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." 

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Convert Orthodoxy as Media Echo Chamber

The following was written by a young man who is currently looking to become ordained in the Anglican Province of Christ the King (APCK). He wrote this after having been in a congregation that departed from Anglicanism altogether for that illusive and greener grass on the other side of the fence. He is now a member of St. George's APCK parish in Las Vegas, Nevada. He begins by quoting my brother, Dr. David Bentley Hart.


Convert Orthodoxy as Media Echo Chamber

by Christopher Cox

“[Theology] has led to some pretty ferocious debates between people who, as far as I can tell, live in their mothers’ basements.” – David Bentley Hart, “Orthodoxy in America and America’s Orthodoxies.” (28:50)
In the last century, mass media and the atomization of Western culture have led to two developments that are important to traditional Anglicanism in the 21st century United States. First, all messages delivered by modern mass media in a global, postmodern society are over-simplified and distorted. Reddit is gospel to many. Second, people reacting to instability seek authenticity in commodities that are marketed by the same mass media, which they consume selectively. Hipsters find refuge in vintage denim, courtesy of nostalgia. Anglicans have a pale imitation of Eastern Orthodoxy. But Anglican converts to Orthodoxy, like hipsters who think they are authentic, choose to exist in a “media echo chamber,” only consuming media that tells them what they want to hear about their product of choice. The term is usually used in the study of media to refer to readers of politically biased news, becoming worse informed as they consume fewer media they disagree with. Here, it applies to a subculture of Orthodox converts who are misinformed for the same reason: They think they are right. 
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I take up the case of the Catholic Anglican, and his echo chamber. He is an inquirer, often a cleric, often of Anglo heritage, who is unhappy with secular modernity. He is introduced to a solution by a missionary. The missionary is a pious convert from the friendly neighborhood Orthodox bookstore, who convinces the inquirer that the Eastern Church lacks the problems of the Western. The missionary makes theologically ignorant, sweeping claims with breathtaking confidence. Statues are idols, for example. By his surety and appeal to antiquity, he deludes the inquirer, just as he had been deluded before. It’s the way that fraud gurus gain converts. Imagine what Screwtape tells such missionaries:
“Give them a distorted, idealized story about a miniscule part of a foreign culture; that will lead them astray. They won’t check the facts – knowing these things will make them feel superior! And don’t stop at the laity. If you have the fortune to delude insecure or undereducated clergy, they can answer every question with an obscure ‘fact’ that sounds vaguely mystical!”
This missionary believes in “Convert Orthodoxy” (CO). CO is not the Christian faith, but a Western take on Eastern Church history that sounds like it instead. The CO narrative makes two claims. Its first claim is that fashionable, current Eastern interpretations of patristics are, in fact, the entire Faith. Its second claim is that Western Christianity was always tainted by Scholasticism (the missionary means, “Any serious idea that I don’t understand”). Thus, the West lost all heart religion by sacrificing inner peace for polemic. This last claim is the most dangerous: Basic reading in convert circles includes deep monastic writing that was not always intended for non-monastics. Combined with a hatred of cataphatic theology, it leads to spiritual delusion.  
The inquirer privately convinces himself that CO, which he mistakes for Christian dogma, is in fact the full deposit of the faith. He never considers that Eastern cultures have changed as much as Western cultures since the first century. He spends the rest of his ministry feeling inadequate and experimenting with Byzantine liturgical norms, such as the use of icons. He may not read the text of the Seventh Ecumenical Council, which lacks an anathema against statuary. He forgets that Our Lord is a three-dimensional Icon. This black-and-white mentality sounds eccentric, but remember: he now believes in a narrow interpretation of Church history, not the Christian religion. Eventually, this inquirer becomes a convert, taking his parish or family with him to the doorstep of an Eastern jurisdiction, with CO firmly in tow. If he joins a jurisdiction full of secularists, modernists, and hipsters in expensive denim, he won’t even notice. He brought his trad echo chamber with him!
The Eastern Rite convert abandons his tradition and appropriates another, thinking that his foreign affectations (which confuse the ethnic Orthodox) are signs of his renewal. The Western Rite convert claims to be returning to the Orthodox Faith of the Celts, though British Christians always answered to the Western Patriarchate, itself part of the pre-schism Church. The second narrative isn’t even taken seriously by historians, but good marketers go after the heart, not the head. If a critic disagrees with the convert now, he is brushed off. “The ‘Latins’ aren’t arguing with my interpretation of Christianity,” he tells himself. “They’re arguing with the Catholic Faith!” This mindset is called “epistemic closure,” a belief that only those who agree with oneself are right.
Ethnic Orthodox wonder what religion it is that these deluded converts think they have joined. It is meet and right so to do! The former Anglican also learns that most of his fellow converts, whom he meets on the doorstep of the Eastern Church, have left the very fringes of Fundamentalist Protestantism or a New Age cult. People who escape these backgrounds are often abuse victims, lack social skills and unconsciously surround themselves with people who have similar problems. Wherever they go in large numbers, they run the risk of continuing the cycle of abuse they were formed by, resulting in toxic convert parishes. Thus, CO colonizes the Eastern Church like a Gnostic cult, adopted and spread by a subculture that lacks social skills, but attracts people of many backgrounds. CO isn’t Gospel, it’s 4Chan spirituality.
Evangelicals call this process “spiritual abuse.” It’s the reason that so many Orthodox converts belong to the same toxic parishes, full of anti-Semitic conspiracy theorists, domestic violence survivors, and recovering addicts. The convert described above might plant a church with a bookstore and start inviting inquirers to learn about (his version of) the primitive Church. Taken together, all these things are expressions of “convertitis,” and serve as a warning to those who would even consider entering the Eastern Church at this time. They won’t be entering Orthodoxy, but they will think they are.
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As much as all Christian converts like to see their conversion as a Platonic ideal, unspotted by the world, conversions are made in space and time and matter. Maybe conversion is a holy mystery in which an outward physical sign points us to an inward spiritual grace. Anglicans, like members of all faiths, often use a narrative to convince people to see the light. That’s not wrong. The problem with CO is that the narrative is false, and toxic parishes aggressively use it to steal Anglican sheep. This cycle has repeated itself many times. Many well-meaning CO missionaries were spiritually formed in dark places by sick people, long before they came to the Eastern Church and brought their made-up religion with them.
Now it’s 2018. Tens of thousands of Anglo-Catholics in Fort Worth, San Joaquin, Quincy and MDAS are being targeted by CO missionaries. When ACNA voted to continue WO, orthodoxwest.com was released, Rev. Mark Rowe became active on social media, and Anglican Radio went over. This is likely an intentional strategy of clergy with experience in public relations, who mean to convince Anglicans that the Eastern Church cares, and will suddenly save Anglicans by a “miracle” (dirty PR trick). Psychologists call it “love bombing.” It’s a form of psychological abuse. The only serious counterattack in this game of chess has been the October 2017 agreement between four Continuing Churches. It was heroic, but too little too late. Thousands of Anglicans remain outside the merger. Many are quietly entering the Western Rite, or are in secret talks to do so. The Orthodox are moving to checkmate opponents who don’t know they’re playing chess! If traditional Anglicans don’t widely circulate a serious case for their existence in months, they will go extinct.
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In conclusion, the age of mass media has come to the Church. CO is a biased version of Church history that replaces the Christian Faith in the minds and hearts of most converts to the Eastern Church. Thousands of former Anglicans and others now assent to CO because their biases have clouded their thinking without their knowledge. It’s difficult to convince people to leave CO because they think that their former brothers in Christ are in fact arguing against Christianity itself, instead of a bizarre, childlike, consumer version of Church history marketed by media-savvy clerics. Thus, it’s better to head off conversions now. Debate will only reinforce the convert siege mentality.
It’s hoped that this article correctly explains the misgivings that some feel but can’t express. The Western Rite may be the proper end of Anglicanism; God isn’t beholden to logical constructions. But it must not come to pass because pious, learned men were taken in by a gimmick.
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Put it this way for the laity, clerks in Holy Orders: Orthodox converts in America are just like people who think that Disney’s Aladdin is a serious study of Middle Eastern culture.
For those familiar with the vocabulary of literary criticism: Convert Orthodoxy is an Orientalist fabrication, constructed discursively by Westerners in mock-serious dialogue with a straw man of an Eastern expression of faith and their own unwitting biases.

