I wrote the article below, with revisions, first immediately after the telecast of the Christmas Eve Service at St Phillip Cathedral, 2011. The telecast has been a Christmas Eve Tradition for some 40 years, I first attended the service in 1970. I had not attended or seen the broadcast since 2002, and I confess that after seeing the service, I was angry. I can not abide in the Diocesan Bishop, I can not believe the Episcopal Church in America is governed by Godly people, but rather I believe it is governed by secularists, humanists and heretics. As I watched the television, I could not believe how inattentive the congregants appeared; how few appeared to be dressed to present themselves before the altar of God, how casual and uninspired was the recitation of prayers. How lacking of reverence, of ritual, of pomp and circumstance was the service itself. The procession seemed jaded and uneasy, hurried as if to show fear that others would notice the lack of warmth. The lecturers were wooden and seemed without inspiration, the choir subdued and without festive joy. I would argue, against the sentiments of modern theologians, that this day, Christmas Day, is without a doubt the most festive, joyful and sacred day of the year. Where is the Joy, the celebration today? What imposters gather around the parish seat, what humorless cadaver holds the crozier? This is the Church that shaped the Colonies, the Bible of which, The King James Version, educated, enlightened, and inspired the majority of the framing fathers, who were not deists, as modern agnostics hold, but Anglicans, and then, proudly, Protestant Episcopalians. This Cathedral of Saint Phillip now, this Clergy, appear to be most comfortable apologizing for the many blessings of God, the gifts of God given to an affluent congregation; rather, they should be apologists proclaiming the blessings of wealth and the good use of it in doing God’s work. Instead, I find an unsettling blend of the guilt ridden “noblesse oblige” compulsory good works of Northeastern Puritans blending with elements of the Roman Church’s Liberation Theology. Another American Institution seems fallen to the blight of Europeanization. No longer named The Protestant Episcopal Church of the United States of America, the Episcopal Church (USA) should now best be styled “The Euro-American Episcopal Church” Go ahead, the name is free to use, I will not copyright it.
The Dean’s Homily:
I just heard the Very Reverend Samuel Candler deliver his homily at the Christmas Eve Communion Service at St. Phillip Cathedral in Atlanta, Georgia. He spoke from the heart, with little scriptural citation, and wove a narrative that led us from the often un-rehearsed chaos and joy of a children’s Christmas Eve pageant to an understanding of the beauty of imperfections in structures and events that govern our life. He quoted the Canadian Zen Buddhist Leonard Cohen’s observation or prosy that “crack’s in a structure were good, they let the light in,” he did not cite the source material (it is cited in the link to his homily below). Repeatedly, Dean Candler spoke of God’s Love, as if to imply that “God is Love,” the polemic mantra embraced by so many who must surely feel certain they have yet to receive their share of God’s love. “God is Love” was the “war” cry of my generation, and even older deadbeats, at every demonstration, every rally, every love-in and every “peace march” that I attended, led, supported or planned during the period of 1965 through 1972: “The Period of the Great Unwashed, Stoned, Blatantly Over-Sexed, and in retrospect, Useless Vietnam Peace Movement.” Here and now, however, the Dean spoke far more like a teary-eyed Liberal than a bleary-eyed Leary; he sincerely believes his heresy, as do, unfortunately, most in my church. His measured speech, drawn cadence, and adolescent vocabulary reflects either an intensely superficial understanding of The Word, or an intensely profound misunderstanding of The Word. To the Dean, there are not just four Gospels, there are millions of gospels; God speaks through the kind acts of all mankind, even, or perhaps especially, through the recent denizens of the “Occupy (Blank) Movement.” Those unkempt, vacuous, illicit thrill seekers who appear in public parks and private property all over America in protest that no one has hired them, no one has educated them, no one cares about their acne or old car or the lack of bike paths in urban areas. The Dean apparently has great affinity for these social misfits, who blame an economic system(one that I personally think could stand a true “reformation”) for their lack of education, lack of opportunity, lack of material goods, lack of wealth.
You see, Dear Dean Candler, they will tell you, as they told an earlier generation’s soft-hearted compassionate clerics of our church, and indeed the World Council of Churches, that they protest poverty, not a lack of “fairness” in wealth distribution; injustice, not a lack of getting their “fair” share; and a lack of compassion, not a childish need of attention. I can not find the word “fair” anywhere in the Four Gospels. Just as the “Anti-War” radicals of the 1960’s, those who claimed to be demonstrating for peace, actually were demonstrating to avoid their or other’s death and dismemberment in the jungles and rice paddies of Viet Nam, these “Occupy Wall Street” radicals of 2011-2012 are actually demonstrating to avoid hard work, commitment, responsibility and success. About my assertions concerning the anti-war protestors of the Viet Nam War, what have those “pacifist” activists had to say since then about: Granada, Panama, Kuwait, the Baltic States, Iraq, Afghanistan…? As to your heartfelt plea that we let Jesus “occupy” ourselves, I assure you that “Jesus,” or any Christian belief, is not occupying or informing these weak kneed, spineless derelicts and hopelessly romantic adolescents.
If a child in America is hungry tonight , it is not because of Wall Street. If someone in America lies sick and untreated, unmedicated in bed tonight, it is not because of Wall Street. If any man or woman claims they can’t go to college because they can’t afford it, it’s not because of Wall Street.
The child will be hungry tonight because the parents were unwilling to work hard enough to provide food, or were unwilling to ask for help to meet their and their children’s needs. The child will be hungry tonight because its single mom never considered the consequences of the act that led to her pregnancy or gave a thought as to how to she would provide for her child, and the child’s selfish irresponsible father cares less about the child than the mother. If you are sick and lie in pain, your illness untreated, it is because you are unwilling to walk, drive, take a bus to the nearest ER and seek care, and because you reap in your health what you have sown in your diet and lifestyle. If you can’t afford college, it is because you have not prepared yourself, have not demonstrated scholarship, of have not applied at a college you can afford and for which you are willing to work forty hours a week to pay to go to school. Wall Street nabob’s, their greed, their groping avarice, have nothing to do with 99% of the failures and disappointments in anyone’s life.
In point of fact, I would submit that reckless, secular homilies, filled with condescendingly sympathetic and collectively heretical pronouncements, so often heard from the pulpit, as in Dean Candler’s homily, do more to discourage discipline and determination than all the subversive actions of our perverted capitalists, many of whom attend our denominations churches and cathedrals. There is no message of hope, no call for faith in a sermon that shrilly criticizes the sins of man without an exhortation to earnestly repent, be heartily sorry, seek God’s mercy and serve and please God in newness of life. There are infinite ways of saying this, infinite paths to understanding our obligation, certainly for the Dean as many ways as days spent praying and writing the next day’s homily, but I heard no message of penance or remorse, no message of Joy that God became Incarnate, that God became man. Where are the exhortations of thanks that God is in the world, the well versed entreaty to believe upon The Word, to have faith in Jesus Christ and through the Grace of God, to act to as His disciple, changing the world to please God and serve His people. I might as well have heard a Christmas homily from the lips of a Unitarian Universalist.
When, my dear Dean, did you last tell your congregants what a sinner you are? When did you last exhort them to read The Word, The Bible, and take it to heart as, at the least, a primer for God’s work in this world. When did you last speak of sin, the corrupting nature of materialism, consumerism, narcissism? I remember the Reverend Charlie Winter giving a sermon at St. Luke’s, Sewanee, paraphrasing Finley Dunn, that the Church’s mission was to “Afflict the Comfortable.” I remember my Bishop, The Right Reverend James A. Pike, seeking Jesus far away from the demands of time and treasure of his Cathedral, one from which he was driven, in part, by the actions of the Georgia Clergy, actions for which I am sure he is now eternally grateful.
It can only be that you consider the Four Gospels something less than the perfect Word of God, something other than a perfect vessel to carry us to Him. When you spoke, it seemed to me that you held the Four Gospels, our Canon, our Magisterium, as no more perfect, and thus no less venal than you or I. That to me is heresy, either arrogant or ignorant. I implore you to consider this: Where are you leading your sheep? The great proof of God’s love is our free will, yet that free will leads inevitably to sin, and to the need of our Redeemer, and the gift of God of Incarnation, the birth of Jesus Christ, which we celebrate today. God did not come “down” to our station, God came to show us what He meant us to be, so very long ago, in the Garden of Eden. He became human to complete the lessons started with Abraham and Issac, to teach us how to live as He would have us live. When we do good, it is not God speaking through us, or to us, a “Gospel;” it is us speaking to God, a “Prayer” of Praise and Worship.
Please know one other thing about the writer of this article, were it not for the Grace of God, the Birth of my Redeemer, and His death on the Cross, I would have no hope of salvation. I would be as savage as any Roman, as cynical as any Sadducee, I would await a messiah to conquer my enemies with sword. Praise God, we now live with hope, have faith in Jesus Christ, and offer charity toward all of the Father’s children. Still, I am a sinner to the core, that is why I know the sound of temptation so well. If you can not hear temptation in your words, forgive me my words. I am a sheep, not a Shepherd; a prodigal, not a prophet. May the Blessing of the Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer suffuse you with grace and light, and guide you safely through the darkness.
Dean Candler’s Homily: