Saturday, May 26, 2012

Pentecost commonly called Whitsunday

Acts 2:1-11 * John 14:15-31

          Fifty days after the real Passover, when, after dying for the sins of the whole world, Christ rose from the dead, the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples inJerusalem. The crowd saw the tongues of fire, and heard the rushing mighty wind. They heard the disciples declare the works of God- Christ’s miracles and especially His resurrection- in the native languages of people who had come from all over the empire. The event was real and it was supernatural. Saint Peter (no longer afraid, no longer denying the Lord) declared the Gospel. Through his preaching about three thousand people were converted.      
From the Gustave Dore' Bible Illustrations
The presence of the Holy Spirit in the Church, with His power and His gifts, is every bit as real as the Incarnation, though very different in kind. Through the Incarnation God was present in the earth in the Person of His Son, without any sin, without any taint of original sin. Through the coming of the Holy Spirit God is present in the earth through sinners who are called to become- every one of them- saints. In the Incarnation God was present in his Son to go about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the Devil; through the coming of the Holy Spirit Christ is present in His Church to continue this very ministry.
Through the Incarnation Christ was present in a body of flesh and blood. Through the coming of the Holy Spirit, Christ is present in His Body, the Church, of which you are the members- the parts. In us, by the Holy Spirit, Christ remains a tangible, physical and visible reality. His Incarnation is extended though His Body the Church. Where we gather together He is present.
Upon what do we depend? Is it enough to have good plans, and useful ideas? These are good things, but they are not enough. If the disciples had depended upon a brilliant plan, a sure fire market strategy to build the Church, we would not even remember their names. The Church suddenly became a powerful reality in the world on the day of Pentecost, and that for one reason: The Holy Spirit had come in power. The Risen Lord Jesus had told them to do nothing, but simply to remain in the city until endued with power from on high. The Risen Lord Jesus Christ commanded them to take no action at all until then. So, they waited and prayed during those ten days after the Lord ascended to the Father’s right hand; and then the Comforter, the Spirit of Truth, came upon them.
Christ, as touching his human body as Jesus of Nazareth, had stepped behind the veil when a cloud took him out of their sight. Then, on the Day of Pentecost, the Church emerged as the Body of Christ in what we might call the second chapter of the Incarnation. God the Word (λόγος) came into the world on the Day of the Annunciation, and showed himself in his Nativity when he was born in Bethlehem. He walked the earth as a man, and "went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed of the devil." (Acts 10:38) 
He still goes about doing good, and healing all who are oppressed of the devil, this time through the Church which is his Body. Make no mistake about it; when the Holy Spirit was poured out on the disciples, the Church became the Body of Christ just as truly as Christ had been born in Bethlehem. Our ministry as the Church is his ministry, as he extends his Incarnation through us, and goes about doing good, but not only as far as one man may travel. Now He goes into every place on earth, preaching the Gospel in all the world as a testimony to all nations, gathering out of all nations those who are his disciples. The Church, his bride and his Body, believes and does works greater in number, just as the disciple Elisha did twice the miracles of Elijah the prophet, when a double portion of the same Spirit rested on him. (II Kings 2:9f, John 14:12)
On Pentecost, among the many people in Jerusalem who had come for the feast, were pilgrims from various nations, that is the God-fearers and proselytes who were born as Gentiles, and either had begun to convert to Judaism, or had fully converted. Also, there many Jews of the Diaspora who lived most of the time in foreign countries. Although just about everyone in the Roman Empire spoke enough Greek to get by, as it was the international language, these pilgrims heard the disciples speaking in the languages of their own distant homelands. Anyone with genuine experience of such things knows fully well that this was not something uncontrollable, not the result of a trance or ecstasy, and certainly not emotionalism; the speaking was subject fully to the self-control of each one who spoke in these other tongues; but the words themselves were known only to those foreigners who heard the word of God each in his own native tongue.
Now when this was noised abroad, the multitude came together, and were confounded, because that every man heard them speak in his own language. And they were all amazed and marvelled, saying one to another, Behold, are not all these which speak Galilæans? And how hear we every man in our own tongue, where in we were born? Parthians, and Medes, and Elamites, and the dwellers in Mesopotamia, and in Judæa, and Cappadocia, in Pontus, and Asia, Phrygia, and Pamphylia, in Egypt, and in the parts of Libya about Cyrene, and strangers of Rome. Jews and proselytes, Cretes and Arabians, we do hear them speak in our tongues the wonderful works of God.
What were these tongues (γλσσα, glōssa) that we read about? How did they serve as a sign for unbelievers? Why did God choose a thing that seemed so weak and foolish that onlookers were filled with derision? "Others mocking said, These men are full of new wine." The Scripture goes on to say, "But Peter, standing up with the eleven, lifted up his voice, and said unto them, Ye men of Judaea, and all ye that dwell at Jerusalem, be this known unto you, and hearken to my words: For these are not drunken, as ye suppose, seeing it is but the third hour of the day." (Acts 2: 13-15)
The many disciples spoke mysteries to God (I Cor. 14:2), understood by none of the local men. But to those who heard the truth spoken in their own tongues, by men who never learned to speak them, but were simply given utterance of praise and thanksgiving for "the wonderful works of God," this was not a thing to be treated with contempt, but with fear. It was a sign. The division of mankind into different nations through the confusion of tongues at Babel is undone within the Church. In Christ we are one Body, gathered by one Spirit from the four corners of the earth.
And they sung a new song, saying, Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation; And hast made us unto our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth. (Rev.5:9,10)

