Saturday, July 30, 2011

Sixth Sunday after Trinity

I've learned to obey that voice I recognize as the Holy Spirit. For that reason, I am posting a rerun from last year. - Fr. Hart

 Rom. vi. 3-11 * Matt. v. 20-26

In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis said that anyone who likes the Sermon on the Mount would like being hit in the face with ball peen hammer. If you thought the whole sermon was simply those opening Beatitudes, then Lewis' remark can't make sense to you. If you have read all three chapters that record this sermon, however, that is Matthew chapters 5,6 & 7, you know exactly what C.S. Lewis meant. Frankly, the Sermon on the Mount is not there for you to like, in the emotional sense of liking a thing. If it moves you to fear of God, to an honest evaluation of your own soul, and repentance from all known sin, then you understand it.

The Beatitudes, beginning with "Blessed are the poor in spirit" and going on from there, were somewhat repeated by the Lord on another occasion we call the Sermon on the Plain, recorded in the sixth chapter of Luke. In that sermon, Jesus patterned His words after the Blessings and Curses of the Law. To understand that, we need to go back to the days of Moses. We find, in the Law of Moses that is, the Torah, these words:

“And it shall come to pass, when the LORD thy God hath brought thee in unto the land whither thou goest to possess it, that thou shalt put the blessing upon mount Gerizim, and the curse upon mount Ebal. Are they not on the other side Jordan, by the way where the sun goeth down, in the land of the Canaanites, which dwell in the champaign over against Gilgal, beside the plains of Moreh? For ye shall pass over Jordan to go in to possess the land which the LORD your God giveth you, and ye shall possess it, and dwell therein.” (Deut. 11:29-31)

These shall stand upon mount Gerizim to bless the people, when ye are come over Jordan; Simeon, and Levi, and Judah, and Issachar, and Joseph, and Benjamin: And these shall stand upon mount Ebal to curse; Reuben, Gad, and Asher, and Zebulun, Dan, and Naphtali. (Deut. 27:12,13)

The blessings were pronounced on those who would obey God, and the curses on those who would rebel against God. Centuries later, Jesus Christ in his role as the Prophet like unto Moses, (Deut. 18:15f) spoke first the Blessings, or Beatitudes. In place of the curses, he spoke words of severe warning, the Woes. All of that makes sense to me, as one who has studied the Bible seriously for decades. The New Covenant Lawgiver following the pattern, as clearly he does in Luke, is easy to understand. But, as I observe the Sermon on the Mount, recorded by St. Matthew, at first it seems to be missing the Woes. The pattern of the Blessings on Mount Gerizim and the Curses on Mount Ebal, more perfectly revealed as the Beatitudes and the Woes, does not appear in Matthew, for the Woes are missing-or, are they?

I think it is wise to see the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew as beginning with the Blessings, the Beatitudes, and then the bulk of what remains throughout chapters 5,6 & 7 constitute a large text full of the Woes. The Sermon on the Mount stands as a sharp rebuke to sin. It is the most terrifying passage in all of the Bible, the long text in which Jesus Christ tells us of the consequences of unrepentant sin, the penalty that everyone of us deserves, mentioning at times the danger of Hell. In the Sermon on the Mount, furthermore, He makes it clear just how high God's standard of holiness really is, and how utterly helpless we are to meet it. After all, who has never lusted? Who has never been unreasonably angry? Who has never spoken an unkind word? Based on the Sermon on the Mount, I know for a fact that I have earned only one penalty: Eternal damnation, that is, Hell.

Hell, in the original Greek New Testament, is the word Gehenna, a simplified form of the Hebrew for the Valley of Ben Hinnom. The Valley of Ben Hinnom was the place where backslidden Israelites had offered their own children to Moloch (or Baal-the same false god). By the time of Jesus it had been the national dump for hundreds of years. The fires that never go out, the worm that never dies, or never seems to die because worms are always there eating the garbage, reinforced the image brought on by the name of the place, Gehenna, that it was the dump. The warning against the fires of Hell is a warning that unrepentant sinners face being thrown away, burned as trash is burned. It is a warning against the danger of being cast out forever. 

And, the opening of today's Gospel reading, taken from this very Sermon on the Mount, makes our hopes sound all the more elusive: "Except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven." And, just in case anyone may begin to measure his own righteousness against that of those very religious, upstanding Orthodox Jewish people called the Pharisees, Jesus crushes our self-confidence: "I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire." I don't know about you; but, that alone does it for me. I look back on my life, if not the last week or day, and see no way to hold up my head as more righteous than anybody. 

Why would our Lord begin his preaching by utterly devastating us? He has, in this sermon, judged and found us guilty, for His very word has judged each one of us. We are all convicted as sinners. If ever we despised our own Prayer of Humble Access, we can do so no longer. For, I know of one man who reacted to the words, "we are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy table" with an angry protest: "Indeed, we are worthy!" he said. But, when I read the Sermon on the Mount, I know that, as St. Paul said, "in me, that is, in my flesh, dwelleth no good thing," and that I most certainly am not worthy to gather those crumbs that fall from the Master's table.

The Sermon on the Mount gives us, however, one ray of hope. Significantly, and crucially, that one ray of hope lies outside of each of us. In fact, that hope is found only in God.

Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust. For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same? And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so? Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect. (Matt.5:44-48)

How can a commandment to be perfect offer hope? Hasn't Jesus made it even worse for us? But, look closely at this perfection of our Heavenly Father: "Love your enemies" He says. Why? The answer is, "That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust. For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye?...Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect." This perfection he speaks of is the perfection of love, specifically the love we call charity (caritas, agape-I Cor. 13). Jesus shows us, even while diagnosing to us our mortal illness of Original Sin, and our own helplessness, that God loves even His enemies. Frankly, being the sinners that we are, Jesus means that the Father loves you and me, and does good to us.

Of course, the whole point of Christ's coming, as we know from the larger picture of his ministry and teaching, and most of all from his death on the cross and his resurrection, is the love of God to save those of us who, born in sin, were His enemies from the start. As St. Paul would put it, "But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." (Rom. 5:8) Today's Epistle lets us know that God has done for us what we never could do for ourselves. We could never attain a level of righteousness that pleases Him; but Christ could and did. We have been baptized into Christ, we have died to sin, and entered a new life by being, simply put, "in Christ."

So, we learn two things: 1) Christ has paid in full (John 19:30 τελέω ) the price of all human sin, the price of your sin and mine, and 2) God sees us in Christ. The old prayers of the Psalmist come to life for us: "Behold, O God our shield, and look upon the face of thine anointed;" (Psalm 84:9) and, "turn not away the face of thine anointed." (Psalm 132:10) The face of His anointed, that is His Messiah or Christ, is our shield. Because we are in Christ, and because the Father will not turn away the face of His Christ (anointed), He accepts us, "To the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved." (Eph. 1:6) We ought to be the objects of wrath, but in Christ, as God has willed in eternity, we are the objects of mercy and love.

At the Bible Study one Wednesday evening, we talked a bit about the baptism of John the Baptist. When John's baptism to repentance was taking place, sinners repented and were forgiven. But, one Man stepped into the water not to lay down his sins, for he had none. He stepped into the River Jordan to pick up the sins of all repentant sinners everywhere: And so, about Him and Him alone, the Father said "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased." The Father is not well-pleased with any other human being, for no man was found worthy, in heaven or in earth, to break the seals and open the book, except the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Lion who appeared as a Lamb that had been slain (Rev. 5). God's only begotten Son, incarnate as a man, alone pleased the Father, and that Son, alone of all mankind, paid the penalty and full price for the rest of us.

But, to see this takes humility. Our Book of Common Prayer does not flatter us, and does not lie to us. Some people have decided that religion is a self-help program. Be warned; if your idea of the Christian life is some sort of self-improvement program, you are in grave danger of missing the whole point. Unless and until you see yourself as hopeless without God's perfection of love and mercy; unless and until you see yourself as unworthy to eat the crumbs that fall from His table, thus rejecting any illusion about some righteousness of your own; unless and until you see that only Christ has pleased the Father, and that you have not, this whole liturgy we call Holy Communion, and the whole message we call the Gospel, is entirely closed to your understanding.

The words of this service were written to affirm the truth of the Bible, that each one of us needs that love and mercy of God revealed in Christ, that is extended to us because we are in Christ, because we could not save ourselves. This service was written to give each of us a way to confess and pray that truth, saying it to God with gratitude. Let us then offer Eucharist, that is, good thanksgiving, the offering that is sanctified by the Holy Spirit.

If you had any doubt that baptism is new birth, today's Epistle reading clears it up. Spiritually, your life began when you were raised from the death of sin by new birth in Christ. St. Paul's words are not metaphorical; he does not speak of baptism making us dead to sin and alive to God in some allegorical way, using poetic license to mean something else. He means this as a spiritual reality, a fact, beyond our comprehension but in our experience. Only through faith can we become aware of the newness of life in Christ. Some people, after baptism, may resist knowing this new life in Christ, becoming aware of it only after a specific point in time. Others may refuse ever to know it, living as nominal Christians, or walking away completely, but, either way, shutting out the light of Christ. But, the fact of your new birth in baptism is an objective one; some believe that a later conversion was new birth, because the experience was so real. In fact, what awakened in them was faith, adding a subjective cognizance to the objective fact of having been baptized into Christ.

Trinity 6 sermon notes (abbreviated!)

[First, a link to last weeks sermon, which I only just posted, but put back "down" in the 'blog, in its proper place temporally.]

“Love your enemies”


Let us consider North Korea. Last Stalinist, atheist state.

Horrifying, if the testimony of the escaped is true. Concentration camps for political prisoners, even for their children, grandchildren and great grandchildren. Human experimentation with chemical and biological weapons. Torture and beatings for no reason. Some go in their as children with their mother.

Personality cult for Kims. Repetition of adulatory programme on TV all day. Believe USA started Korean War. The deception is accepted even if not completely believed. The whole nation is not moved only by fear, but by their own all-too-human faculty for cruelty encouraged by circumstances.

No sympathy, even for children subjected to chemical weapons tests, vomiting blood, their parents trying to breath into their mouths till the last. Why? Torturers believe they are the enemy.

But this is no new thing, is not confined to one ethnic group or culture. Hitler. Stalin. Vikings: rape, pillage and plunder. Europe once awash with such viciousness. Shaka Zulu. Genghis Khan. Common theme? Merciless, wholesale massacres or tortures. What else? Why do we not see this in “the West”? Why are we so shocked and surprised by it? The answer: we (but not just the Christians) have been trained by the Church through long centuries, by the Catholic Faith, the Gospel. The leaven in the lump, the salt of the Earth. Those other cases epitomised the cultures not yet so influenced by it or having consciously rejected it. Natural Law of Conscience has never been enough. Our Western cultures and modern “civilised” institutions with their humane “intuitions” owe more than they know to Christ. (See D. B. Hart's Atheist Delusions for the evidence.) But we must remember two things. Sola gratia. Can be, is being, lost.

General lesson of such regimes? Clearly, to dehumanise others is to dehumanise yourself. This lesson must not be forgotten by any of us.

The moment we exclude a whole group of human beings from normal human sympathy, we diminish our own human dignity and worth. When we do this, we are treading, even if only part of the way, down the path of Hitler with the Jews, Stalin with the Ukrainians and Kulaks, Bin Laden with all non-Muslims. To forget that the “other”, the outsiders also were once little children, had mothers who loved them, bear children they too love, and have similar needs for food and fun, friendship and meaning, is to lose our own souls. One cannot be a true Christian without being fully human, and so humane.

What else can we as Christians learn from this hellishness?

  1. Relationship between sin and deception. Latter does not obviate former. Strengthens it. Yes, the evil is real, not just a misunderstanding. Willingness to be deceived the result of hunger for hate, etc. Pre-existing sinfulness happy to rationalise. Some ignorance is a convenient failure to see.

  2. We must not hate our enemies. Even those whose lives are epitomes of hate, like those who work for or are in the N.K. govt. We must overcome the initial wrath and pray for the sinners and their victims all at once. Otherwise we join them, as I was tempted to do in my imagination after watching a documentary on the subject. We can still pray for justice, and deliverance for the oppressed. But we must also desire repentance more than retribution for the oppressors.

  3. What about the souls of the victims, apparently out of reach of the gospel? We do not know, except to say that God is on the side of the poor and oppressed (see the Psalms!), the innocent victims. (He was one.) Justice will be done. Even the deepest evil will be conquered. In the meantime we must hope and pray for both justice and mercy to be poured upon that nation and all places of tyranny and cruelty. +

Fr Wells' Bulletin Inserts


Concerning the Epistle:

In Romans 6:3--11, our first reading today, Paul was grappling with a hard question which might not be obvious if the passage is read out of context. At Romans 6:1, he brought up an argument his opponents had hurled at him, "Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound?"

In the first five chapters of this monumental epistle (Paul's longest and deepest by far), he had set forth the Gospel of Justification by Faith, God's free pardon of hell-deserving sinners, a pardon totally irrespective of our legal status, rather a pardon grounded exclusively in His mercy and love. Such a Gospel quickly makes nonsense of all conventional religion, now as well as then. No wonder that the rich young ruler went away sorrowful. Not only was he told to sell all that he had, but moreover, all his legal righteousness was worthless in God's sight.

Such a radical Gospel (in sinful ears, downright insulting!) in what Paul termed a "reprobate mind" (a mind corrupted by wickedness) seemed to constitute a temptation in itself. If God is willing to forgive sin freely, then why not continue to sin freely? This is almost like the Prodigal Son who expects his Father to send him a regular allowance, as he continues to reside in the "far country" of depraved living.

As warped as such a viewpoint is, it has an evil sort of logic about it. In ancient times this was known as the Antinomian heresy. In the 20th century this re-emerged under the name of "situation ethics."

Paul refuted this with a two-stage argument. In the first place, we Christians are baptized. This sacrament for Paul makes a real difference in the life of a Christian, a mile-stone which divides our lives into "before" and "after," as surely as the Incarnation divided all time into "before Christ" and "in the year of our Lord." It is illogical for a person to live after Baptism as he lived before it. Baptism in the New Testament was so radical a change that it was the sign of regeneration---new birth into a new life and new life-style.

Secondly, Baptism is the sign, the beginning, and the down-payment of our resurrection. Did you notice that some today's Epistle is quoted in the Easter Canticle? "Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more..." Paul clinches his argument, however, in these words: "As Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life." The Resurrection itself is therefore the ultimate argument for moral living! Christians cannot continue to live comfortably with sin. We have a risen Saviour who shares His resurrection life with us. Death has no dominion over Him and sin has no more dominion over us.

Concerning the Gospel:

If one asks the average church-goer, "What is your favorite Scripture passage," the answer will be either the 23rd Psalm or the Sermon on the Mount. The second answer will be somewhat fuzzy. Many people imagine that the Sermon on the Mount consists only of a few verses at the beginning of Matthew 5 commonly called the Beatitudes, beginning "Blessed are the poor in spirit." The Sermon on the Mount actually is a much longer passage in St. Matthew's Gospel, consisting of chapters 5, 6 and 7 in their entirety.

Today's Gospel lesson (Matt. 5:20--26) is a small portion of the whole discourse. (It hardly seems small when we begin to chew on it!) As the the Prayer Book gives it to us, this reading combines the final verse of one section with the opening verses of the next. This was no mistake, but an artful way of showing the link between two thought units.

Our reading begins with a striking text which makes us uncomfortable: "Except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven." This is truly scary: Our blessed Lord Himself is clearly talking about the real possibility of being excluded, shut out, eternally lost. His demand here seems overwhelming. The scribes and Pharisees, whatever their faults may have been, were truly righteous people, at least as the word is used here.

They fasted twice in the week. Are we asked to fast three times or more? They gave tithes of all that they had. Does Jesus require 15 or 20%? This is one of those texts known as a "hard saying," since it is hard to understand and once understood even harder to live with.

The following verses clear things up somewhat. It is not the quantity of our righteousness but its quality. As impressive as the old righteousness was (and God forbid that we ever belittle a kind of righteousness which Jesus praised), it was all based on "how much is really required of me? how little can I get by with?" The new Gospel righteousness which Jesus demands is a righteousness proportional to God's love and mercy exhibited in the Cross. Jesus Himself went on to say, "Be ye therefore perfect, even as your heavenly Father is perfect" (Matt 5:48). As the old Gospel hymn states it, "I gave my life for thee; what hast thou given for me?"

Not that this new righteousness is a price we must pay; not that we buy our way into the kingdom with any righteousness of our own! As the Beatitudes should have taught us, the kingdom is purely God's gift. As one commentator has written, "Entrance into the kingdom is God's gift; but to belong to the kingdom means to follow Jesus' teaching."

The One Sacrifice

The different perspectives of my complicated Anglican soul do not always sit well with each other, forcing me to think them through. It would be so much easier simply to be what most people call “Catholic” or what most people call “Protestant.” But, an Anglican is not only free from that particular false choice, he is also bound to reconcile the truth with the truth, no matter how successfully the forces of history have fragmented it, no doubt with the help of other forces who choose to remain invisible. Therefore, think we must while others are free merely to react, using as they do phrases like “too Catholic” or “too Protestant.”
          When I come across “Reformed” or “Evangelical” denunciations of Eucharistic Sacrifice, the Anglo-Catholic inside of me is quick to defend it. In every age and place the Church called the Eucharist a sacrifice. After all, our tradition has expressly rejected only the double plural “sacrifices of masses,” an idea that each time a priest celebrates it is a propitiation for the quick and the dead, in and of itself and by itself. And the condemnation of that in Article XXXI may have been written to correct popular misunderstanding rather than any actual doctrine.
But, the Evangelical inside of me, though usually quite content to live with the Catholic in there, begins to be uncomfortable. That is because no one can deny that the words of the Article are absolutely true and correct according to the only possible understanding of what the Bible clearly teaches, especially the Epistle to the Hebrews. “The offering of Christ once made is the perfect redemption, propitiation, and satisfaction for all the sins of the whole world, both original and actual, and there is none other satisfaction for sin but that alone,” says our Article.
For Christ is not entered into the holy places made with hands, which are the figures of the true; but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us: Nor yet that he should offer himself often, as the high priest entereth into the holy place every year with blood of others; For then must he often have suffered since the foundation of the world: but now once in the end of the world hath he appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment: So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation.” (Heb. 9:24-28)
          So, there is only one sacrifice; as we say in every Anglican celebration: “Almighty God, our heavenly Father, who of thy tender mercy didst give thine only Son Jesus Christ to suffer death upon the Cross for our redemption; who made there (by his one oblation of himself once offered) a full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction, for the sins of the whole world.
          But, the Scriptures also speak of an altar of the Church, not merely a table, which means that sacrifice is offered by the Church. “We have an altar, whereof they have no right to eat which serve the tabernacle.” (Heb. 13:10) Lest anyone try to interpret the plain meaning away, we know from all the evidence of Patristic literature, history and archeology, that Christians had altars even in the chapels that were in homes or hidden away during the time of Roman persecution.
          So, how do we reconcile apparent contradictions? We must reject “the sacrifices of Masses,” on one hand, and yet celebrate what clearly is called sacrifice at an altar. The words, “our sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving” really mean the same as Eucharistic Sacrifice. Then we have, “And here we offer and present unto thee, O Lord, ourselves, our souls and bodies, to be a reasonable, holy, and lively sacrifice unto thee.” What is all this? Is it now sacrifices of the Mass, with only a single plural? The we come to, “And although we be unworthy, through our manifold sins, to offer unto thee any sacrifice, yet we beseech thee to accept this our bounden duty and service.” In the context and by the grammar, the “service” is, indeed, sacrifice, clearly hinting by way of the Biblical allusion (Rom. 12:1) to the word λατρεία (latreia), meaning worship, or service in the sense of a liturgy or service of worship.
          Of course, sacrifice means not only an offering for sin, but any and every act of worship. Nonetheless, that does not explain everything in our Book of Common Prayer Service of Holy Communion. Yes, there is only one sacrifice for sin, and it was made, as everyone knows, once for all by Christ on the altar of the cross. “There is none other satisfaction for sin but that alone.” It was the one perfect offering for sin, for all the sins of the entire human race (I John 2:2).
          It was also the one perfect act of human worship from the one who lived in perfect obedience. In truth, we cannot offer sacrifice at all, not even worship, except through and in Christ and by His cross and passion. Indeed, this is the key for reconciling the truth to the truth, for reconciling the fact of Christ’s once for all sacrifice with the offering of the Church in every time and place on the altar we have; that altar from which we eat, but from which those who serve under the old system of types and shadows may not partake, “for the newer rite is here.”
          We may indeed call the Eucharist the sacrifice, not really a sacrifice as much as the sacrifice. “This do in remembrance of Me” was spoken in the context of the New Covenant meal (Jer. 31: 31-34), something that Jewish understanding could not miss. Just as every year Jews hold not a Passover, but the Passover – the same Passover that Moses held – so there is only one Eucharist, or Mass, or Divine Liturgy or service of Holy Communion.
          This one Eucharist is the same supper that Christ gave to His disciples in the upper room; and it is the same sacrifice that He offered once for all on the altar of the cross. We do not sacrifice Christ again, but neither do we merely celebrate a metaphor. We gather with the disciples and our Lord in the Upper Room for the one feast that never ends until He comes again (I Cor. 11:26); and we worship at the altar of His cross where He offered the one sacrifice for everyone throughout all time. We are really there with Him without a barrier, neither time nor space dividing. There is one Sacrifice, and every celebration of the Eucharist is mystically joined to that one event, that offering by Christ of Himself as "priest and victim, in the Eucharistic feast." There is one Supper of the Lord, and every Eucharist is the same supper that Christ held in the night in which he was betrayed.
          Writing in 1624, speaking for the Anglican position, a Church of England priest named William Bedell wrote about Eucharistic Sacrifice:

