Saturday, June 12, 2010

Second Sunday after Trinity

This week I have delegated the sermon to Fr. Charles Lindsay, who I am very happy to have with us at St. Benedict's. For readers of The Continuum, I am presenting here a bit of my sermon posted last year, by way of explanation for what follows, namely the reposting of an essay from 2007.

From last year's Trinity II sermon:

Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer: and ye know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him. Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. 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. (I John 3:15-18)

This is practical, and speaks of love that acts spontaneously, because it is a reality always present. Though St. John's words make us think of practical, earthly necessities (and the Church has always emphasized ministry to the poor concerning their practical needs, including medical needs), we must remember that John expressed his love most clearly by preaching the Gospel, and writing to the end that we would believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.

The first generation of Christians faced rejection from many of their fellow Jews, and at the same time they came to see that the Gospel is for all nations, and so began including Gentiles in the Church as God had foretold and as Christ commanded. This began when St. Peter went to the house of Cornelius, and then, in time, it became the ministry of St. Paul more than any other, to take the Gospel to people who had formerly been thought of as unclean, so much so that no Jew could enter their houses. This tells us that taking the Gospel to those who are outside is a great act of love in itself.

This is from today's Gospel in the 14th chapter of Luke:

Go out quickly into the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in hither the poor, and the maimed, and the halt, and the blind. And the servant said, Lord, it is done as thou hast commanded, and yet there is room. And the lord said unto the servant, Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled. For I say unto you that none of those men which were bidden shall taste of my supper.

Evangelism is a duty, an act of charity that we owe our neighbor; it is a manifestation of love. If we are to evangelize seriously, love for neighbor must be our motivation rather than simply a need to grow our churches. Yes, the Master wants them to come into his house. But this is not to fill pews, collect more money, or keep up with the churches that have more members to boast of.

The Master wants his house to be filled, and the emphasis is on the feast. The emphasis on the feast speaks of the "Marriage Supper of the Lamb," a reference to eternal joy for those who are raised to immortality on the Last Day. Nonetheless, the use of a feast in the parable should also draw our attention to the Blessed Sacrament. One very real part of our duty to our neighbor, born of the love of God shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit, is to invite people to come in. That invitation is to "taste and see that the Lord is good." (Psalm 34:8) This presupposes that we help them to true faith in Jesus Christ so that they may be full members of his Church.

Contrary to the way some modern Evangelicals think, evangelism is not finished when someone "accepts Jesus." A person needs to be baptized, filled with the Holy Spirit (confirmed), and to taste of the Master's Supper, the Blessed Sacrament of his body and blood. Evangelism, properly understood, requires the ministry of God's word and sacraments.

Nonetheless, one ministry everybody has is contained in those words we heard: "Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled." The Holy Spirit who dwells within you gives gifts that enable and empower each of you, in ways so varied that no one could know them, to be a witness that Jesus Christ is Lord, and the Savior of the world. Love has to be your motivation for helping others come to know him.

"And the second is like unto it: Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself."

From Sept. 10, 2007

Do the work of an evangelist
Not of an underwriter.

"Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and the work of an evangelist, make full proof of thy ministry."
II Timothy 4:2,5

The insurance business has that dreaded class of gate keepers who study every new application sent by an agent, examining it thoroughly to find whatever reason they may to reject it. The agent has worked hard to sell a policy, only to have it fall into such hands, those who are trained to be suspicious, to protect the company's assets and reserves, and to this end to show no pity on a would-be customer. The truth is, the insurance companies do need these menacing figures in order to control losses. They are necessary in insurance, but not in the priesthood.

A while back I listened to a priest, a man with little experience but generous with unsolicited advice, describing how he had protected his church from the wrong kind of people. A couple, both Episcopalians, were moving to his area, and wanted to find what they called a "Bible-believing church." The alarm bells went off in his head, since he took the expression "Bible-believing" to indicate that they were Protestant in their thinking, Low Church in their tastes, and just not the right sort for his "Anglo-Catholic" parish. He was practically boasting about how he had scared them off by arguing over who was and who was not orthodox, and by his firm refutation of women's "ordination" (why did he bring up such a subject in that conversation anyway?). Yes, he manged to keep the wrong sort of people away, and they did not even come by on Sunday morning to visit and see the church for themselves. He had scared them off just fine over the phone.

The man should have been an underwriter.

The famed Barrister of fiction, Horace Rumpole, once said about a colleague, "It's no great trick getting people into prison. How good is he at keeping them out?" The opposite applies to the sacred ministry in the Church. It is no great trick keeping people out of the Church. Just decide, O' Priest, that you shall be a gatekeeper instead of a fisher of men. It's much easier, and you get to play the role of the Bad Vicar. None of that nasty business of being patient and kind, none of that drag on your time. And, you get to cater to the desires of the most fussy and effeminate contributors who think it is more important to observe all of the choreography of Ritual Notes than to tend to the salvation of souls. Golly! You can even console yourself as your congregation remains stagnant, or drops off to nothing, that you had done well by keeping it pure. You can concentrate on the gossip and who's who of the bitter Continuing divisions, and treat everything to do with learning as a matter purely theoretical.

But, guess what my friends; we don't need underwriters among the clergy. So, if you are the type who examines visitors to see whether or not their "application" is solid, please go do something else. The world always needs good waiters and janitors, and insurance companies could use very fussy people as, you guessed it, underwriters. Get an honest job.

This is a time of opportunity for us. At this point in history, the Anglican world is exploding. When it falls back down it will be resorted and reconfigured. Many of the people in official Cantuarian Anglican churches are fleeing for their lives; and they are looking to African Primates, or going to Rome or Orthodoxy, because for too long the Continuing Churches have been choking the supply of the Gospel, and of the power to save souls through the pure preaching of God's word; they have been squeezing the hose shut instead of allowing the water to flow through it. The Spirit has been quenched for too long among a people who, having the truest and best of orthodox doctrine, nonetheless have made evangelism the lowest priority, if a priority at all.

When I say, "evangelism" I do not mean, first and foremost, church growth. Church growth is a consequence of evangelism; but the purpose of evangelism is the salvation of souls. When all is said and done, we will not answer on the Last Day for how well we performed the Ritual Notes (not even for the Shrove Tuesday Pancake Procession); but we will answer for whether or not we had been moved by charity to become vessels meet for the Master's purpose, pliable to the Holy Spirit for the work of evangelists. How much have we cared about the eternal destiny of lost souls in a fallen world? How much have we sought to welcome them, in fact to "compel them to come in?"

Now, if this couple had asked me if my church were A "Bible-believing church," I would have said, as every true Catholic, including Catholic Anglicans, should say: "Yes, we most certainly are." I would have urged them to come, to taste and see that the Lord is good. We can deal with ignorance. In fact, dear priests, expect ignorance since you are supposed to be the teachers, and you cannot teach people what they already know. Welcome people and learn to speak in and interpret tongues enough to communicate in terms they receive. If such faithful Christians think in terms too foreign for your understanding, how do you hope to win the nations for Christ?

"O Zion, haste, thy mission high fulfilling,
to tell to all the world that God is Light;
that he who made all nations is not willing
one soul should perish, lost in shades of night.
Publish glad tidings: tidings of peace
tidings of Jesus, redemption and release.

"Proclaim to every people, tongue, and nation
that God, in whom they live and move, is Love;
tell how he stooped to save his lost creation,
and died on earth that man might live above. Refrain

"Give of thy sons to bear the message glorious;
give of thy wealth to speed them on their way;
pour out thy soul for them in prayer victorious
till God shall bring his kingdom's joyful day. Refrain

"He comes again! O Zion, ere thou meet him,
make known to every heart his saving grace;
let none whom he hath ransomed fail to greet him,
through thy neglect, unfit to see his face. Refrain"

"Do the work of an evangelist, make full proof of thy ministry."

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