Sources:






https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/closure-epistemic/

 

https://arstechnica.com/science/2017/03/the-social-media-echo-chamber-is-real/









Friday, July 13, 2018

Friday, July 06, 2018

Sixth Sunday after Trinity


The Epistle. Rom. 6: 3-11 * 
The Gospel. St. Matt. 5: 20-26
In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis said that anyone who likes the Sermon on the Mount would like being hit in the face with a ball peen hammer. If you thought the whole sermon was simply those opening Beatitudes, then Lewis' remark can't make sense to you. If you have read all three chapters that record this sermon, however, that is Matthew chapters five, six and seven, you know exactly what C.S. Lewis meant. Frankly, the Sermon on the Mount is not there for you to like, in the emotional sense of liking a thing. If it moves you to fear of God, to an honest evaluation of your own soul, and repentance from all known sin, to take up your cross and begin to live obediently as the Lord Jesus commanded, then you understand it.

The Beatitudes, beginning with "Blessed are the poor in spirit" and going on from there, were somewhat repeated by the Lord on another occasion we call the Sermon on the Plain, recorded in the sixth chapter of St. Luke. In that sermon, Jesus patterned His words after the Blessings and Curses of the Law. To understand that, we need to go back to the days of Moses. We find, in the Law of Moses that is, the Torah, these words:

“And it shall come to pass, when the LORD thy God hath brought thee in unto the land whither thou goest to possess it, that thou shalt put the blessing uponmount Gerizim, and the curse upon mount Ebal. Are they not on the other side Jordan, by the way where the sun goeth down, in the land of the Canaanites, which dwell in the champaign over against Gilgal, beside the plains of Moreh? For ye shall pass overJordan to go in to possess the land which the LORD your God giveth you, and ye shall possess it, and dwell therein.” (Deut. 11:29-31)


These shall stand upon mount Gerizim to bless the people, when ye are come over Jordan; Simeon, and Levi, and Judah, and Issachar, and Joseph, and Benjamin: And these shall stand upon mount Ebal to curse; Reuben, Gad, and Asher, and Zebulun, Dan, and Naphtali. (Deut. 27:12,13)


The blessings were pronounced on those who would obey God, and the curses on those who would rebel against God. Centuries later, Jesus Christ in his role as the Prophet like unto Moses, (Deut. 18:15f) spoke first the Blessings, or Beatitudes. In place of the curses, he spoke words of severe warning, the Woes. The New Covenant Lawgiver following the pattern, as clearly He does in Luke, is easy to understand. But, as I observe the Sermon on the Mount, recorded by St. Matthew, at first it seems to be missing the Woes. The pattern of the Blessings on Mount Gerizim and the Curses on Mount Ebal, more perfectly revealed as the Beatitudes and the Woes, does not appear in Matthew, for the Woes are missing-or, are they?

I think it is wise to see the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew as beginning with the Blessings, the Beatitudes, and then the bulk of what remains throughout chapters five, six & seven constitute a large text full of the Woes. They are commandments, requirements of all who would take up their cross and follow the Son of Man as His disciples. We are meant to obey them. It is also true, nonetheless, that no one old enough to understand them is able to deny having broken them, and having needed forgiveness. The Sermon on the Mount stands as a sharp rebuke to sin. It is the most terrifying passage in all of the Bible, the long text in which Jesus Christ tells us of the consequences of unrepentant sin, the penalty that everyone of us deserves, mentioning at times the danger of Hell. In the Sermon on the Mount, furthermore, He makes it clear just how high God's standard of holiness really is, and how utterly helpless we are to meet it. After all, who has never lusted? Who has never been unreasonably angry? Who has never spoken an unkind word?

In the original Greek New Testament the word "Hell," employed by the King James Version translators in this protion of scripture, is the word Gehenna, a simplified form of the Hebrew for the Valley of Ben Hinnom. The Valley of Ben Hinnom was the place where backslidden Israelites had offered their own children to Moloch (or Baal-the same false god). Jesus uses the place here with images from a garbage dump, having led writers to assume (incorrectly it would appear) that the valley must have been so used in those days by the Judeans. What the Lord actually did here, speaking of Gehenna, was to combine the name of a place associated with infamy to imagery suitable only to a garbage dump. The fires that never go out, the worm that never dies, or never seems to die because worms are always there eating the garbage. The warning against the fires of Hell is a warning that unrepentant sinners face being thrown away, burned as trash is burned. It is a warning against the danger of being cast out.

And, the opening of today's Gospel reading, taken from this very Sermon on the Mount, makes our hopes sound all the more elusive: "Except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven." And, just in case anyone may begin to measure his own righteousness against that of those very religious, upstanding Pharisees, Jesus crushes our self-confidence: "I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire." 

Why would our Lord begin His preaching by utterly devastating us? We are all convicted as sinners. If ever we misunderstood our own Prayer of Humble Access, we can do so no longer. I know of one man who reacted to the words, "we are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy table" with an angry protest: "Indeed, we are worthy!" he said. But, when I read the Sermon on the Mount, I know that, as St. Paul said, "In me, that is, in my flesh, dwelleth no good thing," and that I most certainly am not worthy, by any righteousness of my own, to gather those crumbs that fall from the Master's table.

The Sermon on the Mount gives us, however, a powerful ray of hope. Significantly, and crucially, that one ray of hope lies outside of each of us. In fact, that hope is found only in God.

Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust. For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same? And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so? Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect. (Matt.5:44-48)

How can a commandment to be perfect offer hope? Hasn't Jesus made it even worse for us? But, look closely at this perfection of our Heavenly Father: "Love your enemies" He says. Why? The answer is, "That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust. For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye?...Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect."

This perfection he speaks of is the perfection of love, specifically the love we call charity (caritas, agape-I Cor. 13). Jesus shows us, even while diagnosing to us our mortal illness of Sin, that God loves even His enemies. Jesus tells us that that the Father loves you and me, and does good to us. Indeed, "God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8)."

Of course, the whole point of Christ's coming, as we know from the larger picture of His ministry and teaching, and most of all from His death on the cross and His resurrection, is the love of God to save those of us who, born in sin, were His enemies from the start. Today's Epistle lets us know that God has done for us what we never could do for ourselves. We could never attain a level of righteousness that pleases Him; but Christ could and did. We have been baptized into Christ, we have died to sin, and entered a new life by being, simply put, "in Christ."

So, we learn two things: 1) Christ has paid in full (John 19:30 τελέω ) the price of all human sin, the price of your sin and mine, and 2) God sees us in Christ. The old prayers of the Psalmist come to life for us: "Behold, O God our shield, and look upon the face of thine anointed;" (Psalm 84:9) and, "turn not away the face of thine anointed." (Psalm 132:10) The face of His anointed, that is His Messiah or Christ, is our shield. Because we are in Christ, and because the Father will not turn away the face of His Christ (anointed), He accepts us, "To the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved (Eph. 1:6).” We were the objects of wrath, but in Christ, as God has willed in eternity, we are the objects of mercy and love.

Let me talk a bit about the baptism of John the Baptist. When John's baptism to repentance was taking place, sinners repented and were forgiven. But, one Man stepped into the water not to lay down His sins, for He had none. He stepped into the River Jordan to pick up the sins of all repentant sinners everywhere: And so, about Him and Him alone, the Father said "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased." The Father is not well-pleased with any other human being, for no man was found worthy, in heaven or in earth, to break the seals and open the book, except the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Lion who appeared as a Lamb that had been slain (Rev. 5). God's only begotten Son, incarnate as a man, alone pleased the Father, and that Son, alone of all mankind, paid the penalty and full price for the rest of us.

But, to see this takes humility. Our Book of Common Prayer does not flatter us, and does not lie to us. Some people have decided that religion is a self-help program. Be warned; if your idea of the Christian life is some sort of self-improvement program, you are in grave danger of missing the whole point. Unless and until you see yourself as hopeless without God's perfection of love and mercy; unless and until you see yourself as unworthy to eat the crumbs that fall from His table, thus rejecting any illusion about some righteousness of your own; unless and until you see that only Christ has pleased the Father, and that you have not, this whole liturgy we call Holy Communion, and the whole message we call the Gospel, is entirely closed to your understanding.

The words of this service were written to affirm the truth of the Bible, that each one of us needs that love and mercy of God revealed in Christ, that is extended to us because we are in Christ, because we could not save ourselves. This service was written to give each of us a way to confess and pray that truth, saying it to God with gratitude. Let us then offer Eucharist, that is, good thanksgiving, the offering that is sanctified by the Holy Spirit.