Written by Father Ed Kelaher, April 2017
Written by Father Ed Kelaher, March 2017
Written by Father Ed Kelaher, January 2017
Written by Father Ed Kelaher, December 2016
Written by Father Ed Kelaher, November 10th, 2016
How We Might Know the Bible is True
Written by Father Ed Kelaher, April 2017
Last week I watched the film The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance for the 3,126th time. Or maybe the 3,127th time, I’m not sure. John Wayne, Jimmy Stewart, Lee Marvin, Vera Miles, Andy Divine, John Carradine, Lee Van Cleef, Edmond O’Brien, and directed by John Ford. Give me a break. Jimmy Stewart rises to fame and becomes a United States Senator upon the mistaken reputation that he outdueled a ruthless outlaw. When he reveals to a newspaper writer decades later that John Wayne was the true vigilante, the scribe begins to walk away in rejection of the revelation. Leaving the scene, the reporter poignantly offers, “This is the West, sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.” My take is that the quote is a variation of the better phrased, “When legend and fact disagree, print the legend.”
Skeptics and challengers will charge that the Bible is very much legend and myth ripened into fact. They will rail against the marvelous truth that, in God, a sea can be parted to save God’s people, that a Baby can be born to a Virgin, that a dead Man can be resurrected and walk out of a tomb, and that there is eternal life beyond the grave. There is a wide denial of the divine, which surely exists behind everything ordinary. There is pretense and pride for the ability of mankind, claiming credit for the same blessings God has given us. The Scriptures are maligned as being filled with fable and religious folklore contrived to be the Gospel, sometimes sweetened by a “however well intended” patronization. In this vein, Jesus was not God, He was just a holy man and a wise teacher.
The Bible is true. Of course, we recognize that within its pages are stories, parables, and myths intentionally employed as literary devices to explain the things of God. But the principles, doctrines, revelations, promises, miracles, messages, events, and happenings contained in the Scriptures are true and reliable and comprise the most glorious of all gifts to the world except for Jesus Himself, (Abraham Lincoln’s description of the Bible). In fact, they are so true and reliable that the Bible is our ultimate standard, measuring stick, mirror, test, ruler, and measure of the truth of everything else. It is the very standard of truth against which all things are to be measured. If someone advances a particular belief or teaching and you wonder about its truth, simply hold it up to the biblical mirror and it will be shown as authentic or counterfeit. Jesus is Truth, with a capital T. Did you catch that? It is not merely that He speaks Truth or represents Truth. His very Being is Truth and no falsehood or darkness can exist in Him. In light of His light, the Holy Spirit will bring us into all Truth and never tell us or lead us into anything inconsistent with biblical teaching. Once we slip away from that reality, we fall into the spurious practice of making legends into facts and we are lost.
How do we know the Bible is not just legend made fact? Many, many ways. Here though, I would like to highlight just one. Here I would like to use the warts of the Bible as evidence of its honesty, candor, and authenticity.
If one wished to deceive the world into believing a fake revelation of God, human nature would cause the deceiver to put forth a text so winsome, lovely, clean, pure, divine, and holy that many would embrace it readily and with delight. Even if the trickster did a poor job of it, anyone succeeding him in the fraud would make the necessary edits and emendations to eliminate any obstacles to winning new converts. The legends would be crafted so appealingly that they would become treasured fact over time and perhaps further the hoax for centuries.
The Bible does just the opposite. While it surely has its winsome, lovely, clean, pure, divine and holy characteristics, it also has its warts. Instead of being a brainwashing manifesto that makes everyone in the Lord appear heroic and perfect, it underscores truth and fact by eliminating and preventing the legends. If one were conjuring a false revelation of God designed to lure followers, the text would not mention the cowardice of Abraham, the disobedience of Moses, the adultery of David, Jeremiah’s defiance, Noah’s drunken nakedness, Hosea’s prostitute wife, the murders or executions of Moses, David and Paul, John the Baptist’s doubt, Peter’s denial, the Apostles’ gutless moments, the impurity of Jesus’ bloodline, and so many more humiliating and embarrassing family truths. This is not the stuff of legends, though so many of them had heroic moments and vitally faithful lives in the final analysis.
A most significant proof of the Bible’s honesty, candor, truth, integrity, reliability and divine inspiration is found in its warts and blemishes. Instead of whitewashing the family shame, the shame is put right out front for all to see, that we may better grasp our desperate need for a Savior. Instead of sanitizing, laundering, sterilizing, purifying, and scrubbing the biblical story, God has chosen to leave in all the filth, defilement and sin. Instead of opening the possibility that we might become worshippers of Abraham, Moses, David, John the Baptist, or Paul, God uses the Bible to eliminate the legends before they begin. We are to be true worshippers of only the One.
