onus of temptation on man, and not on God.

So, thoughts?

(Boy do I miss my dad at times like this.)

Advertisements

Writing a Sermon

It’s really rather funny, as I read all of these texts and articles and books on how to write a sermon.  The most useful about the process, for me, thus far has been Eugene Lowry’s The Homiletical Plot.  Not because I particularly like his type of sermon (narrative), but rather because he goes through the process of how one gets from a sermonic idea to writing a sermon.  And I laugh, because I have a very particular process.

First, I read the lessons from the liturgical calendar of the Episcopal Church.  We’ll be beginning Year B with this coming Sunday, starting the year with Advent.  In this way, we work our way through the Bible every 3 years.  The lessons and psalms are matched, so we generally have an Old Testament reading, a Psalm, a New Testament reading, and a Gospel reading.  So, I start with the readings.  If there is a passage I’m unfamiliar with, or want to get better insight, I take a look at some exegesis of that passage – what’s the literary style, the historical context, the cultural context, the specific words being used, and where else within the Bible do some of those specific words appear?

Generally, I’ll let all that percolate for a day or two, and then, depending on the time of year, I’ll do one of two things:  take a shower (as opposed to a bath, where I can take a book or writing materials), or mow the lawn.  Neither of these, of course, are conducive to being able to write anything down – my normal method of figuring out what I’m thinking.  It causes my mind to play with ideas, without writing them down, until I finally reach the “Aha!” moment, where it all comes together, and I can go, sit and write down the sermon.

Personally, I like to think that my conversations with God, along with inspiration from the Holy Spirit comes into play here, but either way, those are the two areas where those conversations are most likely to occur in such a way as to inspire the sermon.

My method works for me.  I’m quite certain that others like the outlining, crafting, cut/paste method used by so many preachers until they have put together a sermon word by painful word.  Likely, they are much more talented than myself.  But that’s okay.  As long as I don’t bore myself to tears, the congregation should be at least marginally pleased, or irritated, or thoughtful, or fired up, etc.

Christ the King Sunday

One of the saddest passages I’ve ever seen is today’s Gospel.  Many look at it as part of the apocalyptic literature, telling of an end-time judgment, but it’s put here in Matthew’s Gospel among other parables about judgment for a reason.  It’s certainly a parable, by dictionary definition, for it is a short allegorical story designed to illustrate or teach some truth, religious principle, or moral lesson, and it’s a statement or comment that conveys a meaning indirectly by the use of comparison or analogy.

But what makes it sad is Christ’s description to both the sheep and the goats.  Looking at what He said to the sheep:  “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.”

On the one hand, the blessed, the sheep, asked “when” they had done all these things – and yet, they didn’t recognize God within the people they helped.  They helped because they were good people, and like the Samaritan, recognized their neighbor.  They were judged worthy, to take their inheritance, the kingdom prepared for them since the creation of the world.

On the other hand, the cursed, the goats, asked “when”.  They had done none of these things, because they didn’t recognize God within the people they passed by.  They were the Pharisee, claiming goodness, but their actions did not match their words.  They were cursed into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.

Neither group recognized God within the hearts of those in need, but one group followed the greatest commandment as instructed by Christ, and one group didn’t try to find their neighbor.

There’s a story told of a young monk asking an older monk, “Father, if God is infinitely merciful, how can he deprive anyone of his heavenly kingdom?” The older monk answered, “Why do you keep turning your head from side to side?” The younger monk replied, “Because the sun keeps hitting me right in the eye and just won’t leave me in peace.” “Then you’ve answered your own question,” the older monk laughed. “God doesn’t deprive anyone of his heavenly kingdom. Some simply cannot bear the light, any more than you can bear the light of the sun.”

So let’s see if we can find our sunglasses, and look at this passage in another way.  We know from the last few weeks of these judgment parables, that everyone is waiting for Christ’s return.  With this parable, we know that Christ will return as King to sit in judgment upon those who have been waiting.  Let’s examine our two groups again – the blessed and the cursed.  Based on the criteria Christ sets out in this parable, the judgment is based upon how we have treated the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick, and the prisoner while waiting. In this parable the community’s time of waiting is changed from a useless passage of time to a redefinition of community in the care of the neighbor, and from worry about the “when” of the coming of the Son of Man to the realization that the “when” has already taken place in the face of the needy.

And here is the answer to whether we are ready when the bridegroom comes, when the master returns.  Christ has made us aware of the least of us among society.  He described the values and practices of those who participate in the Kingdom of Heaven in the Beatitudes.  He tells us:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.  Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.  Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.  Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.  Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

And Christ has told us what to do.  Not only has he given us the Great Commandment, he gave us this parable, which clearly describes the “least of these”, not once, not twice, but four times within the same parable!  And still, we have difficulty in walking our Christian talk.

A little girl once asked, “If God is inside of me and is so big, why doesn’t he break through?”  Why doesn’t the grace and love of God break through in the way we speak, in how we act, in the many times we come in contact with others.  God has chosen to work in and through us who are called to be a part of the Body of Christ.  But he gave us free will as well.  We can choose to let God act through us, to be His hands, His voice, to treat the least of our society as we would treat Christ.

The phrase “the least, the lost, and the last” has often been used in sermons that talk about those we should be taking care of.  That’s a pretty amorphous description though.  So, if we want to be like the sheep, care for those Christ has told us to care for, for as He said, as we have done to the least of these, so have we done to Him – where will we find the least?

And with that one question, we have made ourselves goats.  We are looking for Christ, in order to treat Him well.  We’re not looking to fulfill the Commandment, but rather trying to find the “when” did we see Him and not care for Him.

So is the answer that we try to see God in every person we meet?  Do we try to be a good neighbor?  Or do we, like the little girl suggests, let God break through and act through us?  Do we recognize the Kingdom of Heaven here on earth, right now?

The sheep would seem to have little interest in relationships dictated by the terms of “social justice” or “evangelism,” which so often turn people into objects and abstractions. The relationships the sheep pursue, in contrast, locate them right in the middle of the least ones themselves, where the King Himself is.  For these, the Son of Man is not still coming. He is already here.

And when Christ the King comes to sit in judgment, will you be among the sheep, or among the goats?

 

As For Me

“I do not know you.”  That sentence reverberated in my head, over and over and over again.  “I do not know you.”  Could there be anything more devastating than knowing – you’re going to die.  There will be no eternal life.  How do I even justify my existence?  Is there penance enough?

God is outside of time.  What if I ask to be a cautionary tale to others?  What if, upon hearing my story, even one person ensures that they stay awake, aware?  I may not be chosen to live eternally, but I can help others to do so.  Oh, Lord, will you use my folly to save others?

Now we don’t know that that’s where this parable comes from, but what if it did?  It is devastating to be rejected by the bridegroom, because His word is final. The rejection is made even worse by Christ’s reputation for love and generosity.  It would have been so easy to please him! Why didn’t they do so?  Why don’t we do so?

Matthew’s Gospel tends to talk more about judgment than the other Gospels, and separating things – the wise from the foolish, the wheat from the tares, the fish in the nets.  There are a couple of chapters that include what are known as the judgment parables, and today’s Gospel is one of them.

Scholars vary in their understanding of what the oil in this parable represents.  If the thrust of this story is that we must be prepared with oil for Christ’s coming, what’s the oil?  Luther said that it’s faith.  Others have identified it as piety, good works, or a personal relationship with the Lord.

One approach to understanding the what the oil is, is to examine the context—both the narrow context of this particular parable, along with the series of four parables and then the wider context of Matthew’s Gospel:

In the Parable of the Faithful and Unfaithful Slave (24:45-51), the faithful slave is the one found at work when the master returns. Being prepared—having oil—means working faithfully for the Lord.

In the Parable of the Talents (25:14-30), the faithful slaves wisely use the resources entrusted to their care. Being prepared—having oil—means practicing good stewardship, having good ecological practices, carefully managing your time and money, being generous to those in need, proclaiming the Word.  The possibilities there are endless.

In the Judgment of the Nations (25:31-46), which is a parable after this one, the Son of Man rewards those who feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, take care of the sick, and visit the prisoner— all of which corresponds nicely with what Jesus identified in this Gospel as the greatest commandment—to love God and your neighbor (22:37-40). Being prepared—having oil—means generosity to those in need.

So now this parable.  As we discussed a couple weeks ago, weddings at that point in time were actually about the celebration.  Today, we refer to them as wedding receptions.  Often, the bridegroom would begin at the house of his bride, and the wedding party would process to where the celebration would be taking place.  One of the things to keep in mind is that the five wise bridesmaids were rewarded, even though they didn’t share the oil they had with their sisters.  We might think the wise bridesmaids were acting selfishly, but they are instead acting with wisdom, particularly for their time.  It is far better that they use five torches to illuminate the pathway of the Bridegroom for the entire distance than to use ten torches at the beginning and thereby to risk having to walk in darkness at the end.  We can see lots of metaphors there.

In the wider context of this Gospel, the Sermon on the Mount, which covers two entire chapters on its own, gives us great insight into Christ’s expectations. Being prepared—having oil—means obeying Jesus’ teachings.

This parable speaks pointedly to those who have become Christian through an initiatory event, be that conversion, baptism or confirmation, without requiring a corresponding growth in discipleship. A good beginning is not yet a race well run, as all children today learn from the Tortoise and the Hare.

These stories in Matthew also generally include choices for both the wise and the foolish, and a delay in the master’s return.

Matthew addresses the delay in the coming of the bridegroom because people during that time believed that Christ would return “soon”.  The problem is, our concept of “soon” and God’s concept of “soon” are apparently very different things.  And people were beginning to question – why hasn’t Christ returned?  Where is He?  So Matthew uses a common idiom – the bridegroom is delayed – something that was not an unusual occurrence, and one that everyone could understand.  The problem again, is that definition of “soon”.

The concept of “hurry up and wait” is well known to those in the military.  Believe it or not, the military is part of the government, and the government isn’t always efficient.

“Standby” is a “preparatory command.” Usually the order to standby alerts a unit that it will “soon” receive some kind of marching orders, like “standby to launch.”

Unofficially, it’s used to tell junior members to be ready and wait. Often, troops find themselves waiting for long periods of time because of logistics or command indecisiveness.

Said sarcastically, “standby to standby” means that a unit is waiting to wait some more.  “Hurry up and wait,” also said sarcastically, pokes fun at the military’s propensity to perform tasks quickly, and then sit idly for long periods of time.

Like the military, being prepared, and then sleeping when you had the opportunity was a common occurrence.  Both the wise and the foolish bridesmaids in this parable fell asleep.  Staying awake can be used as an idiom for being aware or being prepared.

I’d like you to imagine yourself back in the first century of the common era.  You’re a Roman citizen, fairly well off.  You wear the best silks against your skin, are fairly well educated in the “classics”, can speak both Latin and Greek.  You’ve just kissed your newly cleaned child, breathing in the scent of the oils used to keep his skin in good condition, and sent him off with his nurse.  Now is a time when you can relax with your light evening meal of bread and dates, figs and a bit of meat, wines impeccably matching.  Life in your city was perfect.  You glance out the window, only in that split second seeing Vesuvius before being frozen in time, dying in superheated gasses and volcanic ash.  The explosion of Mt. Vesuvius was so sudden, the citizens in both the cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum were perfectly preserved in time, as we’ve seen in magazines (National Geographic, May 1984).  The saddest part is that these people didn’t have to die. Scientists confirm what ancient Roman writers record–weeks of rumblings and shakings preceded the actual explosion.  An ominous plume of smoke was even clearly visible from the mountain days before the eruption. They simply needed to be aware.

Now, living life aware or being “awake” does not mean that you have to forego sleep.  It means that you need to be vigilant.  Like these bridesmaids, if Christ returned tomorrow – would you be ready?

Let’s take a glance at our Old Testament lesson.  Joshua was clear with the Israelites – you either choose to serve God, or go wherever you want to go, away from the protection of God, to live and serve elsewhere.  We recognize that it wasn’t really a choice for the chosen people, but that was Joshua’s point.  You guys already chose, but you’ve forgotten to be aware that you made that choice.  You’re not living up to your choice.  And it’s the same thing for us – once you make that choice, be it through baptism, confirmation or conversion, you need to live up to it.  You need to walk your talk, because lip service is not going to cut it.

Now, the other thing that Joshua did was set up accountability for the people who made the choice.  “You are witnesses against yourself that you have chosen the Lord, and to serve Him.”  It’s our responsibility to help each other stay on that path, to walk the talk, and continue to grow.

Twenty centuries ago there was a different kind of preacher by the name of Paul. And when he came to the end of the road he did not write his memoirs in a villa on the Riviera. He sat in an old Roman jail waiting to have his head chopped off. The only stocks and bonds he had were stocks for his feet and bonds around his wrists. And he said, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.  From now on there is reserved for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have longed for his appearing.”  Like Joshua, Paul made the decision that “as for me”, I will serve the Lord.

That phrase, “as for me” has history also within our own American past.  Patrick Henry fired a verbal shot in an old church in Richmond that was heard around the world. It was on March 20, 1775, during a time when history moved rapidly.  The pacifying men of the time were trying to work out a compromise of peaceful coexistence, so to speak, with George III.  But Patrick Henry was fed up with appeasement, and he saw no sense in further negotiation. He said, “I don’t know what others will do, but as for me, give me liberty or give me death.”

The die was cast and the Rubicon was crossed, and all bridges were burned and retreat was impossible. There wasn’t any uncertainty about where Patrick Henry stood. He cleared the air and stated the issue. There weren’t any third dimensions and middle ground. Such a speech is awfully out of date in this fuzzy day of wooly thinking when experts in double talk, in the art of almost saying something specialize in a straightforward way of dodging the issue.  That was not Patrick Henry’s way – no one doubted where he stood, because his yea was yea and his nay was nay. And while his contemporaries were going around their elbows to get to their thumbs, Patrick Henry decided that a straight line is the shortest distance between two points. His speech must have shocked the school of propriety, but he detonated a charge that blasted tyranny from our shores.  We have to wonder if, in his classics education, he knew about Joshua.  “As for me” makes a statement of not only belief, but of action.

We know that we have chosen to follow God through the sacraments of baptism and confirmation.  Yet we also know that if we allow ourselves to coast, to sleep, to be unready, we may be like the unprepared bridesmaids, or the people of Pompeii.  Our oil may be very low.  Are you and your household going to serve the Lord?

The last thing we want to hear is, “I do not know you.”  So this week, as you go through your daily routines, find ways to be aware of God in what you’re doing.  Our lessons point out the variety of ways that God has spoken to us, teaching us how to maintain an awareness of Him.  Pick one thing.  How are you going to serve the Lord this week?

The Comfort of Prayers

Good morning.  Please open your prayer books to Page 332.  This is part of a Eucharist service that is rarely used anymore, but words that are certainly worth reading and remembering.  (If Bob’s here, read the following aloud.)  HEAR what comfortable words our Saviour Christ saith unto all that truly turn to him.  COME unto me all that travail and are heavy laden, and I will refresh you.  God so loved the world, that he gave his only-begotten Son, to the end that all that believe in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.  HEAR also what St. Paul saith.  This is a true saying, and worthy of all men to be received, That Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.   HEAR also what St. John saith.   If any man sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and he is the propitiation for our sins.

(Otherwise:)  Silently, read the words that come after “Hear the Word of God to all who truly turn to him.”

Keep those words in mind this morning.

Today’s Old Testament lesson has the Israelites stopped at Mt. Sinai, and Moses is up talking to God.  He’s been up there over a month already.  Aaron is working to try to keep the peace among a people we would swear have ADHD as a whole.  It hasn’t been that long since God brought them out of Egypt, after hearing their cries of distress and prayers for deliverance.  And yet, they’re bored; they want something tangible to worship and make sacrifices to, to revel in festival.  They create a god of gold and forget the God who delivered them.

God’s anger in the face of such faithlessness was fierce, and He was ready to destroy them all, but Moses prayed.  He acknowledged what God had done for them, and reminded Him of the great leap of faith the people took in following him out, across a sea and into the desert.  He reminded God of the promises he made to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob – the last of whom He renamed Israel, and whose descendants were now having such a problem with fidelity to their God.  And he begged God to forgive them, to remember His promises to their ancestors, and turn aside His wrath.  And God changed His mind.

