Saturday, June 29, 2013

Another Bulletin Insert from Fr. Laurence Wells


It is a happy coincidence that the fifth Sunday after Trinity usually comes close to the Feast of St. Peter the Apostle on June 29. It is instructive to compare the Gospel for St. Peter’s Day on page 245 in the Prayer Book with today’s Gospel reading.  The central text on St. Peter’s day is “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.” This is called “Peter’s Confession” because it was a critical turning point, a hinge moment in the Gospel narrative, as related by Matthew, Mark and Luke.  John 6:68 is an equivalent moment, when Peter declared, ”Lord, to whom shall we go, for thou hast the words of eternal life.”  In John’s Gospel, that was Peter’s high point.

In today’s Gospel we have a slight contrast, in Peter’s words, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!”  Do these words reflect a lack of faith on Peter’s part, or an insufficient knowledge of God’s mercy and loving-kindness?  While Peter surely had a knack for saying inappropriate things (think of his nattering on the mount of transfiguration, or his cowardly behavior in Pilate’s courtyard), here in Luke 5, he was not wrong at all.  This miracle and Peter’s response  to it took place early in the Gospel story, well before his great confession  of faith. 

This response recalls Isaiah’s reaction to the heavenly vision in Isa. 6:5, “Woe is me! For I am lost: for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”

Both Isaiah and Peter understood that a real head-on confrontation with God Himself will give us a humiliating self-awareness of ourselves as we are, frail and finite beings, damaged and ruined by sin.  It is both logical and appropriate that when we come into God’s presence in His house, we fall to our knees in reverence and adoration.

When we know who He is, then we are bound to know who we are.  That knowledge will not be altogether comfortable.  But the good news for us in today’s reading from Luke 5 is that Jesus did not grant Peter’s prayer, “Depart from me.”  The whole message of the Bible is that God has never departed from His people and never will.  We could devote an entire sermon to the theme of Biblical prayers God in His mercy refused to grant.  Jesus did not depart from Peter, but instead made him an Apostle.  Neither does Jesus depart from us.  Like Peter, we confess Him as the Son of the living God, who has the words of eternal life for us.   LKW

Fifth Sunday after Trinity

For the Fifth Sunday after Trinity sermon click on the picture.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Fr. Wells A Bulletin Insert


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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Fourth Sunday after Trinity

