Saturday, November 20, 2010

Two Sermons

Sunday before Advent

Jeremiah 23:5-8 John 6:11-14

Miracles look perfectly natural to the eye, even though the rational mind perceives the impossibility of what is happening. They do not appear as something spectacular, the way Charlton Heston and Cecil B. DeMille teamed up to make the parting of the Red Sea into a cinema-graphic production. It is more akin to seeing a tulip bulb open; that is, a sight wonderful, to behold, but not in appearance like magic tricks. Miracles, quite clearly, are not a mere work of nature, and by the "laws" that scientists know, they are manifestly impossible, even when they are manifest. This is because the same Artist and the same brush strokes are evident both in nature by creation, and in miracles by extraordinary intervention. It is the same God, and the same, if I may use the word, style.

Today's Gospel tells of a miracle by which Jesus fed thousands of people by multiplying a meal so small that it was next to nothing. This was no problem for God, who made the entire universe out of nothing (creatio ex nihilo). Jesus fed the thousands of hungry people using the same power he had as the Word, the Logos, through whom all things were made, and without whom was not anything made that was made. More significant than the miracle, from his perspective, was the lesson he would later teach from it. Before we look at that lesson, let us draw out one more fact. Here Jesus provided the material needs of the people, just as he promises that our needs will be met if we seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness. How easily we may forget that God is the Provider of all things, even if it is only by forgetting that everything exists due to the first miracle, creation itself, creation out of nothing, creation by his word. It is not simply nature at work that grows wheat; the wheat grows because of the miracle of creation; and people who fail to believe in miracles ultimately cannot explain how anything came to be. Even the "Big Bang" is not a theory of origin, but of process, how the universe was like an egg that hatched in an explosion. If so, where did the essential elements of that "egg" come from? The origin of the universe and of all creation was a miracle, for it came from nothing, and it was made by the word of God. God provides for us, and we should not think that it is a challenge for him to provide, even to make what we need if it is nowhere to be found.

But the lesson, the lesson we are given in the sixth chapter of John, where today's Gospel is found, is that this bread that Jesus multiplied represents himself, the true food we need.

"And Jesus said unto them, I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst."(v.35)

"Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you. 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." (vs.53-58)

To the ancient Church in St. John's day, reading these words for the first time, it was obvious that the Lord himself had interpreted their meaning on a later occasion: "The Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took bread: And when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me. After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me."(I Cor.11:23-25)

Nonetheless, we must not think that feeding on Christ is merely the mechanical act of eating this bread and drinking this cup, and nothing more. In the 17th chapter of John, the third verse, we read these words: "And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent." And, in the same words of warning, where St. Paul tells of the danger of partaking of the Communion in an unworthy manner, without (as our liturgy puts it) "hearty repentance and true faith," we see him affirming the reality of Christ in this sacrament. And, that is why even the words of warning are words of hope. The same passage that tells us of Christ's promise to those who eat of his flesh and drink of his blood, also reveals that Jesus taught that the benefits are only to those who believe in him (v.40)

We come here today to feed on the living Christ through the sacrament of his body and blood, and so receive his life to save us from sin and death. Modern people have cut out of our Prayer of Humble Access a little phrase that confuses them, "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, and that we may evermore dwell in him, and he in us." They reason that the body cannot be sinful, since it is only a machine without volition. I understand that. But, the very fact that death is, as taught in the Law of Moses, an unclean thing, quite justifies the words of our Anglican prayer. Really, it expresses the glorious hope of St. John's words in the Epistle. As we learn from the sixth chapter of John's Gospel: "Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day (v.54)." Our sinful bodies, that is, our bodies that are subject to death, are purified and cleansed by eating this sacrament with faith and thanksgiving; our souls are washed as we receive this sacrament of his blood. I love the words from our Prayer of Humble Access, for they speak of the glorious hope that awaits us by the mercy and goodness of God in his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

