Proclaiming the Good News of God in Christ

Ask A Priest

Ask a Priest – What is the “Prosperity Gospel?”

 

The basic idea of the Prosperity Gospel is found in scripture: “If you follow in my ways, I will prosper you.” For example, in the Book of 1 Kings 3:14, God says to Solomon in a dream, “if you walk in obedience to me and keep my decrees and commands as David your father did, I will give you a long life.” Hint: Solomon breaks those commands in future verses.

 

I think there are some key problems with prosperity gospel theology, and we can talk about them using the example of a square and a rectangle. Here’s a quick logic lesson!

 

Consider this: “If an object is a square, it has four sides.”

 

We know that’s true. It’s pretty basic. But it gets troubling if you flip it: “If an object has four sides, it is a square.” That ISN’T true! We can think of rectangles, or parallelograms, or rhombuses, or that four-sided thing one of the kids drew on the back of a worship bulletin after getting back from receiving Communion.

 

But there’s a trick that logicians know: if you reverse it AND add a “negative” to both sides, any true if/then statement will stay true! (This is called a “contrapositive”)

 

So with our phrase above: If an object does NOT have four sides, it is NOT a square.”

 

True again, right? Once you assert the “if” part, the “then” part always follows.

 

The problem is that if you perform the same move on the key thought in the prosperity gospel, you get into trouble really fast.

 

Here it is: “If you follow in my ways, I will prosper you” becomes “If you are NOT prospering, then you do NOT have faith.”

 

This is troubling in all sorts of ways. One is that if you take it to mean literal earthly wealth, it immediately condemns the poor … who Jesus repeatedly instructed us to love and serve. Another is with illness, or natural disaster: if you believe that the faithful will be prospered by God, then anyone who becomes sick, or is afflicted by a natural event, must not be faithful either … and because the prosperity gospel teaches that this is God’s will, that means they “deserve” their afflictions and sufferings

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We also know all sorts of examples of people who are suffering or oppressed because of the actions of others. Our chief example is surely Jesus, who is tried unjustly by Rome and the Pharisees alike, and given over to great suffering. Far from being faithless, Jesus is faithful even unto death, and death on a cross. This is in spite of his incredibly human moment in the Garden of Gethsemane, in which he voices his longing that this punishment would pass away from him.

 

But if the prosperity gospel gets us to answers that seem to be in such tension with the rest of the faith, what IS the good news that scripture has about God’s love for all who love God? Why do we see bad things happening to good people?

 

One answer about the good news is from Psalm 139: there is no place on earth we can go where God will not be with us. This means, to me, that God doesn’t abandon Jesus on the cross, and that God doesn’t abandon us if we are sick. God isn’t only near to the healthy, or the wealthy, or the powerful. God is with each person in the world. As a fellow hospital chaplain said to me in the year we served together in west Chicago, “Everyone’s first in line with God.”

 

When people cry out their pain, it helps us find the places where God enters in. This is true in grand ways, such as Exodus 2:23, and it is true in small ways, when we can find peace and love even in the face of hardship.

 

I do believe that God is faithful to those of us who walk in God’s ways … I just also believe God is faithful even to those who don’t. Jesus didn’t offer forgiveness from the cross to those “who walk in God’s ways” … he offered forgiveness to those who “do not know what they do.”

 

That might be the central moment in all human history for me. If someone ever asks me “when I was saved,” I usually refer to that.

 

Meanwhile, we are called to be comfort and community to one another – not only to those whose prosperity (in health, wealth, or human power) seems to indicate that they have a miraculous life, and perhaps even one blessed by God, but to those who seem not to be prospering. The poor, the sick, the refugee and the powerless – these are all our sisters and brothers in Jesus Christ, and if we want to know where God’s love for a hurting world is, we might try starting with what we ourselves can do.

 

May God draw us ever more into that love,

Fr. Benedidct Varnum +
St. Augustine’s, Elkhorn

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Ask a Priest: What is a “Blue Christmas” Liturgy?

 

Think of the world around us right now.  It is a world filled 24 hours a day with the “marketing” of Christmas: Joy to the World;  Hark the Herald Angels Sing; A Christmas Song; The 12 Days of Christmas; Merry Christmas; Christmas parties at school and work; Family reunions;  Lots of presents; Lots of great food… The message is clear!  You have to be HAPPY!!!

 

It is simply a truth that in the midst of the real joy and happiness that comes in December, that personal and emotional challenges are at their highest at the same time.  Many things seem to come to a head as the days get shorter and the parties begin to ramp up; Memories of love ones who have died; The stress of broken families or relations;  Reflecting on a year that was so bad you can’t wait for January 1st.

 

Over the last few decades, many churches have begun to offer liturgies called “Blue Christmas” or “The Liturgy of the Longest Night.”  These liturgies offer to those dealing with difficult challenges a safe place to be in the midst of the hustle and bustle found outside.  The liturgies offer a reassurance of the certainty of God’s presence even in the midst of pain, sorrow, and grief, and a space to tell the truth about the pain.  Most importantly, the liturgies won’t try to fix anything – they offer a way to be present without having to fake anything. These liturgies speak the truth that God loves us, and we love each other, in times when we’re feeling broken just as much as in times when we’re feeling happy, and they offer comfort and pastoral care in a season when it can be difficult to ask for it.

 

Blue Christmas services often take the form of a modified Order for Evening from the Book of Common Prayer.  They include prayers of comfort, hymns of healing, and scripture which state God’s presence.  Most importantly, the service is done in church and with other people, and permission is given to cry.

 

The promise of Advent and Christmas is Emmanuel (God with us).  Blue Christmas Liturgies offer yet another way to see the promise lived out.

 

Blessings!

 

Fr. Ernesto Medina,
St. Martha’s, Papillion

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Easter: Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?

JudischerKalender-1831_ubt

Jewish calendar from 1851

An odd thing happened this Easter: both western churches and Eastern Orthodox churches celebrated Easter on the same Sunday. This does not happen frequently, but why does eastern Easter often fall different than western? It dates (no pun intended) back to the Council of Nicea in 325 a.d., the same council that rendered the Nicene Creed. At that point the church and the world used the Julian Calendar and Easter was standardized as the first Sunday after the Passover. Previously, Easter, in some places has been celebrated on whatever day followed the Passover. The Jewish Passover is calculated based off lunar cycles; so it has come to be thought that Easter falls on the Sunday after the full moon after the vernal equinox. However, that’s not quite the case.

See, in 325 church astronomers calculated the dates of vernal full moons for the next 3000 years and established what is called the Paschal Full Moon. So, Easter is the first Sunday after the Paschal Full Moon, but the calculations were a bit off and so the Paschal Full Moon does not always coincide with a real full moon. Confused yet? Anyway, this was all fine and dandy until 1582 when Pope Gregory switched the world (at least the western part) to the Gregorian calendar. The Eastern Church stuck with the calculating the date of Easter based off of the Julian calendar. That’s why Eastern Orthodox Easter is often not on the same Sunday as Easter in western churches.

– Fr. Jason Emerson

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Ask a Priest: Is the Lenten Beer Fast Real or a Myth?

Lager_beer_in_glass-medium

“Is the Lenten Beer Fast real, or just a myth?”

With lent fast approaching (no pun intended) I was once again questioned at my local watering hole if the so called “Beer Fast” was legit. There is a legend that monks in Germany developed Doppelbock (a type of strong beer) to subsist solely upon during the season of Lent.  They would not eat, read chew, any food during lent but would consume, possibly, four doppelbocks a day as their only source of calories and nutrients.  Doppelbock was first brewed by the Paulaner Monks at  Neudeck ob der Au outside Munich, Germany in the 1600s.  They had copious amounts of grain and for seasons of fasting such as lent they would use their grain to brew Doppelbock instead of baking bread.  While Doppelbock is quite stronger than your typical American Lager (i.e. Miller Lite) it is also loaded with nutrients and vitamins.   Consequently, this beer became known as “Liquid Bread”, it is also known as “Fastenbier” or Lent Beer.

It appears the concept of observing the lenten fast by only drinking beer is a real thing.  How strictly or piously the monks went about their fast, one can only guess.  This concept was tested in 2011 by Iowa journalist and homebrewer J. Wilson.  He drank four doppelbocks a day during the week and five on the weekends.  He reports that after initial bouts with hunger he began to experience a sharp level of clarity and a heightened awareness of the difference between needs and wants.  You can read his article here.

While the lenten beer fast can be a tool for spiritual development, let me offer a word of caution.  Not all fasts are suitable for all people.  Just as an anorexic should not fast from food, and alcoholic should not embark on a beer fast.  There are two keys with fasting, during lent or any other time: discipline and motivation.  It’s the discipline not the chemistry that heightens focus.  While there are a host of nutrients and vitamins in a well brewed Doppelbock, it is not a magical elixir; rather, the intentional practice of self denial leads to less distractions which leads to greater focus.  Motivation matters a great deal as well.  If your motivation is simply to drink beer than that is all you will get out of the experience.  However, if you are seeking to grow closer to God, to become aware of how little you actually need and how much God provides, then subsiding on a just a few beers a day may assist in that effort.  Therefore, no matter which fast you choose this Lent, seek more of God and less of this world.

Fr. Jason Emerson+ is the Rector of the Church of the Resurrection and author of the blog Fermenting The Word.