The media may hold as a maxim that “When legend and fact disagree, print the legend.” But the Holy Spirit of God holds that “When legend and fact disagree, the Bible is the printing of the fact.” And the ultimate fact is that God is Truth and His Holy Bible is His truthful Word for all His people.
Guarding Your Heart in Lent
Written by Father Ed Kelaher, March 2017
Above all else, guard your heart,
for everything you do flows from it.
Keep your mouth free of perversity;
keep corrupt talk far from your lips.
Let your eyes look straight ahead;
fix your gaze directly before you.
Give careful thought to the paths for your feet
and be steadfast in all your ways.
Do not turn to the right or the left;
keep your foot from evil.
Some people tend to be more paternal or maternal than others. Fortunately or unfortunately, I am among them. The welfare, safety, fulfillment, holiness, and joy of those around me matter enormously. To a confessed fault, I sometimes will do extreme things to watch over those I love and sometimes people I don’t even know. It has always been that way. Maybe it comes from an oldest child syndrome or just from an overblown sense of self-importance. I hope it comes from the Lord’s calling on my life.
What I know for sure, though, is that people are blessed by God more when I pray and yield to His direction than when I reactively assert myself into situations. What I know for sure is that I am most effective helping others when my own heart is right. To be right, my heart must be desirous of goodness and holiness, filled with the Word of God from the Bible, and tempered at length by prayer. When those things are aligned within, amazing and extraordinary things happen, all well beyond my own abilities.
The simple and only way to achieve these exclusively God-given conditions is by inviting the Holy Spirit into our hearts directly and intentionally. Each day, my prayer is that the Holy Spirit will create in me a clean heart (Psalm 51:10). Each day, my prayer is that the Holy Spirit will not only come into my being, but that the Holy Spirit will fill me to overflowing as He did for Jesus, Mary, Elizabeth, the Apostles, and others. A short study of the Scriptures reveals the big difference between receiving the Holy Spirit (as in Baptism) and being filled with the Holy Spirit (as in Pentecost). It is not a selfish or greedy thing to want it all in this. In fact, it delights the Lord to hear such a lovely and holy desire.
Not only does one’s heart need to be filled with such holy gifts, but each of us needs to guard our hearts at all points along the way. The world and everything evil are all too delighted to assault God’s goodness within us. We must be ever vigilant to protect the treasure we have been given in the Lord by not letting anything or anyone ungodly to tamper with it. The wonderful Proverbs 4 passage atop this message teaches to “above all guard your heart” because everything we do flows out of it, both good and bad. The passage makes simple that our mouths, eyes and feet are the keys – what we say, what we look at, and where we go. No one of us can honestly examine what we have said, desired, or sought without wincing and lowering our heads. Although I don’t know it personally, there is a Sunday School song that roughly says “Be careful little eyes what you see, be careful little lips what you say, be careful little feet where you go, because there’s a Father up above who is looking down in love.” That’s good advice. And it doesn’t need to be made any more intellectual than it is.
Guarding our hearts, especially during Lent, means that we should be shedding all harsh and unkind speech, turning away from all unholy writings and improper images, and avoiding places that are further away instead of nearer to Jesus. We instead should be longing for God’s holiness, reading holy words, praying tenderly and seriously, and inviting the Holy Spirit to fill us within.
Do that for forty days and you won’t recognize yourself at Easter. In fact, both you and the Lord will be thrilled at the outcome. But even then, guard your heart. Always guard your heart because everything you do comes out of it.
Is All Saints a Liberal or a Conservative Church?
Written by Father Ed Kelaher, January 2017
Christ the King. Emmanuel. The Christ Child. Jesus, which means “God saves”. The Son of God. The Savior. The Word made flesh. Wonderful Counselor. Immanuel (Hebrew) and Emmanuel (Greek). Mighty God. The Prince of Peace. The Light of the World. The Lord of lords. The King of kings.
Coming to worship over the past six weeks, from Christ the King Sunday, through Advent and Christmas, and now into Epiphany, you would have heard all these titles and names for Jesus, and even more. Of them all, I cannot get past the first and the last – standing as royal bookends of the list. Jesus is a King. Better, Jesus is THE King. Closely, Jesus is my King. Widely, Jesus is King over us all.