"[If by it you mean] a memory and representation of the true Sacrifice and holy immolation made on the altar of the cross...we do offer the sacrifice for the quick and the dead, by which all their sins are meritoriously expiated, and desiring that by the same, we and all the Church may obtain remission of sins, and all other benefits of Christ's Passion."
By thinking through the apparent contradictions, both my inner Catholic and my inner Evangelical come together as an Evangelical Catholic, which is what constitutes an Anglican. 

Friday, July 29, 2011

After the noise of battle and yawn

It is sometimes impossible to believe what we have witnessed in the last two years, even though we could see it coming from a few years away. Not more than a few months ago, we had people in Anglican churches, at least in name (many of them clergy), simply assuming that Anglicans everywhere were “just dying” to become Roman Catholics. The idea that Anglicans anywhere might like the church of their affiliation was, it seems, unthinkable.
In the Fall of 2009, when I went all the way to Delaware to read a paper at a gathering of the Fellowship of Concerned Churchmen, an elderly Monsignor was present to read a paper on the history of “Anglicans Looking to Rome.” When I stood up directly following his presentation to read my paper (someone with a sense of humor must have arranged it), which I entitled “Anglican Identity,” I could tell that he was utterly astonished to hear my affirmation of genuine and classic Anglican tradition as we Continue the same. Someone must have led the poor fellow to believe that all Continuing Anglicans were Anglo-Papalists, all champing at the bit to leap into the Tiberian depths. I am afraid I gave him a terrible shock, poor d..poor fellow.
After reading about the Anglican position of the Reformers from Cranmer to Hooker, then about Andrewes, Laud and the Caroline Divines, and about the contributions of Tractarians, etc., leading right up to the Continuing Church, the Monsignor asked which group of Anglicans I was speaking about. Gee-hard to answer that one (it's like discussing the Declaration of Independence and then being asked which party in the Continental Congress it represented. The answer would be, everyone except John Dickenson, as my answer was, everyone except the apostates).
We may be quite forgiving when a Roman Catholic wrongly assumes that all serious Anglicans are just itching to enter his Papa’s house, especially those of us whose liturgy tends to be High, and whose level of tolerance for innovation tends to be low (more so than the floor). But, what we saw coming out of Adelaide, and out of Orlando here in the United States, was the spectacle, not of Roman Catholics, but of self-proclaimed Anglicans who were “shocked, shocked” that anyone would not want to go, and that anyone would dare not to go. They actually expected all their people to line up at the door begging to be let in.
After all; all their bishops (the TAC bishops in 2007) signed a book – without any explanation of what the gesture was supposed to mean. But, they did it, giving the big guy in Australia a card to hold. So, when Rome dished out the ultimate insult to Anglicanism itself, Anglicanorum Coetibus (because, after all, every Anglican is really a homeless waif), we were all supposed to say how “generous” the Italian M…, uh, I mean the Roman Catholic Church was in “offering” conversion with even more "generously" undefined terms of surrender. When some of us stood up to defend Continuing Anglicanism as something to, putting it succinctly, continue, the squeak of outrage from Orlando was heard all the way around the world. 
Only a few months ago, the Archbishop of the Anglican Catholic Church (ACC), my own bishop, the Most Rev. Dr. Mark Haverland, made news simply by saying (again really) that after all the noise, smoke and confusion, the largest and oldest of the Continuing St. Louis Affirmation churches have proved that we are “happy to be Anglicans.” In our circle the whole Roman “invitation” was simply something to inspire a yawn. What is hard to understand, looking back from the calm climate of normalcy that has come about in the last few months, is that Anglicans "happy to be Anglicans" made the news. No one should have expected it to be otherwise.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Seven Oecumenical Councils

Identity as the Church
The Affirmation of St. Louis very clearly and directly binds Continuing Anglicans to the Seven Ecumenical (or Oecumenical) Councils that took place in the First Millennium. The number seven, rather than four, has more significance concerning our identity than it does our theology. Constantinople II (553 AD), Constantinople III (680-681 AD) and Nicea II (787 AD) do not receive and need not receive as much attention by students of theology as the first four Ecumenical Councils. 

That is not because the final three lack the same authority, nor because they were not necessary in their time to defend the truth. It is simply because all three of them defend, in essence, the work of the first four. For purposes of theology, most of the study that is done by potential clergy and teachers must focus on Nicea I (325 AD), Constantinople I (381 AD), Ephesus (431 AD) and Chalcedon (451 AD). What this boils down to is merely this: When we Affirm seven Ecumenical Councils, one major reason is to define who we are, to identify ourselves as the Church. The Affirmation of seven Councils, before what we call the Great Schism of east and west, says that we believe ourselves to be of that same One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church that goes all the way back to the beginning.

The Church of England, and the consequent Anglican Communion, always had so identified itself. Never did the Church of England present itself as having a sixteenth century origin. Never did Anglicans treat the Reformation as their birth. Never did any generation of Anglicans say, in the Creeds, "I believe in the Holy Catholic Church," or "Catholic and Apostolic Church" as if speaking of someone else instead of themselves. Always, in every generation, the Apostolic Succession of bishops - our bishops - was traced to the Apostles. 

Matthew Parker was not the first Archbishop of Canterbury in some new church, but rather the seventy-first Archbishop of Canterbury. The Church of England after the Reformation was the same church as before. This feature of Anglicanism made it unique among the reformed churches. It also makes the Affirmation of St. Louis quite correct in holding to our ancient identity. We do not merely aspire to be of the Holy Catholic Church. We need not fly either to Rome or to Constantinople to be in the Church established by Christ through the Apostles. The Affirmation, therefore, of all seven Councils is consistent with the belief Anglicans have always had in their own identity as belonging to the Church.

Seventh Council and the homily on the perils of idolatry
It is assumed that Anglicans cannot hold to the Homily "Against Peril of Idolatry" and also to Nicea II. That assumption is based on the fact that Nicea II, the Second Council of Nicea and seventh Ecumenical Council, condemned the Iconoclasts. The first in the list of Anathemas says, "If anyone does not confess that Christ our God can be represented in his humanity, let him be anathema."

The danger represented by the heresy of Iconoclasm was really aimed at the Incarnation. The Iconoclasts, had they succeeded, would have created a doctrine that cannot be reconciled to the ultimate revelation of our Faith: "And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth." (John 1:14)

But, the essence of the Anglican Homily was about something else. To say that the teaching in the Homily must contradict the essence of Nicea II is to equate icons with idols; in which case, it is the one who argues for their mutual exclusion, who thereby says that the Council and the Homily are irreconcilable, who discredits and rejects Nicea II. It is that person who treats the Council as favoring idolatry, and who calls it into question. 

Furthermore, the Homily recounts the little understood fact that "the Greeks" were scandalized by the images of "the Latins." What does that mean? The answer is found in Eastern Orthodox practice to this day. They find the western practice of three dimensional images, or statues, objectionable. Furthermore, icons, in addition to being flat, are written images, symbolic with recognized meaning much the way written words signify rather than depict. Western art and icons are, thus, very different in nature.

The other issue is λατρεία (latreia), the worship reserved only for God. At times, in the west, images were allowed to become the objects of such worship. The justification for this was seen by the Eastern Church as an exercise in sophistry, therefore unconvincing. And, it is the practice of allowing λατρεία to be used for statues and other images that is also the real target of the Anglican Homily.

Irony of final Councils - Rome's apparent loss of status
It is an irony that various Protestants often cut the number of Councils to four. That is because it is the second, third and fourth Councils that ascribe to the Patriarch of Rome the first place of honor. In the actual texts from these Councils no reason is given beyond the imperial and political realities of the era. 

But, the condemnation of Pope Honorius I (Pope from 625 to 638 AD) for heresy, more than half a century after his death, took place at  the Third Council of Constantinople in 680-681 AD. As such, it is part of the official record of the Church that one of the popes was a heretic (probably an very unfair judgment in light of all the facts). It is a remarkable fact that in these final Ecumenical Councils we no longer find any reference to the Patriarch of Rome holding a first place of honor. So, it seems ironic that these Councils are mostly overlooked by a majority of the few Reformed churches that still recall the Councils.

Continuing Anglicans have Affirmed all seven Ecumenical Councils of the first millennium. This may seem like an extra step to certain other Anglicans. But this affirmation is very important in our day and age for letting the Two One True Churches know that we do not look to them to give us validity, and more so, to reminding ourselves of that fact. We do not aspire to be part of the Holy Catholic Church; rather, we are part of it. This understanding is consistent with the practice of Anglicans going back to the Reformation era, when Matthew Parker became the seventy-first in a long line of Archbishops of Canterbury. What was affirmed in St. Louis in 1977 was a logical continuation of everything that particular succession meant. 

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Christology and soteriology

When the heretic Arius tried to defend his teaching at the Council of Nicea in 325 AD, that the λόγος (Logos - the Word), that is the Son of God, was a mere creature, the major reason why the Church rejected his doctrine was soteriology (the doctrine of salvation). That is, the revelation in holy Scripture concerning salvation in and through Christ was taken as the most convincing proof of all that the λόγος is God, one with the Father, "begotten not made." To the bishops there assembled, this confirmed the clear and plain meaning of Scripture beyond all doubt.

In the sixteenth century, something that Reformers had as a common task, no matter where they were, was the hard work of strengthening faith in the Christological doctrines that had been so thoroughly defended in the first four Ecumenical Councils (and consequently defended further in the last three). The need existed not because the Church in the west had forgotten any essential truth about God the Son, the Word made flesh, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Indeed, every part of that doctrine was taught faithfully and fully.

But, just as a very strong drink can become weak through dilution, without taking away any of its properties, so the Christology in the Church at that time had become diluted through doctrinal confusion about soteriology. If the various Reformers, including our own English Reformers, are to have their message summarized by solas (which solas were not new at all in their time, but old established catholic teaching), it is not without cause that one of these is Sola Christi - Christ alone. No one else saves us from sin and death.

Of course, no one disagrees with this sola. Every theologian everywhere in the Church affirms the truth that only through Christ, only in Christ and only by Christ, can anyone be saved. Nonetheless, it seemed necessary to defend that truth even when it was not directly attacked or denied. Again, this is because the whole truth of Christology has been affirmed but, in subtle ways, at the same time diluted. 

One major problem of taking a razor blade to Anglican sources, including the Thirty-Nine Articles, is that it is much easier to slice away those old writings than to learn the historical context that reveals their actual meaning. It is easier to react to Article XXV, for example, than to learn how even proper administration of the sacraments was restored by the English Reformers, including Cranmer's own radical and revolutionary idea of Frequent Communion for everybody in the Church (hence the name Holy Communion for the service; saying to all the faithful in Christ, come forward and receive). 

In fact, the old formularies kept and preserved a true balance in which the place of the Church, and the sacraments "generally necessary to salvation," as well as the life of faith lived in the Church, were clearly taught and defended. Nonetheless, some Anglicans who intended to maintain obedience and loyalty to the formularies, appear to have lost sight of the sacramental ministry of the Church. That they lost sight of it in spite of, rather than because of, the writings of early Anglicans (including Cranmer, Jewel, Hooker, Andrewes), is all too clear to well read students of English theology. 

But, on the opposite side, too many modern Anglicans accept uncritically the position of proselytizers from Rome, and teach the medieval innovations of a punitive Purgatory and the Treasury of saintly merits as if these things have Universal consensus, despite the fact that the Eastern Orthodox to this day reject them in the most clear language; or as if they were based on some sort of revelation equal to Scripture (needing Newman's theory of Doctrinal Development to make up for the lack of real authority), and as if that teaching can be consistent with the Gospel. Anglicans really have no business teaching any such system as the whole punitive Purgatory doctrine. It is "repugnant to the word of God," not because the Articles say so; but because of why they say so (that is one of those many things concerning which the Orthodox Church and Protestantism agree).

Let us consider the religious instruction that leads people to put their faith in various things rather than to repent and believe the Gospel. Do people really put their trust in the merits of saints? Someone may respond very well with the answer that their trust is really in Christ, and that saintly merits are merely a fruit of His grace, and really, thereby, trust in Christ. That is a very fine bit of reasoning indeed, and prevents the whole idea from being utter heresy and another gospel (Gal. 1:8,9). It is also a  very thick addition of unnecessary water that can, in effect, dilute the Gospel command, that God "now commandeth all men every where to repent." (Acts 17:30) And, it can cause people to put their trust in something that prevents them from truly repenting, a form of passivity St. Bede warned against in many parts of his History of the English Church and People.

I qualify what I am writing about with the word "punitive." It is reasonable to interpret Scripture in such a way as to believe in a work of God by which we are purified, cleansed by the Refiner's fire; such is a work of His grace. But, that cannot be about satisfying justice. For punishment cannot be a necessary means to treat imperfections in those of whom it is written, "but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God." (I Cor. 6:11) If sins have been forgiven, what need is there of punishment, even if we tease the idea with the word "temporal" to soften it? 

The whole doctrine of a punitive Purgatory, elaborately detailed as it was (and still is) by the Church of Rome, was a lucrative money maker both for the Church in Rome, and for relic salesmen. But, it had no other profit, certainly none for those who needed to know the way of salvation as God revealed it, and as the Universal Church had taught it for more than a thousand years (the real east-west consensus, that of the First Millennium).

But, the real problem, above all others, is that with salvation by Christ plus - whether it is saintly merits or anything added by anyone or anything else- the Church of Rome has fallen into the trap of a weak Christology. It is weak not through denial of the dogmas defended in Antiquity by the Universal Church. These it has held. To this day, Roman Christology is weak through dilution. The problem is so bad that the whole theory of Mary as a Co-Redemptrist or Mediatrix is taken seriously.

As I have written before:

"But, if Jesus Christ is fully God, the Word made flesh, Himself infinite and eternal, holy and separate from every created nature in his native Divine nature as one with the Father, made man by taking human nature into his eternal, infinite and holy Divine Person, then nothing can be added to the sufficiency of his 'sacrifice, oblation and satisfaction for the sins of the whole world.' To suggest that we have any need of a treasury of saintly merits from redeemed sinners and objects of the same mercy we have received, as if God owed a credit to sinful mankind due to alleged merits by the objects of his mercy and grace, is a frank denial of the Faith of the Church concerning Who is was that died for us and rose again."

So, it is not enough that we teach all that is true, that is to take nothing away from what God has spoken. It is equally necessary that we add nothing. "Every word of God is pure: he is a shield unto them that put their trust in him. Add thou not unto his words, lest he reprove thee, and thou be found a liar." (Prov. 30:6)

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Trinity 5 sermon notes

[T]he people pressed upon him to hear the word of God”+

This was a not uncommon occurrence, especially in the earlier part of Jesus' ministry. Both Mark's and Luke's Gospels repeatedly report this pressing upon our Lord. In Mark 3:9 Jesus again takes refuge in a boat to teach the multitudes surrounding him, and this time we are told specifically it was to avoid being crushed by them. The word used by Luke for this crowding is επικείσθαι, and means to “lie upon”. It is the same word used in John's Gospel for the stone lying upon Christ's tomb, fish lying upon the coals of a fire, and by St Luke himself elsewhere for the crowds urgent demands to Pilate for Christ's crucifixion and the storm laying upon the ship in which St Paul experienced shipwreck. It is a word which communicates insistence, heavy pressure, close contact. It is an uncomfortable word in this context, you might say.

But it also a moving word in this context. I cannot help but think of what St Mark says of Jesus in the sixth chapter of his Gospel, verse 34: “[He] saw a great multitude, and he had compassion on them, because they were as sheep without a shepherd: and he began to teach them many things”. They are drawn to Christ and his teaching, despite their sinfulness and ignorance. They press upon him to hear God's word, and often receive it enthusiastically [cp. Mark 12:37], though Christ pronounces that they understand so little of it [Mt 13:13].

Of course, they are partly drawn to Christ through his healings [Mark 3:10, John 12:9] and other miracles, especially the feeding of the multitudes [John 6:26]. You might say that their love for him was largely “need-love”, and perhaps not particularly deep or reflective. But Jesus does not despise them, for all of that. No, he ministers to their needs as they are presented to him, and uses the opportunity to draw them towards spiritual healing and feeding, to help them see their truest need, their fundamental illness.

And it was not only his acts of power that drew them to him. At the end of St Matthew's 7th Chapter, we are told: “the multitudes were astonished at his teaching: for he taught them as one having authority”.

What, then, can it mean when people crowd and crush a teacher they hardly understand, but long to hear? Who often rebukes or challenges them? Who is so far above them he makes them realise their sinfulness by his presence, as happened to St Peter in today's Gospel (“Depart from me, for I am a sinful man”)?

It means that whatever the weakness of their moral commitments, whatever the follies they are taken in by, whatever sin they are addicted to and blinded by, they nevertheless feel their spiritual sickness, sense their guilt, know there is something better. And they are drawn to the Christ, even as their doubts and fears, desires and angers, their Fallen nature, would push him away.

What is this, that can both attract and repel the sheep without a shepherd? Yes, he is good and pure, but this to an extent that is almost incomprehensible as well as impressive, perhaps as irritating as it is beautiful. He shows great kindness with his actions, great wisdom with his words, and all backed up with supernatural authority and power. But his kindness is not returned, as the mob's cries before Pilate showed. His wisdom is so surprising, unnatural and unnerving, that it is often missed even by his closest friends. And his power is hidden at a key moment.

However, it cannot be denied that the people “pressed upon him to hear the word of God”, and “heard him gladly”. Though the Truth is beyond them, and even against them, in a sense, as it reveals their darkness by its light, by the grace of God they do recognise it for what it is. They also, at some level, desire it. This is because God has not left himself “without witness”, whether in Scripture, nature or conscience [Acts 14:17, cp. Romans 1 & 2], and because Christ's light “enlightens every man” [John 1:9].

But it is also because our Lord combines holiness and compassion, wisdom and strength, in his words and deeds. Holy compassion. Not mere pious disapproval. Not mere sentimentality which avoids hard words. Strong wisdom. Not mere eloquence or cleverness which leaves things just as they are. Not acts of overwhelming power that leave hearts untouched. We would do well to consider this example in our own lives, our own witness to others.

When the people came to Jesus, they came to a teacher who they knew loved them, and who they knew would do something about it. They came to a teacher who they knew, knew, even if they did not know how or why he knew. But he did know, with deepest understanding and assurance, that of which he did speak.

So, how does this relate to Jesus' statement: “When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all men unto me” (John 12:32)? At the Cross, all these characteristics of Jesus and his teaching find what we may call their logical conclusion. But they also find their most perfect fulfilment and manifestation. As the Church imitates and presents this Christ, it will see that pressure upon, that drawing into, that urgent influx of the lost sheep towards Him. The word of God, the word of the Gospel will, in that way, do its glorious work. +

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Fifth Sunday after Trinity

Luke 5: 1-11
When Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, Depart from me; for I am a sinful man... and Jesus said unto Simon, Fear not; from henceforth thou shalt catch men.

To come face to face with God, in such a way that we recognize Him, brings us to the realization of our own unworthiness, of our own sins. We know from the Gospel of John that Simon had already met Jesus, and was aware that He was a holy man. Andrew, Simon’s brother and partner in their fishing business, had declared his belief that Jesus was the Messiah. Simon was ready and willing, as we see, to defer to Jesus, to give Him use of his boat, and even to follow His instructions about a matter that must have been, as this fisherman would have thought, outside the expertise of a carpenter and rabbi. Nonetheless, at the Lord’s word, out of respect for Him, and perhaps out of affection for Andrew as well, Simon Peter went out and let down the nets, despite what a wasted effort fishing proved to be all night long. But, in what happened next he saw that this Rabbi was in command of nature, and that even the fish in the Sea obeyed Him.
The Old Testament has a companion text, in the sixth chapter of the book of the prophet Isaiah. Like Simon Peter, Isaiah was going about his daily routine. The vision he saw took him by surprise. As he wrote it:         

In the year that king Uzziah died I saw also the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and his train filled the temple. Above it stood the seraphims: each one had six wings; with twain he covered his face, and with twain he covered his feet, and with twain he did fly. And one cried unto another, and said, Holy, holy, holy, is the LORD of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory. And the posts of the door moved at the voice of him that cried, and the house was filled with smoke. Then said I, Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts. Then flew one of the seraphims unto me, having a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with the tongs from off the altar: And he laid it upon my mouth, and said, Lo, this hath touched thy lips; and thine iniquity is taken away, and thy sin purged. Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Then said I, Here am I; send me. And He said unto me, Go and tell this people Hear ye indeed, but understand not; and see ye indeed, but perceive not.” (Isaiah 6:1-11)    

He saw the Lord, and heard the angels cry, “Holy, Holy, Holy” - three times crying “holy”; once for each Person, for the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Because he saw God, Isaiah was aware of his own sins. “Woe is me. I am undone, for I am a man of unclean lips..” As Simon, centuries later, would fall down at the knees of Jesus, saying “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man,” we see that Isaiah was suddenly overcome by the knowledge that he was not worthy to be in the presence of the Holy God of Israel. Isaiah already knew, as later Simon also knew, that God is holy; and each of them knew of his own shortcomings; and even though centuries apart, each of them was, in his own time, suddenly face to face with God. Face to face with the Holy God who is like a refiner’s fire- indeed, as everyone will be if only at the Last Day, when He comes again in glory to judge the quick and the dead.
The angels in the temple cried “the whole earth is full of His glory.” We can go about our daily lives in great comfort, in a state of relative calm, because the idea of the Lord upon a heavenly throne keeps Him just a bit distant, maybe even too far away to notice the every day sins we allow ourselves to get away with- or so we think. But, Isaiah saw Him upon the earth, the earth that was, as he heard the angels say, “full of His glory.” That glory was not only an ethereal glory, for he saw God, present here in this world. The temple, as he knew, was the place of God’s presence, but hidden behind a veil in the Kadesh h’ Kadeshim- the Holy of Holies where only the High Priest could go, once a year and not without blood. With God in heaven and behind a veil, life feels safe. "God is in his heaven, All's right with the world." Even the temple felt comfortable as long as God kept His distance, safely behind the veil. But, suddenly Isaiah saw Him, not only as the God of heaven. He saw the Lord here on earth.   
One might even ask, what was God doing here where, surely, He doesn’t belong? It is most unsettling. So, with Simon Peter, the Lord is not any longer only behind the veil, or hidden away on His heavenly throne. He is here, present in the flesh, standing before Peter in his own boat. Into this little wooden craft- a whole world of daily work, sweating, toiling and all the anxieties of normal life, where Peter and Andrew were accustomed to their routine- comes the Shekinah, the visible presence of God, the Word made Flesh. Like Isaiah centuries before, it was terrifying for man to see that God is here, on earth, present in the world, and present in our own world. Like Isaiah of old, Peter knew one thing above all else at that moment. He was a sinner, a man of unclean lips, not worthy of this Presence before which he found himself.     
And, that is a good place to begin. When people are influenced by New Age thinking, that, as they think, a thing called spirituality is better than a thing called religion, their outlook is clouded. A culture that cannot accept moral standards, with churches that no longer teach the commandments of God, exalts a morally neutral concept, a thing called “spirituality.” “Spirituality”- a word without definition and context- should ring hollow in your ears, as Christians. When you hear people speak of being spiritual, without the effort to be holy- if I may borrow a popular phrase from the movie world- they give in to the Dark Side.         .......“Spirituality” can be a morally empty word, especially if we consider that Satan has been a spirit far longer than any of us have been alive. We need to remember instead that Saint Paul, in his epistles, tells us that all Christians have one vocation in common. No matter who we are, we are all “called to be saints.” That is, called to become holy. In comparison, it is the easy way out to choose a thing called “spirituality” instead of this revelation about the Christian life and vocation. And, as we see, the only way to start on the path to holiness is by seeing the truth about our own sins in light of the fact that God is present here on earth. The earth is full of His glory- therefore full of His presence. It is so whether we see His glory or fail to see it.
When Isaiah said “Woe is me” and when Peter said “Depart from me,” each man suddenly very aware of God’s holiness, and each convicted of his own sin in the light of that holiness and awful Presence, the answer to each came in the call to ministry. Forgiveness was more than implied; cleansing and purification were also more than implied. We are reminded every time we have this service of Holy Communion, that the full price for our sins was paid by Christ Himself, and that forgiveness is no mere sentimental thing; it was granted to us by His suffering and death on the cross. But, also, we are called to ministry- that is, to service. Now, not all Christians are called to the Ordained ministry, obviously.    
But, as the Epistles of Saint Paul point out, we have all been given gifts by which we serve God, serve one another and both show forth and tell His word to the world around us. It is an old tradition to refer to the sacrament of Confirmation as the ordination of the Laity. That sacrament is not a rite of passage, or simply a ticket to Holy Communion. Based upon the Book of Acts, the theology of Confirmation is this: through laying on of the apostle’s hands the Holy Ghost is given. In short, that means that when you were confirmed you were given gifts from Christ, concerning which you yourself may be unaware. You, each of you who have received that sacrament, are carrying precious treasure in an earthen vessel, each one bearing Christ Himself, to show forth by deeds, and in some cases by words, wisdom and power that do not come from your own strength.
And, in another mystery, here today we come face to face with God. The bread and the cup of which we will soon partake are the Body and Blood of Christ. We dare not approach them except we first, with hearty repentance and true faith, confess our sins, and hear the words of forgiveness. And so, we need not say to Christ “depart from me” because we know that in confessing and forsaking our sins we find mercy. We are about to have communion with the Incarnate and Risen Christ in a mystery beyond our understanding. He is not simply hidden away in heaven. He is here on earth, both in the little boat of your daily life as well as in the temple of our prayers. He has made known His presence, ultimately as He has come in the Flesh, died and risen again; and He has sent His Holy Spirit to empower His Church with gifts of service. And, He comes this morning in the Blessed Sacrament, in gifts and creatures of bread and wine that become His Body and Blood.   
When you return from the house of the Lord into the daily common places, the fishing boats of your life, remember that upon seeing His glory and receiving His cleansing, you have heard His call. By the life you live this week, among all sorts and conditions of men, you are going out to tell this people. As Christ our Lord said to Peter on his boat, we may hear Him say to us. “Fear not.” We are henceforth going out to catch men.

Fr Wells' Bulletin Inserts


This Fifth Sunday after Trinity sometimes comes quite close to St Peter's Day which is an “immovable feast” set on June 29. By a happy coincidence (probably not intended) today's Epistle and Gospel feature St Peter in a special way.

The Gospel relates an incident which occurred early in the acquaintance of Jesus and Peter. Jesus had first met Peter in Capernaum, a fishing town on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. Jesus had been a guest in Peter's home and had healed Peter's wife's mother. Then Jesus left for a preaching mission in Judaea (an episode of which we know only a little).

What happens in the passage from Luke 5 which we read today is that Peter's relationship to Jesus, already a positive and strong friendship, is deepened and established. Surely Peter considered it a great honor to have Jesus in his home or to lend his fishing boat to Jesus as a place to preach. The picture of Jesus preaching from the boat to a multitude on the shore deserves to be one of our most beloved images of the Saviour. But Peter needed to learn more about Jesus.

When Jesus was a guest in Peter's house or in Peter's boat, Peter was surely tempted to feel that he himself was in charge of Jesus, saying, “Sit here,” or “Sit there.” Peter probably felt annoyed or possibly even outraged by the command of Jesus, “Put out into the deep.” It was the wrong time of day for fishing, and the men were surely weary from laboring all night. This was their appointed “quitting time,” the moment when workers cannot be detained without grumbling.

Peter addresses Jesus twice in this passage, the first time to argue and the second time to confess his sins. In the first address Peter uses the term “Master,” a polite but unremarkable term for a teacher or rabbi. But in his second speech, Peter addressed Jesus as “Lord.” Peter has suddenly perceived that Jesus is no ordinary teacher or healer, but is none other than the Lord Himself. In that one word “Lord” is the germ of the Great Confession which is read as the Gospel on St Peter's Day.

But let us be quick to say, merely addressing Jesus by the correct title is not enough. As He Himself said, “Not everyone that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven, but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.” Jesus still commands His disciples to take great risks, to do things which defy common sense, to continue our laboring even when we are tired. “Launch out into the deep!”


When we go looking into today's Gospel from Matt. 20 for a sermon, we are confronted by an embarrassment of riches. Here is a story of two disciples, with their mother in tow, asking for special privilege and status in the kingdom Jesus was soon to inaugurate. The request might not be as presumptuous as it appears. There are clues which suggest that the mother of James and John was a sister of the Blessed Mother and therefore Jesus' aunt. That would make James and John the cousins of Jesus. Family ties were important in that age. What we call "nepotism" was a way of life, and the request would not seem out of order to them.

But here are some of the issues which emerge in the passage. First, the sinful desire for rank and power in God's kingdom That is hardly a thing of the past. Ambition for office and influence plagues the Church in every place and time, at every level from parish to diocese to province and even to the ends of the earth. Whereas Matthew and Mark tell this story, Luke does not. Instead he told a more shocking incident in which the Twelve, gathered in the Upper Room on the night of the betrayal, only hours before the crucifixion itself, squabble and quarrel over "who should be the greatest."

Second, the timing of the incident shows the shallowness and insensitivity of Christians to the way of the cross which Jesus has taken. Our reading begins at verse 20. This follows the third great prediction of the passion, in which Jesus had said, "and they shall deliver him to the Gentiles to mock, and to scourge, and to crucify, and the third day he shall rise again."

Do we only hear the final part of that prophecy? The happy indifference to our Lord's agony for us probably explains our preference for a "beautiful" and "glorious" cross to the wooden crucifix which confronts us with His pain. But the incident in today's Gospel reading is so embarrassing (to James and John and to us well) that we know it must have really happened. Anyone who invented such a tale would be guilty of slander.

Finally we must notice the gentleness of our Lord's rebuke, which is hardly a rebuke at all. He reminds them "Ye shall indeed drink of my cup and be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with." As Paul tell us in Romans 6, all who are "baptized into Jesus Christ are truly baptized into his death." The mother, who seems so opportunistic, was one of the women who gathered at the foot of the cross to watch Jesus die. James was the first of the twelve apostles to die as a martyr for the faith. John was the "first to believe" the good news of Jesus' resurrection, lived to a great old age and had a vision of "new heavens and new earth" while enduring the existence of a penal colony. They were not wrong when they said, "We are able."