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Ask a Priest: Red or White?

What type of wine should be used for communion?  slide-02

I have often asked the question of house guests, “red or white?” It’s a question of hospitality and welcome.  Whatever wine the guest chooses is appropriate.  When we come to the Eucharist, however, there are some other considerations.  The wine of communion is both a sign and symbol.  A sign is something that points to something else, like a stop sign which signifies the place stop but also the law of the road which by mutual agreement allows safe passage.   Symbols are “deeper”, in that they participate in the thing they signify.  For example, the American flag is a sign marking American territory, but also for Americans it is a powerful symbol of the freedoms and values of the Constitution and all of the sacrifices that have been made throughout our history to provide those freedoms and to uphold those values.  Communion Wine is a sign of Jesus’ blood and also a symbol of his sacrifice for our atonement.  Even beyond that, it is part of the sacrament of the Eucharist–a “visible and outward sign of an inward and spiritual grace.”

 

With this in mind, technically, communion wine can be any wine made from grapes because it should be “fruit of the wine” as Jesus drank at the Last Supper.  It is efficacious to use Red Wine as it better symbolizes blood.  The use of fortified wines such as sherry and port in some Anglican churches (which in my opinion should not be used, as the additives used to fortify the wine make it not purely of the vine) dates back to the late 1600s when England was at war with France and Spain, but allied with Portugal.  England doesn’t produce wine and couldn’t import from France and Spain; so, they brought in port from Portugal.

 

The choice of communion wine varies by community, but the decision should always be based on theological and symbolic reasons.  My vote is for a simple red wine to best be a sign and symbol of the blood of Christ, the simple carpenter who saves us all with his simple message of love.

 

– Fr. Jason Emerson

 

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Ask A Priest (Bishop’s Vestments)

Q: Bishop Barker recently visited our parish and now I’m curious about his vestments and other objects associated with being a bishop. Can you explain their significance?

A: That’s a great question, and one that is of special interest to me because I served on the Transition Committee that was charged with procuring those very vestments and objects for Bishop Barker. The ministry of the bishop is to connect all of the parishes in the diocese, to connect all of the dioceses to one another, and to maintain a connection between the church of today and the early church established by the apostles. The bishop’s vestments help symbolize his ministry (both men and women serve the church as bishops, but since your question was about Bishop Barker, I will use male pronouns in my answer).

The pointed hat that the bishop wears is called a mitre. Bishops have been wearing mitres for about 1,000 years, so they are very recognizable symbols of the office of bishop. The mitre is shaped like a flame, reminding us of the presence of the Holy Spirit in the upper room on Pentecost, when the church was born. We believe that bishops represent an unbroken lineage (sometimes called succession) all the way back to the first apostles, so the flame-like hat reminds us of that special spiritual ancestry.

The cape that the bishop sometimes wears is called a cope. Historically, copes are reminiscent of overcoats worn during Roman times. The bishop typically only wears a cope when he is participating in a non-Eucharistic liturgy (a church service without Holy Communion), but it may also be worn in the first part of a Eucharistic service or when performing services that only he can do, such as ordination or confirmation.

The stole is a long piece of fabric that priests (and bishops) wear around their necks and deacons wear across their chests. They are symbols of obedience to Christ.

The alb is the white garment that goes under all the other vestments. If you are a chalice bearer in your parish, you may wear and alb yourself sometimes. Albs are symbols of our baptism and reminders that we are all equal in Christ. Above everything else, the bishop is first and foremost a baptized Christian. The alb is a reminder that our identity is found in baptism, not ordination.

When the bishop visited your church he probably carried a large staff with him, called a crozier. The crozier, which has a curved top, looks like a traditional shepherd’s staff and is symbolic of the bishop’s ministry as pastor (shepherd).

Bishop Barker wears a ring on his right hand with the seal of the Diocese of Nebraska. It is an ancient tradition—probably dating back to the Middle Ages—that a bishop receive a ring at his or her ordination. The ring is a symbol of the bishop’s faithfulness to the Church and to Christ. In rare occasions when the bishop must seal a document in wax, he can use his ring.

The bishop has other special garments symbolic of his ministry (like a chimererochet, and tippet), but he doesn’t typically wear them on parish visits (at least not that I’ve seen).

Rev. Liz Easton

An Alb

An Alb

 

A deacon wearing a stole (deacons wear the stole across one shoulder, priests around both)

A deacon wearing a stole (deacons wear the stole across one shoulder, priests around both)

 

Bishop Barker's crozier

Bishop Barker’s crozier

 

Several bishops wearing their copes

Several bishops wearing their copes

 

mitre

Bishop Barker in his mitre

 

A Bishop's Ring

A Bishop’s Ring

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