Saturday, October 29, 2011

This Sunday

Nineteenth Sunday after Trinity
Ephesians 4:17-32

 *Matthew 9:1-8

But that ye may know that the Son of man hath power on earth to forgive sins, (then saith he to the sick of the palsy,) Arise, take up thy bed, and go unto thine house.
It may appear strange that Jesus addressed the need of a sick man, in fact acompletely paralyzed man, by speaking an ever so bold absolution: “Thy sins be forgiven thee.” The Pharisees thought he was blaspheming, because their religious system allowed no man to speak so boldly. They figured that we may hope for forgiveness of sins, but they were offended by the bold declaration that any particular individual’s sins actually have been forgiven. That much faith was more than they could swallow. Today people may find the words of Jesus to be an affront to their sensitivities, wondering how He could address a suffering person about sin. They might assume it is fine to feel empathy, to address the obvious visible needs of a man paralyzed, and no doubt would approve of words that were intended to establish the full equality of the man, perhaps with a phrase like, mobiley challenged.

But, Jesus addressed the man’s spiritual and moral need first and foremost, because that is most important. The highest priority of all is to have a fully restored and meaningful communion with God, to be reconciled to God and to be free from any hindrance in that fellowship that is the highest priority, that knowledge of God before which even the fear of death yields and retreats. Compared to that greatest need of all, mere paralysis is trivial. So is blindness, deafness, and even premature death, all of them among the many conditions that Jesus healed as “with power” He “went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed of the devil.” (Acts 10:38)

Right now, just like the offended Pharisees, many people would like very much to have a religion in which the subject of forgiveness never comes up, because the seriousness of sin is treated as either non-existent, or as trivial. They want a more “spiritual” religion, and they even use the word “spiritual” or “spirituality” because it is non-threatening. It has, in modern times, no moral significance whatsoever.

If that is the kind of religion you want, the kind that allows you to flatter yourself and convince yourself that you are righteous, wise and “spiritual”-whatever you imagine that the word is supposed to mean- then you are in the wrong church. The Book of Common Prayer has a General Confession of Sin in every major service, followed by Absolution that a priest declares (if one is present), and that is because we must approach God based on the truth, not based on our own feeling or our self-appraisal. Furthermore, if you want a religion that flatters you and makes you feel affirmed and tells you how wonderful you are, you should avoid the Book of Common Prayer, yes, but even more so never, ever, under any circumstances, read your Bible.

The wisdom of the Book of Common Prayer, all of which comes from the Bible (as anyone can see, anyone who actually knows the Bible), is that it approaches God always based on His revelation of himself, and of His Gospel, that He has given for all people for all times. If you must ask the origin of any portion of the Book of Common Prayer, or wonder where it came from, then it is clear that any knowledge you have of the Bible is poor, or shallow, or superficial. Otherwise, you would see the words in the Prayer Book, and know where they came from; they have all come right out of the Bible, ultimately, as the actual source (and that includes the content of the Creeds). And, among them you would recall the words of Jesus, quoted in Morning Prayer as we begin:

“The hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him.” St. John iv. 23.

You cannot worship God in spirit by flattering yourself that you are “spiritual,” because the spirit that pleases God is one of humility. And, you cannot worship God in truth without acknowledging the truth He has revealed as he has revealed it. Once upon a time I was concerned about the spiritual malady called “self-righteousness” as merely a problem of hypocrisy. I have become aware of a deeper kind of self-righteousness, and that is the kind that is delusional. Some individuals, despite the clear words of Scripture in which God speaks to us even now, really believe in their own righteousness. That delusion is a sickness worse than paralysis, and one that will create a wall of division separating a person from communion with God, and from communion or fellowship within His Church among His people.

We see this delusion expressed as a doctrine among some Pentecostals and other Fundamentalists who openly say. “I was a sinner, but now I am a saint.” But, Saint Paul said, “This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief.” (I Tim. 1:15) He was a saint, but he did not say, “Of whom I was chief,” past tense: He said, “Of whom I am chief,” Present tense. The Doctrinal formula for this is Simul Iustus Et Peccator. That is, "simultaneously just (righteous) and a sinner." At best, that is the condition we are in as we walk through this life.

Taking St. Paul’s words from I Corinthians 15:20-22, we see this in terms of our ultimate hope, the sure and certain hope of the resurrection on the Last Day:

“But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the first fruits of them that slept. For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.”

