Saturday, September 29, 2007

The Collect - Trinity 17

The Collect (a literal translation from the Latin first found in the 8th century Gregorian Sacramentary)

Lord, we pray thee that thy grace may always prevent and follow us, and make us continually to be given to all good works; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

While we recognize that salvation doesn’t come by doing good works, yet in this collect we pray that the Lord might “make us continually to be given to all good works.” The more we observe the good works of God on our behalf, the more we desire to do as God does; to be charitable, merciful, tender-hearted and forgiving. The more we hope in Christ, the more we desire HIS grace to go before us and to follow us, so that we might “walk worthy of the vocation to which we are called” (Eph. 4). No small task! It is possible only as HIS grace makes us able.

And what can we do to receive a greater measure of God’s grace? The Gospel reading assigned for this Sunday points us in the right direction: “For whoever exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.” (Luke 14)

Humility must go hand in hand with good works or else everything is overthrown! St. Mark the Ascetic reminds us that we are not to rejoice when we do good to someone, but when we endure with humility and “without rancor the hostility that follows. For just as night follows day, so acts of malice follow acts of kindness.” That is why we urgently need the Lord’s grace to go before us and after us.

------------------Alice C. Linsley

Friday, September 28, 2007

Sermon St. Michael and all Angels

Rev. 12:7-12

Matt. 18:1-10

And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon…

The fact of spiritual warfare is often neglected. Many churches give the impression that the Christian religion is a vacation luxury cruise ship instead of a battle ship, with battle stations. But, we see in the New Testament and other writings of the early Church a tendency to use military expressions regularly and somewhat spontaneously. Saint Paul, for example, telling the Ephesians to put on the whole armor of God in order to stand against principalities and powers, rulers of the present darkness of this world, and wicked spirits in heavenly places. He tells them to stand, that is, to hold their ground. Our Lord Jesus did not tell us to hold a party until He comes, but to occupy until he comes.

It is fitting on this, the Feast of Saint Michael and all Angels, to remember who the angels of God are. They are our fellow servants who are spoken of in the Books of the Kings by the prophet Elisha. When the Syrians came to capture the prophet, his servant and disciple, a young “son of the prophets” was afraid; so Elisha prayed that God would open his eyes to see the hills filled with chariots of fire and horsemen. “There are more that be with us than with them.” And, centuries later the prophet Daniel, after several days of fasting, saw the angel Gabriel who spoke to him those rather mysterious words, to the effect that he would have arrived sooner, but the prince of Persia withstood him. He then spoke of Michael as the prince who stands for the people of Israel. The implication is, all of the nations of fallen mankind are under the evil power Saint Paul calls “Principalities and powers,” but that Israel was under the protection of a holy angel, the warrior Michael. The Church has always lived with the realization that all around us are unseen beings of intelligence and power locked in a war, a war that seems to rage for mankind as the very battleground. Also, that we are not spectators, but rather that we are engaged in this war. The image of angels as effeminate or as cute little babies with wings, is as ridiculous and insulting as a “Precious Moments” picture would be of the Marine Corps.

The mystery of iniquity, spoken of in scripture, begins with the mystery of how a majestic creature, an angel called the “anointed cherub who covers” became the devil, and the mystery of his domain of fallen angels and sinful humanity. But, the fact that it is a mystery does not erase the obvious evidence set before our eyes, namely that a mad hatred of mankind is coupled with a mad hatred for God, and a rebellion that existed prior to all recorded history. People may not know how to see through the mystery to what evil is, and what motivates and energizes it. Nonetheless, everyone sees that it exists. The scriptures make clear, as well, that evil has already lost in the ultimate sense, that when our Lord Jesus was crucified the devil was, in the Lord’s words, “cast out.” The serpent’s head was crushed when he bruised the heel of the Man Who was the seed of the woman, that is the One born of the Virgin. And, when He rose from the dead Christ made an open show of the devil’s defeat by leading a Triumph. Therefore, the ongoing battle has nothing to do with ultimate victory. Never has there been the slightest possibility that a mere creature (no matter how powerful in our estimation) would even threaten, let alone defeat, God. Rather, the ongoing battle has everything to do with evil that is not superhuman, but rather subhuman, base and completely mad. The ongoing battle is all about unreasoning hatred for mankind in a battle for individual human souls, and about a proud rebellion against God, the war of a rebel without a cause, but with a grudge. This is the war that we see reflected in the lies and violence of the modern world. It does not appear to be sane, because it is not sane.

In the Gospel for this feast, we have been told of the need to humble ourselves as the little child. We are not told that children are an example to follow, as some preachers give out with muddle-headed sentimentality. Rather, our Lord told us to humble ourselves as the little child, that is, as he put it in another discussion when he was at a dinner and saw men choose the places of honor for themselves, that we should take the lowest place. We should assume no place of honor for ourselves, but rather give place to others. But, he did not say that children were examples for us to follow. Rather, He spoke clearly about their need to be protected, especially, their need to be protected from the influences that would corrupt them, deprive them of their innocence and rob the children of childhood.

It is in this context that we learn more about angels. We learn that even as they are engaged in the war for individual souls, they are, at the same time, beholding the face of the Father. The Church has always taken this to mean that the holy angels contemplate God. Clearly, they intercede in prayer, prayer that is in their own tongues and on the level of their own understanding. And, this passage, speaking of the angel of each child, is the passage that has always been taken to mean that God has appointed for each person a guardian angel. But, in this Gospel text we must see the warning of judgment.

This warning has everything to do with the reality of our spiritual warfare, and of how that warfare applies to the little child of whom Jesus our Lord speaks. Anyone who leads one such child into sin, who robs a child of innocence, who destroys the protection and sacredness of childhood, who despises the frailty of the weak instead of defending it, would have been better off to have had a millstone tied about his neck and to have been drowned in the depths of the sea. For, to lead children into sin brings about a judgment that is terrifying. Only of the traitor Judas are similar words spoken: “Better for that man had he not been born.”

What does this have to do with war in heaven, the vigilance of Saint Michael and the holy angles against the dragon, and therefore of our stand against principalities and powers, rulers of the present darkness of this age, and wicked spirits in heavenly places? I will answer first by posing a question: In the New Testament, what is the source of false doctrines about God? The phrases used by the writers of the various Epistles, Saints Paul, Peter and John, all agree. “Doctrines of demons, seducing spirits, the spirit of error, the spirit of Antichrist…” These are the phrases used when speaking of false teaching itself, those lies that amount to deception about God, about salvation, and about morals. One of the big challenges that I found facing me while I was in Arizona, was to help the people of Atonement Church understand the radical difference between those of us who Continue to practice the old orthodox Catholic faith preserved in our Anglican tradition, and the church which had left us behind. More than keeping the old services we like, and even the wonderful Prayer Book itself, is the simple fact that light cannot have fellowship with darkness. I said to them, “let others keep the endowments, the real estate, and the social prestige of being Episcopalians. We will keep the Faith.” I found it inexplicable that, before I had arrived on the scene, some families had returned to the local, very modern and apostate Episcopal “Church” simply because it had a nicer Sunday School, rather than working to have a good one where they were.

One of the main problems with a church that presents the confusing message of priestesses, and that preaches moral license that it calls tolerance, is the harm that it is doing to the children. And, when I find the so called “conservative” Christians who think they ought to stay in that denomination in order to fight and change it from within, I wonder that they cannot see that it is futile; but the ones who amaze me the most are the ones who take their children there. Isn’t it bad enough that some public schools teach them how to be immoral, and that they ought to accept any and all kinds of human sin in the name of “tolerance”- so-called? Should they be taken to a church, to a Sunday School, where they will learn false doctrines? Right now the world is not aiming its deception and temptations simply at adults, but at children, and constantly at younger and younger ages. The advertisements and entertainment aimed at their young minds should anger and shock us. It is not simply that children should not have perverted life styles presented to them as good; it is deeper. They ought to be allowed those early years of innocence and not be presented with what is called “adult themes.” If they are to be protected it is necessary that their parents resist the spirit of the times- real spirits of deception. And, the Church must teach right from wrong, not “tolerance.”

Back around 1990 I was warned that the new Batman movie might be a little dark and scary, and that I should look it over before letting my children see it. So, I watched it late at night. I was very alarmed at one scene, and quite amazed that I had heard nothing about it. Outspoken Christians whose faith was known to the public, had taken their children to see the movie. A good number of well known Christians had written or spoken about the movie. Why did no one catch the scene in which, after a first date, the leading lady (I use the term loosely) wakes up in Bruce Wayne’s bed? People were taking their children to a movie that taught them that the good guy, the hero, the one to emulate, Batman himself, takes the girls to bed. This was not James Bond, father of the hundreds of illegitimate Bond Babies- a new line of dolls I would like to patent. This was a children’s hero presenting a bad and immoral example. And a whole culture, Christians included, were oblivious to the message transmitted to young minds, however subliminal its delivery. My children were not allowed to see it; I returned the tape the next morning. I would suggest to you that many people, many Christians, were oblivious to the deception because we live in an age of deception, an age where lies are preferred over truth. This too is spiritual, and we need to be vigilant.

As I said, when the Lord Jesus was obedient even to the death of the cross, the serpent’s head was crushed. When He rose from the dead He showed that He was triumphant over the powers of darkness and had defeated sin and death. As we occupy this ground until He comes, warring for our souls and the souls of others, we are joined in the battle by Saint Michael and the holy Angels. There are more that be with us than with them.


Icon of St. Michael from Monastary Icons

Last One Out Turn Off the Lights

My head is spinning. I never would have imagined that it would happen so fast, but then it really didn't. It has been in the offing for four years.

The Common Cause Partnership (CCP) is born.

This is Explosion Number One, as predicted here just a few days ago:

"Anglican bishops from ten jurisdictions and organizations pledged to take the first steps toward a “new ecclesiastical structure” in North America. The meeting of the first ever Common Cause Council of Bishops was held in Pittsburgh September 25-28.

"The bishops present lead more than 600 Anglican congregations. They formally organized themselves as a college of bishops which will meet every six months. They also laid out a timeline for the path ahead, committed to working together at local and regional levels, agreed to deploy clergy interchangeably and announced their intention to, in consultation “with those Primates and Provinces of the Anglican Communion offering recognition under the timeline adopted,” call a “founding constitutional convention for an Anglican union,” at the earliest possible date agreeable to all of the partners.

"'We met deeply aware that we have arrived at a critical moment in the history of mainstream Anglican witness in North America. God has led us to repentance for past divisions and opened the way for a united path forward. To him be the glory,' said Bishop Robert Duncan, convener of the council."

Read it all here.

The Episcopal Church has been hit by the first major blast, as a whole host of groups and jurisdictions come together to form a new church. They are the American Anglican Council (AAC); the Anglican Communion Network (ACN); the Anglican Mission in the Americas (AMiA); the Anglican Network in Canada (ANiC); the Anglican Province of America (APA); the Convocation of Anglicans in North America (CANA); the Anglican Essentials Federation (AEF); Forward in Faith, North America (FIF/NA); and the Reformed Episcopal Church (REC).

Therein lie the elements that will cause Explosion Number Two, as I see little hope of such a disparate group maintaining any sort of real unity.

In the short term, however, we face the prospect of Avignon versus Rome -- two entities vying with each other as the true face of "mainstream Anglicanism" and seeking to convince the world of their bona fides. The Episcopal Church will no doubt retain its recognition by Canterbury, while the CCP will be embraced by the so-called Global South.

There will be more explosions to come, as catholic individuals, parishes and dioceses now belonging to the ten founding entities of the CCP find that there is no place for them in an institution that, in all likelihood, will continue to "ordain" women and worship with the 1979 "book of common prayer."

On that first point, the declaration says as much, when it states that one issue that will have to be dealt with is "How we will live together with bishops and congregations and dioceses that do ordain women and others that do not ordain women, affirming that we will not violate anyone’s conscience on this matter."

As to the second point, it hints as much when it says that two other issues to be dealt with are common worship and stating and maintaining a common Anglican ethos.

Both of these points are a far cry from the clarity provided by the Affirmation of St Louis.

I would so very much like to think that I am wrong, and that there will be no second or subsequent explosions; that the CCP could indeed be the foundation of a truly orthodox and catholic jurisdiction. But I fear that I will be proved right.

Let us pray for Bishop Duncan and all those involved in this bold venture, that they might take the steps necessary to prove me wrong. May God bless them.

And let us in the continuing movement not stand on the sidelines, pooh-poohing. Instead, let us seek dialogue with the CCP. They have already thought of that. The very final point included in their list of issues to be dealt with is this: Consistent with resolutions of Lambeth Conference, seeking to draw continuing churches, not members of the Common Cause Partnership, into fellowship.

Meanwhile, watch as the implosion now begins in earnest, as liberal, faithless "Anglicanism" begins to wither before our very eyes.

At least they'll save on their electricity bills.

Essay on St. Michael and all Angels

My sermon will be posted on or by Saturday.

September 29th is the feast of St Michael and all Angels. Angels are our fellow servants of God. Like us they are created beings, and do not share the uncreated nature of God. But, they are spirits, and their existence is both known to us and yet mysterious to us.

I have never understood the readiness some clergymen have had to proclaim themselves sophisticated by stating that they do not believe in angels. I once heard an Episcopal priest stand in the pulpit of a church, and make this very statement- but this same priest was also a devotee of H.L. Mencken. So, it should not surprise me that his idea of sophistication was sophomoric. He did not deny the Virgin Birth, or the Resurrection of our Lord, but one had to wonder what next? What else will he dismiss as beneath his own brilliance of mind, simply because it is too glorious and transcendental for his awkward attempt at honest skepticism? He thought his unbelief a thing impressive, as if it were a badge of wisdom.

I recall some years ago that Archbishop Peter Akinola, Anglican Primate of Nigeria no less, was visiting the United States, and was approached by members of the "Gay" advocacy group in the Episcopal Church. Without hesitation, the archbishop began to command the demons in them to be silent, and spoke the commands of exorcism. Word of this got to Mr. John Shelby Spong (I do not recognize him as a bishop), who attempted to make light of the African bishop’s lack of sophistication.

Surely, that is backwards. The ones who lack sophistication are the Western modern elitists, such as Mr. Spong. They cannot conceive of the supernatural world. Their ability to understand is limited not by reason and knowledge, but by foolishness and bigotry (the “benevolent” bigotry of liberals in this case). How easily they show contempt for African bishops who are not only their spiritual superiors, but who are also their superiors in scholarship and in theology. Mr. Spong no doubt thinks that he is the enlightened and educated one compared to the Anglicans of Africa, which only indicates that some of the people we are calling "liberals" these days are racists.

Indeed, to understand that a whole world exists that is invisible to us, inhabited by beings of a nature higher than our own- as every nature is supernatural to the natures below it- requires not so much the faith of a child, but the intelligence of minds which have been lifted to the great height of humility, raised to lowliness, able to see that even the science that we do know reveals a magnificence and intricacy of design which, with each new discovery, opens more questions concerning the things that we do not know. Scientists who learn new facts make us all less knowledgeable as a result, because the more we learn the less we know in proportion to any measure of a complete understanding. We gain ground only to lose more ground in our quest for knowledge. For, whereas before, questions could be few, we have now more questions; for the increase of knowledge shows that the percentage of it that we have is less than we thought. For every discovery of fact opens more questions than we had been asking before. So, a truly learned and intelligent person becomes humble, for all his knowledge can only tell him how ignorant he is.

Not so those who misunderstand the progress of science, and think that we now know just about everything, and that we can understand every phenomenon with what they sophomorically call "a scientific explanation". But, they do not have the courage to face real science, and its unsettling effect on human pride.

They think that their limited knowledge should rule out what they characterize as things "simple" and "childish." How simple and childish of them. The spiritual side of this is the statement of our Lord, that only the one who humbles himself as a little child 1 is great in the Kingdom of Heaven. While Western Rationalist clergymen, such as Mr. Spong and the Mencken enthusiast, applaud their own sophistication, truly wise men are worshipping God with angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven. Those who are humble enough to receive the wisdom that comes from God have no time to waste trying to look clever by the low standard of Western Rationalism.

The reading we have from the twelfth chapter of the Book of Revelation tells us why. It tells of spiritual warfare. It speaks of the battle St. Michael and the armies of God are fighting against the devil and his angels. We see it all around us, unless our delusion of sophistication blinds us to the war. Is it not obvious to us that the world around us is hostile to God, to everything that is true and good? For example, every time a new discovery of medical science brings home just how depraved and viscous it is to murder children in the womb by abortion, that discovery is ignored by the major press. When the discovery is invoked as yet more evidence for life, it meets with a hostile attempt at censorship, as though the most obscene thing in the world is to speak the truth. And, indeed, it is, by the standard of this world and its prince. This would be a great mystery to me if I did not know about spiritual warfare. But, as one who knows of it, I have been prepared to recognize the war for what it is.

The war is very real; I have had the very Biblical experience of performing genuine exorcism and of seeing a human being released quite suddenly from the grip of demon possession. I do not know fully what demon possession is, for it is still a mystery; I cannot put it under a microscope. But, I know enough to have been ready to act when a person was in need, and to do what Jesus said to do. The results were quite wonderful.

"Our battle is not against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers, against rulers of the spiritual darkness of this world, and against spiritual wickedness in heavenly places." So says St. Paul;2 and he tells us to put on the whole armor of God in order to stand in the evil day. We do not know when the evil days are gong to be. We have all had an evil day of weather, with enough warning that people should have been ready for winds and flood. So it is with days of spiritual warfare, evil days. We must be prepared by wearing the whole armor of God, as explained in the sixth chapter of Ephesians. Otherwise our minds and hearts will be exposed to all of the weapons of deception and damnation. We must also be ready through the regular practice of prayer and of fasting. This should be part of our routine, just as the whole armor of God should be part of our daily life. Unless we live on a war footing, we are not prepared.

We know, or should know, that the angels are messengers. The words in Hebrew and Greek translated "angel" in our English Bible, mean messenger. In fact, John the Baptist was the greatest born of women, for though he was a man he is registered in the company of angels. He was the Messenger of the Covenant (H’ Melech H’ Br’it).

We know that when God sent important words to man, especially when the Word was made flesh, it was done by the Message of an Angel. For Gabriel appeared to Mary and announced that she would be the mother of our Lord, that indeed not simply despite her virginity, but because of her virginity, she would bear and bring forth God in the flesh. Who but an angel could bring this word as a message which causes the event to happen? A word with the creative power of God Himself, put in the mouth of God’s own messenger as God’s own words.

And in addition to their being messengers, we see them as warriors. The scriptures speak this way quite a bit, especially in Joshua and in Daniel, and of course in the New Testament, such as in the Book of Revelation. This ought to comfort us in all our tribulation. For we are not alone. There are more with us than with them, angels fellow servants of God.

1. See Matthew 18:4, which happens to be part of the Gospel reading for this feast. I will say more about this in the sermon to follow.

2. See Ephesians 6:10f

Prayer to the Saints

Canon John Hollister, one of our regular readers and very active commentators, has kindly given me permission to publish the following cybernetic conversation he has had at another venue.

"Why would any Anglican Christians want to pray to anyone other than God at any time? I have been told by an ACC member that many Anglicans pray the rosary and pray to the saints for their intercession."

Here is Canon Hollister’s reply:

Have you ever asked another Christian to pray for you? Have you ever asked for the assistance of a prayer group or prayer chain, or as a member of such a group prayed for someone else? I would be very surprised if you had not, because praying for one another is both a natural human impulse and a Christian duty.

But if you have done that very natural, communal, and traditional thing, then you have "prayed to someone for their intercession". "To pray" is merely a somewhat antiquated phrase for "to ask sincerely"; thus when a lawyer drafts a Complaint or Petition to begin a lawsuit, it always ends with a "Prayer for Relief" in which the Complainant or Petitioner sets out what it is he wants the court to do for him.

Similarly, "intercession" merely means "asking on behalf of someone else".

"Saint" means "someone who has been sanctified", that is, "has been made holy", which each of us has been by our dedication to God's service that was a major result of our baptism. (That we often do not live up to this holy calling is cause for regret but it does not make our "sanctification" any less real. That is why St. Paul could write "To the Saints which are in Corinth", even though those folks were behaving in a very unholy fashion.)

When we recite the Creed and declare that "I believe in the Holy Catholic Church; the Communion of Saints", we declare our belief that the Church Militant (struggling here on earth) and the Church Triumphant (those who have passed through the Gates of Larger Life to be in fellowship with God) are both one body. That is, because time is merely an aspect of the created order and God, as the Creator, is outside of and not bound by the restrictions of that created order, to God what we think of as past, present, and future are all equally accessible.

Thus all Christians who have ever lived, live now, or will ever live are all equally members of the Church which is the Communion of Saints.

Thus while you may very properly ask me, as another member of the Church Militant, to pray for you, so either or both of us may properly ask a member of the Church Triumphant to pray for us as well. The only difference is that I may well respond to you, or you to me, that "I have put you on my prayer list". The member of the Church Triumphant from whom we beg the same favor cannot respond in a way that we will hear but, as a matter of faith, and if we have chosen a responsible person to whom to address that request, we can be confident that as a good Christian he or she will do as we ask.

Many of us, knowing that Our Lady is, out of all Christians, the most perfectly obedient to God's will, feel that confidence in even greater degree with respect to her. Thus many of us choose to include her among those we ask to pray for us.

It is important to note that in all these cases, we are asking a fellow member of the Church to address his or her prayers TO GOD on our behalf. We do not ask Mary or any other named member of the Church to pray for us because she or he has any greater power than any other member of the Church; it is just another basic human instinct that when we need others' prayers, the more of them we can get the better we feel about it.

"I do not pray for the dead. I believe they are beyond my interference, and are in the hands of God. So why should I ask the dead to pray for me?"

All of us at some time get caught up in the fallacy of thinking about Heaven in the terms we have learned through our experiences here on earth. You say of those members of the Church who are, in merely earthly terms, dead that "they are beyond my interference". But you can only say that if on some level you believe they have been placed beyond the reach of prayer by some force that we cannot withstand.

Here on earth there is one such primary force: time. It is the one dimension known to us which is unidirectional: it flows in only one way and we can neither turn it to the side, and so slow it, or turn it around, and so reverse it.

Time, however, like length, breadth, height, mass, etc., is only an aspect of this created, physical world. It has no application outside of this created order. Thus to God, and we must assume to those who live in fellowship with God, what we perceive as past, present, and future are all equally capable of being known. It is a poor metaphor, as all metaphors
at bottom must be, but think for a moment what it is like to walk down a crowded street. The walker is separated from the others there by physical distances which he or she perceives as forward, backwards, or to one side or the other.

Sometimes, indeed, the effect of those distances is not just to separate us from other walkers but to conceal them from us, behind the crowd or some obstacle, around a corner, or over on the next street. To an observer posted on the top of a tall building, however, his vantage point makes those factors of distance in front, distance behind, or distance to
the side merge into the background and become largely irrelevant: he can see all the walkers on the block below him, and most for many blocks around, equally well.

So it is with God and those who have lived, live now, or will at some future time live where we live now. And since all of these persons are equally present to God, it makes perfect sense for me to pray to Him for His grace and mercy upon them, even though some of them have, from my very limited perspective, "already" died. If you prefer to think of it this way, then you can put it that God knew from the beginning of time that I
would be offering these prayers, and so has, I trust, already taken them into account.

To refuse to pray for the "dead" is a classic Protestant error, one that makes a mockery of the "Communion of Saints" to which we give our assent every time we recite one of the Creeds. It has always been a mystery to me why the Puritans took such a dislike to the departed, especially to the long-departed. After all, they could scarcely have known their forebears in person, and therefore had no principled basis on which to condemn them and to eject them from the Church.

But then Puritans have always had very little time for anyone who was not exactly like themselves, haven't they?

Thursday, September 27, 2007

The Collect - Saint Michael and all Angels (sept 29)

The Latin Collect
Deus, qui miro ordine Angelorum ministeria hominumque dispensas: concede propitius; ut a quibus tibi ministrantibus in caelo semper assistitur, ab his in terra vita nostra muniatur,
The Collect 1549
EVERLASTYNG God, which haste ordayned and constituted the services of all Angels and men in a wonderfull ordre: mercifully graunt, that they whiche alwaye doe thee service in heaven, may by thy appoyntment succour and defende us in earth: through Jesus Christe our Lorde, &c.
The Collect 1662
O EVERLASTING God, who hast ordained and constituted the services of Angels and men in a wonderful order; Mercifully grant, that as thy holy Angels alway do thee service in heaven, so by thy appointment they may succour and defend us on earth; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Cranmer’s masterful translation of this ancient collect, first found in the Gregorian Sacramentary, preserves all the depth of content of the original, and clothes it in a truly elegant English.
How remarkable it is that the cloud of angels that worship God ceaselessly in Heaven are also sent, by His mercy, as messengers of His Word and as defenders of His people. Jacob saw them ascending and descending as on a mighty ladder, when Elisha’s servant’s eyes were opened, he saw them surrounding the city in which they were besieged, Mary heard by the message of an angel that she was to become Mother of God, angels announced the resurrection of the Lord, St. Peter was freed by an angel, and so it has been and will ever be. St. Michael and all angels, defend us.

----------------------------ed pacht

Bp. Steenson's Unfortunate Remark

"...which ought to raise for us the disturbing images of continuing Anglican churches where prelates seem to outnumber people."

Albion mused on why Bishop Jefferey Steenson, in offering his resignation from the position of Ordinary of the Diocese of the Rio Grande (The Episcopal Church), expressed no interest in Continuing Anglicanism. First of all, I do not blame any clergyman for going to Rome or Orthodoxy, and Bp. Steenson is going to Rome- judging from his letter. I assume that means he is going there, as my brother did, under the terms of the Pastoral Provisions. If anyone truly believes in the claims of the Papacy, he should go to Rome because of his conscience. If someone does not believe those claims, as I do not believe them (as defined in our time), he should not go to Rome. Furthermore, it is risky to enter our Continuing Anglican world unless one is sure of his financial health should the ministry fail to provide a living, which is often the case. Nonetheless, the only reason for a clergyman to join us is because he actually believes that the Anglican Way is right and good, and worth saving from the wreckage of the Cantuarian apostates. If Bp. Steenson believes, as it seems he does, in the claims of the Roman Magisterium, then I can only be happy for him to find a place among that branch of God's One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.

However, I must take issue with Bp. Steenson's understanding of just who and what we are. In particular, with things that he wrote in his 2005 paper, "The New Donatists." I was prepared to write about this last night, and have been trumped by Fr. John Hollister of the ACC, who wrote a very good comment about this same paper on another thread on this blog. Therefore, I have little left to write about before simply quoting Fr. Hollister (I assume his permission, inasmuch as he wrote it as a comment right here). All I have left to comment on is one very unfortunate remark. As a passing observation, referring to a historical episode that we would classify with the term episcopus vagens, and that the Catholic Church at that time called episcopus sine populo, Bp. Steenson wrote: "...which ought to raise for us the disturbing images of continuing Anglican churches where prelates seem to outnumber people."

With all due respect for this man, and for the fight he has been through as he has tried to wage a battle for what he believes, I must cry "foul." Having been in the APCK, where we had at that time five bishops and thousands of members; being in contact with bishops and other clergy of the ACC and the ACA, and serving here in my original jurisdiction where we have only one bishop in the whole state of Maryland and Delmarva area, the Continuing Anglicanism I am most familiar with usually manages to provide one and only one priest for every church. Here in Easton, Maryland I serve under a bishop in his own church (which makes it, technically, a cathedral), in a situation where we are quite busy as it is.

I have remarked before that it is not our fault that freedom of religion allows for a lot of imitation. To blame the crazy antics of the imitators on honest, often overworked, almost always underpaid (when paid at all) Continuing Anglican clergy, is as out of place as blaming the See of Rome for those "Catholics" who "ordained" women on the river barge last year, or the Orthodox church for the imitation Orthodox (like "the Celtic Orthodox Church"), or the Polish National Catholic Church for the "Old Catholic" vagante "Archbishop of all North America" whose church was in his garage. Bp. Steenson's remark is an unfortunate caricature, not a true picture. It has no more accuracy than any other prejudicial stereotype (if you will forgive the repetitive redundancy). Again, with all due respect for the man, I hope he will withdraw it.

For the rest of this post, I will bring Fr. John Hollister's comment out from the comment box, and repost it here. It is quite a fair critique of the paper by Bp. Steenson, and is in the nature of an erudite disagreement such as is quite normal in the polite world of academia:

Bp. Steenson, in his paper "The New Donatists", falls into two serious errors.

First, he stated that "Donatism did not represent a significant departure from creedal orthodoxy. But ... this is exactly what is happening in the Anglican Church of Canada and the Episcopal Church in the USA.... [These are] the creedal questions: for instance, same-sex blessing held out as marriage is a doctrinal not a disciplinary matter. When a local church acts unilaterally against the counsel, indeed the pleas, of the rest of the Christian world, who is the schismatic?"

What is significant here is that while Bp. Steenson is willing to see male-female marriage and the maintenance of chastity as doctrinal issues, he apparently does not see the purported "ordination" of women as an equally communion-breaking matter. Yet the question is the same in both cases: whether the present, temporary stewards of the Church have the authority to alter the received, and therefore presumptively revelational, truths that the Church has always taught.

Second, he assumes that traditionalists question the sacramental validity of ECUSA and its allies on the ground of the personal unworthiness of ECUSA's leaders. This would be true Donatism but it is in fact a false depiction of the reasons for that question. Instead, those of us who doubt that ECUSA today either possesses or can confer valid Orders, and therefore doubt that it can validly confect and administer those Sacraments that depend upon an Apostolic ministry, do so not because of the manifest unworthinesss of ECUSA representatives such as Vickie Gene Robinson but on quite another ground. That is because we question the sacramental intention employed by an organization that pretends to ordain women to the same Order to which it attempts to ordain men and that thereafter holds those women out to the public as true Apostolic ministers -- such as the ineffable Dr. Jefferts Schori.

These are failures that render utterly worthless his implicit criticisms of Continuing Anglicans.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Women's "Ordination" is a Christological error

I came across a fine book review in First Things by Monica Migliorino Miller, which you may read in its entirety by clicking here. She has made a very good point, namely that the error of women's "ordination" violates Christological dogma. I quote a few lines below:

"Christ is the Lord of history, he is the Lord of his Church. Behind the 'fundamental reasons' is a christological one, and while the Church’s documents insist on Christ’s freedom, it is the theologian’s task to explain why this is important...the theological reasons are absolutely necessary unless we are to accept that Christ’s will is arbitrary and shrouded in an unfathomable mystery that makes no sense to believers...The theology of an all-male priesthood has to do with the complementary/nuptial meaning of human sexuality and Christ’s masculine identity as bridegroom to the Church—a marital I/Thou relation that forms the very order of the covenant of salvation itself...there are trinitarian, christological, and metaphysical reasons for Christ’s incarnation as a male...The ban on women priests is not simply a matter of the Church remaining true to a fact—Christ only chose men—but a matter of the Church remaining faithful to the fundamental truth of the relation between the order of redemption and the order of creation—an order the Church has no power to undo."

All of these lines are excellent, because Christology is the issue in the Women's "Ordination" debate. And yet, these excellent points show why all of our arguments over the years have not so much as slowed the tide of apostasy in this matter. How can we talk about theology to people who answer with sociology, political theory and trendy psychology? We are up against a kind of blindness that carries culpability, indeed, a form of willful ignorance. Why do they fail to see the priesthood as a theological subject? Why do they think of it in strictly political terms? Such blindness is sinful because it involves volition, the will not to see.

In January I posted a blog article in response to a piece by Frederica Matthews-Green, because, with all due respect for her, I did not accept her idea that the significance of the priesthood can be reduced to what happens at the altar. It is the most important part, yes, but not the whole. In so doing, I wrote something very relevant to this whole subject, which can be found here.

Rome 1, Continuers 0

The bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of the Rio Grande, the Rt Revd Jeffrey Steenson, has announced plans to renounce his orders and join the Roman Catholic Church. He did so in a statement to the House of Bishops.

Enquiring minds would like to know why he has not announced his plans to join the continuing movement.

Were none of the bishops or other clergy in New Mexico or west Texas aware of his plight? Did any of them open their arms to him? If not, why not? If so, can any of them tell us what his response was?

The Coup de Grace?

The House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church in the United States has spoken, and its statement can be found at Stand Firm in Faith. The die is cast for the eventual disintegration of the Anglican Communion. In short, the bishops have refused to accede to the demands of the communion's primates in February to put an end to the blessing of same-sex relationships and to refrain from consecrating as bishops practicing homosexuals.

As this is one of the most classic examples of Anglican fudge ever written, the analyses will consist of hundreds of millions of bytes but the end result will be what has been predicted: the Anglican Communion will suffer both implosion (the steady and inexorable decay and death of those parishes, dioceses and provinces that remain within it) and explosion, as more and more others leave and realign themselves with others.

For early examples of intepretations of what the bishops have done, see the piece in the New York Times, which pretty much concurs with me, and this one by the BBC, which would suggest that all is well.

For those of you who wish to look more closely at what was asked for in February, you can find here a link to the Primates' communique, in which they noted the following: "... we believe that there remains a lack of clarity about the stance of The Episcopal Church, especially its position on the authorisation of Rites of Blessing for persons living in same-sex unions. There appears to us to be an inconsistency between the position of General Convention and local pastoral provision. We recognise that the General Convention made no explicit resolution about such Rites and in fact declined to pursue resolutions which, if passed, could have led to the development and authorisation of them. However, we understand that local pastoral provision is made in some places for such blessings. It is the ambiguous stance of The Episcopal Church which causes concern among us."

What the Episcopal bishops said in response was that "We, the members of the House of Bishops, pledge not to authorize for use in our dioceses any public rites of blessing of same-sex unions until a broader consensus emerges in the Communion, or until General Convention takes further action. In the near future we hope to be able to draw upon the benefits of the Communion-wide listening process. In the meantime, it is important to note that no rite of blessing for persons living in same-sex unions has been adopted or approved by our General Convention. In addition to not having authorized liturgies the majority of bishops do not make allowance for the blessing of same-sex unions. We do note that in May 2003 the Primates said we have a pastoral duty 'to respond with love and understanding to people of all sexual orientations.' They further stated, '…[I]t is necessary to maintain a breadth of private response to situations of individual pastoral care.'"

What the bishops did not address is the fact that some of them allow same-sex blessings, if not even implicitly encourage them.

Monday, September 24, 2007

ECUSA goings on. Howe can this be any kind of solution

...for what ails them?

Photo: The Episcopal Church

To some degree the happenings of the official Canterbury Anglican Communion may seem irrelevant to us. I suggest that we cannot afford to ignore it completely if we understand the duty that charity places upon as Christ's servants and evangelists. We must be more visibly welcoming as the truly alternative Anglican home. Our churches are the life boats for those who realize that their ship is going down, and that along with the rats who desert sinking ships, it is intelligent people who abandon them.

The following has been unscrupulously lifted by me from the Stand Firm blog, where it had been posted by Matt Kennedy. I am pasting it here, like the bad fellow I am, and will comment below it.
A Proposal to the House of Bishops from Bishop John Howe

To My Fellow Bishops: We are deeply, tragically, horribly "stuck," not only in The Episcopal Church, but in the Anglican Communion as a whole. In the past three days we have heard again what we already knew, that we have damaged our relationships with many parts of the Communion by failing to give sufficient attention to "common discernment," and by moving ahead with decisions in the area of human sexuality before the rest of the Anglican family is able to accept those decisions. It is clear that the great majority of our Bishops cannot retreat from what they believe to be not only a matter of justice, but a "Gospel imperative." But, in the light of that, we are squandering members, finances, and energy in our deadlock. What we need is a comprehensive solution that will end the international interventions, end the defections, end the property disputes, end the litigation, and end the ravaging of our witness and mission to the outside world simultaneously. I believe there is such a solution, but it will require great sacrifice on all sides.

I propose that we:

1) Put the Resolution of the "Windsor Bishops" to a vote. It calls for full compliance with the requests of the Primates in their Communique from Tanzania last February.
2) Those who cannot, for conscience' sake, abide by the acknowledged teaching and discipline of the Communion (Lambeth I:10) will then voluntarily withdraw (at least temporarily) from the official councils of the Communion (as per Professor Katherine Grieb's much appreciated proposal to us in March at
Camp Allen ).
3) Those committed to the Communion's teaching and discipline will continue their participation in the councils of the Communion.

4) Perhaps we will then adopt the Archbishop of Canterbury's terminology of "constituent" and "associate" membership for our dioceses. "Constituent" = fully
Windsor-compliant. "Associate" = committed to remaining Anglican, but unable to accept the Windsor proposals.
5) Those congregations and clergy which are in "associate" dioceses, who wish to continue in "constituent" membership will be transferred to the oversight and care of "constituent" dioceses and Bishops - and vice-versa.
6) We will then request the Primates who have established extra-geographical oversight in this country to give that up, and fold any congregations under their care back into "constituent" dioceses.
7) We will endeavor to fold any American clergy who have been consecrated by international jurisdictions into Suffragan and Assistant Episcopal positions in "constituent" dioceses.

8) Without relinquishing their membership in The Episcopal Church, the "constituent" dioceses will elect their own Coordinator, and function as a parallel provincial entity for a period of 5 years (or perhaps 6 = two General Conventions, or 10 = the next
Lambeth Conference).
9) After 5, 6, or 10 years we determine whether or not a "new consensus" has emerged within the Anglican Communion, and in the light of that determination -

10) We either recombine as a single jurisdiction, or we fully separate.

Warmest regards in our Lord,
The Right Rev. John W. Howe

Episcopal Bishop of Central Florida

For those who do not know, before he was a bishop, John Howe was the well known Rector of Truro Episcopal Church in Virginia, during which time he was the director of the National Organization of Episcopalians for Life (NOEL), and in that role deserved credit for his pro-life work; a fact I will not forget. Nonetheless, my disagreements with him date back to his extremely Protestant book, Our Anglican Heritage, and have continued to grow due to his support of women's "ordination," and his sadly compromised vote on sexual morality in the Episcopal Church's General Convention of 2000 (concerning the measure that left it up to each Diocesan Ordinary to determine his own policy on the blessing of same sex unions). When he says, "It is clear that the great majority of our Bishops cannot retreat from what they believe to be not only a matter of justice, but a 'Gospel imperative,' " he is being altogether too polite to those who teach that the Church must include "gays and lesbians" by affirming a life of willful sin, without regard to the need for repentance and the healing that only Christ gives to those who truly ask for it.

In Bishop Howe's proposal above we see the desperate measures of Evangelicals and other conservatives in the Episcopal Church who want to hold their national church together, and want to prevent it from being forced out of the world wide Anglican Communion. Not that the Archbishop of Canterbury is really willing to do the things he was promising only last year when he saw no way to keep the Episcopal Church in the AC. His trip to the United States, and his spineless compromise at every turn from the time he got here, have all been proof that Archbishop Rowan Williams is the one man who can hold a debate on any issue without an opponent. Just put two podiums on a stage, and let him walk back and forth between them, and the debate can proceed. Nonetheless, the African Primates, the Primate of the Southern Cone, and others, will stick to their guns, and insist on the terms of the Windsor Report and of the Dar es Salaam Communigue
. So, while the boneless wonder makes nice with the apostates, the swords are being sharpened nonetheless. I mean swords of division. After all the dust settles, the Anglican Communion will never be the same, for it will no longer have even the appearance of collegiality and union.

What does this mean for those of us who stand on the 1977 Affirmation of St. Louis? It means that we really have to clarify our evangelistic priorities. As people leave the Anglican Communion (a likelihood for which we must prepare whether it happens in big numbers or not), we must not provide reasons why they should pass us by and look for options in Protestantism, Rome or Orthodoxy. Neither should we give them reason to feel a need strictly for other Anglican options such as the AMiA, and other bodies that remain compromised on various issues.

We see a blind spot in the Low Church defections from the Anglican Communion. But they see one in us.

Their major blind spot is women's "ordination." In the case of the AMiA, I have made it clear on this blog, consistently, that to the degree we marginalize them we only help solidify them in their Protestantism (speaking in Anglican terms, of course). Their study of women's "ordination" was clearly honest, and not agenda driven, which is why they came close to the right decision. They no longer have any women serving as priests, and they have a clear understanding that such a thing must not be allowed again; for this we can give thanks and we credit the Holy Spirit for opening their eyes. But, they lack still a true understanding of Holy Orders (indeed, not even knowing that Holy Orders is a sacrament), and so they "ordain" women to the Diaconate. 1

But, the Evangelical defectors from the AC, and some still in the AC, have every right to mention a possible blind spot of ours: Are we truly evangelistic? Do our churches reach out to everybody, including the unchurched? I believe that a good number do; but on the whole we are not addressing this as much as we should (by the way, where is Ohio Anglican lately? He was always good at reminding us that this is important).

Our blind spot is the one we must think about the most, because it is ours. This is a time of opportunity, but it is a time of peril. If, indeed, a large defection from the official Anglican Communion is going to happen, we can reach out to those in the waters and give them a life boat- more than that, the home they need- or we can become irrelevant like never before. Also, we can ignore the Anglican Communion in its mess and confusion, and continue to keep ourselves "pure" from its imperfections, or we can be part of the discussion, and so help restore true orthodoxy to any of them who still have ears to hear. We can try to restore the Anglican Way of Faith and practice to Anglicans, which is nothing more or less than the Catholic and Evangelical Christianity of the Fathers.

1. I posted a piece about Holy Orders in January that I recommend for those who want to think seriously about the theology of the priesthood. See it

Saturday, September 22, 2007

The Collect - Trinity 16

Latin Original
Ecclesiam tuam, Dimine, miseratio continuata mundet et muniat: et, quia sine te non potest salva consistere, tuo semper munere gubernetur.
This collect is appointed in the Tridentine Missal for 15th after Pentecost.

1549 Version
LORD, we beseche thee, let thy continual pitie clense and defende thy congregacion; and, because it cannot continue in safetie without thy succoure, preserve it evermore by thy helpe and goodnes; through Jesus Christ our Lorde.

1662 Version
O LORD, we beseech thee, let thy continual pity cleanse and defend thy Church; and, because it cannot continue in safety without thy succour, preserve it evermore by thy help and goodness; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.


The thing that strikes me most about this Collect is its reminder of our helplessness without God and His grace. One of the dangers for the Catholic Christian is to so identify Christ and the Church that he or she forgets that the Church has come into being and retained its essential characteristics of Unity, Universality Holiness and Apostolicity wholly sola gratia. From the earthly side we see a group of humans who must truly appeal to God’s “continual pity”: for are we not often, both individually and corporately, so very pitiful?

We appeal for cleansing of many sins, knowing we have no righteousness of our own. We appeal for defence against temptations and persecutions, knowing our terrible fleshly weakness in the face of both, the enemy without and the enemy within.

But it is not merely the undoing of evil and protection against it that we need. We are incapable even of continuing to exist as Christ’s Body without God’s “help and goodness” “evermore” preserving us. Help AND goodness. Not only does He help us with his powerful, effectual activity, He helps us with His very self, His goodness becoming ours.

Western theologians have thought upon this amazing last fact of our salvation and speculated about what sort of “causality” God exercises in giving us Sanctifying Grace. (Sanctifying Grace is defined as the grace that makes the Christian righteous and holy within, the result of the inner transformation wrought by God.) The most common answer today perhaps is that Sanctifying Grace is the effect of God acting as a “quasi-formal cause”, following the scholastic terminology of Karl Rahner. This sounds ridiculously academic and esoteric, but in fact implies something very powerful.

It means that God does not merely perform some spiritual operation on us as an outside agent. That would mean He was just an “efficient cause”, like the surgeon who cuts out a tumour or the bricklayer who builds a wall. He does not give us a part of Himself, as He has no parts, and so He is not a “material cause”, like the bricks in that wall I just mentioned would be. No, God is to us as shaped seal to wax imprint, which was the analogy used by the ancient Fathers. This analogy is based on the old practice of using, for example, a ring with a family emblem to imprint the image of that emblem upon the molten wax that was used to seal an official document closed and show its provenance. The metaphor is applied in a special way to Christ in Hebrews 1.3, where He is said to be the “express image” (Gk: χαρακτηρ) of God. The Greek word here refers both to the source shape of a seal and the imprint it makes in the wax. Similarly, in Ephesians 1.13 Christians are said to be sealed (Gk: εσφραγίσθητε) by the Holy Spirit.

This makes God more like a “formal cause”, like the set of plans is to a house or a circuit diagram to a computer. Such inadequate comparisons may seem irreverent, but they point to the wonderful truth that we take on, in some mysterious sense, the "pattern" or properties of God's very Being. Our souls are the material cause, the thing given a new spiritual “shape” or quality or activity. But since we do not become God and our finite natures cannot fully or properly take on God’s infinite nature, God is described as a quasi-formal cause to remind us that He remains transcendent and we remain creatures dependent on Him. Interestingly, parents, through their DNA, are to some extent “formal causes” for their children. Truly, we are “sons in the Son”.

And that brings us back to the Collect. For all the wonder and glory of our salvation, what God does in us and to us, the gifts we are given are utterly and perpetually dependent upon His ongoing indwelling, initiative, protection and forgiveness. That is why we should also constantly resort to God in prayer, daily, hourly, consciously dedicating our efforts to Christ and trusting in his might. For all our works are sad and sorry without him. This does not mean God abandons us if we forget to pray or are much distracted. No, we are and remain in grace. But the more we deliberately “sow to the Spirit”, the more we will “reap of the Spirit” (Galatians 6.8). And the more we pray for the Church and for God’s mercy upon it, the more it will become what it is meant to be, the living Temple of His Presence.

Trinity XVI

“…that our sinful bodies may be made clean by his Body, and our souls washed through his most precious Blood…”

Eph. 3:13-21

Luke 7:11-17

A few days ago I was asked by a member of our church about a few words in our liturgy, namely from the Prayer of Humble Access, that beautiful prayer that begins with the words, “We do not presume to come to this thy Table, O Merciful Lord, trusting in our own righteousness, but in thy manifold and great mercies…” The specific words that I was asked about are these: “Grant us therefore, gracious Lord, so to eat the flesh of thy dear Son Jesus Christ, and to drink his blood, that our sinful bodies may be made clean by his Body, and our souls washed through his most precious Blood…” It is significant that these words were removed from the version of this prayer that is found in the 1979 Book of many services that replaced the Book of Common Prayer in that ever decreasing denomination called the Episcopal Church. They were cut out, as were the words “miserable offenders” from the daily Morning and Evening Prayer, despite the excellent apologetic for them provided by C.S. Lewis many years earlier. Those words were removed because modern people are offended by them. The well known Charismatic priest in the Episcopal Church, Terry Fullam, once related the story of a woman who said to him, “I may be a sinner, but I am not a miserable offender.” I remember a man who derided us by claiming that all our religion could produce was “miserable offenders” unlike his Pentecostal church that produced “saints.”

People are offended by the term “miserable offenders” because it tells the truth. We are miserable offenders, and without the grace of God in Jesus Christ we would all be sent to the Hell we so richly deserve. But, this other part they cut out, “…that our sinful bodies may be made clean by his Body, and our souls washed through his most precious Blood…” offends the modern mind, because the modern mind cannot comprehend- as well I understand and sympathize- how the body could possibly be sinful. After all, the body is just a house, and it is the mind that can reason and incur guilt, so we think. I understand only too well why modern people need to have this part of our prayer explained. Instead of explaining it the Episcopal Church removed it. But, if we do explain these words, these words that we shall be praying within only a few minutes, we will have a new and stronger appreciation for the Gospel, for the Incarnation and for the Blessed Sacrament of Holy Communion which is “generally necessary for salvation.”

First of all, let us consider today’s Gospel. In this Gospel reading we are given a clue about how the body is sinful. We see the Lord raising a dead man to life. Before we go any further, we ought to grasp a very important fact of Christian doctrine. When I was very young, and had only begun to read the Bible as a teen aged Christian (many years ago, somewhere between thirty some years and one hundred years ago), I was struck by the part of St. Paul’s first Epistle to the Corinthians in which he says: “But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the first fruits of them that slept (I Cor. 15:20).” I was wondering how Christ could be “the first fruits of them that slept” because he had on at least three occasions restored dead people to life. He had called Lazarus, the twelve year-old daughter of the synagogue ruler, and this man we read about today, back from death. And, in the Old Testament we read of the one child brought back from the dead by Elijah the prophet, and the child brought back by Elisha the prophet, and the young man restored to life by the bones of Elisha (which provides the biblical justification for relics). So, what did Paul mean by calling our Lord Jesus Christ “the first fruits of them that slept?” Simply this: All of those people who had been brought back from death were brought back into this world that has been contaminated by sin and death, and they had been restored to a life that must end in mortality. They were not risen as creatures who were no longer fallen into sin, and no longer subject to death. All of them did, eventually, find their way back to the grave where they must wait, with us, for “the manifestation of the sons of God.” But “Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more; death hath no more dominion over him. For in that he died, he died unto sin once: but in that he liveth, he liveth unto God (Romans 6: 9, 10).” The Lord Jesus Christ, after dying for the sins of the whole world- for the sins of each of us, your sins and mine- became the first to enter into the immortal state and the glorified state that awaits us when he comes again in glory. Christ is the first fruits, and when he comes again we shall be the harvest: The general resurrection of the dead on the last day will destroy that last enemy to be destroyed, death. So says the Bible, as we find in St. Paul’s first letter to those in Corinth.

The Law of Moses teaches us that if a man so much as touched the dead body of any person, he was unclean and had to bring his sin offering to be cleansed. But, in the New Covenant that has been established in the blood of Jesus Christ, we see the body as the temple of the Holy Spirit, so that even in death the body of a Christian is the dead body of a living person, a seed to be planted that will spring up as a glorified and eternal, indeed, a spiritual body. You can imagine that the soul and spirit of man might be liberated from the body of death to enter into a spiritual existence. But today’s Epistle tells you that God “is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us.” And so it is that even the body will be granted immortality and glorification. Our hope and eternal destiny is the sure and certain hope of the resurrection on the last day. You will never be reincarnated, and you will not remain forever a bodiless spirit either. Your eternal hope is to be raised from the dead by the power of God when our Lord Jesus Christ returns in glory, to be patterned forever according to his immortality that he apprehended for us on that first Easter.

The body, as it is now, however, is affected by sin because it will die, and death itself is unclean. Death is not natural at all in the philosophical and theological sense. Death is the consequence of sin, not a good and natural part of God’s creation, but the last enemy of God and man that will be destroyed at Christ’s coming. So, how do we understand those words from our Prayer of Humble Access? “…that our sinful bodies may be made clean by his Body, and our souls washed through his most precious Blood…” We must think about what we are about to do. After the sermon you will confess that you are a sinner like everybody else. The General Confession is the opposite of the proud Pharisee’s prayer. He thanked God that he was not like other men, like the sinners; that is because he deceived himself. But we will confess the very opposite: We will confess the truth, seeking to be cleansed by God through the Absolution (if we speak with “hearty repentance and true faith”), and so will approach, will draw near to take into ourselves the very body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. Remember his words:

"Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him. As the living Father hath sent me, and I live by the Father: so he that eateth me, even he shall live by me. This is that bread which came down from heaven: not as your fathers did eat manna, and are dead: he that eateth of this bread shall live for ever (John 6: 54-58).”

By eating this bread and drinking this cup our sinful bodies are made clean by his body, and our souls are washed through his most precious blood of the New Covenant. Springing from his Incarnation, from the Word made flesh, is this sacrament by which we feed on Christ, the Bread of Life, the food of eternal life.

Today’s Gospel demonstrates his power over death, his power to give life, and to do exceeding abundantly, above all that we ask or even think, according to power that worketh in us. When you approach today to receive the Bread of life, to eat his flesh and drink his blood, come with faith that your sinful body of death will be made clean by his risen body of life giving eternal life, and that your soul will be washed through his most precious blood of the new and eternal covenant.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

The Feast of St. Matthew September 21st.

II Cor. 4:-6
Matt. 9: 9-13
The feast of St. Matthew, and the reading of this day's Gospel, do not teach what many people are going to be proclaiming today. How tempting it may be to read into it the false gospel of a false christ and of a different spirit. One can well imagine clergy persons, especially of a certain denomination which we need not name, entering the pulpit and making much of Christ’s willingness to sit among the notorious sinners. What a message of inclusiveness, of a need to be nonjudgmental. Is it not clear, they may say, that Christ was among them to accept them as they were? Who are we, therefore, to be like the Pharisees and judge others? In fact, I don’t need to imagine it; examples of such an interpretation abound in the latest writings that make their way into my e-mail from friends who are quite distressed, and rightly so, by what is passing for theology and biblical scholarship in certain circles. In fact, I believe that calling it an interpretation is to dignify it beyond its worth.
But, to prove that I seek to be unlike the Pharisees, allow me to confess up front that my fallen and corruptible part, since "in me, that is, in my flesh dwelleth no good thing," would very much like to believe that this is the message. To see in Christ’s willingness to be awhile among the notorious sinners a justification for remaining in my sins. To eschew the preachers who call for repentance as Jeremiahs and John Baptists, party poopers all, Pharisees and hypocrites who don’t appreciate me just as I am, would be very pleasant. Yes, I confess to you people, who at this moment appear to be quite holy from my perspective, that I would very much like to see this message in today’s Gospel.
I believe that this desire to read such an interpretation into the scriptures is why we see a liberal view by many moderns of a particular sin (which I will not name out of respect for the presence of children), even when that sin is not a temptation in their own lives. You see, if Christ accepts those other sinners just as they are, then I do not need to repent either; and we can all of us claim that our desires are quite okay, because God made us that way. If I cannot judge a man who is supposed to have his particular leaning to a particular way of life because it is his nature as God made him, then my way, my nature must also be because God has made me the way that I am too. If instead of being content with one woman, I were to have an insatiable craving for an entire harem- albeit one at a time- I could blame that on God, and say that it is my nature. Then to top it off, I could misuse the passages by St. Paul about the Law and grace, and have a complete hermeneutic on why I can live anyway I choose, and Christ would still sit down and eat with me- just as I am.
Then, by the time I have used fair words and smooth speech to preach this message, I could make all orthodox Christians look like villains for their intolerance. Yes, I am enough of a sinner to understand where this kind of preaching comes from.
But, to understand St. Matthew properly we must remember what struck him most about the name of Jesus when writing his Gospel. The angel said, as he wrote it in the first chapter, "thou shalt call His name JESUS, for He shall save His people from their sins." Jesus, Yeshua, means salvation. Matthew makes a strong point with one word that the angel spoke, that is the word "from." "He shall save His people from their sins." The sinner in me likes it better if we change that from "from" to "in." That would be nice; it would be what today’s inclusive churches call "grace"- it would be so, in their way of thinking, "Anglican." But, what mattered to Matthew was to record those words as they had been told to him. The angel said that Jesus saves us from our sins.
How does the Gospel reading begin this day? Jesus comes across a publican. Publicans were the tax collectors; and they were treated as the worst of sinners. They were outcasts because they were notorious, unrepentant sinners, always spoken of in the same breath with the harlots. This is because they made their money by collecting more than what was demanded by Rome; that is, like the harlots they made their living by committing sins. They were automatically cut off from Jewish society and religion, put out of the synagogue. So also anyone who befriended them. When we see the Lord approaching Matthew, who was also called Levi, it was truly a brave act. It could give ammunition to His enemies. But, those who could make out what Jesus said to Matthew heard the words "follow Me."
The command to "follow Me" was certainly a call for repentance. It was not an acceptance of Matthew’s sins and way of life; it was a rejection of his way of life, and clear condemnation of his sins. It was also the first words of hope that he had heard ever since becoming a publican. The other Jews had not spoken to him this way. He had been cast out of the synagogue simply for being a tax collector, even if he had begun this occupation out of desperation; even if he never liked it; even if he had tried to be fair and to collect no more than what was due. Even if the friendship he had with "publicans and other sinners" developed from loneliness.
Matthew Levi was a Jew, and just how important his Judaism was to him is obvious from reading his Gospel, even from the chronology in the first fourteen verses. It was Jesus who gave back to him his inheritance, his place in Israel. Perhaps that is why his Gospel is so clearly written for Jews, and is steeped in the Hebrew Scriptures to so great an extent. In fact, Eusebius tells us that his is the only Gospel to have been written originally in Hebrew; that what we have is a translation into Greek (Matthew's own translation of his original, that is). Leaving the synagogue to make a living by collecting taxes may have been a hard and painful choice he had made, perhaps out of a desperate situation combined with love for his family. The rejection from his fellow Jews offered no hope to him. But, neither did his associations with other sinners. Their acceptance was not a healing; and people who have been among those who justify and excuse sins can give a very powerful testimony to the fact that there is no comfort in justifying one’s sinful way of life.
What hope would Christ bring had He simply said, "Don’t feel bad Matthew; I accept you just as you are?” Instead of this, Matthew was told, as he well knew, to leave the life of sin behind and to follow Christ. We are all told this same thing; and if we were not told this we would have no hope. This is brought home to me by the confession of a lady, now deceased, who was sure that her sin was beyond God’s forgiveness. She was cut off from her own family because of the open way in which her sin was also known to the authorities as a crime. When I was introduced to her, and when we had spoken a bit, she came to have hope for the first time in many years. She asked me to hear her confession. She wept with joy when I heard it and absolved her. I believe that she died in the grace of God, having joy, not because her sins were accepted or excused; but because they were repented of, and were forgiven. Her family saw the change, and some of them have returned to the Church and to Christ. Remember the lesson that Christ taught to Simon the Pharisee: It is the one who is forgiven much, not the one who is accepted much, who has much love.
Forgiveness is a condemnation of what is left behind; and it is the hope given to the one who leaves it behind. Jesus did not call Matthew in order to be inclusive, for His command was to follow, not to remain. Jesus did not sit among sinners in order to affirm their way; for He made it clear in their hearing that they were sick and in need of His work as the physician. He said, furthermore, that He had come "to call sinners to repentance." Never forget that he said this, and that He said it in the hearing of the sinners who sat with Him, and that He said all of it: Not, "I have come to call sinners"-full stop. Rather, "I have come to call sinners to repentance." It is that "to repentance" part that gives me hope and joy.
You see, if this sinner did not know that he can repent, that his Physician has diagnosed his sin, and that repentance is the cure, he would have no hope. Don’t misunderstand these holy vestments I wear; underneath them is a man who needs the Savior, the Physician who heals him from sin and death, Who calls him to repent and follow. These vestments symbolize that we must, in the words of St. Paul, "put on the Lord Jesus Christ." I put on these vestments to tell all of you the same thing: If we do not put on the Lord Jesus Christ, we cannot be saved. This is not acceptance of sin, it is the opposite- it is hope. It is the hope that only the command to repent and follow can give; and it is the hope of being transformed into the image of the Son of God. This is the way of life and of peace. To be affirmed in sin by a doctrine of inclusiveness is to be lost and without hope. To be told to repent and to follow on to know the Lord by the grace that comes from the Spirit of God poured into our hearts, is to be found, to have life, and to have hope that lasts forever.
As for Matthew, he was forgiven much, and he loved much. He loved so much that we wear red this day. For his love was perfected by martyrdom.
And now unto God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost, be ascribed, as is most justly due, all might, majesty, power, dominion and glory, henceforth, world without end. Amen.

My Cantuarian predictions

This is the big month, the big make or break month with the Windsor Report deadline. What will happen? The "covenant" that was supposed to establish rules that would exclude the Episcopal Church from the Anglican Communion will be reinterpreted to mean, somehow, the exact opposite, and to become an inclusive and affirmative stall. The rescinding of invitations to the Lambeth Conference sent to the bishops of the Episcopal Church will not happen, for some reason to be excused in a wordy mealy mouthed way; and the African Primates will not be present at Lambeth to make any sort of prophetic stand. Their silence by means of absence will make no difference as to what is decided at the Lambeth Conference.

There. No need to waste time on the Anglican Communion news to come. The only question is, what will Bishops Iker, Ackerman and Schofield do?

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Just what is the Book of Common Prayer?

Anyone familiar with the Breviary and the Rule of St. Benedict has an advantage in understanding the Book of Common Prayer. Anyone who understands how English village life had been organized for centuries around the monastery, also has an advantage. Knowing these things helps enormously, because it prevents the mistake of seeing the Book of Common Prayer as no more than a book of public services. Prayer tradition that has grown out of the Rule (Regula) looks to an ideal life of seven offices with a Mass every day. The average person cannot live this way, but can live with a simplified Rule for one's own life. That Rule of life is what the Book of Common Prayer gives to us.

This is one reason why I cannot share the enthusiasm some have for the Anglican Service Book; it perpetuates one basic mistake of the revised ’79 Prayer Book of the Episcopal Church. That is the same basic reason why the ’79 book is not a proper edition of the Book of Common Prayer, but is instead a different sort of book altogether, a book, as Peter Toon has called it, “of occasional services.” Putting those occasional services into Elizabethan English does not rectify the error.

Anyone who has a copy of the 1611 Authorized Version of the Bible may notice that in the front of the book we find the schedule of daily Bible readings and the thirty-day cycle of Psalms, for daily Morning and Evening Prayer. Imagine, if you can, a Bible published in our time with the assumption that the reader is living by the Rule expected of him by his church. Imagine a Bible reader today taking care to make his reading conform to the Rule of his church.

The average working man or woman, or the average child in school or young person in college, can read daily Morning Prayer and daily Evening Prayer and at least keep up with the schedule of scripture reading. It is true that the Prayer Book contains services for the Church, sacramental rites for Baptism, for Confirmation, for marriage, and the Ordinal added in 1550. It contains a funeral rite. Yes, the book is the book for all public services. But, it is more than that. It is also a simplified Benedictine Rule for the common man, and this is the tradition of English prayer that has been made available to everyone through the Anglican Common Prayer tradition.

We have, in addition, a specific Anglican way of speaking. Among many High Church, Anglo-Catholic circles, so as not to be confused with Low churchmen, the phrase “the Mass” is used almost exclusively. But, is this really an indication of churchmanship? If so, it should not be. After all, the first Book of Common Prayer (1549) called the service “The Supper of the Lorde and the Holy Communion, commonly called the Masse.” Either name is fine, and they are interchangeable. But, in later editions it came more and more to be called “Holy Communion,” with the use of the word “Mass” being less frequent (though always brought out for Christmas “Midnight Mass”).

The first BCP added the words “Supper” and “Holy Communion” to make a point. That point is that the Christian really ought be receiving the sacrament, not simply “hearing the Mass,” communing only very occasionally, as had been the practice of most people up until that time. In fact, it may interest readers to know that it was, at first, the practice of some of the more Protestant elements in the Church of England, including Archbishop Cranmer himself, to recommend and teach the virtue of frequent communion. I suggest that using the term “Holy Communion” a bit more often is a very Catholic idea, and more in keeping with the meaning of the sixth chapter of St. John, about our need to feed on Christ’s flesh and to drink his blood, the food and drink of eternal life.

Take a look, as well, at the words that surround the General Confession. I do not agree with the practice that I have witnessed among some who shorten the invitation (and exclude the intercession as well) by violating the rubric, and saying only, “let us pray for the whole State of Christ’s Church, beginning with the words of the General Confession.” Look, instead, at the powerful words that the priest is required to say by the BCP:

“Ye who do truly and earnestly repent you of your sins, and are in love and charity with your neighbours, and intend to lead a new life, following the commandments of God, and walking from henceforth in his holy ways; Draw near with faith, and take this holy Sacrament to your comfort; and make your humble confession to Almighty God, devoutly kneeling.”

In this invitation conditions are laid down for an honest confession coupled with sincere repentance. This invitation cannot fail to do good for the souls in a congregation if they listen and heed the words. Likewise, notice the conditional aspect of the Absolution that follows:

“Almighty God, our heavenly Father, who of his great mercy hath promised forgiveness of sins to all those who with hearty repentance and true faith turn unto him; Have mercy upon you; pardon and deliver you from all your sins; confirm and strengthen you in all goodness; and bring you to everlasting life; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.” ("Hearty" would be the same as "sincere.")

The ’79 Book Rite II (and some of its other occasional services) lays down no condition of “hearty repentance and true faith.” Instead, we see only some magic wand of priest craft, and all is forgiven without the heart of the sinner turning to the Lord.

I could say more about the artificial Confirmation Rite in the ’79 Book, have done so before and will do so again. For now, I want to state the plain facts about the Rule and about the Holy Communion. Our Book of Common Prayer tradition is worth preserving and passing on because it was formed by men who believed in the serious business of saving souls.