Friday, May 31, 2019

Fr. Laurence Wells Buletin Insert for Ascensiontide

from the archives:

The word “humanism” usually does not sound good in Christian conversation.  When preachers describe someone as a “humanist” it is probably not to pay a compliment.  These terms have unfortunately been kidnapped or surrendered to an atheistic point of view which claims that man is the measure of all things.  Human history is mostly the out-working of the serpent’s false promise, “ye shall be as gods, knowing [i.e. determining] good and evil.”  The net result of that deceit is man’s vain-glorious ambition displayed at the tower of Babel, “let us make a name for ourselves.”This insolent rebellion continues to manifest itself  in godless secularism, our futile attempt to live as if God did not exist.

Ascension Day offers us a clear and hopeful alternative to the humanism which led Adam and Eve into spiritual exile in a harsh and cruel world of toil and sweat, or the frustration and confusion of the Tower of Babel.
When our dear Lord was “taken up” He did not cease to be human.  The central truth of our precious faith is summed up in the word Incarnation:  in Jesus Christ God truly became man, taking not only our nature but submitting to our condition also, our frailty and our mortality.  But this was no brief or temporary episode. He not only became man at Bethlehem  or lived as a man at Nazareth or Capernaum He died as a man at Calvary and was Raised as a man on the “third day.”  At his Ascension He carried our human nature into heaven, taking our true flesh and blood into the very presence of His Father. In His Ascension we see at last a humanism worthy of the name.
On Ascension Day we have an answer to the question of Psalm 8:4, “What is man that thou art mindful of him, or the son of man that thou visitest him?”  As the Lord Jesus was taken up, the God incarnate, Man divine, was truly crowned with glory and honour.” 
In the Ascension of Jesus Christ we celebrate not only His exaltation but our own final destiny.  As He was raised, so we shall be raised from the dead.  As He was taken up, we too will be exalted in the presence of His Father.

He promised, “I go to prepare a place for you....In my father’s house there are many mansions.” The Proper Preface for Ascensiontide declares, “That where He is, thither we might also ascend, and reign with Him in glory.”  Here is a genuine humanism worthy of the name.


There is no hymn in our hymnal more audacious than Bishop Wordsworth great hymn, "See the conqueror mounts in triumph" with its bold line, "man with God is on the throne."  No modern secular humanist ever went so far. 

ASCENSIONTIDE


Acts 1:1-11
Luke 24: 49-53
The opening of the Book of Acts should remind us of an Old Testament story that foreshadows Christ's Ascension. 


And Elijah said unto him, Tarry, I pray thee, here; for the LORD hath sent me to Jordan. And he said, As the LORD liveth, and as thy soul liveth, I will not leave thee. And they two went on. And fifty men of the sons of the prophets went, and stood to view afar off: and they two stood by Jordan. And Elijah took his mantle, and wrapped it together, and smote the waters, and they were divided hither and thither, so that they two went over on dry ground. And it came to pass, when they were gone over, that Elijah said unto Elisha, Ask what I shall do for thee, before I be taken away from thee. And Elisha said, I pray thee, let a double portion of thy spirit be upon me. And he said, Thou hast asked a hard thing: nevertheless, if thou see me when I am taken from thee, it shall be so unto thee; but if not, it shall not be so. And it came to pass, as they still went on, and talked, that, behold, there appeared a chariot of fire, and horses of fire, and parted them both asunder; and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven. And Elisha saw it, and he cried, My father, my father, the chariot of Israel, and the horsemen thereof. And he saw him no more: and he took hold of his own clothes, and rent them in two pieces. He took up also the mantle of Elijah that fell from him, and went back, and stood by the bank of Jordan; And he took the mantle of Elijah that fell from him, and smote the waters, and said, Where is the LORD God of Elijah? and when he also had smitten the waters, they parted hither and thither: and Elisha went over (II Kings 2:6-14). 

.....Do you see in this story why the response is given to the priest, "and with thy spirit," rather than "and also be with you?" "The spirit of Elijah" does not refer simply to his own spirit, but to the grace of the Holy Spirit giving supernatural gifts to his human spirit. A careful reading of II Kings shows that Elisha goes on to do exactly everything in his miraculous ministry double what Elijah had done. For example, Elijah brought one child back to life, and Elisha brought two people back to life (one by relics, when the dead body of a young man was restored to life as his body touched Elisha's bones). Elisha did greater works than Elijah, that is, greater in number. 
.....When we consider the Ascension, we must pay attention to the emphasis given by these scriptures to the coming of the Holy Spirit, so that the Apostolic Church would continue the ministry of Christ as an extension of his incarnation in the fallen world.

.....Ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both inJerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth. And when he had spoken these things, while they beheld, he was taken up; and a cloud received him out of their sight. And while they looked steadfastly toward heaven as he went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel; Which also said, Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? this same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven (Acts 1:8-11). 

.....Just as the prophet or prophets who wrote the Books of the Kings made points when writing about the foreshadowing, St. Luke has written these same points into his account of the fulfillment. Jesus tells them that they will receive power after the Holy Spirit will come upon them. They beheld him as he went up, just as Elisha beheld Elijah; or rather, Elisha had to look upon Elijah so that the scripture could foreshadow the fulfillment by Christ. With their eyes on his translation into that hidden dimension that surrounds us, called Heaven, the disciples beheld Christ as he is in spirit......That is, the incarnate Son of the Living God, a sight known as given only by the Holy Spirit. They saw the man who is the firstborn, which means rightful heir, owning all of creation. They saw that his proper place is not in the fallen world, but at the Father's right hand. They looked as the cloud took him out of their sight, presumably the cloud of witnesses who rose with him, as he led captivity captive. The disciples met to pray for ten days until he "gave gifts to men," dividing the spoil with the strong- made strong because they receive the power (δύναμις) of the Holy Spirit.1      
We have been led to think of the Ascension as Christ's coronation. This is not the emphasis of the scriptures, because the New Testament places more of that significance to the day in which he will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, when the Father will put every enemy under his feet. These scriptures we have read are concerned, rather, with the continuation of Christ's own charismatic (χάρις) ministry through His Church, to spread the Gospel to all nations in the working out of salvation among all peoples of the earth.2           
"Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father (John 14:12)."       
 
Elisha saw Elijah, and did a greater number of works, double the number in fact. The Apostles saw Christ as he was taken out of their sight by the cloud, and the Church does greater works, because it is in many places where the Holy Spirit uses many hands to continue the works of Jesus Christ. The emphasis on the Ascension that we receive in the Scriptures is expressed by Saint Paul.
 

But all these (charisms) worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will. For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ. For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit. For the body is not one member, but many...Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular. And God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, diversities of tongues. Are all apostles? are all prophets? are all teachers? are all workers of miracles? Have all the gifts of healing? do all speak with tongues? do all interpret (I Corinthians 12:11-14, 27-30)? 

Wherefore he saith, When he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men. (Now that he ascended, what is it but that he also descended first into the lower parts of the earth? He that descended is the same also that ascended up far above all heavens, that he might fill all things.) And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ (Ephesians 4:8-13).

.....These lists of gifts are different, along with yet other lists different still. What we see in these words of St. Paul, and what is taught clearly in the Book of Acts, is the dependence of the Apostolic Church on the Holy Spirit, for grace and power, to be Alter Christus to the world, just as the apostolic ministry of men in Holy Orders stands as Alter Christus to the Body of Christ.3   

.....When I say "the Apostolic Church," I do not mean to speak in any way whatsoever of an era, the times of the Apostles. No. We are the ApostolicChurch, as we learn from the Creeds, and the witness of the Fathers. The same Holy Spirit that was poured out on the day of Pentecost remains with us- if we dare to believe it. And, the Holy Spirit, after two thousand years of granting charismatic (χάρις) power (δύναμις) to the Body of Christ has never grown old or weary. Christ is seated at the Father's right hand, and he is very active through us in the fallen world where the people of every nation need to hear that testimony proclaimed that we have received from the witnesses of his resurrection. 

The God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, give unto you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him: The eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that ye may know what is the hope of his calling, and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints, And what is the exceeding greatness of his power to usward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power, Which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead, and set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places, Far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come: And hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church, Which is his body, the fullness of him that filleth all in all (Ephesians 1:17-23).

.....As we shall see on the next two Sundays, Christ has entered into the Heavens (a dimension hidden to us for now) to be seated at the right hand of God that “the Other παράκλητος (paraklētos)” would come.4 The Church as the Body of Christ is quickened and empowered to continue the work of the Incarnate Word, proclaiming Jesus to be both Lord and Christ.5



Friday, May 17, 2019

Benevolence Fund Update

https://www.gofundme.com/6vdptx-benevolence-fund


Because of your donations I have been able to provide families with food they wouldn’t have had this week, to provide necessary medicines for one person’s thyroid disease (which same disease, having gone untreated, killed both of her older siblings), and to buy insulin necessary to the life and health of an eighteen year-old diabetic who is not covered by any insurance or social program. That is all just this past week. Frankly, some of the needs of these same people will come up again before their situations improve. “The poor you have always with you.” Of your charity please continue to support the Saint Benedict’s Benevolence Fund.

FYI, I have a bank account that receives the funds. I have withdrawn all of the money donated so far to use for the purposes mentioned above, and before this week the same kind of needs. Some was used to pay bills online, and some to buy the needed food and the needed medicine outright. This is how it has to continue because we are taking care of immediate emergencies, not of things that can wait to be approved in an office somewhere.  

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

A source of moral confusion


A deadly dichotomy: Separating God's will from God's commandments

A very unfortunate doctrinal development that is popular among many modern Christians has a direct effect first on all moral reasoning. Somewhere, perhaps in the Middle Ages (or so I would argue), a tendency entered into the thinking of the Church, especially in the West, to emphasize, among the revealed attributes of God, will and power above love. The result on eschatological reasoning has been to make a clear separation between matters having to do with “God’s plan” – so to speak -from serious theological principles, especially anything to do with the unchanging nature of God. As people collect various ideas about fulfillment of predictive prophecy, pulling facts from history just a little here and there, or from current events (with heavy speculation about seemingly inevitable future developments), they create an entire system of biblical interpretation and doctrine in which unchanging and eternal principles of theology have no place. And, before you might dismiss this as a problem that exists only among the lesser educated masses, the fact is that it can be found just as readily in the strongholds of ecclesiastical academe.
          Closely related, and rooted in the same emphasis of divine will and power over divine love, is the dichotomy that such a doctrinal emphasis creates between the will of God and the commandments of God. This can be traced back through many centuries. It must be seen clearly for what it is: It is a destructive problem that often corrupts the minds of Christians, about God and about all matters of ethics and morality. It is thoroughly interwoven into many systems of theology that have achieved the utmost respectability. Let us see, for example how it distorts basic truths of the Gospel itself.
          
Can it be denied that Jesus, in all four of the Gospel books, sees His death on the cross as the will of God? Can it be denied that He quite willingly pursues that very death because it is His Father’s will? Indeed, He does. The cross for him, in his human nature, is the crowning act of obedience to God (Phil. 2 :1-11). And, in His divine nature, it is no less his own will as the Logos and only begotten Son of the Father (due to divine love, Gal.2:20).
          Right at this point, however, we come to a crossroads (no pun intended). One of two interpretations must govern how we understand the cross, and thereby how we understand the will of God, and thereby how we think of God, and thereby how we understand every moral and ethical question. Also, at this point we must get the answer right, or else we can never attain to the highest of all virtues, charity (I Cor. 13:13). We simply cannot afford to misinterpret this.
          The famous “Love Chapter,” that thirteenth chapter of First Corinthians, speaks of the ultimate good to which we are called, the highest virtue we are meant to acquire. It clearly teaches that growth into perfect love, the love of God that only the Holy Spirit can create and nurture within the human heart, is, for each disciple of Jesus, the revealed will of God. In order to learn this we have to see that the will of God is always made known to us in His commandments. We must face this simple sentence for all that it means: “[Love] does not rejoice in injustice, but rejoices with the truth (v.6).” In terms of consistent theological principle, and what has been revealed to be the unchanging nature of God as himself the revealed abiding reality of that love (“God is love” I John 4:8, 16), we have to be clear in our thinking as to what this means concerning the details of the crucifixion of our Lord. In what way were the betrayal of Judas, the false condemnation by the Sanhedrin, the brutality of the Roman soldiers, and all of the human sins committed to bring about the cruel death of Jesus Christ, the will of God?
          “For in truth both Herod and Pilate, along with the gentiles and peoples of Israel, conspired in this city against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, to do what your hand and your counsel designated should happen in advance…(Acts 26:27, 28).” That echoes the words of the patriarch Joseph, concerning the callous sin of his own brothers who had sold him many years earlier into slavery in Egypt: “And Joseph said unto them, ‘Fear not: for am I in the place of God? But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive. Now therefore fear ye not: I will nourish you, and your little ones.’ And he comforted them, and spake kindly unto them (Gen. 50:19, 20 KJV).”
          In both the crucifixion of Christ, with its details of grievous sins, and in the sin of Joseph’s brothers, we come across God accomplishing his will through the evil acts of men. If we take this to mean that God predestined each of those human sins to be perpetrated, that is that those sins were the will of God, and that the men who committed them had no free will to choose otherwise, then we must live with a dichotomy between God’s will and God’s commandments.  That dichotomy is rooted in placing divine will and power over divine love. A belief system that contains that dichotomy has produced many tragic results because it cannot fail to create seriously flawed ethical and moral reasoning, rooted in a distorted mental image of God that denies His impassibility and the consistency of divine simplicity. Such a view cannot contribute to a saintly life, for divine love has to be removed or greatly relegated to make way for some sort of supposedly higher considerations within a complex and even varied divine nature, one inconsistent with the agape St. Paul had so eloquently described to the Church of Corinth.
          If that is the case, then what can we mean by saying that God is good? Can divine love have, within itself, hatred? Was St. Paul wrong? Does light indeed have fellowship with darkness? Did God’s “hand and counsel designate” such malicious sins themselves? In the eternal will of God, did Judas have to betray the Lord? Did the Sanhedrin have to perpetrate injustice to the point of judicial murder? Did the soldiers have to crown Jesus with thorns and mock him? Did the brothers of Joseph have to hate him, and sell him? The answer that many Christians have been taught to accept is yes. They take literally the words from Malachi: “Jacob have I loved, Esau have I hated (Mal.1:3).”  Although such language merely used a Semitic idiom to say that God chose Jacob and rejected Esau, I have come across those who interpret this in a thoroughly modern western emotional sense, ignoring the true meaning (and the theological issue of what Jacob was chosen for, that is, the place of Israel in the large Messianic theme of Salvation History, as any intelligent reading of Romans chapters nine through eleven makes clear, once one’s head is free of the baggage). For them God hated Esau, so he predestined him to go to hell, making sure he would never receive divine mercy and salvation. And, so too, for them the cross teaches both divine love and a distorted picture of what must be called, honestly, divine cruelty – at best divine indifference.
          So, if we accept this doctrinal paradigm, light must have fellowship with darkness, hatred fellowship with love, and specific sins must actually be the outworking of God’s will. How can this completely distorted doctrine help but cause an image of a schizoid god divided within himself, preventing the believer from approaching any question of morality on the firm basis of consistent theological principle, and thus render the attainment of charity always beyond one’s reach? For, no one can rise to a higher moral level than what one worships as God. It is psychologically impossible.  
          However, what if the reality of what God’s eternal counsel and will determined was something other than, even excluding, the actual sins? Getting back to the question I posited above, “In what way were the betrayal of Judas, the false condemnation by the Sanhedrin, the cruelty of the Roman soldiers, etc., the Will of God?” The answer is, those sins were not at all the will of God. God has revealed his commandments in no uncertain terms, simply stated in the summary of the law to love God with one’s whole heart, mind and strength, and one’s neighbor as oneself. God’s will is revealed in those commandments, and anything contrary to them is not the will of God, never has been the will of God, and never can be the will of God.
          But God foresaw, and made use of, the outworking of history. God’s will was to save Israel and preserve them in the time of famine. So, when the brothers of Joseph did what was inevitable, foreseen by the God who knows all things, Providence produced what was good. In no way could their evil acts prevent the will of God; indeed, because He “enacts all things in accord with the counsel of his will (Eph. 1:11),” even the most sinful acts have to result in bringing about the good purpose of Almighty God. It was never the will of God for Judas to betray Christ, nor for the Sanhedrin to falsely convict Him, nor for the Romans to go about their violent and murderous acts with such schadenfreude. But, as a master of Chess makes use of every move by his opponent, God works providentially.
          Now, it was the will of God for the Son to offer Himself willingly for the sins of the whole world. It was the will of God for Jesus to surrender himself as the obedient suffering servant. The inevitable evil of a world hostile to God and to all goodness was very much within the foresight of the Almighty. Carrying out his will, to do good, was not prevented by human evil; indeed, whatever evil men do, God has the almighty power, nonetheless, to turn it to good. Therefore, inasmuch as he cannot be defeated, even evil acts result in his will being accomplished. But, to believe that God must rob man of the freewill that is inherent in the creation of the human race (else, the “image of God” becomes meaningless), and therefore wills any sinful act as something divinely “predestined,” must cause all of the theological confusion, and therefore moral confusion, I have described above.
          You will not find the genuine revelation in revealed religion unless you reject such intricate, and therefore fragile, designs of the human mind – or worse. The fifty-fifth chapter of Isaiah is often misquoted to give the impression that God’s will is an insolvable problem, as confusing as a physics formula on a chalkboard to the uninitiated. But the passage is not about the secret things; it is about those things that are revealed (Deut. 29:29). The details of that famous passage in the Book of Isaiah are overlooked; for what it states is that God’s ways and thoughts are too high for the wicked and unrighteous man; but they should be the ways and thoughts of each one of us because the thoughts and ways of God have come down to us like the rain and snow. God has made his will known. He has commanded you to love him and to love your neighbor. It is never God’s will for you to do otherwise.

Saturday, May 04, 2019

Update on St. Benedict's Benevolence Fund

UPDATE

I want to thank everyone who has contributed to this. All of the money raised has been used for poor people in Durham, NC, simply for necessary items, mostly food and medicine. On Thursday May 2, at our Diocesan Synod, this was part of the annual parish report I prepared for St. Benedict's Anglican Church here in Chapel Hill, NC.

"Some of the new families have been very faithful to bring food for the food basket. I mention that because giving what we are able to give to the poor has become a feature of our life as a parish. This has caused me to look into the idea of a “Go Fund Me” campaign to help some of the poor who call the church because their very real emergency needs are not met by anyone else, and not by social programs. A few of us have gotten to know some of them, and their families. The “Go Fund Me” campaign adds to what I was trying to accomplish through a discretionary fund that did not stretch far enough. Most of the poverty seems to be in Durham more than in Chapel Hill. I believe this is part of our calling, and we need not be afraid to obey the clear commandments Jesus Christ gave us in the Sermon on the Mount...If I have anything to suggest for the benefit of other congregations, it is this: Do not be afraid to give and to love 'the least of these.' Jesus said, “Freely you have received; freely give.” I believe that between seeking to obey that command, and praying for God to give the increase, we are simply handing Him five loaves and two small fishes. And, that is when He places it back in our hands and says, 'Give ye them something to eat.'”