Monday, October 02, 2006

Trinity XVI and more on the clash of civilizations

Having returned late on Saturday night from Fond du Lac Wisconsin, my Sunday sermon was ad libbed. But, as I read my 2005 sermon for the same Sunday, I saw its relevance to a topic that is of very immediate concern. The date of the Sixteenth Sunday after Trinity in 2005 just happened to be September 11th, and my thoughts were very much on the contrast between Christ's compassion, and the madness of Islamic mass murder. Relevant to this are words from the introduction to the first encyclical of Pope Benedict XVI (now available in book form, and adding to the Ratzinger theological corpus), Deus Caritas Est (God is Love). I quote: "In a world where the name of God is sometimes associated with vengeance or even a duty of hatred and violence, this message [of God's love] is both timely and significant." Amen to that. The compassion of Christ that moved Him to overturn the death of a young man in order to relieve the grief of one widow teaches us the nature of our faith. And, it stands in contrast to the spirit of evil, the teaching of antichrist.

Trinity XVI (2005)

Eph. 3:13-21 Luke 7:11-17

Anyone can speak death, and anyone can inflict death; but, only the word of God has the power to give life. Among the many things we see in today’s Gospel, we see life being given to the dead, and we see compassion. What a stark contrast we see between true and false religion. In Christ we see compassion and the giving of life. We see the opposite, the spirit of Antichrist, in Islamist terrorists who think that by killing us, they do God service. It is fitting to remember that today, only the fourth anniversary of that painful day when over three thousand people were killed in New York, and several more at the Pentagon; and more died heroically by making sure their plane crashed in Pennsylvania instead of hitting its target. It is fitting to remember them in our prayers on this day, September 11th.

We need to know that a false understanding about God has terrible consequences. No wonder, in the first chapter of his Epistle to the Galatians, Saint Paul told his children in the faith that anyone who would preach to them a false gospel is under a curse. That is, such a one has no true power. For true power is not the ability to curse, to inflict death and suffering; and we need not fear those who can do these things. Neither is true power the ability to deceive. If we grant power to such people, we are joining them in a cursed and barren existence. False ideas about God can be fatal. Just ask anyone who has seen a Jehovah’s Witness die an unnecessary death rather than receive something as simple and available as a blood transfusion.

We need to know why the first commandment is against worshiping any god other than the true God. In the long history of false religion, everything from paganism to pseudo-Christian cults, the terrible reality is that cruelty has been quite the normal thing. The ancient idols, spoken of in the Bible, were served through such things as human sacrifice, especially the sacrifice of children. When people shun the story of Abraham offering Isaac, and speak about how terrible the story is, they miss the whole point. Aside from the obvious theological truth in which Isaac carries the wood up the hill, and represents the Lord Jesus Who offered Himself for our sins on the cross, is a practical point as well. When God put Abraham through that ordeal, and then told him not to harm Isaac, the point was made to the people of Israel that the true God does not want the blood of children to be offered to Him; that such tragic sacrifices as were made to Molech of the people’s infants, and that are made today whenever children are murdered by abortion, are an abomination to God. It never entered His mind. He has never wanted any such thing to be done. And, since suicide and mass murder are a kind of sacrifice offered by Muslim terrorists to their god, these violent acts belong to the same category of religious abomination.

False religion brings death. And, contrary to the spirit of error and violence, in today’s Gospel Christ acts out of compassion to give life. The difference between true religion and false religion is the difference between revelation and error. The ultimate revelation is the Incarnation; the Person of the Son of God among us as a human being; someone we can see, hear and touch. If I may digress, the entire message of Mohamed was a rejection of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Mohamed came along in the 7th Century and created a religion in which God has no Son, and in which the word “Antichrist” achieved its most appropriate usage. For Islam really is Antichrist in the most accurate sense of that word. It rejects the truth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh, that is, that He is both fully God of one substance with His Father, and fully man, taking human nature from His blessed Virgin Mother (I John 4:1-3).