Romans 8:18-23   Luke 6:36-41
The words of Jesus in today’s Gospel reading come in separate sections. Let us look at each one, one by one. 
Be therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful. Judge not, and ye shall not be judged: condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned: forgive, and ye shall be forgiven: give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over, shall men give into your bosom. For with the same measure that ye mete withal it shall be measured to you again. 
 This is not about pretending not to know right from wrong, but about mercy. All too easily, we apply to others a standard we would not want applied to us, not about right and wrong, but about forgiveness. It goes without saying that everybody, including everybody here, is a sinner. I am not talking about notorious and unrepentant sin. I am not talking about accepting a low standard of conduct, either for others or for ourselves. I am talking about the need of every person, at some point, to be forgiven failures or offenses.
          Jesus commands us to be merciful because God Himself is merciful: “Be therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful.” It is that very appeal, to be merciful because God is merciful, that is taken up later by St. Paul"And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you." (Eph. 4:32) "Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye." (Colo. 3:13)
          One thing that has plagued the Church in recent decades, particularly our own Continuing Anglican branch of it, is a readiness to pull away from each other. Rather, God commands us to acquire the combination of love and humility that preserves not only good order, but the sacramental bond of fellowship and communion by which we are in Christ. Separating from a religious body that cast off the truth of the Gospel was unavoidable; but, continued secessions are not, thereby, justified.
          God, as our Father through His only begotten Son, has brought us into His own family and made us His children. Just as an earthly father rejoices to see his grown children love one another, and is grieved if it is otherwise, so it is out of love for God that we are told to love one another in the Church. “Even as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you," says St. Paul; and “even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye.”
          Not be a judge means not to set yourself up as the judge, not to condemn, not to write off your brothers and sisters as hopeless cases, beyond the pale, not worth bothering with. It is easy to take a mental photograph that freezes individuals in time, perhaps at their worst. But, the truth is that the Holy Spirit, the One Who is at work in your heart and life, is active also in changing and sanctifying all of God’s children. That mental image you retain, taken at someone’s worst moment, needs to be torn up and thrown away. This requires faith in God, in this case, in the Holy Spirit Who is at work changing your brother just as He is changing you.
          Since the measure you mete will be meted out to you, love one another, be merciful, and have faith that God the Holy Spirit is at work.
And he spoke a parable unto them, Can the blind lead the blind? shall they not both fall into the ditch? The disciple is not above his master: but every one that is perfect shall be as his master. 
Jesus used the image of the blind leading the blind, on another occasion, to speak about the dangers of religious leaders who teach false doctrines (Matt. 15: 12-14), specifically of the Pharisees. But, here in this context, Jesus uses the same words to speak of something different, which we shall see in a moment. But, first let us consider the words, “The disciple is not above his master: but every one that is perfect shall be as his master.
          Though He was Lord of Heaven and Earth, Jesus accepted the role of a servant for our sakes. His patience was more than remarkable; it was, literally, Divine.
He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not. He came unto his own, and his own received him not. (John 1:10,11)
Ye call me Master and Lord: and ye say well; for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another's feet. For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you. Verily, verily, I say unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord; neither he that is sent greater than he that sent him. If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them. (John 13:13-17)
Even as the Son of man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many. (Matt. 20:28)
This must be the attitude of each one of us in His Church. We are here to serve, to wash one another’s feet, and so to be like our Master (or Rabbi).
          I mentioned to you the man who told me he wanted to be a priest, in fact, that he wanted to be a bishop, and that he asked me, hypothetically, “isn’t it right to want to climb to the top of your chosen field?” I mentioned to you also that I told him to forget entirely about ordained ministry; that I would not help him on that road, not even one little bit. If ever he comes back to see me, I will hope it will be because he wants to serve God, even if it means washing the feet of his brethren; and that he will have no longer a desire born of ambition. It is enough to be like our Rabbi, our Master Who came not to be served. And, this calling, to be like Christ, is everyone’s calling. It is your calling and it is mine. Be content to serve in whatever way God has called you and given you gifts for service. It is enough. 
And why beholdest thou the mote [speck] that is in thy brother's eye, but perceivest not the beam [log] that is in thine own eye? Either how canst thou say to thy brother, Brother, let me pull out the mote that is in thine eye, when thou thyself beholdest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, cast out first the beam out of thine own eye, and then shalt thou see clearly to pull out the mote that is in thy brother's eye.
You can see, as I said, from the context that Jesus has used the image of the blind leading the blind, and both of them falling into a ditch, differently from how He used it regarding the Pharisees. And, here we see that one of the services you may provide, out of love that moves you to be merciful as our Father is merciful, is to pull the speck out of your brother’s eye.
          To the degree that your brother may need your help, you cannot help him blinded, as you are, if you are walking around with a log protruding out of your own eye. When it comes to helping your brother get his eye clear, if you are the one to be of help, first remove the log that blinds you.
          Well, that is simple enough to understand, surely. But, the reality is subtle. We all prefer to see the faults of others, and to ignore our own faults; and that includes the fault of finding fault. “Why isn’t you-know-who just the most judgmental, fault-finding and critical bore we know?”  
Consider what I am saying in light of last week’s theme, about Satan going about as a roaring lion. Spiritual warfare is a reality concerning which our own people have all to often been quite dangerously naïve. Remember what I said in that sermon last week:
“Think of these words by St. Paul: ‘To whom ye forgive any thing, I forgive also: for if I forgave any thing, to whom I forgave it, for your sakes forgave I it in the person of Christ; Lest Satan should get an advantage of us: for we are not ignorant of his devices.” (II Cor. 2:10,11)
          “But, today the Church is ignorant of Satan’s devices. One of the tragedies of our Continuing churches is the disproportionate number of people, in far too many cases even of clergy, who proved themselves ignorant of Satan’s devices… We cannot afford the luxury of ignorance about Satan’s devices. He still goes about as a roaring lion, and it takes real humility to resist him. It takes, also, steadfastness in the faith.
          We have an enemy already – our common enemy; and we are all the same side. It must be like the musketeers said: “All for one and one for all.” Or, to put it better, "Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye." “Be therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Baruch H' Shem

And Moses said unto God, Behold, when I come unto the children of Israel, and shall say unto them, The God of your fathers hath sent me unto you; and they shall say to me, What is his name? what shall I say unto them?And God said unto Moses, I AM THAT I AM: and he said, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you. (Exodus 3:13,14)

 Therefore hear ye the word of the LORD, all Judah that dwell in the land of Egypt; Behold, I have sworn by my great name, saith the LORD, that my name shall no more be named in the mouth of any man of Judah in all the land of Egypt, saying, The Lord GOD liveth. (Jeremiah 44:26)

And Jesus came and said to them, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age." (Matthew 28:18-20 RSV)

When Moses asked for the Name of God, the prophet received an answer that was simple and direct: “I AM THAT I AM” (אֶהְיֶה אֲשֶׁר אֶהְיֶה). The shorter answer soon followed: "I AM" (אֶהְיֶה). By its appearance in the original Hebrew, this seems to be the first person for the name of God most often translated "the LORD" ( יְהוָה)  in all higher case letters, sometimes translated "GOD." That Name has been put into the Latin alphabet as Jehovah or Yahweh, both attempts to find a pronunciation for the Name that ought to be transliterated most accurately as unpronounceable: YHVH (using English rules).  

Throughout the Old Testament the Name of YHVH is spoken often, and used as part of many proper names, such as the name of the prophet Elijah (אֵלִיָּהוּ), whose name means "The LORD is God" (perhaps a name gained because of the events recorded in I Kings 18:38, 39). And yet, after the return of the people of Judah, from seventy years captivity in Babylon, we find that the Jewish people had stopped pronouncing the Name. To this day, when reading the Scripture out loud, the ineffable Name (YHVH, known as the tetragrammaton) is replaced by the Hebrew word Adonai (אֲדֹנָי) , which means "the Lord." The other way, though less commonly used, is to say, H' Shem (ה שֵׁם), which means "the Name." 

The reason for this practice is that the Name is so holy that every precaution is taken to avoid taking it in vain, or even speaking it lightly. Because of this practice, no one knows the exact pronunciation of the ineffable name. This tradition was the common practice in the days of Jesus. When scribes would copy the Torah and the other Scriptures, each pen used to write the Name was destroyed so as never to be used again. 

In the seventeenth chapter of the Gospel According to St. John, Jesus says that He had begun to reveal the name of God in a new way. After calling God "Father," at the beginning of this passage (v.1) known as His High Priestly Prayer, He says, "I have manifested thy name to the men whom thou gavest me out of the world; thine they were, and thou gavest them to me, and they have kept thy word (v.6)." Notice that throughout His ministry, in His teaching as recorded in all four Gospels, Jesus uses the word Father as the Name of God.

But the full revelation of the Name of God comes after His resurrection from the dead, when commanding us to use the Name in the baptismal formula: "...baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit." This can pass over our modern ears a little too carelessly. We need to think in the Jewish terms of His day to catch the full meaning. The likelihood of a Rabbi, which Jesus was, prescribing use of a sacred formula or prayer in Hebrew is high. Yes, Greek was the Lingua Franca of the empire, and Aramaic was the street language of the Jews in the Holy Land. But, this sacred formula most likely was revealed in formal Hebrew, B' Shem (בְּשֵׁם), "In the Name." As such, The Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit is the more perfectly revealed way to say "in the Name of the LORD (בְּשֵׁם יְהוָה)." 

In the greater glory and more full revelation of the New Covenant, the name of God is best revealed to us, by the risen Christ, as The Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Trinity III: Summary of Sermon

[1Pe 5:10,11] But the God of all grace, who hath called us unto his eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after that ye have suffered a while, make you perfect, stablish, strengthen, settle you. To him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen. +

[Note: In reading the following, one needs to know that my parish observed the Octaves of Corpus Christi and Sacred Heart, with the liturgical colour being white for the last two Sundays. I realise many or most other parishes in the ACC have been green already for one or two Sundays.]

We have green again for the first time again in a long time. I want to talk to you about the church's colours today, and what they signify for us. The verse I quoted from the Epistle connects to all 4 of the common liturgical colours, as it happens.

Grace: Red. Symbolises blood and fire. Christ's blood poured out is grace, "undeserved favour or blessing". Blood washes us from sin, so represents mercy. Fire represents the Holy Spirit, who is called in Scripture and the Prayer Book, the Spirit of grace. Red reminds us of both sacrifice, including in the Martyrs, and our need to be living sacrifices to God. Red also speaks of God's overwhelming power for us and in us.

Glory: White or gold. The joy of Christmas and Easter, the powerful virtue of Christ and his Saints, and the related Feasts. The colour of celebration and of swimming happily in the Light of God's presence. The glorious colour indeed, as we enjoy God.

Suffering: Violet or purple. The sombre colour of bruised flesh. The colour of self-discipline and penitence. Advent and Lent. We prepare for glory by taking stock of our lives, minimising distraction and luxury, and turning from sin.

Establish and settle: Green. The colour of nature, the colour of steady growth. The normal colour. It takes up the majority of the year. What does this tell us? The Christian walk has times of intensity, of joy, power and enthusiasm, of suffering, penitence and sacrifice. (The red, white and violet.) But for most of us, most of the time, the reality is steady, even slow growth. Much of the battle is patience, as I have said before. We cannot always live either in the sweetness or the sorrow. We learn a lot just by long experience and persistent effort.

The Church, wisely, reflects this balance, and teaches us of it through the colours. But many people want to live their lives only in excitement or radical change, forever in a state of flux, always looking solely for immediate solutions or immediate satisfactions. They immerse themselves in thrilling pleasures if one sort of person, or programmes supposed to quickly change themselves if another sort of person. They become addicts of one sort or another, even if only addicted to forever finding something new. Whether its addiction to drugs, consumerism, entertainments, or to new age gurus selling self-help, such an approach to life leads to instability, unproductiveness and discontent.

Yet Christians can take this approach to the spiritual life too. There are Christians who look down on the traditional balance represented by the colours of the Church's year. They are always seeking the buzz, the rush of the miraculous, the confronting, the obviously powerful. They criticise predictability in Church services and desire the overtly supernatural and the radical transformation as often as possible. The problem is that this isn't reality. "God normally works normally" as I've heard even Pentecostals, wise Pentecostals, say. The result of this unbalanced approach is sometimes pretence or delusion. Let me quote parts of a song by a Christian hip-hop artist, John Rueben, who has clearly experienced just this foolishness in churches.

[“Freedom to Feel”]
I can't force a happy face or makeshift you a smile
I can't deny what I see, what I feel or what's in front of me
So take your world of precious moments of make-believe
They never made me believe in anything
But left me with nothing to hold on to
Your quick fix and magic tricks can only disguise what I was going through
And now I'm thinkin' it was when it wasn't
And now I'm tryin' to rationalize what just doesn't
Come together and somehow doesn't make sense
But God, how can I convince them when I'm not even convinced?
Everyone is thinkin' it, but nobody's sayin' it
Everyone's sayin' it, but nobody's feeling it
Everyone's feeling it, but nobody's seein' it
So how am I supposed to know what's real?
False sense of happiness
My security wrapped up in this
No time to be ugly
Don't trouble them with your doubt and fears
Shout for joy little boys and girls
You brokenness ain't welcome here
Well excuse me while I bleed through and my life becomes see-through
Don't ask for transparency but reject what you see into
Can somebody tell me how am I supposed to know what's real
When I was told and controlled how to feel?

So, let us be honest about our Christian walk, and never undervalue the ordinary, gentle ways of God, or the value of patience and perseverance in our spiritual growth. Yes, God will do extraordinary things at times, and we should expect this, being willing to climb the mountain heights and slog through the valleys when required. But the ordinary means of grace found in the liturgies and sacraments of the Church, as well as in personal prayer and reading of Scripture, are our staple diet, and there is nothing wrong with that. I will finish with a quotation from Tolkien's Silmarillion, which I feel symbolises this contentment very beautifully. It speaks of the reaction of immortal angelic beings to the first verdancy of the Earth, to the "mere" normalcy of natural beauty.

And there upon the Isle of Almaren in the Great Lake was the first dwelling of the Valar when all things were young, and new-made green was yet a marvel in the eyes of the makers; and they were long content.”

Truly, the ordinary means of grace are also a marvel, an abiding place of great beauty. +

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Third Sunday after Trinity

I Pet. 5:5-11 * Luke 15:1-10

Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour: whom resist steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same afflictions are accomplished in your brethren that are in the world.

As soon as St. Peter tells us to humble ourselves, in the context of being subject one to another, he launches into this warning and reminder that we are in state of war. Spiritual warfare is a reality all too easy to forget, because it involves what we cannot see, an invisible yet very real enemy. Some passages remind us that we are commanded to put up an offence and to attack strongholds (“the gates of Hell” suggests that it is the enemy camp that must put up the greater defense- Matt. 16:18). This is especially so of every passage wherein the Lord gives us the Great Commission (e.g. Matt. 28:18-20). But, here Peter warns us to be on the defensive against attacks by Satan and his minions, defeated though they may be.   
          The humility of which Peter speaks has everything to do with our fellowship with one another in the Church. Christian fellowship is not merely a social “fellowship.” It is a lifeline we extend to one another in times of peril; it is mutual support in a war effort; it is care for those in need. The same word for “fellowship” is also the Greek word translated as “communion” when speaking of the sacrament:  “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ?” (I Cor. 10:16) The word is κοινωνία (koinōnia). Our fellowship with one another is more than social; it is sacramental.
          When we face the reality of spiritual warfare, we must recall the fellowship of the Church, the Body of Christ, as the living, real and vital communion of saints both living and departed (or militant and triumphant) to which we belong by virtue of baptism, that is, by being in Christ. To withstand the assaults of the invisible enemy, assaults on our minds above all else, we begin by having an attitude that makes us subject one to another.
          This line, however, is a little longer than what we heard already today. All of verse five, the opening of today’s Epistle reading, says: “Likewise, ye younger, submit yourselves unto the elder. Yea, all of you be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility: for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble.” The elder is the πρεσβύτερος (presbyteros), from which the English word “priest” evolved. The first verse of this whole chapter makes it clear that the elder is a man ordained, who must care for your souls, not just an older man. Here it is from the top, verse one:
“The elders which are among you I exhort, who am also an elder, and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed: Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; Neither as being lords over God's heritage, but being ensamples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away. Likewise, ye younger, submit yourselves unto the elder…etc.”
Frankly, there was no word for “laity” exactly. What Peter is saying is the same as what the writer to the Hebrews said: “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.” (Heb. 13:17) Earlier, in that chapter, they are identified as those “who have spoken unto you the word of God.” (v.7)
          In other words, obedience must be given to the word of God. Also, the elder is responsible to speak the word of God, not to be a dictator or to impose his own desires. As the prophet Malachi put it, “For the priest's lips should keep knowledge, and they should seek the law at his mouth: for he is the messenger of the LORD of hosts.” (Mal. 2:7) Before the charge to be subject one to another, we find the charge to hear what the elder or priest is saying by the word of God as the messenger of the Lord. Everyone is called to humility if we hear the whole context, including the men who must rule (which means care for) the church without taking the attitude of being lords over God’s people.
          Now, the simple fact is that our adversary the Devil goes about as a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. The context suggests to us that without humility each one of us would be in great danger. It is not enough simply to be free of an overwhelming ego, and not enough to feel humble. Safety requires us to get back to the meaning of fellowship, or communion, with one another in the Church in an attitude of being subject one to another; at the very least it means a willingness to hear more than to speak. It means humility to learn and to hear.
          Peter spoke from life experience. He was among the Apostles both before and after the great events of Christ’s resurrection appearances to them, and both before and after Pentecost. He could remember a time when they understood very little, so that “the Lord Jesus, the same night in which He was betrayed” girded Himself in a towel and washed the feet of His disciples to teach them humility. For, they had gone into this most sacred of feasts arguing among themselves about which of them should be accounted the greatest. (Luke 22:24)  
          Peter could look back on that, and remember his boastful pride: “Lord, I am ready to go with thee, both into prison, and to death.” In His own faithfulness to His Apostles, Jesus spoke of events to come, and of their real significance. Peter could well remember, therefore, the Lord turning to him and saying deep and profound words that would only later take hold of him, when pride in his own strength was exhausted and gone:
And the Lord said, Simon, Simon, behold, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat: But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren. (Luke 22: 31,32)
          I have quoted the King James Bible (1611), in which the word “you” was a plural word, and in which the word “thee” was singular. We have lost this in the English language, and the loss is a loss for Bible translation. Know this: In both the King James Bible and in the Book of Common Prayer, the words beginning with “Y” –you, yours, ye- are addressed always to more than one person. “Satan hath desired to have you” meant that he desired to have all of the twelve Apostles. But, in His next words Jesus spoke specifically to Peter; for the “Th” words are always addressed only to one individual (for He did not say the same about Judas), that is to Peter: “But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren.
          When this Apostle, all those years later, wrote this Epistle to the Church (that is, to you and me, to the Church in every generation and place), warning us of the Devil like a roaring lion, he could look back on the night when the same Devil desired to have all of the Apostles to sift them as wheat. Do not think times have changed so much; at least, do not think that way about spiritual warfare. Satan still goes about as a roaring lion, and it still takes the combination of humility and steadfastness in the faith to resist his attacks.
          Think of these words by St. Paul:
“To whom ye forgive any thing, I forgive also: for if I forgave any thing, to whom I forgave it, for your sakes forgave I it in the person of Christ; Lest Satan should get an advantage of us: for we are not ignorant of his devices.” (II Cor. 2:10,11)
          But, today the Church is ignorant of Satan’s devices. One of the tragedies of our Continuing churches is the disproportionate number of people, in far too many cases even of clergy, who proved themselves ignorant of Satan’s devices. Instead of looking like the powerful Apostles on the Day of Pentecost and after, some of them approached God’s altar the same way the pre-Pentecost Apostles sat at table, arguing over which should be accounted the greatest - who might have the purplest shirt and the mightiest miter. Satan desired to have them also, to sift them as wheat. Thank God for all of the individuals, all of those addressed as “thee,” for whom Christ Himself interceded, whose faith did not fail, and who, to this day, strengthen their brethren.
          We cannot afford the luxury of ignorance about Satan’s devices. He still goes about as a roaring lion, and it takes real humility to resist him. It takes, also, steadfastness in the faith. Some things never change, so it is up to us to learn wisdom. Humble yourselves, and also be steadfast in the faith.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Putting the "P" back in "Anglican"

Time to repost this.

I know that you’re thinking, well some of you: “This Fr. Hart wants to make Protestants out of us. After all, since he does not want to swim the Tiber he must have descended to some sort of Low Churchmanship. We all know that the opposite of 'Catholic' must be 'Protestant,' mustn’t it? The opposite of 'Papalist' must be 'Puritan.'” Ah, but what if I am really so Catholic that I believe that the opposite of "Tridentine" must be "Patristic?"

Perhaps, just perhaps, some of the self-proclaimed Anglo-Papalists need to think about something. Maybe the definition of “Catholic” should be based on its Credal use, as we use it in the Book of Common Prayer where either the Apostle’s Creed or the Creed called Nicene are part of all the major services (Article VIII). Combined with that other Creed, Quicunque Vult, or the Creed of St. Athanasius, we say we believe the Catholic Church and the Catholic Faith.

Frankly, the effort to embrace and continue the Catholic Faith was the motivation for embracing Protestantism in the time of the Reformation- or, rather, the Reformations. We believe that the efforts on the Continent of Europe threw away the baby with the bathwater, which is why Anglicans early on debated with Calvinists and Lutherans, sometimes more vigorously than with Rome. Anglicans debated as well with Puritans in England and Scottish Presbyterians.

What we find in the second wave of English secession was a very conservative and anti-innovative mind prevailing against new ideas that had formed only in recent centuries, during which their fathers had lost sight of the Patristic and Scriptural teaching of the ancient Church. It prevailed, as well, against the innovations of Puritans and other inventive Protestantisms. This via media was always a true course that avoided the errors of many extremes, not just two. It rejected the innovations of Rome, and strove against such a Reformation as Mr. Knox had up in Scotland. This was not a compromise in the modern sense. It was not simply the legislation of Parliament either. It was the result of what the bishops of the Church of England contended for throughout the times of monarchs stretching from Elizabeth I to Charles II, especially strong after the Restoration.

This effort, and what was achieved, is not appreciated by too many people calling themselves Anglo-Papalists. All too often I find that such people are quite sincere, but only know their own Anglican heritage based on the opinions presented to them by Roman Catholic polemicists instead of having actually read and learned from old Anglican sources. They take a position not due to deeply held Catholic convictions, but due to a combination of ignorance about Anglican doctrine and history with superficially held Tridentine affectations. For, when Tridentine sentiments become genuine conviction, the conscience impels one to the only logical course of action without delay.

What is truly Catholic in content was not defined at so recent and innovative a Council as Trent, and certainly not in later councils at the Vatican. It was defined in seven Ecumenical Councils (Affirmation of St. Louis), and more so in the Scriptures as embraced in every time and place where the Church was built upon the foundation of Apostles and Prophets, Christ Jesus Himself the chief cornerstone.

I would indeed place the “P” of Protestantism back in “Anglicanism” to the via media degree required to make it truly Patristic, and so truly Scriptural and truly Catholic.

Saturday, June 08, 2013

Thirty-Nine Articles project

Many have asked when we will resume our essays on the Thirty-Nine Articles. Fr. Wells has suffered major health issues, and we have announced these when asking for your prayers. The project has been slowed down, but we plan to finish it. We will be posting our next installment (on Article XXVI) fairly soon. Thank you for your patience during this trying time, and continue to pray for Fr. Wells' complete recovery.

Fr. Wells a Bulletin Insert


It is remarkable how the theme of eating and feasting keeps coming up
in the Gospels.  All four Gospels tell of a miraculous feeding of a
multitude of people.  But in parable after parable we hear of a great
banquet.  This is the case with the passage we read today from St.
Luke’s Gospel. This theme is rooted in the Genesis 3 account of the
Fall of mankind in the Garden of Eden, when Adam and Eve engaged in
forbidden eating. After they had been graciously invited to eat of every
tree in the Garden save one.  In Revelation we hear of a magnificent
banquet, a marriage feast, When Christ comes again.  Between Genesis
and Revelation we enjoy the eating of our Saviour’s Flesh and Blood in
the Holy Eucharist.

In today’s passage we hear of not one but three distinct invitations or
summonses to the feast.  The first of these, “Come, for all things are
now ready,” states the amplitude and abundance of the feast provided. 
This emphasizes that in His provision for us, God has provided “all
things” necessary for our well-being in this world and in the next. 
The penalty of our sin has been paid in full. In Christ’s death and
resurrection, nothing is lacking to provide new life, here and eternal
life hereafter.

In the second invitation we see how this amazing generosity on God’s
part is met with discourtesy and ingratitude on the part of humankind. 
Which is more amazing? Divine generosity, or human indifference?  Three
separate groups refuse the invitation.  The first says “I have bought a
piece of ground,” placing temporal affairs before a solemn invitation
from the Lord who created heaven and earth. The second speaks of trying
a yoke of oxen, not knowing that he himself is the one who is being
tried, by the One who has purchased him at a great price. The third,
however, is the most insolent.  The first two offer feeble excuses and
beg to be excused.  The third rather disrespectfully announces, “I
cannot come.’  An illustration of the truth that all sin (rejecting the
invitation of God) shows incredible haughtiness on our part..

The third invitation shows, in a fine contrast, the persistence of the
generous host.  An ordinary mortal would have yielded to the temptation
to call off the supper altogether.  When our first parents refused the
kindly provision God had made for them and insisted on having it their
own way, God might have appropriately destroyed them once and for all. 
But instead we see the long and wonderful history of salvation, which
reaches from the clanging gates of Eden.

Even to this very place where we already share the marriage supper of
the Lamb.

Do we know ourselves to be the poor, the maimed, the halt and the blind
who eat of this holy supper? We are not here because we have earned
this privilege, or even less because we are wiser or worthier than the
ungrateful guests who  refused to come. Only the stubborn goodness of
God has brought us here.  LKW

Second Sunday after Trinity

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

Today’s Epistle speaks clearly about the duties of Christian love, that is, charity (agape). It speaks of practical ways to live as a Christian among real people in the real world: “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.” In light of the Gospel reading appointed for this day, we need to see that another practical way to love our neighbor is stated in the Parable: “Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled.
          Do we see the mission of the Church, evangelism, as a duty of charity? If we do not see it that way, then it means we fail to believe inwardly the very religion we practice outwardly. We stand at a crossroads, or even better, we are at a fork in the road. It is clear to me, from years of observation, that for a few people the whole idea of Continuing the old ways of genuine Prayer Book Anglicanism never got beyond the legitimate concern of self-interest.
          I do not condemn that. It is right to have enlightened self-interest. The commandment, “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself,” does little good for someone who lacks enlightened self-interest. It is certainly not intended for those who are self-destructive that they love their neighbor only to the degree that they love themselves. It is right to love thyself in the proper sense, which above all is based on loving God. For, if you love God, it is your first duty not to throw away your own soul, and that is because He has placed so great a value on your soul that it was redeemed by the costly and most worthy thing of all, the blood of His only begotten Son. Christ loved you and gave Himself for you. So, enlightened self-interest is part of fulfilling the First and Great Commandment to love the Lord thy God.
          Nonetheless, the whole idea of Continuing the old ways of genuine Prayer Book Anglicanism is quite worthy in itself, if we believe the Gospel at the center of it; and, this is true not merely for own sakes. Right as the legitimate kind of self-interest is, we must move forward beyond its limitations. We have preserved something good and valuable. More than that, we have at the very core of who we are and what we believe the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the very lifeline needed by each and every human being.
          The riches of God have been given to us so that we may be generous to those in need. A reality, a kind of law at work, is that the more we give away our spiritual wealth, the richer we become inwardly.
          Let’s think seriously about the words, “Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in,” in light of where we are and in light of the times. We need to be realistic and practical, which is the only real way to be spiritual. So, where are we, and what are the times?

1.     This country is not a Christian country at present.  
It has been a long time since anyone could honestly make a case that it is. Let us look at something said by the second President of the United States, one of our greatest Founding Fathers, John Adams: “Avarice, ambition, revenge, or gallantry, would break the strongest cords of our Constitution as a whale goes through a net. Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”
Without a moral foundation of God’s universal and unchanging Law, what does freedom produce, and what do free people demand of a representative government? Right now mothers are free to have their unborn children assassinated, as long as the assassin has the right license. In some states the word “marriage” has finally become utterly meaningless, not just by rampant divorce and immorality, but by a new legal definition that has no true meaning whatsoever; for, we know by revelation that God created marriage as part of human life, and that by it a man and a woman become one flesh; we know that He blesses marriages with children. John Adams has been proved right: “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”

2.     In the absence of God’s law.
          My younger brother, in his book Atheist Delusions, argues in one part of it that spokesmen for the new Atheist movement have no logical reason to suppose that ethical or moral principles can be sustained by atheism. Indeed, if they managed to free society from what they call “religion,” each succeeding generation would only find itself brought up farther and farther away from any reason whatsoever even so much as to care about ethical considerations of any kind.
          I can tell you what a non-religious society would most resemble, even in terms of its ethical standards: It would most resemble the first twenty minutes or so of the movie 2001 A Space Odyssey, though likely without the apelike appearance of the people – all hairy. If such a society became ordered it would look like all of the tyrannies of recent times, be they the Nazis or Communists. Ideology would exist, but not ideals that we could recognize.
          Above all, even the semblance of two very important things, justice and compassion, would vanish away from the structures of an Atheist society, just as these two things were almost entirely absent in every form of pagan religion known to the real academic discipline of History. Whether the Suhtees of India, the strangulation of emperor’s widows (as late as the 15th century) in China, the daily human sacrifices on Aztec altars, or even centuries before that, the mass human sacrifices by fire among the Celts in the Wicker Man ceremonies, pagan religions have proved to be cruel. Atheism would fare no better than paganism, as the Communist regimes demonstrated. They had their very large shares of human sacrifices too, sacrifices to the god of the State and of ideology that exists in isolation from an absolute moral code from the Divine Lawgiver.
          It is safe to say, on the basis of history, that the Church created compassion as a social and cultural norm. Today, we expect to find hospitals and medicine in any inhabited place. We expect courts of law to be about, at the very least, some effort towards justice for all. But, why should we expect these things? If we raise successive generations without a Church that can say, Thus saith the Lord, we may well expect nothing but cruelty in place of compassion and the exercise of raw power in place of justice. Even today we see medicine becoming mere business, and judicial authority too much the servant of political power.
3.     We are all missionaries here and now
  “Here,” because we are not living in a Christian culture, except insofar as it is a memory, a memory which cannot long sustain influence over the population. “Now,” because we must act wisely in light of the times.
We have not yet begun to think of ourselves as missionaries, however. We are living with the illusion that everybody knows the Gospel, and that the churches are filled everywhere, and that most children are raised to know the Ten Commandments and to believe in God.
And, let me be clear. Evangelism is always the mission of the Church, in every place and time. We cannot assume that people know the Lord of the Church simply because they have church membership somewhere. But, as it is, if we are to be effective in our own country in this, our generation, it is time to wake up and be realistic about what has happened to the culture all around us.
Ideally, we will embrace the reality, of where and when we are, as an opportunity to serve God. I do not pretend to have all the answers for the positively best way to present our message. I welcome ideas. But, more important than a solid program of evangelism is the foundation for making the effort; that is, the belief in each heart that the Christ we know, the Gospel we believe, and the Church in which we have found both truth and valid sacraments to meet the needs of our own souls, is so good that we must share this wealth. What matters first is that this practical and vital part of our faith is the unshakable conviction of each heart.
Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled.
It helps a great deal if we know that here, in Christ, is the food and drink of eternal life, the word and ministry of reconciliation with God, and the only true medicine for the soul. Practically speaking, for those of us who have decided to Continue the Anglican Way, now it is high time to move forward beyond the legitimate concerns of self-interest. Compelling people to come into God’s house, if we understand the Gospel of Jesus Christ, is a duty of love. If we are to compel them, charity must compel us. 

Saturday, June 01, 2013

First Sunday after Trinity

I John 4:7-21 * Luke 16:19-31

The subject of faith and good works has been very important throughout the history of the Church, and it was especially important during the sixteenth century in the various forms taken by the Reformation. It was no less a burning issue in England than anywhere else. Nonetheless, most people tend to think of Martin Luther when the subject comes up, and his alleged dislike of the Epistle of James.
          In fact, Luther did not call the Epistle of James an “epistle of straw” exactly. Rather he wrote:

"St. John's Gospel and his first Epistle, St. Paul's Epistles, especially those to the Romans, Galatians, Ephesians, and St. Peter's Epistle-these are the books which show to thee Christ, and teach everything that is necessary and blessed for thee to know, even if you were never to see or hear any other book of doctrine. Therefore, St. James' Epistle is a perfect straw-epistle compared with them, for it has in it nothing of an evangelic kind." (Preface to the New Testament)

That is, he thought it was of less importance.
          Now, I do not think we need dwell on that, for he was not suggesting that anyone should fail to read all of Scripture. Nonetheless, to this day people contend that between St. Paul and St. James a great gulf is set in place, a barrier of disagreement too wide to traverse. So, we need to read carefully the passages in question, always remembering that the invisible hand that authored Scripture was Almighty God, the Holy Spirit opening the eyes and minds of the several writers with the revelation of God’s holy word. Therefore, no genuine contradiction can exist in the doctrine of those writers.

Works of the Law and works of faith
          The most significant passages are the third chapter of Paul’s Epistle to the Church in Rome, and the second chapter of James’ general Epistle. Let us begin with St. Paul.

“Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin. But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets; Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference: For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus. Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? of works? Nay: but by the law of faith. Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.” (Rom. 3:19-28)

In this passage St. Paul is talking about works of the Law. Writing about our Article X, I said this, which begins by quoting a part of the Article:

“The condition of man after the fall of Adam is such, that he cannot turn and prepare himself, by his own natural strength and good works, to faith and calling upon God. 

          “Is this telling us not to prepare ourselves, or not to do good works? Read that way it can provide an excuse for laziness and disobedience to the commandments of God. On the contrary, we would sin by not doing these things. But, even our performance of them, were it the best we possibly could do, could not make us righteous…
            “It would all look completely hopeless if we did not have the second sentence of this brief Article.

“Wherefore we have no power to do good works pleasant and acceptable to God, without the grace of God by Christ preventing us that we may have a good will, and working with us when we have that good will.

“There we see that word, ‘grace.’ That is the whole difference. However good our good works may be, God’s standard of ‘good’ is too high for even our best efforts. Righteousness by His true and perfect standard exceeds our reach. We cannot achieve it. That is not because His standard is unjust. In fact, it is because His standard is just, in fact perfectly just. This is why no one can understand the doctrine of grace unless and until he understands Original Sin.”

It is, as Paul said, “by the law is the knowledge of sin.” That is, in the work of the great Physician of souls, the Law is diagnostic. As St. Paul said to the Galatian Church, “Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith.” (Gal. 3:24)
          It all boils down to the fact that justification is a gift given, not a reward earned. St. John tells us in today’s Epistle, “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” It would be hopeless if not for the grace of God: “But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption.” (I Cor. 1:30)
          So, when works of the Law are good and commendable it is only by the grace of God in Christ. On their own, works of the Law come up short, failing to meet God’s perfect standard. Works of the Law do not justify. Such good works are not weighed against sins to see which are heavier on the Day of Judgment. They are commanded and must be done; but are not counted or weighed against sins in some eternal ledger. Only the blood of Christ cancels out sin. The Law does not justify, for that is not its purpose.
          But, it appears at first glance that James contradicts Paul.

“What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him? If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit? Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone. Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works.” (James 2:14-18)
After citing examples from the Old Testament (Abraham & Rahab), James comes right out with the most direct line of all, seeming to contradict Paul: “Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only.” (v.24)
          So, which is right? Is it Paul, who says, “a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law”? or James who says, “by works a man is justified, and not by faith only.” Both men are right, both agree, for both were inspired to write their doctrine by the Holy Spirit who guided them in what to say.
          Paul spoke of works of the Law, and James spoke of works of faith. Paul explained that the Law cannot make anyone righteous, but that only faith can justify; and James explained that faith is evident by works. If we find a passage that sums up what both men were saying, in full agreement, it from Paul’s Epistle to the Church in Ephesus:

“For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.” (Eph. 2:8-10)

Paul, again to the Galatians: “For in Jesus Christ neither circumcision availeth anything, nor uncircumcision; but faith which worketh by love.” (Gal. 5:6) And, to the Corinthians, “And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.” (I Cor. 13:13) “Faith without works is dead, being alone… For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also,” James tells us. This works well with Paul’s doctrine, that faith is accompanied by love. James says that we show faith by our works, and Paul tells us that faith "works by love.”
A true believer, one who has faith in Christ, cannot live in that faith and not be changed by it. The fact that “we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them,” as Paul wrote, simply has to find expression in our lives. Where faith is, a person having been justified already, can be transformed by the Holy Spirit in day to day life.

Love of neighbor
The second great commandment, “thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself,” comes with that piercing diagnosis. It is the Law. It reveals to each heart its own shortcomings and failure. But, God gives us more grace even still, to live as John teaches us in today’s Epistle reading. We know that God loves us. How do we know that God loves us? Because He gave His Son to be the Propitiation for our sins. And, now we have been given a power to love God because He first loved us. And, because we can love God, we have that power to love our brother also.
The love that springs from a life of true faith, due of course to the Holy Spirit (“The love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us.” Rom. 5:5), makes good works inevitable and spontaneous. A true believer simply cannot ignore the needs he encounters among people. Works of the Law count for nothing in terms of justification; works of faith, however, are a pleasing fruit of that faith, because that faith works by the love of God shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost.
The rich man who ignored the suffering of Lazarus, is lost, finally, because he did not hear the word of God. “If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.” Had he heard the word of God and believed, could he have left Lazarus out there at his gate? Would not faith have worked by love? If the goats at the King’s left hand (in Matt. 25: 31-46) had the faith of those sheep at His right hand, could they have failed to do for “one of the least of these” His brethren?
The First Sunday after Trinity is very important for reasons I have said before.
The Summary of the Law with the Two Great Commandments summarizes the Ten Commandments; we have two commandments and two tables. For, in the Ten Commandments we have the first Table, with four commandments about loving God. Then we have the second table, with six commandments about loving your neighbor.
“In the middle of the Church Year we turn to the second table on this day. Up until now we have concentrated on the commandments to love the Lord thy God; now we look at the commandments that tell you, and me, how to ‘love thy neighbor as thyself.’
“Where, in all of that emphasis from Advent through Pentecost, do we concentrate on the commandments that tell us how to love God? It seems that the opposite is true. What we have seen is the proof that God loves us. Exactly so.  This is what St. John tells us in the Epistle reading we have heard today: ‘We love him, because he first loved us.’”
“And this commandment have we from him, That he who loveth God love his brother also.
I have written another sermon for this Sunday that is a favorite of mine. I offer it for your study by clicking the link.