Saturday, January 31, 2015

Septuagesima

I Corinthians. 9:24-27  *  Matt. 20:1-16 

In the parable we read this day, we see the Christian way of life signified by laboring in a vineyard. Is that a problem for us? Might one object that salvation is by grace and not by anything we can earn? Indeed, it is. It is purely the grace of God, the gift instead of wages. “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord (Romans 6:23).” So the penny is not the gift of salvation, but represents the meeting of our need, the need for which we entered into the vineyard in the first place.
          To labor in the Lord’s vineyard, so to speak, is a privilege, a gift in and of itself. It is the most worthwhile life anyone can live. Living apart from serving the Lord and doing His will is a life wasted. It may be a rich life, or a poor one. But even if it is rich, as this world perceives of wealth, with all the outward manifestations of happiness, and with health, rich in any kind of success and acclaim, it is nothing compared to a life of knowing Christ and serving Him. It would be devoid of the greatest joys, joys that are spiritual and of eternal value. It would lack the foretaste of Divine glory that we long to see in fullness.
          This is why I object so strongly to a popular “gospel” of worldly prosperity. When I see the sufferings of St. Paul, especially as described and listed in his Second Epistle to the Corinthian Christians, it is clear that the false apostles of “Faith and Prosperity” are completely out of touch with the true Apostles who built the house we live in. In that Epistle, St. Paul does not describe a life made meaningful by worldly prosperity, wealth or health.

Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one. Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep; In journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; In weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness. Beside those things that are without, that which cometh upon me daily, the care of all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? who is offended, and I burn not? If I must needs glory, I will glory of the things which concern mine infirmities. The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which is blessed for evermore, knoweth that I lie not. In Damascus the governor under Aretas the king kept the city of the Damascenes with a garrison, desirous to apprehend me: And through a window in a basket was I let down by the wall, and escaped his hands (II Corinthians 11:24-33).”

He wrote this to contrast himself, and all the Apostles, quite rightly against those he described as Satan’s ministers, and as false apostles and deceitful workers. And a little while later he picks it up further.

“And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure. For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me. And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ's sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong. (II Corinthians 12:7-10).”

          So, the joy I am speaking of is not the transient and shallow happiness of this world. The joy of laboring in the Lord’s vineyard, so that even in times of sorrow and distress, or of persecution, or what have you, life takes on the greatest and richest meaning, is something that either you do understand or you cannot understand. You see it, or you are blind to it. There is no in between.
 No matter what life throws at you, when you live to serve Christ you know something that the world cannot know. You know the value of each day devoted to the Lord, for such a day is never wasted. That is because you are aware of eternal life in the world to come, and of the value that even the most simple things take on when viewed in that perspective. It is the perspective of faith.
          I think of the three Christian children we read about recently, who when ordered by ISIS murderers to renounce Christian faith and convert to Islam, chose rather to die than to deny Jesus. Why would they do such a thing? The answer is simple: They were Christians.
          Christians can be unpredictable. Sometimes they do the oddest things. I know one family who, years ago, having already six children, adopted two babies (in fact babies of a different race) who had been born of mothers infected with the HIV virus, and who were born, both of the babies, addicted already to heroin. They raised them and loved them as part of their own family. Why would people do such a thing? The answer is, because they were Christians.
Oh, you have to watch those Christians. You never know what crazy thing they’ll do next, just because they love Jesus Christ, and therefore, they love people. They serve Jesus Christ, and therefore they serve people. And, what is laboring in the Lord’s vineyard if not to minister to people in need when every opportunity arises?
So, in this parable, why is one laborer disgruntled? He saw a difference between his effort and the effort of late comers, especially those who had worked only one hour. So it may be that a person has labored for the Lord for years, maybe for decades. Maybe that labor involved building a parish like this one, with money and service and time given. Then along comes a new person, and everything in the parish belongs just as much to him as it does to the long time loyal and faithful servant. The amount given to that new one is equal to the amount given to the other. The experience of worship, the grace of the sacraments, the joy of faith, is all fully given to one as well as the other.
Now, truthfully, in my experience I have seen that the people who have been long faithful are often quite glad for the goodness of the Lord, for giving equally to the one who has come late. But I have seen, sadly, exceptions to that over the years.
The grievance of the disgruntled laborer in the parable, is not that he is receiving anything less than the full promise of God, the promise he has always counted on. It is that the late comer is treated with equal grace and goodness. The disgruntled laborer is handed what he worked for, but begrudges the same share to one who has not labored all day. However, what the owner of the vineyard gives to the late comer is not any business of the man who labored all day. The owner of the vineyard is full of goodness. He is gracious. He gives not according to what is fair, but pays a day’s wage because that is what each laborer truly needs to have enough to live on.
So is the grace and goodness of God, Who in His Son gives us what we need, even giving it to the one who arrived late after suffering wasted hours, and without hope and expectation of having his needs met. For he spent hours unemployed, which is to say, without hope of having his daily bread.

 What everyone needs is the grace of God, and all that goes with it. Everyone needs forgiveness of sins, and eternal life. The one who labors in hope through the day has had a better day than the one who has spent hours unemployed and in a state of anxiety. Even so, the Lord is gracious unto all who call upon Him.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Friday, January 23, 2015

News from The Trinitarian


Bishops from four jurisdictions met in Athens to discuss clergy education. Pictured (L to R) are Bishop Chad Jones (APA), Archbishop Mark Haverland (ACC), Archbishop Brian Marsh (ACA), Bishop James Hiles (ACA) and Bishop Craig Botterill (TAC-C).

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Which the Lord would not pardon

“Surely at the commandment of the LORD came this upon Judah, to remove them out of his sight, for the sins of Manasseh, according to all that he did; And also for the innocent blood that he shed: for he filled Jerusalem with innocent blood; which the LORD would not pardon.”
-         II Kings 24:3,4

The time of this writing is January 22, 2015, the forty-second anniversary of the infamous Roe vs. Wade decision by the Supreme Court of the United States. By now everyone knows the arguments. With modern medical science no informed person can doubt that the child in the womb is a human being, not merely a potential human being. Those who try to lie about that lie only to themselves, and I dare say, not very persuasively. They rationalize so as to deny what they know plainly and inescapably. So, let us get to the truth, the elephant in the room.

The arguments that were used to justify slavery and the Holocaust are not merely like the arguments used today to justify abortion. They are the same arguments. To justify one is to justify all three. For, at the very root of it all is one great lie; that we can distinguish between human life and personhood. The attempt to define personhood, instead of recognizing the objective fact of human life, exists to no good purpose, but only to rationalize a supposed justification for evil.

What is the point of pointing out the obvious anymore, that abortion is murder? The pro-abortion (so-called pro-choice) side is attempting now to push the boundary further, actually presenting serious arguments for “postnatal abortion.” This moral imbecility was first promoted by Peter Singer several years ago, and is now starting to catch on.

In the West we like to think of ourselves as civilized people. We want to believe, each of us, that if we had lived in Germany in the 1930s and 40s, we would have been actively opposing Nazism. We want to remember that brief moment in history when the allies could say, with the facts on their side, that we are better people than our defeated enemies. Today, we look at the mass murder and other crimes of ISIS, and we want to be proud that we are better people. But, the truth is that our western countries are no better, morally, than the terrorists we very rightly condemn. The innocent blood that is shed every day, and has been shed every day for decades, is not hidden to the eyes of God. Nor can we believe that He makes a distinction between our murderous culture and their murderous culture. Both come under His perfect judgment.

And for that reason, we must mourn and repent. Like the Prophet Daniel, we must confess our sins and the sins of our people. We cannot afford to be like the Pharisee who thanked God that he was not like other men who were sinners. Perhaps the evils inflicted on our western countries by terrorists are just a beginning of judgment by God; not that He sides with them (for they are His enemies in word and deed), but that He gives no protection to our blood-stained countries.

What do we learn from the Second Book of the Kings? More than a generation after the evil King Manasseh, the Lord sent the Babylonians to inflict His judgment on His own people. What was the reason why the Lord would not pardon Judah and Jerusalem? It was the shedding of innocent blood. So, let us fear God’s judgment.

In this world, we have no right to presume that God is on our side against enemies in war. And, when thinking of the Great Judgment, when each of us gives account to God, let us consider soberly our own ways. Have any of us contributed to the evils of this culture of death? Are any of us sharing in its sin? Are any of us beginning to weaken our stand and compromise in order to get along?

The reckoning coming on western civilization for the shedding of innocent blood is not merely a possibility; it is a certainty. As God’s Church, we must lift up our voice prophetically to the world around us, and we must lift up our voices in prayer and intercession in the manner of Daniel. We must be working actively for life and justice on behalf of those who cannot speak for themselves.


Open thy mouth for the speechless in the cause of all such as are appointed to destruction (Proverbs 31:8).”

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

The Other Infamy Day January 22

During the course of the day I will be writing and posting something new about this evil anniversary. In the meantime, here is an article I wrote several years ago, one which many readers of The Continuum have read. But, we post it again to get the word out.

Her Mother’s Glory

Robert Harton the Hardest of Abortion Cases

I promised myself that I would not be the stereotypical father of the bride, like Spencer Tracy, who hates to give away his little girl. But as I walked her down the aisle, and approached the moment she would become a full-grown, married lady, I felt everything I had determined not to feel. Very far from my mind was the story of her strange origins. It is always far from my mind, unless something reminds me of it, like the recent news from Poland.

The infamous abortion ship from Holland was daring to stop off a port in Poland in order to make its “services” available to Polish women who do not have “reproductive rights”—as the anti-life crowd call them—in their own country. Polish law restricts abortions to cases in which the mother’s life is threatened, to cases of incest, and to cases of rape. Compared to the ease with which most women in the Western world can obtain legal abortion for any reason, in fact for no reason at all, and at just about any time during pregnancy, Poland is better. But pro-life? No, sadly, no.

His Daughter Alone

Of my four children, my daughter alone is the one I adopted. I never exactly forget the fact; it simply passes out of conscious thought since it does not matter, for she is, in every way that counts, my daughter, my first child. Over the years, I have always felt what a father ought to feel.

When she was eleven, she suffered a staph infection, and Diane and I feared we would lose her. This was the second time in her short life that she was in danger of dying. The first time she was in danger she did not face an impersonal disease, but determined persons: when her mother had to fight against intruding social workers, and the whole system, for the right to make the choice that her baby would be born. After all, when a woman has been made pregnant through rape, it is not only her right, but her duty, to do the “honorable thing.” At least, so it seemed from all the pressure put on her in those months. She was upsetting the expectations and demands that “liberated” women have no right to upset. She was refusing the “sacrament” of abortion.

What a terrible thing she did. For a woman to bear a child when abortion seemed so justified, so necessary, when the pregnancy was the result of rape—well, it was certainly anti-social behavior. She was coerced into seeing a psychiatrist who could help her overcome the obvious defect known to Christians as principle. He might even have cured her of maternal instinct and the malady called love.

But all those years ago I knew nothing of what had happened, only that she was suddenly gone, nowhere to be found. Why had this girl vanished from our hometown in Maryland without a trace? When I discovered her whereabouts, 3,000 miles away in California, I hastened to call her. I had expected, had hoped, to have seen her in those months. “I have a baby girl,” she told me.

“Are you married?”

“No.”

“I see. Well, as a Christian I hope you have repented of . . .”

“Well, it was from rape, actually.”

I found that she would not put up her child for adoption. She was willing to live as a single mother because she could not be sure that a couple would raise her child to believe in Jesus Christ. She decided to keep the baby; and God rewarded her by giving her a wonderful, not to mention dashingly handsome, husband.

Convoluted Reasoning

I never think of my daughter’s origins and the strange circumstances of her early life unless something brings them to mind; for example, the disappointing remarks of a “conservative” radio talk-show host. This fellow talks a lot about his Catholic faith and Irish heritage, so it was with some astonishment that I heard him defending his view that abortion in cases of rape may be justified. “After all,” he pointed out, “it’s not the same as when it’s someone’s fault that she is pregnant. I just think it’s different.” He certainly did not get this idea from the Catholic Church.

I remembered back over twenty years ago hearing the same convoluted reasoning from Christians, some Catholic, some Evangelical. I recall a very Evangelical and Charismatic lady asking me, “But if it was rape, why didn’t she get an abortion?” I thought about the king of Judah, the one who would not execute the sons of his father’s assassins because of the Law of God, which says “the children shall not be put to death for the sins of the fathers, nor the fathers for the sins of the children” (2 Chronicles 25:4Deuteronomy 24:16).

Where did the “conservative” radio talk-show host get the idea that pregnancy is a penalty? If it is a penalty, it might be unjust for the innocent to bear it. But what if it is not a penalty? What if it is the healing that God might give to a woman who has suffered a violent attack? What if the Author of Life takes the opportunity to do good from someone’s evil? The injustice done to Joseph resulted in the saving of his life, and that of millions of people, foreshadowing the good done for the whole world by the unjust crucifixion of a young rabbi from Nazareth. It is ever the way of God to make good come from the evil that men do.

Just who is it that these well-meaning people, such as the very Charismatic lady and the talk-show host, would sentence to death?

I remember the very wide eyes of a ten-month-old baby girl looking up at me, having just arrived by plane from California with her mother. I remember her first steps across my parents’ living-room floor. After her mother and I were married, I remember the first Christmas in our apartment, and her excitement at the wonder of a lit and decorated tree. She had names for us from Winnie the Pooh.I was Pooh, she was Piglet, and as she looked at her mom, now pregnant with the first of our three sons, she said, “And mom’s the kangaroo.”

Her very first day of school I remember watching her bravely walking into the classroom, as a lady laughed at the sight of my perplexity—a feeling of mingled loss and pride that was small compared to what I felt when I gave her in marriage to a fine young man. I remember her saying to him, “I do,” and pledging her life not only to him but also to any children they are blessed with, and to God who blesses them.

She is a young lady who spreads joy wherever she goes. She has a place in the lives of many, not only her new husband, her parents, and her brothers, but many who know her well, and many who have met her in passing—a unique place that no one else could fill. She is happy by nature at 23, married, an avid reader, a good friend, a serious Christian. This is the person that these well-meaning people were willing to sentence to death. Oh, not now, not when they can see her; but when she was in danger the first time, in the womb and hidden from view.

Enough for Her

My wife is not living the life of a tragic victim. She is the happy mother of four children, and would not wish to part with any of them. My daughter learned of her origin after she was over twenty years of age and it became obvious that the truth could not be hidden without confusion. Someone had taken pictures of her as a three-year-old, at the wedding of her parents. I had been warned, “Never tell her, it would devastate her to know.”

Not so. Rather, the mystery was unsettling, and the truth was welcome. You see, it did not matter. She had always known that God is the Author of Life—all life. Every human being is made in his image, and that means everything when a child is raised to understand that the image of God became more than an abstract idea in Hebrew Scripture when the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us. And it was enough for her that she has a mother and a father who love her.

For both Diane and me, the details of our daughter’s early life and strange origins are very much out of mind, far from conscious thought. That is, unless something brings them to mind, such as realizing that it is time to tell our story for the benefit of others who are caught in what seem like desperate circumstances, and who need the courage to make the decision to let the Author of Life do his healing and creative work, bringing light out of darkness and good out of evil: who need to make the decision of love.


Robert Hartis rector of St. Benedict's Anglican Catholic Church in Chapel Hill, North Carolina (Anglican Catholic Church Original Province). He also contributes regularly to the blog The Continuum. He is a contributing editor of Touchstone.

Read more: http://www.touchstonemag.com/archives/article.php?id=17-01-018-v#ixzz3PVKmT3Ym

Friday, January 16, 2015

Second Sunday after Epiphany

Romans 12: 6f    *   Mark 1:1f 

Years ago, when Diane and I lived in Arizona, we saw the Grand Canyon. It has been said that no matter how well the Grand Canyon has been described, and no matter how many photographs one has seen, “no one expects it.” The canyon itself is grander than the pictures, and is beyond expectations, a surprise to everyone who sees it for the first time. No description and no photograph does it justice.

And, no matter how well the truth about God is taught, He will be a surprise when we see Him face to face on the Last Day. “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him. But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God,” writes Saint Paul to the Corinthian Church. We know God by revelation, just as we know the Grand Canyon by descriptions and pictures. We could spend weeks exploring the canyon before we truly know it. We will spend eternity learning evermore the knowledge of God, never exhausting all that we can learn, for He is without end, without limit.

The pictures of the Grand Canyon are true; they are a genuine revelation of what really is there. What we see in them is no deception, but the truth. It is less than the reality itself, that we see once we arrive at the place and our eyes take it in; but, the pictures have been true and accurate. When Christ returns in glory and we rise from the slumber of our graves, whether to terror or joy- depending upon how well we prepare to meet Him in this life- and we see Him on the throne of His Father’s glory, we will see that God is more than we have been taught, but not different. The full majesty of Divine Glory will surprise us, because we cannot raise our minds to a level of expectation high enough in this time of mortal frailty. But, what has been revealed is true and no lie. God is greater than we understand; but He has made Himself known truly and faithfully, never deceiving us in the process of guiding the Apostolic Church into all truth by the Holy Spirit.

This is the meaning of this Sunday in Epiphany. God has made Himself known in our world. Unfortunately, many preachers this Sunday are telling their people that it was here, in the waters of Jordan, when the Father spoke, that Christ became aware of His true identity. This interpretation has been popular for about forty-five years. But, it is dead wrong. Clearly, to anyone who knows the Gospels, and who knows the doctrine of Christian Faith, Christ was mysteriously aware in early childhood of His Divine Nature, and of being one with the Father. This is clear from the words He spoke to Mary and Joseph in the temple when He was but twelve years of age. No. On that day at the River Jordan, in the presence of John the Baptist and of the crowd gathered, the voice did not come for Christ’s sake, but for ours. It did not meet any need He had, but rather it meets our need. To try to analyze Christ in psychological terms is always a mistake. But, suffice to say, that because He remains fully God, even while being fully human, He has no need of assurance or confidence. Neither did He need to be told His identity. He had need of none of these things, for “while He walked the earth as a man, He filled the heavens as God (On the Incarnation, Saint Athanasius).”

On that day, when our Lord was baptized, the most amazing revelation of God took place to human eyes and ears. Within the realm of our senses, God revealed Himself as Trinity, the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost. What did each manifestation of the Divine Persons signify, as we consider them respectively? Let us consider these manifestations of the Persons of the Trinity (who together are One God, world without end), and learn from them. Yes, what we learn will be less than the reality in its fullness, but it will be true.

Here is the scene: Jesus Christ is standing in the water having been baptized. The Holy Spirit appears in the form of a dove descending upon Him, and the voice of the Father is heard. First of all let us consider the Son. We see the Word made flesh; the One Who was in the beginning, Who was with God, Who was God, and Who was in the beginning with God (and that is not redundant), is present as a man, sharing our world of matter and space and time, where He was seen and heard, and where He was touched by the hands of men. His presence in our form, His coming in our nature, is the greatest revelation of God, and the seal and proof of His love for us. Whatever it means that we are made in God’s image, clearly it means that our nature was such that the Word could assume it, that He could take it into His eternal uncreated Person without compromising His Divinity or His holiness. And, as He stood in the waters, being Himself without sin, He identified Himself with our weakness, and began to be the offering for our sin. This foreshadows the cross where He would die in our place the death of sin that we deserved. For John baptized sinners unto repentance, and here he baptizes the Holy One, who has no sins to repent of. Thus, Christ begins His ministry of redemption by letting the weight of our sin fall upon Him. Remember that it was from this experience that John the Baptist saw that Jesus is the Lamb of God Who takes away the sins of the world.

The Holy Spirit appears as a dove. Now, this is a different kind of manifestation than the physical presence of Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh. The Holy Spirit is appearing in a vision granted to everyone there; His appearing is in a symbolic way, that is to say, it is a Divine writing of iconography in the very heavens. The appearance of a dove is a symbol, and the message is that God’s wrath is over and done. This is the Christmas message of the angel who appeared and spoke to the shepherds of “peace on earth, goodwill towards men.” Not “among” men, but towards men. We are reminded of the story of Noah, who sent out the dove, which returned with an olive branch in its mouth to reveal that the waters of God’s wrath had abated from off the earth. Noah later offered a sacrifice after he left the ark, and God promised not to destroy man, and hung up His bow, His rainbow, as a pledge. The meaning is this: By appearing as a dove that descended upon Jesus, the Holy Spirit signified to us that Christ is the peace offering that reconciles us to God. This too, just like the very baptism itself, points to our redemption by Christ’s full and complete offering of Himself on the cross.

And, to the ear came the audible voice of the Father, telling us of His pleasure in the Son. This is more than simply His approval of Christ’s holy life. It is the eternal love within the Trinity, wherein God delights in being God, where each of the Persons delights in the perfection and worthiness of the other two Persons. Again, like those pictures of the Grand Canyon, we know this is true, but our speaking of it cannot do justice to the reality as we shall begin to know it when the risen Christ returns in glory. For now, we see the significance in the Father’s words, telling us not only of His Son’s worthiness and holiness, but telling us this in contrast to the pleasure He cannot take in the fallen state of every other human being who was there. Here too we understand why this voice was heard at the Lord’s baptism. As Jesus Christ identified Himself with sinful mankind, the other Persons of the Godhead told us Who He is, and why He is Himself without sin, but standing in for us to save us. The Father speaks of His Son Who always pleases Him, telling us not only that He remains holy and without spot or stain of sin, but even more, that He is the Son Who throughout eternity and before all worlds gives delight to the Father in that Divine love that is beyond our comprehension.


We see the Trinity in this report of the Lord’s baptism that day. The vision of the Holy Spirit was for our sake; the voice of the Father was for our sake. Here we see and hear the Trinity with eyes and ears, and we see also that only in Jesus Christ and His offering of Himself do we have salvation from sin and death. And, we can say, from all this, that the revelation of the Trinity tells us that, in the words of Saint John the Apostle, “God is love.” 

Saturday, January 10, 2015

First Sunday after Epiphany

Romans 12:1-5 * Luke 2: 41-52
What brings all of these scriptures together for this day is the collect, asking for perception and knowledge of God’s will, and for the grace and power to be faithful to it. The collect reminds me very much of what St. Paul said was his prayer for the Church of the Colossian Christians:

“For this cause also, since the day we heard of it, do not cease to pray for you, and to desire that ye might be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; that ye might walk worthy of the Lord, unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God; strengthened with all might according to His glorious power...” (Col. 1: 9-11)

The passages we have heard this day all speak of the mystical charism, the gift, of wisdom by which we know the will of God, and of the grace God gives us to carry it out. The wisdom that we receive is, in a very mysterious way, coming to us from the Person of Christ our Lord, mediated to us by the Holy Ghost. It is the wisdom that the world does not know, for it does not know God. By this wisdom we know God, and we know His will for us.

Now, that sounds pretty heady and possibly not even very sober. Yet it is very practical.

Before talking about the practical side however, let us look very seriously at what we see in the twelve-year old Jesus, as Luke tells the story. To begin with, He knew Who He was, and He knew the Father. For some reason contemporary commentators have imagined, since some time about the middle of the 20th Century, that Jesus suddenly became aware of His identity when He was baptized, and the heavens opened, the Spirit came upon Him, and the Father spoke. How they come up with this I cannot understand, for the manifestation of each Person of the Trinity was a revelation given to John the Baptist, and to all who stood by at the banks of the Jordan. But, nothing new was revealed that day to Jesus.

No indeed, for here we see Him quite aware of Who He is at the tender age of twelve. His wisdom is greater than that of all of the Doctors of the Law, and all they can do is marvel at Him. I have heard preachers get this all wrong too, and think that He was getting ahead of Himself, and needed to be “put in His place” by Mary and Joseph. Again, not so. This is a revelation given to us in scripture of the simple fact that this human child, this boy, was at the same time God, One with the Father. He had taken human nature, alien as every created nature is to His Divine Uncreated Person, so that He could become Man, while yet, as St Athanasius tells us, filling the heavens as the Eternal Son of the Father. He did not “empty Himself” of Divine Nature, as some bad theologians have twisted the marvelous Christological passage from Philippians chapter two to mean; but rather, as it says in Psalm 113:5:

“Who is like unto the LORD our God, that hath His dwelling so high, and yet humbleth Himself to behold the things that are in heaven and earth!”

Yes, He would go back to Nazareth and be obedient to Mary and to Joseph, for He came in the form of a servant, and was obedient, obedient even to the death of the cross. He came in humility, laying aside His glory. The self-emptying spoken of by St. Paul meant just this very thing, that while always equal to the Father, He humbled Himself and did the Father’s will.

To do the Father’s will required knowledge of that will, and it required wisdom that cannot come from human origin, especially not from fallen and sinful men. The phrase “about My Father’s business” is also translated “in My Father’s house.” In other words, “why were you looking anywhere but here? Did you not know that I must be in My Father’s house?” Both being in the temple, and then going back with them to be obedient, were all part of His journey to the cross, as He came to do the Father’s will, not His own.

I want to be very careful at this point not to fall into Palagian heresy, and teach as many moderns do, that Jesus is our example, and that if He could do it so can we; the old “pull yourself up by your bootstrap.” This is not the message. No we cannot do it, we cannot pull ourselves up by our bootstrap, and we cannot even follow His example. If we could, we would not be miserable offenders as the Prayer Book has us confess, and that the Bible certifies us indeed to be. Our first father sinned, and we are born with all three strikes already called. True religion does not teach that life is a test. It teaches that life is a shipwreck. We need a Saviour, and no one less than God will do, while also our Saviour must be a Man like us to pull us out of the curse of sin and death. No. That Jesus did it perfectly does not mean that we can do the same. It means, in fact, that we cannot. For though fully Man from the nature of His Virgin Mother, He never ceased to be God, eternally begotten of the Father. This is the Gospel: That God himself came to save us.

So then, am I saying to give up and live in sin? Admit defeat and then “eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we shall die?” As St. Paul answered this question, God forbid. Well, here is the punch line to all that I just said, and it was written by St. Athanasius: “God became man that man might become Divine.” In case that sounds scarey, St Peter said the same in his Second Epistle, by God’s promises “...that ye might be partakers of the Divine Nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust (II Pet. 1: 4).” The doctrine of Deification, which is the Catholic doctrine common to the Church Universal, is not that people can be gods in a any literal sense; but, rather, that because God has become human, He gives grace for us to be adopted as children of God. The destiny of those who know God is to be transformed, and to be glorified, to be given true life and immortality. As C. S. Lewis put it, to be changed into a creature so glorious, that if you were to behold such a one now, you would be tempted to fall down and worship.

