Sunday, November 29, 2009

Saint Andrew November 30

The first saint on the calendar of the Church is the one who introduced his brother to Christ. He stands at the beginning of our Church Year as if to introduce us to the Lord; or to remind us of our first introduction to Him.

If I wished to follow in the footsteps of some of today’s alleged New Testament scholars, the kind which C. S. Lewis criticized for their inability to read and understand classic literature, I would point out that this Gospel reading for the Feast of St. Andrew presents a different version of how the Galilean fishermen met Jesus than the accounts presented by St. John and St. Luke. For St. John and St. Luke both go into detailed stories of how Jesus met these four men, Peter and Andrew, James and John, unlike Matthew and Mark who begin by telling us that upon the call of Jesus to follow Him, they immediately left their nets and became His disciples. I could then conclude that the accounts contradict each other.

If, on the other hand, I want to use reason, common sense and logic, I will point out that the Church has always been aware of what is in all four Gospels, and that none of it was recently discovered by "New Testament scholars." I would also point out that the accounts of Matthew and Mark presuppose the fact that these four fishermen already knew Jesus, and had come to trust Him. Furthermore, it is obvious that they had been prepared in their minds and spirits to obey Him. This is obvious because they immediately left their nets, that is their profitable business partnership, to follow Him. So, what St. John and St. Luke provide is the details without which the calling of these four men, as presented by Matthew and Mark, is incomplete, in fact puzzling. Far from a contradiction, it is a perfect complement.

After all, it would not be in accord with Right Reason for men suddenly to commit their lives to following a stranger; the Church does not in its teaching recommend such rashness, but instead has always taught that we must test the spirits and test the prophecies. So wrote St. Paul and St. John in their epistles. In this account by St. Matthew, it is obvious from the immediacy of their obedience that these men already knew Jesus, and were waiting with some anticipation for Him to call them to be His disciples. The details are given in the complementary accounts of Luke and John. We see in Luke’s account that the toughest nut to crack, the one to come around with the most difficulty, was St. Peter. And this was due to his honest recognition of his own sinfulness, and his mistaken assumption that he must have been beyond God’s mercy.

And we learn other details from St. John’s Gospel. Andrew knew from the words of John the Baptist that Jesus was the Lamb of God. He knew somehow that this meant that He was the Messiah. This tells me that Andrew was a theologian of some skill; that he was more advanced in his understanding of scripture than were the leading Rabbis of his day. For, he figured out that the Lamb of God was a term which signified the Messiah. He correctly foresaw the meaning of the Suffering Servant prophecy in the 53rd chapter of Isaiah. I cannot see any other way for him to have connected the idea of the Messiah with the idea of the Lamb of God. The word Messiah is used in the Old Testament first of all when speaking of the priests, Aaron and his line, who offered sacrifice and made atonement for sin. Later, it is also used for the kings, the Royal line of David. Andrew seems to have grasped that the priestly ministry of the Messiah, the ministry of offering sacrifice, would be fulfilled before His reign as King could be revealed.

The life of St Andrew reminds us that the main point is what is revealed instead of the presence of mystery. Recently I read an account of contemporary liturgists (a word I loathe) who created their own version of the Mass. In it there is no Creed, and God is spoken of as the unknowable "it". Throughout their service- or perhaps dis-service- they emphasize mystery. Of course, we have mysteries because we are speaking of God. Indeed, our sacraments are mysteries, because we know not how they work. We do not fully understand the Incarnation or the Trinity because we cannot fully understand God. But, the liturgists with their own version of the Mass are completely wrong. Mystery is to be expected; the amazing thing about Christianity is not the presence of mystery, it is the reality of revelation. Christ is God in the flesh, and He is made known to us. By coming into the world He has shown us the Father.

St. Peter becomes very important to us as we remember his brother St. Andrew. The most well known story of Andrew is in the Gospel of John, in the first chapter. He had been a disciple of John the Baptist, and had followed Jesus in obedience to John who identified the Lord as "the Lamb of God." Andrew did not hesitate to bring his own brother to Jesus. Andrew introduced the Lord to Peter with the words "we have found the Messiah." Later it would be Peter’s own words to Jesus that He is the Christ, the Son of the Living God, based not upon his brother’s words, but upon the Father’s revelation. Andrew’s words probably seemed to him on that earlier day as mere enthusiasm; but because of his brother, Peter met Jesus for himself, and came to have the faith which recognized Him as the Lord.

So it is that Andrew has always been a living symbol of evangelism. He introduced his brother to Jesus Christ, that is to Jesus as the Messiah. The Father revealed to Peter what Andrew had first told him. This is always the way of evangelism. We can only speak the words of the Gospel, having in ourselves no power to convince hearts and minds. We cannot overcome anyone’s hardness of heart, not even our own for that matter. We cannot reveal Jesus. But, we can and we must proclaim Him. It is our duty to do so; and the example of St. Andrew shows us that we rightly perform this duty when it is our joy to do so.

We Anglicans are not advocates of what is called "Enthusiasm" in the capital "E" sense of that word as a theological term. That is, the kind of "Enthusiasm" which creates weird religious movements and cults. But, a small "e" enthusiasm, based upon the true meaning of that word from its Greek root, is a good and healthy thing; for it means to be "in God." Andrew met Jesus Christ, and in his joy went to tell his brother to come and meet Him too. This kind of enthusiasm, with a small "e", is the joy of true faith that motivates us to introduce people to the Lord.

The rest belongs to the Father, revealing His Son by the Holy Ghost. This is why St. Paul says in today’s Epistle "faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God." This is why the apostle spent so much ink on the subject of preaching. It seems foolish to a dead and sinful world that preaching, proclaiming the Gospel, brings salvation from sin and death. But it does. St. Paul tells us that "the Gospel is the power of God unto salvation to everyone who believes." (Rom. 1:16) Hearing the Gospel is powerful; this is because it is the Holy Spirit Who supplies the power.

Our problem is that we forget that the Holy Spirit provides the power. We think that we must come up with gimmicks, and marketing. We suppose that some better way must exist for presenting the good news. Often this is because we forget that the first and most important thing in preaching the Gospel is the salvation of souls; building up our numbers is a result of this, yes. But, simply building our numbers must not be the primary goal. For me as a priest, the temptation is to build our numbers any way we can. But, if we fill up a church without making true converts, we have done nothing of eternal value. If we preach the Gospel, on the other hand, and stick to what the song calls, "the Old Time Religion" we will be what Paul calls God’s co-laborers; we will be, as he wrote, "working together with God." We will proclaim, and He will reveal and convict. We will teach, and He will convert.

Of course, if we create a false gospel, another one which scratches itching ears, which makes everybody feel good, we may be commercially successful beyond the dreams of avarice. We will go to hell in the end; but we will have been successful, and success is, as we know, one of the world’s most influential false gods.

What is the Gospel? It is what we recite in the Creed; it is what we say by the prayers in our Communion Liturgy. It is defined simply by St. Paul in the Fifteenth chapter of I Corinthians. In the first eleven verses we find four simple facts that St. Paul gives us as the Gospel. These four points are in his sermons and in Peter’s sermons which appear throughout the Acts of the Apostles. They are, briefly:

Christ died for our sins (in fulfillment of scripture)

He was buried

He rose from the dead the third day (in fulfillment of scripture)

He was seen by witnesses after His resurrection.