The glorious hope we have in Christ is certified, verified and imparted when we partake with "hearty repentance and true faith." In the words of Article XXV: The Dominical sacraments are the means "by the which he doth work invisibly in us, and doth not only quicken, but also strengthen and confirm our Faith in him." Quicken means to make alive, and so we receive the Bread of Life, Jesus Christ, the One in whom is life. That is, life that gives life by the creative power of God, the power he has as the Word, the Logos. For this sacrament to be our life, instead of eating and drinking condemnation, we must live the life of knowing God and Jesus Christ whom he has sent. It is not simply the mechanical act of eating and drinking (indeed, if that is all it is for you, then do not receive it). Receiving the sacrament of Christ's body and blood is to feed on the living Christ, the risen Christ, and to receive the Christ who is present among us. It must be part of the whole life of faith, and of knowing God.

The multiplication of the loaves and fish to feed so vast a multitude teaches us that Christ can do what we cannot. When and where we are subject to death, and unable to keep our souls alive, He gives us life. It goes perfectly with His words to Martha of Bethany:

"Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die. Believest thou this?" (John 11;25,26)

If you believe this, then come. Eat and drink of the table He has prepared for you in the wilderness.

Christ the King

Colossians 1.12-20
St. John 18:33 – 37

Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son.

The feast of Christ the King was first introduced in 1925 by Pope Pius XI, because of his observation that nationalism and secularism were growing ever stronger. Think of that time, when Communism as a political power, and Fascism also, were taking over in nations that had formerly been thought of as part of an unofficial international state called Christendom. Ever since the Napoleonic wars that had torn apart Europe and wasted countless lives, and especially after the insanity of World War I -- seen by just about everyone as the most destructive, senseless and meaningless war in history -- it became obvious that the Church of Jesus Christ had to take a more aggressive posture in proclaiming the light of the Kingdom of God into the darkness of the fallen world. That other churches besides the Roman Catholic Church, many Lutherans and Anglicans, began to celebrate the Feast of Christ of King, was more than a simple gesture of ecumenism. It became a world of violence and arrogant State power, with a magnification of "the insolence of office" beyond anything hitherto seen. To the Socialists of Communism and Fascism in their time, and to every state under Heaven where ideology overwhelms simple truth and justice through the agenda of worldly politics, the Church must dig in her heels and proclaim the message that Christ is King over all the Earth.

Christians live under the authority of the State, but only to a point. The problem with governments is that they do, by their very nature, tend to become too powerful, which is why the United States Constitution was written. It was written to define the power of the Federal Government within prescribed limits and to subject that government to the Rule of Law. It is, as we see, an ongoing battle to keep it subject to Law. And, throughout all history it is always difficult to be free in the sense of the truth that God has revealed, the true meaning of liberty.

In the theological sense, that is in terms of the Word of God, freedom or liberty is the power to obey God with a good conscience. Answering their persecutors among the Sanhedrin (the ruling Council of Elders), and the High Priest, the Apostles were very clear in the Book of Acts:

"And when they had brought them, they set them before the council: and the high priest asked them, Saying, 'Did not we straitly command you that ye should not teach in this name? and, behold, ye have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine, and intend to bring this man's blood upon us.' Then Peter and the other apostles answered and said, 'We ought to obey God rather than men.'" (Acts 5:27-29)

The State is not God. Like the Hebrew National kosher Hot Dog company, we answer to a Higher Authority. Earthly rulers can and should see themselves as God's servants who administer justice, keep order and protect the people from harm (Romans 13:1f). When they fulfill this role, it is good. But, the essence of tyranny is for the State to try to take the place of God, and when earthly rulers require individuals to make the sacrifice of laying down and offering up conscience on the altar of Caesar, than they become the Beast from the Book of Revelation.

When Germans obediently murdered Jews, when American soldiers obeyed orders and murdered unarmed Dakota of both sexes and all ages at Wounded Knee, and everywhere in all history where soldiers have allowed unnatural and evil men to turn them into brutes, they received in their hands and foreheads the mark of the Beast. In isolated cases where officers presume to order military chaplains not to pray in the Name of Jesus Christ even when leading services for Christian members of the Armed Forces (as has happened), or when politicians try to pass laws that would require all doctors and hospitals to abort helpless and innocent unborn babies, the obedient ones who lay down their consciences as sacrifices and offerings to the State receive in their hands that work, and in their foreheads that think, the mark of the Beast. No one has the authority to order you to disobey God, or to violate your conscience. God's commandments are absolute, eternal and unchanging. Men's commandments are temporary. We really do answer to a Higher Authority. We answer to Christ the King. Is it any wonder that Christians have had to endure persecution to the death?

The world has armies and weapons, but all we have is the truth.

Jesus answered, My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight...Thou sayest that I am a king. To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth. Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice.

Because Christ is the King, and because He rules by the truth of His revelation, we all would do well to learn the attitude of faith that was expressed by the Centurion. He said to the Lord Jesus, "I am a man under authority." (Matt. 8:9) And, that is the case for all of us. In the Church, it has a specific meaning for all the clergy. I have been given the title Rector, which means one who rules (which carries real implication of the word "presbyter"). But, I cannot see myself as a man who possesses authority as much as a man who is under authority. I am under the authority of Archbishop Haverland, a joyful thing for me. Like the Lord Himself, the Archbishop's yoke is easy and his burden is light -- or so it seems to me, because we have the same exact goal and purpose, which is to care for you and to proclaim the Gospel to everyone who will hear us. Ultimately, all authority among human beings is delegated, for ultimately it all goes back to God from Whom it comes, even as it comes through the order He has established in His Church.

It does not come as a privilege, nor as an honor nor as an advantage. It comes as a charge and as a commission with real responsibilities and obligations. We have received a thing called Holy Orders, and that means, as in the military, we have our orders. So, I say to you, I am a man under authority. Some of you may wonder, where does this guy get these things he preaches? The answer is, it has come from the words of our King. What I preach is not my own opinion, my own ideas or simply the expression of erudition. In every service we read the words that have come, ultimately, from God through human instruments called Apostles and Prophets. Because I a man under authority, my duty and my orders are to proclaim the meaning of God's most holy word for the sake of your souls to the end that you walk in the glorious liberty of the children of God and receive the salvation of your souls. I do not stand in the pulpit to fill time in a service (nor even to fill out time in a service).

Because I am a man under authority I am not allowed to compromise on the clear revelation of God. That includes certain essential things.

1. God's commandments.
For example, when I tell you that God's laws have not changed, that Christians must teach their children to "wait until marriage" no matter what the world around them is doing, or that Christians (because we answer to a Higher Authority) have no rights to abortion, no rights to suicide (even physician assisted), no rights to redefine marriage, no rights to treat marriage as a throw away commodity, or to disregard God's Laws in all the ways that are so popular, it is because I have received my orders. God has spoken, and what I must preach is His word, not the amoral fashions of this sinful world. To be men under authority clarifies these things for us.

2. The Gospel.
Perhaps a warm and fuzzy new message would fill up our pews, but no souls would be saved from sin and death. A man under authority has only one Gospel to preach, that defined by St. Paul in I Corinthians chapter fifteen.

"Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain. For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures: And that he was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve: After that, he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain unto this present, but some are fallen asleep. After that, he was seen of James; then of all the apostles. And last of all he was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time."

That is, Christ fulfilled the words of the Prophets (the meaning of "according to the scriptures") in that
1. He died for our sins,
2. was buried,
3. rose again the third day and
4. appeared to witnesses after His resurrection.

Do we have any other message, anything else to offer for those who do not like option A? No, we have nothing else that we have been commanded to preach. Other than the Gospel of Jesus Christ, we have no message whatsoever. Take it or leave it, for you will be given nothing else. Some religious entertainers, clerics and faith healers of various kinds, may offer something else, and sometimes they sell better for a while. But as a man under authority I have one message: Come to the Living Christ with "hearty repentance and true faith." We, men under authority, preach to you the message and words of Christ the King. Everyone who is of the truth hears His voice.

No comments: