Saturday, June 30, 2012

Fourth Sunday after Trinity

Romans 8:18-23 * Luke 6:36-41

In his weekly Bulletin Inserts, Fr. Wells has told us about the two possible ways to translate part of today's Epistle:

"The opening verse contains an interesting translation problem. Is it the 'glory which shall be revealed in us' (as our AV and Prayer Book have it) or 'to us' (as many modern translations render it). It is attractive to think of the 'glory' mentioned here to be the wonderful moment when the returning Lord suddenly becomes visible in the skies as He returns to earth. The NT surely promises such an event of glory. But the larger context here, the futility of creation under the curse of thorns and thistles, the wrap-up of history with the redemption of our bodies in the General Resurrection, the believer's special status as 'first-fruits of the Spirit,' compels us to think the old translation is correct. We ourselves will be part of that glorious event when Christ comes again and shares His glory with us."

I agree with Fr. Wells. And, in order to make sense of both today's Epistle reading and of the selection from the Gospel according to St. Luke, we need to see that the glory to be revealed in us when Christ returns to raise us from the dead, will be the perfection of the life already implanted in us by grace. The grace of God has been at work in each of us from the moment of new birth, from the time of baptism.

Everything that the world, the flesh and the devil can throw at you, to overcome you and destroy you, has been thrown, is being thrown or will be thrown. Just as a person arrested by the police is warned, "anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law," you may be sure that anything the devil is allowed to throw at you can and will be thrown in the battlefield of your life. It is God who restrains evil so that you may withstand temptation, as St. Paul wrote:

"There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it." (I Cor. 10:13)

So, what may be thrown at us is limited to what God Himself allows. This does not mean, as some have paraphrased, "God won't give you more than you can handle." It means, instead, that God watches over each one of us, so that temptation to sin, as thrown at us, cannot be completely overwhelming. The picture that should come to mind is from the first two chapters of Job, where the devil has to ask God's permission as to what he may do to God's servant.

The fact is, God does indeed give us more than we can handle; for the Law of God is weak through the flesh; that is, the Law of God cannot make us good; the commandments themselves cannot transform us. The Scriptures reveal quite emphatically that we, in our weakened condition as sinners,cannot fully and perfectly obey God's commandments. No one ever has, except for one Man, Jesus Christ. You and I cannot make ourselves righteous, good or acceptable in His sight. Neither can we keep ourselves alive.

The kind of sufferings that St. Paul speaks of in today's Epistle surely include the kind that only sincere believers may experience. One chapter earlier he spoke of a special kind of suffering, that of the sincere believer who wants to be righteous:

For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not. For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do. Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me. For I delight in the law of God after the inward man: But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. (Rom. 7:15-23)

This kind of suffering is of a nature that some individuals may never understand. It is, if we understand it, the grace of God at work. That may shock you to hear. Is not the grace of God always evident in happy feelings? Does not the grace of God make us "overcomers" and all that? Doesn't the man with real faith look like a perpetual smiley button?

To that I say, show me the person who never feels the pain of his sin, who never feels sorrow from knowledge of his own failure to please God, and I will show you someone in whom the grace of God is not evident at all. Such a person, who can go through life without the pain of conviction, the sense of need for God's forgiveness, a hunger and thirst for righteousness that eludes his own grasp, is in very grave danger. His heart is hardened, his conscience seered by a hot iron, his mind closed to the voice of the Holy Spirit urging repentance (Repentance is not merely turning from this or that particular sin and failing; it is a radical turning to God, just as the Prodigal Son had to return to his father).

Such a person also is closed and indifferent to the needs of other people, and therefore is in danger of being one of the goats on the king's left hand, to Whom the Lord will say, in the Last day,

"Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels: For I was an hungred, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not...Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me." (Matt. 25:31ff)

If you can hear the Summary of the Law, or the Ten Commandments, week after week, and not be moved to pray, "Lord have mercy upon us"-indeed, "upon me," then you may go through life without "the sufferings of this present time" as Paul experienced them within himself. But, if that seed is not planted within you, the grace of God that moves you to genuine repentance and to genuine love of neighbor as manifested in good works when opportunity arises, how can you hope to know the glory that will be revealed in the children of God? You may find yourself excluded from eternal joy.

Some people think it is a sin to feel any suffering. On the contrary, it is the worst condition of sin when the heart has become so hardened that it cannot suffer. That is, not suffer the reality of conviction and be moved to true repentance. St. Paul's own knowledge of his helpless condition was answered by faith in God's goodness as revealed and manifested already in Jesus Christ, giving him the absolute assurance of faith about eternity. And so he went on to say,

O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death? I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin. There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. (Rom. 7:24-8:4)

To walk after the Spirit is described in our Book of Common Prayer as "hearty repentance and true faith." In modern English we would say "sincere repentance (or, from the heart) and true faith."

We look for the grace of God in this life, that fruit of the Spirit that shows His working in each of us. Our true hope, however, is not in this life, for this life will end for each one of us. If all we wanted or needed was simply "to be better people," as some perceive of a thing they call "religion," or to be "all that we can be" as the old U.S. Army advertisement put it, our lot would be one of utter futility. We would never be free from sin and death, even if we did become all that we can be.

Our hope is not in anything so fantastic or so shallow. This life will end in death. Even at its very lowest, the mortality rate is one hundred percent. Making sense of suffering, or pretending that there is no futility, or vanity as today's Epistle reading puts it, is not the Christian hope. It is not the Gospel. Our hope is in Jesus Christ our Lord. He has reconciled us to God, so that the pain of conscience is relieved only by knowing that on his cross He bore away forever the guilt and stain of our sin, and that in rising again on the third day He conquered death for each of us.

The joy of the Christian, in this vain and temporary life, is not that we have no suffering. In fact we have, in addition to the sufferings common to mankind such as, from time to time, loss, sickness, economic troubles and pain, added to the certainty of death, the added suffering of a conscience that feels even the briefest separation, that we make by our own sin, from God's fellowship. The joy of the Christian is that "in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us." (Rom. 8:37) The joy of the Christian is that our hope and faith depend not on ourselves, weak as we are through sin and death, but upon the Lord Jesus Christ who has come and who will come again in glory.

It is, as expressed in today's Epistle: "The sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us." For, as the same chapter concludes:

"For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord."

Friday, June 22, 2012

St. John the Baptist June 24th


In the Eastern tradition, icons of John often show him with angel's wings. This is because of the book of Malachi. "Behold, I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me: and the Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to this temple, even the messenger of the covenant, whom ye delight in: behold, he shall come, saith the LORD of hosts." (Malachi 3:1)

The term "My messenger" is actually the name of the book and of the prophet whose words are recorded in it. Malachi (מלאכי) means "my messenger" or "my angel." This is significant, because Malachi was thought of as the last of the prophets, not last as in final, but the last to have appeared. The book is telling us that the final Old Covenant prophet, the true Malachi, will appear. So we see the ending of the book, the last part of chapter 4: "Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD: And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse."

But, we know that the prediction about Elijah referred, rather, to the one whose coming would be "in the spirit and power of Elijah." So we hear the words of Gabriel to the priest Zechariah, John's father: "And he shall go before him in the spirit and power of Elias, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just; to make ready a people prepared for the Lord." (Luke 1:17) This is why our Lord said, "Elias truly shall first come, and restore all things. But I say unto you, That Elias is come already, and they knew him not, but have done unto him whatsoever they listed. Likewise shall also the Son of man suffer of them. Then the disciples understood that he spake unto them of John the Baptist." (Matt. 17:11-13. I have never understood why so many Eschatology enthusiasts simply don't believe what Jesus said).

John's parallel with Elijah is stunning. Ahab and Jezebel could not kill Elijah, but the Ahab and Jezebel of John's day, Herod and Herodius, "have done unto him whatsoever they listed." John turned the hearts of the people back to the God of their fathers, just as Elijah had done when confronting the prophets of Ba'al (I Kings chapter 18, especially v.37: "Hear me, O LORD, hear me, that this people may know that thou art the LORD God, and that thou hast turned their heart back again."). This was done by restoring the hearts of the children to the fathers, a unique phrase in scripture since it is the only verse with the commentary, or interpretation, of an angel from heaven. To have our hearts turned to the fathers means that they are turned to "the wisdom of the just."

To be turned to the wisdom of the just, to the fathers, requires the humility that it takes to learn from those who have known God and have gone before us. It means to learn from the Tradition that teaches the meaning of scripture, rather than arrogantly dismissing it in favor of our own ideas. To echo Hooker, this is the Reason and wisdom of the Church with her authority, having passed on to us the scriptures along with the key to understanding them. 
It means to accept the "democracy of the dead" as G.K. Chesterton put it: "Tradition means giving votes to the most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead. Tradition refuses to submit to that arrogant oligarchy who merely happen to be walking around." - Orthodoxy, 1908

It means also that Christians bend an obedient ear to learn from those whose office it is to teach the word of God. "Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you." (Hebrews 13:17) Even if you really think the priest to be unworthy, bend your ear when he teaches the word of God.

John's baptism, the ritual bath from the Law of Moses, was applied to every Jewish person who came to him to confess and repent, and be forgiven. This ritual bath, baptism, was part of the process of conversion for Gentiles to Judaism, to wash away uncleanness. His message to his own people was clear: Convert back to the God of your fathers. John was a priest by birth, but his life away from the earthly temple in Jerusalem, as a prophet in the wilderness, spoke of the New Covenant that was soon to be established in the blood of the Son of God (Hebrews 8:13). A people prepared for the Lord will not be harmed by his Presence when the Lord suddenly comes to his temple, that new place where "we have an altar" (Hebrews 13:10). Rather, they will feed on Him as the food and drink of eternal life. 

Fr. Wells' Bulletin Inserts

John the Baptist  June 24


Coming exactly six months before Christmas, the Birthday of Christ, we
celebrate the Birthday of His Cousin and Forerunner, St John Baptist.  The placement of these two holy days in the calendar represents a happy
coincidence.  The Baptist said (John 4:30), “He must increase, but I must decrease.” The Birthday of Christ falls just after the winter solstice,
the “shortest day of the year,” the time when we have the least daylight
to enjoy, but when we know that the days will begin to get longer.  The
increase of sunlight proclaims the gradual revelation of the Saviour’s
glory.

But the birthday of the Forerunner comes just after the summer solstice,
when the days are long and we are reminded that daytime will begin to
diminish.  The natural order itself serves to illustrate the Baptist’s
pronouncement, “He must increase, but I must decrease.”

This cryptic saying of this strange man refers to the progressive
magnification of Christ:  first in His resurrection, ascension, and
enthronement at His Father’s right hand; next as His earthly reign
advances in history; and finally as He, through the agency of His Spirit,
transforms wretched sinners into glorious saints.  When the Baptist made that prophecy, all of this lay in the future.  His hearers, puzzled and incredulous, did not foresee the exaltation of Christ shortly to be
accomplished before their every eyes.  We likewise do not see the activity of Christ here and now.

When John said, “I must decrease,” he was speaking of the end of the Old Testament era, when the Temple, its sacrifices, and even prophecy itself would shortly come to an end.  He was speaking moreover of his own temporary role as the Forerunner of the King who reigns forever.  In a larger sense he was speaking for all of us, as Christ grows in us, the
image of God is restored, and we are reduced to our proper size.  We must be humbled in order to be exalted.

For St John Baptist, this was all a matter of consummate joy.  In John 4,
he spoke of Christ as the bridegroom (the One who takes the Church as His bride, His beloved).  Therefore he spoke of himself as “the bridegroom’s friend,” the “best man.”  John declared, “The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete.”

Proud arrogant rebels that we are, the Gospel of Jesus Christ comes as
utter embarrassment and humiliation to creatures utterly unable to escape from our predicament.  We are lost and cannot find our way home. What fools we are!  But when we, with St John Baptist, hear the Bridegroom’s voice, as He comes to woo us, claim us as His own, and  take us to His home, then we too may say with certainty, “this joy of mine is now complete.”    May we be diminished that Christ be enlarged.            LKW

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Second Sunday after Trinity

The Epistle: I John 3:13-24 * The Gospel: Luke 14:16-24

Now that we are settled into the long green season of Trinitytide, we have entered into the second half of the Church year. In the Epistle and Gospel for the First Sunday after Trinity, and then in today's Epistle and Gospel, we find a theme of duty to our neighbor. It is as if the Church year divides like the two tables of the Law. The first four commandments are about our duty to God, corresponding to the First and Great commandment: "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind." All these: Thou shalt have none other gods but me, Thou shalt not make to thyself any graven image,Thou shalt not take the Name of the Lord thy God in vain,Remember that thou keep holy the Sabbath-day, are the first table. The second table, all the rest, are about our duty to our neighbor, and they correspond to the second Great commandment, "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself." Honour thy father and thy mother, Thou shalt do no murder, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor, Thou shalt not covet, are commandments briefly summed up by love of neighbor, If you were prepared for Confirmation according to the requirements laid out in the Book of Common Prayer with its Offices of Instruction, you know these things.

