Saturday, December 29, 2012

The Sunday after Christmas Day

Galatians 4:1-7 * Matthew 1:18-25

It is a principle of interpretation that the fullness of revelation in Christ unlocks the mysterious sayings of the Prophets. Always remember that it was the seventy rabbis in Antiquity, translating the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek, who understood the words of Isaiah to mean “A virgin shall be with child.” For so they translated Almah into Parthenos before Jesus was born, before any Christian could interpret the words of the prophet: “Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel (Isaiah 7:14).”     

It was a sign, that is a miracle to direct our attention to God, that a virgin was with child. It is no sign whatsoever for a “young woman” to be with child, inasmuch as it happens all the time. And, in what context did Isaiah speak this prophecy, some seven hundred years before Christ was born? In the context of a king, Ahaz, worried about a political and military conspiracy from a fifth column allied with a foreign power. That is, Isaiah answered the fearful inquiry of a political leader who was afraid of domestic rivals and foreign enemies. He answered in the context of concerns about politics and war. That is, the same old normal situation we see all the time and everywhere throughout history.

          Isaiah gave the Divine answer, as if God was ignoring the same old questions about power, politics and war, about the things people think about and talk about, the things people consider to be of the greatest importance. The answer to what really ails us is in the Sign: “Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” That is, “God with us.” The prophet did go on to answer the concerns of King Ahaz about the king of Assyria and domestic conspiracy; but first he foretold the greatest deliverance of all. He foretold the Sign of the only real salvation for all people for all time.

Human power cannot conceive this salvation. No military power, no intellectual power, not even any religious method; No one but God could make it happen. So, He chose and willed that a virgin would be with child. And, for the real salvation of the world, it takes no less than “God with us.” It takes no less than the Word (Logos) made flesh, the Person Who is One God with the Father and the Holy Spirit, with us as a human being, born of a virgin. The human race is impotent to save itself, because the real enemy is not the king of Assyria and domestic conspirators. The real war is not with man made weapons of destruction. In every generation and place these are the enemies most on our minds. But, the enemy of mankind is hidden away behind millions of lies, inciting hate and destruction. Because of that enemy, and his deception, we need salvation from sin and death.

“Thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins.

          Jesus, in Hebrew Yeshua, means Salvation. “For the LORD is our judge, the LORD is our lawgiver, the LORD is our king; He is our salvation (Isaiah 33:22).”

What does it mean to be saved from our sins? How eager are we, really, to be saved from them, and wouldn’t we prefer to be saved along with them? Do we understand that salvation from death is not possible without salvation from sin? This is why, even in the joy of Christmas, we cannot afford to forget the cross. Indeed, as Martin Luther once observed, “If you think you have found God without the cross, you have found the Devil.”

God with us, the Word made flesh, our Salvation Himself, took away sin before He conquered death. First came the harsh wood of the cross, where He so willingly took away the sins of the world. It was on “the altar of the cross” that Jesus became the Lamb of God.

Just about everyone, understandably, speculates about life after death. The Ghost Hunters plumb the depths of this mystery – literally. People have engaged psychics and spiritualists, and today use electronic equipment. For Christians, there must be no psychics or spiritualists because God forbids such practices (as a doorway to the demonic realm). As for Ghost Hunters, and research into near death experiences – or, more accurately, real but temporary death experiences – those things actually involve scientific methods and genuine memories. But, the ultimate answers are still beyond the grasp of everyone looking to them.

The real hope is in the resurrection of the dead on the Last Day. Christ rose from the dead and forever conquered death. His promise to all who repent and believe in Him is that He will raise each one “on the Last Day,” when he comes again. But, before we get to eternal life and all of “the sure and certain hope of the resurrection of the dead on the Last day,” we must take a long stop at the cross. Before He saved us from death He saved us from our sins. So, “Behold the Lamb of God.”

It doesn’t seem fair. We have been thinking about the baby born in Bethlehem, and here I am on this Sunday right after Christmas Day, speaking about the day, some thirty-three years later, when He would give up his life and die on the cross. Is there no break from the cross? Can we ever have such a break, some period when the cross is not part of message? Only if there is a break from the love of God (Romans 5: 8). For it is on the cross that Jesus saved us from our sins. That is what the angel Gabriel said to Joseph; without the cross His name would not be Jesus, Salvation.

This was the will of God; not the will of an “angry Father” created by human imagination. It was the will of God, of whom the Apostle John wrote, “God is Love.” It was the will of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. It was the will, therefore, of Jesus, our Salvation, to take away our sins, to save us from our sins; our Salvation Himself, “Who was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification (Romans 4:25).

That is, He died for our offences, our sins, and was raised again on the third day for our justification. We are forgiven because of the cross, and justified because He rose from the dead afterward. It is not enough for God to have forgiven the past; it is also His will to make all things new, to make each of us new. For this we are given the great gift of sharing Christ’s resurrection. This is how “our sinful bodies” will “be made clean by His body,” cleansed from the defilement and uncleanness of death itself because “our souls [are] washed with His most precious blood.” He “was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification.”

So, the angel Gabriel told Joseph the true meaning of the Prophet’s words. This is the good news of God’s salvation. We are saved from sin and therefore saved from death, looking forward to a whole new beginning because He is alive even now. In Bethlehem “the babe, the world’s redeemer, first revealed His sacred face.” To understand this great revelation of God’s love, we need to know the message of the Gospel in its fullness. That message is what the Prophets saw and foretold; it is the mystery opened up to Joseph in a dream by the words of Gabriel; and it is all the factual events to which the Apostles have borne witness.

Sunday, December 23, 2012


Hebrews 1:1-12 * John 1:1-14

On Christmas, this Feast of the Nativity, the hidden revelation we celebrate on the Feast of the Annunciation becomes visible. 

"Then the babe, the world's Redeemer
First revealed his sacred face
Evermore and evermore." 

I never tire of the prologue to St. John’s Gospel. These words are hakadesh hakadeshim- the holy of holies- in all of scripture. The finest and most entertaining story cannot begin to compare with these words which we have heard from scripture. If we heard the opening of St. John’s Gospel on every day we could not hear it too often. 

A Roman Catholic priest of my acquaintance via e-mail, Fr. Joseph Wilson, wrote, in an article, that it is impossible to overemphasize the Incarnation. How right he is. Many heresies come about by overemphasis on one little part of Christian truth at the expense of the rest of it. This cannot happen to the doctrine of the Incarnation, for it contains all of the truth in itself. This truth, that Christ is God the Son come to us in the fullness both of His Divine Nature, and of His human nature, is the truth, the central doctrine, of Christianity. Take it away and we have nothing. Keep it, and we have everything. No wonder St. John also tells us that this simple true statement, that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh, is the one doctrine that the spirit of Antichrist will not admit.

The doctrine of the Incarnation contains all of the truth of Christianity. The full revelation of the Trinity becomes necessary for God is the Son, and God is the Father; but the Son is not the Father. And the Son is present with us by the Holy Spirit. But, the Son and the Father are not the Holy Spirit. Yet, every Jew always knew that there is only One God-sh’mai Israel... The truth of the Incarnation opens more questions than it answers; the questions are because God is revealed fully by Jesus as being, in His words, The Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost (Matt. 28:19). The risen Christ revealed this one Name for God. We can spend eternity asking questions about the infinity of the True and Living God because He will always be beyond our full comprehension. Yet, because He can walk among us as a man, in the person of the Son, we can know Him. He is beyond us forever; He is with us forever. His name is called Emmanuel- God with us.

The truth of the Incarnation tells us that we are sinners, lost because we are lost in sin. The light shines not against lesser light, but in the very darkness itself, a darkness that neither understands nor can solve the problem of this bothersome light. The darkness comprehended it not, the darkness into which we had fallen, and in which we were blind. Even many of the very chosen people themselves received not this Light; no wonder then that most of the world cannot receive Him either. Those who can receive Him do so because they face the light. This light hurts our eyes at first; for it tells the truth, the truth about ourselves which we wanted never to see nor hear.

The writer to the Hebrews wastes no time in telling us that this Man, the Son of God who is the very icon of the Father, in Whom the glory of God is perfectly seen, has purged our sins. And, in the Gospel of St. Luke, the words of the angels are heard, “Glory to God in the Highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men.” What peace is this? Is it some magic that makes sinful and fallen men stop waging war? Is not the greater war shown to us in scripture? We could say that God might justly wage war on us because of our sins. As early as the story of Noah’s flood we see that God accepted the sacrifice of Noah after the flood- a sacrifice that pointed to Christ’s own death on the cross as did all the sacrifices. We are told that God hung up His bow as a sign in the heavens. He hung up what we call the rainbow, His bow of warfare, and promised not to destroy mankind from the face of the earth. This is the peace of which the angels speak. God offers to us peace with Himself. 

The sacrifice that had been offered in the story of Noah, after he came out of the ark, was only a type and shadow of the cross, the shadow of which hung already, over a newborn infant Son lying asleep in a manger. This night is answered by "the night in which He was betrayed." Only by His cross, by His sacrifice, is peace made between God and fallen mankind.

Nails, spear shall pierce Him through
A cross be borne for me for you,
Hail, hail the Word made flesh,
The Babe the Son of Mary.

All of the events to come, right up to His dying and rising again are foretold in these words of the angels. We do not see goodwill among men, as some misinterpret the angelic words, but goodwill toward men, from God. The whole revelation that God is Love is given to us, also, by the Incarnation. This is the great gift of love, that He would give His own Son; He offers the sacrifice that He would not allow our father Abraham to make. Abraham was ready to obey God, and prepared to offer his son, his only son Isaac whom he loved, upon whom had been laid the wood of the altar while they had climbed Mount Moriah.

Abraham was spared this terrible agony of slaying his beloved son, and in fact God taught His people that He would never accept the sacrifice of their children, such sacrifices as the pagans made to what were no gods. But, God in His love gives His only begotten Son Whom He loves. This is the goodwill toward men. This goodwill was seen that night in the manger in Bethlehem; this goodwill was seen on the cross many years later on a Friday afternoon.

In the Incarnation, now revealed, we see that God would call a people to be His children, and adopt them in the very Person of His only begotten Son; for as St. Paul tells us, we are in Christ. It is because we are in the Beloved, in the Son Himself, that we are chosen by God for salvation, instead of having been abandoned to the fate we had deserved for ourselves.

We see also that He would establish His Church, and give to it His Word and Sacraments for the salvation of all who believe the Gospel. St. John, in opening his First Epistle, tells us that he had been among those whose hands had handled, and whose eyes had seen the Word of Life; and he goes on to tell us that we too are called to fellowship with God and His Son Jesus Christ through the invitation of the apostles. St. John is telling us that in the Church the sacraments are given and God’s Word is spoken, that we may know Him. Without the Incarnation the apostles have no word to tell, and there is then no Word from God, nor any sacraments. Because of the Incarnation we are given the Word of His truth. And the sacraments stem from His own coming in the flesh, and are given to us only because He was given to us when He came in our own nature, a created nature that was alien to His uncreated Person as God the only Son, eternally begotten of the Father.

In his classic, On the Incarnation, St. Athanasius said that while Christ walked the earth as man, He still filled the heavens as God. The Council Of Chalcedon taught us that He is fully God, being of the same nature as that of the Father, and fully human, being of the same human nature as ourselves, like us in every way except for sin, having human nature from His mother Mary, the Virgin, the Theotokos- which means that God the Son has a mother; and He is "like us in every respect apart from sin."

None of this is explained to us. How is it that God is made man, that the Word is made flesh and that He dwelt among us, that we beheld His glory? We do not really know all the answers- which is part of the revelation. God cannot be figured out, dissected and explained. He cannot be understood, analyzed and described. But, He can be known through Christ, the Only Mediator Who Himself is God and Man.

How do sacraments work? How does bread and wine feed us the flesh and blood of the Living Christ? How does water, with the right words, give new life when applied to human flesh? How can priests, ourselves sinners, forgive sins? How did Christ’s death take away the sins of the world? How does His resurrection save us from death? If we needed to know the answers in some mechanical way, then salvation would be reserved only for people far too clever for me. The point is to know that it is beyond our understanding, because we are not God. We cannot explain it. But, what we do not understand we can know; we can know the love of God shown to us in the coming of Christ into the world. “For God so loved the world,” and that is the why of it.

I will close with words written in 1765, by Christopher Smart, words which made it into our hymnal, and which work equally well for this Feast of Christmas and also for the Feast of the Annunciation which was nine months ago:

O Most Mighty!
O Most Holy!
Far beyond the seraph’s thought,
Art Thou then so mean and lowly
As unheeded prophets taught?

O the magnitude of meekness!
Worth from worth immortal sprung;
O the strength of infant weakness,
if eternal is so young.

God all bounteous, all creative,
Whom no ills from good dissuade,
Is Incarnate and a native
Of the very world He made.

Now unto God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Ghost, be ascribed, as is most justly due, all might, majesty, dominion, power and glory, now and forever. Amen

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Fourth Sunday in Advent

Isaiah 40:1-11 * Psalm 80 * Phil. 4:4-7 * John 1:19-28
With Christmas so close at hand it may seem a little difficult to go through even one more Sunday of Advent. We want to burst forth into the next season and rejoice. Well, very soon the time for that will be upon us (in fact at sundown this Christmas Eve). Right now, however, it is time to think through the meaning of today’s scriptures for the last Sunday in Advent, and not to miss it.

Again we are given that mysterious image of John the Baptist, the burning and shining light who bore witness by his life and death to Jesus Christ. “He must increase, and I must decrease,” said this prophet, this man whose unique vocation was that he bridged the Old Testament and the New. Two weeks ago we saw that all of the scriptures bore witness to Jesus Christ; and now, this last prophet of the Old Covenant bears direct witness to Christ, baptizing Him, and seeing the Spirit of God come upon Him as a dove out of Heaven. This last prophet of the Old Covenant is the first prophet of the New Covenant. The Lord said through the prophet Isaiah, “Behold, I will do a new thing; now it shall spring forth; shall ye not know it? I will even make a way in the wilderness, and rivers in the desert (Isa. 43: 19).” God called this prophet, this unique prophet, to show that the new thing, the New Covenant spoken of by Jeremiah the prophet (Jer. 31:31f) was upon them. John’s father was a priest under the Law of Moses, a descendent of Aaron. Therefore, John was also, by that Law, a priest. Yet, John the son of Zechariah, went into the desert to be the voice of one crying in the wilderness, “prepare the way of the Lord.”

Advent is about the last things, and especially meant to remind us that Christ will come again in glory to judge the quick and the dead, to make the heavens and the earth new, and to rule forever on His throne, surrounded by saints whom He has redeemed from sin and death to rule forever with Him. But, as we have seen, instead of having us read the many passages of scripture that deal very directly with eschatology- the study of the end- the Gospel readings appointed by the Church give us a glimpse of Christ’s second coming by reminding us of events that happened when He came at first. The first week we saw that His kingdom brings judgment on the very House of God in the midst of the holy city, and cleanses it by driving out those who defiled it by their willful sin, cheating the people on holy ground. The picture ought to inspire the healthy fear of God, and to make us repentant and resolute to live in such a way that we will be among those who remain in His house forever, instead of being driven out to spend eternity in outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

And now, thanks to the wisdom of the Church, we are reminded of the Baptist who prepared the way of the Lord by preaching repentance and cleansing. John the Baptist bridged the Testaments and prepared the way for Christ by offering hope, by giving sinful people a chance to start over again. The sinners who came to him were given a new beginning, hope and cleansing- themselves cleansed rather than tossed out as the Lord tossed out the money changers when it was the temple that He cleansed. In other words, the vocation of John the Baptist was to prepare people to see Jesus as the Messiah, and the preparation was repentance, the only way to be prepared to meet the Lord. The Advent message of repentance is necessary. Modern popular religion tells everyone that they need not repent of their sins, but rather that everyone is accepted with all of their ungodly baggage. The truth is, some churches are simply helping people go to Hell, due to the false teaching of Satan’s ministers. The truth is, the real ministry of the Church is the most important and serious thing in the world. Here we deal with things more important than mere life and death. We speak and administer the word and sacraments that have to do with eternal destiny. We give out both a warning and hope: "Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand."

