Saturday, September 29, 2012

Seventeenth Sunday after Trinity

Click on the picture to go to a sermon for this Sunday.

St. Michael and all Angels Sept. 29

Rev. 12:7-12  *  Matt. 18:1-10  

And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon…

The fact of spiritual warfare is often neglected. Many churches give the impression that the Christian life is a vacation luxury cruise ship instead of a battle ship, with battle stations. But, we see in the New Testament, and other writings of the early Church, metaphorical use of military terminology. Saint Paul, for example, tells the Ephesian Christians to put on the whole armor of God in order to stand against principalities and powers, rulers of the present darkness of this world, and wicked spirits in heavenly places. He tells them to stand, that is, to hold their ground. Our Lord Jesus did not tell us to hold a party until He comes, but to occupy until he comes.

It is fitting on this, the Feast of Saint Michael and all Angels, to remember who the angels of God are. They are our fellow servants spoken of in the Books of the Kings by the prophet Elisha. When the Syrians came to capture the prophet, his servant and disciple, a young “son of the prophets,” was afraid; so Elisha prayed that God would open his eyes to see the hills filled with chariots of fire and horsemen. “There are more that be with us than with them.” And, centuries later the prophet Daniel, after several days of fasting, saw the angel Gabriel who spoke to him mysterious words, that he would have arrived sooner had not the prince of Persia withstood him. He then spoke of Michael as the prince who stands for the people of Israel. The implication is, all of the nations of fallen mankind are under the evil force that Saint Paul calls “Principalities and powers,” but that Israel was under the protection of a holy angel, the warrior Michael. 

The Church has always lived with the realization that all around us are unseen beings of intelligence and power locked in a war about the human race. We are not spectators; we are engaged in this war. The image of angels as effeminate or as cute little babies with wings, is as ridiculous and insulting as would be a “Precious Moments” picture of the Marine Corps.

The mystery of iniquity, spoken of in scripture, begins with the mystery of how a majestic creature, an angel called the “anointed cherub who covers” became the devil, and the mystery of his domain of fallen angels and sinful humanity. But, the fact that it is a mystery does not erase the obvious evidence set before our eyes, namely that a mad hatred of mankind is coupled with a mad hatred for God, and a rebellion that existed prior to all recorded history. People may not know how to see through the mystery to what evil is, and what motivates and energizes it. Nonetheless, everyone sees that it exists. 

The scriptures make clear, as well, that evil has already lost in the ultimate sense, that when our Lord Jesus was crucified the devil was, in the Lord’s words, “cast out.” The serpent’s head was crushed when he bruised the heel of the Man Who was the seed of the woman, that is the One born of the Virgin. And, when He rose from the dead Christ made an open show of the devil’s defeat by leading a Triumph. 

Therefore, the ongoing battle has nothing to do with ultimate victory. Never has there been the slightest possibility that a mere creature (no matter how powerful in our estimation) would even threaten, let alone defeat, God. Rather, the ongoing battle has everything to do with evil that is not superhuman, but rather subhuman, base and completely mad. The ongoing battle is all about unreasoning hatred for mankind in a battle for individual human souls, and about a proud rebellion against God, the war of a rebel without a cause, but with a grudge. This is the war that we see reflected in the lies and violence of the modern world. It does not appear to be sane, because it is not sane.

In the Gospel reading for this feast, we have been told of the need to humble ourselves as the little child. We are not told that children are an example to follow, as some wrongly interpret it, with muddle-headed sentimentality. Rather, our Lord told us to humble ourselves as the little child; that is, as he put it in another discussion  at a dinner where men chose places of honor for themselves, that we should take the lowest place. We should assume no place of honor for ourselves, but rather give place to others. But, he did not say that children were examples for us to follow. Rather, He spoke clearly about their need to be protected, especially, their need to be protected from the influences that would corrupt them, deprive them of their innocence and rob the children of childhood.

In this context we learn more about angels. We learn that even as they are engaged in the war for individual souls, they are, at the same time, beholding the face of the Father. The Church has always taken this to mean that the holy angels contemplate God. Clearly, they intercede in prayer, prayer that is in their own tongues and on the level of their own understanding. And, this passage, speaking of the angel of each child, is the passage that has always been taken to mean that God has appointed for each person a guardian angel. But, in this Gospel text we must see the warning of judgment.

This warning has everything to do with the reality of our spiritual warfare, and of how that warfare applies to the little child Jesus spoke of. Anyone who leads one such child into sin, who robs a child of innocence, who destroys the protection and sacredness of childhood, who despises the frailty of the weak instead of defending it, would be better off to have had a millstone tied about his neck and drowned in the depths of the sea. For, to lead children into sin brings about a judgment that is terrifying. Only of the traitor Judas are similar words spoken: “Better for that man had he not been born.”

What does this have to do with war in heaven, the vigilance of Saint Michael and the holy angles against the dragon, and therefore of our stand against principalities and powers, rulers of the present darkness of this age, and wicked spirits in heavenly places? I will answer first by posing a question: In the New Testament, what is the source of false doctrines about God? The phrases used by the writers of the various Epistles, Saints Paul, Peter and John, all agree. “Doctrines of demons, seducing spirits, the spirit of error, the spirit of Antichrist…” These are the phrases used when speaking of false teaching itself, those lies that amount to deception about God, about salvation, and about the commandments of the law "called moral." Light cannot have fellowship with darkness. 

One of the main problems with a church that presents a confusing message of moral license is the harm done to the children. The world does not aim its deception and temptations simply at adults, but at children, and constantly at younger and younger ages. The advertisements and entertainment aimed at their young minds should anger and shock us. Children ought to be allowed those early years of innocence, not presented with what some call “adult themes.” They should be protected; their parents should resist the spirit of the times- real spirits of deception. And, the Church should help parents teach simple right from wrong while, at the same time not destroying innocence.

When the Lord Jesus was obedient even to the death of the cross, the serpent’s head was crushed. When He rose from the dead He showed that He was triumphant over the powers of darkness and had defeated sin and death. As we occupy this ground until He comes, warring for our souls and the souls of others, we are joined in the battle by Saint Michael and the holy Angels. There are more that be with us than with them.

Essay on St. Michael and all Angels
September 29th is the feast of St Michael and all Angels. Angels are our fellow servants of God. Like us they are created beings, and do not share the uncreated nature of God. But, they are spirits, and their existence is both known to us and yet mysterious to us.

I have never understood the readiness some clergymen have had to proclaim themselves sophisticated by stating that they do not believe in angels. I once heard an Episcopal priest stand in the pulpit of a church, and make this very statement- but this same priest was also a devotee of H.L. Mencken. So, it should not surprise me that his idea of sophistication was sophomoric. He did not deny the Virgin Birth, or the Resurrection of our Lord, but one had to wonder, what else will he dismiss as beneath his own brilliance of mind, simply because it is too glorious and transcendental even for honest skepticism? He thought his unbelief a thing impressive, as if it were a badge of wisdom.

I recall some years ago that Archbishop Peter Akinola, Anglican Primate of Nigeria no less, was visiting the United States, and was approached by members of the "Gay" advocacy group in the Episcopal Church. This, of course, was a waste of time with any African Anglican Primate. Without hesitation, the archbishop began to command the demons in them to be silent, and spoke commands of exorcism. Word of this got to John Shelby Spong, retired Episcopal Bishop of New Jersey, who attempted to make light of the African bishop’s lack of sophistication. He dismissed Archbishop Akinola's belief in exorcism itself in a derisive manner.

Surely, that idea held by many Americans and other westerners is backwards. The ones who lack sophistication are the Western modern elitists, such as Mr. Spong. They cannot conceive of the supernatural world. Their ability to understand is limited not by reason and knowledge, but by foolishness and bigotry (the “benevolent” bigotry of "liberals" in this case). How easily they show contempt for African bishops who are not only their spiritual superiors, but who are also their superiors in scholarship and in theology. Mr. Spong no doubt thinks that he is the enlightened and educated one compared to the Anglicans of Africa, which only indicates that some of the people we are calling "liberals" these days are racists.

Indeed, to understand that a whole world exists that is invisible to us, inhabited by beings of a nature higher than our own- as every nature is supernatural to the natures below it- requires not so much the faith of a child, but the intelligence of minds which have been lifted to the great height of humility, raised to lowliness, able to see that even the science that we do know reveals a magnificence and intricacy of design which, with each new discovery, opens more questions concerning the things that we do not know. 

Scientists who learn new facts make us all less knowledgeable as a result, poetically speaking, because the more we learn the less we know in proportion to any measure of a complete understanding. We gain ground only to lose more ground in our quest for knowledge. For, whereas before questions could be few, we have now more questions; for the increase of knowledge shows that the percentage of it that we have is less than we thought. Every discovery of fact opens more questions than we had been asking before. So, a truly learned and intelligent person becomes humble, for all his knowledge can only tell him how ignorant he is.

Not so those who misunderstand the progress of science, and think that we now know just about everything, and that we can understand every phenomenon with what they sophomorically call "a scientific explanation". But, they do not have the courage to face real science, and its unsettling affect on human pride.

They think that their limited knowledge should rule out what they characterize as things "simple" and "childish." How simple and childish of them. The spiritual side of this is the statement of our Lord, that only the one who humbles himself as a little child 1 is great in the Kingdom of Heaven. While Western Rationalist clergymen, such as Mr. Spong and the Mencken enthusiast, applaud their own sophistication, truly wise men are worshiping God with angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven. Those who are humble enough to receive the wisdom that comes from God have no time to waste trying to look clever by the low standard of Western Rationalism.

The reading we have from the twelfth chapter of the Book of Revelation tells us why. It tells of spiritual warfare. It speaks of the battle St. Michael and the armies of God are fighting against the devil and his angels. We see it all around us, unless our delusion of sophistication blinds us to the war. Is it not obvious to us that the world around us is hostile to God, to everything that is true and good? For example, every time a new discovery of medical science brings home just how depraved and viscous it is to murder children in the womb by abortion, that discovery is ignored by the major press. When the discovery is invoked as yet more evidence for life, it meets with a hostile attempt at censorship, as though the most obscene thing in the world is to speak the truth. And, indeed, it is, by the standard of this world and its prince. This would be a great mystery to me if I did not know about spiritual warfare. But, as one who knows of it, I have been prepared to recognize the war for what it is.

The war is very real; I have had the very Biblical experience of performing genuine exorcism and of seeing a human being released quite suddenly from the grip of demon possession. I do not know fully what demon possession is, for it is still a mystery; I cannot put it under a microscope. But, I know enough to have been ready to act when a person was in need, and to do what Jesus said to do. The results were quite wonderful.

"Our battle is not against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers, against rulers of the spiritual darkness of this world, and against spiritual wickedness in heavenly places." So says St. Paul;2 and he tells us to put on the whole armor of God in order to stand in the evil day. We do not know when the evil days are gong to be. We have all had an evil day of weather, with enough warning that people should have been ready for winds and flood. So it is with days of spiritual warfare, evil days. We must be prepared by wearing the whole armor of God, as explained in the sixth chapter of Ephesians. Otherwise our minds and hearts will be exposed to whatever is in the air. We must also be ready through the regular practice of prayer and of fasting. This should be part of our routine, just as the whole armor of God should be part of our daily life. Unless we live on a war footing, we are not prepared.

We know, or should know, that the angels are messengers. The words in Hebrew and Greek translated "angel" in our English Bible, mean messenger. In fact, John the Baptist was the greatest born of women, for though he was a man he is registered in the company of angels. He was the Messenger of the Covenant (H’ Melech H’ Br’it).

We know that when God sent important words to man, especially when the Word was made flesh, it was done by the Message of an Angel. For Gabriel appeared to Mary and announced that she would be the mother of our Lord, that indeed not simply despite her virginity, but because of her virginity, she would bear and bring forth God in the flesh. Who but an angel could bring this word as a message which causes the event to happen? A word with the creative power of God Himself, put in the mouth of God’s own messenger as God’s own words.

And in addition to their being messengers, we see them as warriors. The scriptures speak this way, especially in Joshua and in Daniel, and of course in the New Testament, in the Book of Revelation. This ought to comfort us in all our tribulation. For we are not alone. There are more with us than with them, angels fellow servants of God.
1. See Matthew 18:4, which happens to be part of the Gospel reading for this feast. I will say more about this in the sermon to follow.
2. See Ephesians 6:10f

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Sixteenth Sunday after Trinity

Eph. 3:13-21 * Luke 7:11-17

And there came a fear on all: and they glorified God, saying, That a great prophet is risen up among us; and, That God hath visited his people.

The people's reaction to this miracle, Jesus raising the dead man back to this mortal life (unlike His own resurrection to follow), has behind it the great Tradition of the Old Testament. The prophets spoke the word of God with power, power that changed things, such as Moses rolling back the waters of the Red Sea, or Elijah bringing down fire from Heaven to turn the hearts of the disobedient back again. 1 The word of God came with such power as we see in the opening of Genesis, where all creation comes alive when God says, "let there be light." The word of God comes with power, miraculous power. The word of God, in the mouth of a prophet, is powerful. 2

The word for "power" in the Greek New Testament, that is also translated as "might" (as in "mighty") in today's Epistle, is a word always associated with miracles. It is δύναμις(dynamis), from which we get the word "dynamic." The New Testament reveals that the Christian life is the life of power that comes from the Holy Spirit. It is a supernatural life that does not depend on mere human strength. It is the life of the Risen Christ imparted to us from the Holy Spirit by our baptism into Christ 3 and to which we have access only by faith. This power converts our hearts to faith and obedience, and brings us to the knowledge of God. The word of God proclaimed in the Gospel contains this supernatural power of the Holy Spirit within it, because whenever and wherever the Gospel is proclaimed the Holy Spirit speaks to the hearts of believers and unbelievers alike, 4 creating faith in unbelieving hearts as he convicts the world. 5

We can approach this life in different ways. Today's Epistle tells us, as believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, how we ought to approach this life, living here and now the life that draws its power from the life of the Risen Christ, and that is breathed within us by the Holy Spirit. Look at those powerful words of St. Paul, and ask yourself, honestly, if you find them meaningful, or completely hidden to you.

...that he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might (δύναμις ) by his Spirit in the inner man; that Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; and to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fullness of God.

Is that how you approach each day? Do you begin your day in prayer, asking for this to be your experience throughout the day? Do you hear these words as hollow and meaningless, or do they entice you, in a good and healthy way, to know God better?

I do not mean to create the impression of a life that is always full of some kind of emotional high, nor do I underestimate the necessary times of dryness that mystics call "the dark night of the soul." The life of faith faces the same setbacks and fears that affect all people everywhere. But, the life of faith perseveres, and is not overcome by this world, because Christ Himself, the Risen and Glorified Lord, is its source, its goal and its hope. Only the Holy Spirit can give you this life, because it is not a man made commodity.

It begins each day by the honest recognition that we have sinned, and have not earned some right to know God. It begins in the honest light of humility that confesses, repents and asks forgiveness. The life of faith means that you receive that forgiveness because you understand that Christ has paid the full price for all your sins, that he did this when He poured out His soul unto death for you on the cross, 6 and that through Him the Father welcomes you into His presence, fully justified because you are in Christ. Because you know this, by faith, you dare to ask for the grace of God that is brought to you by the Holy Spirit, and for the power to live in that grace. be strengthened with might (δύναμις ) by his Spirit in the inner man; that Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith...

Because of this power and grace from the Holy Spirit, that God gives you breath by breath as you live in your own daily reality, you can love your neighbor with the love of God, even when your own power fails.

...that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height...

You can give the love of Christ freely, because, freely, it has been given to you. 7

...and to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fullness of God.

The life of faith is simple but not easy. It is powerful, but known only in weakness. St. Paul wrote to the Church in Corinth:

And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure. For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me. And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 8

What is the weakness in which Christ's power is made perfect in our own experience? It is when we have come to the end of our own power, and learn that we need His power. It is why I remind you, on the First Sunday after Trinity, that it is harder by far to love thy neighbor than it is to love some big impersonal thing we call "mankind." Our own weakness is evident in many ways, as it was for Peter, James and John who fell asleep, though they really had intended to watch with Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane. We know we ought not to fear death as others do, but we cannot live without some fear of it from time to time. We cannot forgive others as God forgives us, that is, we cannot forgive when we rely on the power of our emotions. I could go on and on, for there is much we cannot do.

The life we live is the life of faith, and it is the sacramental life.

When you approach God today it is with thanksgiving, hearing His word, confession of sin, receiving His forgiveness, and then actually partaking of the Food and Drink of Eternal Life by taking and eating, and by drinking, Christ's own Body and Blood as He gives Himself in the sacrament. You need His grace, and ought to avail yourself of every means of grace. Seeing this need for what it is, requires the honest evaluation of humility. You need what He gives. He givesHimself; as he gave Himself on the cross, he gives Himself through every means He has established, and by faith you receive Him. That is what His grace is--it is His own presence and power here and now.

But, beware of what St. Paul described in words he wrote to St. Timothy about some

...having a form of godliness, but denying the power (δύναμις) thereof: from such turn away. 9

I hope that none of you think of this time spent in church as merely "a little religion" to distract you from real life. Real life is here, and real life is in Christ. The world offers many distractions, and those are the fantasy, the things that pass away. Eternity is forever (as much as that may sound like a Yogi Berra-ism). St. John said it better:

Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever. 10

You may approach the Christian life merely as religious duty, concerning which you have little conviction, about which you think, "let's not get carried away." You may think it enough to give God one hour each week (which is never a time limit we set on a service!), but then to live the rest of your time assuming that He will be satisfied with that, as if you gave Him something that He needed. God does not need an hour from you once a week, and He does not need a bit of your money, or a few hours from you on Holy Days. He does not need anything from you, and you cannot give Him anything.

You need
You, however, need to give God as much attention as you can. You need to give what you can. You need to come here, you need to pray each day wherever you are, you need to hear His word (to read it), and you need to take the sacraments He offers. You need to obey His voice, and you need faith that is present moment by moment, day by day. The power that you need is a gift that is given, and that you need to receive every hour of your life. Do not hold a mere form of godliness if you are going to go out of here to deny the power thereof.


know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fullness of God.

1. That is, to the fathers, or to the wisdom of the just; cp. I Kings 18:37, Malachi 4:5,6 & Luke 1:17
2. cp. Jer. 15: 19 & Isaiah 55:11
3. Romans 6:1f
4. "For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek." Romans 1:16
5. John 16:8
6. Isaiah 53:12
7. Matt. 10:8
8. II Cor. 12:7-9
9. II Tim. 3:5
10. I John 2:15-17

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Fifteenth Sunday after Trinity

GALATIANS 6:11-18 * MATTHEW 6:24-34

The scriptures today warn us of two kinds of deception, namely the deception of false religion and the deception of the cares of this world. And, what we see connecting these passages of scripture is summed up perfectly by our Lord when He tells us to seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness. In that seeking we are not escaping reality, rather we are facing it in its fullest. We can face good news and bad, even the fact of our own mortality, with a brand of courage unknown except by faith.

Saint Paul, in this Epistle to the churches in Galatia, saw the need to correct the heresy of self-appointed teachers who proclaimed a new and different “gospel.” In the first chapter (vs. 6-9) he told them:

“I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel: Which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ. But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. As we said before, so say I now again, if any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed.”

These words may sound harsh to people who imagine that all religion is good: But every genuine pastor, every sincere bishop, priest, or deacon, must teach faithfully what has been revealed and handed down. We cannot simply smile and accept what is taught in cults, or even in churches that are turning away from a clear and faithful adherence to "the faith once delivered to the saints (Jude 3)."

The heresy addressed in this Epistle was a new teaching that all of the Gentiles who had converted to Christ could not be saved unless they were circumcised and kept the Six Hundred and Thirteen Commandments of the Torah, and then only as interpreted by their approved Rabbis. Today we have false teaching of every sort all around us, and it has terrible consequences spiritually, and sometimes physically.

For example, the Jehovah’s Witnesses not only teach the Arian and Pneumatimachian heresies by denying the Trinity, by denying the existence of the Holy Spirit, and denying the bodily resurrection of Christ (who appeared to witnesses). They also cause their people to die, and at times have caused the deaths of their own children, because they forbid something as good and practical as blood transfusions. It is tragic. For many years my father worked side by side with a good friend, a man we all liked very much, who died at the age of sixty from heart disease. A very simple medicine could have kept him alive to this day; but he was a member of Mary Baker Eddy’s so-called “Christian Science Church,” (three misnomers) and so he would not take medicine. As a result of his beliefs he died before he could retire, before he could meet his grandchildren. The picture we are given of God, by these kinds of doctrines, is one of a very unreasonable and harsh taskmaster who demands the impossible without providing grace.

To avoid false gospels we need sound doctrine, and true theology.

In the Gospel Jesus lifts our eyes heavenward. The Book of Common Prayer (1928, American) does something unusual in this passage. It does not use the exact words of the King James Bible, “give no thought for the morrow.” Instead, this one passage uses the 1888 Revised Version: “Be not anxious for the morrow.” Anxiety can take your mind off of the Lord; it can disturb your peace and ruin your whole life. Anxiety is the opposite of faith. Isaiah the prophet tells us:

“Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusteth in thee. Trust ye in the LORD for ever: for in the LORD, the LORD, is everlasting strength (Isa. 26:3,4).” 

This strength is real and effective for us here and now in this life, and it is the only strength that lasts forever. No matter what evils come in this life, as people face the death of loved ones, as they face betrayal, economic hardship, illness, their own mortality and the hostility of an unbelieving world, in the Lord is everlasting strength.

“Ye have heard of the patience of Job,” we are told (James 5:11). Let us look as well to the suffering of the Apostles. One of the most moving passages in all of Saint Paul’s Epistles, at least for me, is a personal plea that he wrote near the end of his life to his son in the Faith, Timothy. It is not a deeply theological passage, at least not in an academic sense. It is not a passage that we can use to illuminate our minds with doctrine- and yet is a very useful passage for theology and doctrine if you reflect upon it. In the last chapter of Second Timothy we find two requests. First he wrote: “The cloak that I left at Troas with Carpus, when thou comest, bring with thee, and the books, but especially the parchments.” Then he wrote, “Do thy diligence to come before winter.”

Think about that. When the Romans locked up a prisoner they did not feed him, or tend to his needs. That had to be arranged by family and friends. At the end of his many years of service, which he once described as involving constant persecutions, and other troubles such as shipwrecks, hunger and cold, he had come to this. The Saint, the former Rabbi who was the father of the Gentile Christians, the man who wrote about charity in words more meaningful than any other passage ever written about love, the man who gave us most of the words of the New Testament, bearing in his body the marks of Christ, glorying only and ever in the cross of Christ, had instead of retirement and a nice pension, a cell in a dungeon and a sentence of death. He was going to face Nero's executioner. To get through his last Winter on this earth he asked Timothy to bring the cloak, and to hurry up and get it to him before the cold winds of Winter could blow through his cell.

Well, that may not seem like a very deep theological passage. But it is. We see the faith of this saint who looked above the things of this world, this last witness of Christ’s resurrection facing death without fear, suffering the loss of all things with joy. His needs were real. He needed the cloak. Also, he wanted his books, probably hand-written copies of the Old Testament scriptures. What good were “the books, especially the parchments,” to a man on death row? The answer is, he wanted to keep his mind fed with the word of God, because he knew, living in prison and facing death, that the truth of the word of God was his anchor.

“Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you.” Everything you need for this life will be added. You have no cause for anxiety as unbelievers do. But more than that, more than food and drink, clothing and a place to lay your head, in the Lord is everlasting strength, the gift of sharing immortality with the Risen Christ, and the hope of partaking of the Divine nature through grace. You need not fear that the one who died to take away your sins, and who has promised in His resurrection to be with us forever, will change His mind and break His promises. What you need in this life will be provided as you seek first His kingdom and righteousness. But, even more so, “in the Lord is everlasting strength.” The pledge is eternal life through the risen Christ who has overcome death.

This is the faith that takes you through a life of real struggles and temptations. To feed and strengthen this faith you need to know what to rest your hope upon. For that you need the teaching that God has given by the revelation of His word. Dare I say it? You need the stable anchor of true theology and sound doctrine, because His word revealed in Scripture and known to His Church is where you discover the truth of God’s love.

Saturday, September 08, 2012

Fourteenth Sunday after Trinity

Galatians 5:16-25 * Luke 17:11-19

The readings from the Epistle and Gospel are really about human weakness and Divine power. The weakness of mere human power to withstand the temptations this world inevitably will provide, has a powerful image in the disease of leprosy. It is all too easy to misunderstand why St. Paul used the word “flesh” to speak of human weakness, a weakness in our whole species that has been with us since that very old event we call the Fall into sin and death.

Whatever happened is so beyond our understanding, that the Bible gives it to us in the story of Adam and Eve, some might say with all the elements of myth and parable. But, a historical fact lies at the center: Human disobedience radically altered God’s creation. The details are likely beyond our understanding, because the very word “Fall” indicates that we had ancestors who were not below our nature as it is, but above it, if only in a moral and spiritual sense. Because of the Fall, we are born subject to death, in a harsh environment where our own nature, without Divine grace, is not able to rise above the demands of survival and gratification.

Yet, we know we are meant to rise above these things. We know that something is wrong. We have a conscious awareness of a moral standard and a conscience; as lyrics by Pete Townsend put it (in “The Seeker”), “I’ve got values, but I don’t know how or why.” The whole human race has an inherent sense of right and wrong, and although that basic sense can be twisted and perverted, it is evidence in itself that the Fall is no mere idea, but a reality. St. Augustine said that Original Sin is a Christian dogma that no one can argue against, because the truth of it is obvious to everybody everywhere.

So, these readings contrast Fallen human weakness against Divine power. It is easy to misunderstand, as I said, why St. Paul used the word “flesh” to describe this weakness. If we look at the Old Testament we begin to grasp the Biblical Jewish mind of the Apostle. Hezekiah strengthened the resolve of his soldiers, who protected Jerusalem from the king of Assyria, with these words:

 “’Be strong and courageous, be not afraid nor dismayed for the king of Assyria, nor for all the multitude that is with him: for there be more with us than with him: With him is an arm of flesh; but with us is the LORD our God to help us, and to fight our battles.’ And the people rested themselves upon the words of Hezekiah king of Judah (II Chronicles 32:7,8).”

St. Paul spoke of the flesh as weak in his own words about spiritual warfare:

“For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh: (For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds;) Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ (II Corinthians 10:3-5).”

Above all, we have the words of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, “Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak (Matt. 26:41).”

So, the point is not a morbid one. The word “flesh” is not used in some Gnostic manner, as Marcion would have taught, to make us see creation itself as evil instead of as “very good (Genesis 1:31).” But, the flesh is weak in that human strength alone cannot rise above sin, and indeed cannot even really desire to.  In addition to having a conscience that, in everyone of any years, is burdened by moral failures against God and against other people, most individuals have the fear of facing God.

Although the eyes of God see everything even now, and always have since all eternity, think about what it will mean to have those eyes look through you into your very soul. On that Day His all-seeing gaze will penetrate you inescapably. How, when we have no place to hide and no distractions to give false comfort, will we bear the gaze of perfect holiness?
Listen to the words of our Lord Jesus Christ:

“And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For every one who does evil hates the light, and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. But he who does what is true comes to the light, that it may be clearly seen that his deeds have been wrought in God (John 3:19-21 RSV).” 

Darkness is the place of hiding from God, Who is the Light. Notice the contrast of plural and singular: “Everyone who does evil” and “He who does truth.” There it is, the One for the Many, as the Suffering Servant passage in the Book of Isaiah brings out so powerfully:

“Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. 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 (Isaiah 53: 4-6).”

That chapter concludes by saying, “And he bare the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors (v.12).” Picking up on that theme of the One and the Many (or of “everyone who does evil, and he who does truth”), St Paul wrote: “For as by one man's disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous (Romans 5:19).” We understand, I hope, that real guilt has been taken away on the cross where Jesus died. 

That very thing that is so weak became the instrument of our salvation, for we know that “the Word (Logos) was made flesh, and dwelt among us (John 1:14).” Jesus Christ came in the flesh, that is, God the Logos and eternally begotten Son who is One with the Father, shared our nature. He used that very human nature to practice what we could not: Perfect obedience. He alone of all the human race lived without sin. His conscience was never burdened with guilt, but only instructed by perfection. He had no fear of facing God, because he lived always in perfect fellowship with the Father. He used that same weak fleshly nature to die for our sins, and then overcame all its weakness when He rose again from the dead, never to die again. He gives us the promise of Divine power, to share His resurrection life when he comes again in glory.

Here and now
Yet here we are in this life. How do we have fellowship with God? If we come to the light even now, boldly into the presence of God, it is only through the One who does truth. The first Psalm tells of “the man” who walks in the Law of the Lord. That one Man is Jesus Christ. In Him we dare even now to approach the light, and come to the light. In Him, we do not fear that gaze of Perfection, of absolute holiness and goodness. It will not melt us or destroy us, and neither will it drive us away. We are compelled by the love He showed, mostly on the cross, to come without fear. “I believe in the forgiveness of sins.”

And, we not only believe in the forgiveness of sins, but first we say, “I believe in the Holy Ghost.” The flesh is weak, but we have been given Divine power by that Presence that is always with us. We can live for more than gratification and survival. That list of sins, that difficult but instructive passage about the “works of the flesh” is powerfully contrasted against the list that follows, “the fruit of the Spirit.” I believe in the Holy Ghost, and that is the Spirit Who gives us Divine power to become holy, to possess “love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, goodness, faith, humility and self-control.”

The Prophet Jeremiah foretold the New Covenant. Jesus made clear reference to that same New Covenant when holding the cup of the New Covenant in His blood. We see in part of the prophetic foretelling of this Covenant what it means for each of us in our daily lives to believe in the Holy Ghost and in the forgiveness of sins: 

“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 neighbour, 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 (Jeremiah 31:33,34).”

In a few minutes you will hear the words of Absolution, and then after that you will be invited to come forward and to eat and drink the body and blood of Christ, that supper of the New Covenant. Everyday, each day, you can know as well the joy of “fellowship with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ (I John 1:2)” by the Holy Spirit. You can come to the Light to confess your sins with the certainty of Divine forgiveness, and you can walk in the light with power to posses in yourself and demonstrate to everyone the love of God.

You need not rely on the weak arm of flesh; you have the power of the Holy Spirit.          

Thursday, September 06, 2012

Laymen's Guide to the Thirty-Nine Articles

Article XXIII.
Of Ministering in the Congregation

It is not lawful for any man to take upon him the office of public preaching, or ministering the Sacraments in the Congregation before he be lawfully called, and sent to execute the same.  And those we ought to judge lawfully called and sent, which be chosen by men who have public authority given unto them in the Congregation, to call and send Ministers into the Lord’s vineyard.

De vocatione Ministrorum

Non licet cuiquam sumere sibi munus publice praedicandi in Ecclesia, nisi prius fuerit ad haec obeunda legitime vocatus et missus.  Atque illos legitime vocatos et missos existimare debemus. Qui per hominess, quibus potestas vocandi Ministros atque mittendi in vineam Domini publice concessa est in Ecclesia, cooptati fuerint et asciti in hoc opus.

Article XXIV. 
Of Speaking in the Congregation in such a Tongue as the People understandeth.

It is a thing plainly repugnant to the Word of God, and the custom of the Primitive Church, to have public Prayer in the Church, or to minister the Sacraments, in a tongue not understanded of the people.

De precibus publicis dicendis in lingua vulgari

Lingua populo non intellect publicas in ecclesia preces peragere, aut Sacramenta administrare, verbo Dei et primitivae Ecclesiae consuetudini plane repugnant.

Fr. Laurence Wells
At first glance, Article 23 sounds extremely Protestant, as that term is commonly understood nowadays.  It does not speak of priesthood but of an “office of public preaching.”  It does not mention bishops, but merely “men to have public authority given unto them,” without specifying exactly how this “public authority” comes to them.  We hear nothing here of the threefold ministry, nor of any sacerdotal power to confect sacraments (although the term “potestas” is used in another context), nor of any “character indelibilis.”  But at the same time there is nothing here that could be labeled as Erastian (the doctrine baffling to Americans, which the mother Church of Anglicanism has been accused of, that the Church is a department of state and subject to the control of the secular state).
            This article reminds us that the Elizabethan Doctors were battling on two fronts.  So far, the Articles are mostly concerned with the various debates between the Reformation and the Church of Rome.  But here the issue was not with Rome but with the radical sectarians at the fringe of the Reformation.
            When a man undertakes to lead public worship, to expound the Scriptures and preach the Gospel, and to administer the Sacraments, what is the source of his license for such highly presumptuous acts?  Where there is a prevailing belief in a “priesthood of all believers” the explanation is simple.  The assembly of believers has elected someone to preside and has deputized him or her to take charge at both pulpit and table.  While Lutheranism tended somewhat in that direction, for the record we must say this was never a classical Calvinist, Reformed or Presbyterian concept of doing things “decently and in order.”           
            This article was directed at a number of enthusiastic sects, in which a person of either sex who felt called to preach was free to collect an audience and develop a band of followers.  The opportunities for abuse are still obvious, but in a time when many parishes had absentee clergy and duly ordained clergymen were in short supply the self-anointed exhorters could have a field-day.  The “Protestant” tone of the article, therefore, is due to the fact that it addressed a Reformation problem.  As the mediaeval Church-order had broken down (which had occurred long before Henry the VIII cast his eyes on Anne Boleyn), it had become necessary to assert the importance of order.  We can hear a faint echo here of the struggles between the mendicant friars and the diocesan clergy a couple of centuries before this Article was written.         
            Beyond this polemic against the Enthusiastic Sects, a couple of points deserve to be mentioned.  The concept of legitimate authority here is derived neither from the king nor from the assembly.  What is clearly assumed is the principle of continuity and succession within a Divinely instituted ministry.  The reference to “the Lord’s vineyard” is no mere rhetorical flourish.”   The doctrine of Apostolic Succession is clearly in the background.   The “men who have public authority given unto them” are not identified, but when the logic of it is pressed, we are quickly back to Jesus calling and commissioning the Twelve.
            Secondly, the importance of “public preaching” is prominent in this Article.  This Reformation concern was well grounded in the great tradition of the true Catholic Church.  The mediaeval religious orders specialized in homiletics, as St Dominic recognized that the way to convert heretics was to preach the Gospel to them.  In an earlier period, the Church Fathers were highly competent preachers.  One should take note of how much of the voluminous Patristic literature consists of their sermons.  Where preaching is neglected, heresy thrives, souls starve and Christ is dishonored.   

The other extreme      
            If Article 23 is addressed to an error rampant in the Reformation, Article 24 confronts another error from the opposite quarter.  Keeping the Mass in Latin or translating it into the vernacular had long been a bone of contention between the Western and Eastern branches of the Church.  The sixteenth century was a period when many things other than the liturgy were at issue, as the various European languages began to assert themselves.   Rome itself has caved on this point.   This has unleashed a swarm of problems which people in the sixteenth century did not anticipate.  Is a “tongue understanded of the people” the same as street slang or journalistic English?  If the liturgy (a term not found in the Articles) is to be in the vernacular, what sort of vernacular is it to be?         
            That sort of problem is beyond the scope of this essay.  But we should not fail to mention the blunt and forthright manner in which Article 24 speaks of “the Word of God.”  By that term, the Bible is intended.  In the 16th century, neither Romanist nor Anglican, neither Protestant nor Sectarian, had any hesitation in speaking of the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament as “the Word of God.”

Fr. Robert Hart
            I have been dragged into many a defense of Anglican catholicity by people who were either Roman Catholic polemicists with missionary zeal, or by people on the opposite extreme who want Anglicanism to be no different from all the other Protestant traditions.  The former refuse to acknowledge our Apostolic validity, and the latter do not believe in Apostolic Succession, or at least they do not believe it matters. What they have in common is reliance on the same arguments.
            They claim to have history on their side. They will discover some Protestant clergyman who sneaked in “under the radar” to minister in the Church of England, either because of carelessness or because of the rule for “Stranger’s Churches.” That rule allowed foreign ecclesiastical ministers to care for the pastoral needs of Continental Protestants, such as German Evangelicals (Lutherans), or members of the Dutch Reformed Church, etc. who resided in England. Stating only part of the truth, enough to make one’s case, and neglecting the rest of the story is common to politics, but most egregious as history or religious apologetics.
            Another tactic is to make reference to the temporary establishment of the Anglican-Lutheran joint bishopric in Jerusalem.  That episode led directly to the conversion of John Henry Newman to Roman Catholicism in 1839, because he wrongly assumed the Church of England would abandon Apostolic Succession or compromise it. The contemporary polemicists/ missionaries fail to read the whole story including the reason why the Church of England and the Lutherans had to abandon the project. The Church of England had entered into the whole arrangement with the intention of accepting Lutheran ministers as bishops only after they would submit to consecration by English bishops with Apostolic Succession. When this proved unacceptable to the Lutherans, the joint bishopric collapsed.
            One key word in Article XXIII is “lawfully,” as also in the Preface to the Ordinal. Why do so many of our detractors assume that the Canon Law of the Church of England, and consequently that of Anglicanism in other countries, has no correlation to Anglican beliefs? Why do they assume that strict practice and Canon Law, along with the written liturgy of the Ordinal and Book of Common Prayer that allows only the bishop to ordain, and bishops to consecrate, that reserves the sacrament of Confirmation to the laying on of the bishop’s hands, that forbids any but the priest to celebrate Holy Communion and say Absolutions, is all meaningless? All this law, all these rubrics, all the words in the actual rites of the Ordinal, just somehow exist without any beliefs and principles behind them. Really? That entire assumption deserves no respect, “historical” anecdotes not withstanding.
Not Extra-Biblical
            Another assumption that we may dispense with is that the Apostolic Succession of bishops is not to be found in Scripture. The Bible does not explain Apostolic Succession, but it does model it and demonstrate it as a charismatic reality (II Timothy 1:6, Titus 1:5) . And, it does so in the same spirit of Article XXIII, that is, with an emphasis on more than a sacramental relay race, or spiritual genealogy, of who laid hands on whom. For, in itself, that could be nothing more than a “historic episcopate” that even an atheist would have to acknowledge. No. Along with that sacramental line of Succession must be a public ministry that proclaims the true Gospel and that both teaches and defends sound doctrine (II Timothy 2:2). 
Anglicanism in its expressed priorities, including the Ordinal as well as Article XXIII, rightly places equal emphasis on the ministry of the Word and the Sacraments. It was necessary to get away from the Roman perception that the priesthood is almost exclusively about celebrating the Eucharist. Therefore, our Ordinal restored balance with a proper understanding of the office and work of the πρεσβύτερος (presbyteros) summed up in the words, “…And be thou a faithful Dispenser of the Word of God, and of his holy Sacraments…” That simple direct phrase says what needs to be said.
Article XXIII, the Ordinal, the Canon Law and the rubrics, all prove that Anglicanism has no room for Lay Administration or any other kind of innovation. The Church has been plagued by innovations from many quarters, including Rome, including Enthusiastic Sects, and in modern times, including the Diocese of Sydney. For order, sacramental validity, pastoral care, proclamation and teaching of God’s word, and defense of sound doctrine, God provides the public ministry that was established by Christ Himself through His Apostles, endowed by every gift of the Holy Spirit.

Article XXIV borrows a Biblical principle from an ancient historical context, one with a different emphasis, and a different problem. The Church in Corinth was so enamored with spiritual gifts, almost to the point of Enthusiasm, that they practiced public speaking in unknown tongues that did not serve to edify the people (I Corinthians 14). So too, Latin in the ears of people who could not understand it, might well have edified the priests because of their education; but, the people were left out of the very act of prayer and worship. And they did not hear the word of God, as liturgy ceased to be the people’s sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving, and became exclusively the property of priest craft.
The problem was, therefore, very similar to what had long ago been addressed by Saint Paul: “For if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle? So likewise ye, except ye utter by the tongue words easy to be understood, how shall it be known what is spoken? for ye shall speak into the air… Else when thou shalt bless with the spirit, how shall he that occupieth the room of the unlearned say Amen at thy giving of thanks, seeing he understandeth not what thou sayest? For thou verily givest thanks well, but the other is not edified (I Corinthians 14:8,9, 16,17).”

“So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God (Romans 10:17).” The people’s faith must be built up and fanned into flame. Neither uninterrupted tongues, Latin not understood, nor silence, includes the people in worship and prayer, nor permits them to hear the word of God and believe.

Saturday, September 01, 2012

The "Good Samaritan" Trinity XIII

Galatians 3:16-22 *  Luke 10:23-37

The parable we have heard today is called the Parable of the Good Samaritan. However, the Lord Jesus simply called the man "a certain Samaritan." The Samaritan is not held up as an extraordinary example, but merely as a proper example. If there is anything praiseworthy about the Samaritan, it is his mercy and humility. For, the Samaritan was chosen to be an exemplary character in the story, quite deliberately, to make a simple point: You must love your neighbor without regard for how he has treated you, or how you expect him to treat you later.
        The Samaritans were despised by the Jews, and they returned the resentment with no love lost. Jesus, however, reached out to the Samaritans. On one occasion the Samaritans of one village refused to receive him (Luke 9:52); but earlier another Samaritan village did receive him (John 4:1-42). Even there, however, the Samaritan woman at Jacob's well reminded him, "The Jews have no dealings with the Samaritans."
       It is highly significant, therefore, that the man in the story is a Samaritan. Of all the men who came by, and saw the wounded Jewish victim of a criminal attack lying on the side of the road, the Samaritan was the least likely to want to help him. Why should he help a man who, no doubt, was entirely prejudiced against him? Perhaps, if the victim were awake and alert in his helpless condition, he would fear the Samaritan's approach. Perhaps, despite his need for help from somebody -- anybody -- he might nonetheless say something like, "Don't touch me with your Samaritan hands!"
       But the Samaritan had one purpose, and that was to love his neighbor as himself, and therefore to respond to his need. He may never win a friend for his efforts; maybe not the man himself, and maybe no one back home who might disapprove of helping a Jew. He may have been afraid to tell the folks back home. But, at that moment he was "moved with compassion," and he obeyed the Law of God; he acted out of charity, love for his neighbor – even this neighbor.
      The lawyer, in this case the student of the Torah, who asked Jesus about the commandments, no doubt had heard the Lord teach beofre. He already knew what were, in the teaching of Jesus, the two greatest commandments of the Law, and was able to answer accordingly: "'Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself.' And [Jesus] said unto him, Thou hast answered right: this do, and thou shalt live.'"
      Of course, Jesus did not teach these things only. He demonstrated them as well. The book of Isaiah foretold the day when God would, as St. Paul later put it, “Commend His love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us (see Rom. 5:8).” See the famous Suffering Servant passage. The prophet foresaw the day when the crowds would be turned against Jesus, rewarding the man "Who went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed of the devil (Acts 10:38)” with hatred and rejection for all the good he had done. So wrote the prophet, roughly 700 years ahead of that day, "He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not (Isaiah 53:3)." The Lord was treated worse than a Samaritan by his Jewish brethren, and worse still by the Romans who perpetrated the violence and cruelty that he endured. At the cross He acted with love, according to the needs of each and everyone of us.

"Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows:
yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.
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." (vs. 4-6)

     He had said, "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends (John 15:13).” On the cross he proved that a friend may or may not be one who loves you; but, he is someone you love as your neighbor. Jesus called even Judas, "friend" as he betrayed the Lord (in Matt. 26:50: "And Jesus said unto him, Friend, wherefore art thou come?"). From his perspective, as he was hanging on the cross and pouring out his soul unto death for you, and for me, Jesus Christ did not have an enemy in the world. Yes, he saw that they poured forth their hatred against him:

"Many bulls have compassed me: strong bulls of Bashan have beset me round.
They gaped upon me with their mouths, as a ravening and a roaring lion.
I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint: my heart is like wax; it is melted in the midst of my bowels.
My strength is dried up like a potsherd; and my tongue cleaveth to my jaws; and thou hast brought me into the dust of death.
For dogs have compassed me: the assembly of the wicked have inclosed me: they pierced my hands and my feet.
I may tell all my bones: they look and stare upon me.
They part my garments among them, and cast lots upon my vesture  (Psalm 22:12-18)."

Yes, they saw him as an enemy, and treated him as a conquered enemy, exhibiting glee from the spectacle of his torments, triumphing with cruel merriment. But, from his Divine and human perspective, He was laying down His life for them, and that made them His friends, as it makes you His friend.

"And when they were come to the place, which is called Calvary, there they crucified him, and the malefactors, one on the right hand, and the other on the left. Then said Jesus, 'Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.' And they parted his raiment, and cast lots (Luke 23:33,34).”

So, Jesus not only taught us to treat everyone as friends (even those who hate us); He did so Himself.

"Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust. For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same? And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so? Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect (Matt. 5:43-48)."
     This is not to be treated lightly. As God on his throne in heaven, equal to the Father and the Holy Spirit, the Son could not be harmed by man's malice. But, as a man, with flesh and blood like you and me, we see Jesus demonstrating the love of God through his human nature, actually suffering injustice, cruelty and pain; and He responded by forgiving and praying for His persecutors. This was Divine forgiveness from the Man  Christ Jesus. (I Tim. 25)

     Getting back to the parable, look at the men who "passed by on the other side." They saw their brother, a man of the same people and the same faith, stripped of his raiment, wounded and half-dead. The first man who saw him was a priest of the temple. No doubt, he had his religious duties to attend to. Perhaps, from all he could tell, the man was dead, and therefore the priest did not want to be made unclean. So too the Levite. He also served in the temple, and if this man was dead, he, like the priest, did not want the inconvenience of being made ceremonially unclean. Their religious duties, awaiting them in Jerusalem, must have seemed too important to be interrupted by the need, even the desperate need, of this their neighbor.
     I would think the Lord was using irony in the parable. Here are two men who know the Law, who belong to the temple, who do sacred work, passing by the man, passing by on the far side of the road. But, a Samaritan, despised and rejected wherever his business took him in Israel, is the one man who obeys the Law. Yes, I would think the Lord was using irony, if not for my many years of seeing some religious people, the kind who are very correct about every little detail all the time, who know the rubrics better than God does. All too often I have seen scrupulously religious people behave the same way that the priest and the Levite do in the parable. On the Last day you will not answer to God for how well you knew all the rubrics. You will answer for how well you loved your neighbor. Someone who serves in the temple might pass by on the other side. However, one who serves God would not, even if he is only a Samaritan.

     The Samaritan in the story did not do a great thing, but merely did his duty. The priest and the Levite did a great thing, for they committed a very grave sin. When news came to Tobit that a man of Israel had died, he rose from his dinner and buried him, even though the king had ordered that the corpses of Jews were to be left to rot, so that the crowds could belittle and insult them even in death.

And in the time of Enemessar I gave many alms to my brethren, and gave my bread to the hungry, and my clothes to the naked: and if I saw any of my nation dead, or cast about the walls of Nineve, I buried him. And if the king Sennacherib had slain any, when he was come, and fled from Judea, I buried them privily; for in his wrath he killed many (Tobit 1:16-18, see also Tobit 2:3-8).

Acts of charity are always in accord with the Law of God. If the rare occasion arises wherein charity appears to conflict with a religious duty, God has commanded us to place charity as the higher priority. The Priest and Levite should have risked ceremonial uncleanness, a mere concern of the "Kosher Laws," to love their neighbor in his time of need. Someone else could serve in the temple during the time in which they might have become lo tahor, or "unclean." It would not have been the end of the world. If ever your sensitivities, and not merely but especially your religious sensitivities, incline you to place ceremony or rubrics ahead of charity, be certain that God will regard your prayers as an abomination, adding sin to sin. "He that turneth away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer shall be abomination (Prov. 28:9).”     
     And, concerning that Law, the second great commandment is this: “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” Jesus has taught us the way, and in showing us the way has redeemed us from sin and death on his cross.
"'Which now of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbour unto him that fell among the thieves?' And he said, 'He that shewed mercy on him.' Then said Jesus unto him, 'Go, and do thou likewise.'"