Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Fourth Sunday in Advent


Isaiah 40:1-11 * Psalm 80 * Phil. 4:4-7 * John 1:19-28
With Christmas so close at hand it may seem a little difficult to go through even one more Sunday of Advent. We want to burst forth into the next season and rejoice. Well, very soon the time for that will be upon us (in fact at sundown this Christmas Eve). Right now, however, it is time to think through the meaning of today’s scriptures for the last Sunday in Advent, and not to miss it.

Again we are given that mysterious image of John the Baptist, the burning and shining light who bore witness by his life and death to Jesus Christ. “He must increase, and I must decrease,” said this prophet, this man whose unique vocation was that he bridged the Old Testament and the New. Two weeks ago we saw that all of the scriptures bore witness to Jesus Christ; and now, this last prophet of the Old Covenant bears direct witness to Christ, baptizing Him, and seeing the Spirit of God come upon Him as a dove out of Heaven. This last prophet of the Old Covenant is the first prophet of the New Covenant. The Lord said through the prophet Isaiah, “Behold, I will do a new thing; now it shall spring forth; shall ye not know it? I will even make a way in the wilderness, and rivers in the desert (Isa. 43: 19).” God called this prophet, this unique prophet, to show that the new thing, the New Covenant spoken of by Jeremiah the prophet (Jer. 31:31f) was upon them. John’s father was a priest under the Law of Moses, a descendent of Aaron. Therefore, John was also, by that Law, a priest. Yet, John the son of Zechariah, went into the desert to be the voice of one crying in the wilderness, “prepare the way of the Lord.”

Advent is about the last things, and especially meant to remind us that Christ will come again in glory to judge the quick and the dead, to make the heavens and the earth new, and to rule forever on His throne, surrounded by saints whom He has redeemed from sin and death to rule forever with Him. But, as we have seen, instead of having us read the many passages of scripture that deal very directly with eschatology- the study of the end- the Gospel readings appointed by the Church give us a glimpse of Christ’s second coming by reminding us of events that happened when He came at first. The first week we saw that His kingdom brings judgment on the very House of God in the midst of the holy city, and cleanses it by driving out those who defiled it by their willful sin, cheating the people on holy ground. The picture ought to inspire the healthy fear of God, and to make us repentant and resolute to live in such a way that we will be among those who remain in His house forever, instead of being driven out to spend eternity in outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

And now, thanks to the wisdom of the Church, we are reminded of the Baptist who prepared the way of the Lord by preaching repentance and cleansing. John the Baptist bridged the Testaments and prepared the way for Christ by offering hope, by giving sinful people a chance to start over again. The sinners who came to him were given a new beginning, hope and cleansing- themselves cleansed rather than tossed out, as the Lord tossed out the money changers when it was the temple that He cleansed. In other words, the vocation of John the Baptist was to prepare people to see Jesus as the Messiah, and the preparation was repentance, the only way to be prepared to meet the Lord. The Advent message of repentance is necessary.

Modern popular religion tells everyone that they need not repent of their sins, but rather that everyone is accepted with all of their ungodly baggage. The truth is, some churches are simply helping people go to Hell, due to the false teaching of Satan’s ministers. The truth is, the real ministry of the Church is the most important and serious thing in the world. Here we deal with things more important than mere life and death. We speak and administer the word and sacraments that have to do with eternal destiny. We give out both a warning and hope: "Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand."

Now, about the comings of Jesus Christ, and the life of this mysterious John the Baptist, we should dig a little deeper. The word “Christ” is from the Greek for the Hebrew word Meshiach, or as we pronounce it in English, “Messiah.” We have come to call the Lord by two names more than all others, Jesus and Christ. The one means Salvation- Y’shua. The other means “the anointed” – Meshiach. The implication is the Old Testament expression, “the Lord’s Anointed.” This comes with two pictures, as the word "messiah" is sprinkled generously throughout the pages of the Old Testament. The word speaks of priests and kings, and the anointing comes by the hand of a prophet.

