Sunday, January 27, 2013

Anglicanism: Protestant or Catholic?

Rev. Dr. Derrick Hassert has written something on his blog, "An Anglican Priest" that I highly recommend. I agree with what he says and wish I had said it. Maybe I will.

"That Anglicanism is wholly 'protestant' is an extremely simplistic assertion and hinges on the meaning of the term itself. However, so too is the contention among some that the term 'protestant' doesn't apply to Anglicanism in even the slightest sense. If asked if we Anglicans are Protestant or Catholic some will say: 'We are Catholic, but not Roman--we are not Protestants.' This is simplistic and historically erroneous, and any layperson with an interest in reading would soon find very Catholic sounding Churchmen of the 16th and 17th centuries embracing the term Protestant. (But my rector said it wasn't so!) What to make of it then?"

See the rest here.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Conversion of St. Paul January 25th

Easter out of Season

When the Lord appeared to Saul, and made him an eyewitness of the resurrection, many things changed in his understanding. His righteous act of persecuting the Church was revealed to have been the sin of persecuting the Messiah himself, his own self-attained righteousness was shown to be a delusion, the curse that was evident in the manner of Jesus’ death was revealed to be atonement paid by the Righteous one for the many sinners, thus taking away the curse from those who deserved it, and the prophecies of scripture were revealed to have been speaking of two comings of Messiah, not one. How much of this was clear immediately and how much had to develop over time as he thought about it, is not clear. But, right away, in his conversion, is the revelation that would become Paul’s bold teaching about faith in Jesus Christ and the grace that he gives, himself our only Salvation.

Every winter on January 25th traditional churches celebrate the Feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul. On that day we remember the story recorded in the Book of Acts, the history of how the persecutor of the Church saw the risen Lord Jesus Christ and became a convinced preacher of the Gospel. And, as we remember the conversion of the Apostle, we are presented with a puzzle that requires a little bit of explanation. The traditional calendar contains four colors, one of which applies to every day of the year (sometimes two colors on certain days).

White is the Lord’s color, and it is used as well for saints who are not martyrs. But, for saints who are martyrs the color is red; and Saint Paul is a martyr, for he was beheaded in Rome. The puzzle is that white, not red, is the color for the Feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul. White, the color for the Lord himself, is proper to such times as Christmas, the Annunciation, or Easter. But, the Church long ago decided that white was the appropriate color for this day. If we figure out that puzzle, and meditate on its meaning, we have the answer to the biggest challenge facing the Christian message in our own day and age.

The current challenge to the truth of the Gospel, coming from a school of philosophy that pretends to be a school of science, stretching from Charles Darwin to Richard Dawkins, has to do with an evaluation of what sort of God, God ought to be. The challenge may seem to be an apologetic against Intelligent Design, since that is how it is being presented currently. However, it goes back to the days of Darwin, who considered the world as it is to be less than practical and efficient. The argument has developed along lines of philosophy, particularly of Ethics (part of the larger discipline of Philosophy). It contains criticism of such details as the design, or rather (seeing that it is difficult to come up with a phrase to fit the argument) the shape and form of the human back.

What the argument boils down to is simply this: If the universe were designed, it ought to have been designed better, so as to be more congenial to the people who have to live in it. Therefore, it could not have been designed. This assumes that the critics of God, those who have placed Him in, as C.S. Lewis put it, the dock, are correct about what would be the best way to go about making a world and its creatures. And, assuming their way is the better way, the argument is one of Ethics, that God ought to have made a better world, one that gives more consideration to our needs, and that demonstrates kindness on the Creator’s part. Furthermore, the whole scheme of this Ethics argument depends upon the Christian and Jewish paradigm of goodness. It requires, to summarize the Torah, not doing what is odious to others, as Hillel taught, and doing to others what we would have them do to us, as Jesus Christ taught.

Because this argument is about what kind of God, God ought to be, it is based on conjecture and speculation. Therefore, it places everything in a context that is theoretical, and being theoretical, concerned with logic based upon assumption, or even a kind of reasoning. What if, however, the Christian message is not based on any theory about how the world ought to be, what sort of designer the Creator should have been, or any other concept? What if we should brush aside all that is theoretical and speculative in favor of something evidentiary that is rooted in fact?

The Church’s use of white for the Feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul points to the answer, summoning to the mind very strong accounts of reported history as contained in the Bible. It points to the testimony of eyewitness, in some cases to the testimony of martyrs. The message does not claim to answer any questions about what the Creator ought to have done, but instead it reveals how he has intervened in human affairs. It is fact based, not logic based. That is, it does not come to us as a result of reasoning through to a conclusion, but of accepting reports of fact. The only use of logic that we may use, in this case, begins with the facts rather than with mere conjecture.

We have been given a set of facts that rightly include both revelation and history. Revelation, because God has acted in such a way that the truth has been made known; and history, because the facts are recorded as eyewitness accounts. Testimony of this type constitutes evidence, and the record of it constitutes history, both of which are far more in the nature of science than of philosophy. The Christian message treats as irrelevant arguments that place God in the dock and judge His existence by the conjecture of a system of Ethics. Instead, it simply states a testimony, that of the eyewitnesses who saw the resurrected Jesus Christ.

