Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Landscaping Review

Saturday, December 20th, 2014

Landscaping at St Paul’s Reduces the Church’s Carbon Footprint

 St Paul’s has been “greening” since 2003.  Greening means renewing our commitment to Creation Care through education, reflection, and action.  Significant conservation actions have taken place inside the church (e.g., energy efficiency, recycling, etc) and outside the church (e.g., landscaping).

These activities help the church appearance and finances – yes, but a larger goal is to educate Parishioners, visitors and neighbors about what can be done in their own homes and yards for conservation.

Energy Use in Buildings

The most significant program to date inside the church buildings (church and rectory) was relamping – conversion of fluorescent and incandescent light to more energy efficient lighting.  We enrolled in the EPA’s Energy Star Congregations Network, and small energy projects are ongoing (weather strips, HVAC maintenance, caulking, etc).  We were recognized as a Cool Congregation by Interfaith Power and Light in 2011 for the relamping project.   

In addition to the lighting project, we further lowered our “carbon footprint” at the rectory by installing new storm windows (28 windows), upgrading the heating and cooling system to a heat pump, insulating brick walls that were exposed during remodeling, and making other small energy-saving improvements.

An unkempt lawn at the front of the church is now an attractive garden; much admired by passersby on 6th Street, and by pollinators (e.g., insects like butterflies and bees).

Landscaping has several goals

On the church grounds, we are finishing a 4-yr project to further reduce our carbon footprint by converting lawn to urban wildlife habitat.  An important part of the landscaping project is to provide contemplative gardens where people can appreciate The Creation (i.e., at least the aspects of nature that can be demonstrated in our small urban setting).

The landscaping project is focusing on three areas of the Parish grounds 1) front yard conversion of grass to native flowers and shrubs, 2) back yard conversion of grass to patio and gardens, and 3) gardening for wildlife throughout.  Most of the work has been done by volunteers who consider their time, talent and treasure as an “environmental tithe.”

The landscaping project had two overall goals 1) reduce carbon footprint, and 2) garden for wildlife.  The gardening for wildlife theme was made possible by funding from the Ralph Town Memorial (Ralph was a retired U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service Biologist).

Southwest corner of 900 ft2 patio and rose garden showing arbors that will support vines for hummingbirds, pollinators and other urban wildlife.  An important part of the landscaping project is creating places for people too!

Wildlife habitat with people too!

When the plantings and gardens  mature, they will have four key components of wildlife habitat 1) water, 2) food, 3) places to raise young, and 4) places to rest (as prescribed by the National Wildlife Federation’s Gardening for Wildlife Program (

We are creating habitat for pollinators, butterflies, and birds, although small mammals such as bats, rabbits and squirrels also frequent the grounds.  Native plants were chosen because they are native to this region (e.g., cone flower, blue stem) and are drought tolerant.  Plantings provide four habitat complexes (e.g., open lawn, vertical vines, short shrubs, trees) and several types of food (e.g., berries, nectar, fruits). Artificial structures (e.g., bird baths) provide water in summer and winter.  Places to raise young (bird houses, bee houses, bat houses) have been added (or are planned).  We plan to feed birds in winter. (

The ultimate goals of the “greening” projects at St Paul’s are education and inspiration.  Wildlife gardens included contemplative venues for people to pause and appreciate the “Natural Cathedral.”  Information about the wonder of nature and Earth stewardship is included in Parish newsletters (The Messenger) and special events (e.g., Ecopalms on Palm Sunday, Earth Day Sunday, Rogation Day, Beating of the Bounds).  The landscaping project includes a tulip garden that will demonstrate the fun and values of observing nature as a Citizen Scientist, and help educate about the complimentary roles of religion and science in our lives

[St Paul’s is the only tulip test garden in South Dakota, see map on web site above]

 Landscaping reduces carbon footprint and pollution

In addition to the advantages for urban wildlife and appearance of the church grounds, the conversion of lawn to gardens, patios, seating areas, and walkways will reduce St Paul’s use of water, energy, and herbicides, and reduce air pollution from mowers.  Following is how we calculated our energy and pollution savings through landscaping.