    If anyone sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and he is the propitiation for our sins.

In our Gospel reading, there’s a man being thrown into outer darkness because he didn’t wear the right clothes!  Or, if we read it allegorically, because he showed up, but he didn’t really participate with his whole heart, soul, strength and mind.  Maybe he came for the food.

How many of us look for the latest fad, latest gadget, latest iPhone, and worship at the altar of consumerism and technology?  When was the last time you actually participated in a conversation, the whole way through, without checking your messages, texts, tweets, etc.?  Well, here perhaps that’s a little more common, given our lack of cell signals half the time.  But if we do that to other people, are we guilty of the same thing the man without a wedding robe is?  Are we truly participating in our conversations with God?

Perhaps we’re too focused on the latest headlines – I looked up just a few last night:  Firefighters face strong winds in historic California blazes; Hepatitis Outbreak; California State of Emergency – hmm, perhaps we should be avoiding California.  Bomb threat sparks panic at La Guardia Airport; Xi Tightens Grip on China; Tesla fires hundreds.  So, just five headlines, and we have fire, disease, terrorism, despotism and unemployment.  Well, comparatively, losing your job doesn’t sound so bad now, does it?  And yet, we still have our worries about keeping a roof over our heads, feeding our children, helping our neighbors – particularly those whose houses burned down in this last fire season, or the guy who sells Kettle corn in Stein’s parking lot, who lost his entire rig.

I’d ask you to remember the words of Paul this morning:  Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.

So our prayer lists have grown longer.  But we have to wonder, where is God?  Is he hearing our prayers?  Last week we learned that God still speaks to us.  That we merely need to learn how to listen, and trust.  And trust in the face of such disasters – that’s hard to do.

I read some facts that an elementary school teacher discovered after 9/11.  Maybe this will give you a different way of looking at things.  The four flights could accommodate more than 1,000 passengers, yet there were only 266 aboard. None of the people who called a loved one on the hijacked planes mentioned that passengers were panicked, nor was there any screaming in the background.   Although the work day had begun in New York, and more than 50,000 people worked in the Twin Towers, only 20,000 were at their desks. The other 30,000 were delayed in unexpected traffic snarls, subway delays, commuter train delays – including an entire train from New Jersey stalled at a malfunctioning traffic light.  More meetings than usual were scheduled outside of the building.  It kept 30,000 people from their desks.

That’s a lot of coincidences.  Now, we know that God has given all of us free will, and you’ve all heard me talk about energy and matter being interchangeable states of being.  God loves us in whatever form of being we are, so why did He help guide so many people to be away from the Towers that day?  Because He created us, and we are His children.  Our lives matter to Him.  And while we mourned the loss of the 3,500 children He took home with Him that day, He mourned the loss of the 19 who chose to reject Him that day for all eternity.

    This is a true saying, and worthy of all to be received, That Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.

Now, many of you heard me complaining about a story I had to read last week for school, but eventually, the author got to the point.  The main character was so consumed with her own thoughts of depression and the troubles in her life, she didn’t have room in her thoughts for anything or anyone else.  The preacher in the story told her to turn to Christ, as Christ requested us to do, to find rest in Him, to share the burdens with Him and allow Him to give her strength.  We’ve all experienced times when we are weary, tired of the world, sick of what man can do to his fellow man.  That soul-sickness can only be healed by the Divine Physician.  We must actually rely on that strength when we feel weak; we must listen for God’s voice and be guided by it.  We must know that we are not alone, as the Psalmist said in Psalm 23.  And sometimes, we act as God’s hands, and help others find their way out of depression, weakness, addiction – we know that there is contentment in Christ, and company even when we are completely alone.  But we also need to recognize that as humans, it’s never a one-shot “immunization”.  Whether we, ourselves are the ones who are soul-sick, or someone else, we need companionship and encouragement to reinforce the decision we make to turn towards God, and away from the destructively consuming thoughts of depression, shame, addiction, and darkness.

Paul reminded us this morning:  Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

So why did we begin this morning with The Comfortable Words?  Well, when the earth was flat, and all the world was Catholic – okay, so maybe not that long ago.  Confession of sins and absolution provided by the priest were extremely important to the people.  You thought about what you were going to do, because at some point, you’d have to ‘fess up to the priest, and sometimes, his assignment of penance before absolution was brutal.  But it gave people pause; it made them think about their own actions, their own thoughts, and their sins.  It made them think about whether they wanted this on their conscience.  And while confession is still a sacrament in the Anglican Communion, it is one not often used.  Our confession is congregational, non-specific, and our absolution as granted by God is a blanket absolution for everything.  We don’t really have to examine what we do too closely, don’t have to think – what would God say, or perhaps more embarrassing to us, since we know in that amorphous way that God knows our sins, what would the priest think if they knew…

But when the Church of England, and other Protestant churches were organizing, people were still used to the idea of confession, and needing true absolution for their sins.  They weren’t sure, given that they no longer had the authority of the Pope behind them, that they were truly being absolved of their sins.  They worried, and in worrying, filled their thoughts with things just the opposite of what Paul talks about.

So the Archbishop of Canterbury in 1549, when the first Book of Common Prayer was written, Thomas Cranmer decided that we needed to emphasize God’s grace.  While people were worrying if their works were enough to get them into heaven, Cranmer reminded them, through the words of the Bible, that God’s love was a grace provided to us, deserving or not.  God had already provided us with the path to Him:  “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”  That belief, our clinging to the promises of God, is the comfort Cranmer felt was necessary to remind us of.

I recently read a story that actually came out in The Anglican Digest many years ago. A bishop parked his car outside an old downtown church and saw the elderly priest of that church sitting outside on a bench. The bishop walked up to the elderly priest and asked if he could talk with him for a few minutes. The priest smiled and nodded. Then the bishop sat beside him and told the following story:

Quite some time ago now a small group of rather boisterous young louts, fresh from an afternoon’s drinking session, were walking past a little church. One of them drew the attention of his companions to a notice on the door, listing times of confession. Amid raucous laughter he suggested, “Why don’t we have a bit of fun? Let’s make a list of the worst sins we can think of and then draw lots as to who should go in and confess them. It’ll be a lark seeing how the poor old priest reacts.”

I’ve got a better plan, jeered a companion. Seeing it’s your bright idea, why don’t you put your money where your mouth is. I bet you $20 you don’t have the guts to do it. The young man tensed a bit but rose to the challenge. “Right,” he said, “let’s get working on the sin sheet.”

It wasn’t too long before the young man emerged from the church beaming, brandishing a slip of paper. “Well I’ve won the bet,” he said. “Here’s proof I’ve been to confession.” What’s that? asked his companions. “It’s my penance, handed to me by the priest himself.” What did he say? the others asked. “He didn’t say anything, just handed me the slip.” Well, said one, have you done your penance? “Don’t be silly. I don’t go for that nonsense,” he replied. Then I don’t pay you your $20, said his challenger…

The young man went back into the church, reading the priest’s note as he went—Kneel before the crucifix at the altar and repeat ten times: All this you did for me and I don’t care. “That’s no hassle,” he thought, making his way to the chancel. He reached the crucifix and knelt down. His eyes took in the nailed hands and feet and the infinite sadness in the eyes, then moved to the text below: Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.

He began his penance: “All this you did for me and I don’t care. All this you did for me and I don’t care. All this you did for me and…” About an hour later his friends, impatient, went into the church to find out what he was up to. They found him at the altar rail sobbing profusely.

“Well, that’s the story,” said the bishop. “Except for two things—I was that young man and you were the priest” (adapted from The Anglican Digest, Lent 1990, 10-11).

When we truly turn to God, when we show up at the wedding feast in proper attire, when we turn off our electronics and listen, when we pay attention, we realize that God has not left us to ourselves.  We have to be willing to put our burdens down at the Cross, to be filled with the strength God has promised us, to rely on God, stand back up and go forth to do God’s work.

COME unto me all that travail and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.

