Saturday, December 31, 2011

Fr Wells's Bulletin Inserts

THE CIRCUMCISION OF CHRIST

Today is the eighth day of Christmas, on which the Church commemorates a special event, the circumcision of the Infant Son of Mary. This was a special time in the life of an Israelite family. In this ceremony a male child, in his earliest infancy, was enrolled as a member of the chosen people of God. This was a sacrament of the Old Testament, instituted by God in the time of Abraham, the first ancestor of the Hebrew people. In Genesis 17, we learn: "He that is eight days old among you shall be circumcised; every male among you ... both he that is born in your house, and he that is bought with your money, shall be circumcised. So shall my covenant be in your flesh an everlasting covenant." Circumcision inflicted an immutable mark, a sign of God's unbreakable covenant, His indestructible relationship with His elect people.

The point for us is that Jesus Christ experienced this Old Testament sacrament. In just a few days we will celebrate the beautiful feast of the Epiphany, the Manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles, when we rejoice that He came to be the Saviour of all ethnicities, Jew and Gentile alike. But today we remember that He was throughout His earthly career a devout and observant Jew, who kept every jot and title of the ceremonial regulations of the Law of Moses. (His disdain for non-Biblical tradition is another matter.)

His Incarnation, we must remember, from the moment Gabriel came to His mother until His corpse was enclosed in the tomb, was one relentless act of humiliation and self-denial. As the Eternal Son of God, the One who could say, "Before Abraham was, I AM," He submitted, even as a tiny infant, to regulations and ceremonies given to His human ancestor. That same submission continued until the Thursday evening thirty-three years later, when He said to His disciples, "I have earnestly desired to eat this passover with you before I suffer" (Luke 22:15).

This Old Testament sacrament of Circumcision took place on the eighth day of an Infant's life. That number eight is not without significance. Remember the creation-story in Genesis 1, told within the literary framework of seven days. The "eighth day" signifies the beginning of a new week, one which reaches beyond and surpasses creation itself. The eighth day is the beginning of a New Creation. Since the original creation is hopelessly spoiled and ruined by sin, nothing less than a New Creation is necessary. That New Creation began at the very moment Gabriel made an announcement to Mary, and in the Birth of her Son Jesus, it is now underway. While this New Creation is not yet finished, we devoutly hope to be a part of it. LKW

What has been won

This year we have won a battle for truth and unity. The battle for truth came in the form of liberating some of our fellow Continuing Anglicans from the false notion that another church body, in this case the Roman Catholic Church, has some superior claim to being truly "catholic." We have witnessed the death throes of the entire spectacle of Continuing Anglicans buying a thoroughly revised version of Anglo-Catholicism, one that aggressively misrepresented itself as authentic Anglo-Catholicism, used by Abp. Hepworth and his fellow travelers to sell the idea that Anglicanorum Coetibus would lead to unity. In fact it would have led only to conversion from one denomination to another, which is all it was ever designed to do. It would have caused a bitter surprise to people, in some cases whose marriages would have been deemed invalid, by many others whose entire sacramental history would have been treated as worthless except baptism, and who would have found themselves disappointed with their new home, barred from Communion until further notice, and treated to unbearable rules made by men.

For several years in recent history a new and unrecognizable version of Anglo-Catholicism had been setting the stage for the tragedy we helped to avert. I do not say Anglo-Catholicism, not the real thing as Dr. Pusey and his colleagues saw it (who never argued that Anglicanism needed to become catholic, but that it always has been truly catholic). Instead many had accepted a modern and counterfeit version that has never amounted to much more than imitation of Rome, except when inconvenient, building in people a great inferiority complex about their own church tradition and the validity of its sacraments, and rejection of the vast wealth of its teaching and liturgy.

Finally, a good number of these people see that we have inherited a treasure that includes all the best of Christianity in accord with the most ancient catholic doctors and bishops. For years I had come across people who doubted the validity of their sacraments, who discredited the Book of Common Prayer, and who thought they should look to the bureaucratic Roman Church, despite its many scandals and disorder. They had been brainwashed and indoctrinated, had been ever learning, never able to come to the knowledge of the truth. They readily accepted the criticism of people who sought to convert them by twisting the meaning of such powerful and thoroughly orthodox liturgy as the traditional Anglican Prayer Book Holy Communion, imposing standards unknown to the Apostles and the Fathers, often with absolutely no witness in Antiquity. As a result, they were ripe to be picked.

The work of turning the light on and banishing the darkness of misinformation has come with a price, a price we have paid in some fairly minor ways - after all, no one has had us beaten or killed. But, mostly the work of this blog has come to be recognized as one of the factors that has restored appreciation of our Anglican heritage and identity. The result of winning the battle for truth is that we played a role in furthering the cause of unity. Ironically, we often were told otherwise; but the facts have been rather obvious now for several months, and we have reason to be happy with what has become clear.

The Continuing Church has a new generation of leading bishops. What I have witnessed personally is hearing Archbishops and Presiding Bishops of the major jurisdictions saying the same thing, saying it in the same room at the same event, saying it in concert with each other, making all of us the most important promise they could have made: To establish unity. None of them caused the divisions, and having inherited those divisions, they have said that they plan to end them. The one good thing that Anglicanorum Coetibus, and the push for it, has accomplished, is to give the leading bishops an occasion to end our own divisions and bring unity to the Continuing Church.

Let us pray, all of us, that in the coming year we will see it taking place by the work of the Holy Spirit.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Fr Wells' Bulletin Inserts

CHRISTMAS


The Gospel story both begins and ends with a stupendous miracle. At the beginning we are told of a baby boy born with no human father, and in conclusion we hear of a dead man brought back to life. From start to finish the Good News of Jesus Christ challenges our credulity. Notice who were the first witnesses of these things. The first to learn of Jesus' resurrection was a group of women. St Luke tells us (Lk 24:10--11), "It was Mary Magdelene, and Joanna, and Mary the mother of James, and other women which were with them, which told these things unto the apostles. And their words seemed to them as idle tales, and they believed them not." The first to hear of the birth of Christ were a bunch of shepherds, abiding in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night.

*Now what did women and shepherds have in common? Obviously these women and these shepherds enjoyed the highest possible privilege. They heard the Gospel. No greater privilege than that, is there? But in the ancient world, the world in which the Incarnation took place, both women and shepherds held a lowly place. They had no standing and no credibility. Neither women nor shepherds were permitted to be witnesses in a court of law. No matter if they were eye-witnesses to an event, their word had no weight in the world.

These were the ones to whom God, in His sovereignty and His wisdom, saw fit first to reveal His Gospel of grace. In that amazing Gospel of amazing grace, God over-rules all our notions of what is true, what is credible, what makes sense. The Gospel tells us that after the shepherds had gone to the manger to see for themselves with their own eyes the wonderful thing which the angels had told them about, "And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child" (Lk 2:17). Did anyone believe them? Probably not. After all, this story was transmitted only by a gang of sheep-herders, ignorant and simple men, commonly regarded as horse-thieves and cattle rustlers in American folk-lore.

But the shepherds at the manger and the women at the tomb knew alike what they had seen and heard. Just a few days before the Church's celebration of the Birth Day of Christ, we celebrate the feast of St Thomas, the man who said, "Except I see ... I will not believe." You know what happened next: Jesus came and said to Thomas, "Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand and thrust it into my side: and be not faithless, but believing" (Jn 20:27).

We began by saying that the shepherds and the women at the tomb enjoyed the highest possible privilege: hearing the Good News of God's merciful love for fallen mankind, His redeeming grace for hopeless sinners. We celebrate today that same message, rejoicing that we too enjoy the privilege of knowing Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour. And at His Christmas Altar He says to us, as He said to Thomas, "be not faithless but believing." LKW

Friday, December 23, 2011

Christmas

Hebrews 1:1-12 * John 1:1-14

On Christmas, this Feast of the Nativity, the hidden revelation we celebrate on the Feast of the Annunciation becomes visible.

"Then the babe, the world's Redeemer
First revealed his sacred face
Evermore and evermore."

I never tire of the prologue to St. John’s Gospel. This is the Gospel for the first Mass of Christmas, which is also the last Gospel of almost every High Mass. These words are hakadesh hakadeshim- the holy of holies- in all of scripture. The finest and most entertaining story cannot begin to compare with these words which we have heard from scripture. If we heard the opening of St. John’s Gospel on every day owe could not hear it too often. 

A Roman Catholic priest of my acquaintance via e-mail, Fr. Joseph Wilson, wrote, in an article, that it is impossible to overemphasize the Incarnation. How right he is. Many heresies come about by overemphasis on one little part of Christian truth at the expense of the rest of it. This cannot happen to the doctrine of the Incarnation, for it contains all of the truth in itself. This truth, that Christ is God the Son come to us in the fullness both of His Divine Nature, and of His human nature, is the truth, the central doctrine, of Christianity. Take it away and we have nothing. Keep it, and we have everything. No wonder St. John also tells us that this simple true statement, that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh, is the one doctrine that the spirit of Antichrist will not admit.

The doctrine of the Incarnation contains all of the truth of Christianity. The full revelation of the Trinity becomes necessary for God is the Son, and God is the Father; but the Son is not the Father. And the Son is present with us by the Holy Spirit. But, the Son and the Father are not the Holy Spirit. Yet, every Jew always knew that there is only One God- sh’mai Israel... The truth of the Incarnation opens more questions than it gives answers; the questions are because God is revealed fully by Jesus as being, in His words, The Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost (Matt. 28:19). The risen Christ revealed this one name for God. We can spend eternity asking questions about the infinity of the True and Living God because He will always be beyond our full comprehension. Yet, because He can walk among us as a man, in the person of the Son, we can know Him. He is beyond us forever; He is with us forever. His name is called Emmanuel- God with us.

The truth of the Incarnation tells us that we are sinners, lost because we are lost in sin. The light shines not against lesser light, but in the very darkness itself, a darkness that neither understands nor can solve the problem of this bothersome light. The darkness comprehended it not, the darkness into which we had fallen, and in which we were blind. Even many of the very chosen people themselves received not this Light; no wonder then that most of the world cannot receive Him either. Those who can receive Him do so because they face the light. This light hurts our eyes at first; for it tells the truth, the truth about ourselves which we wanted never to see nor hear.

The writer to the Hebrews wastes no time in telling us that this Man, the Son of God who is the very icon of the Father, in Whom the glory of God is perfectly seen, has purged our sins. And, in the Gospel of St. Luke, the words of the angels are heard, “Glory to God in the Highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men.” What peace is this? Is it some magic that makes sinful and fallen men stop waging war? Is not the greater war shown to us in scripture? We could say that God might justly wage war upon us because of our sins. As early as the story of Noah’s flood we see that God accepted the sacrifice of Noah after the flood- a sacrifice that pointed to Christ’s own death on the cross as did all the sacrifices. We are told that God hung up His bow as a sign in the heavens. He hung up what we call the rainbow, His bow of warfare, and promised not to destroy mankind from the face of the earth. This is the peace of which the angels speak. God offers to us peace with Himself. 

The sacrifice that had been offered in the story of Noah, after he came out of the ark, was only a type and shadow of the cross, the shadow of which hung already, over a newborn infant Son lying asleep in a manger. This night is answered by "the night in which He was betrayed." Only by His cross, by His sacrifice, is peace made between God and fallen mankind.

Nails, spear shall pierce Him through
A cross be borne for me for you,
Hail, hail the Word made flesh,
The Babe the Son of Mary.

All of the events to come, right up to His dying and rising again are foretold in these words of the angels. We do not see goodwill among men, as some misinterpret the angelic words, but goodwill toward men, from God. The whole revelation that God is Love is given to us, also, by the Incarnation. This is the great gift of love, that He would give His own Son; He offers the sacrifice that He would not allow our father Abraham to make. Abraham was ready to obey God, and prepared to offer his son, his only son Isaac whom he loved, upon whom had been laid the wood of the altar while they had climbed Mount Moriah.

Abraham was spared this terrible agony of slaying his beloved son, and in fact God taught His people that He would never accept the sacrifice of their children, such sacrifices as the pagans made to what were no gods. But, God in His love gives His only begotten Son Whom He loves. This is the goodwill toward men. This goodwill was seen that night in the manger in Bethlehem; this goodwill was seen on the cross many years later on a Friday afternoon.

In the Incarnation, now revealed, we see that God would call a people to be His children, adopting them in the very Person of His only begotten Son; for as St. Paul tells us, we are in Christ. It is because we are in the Beloved, in the Son Himself, that we are chosen by God for salvation, instead of having been abandoned to the fate we had deserved for ourselves.

We see also that He would establish His Church, and give to it His Word and Sacraments for the salvation of all who believe the Gospel. St. John, in opening his First Epistle, tells us that he had been among those whose hands had handled, and whose eyes had seen the Word of Life; and he goes on to tell us that we too are called to fellowship with God and His Son Jesus Christ through the invitation of the apostles. St. John is telling us that in the Church the sacraments are given and God’s Word is spoken, that we may know Him. Without the Incarnation the apostles have no word to tell, and there is then no Word from God, nor any sacraments. Because of the Incarnation we are given the Word of His truth. And the sacraments stem from His own coming in the flesh, and are given to us only because He was given to us when He came in our own nature, a created nature that was alien to His uncreated Person as God the only Son, eternally begotten of the Father.

In his classic, On the Incarnation, St. Athanasius said that while Christ walked the earth as man, He still filled the heavens as God. The Council Of Chalcedon taught us that He is fully God, being of the same nature as that of the Father, and fully human, being of the same human nature as ourselves, like us in every way except for sin, having human nature from His mother Mary, the Virgin, the Theotokos- which means that God the Son has a mother; and He is "like us in every respect apart from sin."

None of this is explained to us. How is it that God is made man, that the Word is made flesh and that He dwelt among us, that we beheld His glory? We do not really know all the answers- which is part of the revelation. God cannot be figured out, dissected and explained. He cannot be understood, analyzed and described. But, He can be known through Christ, the Only Mediator Who Himself is God and Man.

How do sacraments work? How does bread and wine feed us the flesh and blood of the Living Christ? How does water, with the right words, give new life when applied to human flesh? How can priests, ourselves sinners, forgive sins? How did Christ’s death take away the sins of the world? How does His resurrection save us from death? If we needed to know the answers in some mechanical way, then salvation would be reserved only for people far too clever for me. The point is to know that it is beyond our understanding, because we are not God. We  cannot explain it. But, what we do not understand we can know; we can know the love of God shown to us in the coming of Christ into the world. “For God so loved the world,” and that is the why of it.

I will close with words written in 1765, by Christopher Smart, words which made it into our hymnal, and which work equally well for this Feast of Christmas and also for the Feast of the Annunciation which was nine months ago:

O Most Mighty!
O Most Holy!
Far beyond the seraph’s thought,
Art Thou then so mean and lowly
As unheeded prophets taught?


O the magnitude of meekness!
Worth from worth immortal sprung;
O the strength of infant weakness,
if eternal is so young.


God all bounteous, all creative,
Whom no ills from good dissuade,
Is Incarnate and a native
Of the very world He made.

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

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Crissmas and Exmas

An essay from "God in the Dock."
“Xmas and Christmas: A Lost Chapter from Herodotus,” by C.S. Lewis
And beyond this there lies in the ocean, turned towards the west and north, the island of Niatirb which Hecataeus indeed declares to be the same size and shape as Sicily, but it is larger, though in calling it triangular a man would not miss the mark. It is densely inhabited by men who wear clothes not very different from the other barbarians who occupy the north western parts of Europe though they do not agree with them in language. These islanders, surpassing all the men of whom we know in patience and endurance, use the following customs.
In the middle of winter when fogs and rains most abound they have a great festival which they call Exmas and for fifty days they prepare for it in the fashion I shall describe. First of all, every citizen is obliged to send to each of his friends and relations a square piece of hard paper stamped with a picture, which in their speech is called an Exmas-card. But the pictures represent birds sitting on branches, or trees with a dark green prickly leaf, or else men in such garments as the Niatirbians believe that their ancestors wore two hundred years ago riding in coaches such as their ancestors used, or houses with snow on their roofs. And the Niatirbians are unwilling to say what these pictures have to do with the festival; guarding (as I suppose) some sacred mystery. And because all men must send these cards the marketplace is filled with the crowd of those buying them, so that there is great labour and weariness.
But having bought as many as they suppose to be sufficient, they return to their houses and find there the like cards which others have sent to them. And when they find cards from any to whom they also have sent cards, they throw them away and give thanks to the gods that this labour at least is over for another year. But when they find cards from any to whom they have not sent, then they beat their breasts and wail and utter curses against the sender; and, having sufficiently lamented their misfortune, they put on their boots again and go out into the fog and rain and buy a card for him also. And let this account suffice about Exmas-cards.
They also send gifts to one another, suffering the same things about the gifts as about the cards, or even worse. For every citizen has to guess the value of the gift which every friend will send to him so that he may send one of equal value, whether he can afford it or not. And they buy as gifts for one another such things as no man ever bought for himself. For the sellers, understanding the custom, put forth all kinds of trumpery, and whatever, being useless and ridiculous, they have been unable to sell throughout the year they now sell as an Exmas gift. And though the Niatirbians profess themselves to lack sufficient necessary things, such as metal, leather, wood and paper, yet an incredible quantity of these things is wasted every year, being made into the gifts.
But during these fifty days the oldest, poorest, and most miserable of the citizens put on false beards and red robes and walk about the market-place; being disguised (in my opinion) as Cronos. And the sellers of gifts no less than the purchaser’s become pale and weary, because of the crowds and the fog, so that any man who came into a Niatirbian city at this season would think some great public calamity had fallen on Niatirb. This fifty days of preparation is called in their barbarian speech the Exmas Rush.
But when the day of the festival comes, then most of the citizens, being exhausted with the Rush, lie in bed till noon. But in the evening they eat five times as much supper as on other days and, crowning themselves with crowns of paper, they become intoxicated. And on the day after Exmas they are very grave, being internally disordered by the supper and the drinking and reckoning how much they have spent on gifts and on the wine. For wine is so dear among the Niatirbians that a man must swallow the worth of a talent before he is well intoxicated.
Such, then, are their customs about the Exmas. But the few among the Niatirbians have also a festival, separate and to themselves, called Crissmas, which is on the same day as Exmas. And those who keep Crissmas, doing the opposite to the majority of the Niatirbians, rise early on that day with shining faces and go before sunrise to certain temples where they partake of a sacred feast. And in most of the temples they set out images of a fair woman with a new-born Child on her knees and certain animals and shepherds adoring the Child. (The reason of these images is given in a certain sacred story which I know but do not repeat.)
But I myself conversed with a priest in one of these temples and asked him why they kept Crissmas on the same day as Exmas; for it appeared to me inconvenient. But the priest replied, “It is not lawful, O stranger, for us to change the date of Chrissmas, but would that Zeus would put it into the minds of the Niatirbians to keep Exmas at some other time or not to keep it at all. For Exmas and the Rush distract the minds even of the few from sacred things. And we indeed are glad that men should make merry at Crissmas; but in Exmas there is no merriment left.” And when I asked him why they endured the Rush, he replied, “It is, O Stranger, a racket”; using (as I suppose) the words of some oracle and speaking unintelligibly to me (for a racket is an instrument which the barbarians use in a game called tennis).
But what Hecataeus says, that Exmas and Crissmas are the same, is not credible. For first, the pictures which are stamped on the Exmas-cards have nothing to do with the sacred story which the priests tell about Crissmas. And secondly, the most part of the Niatirbians, not believing the religion of the few, nevertheless send the gifts and cards and participate in the Rush and drink, wearing paper caps. But it is not likely that men, even being barbarians, should suffer so many and great things in honour of a god they do not believe in. And now, enough about Niatirb.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Dickens and the Construction of Christmas

"The Spirit of Christmas Present, Scrooge observed, is able 'notwithstanding his gigantic size', 'to accommodate himself to any place with ease'. 'He stood beneath a low roof quite as gracefully and like a super-natural creature, as it was possible he could have done in any lofty hall', just as the Christmas gospel proclaimed the humble stooping down of the Creator to be born at Bethlehem." 


See the rest by Geoffrey Rowell here.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Video - sermon for Advent IV

Not the same as below either. Here is the link.

This video idea was from several members who finally talked me into it.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Fourth Sunday in Advent

Isaiah 40:1-11 * Psalm 80 * Phil. 4:4-7 * John 1:19-28 


Again we see that mysterious image of John the Baptist, the burning and shining light who bore witness by his life and death to Jesus Christ. “He must increase, and I must decrease,” said this prophet, this man whose unique vocation was that he bridged the Old Testament and the New. Two weeks ago we saw that all of the scriptures bore witness to Jesus Christ; and now, this last prophet of the Old Covenant bears direct witness to Christ, baptizing Him, and seeing the Spirit of God come upon Him as a dove out of Heaven. This last prophet of the Old Covenant is the first prophet of the New Covenant. The Lord said through the prophet Isaiah, “Behold, I will do a new thing; now it shall spring forth; shall ye not know it? I will even make a way in the wilderness, and rivers in the desert (Isa. 43: 19).” God called this prophet, this unique prophet, to show that the new thing, the New Covenant spoken of by Jeremiah the prophet (Jer. 31:31f) was upon them. John’s father was a priest under the Law of Moses, a descendent of Aaron. Therefore, John was also, by that Law, a priest. Yet, John the son of Zechariah, went into the desert to be the voice of one crying in the wilderness, “prepare the way of the Lord.”

Advent is about the last things, and especially meant to remind us that Christ will come again in glory to judge the quick and the dead, to make the heavens and the earth new, and to rule forever on His throne, surrounded by saints whom He has redeemed from sin and death to rule forever with Him. But, as we have seen, instead of having us read the many passages of scripture that deal very directly with eschatology- the study of the end- the Gospel readings appointed by the Church give us a glimpse of Christ’s second coming by reminding us of events that happened when He came at first. The first week we saw that His kingdom brings judgment on the very House of God in the midst of the holy city, and cleanses it by driving out those who defiled it by their practice of unrepented sin. The picture ought to inspire the healthy fear of God, and to make us repentant and resolute to live in such a way that we will be among those who remain in His house forever, instead of being driven out to spend eternity in outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.


And now, thanks to the wisdom of the Church, we are reminded of the Baptist who prepared the way of the Lord by preaching repentance and cleansing. John the Baptist bridged the Testaments and prepared the way for Christ by offering hope, by giving sinful people a chance to start over again. The sinners who came to him were given a new beginning, hope and cleansing- themselves cleansed rather than tossed out as the Lord tossed out the money changers when it was the temple that was cleansed of evil presences and practices. In other words, the vocation of John the Baptist was to prepare people to see Jesus as the Messiah, and the preparation was repentance, the only way to be prepared to meet the Lord. The Advent message of repentance is necessary. Modern popular religion tells everyone that they need not repent of their sins, but rather that everyone is accepted with all of their ungodly baggage. The truth is, some churches are simply helping people go into the outer darkness. After all, St. Paul warned of people he called Satan’s ministers (II Cor. 11:13-15). The real ministry of the Church is the most important and serious thing in the world. Here we deal with things more important than mere life and death. We speak and administer the word and sacraments that have to do with eternal destiny. We give out both a warning and hope: "Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand."



Now, about the comings of Jesus Christ, and the life of this mysterious John the Baptist, we should dig a little deeper. The word “Christ” is from the Greek for the Hebrew wordMeshiach, or as we pronounce it in English, Messiah. We have come to call the Lord by two names more than all others, Jesus and Christ. The one means Salvation- Y’shua. The other means “the anointed” – Meshiach. The implication is the Old Testament expression, “the Lord’s Anointed.” This comes with two pictures, as the word "messiah" is sprinkled generously throughout the pages of the Old Testament (generally translated "anointed"). The word speaks of priests and kings, and the anointing comes by the hand of a prophet.


The first men to be called meshiach were the brother of Moses, Aaron the High Priest, and his sons the priests. The King James Bible uses the phrase “the priest that is anointed.” The original Hebrew is h’ kohan h’ meshiach- “the priest the messiah.” The second class of men to be called messiah (meshiach) are the kings. David would not stretch forth his hand against Saul, because he was “the Lord’s anointed.” That is, the Lord’s messiah. Every priest was a messiah, and every king was a messiah. And, yet, the scriptures clearly speak of the one Man who would be both priest and king, and who would be the only hope of the whole world, being the one Jews call H’ MeshiachThe Messiah. So, first Messiah is the priest, and then after that He is the King.

His two comings are foreshadowed in these pictures. First he came as priest. The Epistle to the Hebrews is the most explicit New Testament book that tells of Christ’s priestly ministry when he came the first time, and does so in light of the hope of those who look for His second appearing. As the priest He offered Himself as the sacrifice. The Book of Leviticus tells us clearly how a priest made kippur, that is atonement, for a repentant sinner who confessed his sin to the priest and brought a sacrifice. The real meaning is that the priest himself is the atonement, and offers the animal because he cannot sacrifice himself. This is a type and shadow of Jesus, who did offer Himself as priest and sacrifice when He came the first time. The importance of the Suffering Servant passage to the clear New Testament proclamation of atonement cannot be overstated. You will find it in the 53rd chapter of the Book of Isaiah. “But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.”

This Suffering servant, after His death in their place, rises and takes up a ministry of intercession for sinners. “When thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in his hand.” A dead man cannot prolong his days unless he rises again. In this passage, His death and resurrection are priestly, because he dies as the one true sacrifice, the atonement, and after rising “he ever lives to make intercession for them,” that is, for those who come to God through Him (Hebrews 7:25). The Old Testament sacrifices on those altars foreshadowed His true sacrifice, just as our sacrifice on this altar, in which nothing is killed, proclaims it. In fact, there is only one Mass (Eucharist or Holy Communion), and always when it is offered anywhere in the world by the Church, it is joined to the one true sacrifice on Calvary.

When he comes again, the image of Messiah as King will be fulfilled in all of its glory. This is the terror of all that is evil, and it is the hope of the Church. It is a certainty that he will come on the Last Day to judge the living and the dead, to establish Heaven on Earth, to rule and so grant peace forever. Both testaments speak of His coming as the King Messiah. Daniel saw one coming in the clouds of Heaven as the Son of man to rule with the Ancient of Days; Moses saw that “the Earth shall be filled with the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.” Our eternal hope is not based upon imagination and conjecture, but upon the sure promise given in and by Christ’s resurrection from the dead. We are given the “sure and certain hope of the resurrection on the Last Day.” It is the only such hope, and it is impossible to separate that hope from Jesus Christ, because immortality, the hope of eternal life, is granted through His resurrection. So writes Saint John about those who, due to this hope, purify themselves: “Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is (I John 3:2).”


John the Baptist prepared the way of the Lord by his message of repentance. Pondering these pictures of the Messiah as priest and King we are both warned and encouraged with both fear and hope. This is the meaning of Advent. It is of eternal consequence that we give heed.

The best way to remember Hitchens

From a TV interview with David Bentley Hart.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Practical approaches

One of the helpful ideas we heard from the Rector and pastoral staff of Saint Matthew's Anglican Catholic Church, presented at the Provincial Synod, is their use of an Inquirer's Class for potential members. People who show interest in finding a new church, and who want to join their congregation as members are asked to attend the Inquirer's Class, and afterward come into the services of the Holy Communion or Mass. From the reports, it works better than simply having people jump into the Eucharist from the start.

Why not? The idea may seem revolutionary because we have long used our own modern paradigm; but, it is ancient. It is in keeping with the practice of having people come in as catechumens, something we have lost in modern times. Indeed, we can trace the new approach back into the twentieth century, and as an American I can look at what happened in the Episcopal Church.

Once upon a time it was accepted and understood that becoming a member of a church could require steps, including education. In Anglicanism we have always had at least some amount of catechesis, generally enough to take a person into Confirmation by a bishop in Apostolic Succession as a sacrament that furthers and continues what began in Baptism. That period of Instruction was not burdensome, and in an age when people respected authority more it was considered perfectly appropriate.

Somewhere, back in the twentieth century, it seems that the Episcopal Church slowly began to see catechesis as somehow less than polite, something that is less than friendly or welcoming. The result was a denomination filled with people who joined, but very few who converted to anything. In time, most Episcopalians were not of the cradle variety, but rather those who joined in adult years. This included even most of its clergy. These adult "joiners" brought all their ideas with them, including many that had no place in a church body that was supposed to be truly catholic and reformed. We all know the results, and it continues to get worse.

Furthermore, many people today, if they have any church background, have no experience with liturgy. They think of services as something made up during the week, or perhaps as entertainment like a concert with "spiritual" or emotional content meant to be "inspiring" or "uplifting." The ridiculous and wholly (not holy) "Seeker "Sensitive" movement is almost a caricature of the worst of the worst of it, with no references to sin, repentance or the cross, just as the Episcopal Church is a caricature of the worst thing that can happen where liturgy of any kind sort of remains. 

The truth is, we have come to a time when most people have never experienced liturgical worship. Effective Evangelism may require, therefore, other opportunities for people to come into parish churches and both meet the people and learn the meaning of the Faith. I am trying to see how to put together Bible Studies that are informal enough to be both spiritual and social occasions, the sort of thing one may invite friends, neighbors or family to. Fr. John Roddy told us, at our 2011 Diocesan Synod (Diocese of the South, ACC-OP) that this proved quite effective in building up a congregation in Atlanta, Georgia (before his move to Alexandria, Virginia). Our liturgy is powerful, but to the uninitiated it may be like tongues without an interpretation, thus ruling out a sincere "amen."* Some people visit our churches and instantly take to it all; but many go away because they "feel stupid," as, in fact, some have related (and those who instantly take to it still need catechesis).

Teaching people the meaning of what we do and why we do it has to include making sure that they understand the most important truth of all, the Gospel. Yes, the service of Holy Communion preaches the Gospel and prevents us from forgetting it.** But, to many new people it seems difficult to keep up and really pay attention. Having ways to ease some people into our churches, and grounding them in the Faith, has to be part of what we are giving serious thought to; and with churches that are making it work, considering a model to learn from. 

*     I Corinthians 14:16
**   I Corinthians 15:1-11

Monday, December 12, 2011

Laymen's Guide to the Thirty-Nine Articles

Article XVI

Of Sin after Baptism

Not every deadly sin willingly committed after Baptism is sin against the Holy Ghost, and unpardonable. Wherefore the grant of repentance is not to be denied to such as fall into sin after Baptism. After we have received the Holy Ghost, we may depart from grace given and fall into sin, and by the grace of God we may arise again and amend our lives. And therefore they are to be condemned, which say, they can no more sin as long as they live here, or deny the place of forgiveness to such as truly repent.

De Peccato post Baptismum

Non omne peccatum mortale post Baptismum voluntarie perpetratum, est peccatum in Spiritum Sanctum, et irremissibile. Proinde lapsis a Baptismo in peccata locus penetentiae non est negandus. Post acceptum Spiritum Sanctum possumus a gratia data recedere atque peccare, denuoque per gratiam Dei resurgere ac resipiscere. Ideoque illi damnandi sunt qui se quamdiu hic vivant, amplius non posse peccare affirmant, aut vere resipiscentibus veniae locum denegant.

Fr. Robert Hart
This follows hard on the ending of Article XV in perfect continuity. Article XV ended with a clear quotation from the First Epistle of John 1:8; “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” Therefore, the indication is all too clear. Although Article XV forces us to look at the recently added dogma of the Church of Rome called the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary, if only because we live after the year 1854, the following of this Article on the last forces us to look at something else altogether. In fact it forces us to look at error not of the Church of Rome, but rather sects that threatened true doctrine from the opposite direction; and, it deals with two basic errors rather than one.
          From ancient times to modern, various doctrines have caused individuals to fall into dangerous despair. We can trace heresies throughout history; consider the Donatists, who believed that anyone who had lapsed from fear under persecution could never be forgiven. The Montanists believed that sin after baptism could not be forgiven. And, it is possible for readers of the Bible to misunderstand even the good translations we have. For example, “For if we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries (Heb. 10:26, 27).” The Greek New Testament, however, is even more emphatically present tense than this English translation, indicating a state of mind not yet repentant, but persistent in willful sin. 
          Passages in the Old Testament and the New give us practical understanding of the mystery of freewill. The eighteenth chapter of Ezekiel lays out the simple reality that a person may fall into sin, but repent. If that person repents, all of the sins are completely forgotten. If someone known for righteous living falls into sin, all of his former righteousness is forgotten. If the same person repents, everything is forgotten, and he may begin again. And, the end of the First Epistle of St. John (5:16,17) speaks of a “sin unto death” from which the phrase “mortal sin” comes. The meaning is that a sin unto death requires more than intercession from others in the Church; it must be dealt with seriously by repentance. The implication is clearly about sin that is chosen, when one sins willfully.
           So, the opening of the Article is stated clearly to help individuals avoid despair: “Not every deadly sin willingly committed after Baptism is sin against the Holy Ghost, and unpardonable. Wherefore the grant of repentance is not to be denied to such as fall into sin after Baptism.” Here we find the practical nature of Anglican reason, in accordance with Scripture. As much as Predestination is a mystery, so is freewill. A person baptized is “in Christ” and is told that, for that reason, must not live in sin (see the sixth chapter of the Epistle to the Romans). The person who is “in Christ” remains, therefore, capable of sinning, even of sinning willfully. Otherwise, no exhortation would be necessary.
          And, we must conclude that the same person remains “in Christ” even when committing sin, even when doing so with the will. Here is where the mysteries of freewill and predestination come together. The power to sin, and the power to repent are addressed in the Article in terms of freewill and in terms of God’s work, because of that word “grace.” The person who is “in Christ” may yet repent, but only by God’s grace. This article takes into account the whole of Scriptural teaching on all related subjects in a manner that may be called systematic theology, for it squares with all of the related passages in the Bible. It relates freewill and predestination in a balanced and realistic manner, leaving man wholly dependant on the grace of God.
          Finally, the Article rejects the doctrine of those who teach a kind of “sinless perfection” in this life. We hear this today from people in various sects who teach that those who are “in Christ” are no longer sinners because they are saints. They lack the balance of reason. Generally, people who fall into this error do so by taking out of context one simple verse from the First Epistle of John (3:9): “Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God.” They fail to remember that this comes in the context of the very same Epistle in which the Beloved Disciple also wrote the words we have seen:

“If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world ( -I John 1:8-2:2).”

          In other words, that one verse they interpret so badly is another way of saying the very next thing that comes in the earlier quotation from chapters one and two: “And hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments (2:3).” Or, as James says, “I will shew thee my faith by my works (James 2:18)” It means that someone who truly believes cannot live in persistent, unrepentant willful sin. “His seed remains in him,” in terms of the Parable of the Sower, neither destroyed nor hindered by fowls of the air, by shallow ground, nor thorns. That seed is the word of God. One who believes may, by God’s grace, arise again and amend his life.

Fr. Laurence Wells
Once a week I visit an elderly indigent gentleman in a miserably substandard nursing home.  He has no family to speak of and circumstances have compelled him to be placed in a facility at some distance from his shrinking circle of friends.  He has been dear to me for about twenty years and I value his friendship because he illustrates so well the truths, both painful and joyful, of Article XVI.  He was once a man of some means and the spiritual lay leader of his Protestant congregation.  He taught me much about prayer and the Gospel.  But old age brought great adversity.  His wife died, after a long period of affliction, and his tiny Methodist church fell apart through attrition and neighborhood decline.       
Left rather alone in the world, some old bad habits returned in his time of weakness. He was victimized by prostitutes and other dishonest people.  His retirement savings were run through, his health left him and now, having wasted his substance in riotous living, he is an invalid in a wheel-chair in a dingy facility where the indigent elderly are warehoused.  He has nothing left but his faith.       
Article XVI alludes to a widespread belief in the ancient Church that if Baptism washes away sin, then there is no remedy for sin after that chronological point.  This teaching, which seems so strange to us, led to the practice of delaying Baptism until a person reached the point of death.  This seems to have been the case with that famous adult convert, the Emperor Constantine.  This led to the slightly more wholesome teaching that the Sacrament of Penance is "the second plank after shipwreck," i.e. the plank sinners grab when the first plank--Baptism-- has been lost.  An even better teaching would be that the effects of Baptism as an act of God are not confined to the chronological moment when the sacrament is administered.  For the washing away of sin and the gift of new life in the family of God, Baptism has effects which are lifelong.  Baptism belongs to the new creation, not to the old.  It is therefore not eroded by the passing of time or anything sinners do subsequently. 
Article XVI can be reduced to four points.  First, sin is a continuing reality in the life of the Baptized.  While Baptism is a supernatural act of God, the sacrament does not zap us into instant perfection.  It is not magic.  If perhaps the old creation began with a big bang, the new creation is still a work in process. As Charles Wesley wrote, "Finish then thy new creation, pure and spotless let us be."  
Second, God's pardoning and cleansing love is a continuing reality in the life of sinners.  Whatever extravagant claims we may try to make for the notion of "free will," we are simply impotent when it comes to changing God's determination to redeem us.  When my elderly friend suffered his shocking lapse in his mid-eighties, a number of friends cast him off and would have no more to do with him. "That old reprobate!  He has been a hypocrite through all these years!"  Mediaeval theologians amused themselves by speculating on things which God cannot do:  making a rock bigger than He can move, creating another god, telling a lie.  But we may be certain that we cannot even think of a sin too horrible for Him to forgive.  The Cross is proof of that.  In the realm of grace, His capacity to redeem is infinite.  The Church Fathers were not entirely off-base when they speculated on the final redemption of even the devil himself.       
Third, the Christian life (that is, the Baptismal life) is characterized by what C. S. Lewis called "the law of undulation."  As the Article says in its usual laconic style, "After we have received the Holy Ghost, we may depart from grace given and fall into sin."  It seems clear enough that "receiving the Holy Ghost" here means the gift of regeneration, the new birth which Baptism effectively signifies.  But what is meant by "departing from grace given?"  Is this a total fall, in which the miracle of regeneration is absolutely eradicated?  Some of the semi-Pelagian school have so interpreted the phrase, but the Latin "possumus recedere" does not seem to bear such an interpretation.  Every Christian knows that his life has had spiritual "dry spells" when little growth was going on and probably periods, even long periods, any the "growth" was mostly in the wrong direction. 
What seems more certain is that "we may" (possumus, more accurately rendered "we can") is a dramatic understatement.  Not only "can we" or "may we," but experience tells us we probably will and frequently do.   The fourth and final point is that sins committed in the course of the Christian life are real sins, deserving the wrath and curse of God.  They are not to be trivialized by unfounded distinctions between sin and concupiscence, or mortal and venial sins.  In such a moral universe, there would be no place for the Cross, no voice for the Gospel, no reason for Christ to shed His blood.  The Gospel contained in this Article is that "by the grace of God we may arise again and amend our lives."
No exceptions, not even for elderly lechers waiting for death in a waking nightmare.         
          

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Third Sunday in Advent

Bible Illustrations of Gustave Dore'

I Cor. 4:1f  * Matt. 11:2f

The Gospel reading for today reminds us that John the Baptist was the messenger who went before the face of the Lord to prepare the way. The words "my messenger" are the same as the name of the prophet who wrote the scriptures that the Lord quoted- Malachi. It means "my messenger" or "my angel." For this reason John is pictured in iconography with the wings of an angel. Since the Gospel reminds us that John the Baptist was, in the words of the prophet Malachi, the special messenger who prepared the people to see Jesus Christ and to receive Him, we should ask why it is that we have Penitential seasons; that is Advent and Lent. I believe everyone knows what goes on in New Orleans just before Lent. The Mardi Gras has become completely decadent and pornographically lewd. They have corrupted the idea into one of whooping it up right up until Lent comes, and spoils all the fun. Hardly a good way to prepare for Christ. I am glad that they don't do this before Advent as well

Obviously, we don’t restrict Penance to just two seasons, anymore than we restrict faith in the Resurrection exclusively to the Easter season. Each season reinforces an important element of the Christian life in its fullness. Back in Maryland, before Saint Andrew’s moved into a historic and beautiful church, we had a hot water pot that boiled the water for the coffee, and, with only one room, we had to turn it on long before people came in and began to prepare for the service by praying; because otherwise they would hear the pot wailing and mourning with great lamentation and woe while the water boiled. We decided that it was a water pot for the Penitential seasons, for it wailed more forcefully than a piper’s Lament. But, it was the only water pot; so it always made its noise, and we always had to turn it on early; not just in Advent and Lent. And, like that deeply convicted water pot, we need to carry into the whole year the sober message of these seasons. And, neither, in these seasons, do we lose our joy and hope in Christ. In fact, if you paid attention to the scriptures and to the Collect, you see that the message is the message of John the Baptist; that is, to be prepared for the sudden appearance of the Lord Himself. As I pointed out two weeks ago, to be prepared to meet Christ in the final judgment, we all need to live here and now, properly prepared to receive Him in the Blessed Sacrament of His Body and Blood. So, this message of Advent, with its penance and its hope, is a year-round message, telling us to be prepared to receive Jesus Christ, Really and Truly Present among us and in us.

And, if you were paying attention to the Collect, and how it relates to the Epistle, you will see that bishops, priests and deacons are placed in His Church to be stewards of the mysteries of Christ, in order to teach His people this very thing: To be ready to meet Him. The picture of John the Baptist is used by the Church to remind the messengers that we too must prepare the people for the coming of the Lord, for the day when He shall appear in glory, and we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ.

So, the scriptures today remind us of the messenger, John the Baptist. People do not understand John. They see his message only in negative terms. They think it terrible that he was a “hell fire and damnation” preacher (though, I need hardly point out, that the real hell fire preacher in the Bible was the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. The Baptist was mild by comparison). When John the Baptist appears in movies, he often looks and acts like a wild man, and the wardrobe department replaces the Camel’s Hair garment he wore with something that seems to have come off of Fred Flintstone.

But, if we look at the record of what really happened, as it is in each of the Four Gospels, it was John who gave the people hope. The Pharisees had no message of hope for sinners, and the Sadducees had no message of hope at all, believing that there was no life beyond the grave (which is why the Sadducees were sad, you see). Furthermore, the Pharisees seemed to think of sin in terms of social class instead of in terms of one’s relation to God. But, of course, the most important line was that of the Lord Jesus Christ, when He said to the Pharisees that the tax collectors and prostitutes would enter the kingdom of God ahead of them, because the tax collectors and prostitues repented at the preaching of John. People came from miles around to confess their sins and to be baptized by him, with his baptism of repentance.

You know, we do not have the most affirming message: that is, we do not have a message that says: “I’m okay, you’re okay” like a certain book from the 1970s. Anyone who leaves these services thinking he has been told how good he is, has not paid any attention to our liturgy. We do not approach God thanking Him that we are not as other men, boasting of being “good people.” Rather, “we bewail our manifold sins and wickedness, which we, from time to time, most grievously have committed.” Frankly, there is no other way to approach God.

I will tell you now, that I could not do what I do here for you if I did not, myself, from time to time, go to one of Christ’s priests, confess my own sins, and hear those words, “I absolve you…” I do not know why so many people think that confession is strictly a Roman Catholic thing- just for them. Anyone who knows the Ordinal of the Church of England must know that the priestly power to absolve, to forgive sins, has always been a very important part of Anglican practice. We never abandoned it.

Furthermore, as King David wrote, “Blessed is he whose unrighteousness is forgiven…” Confession hurts before you do it; but it brings joy to the heart after it is done. It is the most healing experience a person can have. Believe me, I know. As a priest I know what it is to be on both sides. You see, I am a sinner too; and without the ministry of the sacrament of Absolution, I would not know the joy, the freedom and lightness of the life in Christ- not lightness as in silliness, but as in liberation from a heavy weight. “Come unto Me all ye that travail and are heavy laden, and I will refresh you.” It is so.

Be prepared for the appearing of Christ Himself. “Every eye shall see Him.” This is what John was sent to prepare the people for. It is what we teach you, as stewards of the Mysteries of Christ, the mysteries revealed in His word, and the seven Mysteries or sacraments.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

More for week II in Advent

The things which are revealed
"The secret things belong unto the LORD our God: but those things which are revealed belong unto us and to our children for ever, that we may do all the words of this law (Deut. 29:29)."

More thoughts came to mind on Sunday morning, so that what I said from the pulpit is not the sermon I posted here on Saturday. In addition to the appointed readings for Holy Communion that are in the Prayer Book (Romans 15:4-13 * Luke 21:25-33), the assigned readings for Morning Prayer included as a first lesson the entire 55th chapter of the book of Isaiah. I want us to zero in on vs. 6-11:

“Seek ye the LORD while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near: Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the LORD, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts. For as the rain cometh down, and the snow from heaven, and returneth not thither, but watereth the earth, and maketh it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower, and bread to the eater: So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.”


Often this passage is quoted as an excuse for ignorance. The implication is, we simply cannot know God’s ways, so let’s not form strong convictions about anything; let’s not be dogmatic. It is true that God is beyond our highest thoughts and that he transcends all we can know, "Who only hath immortality, dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto; whom no man hath seen, nor can see: to whom be honour and power everlasting (I Tim.6:16)." But, that is not what this passage in the Book of Isaiah is saying. It is teaching, instead that wicked and unrighteous ways and thoughts must be replaced by God’s ways and thoughts through serious repentance. The ways and thoughts of God, in this context, are made known to us, because like the rain and snow, they come down from heaven. His Word goes forth from His mouth. The key words are “ways and thoughts.” 



"Let the wicked man forsake his way and the unrighteous man his thoughts…for My ways are not your ways, neither my thoughts your thoughts…” Like the earth drinking up the rain and snow, we must drink up His word that comes down from heaven and that goes forth from His mouth. Our wicked ways and unrighteous thoughts must be replaced by God’s very own revealed ways and thoughts.


Trying to know the secret things
Taking our cue from the words of Moses, quoted above, this passage from Isaiah is not about "the secret things," but about "those things which are revealed." Concerning the readings we were given for this past Sunday, the difference between secret things and revealed things is highly significant. For, the Gospel reading deals directly with eschatology, the study of the end. And, about that subject much has been written and sold to eager readers, as well as much taught and preached, all to satisfy the curiosity of people who are "ever learning, never able to come to the knowledge of the truth (II Ti. 3:7)." 

Twice this past year one very unfortunate preacher has predicted...well, we're not quite sure what. Some have called it "the end of the world," and others have called it "the second coming," and still others have used that phrase that never relates to the truth, "the Rapture." Interestingly enough, both times he managed to save some of the money sent in as contributions to get the message out. We need not address the obvious ethical issue that raises. 

Let's look at each of those phrases. "The end of the world" is used in English translations of the Bible, but the term means the end of this age. It does not mean the destruction of the planet Earth, because this whole earth will be filled with the glory of God, and become a suitable temple and place of His holy presence among his resurrected saints. Christ cleansed the temple, as we read a week before, and that foreshadows the Day when He will cleanse the earth and make all of it a fit habitation for the holiness of God. 

The Second Coming is literally true. Christ will come on the Last Day, the dead will be raised, and He will reign as king forever. There will no more death, no more sorrow, no more war, or any evil thing. Any honest reading of Scripture makes these things clear.

What is not true is what is meant by that unfortunate label, "the Rapture." No more hideous and foolish a doctrine has ever been devised, one that begins to deny the Incarnation by denying the extension of the Incarnation through Christ's Body, the Church, as His chosen instrument among fallen mankind. (I have written about this before.) Christ is not coming in a star ship to beam His people aboard and sneak off to a planet called "heaven." When he comes every eye shall see Him (Rev. 1:7).  But, the "Rapture" doctrine is based on a ridiculous and careless interpretation that takes every passage out of context, and that applies the word "tribulation" to unbelievers, which takes away its true definition. 

And, by teaching that God's Church will be spared tribulation, it makes a mockery of the persecution that the Church has endured throughout its history, including this present age of martyrdom and suffering by Christians who are not afforded the ease and safety of the modern west. The entire "Rapture" idea requires either irresponsible ignorance or callous disregard of the suffering of others, or the crazy idea that maybe all those persecuted Christians, who live with danger because they remain faithful, aren't real Christians. 

But, correct phrases include the Second Coming, or the Last Day (from the 6th chapter of John's Gospel). 

Curiosity
The things God has revealed are not written merely to satisfy our curiosity. This is especially relevant to the problem of the "End times" industry. I recall that in 1988 some silly book was selling well among curious people, called Eighty-Eight Reasons Why. The book predicted that Christ would come by the end of 1988, because, as was foolishly reasoned, that was a generation after the establishment of the State of Israel. The entire basis for that is silly anyway, for it involves misunderstanding the Gospel reading we had this past Sunday. The part they get wrong is this: "Behold the fig tree, and all the trees; when they now shoot forth, ye see and know of your own selves that summer is now nigh at hand. So like wise ye, when ye see these things come to pass, know ye that the kingdom of God is nigh at hand. Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass away, till all be fulfilled."

They have decided that the fig tree is the modern, secular state of Israel, and just as absurdly, that a generation is forty years. Neither idea even makes sense. But, they are dogmatic nonetheless. What the passage actually means is far more significant, and something we should understand. 

First, we must know what the generation is of which the Lord spoke. It is the Church itself: "A seed shall serve him: It shall be accounted to the Lord for a generation (Psalm 22:30 - or v.31 in the BCP)." We are correctly reminded by the Evangelicals that God has no grandchildren. Every person born from above in the waters of Baptism is a child of God, and so the Church, even after two thousand years, is yet in its first generation. There is but one Father of us all, and so the Church is always but one generation. And, this one generation of the Church has a mission to preach the Gospel among all nations. Only once that is accomplished will the Lord Jesus Christ come back in His glory to judge the quick and the dead (Matt. 24:14).

People who open the Bible to satisfy curiosity need to repent, and open it to learn what to believe and how to live, and to keep their priorities focused on the Mission we all share. Jesus dealt with the pointless and distracting problem of curiosity rather bluntly. We see that in the first chapter of the book of Acts.

"When they therefore were come together, they asked of him, saying, Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel? And he said unto them, It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in his own power. But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth (Acts 1:6-8)."

The challenge in reading the Bible is make our own lives relevant to the will of God. It is not to satisfy curiosity about the secret things, such as that day and hour, that are strictly in God's hands.