The first men to be called meshiach were the brother of Moses, Aaron the High Priest, and his sons the priests. The King James Bible uses the phrase “the priest that is anointed.” The original Hebrew is h’ kohan h’ meshiach- “the priest the messiah.” The second class of men to be called messiah (meshiach) are the kings. David would not stretch forth his hand against Saul, because he was “the Lord’s anointed.” That is, the Lord’s messiah. Every priest was a messiah, and every king was a messiah. And, yet, the scriptures clearly speak of the one Man who would be both priest and king, and who would be the only hope of the whole world, H’ Meshiach- The Messiah. So, first Messiah is the priest, and then after that He is the King.

Jesus Christ’s two comings are foreshadowed in these pictures. First he came as priest. The Epistle to the Hebrews is the most explicit New Testament book that tells of Christ’s priestly ministry when he came the first time, and does so in light of the hope of those who look for His second appearing. As the priest He offered Himself as the sacrifice. The Book of Leviticus tells us clearly how a priest made kippur, that is atonement, for a repentant sinner who confessed his sin to the priest and brought a sacrifice. The real meaning is that the priest himself is the atonement, and offers the animal because he cannot sacrifice himself. This is a type and shadow of Jesus, who did offer Himself as priest and sacrifice when He came the first time. The importance of the Suffering Servant passage to the clear New Testament proclamation of atonement cannot be overstated. You will find it in the 53rd chapter of the Book of Isaiah. “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.”

This Suffering servant, after His death in their place, rises and takes up a ministry of intercession for sinners. “When thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand.” A dead man cannot prolong his days unless he rises again. In this passage, His death and resurrection are priestly, because he dies as the one true sacrifice, the atonement, and after rising “he ever lives to make intercession for them,” that is, for those who come to God through Him (Hebrews 7:25). The Old Testament sacrifices on those altars foreshadowed His true sacrifice, just as our sacrifice on this altar, in which nothing is killed, proclaims it. In fact, there is only one Eucharist (or Holy Communion or Mass – it’s all the same), and always when it is offered anywhere in the world by the Church, it is joined to the one true sacrifice on Calvary.

When He comes again, the image of Messiah as King will be fulfilled in all of its glory. This is the terror of all that is evil, and it is the hope of the Church. It is a certainty that he will come on the Last Day to judge the living and the dead, to establish Heaven on Earth, to rule and so grant peace forever. Both Testaments speak of His coming as the King Messiah. Daniel saw one coming in the clouds of Heaven as the Son of man to rule with the Ancient of Days; Moses saw that “the Earth shall be filled with the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.” Our eternal hope is not based upon imagination and conjecture, but upon the sure promise given in and by Christ’s resurrection from the dead. We are given the “sure and certain hope of the resurrection on the Last Day.” It is the only such hope, and it is impossible to separate that hope from Jesus Christ, because immortality, the hope of eternal life, is ours only through His resurrection. So writes Saint John about those who, due to this hope, purify themselves: “Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is (I John 3:2).”


John the Baptist prepared the way of the Lord by his message of repentance. Pondering these pictures of the Messiah as priest and King we are both warned and encouraged with both fear and hope. This is the meaning of Advent. It is of eternal consequence that we give heed.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Third Sunday in Advent

I Corinthians 4:1-5 * Matthew 11:2-10

Our Collect today contains this petition: “Grant that the ministers and stewards of thy mysteries may likewise so prepare and make ready thy way, by turning the hearts of the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, that at thy second coming to judge the world we may be found an acceptable people in thy sight.” These words remind us that the prophet, St. John the Baptist, prepared the way for the Lord’s ministry in Israel by preaching repentance from sin, and by inviting the people to come into the waters of a mikvah, a ritual bath of cleansing that the Greek New Testament calls baptisme, that is, baptism.

It draws from two sources, the book of the prophet Malachi and the Gospel of St. Luke. Malachi said: “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD: And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.”1 In the Gospel of Luke the angel Gabriel expounds on this passage of scripture when he announces to Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, about John: “And many of the children of Israel shall he turn to the Lord their God. And he shall go before him in the spirit and power of Elias, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just; to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”2 To understand why the Lord told Peter, James and John, as they came down from the Mount of Transfiguration that Elijah had already come and suffered the fate that would be dished out to the Son of Man, and why he tells the crowd to whom he speaks in today’s Gospel reading (a little further on), “For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John. And if ye will receive it, this is Elias, which was for to come,”3 you have to pay attention to what the angel said. John the Baptist fulfilled the prophecy, because it was not really a prediction that Elijah would come himself, but that this other prophet would come in the spirit and power that had rested on that Old Testament prophet. Only this time, the Ahab and Jezebel of the period, namely Herod and Herodius, would kill the prophet, John, who confronted their sin; something that the Old Testament king and queen could not do to Elijah.
Where does this phrase come from: “and he shall turn the hearts…?” The very concept of a prophet who turns the hearts comes from that story in the first book of the Kings where Elijah confronts the prophets of Baal. The people of the Northern kingdom of Israel were filled with terrible confusion, having the religion of Baal worship all mixed up with the worship of the true and living God of their fathers (and seemed to have forgotten the golden calves of Jeroboam). Baal worship is the same as the worship of Molech, the god to whom agonized parents would offer their own children in sacrifice, because by this religion they were deceived into a dreadful compulsion.

The people of the Northern kingdom of Israel in Samaria were lost in Baal worship due to the evil queen Jezebel and the weakness of her husband Ahab. Elijah called together the prophets of Baal and challenged them to a supernatural contest. They agreed, and the contest was to see who had the power to bring down fire from heaven to consume an offering. From morning until noon the prophets of Baal called on their god, finally waxing so desperate they resorted to cutting themselves. Elijah called a halt to the spectacle, and summoned the people to gather to him. He made it hard on himself by pouring a large amount of water in a trench around the altar and the dead animal, just to show that no fire could be lit by natural means. Then he prayed:

“LORD God of Abraham, Isaac, and of Israel, let it be known this day that thou art God in Israel, and that I am thy servant, and that I have done all these things at thy word. Hear me, O LORD, hear me, that this people may know that thou art the LORD God, and that thou hast turned their heart back again.”4

There we see that phrase about the turning of the hearts, the work that God did through his prophet Elijah. The scripture goes on to say:

“Then the fire of the LORD fell, and consumed the burnt sacrifice, and the wood, and the stones, and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench. And when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces: and they said, The LORD, he is the God; the LORD, he is the God.”

This is how their hearts were turned back by the prophet Elijah, back to the God of their fathers Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

Some modern Bibles have quite dishonestly rendered the Hebrew word for “fathers” in the book of Malachi as “parents.” This is completely unjustified. The word does not mean parents, it means fathers, specifically and clearly. When the ideology of the zeitgeist is allowed to interfere with Bible translation, the results cannot be good. Nothing is more disastrous than loss of fatherhood from homes, and in a larger sense, from a society. The father is the protector and provider, above all, the God-appointed head of his family. In this case, when the prophet Malachi speaks of the hearts of the fathers turned back to the children and of the children to the fathers, and the angel expands that to include the turning of the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, we dare not lose the meaning, or it is to our loss.

We can speak of the fathers as the fathers of our whole Jewish and Christian heritage, a line dating back to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, that continues through Moses and the prophets, right up to that Man that Isaiah called “the everlasting father,” our Lord Jesus Christ; the last Adam by whom comes the whole spiritual seed of the redeemed, the Church of the living God to be granted eternal life by means of, and following the pattern of, His resurrection.5

We see the fathers of the Church, and among them the holy fathers who gathered for the Ecumenical Councils. In terms of today’s Collect, which is based on the meaning of today’s Epistle, we must see the fathers who stand in Apostolic Succession, those of us, unworthy as we are apart from the grace of God, who have been ordained to be fathers among the people of God. So writes St. Paul to St. Timothy, “if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?” 6

Today’s Epistle says: “Let a man so account of us, as of the ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover it is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful.” This is what the Collect draws from also, for it says: “Grant that the ministers and stewards of thy mysteries may likewise so prepare and make ready thy way, by turning the hearts of the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, that at thy second coming to judge the world we may be found an acceptable people in thy sight.” To some, the ministry of the priest takes place only in functionary terms. He fulfills his religious role in services, and does all those social and religious things that they require of him, such as weddings and funerals, and some community things from time to time, like praying at civic events, and so on.
But, to contradict this limitation, and the limitation that some of our own place on the significance of the priesthood, I will quote myself from an article called Priesthood and the Church:

“The priesthood is not only the ministry of the altar. To reduce anything to its main function at the expense of its entirety is a serious mistake. When the Archbishops of England wrote Saepius Officio, they made it very clear that they fully agreed with the teaching of Apostolicae Curae, from the Roman Magesterium, about the nature of the priesthood and Eucharistic sacrifice unique to that office. But, they found fault with the papal document for failing even so much as to mention the pastoral ministry of the priesthood. A priest is always alter Christus, not only when he offers the Eucharist. And, this gives a special sacramental charism to his teaching, his advice, and his fatherly love for the people of God. An individual priest may fail to exercise all the gifts of his office, but he does not lose the sacred character implanted in him. So we do not agree with those who say that the priesthood is only about the ministry at the altar and nothing else. Rather, as the ministry of the Church extends the grace of the Incarnation among mankind, the priesthood extends the graces of the Incarnation among the people of the Church, and does so at all times by the sacramental charism of the indelible character added to the man who is ordained to the priesthood.”

It is our responsibility in this Advent season to call upon the people of the Church to be holy, and to attend to their own salvation, to walk with God in all purity of conscience. What we do is not simply about feeling good. It is far more than a warm and fuzzy feeling that we seek to impart.

As part of my own stewardship in the mysteries of God, for your benefit, I want to plant a thought in your minds. For some of you, this new year that began on the First Sunday in Advent is a good time, especially during this Penitential season, to come and make your first ever private confession. The sacramental power to absolve sins is so important in Anglicanism that it is mentioned directly in our Ordinal. When a priest is ordained, the bishop speaks the words of Christ (that is, he is Christ’s own mouth, through whom the Lord speaks) words from the Gospel of St. John.7 The bishop says these words:

Receive the Holy Ghost for the Office and Work of a Priest in the Church of God, now committed unto thee by the Imposition of our hands. Whose sins thou dost forgive, they are forgiven; and whose sins thou dost retain, they are retained. And be thou a faithful Dispenser of the Word of God, and of his holy Sacraments; In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen."

Confession followed by Absolution hurts before you do it; but it feels very good after it has been accomplished. When I have gone to another priest for confession, I have had to remind myself that I am there to appear for the prosecution. Jesus Christ is my Advocate, and he plead my case with his own blood as he poured out his soul unto death for me on the cross.8

Quite often people come to church without realizing the wonderful gift imparted to them here. Have you ever wondered why the Church of England added to the list of names that already had been given to this principal service of the Church? In addition to the names “The Holy Eucharist,” “The Divine Liturgy,” and “The Mass,” the English Reformers came up with the name, a name taken directly from scripture, “The Holy Communion.” As St. Paul wrote: “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?”9 The English Reformers were not rejecting the word “Mass.” But, they wanted to correct a false understanding among the common people, namely that their religious duty was to come and “hear Mass.” So, in that first English Book of Common Prayer in 1549, they named the service: THE SUPPER OF THE LORDE AND THE HOLY COMMUNION, COMMONLY CALLED THE MASSE. The Anglican message about this service is that you come here not simply because it is your religious duty to attend; you come here to receive from God that grace by which he meets the deepest need of your soul. You have that need whether you believe it or not, whether you see it or not, whether it presents itself to your conscience or not. The Holy Communion is not where you come in order to affirm that you are a good person, but where you flee to Christ as a sinner in need of his grace. You have come here today to receive the food and drink of eternal life.

Jesus said:

“I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world…Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you. Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him. As the living Father hath sent me, and I live by the Father: so he that eateth me, even he shall live by me. This is that bread which came down from heaven: not as your fathers did eat manna, and are dead: he that eateth of this bread shall live for ever.”10

In the comedy, Life with Father, Clarence Daye, played by William Powell, had a great line: “If there’s one thing the Church should leave alone, it’s a man’s soul.” Well, as “stewards of the mysteries of God” who must give an account for your souls,11 we simply have to meddle. As much as I still encourage you to make a private confession (and to do so without fear, “early and often”), consider the grace that is offered even in the General Confession that comes up shortly. If you want to appropriate what God offers you in the General Confession followed by the General Absolution, then take time before you come here to ask the Holy Spirit to show to you your own sins, not to be morbid, but in order to make a good and sincere confession. Remember the lesson I had to learn for myself: You are, when you confess, appearing for the prosecution. Jesus, your Advocate and the Propitiation for our sins, has already appeared for you. He appeared for you on the cross. He everliveth to make intercession for you at the right hand of God. 12 Finally, to summarize the responsibility that stewards of the mysteries of God have within the Church, I quote St. Paul:

“Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new. And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation; To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation. Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ's stead, be ye reconciled to God. For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.”13


  1. Malachi 4:5,6
  2. Luke 1:16, 17
  3. vs. 13, 14
  4. I Kings 18:36, 37
  5. Isaiah 9:6, 7, I Corinthians 15:45f
  6. I Tim. 3:5
  7. John 20:22, 23
  8. Leviticus 17:11, Isaiah 53:12
  9. I Corinthians 10:16
  10. John 6:51-59
  11. Hebrews 13:17
  12. Hebrews 7:25
  13. II Corinthians 5:17-21

Friday, December 05, 2014

Second Sunday in Advent

Romans 15:4-13 * Luke 21:25-33

Taking a cue from the opening of today’s Epistle, and the last line from today’s Gospel, and of course the Collect, this Sunday has come to be called Bible Sunday.   The Collect speaks of two things, one being the obligation of each one of us concerning the Holy Scriptures to “hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them;” the other being the work of the Holy Spirit as he uses those scriptures to grow patience and comfort within us, so to keeps us along the path to eternal life in Jesus Christ our Lord. And, if we think about the Epistle and Gospel for this day, we find that hope, the same that our Prayer Book calls “the sure and certain hope of the resurrection unto eternal life.”

Recently, someone questioned me on why we refer to hope of the resurrection; after all, we hope for things that may never happen. I must disagree; we may wish for things that will never happen; but, hope cannot exist in such wishes. Or we may hope for things that might happen, but might not. However, to emphasize the meaning of hope as it relates to faith, we clarify our meaning with the words “sure and certain.” This comes from the Epistle to the Hebrews:

"Wherein God, willing more abundantly to shew unto the heirs of promise the immutability of his counsel, confirmed it by an oath: That by two immutable things, in which it was impossible for God to lie, we might have a strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before us: Which hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast, and which entereth into that within the veil."


(Hebrews 6: 17-19)


It is clear that St. Paul never separated hope from faith, and never separated either of those from charity. The virtues grow together, and hope depends on faith. Hope believes, and love works; faith hopes and charity labors. What feeds us in our sure and certain hope is the word of God. Faith grows within us when hear that particular voice, the voice of God that we discern so clearly as he speaks to us now within the scriptures. They cannot become irrelevant. Written so long ago, when they are spoken or read God himself speaks in the present. Never are they worn out.

People have asked about the Holy Scriptures, when were they put together? One very unfortunate mark of our times is the quickness with which misinformation becomes “common knowledge.” Over the last few years some con artists have discovered that one way to make a lot of money in a hurry is to write a sensational, wholly misleading but shocking thesis about the Bible or Christian Faith in general, and then sell it directly to the public. The more revolutionary it is, the better. The more shocking, the more blasphemous, above all the more sensational, the easier it is to draw attention to it, and get it promoted on TV. We have seen these sensational works, all claiming to be a challenge to the Christian Faith, each make its rise and fall before burning out entirely. 

One very important point about that whole new industry is that none of these authors presents the shocking alleged discovery in the truly scientific arena of the academic world. If they did, they could not make the same amount of money overnight- or ever. If these shocking “discoveries” were put through the genuine process of scientific analysis they would die a quick death and be forgotten, and no one would get to make a killing. As a result of the sensational, irresponsible and unprofessional, thoroughly unscientific misinformation that has been thrown in the face of the public for the last few years, several people think that the bishops of the Church assembled in Nicea and began cutting books out of the Bible. Most of the people who believe this also think the Emperor Constantine was driving the agenda of the Council of Nicea in 325.

A few facts help to clean up this utter fiction. Even though he was the Emperor, and even though the Christians of that time knew that the Edict of Milan in 313 AD had ended two and a half centuries of persecution (a virtual Holocaust that had made the earliest times of the Church a bloodbath), and even though they knew that he had the authority to return to the older laws that had made Christianity an offense punishable by death and revive them, he was not given the power to run the Council of Nicea. When the Council met and the Emperor presumed to address the bishops of the Church, they told him that he was not allowed to address the assembled bishops of Christ’s Church. Basically, they told Caesar, the Emperor Constantine to whom they owed so much, to sit down and be quiet.

Now, about the Bible, the bishops at the Council of Nicea did not go about deciding which books were scripture, and which were not. All they did was to affirm in unity of mind that the books already perceived to be the Word of God were, indeed, just that. The Old Testament was not the issue at all, because it was declared to be the Word of God by no less a Person than the Living Word of God. These books had been received by the Jewish people for centuries, and were passed on to the Church with sure and certain authority. The process of recognizing these books was, by all accounts, the vox populi of the Jews. The Jewish people knew in what books to find that distinctive voice of God, and so it was that when Jesus Christ walked the earth and referred to the scriptures, in every synagogue of the Jews were those specific scrolls that formed the common library for all of them. We see in Luke that he read from the scroll of the prophets, reading from Isaiah and saying that scriptures spoke of none other but himself, Messiah and hope of the world.

In the earliest days of the Church this Old Testament formed the only Canon of scripture. But, by the early years of the second century we find that twenty-seven additional books were already received and quoted as the word of God; these twenty seven books forming an additional Canon of scripture. These books are the New Testament. In some places a few questions were raised about II Peter, Jude and Revelation. But, over time the little bit of skepticism about them disappeared. In a few places some people thought that The Shepherd of Hermas might be part of the Canon of the scriptures of the Church. But, long before the Council of Nicea in 325, the Church had defined its Canon as the books we have now, adding to the Jewish scriptures it had inherited only the twenty-seven books we call the New Testament. Again, as it had been among Israel, when the scriptures were received and recognized vox populi, so it was with the Church of Christ and the canon of the New Testament. There were no books for the bishops to delete, but rather a Canon already established before any of them had been born.

Now, why was The Shepherd of Hermas not among the books of this Canon? Again, by that same vox populi that, by the principle of whether or not the people of God recognized the voice of God, this book had not been under serious consideration. Simply put, our fathers among the Jews and the early Christians simply did not hear the clear and familiar voice of God in any other books as they heard it in the scriptures. They knew the voice of God in the Law, the Prophets, the Wisdom Literature and the Psalms. And, the Church knew that same voice of God in the four Gospels, the Epistles and the prophecy of St. John the Revelator. They did not hear it as the voice of God in other books (not that most of them were ever aware of the many Gnostic writings given so much undue attention by today’s money making sensation mongers).

St. Paul tells us about the high regard we must give to the Old Testament in today’s Epistle: “Whatsoever things were written afore time were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.” 

Think of that history of Israel, from the calling of Abraham to the coming of Jesus Christ who died for our sins and rose again, the history of one people who were never allowed to give themselves over to sin and so be lost among the many pagan nations that served false gods. A people constantly purified by the prophet’s words, and many times by purging and suffering, given to captivity in Babylon but returned to their home after seventy years never to fall again into the worship of idols. They were a people so purified that among them was found one young virgin who echoed the faith and obedience of Abraham, and more perfectly than the ancient patriarch himself. 

Written aforetime was not only this history of the people through whom the Word, Jesus our Lord, would be incarnate, but the predictions made by the prophets of his life, his death on the cross, and his rising again. We all need to read the Book of Isaiah about the Suffering Servant by whose stripes we are healed, and who prolonged his days after dying, that he would live forever as the agent of the Lord’s will. We read of his suffering through the words of King David who foresaw the agonies of the Lord’s crucifixion, able to predict them in the first person as though suffering with him. We read also, in the words of this prophet king, of the joy of the resurrection of our Lord whose death was so brief a thing that he never saw corruption.

The Gospel today also gives us this hope, for the Lord himself assures us that his coming again will be our redemption, and that the fears and darkness of this age will disappear in the light of his glory. We are told to lift up our heads, not to look down and hang our heads. His coming, his rule over heaven and earth, the cleansing of this world from all evil, from death and suffering, and all such things that will be no more, are sure and certain. And, if instead of comfort this fills your heart with fear, then consider that fear with genuine care. It means that you must cast off the works of darkness and out on the armor of light, repent from all your sins and turn to the Lord that you may enter that blessed state of sure and certain hope, and be strengthened by the Holy Spirit.

Does the voice of God fill you with hope or with dread? I hope it does one or the other. For, anyone to be indifferent to these words is the only real danger. As our Lord said in his parable of Lazarus and the rich man, “If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.”1 Our Lord told the Church of the Laodiceans, “I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth.”2 Indifference to the word of God is a danger beyond any other, closing the ears that they cannot hear. But, even if the word brings dread, this too leads to comfort and hope since the Holy Spirit uses what you hear to bring you to repentance, true repentance from the heart, and to faith in Jesus Christ. May God grant ears to hear, eyes to see and a heart to understand, that each one who has been lost may turn and be healed. 3

The Epistle today speaks of Christ’s ministry first to his own people of Israel, and his ministry through those people of Israel that believed in him and became his disciples as it extends to all nations.

“Now I say that Jesus Christ was a minister of the circumcision for the truth of God, to confirm the promises made unto the fathers: and that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy; as it is written, For this cause I will confess to thee among the Gentiles, and sing unto thy name. And again he saith, Rejoice, ye Gentiles, with his people. And again, Praise the Lord, all ye Gentiles; and laud him, all ye people. And again, Isaiah saith, There shall be a root of Jesse, and he that shall rise to reign over the Gentiles; In him shall the Gentiles trust.”

This brings to mind the words of Simeon, that he spoke when he held Jesus as an infant: “A light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel.” 4 This light and this glory has been known to the world because it is the purpose of God to shine the light of Christ into every dark place. Into the darkness of pagan dread and superstition, into the darkness of ignorance and foolishness, into the darkest places of sin and death. This glorious light of Christ shines into the darkest places where we try to hide from God due to our own sins; and if we respond to his mercy that same light of revelation brings comfort and hope, the sure and certain hope of the resurrection unto eternal life. The invitation is extended by his word: come, eat and be filled with the food and drink of eternal life. Come feed on the Living Bread that has come down from heaven, and with hearty and true faith to receive Christ, through these humble means, unto everlasting life with him in glory.

“Now the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that ye may abound in hope, through the power of the Holy Ghost.”
_____________________
1. Luke 16:31
2. Revelation 3:15, 16
3. From Isaiah 6:9


4. Luke 2:32

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Who needs Canterbury?

Was there any doubt that the Church of England would vote to have women "bishops" from now on? How is the C of E really any different from the Episcopal "Church" here in the United States, other than certain particular cultural traits of the English and the C's Establishment (i.e., as the State Church)? Nonetheless, we see the phenomenon of some people in the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) openly trumpeting communion with Canterbury as some sort of advantage, as if it provides a superior status of some kind, making them the authentic Anglicans. We see the phenomenon of the Reformed Episcopal Church (REC) apparently delighted finally, since its birth in the 1870s, to have a connection to the See of Canterbury. 

Continuing Anglicans did initially seek to begin their venture hoping to be in communion with Canterbury. In the Affirmation of St. Louis, back in 1977, we find this:

"The Continuation of Communion with Canterbury
We affirm our continued relations of communion with the See of Canterbury and all faithful parts of the Anglican Communion. WHEREFORE, with a firm trust in Divine Providence, and before Almighty God and all the company of heaven, we solemnly affirm, covenant and declare that we, lawful and faithful members of the Anglican and Episcopal Churches, shall now and hereafter continue and be the unified continuing Anglican Church in North America, in true and valid succession thereto."


Then Archbishop of Canterbury, Donald Coggan, strongly opposed the new Continuing Church, and gave it no recognition. As a result, the Continuers went ahead without any official status as part of the Anglican Communion. Frankly, forced to choose between orthodoxy and Anglican Communion membership, it was clear that genuine fidelity to Christ required the willingness to forego that membership. After a while, it became obvious that this estrangement was beneficial to the Continuing churches. The Anglican Catholic Church even went so far as to add this note to the original Affirmation of St. Louis:  

"[Note: Because of the action of General Synod of the Church of England, Parliament, and the Royal Assent, the College of Bishops of the Anglican Catholic Church is obliged no longer to count the See of Canterbury as a faithful part of the Anglican Communion.]"

The operative word is "faithful," both in the original and in the note. To preserve Church order and the validity of Holy Orders, the separation proved necessary. Perhaps there exists a failure of communication between us and the ACNA. You see, we are glad not to be in communion with Canterbury. If we were offered communion with Canterbury we would decline it, as in "Thanks, but no thanks."

The ACNA, on the other hand (which still has Priestesses in the Church, though we hope, and pray, not for long), has held communion with Canterbury as worth having. And this comes at a time when the Anglican Communion is falling apart, due largely to the refusal of African churches to participate in future Lambeth Conferences. For most of those African Anglicans, the final straw has been the liberal acceptance of homosexual acts, something very clearly revealed to be sin in the Scriptures. 

Perhaps, under political pressure, someday in the future, the Church of England will go the way of the Church of Sweden, where the clergy are required by law to perform same-sex "weddings." I have no doubt that right here, in my adopted state of North Carolina, the local Episcopalians will be performing same-sex "weddings" and feeling all warm and fuzzy about how liberal and advanced they have become. The See of Canterbury has watched for years the Episcopalians, trailing only slightly behind them into heresy and apostasy. 

Back in the beginning, the Continuers saw that ordination of women was simply the latest symptom, and one that required separation to protect sacramental validity. The arguments that were used for women's ordination were not merely similar to the arguments for acceptance of homosexual acts, leading to same-sex "blessings" and now "weddings," but largely the very same arguments. Just substitute a word here and there, and it all boils down to the same reasoning. Where did it begin? By believing that a person's sex (not "gender"- the word is "sex"- as in male and female) was totally irrelevant to anything sacramental. So, it went from ordination to marriage. The confusion of seeing a woman "priest" at the altar, portraying the heavenly Bridegroom, and seeing two people of the same sex get "married" to each other, may be different in degree, but it is the same in kind. The C of E, with its priestesses and bishopettes, is just a little behind the Episcopalians here in America. It is only a matter of time, as always.

What is the Anglican Communion anyway? Was the Episcopal Church part of something called the Anglican Communion in the late eighteenth century? How about during the War of 1812? Historically, the Anglican Communion is a very recent thing.

I would urge my friends in the ACNA, including those in the REC, to cut themselves free from the weight of it. Of my charity, I wish they would take several pages from our book. One of those pages says we don't need communion with the See of Canterbury. No orthodox church body does. In fact, no orthodox church body can afford the price that comes with it.