Lawn watering uses water and energy (e.g., embedded energy of pumping and purifying).  We converted about 1,800 ft2 of lawn to garden and other uses.  We estimate we will save about 1,248 gallons of water, which amounts to reducing our carbon footprint for water energy use by 2.8 pounds of CO2/year.  The calculation method is described in:

We will mow eight hours less/year with a riding lawnmower that consumes about 0.5 gallons of gas/hour, thus saving another 70.8 pounds of CO2/year (We used this equation: Footprint = (gas used) x (17.7 pounds of carbon per gallon) .

A gas mower produces volatile organic compounds and nitrogen oxides emissions in one hour of operation equal to that of 11 cars each being driven for one hour.  Because we mow 8 hours less than before gardens were installed, we have reduced pollution equal to that of 88 trips to Sioux Falls (a 1 hour drive).

For the remaining lawn, we follow a policy of “cut it high and let in lie,” which is a cliché summarizing the fundamentals of ecological lawn care that improves the turf while reducing weeds, watering, and mowing time.   

The patio is made with porous pavers thus reducing runoff.  Water use will be further reduced when we install a rain barrel for watering the rose garden.  Conversion from evergreen to deciduous trees on the south side of the church increases the efficiency of passive solar radiation for heating and cooling the church (one large spruce was replaced with a red oak).

Although St Paul’s energy impacts are small, the savings may be increased when Parishioners, visitors and neighbors learn about and see the benefits of landscaping with ecological goals (see how the church savings of about 75 pounds of CO2 into the atmosphere relates to greenhouse gas emissions from other sources at   

Inspiration and Outreach

Environmental problems sometimes seem so big that we think that there is nothing we can do, but there are everyday decisions an individual makes to help our society walk more gently on the Earth.

The inspiration of St Paul’s landscaping project comes from Psalm 19 that says in effect that “the Lord speaks through two works, the Bible and the masterpiece of Creation.”  Further, we are to serve and preserve The Creation – God’s Garden (Genesis 2:15).  “God has no hands but our hands” to do this work, but we must improve our understanding of the moral imperative to do so.  We have hope (active hope) that St Paul’s Creation Care program will contribute in a small way toward a transformative change in stewardship of the Earth.

St Paul’s began an outreach effort in 2013 that is extending these stewardship ideas beyond the Parish to the Episcopal Diocese of South Dakota (80 churches,  A Creation Care workshop at the 2014 Diocesan Convention was organized by St Paul’s Natural Cathedral Committee.  Ten churches have joined the Creation Care Network proposed by St Paul’s – the grass-roots project is growing! (See page 4 in:

This Creation Care “mission” at St Paul’s is symbolized in three new stained glass windows installed in 2014.  The window is a memorial to Dr. Ruth Alexander who championed Creation Care (among many other services to the church).  The window sends the message of Faith, Hope and Love in a landscape featuring a bed of Pasque flowers (the South Dakota State Flower) and butterflies (unique in that they are in relief or 3D).

St Paul’s youth hold the earth in their hands on Earth Day Sunday as they surround Ruth Alexander, an early advocate of “the greening of St Paul’s.”

Lower section of the Alexander Faith Hope and Love window showing part of a flower bed with butterfly.




Sermon, November 23, 2014

Saturday, December 20th, 2014

Fr. Larry Ort
St. Paul’s – Brookings

As noted earlier, Matthew 25 sets forth three eschatological parables. Two weeks ago we looked at the parable of the wise and foolish bridesmaids; we noted how we are to live the spiritual life in readiness for Christ’s return. Last Sunday we considered the parable of the talents; we noted that this parable does not really apply to the use of our talents, but rather points to the fact that while we await Christ’s coming we are to boldly proclaim the Gospel and promote the kingdom of God. In today’s parable Jesus tells us that when the Son of Man comes in his glory with all the angels, he will separate the peoples as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.

