Friday, February 22, 2013

A study for the second Sunday in Lent

I Thessalonians 4:1-8 * Matthew 15:21-28
The will of God, St. Paul tells us in today’s Epistle, is your sanctification. He repeats this, saying it a second time this way: “For God hath not called us unto uncleanness, but unto holiness.” The will of God is treated by many like a problem, like a mathematical problem so complex in nature that it requires endless work and a thousand chalk boards. Others treat the will of God as a matter that requires special revelation about their own futures, a kind of direction either from his very mouth, or by dreams and visions or by signs. Often this causes sincere Christians to be behave much too much like unbelievers who commit the sin of going to fortune tellers (strictly forbidden in scripture), being obsessed with answers about the future, and very much for selfish motives. Still others treat the will of God as a matter to be neglected by its very nature, a complete mystery not to be solved. This last category is not unlike the common misreading of the prophet Isaiah, where a famous passage is often taken to mean the very opposite of what it truly says:

“Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the LORD, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts. For as the rain cometh down, and the snow from heaven, and returneth not thither, but watereth the earth, and maketh it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower, and bread to the eater: So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.”1

In that text the prophet contrasts the ways and thoughts of the unrighteous and wicked against the ways and thoughts of God, too high for the wicked and unrighteous man to grasp. But, God’s ways and thoughts come down from heaven like the rain and snow, coming down in the revelation of his word. Therefore, the wicked and unrighteous man can repent, and can learn to renew his mind.2 The ways and thoughts of God that are revealed speak to the mind of man.   So said the prophet Moses to the whole people of Israel: “The secret things belong unto the LORD our God: but those things which are revealed belong unto us and to our children for ever, that we may do all the words of this law.”3 

It may be comforting to treat the will of God only as those secret things of Providence, hidden mysteries beyond human thought. Indeed, more of God’s wisdom remains hidden to human view than what is seen. But, the will of God does not belong exclusively in these categories: It is not a problem to work on endlessly, nor is it likely that most individuals will be guided in every decision of life by signs and dreams, nor is the will of God too lofty a subject for our consideration. For, as Moses and Isaiah spoke long ago, it is the task of the believer to pay heed to what God has, in fact, revealed. And why? As Moses said, to do what God has commanded, and as Isaiah said, to repent, to abandon all wicked ways and unrighteous thoughts, so to learn God’s ways and thoughts.

Therefore, in that light we repeat what St. Paul wrote: “This is the will of God, even your sanctification…For God hath not called us unto uncleanness, but unto holiness.” I want to quote two other passages by the Apostle that help clarify this even more. In the first chapter of his Epistle to the Romans he addressed the Christians there as “all that be in Rome, beloved of God, called to be saints.”4 He opened another Epistle in similar fashion: “Unto the church of God which is at Corinth, to them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all that in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours.” Whatever else the will of God may mean in your own life, this is clear: You are called to be a saint. That is what is meant by the words: “For I am the LORD that bringeth you up out of the land of Egypt, to be your God: ye shall therefore be holy, for I am holy.”6

The word “holy” is related to the words “sanctify,” “sanctification,” “santos” and “saint.” Since the will of God is your sanctification, the will of God is your sainthood. Some people are sure that saints are not ordinary people at all, but special people like the comic book superheroes. They can leap tall buildings at a single bound: They came from Krypton, or were bitten by a radioactive spider. They have an advantage over regular people. Only a fool, they figure, thinks he can become a saint. Others, especially among Evangelicals, assume that Paul says that the Christians are all called saints because we have already arrived. But, the word “called” does not mean labeled, as in tagged and designated. A nominal sainthood, a merely titular sanctification, or even one somehow completely imputed by grace alone, is not his meaning. Rather, the word “called” appears, as in all those who are “called saints,” to speak of a calling. Whatever you do in life, all Christians have a common vocation to become saints. Some of us have been called to the ordained ministry, and others have been called to various ministries in the Church as laity. But, all of us who are baptized into Christ have been called to become saints.

Most of us began like the Gentile woman in today’s story.  That is, most of us were born as Gentiles, which means that in addition to being born in sin we were also, in the words of St. Paul, “in time past Gentiles in the flesh, who are called Uncircumcision by that which is called the Circumcision in the flesh made by hands; That at that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world.” 7 I do not see how the human condition can get any worse this side of Hell. If you believe that Paul was rough on the Gentiles, remember that in today’s Gospel, the Lord, that is, Jesus the Lover of mankind, “all compassion, holy unbounded love” himself, referred to Gentiles by the flattering title, “the dogs.” We need to pay attention carefully in order to learn the point that Jesus was making, and to understand we must learn some Biblical theology. So, we proceed.

Father Abraham
The story of this Gentile woman is related very much to the Epistle today, for in it we heard, “that every one of you should know how to possess his vessel in sanctification and honour; not in the lust of concupiscence, even as the Gentiles which know not God.” St. Paul makes the same distinction here that he made elsewhere when addressing converts to Christianity from among the Gentiles. “Ye know that ye were Gentiles, carried away unto these dumb idols, even as ye were led,”8 he writes to the Corinthians.   In the passage I quoted earlier he began with the words, “remember, that ye being in time past Gentiles.” Note the past tense in these words. “You were Gentiles…In time past Gentiles.” What is he teaching these people, but that, as he goes on to say in the Epistle to the Ephesians, “But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ…Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow-citizens with the saints, and of the household of God; And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone; In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord: In whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit.” 9

Whatever ethnic pride you may have from whatever background, in Christ you are part of Israel. When my Celtic ancestors were painting themselves blue and offering human sacrifice, the Jews were worshiping the living God in his temple at Jerusalem. But, I do not say these things only to condemn anti-Semitism (though I do point out that to hate the Jews is to hate Jesus Christ, because it is a Jewish Man we worship as God the Son).  I say these things to make you aware of how your sanctification begins. In the Gospel today we do not see the woman become angry or offended. Why not? She was just called, along with all her people, a dog.           She came for help because of what her daughter needed, and here this Jewish holy man ignores her, and when pressed seems to respond with an insult. But, she continued to press for his help, and in her persistence faith took the form of humility. Indeed, as all the virtues are related and finally summed up in charity, this woman’s faith was expressed by humility in that she continued to plead for his help. “And she said. Truth Lord: yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their masters' table.” At this point the Lord turns to face her, and in so doing reveals his will for all the nations of mankind whom he had come to save from sin and death.

The Amen of Abraham 
“Then Jesus answered and said unto her, O woman, great is thy faith: be it unto thee even as thou wilt.” This is why we need the Biblical theology I mentioned. What does faith, as mentioned by our Lord, indicate for us? Again, we turn to St. Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles.10 In the fourth chapter of his Epistle to the Church in Rome, he builds on the meaning of a very significant part of the Book of Genesis. The Apostle made a very important point about the faith of Abraham. First, that faith was counted to him for righteousness.11 This was important to Paul, for in his conversion he learned that it is by faith that we receive salvation; that grace is something we cannot receive by the Law. The importance of this faith is the essence both of his Epistle to the Romans and his Epistle to the Galatians. Indeed, he tells the Ephesians, “For by grace are ye saved through faith.”12 Now, in the fourth chapter of Romans, as I mentioned, Paul develops this teaching about faith, and reminds us that at the time that Abraham’s faith was counted to him, or to Abram as he was still named (God would change his name later to Abraham), he was not yet circumcised. The meaning of this is that the same faith that was counted to Abram for righteousness is the faith that also is counted as righteousness to all those who were in time past called Gentiles.

And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had yet being uncircumcised: that he might be the father of all them that believe, though they be not circumcised; that righteousness might be imputed unto them also: And the father of circumcision to them who are not of the circumcision only, but who also walk in the steps of that faith of our father Abraham, which he had being yet uncircumcised.”13

We are taught by Paul that the uncircumcised Abram, that is Abraham, is the father of all believers, even those who were Gentiles. When our Lord tells the woman that “great is her faith,” he welcomes her into the family of Abraham, which is the household of God. So too, he welcomes you.

“He therefore that ministereth to you the Spirit, and worketh miracles among you, doeth he it by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? Even as Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness. Know ye therefore that they which are of faith, the same are the children of Abraham. And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the heathen through faith, preached before the gospel unto Abraham, saying, In thee shall all nations be blessed. So then they which be of faith are blessed with faithful Abraham.”14

And, what is the faith that Abraham had? Look at the actual revelation he received from God:

And, behold, the word of the LORD came unto him, saying, This (i.e. his servant) shall not be thine heir; but he that shall come forth out of thine own bowels shall be thine heir. And he brought him forth abroad, and said, Look now toward heaven, and tell the stars, if thou be able to number them: and he said unto him, So shall thy seed be. And he believed in the LORD; and he counted it to him for righteousness.”15

If we look at this in light of all that would follow, we can say that Abraham believed the Gospel. How so? Because the promises made to Abraham were about the land his people would have, and about his seed. Immediately, that promise about his seed makes us think of Isaac. But, once again it is Paul who takes it to its end: “Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ.”16 The history that unfolded takes us from Isaac the son of Abraham to Mary the Virgin, centuries later. In all its history, God would neither scatter Israel nor allow them to be lost in idolatry. He did not allow them to be destroyed like so many other nations who were taken captive by powerful kings, but he let them suffer when they needed to be purified. “Salvation is of the Jews,”17 said our Lord. So, the revelation given to Abraham was about more than simply the son that Sarah would bear.