Janet’s Repentance

Ugh.  I didn’t think I would ever dislike another author as much as I dislike James Joyce, and I was correct, but not by much.  The last few chapters of George Eliot’s “Janet’s Repentance” (modified version) actually made up for the first 23.  However, I’m still of the opinion that she could have written the entire story in 10 pages, and still gotten the same message across.

All of that aside, it occurred to me:  there are a couple of things here that would be interesting to look into more:

The Doctrine of Signatures is the belief that the shape/color/texture of a fruit, flower or herb will tell you what something is good for, or for curing. It’s a medieval belief, that continues through to this day, even though it has been proven that that only works for *some* things, not all. However, it was a common belief in Victorian times, so the whole concept of Dempsey taking his mother for a walk among the cucumbers becomes really creepy. On the other hand, Mr. Tryan sits and looks over a cabbage garden, and while it is known that cabbage looks like a head (and has recently been shown to be beneficial for memory), at that point, it was known to be good for consumptive coughs.

The language of flowers is a Victorian invention, and according to George Eliot’s biography, she was quite familiar with both botany and the language of flowers. When Janet was in the throes of depression, sitting in front of a garden with cistus flowers – cistus implies imminent death. The holly at the gate of “Holly Mount” symbolizes domestic happiness.

It would be interesting – at some point when we have nothing else to do, of course – to go through the book and catalog the various flowers and vegetables used to see what Ms. Eliot might be saying through her copious use of those particular descriptions.

Sermon on Philippians 2:5-11

As you know, over the next few weeks, I’ll be providing some sermons that don’t go along with the liturgy, and I do appreciate your indulgence for my class.  I’ll make sure to post links to reflections that pertain to the liturgy or sermons from Karen on the web site, so you won’t miss out.

Today, we’ll be discussing the passage in Paul’s letter to the Philippians, Chapter 2, beginning at Verse 5:

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness.  And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross.  Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Paul is pointing out here that Christ emptied himself of his Divine status, of wisdom and power that He could have exercised, in order to lower his status to that of a servant, a slave – the lowest position in society.  He set aside His Divine prerogatives and incarnated Himself as man.  This didn’t deny His deity in any way, but rather, gave us an example that Paul held out to the church at Philippi to emulate.

Now if you’re like me, that’s a really intimidating example.  Christ, in serving mankind, prepared by praying, studying and being baptized.  He healed the sick, fed the hungry and preached the gospel.  He selected people to learn from Him, so that His ministry for God would continue long after He was gone, training them for the day when they would take over for Him.  He gave them clear instructions with the Great Commission, and He had them practice, sending them out two by two, while He was still there to supervise.  Then He sacrificed His very life for entire world, taking our sins onto His shoulders to reconcile them with God and prepare a place for us when we choose to follow Him.

The thing is, if you allow yourself to be completely overwhelmed with Christ’s example, you’ll never be able to follow Him.  But if you choose to follow Him, then start small.  Choose one thing.

For instance, you might choose to prepare yourself, as Christ did, through prayer.  There was a  young man who had gone to Wednesday night Bible Study.[1]  His Pastor had shared about listening to God and obeying the Lord’s voice. The young man couldn’t help but wonder, “Does God still speak to people?” After service he went out with some friends for coffee and pie and they discussed the message.  Several people talked about how God had led them in different ways.

It was just after 10:00 when the young man started driving home.  Sitting in his car, he just began to pray, “God, if you still speak to people speak to me. I will listen. I will do my best to obey.

As he drove down the main street of his town, he had the strangest thought to stop and buy a gallon of milk. He shook his head and said out loud, “God is that you?” He didn’t get a reply and started on toward home. But again, he thought, buy a gallon of milk. The young man thought about Samuel and how he didn’t recognize the voice of God, and how little Samuel ran to Eli.

“Okay, God, in case that is you, I will buy the milk.” It didn’t seem like too hard a test of obedience. He could always use the milk. He stopped and purchased the gallon of milk and started off toward home. As he passed 7th Street, he again felt the urge, “Turn down that street.” This is crazy, he thought.  It’s my own mind playing tricks on me, and he drove on past the intersection. Again, he felt that he should turn down 7th Street. At the next intersection, he turned back and headed down 7th. Half jokingly, he said out loud, “Okay, God, I will”.

He drove several blocks, when suddenly, he felt like he should stop. He pulled over to the curb and looked around. He was in a semi-commercial area of town. It wasn’t the best but it wasn’t the worst of neighborhoods either. The businesses were closed and most of the houses looked dark like the people were already in bed. Again, he sensed something, “Go and give the milk to the people in the house across the street.” The young man looked at the house. It was dark and it looked like the people were either gone or they were already asleep. He started to open the door and then sat back in the car seat. “Lord, this is insane. Those people are asleep and if I wake them up, they are going to be mad and I will look stupid.”

Again, he felt like he should go and give the milk. Finally, he opened the door, “Okay God, if this is you, I will go to the door and I will give them the milk. If you want me to look like a crazy person, okay. I want to be obedient. I guess that will count for something but if they don’t answer right away, I am out of here.”  He walked across the street and rang the bell. He could hear some noise inside. A man’s voice yelled out, “Who is it? What do you want?”

Then the door opened before the young man could get away. The man was standing there in his jeans and T-shirt. He looked like he just got out of bed. He had a strange look on his face and he didn’t seem too happy to have some stranger standing on his doorstep. “What is it?” The young man thrust out the gallon of milk, “Here, I brought this to you.” The man took the milk and rushed down a hallway speaking loudly in Spanish.

Before the young man could leave, from down the hall came a woman carrying the milk toward the kitchen. The man was following her holding a baby. The baby was crying. The man had tears streaming down his face. He began speaking and half-crying, said, “We were just praying. We had some big bills this month and we ran out of money. We didn’t have any milk for our baby. I was just praying and asking God to show me how to get some milk.” His wife, in the kitchen, yelled out, “I asked him to send an Angel with some. Are you an Angel?”

The young man reached into his wallet and pulled out all the money he had on him and put in the man’s hand. He turned and walked back toward his car and the tears were streaming down his face.  Now he knew that God still answers prayers.

So in that example, there are several things to focus on.  The man made the choice to start listening for God.  He prayed, and then trusted that God was guiding him.  He humbled himself, knowing that he would look like an idiot, but still trusting that God had a plan, and he was the tool God was using to fix this particular problem, whatever it was.

Now there are many ways to serve, but they mostly fall into three main categories.[2]  The example before exemplifies charity – responding to an immediate need or problem.  When the fire burned down the apartment building in town, all of the churches got together and responded to the immediate needs of the tenants.  We, along with the Methodists, provided vouchers for food, temporary housing and gas.  The Baptists used their large spaces to begin gathering and separating clothing and household goods.  Many of the community churches provided transportation for the donations coming in from all over town, and taking people to hospitals to visit those that were injured.  Still others made sure the firefighters were taken care of.

Advocacy, the second way to serve, emerges from charity in that we work and speak on behalf of others with the goal of changing social or political conditions.  The Episcopal Church in Montana has been very active in helping folks get to know people in groups that are typically discriminated against.  We’ve got a problem in some areas of Montana with groups that don’t want “their” kind around.  And in speaking out, the Episcopal Church itself has been targeted, with St. James in Bozeman just last month being vandalized with images of swastikas on their signs and property.  There will be persecution at this level of service, but we have the perfect exemplar who reminds us that the only response worth giving is love.  We all know Roxie and Connie, and apparently the vandals chose a weekend when the deaconate school was meeting.  St. James covered all of the graffiti within an afternoon with pink hearts carrying words of love.  And they recommitted to advocating against racism and bigotry.

The third area of service is justice – working to change systems and processes that create conditions for poverty or limit self-determination.  We all have opportunities to work in this area, depending on what our interests are.  The diocese and the national church have multiple opportunities for volunteers.  You just have to choose what you want to do.

In all things, God provides us with free will.  We don’t have to do anything to improve ourselves, serve our churches, our communities, our nation, or the world as a whole.  But Paul is asking us to follow in Christ’s footsteps, to fulfill our baptismal vows, to forget about status and being embarrassed or thought of as crazy.  He’s asking us to humble ourselves because we love Christ, and to serve God’s creation here on Earth.