Today is Christ the King Sunday. But this king, as the lectionary readings note, is unlike other kings. The imagery of the king as a shepherd is not so different, for Near Eastern rulers often thought and spoke of themselves as shepherds. But as Ezekiel notes, this shepherd of Israel is unlike the other shepherds of Israel. Ezekiel says, “The word of the Lord came to me: Mortal, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel…Ah, you shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep?” (Eze.34.1-2; NRSV)

Now, take notice of the things these shepherds have done: “You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fatlings; but you do not feed the sheep” (Eze. 34.3; NRSV). And take notice of the things they have left undone: “You have not strengthened the weak, you have not healed the sick, you have not bound up the injured, you have not brought back the strayed, you have not sought the lost” (Eze. 34.4; NRSV). There was no prayer of confession, “Most merciful God, we confess that we have sinned against you…by what we have done and by what we have left undone” (BCP, p. 352). According to Ezekiel, the people were ruled “with force and harshness;” “they were scattered, because there was no shepherd” (Eze. 34.1-5a; NRSV).

Ezekiel is prophesying in Babylon; he is one of the scattered carried off into exile. And what does God promise through Ezekiel? “I myself will search for my sheep…I will seek out my sheep…I will rescue them from all the places they have been scattered…I will bring them into their own land; and I will feed them on the mountains of Israel…feed them with good pasture…I will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I will make them lie down. I will seek out the lost…bring back the strayed…bind up the injured…strengthen the weak, but the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them with justice” (Eze. 34.11-16; NRSV).

These are not the actions of your typical king who sits on his throne, is attended by servants, and multiplies his kingdom. No, this king doesn’t wait for his subjects to bow before his throne; this king seeks them out, finds them, and leads them to rest in lush, green pastures and drink cool waters from living streams. This is the picture of the 23rd Psalm and Psalm 100 – the Jubilate Deo! “Be joyful in the Lord…serve the Lord with gladness and come before his presence with a song. Know this: the Lord himself is God…we are his people and the sheep of his pasture” (Vs. 1-2; NRSV).

Each week brings its own special set of trials. It may be an adverse diagnosis, the need for surgery, the death of a loved one, misunderstandings, the loss of a friendship, a debilitating illness, marital strife, a cutback in hours, or loss of a job. Like the sheep, we become scattered – either physically or mentally. But let us never forget – there is cause for rejoicing! Jubilate Deo! Our God, Christ the King, the Good Shepherd, seeks us out and rescues us. He makes us lie down in green pastures and we are restored, healed, bound up, and strengthened. This may not happen overnight, but we are ultimately rescued. As the Psalmist says: “Sing praises to the Lord, O you his faithful ones, and give thanks to his holy name. For his anger is but for a moment; his favor is for a lifetime. Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning” (Psalm 30.4-5; NRSV).

In the passage from Ezekiel, God further promises to set his servant David as a shepherd over the people. From the earliest days of the Church, this passage has been interpreted as referring to Jesus. In the letter to the Ephesians, St. Paul tells us of the fulfillment of this prophecy. Paul prays that the members of the church of Ephesus would receive God’s “spirit of wisdom and revelation” such that their hearts would be enlightened. This enlightenment pertains to three things: 1) the hope to which they have been called; 2) the riches of God’s glorious inheritance among the saints; and 3) the immeasurable greatness of God’s power. This power is seen in the resurrection of Christ and in Christ’s enthronement at the right hand of God. As such, Christ the King, says St. Paul, is “far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. And he has put all things under his feet and has made him head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all” (Eph. 1.20-22; NRSV).

In the last of Jesus’ eschatological parables of Matthew 25, Christ the King comes in his glory with his angels and sits on his throne. All the nations are gathered before Christ the King and are separated as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.

This parable reflects a common practice — sheep and goats were commonly pastured together, but on cold nights, the goats needed more shelter than those fleecy white, warm bundles of wool, so the goats were separated from the sheep and herded to shelter.

When separated, the sheep are at the king’s right hand; the goats at the left. The king then says to the sheep, “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me” (Mat. 25.34-37; NRSV). The righteous then ask when they have done these things, and the king replies, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me” (Mat. 25.40; NRSV). Conversely, the unrighteous, the goats are told to depart to the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels, for they failed to give him food and drink, to welcome him, to clothe him, to take care of him or to visit him in prison. They asked when they failed to do these things, and the king answers, “Truly, I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me” (Mat. 25.45; NRSV).

John Pilch, a biblical scholar, observes that sheep and goats were among the earliest domesticated animals, they are plentiful in the Middle East, and the Hebrew language contains many words which make distinctions among sheep on the basis of sex and age. Sheep also suffer in silence, a trait which is deemed the mark of a man. Consequently, “sheep came to symbolize honor, virility, and strength.” In contrast, goats are known for their lasciviousness; they will not protect their females as will a ram. As Pilch observes, “a man whose wife was ravished by another man was (and in the Middle East still is) considered like a goat. Goats symbolize shame and shameful behavior.” In ancient Greece, rams were associated with Zeus, Apollo, and Poseidon while goats were associated with Pan, Bacchus, and Aphrodite. Goats were also associated with women as women herd and milk the goats. The goat also symbolizes the devil. (John Pilch: Hence, sheep represent the righteous; goats the unrighteous.

In the parable, what really distinguishes the sheep from the goats? Hospitality! Pilch further comments that in the Middle East, hospitality is almost always extended by men to strangers. The kindness we extend to our family, our friends, our loved ones is not hospitality; it is steadfast love, which is seen as one of the attributes of God. The Old Testament frequently speaks of God’s steadfast love (hesed) for us.

When we extend hospitality to the stranger, when we feed or quench the thirst of the stranger, we encounter Christ. When we welcome and clothe the stranger, we encounter Christ. When we care for the sick and visit those in prison, we encounter Christ. When we support the Harvest Table, or fund projects such as Rebuilding South Sudan through Education, we encounter Christ. When we perform charitable deeds through the discretionary fund, we encounter Christ. When we help strangers bear their burdens, we encounter Christ. Some interpret this parable to mean that we should practice these things. Perhaps that is implied, but that is not the point of Jesus’ parable. If we have life in Christ, we are sheep, and since we are sheep, we do these things.

As your sheep, O Lord, forgive us our sins for the things that we have done, and for those things we have left undone.

May we honor Christ the King! May we hear those beautiful words, “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.”    Amen








Sermon, November 16, 2014

Saturday, December 20th, 2014

Fr. Larry Ort
St. Paul’s – Brookings

Last week we looked at the parable of the five wise and five foolish bridesmaids waiting for the coming of the bridegroom. Jesus begins the parable by noting, “Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this” (Mat. 25.1; NRSV). The five foolish bridesmaids’ lamps were going out so they asked the wise bridesmaids to share their oil. As we noted, if the oil represents our life in Christ, our life in the Spirit, they were making an impossible request. Jesus ends the parable by saying, “Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour” (Mat 25.13; NRSV).

The Revised Common Lectionary readings for this Sunday include Jesus’ parable of the talents (Matthew 25.14-30). Jesus begins this parable by noting, “For it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them; to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability” (Mat 25.14-15; NRSV). The “for” indicates this parable is a continuation of Jesus’ eschatological discourse; it sheds further light on the subject of the final days. A talent is a lot of money; it is the equivalent of 6,000 drachmas. A drachma equals one day’s wages. Thus a talent was the equivalent of 16 years of wages.

After a long time the master returned and asked for an accounting. The first two slaves doubled the money. In response, the master told them, “Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things; enter into the joy of your master” (Mat. 25.21; NRSV). The third slave told his master that he knew he was a harsh man, reaping where he did not sow, gathering where he did not scatter seed; he tells the master he was afraid, so he hid his talent in the ground. He returned the talent to his master, and said, “Here you have what is yours” (Mat. 25.24-25; NRSV). The master responded harshly – he called the slave “wicked and lazy,” and told him he ought to have at least invested his money with the bankers to gain some interest. The master then takes the talent and gives it to the slave with the ten talents. The master further says, “For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Mat. 25. 29-30; NRSV). As a friend of mine asked, “Where’s the Gospel in this?”

This parable lends itself to a number of interpretations, the first of which deals with stewardship. Through the influence of the King James Bible, “talent” took on the more common usage of today (“gift, aptitude, and flair”), a usage which undoubtedly stems from the phrase “to each according to his ability” (Chris Haslam, Consequently, this parable is often interpreted as referring to the proper use of the talents with which God has endowed us. We are reminded and encouraged to develop our talents more fully such that they can be used for the kingdom.  I must confess that I once looked at the passage in this manner. The parable is commonly used as a stewardship text concerning the use of our time, talent, and treasure. We may be able to derive a lesson in stewardship from this parable, but I doubt this is what Jesus had in mind.