When I say that the Church year reflects these two tables of the Law, I draw from the First Epistle of St. John, which is read on these first two Sundays after Trinity. Remember what we read last week, from the chapter that follows today's Epistle: "We love him, because he first loved us. " (I John 4:19) That is what the first half of the Church year teaches us in detail. We begin by looking ahead, focusing on the day when Christ will come again in glory. On the first Sunday of the Church year we see that his coming will be like a refiner's fire, seeing his cleansing of the temple with a view to the last day and his coming to judge the quick and the dead. Then, soon after that, we are told the story of God's great love on Christmas, when the babe, the world's redeemer first revealed his sacred face. We are then reminded all throughout Epiphany that he went about doing good, healing all who were oppressed of the devil. In Lent we enter with him into his fasting and discipline, and prepare to follow him to Gethsemane, and then to his trial and death. 

At that point we see the greatest manifestation of God's love.
And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us. For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die. But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:5-8) 

St. Paul tells us the same thing that St. John tells us, and also reminds us that the Holy Spirit makes this a reality in our own hearts. Our love for God is only possible because he first loved us, and gave his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.

The first half of the church year draws most of our attention to what God has done for us in his Son, Jesus Christ: It is summarized by a hymn:

O Love, how deep, how broad, how high,
how passing thought and fantasy,
that God, the Son of God should take
our mortal form for mortals' sake.
For us baptized, for us he bore
his holy fast and hungered sore.
For us temptations sharp he knew,
for us the tempter overthrew.
For us he prayed, for us he taught,
for us his daily works he wrought,
by words and signs and actions thus,
still seeking not himself but us.
For us to evil men betrayed,
scourged, mocked, in purple robe arrayed.
He bore the shameful cross and death,
for us gave up his dying breath.
For us he rose from death again;
for us he went on high to reign;
for us he sent his Spirit here
to guide, to comfort and to cheer.
All glory to our Lord and God
for love so deep, so high, so broad;
the Trinity whom we adore
forever and forevermore!
(Text: Thomas á Kempis; tr. Benj. Webb, J.M. Neale, alt.)
This corresponds to the first and great Commandment because we cannot manufacture love for God. If not for what Jesus did on this earth, and if not for the Holy Spirit, coming down to the Church on the day of Pentecost, we could not love God. His love for us is emphasized in the first half of our year, and this does not merely require our love for God; it produces it.
"We love him, because he first loved us."

Now, after Pentecost, we enter into Trinitytide and the emphasis turns immediately to the second table of the Law, as we saw last week in the parable of Lazarus and the rich man, and as we heard in the Epistle: "Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another. No man hath seen God at any time. If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us. Hereby know we that we dwell in him, and he in us, because he hath given us of his Spirit." (I John 4:11-13) Our love for neighbor also comes from the same love of God manifested in Jesus Christ, manifested most visibly on the cross where he died for each of us-love you must learn to take personally, as St. Paul took it personally, saying with him "...the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me." (Galatians 2:20) Your charity, grown as the virtue of perfection in your heart by the Holy Spirit, is love that begins to take root and grow only because you know that the Son of God loved you, and gave himself for you.

That produces love for God, and produces love for your neighbor. In this opening of Trintiytide we see that we cannot love God if we do not love our neighbor.

We love him, because he first loved us. If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he bath not seen? And this commandment have we from him, That he who loveth God love his brother also. (I John 4:19-21)

And so, today's Epistle:

Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer: and ye know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him. Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. But whoso hath this world's good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him? My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth. (I John 3:15-18)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Commitment - Integrity - Evangelism

Just over a week ago I spoke at the end of Synod dinner for the Anglican Catholic Church's Diocese of the Mid-Atlantic States at the invitation of Bishop Lerow, their Episcopal Visitor.  The address was not recorded, neither was I speaking from notes, but this blog post is an attempt to reproduce something of that talk.


As some of you will know, I am something of a railway enthusiast, and in particular for Irish Narrow Gauge railways.  These were latterly owned by the Irish National Transport company C.I.E..  Don't worry, I am not going to talk to you about railways, but about a different C-I-E, one that the church needs to follow in order to grow.  The CIE of this talk is

Commitment
Integrity
Evangelism

because without these qualities a church has little chance of sustaining itself, let alone growing.

The first aspect I want to look at is Commitment.

The first quality one should look for in a church is commitment.  Not commitment to the denomination, a particular worship style, or program, but to Christ.  In order to grow a Church must be Christ centered, and the reason for the decline of so many mainline denominations in the USA has been their failure to retain a clear and unequivocable commitment to Christ. Jesus tells His disciples that he is "the way, the truth and the life" and we, as baptized Christian need to live as though we believe that to be utterly true.  Our salvation comes not through performing works of the Law, or propitiating an angry deity but from faith in Christ.  Therefore Christ has to be at the center of our lives, at the heart of everything that we do, both as a Church and as individuals.

The faith to which are committed as Anglicans is revealed in the Scriptures - both Old and New Testament - taught by the ancient Fathers, and defined by the seven Ecumenical Councils of the Church.  That faith ultimately is nothing less than God's revelation of Himself to humanity.  However, these ancient Fathers and Councils are not independent authorities to Scripture, but expositors of God's Holy Word.  We now live some two thousand years after Christ, and we are far removed from the original cultural context of the Gospel. Yet what His Word tells us is what we need to teach, what we need to live by, and what we need to pass on to the next generation.

This desire to learn, live and pass on the faith should be at the center of our lives as Christians, because whatever denominational label we carry, we need to first and foremost carry the name of Christian.  We are born again of water and the Holy Ghost in baptism, and that effects a change in the character of our souls; and we have, as it were the mark of Christ upon us.  In confirmation we affirm that commitment that was made in our name at our baptism - we renounce the Devil and all his works, the vain pomp and glory of the word, profess our faith, and commit ourselves to be soldiers and servants of Christ, and, through His grace alone, to work against sin, and for the Kingdom of God.  We are strengthened for that task through the Scriptures, the Sacraments, Prayer, and Good Works; and we should keep our eyes fixed upon Christ, the author and finisher of our faith.

As Anglicans we also need to pursue the integrity of our tradition.

There was a time back in the eighteenth century when the Anglican clergy were the stupor mundi - the wonder of the world for their learning.  Berkeley gets its name from the great eighteenth century Anglo-Irish philosopher-bishop, George Berkeley of Cloyne, whose form of Positivism was very influential in Anglican circles in the mid-1700s.  I very much doubt he would approve of the philosophy taught in his name sake city today, and that bankruptcy of our academic tradition is something that has negatively affected the Anglican Church in this country!   John Kaye, who was Bishop of Lincoln in the 1820s and 30s got his bishopric in part for producing the standard English translation and a critical edition of the works of St Justin Martyr.  This seems to me a far better reason for being made a bishop than being able to tick all the right PC boxes, which seems to be what gets you to the top in so many denominations today.

What I am trying to say is that the integrity of the Anglican tradition lies upon good scholarship.  Back in the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries scholars honestly endeavored to discover the traditions of the Early Church in belief and Worship.  The Anglican Reformation, although influenced by Luther, Melancthon, Bucer, Calvin, and others, always looked beyond the contemporary reform movements back to the Early Church, the Church of the first seven centuries.  This influenced its liturgy and organisation, as well as helping to drive the scholarly tradition that was so much part of the old Anglicanism.

We also have to be aware that after 450 years our church has a tradition and an integrity of its own.  I find too many Anglicans are a bit too self-conscious about their Anglicanism and look over their shoulders at what the Roman Catholics, the Orthodox, or the "Methobapticostals" are up to.  This seems to me foolishness - especially in view of what I have said about the Church needing to look unto Christ as the author and finisher of the Faith.  Anglicans are Catholic without being Roman; Reformed without being Puritan; and Evangelical without falling for the semi-Pelagianism of Revivalism.  Our safe place, our identity very largely derives from a doctrinal commitment to the faith of the Church as revealed by Christ and explained by the Ancient Fathers and Councils, and the 'worshiping form'  given to that theological commitment by the Book of Common Prayer.

There is a major need today, especially when so many new Anglicans, and even new Anglican priests have come from other traditions to educate them thoroughly.  Every diocese and ever parish needs to have programs of education not just for those entering Holy Orders, but also for lay readers and for the laity themselves.  In order to propagate the Gospel, we need, as a church, an active and educated laity.

This talk of Education brings me to my 'E' - Evangelism.


Anglicans, like some Presbyterians, have a reputation for being God's frozen chosen.  Evangelism is usually something that Anglicans know they should be doing, and have a guilty conscience about, but when it comes to doing anything - zip, nada, nothing!  Well, perhaps an advertisement in the paper on Christmas and Easter.  The was a time when we got away with this quite well - brand name and the fact that we were decent and none too demanding carried us along nicely, as evidenced by the year on year growth of the 1920s, 30s 40s, and 50s.  The old Episcopal Church peaked in 1963 with a membership of 3.4 million.  Since then, there has been considerable shrinkage.  I believe the current number is somewhere around 2.6 million and falling, and of those about 850,000 gets themselves through the door with reasonable regularity on a Sunday.  The fact of the matter is that no-one has to go to Church anymore - Walmart is open!  A large element in the media, and in political life look down on those with a traditional Christian faith as being narrow, bigoted, and backwards.  There are very, very few positive images of Christians on TV, and the cultural Left in this country seems to be engaged in a Kulturkampf against the Church.  Yet despite all this preaching from the TV of a new humanity, which does not need the old moral restraints, man's basic problems of how to be at peace with God and with himself still remain.  The moral battleground today is marriage, which the secular progressive wish to reinterpret away from its tradition ends of the procreation of children, the avoidance of sin, and the mutual help and society of a man and a woman such as is laid down in Scripture beginning with Genesis into some sort of a free for all based on the concept that only erotic love is important.  I am taking bets on whether it will be a Unitarian or an Episcopalian minister that performs the first human-animal marriage.  What is evident is that most of the mainstream church's have ducked out of maintaining traditional doctrine, tradition morality, and evangelism, and in many respects have co-opted themselves as handmaids of the new Paganism.

If I were to ask you which is the largest province of the Anglican Communion I am sure that many of you would answer England.  Up until a few years ago that would have been correct.  With 26,000,000 baptized (most of whom never darken the doors) the Church of England was the biggest Church in the Anglican Communion.  However, they have been surpassed - can anyone tell me who by?


(voice off - Nigeria)

That's right - Nigeria.  The last time I checked there were 26.4 million Nigerian Anglicans, against 25.8 million English, and what is more to the point most of those Nigerian Anglicans are in church on a Sunday, not down the English version of Lowe's or Home Depot.   Why is the Church in Nigeria - or for that matter Kenya, Uganda, South Sudan, or Rwanda - so successful?  They have the commitment to Christ, and the Integrity that I spoke of earlier.  And besides this they Evangelize.  American Episcopalians and Anglicans have a bad habit of saying that evangelism is the clergy's function - but it is not.  IT IS EVERY CHRISTIAN'S RESPONSIBILITY.  Every member of the Church needs to be an Evangelist.  Everyone of us has to have that commitment, that desire to bring folks into the Church.  That way our churches will grow and more importantly more people will be committed to Jesus Christ as their Lord and Saviour.

One thing we need to realize is that the mission field is no longer Africa, India, Korea, but here.  The mission field starts two inches outside of that door.  American Christianity is widespread right now, but it is not very deep; hence the success of the non-denominational mega-church with its feel good worship and soundbite preaching.  American Evangelical Christianity is ripe for a collapse, and who will succeed it - Islam?  Socialism - that great secular religion? Or will the old churches come back again?

The whole church needs to commit to outreach and Evangelism in the new American Mission field.  The best news of all though is that it does not involve you preaching on street corners, or dishing out tracts, or knocking on the doors of strangers.  We simply need to take to heart something that the Bishops of the Anglican Church of Nigeria say is the foundation of their growth.  It involves a very simple commitment that every member of the Church bring one new person to church each year, and then mentor them for three years - 1 + 1 + 3.  Imagine what that could do in your parish 30 become 60, then 120, then you have to start thinking about planting a new Church.  We need that sort of growth not just to grow but to survive and become a living and vital force, preaching the Good News of Jesus Christ in this country.

That brings me back to my C - I - E.

We need to be, as Continuing Anglicans

Committed to Christ; be faithful to our Anglican Integrity; and Evangelize.   If we commit ourselves to be this, and do this, then the Church will grow, and Christ will be Glorified.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Laymen's Guide to the Thirty-Nine Articles


Article XXI

Of the authority of General Councils

General Councils may not be gathered together without the commandment and will of princes. And when they be gathered together, forasmuch as they be an assembly of men, whereof all be not governed with the Spirit and word of God, they may err and sometime have erred, even in things pertaining to God. Wherefore things ordained by them as necessary to salvation have neither strength nor authority, unless it may be declared that they be taken out of Holy Scripture.

