Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Now

“God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation. Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ's stead, be ye reconciled to God. For He hath made Him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him. We then, as workers together with Him, beseech you also that ye receive not the grace of God in vain. (For He saith, I have heard thee in a time accepted, and in the day of salvation have I succored thee: behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.)” II Corinthians 5:19-6:2

In various conversations I have come across people who say they hope to  make it, to avoid being lost, but rather accepted by God for eternal life. They are sure that the true traditional doctrine of the Church is that we may never know in this life if we are saved or lost. Sometimes this is coupled with the hope that they may put off complete repentance, and hope for some way to pay it off in the mythical land of punitive Purgatory.
          In trying to challenge this idea the reply has been, on occasion, that we cannot have complete confidence in a one time conversion event, or something like responding to an altarless “Altar Call” and saying “The Sinner’s Prayer,” or to a one time public confession of faith in Christ as a good work by which we are saved through faith (inherent contradiction? Obviously, yes). Indeed, this is true. It is a very dangerous error to believe that you were once saved by saying the right words, however sincerely and faith filled, and therefore always saved with what they call “Eternal Security.” That is, it is dangerous if you believe it was “fire insurance” purchased by one premium payment, involving no life of repentance and faith.
          In the mind of St. Bede, as he wrote in several places in his History of the English Church and People, it was just as dangerous to put off repentance until one is at the point of death. He strongly discouraged some notion that one can rely on having a death bed conversion. Indeed, such may not be true repentance if one has gone a whole lifetime hardening the heart.
          What, then, is the answer? Do we presume on the grace of God, trusting that we have nothing to fear because of something we once experienced? Or, do we put off repentance so as to enjoy some sin of pleasure or bitterness? Or, do we wait anxiously without any faith that God’s mercy will apply to anyone of us in particular?
          I want to suggest that we treat the words of St. Paul as our guide. It is always today – “the day of salvation.” It is always now – “the accepted time.” Indeed, why do we even have the General Confession with an absolution that speaks of “hearty [sincere] repentance and true faith?” How do any of us dare to receive “this sacrament to our comfort” unless we believe in the forgiveness of sins?
          Simply put, without drawing an impossible line that Rome calls “a state of grace,” as if it was separated from day to day life, we need to act “today,” and “now.” Not only do we have no guarantee of drawing another breath; we have the certainty that “We shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ (Romans 14:10, II Corinthians 5:10),” and of a one hundred percent death rate in this world. Apathy about your own soul is sinful and dangerous. If there is any known sin in your life repent today and right now; “Be ye reconciled to God.”

“All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out (John 6:37).

 For by one offering He hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified. Whereof the Holy Ghost also is a witness to us: for after that He had said before, This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, saith the Lord, I will put my laws into their hearts, and in their minds will I write them; And their sins and iniquities will I remember no more. Now where remission of these is, there is no more offering for sin. Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, By a new and living way, which He hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, His flesh; And having an high priest over the house of God; Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering; for He is faithful that promised (Hebrews 10:14-23).”


          The other side, therefore, of the equation is this: For those who repent and believe, we have God’s promise of forgiveness and acceptance, that we may enter His presence now through His Son. The same access by which we worship, pray and receive the sacraments, through Jesus Christ and by His grace, is the access that we have for all eternity. And, for all of it, the time is now.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

About comments

Comments on this blog must be relevant to the subject of the posting, or at least fit as relevant into a conversation as it has progressed. One person in particular wants to comment on everything posted here with irrelevant topics in order to compare traditional Anglicanism with Roman Catholicism on various details. This includes my sermons that I have continued to post at the request of readers who make use of them for edification. When comments are relevant, polite and free of profanity, they are always posted, including disagreements with other writers or with me. But irrelevance only serves to distract.

Fourth Sunday after Trinity

Romans 8:18-23   Luke 6:36-41
The words of Jesus in today’s Gospel reading come in separate sections. Let us look at each one, one by one.
Be therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful. Judge not, and ye shall not be judged: condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned: forgive, and ye shall be forgiven: give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over, shall men give into your bosom. For with the same measure that ye mete withal it shall be measured to you again. 
This is not about pretending not to know right from wrong, but about mercy. All too easily, we apply to others a standard we would not want applied to us, not about right and wrong, but about forgiveness. It goes without saying that everybody, including everybody here, is a sinner. I am not talking about notorious and unrepentant sin. I am not talking about accepting a low standard of conduct, either for others or for ourselves. I am talking about the need of every person, at some point, to be forgiven failures or offenses.
          Jesus commands us to be merciful because God Himself is merciful: “Be therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful.” It is that very appeal, to be merciful because God is merciful, that is taken up later by St. Paul"And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you." (Eph. 4:32) "Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye." (Colo. 3:13)
          One thing that has plagued the Church in recent decades, particularly our own Continuing Anglican branch of it, is a readiness to pull away from each other. Rather, God commands us to acquire the combination of love and humility that preserves not only good order, but the sacramental bond of fellowship and communion by which we are in Christ. Separating from a religious body that cast off the truth of the Gospel was unavoidable; but, continued secessions are not, thereby, justified.
          God, as our Father through His only begotten Son, has brought us into His own family and made us His children. Just as an earthly father rejoices to see his grown children love one another, and is grieved if it is otherwise, so it is out of love for God that we are told to love one another in the Church. “Even as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you," says St. Paul; and “even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye.”
          Not to be a judge means not to set yourself up as the judge, not to condemn, not to write off your brothers and sisters as hopeless cases, beyond the pale, not worth bothering with. It is easy to take a mental photograph that freezes individuals in time, perhaps at their worst. But, the truth is that the Holy Spirit, the One Who is at work in your heart and life, is active also in changing and sanctifying all of God’s children. That mental image you retain, taken at someone’s worst moment, needs to be torn up and thrown away. This requires faith in God, in this case, in the Holy Spirit Who is at work changing your brother just as He is changing you.
          Since the measure you mete will be meted out to you, love one another, be merciful, and have faith that God the Holy Spirit is at work.
And he spoke a parable unto them, Can the blind lead the blind? shall they not both fall into the ditch? The disciple is not above his master: but every one that is perfect shall be as his master. 
Jesus used the image of the blind leading the blind, on another occasion, to speak about the dangers of religious leaders who teach false doctrines (Matt. 15: 12-14), specifically of the Pharisees. But, here in this context, Jesus uses the same words to speak of something different, which we shall see in a moment. But, first let us consider the words, “The disciple is not above his master: but every one that is perfect shall be as his master.
          Though He was Lord of Heaven and Earth, Jesus accepted the role of a servant for our sakes. His patience was more than remarkable; it was, literally, Divine.
He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not. He came unto his own, and his own received him not. (John 1:10,11)
Ye call me Master and Lord: and ye say well; for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another's feet. For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you. Verily, verily, I say unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord; neither he that is sent greater than he that sent him. If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them. (John 13:13-17)
Even as the Son of man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many. (Matt. 20:28)
This must be the attitude of each one of us in His Church. We are here to serve, to wash one another’s feet, and so to be like our Master (or Rabbi).
          I mentioned to you the man who told me he wanted to be a priest, in fact, that he wanted to be a bishop, and that he asked me, hypothetically, “isn’t it right to want to climb to the top of your chosen field?” I mentioned to you also that I told him to forget entirely about ordained ministry; that I would not help him on that road, not even one little bit. If ever he comes back to see me, I will hope it will be because he wants to serve God, even if it means washing the feet of his brethren; and that he will have no longer a desire born of ambition. It is enough to be like our Rabbi, our Master Who came not to be served. And, this calling, to be like Christ, is everyone’s calling. It is your calling and it is mine. Be content to serve in whatever way God has called you and given you gifts for service. It is enough.
And why beholdest thou the mote [speck] that is in thy brother's eye, but perceivest not the beam [log] that is in thine own eye? Either how canst thou say to thy brother, Brother, let me pull out the mote that is in thine eye, when thou thyself beholdest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, cast out first the beam out of thine own eye, and then shalt thou see clearly to pull out the mote that is in thy brother's eye.
You can see, as I said, from the context that Jesus has used the image of the blind leading the blind, and both of them falling into a ditch, differently from how He used it regarding the Pharisees. And, here we see that one of the services you may provide, out of love that moves you to be merciful as our Father is merciful, is to pull the speck out of your brother’s eye.
          To the degree that your brother may need your help, you cannot help him blinded, as you are, if you are walking around with a log protruding out of your own eye. When it comes to helping your brother get his eye clear, if you are the one to be of help, first remove the log that blinds you.       
Consider what I am saying in light of last week’s Epistle reading, about Satan going about as a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour (I Peter 5:8). Spiritual warfare is a reality concerning which our own people have, all too often, been quite dangerously naïve. Think of these words by St. Paul: 
‘To whom ye forgive any thing, I forgive also: for if I forgave any thing, to whom I forgave it, for your sakes forgave I it in the person of Christ; Lest Satan should get an advantage of us: for we are not ignorant of his devices.” (II Cor. 2:10,11)
          But, today the Church is ignorant of Satan’s devices. One of the tragedies of our Continuing churches is the disproportionate number of people, in far too many cases even of clergy, who proved themselves ignorant of Satan’s devices… We cannot afford the luxury of ignorance about Satan’s devices. He still goes about as a roaring lion, and it takes real humility to resist him. It takes, also, steadfastness in the faith.