But, all of this is grace, that is, a gift. It is given because we are in Christ, and He is the True Son of the Father. “Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be; but we know that, when He shall appear, we shall be like Him; for we shall see Him as He is (I John 3: 2).” Because He has come into the world, and taken our nature, and taken our death which He did not deserve, and has passed through death into life, we can live. And the life we are given is not of this world, but is the life of Christ Who is One with the Father and the Holy Ghost. This is the change we are given, and our partaking of the Divine Nature.

Now are we the sons of God. So then, how shall we live? We have not the power to live like sons of God within ourselves, or by our own effort. What we have is the Holy Ghost Who is given to us, Who abides in us. Now, what is the practical side which I have promised to speak about? Indeed, I seem to have gotten as far away from practicality as possible- or have I? Is it not practical to learn to depend upon God, upon His Spirit Who abides with us? How? By what steps?

By the steps given to us in the Epistle of St. Paul to the Romans just as we have heard it this day. In light of God’s mercies, we must know that we no longer belong to ourselves, but to the One Who paid for us by His very life-blood, the pouring out of His soul upon the cross of death. In light of that unspeakable mercy, we give ourselves as living sacrifices to God. No, we will not be perfect. Anyone who has had a heady conversion experience, no matter how mystical and indeed real, soon learns that he is still a sinner. No, we cannot be perfect, but we can humble ourselves and practice obedience. That is what a living sacrifice does: He carries his own cross daily and follows the Son of Man. Jesus did not carry the cross only on that one Friday, but every day; for He lived always to do the will of the Father Who sent Him. Unlike Him, we will not be perfect, we will not be a sinless sacrifice. All we can do is practice obedience, however imperfectly we practice it. But, the sins of a living sacrifice are those which he discovers within himself; that is, they are not done willfully and deliberately. If we choose to do wrong, we are not living sacrifices- something to consider before saying “amen” to the Eucharistic prayer in which “we offer our selves, our souls and bodies...”

This offering of ourselves to God is our “reasonable service.” In the original Greek it is our logika latre’ia (λογικv λατρε
α). Literally, our “logical liturgy.” That is, a liturgy, a service, and one that is logical, reasonable, quite in keeping with wisdom. The Liturgy we offer to God this day must be in the proper sense a very real collect of our lives; for the whole life of each one of us should be itself a liturgy, with every part having its place as an offering of worship to God. Is all that we do done to the glory of God? In the last chapter of Zechariah, we see that even the washing bowls will be inscribed with the words “Holiness unto the LORD.”

Lastly, this means that our minds must be renewed, so that we are not conformed to this world. “He was in the world, and the world was made by Him, and the world knew Him not.” Remember this definition of how the expression “the world” is often used in the New Testament. It does not know Christ, and so to it we must not conform. Christians are supposed to be non-conformists. The renewing of our minds transforms us so that we are able to do His will. This is practical. If we are too lazy to employ our minds, to read, mark, learn and inwardly digest the scriptures in light of the teaching of the Church, we will not be thinking of doing God’s will.

And, I would suggest that God’s will, for most of us, is not a mystery veiled in thick darkness. Rather, faced with the realities of life, if we are thinking about what it means to live a life that is offered to God, and are thus renewing our minds by His word, the way to do His will should be clear to us. Sometimes it will require effort to recognize that each moment of life has its own calling and purpose; other times a path opens before us that we must choose, not because it is easy, or because it is a way to find what we imagine to be happiness. No. It will be because it is the way that we know, in light of our Christian minds and our consciences, to be the way that is right.

It is not for us to choose the times in which we live, but, as Gandalf said to Frodo: “All we can do is decide what to do with the time that is given to us.” It may be quite hard for us to see the time and place in which we find ourselves as the place of God’s call upon us; and yet, often it is that when life is most ordinary and even mundane, we are faced with those choices, opportunities and even inconveniences that are, in fact, the time and place to know and do the will of the Father.

What we can do is possible not because of our cleverness in knowing His will, but because we are in Christ, and given His wisdom: The same wisdom of the twelve-year old Boy Who knew Who He was, where He belonged, and what was the will of His Father.