Peter had no trouble identifying what had happened, and doing so from Scripture:

But this is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel; And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams: And on my servants and on my handmaidens I will pour out in those days of my Spirit; and they shall prophesy. (Acts 2:16-18 quoting Joel 2:28) 

Peter had changed. Before, he had been a “natural” (ψυχικός psychikos-soulish) man (I Cor. 2:14), unable earlier in his life to understand why the Christ, the Son of the Living God, was ready and willing to take up the cross; later he was afraid and denied the Lord three times. But, now he stands on his feet boldly, not afraid of death, having his mind focused on the truth, able to understand and know from Scripture everything that had unfolded and was unfolding. Though, before, he had been a disciple for more than three years, he was on this day closer to Christ than at any time before, even when he had seen him with the eyes; for he was now part of the Body of which Christ is the Head. 
Many a time Peter had stumbled and tripped over his own tongue; and he had failed to speak the right words on the night in which his Lord was betrayed. But, now he spoke with more clarity, more power and more authority than any prophet of the Old Covenant. He delivered the first Christian sermon, as he was now the fisher of men Christ had foreseen; his dragnet of words brought in about three thousand souls. The young Church, now empowered to be the Body of Christ, thrived with healthy vital signs.
None of this was man-made. The best efforts of organization could not have produced it; the most detailed planning could not have pulled it off. No human effort could have brought it forth in a day, because the Day of Pentecost was chapter two of the Word made flesh. The Body of Christ now came into the world.
What is the life of the Church? It is the Holy Spirit present within us. What is the strength of the Church? It is the power (δύναμις) of God by his Holy Spirit, present within us. Frankly, in light of the foolishness of sinful men, it is very obvious that God's power and grace have never depended on anyone less than God himself. Never think that we, as the Church, have succeeded in anything simply by our own human cleverness, or our best laid plans, or our own strength. We have an organized structure, but the permanent shape of that structure was revealed and enacted by the Holy Spirit. The whole life of the Church is charismatic (χάρισμα); from the receiving of Scripture to the Sacraments, from the Apostolic Succession to the faithful service of each member.
It was St. Paul, speaking in the context of spiritual gifts, who called the Church by the name of Christ himself: "For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ...Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular." (I Cor, 12:12, 27) So, I have not spoken carelessly in saying that the Church is part two of the Incarnation. Jesus goes about now doing good and healing, and he chooses to do so through you, the Body of Christ and members in particular. Christ Himself is here by the Holy Spirit, the other Comforter who is with us and in us.
The day of Pentecost was a feast in the Law of Moses when the first sheaf of the harvest was waved before the Lord. It was also the same day that the Lord had descended on Mount Sinai, when the whole nation of Israel heard the voice of God as he spoke his ten commandments. Therefore, it is quite fitting that the Lord Jesus foretold the outpouring of the Spirit in terms of his commandments. "If ye love me, keep my commandments. And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever; even the Spirit of truth." Therefore, if we remain faithful to him, we continue to take part in his Incarnation as the Church, the Body of Christ. For his Spirit not only comes upon us, but abides within us always.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Laymen's Guide to the Thirty-Nine Articles

Article XX

Of the Authority of the Church

The Church hath power to decree rites or ceremonies and authority in controversies of faith; and yet it is not lawful for the Church to ordain anything contrary to God's word written, neither may it so expound one place of Scripture, that it be repugnant to another. Wherefore, although the Church be a witness and a keeper of Holy Writ: yet, as it ought not to decree anything against the same, so besides the same ought it not to enforce anything to be believed for necessity of salvation.

De Ecclesiae Auctoriate

Habet Ecclesia ritus statuendi ius et in fidei controversiis auctoritatem; quamvis Ecclesiae non licet quicquam instituere quod verbo Dei scripto adversetur, neque unum Scripturae locum sic exponere potest, ut alteri contradicat. Quare licet Ecclesia sit divinorum librorum testis et conservatrix; attamen, ut adversus eos nihil decernere, ita praeter illos nihil credendum de necessitate salutis debet obtrudere.

Fr. Robert Hart
As in every case where we find the English Reformers defending an action we can place in its historical setting, their principles were eternal in nature, and theologically rooted in revelation. History tells us why the Church of England wrote in defense of establishing first one Book of Common Prayer and then a newer edition. But, it takes sound reasoning beyond simple historical knowledge to appreciate their explanation.
          Article XX should take us to Richard Hooker concerning “the Church with her ecclesiastical authority” having handed down to us wisdom and reason in a manner we may call tradition. Among the uses of the word “tradition” we have different categories. There is tradition that is simply the handing down of revelation. “Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions (παράδοσις paradosis) which ye have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle (II Thes. 2:15).” These things are inflexible, no matter how they are expressed. For example, whether one says “The Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost” or “The Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit,” the revelation of God’s one threefold Name is itself inflexible. This first category of tradition is tradition of revealed truth.
          The second is manmade tradition that contradicts the first. “Then came to Jesus scribes and Pharisees, which were of Jerusalem, saying, Why do thy disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? for they wash not their hands when they eat bread. But he answered and said unto them, Why do ye also transgress the commandment of God by your tradition?... Thus have ye made the commandment of God of none effect by your tradition (Matt. 15:1-3, 6).” The reader should place his emphasis on the words “God” and “your” to get the point across. And, indeed, many of the critical statements in the Thirty-Nine Articles were aimed at errors that fit this second category perfectly, such as “the Romish doctrine of Purgatory,” and other things we have discussed.
          The third category of tradition is manmade tradition that is good, wise and reasonable. Because it is manmade it is flexible. But, because it is good, wise and reasonable it is foolish to cast it aside or to alter it carelessly. That is why Richard Hooker wrote about reason and “the church with her ecclesiastical authority” so closely together. Wisdom and reason are not really altogether separate from this category of tradition. Indeed, it is also wise to consider the possibility if not likelihood that the Holy Spirit showed the way and gave light to the minds of our fathers who came before us, so that what any church finds itself compelled to change in any given generation (and for the sake of posterity) is changed only with the greatest care. And, that change should be limited to what the Article mentions specifically: “…rites or ceremonies,” and corrections to false teaching with “authority in controversies of faith.”
          In rites and ceremonies, Jesus taught us “that men ought always to pray, and not to faint (Luke 18:1),” and St. Paul told us to pray regularly for specific things (I Timothy 2:1f). But exactly how to pray was not laid out for us other than to use the words beginning, “Our Father” as part of a daily exercise. To pray regularly requires more. Though one may be able to pray in a spontaneous fashion, to be sure we have neglected no prayers the Scriptures command us to offer, and to keep ourselves consistently practicing obedience, the forms of Daily Morning and Evening Prayer are among manmade traditions that are good, wise and reasonable, and that may even have been guided by the Holy Spirit. We neglect them to our own detriment.
          Jesus told us “Take, eat; this is My Body…drink this all of you; This is My Blood.” He added “Do this in remembrance of Me.” So we “do this” in the Church in obedience to His command. But, He did not tell us how to “Do this” in every exact detail. To “do this” we must bless the bread and wine, we must say His words, and we must “take, eat…drink this all of you” since commandment to eat and drink is also in the Words of Institution as part of a valid celebration. These are all part of it. But, the Scriptures show us only a simple outline. The exact liturgies and design of many other things, the rubrics and even customs, were not revealed. So, in historical fact we see differences in ancient Eucharistic liturgies rather than one Universal model set in stone for all generations. As long as these follow the simple outline, it is good, wise and reasonable to follow the liturgy we have been given in our tradition.

Keeper of Holy Writ
          The Church is not the master of the Scriptures, but rather, as the Article says, “the keeper of Holy Writ.” The Church has no authority to institute ceremonies that contradict Divine revelation recorded in the Bible. Beyond that, I wish the Article also said that liturgy ought to be drawn from Holy Scripture. The English Reformers could have said this without any hypocrisy or shame, for the traditional editions of the Book of Common Prayer contain liturgy most certainly drawn from Scripture itself. A genuine student of Holy Scripture can have no possible objection to saying those forms word for word, and ought to be able to say them in all sincerity.

Via Media
The Article also tells us something very practical concerning “rites or ceremonies and authority in controversies of faith,” which is that the Church ought not to “so expound one place of Scripture, that it be repugnant to another.”  Every liturgical practice, as well as every sermon or other form of teaching, should expound on Scripture in light of the Whole. This is called Systematic Theology. It is also called orthodoxy.
The balanced approach to truth, avoiding the errors of extremist thinking, is called the Middle Way or Via Media. We do well to heed the advice of St. John Chrysostom in his Six Little Books on the Priesthood,  that when teaching against one error we do not appear to teach the opposite error (e.g. in teaching against excessive Legalism not to appear to endorse Libertine practices and beliefs). We are keepers not masters of Holy Writ.
All of our practices and teaching in the Church must conform to what has been revealed and so recorded in Holy Scripture. If we must change any rites or ceremonies, that change ought to be motivated by a need to better conform to and communicate the word of God faithfully.

Fr. Laurence Wells
This Article confronts us with two distinct issues, which may seem to be thrown together haphazardly.  On closer inspection, however, we find here a delicate and careful balance of two doctrinal realities which must forever be held in tension with each other. 
First, the Church has “power” and “authority.”  These terms are roughly synonymous and there seems little point in attempting to distinguish them.  But it is worth pointing out that the Latin ius (here translated “power”) means a lawful right, and auctoritas means power conferred by an auctor, to be distinguished from potestas, an inherent power. 
In its opening statement concerning the Church’s lawful right and authority “to decree rites and ceremonies,” Cranmer was squaring off firmly against the Puritan contention later expressed in the Westminster Confession of Faith:

“[T]he acceptable way of worshipping the true God is instituted by himself, and so limited by his own revealed will, that he may not be worshipped according to the imaginations and devices of men, or the suggestions of Satan, under any visible representation or any other way not prescribed in the Holy Scripture” (XXIII:II).

This extreme application of Scriptura sola  has come to be known in Calvinist circles as the “regulative principle of worship.”  In simple language, this means that we may not do anything in the worship service which we cannot find proof-texted in the Bible.  Whereas Luther asserted that whatever is not forbidden is permitted, Calvin and his followers insisted that whatever is not permitted is forbidden. Cranmer stood clearly on the side of Luther in this debate.  But this explains why the Puritans abolished the Prayer Book altogether, even those parts with which they had no argument, and replaced it with their “Directory for Public Worship.”
          This principle (the RPW) is difficult to apply logically or consistently.  Does it allow “hymns of human composure”?  Organs or musical instruments?  Is the Geneva gown itself a “suggestion of Satan”?  While the Calvinist Churches still to some degree or other attempt to keep up their RPW, it is interesting that they have far more zeal than Anglicans in exercising their “authority in controversies of faith.”
          In Anglican faith and spirituality, worship has always been a serious matter.  But in every variety of churchmanship we refuse to be limited by a crude Biblicism.  Our worship is formed by sound doctrine, the experience of the whole Church over time, and the needs of the people of God.  “Let all things be done for edification…. Prove all things, hold fast to that which is good.” (I Cor. 14: 26, I Thes. 5:21)        
          But there are limits.  For all our jokes about coffee hour as the eighth sacrament, the Church cannot invent new sacraments nor can it alter existing sacraments beyond their original intention.  Holy Orders cannot be reinvented to permit priestesses and Matrimony cannot be redefined in order to humor sodomites. 
          And these limits are set by “verbum Dei scriptum,” the inscripturated Word of God contained (i. e, securely held) within the Biblical canon.  The exact relationship between Bible and Church was a vexed matter in the 16th century.  The Article uses the terms “testis” and “conservator” to describe the Church’s role.  The calling of the Christian community is to give evidence to the world of objective truth which it did not create.  The Church does not exist in order to “share its faith” or “communicate its experience.”   The Divine Founder of the Church gave a commission, “Ye shall be my witnesses (martyres, equivalent to testis),” in other words, men and women prepared to give factual testimony in a court of law.
          A “witness” is one who must deliver facts possibly dangerous to himself.  A “keeper” is one who holds something entrusted to him by Another.  One of the most false and pernicious notions abroad today in traditional Anglican circles is the belief that since the Church had a role in discerning the Biblical canon, the Church somehow invented the Bible, in the same manner that it compiled its Prayer Book,  adopted its Canon Law, published its Hymnal, or drew up its budget.  The contemporary Anglican theologian John Bainbridge Webster, in his splendid little book “Holy Scripture, A Dogmatic Sketch,”  argues cogently that the Church can only have authority when it knows itself to be under authority, the authority of Jesus Christ who meets us and confronts us in Holy Scripture. As St Jerome said, “Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ.”   As the contemporary church has behaved lawlessly, heedless of its calling to be “witness and keeper of Holy Writ,” so it has lost credibility in the world to which it was sent.
          The great 19th century English bishop William Walsham How (to whom we owe so many of our hymns) expressed the delicate balance implied in Article XX in the second stanza of Hymn 402 (Hymnal 1940):

          The Church from her dear Master
          Received the gift divine,
          And still that light she lifteth
          O’er all the world to shine.
          It is the golden casket
          Where gems of truth are stored;
          It is the heaven-drawn picture
          Of Christ, the living Word. 

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Sunday after Ascension

Sunday after Ascension-day

The Collect.
O GOD, the King of glory, who hast exalted thine only Son Jesus Christ with great triumph unto thy kingdom in heaven; We beseech thee, leave us not comfortless; but send to us thine Holy Ghost to comfort us, and exalt us unto the same place whither our Saviour Christ is gone before, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, one God, world without end. Amen.
The Epistle. 1 St. Pet. iv. 7.
THE end of all things is at hand: be ye therefore sober, and watch unto prayer. And above all things have fervent charity among yourselves for charity shall cover the multitude of sins. Use hospitality one to another without grudging. As every man hath received the gift, even so minister the same one to another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God; if any man minister, let him do it as of the ability which God giveth: that God in all things may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom be praise and dominion for ever and ever. Amen.
The Gospel. St. John xv. 26, and part of chap. xvi.
WHEN the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me: and ye also shall bear witness, because ye have been with me from the beginning. These things have I spoken unto you, that ye should not be offended. They shall put you out of the synagogues: yea, the time cometh, that whosoever killeth you will think that he doeth God service. And these things will they do unto you, because they have not known the Father, nor me. But these things have I told you, that when the time shall come, ye may remember that I told you of them.
On Thursday, which was Ascension Day itself, I said this in my sermon:
"We have been led to think of the Ascension as Christ's coronation. This is not the emphasis of the scriptures, because the New Testament clearly reserves that significance to the day in which he will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, when the Father will put every enemy under his feet. These scriptures we have read are concerned, rather, with the continuation of Christ's own charismatic (χάρις) ministry through his Church, to spread the Gospel to all nations in the working out of salvation among all peoples of the earth."  

As we look at today's Collect and Scripture readings we must notice that same emphasis. For reasons hidden and mysterious, in the wisdom of God the Ascension of the Son is mainly about the coming of the Holy Spirit. Recall the Gospel of John, and the words we heard from it on the fourth Sunday after Easter: "Nevertheless I tell you the truth; It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you."(John 16:5) And, we meditated that Sunday on the ministry of the Holy Spirit through the Church to convince the fallen world concerning Christ.

It is of great importance that we understand the Procession of the Holy Spirit from the Father exactly as our Lord Jesus speaks of it here. We must consider it in the context of the same Gospel of John where we find Jesus teaching clearly about his own divinity: "Jesus said unto them, If God were your Father, ye would love me: for I proceeded forth and came from God; neither came I of myself, but he sent me. Why do ye not understand my speech? even because ye cannot hear my word." (John 8:42,43). Here the Lord speaks of two things. First he tells us who he is, and uses the Greek word translated "proceeded forth" (ἐξέρχομαι, exerchomai), and then speaks of his Incarnation and coming into the world with the word translated "sent" (ἀποστέλλω, apostellō). Indeed, he could have said, "I AM eternally begotten of the Father, and I AM the Apostle of the Father." It would mean, in his case, the same thing as the words he did say. For the fact that the Son proceeded forth from the Father is more often spoken of, in this same Gospel According to John, with the word "begotten." (μονογενής, monogenēs). 1 But, on this occasion he says that he "proceeded forth."

The Lord is not speaking here in redundant fashion. When Jesus spoke of his having "proceeded forth" from the Father, and his being "sent" by the Father, I hope you see very clearly that he speaks of two distinct things: 1) who He is as God the Son or Word, and 2) his mission in the world as the Father's Apostle.

Now, when we look at the Gospel for today, and how Jesus speaks about the other Comforter (παράκλητος, paraklētos), by telling his disciples that the Holy Spirit proceeds (ἐκπορεύομαι, ekporeuomai) from the Father, and that he, the Son, will "send him" (πέμπω, pempō), the idea is the same as what we saw when Jesus spoke of himself, his own proceeding from the Father and also his being sent into the world. The Greek words used are not the same. What is the same is the distinction between two things that he tells us, first about himself, and then here after the Supper when he echoes the same distinction, speaking about the Holy Spirit. In both cases we see a divine Person who proceeds from the Father's very Being. We can say truly of both of these Persons, the Son and the Spirit, "God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God." Indeed, we can say truly of both the Son and the Spirit, "Being of one substance with the Father." And, in both cases we see a divine Person who is sent into the world. In the case of Jesus "the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us" by taking human nature into the Godhead, our created nature into his uncreated Person, being conceived by the Holy Ghost, of the Virgin Mary. In the case of the Holy Spirit, by his presence with us the Word continues to dwell among us in "the church which His Body, the fullness of him which filleth all in all." (Ephesians 1:23) For, even though the Persons of the Trinity are distinct, they are also inseparable. Where the Spirit is present the Son cannot be absent. Where the Son is present, the Father must be present also. Where God is, He is there in his fullness (this is the meaning of "Divine Simplicity"). Indeed, the whole Gospel of John is about the Trinity and the Incarnation,2 opening with two verses in which God is named as three Persons, and then concentrating on the Word (λόγος, Logos), especially as we come to the Holy of Holies in all scripture: "The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us." (John 1:14)

Jesus is the Apostle of the Father, and it was expedient that he go away so that his own apostles could establish the Church by the supernatural and charismatic ministry of God with us.  He did enter into an unseen demension, into Heaven at the Father's right hand, in order to leave us. Rather, he has gone there inorder to be present everywhere in the world, present manifestly and powerfully in His Body the Church through the Holy Spirit. The throne is the throne of God, and Christ, the Head of the Body with His full authority and power, is no more present in Rome or in Constantinople than He is in your own town.

This Sunday in Ascensiontide is here to point us to next Sunday, Whitsunday or the Feast of Pentecost. Every passage of scripture appointed for Holy Communion during Ascensiontide emphasizes the coming of the Holy Spirit. Today's Collect directs our attention to Christ's exaltation back into the hidden dimension of Heaven that surrounds us, that is separate from the world where sin and death have their allotted time; and it tells of his exaltation only to turn our attention to our dependence on the Holy Spirit. Next week, we will read about the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, and see that Saint Peter tells us this about the resurrected and glorified Christ: "This Jesus hath God raised up, whereof we all are witnesses. Therefore being by the right hand of God exalted, and having received of the Father the promise of the Holy Ghost, he hath shed forth this, which ye now see and hear." (Acts 2:32,33)

Remember what the Lord told the apostles after his resurrection: "As my Father hath sent (ἀποστέλλω, apostellō) me, even so send (πέμπω, pempō) I you." (John 20:21) The apostles are sent by the Son as he is sent by the Father, and he sends them just as he sends the Holy Spirit to them. When you say I believe the Apostolic Church, you are saying a mouthful about the men who have succeeded the apostles into the college of the apostles; a mouthful about the mission of the whole Church; a mouthful about dependence on the Holy Spirit that the Church must acknowledge, and then trust in; a mouthful about the presence in and among us of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, as the Church derives its very being and life from God. For it is not only the apostles, and not only the bishops who have Apostolic Succession, but it is the whole Church that is Apostolic, by the gifts of God that come through them.

We must depend on the Holy Spirit. This means two things: We must not rely on the flesh as if our warfare was carnal; and it means we can have faith in the presence, power and gifts of the Holy Spirit, as well as his direction if we will only learn to hear his voice. Ah, but how can we learn to hear his voice until we learn that he is speaking and giving direction that we are all too often too deaf to hear? We treat the Holy Spirit like a stranger, and we assume that we must go about the mission that Christ gave his Apostolic Church by our own cleverness, and by our own means, and within our own limitations. No wonder our labors are lost, and we produce results that are blasted and dried up. If you want the ground to bring forth fruit you must pray for rain. If you want the Church to grow so that "Israel may blossom and bud and fill the face of the world with fruit," (Isaiah 27:6) you must gather as the disciples did in Ascensiontide, and pray for the mighty outpouring once again of God the Holy Spirit.

Jesus said "without me ye can do nothing."(John 15:5) For this reason he has sent the Comforter, the Spirit of Truth. Look at the words of St. Peter from today's Epistle: "As every man hath received the gift (χάρισμαcharisma), even so minister the same one to another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God; if any man minister, let him do it as of the ability which God giveth: that God in all things may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom be praise and dominion for ever and ever." How can we heed these words without gifts of knowledge and of utterance beyond the limitations of our own wisdom? How can we grow in grace unto holiness and develop virtues unless the Fruit of the Holy Spirit grows within our lives, as spoken of in the fifth chapter to the Galatians? How could our sacraments work effectually, or our message go forth, without the charismatic gifts of laborers spoken of in the fourth chapter of Ephesians? How could men receive Holy Orders without the gifts that Paul writes of in both Epistles to Timothy, that were given by the laying on of his apostolic hands?

My message to my fellow Continuing Anglicans in Ascensiontide is simple: As you pray, learn dependence on the Holy Spirit. Stop trusting the arm of flesh which will fail you. Our warfare is not carnal, but spiritual. 

Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, saith the LORD of hosts. (Zechariah. 4:6)
1. Examples: John 1:14, 18; 3:16, 18.
2. The fact that the Gospel According to John is about the dual and heavily related (interdependent) themes of the Trinity and the Incarnation should help us understand why John 14:6 cannot be controversial to true believers.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

The Ascension Day

Elijah taken to Heaven: by Gustave Dore'

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

.....These lists of gifts are different, along with yet other lists different still. What we see in these words of St. Paul, and what is taught clearly in the Book of Acts, is the dependence of the Apostolic Church on the Holy Spirit, for grace and power, to be Alter Christus to the world, just as the apostolic ministry of men in Holy Orders stands as Alter Christus to the Body of Christ.3   
The Ascension:  by Gustave Dore'
.....When I say "the Apostolic Church," I do not mean to speak in any way whatsoever of an era, the times of the Apostles. No. We are the ApostolicChurch, as we learn from the Creeds, and the witness of the Fathers. The same Holy Spirit that was poured out on the day of Pentecost remains with us- if we dare to believe it. And, the Holy Spirit, after two thousand years of granting charismatic (χάρις) power (δύναμις) to the Body of Christ has never grown old or weary. Christ is seated at the Father's right hand, and he is very active through us in the fallen world where the people of every nation need to hear that testimony proclaimed that we have received from the witnesses of his resurrection. 

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

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

1. Matthew 27: 52, 53, Hebrews 12:1, Psalm 68:18, Isaiah 53: 12
             2. Revelation 5:9
            3. II Corinthians 5:20
            4. John 14:16, 16:7
            5. Acts 2:32-36

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Fifth Sunday after Easter

Commonly called Rogation Sunday

James. 1:22-27  *  John 16: 23-33

On this day our attention ought to be focused on the right hand of God, to which the Lord Jesus was going to ascend. And, we are supposed to be thinking about that in terms of prayer, asking- rogation (from the Latin verb rogare, meaning "to ask"). And, we ought to be focusing on what it means to ask in this new way that our Lord Jesus teaches here. Why are we told to ask what we will of the Father in the name of Jesus Christ? In Genesis we see that there came a time when men first called upon the Name of the Lord. That is during the life of one named Enos, in the fourth chapter of Genesis, verse 26: “And to Seth, to him also there was born a son; and he called his name Enos: then began men to call upon the name of the LORD.” When I read this in Hebrew I saw that it really should be translated: “then began men to call in the Name of the Lord.” It was quite unmistakable; (בְּשֵׁם יְהוָהB’Shem Adonai. So, in using the words, “ask in My Name,” the Lord Jesus is again letting us know that he and the Father are One.

And, beyond that, we are told to pray to the Father in the human Name of the Person who is the Eternal Word, the nature He took into His uncreated eternal Person when “the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.” We do not pray to the Father without coming in the Name of the Son of God, specifically, the human Name of Jesus Christ. We could speak of Him as God the only begotten Son, or as the Word (or λόγος Logos). These are Names that speak of Him as God; and yet, in His human nature He is still One with the Father, while He shares our nature; fully God and fully man. Can we not simply come to the Father without this Man acting as our Mediator? Are we not good enough? The answer is no. We are not good enough to come to the Father, because we are sinners. If you are looking for a religion that flatters you, affirms you, and tells you how wonderful you are, you have come to the wrong place. Here we are all self-confessed “miserable offenders.” We spend a great deal of our time when we pray together, asking the Lord to have mercy upon us. So, no, we are not good enough to come to the Father without a Mediator.

Saint Paul wrote, in the first Epistle to Saint Timothy, the second chapter:

I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; For kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour; Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus; Who gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time.

This passage speaks of prayer and God’s will that people will repent and be saved. And, in speaking of both of these things, salvation and prayer, Paul is moved to remind us that we have as our only Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus who gave Himself a ransom for all. He overcame the separation between the uncreated God and human creatures by taking created nature into His uncreated Person, becoming fully man while remaining fully God. He overcame the separation between God and man due to sin by dying for our sins on the cross. He overcame the separation between the Living God and our death by overcoming death. As one Person complete in two natures, Himself both fully God and fully Man, Jesus Christ is our Mediator. No man comes to the Father but by Him. That is true of our salvation, it is true of our worship, it is true also of our prayers.

This is why you must read the Epistle to the Hebrews. In that Epistle we are told all of these things very clearly. In addition, we are told that the Lord Jesus, seated even now at the right hand of God, ever lives to make intercession for us. Using the Old Testament picture of the High Priest who once a year took the blood of the sacrifice into the Holy of Holies, the Epistle to the Hebrews speaks of Christ’s once for all sacrifice, that is that he died once for all sinners, and of His ascension to the Father’s throne as the true offering of the true High Priest into the true Holy of Holies, of which the temple was merely a picture, a shadow or type. The blood of the sacrifices in the Old Testament were sprinkled on the Mercy Seat before the Ark of the covenant, inside the veil, in the Holy of Holies- the קֹדֶשׁ הַקֳּדָשִׁים (Kadesh h’kadeshim). This type was given to teach of the true offering in which the Son of God would offer Himself, and His blood would be the true Atonement, the true כָּפַר (Kippor). And, that he would rise from the dead and present His own death and sacrifice, the shedding of His blood, the pouring out of His soul unto death, upon prolonging His days by rising to life again. And, that he would ascend back to the Father to be our Mediator, pleading for us with the scars from those wounds from which His blood was shed.

To pray in the Name of Jesus reminds us of these things. It reminds us that we need a Mediator, because we are sinners. It reminds us that He died for our sins, rose again and ascended into heaven. It reminds us that He is the one Mediator between God and Man because He is fully God and fully man, unique as the one whose Name alone is given under heaven among men by which we must be saved. (Acts 4;12) “Hitherto have ye asked nothing in my Name,” He said. “Ask and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full.” As the Epistle to the Hebrews puts it:

Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, By a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh; And having an high priest over the house of God; Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering; (for he is faithful that promised;) And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works.  (Heb. 10:19-24)

And, what are we to ask for? Above all, in this text, we are to ask for the Holy Spirit, the other Comforter.)

On this Rogation Sunday, as we prepare for the day of Ascension, and then for the Day of Pentecost, hoping for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in power, let us have these words as frontlets between our eyes: “Ask and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full.”

Some people believe that the name of Jesus Christ will work like a magic charm if only we have faith. I suggest it has more to do with the words of St. John in his First Epistle: "And this is the confidence that we have in him, that, if we ask any thing according to his will, he heareth us." (I John 5:14) On one hand, some may say, we have these words from Jesus: "And whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son." (John 14: 13) and, "that whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in my name, he may give it you." (John 15:16) Some may interpret the words from the Gospel of John to indicate that all we need to do is ask in his Name, and others may interpret the words from the Epistle to mean that we may ask nothing with real confidence, because how could we know the will of God? Yet, John writes this about why we may have confidence. It is understandable, therefore why some would be confused.

Some will make the problem worse by telling you that if you really have faith, you will always be healed, miracles will happen everyday, and you will enjoy wealth and prosperity as a sign of God's favor. They twist a simple greeting from Scripture and make a doctrinal statement out of it, namely these words, "Beloved, I wish above all things that thou mayest prosper and be in health, even as thy soul prospereth." (III John 2). But, that was not a revelation from God containing a promise for all who have faith; it was, for anyone who knows how to read with comprehension, a greeting from John himself, no more significant than saying, "Godspeed." John was being polite and friendly, and that is all there is to it (the Epistle is Scripture and therefore inspired by the Holy Spirit; but, it was also a letter from a man to someone specific, and has a human element, namely a simple greeting).

But, it is equally wrong to assume that we cannot pray with faith that God will intervene for good in the lives of those we love, and to meet our needs. God's will is not some clouded unknowable mystery, so that all we can say is "thy will be done," with no real substantial petitions for those in need. Rather, the issue of God's will is partly an attitude of heart that we must have, that is, the resolution that by the grace of God at work through the Holy Spirit, we will walk henceforth in newness of life in obedience to the will of God as he revealed it by his commandments. It is no good trying to know the will of God unless we accept the commandments that contain the revelation of what his will most certainly is.

In this light, to pray in the name of Jesus is not merely to be a name dropper, to impress the Father by claiming to know Someone in the ultimate Who's Who directory. How can we presume to think we have asked anything in the Name of Jesus Christ merely because we have spoken his Name? Anyone can say his Name, and say say it as if it were merely the magic words. Invoking the Name of Jesus Christ carries with it the implication of asking according to God's will, and of living according to his revealed will, as revealed in Scripture through those things he has commanded us.

I would like to pray that the Baltimore Orioles win the world series (still a Marylander where that is concerned), but I cannot ask such a thing in Christ's Name. You cannot ask, in Christ's Name, that you win out over the competition in business; but you can ask, in the name of Jesus Christ with full confidence and assurance of faith, that He provide your every need. Certainly, we cannot ask God to do evil to others, or to assist us in an immoral cause; and it would be blasphemy to do so, double blasphemy to do so in the Name of Jesus Christ.

Asking in the Name of Jesus Christ has everything to do with the doctrinal revelation I have drawn out from Scripture for your edification in this sermon. It also provides a check within our hearts about what we may ask with faith.