If we continue simply to teach these things, the Holy Spirit, by the will of the Father, does the rest, the work on hearts and minds that we cannot do.

You may have noticed that Andrew, himself, seems almost to have disappeared in what I have been saying, and on this, our celebration of his feast day. I don’t think he would mind. Like his brother Peter, he was willing to be crucified as a martyr for the love of Jesus Christ. His life was lived for the purpose of making Christ known. He was called to be a fisher of men.

And now, unto God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Ghost, be ascribed, as is most justly due, all might, majesty, dominion, power and glory, now and forever.


Saturday, November 28, 2009

First Sunday in Advent

Bible illustration by Alexandre Bida

Romans 13:8-13
Matthew 21:1-13

What a confusing choice for today's Gospel, the same reading we have in the Blessing of the Palms on Palm Sunday, before the first Eucharist. What does this have to do with the main theme of Advent, that we must be prepared for the second coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in glory to judge both the quick and the dead? After all, as everyone should know, it is about our own real preparation to come face to face with God. The season is about the Four Last Things, Death, Judgment, Heaven and Hell. Among these, Heaven and Hell take on powerful significance as the Resurrection to immortality, to live and reign with Christ forever, and the resurrection of those who will go into the lake of fire. As the Lord said: "Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, and shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation."1 In light of these themes, it is not enough to be aware of the joy that awaits those who will enter the blessed state of glorification as the sons of God. We must also be aware of the terror of the Lord so as to persuade men,2 including ourselves, to be in a state of Grace at all times.

Several religious leaders from various churches must have voted, about a century or more ago, to close Hell. Like some prisons, it has perhaps become overcrowded, and so nobody else can go there, even though some people are dying to get in. Why else would it sound so strange to hear it mentioned in a sermon-in church of all places? Maybe Hell has become the sort of topic, like for example, sin; something that fashionable people just do not discuss in church. It's not nice, it's not warm and fuzzy, and it contributes, no doubt, to global warming. The problem is, the ultimate "fire and brimstone" preacher in the Bible is Jesus Christ-no more Mr. Nice Guy to anyone shocked to learn it. Yes, St. John the Baptist has a few words to say about it. St. Paul never mentions it directly, though clearly warning about it indirectly. Some theologians want to blunt the effect of every passage that does mention it. If we are to be serious about the words of the Lord Jesus Christ, we must face this subject, namely, the danger of being lost forever, going into the outer darkness "where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched."3 The Greek word for that ultimate Hell is Ge'enna (γέεννα). It refers to a terrible place mentioned in the Old Testament as a site where children were murdered in sacrifice to Molech, the Valley of Ben-Hinnom. In the First century A.D., this place had become a dump, and trash was burned there day and night. In that dump the worm was kept alive, and fires were always burning. And so, our Lord spoke of it in terms of that final and dreadful verse in the Book of Isaiah: "And they shall go forth, and look upon the carcases of the men that have transgressed against me: for their worm shall not die, neither shall their fire be quenched; and they shall be an abhorring unto all flesh."4 The terror of the Lord that ought to persuade each of us, and with which it is a mercy to persuade others, is that of being thrown away as the garbage.

No one need be thrown away, because God "commandeth all men everywhere to repent."5 The Gospel command to repent is also a word of hope. It is centered on the grace of God, and the love of God demonstrated and revealed in the cross of Christ. 6 How simple and yet powerful are those words of St. Paul, "Christ died for our sins."7 In that light, we obey the command to repent, and therefore are filled with joy because he gives us the certain hope of eternal life. "Repent, confess, thou shalt be loosed from all."8 This alone gives hope. A false gospel of acceptance and inclusion cannot revive and comfort anyone's conscience. The words of today's Epistle tell us how to live our lives in this world in the fear of God, and also in the grace of God. "The night is far spent, the day is at hand: let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light. "

Why are we given this selection from the Gospels? Why this picture of Christ being welcomed as the Son of David, the king, and then getting off the donkey, going into the temple, and casting out the money changers? We understand why this leads to the Passion, and is read at the start of Holy Week when we bless the palms. We understand that other judgment, that in the cross of Christ it was the Prince of this world who was judged and cast out. 9 When we begin Holy Week it makes sense. What, however, does this have to do with the coming again in glory of our Lord Jesus Christ, to judge the quick and the dead? As an event in history, how do we place some meaning of it in the future? as a recorded past event, how does it find its way into eschatology (the study of the End)?

The simple answer (so obvious once we realize it) is that, in her wisdom, the Church puts before our eyes this picture of our Lord Jesus Christ, from his first coming, that most closely resembles his second coming. Here is the Lord who suddenly comes to his temple and cleanses it. We see the Lord who casts out from the place of that holy presence of the Shekinah, those who have been living unrepentant in sin. The authority of the Lord, to mete out judgment, to evict sinners from his presence, to cleanse, to purge, and to purify, is seen in this Gospel passage. That harder side of the One who was able to forgive and heal with compassion is here made visible. This picture shows the judgment of the Lord; it shows his unique authority as the Word and Son of the Everlasting Father, that power that comes so genuinely from within himself that all of these men felt compelled to obey his voice, and had no power in themselves to resist his words of eviction from the Holy Place. He had no visible army to carry out his commands, no soldiers to enforce his decree; and yet his power was such that no one could resist, and no one could refuse. Just as he had power to cast out demons so that people would not be tormented any longer, so his word with power casts out willful sinners so that they can no longer defile. Yes, this is the best picture we have of the Lord who comes again as Judge.

Bible illustration by Gustave Dore'

St. Peter wrote: "
For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God: and if it first begin at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God? And if the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear?"10 If we submit to the work of the Holy Spirit among us, we will experience that gentle judgment that saves us here and now. After all, even though St. Peter makes direct reference to the End, that is the Last Day when Christ comes again, and does so with words to place the fear of God in our hearts, he begins with "the time is come." If the message is about "the end" of those who are removed, thrown into the dump of Ge'enna with its hungry worms and perpetual burnings, what judgment is there that begins now in the house of God? Jesus cast out the works of darkness from the house of God, the temple in Jerusalem, casting out those who had worked that darkness openly and unashamed, and who insulted the holy place no less than the sons of Eli had done long before.11 But, St. Peter urges us with a present hope: "For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God." What is this judgment that must begin now? Pray God, let it be for each one of us the very self-examination that aids those who repent to make a good confession of their sins with all of the sincerity of a heart moved by the Holy Spirit.

What are we planning to do here today? What follows every sermon in a Mass? Before I supply the answer, let us recall that other name, that specifically Anglican name that we give to this service: "The Holy Communion." Other names are good too, such as The Divine Liturgy (the Orthodox name), and the Holy Eucharist. But, I like the Anglican name, The Holy Communion. It was first used to make something very clear to the people of the Church of England, which is that the purpose of the Sacrament of Christ's Body and Blood, is that it be taken and received. The Catechism tells us that two of the sacraments are generally necessary for salvation, Baptism and the Lord's Supper. The purpose of coming here and receiving this Blessed Sacrament is to feed on the Living Bread that comes down from heaven, which if a man eat, he may live forever. Jesus told us that He is the food and drink of eternal life, and to eat his flesh and drink his blood.12 First we make confession of sin based on the self-examination we should make every time; as St.Paul wrote: "But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup."13 It is in that self-examination and the resulting sincere confession, that we prepare for the coming of the Lord right now, that is, his coming to our altar, and then into our very bodies as we eat the food and drink the cup of eternal life-His flesh and blood. If we live always ready for this Sacrament, we will live always ready to meet the Lord face to face.

In today's Gospel passage, we see important elements of His Second Coming, elements that are true to the Person of the Son of God, the everlasting Son of the everlasting Father. He is the only king and savior. He is the judge “Whose fan is in his hand, and he will thoroughly purge his floor, and gather his wheat into the garner; but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” 14 Judgment will begin at the House of God, until His whole creation is cleansed and purified, made ready for a habitation of His righteousness, a dwelling place of His glory among men. The purpose of a Penitential season is to learn to sharpen and focus our self-examination, the same self-examination that we should do every time we draw near to receive the Body and Blood of Christ. I know that a “feel good” religion is the popular model for success in today’s “spiritual” market; but the only good feeling we should ever trust is that spoken of by the Psalmist: “Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.” 15

To be ready for the last Judgment, we must be willing to let the Holy Ghost shake up our world, we must allow Him to shake up our very selves. Indeed, to prepare for the coming again of Jesus Christ, we must draw near "with hearty repentance and true faith" in order to make a good confession, sincere and resolute of purpose to "walk in newness of life ." Indeed, to prepare for the coming again of Jesus Christ, we need do no more, and no less, than we do when we prepare to receive the Communion of His Body and Blood. 16

1. John 5:28, 29
2. II Corinthians 5:11
3. Mark 9:42-50
4. Isaiah 66:24
5. Acts 17:30
6. Romans 5:8
7. I Corinthians 15:3
8 From Weary of Earth and laden with my sin, Hymn 58 in The Hymnal 1940.
9. John 12:31, 32
10. I Peter 4:17, 18
11. I Samuel 2:12f
12. John 6:26-59
13. I Corinthians 11: 29
Matthew. 3:12
Psalm 32:1

16. I Corinthians 10:16

Friday, November 27, 2009

Fr. Wells' Bulletin Inserts



It is still four weeks away when people will be saying, “Happy New Year,” eating hoppin' john, and getting used to writing 2010 when they date a check. But in the kalendar of Holy Mother Church, today is New Year's Day, when we flip back to page 90 in the Collects, Epistles and Gospels and start all over in the Church's Year of Grace.

Advent means Arrival and prepares our hearts and souls for the coming of our dear Lord at His birthday on December 25. But it accomplishes this not by a sentimental reminiscence of the first Christmas but through a sharp clear focus on His arrival at the end of time to take us to our eternal home. Advent reminds us that our faith leads us into the future when “He shall come again, with glory, to judge both the quick and the dead.” That was the promise which the angels made to the apostles as they watched Jesus ascend: “This same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven.”

If we dismiss this glorious promise as an irrelevancy, then we need this season. Advent is like an alarm clock, to rouse a sluggish church and a sleepy Christian. Today's Epistle from Romans 8 (echoed in our processional hymn, Hymn 9) almost screams at us: “Now it is high time to awake out of sleep: for now is our salvation nearer than when we believed.”

When we read the entire Gospel story of Jesus' coming—God's arrival on earth—from Bethlehem to Calvary to the Empty Tomb to Bethany, we notice how sadly unprepared were the hearts of mankind. The Christian believer, on the other hand, must get busy, getting ready for Jesus to come again. “But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof.”

This world does not know the future and can only contemplate it with carelessness or with fear or some insane mixture of the two. But Christians happen to know how the story will turn out; we have already read the final chapter. So we look to the future with confidence, hope, and even with joy. Jesus is coming! That is our confidence, hope and joy.

During this penitential season, keep focused on Advent. Stay close to the Lord and be frequently at His altar. Then you will be ready for Christmas. LKW


The Gospel appointed for today makes us think of Palm Sunday and the Holy Week which follows. But no, we are once again entering into the penitential season of Advent which prepares us for Christmas. So what does the triumphal entry of Jesus have to do with Advent?

The word advent means arrival. In these four Sundays we are celebrating the arrival of our King and Saviour. The Advent season prevents us from feeling that we have only a remote or absentee God. The Jerusalemites seemed surprised that Jesus had suddenly arrived at their city. What they did was altogether appropriate. Could they possibly ignore the presence of the Son of God? Although they did not know Him, it was only fitting that a “very great multitude” should go out to meet him and that the whole city should be “stirred up.”

Their shout of acclamation was exactly right: “Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord; hosanna in the highest.” Those words greeted the promised King, “great David's greater son,” who fulfilled all the future expectations of the Old Testament. That moment on the first Palm Sunday when Jesus rode into the city (not on a war-horse, but on a meek gentle donkey—a sign of peace) was the culmination of all sacred history, from David, from Abraham, from Adam in the Garden of Eden.

And so that arrival points mystically to another arrival, the final Arrival when Jesus comes again at the Last Day. We best prepare for Christmas by meditating deeply on a great future event, when He will come in glory. After Jesus had been welcomed by the multitude, His very next act was to go into the temple and perform an act of judgment. This foreshadows “the dreadful day of judgment, when the secrets of all hearts shall be disclosed,” the Great Assizes, when “every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.” As the Old Testament had its climax on Palm Sunday, so the New Testament likewise will have its own culmination when Jesus comes again.

That shout of acclamation, “Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord,” is repeated at every celebration of the Holy Eucharist. He who came at Bethlehem and Jerusalem, who will come gloriously at the Last Day, constantly arrives among us when bread and wine become His Body and Blood before our own eyes. The Eucharist He left to His Church points ahead to His great future Arrival. Hymn 202 sings:

“Alpha and Omega, to whom shall bow,

All nations at the doom, is with us now.”

That Eucharistic presence, the presence, here and now, of the Judge to come, should command our attention during Advent and all our earthly days. LKW

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Thanksgiving Day in the U.S.

St. Benedict's here in Chapel Hill, N.C. will hold a service of Holy Communion at 10:00 AM on Thursday, Thanksgiving Day in the U.S. The Gospel for the day is the place in Matt. chapter 6 where Christ tells us not to entertain anxious thoughts about tomorrow, but to seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness. So, from the pulpit I will remind the people that our giving of thanks to God is a recognition in faith that He is the One who has supplied every need we have.

I can think of nothing more fitting than meditation on this prayer of Thanksgiving that is included in Morning and Evening Prayer in the American edition of the Book of Common Prayer.

A General Thanksgiving.

ALMIGHTY God, Father of all mercies, we, thine unworthy servants, do give thee most humble and hearty thanks for all thy goodness and loving-kindness to us and to all men; [*particularly said when any desire to return those who desire now to offer up their praises and thanksgivings for thy late mercies vouchsafed unto them.] We bless thee for our creation, preservation, and all the blessings of this life; but above all, for thine inestimable love in the redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ; for the means of grace, and for the hope of glory. And, we beseech thee, give us that due sense of all thy mercies, that our hearts may he unfeignedly thankful; and that we show forth thy praise, not only with our lips, but in our lives, by giving up our selves to thy service, and by walking before thee in holiness and righteousness all our days; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with thee and the Holy Ghost, be all honour and glory, world without end. Amen.

¶ Note, That the General Thanksgiving may be said by the Congregation with the Minister.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Seed and Water, Word and Sacrament

One of the disagreements between the Reformed and Catholics has been about baptismal regeneration. Catholics affirm it, the Reformed, including most Evangelicals, effectively seem to deny it. Instead, they say that any adult brought to baptism should already have been justified and regenerated or “born again”. And that baptised infants are not necessarily regenerated ever unless part of the Elect, whereas they are (it is common but not universal among Calvinists to say) regenerated when they come to faith and not, properly speaking, before then. I drew out the differences at length here in sections M to R.

When I was in the process of becoming a Franciscan Tertiary, back in 2001, I had to make a regular report on the lessons I was being sent. They were largely based on Carleton's book, The King's Highway. This is what I wrote in response to one section:

One fact about “the necessity of baptism for salvation” that it seems to me should be kept in mind is that it is not absolute in the way that salvation’s dependence on living faith is absolute for one having reached the age of reason. St Thomas Aquinas, following a number of the Fathers, teaches that

"a man can obtain salvation without being actually baptized, on account of his desire for Baptism, which desire is the outcome of ‘faith that worketh by charity,’ whereby God, Whose power is not tied to visible sacraments, sanctifies man inwardly"

and that, because God looks on the heart,

"a man who desires to be ‘born again of water and the Holy Ghost’ by Baptism, is regenerated in heart though not in body. Thus the Apostle says (Romans 2:29) that ‘the circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, not in the letter; whose praise is not of men but of God.’"

(S.T., P3, Q68, A2)

The seemingly unavoidable consequence of this is that the majority of people who have undergone a conversion experience, given that their heart reached out to Jesus in penitent, “God-hungry” faith, receive the grace of baptism before their reception of the sacrament. As long as we remember that the grace still belongs properly to the sacrament and that, in particular, the covenanted guaranteeing of grace and thus its secure “sealing” require the sacrament, such an admission should do no harm. It may be a Catholic way of expressing true Evangelical insights based on passages such as Romans 10:9-13. Since in the sacraments time kisses eternity, the solid connection of justification and sanctification with baptism does not seem to necessitate simultaneity.

This is similar, in its approach to temporality, to something Ed has posted recently regarding the Eucharist. I was also pleased to discover the following a number of years later in a Roman Catholic manual, Moral Theology (Jone & Adelman, 1947, 3rd Edition, p. 341): “Baptism of desire consists in an act of perfect contrition or perfect love, which acts somehow include a desire for baptism – Neither the Baptism of desire nor of blood imprint an indelible character.” Perfect contrition does not mean flawless repentance but sorrow for having offended against God and his grace based on love of Him rather than fear or some other motive. The “somehow” probably refers to the possibility that a desire for baptism can be implicit in a person who desires to fulfill whatever God commands, even if they are not fully informed of it. The point is that there is traditional recognition of the priority of living faith as the instrumental “cause” of salvation, with even physical baptism not having the same level of absolute necessity for those at or beyond the age of reason. Of course, it has “necessity of precept”, since saving faith is incompatible with then refusing to be baptised in obedience to Christ. But it also has another kind of necessity as noted above in that it may be said to seal, solidify or secure as a “possession” that regeneration already received inwardly. And, if we really are dealing with a trans-temporal reality, it seems not unreasonable that the baptismal event act as a “cause” for the prior regeneration in two respects. One, in that its invocation of God's grace, since it is drawing on the eternal Redemption wrought in the past at the Cross (Romans 6:3), can have an effect that temporally precedes it but comes after the Archetypal Baptism of Calvary. Two, and in a less mysterious fashion, in that the faith that saves prior to baptism is in some sense focussed upon it and the Covenant promise it makes concrete.

How can this concept of baptismal “sealing” (Romans 4:11 cf. Colossians 2:11-12), though present by implication in the Pauline comparison of circumcision (called a seal of faith) with baptism, be understood in other Scriptural terms? And what of the Fathers?

Scripture includes phraseology such as the following:

In the Parable of the Sower, the seed is the word of God (Mark 4:14).

“[B]orn of water and the Spirit” (John 3:5).

John 12:24 has Jesus comparing the seed planted (and thus “dying” as seed to “rise” as a new, fruitful plant) to humanity's need to die to self and live to God by following Christ.

“[W]ashing of the water of the word” (Ephesians 5:26)

“[W]ashing of regeneration” (Titus 3:5).

“[B]orn again of imperishable seed” (1 Peter 1:23).

“[B]orn of God, ... God's seed remains in him” (1 John 3:9).

(NB: Not all the words translated as “seed” above have the same Greek original, however, they can all possess the connotation of seed in the agricultural sense, and some are probably related etymologically as well (e.g., sporas, sperma). Interestingly, there is no word for “seed” in the Parable of the Sower, the verb “sowed” (Gk: speirein) implying its object throughout the passage.)

So, although baptism is never directly compared to the seed in Scripture, they are intimately connected via their common association with the word of God and the death and resurrection of Christ and their common signification of regeneration. Indeed, regeneration is being born again spiritually through divine “application” and human “reception” of the powerful word of God (as the instrument of grace) and through Christ's death and resurrection (as the fount of grace). In other words, it is the planting and germination of “the seed”, the inward grace of “burial” and “rising again” from the waters of baptism.

Do the Fathers and the Church compare baptism to planting seed and see it as dependent on the word of God? Do they acknowledge the necessity of faith in the Gospel to fruitful reception among those capable of such faith, and that it is the action of the Holy Spirit that matters? Yes. Four excerpts will suffice, I think.

The Apostolic Constitutions have, in section III on preparing Catechumens for Baptism, the following: “He must beforehand purify his heart from all wickedness of disposition, from all spot and wrinkle, and then partake of the holy things; for as the skilfullest husbandman does first purge his ground of the thorns which are grown up therein, and does then sow his wheat, so ought you also to take away all impiety from them, and then to sow the seeds of piety in them, and vouchsafe them baptism.”

St Ambrose in his On the Mysteries says (3:14-15) “For water without the preaching of the Cross of the Lord is of no avail for future salvation, ... You must not trust, then, wholly to your bodily eyes; that which is not seen is more really seen, for the object of sight is temporal, but that other eternal, which is not apprehended by the eye, but is discerned by the mind and spirit.” (4:19,23) “By this you may recognize that water does not cleanse without the Spirit. ... The baptism of unbelievers heals not but pollutes”.

St Augustine, in a sermon to the newly baptised says: “I speak to you who have just been reborn in baptism, my little children in Christ, you who are the new offspring of the Church, gift of the Father, proof of Mother Church’s fruitfulness. All of you who stand fast in the Lord are a holy seed”.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church has the following in section 1228: 'Hence Baptism is a bath of water in which the "imperishable seed" of the Word of God produces its life-giving effect. St. Augustine says of Baptism: "The word is brought to the material element, and it becomes a sacrament."'

So, Holy Tradition encourages us to make the link as well. Now, if baptism is thus justifiably linked with the image or symbol of the seed, it would seem appropriate to explore ways this image can have its rich potentialities used to better understand the various ways baptism operates, depending on circumstances.

In the case of Infant Baptism, we can say the seed of new life is always genuinely planted, and regeneration in this sense genuinely occurs. However, in those unfortunately all too frequent circumstances where the family does not continue to bring the child up in the faith, and the child does not naturally come to an incipient faith as he or she comes to the age of reason, we might say that the new life given does not become an experiential reality, almost as if the seed did not germinate, or if we consider it to be initially “watered” and invariably germinating, did not “break the surface of the ground”, but remained a seed effectively buried, dormant. On the other hand, if the vows are kept by parents and godparents, the seed which was genuinely and objectively given at baptism, becomes a subjective, experienced participation in the life of God.

In the case of Adult Baptism, if the word has already been received and the new life has begun, the baptism waters this seed, and may have already functioned, as I discussed above, the mysterious causal role in the initial salvation preceding the outward sign. But it might also be thought to first press it more firmly into the soil, so to speak, or to allow it to better “take root”. The latter is my attempt at an anaolgy for the “sealing” role abovementioned. For those who come to baptism in sincerity, desire and belief, but without yet possessing the assurance of living faith, the seed is properly implanted, watered and germinated. In this case the very objectivity and physicality of the rite helps the soul to take hold of the Covenant promise. For insincere receivers of baptism, the seed is still “there”, still delivered or at least promised to faith in potentia, but is neither properly implanted nor in any way germinated. Its rests “at the surface”, a visible word of challenge and rebuke in its “standing apart”, so to speak. The person is "marked", and does not need re-baptism if faith comes later, but they have not received the grace of the sacrament.

I admit that it is possible I have taken these analogies too far, and not made due allowance for the fact that all metaphors have a limited range of similtude to those realities they represent. Nevertheless, I am persuaded that a bold exploration of biblical imagery such as this can help us sythesise Evangelical and Catholic concerns better than sole reliance on customary abstractions and scholasticisms. And so I leave it to our readers. Does the above theological speculation help integrate the priority and intrinsic saving instrumentality of Gospel-faith with the doctrine that baptism effects regeneration?

An Analysis from Outside

The following analysis, by a priest not from an Anglican jurisdiction, expresses pretty much what I’d have liked to say, but better expressed than I would have produced. I ran it by Fr. Hart and he also thought it worthy of posting.
----------ed pacht

Dear Reader

It has become to concern me somewhat of late, the over spin and positive gloss that some Reverend Colleagues are placing on the Apostolic Constitution, Anglicanorum Coetibus. The most recent example being a Pastoral Letter issued by +Louis Falk, head of the TAC in America, issued this past weekend (22/11/09).

Taking my life into my own hands possibly re ruffling a few feathers, but my thoughts below on +Louis Falk’s recent Pastoral Letter concerning the AC...

22 November 2009 – Sunday Next Before Advent
To all the Faithful of the Anglican Church in America
The great Orthodox theologian John Meyendorff has been quoted as remarking that genuine Christian unity would require humility on the part of many, and charity on the part of all. I suggest that to those two paramount Christian virtues we must add the more workaday quality of patience. It took 450 years to raise all the questions posed by the possibility of real and corporate unity between Roman Catholics and Anglicans. We will not have all the answers in 450 minutes.

Indeed, John Meyendorff is worth reading, but the Apostolic Constitution does not offer corporate reunion - it offers "corporate" (at best) conversion - this is not Communion it is absorption. It is not the reunification of the See of Canterbury with the Holy See, but the absorption of some Anglicans as Roman Catholics.

Yet with the publication of Pope Benedict XVI's Apostolic Constitution, Anglicanorum coetibus we do now have the possibility of addressing those issues directly and in cooperation with each other. As most everyone knows by now, the Bishops of the Traditional Anglican Communion, meeting in October of 2007 in Portsmouth, England, addressed a petition to the Holy See seeking to explore what would need to be done to achieve full, visible unity while maintaining the best characteristics of our beloved Anglican heritage. The Apostolic Constitution is meant to provide an approach to just that question. It is an extremely generous and pastoral document. Indeed, it explicitly address the desirability of preserving our Anglican spiritual and liturgical patrimony intact and undamaged after the ravages of such as Jenkings, Spong, Robinson and Schori.

The Apostolic Constitution provides "full, visible unity" in as much as a convert will become a Roman Catholic. That is Rome's understanding of "full, visible unity". Rome's answer is, "convert and you will achieve full, visible unity" with us. The "Anglican Patrimony" can only be cultural if people as converts take on Rome's doctrine, her thinking, her praxis... what is left to bring accept cultural appreciation if by converting you necessarily leave all else behind? The AC is an "accommodation" it is not the recognition of an inherent Catholicism in Anglicanism.

An initial set of Complementary Norms has been issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which will be discussed in detail by representatives of that body and of the TAC College of Bishops within the near future. We are now asking members of the ACA (and other TAC provinces) to study the Norms and then pose such questions as may occur.

Complementary Norms can be discussed, this is stated in the Apostolic Constitution [Anglicanorum Coetibus Article II] suggesting that Ordinariates can have their own Norms in sympathy obviously with those already given together with the AC and normative Roman Canonical and doctrinal praxis. This is not to replace the Complementary Norms promulgated by the Holy Father and issued with the Apostolic Constitution. These other Norms will be supplementary to cover practical details, not policy.

Some already have, such as: Question: Will we be able to continue to have married priests indefinitely? Answer: Yes.

More accurate answer: not exactly. For as long as the applications of married candidates are reviewed by the Holy See and are successful, on a "case by case basis" - then "yes". However, as the AC makes it clear that Clerical Celibacy is to be regarded as the "norm" [Anglicanorum Coetibus Article VI:2], in reality, after the first generation, married applicants will be expected to become less, not more. But certainly the option for married candidates to apply will be "indefinite" in that, it is a provision of the promulgated Apostolic Constitution.

Question: Will those of us who were formerly Roman Catholics be excluded from the Anglican Ordinariates? Answer No.

More accurate answer: not exactly. Former Roman Catholic Clerics, who became Anglicans and now might seek to repent and return to the fold, could become lay members of the Ordinariate. The AC is clear that they will not be able to function as Sacred Ministers. Former lay Roman Catholics similarly returning to the fold will be eligible to fulfill their Catholic obligations as normal, which will include attendance at Mass in an Ordinariate. However, it should be remembered that Article 5 of the Complementary Norms states that "Those baptized previously as Catholics outside the Ordinariate are not ordinarily eligible for membership, unless they are members of a family belonging to the Ordinariate."

Question: Will we lose control over our Church finances and property? Answer: No.) There will be more. These can be sent to your own Bishop, and he will see that they get to the appropriate TAC representatives. Your concerns, as well as your thoughts and prayers, are an essential element and a vital part of this process.

More accurate answer: we don't know. It stands to reason that if whole parishes sought to convert it would make sense for them to offer their property also to Rome. Roman Canon Law though is not straightforward about the ownership of property. Generally temporal assets are "given" to the Church whose own laws provide for their governance and administration. The principle is that the Faithful are expected to provide to the Church that which is necessary for the Church to serve them but it is the Church who possesses them and decides how they are used. It may be that as a "juridic person" current property might be given to the Ordinariates for particular "in house" governance, unless the Ordinariates provide for the retention of ownership of property by the Parishes as juridic entities (those supplemental, discussable "Norms"). It could be complicated and could be done, depends on how long people want to take to work it all out and how much of a concession Rome would give Canonically to such proposals. [Mug up on Book V. CCL]

Bishop Langberg has remarked that library shelves around the world are packed with books and papers on the topic of 'ecumenism'. Up to now it's all been theory; but with respect to the world's largest Communion of Christians, there has been no 'test case' or anything like it, trying to work out 'how it will work' on the ground. That opportunity has now been presented to us. In view of our Lord's prayer (John 17) that all his followers might be one, the fact places upon us, and upon our Roman Catholic counterparts, a very great responsibility along with the opportunity. The real-world answer to that practical question will be worked out in real life and in real time as we move forward.

Erm... but this isn't about "ecumenicsm" or "unity" it's about "conversion" so the books can stay on the shelf for further study, obviously. There is nothing to discuss or work out with your Roman "counterparts" (shouldn't that be brethren?) as you will share one doctrine and praxis i.e. Roman Catholic doctrine and Roman Catholic Canon Law and Roman Catholic praxis. There is nothing to discuss as Anglican Patrimony is seen as cultural, not theological.

This will require genuine good faith on all sides. That we come in good faith can be seen from the 'Portsmouth Letter'. That our Roman Catholic counterparts come likewise can be seen from Pope Benedict’s unprecedented offer of a parallel structure for Anglican Catholics, a 'House of our own' (as it were) within the 'compound of Catholicity'. Ecclesiastical life within the colony will evolve over time as adjustments are made. We trusted each other enough to begin our ecclesiastical journey together in the ACA with an original canonical structure based on what we had known in the past. We have adjusted that structure more than once as circumstances has show the wisdom of doing so. Christians of good will can and must continue that process together in unity as Jesus commanded us to do. He promised us the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and his promise remains true.

Yours in Christ Jesus,
+Louis W. Falk
President: House of Bishops.

Oh dear... +Louis doesn't write in terms of "conversion" but "unity" and unfortunately that is just not what is being offered by the AC.

Ex fide bona... mmm... we haven't seen the whole letter sent by the TAC Bishops to Rome, excerpts but not all of it (despite promises), and judging by the confusion on the ground, particularly amongst the laity, it would seem the Bishops have not exactly acted in "good faith" with their own people about their approach to Rome.

Something about this letter seems to convey a sense that things are up for discussion and mutual agreement - rather more than is actually the case. The Apostolic Constitution and its Complementary Norms, is what it is - it is not a proposal - it is "take it or leave it". Some finer points re the practicalities are open to discussion naturally, the supplemental Norms peculiar to each Ordinariate etc and perhaps how exactly the whole process of corporate conversion will begin.

Personally, if I were a member of the Roman Curia I would be a little put off by this last paragraph - a "parallel structure" if meaning a separate entity - is not what the AC offers.

The AC offers the structure of a "Personal Diocese" subject to the Holy Father (naturally) and the local Episcopal Conference. The Ordinary is a juridical entity but not with the same authority, quite, as a Roman Diocesan Bishop. His powers are limited to the Ordinariate and his influence will be also. While he may sit in the Episcopal Conference he will do so rather like a Provincial Religious Superior does, his contribution to the policy decision-making of the Bishops will be limited and generally confined to matters affecting his own particular remit, yet he will have to follow the policies of the Episcopal Conference and cannot function anywhere without their specific cooperation (he can't just erect Parishes where he likes but must consult etc).

+Louis seems to think the AC offers a "church within a church" - one presumes he knows it's not a Unitariate, but his language and thinking seem to betray a sense of that. That's not a true understanding however of the AC and I fear it will become a shock to many when they discover that the reality of the situation will not be quite as rosy as it was presented to them.

I repeat again - I'm not against the AC per se - if one wants to become a Roman Catholic and retain something of what one appreciates culturally about being Anglican - go! But what does bother me is the over positive spin being put all over it. It is a generous structure from a Roman/Anglican perspective in comparison to... well nothing else has been offered (in such detail) before. But it is not a reunion corporate or otherwise, it is an opportunity to become Roman Catholic - not remain Anglican Catholic and in communion with Rome - it is about becoming Roman Catholic and having some of your cake but not all of it. That I suppose is the measure of humility +Louis refers to. I think actually it's a self-deception, delusion even and one that might entice others to do something they actually don't want to do i.e. deny their Orders and their Sacraments. All that of course, (deliberately?) not referred to by this pastoral letter at all.

(P.S. I have actually met +Louis and thought him a marvelous "Catholic" Bishop - he has a "presence" and a humility about him which I was quite in awe of. I respect the man, but can't help but feel he hasn't really grasped what this is really all about... That's my personal opinion, not a judgment!)

-----Fr. Jerome OSJV

Monday, November 23, 2009

Regarding Archbishop Louis Falk's statement

Archbishop Louis Falk of the Anglican Church in America has issued a statement on the website of that jurisdiction concerning a set of "complementary norms" allegedly in addition to the Norms already stated in the new Apostolic Constitution, Anglicanorum Coetibus . In it he has said the following:

"An initial set of Complementary Norms has been issued by the Confraternity [sic] for the Doctrine of the Faith, which we be [sic] discussed in detail by representatives of that body and of the TAC College of Bishops within the near future. We are now asking members of the ACA (and other TAC provinces) to study the Norms and then pose such question [sic] as may occur. (Some already have, such as: Question: Will we be able to continue to have married priests indefinitely? Answer: Yes. Question: Will those of us who were formerly Roman Catholics be excluded from the Anglican Ordinariates? Answer No. Question: Will we loose control over our Church finances and property? Answer: No) There will be more. These can be sent to your own Bishop, and he will see that they get to the appropriate TAC representatives. Your concerns, as well as your thoughts and prayers, are an essential element and a vital part of this process."

Up until this whole business started I have tried to be "ecumenical" and to hope for some sign of good faith from the ACA/TAC. Sadly, I must state very bluntly that it is very obvious that what Archbishop Falk has promised his people in this statement cannot be reconciled to the new constitution. We have read the constitution put forth by Rome. I stand by all the essays written heretofore both by Rev. Canon Charles Nalls, and by myself. I do not know why these promises are written on the ACA website, but I know that Rome cannot grant these "complementary norms" and also implement the new constitution; neither could Rome grant these "complementary norms" without first undertaking a major overhaul of its Canon Laws and establishing in their place new polity.

I may be placing a target on my back, but I must protest: The statement of Archbishop Falk cannot be true. Why are they doing this? What is the purpose? That I cannot answer: But I can read the Apostolic Constitution for myself, with the added advantage of understanding Roman Catholicism and specifically the Pastoral Provisions to the boundary line, the limits to which it has been extended. The reality does not match the rhetoric.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

I read the news today...

I saw that the spokesman for the Manhattan Declaration on Friday was my fellow Touchstone editor, Robert George. The Manhattan Declaration website opens with these words:

Christians, when they have lived up to the highest ideals of their faith, have defended the weak and vulnerable and worked tirelessly to protect and strengthen vital institutions of civil society, beginning with the family.

We are Orthodox, Catholic, and evangelical Christians who have united at this hour to reaffirm fundamental truths about justice and the common good, and to call upon our fellow citizens, believers and non-believers alike, to join us in defending them. These truths are:

  1. the sanctity of human life
  2. the dignity of marriage as the conjugal union of husband and wife
  3. the rights of conscience and religious liberty.
Inasmuch as these truths are foundational to human dignity and the well-being of society, they are inviolable and non-negotiable. Because they are increasingly under assault from powerful forces in our culture, we are compelled today to speak out forcefully in their defense, and to commit ourselves to honoring them fully no matter what pressures are brought upon us and our institutions to abandon or compromise them. We make this commitment not as partisans of any political group but as followers of Jesus Christ, the crucified and risen Lord, who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

You may click on to the website, and you might consider adding your signature as I have done.

MOSCOW — A Russian Orthodox priest who was an outspoken critic of both Islam and ultra-nationalist groups was shot dead in his Moscow church by a masked assassin, investigators said Friday (Read it by clicking here and more here).