Secondly, some Christians who wholeheartedly embrace capitalism interpret the parable to mean that we should make as much wealth as possible, we should shrewdly double our money every chance we get. Don’t hide your money under your mattress, or in the ground. At least invest it for interest, and even better, invest it in stocks, bonds, and precious metals. I doubt this is what Jesus had in mind.

This reminds me of Kenneth Bailey’s story of the British journalist who “asked Mother Teresa how she kept going, knowing that she could never meet the needs of all the dying in the streets of Calcutta. She replied, ‘I’m not called to be successful; I’m called to be faithful.’” Bailey adds in parentheses, “(Very bad capitalism! Don’t invest in her company.)” (Kenneth E. Bailey, Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes, p. 409)

These two interpretations appropriate the parable for other uses. Quoting from the Gospel of Fr. Larry, “Woe unto those who appropriate Jesus’ parables for their own ends.”

What would this parable have communicated to one of Matthew’s contemporaries, to the ordinary Jew of the age? How would the parable have struck the disciples, the group to whom Jesus told the parable? With these questions in mind, we must remember that a parable was meant to shock the listener, to cause the listener to reflect critically upon what was said. So where is the shock value?

It is rather doubtful that a wealthy man would entrust such sums of money to slaves. And even if he did so, the conduct of the third slave was more likely the accepted conduct of the day and age. Money was commonly buried for safe-keeping. That is why a cache of coins is discovered with some frequency. Also, a certain amount of respect and admiration was given to those who reaped what they did not sow. Thus, the third slave meant his remarks as a compliment. He must have been very shocked at the master’s reaction. So what is this parable saying? Let me suggest three things.

First, as John Foley, S.J., observes, ( from the standpoint of spirituality, only one thing goes away when buried, but gets greater when used – love. If, like the third slave, we are afraid to love, we will end up in darkness; we will wail and gnash our teeth. The master will not even have to send us there, for this is a natural consequence of our choice.

Second, if we view the master as Jesus, and the Master’s return as the second coming, the parable serves to inform those who hear it of how they are to act while awaiting the second coming. The master has entrusted us with the Gospel and with love. We should shrewdly and openly share the gospel and Christ’s love with others. We should not cower in fear, but should be willing to take risks for the sake of love and life. From this perspective, the parable is saying something significant about the master. The master is generous and gracious. In response, we experience a compulsion to act on behalf of the master in accordance with our ability, in response to the love and the grace entrusted to us.

Third, when we exercise life and love, they are never diminished – they are enlarged beyond our imagination. As the master said, “For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance.” As we love others, our love grows. As we practice love, we come to love God more, we come to realize more fully the extent of God’s love for us, we come to more fully love ourselves, and we are then capable of loving others more fully. Love expands – it is never diminished by being given away.

When we share God’s grace and love, when we share the Gospel with others, let us act boldly, let us take a few risks in response to all with which we have been entrusted. Let us remember that we have a master like no other, and let us enter into the joy of our master.


Sermon, November 9, 2014

Wednesday, November 19th, 2014

St. Paul’s – Brookings
Fr. Larry Ort

Last week we contrasted the reality of the life of the saints as portrayed by the beatitudes with Jesus’ condemnation of the scribes and Pharisees. After this act of condemnation, Jesus leaves the temple and soon thereafter meets privately with his disciples on the Mount of Olives. Jesus begins to discourse on the end of the age.  He tells the disciples, “About that day and hour, no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father” (Mat. 24.36; NRSV)…“Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming” (Mat. 24.42; NRSV). Jesus then tells five parables. The first parable observes that had the owner of the house known when the thief was coming, he would have been prepared. The second parable contrasts a faithful and wise servant with a wicked servant; the master will return unexpectedly and catch the wicked servant. The third is the parable of the ten bridesmaids (which we just read). The fourth is the parable of the talents (which we will read next Sunday). And the fifth, is the parable of the sheep and the goats (which we will read two weeks from now). And that brings us to the last Sunday of November – the beginning of advent.

These parables, and today’s lectionary readings, deal with watchfulness and preparation. And what is Advent? A season of watching and waiting as we prepare to celebrate the First Advent. Hence, we now enter an extended Advent season. Some theologians and church leaders are actually advocating the extension of Advent into a seven week season of the Church calendar.

