June 22, 2009

The Perils of Bootstrapping or What is Christian Ethics? A Sermon

Filed under: Ethics,Sermons,The North American Anglican Province — William Witt @ 7:34 am

This is the first sermon I preached right after The Episcopal Church’s General Convention 2003. At the time, I was an aspirant for Holy Orders in the Episcopal Diocese of Connecticut. Within a month I had withdrawn from the ordination process. Two years later, on July 13, 2005, Bishop Andrew Smith invaded St. John’s Episcopal Church, changed the locks and deposed Mark Hansen, our priest, and imposed a priest-in-charge, who later removed those of us on the vestry for “numerous offenses” (unspecified).

I now live in the Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh, and Archbishop Robert Duncan is my bishop. With the inaugural meeting of the new Anglican Church of North America this week, of which I am a member, I thought it appropriate to repost this sermon.

Psalm 147
Eph. 5: 15-20
John 6:53-59

AtlasAt General Convention 2003, the Episcopal Church made two decisions that have put the Anglican communion in an uproar. They decided to ordain an Episcopal priest who had divorced his wife, and has been living in an ongoing homosexual relationship with another man, and they decided to allow individual dioceses to provide rites of blessing for homosexual relationships, at the discretion of the local bishop. The issue of controversy in the Episcopal Church today has to do with a disagreement about ethics or morality. So I have decided to talk a little this morning about Christian ethics.

The first thing that I think needs to be said is that it is quite difficult today to think about ethics from a Christian perspective, even for those inside the Church. The reason for this is that there is a competing ethic in our culture that has nothing to do with Christianity, but which we can hardly avoid. This is an ethic that has so permeated our culture that even Christians fall into its ways of thinking. I am going to refer to this as the “do-it-yourself” ethic. “Doing-it-yourself” is the idea that morality is about doing the best you can—pulling yourself up by your boot straps. If you do the best you can, you’ll be all right.

This “do-it-yourself” ethic comes in two varieties, a conservative variety and a liberal variety. The conservative variety aims for perfection. The conservative “do-it-yourselfer” does not allow for any failures, and tolerates no half-hearted efforts. Sometimes this view is called moralism or Puritanism. The liberal “do-it-your-selfer” is more tolerant. He realizes that not everybody is perfect, so he thinks that God grades on a curve. As long as you try, you get an A for effort.


June 10, 2009

The Practical Doctrine of the Trinity: A Trinity Sunday Sermon

Filed under: Sermons,Theology — William Witt @ 8:03 am

TrinityThe Easter season begins with the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus from the grave, and it ends with Trinity Sunday. The resurrection is concrete and specific, something that even children can relate to and understand. Easter eggs and baby chicks speak of new life. We celebrate Easter with the singing of exuberant hymns—“Up from the grave He arose!”—and churches decorated with lilies. However, in contrast to the resurrection, the doctrine of the Trinity is abstract, impossible to understand we fear, and something best left to theologians who like to speculate about things such as how 1 + 1 + 1 add up to 1, something about as practical as the question of how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. Besides “Holy, Holy, Holy,” how many hymns about the Trinity can the average churchgoer bring to mind?

I would suggest rather that the resurrection and the Trinity are the two most important doctrines of the Christian faith, both belong together, and both are imminently practical. Without either one of them, Christianity would collapse. If Jesus had not risen from the dead on the first Easter Sunday, there would have been no people called Christians. If God were not Trinity, Jesus would not have risen from the dead. The resurrection is about what God has done. The Trinity is about who God is. We know who God is from what he has done. We understand the meaning of what God has done when we understand who God is. (more…)

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