Friday, August 18, 2017

Tenth Sunday after Trinity


1 Corinthians 12:1-11 * Luke 19:41-47a
"...thou knewest not the time of thy visitation."

In the Gospel we see the Lord himself entering His city and His temple, present in a very direct way, cleansing and purifying His Father's house. The city belonged to Him in a special way, His chosen city, the place of the throne of David that signifies the Lord's own eternal rule. The temple was the chosen place for His abiding Presence in the Holy of Holies, where the Blood of Atonement was carried within the veil and sprinkled once a year, and where no one but the High Priest dared to go, and never without that Blood of Atonement shed on Yom Kippor. The City was always the place of the Temple, the abiding place of His glorious Presence.

          And, yet, even though the abiding Presence of God was there, Jesus speaks of His arrival at that hour as their time of visitation. The opening of this passage is sober: "And when he was come near, he beheld the city, and wept over it, saying, If thou hadst known, even thou, at least in this thy day, the things which belong unto thy peace! but now they are hid from thine eyes."
          The Epistle speaks also of the abiding Presence of God in His temple, that is, in His Church. And, it speaks, also, of Christ's visitation in this, the living temple of His people. For, Christ Himself is present whenever and wherever the Holy Spirit is present. In the Church we have always the Presence of Christ with us. He is with us by the abiding Presence of His Holy Spirit. By that abiding Presence He makes His Presence known further by charismatic realities.
          The word "charisma" is the New Testament Greek word (χάρις- charis) that is translated both as "grace" and as "gift." When we say that something is charismatic, we do not mean, necessarily, that it is exciting or spectacular. Neither are we speaking, necessarily, about what was called, or is called, the Charismatic Movement. We speak, rather, of the graces or gifts of the Holy Spirit, doing so by using an English form of a word from the original language of the New Testament.
          We hear a lot and read a lot about the charismatic reality of the sacraments, and of the mystery of His Presence in the sacrament of His Body and Blood. That sacrament is one of the charisms or charismata, one of the gifts that operates in His Church, in this case through the ordained ministry of the priesthood. The Presence of Christ's Body and Blood in the sacrament comes from the abiding Presence of the Holy Spirit in the Church; it is, in that proper and true sense, charismatic.
          This chapter from St. Paul's First Epistle to the Church in Corinth ties all of these realities together. Christ is, by the Holy Spirit, always present in His Church; His is the abiding Presence. And, yet, each time He uses a member of His Body, the Church, He comes to us with a visitation. We can receive and acknowledge Christ our Lord, as He comes to us through the various members of His Body, the Church, or we can fail to know the hour, the time of our visitation. We can be reverent about His Body as He is present in the sacrament, and yet be irreverent toward His Body, the Members of that same Body who surround us here and now, the people sharing this room with us, Christ's Body the Church. When you stand in the presence of another member of His Body, you are faced with the hour of visitation. How will you respond?
       Perhaps you might see, even now, why St. Paul followed this chapter, chapter twelve, with the famous chapter thirteen about that highest kind of love, the love we call charity:

"Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal...And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity." (from I Corinthians 13)
                 We have not even begun to learn the lesson in today's Epistle. We may talk for hours about the Real Presence in the Eucharist, even debating various fine points of sacramental theology. In this chapter twelve, St. Paul tells us that the Church is the Body of Christ, that the members of the Church are the members of His Body. Paul places this in a very significant context: Between chapter eleven about the sacrament of Holy Communion, and chapter thirteen about charity, the love without which we are nothing, and without which we would be counted dead while we live.
          In this chapter Paul teaches us that the gifts and graces God gives, without which each one of us is incomplete and terribly needy, are given to the people who surround us right now, in these members of the same Body, the Body of Christ. Metaphorically, and also somehow quite truly, you may be an ear, another may be a hand or a foot, unable to function all alone; and we all need what the other members have been given by the Holy Spirit. We depend on each other, we need each other. What we need is not each other's faults and failings; we need to be forgiving of those, because what we need are those gifts of the Holy Spirit God has placed even in the least comely of members.
          We have different passages in the New Testament where gifts of the Holy Spirit are listed, and no two lists are the same. The possibilities are endless, because it is God who works in His Church according to His will. But, you may rest assured that you can afford to be hateful and resentful of absolutely nobody in your congregation, and of nobody in the Church; you can afford to be unfriendly to no one. Each member of the Body presents you with a visitation from Christ.
          Furthermore, we cannot afford for any of you to miss your calling, to ignore the gifts of the Holy Spirit that have been given to you for our common good, and to further the witness of this parish in our common mission to spread the good news of the Kingdom of God. You must not become lukewarm in your commitment to Christ and His Church, or turn away from it. You were given gifts for our benefit, even if you have yet to discover them.
          I like to point out to those who study for Confirmation that C.S. Lewis wrote about the sacrament of Confirmation in his book, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. In the chapter where the children meet Father Christmas, he gives them gifts; but these gifts are not toys; they are not given for the amusement and fun of the children. For example, Peter, in the story, is given a special sword to help win the battle to liberate Narnia, and Lucy is given a flask of liquid to use for healing. That is, the gifts are given to each of the children not to use for themselves, and not just for fun, but to use for a common war effort against evil, and for the benefit, indeed the healing, of others. That is a picture of the gifts of the Holy Spirit.
          To know this, the time of our visitation from Christ, we need to see the gifts that flourish from the abiding Presence of the Lord. We need always to see each other in the light of Christ, quick to forgive and always motivated by love. Indeed, if ever we wax ignorant of Satan’s devices we could develop a thousand reasons not to love one another; and we could not afford to yield to even one of them. We need always to walk in charity, because, as much as we need to have reverence for the Presence of Christ in the Holy Sacrament, we need no less to have reverence for Christ in the members of His Body the Church--indeed, your own church, right here and right now.


Tuesday, August 15, 2017

A passing thought

Jesus told us how to live, most clearly in the Sermon on the Mount. A rather "solid Anglican" explained to me the other day why he wouldn't obey part of it. All I can say to that is, stop wasting time in religious hypocrisy; why not rather just spend your the time in honest sinning and unbelief?

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Ninth Sunday after Trinity

                        To read the sermon click on the picture

Saturday, August 05, 2017

The Transfiguration of Christ


 


II Peter 1:13-18  * Luke 9:28-36
It became trendy in the later part of the twentieth century to infuse the word "religion" with negative meaning. People were accused of being "religious" back then, in some church groups implying something less then genuine and sincere. It appears that this trend has only gotten worse, with some of the entertainment minded churches afraid to exhibit crosses, afraid even to be called "churches," opting instead for the designation "worship centers." In these "worship centers" there may be very little worship, but a lot of musical performance. Among the worst of these in recent years was the "Seeker Sensitive" movement, in which the Gospel had no cross and God had no glory.

            When we look at the Gospel for this Feast of the Transfiguration, we cannot appreciate its depths if we fear those things which are specifically "religious" in its presentation. Christ our Lord was on the mountain, a place that for Jews symbolized the revelation of God, going all the way back to Moses. It was as He was in prayer that He was transfigured. This is very important. For, the chief reason why trendy Christians step away from their perception of "religion" has everything to do with a hesitation to embrace and love that most important of all doctrines, that central revelation of God, the Incarnation. 

            They fear the sacraments, specifically the Blessed Sacrament of the Altar, the Communion with the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. In all of their very sincere love for Jesus, there comes a point, nonetheless, when they have a very difficult time with those aspects of our faith that involve the senses of taste, touch, seeing, and hearing. Any honorable mention given to the Blessed Virgin mother of our Lord is, for them, uncomfortable. They profess belief in the two natures of Jesus Christ, that He is both Fully God and fully Man in One Person; but in every practical way, they fear and step back from the full implications of what that means. They fear to come close, fearing all of the echoes and ripples of what it means that "the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us." They confuse the implications of this, and misunderstand those things as if they were some sort of idolatry.

            But I say these things for your sake, that you will never fear to embrace the saving revelation that "the Word was made flesh and pitched the tent of His human nature among us." I say these things so that you will be liberated in your heart to come close to Christ as He is known and revealed. I say this, because of how Saint John (one of those three apostles who are part of today’s Gospel reading) described what the Church truly is, and what it shall continue to be for all time until Christ returns on the Last Day. In the opening of his first Epistle, the Beloved Disciple wrote:

“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)

            You see, the fear is that worshiping Someone Whom eyes could see, hands could touch and ears could hear must be some form of idolatry. Let me help you by being very clear. Once you know that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh, it is idolatry to worship only a god whom we cannot see. Idolatry is to worship the images we ourselves make from our own minds, and therefore, it is to worship a god who is not the One known by the revelation He gives of Himself. 

            We, who would bow down at the feet of the Man Jesus, should He walk into this room right now, would not be idolaters. But, a Unitarian, worshiping his notion of a god that is pure of such "adulteration" as the taking of human nature into Himself, can worship only an idol of the human mind, a god who did not reveal himself. His god may very well be a creation of the doctrines of demons, or simply a fantasy. But either way, such a god is not known by revelation, but by imagination. However, our God is not confined to heaven. The true God revealed Himself, most perfectly by taking human nature into the Divine Person of the only and eternally begotten Son of the Everlasting Father.

            This is why we are not afraid to, as the hymn says, "touch and handle things unseen"- nor even to look upon visible things that both effect and signify what is invisible. We are not afraid of holy water, or visible representations such as icons and crosses. We do not treat the Blessed Virgin Mother, through Whom God the Son received His human nature, as some sort of outcast. Furthermore, we know that the bread and wine that will be placed upon this altar today, will be taken into the Person of the Son of God, and given back to us as "the spiritual food of the most precious Body and Blood of...our Saviour Jesus Christ." And, as the Apostle John wrote, we will look upon, and our hands will handle the Word of Life. In this way, you will have fellowship with the Church of the Apostles, and in that fellowship you will have fellowship with God the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ, "that your joy may be full.”

            On the Mount of Transfiguration, which Saint Peter called "the holy mount"- itself a phrase showing the effect of the presence of the incarnate Lord upon all creation- what the Apostles saw was not actually the Divine Nature itself, because that remains invisible to the eyes of every created thing. What they saw was the Shekinah, the manifest Glory of God. They saw a manifestation of our ultimate hope, theosis. They saw that human nature itself is transformed by the presence of God; a certain kind of blindness, that protects the eyes of our yet fallen and imperfect humanity, was removed for a brief glimpse of deified human nature. Christ’s human nature was revealed to be glorious, because in His Person He is fully God. Because of God's human nature in Christ, our transformed and resurrected human nature is destined to be glorified by grace when we partake - κοινωνός  (koinōnos) - of the divine nature.

            In the Transfiguration of our Lord we see our hope, and we see why we need have no fear of death. Christ let His disciples see why His coming death should not fill them with dread. How strange that in this scene, while shining with the light of His glory, the Lord speaks to Moses and Elijah about the death He would accomplish at Jerusalem. Notice, His death would be His own to give. 

            This was Luke’s way of telling us the same thing that Jesus told us, as St. John wrote; That no Man took Christ's life away; He laid it down freely, and freely took it again (John 10:17,18). In speaking of His death to Moses, Christ showed that He was going to fulfill all the Law, and be the One Who dies for us, to forever take away all our sins; that in dying He would fulfill the types and shadows of every sacrifice ever offered on the Old Testament altars. In speaking with Elijah, He showed that He is the fulfillment and subject of prophecy itself. It is He of Whom Moses and the prophets spoke. And, in this scene on the holy mountain, it is He of Whom the Father speaks: "This is my Beloved Son; hear Him."

            I want the words of this sermon to ring in your ears, because my desire for you is that you never fear to come close and touch the Lord; that you never fear to live within the fellowship of the Church, and by that, within the fellowship of God the Father and of His Son Jesus Christ; that your joy may be full.


And now, unto God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Ghost, be ascribed, as is most justly due, all might, majesty, dominion, glory and power, now and forever. Amen



Fr. Laurence Wells  "Bulletin Insert"



Here we are, in the dog days of summer and nearly half way through the long season of Trinity (the “Trinity Trek”), celebrating the mysterious feast of our Lord’s Transfiguration.  That word means a change of appearance and refers to what Matthew, Mark and Luke all tell us, that “his countenance was altered, and his raiment was white and glistering.”  This happened while Jesus was praying by night on a certain mountain, alone with Peter, James and John. 



This vision of Christ in glory (which Peter later insisted was no “cunningly devised fable” but an event to which he was an eye-witness) sounds almost like one of the appearances of the Lord after His resurrection.  But all three Synoptic Gospels insist that this took place during the course of His earthly Galilean ministry (just as we celebrate it in the rather dull season of Trinity).



One detail which sets this event apart is that all three Evangelists made an unusual effort to date it within the narrative.  Luke says “about eight days after.”  After what, we have to ask.  The preceding event must be important, since the Gospels are mostly vague about the time-sequence of events.



The Transfiguration follows, after the interval of a week, upon the critical event of Peter’s great confession, which is the hinge episode of the Gospels, the great turning point of Jesus’ ministry before His Passion.  “Who do men say that I am?  Who do ye say that I am?  Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.”



Now, before they have caught their breath, the outspoken Peter and the two ambitious brothers James and John , who aspired to high position in the king-dom, are allowed to see a vision of exactly Who Jesus Is.  While this is a momentary change in His appearance, it is no change in His person or nature, but a sudden revelation of His deity, as the eternal Son or Word of the Father. 

In this vision He is conversing with two personages of long ago, Moses and Elijah, who represent the Law and the Prophets, the Scriptures of the Old Testament.



Peter (who still has some learning to do) devoutly proposes that they build three tabernacles or booths) in which Jesus, Moses and Elijah might be enshrined.  But at that suggestion, Moses and Elijah disappear and Jesus is left alone with His disciples.  The heavenly voice repeats the statement uttered at His baptism: “This is my beloved Son,” but adds the command, “hear Him.” 



In Jesus Christ, in His humility and His glory, we see Someone far greater than Moses and Elijah or any other “hero of the faith.” He is unique.  Therefore in His presence we are commanded to hold our tongues, to give up our own religious ideas, and to obey.                                    LKW



The Transfiguration of Our Lord

 

 



Re-Posted from August 6, 2008
A sermon by Bishop Joel Marcus Johnson, Rector of St. Andrew's in Easton, and Bishop Ordinary of the Diocese of the Chesapeake.
The Lesson: Exodus 34:29
The Psalm: 27, Dominus Illuminatio
The Epistle: II St. Peter 1:13
The Holy Gospel: St. Luke 9:28
+In the Name of God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. Amen.
Poor Peter. He had to decide which mountain he wanted most, whether Mount Tabor or Mount Calvary. As James and John went with him to Jesus’ prayers on Mount Tabor, the brothers still were smarting from the fresh humiliation of their mother having begged Jesus for thrones to be bestowed upon them; they were in no position to side with Peter in his argument against the Lord’s revelation to the twelve of his impending Passion. Fervent in denial, Peter’s expectations were heightened on the suddenly fashionable Tabor.
As the Lord Jesus prayed there, he was transfigured, or, as Matthew and Mark put it in the Greek, he was metamorphosed. Their description of Jesus’ altered countenance was so intense that King James’ word smiths had to coin a term to describe it: glistering.
Understand, this was no miracle, but the sighting of the Lord’s normal appearance, the veil of his humanity momentarily lifted; the robe of flesh clothing the Word who had chosen to be numbered among the transgressors here parted to reveal Very God. No, there was no light shining upon Jesus, but his deity radiating from within. This was how Moses and Elias had seen Jesus, the vision glorious which they had known in him.
Then, just as the Father and the Holy Ghost had joined Jesus at the beginning of his public ministry, at his Baptism, so now did they join him at its close, the Three Persons of the Holy and Undivided Trinity revealed in the same place and time. The Father again spoke from heaven of his pleasure in the Only-Begotten Son; and just as the Holy Ghost had appeared at the Jordan mikvah as a dove, so now did he come in the cloud to be present with this holy Jesus, whom these prophets had known intimately through the Spirit’s vision bestowed upon them.
Why in particular was Jesus joined by Moses and Elias? Simply said, it is because he was the fulfillment of everything they had taught: the Messiah, the Chosen One of Israel whom they had known through the revelation of the Holy Ghost, Moses having delivered the Law, Elias the chief of the prophets. But if you want it said a little more complex, they were ‘types’ of the Messiah. By ‘type’, I do not mean they were sort of or kind of like messiahs, but that by their beings and teachings they had ‘resembled’ one like them but so much greater. God had revealed this much to Moses: "I will raise them up a Prophet from among their brethren, like unto thee, and will put my words in his mouth; and he shall speak unto them all that I shall command him." (Deuteronomy 18:18)
Moses, in the closing moments of his leadership, participated in the most telling prophecy yet of the Saviour, when instructed by God to strike the rock which had followed them. "Hear now, ye rebels; must we fetch you water out of this rock? And Moses lifted up his hand, and with his rod he smote the rock twice: and the water came out abundantly...." (Numbers 20:10) Now, this rock actually was the presence of Christ among the people of Israel, the water from it the symbol of his precious blood. We know this because St. Paul teaches us, "[They] all drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of that spiritual rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ." (I Corinthians 10:4)
There is a very peculiar fact about the water from that rock. It is described by a strange Hebrew word, which transliteratesmeribah, translating as the water of strife, or the water of contradiction. It bespeaks the never ceasing stream of grace from God to his people, even in their most rebellious and contentious moments against him.
Elias, Elijah if you prefer, was known as the chief and greatest of prophets, and especially because he was drawn up into heaven by a flaming chariot via a whirlwind. Many Jews (and remember that Judaism, then as now, was a multi-sectarian religion) considered Elias to have been a prophet in a sense so great that he was a messiah, and who, because he departed this world alive, could return alive. Some Jews today believe he will return again. In fact, there is even a Christian tradition that he will precede Christ’s return, his purpose to convert the Lord’s own Jewish people, and then their rabbis!
The Archangel Gabriel would comfort old Zacharias by likening his son St. John Baptist to Elias: "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." (St. Luke 1:16) You may recall, in fact, that the priests and levites thought John to be Elias returned. (St. John 1:19)
So now, can you imagine how raced the hearts of Peter, James and John? You would have thought that on the holy mount they had learned so much of the Cross when hearing God in Christ, with the Law and the Prophets, speaking of "his decease," of his redemption of the world; and of the joyous joining there of the Father and the Holy Ghost! I must believe that the brothers, the sons of Zebedee, had taken it in, because merely a few years would pass after Jesus "decease" that the courageous James would be the first Apostle to witness for the Lord Jesus in martyrdom; and John, seasoned by time so many years later, would receive the apocalyptic Revelation. You and I know that Peter would wholly understand these things only after Jesus’ Passion and Resurrection, and especially at Pentecost.
But, my beloved, not today. As I have told you that Peter was fervent to deny Jesus’ foretelling of his Passion, his expectations for a bloodless Christianity were heightened on this day. And I have told you also that Peter was torn over which mountain to choose: The romantic garden spot of Tabor, or the stinking, blood-sodden rot of Calvary, where, by an old Jewish myth, was buried the skull of Adam.
So Peter desperately appeals to his seeming fatalistic Lord to build three shrines here, for each of the nobility in the cloud. He thinks he can prompt God in Christ into self-aggrandizement. Satan has tried this before, hasn’t he? And Jesus had called Peter ‘Satan’ in another event, hadn’t he? "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." (St. Matthew 16:23)
No way the Cross! Peter wants a bloodless Christianity, a religion vacant of struggle against sin and the way of death. He wants a religion of Mount Tabor, not a religion of Mount Calvary.
The unconverted spirit of the old Peter is alive and well today, in the Church of Social Cachet, the Church of Sentimental Footsteps Carrying Us on the Beach, in the Church of The Success Culture, and in the Church of Sexual License and Better Bowling Scores: Such as these Jesus calls the church of the whited sepulchre, the churches "that be of men." It is a Mount Tabor Christianity with benign shrines. But the religion to which Jesus Christ, the Son of God, calls us is that of Mount Calvary.
You see on Mount Tabor what you should want to see forever, the radiance of his face (....it’s all right, go ahead, look at him in Cimabüe’s crucifix over the altar, gaze into his loving eyes), that face which in weeks after Tabor will bear the thorny crown of ignominy, soon to be "sore wounded"; spattered with blood beaten out of him by the Roman guards, the same blood’s Real Presence on our Altar this holy day and every Sunday, each Sunday a little Easter. And look today on his glistering raiment, because you won’t see it on Mount Calvary, stripped away to reveal him, in Wesley’s words inspired by St. Paul, "robed in flesh, our great high priest," that flesh which had been the tabernacle of his divinity, which had come among us, full of Grace and Truth.
You know how I am forever telling you that your religion must be as intensely practical as it is mystical. As with all else, even the Transfiguration of Our Lord must speak to your heart.
Mine? On August 6, 1963, I paused for a few days at The Abbey of St. John the Baptist at Collegeville, Minnesota. (I know the arithmetic is a mystery to you young people, who have always known that I am only thirty-nine years old.) In those days, St. John’s was the most populous Benedictine monastery in the world. Well, I was en route to my undergraduate experience in Chicago and needed a few days of prayer. So, at the Abbey on this day, the Feast of The Transfiguration of Our Lord, I thought to myself: Goodness, it looks more like Easter, so decked out in flowers and lights, ebullient to the ear in joyous chant!
I asked my old friend the choirmaster, Fr. Gerard Farrell, of blessed memory, how this could be. And he replied in such a way that I was reminded of the passage from the Revelation to St. John which we always read on All Saints’ Day. "These are they," he began, "who’ve seen death beyond measure, and who’ve fled to Jesus, because they know he’s the only one who can make sense out of Calvary, to know the one who died there, who’s still alive."
Well, you know, I was a kid, and I’d thought every monk was some kind of world-wise sophisticate like Thomas Merton. But Fr. Gerard explained to me that most of the monks were farmers or common labourers, ordinary people like you and I, who either had enlisted or were drafted into two world wars. For them, there was no Mount Tabor to which to return. They wanted, they lived for, the life-giving religion of Calvary, knowing this is the place from which Jesus saves!
You see, just as Peter would have to decide whether to choose Tabor or Calvary — rather, whether his would be the Christianity of Peter or Jesus — you and I must decide, too. The old Peter’s path is to one hell of a realm of materialism where you fret over the meaningless vintage of your failure to redeem yourself; whereas the other by simple humility and submission will lead you to the royal wine of heaven. Simple as that!
My beloved, given that St. Andrew’s faces some serious days ahead, I tell you we’re going to succeed because we have chosen the right mountain. We will stand some ridicule because we have chosen not to imitate the world’s vision of the Church, but because we have chosen Jesus as Lord and Saviour, and so his salvation and sacrifice as the mission and message of his Church. One day, rich or poor in the world’s sense, we’ll be able to answer to the Lord Jesus in his Day of Judgement.
But listen, as Peter was transformed, so shall we be transformed; Christ changes all things and all persons who come to him. For here’s what Peter wrote years later of the Transfiguration. Please read it aloud, and listen not only for the sublime poetry; but understand this same Jesus can touch your heart, too.
"We had been eye-witnesses of His exaltation. Such honor, such glory was bestowed on Him by God the Father, that a voice came to Him out of splendour which dazzles human eyes. This, it said, is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased..... We, his companions on the holy mountain, heard that voice coming from heaven, and now the word of the prophets gives us more confidence than ever. It is with good reason that you are paying so much attention to that Word: It will go on shining, like a lamp in some darkened room, until the dawn breaks, and the day star rises in your hearts." (II Peter 1:16-19; tr. Ronald Knox.)
+Joel Marcus Johnson, Chesapeake