Natural Theology – Part II Who is God?

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     Natural theology is the study of what we can learn about God without resort to revelation. A fundamental question is this:  is there any reason to suppose that God exists at all?  Here is one way that natural theology looks at this question.

     Consider the universe around us.  It is moving and changing.  Trees grow and die.  Rivers flow to the sea.  The moon circles the earth.  One might ask, how long has this been going on?  Logic provides two possible answers:  forever and not forever.  Reflection shows that the first answer is unlikely.  For example, our observations of the stars indicate that they are receding from us and from one another at high speed.  Running the tape backwards, we conclude that there must have been a time when all the stellar material was close together.  Cosmologists speak of a “Big Bang” that started things off.  The universe has not been going on forever.  Again, consider the Second Law of Thermodynamics, which reflects our observation that entropy (disorder) tends to increase in physical processes.  If the universe had been in existence forever, we would already have reached the endpoint, or “heat death.”  The fact that we have not done so supports the conclusion that the universe has been in existence for only a finite time.  So it must have had a beginning. 

     Physicists tells us that the Big Bang was not simply an explosion of concentrated matter.  It was an event in which matter and energy, space and time, began to be.  Reflect on that for a moment: space and time themselves began to be.  What could have caused such a thing?  Again logic provides two possible answers:  no cause and some cause.  Reflection shows that the first answer is not satisfactory.  We assume that everything happening in the physical universe has a cause and we investigate until we find it.  It would seem peculiar to suppose that the universe as a whole has no cause unless we have first looked and failed to find one.  So it is reasonable to think about what kind of thing could cause the physical universe (including space and time) to come to be.  It would have to be something that is not itself physical, something that has power over space and time.  It would have to be something capable of creating order.  Except in simple cases (like the formation of crystals), the only thing we know that creates order is mind.

Thus, the findings of modern science tend to support a conclusion already explored by the ancient Greeks, that the universe was created by a being capable of acting in a non-physical and creative way, like a mind. 

     We are a long way from Christianity, but we have started on a journey to discover why millions of people through the centuries have found Christianity not a set of cleverly devised myths, but the key to understanding the universe.

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Who is God?

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WHO IS GOD?  Part 1 (Introduction)

Christianity makes sense only if it teaches us about, and puts us into contact with, God, the ruler of the universe.  Christianity claims to give us truths about the universe.  But are the claims of Christianity true?  And who is God?  This series will explore these questions, looking at them from various angles.

As we get started, we should address what has become a popular pose in academic circles, namely, the idea that nothing is really true or false, that things are at best “true for you” or “true for me.”  This idea was considered and discarded by the ancient Greeks and it falls apart at the slightest touch of reality.  Think about your daily life.  Concrete is hard, whipped cream is soft, the number 19 bus runs downtown, the computer won’t work unless it is turned on, and it takes many hours to drive from Seattle to Los Angeles.  These things are really true, not just “true for me” or “true for you.”

Aha, say the academics, we don’t deny that statements about whipped cream and computers are really true, but we insist that statements about religion are not really true.  Religious statements are at best “true for you” or “true for me.” But why should this be so?  Religious people deny it.  Christians, Muslims, and Buddhists say that their core beliefs are true.  Of course, religious beliefs are not all compatible, so not all of them can be true, but religious people claim the same kind of truth that applies to concrete and bus routes.

When pushed, the academics may retreat to saying, “well, religious statements cannot be proved.”  We will evaluate this claim later, but notice for now that being true and being proved are not the same thing.  One of the following statements is true:  (1) Cicero’s feet were bigger than Caesar’s feet, (2) Cicero’s feet were not bigger than Caesar’s feet.  We can’t prove either statement, but this does not diminish our certainty that one of them is true.

At Saint Barnabas, we are persuaded that the claims of Christianity are true.  In future posts we will explore some of those claims. 

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Friday Night Call to prayer

In the late afternoon, with Seattle perfect weather, we praise a wonderful savior and an Almighty God. It is good to remember these things when so many plans can propel us into the frenzy of what will be for some a four day weekend. Remembering a magnificent God in the experience of a Glorious country inspires grateful prayer.

We pray for picnics, parades, adventures, and recreation. We pray for peace among all peoples of this great land. We pray that concerts, fireworks displays, campgrounds, parks and beautiful waterways reflect the amazing image of such a diverse people.  All of these things make this remarkable country a precious gift of peoples living together as citizens under one great nation and flag.

Praying for the Lord’s peace and safety among all who venture out this weekend to enjoy the unparalleled blessing of this United States. We remember those who work and live far from the shores of this country as they serve a cause greater than themselves. These include military personnel, the foreign service, contractors, missionaries, scientists and researchers, and medical professionals. They include those great adventurers on land and water and sea and the heavens above who carry the American flag as their banner.

We are reminded of the attitude and spirit of prayer this evening from Bagster’s Daily Light:

June 30, 2017 – Friday Evening

God is in heaven, and thou upon earth: therefore let thy words be few.1

When ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking. Be not ye therefore like unto them: for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him.2

They … called on the name of Baal from morning even until noon, saying, O Baal, hear us.3

Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner. I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other.4

Lord, teach us to pray.5
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1Ecc 5:2; 2Mat 6:7,8; 31Ki 18:26; 4Luk 18:10,11,13,14; 5Luk 11:1;

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Big Questions in Ordinary Time

The Sunday’s after Trinity Sunday are called “Trinity Time” or “Ordinary Time”. It marks the beginning of the Christian church officially. Theologically, everything was in place for the church to pursue her work on behalf of Christ. Trinity time is the longest season on the Christian calendar. It is a time of mission, a time to think about creation, and a time to ponder the big questions.

In 1941, a young man named Thomas Merton wrote a fictitious journal about experiences in war-torn England.  One recurring question was, “what are we fighting for?”  Like Socrates, he kept asking that question without getting a satisfactory answer.  Going deeper, he began to question the direction of his life and the values he had unconsciously been following.  In words that could have been written last week, he said, “I had learned from the novels that questions of right and wrong didn’t exist.  I had learned . . . that pleasure was what was applauded.  I had learned . . . that it was all right to have a good time so long as you didn’t interfere with the good time of anybody else.  Now I found out that, in practice, I was not able to realize how much my pleasures might hurt somebody else until too late. . . . But what most of all had struck me dumb were the two questions that I even feared to ask myself:  If I am here to have a good time without hurting other people, why is it, first, that you can’t have the pleasures everybody believes in without hurting somebody?  And why is it, second, that you never get the pleasure you expect anyway?

At the end of that same year, 1941, Thomas Merton entered the Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance (Trappist monks), a silent, contemplative order.  He later astonished the world with his best-seller, The Seven Storey Mountain.  The fictitious London journal was published only after his death in 1968 as My Argument With the Gestapo.

Merton’s questions (What is it all about? Why can’t I find happiness in having a good time?) have been asked since ancient times.  They are asked in the Bible.  Secular culture has no answer to them.  Merton found only one answer:  Jesus Christ.  That’s the answer that we are pursuing at St. Barnabas as well.  Trinity time is an ideal season to ponder the big questions in life. You are welcome to join us on this journey.

 

Trinity time full altar june 2017

The trinity altar captures the rich symbolism reflected in ordinary time.

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Trinity Sunday

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This coming Sunday (the one after Pentecost) is a celebration of God’s self-revelation as a trinity.  God’s nature is beyond our comprehension (not too surprising given the distance between us and the creator of the universe) but Jesus taught that he and God the Father were “one” and that after his work on earth was done, the Holy Spirit would come to comfort and assist the Church.  Father, Son, and Holy Spirit adds up to three (we can figure that part out) but there is only one God.  Everyday analogies (triangles, shamrocks, etc.) don’t cast much light on this mystery, which was the subject of fierce debate within the Church particularly in the early centuries.  The Nicene Creed was written in three sections to reflect the three persons of the Trinity.  We can be confident about these things:  God is real; Jesus is real (and is God); the Holy Spirit is real (and is God).  We can worship and adore until such time as we see the reality face to face.  Come and join us in the celebration and mystery of that worship.

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Pentecost Altar – St. Barnabas Anglican Church of Seattle – June 4, 2017

St Barnabas Anglican Church of Seattle – Pentecost Altar June 4 2017

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The End of the Easter Story, and a Beginning for the Church

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During the forty days that Jesus stayed with his followers after his Resurrection, he told them to stay in Jerusalem until they received the “baptism of the Holy Spirit.”  There is no indication that his followers knew what this meant, but they stayed and continued to pray together after Jesus ascended on the fortieth day.  Jesus died on or near the Jewish holiday of Passover.  Fifty days later there was another Jewish festival called Shavuot (meaning weeks) or, in the common Greek of the time, Pentecost (from the Greek word for fifty).  This holiday originally celebrated the first wheat harvest of the year, and later came to commemorate the giving of the Law to Moses on Mounty Sinai.  The Jewish celebration included waving two sheaves of wheat (symbolizing the “first fruits” of the harvest) in the great temple at Jerusalem.  The Book of Acts, Chapter 2, tells us: 

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place.  And suddenly from heaven there came a sound, like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.  Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them.  All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them the ability. 

Just as Shavuot is in a sense the birthday of Judaism (based on the giving of the Law), Pentecost is considered the birthday of the Christian Church, when the Holy Spirit gave power to the members to preach to people all over the earth, symbolized by their ability to speak in multiple languages.  Just as the Jewish festival involved “first fruits” of the harvest, St. Paul came to speak of Jesus as the “first fruits” of the triumph over sin and evil and death.  It is traditional to read the Book of Ruth on the Jewish festival.  This story tells how Ruth, a Gentile woman, came to join the people of Israel and even became an ancestor of King David.  The Christian Church began very early to incorporate Gentiles (Greeks and Romans) along with Jews into the Kingdom promised by Jesus. So on Pentecost we rejoice that God has given us the Church.  Flawed though it may be, it is a precious heritage.

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Acensiontide

What happened after the Resurrection?  This week, we hear another part of the story.  The last chapter of the Gospel of Luke and the first chapter of the Acts of the Apostles relate that Jesus remained with his disciples for forty days after rising from the dead, during which time he continued to instruct them and promised that they would be “baptized with the Holy Spirit” to become his witnesses “to the ends of the earth” (even to Shoreline, Washington).  Then, while they were watching, “he was lifted up and a cloud took him out of their sight.”

This coming Thursday is the fortieth day after Easter.  Forty days is a number packed with significance. Jesus spent 40 days in the wilderness prior to the beginning of his public ministry, which we recognize in Lent. Now we observe the conclusion of the 40 days after Easter, in which Jesus Christ ascended to the Father in heaven. St. Barnabas will celebrate Jesus’ ascension on Thursday May 25th with liturgies both at Noon and at 7:00 p.m.  All are welcome.

What are we to make of the Ascension?  In a way, it was inevitable.  Jesus rose from the dead, but even before his crucifixion he had said that he was going “back to the Father” and that he would not remain with his disciples forever.  He said that it would be to his disciples’ benefit that he go away, because then the Holy Spirit would be sent to them.  How that works (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) is the mystery of the Trinity, and surely the disciples had a hard time understanding it as well.  But if the plan was for Jesus to return to the Father, he had only limited ways of accomplishing this.  He could have crept away when no one was looking, but that would have left the disciples wondering if he was maybe coming back.  He could have faded away like the Cheshire cat or popped out of view like a soap bubble, but then the disciples might have wondered if he had ceased to exist.  He could have used Hollywood effects like lightning and rapidly boiling cloud banks, but that would have looked like something a Greek god might do.  Jesus chose a loving way to go to the Father:  rising out of sight into a cloud (which reminds us of the cloud that surrounded him during the Transfiguration).  His disciples knew that Jesus was in control, that he was alive, and that he was doing what he had predicted.

This left the question of when the “baptism with the Holy Spirit” was going to happen.  Stay tuned for that, and God bless us all.

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The Ascension of Our Lord

 

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Community of Prayer

On Wednesday nights we gather as a community of prayer. At a time when the world appears to have become unhinged, people of faith remain steadfast in the work of prayer. We meet at 6:30 p.m. for informal prayer, praise, and hymns. Join us to help widen the circle and lift up your own burden for prayer. We pray for individual, family, neighborhood,  cities, nations, and “The whole state of Christ’s Church”.

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Second-Hand Treasures for a Good Cause!

St. Barnabas will hold a rummage sale on May 19 and 20 at the church.  Donations of clean items in workable/wearable condition will be accepted during the previous week (at the following hours: 10:00am  to 2:00pm).  The pre-sale (by ticket only, tickets available at the door for $2.00) will be on the evening of Friday, May 19, starting at 6:00  pm.  Open season on the rummage will be on Saturday, May 20, the doors open at 9:00 a.m. Proceeds will go to improving our church facilities, so that when you return for Sunday liturgies and other events you will be more comfortable.

As you prepare for the rummage sale (and at all times), remember that Jesus died for you.  And may the peace of God, which passes all understanding, be with you and remain with you forever.

 

Rummage Sale Poster

Pre-Sale!

Friday, May 19th @ 6:00 pm -$2.00 Admission at the door

Regular Sale:

Saturday, May 20th @ 9:00 am – 4:00 pm

St. Barnabas Anglican Church

2340 N. 155th St.

Shoreline, WA   98133

Antiques, collectibles, clothing, furniture, art, household items, and much more!

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