          We have an enemy already – our common enemy; and we are all supposed to be on the same side, led by Christ. It must be like the musketeers said: “All for one and one for all.” Or, to put it better, "Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye." “Be therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Third Sunday after Trinity

I Pet. 5:5-11 * Luke 15:1-10

To speak of God as suffering loss would be, in a literal sense, quite wrong inasmuch as God “hath need of nothing.” Yet, in the three parables from the fifteenth chapter of Luke, the climactic parable being the Prodigal Son (reserved for another Sunday), the Lord speaks of the loss that is suffered because of charity. God, who hath need of nothing, so loved the world that He sought and found His lost creation through His Son. How can this be? Charity feels loss based on something other than need, because in the most correct theological understanding, everything we have and are in creation is by grace. Our creation, preservation, and all the blessings of this life; but above all, His inestimable love in the redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ, are all by His grace, the love that gives and keeps giving. In no way whatsoever is the love of God selfish, as ours often is. He hath need of nothing, and yet He has stooped to save His lost creation.

This ought to have a powerful effect on us in two ways. First, by becoming saints through grace. As I have reminded you often, every Christian is called to sainthood, total sanctification, holiness of life. This is impossible for everyone of us without the grace of God, and yet it is the vocation of everyone of us. It is your vocation. Whether or not you are called into ordained ministry, or whether or not you have at this point any sense of the specific gifts and calling God has placed within you, you can be sure of this vocation and calling, and of every gift required to help you along: you are called to be holy, for the Lord your God is holy. Among the gifts provided are the Word of God, the Sacraments that come through the Church, and, as Saint Paul wrote, “good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.” (Eph. 2:10) And, what we should all bear in mind is the warning contained, if not hidden, in all of the beauty of the thirteenth chapter of I Corinthians, that without charity all our works are, as the Collect for Quinquagesima puts it, “nothing worth.”

We ought to pause and reflect on that chapter, I Corinthians 13, just a bit longer. What Saint Paul described is a verbal icon of our Lord Jesus, “who went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed of the devil (Acts 10:38),” to quote saint Peter. Here we see what I have said about the unselfish nature of charity. The Lord Jesus was rewarded for His good works by unjust condemnation and crucifixion, proving that we cannot measure our love by its reception; this love, charity, is the love of God that accepts the rejection and hatred that may be its only reward in a fallen and sinful world, as it was for Christ. With its affection set on things above, not on things of this earth, charity endures all things, hopes all things and believes all things. For you to begin the process of growing in this virtue of charity by grace, you must come to the foot of the cross, look up on the bleeding sacrifice of the Son of Man in all His agonies, and take it personally. You must see Him there for you; and so the love of God begins to grow in your own heart by the Holy Ghost.

“Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” as Saint Paul says. He added those words, “of whom I am chief (I Timothy 1:15).” This one time self-righteous Pharisee became aware of his true need at the same moment in which he became aware of his salvation and his calling. Therefore, he spoke of ‘the Son of God who loved me, and gave Himself for me (Gal. 2:20).” Like Saint Paul, you must learn to take it personally, very personally. The Son of God loved you, and gave Himself for you. Look up at His suffering, behold His scars, see the stripes of your healing, behold the nails through the wrists and feet, the crown of thorns, the offering up of His life, the pouring out of his soul unto death, and take it personally. The Son of God loved you, and gave Himself for you.

And, so the virtue of charity can begin to grow in you.

This is what it means that He sought after that which was lost, leaving the ninety and nine to search for you and find you and bring you home. And, this leads us to the second point.

We must see today’s Gospel in terms of our mission in the world. One other calling and vocation of which each one of us can be sure is that we are to do the work of an evangelist. This does not mean that you all are called to preach like Billy Graham or Bishop Sheen; but it does mean that you are called to be a witness that Jesus Christ is the Lord, and that God so loved the world that he gave His only begotten Son. The result of charity taking root and growing within you is that you begin to see the people around you in terms of their need, their greatest need being to know Jesus Christ. As the Body of Christ in this world, and as members with specific gifts (I Corinthians 12:27) - even with gifts often unknown to those who have them- it is through us that the Son of Man continues to seek and to save that which was lost. His Incarnation is extended through His Church, and I do mean you.

When we become workers together with God, as Saint Paul put it, we can trust the Holy Spirit to make up for all that we lack. When you were confirmed it was not a rite of passage, or simply a ticket to Holy Communion. The gifts of the Holy Spirit were placed within you. When charity makes you aware of the needs of those around you, do not be surprised when you sense that you must do a particular thing, or say specific words to a specific person. Learn to know the presence and leading of the Holy Spirit until it becomes quite a normal part of your life.

Divine love, charity, moved the Lord to speak of God, “who hath need of nothing” as if He had suffered loss. The message today is simple: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.”


Sunday, June 14, 2015

The Shroud of Turin - Evidence it is authentic

Below is a summary of scientific and historical evidence supporting the authenticity of the Shroud of Turin as the ancient burial cloth of the historical Jesus of Nazareth.
by J. Michael Fischer, adapted from the original article by John C. Iannone

At this link it is the most comprehensive article on the Shroud of Turin that I have come across. All of the major facts are available in a paper that is about ten pages in length.
See also the FAQ at this link.

Here too is a link to John C. Iannone's book The Mystery of the Shroud of Turin.

Friday, June 12, 2015

SECOND SUNDAY AFTER TRINITY

The Epistle: I John 3:13-24  *  The Gospel: Luke 14:16-24

Today’s Epistle speaks clearly about the duties of Christian love, that is, charity (agape). It speaks of practical ways to live as a Christian among real people in the real world: “But whoso hath this world's good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him? My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth.” In light of the Gospel reading appointed for this day, we need to see that another practical way to love our neighbor is stated in the Parable: “Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled.”
          Do we see the mission of the Church, evangelism, as a duty of charity? If we do not see it that way, then it means we fail to believe inwardly the very religion we practice outwardly. We stand at a crossroads, or even better, we are at a fork in the road. It is clear to me, from years of observation, that for a few people the whole idea of Continuing the old ways of genuine Prayer Book Anglicanism never got beyond the legitimate concern of self-interest.
          I do not condemn that. It is right to have enlightened self-interest. The commandment, “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself,” does little good for someone who lacks enlightened self-interest. It is certainly not intended for those who are self-destructive that they love their neighbor only to the degree that they love themselves. It is right to love thyself in the proper sense, which above all is based on loving God. For, if you love God, it is your first duty not to throw away your own soul, and that is because He has placed so great a value on your soul that it was redeemed by the costly and most worthy thing of all, the blood of His only begotten Son. Christ loved you and gave Himself for you. So, enlightened self-interest is part of fulfilling the First and Great Commandment to love the Lord thy God.
          Nonetheless, the whole idea of Continuing the old ways of genuine Prayer Book Anglicanism is quite worthy in itself, if we believe the Gospel at the center of it; and, this is true not merely for own sakes. Right as the legitimate kind of self-interest is, we must move forward beyond its limitations. We have preserved something good and valuable. More than that, we have at the very core of who we are and what we believe the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the very lifeline needed by each and every human being.
          The riches of God have been given to us so that we may be generous to those in need. A reality, a kind of law at work, is that the more we give away our spiritual wealth, the richer we become inwardly.
          Let’s think seriously about the words, “Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in,” in light of where we are and in light of the times. We need to be realistic and practical, which is the only real way to be spiritual. So, where are we, and what are the times?

1.     This country is not a Christian country at present.  
It has been a long time since anyone could honestly make a case that it is. Let us look at something said by the second President of the United States, one of our greatest Founding Fathers, John Adams“Avarice, ambition, revenge, or gallantry, would break the strongest cords of our Constitution as a whale goes through a net. Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”
Without a moral foundation of God’s universal and unchanging Law, what does freedom produce, and what do free people demand of a representative government? Right now mothers are free to have their unborn children assassinated, as long as the assassin has the right license. In some states the word “marriage” has finally become utterly meaningless, not just by rampant divorce and immorality, but by a new legal definition that has no true meaning whatsoever; for, we know by revelation that God created marriage as part of human life, and that by it a man and a woman become one flesh; we know that He blesses marriages with children. John Adams has been proved right: “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”

2.     In the absence of God’s law.
          My younger brother, in his book Atheist Delusions, argues in one part of it that spokesmen for the new Atheist movement have no logical reason to suppose that ethical or moral principles can be sustained by atheism. Indeed, if they managed to free society from what they call “religion,” each succeeding generation would only find itself brought up farther and farther away from any reason whatsoever even so much as to care about ethical considerations of any kind.
          I can tell you what a non-religious society would most resemble, even in terms of its ethical standards: It would most resemble the first twenty minutes or so of the movie 2001 A Space Odyssey. If such a society became ordered it would look like all of the tyrannies of recent times, be they the Nazis or Communists. Ideology would exist, but not ideals that we could recognize.
          Above all, even the semblance of two very important things, justice and compassion, would vanish away from the structures of an Atheist society, just as these two things were almost entirely absent in every form of pagan religion known to the real academic discipline of History. Whether the Suhtees of India, the strangulation of emperor’s widows (as late as the 15th century) in China, the daily human sacrifices on Aztec altars, or even centuries before that, the mass human sacrifices by fire among the Celts in the Wicker Man ceremonies, pagan religions have proved to be cruel. Atheism would fare no better than paganism, as the Communist regimes demonstrated. They had their very large shares of human sacrifices too, sacrifices to the god of the State and of ideology that exists in isolation from an absolute moral code from the Divine Lawgiver.
          It is safe to say, on the basis of history, that the Church created compassion as a social and cultural norm. Today, we expect to find hospitals and medicine in any inhabited place. We expect courts of law to be about, at the very least, some effort towards justice for all. But, why should we expect these things? If we raise successive generations without a Church that can say, Thus saith the Lord, we may well expect nothing but cruelty in place of compassion and the exercise of raw power in place of justice. Even today we see medicine becoming mere business, and judicial authority too much the servant of political power.

3.     We are all missionaries here and now
  “Here,” because we are not living in a Christian culture, except insofar as it is a memory, a memory which cannot long sustain influence over the population. “Now,” because we must act wisely in light of the times.
We have not yet begun to think of ourselves as missionaries, however. We are living with the illusion that everybody knows the Gospel, and that the churches are filled everywhere, and that most children are raised to know the Ten Commandments and to believe in God. But we have baptized elderly people in the nursing home; we must not presume anything.
And, let me be clear. Evangelism is always the mission of the Church, in every place and time. We cannot assume that people know the Lord of the Church simply because they have church membership somewhere. But, as it is, if we are to be effective in our own country in this, our generation, it is time to wake up and be realistic about what has happened to the culture all around us.
Ideally, we will embrace the reality, of where and when we are, as an opportunity to serve God. I do not pretend to have all the answers for the positively best way to present our message. I welcome ideas. But, more important than a solid program of evangelism is the foundation for making the effort; that is, the belief in each heart that the Christ we know, the Gospel we believe, and the Church in which we have found both truth and valid sacraments to meet the needs of our own souls, is so good that we must share this wealth. What matters first is that this practical and vital part of our faith is the unshakable conviction of each heart.
“Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled.”
It helps a great deal if we know that here, in Christ, is the food and drink of eternal life, the word and ministry of reconciliation with God, and the only true medicine for the soul. Practically speaking, for those of us who have decided to Continue the Anglican Way, now it is high time to move forward beyond the legitimate concerns of self-interest. Compelling people to come into God’s house, if we understand the Gospel of Jesus Christ, is a duty of love. If we are to compel them, charity must compel us.

Saturday, June 06, 2015

First Sunday after Trinity

I John 4:7-21  *  Luke 16:19-31

“He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love…Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another.”

          Love is the theme of this First Sunday after Trinity; and that love is the love of God. It is best expressed in English with the word “charity,” and even in that we find some confusion. For the kind of charity that St. John writes about, and that was lacking in the Rich Man in the reading from Luke, is not of a kind that merely throws a little money at something to ease the conscience, or, worse, to impress people. The Rich Man sent food out to the beggar, Lazarus, namely crumbs that fell from his table. But, he failed completely to love his neighbor by God’s standard.
          The love that these passages of Scripture speak of is personal. And, it begins not with us, but with God. It begins by having your eyes opened to what God has done for you, and then only in light of how undeserving you are. You can defend yourself and plead your case; you can try to justify every sin you ever committed. That is how the Rich Man lived his life. The ending of this parable was meant to shock us into reality. This is the only parable Jesus told that he did not compose Himself; except, that is, for the ending. It has been discovered that this was a well known story among the Jewish people of that time, and the story always ended with Abraham saying, “And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.” But, Jesus added His own ending.

          Then [the Rich Man] said, ‘I pray thee therefore, father, that thou wouldest send [Lazarus] to my father's house: for I have five brethren; that he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’ Abraham saith unto him, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them. And he said, Nay, father Abraham: but if one went unto them from the dead, they will repent. And he said unto him, If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.’

          Indeed, like the Rich Man and his brothers, you can spend your life trying to convince yourself that you have God’s complete approval, and no need of forgiveness. Perhaps, you may construct your own system of good and bad, compare yourself to people who are infinitely worse, and so feel that you are righteous enough not to need God’s mercy. But, if reality hits you, and if the truth shall make you free, it begins by asking if your own standard may not be true enough to take you safely into eternity. Has God spoken? Should you not hear? In Moses and the Prophets we find a moral law that is eternal and unchanging, those Ten Commandments and all that they really mean (which we learn in the Sermon on the Mount). We also see in Moses and the Prophets the great Messianic themes of salvation from sin and death. To prepare for eternity, we have been given quite a lot to hear. We have been given both Law and Gospel. “Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith (Galatians 3:24).”
          Once you see your own need you can appreciate the love of God. We see that salvation from sin and death was not our idea, but God’s own will. Redemption is His initiative, without any suggestion from us. “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins…We love him, because he first loved us.” That love was not merely some nice and inspiring bit of sweetness and sentimentality. God saw that our need involved everything that is meant by that word, “propitiation.” It involved the pain and suffering that was born by Jesus in the death of the cross. And, even so, if you don’t hear the great moral themes and the great Messianic themes of redemption, that is, if you don’t hear Moses and the prophets, Christ’s own resurrection with over five-hundred eyewitnesses, will never persuade you to repent. You need a soft heart that listens and hears. Then the Gospel, the Good News that He first loved us, can enter your mind and heart.
          You see, on this First Sunday after Trinity, Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Easter and Pentecost have all come, and we are now in the Church that became so powerful in the Book of Acts because the Holy Spirit has come to us with His gifts and power. Now, we turn to the second table of the Law. That first table has four commandments that tell us to love God. But, we cannot love God; that is, we cannot love God unless and until we know that He first loved us. We find that love nailed to the cross. There He is broken, bleeding and pouring out His soul for your sins and mine. We are forgiven without losing sight of God’s holiness, and without mistaking that forgiveness for some idea that God didn’t really care. Forgiveness is not approval. It was costly. The ninth chapter of the Epistle to the Hebrews tells us that redemption perfects and cleanses the human conscience. Indeed, a true understanding of the cross of Christ gives life to your conscience. God loved you, and this is what it cost. Sin does matter, because God is holy. And, sin is forgiven, because God is love. But, it did not come without the death of the cross.
          So, this Sunday we see that to obey the first four commandments, which are summarized by the First and Great Commandment to love God (“with all thy heart, all thy soul and all thy mind”), is only possible as a response; “We love Him because He first loved us.” And, now, in this Epistle and Gospel reading, after celebrating from Advent until today the great acts of God’s love in Jesus His Son that move us to love Him, we turn to the second table of the Law, the six commandments that are summarized in the words, “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.”
          And, at the beginning it is personal. “Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another…” And, so it goes on:

          “We love him, because he first loved us. If a man say, I love God, and hates his brother, he is a liar: for he that loves not his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen? And this commandment have we from him, That he who loves God love his brother also.” (RSV)

          I am reminded always of the singular words in commandments to love. I am going to quote an earlier sermon of my own for this same Sunday:
          "‘The righteous man considers the life of his beast. But, the tender mercies of the wicked are cruel’ says the Book of Proverbs (12:10). Utopian ideologues since the French Revolution, such as Karl Marx and his followers, spoke lofty words about what was best for mankind. It reminds me of one of Charles Schultz’s Peanuts cartoons. Linus tells his sister Lucy that he wants to be a doctor, a great doctor. She tells him, ‘You cannot be a great doctor. You know why? Because a doctor must love mankind. You don’t love mankind.’ Linus, stunned, retorts ‘I do love mankind…It’s people I can’t stand!’ The ideologues have always loved mankind; and they have made many people suffer for it. They have offered millions of innocent victims to some idea of ‘good for the highest number,’ and Satanic propaganda about what is best for humanity. Crowds enjoying the spectacle of heads being cut off in Paris, Communists dictating who should live, who should die, and who must go to the camps, and, indeed, the Nazis destroying millions in order to advance human evolution to the state of perfection, believed they were lovers of mankind, saviors of that abstract and impersonal thing called ‘humanity.’"

Hear this from the twenty-fifth chapter of St. Matthew:
          "When the Son of man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate them one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will place the sheep at his right hand, but the goats at the left. Then the King will say to those at his right hand, `Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.'  Then the righteous will answer him, `Lord, when did we see thee hungry and feed thee, or thirsty and give thee drink? And when did we see thee a stranger and welcome thee, or naked and clothe thee? And when did we see thee sick or in prison and visit thee?' And the King will answer them, `Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.' Then he will say to those at his left hand, `Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.' Then they also will answer, `Lord, when did we see thee hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to thee?'  Then he will answer them, `Truly, I say to you, as you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to me.' And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life (Matthew 25:31-46).”
          How often has this been quoted, “the least of these my brethren?” Look again, and see what it really says: “One of the least of these my brethren.” “One of…” those are the missing words when this is misquoted, as it usually is. That one is your neighbor, That one is your Lazarus, with his unpleasant and unsightly sores.
          The Bible always personalizes it. “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” Thy neighbor, not mankind. “He that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen…” His brother, not some impersonal thing called mankind. The Rich Man gave at the office, so to speak. He sent out those crumbs from his table to the beggar. But, if he had known God’s love, if he had heard Moses and the Prophets, the great moral truth and the themes of redemption revealed to the children of men, if he had loved God because God first loved us, he would have brought in his brother Lazarus from the streets, and sat him at his own table.

          That is the love of God when it is reflected in your heart. How can you know that love? You may begin right now, by letting God quicken your conscience, and cleanse it, all the while showing His love for as you contemplate the cross where Jesus poured out His soul unto death for you. It is personal; the gift was given to you there. His words of forgiveness from the cross are for you. His “It is finished” was the full payment and cancelation of your entire debt. You can love God because, as we see on the cross where Jesus died, He first loved you. And, therefore, you can love your brother, your neighbor, your own Lazarus.

Wednesday, June 03, 2015

Not the author of confusion

God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints.
(I Corinthians 14:33)

The invention of a new "civil right" is being forced upon us. I believe that if the great martyr of genuine Civil Rights could see what is being done in the name of "Civil Rights," he would be disgusted - that is, if the things he actually believed in his lifetime are taken into account. In recent days the world has been subjected to the sight of Bruce Jenner on the cover of Vanity Fair, calling himself "Caitlyn" and appearing like a woman. In Germany, Reinhold Cardinal Marx has spoken of "her" in glowing terms, saying the Church should support "her right" to be whatever "she" wants. As of the time of this writing it remains to be seen what Pope Francis in Rome has to say about that.

Meanwhile, in Baltimore, Maryland, Johns Hopkins Hospital is bucking the trend. as reported by CNS News, 

Dr. Paul R. McHugh, the former psychiatrist-in-chief for Johns Hopkins Hospital and its current Distinguished Service Professor of Psychiatry, said that transgenderism is a “mental disorder” that merits treatment, that sex change is "biologically impossible,” and that people who promote sexual reassignment surgery are collaborating with and promoting a mental disorder.

He also reported on a new study showing that the suicide rate among transgendered people who had reassignment surgery is 20 times higher than the suicide rate among non-transgender people.

Johns Hopkins, possibly the finest hospital in the world, certainly one with a reputation that is unsurpassed, does not perform such operations anymore. The report continues:

Dr. McHugh also reported that there are “misguided doctors” who, working with very young children who seem to imitate the opposite sex, will administer “puberty-delaying hormones to render later sex-change surgeries less onerous – even though the drugs stunt the children’s growth and risk causing sterility.”
Such action comes “close to child abuse,” said Dr. McHugh, given that close to 80% of those kids will “abandon their confusion and grow naturally into adult life if untreated ….”
To actually change one's sex, one would have to change every cell in the body, as well as brainwave patterns. The frontal lobe of the brain would also have to be transformed. 
“’Sex change’ is biologically impossible,” said McHugh. “People who undergo sex-reassignment surgery do not change from men to women or vice versa. Rather, they become feminized men or masculinized women. Claiming that this is a civil-rights matter and encouraging surgical intervention is in reality to collaborate with and promote a mental disorder.”
It is time for the Church to look this matter square in the eye, and determine how to respond to it, in light of doctrine, including sacramental theology. 

Charity and truth
Obviously, we want to respond to all human need with compassion, and to share the hope offered only by the Gospel of Jesus Christ. What does this mean for a person who experiences a feeling of "transgenderism"? What does it mean for a person who has undergone the surgery? This problem did not exist in the days of the Apostles in exactly the way it exists today. We must draw, therefore, principles from Scripture to guide us rightly. In doing so, I seek to demonstrate that both receiving and performing this surgery is a sin against the Creator. For those who are considering it, the bishops and priests of God's Church must urge them not to do so. For those who have been so altered, we must offer forgiveness on the same terms as any other sin, confession and repentance. That is the only way to walk in charity and in truth.

The first chapter of St. Paul's Epistle to the Church in Rome, shows two things that are revealed from Heaven: The righteousness of God revealed in the Gospel, the message of salvation to everyone who believes; and also the wrath of God "against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness." (See vs. 16-32) In the latter category belong all those "Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen." These latter are those who act "against nature." Essentially, their entire treatment of created things, including human sexuality and their own bodies, is a form of idolatry that pulls them into every kind of evil. 

At this point I am sure that this is not speaking of confused people who suffer a crisis of identity, certainly not minors. But, we live in a culture so corrupt that it looks more and more like that passage in Romans chapter one as each year goes by. The "misguided doctors" that Dr. McHugh mentioned are part of this modern culture. Minors are easily influenced, and the adults who encourage their confusion, and problem, are acting dangerously. In a very real way, they set a stumbling block before children (Matthew 18:6,7). Doctors who administer “puberty-delaying hormones" have no valid medical justification for doing so, and ought to have their licenses revoked. Doctors who perform "sex-change" surgery are performing no genuine medical service at all, and ought also to have their licenses revoked. Beyond that, a whole set of politicians, celebrities, publishers and others, perhaps even counsellors in various schools, are part of a trend to "change the truth of God into a lie." 

People trapped in their confusion, and in need of psychiatric help (and, no doubt spiritual help as well) live in a culture that is, more and more, offering them the opposite of what they need, and that is, more and more, encouraging them to make a disastrous choice. But, it is the culture that is changing the truth of God into a lie, and that is worshiping the creature rather than the Creator. The Church must, for those who are vulnerable, be a safe place of refuge from the pull of the world, the flesh and the devil.

Sacramental doctrine
The truth of God, concerning the sexual nature of His creation, the human race, is best summed up early on in the Bible:

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them. And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply... (Genesis 1:27,28).

We have looked at the current confusion in the world concerning marriage, specifically the problem with same sex "marriage." We need to understand, as well, the added problem that "transgenderism" brings to the table. As we have seen (above) "sex change" operations are a lie, a lie carved in flesh and supported by ongoing injections, but a lie nonetheless. No such thing as a "sex change" is possible for human beings, or for that matter, any species of mammal. All that can be done is mutilation and plastic surgery that creates sterility.

The matter of sterility is no minor detail. In truth, persons who have had this surgery are not changed from one sex to the other; rather they are rendered eunuchs. Their ability to "be fruitful and multiply" has been removed. In a sense, it is all a matter of "the culture of death" as it necessarily embraces sterility. 

So, what ought a member of the clergy to do if a couple wants to be married, say a real man and a "transgendered" woman, or a real woman and a "transgendered" man? Sadly, among some modern Evangelicals we have seen a readiness to treat the world's lie as if it were the truth. In Germany, we see that Cardinal Marx wants to corrupt Roman Catholicism in the same way. But, such a marriage, in either case, is the fiction of a same sex "marriage." It cannot be reconciled to sacramental theology, nor to basic morality. 

Identity
Radical feminists have coined a new phrase: "cisgendered." It refers to a person who identifies with his or her own sex. According to the radical feminists who use the phrase, there is something somehow very wrong with accepting one's sex as part of one's identity. Getting back to Dr. McHugh at Johns Hopkins Hospital:

“This intensely felt sense of being transgendered constitutes a mental disorder in two respects. The first is that the idea of sex misalignment is simply mistaken – it does not correspond with physical reality. The second is that it can lead to grim psychological outcomes.”

I am very happily "cisgendered." I like being a man, and I feel like a man. My wife likes being a woman, and feels like a woman. My dog likes being a dog, I believe, and the neighbor's cat likes being a cat. To be unhappy with the nature God gave you is to be unthankful, and is also quite sad. Such people are miserable; inasmuch as "sex change" surgery increases one's likelihood of committing suicide to twenty times higher, it is not compassionate to support such a decision. I feel sorry for anyone who is unfortunate enough not to be "cisgendered." Such individuals need help psychiatrically and spiritually. Encouraging their psychosis is simply to take part in the Romans One culture with which we must have no fellowship.