Now, about the comings of Jesus Christ, and the life of this mysterious John the Baptist, we should dig a little deeper. The word “Christ” is from the Greek for the Hebrew word Meshiach, or as we pronounce it in English, “Messiah.” We have come to call the Lord by two names more than all others, Jesus and Christ. The one means Salvation- Y’shua. The other means “the anointed” – Meshiach. The implication is the Old Testament expression, “the Lord’s Anointed.” This comes with two pictures, as the word "messiah" is sprinkled generously throughout the pages of the Old Testament. The word speaks of priests and kings, and the anointing comes by the hand of a prophet.

The first men to be called meshiach were the brother of Moses, Aaron the High Priest, and his sons the priests. The King James Bible uses the phrase “the priest that is anointed.” The original Hebrew is h’ kohan h’ meshiach- “the priest the messiah.” The second class of men to be called messiah (meshiach) are the kings. David would not stretch forth his hand against Saul, because he was “the Lord’s anointed.” That is, the Lord’s messiah. Every priest was a messiah, and every king was a messiah. And, yet, the scriptures clearly speak of the one Man who would be both priest and king, and who would be the only hope of the whole world, H’ Meshiach- The Messiah. So, first Messiah is the priest, and then after that He is the King.

Jesus Christ’s two comings are foreshadowed in these pictures. First he came as priest. The Epistle to the Hebrews is the most explicit New Testament book that tells of Christ’s priestly ministry when he came the first time, and does so in light of the hope of those who look for His second appearing. As the priest He offered Himself as the sacrifice. The Book of Leviticus tells us clearly how a priest made kippur, that is atonement, for a repentant sinner who confessed his sin to the priest and brought a sacrifice. The real meaning is that the priest himself is the atonement, and offers the animal because he cannot sacrifice himself. This is a type and shadow of Jesus, who did offer Himself as priest and sacrifice when He came the first time. The importance of the Suffering Servant passage to the clear New Testament proclamation of atonement cannot be overstated. You will find it in the 53rd chapter of the Book of Isaiah. “But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.”

This Suffering servant, after His death in their place, rises and takes up a ministry of intercession for sinners. “When thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand.” A dead man cannot prolong his days unless he rises again. In this passage, His death and resurrection are priestly, because he dies as the one true sacrifice, the atonement, and after rising “he ever lives to make intercession for them,” that is, for those who come to God through Him (Hebrews 7:25). The Old Testament sacrifices on those altars foreshadowed His true sacrifice, just as our sacrifice on this altar, in which nothing is killed, proclaims it. In fact, there is only one Eucharist (or Holy Communion or Mass – it’s all the same), and always when it is offered anywhere in the world by the Church, it is joined to the one true sacrifice on Calvary.

When He comes again, the image of Messiah as King will be fulfilled in all of its glory. This is the terror of all that is evil, and it is the hope of the Church. It is a certainty that he will come on the Last Day to judge the living and the dead, to establish Heaven on Earth, to rule and so grant peace forever. Both Testaments speak of His coming as the King Messiah. Daniel saw one coming in the clouds of Heaven as the Son of man to rule with the Ancient of Days; Moses saw that “the Earth shall be filled with the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.” Our eternal hope is not based upon imagination and conjecture, but upon the sure promise given in and by Christ’s resurrection from the dead. We are given the “sure and certain hope of the resurrection on the Last Day.” It is the only such hope, and it is impossible to separate that hope from Jesus Christ, because immortality, the hope of eternal life, is ours only through His resurrection. So writes Saint John about those who, due to this hope, purify themselves: “Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is (I John 3:2).”
John the Baptist prepared the way of the Lord by his message of repentance. Pondering these pictures of the Messiah as priest and King we are both warned and encouraged with both fear and hope. This is the meaning of Advent. It is of eternal consequence that we give heed.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Of your charity...

...I bid your prayers for Fr. Laurence Wells. He is facing open heart surgery in January, and currently is being treated for bacterial endocarditis with a 4 to 6 week program of antibiotics.

An Appeal from the Continuing Anglican Churches to the ACNA and Associated Churches

The Continuing Anglican Church movement began with the Congress of Saint Louis in 1977.  The Anglican Church in North America was born in 2010.  Between these two ecclesial movements there are points of contact, but there also is a great gulf fixed. 

In regard to points of contact, both of the entities concerned are movements composed of a number of imperfectly united ecclesial jurisdictions rather than perfectly united dioceses or Churches.  Both understand themselves to be Anglican and to relate in positive ways to a common history and shared theological and cultural influences.  Both understand themselves to have left former Church homes as an act of fidelity to the teaching of Scripture and in the face of grave aberrations in the Episcopal Church and Anglican Communion.  Both are challenged by the need to present the gospel in compelling and attractive ways to an increasingly secular and indifferent Western society.
The gulf between us concerns mostly the changes accepted in the Episcopal Church (and the Canadian Church) between the mid-1970s and 2010.  Those of us who left the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada in the 1970s did so due to the adoption in those years of the ordination of women to the priesthood by General Convention (1976) and General Synod (1975).  More generally, in the roughly 30 years between the Congress of Saint Louis and ACNA’s formation, the people who eventually formed ACNA lived in ecclesial bodies which increasingly abandoned elements of classical Anglicanism.  The precipitating cause of the founding of the ACNA was TEC’s abandonment of orthodox Christian teaching concerning homosexuality.  But prior to 2010 many of those now in ACNA accepted liturgies and prayer books with few connections to classical Anglican worship and accepted female deacons, priests, and bishops contrary to the mind of all Anglicans prior to the mid-20th century. 
One of our number, in an earlier letter to Archbishop Duncan of ACNA, wrote in regard to these matters as follows:
The notion that women can receive the sacrament of Holy Orders in any of its three parts constitutes, in our view, a revolutionary and false claim:  a claim false in itself; a claim destructive of the common ministry that once united Anglicans; and, finally, a claim productive of an even broader and worse consequence.  That worse consequence is the claim that Anglicans have authority to alter important matters of
faith and order against a clear consensus in the central tradition of Catholic and Orthodox Christendom.  Once such a claim is made it may be pressed into service to alter any matter of faith or morals.  The revolution devours its children.  Many of the clergy represented at GAFCON and now joining the ACNA seem to us to accept the flawed premise and its revolutionary claim in one matter while seeking to resist the application of the premise in the matter of homosexuality.  This position seems to us to be internally inconsistent and impossible to sustain successfully over time.
All Continuing Anglicans accept this analysis.  We note that ACNA has not abandoned the putative ordination of women and that this issue deeply divides the dioceses which compose ACNA. 
While we recognize that the Churches through history and today are free to adopt a variety of liturgical forms, as they are not free to accept the ordination of women, yet we also agree that any sound Anglican body today needs to relate more positively to the classical Books of Common Prayer than is the case in many ACNA dioceses. 
Many in ACNA effectively accept elements of the revolution since the 1970s.  If orthodox Anglicanism in North America is again to unite, then it can only do so on the basis of the pre-1976 state of the Church, without women clergy and with classically Anglican liturgies.

We recognize that the Continuing Church has failed to present a united front, has failed to grow as we should, and in general has failed to present an attractive alternative to the growing heresy and absurdity of the Episcopal Church.  However, we also note that against furious opposition, and often against obstacles set up by those who later formed ACNA, we have built hundreds of congregations in North America, many of which are thriving.  We have established works of mercy, publications ministries, and international missions, and we have trained and ordained a new generation of able clergy. 
The Continuing Churches are said to be riven by constant conflicts and to be increasingly divided.  This is not true.  Those of us who are undersigned below represent the great bulk of the Continuing Church.  We have among ourselves cordial relations.  We cooperate on many levels and have at least as great a level of
communion as that which exists amongst the disparate groups of ACNA.  Our tendency is towards greater unity and cooperation, whereas we observe within ACNA a tendency, just beneath the surface, to divide along the fault line we have identified above (between many in ACNA and classical Anglicanism).  We have no wish to deny or to minimize our own failures or divisions.  But our divisions are largely matters amenable to improvement.  The divisions facing ACNA are fundamental and essential.
We call upon ACNA to heed our call to return to your classical Anglican roots.  We commend to your prayerful attention the Affirmation of Saint Louis, which we firmly believe provides a sound basis for a renewed and fulfilled Anglicanism on our continent.  We urge you to heed the call of Metropolitan Jonah, whose concerns we share.  Anglicanism in North America cannot be both united and orthodox on a partially revolutionized basis.  We call upon you to repudiate firmly any claim to alter doctrine or order against the consensus of the Catholic and Orthodox world.  We call upon you to embrace the classical Prayer Book tradition.  The 30 years between our formation in 1977 and yours in 2010 were years of sharp decline in TEC numbers and of growing aberrations in all areas of Church life.  We call upon you to look upon all the works of those years with a much more critical eye, and to join us in returning to the doctrine, worship, and orders that preceded the intervening decades.
Yours in Christ,
The Right Reverend Paul Hewett, SSC
Diocese of the Holy Cross
The Most Reverend Walter Grundorf
Anglican Province of America
The Most Reverend Brian Marsh
Anglican Church in America
The Most Reverend Mark Haverland
Anglican Catholic Church
The Most Reverend Peter D. Robinson
United Episcopal Church of North America

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Third Sunday in Advent

I Cor. 4:1f  * Matt. 11:2f

The Gospel reading for today reminds us that John the Baptist was the messenger who went before the face of the Lord to prepare the way. The words "my messenger" are the same as the name of the prophet who wrote the scriptures that the Lord quoted- Malachi. It means "my messenger" or "my angel." For this reason John is pictured in iconography with the wings of an angel. Since the Gospel reminds us that John the Baptist was, in the words of the prophet Malachi, the special messenger who prepared the people to see Jesus Christ and to receive Him, we should ask why it is that we have Penitential seasons; that is Advent and Lent. I believe everyone knows what goes on in New Orleans just before Lent. The Mardi Gras has become completely decadent and pornographically lewd. They have corrupted the idea into one of whooping it up right up until Lent comes, and spoils all the fun. Hardly a good way to prepare for Christ. I am glad that they don't do this before Advent as well.       

          Obviously, we don’t restrict Penance to just two seasons, anymore than we restrict faith in the Resurrection exclusively to the Easter season. Each season reinforces an important element of the Christian life in its fullness. Back when we were in Maryland, at St. Andrew’s in Easton, we had a hot water pot for the coffee, tea etc. (the bagged stuff). With only one room, we had to turn it on long before people came in and began to prepare for the service by praying; because otherwise they would hear the pot wailing and mourning with great lamentation and woe while the water boiled. We decided that it was a water pot for the Penitential seasons, for it wailed and lamented. This was true all year long.
          And, like that deeply convicted water pot, we need to carry into the whole year the sober message of these seasons. And, neither, in these seasons, do we lose our joy and hope in Christ. In fact, if you paid attention to the scriptures and to the Collect, you see that the message is the message of John the Baptist; that is, to be prepared for the sudden appearance of the Lord Himself. As I pointed out two weeks ago, to be prepared to meet Christ in the final judgment, we all need to live here and now, properly prepared to receive Him in the Blessed Sacrament of His Body and Blood. So, this message of Advent, with its penance and its hope, is a year-round message, telling us to be prepared to receive Jesus Christ, Really and Truly Present among us and in us.

          And, if you were paying attention to the Collect, and how it relates to the Epistle, you will see that bishops, priests and deacons are placed in His Church to be stewards of the mysteries of Christ, in order to teach His people this very thing: To be ready to meet Him. The picture of John the Baptist is used by the Church to remind the messengers that we too must prepare the people for the coming of the Lord, for the day when He shall appear in glory, and we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ.
          Again, the scriptures today remind us of the messenger, John the Baptist. People do not understand John. They see his message only in negative terms. They think it terrible that he was a “hell fire and damnation” preacher (though, as C.S. Lewis observed, the most terrifying passages in the whole of scripture are from the mouth of Jesus Christ Himself). When John the Baptist appears in movies, he often looks and acts like a wild man, and the wardrobe department replaces the Camel’s Hair garment he wore with something that is better suited to Fred Flintstone. 
          But, if we look at the record of what really happened, as it is in each of the Four Gospels, it was John who gave the people hope. The Pharisees had no message of hope for sinners, and the Sadducees had no message of hope at all, believing that there was no life beyond the grave (which is why the Sadducees were sad, you see). Furthermore, the Pharisees seemed to think of sin in terms of social class instead of in terms of one’s relation to God. But, of course, the most important line was that of the Lord Jesus Christ, when He said to the Pharisees that the tax collectors and prostitutes would enter the kingdom of God ahead of them, because they repented at the preaching of John. People came from miles around to confess their sins and to be baptized by him, with his baptism of repentance.   

          You know, we do not have the most affirming message: that is, we do not have a message that says: “I’m okay, you’re okay.” Anyone who leaves these services thinking he has been told how good he is, has not paid any attention to our liturgy. We do not approach God thanking Him that we are not as other men, boasting of being “good people.” Rather, “we bewail our manifold sins and wickedness, which we, from time to time, most grievously have committed.” Frankly, there is no other way to approach God.
          Anyone who knows the Ordinal of the Church of England must know that the priestly power to absolve, to forgive sins, has always been a very important part of Anglican practice. We never abandoned it. Furthermore, as King David wrote, “Blessed is he whose unrighteousness is forgiven…” Confession hurts before you do it; but it brings joy to the heart after it is done. It is the most healing experience a person can have. Believe me, I know. As a priest I know what it is to be on both sides. You see, I am a sinner too; and without the forgiveness of sins, I would not know the joy and the freedom of life in Christ. “Come unto Me all ye that travail and are heavy laden, and I will refresh you.” It is so.

          Be prepared for the appearing of Christ Himself. “Every eye shall see Him.” This is what John was sent to prepare the people for. It is what we teach you, as stewards of the Mysteries of Christ. 

Saturday, December 08, 2012

I wrote this for the St. Benedict's Newsletter

From the Rector’s Desk
Once again the Church begins its year. It is Advent, the first of seasons on the Church calendar. I ask each of you to resist the pressures of the world. The world says that the time between Thanksgiving Day and the Feast of St. Stephen is Christmas, and then it is all over (because the next big money maker is Valentine’s Day – a day in which that saint and martyr himself is forgotten, of course). But, the Church says that when Christmas comes then it will be Christmas, and until then it is Advent.

Advent is older than Christmas, as feasts and fasts go. The real emphasis is not to prepare for Christmas, but to prepare for the second Coming of Jesus Christ. And, so, in this penitential season, we recognize those four inescapable last things (for each and every individual): Death, Judgment, Heaven and Hell. Contemplating eternity and facing Christ Himself is a very different emphasis from shopping, the pressure of arranging parties, etc.
There is nothing wrong with those things we do, like buying presents for loved ones. There is, however, something downright exhausting and unhealthy about how our culture goes about it. So, in this penitential season we have extra pressures distracting us from prayer and serious contemplation. It is that pressure I urge you to resist for your own peace. It is time to reflect on eternity that awaits you. It is time now to know you are fully reconciled to God and ready to see Christ Himself without fear or dread. It is time to repent and believe, and so anticipate His coming again with joy and hope.
When Christmas comes, we will remember that the babe in the manger is no one less than God the Son, the Word made flesh here to pitch His earthly tabernacle among us, and so reveal the glory of the Father. The night of His birth is also the night that echoes the night in which He was betrayed. The shadow of the cross falls across the joy of the manger; for He comes to die for your sins and mine in the greatest act of love in all history, before triumphing over death for us in His glorious resurrection.
When Epiphany comes, on a Sunday this year, we will rejoice in the fact that God’s salvation has been revealed to all nations on the face of the whole earth. All the prophets foretold that the glory of the Lord shall cover the whole earth.
That is a lot more exciting than reindeers with red noses, and a lot more meaningful than shopping until one drops from exhaustion. A holiday is a holy day. Let’s all keep it in perspective.

And, have a blessed and merry Christmas.

- Fr. Hart

Second Sunday in Advent

Romans 15:4-13 * Luke 21:25-33
Taking a cue from the opening of today’s Epistle, and the last line from today’s Gospel, and of course the Collect, this Sunday has come to be called Bible Sunday. The Collect speaks of two things, one being the obligation of each one of us concerning the Holy Scriptures to “hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them;” the other being the work of the Holy Spirit as he uses those scriptures to grow within us patience and comfort that keeps us along the path to eternal life in Jesus Christ our Lord. And, if we think about the Epistle and Gospel for this day, we find that hope to be what our Prayer Book calls “the sure and certain hope of the resurrection unto eternal life.” 

Recently, someone questioned me on why we refer to hope of the resurrection; after all, we hope for things that may never happen. I must disagree; we may wish for things that will never happen; but, hope cannot exist in such wishes. Or we may hope for things that might happen, but might not. But, to emphasize the meaning of hope as it relates to faith, we clarify our meaning with the words “sure and certain.” This comes from the Epistle to the Hebrews:

Wherein God, willing more abundantly to shew unto the heirs of promise the immutability of his counsel, confirmed it by an oath: That by two immutable things, in which it was impossible for God to lie, we might have a strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before us: Which hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast, and which entereth into that within the veil.
(Hebrews 6: 17-19)

It is clear that St. Paul never separated hope from faith, and never separated these from charity. These virtues grow together, and hope depends on faith. Hope believes, and love works; faith hopes and charity labors. What feeds us in our sure and certain hope is the word of God. Faith grows within us when we hear that particular voice, the voice of God that we discern so clearly as he speaks to us now within the Scriptures. They cannot become irrelevant. Written so long ago, when they are spoken or read God himself speaks in the present. Never are they worn out.

People have asked about the Holy Scriptures, when were they put together? One very unfortunate mark of our times is the quickness with which misinformation becomes “common knowledge.” Over the last few years some con artists have discovered that one way to make a lot of money in a hurry is to write a sensational, wholly misleading but shocking thesis about the Bible or Christian Faith in general, and then sell it directly to the public. The more revolutionary it is, the better. The more shocking, the more blasphemous, above all the more sensational, the easier it is to draw attention to it, and get it promoted on TV. We have seen these sensational works, all claiming to be a challenge to the Christian Faith, each make its rise and fall before burning out entirely. One very important point about that whole new industry is that none of these authors presents the shocking alleged discovery in the truly scientific arena of the academic world. If they did, they could not make the same amount of money overnight- or ever. If these shocking “discoveries” were put through the genuine process of scientific analysis they would die a quick death and be forgotten, and no one would get to make a killing.

As a result of the sensational, irresponsible and unprofessional, thoroughly unscientific misinformation that has been thrown in the face of the public for the last few years, several people think that the bishops of the Church assembled in Nicea and began cutting books out of the Bible. Most of the people who believe this also think the Emperor Constantine was running the Council of Nicea in 325. 

A few facts help to clean up this utter fiction. Even though he was the Emperor, and even though the Christians of that time knew that the Edict of Milan in 313 AD had ended two and a half centuries of persecution (a virtual Holocaust that had made the earliest times of the Church a bloodbath), and even though they knew that he had the authority to return to the older laws that had made Christianity an offense punishable by death and revive them, he was not given the power to run the Council of Nicea. When the Council met and the Emperor presumed to address the bishops of the Church, they told him that he was not allowed to address the assembled bishops of Christ’s Church. Basically, they told Caesar, the Emperor Constantine to whom they owed so much, to sit down and be quiet while they discussed the issues among themselves. 

Now, about the Bible, the bishops at the Council of Nicea did not go about deciding which books were scripture, and which were not. All they did was to affirm in unity of mind that the books already perceived to be the Word of God were, indeed, just that. The Old Testament was not the issue at all, because it was declared to be the Word of God by no less a Person than the Living Word of God. These books had been received by the Jewish people for centuries, and were passed on to the Church with sure and certain authority. The process of recognizing these books was, by all accounts, the vox populi of the Jews. The Jewish people knew in what books to find that distinctive voice of God, and so it was that when Jesus Christ walked the earth and referred to the scriptures, in every synagogue of the Jews were those specific scrolls that formed the common library for all of them. We see in Luke that he read from the scroll of the prophets, reading from Isaiah and saying that scriptures spoke of none other but himself, Messiah and hope of the world. 

In the earliest days of the Church this Old Testament formed the only Canon of scripture. But, by the early years of the second century we find that twenty-seven additional books were already received and quoted as the word of God; these twenty seven books forming an additional canon of scripture. These books are the New Testament. In some places a few questions were raised about II Peter, Jude and Revelation. But, over time skepticism about them disappeared. In a few places some people thought that The Shepherd of Hermas might be part of the Canon of the scriptures of the Church. But, long before the Council of Nicea in 325, the Church had defined its Canon as the books we have now, adding to the Jewish scriptures it had inherited only the twenty-seven books we call the New Testament. Again, as it had been among Israel, when the scriptures were received and recognized vox populi, so it was with the Church of Christ and the canon of the New Testament. There were no books for the bishops to delete, but rather a Canon already established.

Now, why was The Shepherd of Hermas not among the books of this Canon? Again, by that same vox populi that, by the principle of whether or not the people of God recognized the voice of God, this book had not been under serious consideration. Simply put, our fathers among the Jews and the early Christians simply did not hear the clear and familiar voice of God in any other books as they heard it in the Scriptures. They knew the voice of God in the Law, the Prophets, the Wisdom Literature and the Psalms. And, they knew that same voice of God in the four Gospels, the Epistles and the prophecy of St. John the Revelator. They did not hear it as the voice of God in other books (not that most of them were ever aware of the many Gnostic writings given so much undue attention by today’s money making sensation mongers). 

St. Paul tells us about the high regard we must give to the Old Testament in today’s Epistle:
Whatsoever things were written afore time were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.” Think of that history of Israel, from the calling of Abraham to the coming of Jesus Christ who died for our sins and rose again, the history of one people who were never allowed to give themselves over to sin and so be lost among the many pagan nations that served false gods. A people constantly purified by the prophet’s words, and many times by purging and suffering, given to captivity in Babylon but returned to their home after seventy years never to fall again into the worship of idols.
They were a people so purified that among them was found one young virgin who echoed the faith and obedience of Abraham, and more perfectly than the ancient patriarch himself. Written "afore time" was not only this history of the people through whom the Word, Jesus our Lord, would be incarnate, but the predictions made by the prophets of His life, His death on the cross, and His rising again. We all need to read Isaiah about the Suffering Servant by whose stripes we are healed, and who prolonged His days after dying, that He would live forever as the agent of the Lord’s will. We read of His suffering through the words of King David who foresaw the agonies of the Lord’s crucifixion, able to predict them in the first person as though suffering with Him. We read also, in the words of this prophet king, of the joy of the resurrection of our Lord Whose death was so brief a thing that He never saw corruption.

The Gospel today also gives us this hope, for the Lord Himself assures us that His coming again will be our redemption, and that the fears and darkness of this age will disappear in the light of His glory. We are told to lift up our heads, not to look down and hang our heads. His coming to rule over heaven and earth, cleansing this world from all evil, from death and suffering, and all such things that will be no more, is sure and certain. And, if instead of comfort this fills your heart with fear, then consider that fear with genuine care. It means that you must cast off the works of darkness and out on the armor of light, repent from all your sins and turn to the Lord that you may enter that blessed state of sure and certain hope, and be strengthened by the Holy Spirit. 

Does the voice of God fill you with hope or with dread? I hope it does one or the other. For, anyone to be indifferent to these words is the only real danger. As our Lord said in His parable of Lazarus and the rich man, “If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.”1 Our Lord told the Church of the Laodiceans, “I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth.”2 Indifference to the word of God is a danger beyond any other, closing the ears that they cannot hear. But, even if the word brings dread, this too leads to comfort and hope since the Holy Spirit uses what you hear to bring you to repentance, true repentance from the heart, and to faith in Jesus Christ. May God grant ears to hear, eyes to see and a heart to understand, that each one who is lost may turn and be healed. 3

The Epistle today speaks of Christ’s ministry first to His own people of Israel, and His ministry through those people of Israel that believed in Him and became His disciples as it extends to all nations. 

“Now I say that Jesus Christ was a minister of the circumcision for the truth of God, to confirm the promises made unto the fathers: and that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy; as it is written, For this cause I will confess to thee among the Gentiles, and sing unto thy name. And again he saith, Rejoice, ye Gentiles, with his people. And again, Praise the Lord, all ye Gentiles; and laud him, all ye people. And again, Isaiah saith, There shall be a root of Jesse, and he that shall rise to reign over the Gentiles; In him shall the Gentiles trust.”

This brings to mind the words of Simeon, that he spoke when he held Jesus as an infant: “A light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel.” 4 This light and this glory has been known to the world because it is the purpose of God to shine the light of Christ into every dark place. Into the darkness of pagan dread and superstition, into the darkness of ignorance and foolishness, into the darkest places of sin and death. This glorious light of Christ shines into the darkest places where we try to hide from God due to our own sins; and if we respond to His mercy that same light of revelation brings comfort and hope, the sure and certain hope of the resurrection unto eternal life. The invitation is extended by His word: come, eat and be filled with the food and drink of eternal life. Come feed on the Living Bread that has come down from heaven, and with hearty repentance and true faith receive Christ through these humble means unto everlasting life with Him in glory.

“Now the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that ye may abound in hope, through the power of the Holy Ghost.”
1. Luke 16:31
2. Revelation 3:15, 16
3. From Isaiah 6:9
4. Luke 2:32