If we are to be prepared for the coming of the end of the age, we must make the right choices — preparation involves choice; one must choose activities of preparation over other routine activities. Our reading from Joshua makes this amply clear. The tribes of Israel have entered the Promised Land and subdued parts of it; they are now gathered at Shechem and presented before the Lord for a renewal of the covenant. Joshua encourages the people to forsake the gods of their ancestors and to serve the Lord. If unwilling to serve the Lord, they must choose whether they will serve the gods of their ancestors or the gods of the Amorites in whose land they are presently living. Then Joshua boldly declares, “But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord” (Jos. 24.15b; NRSV). Choices. Preparation. Are we willing to put away those things in our life which we put in God’s rightful place?  Are we willing to serve our Lord Jesus Christ?

If we are to choose wisely, we must be fully informed of the alternatives. Thus in the gradual we read how the Israelites were to recite “the glorious deeds of the Lord … the wonders that he has done … that the next generation may know them” (Psa. 78.4; NRSV). They were to teach these things to their children (Psa. 78.5) so they could choose wisely.

In Deuteronomy 31, Joshua is named as Moses’ successor. Moses writes down the law, gives it to the priests, and commands that it be read every seventh year (Deu. 31.10). The Mosaic covenant is patterned on ancient suzerainty covenants, covenants between a conquering king and a subject people. Such covenants included stipulations for the public reading of the terms of the covenant. Moses commanded:

Assemble the people—men, women, and children, as well as the aliens residing in your towns—so that they may hear and learn to fear the Lord your God and to observe diligently all the words of this law, and so that their children, who have not known it, may hear and learn to fear the Lord your God, as long as you live in the land that you are crossing over the Jordan to possess (Deu. 31.12-13; NRSV).

As you may recall, the Rite I celebration of the Eucharist often includes the reading of the Decalogue, the Ten Commandments, part of the Mosaic Covenant given at Mount Sinai. And what do we do in Sunday School or Church School – we recite the wonderful deeds of the Lord to our children such that they may know the Lord and choose wisely.

In 1 Thessalonians, Paul is addressing the concerns of the community. The early church fully expected that Jesus’ return was imminent, for Jesus had said this generation would not pass away till all the things associated with the end of the age be fulfilled (Mat. 24.34).  So what about those who had died since Jesus’ ascension? Paul is assuring the church that, through Jesus, the dead will be resurrected unto new life. At the sound of the trumpet, Christ shall descend from heaven and the dead in Christ will be raised first. After that, we who are alive will be caught up in the clouds, and together with those who have been raised first, we will meet Christ in the air. And we shall remain with the Lord forever. We are to encourage one another with these words and we are to be prepared for this event, for we know not the hour or the day of Christ’s return or of our death.

This event has come to be known as the rapture, a term found nowhere in the Bible, and variant theologies of the rapture have emerged. Most people are unaware that rapture theology is relatively new. Its roots can be traced to 1820’s London, England and the preaching of a Presbyterian minister named Edward Irving. Irving held that spiritual gifts such as speaking in tongues and prophecy would be restored prior to the Second Coming. By the early 1830’s some people began to manifest these gifts, and Irving was dismissed from the Presbyterian Church. In the early 1830’s a very ill woman named Margaret Macdonald had a series of ecstatic visions. She became convinced that the Second Advent would appear in two stages as opposed to the single event long believed. In the first stage, Christ would come secretly only to those who were looking for his return; those who were not looking for Christ’s return would be left behind. In the second stage, all would see Christ’s return. This theology has has entered pop culture through the Left Behind books of Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins, and more recently, the Left Behind movie.

Macdonald’s view was popularized by John Darby, a theologian who went on to found the Plymouth Brethren. Darby and his followers fostered renewed interest in biblical languages; they furthered biblical studies. Nonetheless, the rapture theology he espoused which stressed Macdonald’s view if the Second Advent is not supported by the scriptures.

N. T. Wright, a noted Anglican theologian and former bishop, stresses the view set forth in 1 Thessalonians. As we have noted, on this view, the dead in Christ shall rise first, then all others shall be snatched up among the clouds to meet our Lord Jesus Christ in the air. As N. T. Wright observes, the idea of meeting Christ in the air is grounded in a cultural view. Wright says,

When the emperor visited a colony or province, the citizens of the country would go to meet him at some distance from the city. It would be disrespectful to have him actually arrive at the gates as though his subjects couldn’t be bothered to greet him properly. When they met him, they wouldn’t then stay out in the open country; they would escort him royally into the city itself. When Paul speaks of “meeting” the Lord “in the air,” the point is precisely not — as in the popular rapture theology — that the saved believers would then stay up in the air somewhere, away from earth. The point is that, having gone out to meet their returning Lord, they will escort him royally into his domain, that is, back to the place they have come from. (Surprised by Hope, pp. 132-33)

This view better accords with what the rest of the New Testament has to say, and, unlike rapture theology, it is not grounded simply in one person’s ecstatic vision.

The really important thing is that we be prepared for the Second Advent, and this leads us to the reading from Matthew 25, the parable of the ten bridesmaids. Jesus tells us that “the kingdom of heaven will be like this,” then he sets forth the details of the parable. The five wise bridesmaids bring an extra flask of oil but the five foolish bridesmaids bring no extra oil. The bridegroom is delayed, and the bridesmaids fall asleep. When the cry goes up that the bridegroom is coming, the five foolish bridesmaids realize they have insufficient oil. They request the wise bridesmaids give them some oil, but they are refused and told to go purchase oil. Upon returning, they discover that that the wedding banquet is in progress and the door is shut. The foolish bridesmaids plead, “Lord, lord, open to us,” but the bridegroom replies, “Truly I tell you I do not know you” (Mat. 2512; NRSV).

But wait a minute, doesn’t Jesus tell us to give when we are asked to do so? If so, why wouldn’t the five wise virgins share their oil? Is it a matter of would not or could not? As this is an allegory, the oil represents something else – our life in the Spirit. We must be prepared to celebrate the bridegroom’s coming — Christ’s coming. Each of us must accept our own responsibility. Each of us can only prepare himself or herself. I cannot lend you the oil of preparation; I cannot give you my life in the Spirit. So Jesus bids us, “Keep awake, therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour. “Keep awake” — remain in the Spirit, live in the Spirit. May we never hear those words, “Truly I tell you I do not know you.”



Sermon, November 2, 2014

Wednesday, November 19th, 2014

St. Paul’s
Fr. Larry Ort

For the past several weeks, we have been focusing on the challenges which confronted Jesus and his authority – challenges designed to entrap him in blasphemy. For example, “Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?” (Mat. 22.17b; NRSV) and “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” (Mat. 22.36; NRSV)

Now, “We interrupt our regular broadcast to bring you an update on the Saints.” Yesterday was All Saints Day which we often celebrate on Sunday. Were it not for this special celebration, we would focus on Matthew 23. Rather than choose one or the other, let’s look at both.

At the end of Matthew 22, Jesus has reduced his critics to silence. In Matthew 23, Jesus tells it like it is! What does he call the scribes and Pharisees? “Hypocrites!” And for good measure, he says, “You snakes, you brood of vipers! How can you escape being sentenced to hell?” If they weren’t already angry, that should help!

Today’s Gospel reading, the beatitudes of Matthew 5, sets forth the vision of a new reality – a reality depicted in the life of the Saints. And who is a saint? Anyone who has accepted Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior is a saint. If you have been baptized into new life, and if you are living in that new life, you are a saint. Of course, we also recognize that the lives of some saints have been, or are, so exemplary that we give them the title; we often name our churches after such Saints and hold that the church falls under that Saint’s patronage. St. Paul is our patron saint.

There are eight beatitudes, or nine if one counts separately the two verses which reference persecution. I am going to stick with eight. The first beatitude (“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”) and the last beatitude, (“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.),  are stated in the present tense – they reference present conditions. The poor in spirit and those persecuted for righteousness’ sake already possess the kingdom of heaven. The other six beatitudes use the future tense, for example, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted” (Mat. 5.4; NRSV).