An alternative sermon

For those who are celebrating the feast of Christ the King

Colossians 1.12-20

St. John 18:33 – 37

In my own experience the very real clash of two kingdoms has been visibly portrayed in a scene very much like something right out of the Gospels, and even more directly from the Book of the Acts of the Apostles. Several years ago I was teaching a lesson from the scriptures as part of a regular Friday evening service of prayer in a chapel, part of church just outside of Baltimore. When I had said my bit, and we were closing in prayer, a woman in her thirties who had been coming to church regularly with her parents, began to be tossed around by an invisible power that controlled her. She was levitated a bit off the floor, and looked very much like a marionette on strings being jerked about by a mad puppeteer, twisting and bending in movements that no trained dancer could imitate. She landed on the floor, telling everyone that the Messiah was present, speaking in the Hebrew language that no one there but I could understand. She landed on the floor crying out, finally, "Meshiach! Meshiach!” over and over.

The demon, or unclean spirit, was right about that, because the Messiah was present with us as we were praying before His throne, just as He promised in scripture. I was reminded that the demons, who, as Saint James informs us “believe and tremble,” would often cry out accurate things, such as that Jesus Christ was the Son of God, or, as in the sixteenth chapter of Acts, that the Apostles had come to show the way of salvation. While she was lying on the floor in a state of bondage to an evil bullying spirit, I knew that this thing inside her was panicking, and that the presence of Christ with us that night was the cause of it. I learned later that this woman had for a while departed from the faith and involved herself in occult practices, and that she was now, in this service, praying for the first time in years. This explained why she always looked gloomy and depressed since we had first met her.

I did not know any of this at the time, but I knew what I was dealing with. So did everyone else, because all of those people who had been praying and holding their standard service that was held every Friday night at that church, were huddled next to each other at a safe distance across the chapel. Diane was standing right behind me, as I recall, pregnant with David (now a grown man). I spoke directly, just as Saint Paul did in the sixteenth chapter of Acts: “I command you, in the Name of Jesus Christ, to come out of her.” I said this a second time, and added the word “now.” The woman looked up at me, suddenly as if awaking, and began to weep. All she knew was that one moment she was praying for the first time in years, and the next moment was lying on the floor looking up at me, with no idea what had happened in between. After several months her parents moved to Florida, and she went with them. From the time of this impromptu exorcism until she moved away, never again was she a depressed or gloomy sight, but rather always vibrant and appearing to be quite joyful, like someone back from the dead.

In today’s Epistle Saint Paul tells us that God “hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of His dear Son: in Whom we have redemption through His blood, even the forgiveness of sins.” The real fight is between the kingdom of God and the usurpation of the Devil; and in this fight there can be no contest in the ultimate sense, because God’s power is unlimited, and even the powers of darkness are merely creatures who cannot withstand Him. But, for us, the battle goes on because we have to deal with those three enemies, the world, the flesh and the Devil. Furthermore, only those who have been translated into the kingdom of Jesus Christ and who appreciate something of what that means, are in the fight at all. “The world,” says Saint John, “lies in the lap of the evil one.” When the term “the world” is used in this very unpleasant way, it is a specific use of that word that is different from what that word normally means, different from such statements as “for God so loved the world…” In that sense it speaks of God’s creation, and especially of the human race made in His image. But, in the sense that our Lord uses it in today’s Gospel: “My Kingdom is not of this world,” it means something else. For that definition we go to the first chapter of the Gospel of John, and see that it says, “He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not.” The world, in that sense, speaks of the fallen condition of man under the dominion of the evil one, also called “the prince of this world.”

So, Saint John tells us, “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever.” (I John 2: 15-17) In that one category, “the world,” we come face to face with the flesh and the Devil. The flesh because we are fallen from grace, as sinners, and the Devil because he dominates the world of sinful humanity. I know this as a theologian, and I believe that no historian could dare to contradict the fact that the world is subject to evil.

The world is not what it should be, because man is not what he should be, but is, rather, fallen and in need of redemption. It has been stated by many religious folk that life is a test. What a horrible lie that is. If it were a test we would all fail. Life, due to the Fall, is not a test but a shipwreck. And, the One Man who saves us from the shipwreck of sin and death is none other than God in the flesh, Jesus Christ the Son of the Everlasting Father. He does not receive His authority from the realm we call the world. “My kingdom is not of this world,” He told Pilate. Earlier, the Lord had said to the people: “Ye are from beneath; I am from above: ye are of this world; I am not of this world. I said therefore unto you, that ye shall die in your sins: for if ye believe not that I am he, ye shall die in your sins.”

(John 8: 23, 24) Little phrases in scripture mean so much, and very easily we overlook their significance. Jesus spoke of Himself as the One who has come into the world.. He alone can say that. We did not come into the world. We were conceived here, and this is our native home. But, the Son of the Everlasting Father is “God of God, Light of Light, very God of Very God, begotten not made.” This world was not the origin of the Word who was made flesh and dwelt among us. Into His eternity He took time, into His divinity He took humanity, into His uncreated Person he took a created nature, a nature alien to His true identity as Wholly Other from every created thing. And the King allowed His rightful subjects to beat Him, humiliate Him, and crucify Him so that the Lion of the tribe of Judah Himself could be for us the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world; so that we could be translated out of the power of darkness into the kingdom of God’s dear Son, in whom we redemption through His blood, even the forgiveness of our sins.

What does the king give to us so that we can go forth in His name and conquer the power of evil, and deliver captives from the power of sin and death? Not the sword. “My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence.” If not military might, then what? As said the prophet Zechariah: “Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit, saith the LORD of hosts.” (Zech. 4:6) On the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit empowered the Church for its ministry in hostile territory, to take ground in the world, to bring the Gospel to every nation under heaven. And, the power of the Holy Spirit is present when we care about the truth. The power of evil is in the lie; it is in deception. The powers of darkness do not care what you believe just so long as you do not believe in the truth of Jesus Christ and His Gospel. The authority of Jesus Christ as the King is found, here and now until he comes again in glory, by proclamation of the truth. “Jesus answered, Thou sayest that I am a king. To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth. Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice.”

No matter what your political persuasion, no matter what turns history may take, the whole structure of the fallen world is the power of deception, of the lie. “Yea, hath God said?” “Ye shall not die.” The lesson early on in Genesis is that deception, the lie, was used to bring man into bondage to sin and death. In Genesis chapter three we read: “And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat.” “Good for food…pleasant to the eyes…desired to make one wise.” From this, no doubt, Saint John taught us that which we have heard already, “all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life.” These three elements of the world that knows not Christ, were the method of the lie, the essentials of deception. And, so it remains to this day. The lie is always drawn from these three things, the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life. These have brought about every destructive habit of sin by which people ruin their lives, these have brought about all the wars and bloodshed throughout time, and these will taper off into a quiet complacence to lure you into apathy about your own soul and those of the people around you.

Against these essential elements of the lie is the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Word made flesh. Against the lie is the truth that the Son of God has been manifested to destroy the works of the Devil. Against the deception is the truth that Jesus Christ has taken our sins on Himself and nailed them to His cross, that by death he would destroy him who has the power of death, and by His resurrection deliver to us His gift of immortality, making us able by grace to live and reign with Him forever. His kingdom is not of this world, and in Him we are not of this world either, though for the time being we are in the world to occupy until He comes.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Fr. Wells' bulletin inserts


(Feast of Christ the King)

Not all new ideas are bad, and we have an excellent new idea in the feast we celebrate today. The Feast of Christ the King is less than a century old. Originally appointed for the last Sunday in October (the Sunday before All Saints' Day), it has come to be celebrated on the final Sunday of the liturgical year, which our Prayer Book entitles the “Sunday Next Before Advent.” The Prayer Book readings almost invite such an observance, as the Lesson from Jeremiah predicts a wonderful king yet to come, and the Gospel from John 6 stops just short of the text (John 6:15), “When Jesus therefore perceived that they would come and take him by force, to make him king, he departed again..”

In a time when few earthly kings are left and those few are only figureheads, the message of Jesus' royal office is relevant and powerful. We are more familiar with the picture of the weak and timid Jesus, knocking piteously at a bolted door, than we are acquainted with the icon of Jesus in royal robes. But King Jesus is no figurehead, as much as our democratic notions of morality and society might try to demote Him.

How is Jesus a king? A classic definition of His royal office states, “Christ executeth the office of a king in subduing us to himself, in ruling and defending us, and in restraining and conquering all his and our enemies.”

Christ became king over all things when He ascended into heaven, to be seated “at the right hand of the majesty on high.” His kingship is both future (when He shall finally subdue all things to Himself) and present (as He is already reigning in our hearts and lives).

Do not forget that He is already king, reigning now. In the spread of the Gospel throughout the world and in the resulting transformation of society, we are bound to see the present reign of Christ. When we take a short view of things, then “change and decay in all around I see,” and we can only lament a world falling apart. But when we compare our world to that in which Jesus was born two millennia ago, then we are bound to acknowledge the power and reality of His victory. When we take a longer view, we must acknowledge real progress in the social order. That progress, every bit of it, has its origin in the gentle reign of Christ. So we cease to lament and begin to rejoice.

In that classic definition, three components of Christ's kingship are listed. Surely the most important of the three is the first, “subduing us to Himself.” Hardly ever do sinners embrace the kingship of Jesus gladly. We must be subdued, conquered, pacified, brought under His control. We ourselves must be restrained and conquered, by the power of His love. Come, Jesus, and reign in us! Thy kingdom come, on earth as it is in heaven! LKW

Sunday before Advent

Jeremiah 23:5-8
John 6:11-14

It may seem bold to say this: Miracles look perfectly natural to the eye, even though the rational mind perceives the impossibility of what is happening. When I saw the miracles of a deformed shoulder straightened instantly, and of my mother's spine healed within seconds, these miracles looked like a work of nature. They did not appear as something spectacular, the way Charlton Heston and Cecil B. DeMille teamed up to make the parting of the Red Sea into a cinema-graphic production. It is more akin to seeing a tulip bulb open; that is, a sight wonderful, to behold, but not in appearance like magic tricks. Miracles are clearly not a mere work of nature, and by the "laws" that scientists know, they are manifestly impossible, even when they are manifest. This is because the same Artist and the same brush strokes are evident both in nature by creation, and in miracles by extraordinary intervention. It is the same God, and the same, if I may use the word, style.

Today's Gospel tells of a miracle by which Jesus fed thousands of people by multiplying a meal so small that it was next to nothing. This was no problem for God, who made the entire universe out of nothing (creatio ex nihilo). Jesus fed the thousands of hungry people using the same power he had as the Word, the Logos, through whom all things were made, and without whom was not anything made that was made. More significant than the miracle, from his perspective, was the lesson he would later teach from it. Before we look at that lesson, let us draw out one more fact. Here Jesus provided the material needs of the people, just as he promises that our needs will be met if we seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness. How easily we may forget that God is the Provider of all things, even if it is only by forgetting that everything exists due to the first miracle, creation itself, creation out of nothing, creation by his word. It is not simply nature at work that grows wheat; the wheat grows because of the miracle of creation; and people who fail to believe in miracles ultimately cannot explain how anything came to be. Even the "Big Bang" is not a theory of origin, but of process, how the universe was like an egg that hatched in an explosion. If so, where did the essential elements of that "egg" come from? The origin of the universe and of all creation was a miracle, for it came from nothing, and it was made by the word of God. God provides for us, and we should not think that it is a challenge for him to provide, even to make what we need if it is nowhere to be found.

But the lesson, the lesson we are given in the sixth chapter of John, where today's Gospel is found, is that this bread that Jesus multiplied represents himself, the true food we need.

"And Jesus said unto them, I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst."(v.35)

"Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you. Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him. As the living Father hath sent me, and I live by the Father: so he that eateth me, even he shall live by me. This is that bread which came down from heaven: not as your fathers did eat manna, and are dead: he that eateth of this bread shall live for ever." (vs.53-58)

To the ancient Church in St. John's day, reading these words for the first time, it was obvious that the Lord himself had interpreted their meaning on a later occasion: "The Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took bread: And when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me. After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me."(I Cor.11:23-25)

Nonetheless, we must not think that feeding on Christ is merely the mechanical act of eating this bread and drinking this cup, and nothing more. In the 17th chapter of John, the third verse, we read these words: "And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent." And, in the same words of warning, where St. Paul tells of the danger of partaking of the Communion in an unworthy manner, without (as our liturgy puts it) "hearty repentance and true faith," we see him affirming the reality of Christ in this sacrament. And, that is why even the words of warning are words of hope. The same passage that tells us of Christ's promise to those who eat of his flesh and drink of his blood, also reveals that Jesus taught that the benefits are only to those who believe in him (v.40)

We come here today to feed on the living Christ through the sacrament of his body and blood, and so receive his life to save us from sin and death. Modern people have cut out of our Prayer of Humble Access a little phrase that confuses them, "Grant us therefore, gracious Lord, so to eat the flesh of thy dear Son Jesus Christ, and to drink his blood, that our sinful bodies may be made clean by his Body, and our souls washed through his most precious Blood, and that we may evermore dwell in him, and he in us." They reason that the body cannot be sinful, since it is only a machine without volition. I understand that. But, the very fact that death is, as taught in the Law of Moses, an unclean thing, quite justifies the words of our Anglican prayer. Really, it expresses the glorious hope of St. John's words in the Epistle. As we learn from the sixth chapter of John's Gospel: "Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day (v.54)." Our sinful bodies, that is, our bodies that are subject to death, are purified and cleansed by eating this sacrament with faith and thanksgiving; our souls are washed as we receive this sacrament of his blood. I love the words from our Prayer of Humble Access, for they speak of the glorious hope that awaits us by the mercy and goodness of God in his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

The glorious hope we have in Christ is certified, verified and imparted when we partake with "hearty repentance and true faith." In the words of Article XXV: The Dominical sacraments are the means "by the which he doth work invisibly in us, and doth not only quicken, but also strengthen and confirm our Faith in him." Quicken means to make alive, and so we receive the Bread of Life, Jesus Christ, the One in whom is life. That is, life that gives life by the creative power of God, the power he has as the Word, the Logos. For this sacrament to be our life, instead of eating and drinking condemnation, we must live the life of knowing God and Jesus Christ whom he has sent. It is not simply the mechanical act of eating and drinking (indeed, if that is all it is for you, then do not receive it). Receiving the sacrament of Christ's body and blood is to feed on the living Christ, the risen Christ, and to receive the Christ who is present among us. It must be part of the whole life of faith, and of knowing God.