That Great Commandment that Christ gave us changes the reason we do things.  Laws of the Old Testament were kept out of duty.  Christ asks that His laws be kept out of love.[3]  And in that love, we provide an example to others.

Aristotle said, “you are what you repeatedly do.”  Service ought to be a habit, not an act.  Rick Rigsby[4], the man who wrote “Lessons From a Third-Grade Dropout”, which I highly recommend, by the way, pointed out that his father left the house every morning at 3:45 to go to his job as a cook.  When his wife asked him why, he said, “Maybe one of my boys will catch me in the act of excellence.”  He wanted his sons to go on in life, and achieve, but to always remember that “you make sure your servant’s towel is bigger than your ego.”

Remember the reason you serve.  Remember Christ’s reason for serving.  And remember God’s promise that because of Christ’s humility and obedience, “at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

Let us pray:  Father, allow me to serve others with a joyful heart; never keeping score; always giving; never expecting to receive. Allow me to give of myself, to give of my talents and of my goods, to give of my time and of my energy, to give of my heart and of my soul. Help me remember to allow others to give to me when I need a helping hand.  Assist me in understanding the needs of others, never criticizing, never demeaning, never scolding, or condemning.  You have been so gracious to me, always loving, always forgiving, always restoring; never gloating over my defeats, even when I have been so wrong.  Father, keep a condemning spirit far from my heart and  further from my lips. Allow me to serve others as You serve, with gentleness, compassion, and tenderness, never diminishing the worth of another, choosing to extend mercy to the brokenhearted, like You have repeatedly shown it to me.  Amen.[5]

[1] http://www.gmu.edu/org/mnu/test1.html

[2] http://sermonsfrommyheart.blogspot.com/2014_09_01_archive.html

[3] https://www.sermoncentral.com/sermons/gods-kingdom-is-of-servanthood-revd-martin-dale-sermon-on-servanthood-127246

[4] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UGyKmiySTv8

[5] https://pushingjesus.wordpress.com/2010/07/26/a-prayer-about-serving-others/

Sermon on Colossians 1:15-20

Each year, I choose projects for me to accomplish, and a few years ago, one of my projects was one that had been close to my heart for a long time.  I’ve been fascinated with monastic life since I was a teenager.  Obviously, I didn’t choose that life, but I have learned over time that one does not have to be within a monastery to make oneself aware of the Divine in all things, even in the smallest detail.  It could be something as simple as sweeping the floor from east to west, acknowledging the path of the sun that God set in motion, focusing on sweeping out not only dirt, but negativity; counting our blessings with each pass of the broom – this is but one example of how to live life aware, even in the mundane.  I’ll go over some suggestions for how you might increase your own awareness of God later in this sermon.  But in the year that I practiced this, I learned a lot.  And with the assignment to write this sermon, I’ve realized that I have a whole lot left to learn.

Colossians 1:15-20 has been described as a creed within itself, as a hymn, or even as Hebrew poetry – which some of you may remember I took a particularly obsessive interest in a few classes ago.  But reading through this passage, my mind kept returning to science, and the nature of energy.

Paul reminds the Colossians:  He, [Christ], is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible.”  Through this, we know that Christ is the cosmic Lord, because He was the cosmic Creator.  Think about this:  we know that in the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.  But He did so through the Word, the very manifestation of Himself that interacts with our human existence.  From John 1 we know that the Word is Christ, so we know that it is Christ who is responsible for everything in existence.

Our scientists will tell you that according to the first law of thermodynamics, energy can neither be created nor destroyed.  And yet, we just heard that all was created through the Word, through Christ, which would mean, that He created energy.  Now for the rest of the universe, that thermodynamic law is still in effect, and energy simply changes form.

In the broad scheme of things, everything in existence is made up of energy, vibrating at the particular rates that make things not only solid, liquid or gas, but the type of each category, like a gold, mercury or helium.  We know that things can exist with more than one vibrational rate – for instance, trees or mammals.  Now, I’m quite certain that my grandson and his dog must be more gaseous than most adults, given how fast they move.  And we’ve all heard that cows are contributing to climate change because of their own gaseous emissions, but that’s a completely different topic.

Turning to how scientists view the world as it interacts with that which we can see, we know that four fundamental forces account for the known phenomena in the universe.  The strongest force exists within the nucleus of – an atom.  You might have heard of one of the components of that force – the Higgs Boson, nicknamed the God particle, because it is something that binds the molecular particles together and these then act as the building blocks of creation.

The other three forces, infinitely weaker in strength include electromagnetism, one that results in radioactive decay, and gravity.  Gravity exerts the weakest force, and yet it shapes much of what we know about the universe.  One might say it creates the arena in which all the other forces “live and move and have [their] being” (Acts 17:28).

Or, as Paul puts it, “in him [meaning Christ] all things hold together.”

So, why is Paul talking about the creation and nature of the universe in his letter to the Colossians?  There are many theories, but one of the most plausible is that there were teachers in Colossae who were marginalizing Christ, focusing on His humanity and losing the “big picture”.  Many were forerunners to Arias, denying Christ’s divinity.  Paul reminds us in his letter to the Colossians that if we ever forget that Christ is responsible for the very existence of every last thing on earth or in the heavens, we have completely missed the point.  Our adoration, awe and focus should be on Christ.

At the same time, while Jesus wasn’t just born with the advent of His birth to Mary as a human being, He was born to bring about a new creation.  “Through Him, God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of His cross.”  As the visible face of the unseen God, He created the visible and invisible, setting the frequencies of the energies we interact with.  Being both man and God, He provides a way for us to participate in union with God through him.

But as Paul points out, we must be aware of Christ as God in all things.   If we want to participate in that union with God, we have to respect, no, not just respect – we must hold Christ in awe.  “He is the head of the body, the church; He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He might come to have first place in everything.”

It is through Christ’s sacrifice and manifestation as a human that He has ensured we all have the opportunity to participate in salvation, but we must choose to have faith in that opportunity.  Salvation is not an automatic inclusion.  He is the firstborn, because He shows us the way to God.  He exemplifies how we, as humans, should behave and think.

People don’t often consider how we think.  Many people believe that we have opinions within the privacy of our own homes, while our public faces and opinions are formed to be more socially acceptable in a broader arena.  However, thoughts, despite being invisible creations, are also forms of energy.

What we need to realize is the fallacy that there is a difference between our private and public thoughts, because Jesus is Lord over all.  Choosing to participate in the salvation Christ offers will include choosing, every day, to keep Christ at the forefront of your thoughts, to be aware of Him as the creator of all things.  Now, the Church can help you do that, through prayer, participating in the sacraments, and Bible studies, and certainly being in a place where you are surrounded by reminders of God makes it easier here to be aware of Christ.

But let’s put ourselves back at home.  Think of an argument you’ve had in the recent past.  Take a second, and when you have the one you want, put yourself back in that moment – close your eyes from the beauty around you here if that helps.  Don’t rehash the argument that might have made this a tough day.  Just get that argument pictured clearly in your mind.  (Pause)  Now freeze it.  Start looking slowly at the scene around you.  Where is God?  Look at the other person or people, and think, what might have been able to remind you that they are a child of God?  What thoughts might have been traveling in their mind?  Is there anger involved?  What is the underlying fear that might be causing that anger?  Could you have inserted the peace of Christ into that day?  What could you have done to be aware that Christ was there with you, in your thoughts, in the thoughts of the other people?  Being aware of the one who created everyone there in that moment is not an easy task.

So let’s look at some ways to practice that awareness.  As followers of Jesus Christ we should strive to have homes where Jesus is always welcome and knows that we are choosing to participate in the salvation He offers.

Being aware of Jesus in your home means He would feel comfortable watching what you watch, listening to what you listen to, joining in your conversations and reading your magazines and books.  And as I listed those things, your minds probably went to the most inappropriate things in that list, that you likely wouldn’t have wanted Christ to see.  An awareness of God in all things is not necessarily a comfortable thing initially, but honoring Jesus in your home in this way means that His presence is always taken into account.

Make Him the unseen guest at all times. Some people leave an empty chair at the table to remind them of His presence, and sometimes a physical reminder of His spiritual presence can be helpful.  It can help you choose that salvation that you truly want, by helping you to avoid the temptation to be aware of Christ’s presence to a Sunday thing, done in public only.

Make a practice of meditating on Christ and His Word. Out of sight, out of mind is more than a saying, it is a truth. The more you meditate on Him and His word the more you will be cognizant of His presence with you.

Make a practice of talking with others about Him. One of the ways we honor not only Jesus, but also our own baptismal vows, is to speak to others about Him.  This also helps others to become aware of not only who Christ is, but what He offers to us.

Take a walk with God.  Consciously work on noticing just how the world fits together, how nature works, how the plants grow, the insect interactions with each other and with plants, how the sun shines on everything.  Think about how your body moves with each step, and the marvelous design created for humanity.  Notice the animals around, how they were designed and move.  Think about the complexity of the automobile passing by , and break it down in your mind to its component energy parts.  Know without doubt that Christ was at work there.

We can also ask God to open our spiritual eyes to see where Jesus is in our everyday and commonplace experiences – in our arguments with others, in our joys and sorrows.  God is at work around us, enabling us to participate in the salvation provided by Christ to humanity.  The more sensitive we are to His working, the more we will be aware of opportunities to join in union with Him.

Keeping Christ in mind as the creator of all creation, macro- and micro-cosmic, as well as knowing that He created an opportunity for us to participate in salvation through His own sacrifice, will help us to follow the example that He set.  We have to remember that our salvation is not dependent on what is socially acceptable, but rather what is right in God’s sight.

Let’s pray, remembering that God in the Holy Spirit is with us always.  Breathe into me, O Holy Spirit that all my thoughts may be holy.  Act in me, O Holy Spirit that my work also may be holy.  Draw my heart, O Holy Spirit, that I may love only what is holy.  Strengthen me, O Holy Spirit to defend all that is holy.  Guard me, then, O Holy Spirit that I always may be aware of your presence.

Asimov’s Foundation Trilogy’s Influence on Science Fiction

OVERVIEW

Isaac Asimov, one of the greatest authors of science fiction,”[1] has affected science fiction, and contemporary society, in a myriad of ways:  his “Three Laws of Robotics”[2] have sparked ethical debates among scientists and philosophers; he has influenced and consulted with the creators of both Star Trek and Star Wars, undoubtedly two other major science fiction endeavors that inspire current science fact; and he was one of the most prolific authors in existence, writing 40 novels, 382 short stories, and 280+ non-fiction books during his career.[3]  However, his Foundation trilogy, written at the beginning of his career, initially substituted science for religion, demonstrating a disturbing cynical similarity to the Christian narrative.

SCIENCE AS RELIGION

Asimov, raised without religion by orthodox Jewish parents who emigrated from the USSR, has stated:

I tend to ignore religion in my own stories altogether, except when I absolutely have to have it. …and, whenever I bring in a religious motif, that religion is bound to seem vaguely Christian because that is the only religion I know anything about, even though it is not mine. An unsympathetic reader might think that I am “burlesquing” Christianity, but I am not. Then too, it is impossible to write science fiction and really ignore religion.[4]

Hari Seldon, the little seen, but profoundly felt, protagonist in the Foundation trilogy, created a science which combined history, sociology, and mathematical statistics to make general predictions about the future behavior of very large groups of people.  Seldon also gathered the people of the Foundation together “to harbor science and art during the fall of the Galactic Empire. The Foundation grows in power over the years, using trade and religion to control neighboring planets and systems.”[5]

The religion is described in the first book, Foundation:

[A]ll this talk about the Prophet Hari Seldon and how he appointed the Foundation to carry on his commandments that there might some day be a return of the Galactic Paradise:  and how anyone who disobeys his commandments will be destroyed for eternity.[6]

            A much later “Conversation with Isaac Asimov” points out that part of what Asimov used Foundation to show was the struggle between free will and determinism.[7]

Reading the ‘Foundation’ novels, one experiences an overriding sense of the inevitable, of a pervading fatalism.  Everything in the universe is pre-determined.  Unable to change the pre-ordained course of events, man becomes, instead of the agent of history, an object, a ‘pawn’ (using Asimov’s chess metaphor) (citation omitted) in the grip of historical necessity – i.e. of the actualization of Hari Seldon’s calculations.[8]

            This concept of free will, or freedom of choice, is repeatedly overridden by the predictions, and need for the accuracy of the predictions of Hari Seldon in order to shorten humanity’s suffering due to the fall of the civil authority.

Temptation number one, in Foundation and the first half of Foundation and Empire, was to depict vast populations of human beings as stochastic systems without any effective free will. Hari Seldon waved away free will by saying it would cancel out, averaged over a quadrillion people.[9]

Foundation and Empire made this clear in a conversation between a military commander and one of the Foundation traders:

“‘I have already said that the science had nothing to do with individual actions.  It is the vaster background that has been foreseen.”

“And if I exercise my prerogative of freewill?  If I choose to attack next year or not to attack at all?”

“Attack now or never; with a single ship or all the force in the Empire; by military force or economic pressure; by candid declaration of war or by treacherous ambush.  Do whatever you wish in your fullest exercise of freewill.  You will still lose.”

“Because of Hari Seldon’s dead hand?”

“Because of the dead hand of the mathematics of human behavior that can neither be stopped, swerved, nor delayed.”[10]

            The Foundationers, themselves, constitute a “religious” upper class, seemingly taught by Seldon in order to mitigate the suffering caused by the fall of the Empire from 30,000 years to a mere 1,000.  However, Seldon is clear that the science will not track the effects of any one individual or group, but that it will accurately predict the movement of the “mob”.  Unlike the scientific condition described in Newbigin’s work, where:

[T]he scientific tradition as a whole, and the many concepts, classifications of data, and theoretical models which are the working tools of science form as a whole a tradition within which scientists have to dwell in order to do their work…. The progress of science depends, therefore, on the authority of this tradition.[11]

The Foundationers, the scientists of the story, fight to maintain the status quo in order to facilitate Seldon’s predictions of a shorter period of chaos, despite the fact that Seldon has said their individual or even group efforts will have no effect on the final outcome.  There is no effort to develop the science, or to take Seldon’s predictions further within the first two Foundation books.

            “Asimov argued that SF ‘deals with the possible advances in science and with the potential changes – even those damned eternal verities – these may bring about in society.’ (fn. omitted)  These precepts do not square with his novels.”[12]

However, author Jeri Kakela describes how the Foundationers see themselves and their role:

Seldon casts the Foundationers as those “whose destiny it is to save the whole of human civilization. As Seldon repeatedly engages in these crisis-bound conceptualizations of history and future, for the Foundationers his recorded appearances make him a godlike entity behind their national destiny. The Foundationers are thus immersed in ideas of an urgent duty to expand and redeem the rest of the galaxy…”[13]

            For the secular (i.e., non-scientists) among the Foundationers, a distinctly cynical attitude develops toward the scientific “religion”.  The chief trader in religious goods (i.e., nuclear power and technological gadgets) among the galaxy remarks to the Mayor of the Foundation:  “It is remarkable, Hardin, how the religion of science has grabbed hold.  I’ve written an essay on the subject – entirely for my own amusement; it wouldn’t do to have it published.”[14]

Even within a novel where science is the religion, the secular humanistic beliefs of the author shine through, even as the character he creates (a man) allows a religion to develop around his science.

THEOLOGICAL ANALYSIS

Within Foundation, the similarity to the Christian narrative is clear:  ” the Prophet Hari Seldon represents Jesus Christ, the Foundation is organized religion, the commandments are similar to those given to Moses in the old testament, the Earthly paradise is Heaven, and to be destroyed for eternity is the Christian idea of Hell.[15]  As the trilogy progresses, however, it is also clear that:  Hari Seldon is merely a man – a scientific genius – but still, just a man; the Foundation is in the dark as to their true purpose and serves as a front for a Second Foundation about which Seldon told no one; the commandments are only as good as the people are willing to follow and enforce them; and no real concept of heaven or hell, or what the new empire will look like, exists.  All the author has are the theories created through psychohistory, by which it becomes obvious that without a great enough external stimulus, history will continue to repeat itself, ad infinitum.

