Friday, November 30, 2018

First Sunday in Advent 2018


Bible illustration by Gustave Dore
Romans13:8-13  *  Matthew 21:1-13
What a confusing choice for today's Gospel, the same reading we have in the Blessing of the Palms on Palm Sunday, before the first Eucharist. What does this have to do with the main theme of Advent; that we must be prepared for the second coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in glory to judge both the quick and the dead? After all, as everyone should know, it is about our own real preparation to come face to face with God. The season is about the Four Last Things, Death, Judgment, Heaven and Hell. Among these, Heaven and Hell take on powerful significance as the Resurrection to immortality, to live and reign with Christ forever, and the resurrection of those who will go into the lake of fire. As the Lord said: "Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, and shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation."1 In light of these themes, it is not enough to be aware of the joy that awaits those who will enter the blessed state of glorification as the sons of God. We must also be aware of the terror of the Lord so as to persuade men,2 including ourselves, to be ready to see Him at all times.  
Several religious leaders from various churches must have voted, about a century or more ago, to close Hell. Like some prisons, it has perhaps become overcrowded, and so nobody else can go there, even though some people are dying to get in. Why else would it sound so strange to hear it mentioned in a sermon-in church of all places? Maybe hell has become the sort of topic, like for example, sin; something that fashionable people just do not discuss in church. The problem is, the ultimate "fire and brimstone" preacher in the Bible is Jesus Christ himself. Yes, St. John the Baptist has a few words to say about it. St. Paul never mentions it directly, though clearly warning about it indirectly. Some theologians want to blunt the effect of every passage that does mention it. If we are to be serious about the words of the Lord Jesus Christ, we must face this subject, namely, the danger of going into the outer darkness "where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched."3
The Greek word for that ultimate hell is Ge'enna (γε’εννα). It refers to a terrible place mentioned in the Old Testament as a site where children were murdered in sacrifice to Molech, the Valley of Ben-Hinnom. It became known as a place associated with the odor of death, always attracting worms. And so, our Lord spoke of it in terms of that final and dreadful verse in the Book of Isaiah: "And they shall go forth, and look upon the carcases of the men that have transgressed against me: for their worm shall not die, neither shall their fire be quenched; and they shall be an abhorring unto all flesh."4
No one need be thrown away, because God "commandeth all men everywhere to repent."5 The Gospel command to repent is also a word of hope. It is centered on the grace of God, and the love of God demonstrated and revealed in the cross of Christ. 6 How simple and yet powerful are those words of St. Paul, "Christ died for our sins."7 In that light, we obey the command to repent, and therefore are filled with joy because he gives us the certain hope of eternal life. "Repent, confess, a thou shalt be loosed from all."8 This alone gives hope. A false gospel of acceptance and inclusion, instead of repentance and forgiveness, cannot comfort anyone's conscience. Nor can it revive a slumbering conscience. The words of today's Epistle tell us how to live our lives in this world in the fear of God, and also in the grace of God. "The night is far spent, the day is at hand: let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light. "
Why are we given this selection from the Gospels? Why this picture of Christ’s triumphal entry into the holy city as the Son of David, the king? and then of his entrance into the temple to cast out the money changers? We understand why this leads to the Passion, and is read at the start of Holy Week when we bless the palms. We understand that other judgment, that in the cross of Christ it was the Prince of this world who was judged and cast out. 9 When we begin Holy Week it makes sense. What, however, does this have to do with the coming again in glory of our Lord Jesus Christ, to judge the quick and the dead? As an event in history, how do we place some meaning of it in the future? as a recorded past event, how does it find its way into eschatology (the study of the End)?
The answer is that, in her wisdom, the Church puts before our eyes this picture of our Lord Jesus Christ, from his first coming, that most closely resembles his second coming. Here the Lord suddenly comes to his temple and cleanses it. We see the Lord cast out from the holy presence, the Shekinah, those who have been living in unrepentant willful sin. The authority of the Lord, to mete out judgment, to evict sinners from his presence, to cleanse, to purge, and to purify, is seen in this Gospel passage. That picture of the same One who also forgave and healed with compassion is set before our eyes. This picture shows the judgment of the Lord; it shows his unique authority as the Word and Son of the Everlasting Father, that power that comes so genuinely from within himself that all of these men felt compelled to obey his voice, and had no power in themselves to resist his words of eviction from the Holy Place. He had no visible army to carry out his commands, no soldiers to enforce his decree; and yet his power was such that no one could resist, and no one could refuse. Just as he had power to cast out demons so that people would not be tormented any longer, so his word with power casts out willful sinners so that they can no longer defile. Yes, this is the best picture we have of the Lord who comes again as Judge.

St. Peter wrote: "For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God: and if it first begin at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God? And if the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear?"10 If we submit to the work of the Holy Spirit among us, we will experience that gentle judgment that saves us here and now. After all, even though St. Peter makes direct reference to the End, that is the Last Day when Christ comes again, and does so with words to place the fear of God in our hearts, he begins with "the time is come." If the message is about "the end" of those who are removed into Ge'enna with its hungry worms and perpetual burnings, what judgment is there that begins now in the house of God? Jesus cast out the works of darkness from the house of God, the temple in Jerusalem, casting out those who had worked that darkness openly and unashamed, and who insulted the holy place no less than the sons of Eli had done long before.11 But, St. Peter urges us with a present hope: "For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God." What is this judgment that must begin now? Pray God, let it be for each one of us the very self-examination that aids those who repent to make a good confession of their sins with all of the sincerity of a heart moved by the Holy Spirit.
What are we planning to do here today? What follows every sermon in a Mass? Before I supply the answer, let us recall that other name, that specifically Anglican name that we give to this service: "The Holy Communion." Other names are good too, such as The Divine Liturgy (the Orthodox name), and the Holy Eucharist. But, I like the Anglican name, The Holy Communion. It was first used to make something very clear to the people of the Church of England, which is that the purpose of the Sacrament of Christ's Body and Blood, is that it be taken and received. The Catechism tells us that two of the sacraments are generally necessary for salvation, Baptism and the Lord's Supper. The purpose of coming here and receiving this Blessed Sacrament is to feed on the Living Bread that comes down from heaven, which if a man eat, he may live forever. Jesus told us that He is the food and drink of eternal life, and to eat his flesh and drink his blood.12 First we make confession of sin based on the self-examination we should make every time; as St.Paul wrote: "But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup."13 It is in that self-examination and the resulting sincere confession, that we prepare for the coming of the Lord right now, that is, his coming to our altar, and then into our very bodies as we eat the bread and drink the cup of eternal life - His flesh and blood. If we live always ready for this Sacrament, we will live always ready to meet the Lord face to face.
In today's Gospel passage, we see important elements of His Second Coming, elements that are true to the Person of the Son of God, the everlasting Son of the everlasting Father. He is the only king and savior. He is the judge “Whose fan is in his hand, and he will thoroughly purge his floor, and gather his wheat into the garner; but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” 14 Judgment will begin at the House of God, until his whole creation is cleansed and purified, made ready for a habitation of his righteousness, a dwelling place of his glory among men. The purpose of a Penitential season is to learn to sharpen and focus our self-examination, the same self-examination that we should do every time we draw near to receive the Body and Blood of Christ. I know that a “feel good” religion is the popular model for success in today’s “spiritual” market; but the only good feeling we should ever trust is that spoken of by the Psalmist: “Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.” 15
To be ready for the last Judgment, we must be willing to let the Holy Ghost cleanse and purify our very selves. Indeed, to prepare for the coming again of Jesus Christ, we must draw near "with hearty repentance and true faith" in order to make a good confession, sincere and resolute of purpose to "walk in newness of life." Indeed, to prepare for the coming again of Jesus Christ, we need do no more, and no less, than we do when we prepare to receive the Communion of His Body and Blood. 16



1. John 5:28, 29
2. II Corinthians 5:11
3. Mark 9:42-50
4. Isaiah 66:24
5. Acts 17:30
6. Romans 5:8
7. I Corinthians 15:3
8 From Weary of Earth and laden with my sin, Hymn 58 in The Hymnal 1940.
9. John 12:31, 32
10. I Peter 4:17, 18
11. I Samuel 2:12f
12. John 6:26-59
13. I Corinthians 11: 29
14. Matthew. 3:12
15. Psalm 32:1
16. I Corinthians 10:16

Saturday, November 17, 2018

25th Sunday after Trinity 2018

(Written and preached on Epiphany V in Arizona back in 2006)


Matt. 13:24-30
Any sermon on today’s Gospel really ought to include the Lord’s interpretation of His own parable:

“Then Jesus sent the multitude away, and went into the house: and his disciples came unto him, saying, Declare unto us the parable of the tares of the field. He answered and said unto them, He that soweth the good seed is the Son of man; The field is the world; the good seed are the children of the kingdom; but the tares are the children of the wicked one; The enemy that sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the world; and the reapers are the angels. As therefore the tares are gathered and burned in the fire; so shall it be in the end of this world. The Son of man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity; And shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth. Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Who hath ears to hear, let him hear (vs. 36-43).”

The plants that are called tares are very much like wheat in appearance, but they lack the nutritional properties of wheat. You can’t eat from these weeds. However, it is very difficult to distinguish with the eye between the tares and true wheat.

When the oldest of my sons was only about six or seven years old, he created his own superhero, one who fought against crime. He told me that his superhero would see the bad guys and kill them. I decided that I ought to teach him principles of law and justice, so I asked a hypothetical question: “Tell me, David. How does he know who is a bad guy just by looking at him?” I saw that he was thinking very hard, as his forehead became wrinkled and his eyes half closed in a squint. Finally, he answered: “He has really good eyesight.” I saw that my attempt to teach a lesson about "the presumption of innocence" until proved guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, was possibly not getting through

And, as we know, the destruction of the ungodly was not the reason why Christ came; He came to call sinners to repentance, as a physician comes to heal the sick. He came not to judge the world, but to save it. He would, as the Lamb of God, take away the sins of the world by going to His cross to pour out His one oblation of Himself once offered; the full, perfect and sufficient sacrifice, oblation and satisfaction for the sins of the whole world. Before that time, He would go about “doing good and healing all who were oppressed of the Devil.” He did not call down fire from heaven upon the Samaritan village that refused Him, as the sons of thunder bade Him to do; He told them they knew not what spirit they were of, for the Son of Man had come to save men’s lives not to destroy them.

In the Old Testament, the worst of the kings of Judah was Manasseh. He practiced idolatry, even the offering of children to Baal, filling Jerusalem with innocent blood, which the Lord would not pardon two generations later. Now, here was a tare that deserved to be uprooted. It is safe to judge, even within the limits of our own human understanding, we can be certain that he was beyond all hope of redemption-can't we?

He was captured and taken into captivity. But, while being held captive, he humbled himself and repented of his sins, and besought God. The Bible says that God forgave him, and restored him to his throne in Jerusalem. Here we read it, in II Chronicles 33:12, 13.

“And when he was in affliction, he besought the LORD his God, and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers, And prayed unto him: and he was intreated of him, and heard his supplication, and brought him again to Jerusalem into his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the LORD he was God.”

No, the Lord does not uproot the wheat in order to destroy the tares. Consider what it would mean if He did. Look at Saint Paul. If ever there was a tare that deserved uprooting, it was the persecutor of the Church, Saul of Tarsus. He had been confident in his own righteousness as a Hebrew of Hebrews, a Pharisee who was, as touching the Law of Moses, blameless. And, the crowning virtue of his righteousness was his zeal that he demonstrated by persecuting the Church. When the Lord Jesus appeared to him, as he approached the Damascus Gate, and was knocked to the ground, Saul learned that his crowning achievement of righteousness was actually the great sin of persecuting none other than Messiah Himself by persecuting His people. What had been in Saul’s mind the seal and mark of his own righteousness, was in reality a filthy rag, a grievous sin. And, at the same moment that he was being made aware of the enormity of his guilt, he was being shown mercy, called from the darkness of ignorance and sin into the light of Christ, and to the righteousness that comes by faith in Him. It is no wonder that this whole theme would dominate the message of what, today, we call Pauline theology. And so it is, this one-time enemy of the Church became Saint Paul the Apostle.

Ah, but if the tares were to be so soon uprooted, then we would have had no Saint Paul.

In the 1960s an obstetrician named Bernard Nathanson performed thousands of abortions. Furthermore, he was one of the people who started the National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL). But, his mind began to resist his own propaganda as his conscience caught up with him. Later he would write, “I came to realize that what I had presided over was thousands of deaths.” Eventually, he wrote Aborting America, and became one of the greatest advocates for the pro-life cause, a defender of the rights of unborn children to be spared, to be allowed to live. Bernard Nathanson was an Atheist, and a mass murderer of unborn children, all in the name of “safe and legal” abortion, a hired assassin under the guise of medicine. If ever there was a tare that deserved to be uprooted, this was the man. We would be safe to judge him so, would we not?

But Christ does not deal with us as our sins deserve. Today Bernard Nathanson is a believing and devout Catholic, and he has saved countless lives by speaking out against abortion, adding a voice that contains thorough authoritative scientific knowledge.

You see, we cannot tell the tares from the wheat, because every saint is a redeemed sinner. If the tares were to be uprooted, none of us would live to repent; the Great Physician would have no sinners to call to repentance. God’s world would be clean and neat and orderly again, and His righteousness vindicated. But, His love did not allow that. Instead He did the very messy thing of coming into the world in the Person of His Son. The Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, took our created nature into His uncreated Person, our temporal nature into His eternity. “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us,” “going about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the Devil,” using His power on earth to forgive sins and giving this power unto men, not dealing with us as our sins deserve, not breaking a bruised reed or quenching a smoking flax. He removed our guilt by removing our sins, and that by bearing them in His own body on the tree of the cross, the Lamb of God slaughtered as our Passover. And, having released us from sin, He freed us from death by rising on the Third day and making Himself seen by witnesses, his chosen martyrs – witnesses - of the resurrection. They, in turn, yielded up their lives to give us the assurance of hope, that we might know of their certainty that they saw Him alive again after His resurrection.

He does not root up the tares lest he root up the wheat with them; for we must come to the knowledge of Christ in order to be freed from sin and death.

Those who believe are “the elect of God, holy and beloved” (as Saint Paul wrote in the Epistle for today). Is there - if I may dare use the word - discrimination to be made between wheat and tares? Yes. We should have a holy fear of God, for on the Last Day at the final judgment, the wheat will be divided from the tares, and the judgment will be rendered. Those who have refused to believe and have clung to their sins will be sent away.

But for now, thank God for His wisdom. For only with His foreknowledge could we know the wheat from the tares; and that foreknowledge is His alone; we cannot share it. He knows a repentant Manasseh, a Saint Paul the Apostle, a Bernard Nathanson champion of the unborn. He alone knows the wheat from the tares. This is something that perhaps even the eyes of angels may not see.

Friday, November 16, 2018

Advent Advice


Every year I urge you to resist the pressures of secular Christmas. I do not mean to say that you should make friends or family feel neglected, but that this is a time of year to remember the two sisters of Lazarus, Martha and Mary. Let us revisit that episode from the Gospel of Luke (10:38-42).

Now it came to pass, as they went, that he entered into a certain village: and a certain woman named Martha received him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, which also sat at Jesus' feet, and heard his word. But Martha was cumbered about much serving, and came to him, and said, Lord, dost thou not care that my sister hath left me to serve alone? bid her therefore that she help me. And Jesus answered and said unto her, Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things: But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her.

          Amid the busy-ness of Christmas, do not neglect your soul, neither the meaning of the season in which “the babe, the world’s Redeemer, first revealed His sacred face.” Do not let cares for many things prevent you from sitting at the feet of Jesus, both at home each day, and in His Church where His people are assembled. We celebrate in this season the love of God manifested. We see the Word made flesh, at once God and man, to save us from sin and death.
          I know that the ancient tradition of Christmas as part of the Church Calendar is not understood even by many modern Christians, especially here in the U.S. The word we use in English speaking countries, “Christmas,” comes from the words the Christ Mass. This draws attention directly to the Holy Communion and the celebration of it together in church. This year, like Mary, remember to choose that good part.

Friday, September 28, 2018

A Call to Cloister?

I re-read today the parting message I addressed to readers of The Continuum nearly 10 years ago, announcing that I was preparing to receive instruction in the Orthodox faith with the goal of being received into the Church of Cyprus. I promised to keep in touch, but have done a very bad job of doing so. It is now nearly nine years since I became Orthodox, with the aim of being nothing more than a common foot soldier in the army of Christ. That is the course that I have followed. And since I retired to my home in the mountains of southern Spain nearly three years ago, I have been gradually withdrawing from the world and dedicating a greater amount of my time to prayer, spiritual reading and meditation. I am writing now to tell you that I am giving serious thought to joining a new regiment, by entering a monastic community. I will spend the first two weeks of November as a guest at St Tikhon of Zadonsk monastery in Pennsylvania, after which I hope to finally come to a decision about whether a life is community is for me. I will also, obviously, be examining whether St Tikhon's might be the right place for me, and giving them a chance to think about whether they would like me to join them. I ask your prayers that the Holy Spirit make manifest to me and all those concerned what His will is for us. Yours in Christ, Albion (Ilias) Land

Friday, August 24, 2018

The Samaritan

This is not to be treated lightly. As God on his throne in heaven, equal to the Father and the Holy Spirit, the Son could not be harmed by man's malice. But, as a man, we see Jesus demonstrating the love of God through his human nature, actually suffering injustice, cruelty and pain; and he responded by forgiving and praying for his persecutors. This was Divine forgiveness from the Man Christ Jesus. (I Tim. 2:5)

To read more click here.

Friday, August 03, 2018

Tenth Sunday after Trinity


Click on the picture for the link

Pope Francis and a Capital Gain


On Thursday August 2, 2018, the New York Times reported the following:

Pope Francis has declared the death penalty wrong in all cases, a definitive change in church teaching that is likely to challenge Catholic politicians, judges and officials who have argued that their church was not entirely opposed to capital punishment.

Before, church doctrine accepted the death penalty if it was “the only practicable way” to defend lives, an opening that some Catholics took as license to support capital punishment in many cases. 

But Francis said executions were unacceptable in all cases because they are “an attack” on human dignity, the Vatican announced on Thursday, adding that the church  would work “with determination” to abolish capital punishment worldwide.

The article went to say that this change would be made to “The Catechism of the Catholic Church,” and it seems, from all evidence, that it is now the authoritative teaching coming from the Roman Magisterium.

Within hours Social media was all a buzz with complaints from the usual suspects, especially very conservative Roman Catholics of what is called, in the street lingo of online theological gang rumbles, the “Trads,” that the Pope had taught error. Once again it was proved right that an acceptable definition of a modern western Roman Catholic is “One for whom the pope is infallible, and usually wrong.” Also in the buzz was one opinion by a somewhat well-known neo-Anglican that Pope Francis had single-handedly overturned previous infallible Church teaching based on his authority as pope, and that this was “huge.”  

As one who has no dog in the internal papal infallibility fight (in terms of trying to describe and define it by artful tactics designed to affirm it in principle when forced to deny it in practice, thus remaining among the faithful), it is of no particular interest to me how the Trad gangs, when meeting by their motorcycles in their leather jackets and sharpening their switchblades, settle the issue. I know that Social Media is not likely to spare me the unpleasant sight of the rumbles as they ensue, nor from the hue and cry of those seeking the head of Pope Francis on a spike. Nonetheless, as a Christian who admires much about the current Pontiff, I consider his statement to be the only moral position that is in any way that of the Spirit of Christ.

Some of you have read the debate between my younger brother, David Bentley Hart and one Edward Feser, in which my brother firmly rejected the idea that any Christian has any business trying to argue for and support Capital Punishment, as Edward Feser had tried to do. My brother hit the nail on the head, so to speak, as he was wrapping up his position.

I do not believe that anyone can possibly truly absorb the moral and spiritual teachings of the New Testament and conclude anything other than that there can be no genuinely Christian support for the death penalty. And the history of the early Church bears luminous witness to this. In later centuries, admittedly, as Christendom progressively displaced the earlier, purer, and more perilous forms of Christian life, things did indeed become more confused. Loyalty to Christ and loyalty to the civil order were now no longer antithetical to one another, which meant that neither loyalty could remain uncompromised by the other.

This brings me to what I regard as a more important consideration than what Pope Francis may, or may not, have done to Papal Infallibility – whatever it is when all is said and done. As someone who respects the man and his episcopal office, I am more concerned by the probability that this is the moving of the Holy Spirit. No, I do not mean to imply that the Holy Spirit has contradicted Himself, but rather that He would assert His own Lordship over what the Trads call “the Church.” I know that sounds like chaos to those who need the security of an authority system that, like dominoes lined up, cannot endure the fall of so much as one detail. Personally, I would not feel my faith to be secure if it rested on innumerable details, all of which must be infallible in order for the essential and undeniable truths of revelation to stand.

No. For me this brings up something my other brother wrote, my older brother, Addison Hodges Hart, who precedes me in the way of senility, but not so far along that path before he had written a good book that speaks clearly to this matter, indeed, that speaks to it in the very title itself, Strangers and Pilgrims Once More, subtitled, Being Disciples of Jesus in a Post-Christendom World.

Far too long, really since the days of the late Roman Empire, the Church has played the part of chaplain to kings, princes, and in modern times democracies and republics. This has been true more in the western Church over the centuries, but has been the case in the Eastern Church as well except under Muslim rule, or Communist oppression. My own beloved Anglicanism has certainly not been free from the charge of Erastianism, although I find that criticism to be quite lame in the historical context of Christendom as a whole. Whether one was in London or in Rome, up until very modern times, the order of the day was Erastian.  

And, the problem with the Church playing the role of State Chaplaincy is that it weakens its prophetic role. Instead of speaking against the evils of the the world’s governments, as St. Augustine did so fearlessly (likening the various princes and governments of his time to large scale gangsterism), calling them to account for their sins, like John the Baptist addressing Herod in the spirit of Elijah who addressed Ahab, the subordinate Chaplaincy Church blesses the state, and takes part in all of its endeavors. That includes wars whether they can be described by anybody as Just or Unjust, substituting some matters of good and evil as black and white with a politically suitable gray scale.

What Pope Francis represents in his bold declaration against Capital Punishment is liberation for the Church from its chaplaincy role, and a rediscovery of the authority and freedom to prophesy against the evils of kings, princes, and states of every kind. He may well be following the Spirit. “Now the Lord is that Spirit: And where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty (II Cor. 3:17).”



Sabbath Shift (originally published in Touchstone


Published in Touchstone, A Journal of Mere Christianity in November 2008
Robert Hart on Sunday Marathons & New Savages
If someone wants a picture of mankind without religion, I suggest the first twenty minutes of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. That image would be perfect if the apes were naked rather than furry, and used human speech rather than chimpanzee shrieks. Otherwise, it is just about right, and far from the ethically sensible and civilized non-religious world envisioned by Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens.
At church one Sunday morning in Fountain Hills, Arizona, about fifteen minutes before service time, I was told that a man wanted me to come outside and speak with him (rather an imposition for a priest who is trying to put on vestments and concentrate). I went out into the Phoenix valley sunlight and was approached by the man, a rather busy-looking fellow visibly stressed. “We want to spray-paint the new office building next door. Could you ask everyone to move their cars far away from your parking lot and walk back to church?”
Even if everyone in my congregation had been young and athletic, I would have answered the same way. But the fact that a couple of parishioners made a great effort to walk even a short distance, leaning on their walkers and panting—such was their determination to be in church for Holy Communion—made his request all the more silly. “Absolutely not. Under no circumstances will I ask them to do any such thing.”
“But we need to get this job finished, and I have my crew here, and I have to pay them.” I thought about the big sign that said “Church,” clear for all to see, under a huge cross, and considered that this was, after all, Sunday morning. Only one reply seemed appropriate. “You should have known better than to schedule a spray-paint job next door to a church on a Sunday morning.” I went back inside and turned my attention back where it belonged.
Running over Religious Freedom
Back in the 1970s we were all so busy fighting the major issues, especially for the pro-life cause, and trying to evangelize in the face of the major social upheavals introduced in the previous decade, that defense of what were mockingly called the “blue laws” seemed a bit archaic and counterproductive. In fact, even many Christians were probably glad that stores previously closed on Sundays were now open seven days a week, and that the world had finally given us non-stop shopping. By 1983 nearly everything was open everyday.
But look where this has led. All too often now it is simply assumed that religious liberty and rights can be sacrificed for a public occasion. On March 24, 2002, Washington, D.C., held a marathon race that hindered many people from attending church. Adding insult to injury, that day was Palm Sunday. The mayor, Anthony Williams, had the nerve to say that all the churches should get together in some public arena for an interfaith service, and leave the roads clear for the marathon runners. This insensitivity to and violation of people’s cherished rights are intolerable on any Sunday, but doubly offensive on Palm Sunday.
And Washington’s 2002 race wasn’t an anomaly. In Pittsburgh, for instance, five or six downtown churches must close on one Sunday every year because of the Pittsburgh Marathon. No one is permitted to drive or even walk on the streets around these churches because such activity would “interfere” with the race. Sunday-morning marathons that block access to churches are annual events in Stamford, New York; Evansville, Illinois; Los Angeles, California (despite claims of improvement in 2006), and so many other cities that we have not the space to list them all. The First Amendment’s protection of the free exercise of religion is blatantly curtailed by cities and towns without penalty.
Burdensome Liberation
“Liberation” from the blue laws has become a burden especially to the poor, who need the Sabbath rest even if they do not go to church. They now have to go to work on Sunday, even if they are troubled by their conscience for missing church, or simply hurt because they miss it. This progressive, bold step away from the shackles of the past, promising freedom and prosperity, has taken its toll on the people who suffer the greatest economic need, making them choose between their religious observance and their paycheck.
That is the very opposite of expanded freedom. Perhaps those “silly” blue laws, and other social norms and mores, provided a kind of freedom of their own, especially for people in the working and laboring classes.
I learned that one business in that Arizona town, a diner near the church, had traditionally closed every Sunday until shortly before my arrival. But then a local clergyman, my predecessor, convinced the owner to open every Sunday for the convenience of the congregation. Many liked to go there after the early Mass (8:00 AM) each Sunday and have breakfast together. One waitress there, I learned, had been a member of the church, but was no longer.
I remember the sight of that waitress looking at her former fellow church members, serving them breakfast, missing the services every Sunday. I suppose it was very convenient for the people who could now hop over to the diner after church, but at what cost to that waitress? Is this what a Christian clergyman should have asked for?
Just this past Sunday here in Easton, Maryland, about half an hour before our principal Holy Communion service, I heard what sounded very much like machine-gun fire out in the street. It turned out to be one of those hand-held jackhammers that tears up a street or sidewalk and deafens all passers by. I walked through the front doors of the church into the street, and got the attention of the crew. They were contractors working by the schedule of their boss, who was not of the town.
“You can’t do this here this morning,” I said. We are about to have a church service.” I pointed to St. Andrew’s, a historic (former Roman Catholic) church building that dated from about 1860. They all looked up at the steeple with the cross, and at the signs with clearly visible words like “St. Andrew’s Anglican Church,” “Holy Communion Sunday morning at 10:00,” and other subtle clues.
“Do you want us to stop?”
Just then our bishop walked right up, smiling, and asked them in friendly tones if he needed to call the mayor. Easton is civilized, and the crew knew that they were not going to be drilling for quite some time. But what if they had arrived during a service? They would have been stopped, but only after creating an inexcusable interruption of a sort no one would have dreamed of making several years ago, during a time when work crews and their bosses simply did not need to be told.
False Paradise
In 2006, a town councilman in Scottsdale, Arizona, introduced a bill that would make it illegal for churches to hold services except on Sunday, on the grounds that some of the church parking created an “inconvenience.” No Holy Week services, often no Christmas services, no Saturday weddings, no weekday funerals, no midweek Masses in liturgical churches, no Wednesday Bible studies, no prayer meetings, no revival services in Baptist churches. Sunday was enough.
Even if that bit of insanity had passed, the courts would have been obligated to strike it down. But what has happened in our day and age that makes such lunacy conceivable at all?
Pure capitalism, without ethical or even legal restraints to protect the freedom of the lower classes to worship God, is no wonderful Utopia. We have moved away from those protections hardly noticing what we were doing, and sometimes even cheering for all the wrong reasons as we welcomed the alleged convenience and liberty.
We have, however, been taking a step forward into the world of those first twenty minutes of Kubrick’s movie. Not as hairy, ape-like, pre-man creatures, but rather as businessmen, shopkeepers, entrepreneurs, contractors, and politicians, all living down to the call of the wild in a non-religious “paradise” of savagery.
Robert Hart is rector of St. Benedict's Anglican Catholic Church in Chapel Hill, North Carolina (Anglican Catholic Church Original Province). He also contributes regularly to the blog The Continuum. He is a contributing editor of Touchstone.