This new vision of reality may be contrasted with the reality which Jesus addresses in Matthew 23.  Please attend to the reading:

Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; therefore, do whatever they teach you and follow it; but do not do as they do, for they do not practice what they teach. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them. They do all their deeds to be seen by others; for they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long. They love to have the place of honor at banquets and the best seats in the synagogues, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have people call them rabbi. But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all students.And call no one your father on earth, for you have one Father—the one in heaven. 10 Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Messiah. 11 The greatest among you will be your servant. 12 All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted.


After having said this, Jesus pronounces seven woes on the scribes and the Pharisees.

Contrasting these two realities is instructive. Each of the beatitudes begins with “blessed,” which can also be translated as “happy.” In honor-shame societies, this may be better translated as “’How honorable…,’ ‘How full of honor…,’ ‘How honor bringing…’” In contrast, “‘Woe to you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites…’” may “be translated: ‘How shameless you are…’”  We should also note the honor ascribed in the beatitudes comes from God, not from persons. (Hans Dieter Betz, The Sermon on the Mount: A Commentary on the Sermon on the Mount, including the Sermon on the Plain (Matthew 5:3-7:27 and Luke 6:20-49). Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1995, p. 97. In ).

Using “how honorable” for “blessed,” the first beatitude reads, “How honorable are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God.” In contrast, using “How shameless you are” for “Woe to you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites…” the first woe becomes, “How shameless you are for locking people out of the kingdom of heaven. For you do not go in yourselves, and when others are going in, you stop them.”

Again, in the beatitudes we read “How honorable are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled” (Mat. 5.6; NRSV) and “How honorable are the merciful for they will receive mercy” (Mat. 5.7; NRSV). In contrast one of Jesus’ woes condemns the absence of righteousness and mercy: “How shameless you are for you tithe mint, dill, and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. It is these you ought to have practiced without neglecting the others. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel” (Mat. 23.23-24; NRSV).

The seventh beatitude reads, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God” (Mat. 5. 9; NRSV). Another of the woes recognizes the opposite of peace, for “prophets, sages, and scribes” will be sent, some of whom will be crucified, others flogged in the synagogues and others pursued from town to town such that righteous blood is spilled (Mat. 23.34-35; NRSV).

We must remember that the woes, as harsh as they were, were pronounced in love, for at the conclusion of the woes, Jesus says:

Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See your house is left to you desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord’” (Mat. 23.37-39; NRSV).


Jesus cared enough to confront.


Not every beatitude aligns with a woe, but reading the beatitudes provides us a vision of a new reality which stands in stark contrast to the reality Jesus condemns when setting forth these woes. What is truly unfortunate is that Jesus had to address the woes to the religious leaders of the day and age. Were the message delivered today, would it be addressed to the religious leaders?

Which reality do our own actions portray – the reality of the beatitudes or the reality which calls forth the woes? If we are saints, we portray the reality of the beatitudes. We are, and will be, the salt and light which Jesus talks about after preaching the beatitudes.

The vision of the new reality set forth in the beatitudes is expanded in John’s vision of the liturgy as it is described in the Book of Revelation. John describes a multitude too great to count which comes from every nation, tribe, peoples, and language, a multitude dressed in white standing before the throne and the Lamb of God, a multitude which is singing, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen” (Rev. 7.9-12; NRSV).

One of the elders then asks John, “Who are these, robed in white, and where have they come from?” John replies, “You are the one that knows.” The elder then said:

These are they who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. For this reason they are before the throne of God, and worship him day and night within his temple, and the one who is seated on the throne will shelter them. They will hunger no more, and thirst no more; the sun will not strike them, nor any scorching heat; for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes (Rev. 7.14-17; NRSV).


These are the saints of God who have gone before us. These are the saints of God with whom we celebrate the Eucharist, for we acknowledge: “It is right, and a good and joyful thing, always and everywhere to give thanks to you, Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth….Therefore we praise you, joining our voices with Angels and Archangel and with all the company of heaven, who for ever sing this hymn to proclaim the glory of your Name: Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of power and might, heaven and earth are full of your glory. Hosanna in the highest. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest” (BCP, pp. 361-362).

Let us celebrate the Saints, let us experience the joy of being a saint, and, in worship to God, let us aspire to become even more saintly!  Amen




Meet Fr. Larry Ort

Tuesday, November 11th, 2014

From the September 2014 Messenger.