The revelation given to Abraham was to unfold among the people of Israel in coming centuries, as it would be clarified by prophets, such as Jeremiah who told of the New Covenant that Christ spoke of, on the night in which he was betrayed, as the new Covenant in his own blood. It would be clarified by Isaiah who spoke of the Servant of the Lord, especially the Suffering Servant who would take away the sins of the whole world: “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.”18 The prophets foretold all, and so it came to pass. The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us,19 and he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil,20 until the day came that he was crucified as the one true sacrifice for the sins of the whole world. And the words of the prophets were fulfilled again when he rose the third day from the dead, that is, the third day before any corruption could begin.21

The faith that Abraham had was belief that what God had revealed is true. The word “believed” as it appears in the original in that verse, where we see that Abram believed, is a very interesting Hebrew word. You say that word quite often, usually at the end of prayers. People tell us it means, “so be it.” But, it really means, very simply, “true.” That word is “amen.” The word amen (אָמַן) is from the word emet (אֱמֶת) , which means truth. What is the faith of Abraham; that faith that makes you a child of God, and that you need in order to begin to become a saint?

The extent to which Abraham would see is a mystery to us, and it is only partly unfolded by what Jesus said. “Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day: and he saw it, and was glad.”22 We know this, however: Abraham believed the truth fully to the extent that God revealed it to him. We see, on this side of salvation history, that God has revealed to the Church the fullness of the Gospel. It is given to us to know the mysteries of the Kingdom of Heaven.23 We have been given the revelation that Jesus Christ is God of God, light of Light, very God of very God, begotten not made. We know that he is fully God and fully man, born of a Virgin. We know that he died to take away our sins and give us his righteousness, and rose to give us his own immortality. We were taught by the Risen Christ the true Name of God: “The Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.”

We said the words of that great Creed of the Church, and we affirmed our belief in everything that God has revealed. Each of you said, “I believe.” In that Creed you spoke of the God who has called you to be holy as he is holy, and you have spoken of the great love he revealed in giving you salvation through his Son. You confessed your faith in the Son who is one with the Father as God, and one with us as a man begotten by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary. You said, “I believe” about his atoning death and victorious resurrection. You said “I believe in the Holy Ghost,” God in our very midst who gives grace and makes us holy as we participate in the life he offers. You are a child of Abraham, and when you said “Amen” it was the faith of Abraham. On this side of God’s revelation, you said the “Amen” of your father Abraham.

 1. Isaiah 55:7-11

2. Romans 12:1,2
3. Deuteronomy 29:29
4. Romans 1:7
5. I Corinthians 1:2
6. Leviticus 11:45
7. Ephesians 2: 12
8. I Corinthians 12:2
9. Ephesians 2:13, 19, 20
10. Not only does Paul use this as a personal title, but it is the clear meaning of the words spoken to him by Jesus Christ: “for I have appeared unto thee for this purpose, to make thee a minister and a witness both of these things which thou hast seen, and of those things in the which I will appear unto thee; Delivering thee from the people, and from the Gentiles, unto whom now I send thee, To open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me.” Acts 26:16-18
11. Genesis 15:6
12. See Ephesians 2:8-12
13. Romans 4:11,12
14. Galatians 3:5-9
15. Genesis 15:4-6
16. Galatians 3:16
17. John 4:22
18. Isaiah 53:5,6
19. John 1:14
20. Acts 10:38
21. Psalm 16:10
22. John 8:56
23. Matthew 13:11

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Sydney Anglicans and Other Oxymorons

A Facebook friend named Mark Talley wrote something in a group called "The Society of Archbishops Cranmer and Laud" (which also happens to be the title of another blog I've posted on). He said there:

"When I asked the present Anglican Archbishop of Sydney, when he was Principal of Moore College, why the College no longer used the Book of Common Prayer in worship (although it was studied as an historical document then - I'm not sure if it even has that precarious status now), he replied that there was no longer a place for the Prayer Book in living worship.

"Furthermore, he said, it would be an obstacle to the preaching of the Gospel, rather than an aid."

That sounds like Archbishop Peter Frederick Jensen. He is the one who allows lay members to celebrate the Eucharist as if they were ordained to the priesthood. I have written about that before, as readers of The Continuum may recall. 

How does anyone recognize Anglicanism without the Book of Common Prayer? "Sydney Anglicanism" is an oxymoron. You know what an oxymoron is: Jumbo Shrimp, for example, is an oxymoron. A famous oxymoron is Grape Nuts. Actually, it is more than an Oxymoron, because it is not just a case of a second word standing in opposition to a first word. In truth, it is a double misnomer. Grape Nuts is a cereal that is neither grapes nor nuts. It has been used to explain "Christian Science," a cult with beliefs that make it neither Christian nor science. 

Sydney Anglicanism, however, is merely an oxymoron. The Sydney part is accurate. They really are in that part of Australia. But, they are not Anglicans in any recognizable way. 

To reject the Book of Common Prayer as having no place in "living worship" is to suggest that our worship is dead. We do not say that the Book of Common Prayer is essential to living worship, because Christians worship God with other forms of liturgy. But we do know that anyone who cannot worship the Father in spirit and in truth (John 4:23) using the Book of Common Prayer, simply has no understanding of what worshiping God is. Anyone who considers the Book of Common Prayer to be "an obstacle to the preaching of the Gospel, rather than an aid," simply has no knowledge of what the Gospel is.

Worshiping God in spirit and in truth is best accomplished with the truth revealed in the Bible. It has been said rightly, that the classical editions of the Book of Common Prayer are the Bible as prayer. Indeed, in the genuine Prayer Book tradition, everything is drawn out of Scripture. If the truth revealed in Scripture seems dead, it is because people have itching ears rather than ears to hear (II Tim. 4:3, Mat. 11:15, etc.). 

The Gospel is preached by words that proclaim its content. The liturgy of Holy Communion, in every classical and genuine edition of the Book of Common Prayer, cannot be celebrated without the preaching of the Gospel taking place during the very act of prayer and worship. It is rehearsed fully each and every time. For this reason, I caution against distractions during the celebration, and against long delays and silence. It must flow in order to be the people's sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving, and so that each mind absorbs the full truth of the Gospel.

Spontaneous prayers have their place. But those who would cast off so fine a liturgy have nothing worthwhile to say about living worship or the preaching of the Gospel, except to itching ears. 

Saturday, February 16, 2013

First Sunday in Lent

II Corinthians 6:1-10 * Matthew 4:1-11

A new kind of Pelagianism captured the imagination of twentieth century clergy. Pelagius was Britain's first- sadly not last- heretic, and he taught that man was not really dead in trespasses and sins by Adam's transgression. His doctrine was that one could pull himself up by his own bootstraps, and become holy by sheer will power. Never mind everything St. Paul wrote about the weakness of the flesh. Never mind the words of Jesus: "Ye are from beneath; I am from above: ye are of this world; I am not of this world."1 Because they had embraced, essentially, a Unitarian view of God, they were unable to accept the Gospel.

To accept the Gospel you must come to a very simple recognition of fact: Life is not a test. Those who teach, in the name of religion, that life is a test, and at the end you get a passing or failing grade, cannot understand the portion of the Gospel according to Matthew that we read this first Sunday in Lent. Pelagius and the new Unitarians who pose as Christians, cannot see that Christ came in the fullness of his divine nature, taking our finite and mortal human nature into his uncreated eternal life. They cannot see that he reached down and saved us from sin and death, that his cross and passion were the sacrifice by which we receive forgiveness of sins, and that he was raised again for our justification; that only by his cross and passion, and glorious resurrection and ascension, are we given life and immortality. They cannot see that he did for us what we could not do for ourselves. Life is not a test; it is a shipwreck. Christ did not come to prepare us for a test; he came to rescue us, to pull us out of the sea of sin and death and place our feet on solid ground. If life were a test we would all get an "f" and be cast into Hell. But the Good News is, "God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved."2

So, the message of today's Gospel is not, "imitate Jesus: if he could do it so can you." Yes, try to imitate Jesus the best you can by doing always what pleases the Father. But, when, not if but when, you fail, confess your sins and be forgiven. This is one area in which you cannot imitate Jesus, for he had no sins to repent of. We have no power in ourselves, of ourselves, to save ourselves. The temptations of Jesus in this passage from Matthew are strange to us. They exist on a higher level than the carnality we must wrestle with. I have never been tempted to use divine power to turn stones into bread. Have any of you? I have been tempted to eat when I was fasting, and tempted to satisfy the body in ways that are outside of God's will; but, never to turn stones into bread.

We need to examine these temptations in light of what they were for Christ, and in light of what they mean for us. Two things that come to our aid are from St. Paul. One is the line, "There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it." 3 The other is, "But not as the offence, so also is the free gift. For if through the offence of one many be dead, much more the grace of God, and the gift by grace, which is by one man, Jesus Christ, hath abounded unto many." 4 With these passages in mind, let us think of the temptations Christ endured, first in terms of their meaning in his life, and then what they mean for us. Always remember this; Christ being holy and sinless was not a fallen creature. He was the Word made flesh, the fullness of the Godhead dwelling bodily among us, fully God and fully man. It was not the fullness of his divine nature shrunken down into humanity, but the raising of human nature into his infinite divine Person. For us, the temptations that come are common to man. To the holy, righteous savior, born of a virgin by the Holy Spirit instead of the seed of a fallen man, he is the pure and perfect man. These temptations we read about in this chapter of Matthew were not common to man, in one sense, but were common to man in another sense. I shall explain.

The first temptation was this: "If thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread." The temptation was to use his divine power in a way that was foreign to his very character as God. In everything we see from creation, God always used his power to make, that is, to give. Everything is grace, including life itself. The creation of life, including human life, met no need of God, for God has need of nothing.5 All of God's creative work was from his love, by which love he gave, seeking nothing for himself. 6 The Son of God came into the world because of God's immeasurable love, with the intention of sharing the humility of a creature, and suffering the death of the cross as the atonement that no sinner could make either for himself or as a ransom for his brother. The will of God that he would rise again was for the sake of fallen mankind who needed the gift of eternal life to save us from the full power of the grave. Every miracle he planned to perform would be so that he could go about "doing good, healing all who were oppressed by the Devil."7 The temptation was to use this power for himself. It was to satisfy the demands of his body by that creative power that had always been used in charity, that is agape- the love of God.

The second temptation was to throw himself down from the temple, that is, to put the truth itself on trial. It is this temptation that demonstrates the cunning of Satan in his misuse of the very scriptures themselves. Notice how he misquotes the Psalm, taking it out of its context that teaches us not to fear death as an ultimate power, so that its meaning is reduced to something no bigger than this mortal life. Notice too the addition of three words not in the real Psalm: "lest thou strike thy foot against a stone" becomes, in the Devil's mouth, "lest at any time thou strike thy foot against a stone." At any time? The condition is taken away, and the promise mis-stated. The temptation here is to place the word of God on trial, and it is to be done by using an arbitrary and false measure, one forbidden by the Law itself, namely, testing God.

The final temptation is subtle indeed. "The devil taketh him up into an exceeding high mountain, and sheweth him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them; and saith unto him, All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me." It is the plan of God that all nations serve and obey Christ, 8 for this is best for man and so in accord with God's love. When he comes again in glory, this will happen, and will happen in a way far beyond our ability to perceive in our present state. The temptation here is to avoid the cross. This is why we see this echoed in Christ's words to his own Apostle Peter. Remember one day, when the Lord predicted his coming suffering and death, that Peter "took him, and began to rebuke him, saying, 'Be it far from thee, Lord: this shall not be unto thee.' But he turned, and said unto Peter, 'Get thee behind me, Satan: thou art an offence unto me: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men.'" 9

The temptation is to arrive early at the goal by abandoning the Father's will, by avoiding the suffering and death which alone could reconcile man to God without any compromise of his holiness, and which in making sacrifice also shows the seriousness of our sins to change us morally. Retire early, avoid the suffering, do not take up the cross. Such a decision would have been to turn away from the Father indeed.

In fact, there was no danger that Christ would yield to this. But we see important things for our own edification.

The book of Genesis describes the Fall this way:

"And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die: For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil. And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat." 10

Look at these three things: 1) Good for food. 2) Pleasant to the eyes. 3) Desired to make one wise. Compare this to the words of St. John:

"Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever." 11

Compare the two lists: "Good for food" to "the lust of the flesh." We forget that the lust of the flesh is not only sexual lusts and passions, but rather things that drag us away from God because of their direct effect on the desires of the body. This includes abuse of sex and of food, but also the abuse of drugs and alcohol that destroys lives and families. Beyond the obvious, read the fifth chapter of St. Paul's Epistle to the Galatians about "the works of the flesh" as the opposite of "the fruit of the Spirit."

Compare "Pleasant to the eyes" with "the lust of the eyes." Remember the words of St. Paul: "for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet."12 The lust of the eyes is what Jesus spoke of when he said that it is the sin of adultery to look on a woman to lust after her. He was simply driving home the point he had made in the days of Moses: "Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's wife." 13 The lust of the eyes is never content with the gifts that God has given, and is the opposite of that love that "seeketh not her own." It wants more, even if your neighbor is deprived or diminished. The lust of the eyes does not give thanks to God for what he has given, but finds fault with him for not giving to our satisfaction. In fact, it cannot be satisfied, but always craves more. "Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have: for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee." 14 Giving in to the lust of the eyes is like drinking seawater (i.e. salt water). It never satisfies, but with each drink makes a man thirstier and thirstier.

Compare "it was desired to make one wise" to "the pride of life." Pride requires an illusion. The truth makes a man humble. The truth is the very opposite of Pelagianism; for the fact is, you cannot go one day without committing sins if only in your thoughts. The truth is, you cannot keep your own soul alive. The truth is contrary to "Motivational Seminars," which teach the sin of pride a thousand different ways. Every day, in every way, it is not getting better and better, no not at all. You are aging, and as your eyes fail, and your hair gets gray or falls out, and your skin wrinkles, you are reminded that the body is subject to the uncleanness of death 15. This is part of the Fall. Pride says life must be a test, and we can pass it. Humility says, "God I have earned no better than an 'f', that is, everlasting damnation. Save me from sin and death." A man trying to stay afloat in a shipwreck has no time to impress anybody; he must, with the humility that realism brings, accept salvation from his rescuer.

Christ overcame the things that are in the world. "The world" in this sense, that has only these three sinful categories, is best described in the first chapter of John's Gospel: "He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not." The world is fallen into the state of not knowing its Creator, even in his Incarnation. 16 This season of Lent, learn the humility to take seriously these three enemies: The world, the Flesh and the Devil. Learn to fight the temptations used by the Devil through "the things that are in the world." Jesus used the scriptures, the sword of the Spirit; so, you need to know the word of God, to read, mark, learn and inwardly digest it. 17 The disciplines of Lent are useful indeed. Fasting is a way to humble our souls before God, 18 and giving is a way to show gratitude to the Lord.

Let us have a holy Lent, knowing that without him, we can do nothing.19

1) John 8:23

2) John 3:17

3) I Corinthians 10:13

4) Romans 5:15

5) Acts 17:25

6) I Corinthians 13:5

7) Acts 10:38

8) Psalm 2

9) Matthew 16:22, 23

10) Genesis 3:4-6

11) I John 2:15-17

12) Romans 7:7

13) Cp. Exodus 20:17 to Matthew 5:28
14) Hebrews 13:5
15) See my sermon for Trinity XVI.
16) John 1:10
17) Ephesians 6:17, in context.
18) Psalm 35:18
19) John 15:5

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Written for the Parish Newsletter

From the Rector’s Desk

From the opening of our Ash Wednesday Service until Easter, I call everyone of you to observance of a holy Lent. One theme of the whole Season is found in Psalm 51, a time of penance. It is also a time of good works. Indeed, like every season, what it emphasizes must go on throughout the year; and, the emphasis of each season is part of the wisdom we have inherited in the Church. By the Church calendar, we are reminded of those things that Christians must never forget, but that we could forget without our seasons.     
The basic outline of what Lent teaches comes from the sixth chapter of St. Matthew, the middle of the Sermon on the Mount: “When you give alms…When you pray…When you fast…” Fasting (the Biblical way to humble oneself before God) without prayer is just abstaining from food. Both, without alms, are empty.

“Is not this the fast that I have chosen? to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke? Is it not to deal thy bread to the hungry, and that thou bring the poor that are cast out to thy house? when thou seest the naked, that thou cover him; and that thou hide not thyself from thine own flesh? Then shall thy light break forth as the morning, and thine health shall spring forth speedily: and thy righteousness shall go before thee; the glory of the LORD shall be thy rearward. (Isaiah 58:6-8).”

The purpose of fasting is two-fold. First, it is to humble yourself before God (Psalm 35:13), and it is a weapon in spiritual warfare, when combined with prayer (Mark 9:29). These things may seem strange in our modern (or, if you prefer, post modern) culture. Even in many churches, such talk is strange and seems out of place. But, this is what has been revealed and recorded in the Sacred Scriptures. It was very real and relevant to the ancient Christians who faced persecution. It is very relevant to modern Christians, our brothers and sisters, in lands where persecution of the Church still takes place regularly. If we cannot see the relevance, it is because our safe and comfortable culture has blinded our eyes to spiritual reality.

All the more reason why I call each of you to a holy Lent.

Saturday, February 09, 2013

QUINQUAGESIMA or the next Sunday before Lent.

I Corinthians 13 * Luke 18:31-43

The word “charity” is generally rendered “love” in just about any other translation of the Bible. The King James use of the word “charity” is something that may be instructive, if we take advantage of it. After all, the Greek word translated here as “charity” is agape’ (γάπη), and in most places the King James Bible also translates it as “love.”

          One example is Romans 5:5: “And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us.” Notice, this love, agape’, is not just any love. It is the love of God. Well, if this is God’s own love, how can we be expected to have it ourselves? The answer is twofold.

          First of all, it is in the verse itself: “…the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us. It is God’s own love, resident by grace, in the human heart. Second, as we continue to read, we see these words: “For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die. But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us (vs.6-8).” God commends His love, once again, His agape’ (His charity, or if you prefer Latin, His caritas).

          This special love, the love of God, is given to us, that is made to grow within us, by the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit also makes us understand this particular love by seeing it in the death of our Lord Jesus Christ. He had said, the night before His death, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends (John 15:13).” It has been said before that Jesus showed something greater than mere human love, that is Divine love, by dying for His enemies. And, though I appreciate a measure of truth in that statement, I prefer to take it a step further. In the following verse Jesus said, “Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you (v.14).” Yet, His death is once for all, for every human being, every sinner, who has ever lived (Hebrews 10:10, John 1:29, I John 2:2). That is, from the Divine perspective, everyone has been treated as a friend, even the worst enemies who were crucifying Him. That is what His cross and death were about, reconciling the lost and fallen world to God. To whatever degree you may have ever acted like an enemy of God, on the cross Jesus has treated you as if you were a friend; for He gave His life for you.

          To experience Divine love for others as a gift, as grace, planted within you, as the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22f) that grows within you, you need to receive the Holy Spirit. He alone can make this happen within your heart. It is more than natural love. It is supernatural love. In our Epistle reading this day, that most famous passage St. Paul ever wrote, we learn that this love is completely selfless, completely altruistic. It seeks nothing for itself. It endures everything, even the worst that people can do to you – and don’t we see that in Jesus as He forgave those who were crucifying and mocking Him?

          The reason charity “endureth all things” and “never faileth” is because it is God’s love. Faith works, love labors and hope endures. But, it is all because God’s children have the grace of God that comes only from the Holy Spirit “shed abroad in our hearts.” Without the Holy Spirit, you may love and love deeply. But, only with the grace that comes from the Holy Spirit, can you love perfectly. It is more than emotion; it is always giving. It doesn’t tire out when you come to the end of your own strength. Indeed, it may even begin there.

          And, as we have seen, you cannot understand this love unless you understand what Jesus did for you on the cross, when “He poured out His soul unto death (Isaiah 53:12)” to pay the full price for all of your sins. God commended His love to us, sinners, unworthy, indeed guilty before God, in that Christ died for us.

          How astounding are the words of St. Paul. To see them with fresh eyes, let’s look at some of today’s Epistle with the RSV:

“And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing (v.2).”

Remember these words from the sermon on the Mount:

“Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out demons? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity (Matthew 7:22,23) .”

          What do we learn from this? That even power to work miracles, even great knowledge and understanding, are no mark of a holy life. Since the Apostles went out and worked miracles, sent by Jesus to “every village and town” while He was with them on earth, we may be sure that Judas worked miracles too. It is no proof whatsoever of sainthood. That is because it is God’s work, not man’s. A holy person, a saint, cannot heal you by his own power anyway. And, evil men may still have the gifts and callings of God, even the power to work miracles (Romans 11:29).

          Then we look at these words from today’s Epistle reading (again let me use the RSV):

“If I give away all I have, and if I deliver my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing (v.3).” 

          Why is that? Well, if you understand anything at all about the Gospel, you should know that good works do not atone for sin. Who, not having the love of God shed abroad in their hearts, go to great lengths such as we read about here? Is it not those who believe that they can atone for their own sins? Is it not those who believe they can earn God’s favor? But you cannot earn God’s favor, and you cannot atone for your own soul, neither for that of anyone else (“They that trust in their wealth, and boast themselves in the multitude of their riches; None of them can by any means redeem his brother, nor give to God a ransom for him.” -Psalm 49:6, 7).

          One and only one atonement has ever been made. Every Old Testament sacrifice was a sacrament that would have meant nothing apart from Christ coming and fulfilling the whole Law, and offering Himself for sin. And, when you confess and repent, it is not atonement; you are not paying for your sins with penance. You can’t pay for them. Listen and hear the words again: “But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” Let those words sink down into your ears. Let them take hold in your heart. That, His death, is the only price that has ever been paid, ever could be paid, or, indeed, that we need to have paid, for our sins.

          So, of course, you “gain nothing.” Of course “it profiteth me nothing.” It cannot anyway, nor have we need of any such thing to be justified by God.

“For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them (Ephesians 2:8-10).”

          What then about good works that God has “prepared for us to walk in?” Are they not the fruit of love, of agape’ shed abroad in your heart by the Holy Spirit? Are they not the spontaneous response of a true believer, because you simply cannot do otherwise, and could not let yourself turn away? The person who acts from this love of God is not seeking to profit, not looking to gain, anything. Such a person knows how to depend on the Holy Spirit, and such a person is grateful always to God for the atoning death of Jesus Christ by which salvation has been freely given. So, such a person will always treat even “one of the least of these” as if he was serving the needs of the Lord Jesus Himself (Matthew 25:31-46).

          “And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.” For, that is no less than the presence of God Himself, for “God is Love” – “God is agape’ (I John 4:8, 16).”  

Saturday, February 02, 2013


II COR. 11:19-31 * LUKE 8:4-15

“The seed is the word of God.”

In today’s Epistle reading, St. Paul said that, in addition to all his sufferings and persecution, he had the daily responsibility of “the care of all the churches.” In some minds, churches need no care because people only need a one time, quick fix kind of conversion experience. To some, churches are a big business, or the family store. To some, who find themselves in ecclesiastical offices, as laymen, churches are a hobby and a place to wield power.
          For me, I have the care of one church as a daily responsibility: This one. That is why the parable we read on this Sunday is so important to me. The seed is the word of God, and only that seed can bring forth fruit. The power of life is in the word of God, and how that word can change lives, save souls and grow the virtues, all by the work of the Holy Spirit, requires above all else fidelity. It is not my role to preach to you my own ideas, not even my best ideas. It is my responsibility before God to care for your souls. In the matter of preaching, it is my task to speak faithfully, not cleverly.
          And, with the reality of eternal destiny in mind, it is your need to look to what kind of ground your own heart is. Is your heart an honest and good heart? Will the ground keep the seed, and produce the fruits of repentance, the fruit of good works, and the fruit of the Spirit? You must pray that it will. You must pray for yourself that your own heart will be honest and good, as good ground for the seed.
          You know what they say about oxygen masks on an airplane: In the event of an emergency, put your own mask on first before trying to secure anyone else’s. Otherwise, you could pass out and be of no help to anyone. So, it is right and wise to pray to God that He will, by His grace given by the Holy Spirit, convert your heart into a good and honest ground for the seed of His word.
          This is not a one time deal. The word of God comes to us all the time, and it has in it the message of the kingdom of God. Jesus said that the decision to carry your cross and follow Him is daily: “And he said to all, ‘If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.’ (Luke 9:23)” Your heart must not be allowed to harden or grow cold.
          So, yes, you do need to pray for yourself as well as others. I urge you to use the Book of Common Prayer, that you use it as a regula or Rule of daily Morning and Evening Prayer, reading the word of God as you pray. His word is sent to create life in you.
          The proclamation of the Kingdom of God, by Jesus Christ, is as radical as any message can be. It is not acceptable in this world. It runs contrary to the values of the world. It is a Kingdom that conquers without use of force. It has no armies wielding weapons. It is not about establishing power or wealth for anybody. The values of God’s kingdom are not only alien to the world, but in direct opposition to its sinful values.
          The kingdom of God was established by a cross rather than a sword; not by an army nailing vanquished enemies to crosses, but rather established by One Who gave His life on a cross. The agent of God’s kingdom is the Church, a race begotten by virgins, the New Eve and the Last Adam (the Seed of the Woman – Genesis 3:15). The kingdom of God is established by those who may experience poverty, deprivation and persecution, because the power of the Kingdom of God belongs to the Holy Spirit. It is the wielding of His supernatural power, and that is not measured in dollars and cents, in lands, weapons or political influence. It is spread by love, not by violence.
          In every way it is most subversive.
          No wonder Jesus tells us that His Kingdom is established in spiritual warfare, by Christ overcoming Satan (the strong man), and spoiling his house. “But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you (Matt. 12:28).”
          We have many ways, that we can learn, of shutting out the word of God. In a church that is regularly attended, as this one is, I believe the ultimate danger is in letting the world convert us. The world will not support your efforts to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. It certainly will not applaud. We live in a time when comedians mock even someone as saintly as the late Mother Theresa of Calcutta. Some twisted her words about suffering, her personal Dark Night of the Soul, into disbelief. One shudders at what they might do with the words we have read this day, about the sufferings and persecution endured by St. Paul.
          How does the world seek to convert us? Jesus answered that, as we heard already, “with cares and riches and pleasures of this life.” And, those cares, those riches and those pleasures are like enemies that want to dull our ears to His word, and harden our hearts. In the face of Christ’s most direct, simple and to the point teaching, those “thorns” say to us, “Come on; He didn’t really mean that. You aren’t really supposed to turn the other cheek. You can’t be expected to really forgive your enemies and love them. You can’t really keep yourself pure and dedicated wholly to God. You can’t always go the extra mile”
          But, His word is clear. He did mean what He said. Consider how clear it is. He even calls His disciples to be willing to die rather than to deny Him in the face of persecution. And, in other lands where life is not as safe and cozy as it is in the United States, your brothers and sisters are faced with that very choice. The age of persecution is not over.
          Why is the message of the kingdom of God, the Word of God, so just and right? Yes, we may be called to give our lives; but to save us from sin and death, Christ gave His life for us. To pay the full price of all human sin, so that you and I could stand before God forgiven and justified, heirs of eternal life, Jesus paid our debt on the cross, and then he rose again from the dead on the third day to remain with us forever.
          Every word God has spoken He still speaks. Open the Bible prayerfully with the Church, and you can hear His voice even now. As the ancient words are read, unchanged for millennia, they are always new, fresh and alive. Through those old words God is still speaking His word that transcends time and generations. What Jesus said two thousand years ago on the Mount, He says to you today. “Whatsoever you would that men do unto you…Love your enemies…Blessed are the pure in heart…” He is saying it all right now. The Holy Spirit is still speaking through the words of the Apostles, so we confine our lectionary to sacred Scripture alone. Christ is speaking. The Holy Spirit gives witness. Pray that your own heart will receive it as seed into good and honest ground.

Turn with me to p. 49, and let us pray:

GRANT, we beseech thee, Almighty God, that the words which we have heard this day with our outward ears, may, through thy grace, be so grafted inwardly in our hearts, that they may bring forth in us the fruit of good living, to the honour and praise of thy Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.