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Copy and Paste

Readers of The Christian Challenge (and readers of this blog) got to read all about the fraud perpetrated from New York City. But, everyone else had only to read, reported as fact, the misinformation provided in the press releases from New York. The press releases had been copied and pasted as “News” from the beginning, all identical but for the by line. But, I am not a trained professional journalist, and I suppose that gave me the edge.

I am going to tell you a story, but this is not about the story; rather it is about what I learned about a lazy and irresponsible kind of journalism. In the year 2008 I was being prepared by the late Auburn Tracyk to take over editorial duties for a monthly publication that had lasted since the earliest days of the Continuing Anglican movement in the late 1970s, but was domed to fold as online publications were making this periodical a bit of a dinosaur. It was named The Christian Challenge. I did not enjoy the work, inasmuch as the religious news about the mainstream Anglican Communion and the Episcopal Church took up most of my time, and my heart was not in it. What I really wanted, and eventually received, was a call to a parish as a priest (now in my tenth year at St. Benedict’s Anglican Catholic Church in Chapel Hill, North Carolina where I am the rector).
Nonetheless, though having never been a professional journalist or reporter - or perhaps because I was not a trained “professional” in journalism – more than once in those days The Christian Challenge (and this blog) managed to scoop all the other religious news. In fact, I believe we published exclusives, but not because the news should have been exclusive. Indeed, it should have been reported everywhere, and certainly reported online much more quickly than we could get hard copy of The Christian Challenge to press. From that brief experience in the field of religious journalism, I learned about sloppy and misleading practice.

A Tale of Two Dioceses
The kind of news we were reporting was varied because the world of Anglicanism, then as now, was full of daily events that concerned many important issues of church order, of theology and doctrine, and of morality. Much of it was wholly unedifying, and just about all of it was carried on in the context of spiritual warfare and unrest. To earnest believers the matter involved eternal verities and the salvation of souls, and the turmoil was rightly about the most important things. Specialized as Anglican religious news might be, the very importance of such issues called for no less of an energetic and diligent reporting effort than any other kind of journalism.
So we came to a time when the Episcopal Church in the United States was losing whole dioceses as 2008 was drawing to a close, with some Diocesan Bishops and the vote of their Diocesan Conventions, realigning at that time within the official Anglican Communion as part of the Province of the Southern Cone (South America) under Archbishop Gregory Venables. One of those dioceses was the Diocese of San Joaquin in California. Under the leadership of their bishop near the end of that year, the late John David Schofield, the Diocese formally voted, legally and properly, to realign with the Southern Cone.
At that time in the history of the Episcopal Church, the properties were considered to have been legally owned by each local diocese (a rule explicitly rejected in the constitution of the Continuing churches), and for the first time ever it was something that could work in favor of the relatively more traditional and conservative (doctrinally speaking) ex-members of the Episcopal Church. But, at denominational headquarters in New York City, then Presiding “Bishop” Katherine Jefferts-Schori tried to interfere with the decision of the Diocese of San Joaquin, even though it had been carried out by due process, and with precedent dating back to the 1860s. Even though the diocese was still in the official Anglican Communion, she presumed to pronounce them as having been unfaithful “to this church.” The office in New York then proceeded to announce that they, in the office of the Presiding “Bishop,” had created a diocese made up of the churches that wanted to remain in the Episcopal Church, appointing a bishop named Jerry Lamm (imagine that, a Lamm in Sheep’s Clothing).
On the Episcopal Church’s official website they claimed to have retained more than twenty of the local churches. I saw, within hours, that several of the online news services had simply copied and pasted the official press release from Jefferts-Schori’s office in New York City, stating as fact that possibly more than half of the diocese was remaining in the Episcopal Church. As for me, never a trained, professional journalist, I had an advantage. I was skeptical, curious, and willing to do a bit of work.
I noticed that the Diocese of San Joaquin Southern Cone (SC) and the Diocese of San Joaquin of the Episcopal Church (TEC) both listed many of the same local churches, by name and town, on their respective websites. Clearly, that could not be correct. So I did a bit of research, parish by parish, mission by mission. I discovered that many of the churches, those with the same name and town on the respective websites, had disturbing information. The ones on the SC website had no disturbing information, however. They had websites with pictures of church buildings. They had service times, physical address, directions to get there, and local phone numbers. But, alas, the poor churches still loyal to Jefferts-Schori’s TEC, namely all of the churches with names and towns identical to many on the SC website listing, appeared to have nothing but P.O. Boxes. They had no buildings, no service times, and no directions to get anywhere. And, just about all of the clergy were women (of course). I can appreciate why they posted no directions to get to their locations: Somehow, I doubt that any of the Post Office Boxes, listed as the addresses to the loyal TEC churches, provided sufficient space for worship services.
Readers of The Christian Challenge (and readers of this blog) got to read all about the fraud perpetrated from New York City. But, everyone else had only to read, reported as fact, the misinformation provided in the press releases from New York. The press releases had been copied and pasted as “News” from the beginning, all identical but for the by line. But, I am not a trained professional journalist, and I suppose that gave me the edge. And, as I said, there were other such occasions in those months of my journalistic tenure.

Looking back
Ten years later I still reflect on that experience, especially when I look at “News” programming on the major news channels, or read the headlines and stories that, on the internet, appear hour by hour all during any given day. How much has any research been done? Does anyone investigate anything anymore? The most common format on news channels seems to be a program with a biased host, leaning one way or the other, who presents a line up of talking heads who express their own point of view. In effect, the programming relies on something very much like press releases, people speaking for their cause, or their political party, or a boss in the political world. Viewers hear from “both sides” the perspective of these spokespersons, and supposedly have been informed. Is it information? Is it misinformation? Is it partial information? Is it skewed?
Take it from someone who has seen the routine of the press release, copied and pasted, unchallenged and reported as “fact” much too often. Whether it is political news, economic news, social news, or, yes, religious news, a bit of skepticism, a touch of curiosity, and a bit of investigative work, give readers and viewers a more accurate perspective on affairs and issues that have everything to do with our real lives. Matters of war and potential war, issues of morality, questions of justice, as well as matters of important doctrine and order – all of these arise in any given news cycle. It may be too important to be left to the trained professionals.

Monday, July 23, 2018

Apology on comments

It seems that Blogger stopped sending to my email new comments to be moderated recently, and never let me know. I apologize for the delays.

Friday, July 20, 2018

Eighth Sunday after Trinity


Romans 8:12-17 * Matthew 7:15-21
The Old Testament account of Jeremiah and Hannaniah is the same age-old battle we see today. It is a battle between those who give a true message about the consequences of sin, and those who teach license. The scriptures repeat a warning against false prophets in many places, especially in the Epistles of Paul, Peter, John and Jude. We see warnings of false gospels, another "Jesus" and a spirit we did not receive, in II Corinthians. We see a warning in Paul's Epistles to Timothy, to beware of seducing spirits and the doctrines of demons, and instruction never to follow the example of those who are "ever learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth." John warns us to beware the spirit of error, and the spirit of Antichrist. Jude warns against false teachers who preach carnality, and doctrines so evil that they may lead you away from God completely.

Perhaps the clearest of these warnings is in II Peter.

"But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction. And many shall follow their pernicious ways; by reason of whom the way of truth shall be evil spoken of." (II Pet. 2;1,2)

The phrase "damnable heresies" is not acceptable in many modern churches. Many people never hear this passage in church, because it is not very nice. It suggests that some errors are so bad, that they may lead to damnation. It sounds too much like Hellfire, brimstone and damnation to suit their modern tastes. But, we see it in the Bible, in the New Testament, where some people imagine it cannot be. Perhaps it would help them to read it.

How serious is it to believe in a false gospel? It is certainly very serious to preach a false gospel. Hear the words of St. Paul:

"I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel: Which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ. But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. As we said before, so say I now again, If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed." (Galatians 1:8,9)

This may have been the first Apostolic anathema ever pronounced.

Briefly, a couple more examples:

"For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables." (II Tim. 4:3,4)

"Brethren, be followers together of me, and mark them which walk so as ye have us for an ensample. (For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ: Whose end is destruction, whose God is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things.)" (Philippians 3:17-19)

These are directly relevant to the Epistle reading we have heard. "Brethren, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live after the flesh. For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live." This follows a long passage about baptism that began back in the sixth chapter of the same Epistle.

"What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein? Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection: Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin. For he that is dead is freed from sin. " (Romans 6:1-7)

The reason we are not debtors to sin, not subject to obey its impulses as some kind of law, is because we were baptized into Jesus Christ. We are dead to sin and obligated to pursue a life of holiness with the aid of Divine Grace that sanctifies us. Remember what we have learned from that little phrase that opens this Epistle, and the First Epistle to the Corinthians as well. That we are called to be saints. Remember that this is one vocation every Christian has, the call to sainthood, that is, to holiness. Whether or not you like this calling, it is a calling that God has placed on your life. It is more important than any other calling, including the call to the priesthood. Sainthood is the first and highest calling, the primary vocation, of everybody in this room. In baptism you were given the grace of entrance into the life of the resurrected Christ, and in Confirmation you received richer grace and several gifts of the Holy Spirit, who is in you.

A certain denomination has come up with the Biblical sounding phrase "baptismal covenant." Five years ago, a certain prelate from there justified his vote to allow a publicly known, unrepentant adulterer, who left his wife and daughter for a carnal relationship with a man, to become a bishop in their sect, by invoking the "baptismal covenant." He used that phrase to mean that we must not discriminate against anyone's lifestyle as long as that person is baptized. I suppose that to many people that sounds kind and tolerant.

But, priests have pastoral responsibility for the cure of your souls. And, this requires that we work together with your bishop as he banishes strange doctrines contrary to the Gospel of Christ. The problem with how that Episcopal prelate justified his vote is simple. He has taught another gospel. He has introduced another Jesus, and a spirit we have not received. In fact, he has taught his people something that seems very much to fit those terrifying words of St. Peter: A "damnable heresy."

It is not prejudice, intolerance or hate speech to teach morality, namely, the commandments of God. Not that it can't be used sinfully as hate speech, for indeed, it can be used that way by clumsy preachers. Nonetheless, it is genuine love to teach God's commandments, with the warnings of the scripture, firmly and with authority. For, I am not preaching simply about other people out there somewhere. I am not preaching, or I hope I am not preaching, anything that moves you to speak as that unjustified Pharisee in the Lord's parable: "I thank thee God that I am not like other men." (Luke 18:9-14) For, everyone here is living in the flesh, and so everyone here must endure temptations.

If we buy a doctrine which says that baptism gives you a license to sin, we place ourselves, and all of you in danger. Whatever temptations anyone may live with, enduring temptations is part of each Christian's share in Christ's passion. That is, they are part of that life of discipleship that Jesus called taking up our cross, and following Him daily. The temptations are not a gift, but they may be used wisely as part of our sanctification. For, enduring and resisting temptation is everybody's battle. My own flesh does not sympathize with the specific sin to which they have given license. But, it does sympathize with sin. Therefore, you and I do not need a doctrine of license. It is poison, not medicine.

St. Paul says the very opposite of that false gospel. Baptism is not a license to sin, but the sacrament whereby you have died to sin and come alive with the Risen Lord Jesus Christ. In your baptism you were not granted a license to do whatever you desire, but instead you were called to become a saint. And, so I do not need, on top of the temptations that are common to every man, any doctrine that allows me to live in whatever sins may appeal to me; and you don't need any such doctrine either.

Different individuals have different temptations. But, one thing everyone has is temptation itself. If one man may leave his wife and child for a new lover of any kind, and his baptism is said to give him license, then why may I not have a license to kill? Or to steal? Or to covet my neighbor's goods? Or to gossip? This same chapter of St. Paul's Epistle, today's Epistle, goes on to speak of "the manifestation of the sons of God." It speaks of the glorious and eternal hope of being fully resurrected with Christ, and with him to be glorified. Who would want to miss so glorious a future for anything in the world?

We speak not from anger, but love. We see people destroying themselves, hardening their hearts, and deceiving people; we see wolves feeding themselves on the flock, and we want that flock to be spared. Indeed, we want them to come over to us, so that instead of being a prey they may be fed a steady diet of the word of God, and a steady diet of Christ's flesh and blood as the food and drink of eternal life.

The antidote for a false gospel is the true Gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The true gift that we want to impart is not toleration of evil, but forgiveness of sin. The Gospel gives something so much better than tolerance. When I hear confessions, the penitent does not need to hear my approval. Indeed, he needs for me to agree with his own disapproval that moved his conscience to come for healing. Otherwise, I cannot give absolution, for who can forgive something of which he approves? I am not there to argue with the penitent. Rather he needs me to agree with his reasonable accusations against himself. Forgiveness is very judgmental, in fact condemning. Forgiveness absolutely judges and condemns sin, and both spares and restores the repentant sinner. Mercy is better than tolerance, and compassion is better than approval. We can speak very firmly about sin, because we do so with the heart of pastors, of fathers, who speak with love. We do so as men who have needed forgiveness of our own sins, and who will need forgiveness, no doubt, again.

And, when we warn against false teachers with false gospels, we speak as men who know the weakness of the flesh, and who also need to heed the same warning.

Some people think they are safe because they follow evil at a distance. As more and more people succumb to worse and worse heresy and immorality, they are satisfied to compare themselves against those whose errors have progressed even further. They react always to the latest heresy or licentiousness, and never deal with the root problem of heresy and sin itself. In so doing, they accept a situation that is not holy, not good, and not true. In so doing, they let the devil lead the way, following him from afar because they do not accept the latest and progressively worse newest error. They feel righteous nonetheless, because they have determined that someone else is even worse than they are. This too is a false gospel and a license to do wrong.

We must not allow error to set the agenda. Following the Devil instead of Christ is very easy. And, those who follow the Devil from a long distance need to grasp one simple fact: No matter from how far away, there is no safe distance. We live in a time when we must beware of relative righteousness and relative orthodoxy. For these relative standards are not the standard of God's holy word. They are less than a call to holiness. Again, we don't want to be like the Pharisee in the parable. When he said, "I thank thee God I am not like other men," he did so by comparing himself to other people, and feeling satisfied with his own righteousness. If he had taken proper account of his life, he would have realized that he too was a sinner. Maybe not in visible and notorious ways, but a sinner nonetheless. If he had looked seriously at the word of God, and into his own heart, he would have said the same earnest prayer as the Publican: "Lord have mercy on me, a sinner."

"Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves."