Updated: Feb 5
The advent of Facebook church is sounding a death knell for Christianity in America (the non-Socialist parts north of Mexico and Cuba and south of Canada). Christianity is already like a coronavirus victim, on a respirator and expected to die everywhere else in the world. However, Facebook exposes how little Christ is in the priests these days.
My wife [deceased] was a priest. She had many priestly friends on Facebook. Several of them were priests she went to seminary with, whom I met as I went to seminary too – as the spouse of a seminarian. I have petitioned some of my wife’s priestly Facebook friends to be my social media friends and some accepted the invitation. Then COVID19 Armageddon came, and that has ended church as we once knew it.
Now it seems the Episcopal Church fears something other than God, as it has succumbed to the political-medical sages and turned its belly up. In its death throes the elite have decided it is most important that parish priests become live streaming producers of church services. Sans the pewples, and without need for flowers, wine, or wafers, priests (and bishops) are publishing religious video chats on Facebook Live! [or recorded].
The Church feels the need to do this, just to keep those few who used to regularly go to church (the paying customers) getting their fixes on. The hope is the masses don’t find staying a home a viable choice on Sunday mornings. Now all my wife’s priestly friends are glad they accepted my invitation, as I am another body who can be invited to watch their Stay At Home church services [some actually go to an empty church and still dress up in priestly garb].
The problems that I have found with this new reach to keep the flocks from scattering and getting lost or eaten by the sinful wolves of the world are several. More than the mistake of being categorized with Jim and Tammy Fay Bakker and the ‘been there, done that’ televangelism that stinks to High Heaven, I see other more serious problems. I see them as specific to me, simply because I am not in the ‘normal’ class of Facebookers. I now get invited to see multiple sermons, multiple days in a week.
One problem I personally see is the feel of church is completely gone. I remember Joseph Campbell telling Bill Moyers that simply being in a large cathedral gave a special feeling of magnificence. Watching church on my PC in my office does not fill me with awe. I never have been a ‘watch religion on TV’ kind of guy. It might work for some, but not for me.
Second, complines and morning prayers via social media makes me strongly question, “Why watch someone else do this on a monitor, when I have the same prayer book and a place I like to pray? I could do this by myself and it would be better.” To me, doing that on Facebook, when I know for a fact those services held in a real church, during non-pandemic times, would not draw many participants. That does not mean nobody prays or does prayer book readings. It just means too much church is overkill, something only wanted by ‘church junkies’.
Third is the overexposure of priests. I’m sure most Facebook people rarely get one invitation to watch a pseudo-church service, simply because most people these days do not care about going to a church of any kind. When I post religious things on my Facebook page, I believe it causes those called my ‘friends’ to click the “show less of Robert” button.
Personally, I enjoy religious conversation. I seek it out, while others run away from it. I actually watch multiple offerings of these Facebook productions by Episcopalian priests [in part, but some in full].
Unfortunately, it is not having a positive effect on me. This past Sunday was a good example.
I watched no less than six of those pseudo-church services I was invited to attend. This even includes one that appeared in my news feed from a “Christian Church,” meaning that was the brand name, not Episcopal. That says Facebook knows I give religion clicks. Still, the problem this past Sunday is: ALL preached about the story from Luke’s Gospel commonly called “The road to Emmaus.” While the preacher for the Christian Church only read from the Gospel of Luke, justifying a sermon on that topic, everyone else pretended to care about the readings from Acts or 1 Peter. They even read the Psalm. Forget about anyone ever preaching about the Psalm [this Sunday it was Psalm 116], but nobody mentioned anything other than the Gospel story in Luke.
My point here is this: Episcopalians dwell in the land of twelve-minute sermons. They make it seem like time is a premium when talking to the great unwashed masses that come to their churches. If time is a premium and you are not going to offer anything of merit about the Old Testament, Psalm, or Epistle in a sermon, then cut all that “you can understand this simply by reading it yourself – aloud at home or not – the list is on the bulletin” waste out and add another ten minutes to a serious sermon. Stop pretending you care about the things you do not teach about.
Because of my wife being Episcopalian I became an Episcopalian. I was unfamiliar with the deeper stories in the Holy Bible as an adult, although I had been raised with all the basic Bible Stories teachings of children’s Sunday School. Once I began regularly attending an Episcopalian church, I began regularly reading the handout at the door, which contained the readings for each Sunday. I was amazed at what was stated in the Scripture selections, simply by reading them silently to myself before church began. However, Sunday after Sunday I heard such lame sermons (many times having nothing to do with any of the readings – especially when it was time to browbeat the pewples into sending in checks) I wanted to try going to another church to see if a better priest somewhere else gave better sermons.
The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence, they say. Unfortunately, that sad reality came true time and again, as my wife and I tried several different local Episcopal churches. A good sermon is hard to find. I did look forward to the sermons preached by Alston Johnson, but Alston never had time after church to add to his sermons or answer questions. As friendly as he seemed, he never had any time to spend with us great unwashed commoners. I think he was too private and too educated to be what a priest should be; but he sure did hit some nails clearly on the heads, like an experienced carpenter should. Alston begrudgingly helped my wife go to seminary [he was forced by church politics, I think], so we left him behind having been touched by what good sermons are supposed to do.
This past Sunday I was bombarded with bad sermons. Not only were they all talking about the same Gospel reading, they all got it wrong. To put that in terms of what was read aloud from the Book of Acts that same Sunday, Peter stood with the other eleven newly ‘ordained’ Apostles and gave a sermon, so “When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart” and “With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” Peter gave the perfect example of what a Good Sermon does.
What Peter preached was so good that we read in Acts, “that day about three thousand persons were added.” That is the NIV translation. The Greek actually states “souls,” not “persons,” and “added” actually better translates as “joined,” especially following the use of “baptized.” The result of a good sermon was souls were baptized by the Holy Spirit, so the soul of Jesus joined with not only twelve disciples, but a lot standing around. That means three thousand “souls were saved” by being joined with Jesus Christ – like the twelve were. The role of a priest is to be Jesus Christ resurrected –two souls joined in one body – so ALL sermons by true priests MUST BE GOOD.
What I heard on multiple Facebook sermons made me think, “They have had too much wine.” None I heard were good, for several reasons … beyond their failure to tie the Apostles preaching to Jesus preaching as a strange pilgrim.
First, several made the mistake of saying “two disciples” and/or “two men.” Nowhere in the Greek words written in Luke 24:13-35 is the word “mathétés” written, which says “disciple.” Nowhere does it say two “men” were walking and talking. It identifies one as Cleopas, a man’s name, but that is the name of one who WAS NOT A DISCIPLE of Jesus. He was his uncle. Cleopas walked HOME with his wife, Mary, Jesus’ aunt. They lived together! They both had followed Jesus since he was born in Bethlehem! The disciples – including Luke – were all holed up in a room in Jerusalem, with the doors locked. None of them were walking and talking on the road leading to Emmaus and beyond.
Second, I heard several priest mention what Cleopas said (to his wife Mary), “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” ALL OF THEM then made asinine comments like, “When Jesus is speaking to you your hearts are opened.”
GIVE ME A BREAK!
If those priests had taken the time to remember the reading from Acts, then it would not be such a leap of faith to figure out, “Peter gave a sermon like Jesus had to Cleopas and Mary!” Wow! That’ll preach!
How about comparing how Acts says, “When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart.” That sounds similar. Nobody thought, “Peter and the eleven making the hearts of three thousand burn by opening the scriptures to them means Jesus was joined with a pilgrim stranger, just like Jesus was joined with Peter and the eleven and just like Jesus was joined with three thousand true Christians.
Everybody thought (as everyone they teach thinks) Jesus is some spirit that floats on a cloud with his Dad 24/7. He is made to be some ‘come and go’ entity, who left when he ascended and will return at the end of the world, but a well-trained priest has been trained to be a Jesus tamer, who cracks a whip and makes some of Jesus hop into tap water, industrial crackers and Merlot wine. The days of Jesus doing all the sermons in many different bodies of flesh, with man different ‘Christian names’ is over!
Nothing inspirational happened last Sunday. I can certainly say with assuredness that none of the Facebook sermons I heard made anything more than my stomach burn. Well, maybe my eyes were glowing red hot a little. Maybe a little steam came from my ears?
Third, several of the priests pointed to the altar table (those who were dressed up and in an empty church). They referenced the large, round, ceremonial wafer that is laid on a silver platter, and used in a production where a priest raises it up overhead. Breaking it in half is part of a normal service, but for Facebook purposes ‘no bread was broken in the making of this video’. Still, several priests pointed out they had bread to break, which was like how Luke wrote of Jesus, saying “The two disciples were able to see Jesus when he broke the bread.” Of course, that says nothing, but it implies, “When I break this large wafer Jesus will appear in your hearts, because I am a priest and have the magical power to call upon Jesus and make him do tricks for me. Still, it is up to you to see him or you are not doing something right.”
I swear. American Christians have no clue what Jews are like or what Judaism is about. They have no desire to learn. Instead, they like to think that everything instantly changed after Jesus resurrected, as all his followers became Episcopalians and stopped being Jewish. They think Jews don’t eat anything other than unleavened matzah, day in and day out. If one knew the reality of a Jewish world back then, one would know that Mary made fresh, hot, risen with yeast bread (maybe Jewish rye bread?) and served it with dinner. When the pilgrim blessed and broke the fresh bread before handing it out, he spoke what they had heard Jesus say a week prior. It was “then their eyes were opened and they recognized him.”
The symbolism of bread is the Word that nourishes one’s soul. Jesus, as a stranger, fed Cleopas and Mary with spiritual food as they walked along that road. He fed them with insight, such that “he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.” Jesus, joined with the soul of a baptized pilgrim, did not simply read them Scripture and then make up stuff he thought uncle Cleo and aunt Mare wanted to hear. He spoke the Word of God as do ALL Apostles … as do ALL Christians, joined with God as His Son reborn into human flesh, baptized by the Holy Spirit. That is what a sermon is for … making one’s heart burn to know more! NOTHING ELSE. A sermon is separate from cracker eating, which is not real spiritual food.
SCRIPTURE IS THE ‘FLATBREAD’ (UNLEAVENED) THAT DEMANDS JESUS BE THE YEAST THAT GIVES RISE TO THE MEANING GOD WANTS US TO KNOW. THAT MEANS PRIESTS ARE SUPPOSED TO BE THAT YEAST IN THEIR SERMONS ON SCRIPTURE.
Alas, no such luck these days.
Well, my sadness is the realization that the End Times have finally begun. Jesus told us what to expect at the end of the age. He spoke not too long after the Age of Pisces had begun. Since the seventies we have danced to the song “Aquarius,” which is the next age coming, at the end of the Pisces age. The end of the Age of the Fish blends into the beginning of the Age of Technology.
We’ve been dancing to the music of entertaining religion since way back in the days when people like Oral Roberts and Billy Graham would ask the faithful to grab hold of their radios or televisions in order to receive the Holy Spirit (only it was just static electricity). Modern ‘mega-churches’ offer stadium seating with cup holders, not hard wood pews and prayer book holders. They present stage bands and dancing choirs, with a big screen and a bouncing ball on the lyrics of pop songs. Now we are figuring out how to do slick fades, cuts, multi-screen shots and do Facebook proud. Is there an awards show in the future for the best of these ‘artists’? We certainly have been getting more and more ‘high tech’ into our concept of religion … a sign of the times.
All the fluff of showmanship, without an ounce of the truth of divine insight. We have traded the buzz of loud vibrations for the inner burn of emotional realizations.
Jesus warned, “Watch out that no one deceives you. For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will deceive many.” The whole reason Christianity began was Jews and Gentiles suddenly felt their hearts burning from having Scripture opened to them by Apostles in the name of Jesus Christ. Those touched deeply became also in the name of Jesus. We are now being deceived by false shepherds, and we have been for so long the sheep are acting like shepherds. They mean well, but they too are deceiving themselves by thinking they are good shepherds.
Jesus warned his disciples, “At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.”
I’m standing firm. I preach good sermons that make my heart burn within, even if no one else wants to be equally fed the spiritual food that God sends to me like manna from heaven. Please sir (or ma’am) read this and prepare a better sermon next time.