Ultimately, if we are in Christ and live in Him, we will live by Him, drawing our whole life from His immortal resurrected life, risen from the dead, and glorified with Him as “partakers of the Divine nature.” (II Peter 1:4) But, we are not there yet. Right now we are in two fathers. In Adam we die, and in Christ we live. That is, we live in the reality of Simul Iustus Et Peccator. There is, in this life in this world, no escaping the mortal condition we have in Adam, nor is there any escaping the need to pray as our Prayer Book guides us, confessing our sins as we approach the Holy God on His throne. But, because the other fact is also completely true for all who believe, we really do approach His throne with joy because we are “in Christ.” We may enter into His presence, and come before His throne, in the words of Scripture, “having boldness to enter in.” The Epistle to the Hebrews is where you will find these words:

“Now where remission of [sins] 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).” Heb. 10:18-22

This is what Martin Luther meant when he said to sin boldly. He did not mean to be bold in how you sin, nor did he mean that you should presume to live in willful unrepentant sin (for, that is the way to eternal death); rather he meant that you should be bold about entering God’s presence with faith, because in Christ you are truly justified. You may enter just as the writer to the Hebrews says, with boldness, and that is not boldness for just any old reason. You do not enter with boldness into God’s presence because you see yourself as righteous, wise and spiritual. You enter in “with full assurance of faith,” only because you have been granted entrance into the most Holy Place before the throne of God “by the blood of Jesus.” That alone is how you have been granted entrance, and that alone is why you are accepted.

Our Confession of Sin is not morbid. It is not gloomy. It is not the Confession of people living in terror of the grave, unsure if they have enough merits for eternal life (which, you may be sure, no one has; not even the people with word “Saint” placed before their names). Our Confession of sin is based on our certain faith in God’s love and forgiveness, not because we feel that he is forgiving, but because, in fact, Jesus Christ died for our sins and reconciled us to the Father. And, in fact, He rose from the dead so that we may live in Him, now and forever, eventually, on that glorious Day, shedding what it means to be “in Adam” and taking on only what it means to be “in Christ.”
We worship God in spirit and in truth, if we grasp the meaning of today’s Collect:

O God, forasmuch as without thee we are not able to please thee; Mercifully grant that thy Holy Spirit may in all things direct and rule our hearts; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

That comes directly from the words of Jesus:
I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: forwithout me ye can do nothing. (John 15:5)

So, just as Jesus began by speaking words of Absolution, and healing the soul of the paralyzed man before meeting his physical need, I will continue to address, in my preaching, the true diagnosis of what ails us all. Along with that, I will continue to proclaim God’s revealed prognosis for everyone who takes the medicine He prescribes:

As in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.

Christ the King
Colossians 1.12-20 
St. John 18:33 – 37

Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son.

The feast of Christ the King was first introduced in 1925 by Pope Pius XI, because of his observation that nationalism and secularism were growing ever stronger. Think of that time, when Communism as a political power, and Fascism also, were taking over in nations that had formerly been thought of as part of an unofficial international state called Christendom. Ever since the Napoleonic wars that had torn apart Europe and wasted countless lives, and especially after the insanity of World War I -- seen by just about everyone as the most destructive, senseless and meaningless war in history -- it became obvious that the Church of Jesus Christ had to take a more aggressive posture in proclaiming the light of the Kingdom of God into the darkness of the fallen world. That other churches besides the Roman Catholic Church, many Lutherans and Anglicans, began to celebrate the Feast of Christ of King, was more than a simple gesture of ecumenism. It became a world of violence and arrogant State power, with a magnification of "the insolence of office" beyond anything hitherto seen. To the Socialists of Communism and Fascism in their time, and to every state under Heaven where ideology overwhelms simple truth and justice through the agenda of worldly politics, the Church must dig in her heels and proclaim the message that Christ is King over all the Earth.

Christians live under the authority of the State, but only to a point. The problem with governments is that they do, by their very nature, tend to become too powerful, which is why the United States Constitution was written. It was written to define the power of the Federal Government within prescribed limits and to subject that government to the Rule of Law. It is, as we see, an ongoing battle to keep it subject to Law. And, throughout all history it is always difficult to be free in the sense of the truth that God has revealed, the true meaning of liberty.

In the theological sense, that is in terms of the Word of God, freedom or liberty is the power to obey God with a good conscience. Answering their persecutors among the Sanhedrin (the ruling Council of Elders), and the High Priest, the Apostles were very clear in the Book of Acts:

"And when they had brought them, they set them before the council: and the high priest asked them, Saying, 'Did not we straitly command you that ye should not teach in this name? and, behold, ye have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine, and intend to bring this man's blood upon us.' Then Peter and the other apostles answered and said, 'We ought to obey Godrather than men.'" (Acts 5:27-29)

The State is not God. Like the Hebrew National kosher Hot Dog company, we answer to a Higher Authority. Earthly rulers can and should see themselves as God's servants who administer justice, keep order and protect the people from harm (Romans 13:1f). When they fulfill this role, it is good. But, the essence of tyranny is for the State to try to take the place of God, and when earthly rulers require individuals to make the sacrifice of laying down and offering up conscience on the altar of Caesar, than they become the Beast from the Book of Revelation.

When Germans obediently murdered Jews, when American soldiers obeyed orders and murdered unarmed Dakota of both sexes and all ages at Wounded Knee, and everywhere in all history where soldiers have allowed unnatural and evil men to turn them into brutes, they received in their hands and foreheads the mark of the Beast. In isolated cases where officers presume to order military chaplains not to pray in the Name of Jesus Christ even when leading services for Christian members of the Armed Forces (as has happened), or when politicians try to pass laws that would require all doctors and hospitals to abort helpless and innocent unborn babies, the obedient ones who lay down their consciences as sacrifices and offerings to the State receive in their hands that work, and in their foreheads that think, the mark of the Beast. No one has the authority to order you to disobey God, or to violate your conscience. God's commandments are absolute, eternal and unchanging. Men's commandments are temporary. We really do answer to a Higher Authority. We answer to Christ the King. Is it any wonder that Christians have had to endure persecution to the death?

The world has armies and weapons, but all we have is the truth.

Jesus answered, My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight...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. 

Because Christ is the King, and because He rules by the truth of His revelation, we all would do well to learn the attitude of faith that was expressed by the Centurion. He said to the Lord Jesus, "I am a man under authority." (Matt. 8:9) And, that is the case for all of us. In the Church, it has a specific meaning for all the clergy. I have been given the title Rector, which means one who rules (which carries real implication of the word "presbyter"). But, I cannot see myself as a man who possesses authority as much as a man who is under authority. I am under the authority of Archbishop Haverland, a joyful thing for me. Like the Lord Himself, the Archbishop's yoke is easy and his burden is light -- or so it seems to me, because we have the same exact goal and purpose, which is to care for you and to proclaim the Gospel to everyone who will hear us. Ultimately, all authority among human beings is delegated, for ultimately it all goes back to God from Whom it comes, even as it comes through the order He has established in His Church.

It does not come as a privilege, nor as an honor nor as an advantage. It comes as a charge and as a commission with real responsibilities and obligations. We have received a thing called Holy Orders, and that means, as in the military, we have our orders. So, I say to you, I am a man under authority. Some of you may wonder, where does this guy get these things he preaches? The answer is, it has come from the words of our King. What I preach is not my own opinion, my own ideas or simply the expression of erudition. In every service we read the words that have come, ultimately, from God through human instruments called Apostles and Prophets. Because I a man under authority, my duty and my orders are to proclaim the meaning of God's most holy word for the sake of your souls to the end that you walk in the glorious liberty of the children of God and receive the salvation of your souls. I do not stand in the pulpit to fill time in a service (nor even to fill out time in a service).

Because I am a man under authority I am not allowed to compromise on the clear revelation of God. That includes certain essential things.

1. God's commandments.
For example, when I tell you that God's laws have not changed, that Christians must teach their children to "wait until marriage" no matter what the world around them is doing, or that Christians (because we answer to a Higher Authority) have no rights to abortion, no rights to suicide (even physician assisted), no rights to redefine marriage, no rights to treat marriage as a throw away commodity, or to disregard God's Laws in all the ways that are so popular, it is because I have received my orders. God has spoken, and what I must preach is His word, not the amoral fashions of this sinful world. To be men under authority clarifies these things for us.

2. The Gospel.
Perhaps a warm and fuzzy new message would fill up our pews, but no souls would be saved from sin and death. A man under authority has only one Gospel to preach, that defined by St. Paul in I Corinthians chapter fifteen.

"Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain. For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures: And that he was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve: After that, he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain unto this present, but some are fallen asleep. After that, he was seen of James; then of all the apostles. And last of all he was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time."

That is, Christ fulfilled the words of the Prophets (the meaning of "according to the scriptures") in that
1. He died for our sins,
2. was buried,
3. rose again the third day and
4. appeared to witnesses after His resurrection.

Do we have any other message, anything else to offer for those who do not like option A? No, we have nothing else that we have been commanded to preach. Other than the Gospel of Jesus Christ, we have no message whatsoever. Take it or leave it, for you will be given nothing else. Some religious entertainers, clerics and faith healers of various kinds, may offer something else, and sometimes they sell better for a while. But as a man under authority I have one message: Come to the Living Christ with "hearty repentance and true faith." We, men under authority, preach to you the message and words of Christ the King. Everyone who is of the truth hears His voice.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Fr Hart,

I am an awe. "As in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive." I had never thought of juxtaposing the idea of being "in Adam" and being "in Christ" but truly, that is the manner in which Christians simultaneously dwell while on earth. Through the Sacrament of Baptism our souls belong to Christ, yet still we must exist in our "Adamic" mortal bodies... that is, till we shed them... emerging from our chrysalises of flesh and blood like winged phantoms rising out of a veil of shadowy mist.

I especially appreciate your concept of being "under authority." You continue... "Other than the Gospel of Jesus Christ, we have no message whatsoever. Take it or leave it, for you will be given nothing else." Praise God for this assurance and for your firmly-rooted commitment to the Vine! You are a great gift to the community of faithful whom you serve.