Saturday, June 28, 2014

Saint Peter June 29



Acts 12:1-11 * Matt. 16:13-19
One of the marks of Divine Inspiration is the honesty of scripture concerning the heroes of our Faith. Instead of the sort of whitewashing that appears in folk legends, like George Washington and the cherry tree, we see real human beings who fall, get up again, and receive the grace of God. We see St. Paul calling himself the chief of sinners, and the least of the apostles because he had persecuted the Church before his conversion. We see the confusion and misunderstanding of the apostles, their lack of faith when they could not drive the demon out of the boy, so that Jesus had to do it himself. So too the Old Testament, where we see the faults of Moses himself, losing patience and striking the rock twice. The sins of David are recorded, and the pain he expressed as he repented and wrote the fifty-first Psalm. We see the sins of Solomon, and indeed, of the whole nation of Israel, telling on itself by preserving the words of the prophets.

So, when we see the ministry of St. Peter in the Book of Acts, and how much he begins to resemble Jesus himself, it is only after the Gospels in which we have seen him fall, crash into the cliff, and then repent. He denied the Lord three times before the rooster crowed, and he repented with bitter weeping and tears. This should comfort all of us, because the story demonstrates the mercy of God, the grace of God and the power of God.

It demonstrates the mercy of God, because Peter was forgiven. It demonstrates the grace of God because Peter was restored and transformed. It demonstrates the power of God, because Peter fulfilled the ministry to which he had been called.

"The gifts and callings of God are without repentance." (Romans 11:29) St. Paul wrote those words in a long text about why God has not cast away his people Israel (to this day), and grafts back into the tree every branch that abides not still in unbelief. The gifts (χάρισμα, charisma) and calling (κλῆσις, klēsis) given to Peter follow the same general pattern, as do all gifts and callings, including those that come through the means of indelible sacraments.

The Lord called the restoration of Peter his "conversion." Hear these words from the Gospel of St. Luke: 

"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. And he said unto him, Lord, I am ready to go with thee, both into prison, and to death. And he said, I tell thee, Peter, the cock shall not crow this day, before that thou shalt thrice deny that thou knowest me."  (Luke 22:31-34)

The word "conversion" does not mean that you change your religious affiliation, and it simply does not mean that you leave one part of God's One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church for another. It means that you are turning away from sin, unbelief and weakness; that is, turning to God, who alone gives holiness, faith and power. In the case of Peter, he turned from the weakness of confidence in his own strength, so that he could be empowered by the Holy Spirit.

"Lord, I am ready to go with thee, both into prison, and to death." Simon Peter was confident in the flesh, in his own estimation of himself, of some greatness of love and courage; and this self-confidence blinded him to the truth about himself. This brings us to today's Gospel. For, shortly after Peter declares the truth, "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the Living God," and is told that he is blessed for the revelation given to him, what immediately follows comes across as a shock, a story of just how complicated a bag of walking contradictions one man can be.

"From that time forth began Jesus to shew unto his disciples how that he must go unto Jerusalem, and suffer many things of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised again the third day. Then Peter took him, and began to rebuke him, saying, Be it far from thee, Lord: this shall not be unto thee. But he turned, and said unto Peter, Get thee behind me, Satan: thou art an offence unto me: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men. Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. " 
(Matt.16:21-24)

This is the same Simon Peter to whom the keys of the kingdom of Heaven had just been handed, praised by God himself, the Lord Jesus, for receiving the truth that the Father had granted to him. Then suddenly he is called "Satan," that is an adversary; the words he had previously spoken were from God's own revelation to him, and then his words came from the Devil and from the flesh; from Satan and from "the things of men"; that is, fallen sinful men who live for gratification and survival, knowing nothing higher and better.

How can this be? The same man, within seconds, is both the blessed rock upon whom Jesus will build His Church that conquers the very gates of Hell, and then corrected with the most sharp and painful words Christ ever spoke to any disciple other than Judas. What is even more astonishing is this: Jesus had spoken highly of Peter's faith, his willingness to hear from the Father, and told of the future place he would have in God's work to build the Church, even though he knew that Simon yet possessed the kind of flaw that would lead to his next statement.

The key to understanding why the apparent contradiction did not confound Jesus is found in these words: "Upon this rock I will build my Church." The faith that God has is faith in Himself. Jesus Christ builds His Church, and nothing will stop Him from kicking in the gates of Hell through His Church. He first binds the strong man, and then plunders his goods. He it is that leads His Church terrible as an army with banners when it assails the gates and defeats the enemy. We may think it is our efforts, gifts or talents that build the Church. But, Jesus Christ builds His Church Himself, and gives us the wonderful privilege of being a part of His work. Jesus was not placing his faith in Peter's ability, or even in his faithfulness. The Lord knew what lay ahead, as St. John wrote, "But Jesus ... knew all men, and needed not that any should testify of man: for he knew what was in man." (John 2:24, 25)

Jesus knew what was in Peter. Jesus knows what is in me. He knows what is in you.

He knows whether the deposit of rich faith is in a person's heart, and if it is there, He knows that after falling his servant will stand up again; that, after crashing against reality His servant will be converted. He knows that His true servant will always convert, always turn ever more and more to his Lord, no matter how hard his fall may have been. Eventually, the servant will be like his Lord, the disciple like his Master. He praised the faith of Peter, and the ears that Peter had, for they were ears to hear. Because of that true faith, Jesus could predict a time when this man would unlock the Church of God to the Jewish people, to Samaritans, and then to the Gentiles in the house of Cornelius, making use in this world of the keys of the kingdom of heaven; that Peter would become the rock upon which He, Christ, would build His Church. Peter would, as Jesus commanded, strengthen his brethren, acting as the obvious leader in the earliest days of their ministry after Pentecost. This was also in line with what Jesus had said to them all: "Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven."(Matt. 18:18, "Ye," a form of "you," is always plural)

The Simon Peter we see in the Book of Acts is not the same man anymore, except for the richness of his faith and his ears to hear. And, even that is greater than before. After seeing his Master risen from the dead, and then after being filled with the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost, this servant was like his Lord, this disciple was like his Master. No longer did he boast confidently, "I am ready to go with thee to prison and to death." Instead of confidence in the flesh he truly had power from the Holy Spirit. He did follow his Lord, eventually even to his own cross, nailed upside down on Vatican Hill in Rome to die as a martyr.

Peter began his relationship with the Lord, after an initial introduction, with words of fear: After the miracle of the great catch of fish "he fell down at Jesus' knees, saying, Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord. " (Luke 5:8) The Lord responded with a call to ministry: "And Jesus said unto Simon, Fear not; from henceforth thou shalt catch men. " (v.10) Years later Peter had denied the Lord out of fear for his own life, that same fleshly concern that earlier had prompted him to try to persuade Jesus away from His cross, in those words we heard for which Jesus rebuked him. But, with bitter crying and tears he turned; he was converted.

Peter's life demonstrates God's mercy, God's grace and God's forgiveness.

In the last chapter of the Gospel of John, the Risen Lord Jesus Christ gives Peter the chance to affirm his love for Him three times, three affirmations to cleanse his heart of the three denials. Three affirmations, as Jesus demonstrates the heart of pastoral ministry in healing Peter's agony, providing a genuine penance to help His servant refocus his attention on his Lord, and express his love .

"So when they had dined, Jesus saith to Simon Peter, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me more than these? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my lambs. He saith to him again the second time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my sheep. He saith unto him the third time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? Peter was grieved because he said unto him the third time, Lovest thou me? And he said unto him, Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee. Jesus saith unto him, Feed my sheep." (John 21:15-17)

The Lord began their time together by answering Peter's fear with the call to catch men, and now He heals Peter's inner suffering with the call to feed His sheep. Not only does Jesus forgive, but He calls him to work. This was a gift to this man, and it was the gift of this servant to every generation of the Church that would follow.

I know that many times I have failed Christ my Lord, and you know in your heart that you have failed him too. But, you and I know also that He is the Christ, the Son of the Living God. Like Peter, you and I have heard this from the Father, for no one comes to the Son unless the Father draw him (John 6:44). By the Holy Spirit, the Father told you that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God. And, He is the one who told me that. Whatever process He used, whatever faithful Christians who declared the Gospel to you and taught you, be sure of this. If you believe that Jesus is the Christ the Son of the Living God, you have heard from the Father. This is the rich deposit of faith that God Himself has invested in you. This is why you have been converted, are being converted, and will be converted. This is why you may strengthen your brethren.

Peter is a demonstration of God's mercy, shown by Jesus who gives him the chance to make his three affirmations of love. Peter is a demonstration of God's grace, because he was restored and resumed his place to receive the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost. Peter is a demonstration of God's power, because he did open the kingdom of heaven with the keys, become like his Master in going about teaching and healing and building the Church, and finally, without any fear of death, going himself to his own cross to die in victory as a martyr.

The story of Peter's whole life is summarized in these words: Jesus is t
he Christ, the Son of the Living God.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Thursday, June 19, 2014

A thought on Corpus Christi

I tire of piety towards the Sacrament that is devoid of charity and covenantal unity. Such "devotion" is worthless in the sight of God. Reverence to Corpus Christi (Body of Christ) on the altar is worthless without love for Corpus Christi, the people of the Church. Here is a reposting of something I wrote over four years ago for this blog.

B'rit Chadasha (New Covenant)

"Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them, saith the LORD: But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people. And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the LORD: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the LORD; for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more."
Jeremiah 31:31-34
.
"And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed it, and brake it, and gave it to the disciples, and said, Take, eat; this is my body. And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, Drink ye all of it; For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins. But I say unto you, I will not drink henceforth of this fruit of the vine, until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father's kingdom."
Matt. 26:26-29

"For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, That the Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took bread: And when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me. After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me. For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord's death till he come. Wherefore whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord, unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord."
I Corinthians 11:23-27

"Ante-argument" : Setting up the point
How can we build the first, second and third floors of doctrinal clarity without the foundation? If one thing has become clear from recent discussions about the sacrament of Holy Communion, it is that we have seem to have no proper regard for the actual Jewish context in which our Lord said the words, "Do this in remembrance of me." We have busied ourselves about the nature of Christ's presence in the sacrament, to an extent with Scripture and to an extent with mere philosophy and man-made definitions, while neglecting certain and obvious facts that were absolutely clear to the earliest Christians. Since the sixteenth century we have battled over Real Presence, Transubstantiation and Consubstantiation, breathing such extreme words as "heresy" when, in fact, no breach of doctrinal orthodoxy should be asserted, and when it cannot be proved. Indeed, such accusations often mean only that someone's religious taste has been offended.

That is not to say that details of sacramental theology do not matter, nor that we can deny, or should want to deny, that the Universal Church has always treated the Sacrament as having a supernatural and real connection to the Living Christ by which he gives himself to the Church as the food and drink of eternal life, and that this has given the Church every reason to speak of that grace in terms of his Presence among us, and to teach it as an objective fact, though shrouded in mystery. The consensus of the Universal Church has been to read the Scriptures in such a way as to find the presence of the risen Christ in the actual elements themselves. But, in the last several centuries our sacramental theology has become seriously unbalanced in the sense of "this ought ye to have done without leaving the other undone."

Anglicans have inherited an understanding of the sacrament that is easily misrepresented and wrongly defined, generally related to a willingness, exhibited by too many of our own, to throw away the work of our own fathers as if it was an unclean thing. In the name of a sort of pan-catholic ecumenism (an idea peculiar to Anglicans, even though they suffer from the delusion that it is the Two One True Churches who harbor some "agreement" that excludes us, when in fact they exclude each other and disagree intensely) our own people are quick to relent the positions of the English Reformers, usually revealing that they have no genuine idea what that position was.

It would take too much space to go over the same ground again, so I will state simply that I stand by my postion that the Reformers, including Archbishop Thomas Cranmer, never actually denied that bread and wine change in a mysterious and supernatural way, and that Christ is present in them spiritually and inexplicably. However, faced with the emergencies and errors peculiar to their own time, they emphasized above all else that Christ is present in those who receive Him by faith. But, concerning the idea of Real Presence as we face it today, and as the Church faced it before the Great Schism (1054), they never turned away from faith in that presence as an objective fact; else they would not have rejected Zwingli for his "bare sign" doctrine of Memorialism. But, they all did so quite clearly, and as early as the Homilies.

Nonetheless, as Hooker expressed most clearly of all, the exact moment of the service in which bread and wine may be said to undergo their change cannot be known, and neither can the exact manner of that change; and what matters for those who receive with faith is that they participate in Christ, that is, have communion with his Body and Blood, even if the consecration is not complete until they themselves fulfill part of what Christ commanded in the words "do this..." namely, his commands "Take eat...Drink this all of you." We must not forget, as we have seen before, that for the earliest Anglican teachers, the presence of Christ could not be separated in its truest significance, or in any practical way, from grace, which has everything to do with what he gives to each worthy receiver (i.e., made worthy by grace). If we believe that the words "This is my body...This is my blood..." are the only Words of Institution, we need to read the text again, and realize that those words come with words about receiving: "Take, eat...drink this all of you (as in our Prayer Book, "drink ye all of this") also in the Words of institution, placing Hooker's suggestion on firm ground. That is, what matters most about his presence in the sacrament is grace given by means of it.

Yet, the unworthy receiver "shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord," clearly showing that he violates that holy presence, because he does not have fellowship with Christ by faith. For, as we have seen also in previous essays, the words "participate," "partake," "fellowship" and "communion" (including I Cor. 10:16) all signify, wherever we find them in the English translations of the Bible, or the Book of Common Prayer with the Thirty-Nine Articles, or in the Homilies, that the Greek word koinōnia (κοινωνία) best expresses the intended meaning; for all these English words have been used to translate that one Greek word. The unworthy or wicked (Article XXIX) person who presumes to eat or drink has taken the holy elements that are mystically and really the body and blood of Christ, but he cannot partake of (have communion or fellowship with, or participate in) Christ, and therefore cannot be a partaker of the Divine nature (II Pet. 1:4).

(It is tragic that modern Anglicans cannot understand these things when they read Anglican sources; but, as I have argued and proved these points before, I will not dwell on them now; I will refer the reader to my essays on classic Anglicanism, especially those linked above. Suffice to say, the English Reformers, when read carefully and diligently, cannot be charged with any abandonment of the Catholic Tradition of the Universal Church. They restored great pieces of it long neglected.)

The point

But, why do we spend so much time having to prove these things? Is there not a significance to Holy Communion that we have missed in our debates about the unknowable? Is it because we have never accepted the idea of humility as Hooker expressed it, that we ought to admit our ignorance openly as to how the bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ, that we have argued so much over mysteries that cannot be resolved to the point of distraction from a Biblical doctrine? That lost doctrine is the relationship between the Sacrament and the New Covenant.

Any reading of Genesis chapter fifteen in light of St. Paul's teaching about the faith of our father Abraham (yes, Christians everywhere, our father, if we believe), especially in his Epistle to the Church in Rome, and in light of what the Epistle to the Hebrews says so clearly about the shedding of blood as it relates to any covenant, shows that God took upon himself the penalty of human sin. He passed between the pieces of the sacrificed animals as Abraham had laid them out, meaning that God chose to accept the penalty if the covenant were to be broken, even though his covenant with all mankind had been broken already. The full weight of this cannot be appreciated unless we consider the words of Jesus as he held that cup in his hands: "For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins."

When the New Testament was written, the Greek word that most closely held the same meaning as the word b'rit (בְּרִית) which we translate as covenant, was the word diathēkē (διαθήκη) which we translate as testament. Modern people think of a covenant as merely an agreement or contract; but, like a Last Will and Testament, it requires death.

"And for this cause he is the mediator of the new testament, that by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first testament, they which are called might receive the promise of eternal inheritance. For where a testament is, there must also of necessity be the death of the testator. For a testament is of force after men are dead: otherwise it is of no strength at all while the testator liveth. Whereupon neither the first testament was dedicated without blood. For when Moses had spoken every precept to all the people according to the law, he took the blood of calves and of goats, with water, and scarlet wool, and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book, and all the people, Saying, This is the blood of the testament which God hath enjoined unto you. Moreover he sprinkled with blood both the tabernacle, and all the vessels of the ministry. And almost all things are by the law purged with blood; and without shedding of blood is no remission."
(Hebrews 9:15-22)


What we find is that they chose the word we use for testament, because they saw that it had this connection with the meaning of covenant: It required death.

We see in the opening quotation from Jeremiah that the people of Israel broke the covenant, and we must then think in terms of that fifteenth chapter of Genesis and the presence of God walking between the divided body parts of the dead animals. When the Lord said, "this cup is the new covenant/testament in my blood" the disciples thought of Jeremiah's words, foretelling that God would make a new covenant. That covenant has a lists of blessings:

1. The law is written in our hearts
2. God himself is our God (i.e. the true God protects us and provides our every need)
3. We know God
4. Our sins are forgiven and forgotten.

How is this possible? Only through the sacrifice of Christ, and the shedding of his blood. We broke the covenant God made with all mankind many times over. He made it with all people in creation. He made it with Abraham whose faith was credited to him for righteousness. He made it with his chosen and elect people, among whom are counted all Christians as those grafted into the people of Israel, children of Abraham by faith. On that night he made it with us anew, and to establish it he bore the full weight of death, that the New Covenant is his Testament. Our inheritance includes those benefits listed above, as Jeremiah foretold. It includes, as a necessary part of knowing God, eternal life (John 17:3), for God is eternal.

This is why when we "do this" in remembrance of Him, it is the sacrifice re-presented, in that we "show forth the Lord's death," each time we "do this," and will do so "till he come." This is not the double plural "sacrifices of masses." It is the Eucharistic sacrifice. It is the covenant meal that includes the sacrificial thanksgiving or Eucharist (literally good grace, or good thanksgiving). This is why our Canon of Consecration opens,

"All glory be to thee, Almighty God, our heavenly Father, for that thou, of thy tender mercy, didst give thine only Son Jesus Christ to suffer death upon the Cross for our redemption; who made there (by his one oblation of himself once offered) a full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction, for the sins of the whole world."

This sets the stage for all that follows.

The covenantal meaning has everything to do with why St. Paul says so clearly, "the night in which he was betrayed." He was telling the Corinthian Christians that their evil behavior was like the betrayal of Judas, their mistreatment of their fellow Christians, brothers and sisters, a breaking of the covenant that existed between themselves and God, and therefore between themselves and each other.

"I speak as to wise men; judge ye what I say. 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? For we being many are one bread, and one body: for we are all partakers of that one bread. (I Cor. 10:15-17)"

That communion, or fellowship (koinōnia, κοινωνία) with the Body and Blood of Christ is communion with one another in the Church, which is also called by the same name, "the Body of Christ" (I Corinthians 12). The unworthy or wicked person who presumes to eat and drink is guilty of the body and blood of the Lord, in terms of the whole ancient understanding of what a covenant means. In the context of St. Paul's warning, in that eleventh chapter, the unworthy or wicked person is known by how he mistreats his brothers and sisters, those also in the communion of Christ's Body, those also in the covenant. Like Judas, who ate and drank at the Last Supper, such a one betrays the Lord.

As glad as I am that we believe in the objective and Real presence of Christ, I must ask about the covenantal meaning of the Lord's Supper: Why is this missing from most of our talk about the sacrament? If we cannot see the Body of Christ as His people, what does it matter if we believe in the Real Presence? If you see do not see Christ in the pews, what matters it if you see Him on the altar?


Saturday, June 14, 2014

Trinity Sunday

Isaiah 6:1-8 * Psalm 29 * Rev. 4:1-11 * John 3:1-17

“Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.

Were I to go around asking people what they think these words mean, many would think that to see the kingdom of God is to “go to heaven when you die.” I would not want, in any way, to lessen one’s faith in the gift of eternal life. The truth of God’s promise is certain, that all who are in Christ will live forever in God’s kingdom. But to see the kingdom of God is not simply a future experience to which we look forward; to see the kingdom of God is to see here and now that God’s kingdom has come. The fullness of that coming will be in the future, when Christ returns in glory to rule forever as king of the whole earth and will be glorified in His saints. But the kingdom of God has already come, and that kingdom presents each of us with a daily choice about where we stand, what we do, and how we think.
          On Trinity Sunday you may well expect a doctrinal dissertation on the theological truth that our One God is the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:18,19). In previous years I have presented that to the best of my ability by God’s grace. But today I want to proclaim how that revelation of the Trinity has everything to do with seeing the kingdom of God. The revelation of the Trinity is also the revelation of our salvation. God did not use clever academic theologians to reveal the doctrine of the Trinity. Rather, God entered into His own created world and revealed our salvation and the doctrine of the Trinity by personally bringing His kingdom into the world of human experience.
          The coming of Christ into the world as the Incarnate Word was a real historical event in matter, space and time. As Saint John the Apostle put it:

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life; (For the life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and shew unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us;) That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ. And these things write we unto you, that your joy may be full (I John 1:1-4).”

And the coming of the Holy Spirit when the day of Pentecost had fully come, about which we read just last week (Acts 2), with visible manifestations and clearly evident supernatural gifts of the Holy Spirit, was also a real event in the world of matter, space and time. Hence the shocking, downright scandalous words (but for being the truth) of St. Peter:

“This Jesus hath God raised up, whereof we all are witnesses. Therefore being by the right hand of God exalted, and having received of the Father the promise of the Holy Ghost, he hath shed forth this, which ye now see and hear Acts 2:32,33).”

Indeed, the Book of Acts is part two of the Incarnation. In the Gospels we see the Word made flesh, Jesus the living embodiment of the kingdom of God. We see Him doing good, healing, teaching, casting out demons, showing compassion to those who were sick or tormented, forgiving sins, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God (see Acts 10:38). We see His victory over sin and death by His cross and passion, and by His resurrection and glorification. In everything Jesus did or said, recorded in the Gospels, we see the kingdom of God overthrowing the power of darkness and commanding full human allegiance.

“And when he was demanded of the Pharisees, when the kingdom of God should come, he answered them and said, The kingdom of God cometh not with observation: Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you (Luke 17:20,21).”

Indeed, at that point the kingdom of God was a Man, the Incarnate Word Himself, overthrowing the powers of darkness, proclaiming light and revealing truth. Wherever He stepped foot, the kingdom of God was present.
And it clashed violently with the sinful world. It was not a peaceful coming. It met with the full resistance of human sin and of demons. It always came with a demonstration of power. Whether healing, casting out demons or calling Lazarus and others back into the world by overthrowing death itself, the power of God’s kingdom was manifest. It was seen and heard. Nonetheless, the time came when the world was allowed to reward the good Jesus had done with the cross of suffering and death. The kingdom of God was not welcomed by the sinful world. But the greatest demonstration of power followed on the third day, when Christ rose from the dead into a life that never ends.
Do you see how that is mirrored in the experience of the Apostles in the Book of Acts? Once again the kingdom of God came into the world, for “They were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance (Acts 2:4).” They too went about preaching, and healing and doing good. They too proclaimed the gospel of the kingdom of God, by proclaiming all that Jesus had done and taught. They too worked miracles, cast out demons, and clashed with the sinful world. They too were given their crosses of suffering and death, as the world persecuted Christ in them. But they were never defeated.
The kingdom of God had come with the power of the Holy Spirit; the Church became the living Body of Christ by His power and several gifts (I Corinthians 12). And in these two great historical manifestations of the kingdom of God, the coming of Christ and then the coming of the Holy Spirit, human salvation was revealed and so was the mysterious truth of the Trinity. For the Father sent the Son, and the Father and the Son sent the Holy Spirit. In both of these historical events it was God Who was manifesting His power and his presence, shining a light in the vast darkness of human sin and pain, setting captives free and giving life to the dead.
St. Paul constantly used the simple little phrase, “In Christ.” It is in his epistles. What does that mean? How is that your identity? The answer is, in having been born again you were translated out of the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of God’s Son.

“For this cause we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to desire that ye might be filled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; That ye might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God; Strengthened with all might, according to his glorious power, unto all patience and longsuffering with joyfulness; Giving thanks unto the Father, which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light: Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son: In whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins: Who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature: For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him: And he is before all things, and by him all things consist. And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence. For it pleased the Father that in him should all fulness dwell; And, having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself; by him, I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven. And you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath he reconciled in the body of his flesh through death, to present you holy and unblameable and unreproveable in his sight: If ye continue in the faith grounded and settled, and be not moved away from the hope of the gospel, which ye have heard, and which was preached to every creature which is under heaven; whereof I Paul am made a minister. (Colossians 1:9-23)”

I could use my sermon time this Sunday to give you a very academic talk about the doctrine of the Trinity, and present it in abstract terms. There is a place for theological dissertation. But I have preached to you the gospel of the Kingdom of God, because that is the cue I get from today’s reading of the Gospel of John, chapter three. My great concern now is that you see the kingdom of God, that you see it in history, in the future when Christ returns; but also that you see it now.
Two great forces demand your daily allegiance: "Choose this day whom ye will serve (Joshua 24:15)." One is the kingdom of God and the other is the power of darkness. Or we could say, the Lord Jesus Christ or the world. When I say “the world” I mean it as St. John used the term. He wrote, “He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not John 1:10).” The world, as used that way, means the great power that controls whole nations of human beings, that sends them to war against one another, that moves them to exploit the poor, to steal basic necessities of life from whole peoples, and basically to deceive everyone into sin and death. It lures you with “The lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life (I John 2:15-17).”
But you are not of the world. Christ has chosen you out of the world, “Therefore the world hateth you (John 17:19).” You have been translated out of the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of God’s beloved Son. And, as that kingdom was manifested in power in the Gospels and in the Book of Acts, we can learn to depend on that same power. Every minute presents us with a choice between the corrupt thinking of the world, and the truth of God’s word. Every issue, every moral choice, all of your daily actions – we must not live as the world around us lives; we must think not as the world thinks, but as servants of God with renewed minds (Romans 12:1,2).

My message to you all on this Trinity Sunday is this: You have been born again and you are in Christ. Open your eyes now to see the kingdom of God.

Saturday, June 07, 2014

Pentecost commonly called Whitsunday


Acts 2:1-11 * John 14:15-31

This is the day in which that small band grew very suddenly from five hundred eyewitnesses of the resurrection, to thirty five hundred people, only to continue growing. Men who, just a few weeks earlier, had argued over who would be the greatest, who had hidden in fear, who briefly had doubted Christ’s resurrection until seeing Him face to face, stood tall and unafraid as leaders and as fishers of men. St. Peter, who only a few weeks before had denied the Lord for fear of his life, now rose up as fearless as any hero in battle. Through these men the very same miracles that Christ had wrought, and greater in number than He had done, gave proof of His Gospel; the lame walked, the blind saw, the dead were restored to life, demons were driven out of the afflicted and possessed. What gave such power and courage to these same men who, in the four Gospels, had never come across as impressive?

The answer is simple, but it is so hidden to the eyes of those who cannot believe that it may as well be very complicated. The simple answer is, they were filled with the Holy Ghost. It was the day of the Church’s corporate baptism as the Body of Christ.

The very first thing that becomes evident is the sound of them preaching the truth of Christ in foreign languages that they had not learned. We would expect them to speak Aramaic, and to speak and read Hebrew. We would expect that they could address these same people in the Lingua Franca of their day, that international language, Greek. But, they spoke directly to men’s hearts in the local languages of their various homelands, the apparent mastery of the tongues themselves serving as a sign, a miraculous sign that the Logos, the Word made flesh, is the Master, as in the Lord, of all communication. His word is for all people, for every kindred and tongue, people and nation. As Man, in his sinfulness, was divided by the sentence of God at Babel, so the scattered peoples of the earth are gathered as one in Christ, who speaks to all in their own tongues.

When we look at today's reading from the Gospel of John, we learn that the Church was not designed to function without the Holy Ghost. He is the Comforter, which is Paracletos (παράκλητος) in Greek; that is He comes to our side, pleads for us and gives us aid. “Comfort,” in the mind of the readers of the King James Bible when it was translated, did not speak of a cushion that helps us to relax and go to sleep. The meaning of the word is found, really, in the second syllable, in fort, as in fortify- to strengthen. We see that fortification in St. Peter, who, knowing the sentence of death that only weeks earlier had been passed on Christ, nonetheless had the courage to rise to his feet and preach. We hear, in his sermon, wisdom from God, as he opened and explained the meaning of the Scriptures, unraveling the mysteries of the ancient prophecies with ease and conviction. This simple fisherman had the power to persuade men’s hearts, suddenly transformed into a master orator. Just as he had, years before, thrown out his dragnet and hauled in large catches of fish, so now he is a fisher of men, converting three thousand people by preaching the Gospel with power and authority.

In St. Peter’s sermon we see, as in every other utterance of the Holy Ghost through the apostles, the clear and straightforward doctrine of Christ exactly as we know it to this day, as we say it in our creeds, as we pray it in the whole of our liturgy, as it is found on every page of scripture, and as it is especially clear, with perfect focus, in the New Testament. This, that we believe today, is the same Gospel that was preached on that day.

Right here, we need to understand what tool the Holy Spirit used to draw in three thousand people in one day. Peter did not erect an altar and celebrate a Mass. He preached the Gospel. Why am I saying this? I am saying it because we need to see what a powerful and effective tool true preaching is. Like Archbishop Thomas Cranmer who gave us our Book of Common Prayer, I believe that it is necessary to have Holy Communion every Sunday and good for the Church to have it every day so that people may have frequent Communion. I would like to see us achieve that ideal some day. But, somehow over the last century, some Anglo-Catholics have decided to embrace the fallacy that the Word and the Sacrament are in opposition, or tension, and that the truly "Catholic" thing is to place an underemphasis on preaching in order to highlight the sacrament. They have accepted a romantic notion in which the Christian priesthood is only about celebrating at the altar. I have news for anyone who believes that: It is not, and never was, the Catholic Tradition of the Church. Read the sermons of the Church Fathers in Antiquity, such as St. John Chrysostom. Good, sound diligent preaching is the Catholic Tradition, not light little seven minute homilies.

And, beginning with St. Peter's Pentecost message, the stuff of proper sermons is the story of who Jesus is, and what He did when he died for our sins and rose again, and that he is Lord and Christ, and will come again. We see, also, beginning with Peter's sermon, that the meat and substance of effective and powerful preaching is Holy Scripture. He showed that the Scriptures of the Old Testament were about Christ. He unlocked from Scripture the meaning of the events he had witnessed, opening the mysteries formerly hidden, of Christ's betrayal, passion and death, and of his having risen again. He opened the mysteries of the Kingdom of God with the keys he had been given. He showed that the Scriptures are about Christ, and that by them we know the Gospel. Good preaching is not drawn from personal anecdotes, and it is not designed to impress people with worldly wisdom from academe. It is aimed at the mind and at the heart, calling all men everywhere to repent, and it is the means by which faith comes, for it is the proclamation of the Word of God.

Peter had changed. He had been a natural man (ψυχικός psychikos-soulish) unable earlier in his life to understand why the Christ, the Son of the Living God, was ready and willing to take up the cross; later he was afraid and denied the Lord three times. But, now he stands on his feet boldly, not afraid of death, having his mind focused on the truth, able to understand and know from Scripture everything that had unfolded and was unfolding. He had been a disciple for more than three years, but now was closer to Christ than at any time when he beheld him with the eyes; for he was now part of the Body of which Christ is the Head. Many a time Peter had stumbled and tripped over his own tongue, and had failed to speak the right words on the night in which his Lord was betrayed. But, now he spoke with more clarity, more power and more authority than any prophet of the Old Covenant. He delivered the first Christian sermon, as he was now the fisher of men Christ had foreseen; for his dragnet of words brought in about three thousand souls. The whole band of Apostles was transformed. They taught and worked miracles, continuing the ministry of Christ Himself.

None of this was man-made. The best efforts of organization could not have produced it; the most detailed planning could not have pulled it off. No human effort could have brought it forth in a day, because the New Covenant people, the Church, manifested on the Day of Pentecost, was chapter two of the Word made flesh. The Body of Christ now came into the world as His Church.

Frankly, in light of the foolishness of sinful men, it is very obvious that God's power and grace have never depended on anyone less than God himself. Never think that we, as the Church, have succeeded in anything simply by our own human cleverness, or our best laid plans, or our own strength. We have an organized structure, but the permanent shape of that structure was revealed and enacted by the Holy Spirit. The whole life of the Church is charismatic (χάρισμα); from the receiving of Scripture to the Sacraments, from the Apostolic Succession to the faithful service of each member.

Indeed, St. Paul, speaking in the context of spiritual gifts, even goes as far as to call the Church by the name of Christ himself: "For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ...Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular." (I Cor, 12:12, 27) So, I have not spoken carelessly in saying that the Church is part two of the Incarnation. The Jesus who goes about now doing good and healing is none other than the Body of Christ and members in particular. He does His work through you, through His Body the Church, by the Holy Spirit, the other Comforter who is with us and in us.

We know from the end of the Gospel of Luke that the disciples were forbidden to take this new work on themselves prematurely, as if it depended simply on human power and wisdom. What is the life of the Church? It is the Holy Spirit present within us. What is the strength of the Church? It is the power (δύναμις) of God by his Holy Spirit, present within us. Who is it that takes fallible and failed human beings, lifts them up from the ground and sets them on their feet? It is the Holy Spirit present within us. Who is it that puts His word of eloquence and power on their formerly unclean lips? It is the Holy Spirit present within us. Who is it that fulfills His own purpose and will with flawed human instruments? It is the Holy Spirit present within us. Who makes Christ known among all nations of the earth, making one redeemed people from every race and tongue? It is the Holy Spirit present within us. Who has unlimited power, and works most effectively through us after we have come to the end of our own strength, and can go no further? It is the Holy Spirit present within us. Who makes us into children of God accepted in the Beloved Son? It is the Holy Spirit, at work in us, present here and now as Lord of the Church.

Monday, June 02, 2014

“ONCE FOR ALL”

by Fr. Laurence Wells

The central and most important prayer of our Prayer Book is the one found on pages 80 and 81, called the Prayer of Consecration.  The more technical and ancient name for this prayer is the “Canon,” a Greek word meaning rule or norm.  This prayer not only consecrates bread and wine for the Lord’s Supper, but is also a normative statement of our church’s teaching concerning the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist. 

Near the beginning of this all-important prayer we find the words: by his one oblation of himself once offered.”  These words are placed in parentheses, but surely not to suggest that they are optional or unimportant but to emphasize their critical importance.  These words are there to give point to the following language, “a full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice, oblation and satisfaction, for the sins of the whole world.”  Had it not been “once for all,”   the sacrifice of Calvary would have been less than perfect and insufficient for our salvation.

This language has been part of our Anglican liturgy since the original Prayer Book of 1549.  It is interesting that Archbishop borrowed all this from the Roman Catholic Archbishop Herman of Cologne.

The intent was to refute two serious errors of the late Middle Ages.  One was the grotesque notion that at every celebration of the Mass, our Lord and Saviour is re-sacrificed or even re-crucified.  The other error was the curious idea that every mass has only a finite value as a meritorious act.  Therefore if one mass is good, two would be better, and 1,000 would be better still. This was the basis for masses with a special intention and for mass stipends.  We must be quick to say that such was never the dogmatic teaching of the pre-Reformation Church nor of the Roman Church at the Reformation or now.

Authentic Biblical teaching exposes this  popular belief as radically wrong.  St.  John tells us that at His death, our Lord uttered the cry of victory, “It is finished,” with a Greek word which was a book-keeper’s term meaning “paid in full.”  His death was decisive, final and unrepeatable.  

The Epistle to the Hebrews, in a passage we read on Good Friday, contrasts the sacrifice made by Jesus, the Great high Priest, with the sacrifices made over and over, morning and night, every day of the year, by the priests of the Old testament.  Hebrews uses a very emphatic word, “For by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified.”  The word which Hebrews hammers home is EPHAPAX, once for all,

We treasure our prayer book for its clear Biblical, Reformed and truly catholic teaching.  Our Saviour made one unique and perfect sacrifice for us,  which we can never repeat, to which we can add nothing, on which we may confidently rely for our salvation.  LKW