De auctoritate Conciliorum Generalium

Generalia Concilia sine iussu et voluntate principum congregari non possunt. Et ubi convenerint, quia ex hominibus constant, qui non omnes Spiritu et verbo Dei reguntur, et errare possunt, et interdum errarunt, etiam in his quae ad normam pietatis pertinent. Ideoque quae ab illis constituuntur, ut ad salutem necessaria, neque robur habent neque auctoritatem nisi ostendi possint e sacris literis esse desumpta.

Fr. Laurence Wells

          Now we come to the “lost article.”  In our American Prayer Book, since the Articles were adopted after some hesitation and debate in 1801, we find only the statement “The Twenty-first of the former Articles is omitted; because it is partly of a local and civil nature, and is provided for, as to the remaining parts of it, in other Articles.”  But because it is part of the original document, we need to examine it.  This article embraces two issues, in which the distinction is clear enough for us, but was less so when this Article was written as one of the Forty-Two Articles in 1553.  Those two issues are (1) whether a General Council can be called by anyone other than a Prince, and (2) how the authority of a Council is related to the authority of Scripture.
          In our time, the first of these issues might seem like a quaint and unprofitable debate.  We enjoy the blessing of separation of church and state, in which the Christian community (or should we say communities?) is at liberty to call a Council if we find it necessary, even if anything like a true “General Council” is well nigh impossible to arrange.  Even with this disadvantage - the disadvantage of Christian disunity -there is no civil ruler on earth anyone would trust to call even a local Church council.  (I can think of one possible exception, but she would never dream of attempting such a thing.)  If the opening clause seems charmingly archaic, it is jarring to read the final sentence of the entire article in its first draft, happily expunged before adoption:  “Kings and pious magistrates can, without waiting for the decision or gathering together of General Councils in their own State according to the word of God, decide about matters of religion.”  At this point we must remind ourselves that for all their excellencies, the Articles were written in another historical context with occasional rhetorical salvos which we may safely dismiss.  This is not the only instance of such a sally.     
          The immediate historical context for Article XXI was that it was written while the Council of Trent was in progress.  Henry VIII and Continental Protestants alike had demanded  the convening of a Council.  Now a Council had finally been called, not by a Christian Prince or pious magistrates but by the Pope.  This Council was not going as they had hoped.  So an objection was introduced, which seems hard for us to defend:  No Prince had called this Council.     
          But with the second issue, how the authority of a Council might be related to the Scriptures, we find ourselves on firmer ground and might wish that the article had been written in words like these:

“General Councils, in ancient times called by Emperors and civil authorities, may come together when the Christian community deems it expedient, and forasmuch as they may be an assembly of men….”

Many who have great zeal (sometimes a zeal which outruns knowledge) for the authority of the “Seven Ecumenical Councils of the ancient undivided Church” are put off by the Article’s statement that General Councils “may err, and sometimes have erred, even in things pertaining unto God.”   However, the council in view here was not Nicaea, Chalcedon or any of those Seven which the mainstream of Christianity has found consistent with canonical Scriptures, but the Council of Trent.   It must be recalled that the Seven were only a few of many Councils held in ancient times, some of which regarded themselves as true General Councils.  The infamous Latrocinium (“Robber Synod”), whose decisions were reversed at Chalcedon, or the Iconoclastic gathering of AD 754, over-ruled by the Seventh Ecumenical Council  in AD 787, were surely erroneous “even in things pertaining unto God.”
          There is a helpful distinction (which possibly the author of this Article was not conscious of, but nonetheless helpful) between true Ecumenical Councils  (that is the famous Seven) and General Councils in a wider sense.  This Article cannot be fairly accused of impugning the doctrinal accuracy of the Seven, since the classical doctrines of the Trinity and the Incarnation are vigorously asserted in other Articles.       At the same time this Article helpfully prevents us from attributing any autonomous authority to even Ecumenical Councils apart from the Scriptures.  It was amazing recently to read a flippant statement from an individual who allowed that he does not care what the Scriptures teach, since he knows what the Councils said.  The Fathers who gathered at Nicaea, Chalcedon, and all the other five would surely have said, “Madman, away with him, Anathema!”  Not even Arius would have said such a thing.
          To give context to this Article on this point (a touchy subject in certain quarters), the contemporary REFORMATIO LEGUM ECCLESIASTICORUM is helpful.  There we read, “Even if we freely defer vast honor to the Councils, chiefly to those called General Councils, nevertheless we judge that that they all must be placed far beneath the dignity of the canonical Scriptures. And what is more, we place a great difference among the Councils themselves.  For certain of them, such as peculiarly those four, Nicene, Constantinople I, Ephesus and Chalcedon, we embrace and accept with great reverence.” 
          Some, indeed, will be nervous about the omission of the three subsequent Councils.  But common sense should tell us that within the Seven (which is no magic number) some Councils are more important than others.  Even Pope Gregory the Great held up the first four as analogous to the four Gospels, but without prejudice to the others.    
          The point of the Article is not to dishonor or minimize the true Ecumenical Councils or to suggest that they have erred.  The point was rather to exalt the Scriptures as the ultimate court of appeal, the highest and only infallible authority.  Why?  Because this was the very thing which the Councils and ancient Fathers insisted upon.  One does not have to flip many pages in Percival’s The Seven Ecumenical Councils of the Undivided Church to discover that the Councils themselves appealed to the Scriptures regularly.  At Nicaea and possibly at other Councils, the Book of the Gospels was placed on the Altar, establishing then and there that Holy Scripture is (in Calvin’s happy phrase) “the scepter by which Christ rules in His Church.”  The same custom was observed at Vatican II.

Fr. Robert Hart
          Fr. Wells has stated the case so well, and so plainly, that my task in this chapter is quite easy. By mentioning various General Councils that were overturned later by Ecumenical Councils, he has driven home the point that Article XXI cannot be used to accuse Anglicans of rejecting the Catholic Tradition of the ancient or First Millennium Church. It is anyone who denies the truth of this Article who is flatly denying as well the authority of the Ecumenical Councils. It is the ruling of the genuine Ecumenical Councils that earlier councils “sometime have erred, even in things pertaining to God.” 
          Furthermore, that this Article was written to deflate the Council of Trent is simply historical fact. It was the pastoral responsibility of the English bishops to prepare the people of their church for whatever may come out of Trent. That preparation was to remind them that the Church must weigh all doctrine against the clear teaching of the Holy Scriptures. The people of the Church of England were thus taught not to fear the Roman ecclesiastical authority of their own generation; for the bold claims made by the See of Rome do not hold water anyway.  
          The belief that only princes may call General Councils fits the Eastern model. This idea was raised as an objection to the Papal claim, a claim fairly new in terms of the entire history of the Church, that General Councils were to be called by the Pope. And, like many innovations of Rome, this idea became, in their logic, the custom or tradition of the Church retroactively to the beginning. In fact, neither the Eastern model nor the newly minted (but somehow retroactive) doctrine of Rome should be seen as absolute and necessary, since neither was founded on any revelation in Scripture. Indeed, if we must choose one or the other as harmonious with Scripture, though not required as absolutely necessary by anything Scripture commands or teaches, the Roman model fits better the Proto-Council in Acts chapter fifteen. It was not called by Caesar, obviously, but by the Apostles themselves.
          But, the opening of Article XXI does show clearly and obviously that the direct concern of the English Reformers was a Council already begun and that was contemporary to their own age, the Council of Trent rather than any of the Seven Ecumenical Councils. If any council puts forward teaching not found in Scripture, it may not be required of anyone to believe it; and should it contradict Scripture, it cannot be the “teaching of the Church,” but rather error. And, the Ecumenical Councils themselves establish this same principle, a principle, they meant to say very clearly, by which to weigh whatever Trent might come up with as doctrine.
          Today one school of thought among modern Roman Catholics is a rather convenient version of John Henry Cardinal Newman’s theory of Doctrinal Development. His original theory, as an Anglican before his conversion to Roman Catholicism, is that true teaching must at least exist in embryonic form in Scripture, even if it was only clarified by the Church later, so as not to be vague and uncertain in meaning. When pressed, however, the advocates of Newman’s theory of Doctrinal Development reveal that what they have come to believe is really a notion of “Progressive Revelation.” Frankly, the difference is indistinguishable between what Newman meant and what they done to it, inasmuch as the teaching of Scripture really is clear enough to be understood, and so believed the ancient Fathers of the Church.
          The Ecumenical Councils followed the pattern of the Proto-Council in Acts chapter fifteen, the Council of Jerusalem. That Council defended clearly established Apostolic doctrine as set forth in chapters ten and eleven of that book. And, the Ecumenical Councils, beginning with Nicea I in 325 A.D., defended the clear teaching of Scripture, in which all Apostolic Doctrine has been recorded. The Fathers at Nicea, etc., did not sit around like a group of Quakers waiting for inspiration, nor like Pentecostals looking for prophetic revelation. They weighed heresies against the clear teaching of Scripture. By “clear” I do not mean simplistic, or even easy. But, the teaching is clearly there for any but a lazy or rebellious mind. The only correct way to teach from Scripture is exegesis, drawing the meaning out; and never eisegesis, pouring some meaning in.
          But, the advocates of Newman’s Theory of Doctrinal Development present a false history of the Councils and of doctrine. In their zealous approach to be advocates for Newman’s theory, they have created a false view of history consistent with the propaganda of “Jehovah’s Witnesses,” in which the basic doctrines of the Trinity, the Incarnation, and of the Holy Spirit as a Person equal to the Father and the Son, were not known before specific Councils somehow “developed” the Church’s doctrine. But, the fathers of the Church argued in favor of those doctrines by a clear appeal to Scripture; and, of course, they did so consistently with how Scripture actually had been understood from the earliest times.
          And, frankly, once Newman’s theory of Doctrinal Development comes to the full end of its own logic, we are left with “Progressive Revelation” in which nothing, finally, can be known, and nothing can be understood which cannot be overthrown, “corrected” and replaced by newly discovered doctrines. Of course, all of these would no doubt also have retroactive status as the teaching of the Church from earliest times, no matter how obviously new they are. The precedents already exist for that.
          Article XXI clearly teaches and defends the genuine Catholic Tradition. Practically speaking, that means it teaches and defends the authority of Scripture. Anyone who reads the Fathers instead of merely invoking them, knows that defending the truth with the Scriptures in which it is taught, actually was the Patristic method.   

Saturday, June 09, 2012

FIRST SUNDAY AFTER TRINITY


I John 4:7-21  *  Luke 16:19-31

“He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love…Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another.”

          Love is the theme of this First Sunday after Trinity; and that love is the love of God. It is best expressed in English with the word “charity,” and even in that we find some confusion. For the kind of charity that St. John writes about, and that was lacking in the Rich Man, is not that kind that merely throws a little money at something to ease the conscience, or, worse, to impress people. The Rich Man sent food out to the beggar, Lazarus, namely crumbs that fell from his table. But, he failed completely to love his neighbor by God’s standard.
          The love that these passages of Scripture speak of is personal. And, it begins not with us, but with God. It begins by having your eyes opened to what God has done for you, and then only in light of how undeserving you are. You can defend yourself and plead your case; you can try to justify every sin you ever committed. That is how the Rich Man lived his life. The ending of this parable was meant to shock us into reality. This is the only parable Jesus told that he did not compose Himself; except, that is, for the ending. It has been discovered that this was a well known story among the Jewish people of that time, and the story always ended with Abraham saying, “And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.” But, Jesus added His own ending.
          “Then [the Rich Man] said, ‘I pray thee therefore, father, that thou wouldest send [Lazarus] to my father's house: for I have five brethren; that he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’ Abraham saith unto him, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them. And he said, Nay, father Abraham: but if one went unto them from the dead, they will repent. And he said unto him, If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.’
          Indeed, like the Rich Man and his brothers, you can spend your life trying to convince yourself that you have God’s complete approval, and no need of forgiveness. Perhaps, you may construct your own system of good and bad, compare yourself to people who are infinitely worse, and so feel that you are righteous enough not to need God’s mercy. But, if reality hits you, and if the truth shall make you free, it begins by asking if your own standard may not be true enough to take you safely into eternity. Has God spoken? Should you not hear? In Moses and the Prophets we find a moral law that is eternal and unchanging, those Ten Commandments and all that they really mean (which we learn in the Sermon on the Mount). We also see in Moses and the Prophets the great Messianic themes of salvation from sin and death. To prepare for eternity, we have been given quite a lot to hear. We have been Law and Gospel. “Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith (Galatians 3:24).”
          Once you see your own need you can appreciate the love of God. We see that salvation from sin and death was not our idea, but God’s own will. Redemption is His initiative, without any suggestion from us. “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins…We love him, because he first loved us.” That love was not merely some nice and inspiring bit of sweetness and sentimentality. God saw that our need involved everything that is meant by that word, “propitiation.” It involved the pain and suffering that was born by Jesus in the death of the cross. And, even so, if you don’t hear the great moral themes and the great Messianic themes of redemption, that is, if you don’t hear Moses and the prophets, Christ’s own resurrection with over five-hundred eyewitnesses, will never persuade you to repent. You need a soft heart that listens and hears. Then the Gospel, the Good News that He first loved us, can enter your mind and heart.
          You see, on this First Sunday after Trinity, Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Easter and Pentecost have all come, and we are now in the Church that became so powerful in the Book of Acts because the Holy Spirit has come to us with His gifts and power. Now, we turn to the second table of the Law. That first table has four commandments that tell us to love God. But, we cannot love God; that is, we cannot love God unless and until we know that He first loved us. We find that love nailed to the cross. There He is broken, bleeding and pouring out His soul for your sins and mine. We are forgiven without losing sight of God’s holiness, and without mistaking that forgiveness for some idea that God didn’t really care. Forgiveness is not approval. It was costly. The ninth chapter of the Epistle to the Hebrews tells us that redemption perfects and cleanses the human conscience. Indeed, a true understanding of the cross of Christ gives life to your conscience. God loved you, and this is what it cost. Sin does matter, because God is holy. And, sin is forgiven, because God is love. But, it did not come without the death of the cross.
          So, this Sunday we see that to obey the first four commandments, which are summarized by the First and Great Commandment to love God (“with all thy heart, all thy soul and all thy mind”), is only possible as a response; “We love Him because He first loved us.” And, now, in this Epistle and Gospel reading, after celebrating from Advent until today the great acts of God’s love in Jesus His Son that move us to love Him, we turn to the second table of the Law, the six commandments that are summarized in the words, “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.”
          And, at the beginning it is personal. “Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another…” And, so it goes on:
          “We love him, because he first loved us. If a man say, I love God, and hates his brother, he is a liar: for he that loves not his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen? And this commandment have we from him, That he who loves God love his brother also.”
          I am reminded always of the singular words in commandments to love. I am going to quote an earlier sermon of my own for this same Sunday:
          "‘The righteous man considers the life of his beast. But, the tender mercies of the wicked are cruel’ says the Book of Proverbs (12:10). Utopian ideologues since the French Revolution, such as Karl Marx and his followers, spoke lofty words about what was best for mankind. It reminds me of one of Charles Schultz’s Peanuts cartoons. Linus tells his sister Lucy that he wants to be a doctor, a great doctor. She tells him, ‘You cannot be a great doctor. You know why? Because a doctor must love mankind. You don’t love mankind.’ Linus, stunned, retorts ‘I do love mankind…It’s people I can’t stand!’ The ideologues have always loved mankind; and they have made many people suffer for it. They have offered millions of innocent victims to some idea of ‘good for the highest number,’ and Satanic propaganda about what is best for humanity. Crowds enjoying the spectacle of heads being cut off in Paris, Communists dictating who should live, who should die, and who must go to the camps, and, indeed, the Nazis destroying millions in order to advance human evolution to the state of perfection, believed they were lovers of mankind, saviors of that abstract and impersonal thing called ‘humanity.’"

Hear this from the twenty-fifth chapter of St. Matthew:
          "When the Son of man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate them one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will place the sheep at his right hand, but the goats at the left. Then the King will say to those at his right hand, `Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.'  Then the righteous will answer him, `Lord, when did we see thee hungry and feed thee, or thirsty and give thee drink? And when did we see thee a stranger and welcome thee, or naked and clothe thee? And when did we see thee sick or in prison and visit thee?' And the King will answer them, `Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.' Then he will say to those at his left hand, `Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.' Then they also will answer, `Lord, when did we see thee hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to thee?'  Then he will answer them, `Truly, I say to you, as you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to me.' And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life (Matthew 25:31-46).”
          How often has this been quoted, “the least of these my brethren?” Look again, and see what it really says: “ONE OF the least of these my brethren.” “One of…” those are the missing words when this is misquoted, as it usually is. That one is your neighbor, That one is your Lazarus, with his unpleasant and unsightly sores.
          The Bible always personalizes it. “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” Thy neighbor, not mankind. “He that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen…” His brother, not some impersonal thing called mankind. The Rich Man gave at the office, so to speak. He sent out those crumbs from his table to the beggar. But, if he had known God’s love, if he had heard Moses and the Prophets, the great moral truth and the themes of redemption revealed to the children of men, if he had loved God because God first loved us, he would have brought in his brother Lazarus from the streets, and sat him at his own table.
          That is the love of God when it is reflected in your heart. How can you know that love? You may begin right now, by letting God quicken your conscience, and cleanse it, all the while showing His love for as you contemplate the cross where Jesus poured out His soul unto death for you. It is personal; the gift was given to you there. His words of forgiveness from the cross are for you. His “It is finished” was the full payment and cancelation of your entire debt. You can love God because, as we see on the cross where Jesus died, He first loved you. And, therefore, you can love your brother, your neighbor, your own Lazarus.    



          

Saturday, June 02, 2012

Trinity Sunday

Diagnosed with Pneumonia for a second time in two months, I am posting this rerun from 2009. Services at St. Benedict's in the morning will be in the hands of Fr. Charles Lindsay.


Isaiah 6:1-8, Psalm 29, Rev. 4:1-11 (i.e. the entire chapter), John 3:1-17

It is fitting that we should read about new birth on Trinity Sunday, and be reminded that, "That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit."Nicodemus asked the question,"How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother's womb, and be born?" The answer that Jesus gave him was about the invisible work of the Holy Spirit. Invisible and yet observable in effect; for the Holy Spirit's working cannot be seen, but his work can be seen when a man is born of water and of the spirit; for he is a new man in Christ, literally a new creation. "If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new." (II Cor. 5:17) Adam was a creature, and his offspring are creatures, but not individually created as much as creatures by derivation, in that each new human being is the result of a man knowing a woman (one hopes, his wife). But, in the new birth, each person is a new creature, individually created by the breath of God with that new life that we receive from the Risen Christ, that new life that is eternal and will survive our death, so that our mortal nature becomes a seed planted to be raised as Christ is risen, that is life immortal. "Knowing that Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more; death hath no more dominion over him." (Rom. 6:9)

Currently, among the Reaaserter camp, we find that somewho call themselves "Anglican" do not understand that John chapter three, where Jesus speaks of the new birth, is referring to baptism. No doubt, they have never learned the genuine Anglican Catechism, embracing, as they do, over the last thirty years a book that has new things instead. But, here is what the authentic Anglican Catechism says:

QUESTION. What is your Name?
Answer. N. or N. N.
Question. Who gave you this Name?
Answer. My Sponsors in Baptism; wherein I was made a member of Christ, the child of God, and an inheritor of the kingdom of heaven.

In baptism we were adopted through Christ, born of water and the Spirit as children of God.

This is clear from the sixth chapter of Romans:

What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein? Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. (vs. 1-4)

Well I understand why the Evangelicals interpret the new birth as that moment of conscious conversion, for in a sense it really feels like a new birth of sorts: This I know from my own experience. And, it likely completes something valid and real that was planted in baptism, even though it may appear to unsympathetic critics as merely subjective. I understand why they resist the ancient teaching of the Church that the new birth is in baptism, because their experience of conversion just had to be what Christ spoke of. But, the new birth is objective, and we must interpret John chapter three by Romans chapter six. The new birth is into the newness of life, having been buried with Christ by baptism into death, and raised to walk in the newness of life. That is objective and real; and for an Anglican it should contain no contradiction that we accept the teaching of the Catholic Tradition regarding the meaning of Scripture, and that we rejoice when a person's dormant faith comes so alive in his soul that he can mark it as a beginning. But, it is the grace of his baptism awakened by the Holy Spirit, so that his conscience, with all his heart and soul, renders him like the prodigal son who came to himself, and went home to his father.

And, baptism brings us to the nominal theme of Trinity Sunday.

We must look at the words of the Risen Christ at the close of the Gospel According to Matthew, where we read the Great Commission:

And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach (μαθητεύω, mathēteuō, make disciples of) all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen. (Matt.28:18-20)

This new birth involves the full revelation of the Name of God. And, before proceeding, we must answer yet another objection some have. They have noticed, as have we, that in the Book of Acts baptism was said to be in the Name of Jesus Christ (Acts 2:38), or the Lord Jesus (Acts 8:16, 10:48, 19:5). But, they do not understand. They make the mistake of assuming that Luke's designation of Christian baptism reveals the formula, or the actual words that were spoken, which is not at all what the text actually says.

When the Book of Acts reveals what happened in those earliest days, Luke is making clear that the baptism was not that of John the Baptist, but rather it was Christian baptism. Since the word "Christian" appears only once in that whole book, as something that came about after many people were baptized (11:26), it was not yet customary to say "Christian baptism" as opposed to "the baptism of John." But, that this is the meaning is clearly drawn from the nineteenth chapter. "Then said Paul, John verily baptized with the baptism of repentance, saying unto the people, that they should believe on him which should come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus. When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus." Would those who think they are using the formula of Acts by rejecting the commandment of Christ at the close of Matthew's Gospel, not have made the same argument if "Christian" had been a more fully established word from the start? Would they not likely insist that the formula should be "I baptize thee a Christian?" Dom Gregory Dix discovered an ancient baptism liturgy in which the Trinitarian formula appeared as part of a long prayer that was, as a whole, in the Name of Jesus Christ. This makes perfect sense.

The formula for baptism is "In the Name of The Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost (or Holy Spirit)." The revelation of this Name, indeed, this One Name, is the end result in Matthew's Gospel, of all that Jesus did and said. Now, we know God. The revelation of this One Name of The Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, could not be given to us before the Incarnation of the Word; the Name could not be revealed before Christ's atoning death in which he took away the sins of the world; the Name could not be revealed until after he defeated death itself and rose from the grave. The Name could be revealed only after we see the full picture of the Son, in his complete victory for our sakes over sin and death, having cast out the prince of this world in his Passion and Resurrection. And, it had to be revealed right then, just before the Ascension and the ten days when the disciples were about to stand on that bridge between the coming of the first Comforter and the coming of the other Comforter; that is, between the coming of Christ our Advocate (παράκλητος, paraklētos I John 2:1), and the coming of "the other Comforter" (same word, παράκλητος, paraklētos, John 14:16,17), the Spirit of Truth.

God the Father has been perfectly (Heb. 1:1f) revealed by the Son; and the Father and the Son are known only through the Holy Spirit (John 15:26). Therefore, the revelation of the Divine Name is also the revelation of our salvation, for the revelation of the One Divine Name of The Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit came only out of the mouth of Jesus Christ after he had accomplished all things, and was ready to go back to the Father in order to send the other Paraklētos. The new life, into which we are born again in baptism, is eternal life; that eternal life is to know the God of this revelation intimately.

And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever; even the Spirit of truth; whom the world can not receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you. ..And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent. (John 14:16,17; 17:3) 

Eternal life is to know the Spirit of Truth, for he alone reveals the Son. It is to know the Son, for he alone reveals the Father. It is to know the Father. Our salvation and eternal life is to know the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.

Hear what the Prophet Jeremiah foretold, as the substance of the New Covenant:

Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them, saith the LORD: But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people. And they shall teach no more every man his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, Know the LORD: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the LORD; for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more. (Jer. 31:31-34)

This is salvation and eternal life.

This is also universal, to be proclaimed in all nations; for it is in all nations that we are to make and baptize disciples. "For the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea." (Hab. 2:14) In recent years we have read of false teachers (such as one Bishop Swing of the Episcopal "Church") tell us that Christianity should no longer be a missionary faith, and that we should respect the alleged right of all people to have their ancestral gods. Thank God St. Patrick did not think so, or my Irish ancestors would have continued the practice of human sacrifice, burning people in the Wicker Man. The Gospel is not a form of oppression, but the only way out of the darkness into the light. "But thus shall ye deal with them; ye shall destroy their altars, and break down their images, and cut down their groves, and burn their graven images with fire...And ye shall overthrow their altars, and break their pillars, and burn their groves with fire; and ye shall hew down the graven images of their gods, and destroy the names of them out of that place. " (Deut. 7:5, 12:3). It is a service, it is compassionate, to liberate people from the cruelty of paganism, and to bring to them knowledge of the true God. When the Church built its new shrines on the sites of old pagan shrines, it practiced wisdom; for the old ways of darkness were replaced by the worship of the loving God of salvation. In the old places of dread and darkness the Church built new places of joy and light.

We have been given a mission, whether or not the world and its defeated prince approve. The Church has that same mission in all the world that Christ gave in a special way to St. Paul: "To open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me." (Acts 26:18)

Baptism in the One Name, revealed by the Risen Christ, is entrance into the New Covenant, into death to sin and the newness of life, into the knowledge of God. It is for all nations. To proclaim the Name of The Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit is to proclaim our only hope and our only salvation. Only the Risen Christ could reveal it, and so prepare his Disciples to receive the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. We know the Name not in some academic or theoretical sense, but rather because The Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit have been revealed in the coming of one Paraklētos, Christ our Lord who defeated sin and death in his passion and resurrection, and the coming of the other Paraklētos, the Spirit of Truth who gives life and power to the Body of Christ. The revelation of the Trinity is the seal of our salvation history and it is our life here and now.