What is the Purpose of Government?

In an election year lots of people question government – big government, small government, government that doesn’t do enough, and government that overly controls everything.  New Testament scholar N.T. Wright offers a few words about government, especially in a fallen world where government officials can be as much a part of the problem as anything else.

God wants the world to be ordered, to keep evil in check, otherwise wickedness simply flourishes and naked power and aggression wins. But the rulers of the world are themselves answerable to God, not least at the point where they use their power to become just like the bullies they are supposed to be restraining…All this is based, of course, on a creational monotheism which, faced with evil in the world, declares that God will one day put it all to rights, and that we can see advance signs of that in systems of justice and government even when they are imperfect. This leaves no room for a dualism in which pagan rulers are thoroughly bad and can be ignored, or overthrown without thought for what will come next. Nor does it allow that kind of pantheism in which rulers are simply part of the fabric of the divinely ordered world, requiring unquestioning submission to their every whim.

The Jewish political belief we find in books like this was based on a strong theology of creation, fall and providence: the one God had in fact created all the world, including all rulers, and though they were often exceedingly wicked God was overruling their whims for his own strange and often hidden purposes, and would judge them in their turn…. The rulers are wicked and will be judged, especially when they persecute God’s people.  But God wants the world to be ruled, rather than to descend into anarchy and chaos, and his people must learn to live under pagan rule even though it means constant vigilance against compromise with paganism itself.                                                                       (N.T. Wright,  Paul)

The Value of a Human Life

St. Nikolai Velimirovic, survivor of the Nazi Dachau Camp, wrote the following comments on Luke 8:26-39, the Gergesene Demoniac:

“Let us not be in a hurry to condemn these Gergesene’s love for their swine before we consider the society of our day, and count up all our swine-loving fellow-townsfolk, who would, just like the Gergesenes, have more concern for their pigs than the lives of their neighbors.  Just think how few there are today, even among those who cross themselves and confess Christ with their tongues, who would not quickly make up their minds to kill two men if this would give them two thousand pigs.  Or think if there are many among you who would sacrifice two thousand pigs to save the lives of two madmen.  Let those who condemn the Gergesenes before first condemning themselves be filled with deep shame.  Were the Gergesenes to rise up today from their graves, and begin to count, they would arrive at a vast number of the like-minded in Christian Europe!  They at least begged Christ to leave them, while the peoples of Europe drive Him out.  And why?  In order to be left alone with their pigs and their masters, the demons.” 

A good question for all of us – would we sacrifice a fortune to save two crazy men?  Would we think it a good thing if we lost a fortune  and our jobs to help two dangerous and insane men?  What price do we put on a human soul?  We who advocate the sanctity of life – do we believe each human soul is worth so much that we would feel good if we lost our fortune and income but a human was saved?   Is it worth spending money to keep an inmate alive rather than executing them?   To give them a chance to repent?

Evangelism Not Marketing

Sermon notes from November 2002 – Luke 8:26-39    The Gerasene Demoniac

Did the people in today’S Gospel lesson fear demons, or did they actually fear power which they could not control?

Membership in the Body of Christ should be the principle source of one’s own identity.

We assemble here both as and to be with brothers and sisters in Christ, to learn from Christ what it means to treat others as brothers and sisters rather than as distant strangers, to practice the teachings of Jesus to love one another. Unfortunately, our thinking is sometimes so shaped by the consumer culture all around us that sometimes we come here and continue to see ourselves merely as consumers to see if there is anything we want, anything we can take away for ourselves. When we do that we forget that Christ called us here to be his disciples, to be brothers and sisters in Christ, to live in love with one another. We need to let our minds receive the grace of the Gospel, and let down our defensive posturing to set aside the question “What am I going to get out of this?” Here is a place where we can practice true love and look around and see those who like ourselves love Christ, who want to serve God, and we can look and see how can we help others attain the same goal that we have – to reach the Kingdom of God?

We come to church to learn the Christ taught discipline of loving one another. Our Society shapes our thinking so that usually we are focusing on getting something for ourselves. But here in the Church we can set aside personal profit as a motive for everything we do, and we actually can be freed from our selfish limitations and aspire to God, eternity and the true love which Christ offers us.

The Church really is not engaged in marketing. The Church exists for evangelism and for the salvation of the world. In today’s Gospel lesson, did Jesus do market research and see what the demon possessed man thought was his greatest desire? Did Jesus poll the local population and determine what the local reaction would be to his performing an exorcism? Did Jesus test the waters and see how healing someone would effect his popularity in the polls?

