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A New Flag Controversy

2015 July 29

Bishop David EppsA new flag controversy has captured the attention of some in the media and on social media. The new controversy is not about the Confederate flag or the rainbow flag, although those two symbols have their own proponents and detractors. This new controversy involves both the Christian flag and the flag of the United States of America.

In Shelby, NC, The Rev’d Rit Varriale, pastor the Elizabeth Baptist Church, decided, on July 4th weekend, to display the Christian flag on the same flagpole as the Stars and Stripes. However, in violation of flag etiquette, he displayed the Christian flag over (on top of) the American flag. A fellow pastor, The Rev’d Walter Wilson, pastor of Focus Missionary Baptist Church, just down the road from Varriale’s church, had done the same thing a few months earlier. The action was taken to protest the Supreme Court’s decision regarding gay marriage.

Pastor Varriale is a former U. S. Army Ranger so, he says, the issue is not about patriotism. According to an online news service, “I really don’t need a lecture on patriotism; I’m willing to give my life for my country. When you think of military mottoes, for example, God and country, God first and then country,” Varriale said. The two pastors know the move is sure to turn heads, but say they’re okay with that. “We know that not everyone is going to agree with that. But that’s not going to make us sit down and stop talking about what’s important,” Pastor Wilson said.

In the church I serve, we do not have an American flag on display either in the sanctuary or on an outdoor flag pole. We do display the flag outside the building on national patriotic days such as Memorial Day, July 4th, Veteran’s Day, and on September 11. It is a choice I made in my previous church and one I continue in my current church. It’s not as though we do not love our country. I served an enlistment in the United States Marine Corps. After college, I did a stint with the Tennessee Army National Guard. I served a few years as a chaplain with the Georgia Defense Force, an auxiliary of the Georgia Army National Guard. On our church board, the Rector’s Council, every single member is either a military veteran or a law enforcement officer. The issue is not patriotism. It is symbolism.

The church is not an agency of the state. The church is, in a sense, an embassy of the Kingdom of God. It is not subservient to the state any more than an embassy of another country is subservient to the host country. An embassy is, in theory, sovereign ground. In the United States, flag etiquette dictates that the American flag take the dominant position, with other flags being in a lesser position. But, for churches, that would mean that, symbolically, the Church is subservient to the nation—whatever nation that is. Is the Church subservient to the government of Cuba, Russia, Iran, or any nation? It is an important question. The answer, theologically, is “No.” Neither is it subservient to the government of the United States. An exception can certainly be made for military chapels or academies.

So, generally, we do not have a national flag in our sanctuary. There is an American flag in our fellowship hall where the Marine Corps League and the Military Order of the Devil Dogs meet. Flag protocol is observed there. If we were to have a flag in our sanctuary it would be a flag of the church. If we were to regularly display a flag on a pole outside, it would not be a national flag. On special days, as loyal Americans, we “render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s.” But the sanctuary, the worship services, the proclamation of the Word, the offering of the Sacraments, the very ground on which those activities take place—those belong to God and God alone. The church does not belong to the state, although it usually voluntarily submits to most laws and statutes. The church belongs to God.

David Epps is the pastor of the Cathedral of Christ the King, Sharpsburg, GA (www.ctkcec.org). He is the bishop of the Mid-South Diocese which consists of Georgia and Tennessee (www.midsouthdiocese.org) and the Associate Endorser for the Department of the Armed Forces, U. S. Military Chaplains, ICCEC. He may contacted at frepps@ctkcec.org

And Such Were Some of You

2015 July 27

Bishop David Epps

The Cathedral of Christ the King
Eighth Sunday of Pentecost
July 12, 2015

Sermon Link: And Such Were Some of You

Chattanooga Muslims Speak Out

2015 July 25
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Bishop David EppsAccording to a report by the Associated Press, some prominent Chattanooga Muslims are speaking out about the murders of five U. S. servicemen. The alleged killer attended the same mosque as Mohsin Ali, a member of the Islamic Society of Greater Chattanooga. Ali says that he has Christian friends and sometimes speaks at churches about the Islamic faith. He hopes that the relationships he and others Muslims have built aren’t destroyed by his fellow Muslim who killed four Marines and a sailor.

Ali calls the U.S. servicemen heroes and says that, “We, our kids, are 100 percent American and Chattnoogan.” Ali, 42, was born in Pakistan and is worried that the community’s perception will change as a result of the murders. A memorial service was held for the slain service members at a Baptist church with over 1,000 in attendance. Mohsin Ali was one of the speakers. He railed against Muhammad Youssef Abdulazeez, the alleged shooter, calling him a “murderer” who committed a “cowardly and cruel” act.

Ali said, “He shot our marines and our police offices, shattered the peace of our city, and frightened our children. He destroyed the lives of his whole family. He did his best to spread hatred and division. Disgraceful. And we will not let that endure.” At the end of the service, dozens of Muslims stood in unison to show their support for their city and for the United States.

Bassam Issa, president of the Islamic Society of Greater Chattanooga, said, “We just feel very lucky to be in a city like this.” The end of Ramadan is usually a time of celebration but events at the Islamic center were cancelled following the shooting. A sign on the door encouraged visitors to attend the memorial service for the slain Marines and sailor instead. Some Muslim teenagers have expressed fears that they will be targets of retaliation. Thus far, that does not seem to be happening.

A number of commentators and pundits have, in the past, wondered where the Muslim leadership in America was after acts of terrorism. Whether true or not, the perception has been that Muslim leaders have been silent and silence is often interpreted as assent. When nine African Americans were murdered by a white man in South Carolina, the response of churches and denominations across the country, white and black, condemning the murders was swift.

Moshin Ali and the Islamic community of Chattanooga have boldly and bravely condemned the actions of a fellow Muslim who brought terror to their doorstep. Even the alleged killer’s family is broken and horrified by the murders. They, too, have expressed their grief and sorrow. They are to be respected and valued. Other clerics and leaders in the Muslim community should follow suit.

It is not enough to keep silent. Actions such as those taken by the Chattanooga killer should be denounced and repudiated by all –Muslim or otherwise. A Chattanooga Baptist pastor’s wife, Valencia Brewer, said, “You can’t point at all Muslims because of this.” Those who are truly peaceful need to unite in condemning all such violence as was visited upon Chattanooga.

David Epps is the pastor of the Cathedral of Christ the King, Sharpsburg, GA (www.ctkcec.org). He is the bishop of the Mid-South Diocese which consists of Georgia and Tennessee (www.midsouthdiocese.org) and the Associate Endorser for the Department of the Armed Forces, U. S. Military Chaplains, ICCEC. He may contacted at frepps@ctkcec.org

The Fragility of Life

2015 July 23
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by Admin

Bishop David EppsSometimes I forget just how fragile life is. Over the years I have known people who are here one day—strong, vital, and healthy—and the next day they are gone. It may have been an accident that claimed their lives or it may have been the sudden onslaught of an illness or something physical, such as a raging fever, a stroke, or a heart attack. Such an event leaves friends and family reeling, disoriented, and grieving.

Some years ago, someone coined the phrase, “Today is the first day of the rest of your life.” The Bible, in Psalm 90:12 records a prayer to God that says, “Teach us to number our days.” Both statements are reminders that life is precious, fleeting, and unpredictable. Both encourage us to recognize the fragility of life and treat each day as a gift.

As a pastor, I learned early on that a phone call in the middle of the night is usually not good news. Often, it signaled an accident, a serious hospitalization, or a death. For over 25 years, I served as a volunteer law enforcement chaplain. One of my more difficult duties was to deliver death notifications to unsuspecting family members. One man went out to play a round of golf and never made it off the course. One husband and father was visiting a friend on Christmas Eve and was on the way home when he pulled out in front of a car. One teenager was rushing home to beat a curfew when she lost control of the car. Life is fragile.

Not long ago, I stood outside a room in ICU as a dedicated medical team worked on a person whose condition suddenly went bad. As I watched their frantic but futile efforts, I mentally prepared myself to meet the family members who were about to receive devastating news. It’s hard to say how many times I have been a part of tragedy over the 40+ years I have worked with people. Dozens? Scores? Hundreds? Certainly too many to count.

We are fortunate to live in an age and in a society where death is pushed back—kept at bay—more than at any other time and place. Unlike previous generations, we are surprised when death comes to our doorstep. Out infant mortality rates are low and we are living longer than at any other time in history. In the world of Julius Caesar, life expectancy was in the 30’s. In Jesus’ day, it was 40. But however long it takes, life eventually runs out. Some are here for hours or days. Others are around for many decades. But whenever life ends, those who survive are seldom ready for it. One terminally ill man said to me, “I thought I had more time.”

So, Lord, “Teach us to number our days.” Teach us to love and laugh, to hug and embrace, to watch the sun rise and set. Teach us to enjoy our children, our parents, our spouses, our friends. Teach us to love life, to be kind to others, to do good things, and to be good people. Teach us to remember that this day may be the only one we have left and to spend it wisely. Teach us to take deep breaths, to see the stars at night, to hear a baby’s laugh, and to enjoy the company of those we love. Teach us that, while life may be fragile, it is not meaningless. Teach us to number our days and live each day to the full. Teach us to embrace this gift called life.

David Epps is the pastor of the Cathedral of Christ the King, Sharpsburg, GA (www.ctkcec.org). He is the bishop of the Mid-South Diocese which consists of Georgia and Tennessee (www.midsouthdiocese.org) and the Associate Endorser for the Department of the Armed Forces, U. S. Military Chaplains, ICCEC. He may contacted at frepps@ctkcec.org

Chariots and Horses

2015 July 21
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Bishop David Epps

The Cathedral of Christ the King
Seventh Sunday of Pentecost
July 5, 2015

Sermon Link: Chariots and Horses

Ask Father Paul – A Parable of Jesus. Unfair?

2015 July 11
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Paul MasseyDEAR FATHER PAUL:

Would you please explain the parable Jesus gives in Matthew 20:1-16? Jesus seems unfair.

-Connie

DEAR CONNIE:

In Matthew 20:1-16 Jesus tells a parable about a vineyard owner who, at six in the morning, hires some laborers to work all day in his vineyard and promises to pay them a days wages at the end of the day. At 9 am he hires more laborers for the day and agrees to pay them “what is right” for the day. He goes on to hire even more laborers at noon, more at 3 pm and still more at 5 pm only one hour before the end of the work day. At 6 pm all of the men line up for their pay, with those hired last at 5 pm being paid first, then those hired at 3 pm and so-on down to the first hired at 6 am who had worked all day. Each and every man was given a full days wages, even the ones who worked only one hour.

Those who had worked a full day became irate. “We have worked all day in the scorching heat, and you have paid those who worked only one hour the same as us. That isn’t right,” they said.

To which the owner replies, “Friends, I have done you no wrong. I paid you exactly what I promised. As the owner of the vineyard, don’t I have the right to be generous to these other workers if I so choose? Take your wages and go. For the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

I can remember the first time my Sunday School teacher read this parable to the class back when I was a young boy. I thought, “How unfair! The workers who worked only one hour should have gotten only one hour’s wages, not a whole days wages. I didn’t fully understand God’s character then. He wants to give us mercy as-well-as justice.

The story isn’t really about vineyards, workers and wages. Its meaning is heavenly, not earthly. God is the vineyard owner in the parable and all mankind are the workers. The story in essence is about God’s love and his unsurpassed generosity. It is about God’s grace, its about “God’s unmerited favor toward mankind” which is the best definition I’ve ever heard for “God’s grace.”

Most people on planet earth today are like the early workers. They cry out for “justice” and what they think is “fair and right.” It’s the way the Kingdom of the Earth works. “She made her own bed, now let her sleep in it,” many of us would say. Or, “he got drunk, wrecked his car and lost both legs, so he got exactly what he deserved.” But this is NOT the way the Kingdom of God works. Oh God is just for sure. At the end of our days on earth each of us will surely face a just God and give an account. But God is also merciful and generous. The God of the Bible is full of love, compassion and generosity for all of us his children. II Peter 3:9 tells us that (KJV) “ … God is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” God takes no joy in our misfortunes, even if they are our own fault.

Other major world religions teach justice without mercy. They teach that all of us are doomed, but if we will first love their religion’s deity, THEN, and only then, he will love us in return. But the God of the Bible says, I love all of my children unconditionally, EVEN BEFORE they love me. Indeed, I love them while they are yet still sinning. The Bible affirms this in Romans 5:8 (NIV) “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: WHILE WE WERE STILL SINNERS, Christ (God) died for us.” Think about it. Why wouldn’t every person want to love, follow and serve this God?

The parable also gives great hope to those people who perhaps have lived almost their whole lives without God. The parable tells such people … be of good cheer, there is still time! Yes, it’s now 5 o’clock, almost the end of your life. But if you will heed God’s call and go to work in his vineyard now, there is still time for God to bless and reward you way beyond anything you have a right to expect or even what you deserve. Seniors take note.

Have a question? Email it to me at paulmassey@earthlink.net.

Father Paul Massey is Pastor Emeritus of Church of the Holy Cross Charismatic Episcopal Church in Fayetteville, Georgia. Visit www.holycrosschurch.wordpress.com for information.

A House Divided

2015 July 11
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Bishop David EppsAs the nation celebrates its independence, it is possible that we are more divided as a country that at any time since the War Between the States. Led by the example of the White House and the various members of Congress, it seems that Americans are taking opposite sides of nearly every single issue. As Abraham Lincoln once said, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” It was true in the early 1860’s and it is true today.

Why there seems to be virtue in conflict and no honor in cooperation, I do not know. It has been noted that Ronald Reagan and Tip O’Neill were polar opposites. Reagan, a Republican and Conservative, and O’Neill, a Democrat and Liberal. Yet, the two men respected each other and hammered out a number of compromises. Not today. Today, there is the smell and feel of warfare, a “take no prisoners” attitude, a sense of mutually assured destruction that leaves no room for negotiation.

This Washington dysfunction has filtered down to all political facets of society—right down to local city councils and county commissions. Shouting matches, name calling, the presence of police at such gatherings to maintain the peace, has become all too common. Civility has been lost and even simple respect for those of opposing views has fallen by the wayside.

More and more Americans are calling for term limits on Senators and Representatives. It will not happen, of course, because none of them will be willing to do what is necessary for the public good. Local governments have a much better chance of reform because they are more closely tied to the people they represent and, in many cases, term limits are in effect.

The political atmosphere at the national level has been so negatively charged that the average citizen has come to believe that all politicians are in the game for their own gain and, if not already corrupt, soon will be.

And the citizenry, taking its lead from its leaders, has largely abandoned civility as well. The latest indication of how rude the populace has become can be seen in the reactions to the Supreme Court’s decision on same-sex marriages. As one checks into the social media outlets, one is hard pressed to find anyone speaking at anything other than a shout—often a curse—at those who hold opposing views. There is very little discourse in the land but diatribe abounds.

Unfortunately, the country has come to a place where tragedy seems to be the only thing that unites our people—such as a 9/11—and that unity is usually short lived. We have become a nation of accusers, of shouters, of picket lines, of lawsuits, of hyphenated last names. It ought not to be so. There is even rancorous disagreement over whether this country is a great nation or the cause of all the world’s ills.

This must cease if we are to survive as a nation. Our leaders will not stop it because they have much to gain by the divisions among us. It must start with you…and me. We must be able to simply…talk. And talk without shouting, without accusing, without name-calling. If enough people refuse to participate in the madness of hostility it may be that it will catch on. This country barely survived one un-civil war. It cannot endure another.

David Epps is the pastor of the Cathedral of Christ the King, Sharpsburg, GA (www.ctkcec.org). He is the bishop of the Mid-South Diocese which consists of Georgia and Tennessee (www.midsouthdiocese.org) and the Associate Endorser for the Department of the Armed Forces, U. S. Military Chaplains, ICCEC. He may contacted at frepps@ctkcec.org