Kings have kingdoms. Jesus’ Kingdom, called the Kingdom of God or the Kingdom of Heaven, was established within our hearts and throughout the universe upon His mighty incarnation, death, and resurrection. Our love for Him, our baptisms, and our calling upon His Holy Name, are among the means by which we have become His disciples and thusly subjects of His Kingdom. We may be temporarily citizens of an earthly country, but we are permanently, eternally and simultaneously citizens of the Kingdom of God. Like a traveler visiting a foreign country, we respect and deeply care about our earthly host nation and its people, but our identities, hearts, and loyalties are of our Kingdom of origin. Our earthly citizenship is subordinate to our Kingdom citizenship. We are Jesus’ people and subjects. He is our Ruler above all.
Time and again I have vocalized that All Saints must strive to be a Kingdom church. But aren’t all churches Kingdom churches? Sadly, no. Many churches speak of and include the Kingdom, but operate more politically and culturally as they seek to serve the values and zeal of the world around them. All too many churches are affected by well-meaning political or cultural ideologues who honestly believe that their worldly interests and views need to be given priority in the church, instead of the reverse. A brilliant young member of the clergy recently wrote that churches go wrong when they quietly harbor a spectrum of divergent teachings or opinions and instead find their common bonds in some societal concern. Finding our commonality and passion in anything other than Jesus is wrong, but it happens on both the conservative and liberal ends of the societal spectrum.
The concerns of God’s children throughout the world are of enormous importance and matter to God more than we think. The Gospel of Jesus is focused on the physical, emotional, spiritual, and eternal needs of us all. However, instead of taking the Gospel out into the world, the world is often taken into the Gospel. Instead of filtering the world through the Gospel, the Gospel is too often filtered through the values of the world. Instead of the Bible informing the church’s view of the world, the church often is called upon to subordinate the Bible to the views of the world. Churches pick and choose Bible teachings to suit themselves. And thusly enters the contaminating and Gospel choking conservative/liberal polarization that plagues us. No doubt Kingdom churches sometimes slip into the same cultural trappings, but if healthy, they quickly recognize the error and return to their true identity.
This week the Washington Post featured a piece titled “Liberal Churches are Dying. But Conservative Churches are Thriving.” Several parishioners spotted it and one even asked if All Saints is being blessed because it is a conservative church. Let us be perfectly clear that All Saints is not a conservative church. Nor is All Saints a liberal church. Both designations are cultural impositions and not biblically birthed. Our identity and hearts are to be of a “Kingdom Church” – the only proper self-image for any congregation of disciples of Jesus. While the article’s author undoubtedly exceeds my own academic standing, I know what I know. And what I know is that, while recent research may be correct that “conservative” churches thrive while “liberal” churches die, the true determinant is whether a church is Kingdom focused or culturally focused. Without denigrating the accomplished writer a bit, the article could have been more aptly titled “Cultural Churches are Dying. But Kingdom Churches are Thriving.”
So called conservative and liberal churches BOTH will wane soon enough unless each submits to being a Kingdom church devotedly walking in the power of the Holy Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit that brings churches to thrive, not conservative or liberal viewpoints. Churches identifying as conservative or liberal will often illegitimately and fallaciously marry some part of the culture with the Gospel and then lift up that improper union. Syncretizing the Gospel with any part of the liberal-conservative cultural continuum is simply not the Gospel and not what the Holy Spirit blesses. We see that all too often in the Old Testament as Israel repeatedly flirted with and appropriated the pagan world around it. If we want to be like Jesus, we must be Kingdom oriented, identified, and purposed. And if some people utterly insist that they must be like Jesus in some wrongly imposed liberal/conservative sense, they are challenging themselves to be at once the most liberal social people who ever lived and the most conservative moral people who ever lived. Because that is who Jesus is when He without exception lovingly accepts every person who comes to Him, while steadfastly maintaining and never compromising the holiness of the Father. One cannot have one of those sides of Jesus’ beauty without having the other.
By branding, styling and contorting a church to accommodate any cultural affection, we dilute the power of the Holy Spirit and diffuse and corrupt the Gospel message. Identifying a congregation culturally or politically instantly limits the demographic possibilities of membership by narrowing the roster of people who would be willing to be a part. Unwitting counter-evangelism at its best. But when a church is Kingdom based, it provides a place to unite together in Christ for ALL people, no matter their political and cultural stripes.
All Saints is among the more diverse congregations one might find anywhere. Although we often mess up and get things wrong, such across the board harmony and accord are only possible when a Kingdom identity is claimed in the power of the Holy Spirit under the banner of Christ our King. God’s will can be done on Earth as it is in Heaven only when the children of God surrender their own self chosen agendas, call upon the Holy Spirit, and single mindedly focus on Jesus, His Gospel, and His Kingdom.
The Rector’s December Message
Written by Ed Kelaher, December 2016
“I love you.” How much of a stumbling block is that phrase for you – to dread hearing it, to dread saying it, to long to hear it, to long to say it? Sadly, for all too many of us, as givers or receivers, these words are emotionally or relationally unavailable, though they are essential ingredients of our healing tonic.
“I love you” is a precious phrase intended to be extravagantly and regularly spent, though genuinely and sincerely. Frivolous or insincere use dilutes its power and leaves the hearer wondering just what was meant of something of which there should never be a speck of doubt. Telling others you love them builds, strengthens, heals, emboldens, affirms, and delights them. While earlier damage makes it difficult for some to hear they are loved, it is still the very balm they need. If saying you love someone causes you to cringe and wince, lift a prayer for God’s help and then say it anyway. Not only will you overcome your dread, but the cost of withholding your expression of love will bankrupt your relationships.
Saying I love you out loud presents the actual Spirit of God, warms the atmosphere, enriches the quality of present relationships, brings fruition to family, and creates family out of mere acquaintances and bonds out of loose tethers. We need to hear that we are loved – some of us desperately. The old story is told of the wife crying to the minister that her husband never tells her and surely doesn’t love her. The husband rebukes her in defense, “Why are you starting trouble over nothing? I told you at our wedding 38 years ago that I love you and that, if that ever changed, I would let you know!” Oy vey!
How do I know all this? God taught me and all of us. Better, God showed me when His love came down at Christmas. When Jesus came into this world at the Incarnation, the Lord was saying “I love you” right out loud to all of us. The result was that the world was built up, strengthened, healed, emboldened, affirmed and delighted. Later would come the eternal blessings of forgiveness of sin and everlasting life.
Jesus came to love us at Christmas. At a gathering of some of our parish’s faithful women, we talked about Jesus turning to His disciples in John 1 and bluntly asking, “What do you want?” The same question might timely be posed to you this way, “What do you want for Christmas?” People might give all sorts of good answers such as health, family, prosperity, friendship or peace. But the only proper answer the disciples or we might give is, “I want you, Lord Jesus.” To love Him and to want only Him is the singularly correct response. To have Him is to have everything. And having Him while lacking something else is to not lack anything at all. Gaining Christ in our lives is of such ultimate worth that the value of everything else can be considered as loss or even as garbage in comparison. Saint Paul taught us this mind-blowing truth in his letter to the Philippians.
As your pastor, with Christmas approaching, I tell you with all my heart that I love you, genuinely and with all the gifts the Holy Spirit has given me to do so. While that might be a pleasing thing for you to hear, it is a small and merely reflective gift of the Christmas love God has given us in Jesus. Isaiah 43:4 especially delights me where God speaks, “. . . you are precious in my eyes, and honored, and I love you . . .” Elsewhere Jesus said, “You are to love others as I have loved you.”
Do you hear that loudly and clearly? God loves us! He says He loves us! He has shown He loves us! He will always love us!
This is all more glorious than any of us can articulate or even imagine. Here in the holy season of Advent, the Holy Spirit raises our hearts to delight in our overwhelming expectation and anticipation of the love of God coming into the world through Jesus at Christmas. He comes to bring us goodness and light and joy and peace and forgiveness and everlasting life, all punctuated by His eternal and life assuring message, “I love you.”
Loving One Another After Election Day
Written by Ed Kelaher, November 10th, 2016
I am an undershepherd with a firm grip on the obvious. Today the Shepherd’s sheep are in different places due to extraordinary current events. The Shepherd wants the flock together. To accomplish that, there is a need for love and compassion requiring a doubling-down on the Shepherd’s practices, wisdom, teachings, and highest values. There is a need for us to remember who we are and whose we are. Only that can bring us the oneness and love intended for us.
Drawing wisdom from biblical truths, we remember that we are subjects of The Kingdom of God just as we are children of The Father. As subjects of Christ the King, we know that we are aliens in this earthly life, being in the world but not of it. We are strangers in a foreign land, sojourning on our way Home. But as we pass through, we recognize that what happens here and now is important to God and matters greatly toward the Lord’s will that there be peace on earth and goodwill to all mankind. As children of God, we are to bring God’s love as light and salt to loving the world, sacrificing for and loving those who are hurting, marginalized, forgotten and oppressed.
The Kingdom is the LORD’S and He rules over the nations. Psalm 22:28
The United States of America is a great nation and by God’s grace it has not dissolved despite the extraordinary crises of its near 250-year sestercentennial existence. We hold our country to be one nation under God. That means an enormous amount to me and to many others, though we have shown ourselves historically to be quite capable of ungodly behavior. Perhaps the greatest of our Republic’s democratic mechanisms is our constitutional right to choose our leaders. Most every election brings celebration and disappointment, but this time the divide between those emotional dynamics is particularly acute – thus the Shepherd’s sheep being in different places. The joy and exultation of some draws a sharp contrast against the dejection and pain of others. This is evidenced right here in our parish and in virtually every corner of our society. We need to ask, what does our Lord want us to do?
The Lord has given us great and precious promises that enable us to share his divine nature and escape the world’s corruption caused by human desires. 2 Peter 1:4
Very often, parishioners will look to a pastor to see how to accept or react to something. If I am that to anyone, my hope is that you will see someone standing on the rock of God’s sovereignty and truth, believing in Him alone and in every promise He has made. We repeat frequently that we strive to be a Kingdom people at All Saints Church, not a cultural or political people, without discounting the relative importance of culture and politics. Despite how some might live, politics, sports, finances, vocations, and other such worldly endeavors are merely things intersecting our lives, but they are not our lives themselves. God is our life, individually and in common. Daily we are called to put self to death that Jesus may be our identity and purpose. We are crucified with Christ and we no longer live. Jesus Christ lives in us. Galatians 2:20 A message I have offered throughout the campaign season is that, no matter which candidate prevailed on Tuesday, we would awake on Wednesday to a world in which Jesus Christ remains its Lord and King. That message is not of my own imagining. It is inspired directly by the Word of God. Today I witness to its truth and the knowledge that it is Jesus who rules over our lives and world, not any person, party, or government.
All of you shall be harmonious, sympathetic, brotherly, kindhearted, and humble in spirit; not returning evil for evil or insult for insult, but giving a blessing instead; for you were called for the very purpose that you might inherit a blessing. 1 Peter 3:8-9
God’s Word also inspires something I repeat frequently, hopefully not ad nauseam: “I do not have to agree with you to love you.” We are to love one another no matter our different opinions. We are children of God. This requires us to make our own preferences subordinate to the needs of others. When one encounters someone deeply grieving what the other is celebrating, it is an opportunity to be tender, to listen, to encourage, and to console. Likewise, when one encounters another celebrating what the other is grieving, it is an opportunity to be generous, to be charitable, to be gracious, and even to congratulate. If we cannot be those things in our respective positions, then the fault and sin are within ourselves. Most of all, these are not times to revive campaign talking points to convince or reason with the one who is hurting or celebrating.
You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself; I am the LORD. Leviticus 19:18
Some might quickly retort that their level of partisan or personal conviction goes far beyond simplistic notions of tolerance for the opposing position. Jesus does not give us that option or rationale. We are commanded to love one another, not requested if it is convenient. While we are not required to abandon our prayerfully held positions, we are commanded to act in accordance with the Spirit of God and not of our own notions of how we should act. Thus, even in disagreement and extreme opposition we are to exhibit love, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. As God’s children, we are not permitted otherwise. Galatians 5:22
With humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Philippians 2:3-4
God’s highest order of spiritual discipline for our relationships is sacrifice and loving prayer – for friends and enemies alike. Everyone celebrating right now should be praying for everyone who is disappointed. Everyone who is disappointed right now should be praying for everyone who is celebrating. The greatest undertaking would be that we might even pray together. Again, we are children of God. Those who are celebrating should be praying for God’s direction and help for the new President who holds their favor. Those who are grieving should also pray for God’s direction and help for the new President whom they disfavor. Indeed, every President needs our prayers, perhaps more now than ever before.
Jesus said: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another,
even as I have loved you, you also shall love one another.” John 13:34
Take heart that God will act to save this great nation, if we are faithful to God’s loving ways. The Holy Spirit will bless us despite good or bad leaders, if we are faithful to God’s loving ways. Our hope is in the Lord. Even a dollar bill reminds us that it is in God we trust – and in no one else. We remember that God loves us and protects us, that He is the ruler over all things, including the leadership of the United States, and that as children of God and citizens of His Kingdom, we can be joyful in all circumstances because of what Jesus has done for us.
May the God of all hope bless the United States of America, now and always.
And thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. 1 Corinthians 15:57