Interestingly, by the end of the second book, Foundation and Empire, Asimov writes himself out of the rut of repetitive history by introducing a mystical character known as the Mule, which both puts Seldon’s math in disarray, and would parallel with the character of the anti-Christ within Christianity.  Additionally, the Mule will foreshadow what the Second Foundation points to in subsequent novels, Gaia, a planet of beings who use empathic and telepathic abilities benevolently for all of humanity.  This planet is apparently where humanity began, and what they will evolve into, thus bringing the concept of Heaven and heaven on Earth back full circle.

The myth of secularization, whether it be through science or social constructs, is actually shown well within the Foundation trilogy.  Evidence shows “… secularization will not usher in a post-religious era.  Instead, it will repeatedly lead to a resupply of vigorous otherworldly religious organizations by prompting revival.”[16]  In a conversation regarding authors who would build on Asimov’s Foundation series, one potential author commented that the creation of the religion by Seldon would need to be explained:  “I have a line I’m planning for my new book, … ‘It’s clear that you humans, despite all our efforts, are determined to achieve deification; all right, we’ll design one for you.'”[17]

Yet it is not the man-made religion which prevails in the Foundation series, but rather one in which mystical elements, impossible to describe, define or predict through psychohistory, provide humanity with hope for their future, and meaning for their existence.

INFLUENCE OF THE FOUNDATION TRILOGY

Foundation has inspired writers from Douglas Adams to George Lucas, and public figures as varied as Paul Krugman and Newt Gingrich. In 1966, the Foundation Trilogy received the Hugo Award for Best All-Time Series, beating out the Lord of the Rings.”[18]  This provides both a large number of science fiction readers as well as the broader range of political, historical and economic audiences who have been exposed to the ideas Asimov sets forth.

Depending upon how far they have read in the Foundation series, it is possible that they have only been exposed to the negative and skeptical aspects of “religion” through the created scientific religion of the first book and a half.  If they have also been exposed to modern trends in “journalism” or “education”, it may have been an influence in turning people away from true religion simply by focusing on the past failures of those who attempt to guide humanity.

The negativity of the Christian past persists in Foundation:

The trader protagonist Hober Mallow’s visit to the tech-man is a good example of this contrast. In Siwenna, a deteriorated old Imperial province, the tech-men have become a hereditary guild that guards its knowledge and admits nobody but other tech-men to the power plants they guard and maintain. The tech-man that Mallow visits is an embodiment of moral and physical deterioration: as a kind of caricature of a corrupt medieval monk, he is “short, and his skin glistened with well-kept plumpness. His hair was a fringe and his skull shone through pinkly. The rings on his fingers were thick and heavy, his clothes were scented, and he was the first man Mallow had met on the planet who hadn’t looked hungry”.  (Foundation, 202)  Mallow soon discovers that the tech-men possess no actual knowledge of the technology they supposedly maintain: “The tech-man shook his head indignantly. ‘[The generators] don’t break down. They never break down. They were built for eternity’” (206).[19]

            Other examples within Foundation show the manipulative nature of the people within the Foundation as they spread their religion and discourage intellectual pursuits:

I started that way at first because the barbarians looked upon our science as a sort of magical sorcery, and it was easiest to get them to accept it on that basis. The priesthood built itself and if we help it along we are only following the line of least resistance.[20]

To the people of Anacreon he was high priest, representative of that foundation which, to those ‘barbarians’ was the acme of mystery and the physical center of this religion they had created– with Hardin’s help– in the last three decades.[21]

The religion– which the Foundation has fostered and encouraged, mind you– is built on strictly authoritarian lines. The priesthood has sole control of the instruments of science we have given Anacreon, but they’ve learned to handle these tools only empirically. They believe in this religion entirely and in the …oh…spiritual value of the power they handle…The Foundation has fostered this delusion assiduously.[22]

            And yet, many scientists find no contradiction between science and religion.  The difficulty can arise when those with scientific knowledge try to discuss theology with people not trained in the sciences – Asimov, himself a doctor of biochemistry, had such difficulties.  The Society of Ordained Scientists summarizes the problem:

In [Arthur] Peacocke’s words:  “Although only a small proportion of the population as a whole have any accurate scientific knowledge, it is science and technology which are creating new attitudes. To people so influenced the language of the Church appears to be not only obscure but obscurantist and, even, dishonest. The clergy are, through no fault of their own, ill-equipped to speak effectively to a scientifically conditioned people, for the proportion of them who have had any scientific education is practically negligible. Thus, the ordained leadership of all the churches contains practically none who understand, from the inside, the chief formative influence in the mind of modern man.”[23]

Like Asimov, however, many scientists do not take the time to communicate with believers who speak the same language of science.  And the public, long used to seeing science as an authority, will often cite science as a reason for their unbelief:

The upshot is a hermeneutics of suspicion; if someone tells you that he or she has converted to unbelief because of science, don’t believe them.  Because what’s usually captured the person is not scientific evidence per se, but the form of science … It is seen as the stance of maturity, of courage, of manliness, over against childish fears and sentimentality.”  (p. 365)  But you can also understand how, on the retelling, the convert to unbelief will want to give the impression that it was the scientific evidence that was doing the work.[24]

            Books like the Foundation trilogy, and authors like Asimov, often use cynical or sarcastic phrasing, undermining their readers’ beliefs and traditions.  Yet Asimov truly did do the research, exploring Christian writings, and finding them lacking.  His depth of research and writing over the course of his life saw him published in nine of the ten Dewey decimal classifications, including a two-volume Biblical commentary.  Knowing this, admirers of his science fiction writing may not bother doing their own research, and simply take his word for the uselessness of religion.

This sums up the question with regard to the Foundation trilogy:

Religion is definitely all over this initial trilogy, although I still struggle to articulate precisely the point Asimov is making. I suppose I might call the message of this trilogy an intensely humanistic one: Even the seemingly unknowable can become known and quantified, and humanity can gain the tools to predict its own future and peer inside its own minds. Of course, there’s still a deeper philosophical question — what’s the point of all this, really?[25]

CONCLUSION

When a well-educated scientist, prolific author and beloved science fiction writer creates a series of books making science the religious focus, it will have an effect on contemporary society.  The Foundation trilogy is full of contradictions that both parallel and exemplify the worst of Christian history.  Because Isaac Asimov is such a well-known name and author, it is inevitable that his opinions and work will influence both authors and readers in their thinking.  As a fan of Asimov myself, my assumptions have always been that he just didn’t get it, but he told a great story.  It would have been interesting to see if the Society of Ordained Scientists (only organized toward the end of Asimov’s life) would have been able to speak the language needed to break through Asimov’s skepticism.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Primary Sources

Asimov, Isaac.  Foundation.  New York, NY:  Bantam Dell, 1951.

Asimov, Isaac. Foundation and Empire. New York, NY: Bantam Dell, 1952.

Asimov, Isaac. Second Foundation. New York, NY: Bantam Dell, 1953.

Works Consulted

Asimov, Isaac. 1981. Asimov’s Guide to the Bible : Two Volumes in One, the Old and New Testaments. New York: Wings Books.

Asimov, Isaac. 1981. In the Beginning. 1st ed. New York: Crown.

Asimov, Isaac, and Orson Scott. Card. Gold: the final science fiction collection. New York: Eos, 2003.

Bear, Greg, Gregory Benford, David Brin, and Gary Westfahl. “Building on Isaac Asimov’s Foundation: An Eaton Discussion with Joseph D. Miller as Moderator.” Science Fiction Studies 24, no. 1 (1997): 17-32. http://www.jstor.org/stable/4240573. p. 2

Brummond, Michel. “Religion in Asimov’s Writings.” Mike Brummond: On a Mission From God. Accessed September 21, 2017. http://www.angelfire.com/wi/mikebru/Alps.html.

Eger, Martin. “A tale of two controversies: dissonance in theory and practice of rationality.” Zygon 23, no. 3 (September 1988): 291-325. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed August 30, 2017)

Elkins, Charles. “Isaac Asimov’s “Foundation” Novels: Historical Materialism Distorted Into Cyclical Psycho-History.” Science Fiction Studies, March 1976, 26-36.

Gunn, James. Isaac Asimov: the foundations of science fiction. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 2005.