From the facts of their testimony we draw logical conclusions about the sort of God that God is, rather than trying to figure out what He should be. So, we come to what may be called “The Gospel according to Paul.” This is in the fifteenth chapter of I Corinthians, vs. 1-11. In this passage he declares to them the Gospel he had preached to them, and urges them to be faithful to it. After reminding them that Christ died for our sins, was buried and rose the third day, all in fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy, Paul gives a list of several eyewitnesses who saw the Risen Christ. All of these witnesses saw Him between the first Easter and the day of His Ascension. That is, except for one. The last witness who saw the resurrected Christ was Saint Paul himself, significantly later than the others.

The last appearance was to Saul on the road to Damascus, the day of the conversion of Saint Paul. The traditional celebration calls for white as the Lord’s color, white for Easter, though it falls in the season of Epiphany. It is Easter out of season, because of Paul’s own words: “And last of all he was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time.” (v.8) The Church is teaching us that this day, the day of Paul’s conversion, is about the Risen Christ. And, not simply about Him in a theoretical sense, but in a historical sense. He was seen alive after His death, and the Gospel is not complete without the proclamation that witnesses gave us this testimony, reporting facts rather than trying to figure out answers to philosophical problems.

We are certain that in those facts every philosophical question can finally be answered. But, the Christian message is not that we can figure out what God ought to be like, and then pronounce a verdict either on Him or His existence. The Christian message is the Gospel as preached by eyewitnesses who proclaimed the revelation of God in Christ as historical fact, a testimony that was worth dying for. In this sense, the Christian Gospel is far more a matter of fact and history than it is of philosophy. To those who want to begin with their opinions and speculations, the answer of the Church is that we begin elsewhere; we begin with the facts. This testimony of the eyewitnesses is why, if you enter a traditional church on January 25th, you will see the priest and the altar vested in white.


I Corinthians 9:24-27 * Matthew 20:1-16
It doesn't seem fair- those laborers who worked all day in the hot sun received only as much as those who came in the last hour. The owner of the vineyard either is too generous or too stingy, and for one reason or the other, he is grossly unfair. In fact, he is unfair because he is too fair. Should he not be just? Where is the justice in giving everyone the same reward? We ought to object to this blatantly unfair fairness on principle-it cannot be just.

It is easy to sympathize with the laborers who worked all day for a penny, even though they agreed to work for no more than that standard day's wage. It is easy also to sympathize with the elder brother in the Parable of the Prodigal Son, or with the priest who walked on the other side of the road rather than risk touching a man who may, for all he could see, have been killed. A Levitical priest needed to avoid uncleanness as he went to Jerusalem from Jericho, to the temple. Perhaps a Samaritan-even maybe, if it could be imagined , a good one-might come along to help the man. But, the priest has to remain kosher.

It is all too easy to sympathize with all the wrong people in the Lord's parables, sometimes to agree with the wrong people on principle, on the basis of deeply felt religious scruple. The father was too weak to make his son face the errors of his ways, so he lacked what they call "tough love." The priest needed to walk by on the other side of the road because of “religious” duties in the temple. And, the owner of the vineyard seemed to have no sense of justice.

We see the unfairness of the owner of the vineyard reflected in God himself. That is, if we really notice what goes on in His Church. Some people give themselves to the church for years, even for decades, and some give their money in large amounts. Along comes some new member, perhaps a convert who has lived in notorious sin. This new person becomes a full member of the church and is suddenly equal to the people who have given their money to build the church, have given their time and effort, and done everything they could to make the church what it is. And, in case you thought it was a man-made system of unfair fairness (that great leveler that makes the brand new convert equal to all the people who have served and been on the vestry, and sung in the choir for thirty years), what makes the new convert equal is the Lord's very own sacraments! Once this new person is baptized, and confirmed (or ready and willing to be confirmed), he is receiving not only the same absolution (and to the same degree) as the long faithful members; the new person even receives the Body and Blood of Christ in the sacrament. The reward is the same for the new member as for everybody; and if he truly believes, his joy is full.

It just isn't fair.

We may look at the way St. Paul mastered himself, exercising discipline with fasting and prayer. In other places he tells of his sufferings and his life of hardship, with constant persecution. He endured three shipwrecks, beatings, stoning and imprisonment. He did all this because he saw himself as a debtor to every man alive, saying "woe is me if I preach not the Gospel." Surely, though he saw himself as an unprofitable servant who needed no thanks, and though he did all for the love of Christ simply for one reward and none other, namely to know Christ and the power of his resurrection; nonetheless, if we may offer a brief on his behalf as friends of the court, he deserves more. After all his years of labor, why did he always express gratitude and joy? Did he not have anything to say about getting a special reward equal to what he earned?

Ah! Yes, and that's the point. He did say a lot about that very thing, most notably, "For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord (Romans 6:23).” In many places in his epistles, even though he suffered much for the kingdom of God out of his love for Christ, he expresses his gratitude for being spared the special reward equal to his labor.

"For I am the least of the apostles, that am not meet to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am: and his grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain; but I laboured more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me (I Corinthians 15:9, 10)”

St. Paul was very grateful indeed that Jesus Christ is not fair; and though he is just, that justice was satisfied by "his one oblation of himself once offered- a full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction, for the sins of the whole world." He crossed mercy with justice, and hung on the cross where the two meet as one. Henceforth, there is one reward for all, and the great joy of laboring for the one who loved us, and proved it when he gave himself on the cross for our redemption.

What more could we ask?

I trust that everyone here knows that we cannot earn our salvation, and that we cannot earn anything extra. We were already disqualified by our own sins. Look at Article XIV

Of Works of Supererogation.
Voluntary Works besides, over and above, God's Commandments, which they call Works of Supererogation, cannot be taught without arrogancy and impiety: for by them men do declare, that they do not only render unto God as much as they are bound to do, but that they do more for his sake, than of bounden duty is required: whereas Christ saith plainly When ye have done all that are commanded to you, say, We are unprofitable servants.”

That last part comes from a parable:

"But which of you, having a servant plowing or feeding cattle, will say unto him by and by, when he is come from the field, Go and sit down to meat? And will not rather say unto him, Make ready wherewith I may sup, and gird thyself, and serve me, till I have eaten and drunken; and afterward thou shalt eat and drink? Doth he thank that servant because he did the things that were commanded him? I trow not. So likewise ye, when ye shall have done all those things which are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants: we have done that which was our duty to do (Luke 17:7-10).”

As we approach the season of Lent it is time to remind ourselves that we do not want God to be fair; and we want his justice to be merciful, that is, to come to us by way of the cross of Christ. It is not an entitlement, but rather it is mercy, that allows you to sit alongside that new convert who has just entered the Church. Consider what has been given to the one who has arrived in this late hour. He has been buried with Christ by baptism into death, and then raised with the Lord to the newness of life. He has been confirmed by the laying on of the bishop's hands, and thus shares in the full power and gifts of the Holy Spirit who was poured out on the Day of Pentecost. His confession of sin is answered by God's gift of absolution. And, he receives the Body and Blood of Christ, the food and drink of eternal life, when he kneels beside you at the altar rail.

Forget how much you feel entitled to by all your work and giving. Simply rejoice and thank God that you are invited to kneel down at the rail, and that you are granted the same grace, no less than the newest member.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

54 Million plus

Most of January 22, I was feeling too bad physically to use the computer. But, the fortieth anniversary of that evil Roe v. Wade decision is not something to ignore. We know the simple truth, revealed by God, "Thou shalt do no murder." If the figure of fifty-four million is accurate, the American Holocaust is in the Joseph Stalin and Mao Zedung league. It is among the all time highs for mass murder. How much intercession is enough?

If the evil itself is not enough, get a load of how vile and psychotic they show themselves to be. Check out this link.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Second Sunday after the Epiphany

Romans 12:6-16a * Mark 1:1-11

The season of Epiphany gives us pictures of Christ that are meant to help us understand the revelation of who He is. Look at an icon of this event, and you get a glimpse of the meaning of this Gospel passage. The Son stands in the water, the Spirit appears in form as of a dove and lights upon Him, and the Father’s voice comes from above. This clear revelation of God is why we should think of today as a companion Sunday to Trinity Sunday. It is why the Orthodox Church sees this scene from the Gospels as the most significant Theophany, for which they name this season.         
About thirty years ago I heard a man preach that when the Father spoke the words, “Thou art my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased,” that this was somehow necessary in order to meet the psychological need of Jesus, a word of approbation from the Father that, as the preacher’s words still ring in my memory, “His Son needed.” I do not know where people get these ideas, but they do not find them in the pages of scripture. The idea that we can understand Jesus Christ in psychological terms that are based upon the normal condition of fallen sinful people, who need healing or affirmation because of the brokenness of their lives, is a short route to heresy. We must not try to get into the mind of Jesus Christ as if He were subject to the problems that sinful people have. His understanding of His mission is not a subject for that kind of analysis.
Another idea that was popular for many years is that Jesus was suddenly aware of who He was, and of His unique relationship to the Father, because of the voice from heaven and this whole spiritual experience. This interpretation comes from the idea that He was drawn to hear the preaching of John the Baptist, and underwent some sort of personal epiphany akin to religious conversion, the kind that takes place when revivalists preach. According to this interpretation, he emerged from the water a new man, suddenly filled with divine purpose. Again, this would require that we imagine a Jesus who came to John in order to be forgiven his own sins, because John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins. But, the thought of Jesus having sins of which to repent is wrong. He is without sin.
We need to think according to the actual revelation that is recorded here in the scriptures, and free our minds from wrong ideas. For, the simple fact is, nothing that Jesus did in His public ministry had anything to do with meeting a supposed need of His own. Everything was for our sakes, like the hymn says- “for us baptized, for us He bore his holy fast and hungered sore.” That wonderful hymn begins each line with those two words, “for us.”
For us He prayed, For us He taught, For us His daily works he wrought…For us to wicked men betrayed…For us he rose from death again.” What happened here at the River Jordan did not happen because the Son needed the Father’s affirmation, and it is was not some personal epiphany that changed His life. He knew already exactly who He was, and of His unique relationship to the Father, having expressed it to Joseph and Mary in the temple many years earlier when he was a child twelve years old. He asked them why they had looked for Him when they ought to have known that he would be in His Father’s house.       
Jesus went to the River Jordan in order to begin His public ministry, to appear to the people of Israel, and to be proclaimed by John the Baptist as the Son of God. The baptism itself serves as a prelude to the crucifixion that He, for us, later would endure unto death. For here, standing with sinners in the waters of the Jordan, He is willingly taking on the sins of the whole world for the first time, letting Himself be identified with sinners and with their sins, remaining Himself guiltless, completely holy, and the only person among all of the human race about Whom the Father would say that He is well pleased. God loves the fallen sinful children of men; but He is not well pleased with any of them in their Fallen state. Only His Son, free from sin, was pleasing to God; and here we see him entering the waters of the Jordan to begin his identification with our sins, a voluntary identification that would culminate on the cross.  In John’s Gospel it is after this epiphany, this epiphany to John the Baptist and the people gathered, that the Baptist proclaims, “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sins of the world.”  
I remember another strange idea that was expressed in my hearing, only this time it was from a layman. According to this fellow, there was some point when Jesus complained in response to the demands of a crowd that he was only one man, and they were asking too much from him. I do not know what movie this man saw, or what silly story he once heard from a well-meaning relative while growing up, or what dream he dreamt. I pointed out to him that nothing of the sort ever happened; that the Gospels record no such thing. Jesus fed thousands of people with five loaves and two fishes, rose people from the dead, walked on water, healed everyone who came to Him, and never once complained about anything except for how little faith people have. He did not work within the confines of His human nature, but from within His eternal Godhead as the Son eternally begotten of the Father. He did not diminish His Divine nature, but rather he raised human nature. He did not reveal what is possible for a good man, but what is possible with God. The human nature that he took into His Divine Person as God the Son was a complete human nature; but the Person of Jesus the man was that of God the Son.          
The voice from Heaven, and the appearance like that of a dove, all centered upon Jesus in the River Jordan, did not come for His sake. It did not meet some need that He had. It was for the sake of those who stood upon the bank of the river, those who saw and heard. It was for the sake of all of us who have learned about this epiphany, this revelation of the Trinity, about that full and perfect name of God that later would be spoken by Christ after he rose from the dead: “The name of The Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost.” Here is a revelation of God, and of the mysterious relationship that has existed from all eternity, about which we have no right to speculate, hidden and veiled except for glimpses of revelation meant to aid us in our salvation. At no point was the Son alone, for the Father was always with Him, and the Holy Spirit remained upon Him.      
The other people came to the Baptist confessing their sins. But, about this man the Father made a confession, that He was well pleased. The others came out of need. Jesus was there to meet our needs, especially the deepest need of all, to be reconciled to God; to know Him, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom He has sent. Others came to lay down their sins; Jesus was there to take up the sins they laid down, and to carry them to Calvary where they would be nailed to the cross with Him. The others came to lay down their burdens; Jesus was there to take up their burdens. “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).”   
The Holy Spirit appears as a dove. Now, this is a different kind of manifestation than the physical presence of Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh. The Holy Spirit is appearing in a vision granted to everyone there; His appearing is in a symbolic way, that is to say, it is a Divine writing of iconography in the very heavens. The appearance of a dove is a symbol, and the message is that God’s wrath is over and done. This is the Christmas message of the angel who appeared and spoke to the shepherds of “peace on earth, goodwill towards men.” Not among men, but towards men. We are reminded of the story of Noah, who sent out the dove, which returned with an olive branch in its mouth to reveal that the waters of God’s wrath had abated from off the earth. Noah later offered a sacrifice after he left the ark, and God promised not to destroy man, and hung up His bow, His rainbow, as a pledge. The meaning is this: By appearing as a dove that descended upon Jesus, the Holy Spirit signified to us that Christ is the peace offering that reconciles us to God. This too, just like the very baptism itself, points to our redemption by Christ’s full and complete offering of Himself on the cross.
And, to the ear came the audible voice of the Father, telling us of His pleasure in the Son. This is more than simply His approval of Christ’s holy life. It is the eternal love within the Trinity, wherein God delights in being God, where each of the Persons delights in the perfection and worthiness of the other two Persons. We know this is true, but our speaking of it cannot do justice to the reality as we shall begin to know it when the risen Christ returns in glory. For now, we see the significance in the Father’s words, telling us not only of His Son’s worthiness and holiness, but telling us this in contrast to the pleasure He cannot take in the fallen state of every other human being who was there. Here too we understand why this voice was heard at the Lord’s baptism. As Jesus Christ identified Himself with sinful mankind, the other Persons of the Godhead told us Who He is, and why He is Himself without sin, but standing in for us to save us. The Father speaks of His Son Who always pleases Him, telling us not only that He remains holy and without spot or stain of sin, but even more; that He is the Son Who throughout eternity and before all worlds gives delight to the Father in that Divine love that is beyond our comprehension.

We see the Trinity in this report of the Lord’s baptism that day. The vision of the Holy Spirit was for our sake; the voice of the Father was for our sake. Here we see and hear the Trinity with eyes and ears, and we see also that only in Jesus Christ and His offering of Himself do we have salvation from sin and death. And, we can say, from all this, that the revelation of the Trinity tells us, in the words of Saint John the Apostle, “God is love.”

The revelation of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost, the Trinity, is a necessary part of our salvation. It is not about abstract and difficult academic theology, but about how God, who is Love, saves us from sin and death and promises to raise us up in His Son. He has made Himself known in our world- not perfectly understood, but known. What was revealed that day at the River Jordan was a revelation to every human being except Jesus, who alone already knew.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Fr. Wells

I have been informed by Archbishop Haverland that Fr. Laurence Wells is in the hospital because he has suffered a stroke. I urge prayers from all of you.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

First Sunday after the Epiphany

Gustave Dore' Bible Illustrations

Romans 12:1-5  *  Luke 2: 41-52

The focus in this season of the Epiphany is the revelation of the Word made flesh, and beholding his glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth (John 1:14). Each Sunday, for the first few weeks of this season, we will be told what can be seen, as in beheld, that reveals Divine glory in the man himself, the Lord Jesus. This Sunday is no exception. 

Looking at Jesus at the age of twelve, I am reminded of something my friend, David Mills, once wrote in a large email discussion, commenting on the efforts by some writer named Ann Rice to create a biographical sketch of Jesus. About her efforts he wrote; "There is one Person whom we must not try to understand in terms of psychology,"-or words to that effect. How true. We are not in a position to analyze Jesus Christ, or to guess at motivation for his words and actions.

Once I heard the efforts of a priest to create a vivid picture, in some paper he wrote, about the Lord's time growing up and seeing suffering people, and wanting to do something about it, and so forth. He objected, after reading his paper, to my criticism that he had reversed the revelation of Scripture. I told him, "that is not the Word made flesh, but flesh becoming the Word. You have it all backwards." You see, Jesus did not acquire the motivation to become the Light of the World, rather He came into the world as its light. He did not undergo, as we must, a conversion. He came here to save us from sin and death.

"And he said unto them, Ye are from beneath; I am from above: ye are of this world; I am not of this world." (John 8:23)

Remember what I have said to you before: Only Jesus came into the world. The rest of us have our origin here. In His Person the Word is with the Father and with the Holy Spirit, eternal, uncreated, beyond our comprehension, hidden from the sight of mortal eye, pure and separate from all sin and evil, unknowable as dwelling in the darkness of mystery and in the radiant light of Divine glory. Every other nature is created, all we can know is from the things that are created. God alone is not created, and therefore no creature shares his nature as without beginning, without end, having neither parts nor passions, utterly transcendent above all we can know or even imagine.

And, so it is that no one ever came into the world except the One who created it. The glory of God is now revealed, and though we cannot comprehend Him in His Divine glory, we can know Him through His Incarnation. "And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth." So, we should not be surprised to find him as a boy, twelve years old, already possessing wisdom that astonishes the most learned rabbis and doctors of the Torah.

Once I heard a man preach from today's Gospel, and he commented on the bit near the end: "And he went down with them, and came to Nazareth, and was subject unto them." He preached, essentially, that his youth and inexperience had gotten the better of him, and he needed to go home and learn from the older wiser folks. That would be true concerning anyone of us, we who did not come into the world, but are from beneath. Not so the One who is from above, who is not of this world. In fact, His words that day in the temple are words for us all to learn from. The human nature He took was real, and was fully human. And, that human nature was able to grow in wisdom and in stature. But, the Person who took to Himself fellowship with us by taking human nature, is, properly, God the Son, One with the Father.

The human nature of Jesus was not subtraction (as some have misinterpreted self-emptying), but addition. Added to His eternal uncreated Person is the created nature we share. To fulfill the Law for us, yes he went back to Nazareth and was subject to his adopted father Joseph, and to his mother Mary. And, this he chose willingly, after demonstrating his wisdom by revealing just a little bit of it, and then choosing the way of obedience and humility. This was the choice he made from his internal strength, not dependence due to weakness. Because of His Divine Person, in his human nature he is at once like everyone else, and yet not like anyone else. And, that is what we must learn from today's selection of the Gospel According to St. Luke.

This humbling of himself, subjecting himself to parental authority, and remaining from that time out of public view, was all part of that perfect obedience to God’s Law, by which perfect obedience He saved us from sin and. For, in accepting a place of submission and humility, of obedience and even the role of a servant, He was already obedient, eventually unto the death of the cross. This has everything to do with the fact that He, the one who had no sin of His own, identified with us, even with us sinners. In time He fulfilled this perfect obedience.

The curious phrase translated, "How is it that ye sought me? wist ye not that I must be about my Father's business?" is literally, "Why did you look for me? Did you not know I would be with my Father?" Some have rendered it, "in my Father's house?" This was not an enthusiastic youngster getting above himself. This was God the Son reminding them that He was here as the Son, eternally begotten of the Father. Yet, we see Him descend, we see Him go down from Jerusalem (for from Jerusalem, the Jews saw everything as descent). Today's Gospel reveals the path of descent which He journeyed for us. He went back with them, and was subject unto them, in perfect patience and obedience. This was not a person humbled by circumstance, but rather the Lord choosing to humble himself.

St. Paul writes:
”Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”  (Phil. 2:5-11)

His coming into the word to reveal the glory of God was for you and me. His death on the cross was for you and me, to save us from sin. His resurrection from the dead was for you and for me, to save us from death. And, now we offer ourselves, not as if we did some great thing. Rather it is the service we owe from gratitude.
Today's Epistle says: "I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service." Reasonable service in the Greek is logika latre’ia (λογικv λατρεία). It is logical, or reasonable, to respond with worship, with liturgy. We will respond even in words, saying in our Holy Communion liturgy, "And here we offer and present unto thee, O Lord, our selves, our souls and bodies, to be a reasonable, holy, and living sacrifice unto thee."

Today's Epistle also tells us, "And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God." So, part of this whole logical liturgy of offering our very selves to God is to love Him with all our mind, filling it with the word He has revealed in sacred Scripture, so as to follow the One who came into the world to choose us out of the world; in our minds transformed so as not to conform to the sinful world around us. For, unlike Jesus, we need conversion; we need to change, and we need to be saved from the sin and death of the Fallen world.

It may seem a big thing to give ourselves to God in a reasonable life of worship as living sacrifices; but, in so doing, as we are transformed with renewed minds. What we give back to God is gratitude by obedient cooperation with Him as He saves us from the darkness of sin and death, and takes us into His own light. Even in giving ourselves to Him, we the are ones who receive a gift, the grace to be transformed as children of God unto eternal life.

This is why we focus in this season on who Jesus is. Soon we will focus on what he did for us and does for us. To understand that, we focus on the Word made flesh, and the glory he revealed from within Himself, the glory of His Divine Person.

Sunday, January 06, 2013

An Epiphany Hymn

1. Brightest and best of the sons of the morning,
Dawn on our darkness and lend us thine aid;
Star of the East, the horizon adorning,
Guide where our infant Redeemer is laid.

2. Cold on His cradle the dewdrops are shining;
Low lies His head with the beasts of the stall.
Angels adore Him in slumber reclining,
Maker and Monarch and Savior of all.

3. Shall we not yield Him, in costly devotion
Odors of Edom and offerings divine,
Gems of the mountain and pearls of the ocean,
Myrrh from the forest and gold from the mine?

4. Vainly we offer each ample oblation,
Vainly with gifts would His favor secure.
Richer by far is the heart's adoration;
Dearer to God are the prayers of the poor.

5. Brightest and best of the sons of the morning,
Dawn on our darkness and lend us Thine aid;
Star of the East, the horizon adorning,
Guide where our infant Redeemer is laid.

Saturday, January 05, 2013

The Epiphany

Isaiah 60:1-9 *  Eph. 3:1-12 * Matt. 2: 1-12

Gustave Dore' Bible Illustartions
The most radical line to be uttered in the ancient world must have been the first of the Ten Commandments. “Thou shalt have no other gods before Me.” It was completely out of the ordinary in the days when the peoples of the earth were expected to worship the local deities; in fact, for Israel to believe that their God was the only true God, and all others were vain, was as out of place amid the pagans of antiquity as a fervent expression of Nationalism would be out of place on the floor of the United Nations. To what degree any of the ancient pagans may have thought themselves to be refined and sensitive, the Israelites must have come across as ill mannered. And, since the Law and the prophets of Israel denounced the practices of some of the religions, such as child sacrifice, it was very clear that the Jews simply were not willing to change with the times, and that they were intolerant.

Furthermore, not only was the God of Israel considered to be the one and only true God to His own people, but the only true God at all. The phrase that is translated “before Me” is quite significant. The Hebrew expression is al peni, and it means “in front of my face.” That might not be so bad for a local god that stayed within his boundaries; but this God had been in Chaldea with Abraham, called him into Canaan, went with the family of Israel into Egypt, and took them back to Canaan. Everywhere He went He was the ruler, showing no regard for the customs and religions of the people, and treating their idea of divinity as vain and silly. He judged the gods of Egypt in the plagues, even by putting out the light of their supreme deity, the sun. So, to have no other gods before Him, that is, in front of His face, the face of the God who is everywhere, is to make the judgment that only the people of Israel, believing in the One God who made Heaven and Earth, have the truth.

Syncretism was expected in the ancient world, a polite recognition of the various gods of the different places where nations settled. If nothing else, it was just bad manners to treat any religion as false, any god as a mere idol, and any practice as an abomination. Of course, when it became necessary to save mankind from the worst kind of paganism, the better kind came to the rescue; the Romans defeated the Carthaginian Hannibal whose army fought to spread the madness of child sacrifice everywhere. And, nowhere does this receive treatment that has better insight than in The Everlasting Man by G. K. Chesterton.

But, even the Romans fell short of the Israelite standard, the worship of one and only one God, the maker of all things and judge of all men. They allowed the Jews to worship the God of their fathers only because He was the God of their fathers. They tolerated Jewish intolerance out of respect for its antiquity. But, they persecuted the Christians, using the excuse that they were rejecting the gods of their fathers and, more importantly, the worship of Caesar. And, even during the early days of the Christian Church, as recorded in the Book of Acts, the Emperor Claudius sought to banish all Jews from the City of Rome itself. The idea of any religion that could not take an equal place among the devotions to the various gods of the peoples was completely strange to ancient peoples everywhere.

Yet, what we know that the pagans of antiquity did not know, is that the revelation of God to man was a gift and the offer of salvation. Jewish monotheism was intolerant of the gods for the same reason that men of medicine are intolerant of folk remedies. The real trouble with all people everywhere is that two-sided coin of sin and death; so the intolerance of Judaism for idolatry was a necessary first step toward what would become the benevolent mission of the Church. Inherent in the first commandment of the Law of Moses is the Great Commission of the Risen Christ. “Thou shalt have no other gods in my presence-before my face” is echoed in the words, “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. (Matt. 28: 19, 20).” It is expressed in the words of Saint Peter, “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved (Acts 4:12).” Emmanuel, “in ancient times did give the Law, in cloud and majesty and awe,” and now He stood risen from the dead to authorize the Church to go with His presence to all nations, going everywhere among fallen mankind and with all their gods before His face, to root up, pull down and destroy, and to build and to plant. Jesus Christ, after dying on the cross for the sins of the whole world, gave us our commission. He is the only salvation revealed by the only true God, Whom to know is eternal life (John 17:3).

This is the meaning of the wise men coming from afar to worship Him in His infancy. Any other kind of writing would have told us all about these men; where they came from, how large their company really was, and details about the route they took, and alternative route by which they returned. But, sacred scripture was composed by the Holy Ghost, and the focus in the Gospel of Matthew is on Jesus Himself. Therefore, all these interesting details about the Magi have become the study of modern historians and archeologists uncovering a mystery, because the Gospel had no space to give to such minor issues. It focuses attention on the salvation of God in the person of Jesus, and it tells His story. The Holy family’s flight into Egypt and return to Galilee is given the space that follows, and the wise men – or Magi – simply disappear back to the place from which they came. But, their significance is not lost.

Their significance is taken up by Saint Paul in the Epistle we have heard today, about the Jews and Gentiles being made one new man in Christ, the middle wall of division broken down. We, that is those of us whose ancestry is from the Gentiles, are one with the people of Israel through faith in Jesus Christ. A gentile- that is, anybody who is not of Jewish descent- becomes grafted into the heritage of the people of God, made a child of Abraham by faith in Jesus Christ. The truth revealed to the apostles and prophets, as taught in today’s Epistle is this: No Christian is a Gentile. When you were baptized you were taken out of your wild Gentile tree, and grafted into the cultivated tree of Israel.

It is a basic understanding of salvation itself, as Isaiah prophesied that the Root of Israel would grow and blossom and fill the earth, the same earth that is to be “filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea (Isa. 27:6, Hab. 2:14)” that upon being made part of the Church, one becomes a part of the Israel of God. By faith Abraham is our father, the Lord is our God, and there is salvation in none other than His Son (Rom. 4:11, Acts 4:12). All of our beliefs are based firmly upon revelation, and not based on even the best speculations of the wisest of men.

The difference between revelation and imagination is the difference between the true God and every idol. Even the invivisible idols of the mind, housed in the Arian speculations of Muslims and Unitarians of an unrevealed and lonely brand of monotheism, one that cannot possess the eternal attribute of love because it is alone, is an idol. A god who cannot be seen, touched, heard and even tasted, is the new kind of idol; for, “the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth (John 1:14).” Apart from this revelation of the Wholly Other uncreated God taking our time and space world into His Person; apart from the revelation of this invisible deity found in fashion as a man whose glory is beheld; apart from this unknowable God made known in the Person of the Incarnate Word, there is no salvation. There is no salvation in all of the other gods that men worship before His Face.

We have the Great Commission to spread the knowledge of the only true God and Jesus Christ whom he has sent. Thou shalt have no other gods in front of His face, for neither is there salvation in any other. The name of Jesus is given under heaven among men, whereby we must be saved. Each of you, as a member of Christ's Body the Church, are called to take your part of this great work that Christ gave to His Church from the beginning, of which the prophets had spoken from the dawn of history.

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

Circumcision of Christ January 1st

Romans 4:8-14 * Luke 2:15-21

 Back in the 1970s, when I was in my first year in college, I had a run-in with a Philosophy instructor. The older I get, the more I read and the more I learn, the more I know how right I was, and how wrong the instructor was. Now, that is not the normal reflection one makes of his first year of college, and not the normal reflection I make of my undergraduate days in the 1970s when I was a mere boy and a beardless youth (a time my own kids think could not have existed. When I tell them I was once their age, I am not sure they believe me).
Anyway, this Instructor told the class that the ancient Greeks had believed that matter was evil (so far she was somewhat right), and that, in her words, “we see this as part of Christian teaching, that matter is evil.” I did not hesitate to contradict her. I spoke right up: “That is not Christian teaching,” I said. She said to me, “Defend that statement.” So, I did. I pointed out that as early as the Book of Genesis, God looks at His creation and says, “It is very good (Gen. 1:31).” I mentioned the sacraments which use matter that becomes holy, specifically bringing up baptism and the Lord’s Supper. I was about to point out the most important part, that Christians believe that God Himself has appeared in the world of matter in what we call the Incarnation, the Christian teaching that God the Son is fully God and fully man in one Person. “And the Word was made flesh…(John 1:14).” But, she cut me off, and repeated her assertion that Christians have always believed that matter is evil.
The entire concept of matter being evil was the worst of ancient Gnostic heresies taught by one Marcion, whom the bishop and martyr Saint Polycarp called “the firstborn of Satan.” I am sure that these names were not familiar to the instructor. It is a shame that the standards at that college were so low as to make an instructor out of someone so totally unqualified. The punch line is, she also taught “Comparative Religions.” Not every punch line is funny, and that one is tragic.
After five centuries of division and confusion among Christians, it is all too true that the heart of the message is missing from what most people think we believe. During this season of Christmas, and particularly this eighth day of Christmas, the Feast of the Circumcision of Christ, it is a good time to state some basics about our faith. In particular, what does it mean that God the Son was born into the world as a human being? And, what does it mean about the use of matter in sacraments and in worship in general? It is right that we can see water, incense, the sound of bells and other created things as useful in worship. Our God made a good world, and created things have been sanctified by Christ taking human nature and coming into the world of matter, of space and of time. Eternity and time have met in one Person. For people who object to water, to incense, to bells and to the Real Presence in the Sacrament, I can only ask what they have against Jesus Christ having come in the flesh (I John 4:1f).
The fact that we believe such a thing, that we believe “the Word was made flesh,” is rather startling, quite a shock when we really take it in for the first time. I recall vividly when I was very young, attending a Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve, and the Rector of Saint Mark’s Episcopal Church, a small country church in Maryland, read the opening of the Gospel of Saint John, the appointed Gospel for Christmas. I knew the words already, but as they were read in the context of the Church in that holy service, on that holy night, they hit me like a bolt of lightening. “…the Word was God…And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us…” A few days later I was walking the family dog, and those words came again. I already believed that Jesus Christ is fully God and fully man; but the idea of what that means, once again, was like being struck by lightening. It really is rather a shock, a good shock and happy, to grasp the fact that God the Son has condescended to take our very nature into His eternal and uncreated Person- God equal to the Father and the Holy Ghost made very man.
The very fact that Saint Luke tells us that he was circumcised takes on great significance. Every Jewish boy was circumcised on the eighth day. This is what God commanded Abraham, and what Moses simply continued. But, what does it mean that Jesus Christ was circumcised? What does it tell us about creation and redemption, and God’s love for the human race?     
Well, to begin with, as our Collect points out, Jesus Christ would fulfill the Law. For redemption, it reminds us of words from the Epistle to the Hebrews: “For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin (Heb. 4:15).” The fact that He fulfilled the Law perfectly, and was Himself without sin is essential to our salvation; the Righteous One sacrificed as the Lamb without spot, Himself pure from all sin, “Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed (I Pet. 2: 24).”  As Isaiah put it, in the 53rd chapter:

 “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.”

The sinless One, like Adam whose sin made the many guilty, has by His obedience unto death as the atoning sacrifice, made the many righteous. In this first shedding of blood by circumcision He begins to obey and to fulfill the whole Law; no one else ever did it perfectly. No one else could. No human being in heaven or earth was worthy to open the scroll, says the Book of Revelation, except for the One who was like a Lamb that had been slain, and is called the Lion of the Tribe of Judah.
What else does His circumcision tell us? It tells us that we can identify Him as an individual in history. This is very important, indeed essential, to believing that His Incarnation was real and not allegorical. Back in the 1980s, in New York City, one of the “progressive” Episcopal churches in town decided to display a female corpus- that is, the body of a woman- on a crucifix. Jesus Christ, in His sacrifice is transformed into a mere symbol instead of a real person in history. He becomes an allegory and metaphor. This denies the Incarnation (I John 4:1f).
God is the greatest Reality of all, and we human beings are the image. Jesus Christ in His human nature is the exact image, the express icon of God the Father. His Circumcision reminds us of this reality: namely, that He entered real human history. That is, the world, as it really is, received into its created existence the Lord Himself. He was real, and as an individual had marks that made Him of the male sex and of Jewish ethnicity, just as we all have distinctions of belonging to one of the two sexes, and to our own specific lineage from our ancestors. His sex was male, his ethnicity was Israelite. That is because He was not an allegory or metaphor, but a real human being in history.       
It is important that He was male. This is no “accident” of the Incarnation, but rather, part of the plan as the prophets foretold it. It is important that He was Jewish, of the tribe of Judah and descended from the Royal line of David. This too was no mere “accident” of the Incarnation, but an essential part of the plan of His Incarnation. As a man He is our High Priest and represents all of humanity in One Person - as head. Only a Jew from the line of David could be the eternal King whose government and peace will have no end.1
And, all of this ties into that other fact of His Circumcision, His Name. “And when eight days were accomplished for the circumcising of the child, his name was called JESUS, which was so named of the angel before he was conceived in the womb.” Jesus, Y’Shua, is a Hebrew name that means Salvation. As it says in the book of Isaiah:

Ci’ Adonai Shof’tenu
Adonai Mak’ka’kenu
Adonai Malkenu
Hu Yashi-enu

“For the LORD is our judge, the LORD is our lawgiver, the LORD is our king; He is our salvation (Isaiah 33:22).”

We need to understand the two comings of Jesus Christ as they are revealed in the Old Testament: His first coming as Priest and His second when He will come as King. For today, let us consider the meaning of His circumcision, the first shedding of His blood, and His particular history as a male of the house of David, of the tribe of Judah. This real man in real history has overcome the barriers between us and God. By taking human nature He has overcome the chasm between Creator and creature that separated us from God. As the Lamb of God Who took away the sins of the world in his atoning death, when He offered Himself on the cross as the full, perfect and sufficient sacrifice, oblation and satisfaction for the sins of the whole world, He removed the separation between us as sinners and the Holy God. When He rose from the dead He did away with death that separated us from the Living God, the source and author of all life.
His Name is Jesus. He is our salvation.

1. Isaiah 9:6,7. These two verses reveal that Messiah would be a male of David’s line.