Marketers people might conclude from today’s Gospel, that Jesus’ ministry was neither wanted nor needed. The miracle which Jesus did today neither increased his popularity nor did it win him any converts from the masses.

The kingdom of God is not based upon popularity, on the polls, nor even on the declared wants and needs of the local population.

Indianapolis Town Hall Meeting October 29

There was a Town Hall meeting with Archbishop Job at St. John the Forerunner Church in Indianapolis on Wednesday evening.   I estimate about 60 people present and 7 priests.   I don’t think there was anything earth shattering, what follows are  a few notes (not minutes).  Basically the format was the Archbishop answering questions from the crowd  –

Regarding the upcoming ANAC, +Job does not feel any candidate will get the 2/3 vote vote on the first ballot at the ANAC.   So he believes the choice will fall upon the Synod of bishops.  He says canonically speaking it is the bishops who elect the metropolitan not the ANAC in any case.   He does not believe he will be chosen by the Synod as he feels the other bishops are not pleased with him.   +Job is totally opposed to +Hilarion of Vienna  being elected as he does not think a Russian bishop can help our bishops to work together.   It will introduce a new problem into the Synod not a solution.

+Job says the proposed statute change to elect a metropolitan by drawing names from a chalice rather than by voting even if adopted at this ANAC would not take effect this year.   +Job opposes this statute change.

+Job said that Metropolitan Herman did not resign for health reasons even though that has been suggested as the reason.  He said the scenario was the other bishops agreed he had to resign – +Dmitri as the senior bishop was given the task of conveying this message to Metropolitan  Herman and +Dmitri asked Herman to accept the decision of the other bishops.  Metropolitan Herman acquiesced. 

Job was asked if he thought stealing millions of dollars was grounds for deposing a bishop.  He said yes.  He was asked why then has Metropolitan Theodosius not been deposed.   +Job said he is already retired and no longer doing damage to the OCA, and he felt it was wrong to totally disgrace him over the money issue after 25 years of primacy in service to the church.    

+Job was adamant that he will retire in 2 years.   He does not want our Diocese to become obsessed with a vetting process for picking a new bishop.  He believes ultimately God will decide who the new bishop will be.

Though several dioceses have adopted resolutions calling for assessment and budget reductions for the OCA, the synod as a body has not discussed these looming issues.   

Regarding the reported loan to Metropolitan Herman at St. Tikhon’s, His Eminence said it is being investigated.  Though St. Tikhon’s Monastery is supposed to have a 5 member board of trustees made up of monks, apparently Metropolitan Herman some years ago reformed it as a Limited Liability Company with himself as president and his deacon as treasurer.   The Metropolitan then seemingly appointed himself the executor of the monastery and engaged in financial dealings in this capacity.  The investigation into these actions continues.

One  comment the Archbishop  made that seemed incredibly ironic to me.  When one lady asked him about the U.S. presidential election and if he had any words of wisdom about how to think about the election, he replied that he himself had not voted for many years – that years ago he became totally disillusioned with American politics and politicians and so he simply stopped voting or paying attention to the elections.   That comment raised my eyebrows because we have become totally disillusioned with our bishops, should we follow his example and quit giving them money, and not even pay any attention to them?  I wondered whether he realized what his comments sounded like to people who are totally disillusioned with and discouraged as a result of the failure of our church leaders.

Interestingly +Job feels that the bishops have changed so much and are now much more cognizant of the concerns of the membership.   And yet their most recent Pastoral Letter which has received a very  disdainful reception among many with I am familiar and which was rightfully picked apart on OCAnews.org  was approved by all the bishops who were very pleased with their efforts,  but who remain out of touch with the rank and file clergy and membership. 

From my eyes, part of the failure of our bishops has been their own passivity in the face of sin and evil.  They responded with timidity at the thought of having to disagree with their fellow bishops even when it came to speaking the truth or defending righteousness.    Their commitment seems  to have been to preserve and protect their bishoprics and nothing more.   Christ said the gates of hell shall not prevail against  His Church (Matthew 16:18), and our bishops seem to have taken this to mean that as long as they can’t see those gates, or talk about them, then the gates don’t exist and the bishops don’t have to worry about their presence.   Jesus of course didn’t say that the gates of hell won’t assault us, just that they will not prevail.   Our bishops chose to ignore the assault and even to cooperate with it.  Now they say they have learned their lesson, but then so have we learned ours.