Ingersoll, Earl G., Isaac Asimov, Gregory Fitz Gerald, Jack Wolf, Joshua Duberman, and Robert Philmus. “A Conversation with Isaac Asimov.” Science Fiction Studies 14, no. 1 (1987): 68-77. http://www.jstor.org/stable/4239795.

Kakela, Jari. “Enlightened Sense of Wonder? Sublimity and Rationality in Asimov’s Foundation Series.” Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts, March 22, 2011, 171-91.

Kakela, Jeri. “Managing and Manipulating History: Perpetual Urgency in Asimov and Heinlein.” Fafnir – Nordic Journal of Science Fiction and Fantasy Research, 2014, 7-22.

Kuklick, Bruce, and Paul A. Carter. “Seldon’s Choice: Variations on a Theme by Asimov.” In Religious advocacy and American history, 190-208. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1997.

Pohl, Frederik. “Remembering Isaac Asimov.” World Literature Today, May 1, 2010, 37-38.

Smith, James K. A. How (not) to be secular: reading Charles Taylor. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2015.

Strauss, Mark. “What Absolutely Everyone Needs To Know About Isaac Asimov’s Foundation.” We Come From the Future. November 19, 2014. Accessed September 17, 2017. https://io9.gizmodo.com/what-absolutely-everyone-needs-to-know-about-isaac-asim-1660230344.

Wilkins, Josh Wimmer and Alasdair. “Mind games and mysteries abound in Isaac Asimov’s Second Foundation.” Io9. May 11, 2011. Accessed September 21, 2017. https://io9.gizmodo.com/5799734/mind-games-and-mysteries-abound-in-isaac-asimovs-second-foundation.

“Foundation and Empire (with Apologies to Isaac Asimov): A Consideration of Hardt and Negri’s Empire.” Social Analysis 46, no. 1 (2002): 167–179.

“History.” Society of Ordained Scientists. May 29, 2014. Accessed September 22, 2017. https://ordainedscientists.wordpress.com/history/.

[1] Cates, Matt. “Greatest Sci-Fi Authors of All Time.” August 13, 2016. Accessed September 18, 2017. https://futurism.media/greatest-sci-fi-authors-of-all-time.

[2] Asimov, Isaac. I, robot. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1950.  P. 40.

[3] A Catalogue of Isaac Asimov’s Books. Accessed September 18, 2017. http://www.asimovonline.com/oldsite/asimov_catalogue.html.

[4] Asimov, Isaac, and Orson Scott. Card. Gold: the final science fiction collection. New York: Eos, 2003. P. 297-302.

[5] Brummond, Michel. “Religion in Asimov’s Writings.” Mike Brummond: On a Mission From God. Accessed September 21, 2017. http://www.angelfire.com/wi/mikebru/Alps.html.

[6] Asimov, Isaac.  Foundation.  New York, NY:  Bantam Dell, 1951.  Pgs. 108-109.

[7] Ingersoll, Earl G., Isaac Asimov, Gregory Fitz Gerald, Jack Wolf, Joshua Duberman, and Robert Philmus. “A Conversation with Isaac Asimov.” Science Fiction Studies 14, no. 1 (1987): p. 70. http://www.jstor.org/stable/4239795.

[8] Elkins, Charles. “Isaac Asimov’s “Foundation” Novels: Historical Materialism Distorted Into Cyclical Psycho-History.” Science Fiction Studies, March 1976, p. 31.

[9] Bear, Greg, Gregory Benford, David Brin, and Gary Westfahl. “Building on Isaac Asimov’s Foundation: An Eaton Discussion with Joseph D. Miller as Moderator.” Science Fiction Studies 24, no. 1 (1997): p. 2. http://www.jstor.org/stable/4240573.

[10] Asimov, Isaac. Foundation and Empire. New York, NY: Bantam Dell, 1952.  P. 26.

[11] Newbigin, Lesslie. The Gospel in a Pluralist Society. London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 2014. p. 48

[12] Elkins, Charles. “Isaac Asimov’s “Foundation” Novels: Historical Materialism Distorted Into Cyclical Psycho-History.” Science Fiction Studies, March 1976, p. 27.

[13] Kakela, Jeri. “Managing and Manipulating History: Perpetual Urgency in Asimov and Heinlein.” Fafnir – Nordic Journal of Science Fiction and Fantasy Research, 2014, p. 11.

[14] Asimov, Isaac.  Foundation.  New York, NY:  Bantam Dell, 1951, p. 96.

[15] Brummond, Michel. “Religion in Asimov’s Writings.”

[16] Newbigin, p. 214.

[17] Bear, Greg, Gregory Benford, David Brin, and Gary Westfahl, at p. 8.

[18] Strauss, Mark. “What Absolutely Everyone Needs To Know About Isaac Asimov’s Foundation.” We Come From the Future. November 19, 2014. Accessed September 17, 2017. https://io9.gizmodo.com/what-absolutely-everyone-needs-to-know-about-isaac-asim-1660230344.

[19] Kakela, Jari. “Enlightened Sense of Wonder? Sublimity and Rationality in Asimov’s Foundation Series.” Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts, March 22, 2011, pgs. 177-178.

[20] Asimov, Foundation, pgs. 91-92.

[21] Asimov, Foundation, p. 94.

[22] Asimov, Foundation, p. 112.

[23] “History.” Society of Ordained Scientists. May 29, 2014. Accessed September 22, 2017. https://ordainedscientists.wordpress.com/history/.

[24] Smith, James K. A. How (not) to be secular: reading Charles Taylor. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2015. Pgs. 76-77.

[25] Wilkins, Josh Wimmer and Alasdair. “Mind games and mysteries abound in Isaac Asimov’s Second Foundation.” Io9. May 11, 2011. Accessed September 21, 2017. https://io9.gizmodo.com/5799734/mind-games-and-mysteries-abound-in-isaac-asimovs-second-foundation.

Catching Up

It appears that my second year of classes are going to be a lot more intense than the first.  I just finished Contemporary Society and the Church, and will post the final paper on here for anyone interested in Isaac Asimov.  This was a very practical class that saw us looking into the various ways that modern technology, ideas and social “revolutions” have affected the church, as well as looking at how other churches do things.

Every couple of weeks we had labor intensive projects which then were written up as papers, which were then discussed by the class.  It started out as a great class, and I continued learning a great deal, but between the changes taking place at Nashotah House and the changes in our professor’s life, he kind of dropped off the radar after the residential week, and other than a one-hour conference call mid-course, we got no feedback from him at all.  So, I’m still not sure how I did in the course.  If it were just the grade, that would be one thing, but it’s the feedback from the professor that’s actually more valuable.  Fortunately, I was working in a group with a Deacon and a former military Presbyterian pastor who turned Anglican, so I did get good feedback from them.

The current class is on Homiletics, or how to write a sermon.  I’m currently exhausted. <g>  And we’ve only had 2 weeks.  Everything was last minute, because the professor didn’t get asked to teach the course until about 3 weeks prior to, which meant we didn’t get book lists or syllabus until about 2 weeks prior, and the amount of work in the residential week was brutal.  Good, informative, completely out of my comfort zone, but excellent stuff – just more than this middle-aged woman is used to dealing with. 🙂  I’ll be posting the sermons I write as I go – there are two thus far, and I’ll have a third by next week (which *should* put me a week ahead in class).  Uploading videos of sermons when you live in the boonies can take several hours to accomplish, so it’s probably good that I’ll be doing things ahead of time.  My upload speed last night was .4 Mps, not counting it becoming overwhelmed and disconnecting, and when you have a 455 MB file, it’s gonna take some time.

I did get to meet the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, Michael Curry – actually got to sit next to him at lunch.  That man has got the energy of a 2-year-old!  While he was raised Episcopalian, he was also raised by a Baptist grandmother, so his style of preaching is definitely much more dramatic than your typical Episcopalian.  Being that the student body at Nashotah is about 80% Anglican, I was interested in the Q&A session he offered to us.  We had submitted questions for consideration, and the acting dean asked the questions.  The responses were really good, and very political – as in, he never actually answered anything controversial.  I am reminded of:

which was fun to watch, but rather disappointing for all that.

So, that’s been the last… 4? months of my life.  I’ll try to get back to posting a bit more regularly.