They call us idolaters, because we worship Christ. But, the difference between true religion and false religion is the difference of revelation- that is, what God has revealed. And, the greatest revelation is Jesus Christ, God with us, the Word made flesh. So, you see, now that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh, and we have come to know the truth of His two natures in one Person, what we embrace in Jesus Christ is the revelation of God. Once we know that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh, it would be idolatry to worship only a god that cannot be seen, heard and touched. Let me quote to you the opening of Saint John’s First Epistle:

1: That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life;
2: (For the life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and shew unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us;)
3: That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ.
4: And these things write we unto you, that your joy may be full.”

When God took Abraham up the mountain and taught against human sacrifice (while foreshadowing the crucifixion of His own Son), and later, when He told the people, through His prophet Moses, that they were to worship no other god, these things were done out of compassion for mankind. That compassion reached its highest expression when God the Son appeared in human form. It continues to this day through the Church, which continues the same mission given to Saint Paul, the mission to bring people out of darkness and ignorance into the light of the Gospel. That is your mission and mine. When the Lord Jesus appeared to Saul on the road to Damascus, and began to transform him into Saint Paul the Apostle, He called him to take his part in this mission of compassion. The Lord spoke to him about “…the Gentiles, unto whom now I send thee, to open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me (Acts 26: 17, 18).”

Because Jesus showed His compassion for a grieving mother by restoring her dead son to life, we see in this story what the Incarnation means. It means that Christ is, as the Orthodox Church has always put it, “the Lover of mankind.” God is among us in His love and compassion, if we will but free our minds of petty things that reduce our religion into something small. This very day, when you come to the altar rail for the sacrament, you will be touching and tasting Jesus Christ. This is not idolatry; it is the revelation of God. He is among us to give life, as the One Who has the power to give life when others can give only death. He gives us His own life, for His flesh is food indeed, and His blood is drink indeed. The Word, the Life manifested who our eyes will see, and our hands will handle, has come and will come to do what only God can do. He gives life to the dead.


Anonymous said...

Father, just keep 'em coming! I had tears in my eyes reading this. The Romans might have the best living theologian (not that I've read a wide enough sample to be qualified to judge), but if you're anything to go by, the Anglican continuum has the best preachers.

Anonymous said...

How, then, do we respond to the skeptics who point to certain Old Testament passages in which God seemingly commands the Israelites to wipe out entire communities--men, women, and children? They (the skeptics) claim that in these instances God is commanding "mass murder". Not that some skeptics will ever be convinced of the truthfulness of Christianity, but what apologetic can we use to answer this particular charge?

--Doubting Thomas

poetreader said...

Thank you, Father Hart, for a brilliant exposition and application of the Scriptures. I'm especially happy to see recognition of the deliberately anti-Christian nature of Islam. I get so very tired of those who class Islam as a branch of Judeo-Christian monotheism. It's not. Instead it approaches terrifyingly closely to conscious devil-worship.


Anonymous said...

Doubting Thomas,
I think we have to say that, unlike commands to use force in a certain other holy book (at least some devotees of which have turned into a general rule), these extermination commands were specific to a very ancient place and time and have been superseded by and should be read through the lens of the New Testament. It's not a complete answer, of course, because Fr Hart has been appealing as far back as the story of Abraham on the point that Judaism is different. The commands to exterminate had, so far as I understand, to do with the occupation of the promised land and the maintenance of racial and especially religious purity by the Hebrews. They weren't commands to conquer the world beyond the promised land (where, presumably, the heathen could worship whichever idols they wanted). And they were still an improvement on religions that, at that time, required communities to sacrifice their own children. As I say, it's not a complete answer, and I'm no theologian. Any ideas, Fathers?

Fr. Robert Hart said...

The mission of God's people under the Old Testament reflects the severity of the Law, because redemption was, as yet, to come. Under the New Testament we cannot fight for the Kingdom of God (John 18:36). With the full revelation of God in Christ we are able to preach the message of forgiveness (a message that Joshua and his army did not have). Nonetheless, remember that Rahab and her family are proof that faith, even back then, saved people of the Land from the immediate judgment of Joshua's army.

As for Abraham, in a sense, by predating the Law, he represents the spirit of the New Covenant because of his faith in the promise. This is what Saint Paul's theology teaches us.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the responses.
Doubting Thomas