Friday, May 24, 2013

Trinity Sunday

We are given glimpses and indications about the Trinity all throughout the Old Testament, beginning with the fact that God is one, but is spoken of in the plural nonetheless. For the word translated most often as God is rendered in the plural. Elohim (אלהים), the plural, is used rather than simply El (אל), which is singular. This is consistent with many things that appear quite mysteriously in the Book of Genesis, and continue throughout the writings of the Old Testament. The most famous of statements that declare this truth, that there is only one God, is in the Book of Deuteronomy: "Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD (Deut. 6:4)." When the holiness of God is proclaimed to the prophet Isaiah by angels in the temple, he is "Holy, Holy, Holy (Isaiah 6:3).” 

Nonetheless, we are told many times that God is one, and there is no other beside him. "Ye are my witnesses, saith the LORD, and my servant whom I have chosen: that ye may know and believe me, and understand that I am he: before me there was no God formed, neither shall there be after me. I, even I, am the LORD; and beside me there is no saviour (Isaiah 43: 10, 11)." In this same book God often reveals his relationship with Israel in various triads, such as: "I am the LORD, your Holy One, the creator of Israel, your King"(43:15). God is one (אחד) and plural (אלהים). God is invisible, and yet was seen in visions by prophets. 

But, let us never imagine that the Trinity presents us with a problem of mathematics. The mystery of the Trinity is not a mystery of how God can be three in one, and one in three. That, in itself, is really not so hard to understand; and so St. Patrick used something as simple as the shamrock, one leaf that is also three leaves, to illustrate the unity of the Trinity.1 Without being mathematicians, we can understand that one may equal any number. That is not the mystery. The mystery is God, a mystery so great that the joy of eternity is growing in the knowledge of God forever, ever deepening knowledge that cannot be exhausted, for "his greatness is unsearchable (Psalm 145:3)." Infinity is too small a concept to weigh against God.

Like all revelation, the doctrine of the Trinity is filled with mystery to such an extent that we can be sure of one thing: No human mind dreamed it up. No human mind can contemplate God except by some use of created things, for the human mind is part of creation, lives in creation, and cannot leap out of that into the uncreated reality we call God. We can know God, nonetheless, because God has taken the initiative to reveal himself. And, this revelation cannot be separated from our salvation from sin and death.

The salvation which we celebrate, as God has given it to us, is historical and it is future. It is also iconic and sacramental.

"God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spoke in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds; Who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his power, when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high (Hebrews 1:1-3).”

"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not. There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. The same came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all men through him might believe. He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light. That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not. He came unto his own, and his own received him not. But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth (John 1:1-14).” 2

The original Greek word for "image" in Colossians 1:15, speaking of Christ Himself ("Who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature...") is the word εἰκών (eikon), which simply comes over into English as "icon." The Fathers who gathered for the second Council of Nicea knew that the heresy of the Iconoclasts contained an essential danger. The Iconoclasts failed to understand the difference between Christian icons and pagan idols. Christian icons are based on revelation, especially the ultimate revelation, the Incarnation: "The Word was made flesh." Pagan idols are a deception, taught by human imagination at best, by demons at worst, to lure men away from the true God. Icons, on the other hand, are based on revelation, and point to the Truth. The true God is known only through the Son (John 14:6, 17:3). The Fathers at that Second Council of Nicea (787 AD) knew that if the Church rejected icons they might also come to reject the iconic nature of revelation, the truth that the Word was made flesh. In time, they could refuse to believe in the Son, as he has been revealed through his human nature. In time, the knowledge of God could be lost, if the Iconoclasts were to prevail.

Iconoclasm had come from a new religion that had only recently appeared in human history (I John 2:18), a Medieval desert unitarianism. A lonely God of a teacher foretold by the Apostle John (I Jn. 2:18) would become the combination of all antichrists who had come before, be they Gnostic or Arian. This god cannot understand love, because he is not the One-Elohim of Israel, known more fully by the Church as "the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit." The doctrine of the Trinity teaches us that "God is love," as St. John put it (I John 4:8,16). But, about a god who is one and only one, through and through, with no plurality of Persons in him, we cannot speak of love; rather of an emptiness, a void in which eternity knows no compassion. G.K. Chesterton wrote of this.

"To us Trinitarians (if I may say it with reverence) -- to us God Himself is a society. It is indeed a fathomless mystery of theology, and even if I were theologian enough to deal with it directly, it would not be relevant to do so here. Suffice it to say here that this triple enigma is as comforting as wine and open as an English fireside; that this thing that bewilders the intellect utterly quiets the heart: but out of the desert, from the dry places and, the dreadful suns, come the cruel children of the lonely God; the real Unitarians who with scimitar in hand have laid waste the world. For it is not well for God to be alone."3

Our salvation is revealed in iconic language and in the Icon of the Father, because to know the Son is to know the Father also. Apart from the Word made flesh we cannot know God. "But if our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost: In whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image (again, εἰκών) of God, should shine unto them. For we preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord; and ourselves your servants for Jesus' sake. For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ (II Corinthians 4:3-6).” We know God because we know the Son, and we know Him because he is also a man.

The Word is spoken of by St. John in the Trinitarian opening of his Gospel, where God is thrice named, and where, when God is named the second time, "the Word was God." Further on we see, "And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth." What did we behold, even as it was disguised in his human features? We beheld "the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ." And, what we beheld in that face was compassion, such compassion as a lonely god would not have. We beheld love, the love of the Father in the love of the Son, expressed most clearly on the cross when he poured out His soul unto death to redeem fallen mankind, to save us from sin and death. And, we behold Him, after death, rising again and forever keeping our own human nature within the very Godhead. The revelation of God in Jesus Christ is entwined with the revelation that God is three in one and one in three.

Our salvation, as revealed, is sacramental. It stems from the Incarnation, and depends on the death and resurrection of Christ, from which flow the power and grace that are given to us by the Holy Spirit, as he uses the means of grace through his Church. Without the atonement Christ worked for us on the cross, and by His rising again, we would have no absolution, no baptism, no Communion. Without the Holy Spirit present and active in the Church, this grace would never be imparted through the preached word and through the sacraments. For, it is the Holy Spirit, the other Comforter (παράκλητος, paraklētos), who imparts every grace that flows from the Incarnate, crucified and risen Son.

The risen Christ gave commandment to baptize "in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit." (Matthew 28:19) St. Basil reminds us, in his book On the Holy Spirit, that this Trinitarian Name is one Name, not three names. We do not baptize in the names, but in the Name. Comparing the 17th chapter of the Gospel of John to the 28th chapter of Matthew, we see a progression. In John, before his death, He says: "Father...I have declared unto them thy name, and will declare it: that the love wherewith thou hast loved me may be in them, and I in them (John 17:26).” And, in Matthew, the Name of God is more fully revealed when He commands the Church to baptize, by telling us the name into which we baptize. "The Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit." This ultimate revelation of the Name (H’Shem) of God came from the mouth of the risen Lord Jesus Christ after he had perfected the work of our redemption, salvation and justification. (How fitting that we read the conversation between the Lord and Nicodemus on Trinity Sunday, since baptism, the new birth, is part of the revelation that God is the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost).

The correct pronunciation of the mysterious Name of God has been lost, despite fruitless efforts to figure it out. We may have an indication from the prophet Jeremiah that this loss was God's own work, a loss indeed, but to the end that we gain something greater (Jeremiah 44:26). For in place of a name that is only mystery, we have a greater revelation of a name that declares who our God is. We may not know how to pronounce the name spoken by Moses and the prophets; but, we know the God of Moses and the prophets more fully by the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. And, we have learned this Name through the human life of the Son of God, His personal history of being conceived in the womb of his mother, Mary the Virgin, the Theotokos. We know His history of going about doing good, healing all who were oppressed by the devil, teaching and preaching the kingdom of God, preparing His disciples, dying for the sins of the world, rising again from the dead, ascending to the Father and pouring out the Holy Spirit. We have learned the revelation of the Trinity because God is our salvation.

1. See my article Threefold Chords about how J.S.Bach used music to present a theological demonstration of the Trinity.

2. John used the phrase "in the beginning" to remind us of Genesis, and to get behind the opening of that first book of the Bible. What we call "Genesis" is called, in Hebrew, בראשית (B'Rasheet). It is simply the first word, which we translate into English with three words: "In the beginning." John used the Greek translation that opens this same first book of the Bible in the LXX. It was popular years ago to emphasize the first four words of the English translation. "In the beginning God." But, in fact, the word for "created," ( ברא, bora) is the second word in the Hebrew text, and the word we translate as "God" (that plural word, אלהים, Elohim) is third. In the Hebrew syntax the word for "created" directly follows "In the beginning." It is the opening of John's Gospel that moves the emphasis from the work of God to God as God. The Apostle goes behind the scene of Genesis 1:1 to draw our attention from creation to God. This is because the New Covenant gives the knowledge of God in greater glory. 

3. From Orthodoxy, by G.K. Chesterton. (chapter VIII)

Monday, May 20, 2013

Another reason why we are not in TEC

Diversity, not Jesus, saves says Presiding Bishop

"The Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church has denounced the Apostle Paul as mean-spirited and bigoted for having released a slave girl from demonic bondage as reported in Acts 16:16-34 .
"In her sermon delivered  at All Saints Church in Curaçao in the diocese of Venezuela, Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori condemned those who did not share her views as enemies of the Holy Spirit."

You may read more at this link.

We may summarize the problem very simply: She is on the side of the demons.

                                                  Katherine Jefferts Schori

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Pentecost commonly called Whitsunday

Acts 2:1-11 * John 14:15-31
Who hath heard such a thing? who hath seen such things? Shall the earth be made to bring forth in one day? or shall a nation be born at once? for as soon as Zion travailed, she brought forth her children.
- Isaiah 66:8

We could say rightly that Zion's labor was brief, for, after only ten days of prayer, the Church came forth as a nation born in a day. Christ, as touching his human body as Jesus of Nazareth, had stepped behind the veil when a cloud took him out of their sight. Then, on the Day of Pentecost, the infant Church was born in what we might rightly call the second chapter of the Incarnation. God the Word (λόγος) came into the world on the Day of the Annunciation, and showed himself in his Nativity when he was born in Bethlehem. He walked the earth as a man, and "went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed of the devil." (Acts 10:38) On the Day of Pentecost, the Church that waited so short a time in the womb, as they were together in prayer, was born to carry on the ministry of Jesus Christ. He still goes about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed of the devil, this time through the Church which is his Body.

Make no mistake about it; when the Holy Spirit was poured out on the disciples, the Church became the Body of Christ just as truly as Christ was born in Bethlehem. Our ministry as the Church is His ministry, as He extends His Incarnation through us, and goes about doing good not only as far as one man may travel, but into every place on earth, preaching the Gospel in all the world as a testimony to all nations, gathering out of all nations those who are His disciples. The Church, His bride and his Body, believes and does works greater in number, just as the disciple Elisha did twice the miracles of Elijah the prophet, when a double portion of the same Spirit rested on him. (II Kings 2:9f, John 14:12)

Among the many people in Jerusalem, who had come for the feast, were pilgrims from various nations, that is the God-fearers and proselytes who were born as Gentiles, and either had begun to convert to Judaism, or had fully converted. Also, there many Jews of the Diaspora who lived most of the time in foreign countries. Although just about everyone in the Roman Empire spoke enough Greek to get by, as it was the international language, these pilgrims heard the disciples speaking in the languages of their own distant homelands. Anyone with genuine experience of such things knows fully well that this was not something uncontrollable, not the result of a trance or ecstasy, and certainly not emotionalism; the speaking was subject fully to the self-control of each one who spoke in those other tongues; the words themselves were known to those foreigners who heard the word of God each in his own native tongue.

“Now when this was noised abroad, the multitude came together, and were confounded, because that every man heard them speak in his own language. And they were all amazed and marvelled, saying one to another, Behold, are not all these which speak Galilæans? And how hear we every man in our own tongue, where in we were born? Parthians, and Medes, and Elamites, and the dwellers in Mesopotamia, and in Judæa, and Cappadocia, in Pontus, and Asia, Phrygia, and Pamphylia, in Egypt, and in the parts of Libya about Cyrene, and strangers of Rome. Jews and proselytes, Cretes and Arabians, we do hear them speak in our tongues the wonderful works of God.”

What were these tongues (γλῶσσα, glōssa) that we read about? How did they serve as a sign for unbelievers? Why did God choose a thing that seemed so weak and foolish that onlookers were filled with derision expressed in mocking words: "Others mocking said, These men are full of new wine." The Scripture goes on to say, "But Peter, standing up with the eleven, lifted up his voice, and said unto them, Ye men of Judaea, and all ye that dwell at Jerusalem, be this known unto you, and hearken to my words: For these are not drunken, as ye suppose, seeing it is but the third hour of the day (Acts 2: 13-15).” The many disciples spoke mysteries to God (I Cor. 14:2), understood by none of the local men. But to those who heard the truth spoken in their own tongues, by men who never learned to speak them (but were simply given utterance of praise and thanksgiving) for "the wonderful works of God," this was not a thing to be treated with contempt, but with fear. It was a sign. The division of mankind into different nations through the confusion of tongues at Babel, was a curse that is undone within the Church. In Christ we are one Body, gathered by one Spirit from the four corners of the earth.

“And they sung a new song, saying, Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation; And hast made us unto our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth (Rev.5:9,10).”

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

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

Peter had changed. He had been a natural man (ψυχικός psychikos-soulish) unable earlier in his life to understand why the Christ, the Son of the Living God, was ready and willing to take up the cross; later he was afraid and denied the Lord three times. But, now he stands on his feet boldly, not afraid of death, having his mind focused on the truth, able to understand and know from Scripture everything that had unfolded and was unfolding. He had been a disciple for more than three years, but now was closer to Christ than at any time when he beheld him with the eyes; for he was now part of the Body of which Christ is the Head. Many a time Peter had stumbled and tripped over his own tongue, and had failed to speak the right words on the night in which his Lord was betrayed. But, now he spoke with more clarity, more power and more authority than any prophet of the Old Covenant. He delivered the first Christian sermon, as he was now the fisher of men Christ had foreseen; his dragnet of words brought in about three thousand souls. The young Church, the Body of Christ brought forth in a day, thrived with healthy vital signs.

None of this was man-made. The best efforts of organization could not have produced it; the most detailed planning could not have pulled it off. No human effort could have brought it forth in a day, because the nation created on the Day of Pentecost was chapter two of the Word made flesh. The Body of Christ now came into the world.

What is the life of the Church? It is the Holy Spirit present within us. What is the strength of the Church? It is the power (δύναμις) of God by his Holy Spirit, present within us. Who is it that takes fallible and failed human beings, lifts them up from the ground and sets them on their feet? It is the Holy Spirit present within us. Who is He that puts His word of eloquence and power on their once unclean lips? It is the Holy Spirit present within us. Who is this that fulfills His own purpose and will with flawed human instruments? It is the Holy Spirit present within us. Who makes Christ known among all nations of the earth to people of every race and tongue? It is the Holy Spirit present within us. Who has unlimited power, and works most effectively through us after we have come to the end of our own strength, and can go no further? It is the Holy Spirit present within us.

We know from the end of the Gospel of Luke that the disciples were forbidden to take this work on themselves prematurely, as if it depended simply on human power and wisdom.

“Then opened he their understanding, that they might understand the scriptures, And said unto them, Thus it is written, and thus it behoved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day: And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. And ye are witnesses of these things. And, behold, I send the promise of my Father upon you: but tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem, until ye be endued with power from on high (Luke 24:45-49).”

Frankly, in light of the foolishness of sinful men, it is very obvious that God's power and grace have never depended on anyone less than God Himself. Never think that we, as the Church, have succeeded in anything simply by our own human cleverness, or our best laid plans, or our own strength. We have an organized structure, but the permanent shape of that structure was revealed and enacted by the Holy Spirit. The whole life of the Church is charismatic (χάρισμα); from the receiving of Scripture to the Sacraments, from the Apostolic Succession to the faithful service of each member.

Indeed, St. Paul, speaking in the context of spiritual gifts, even goes as far as to call the Church by the name of Christ Himself:

"For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ...Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular (I Cor, 12:12, 27)."

 So, I have not spoken carelessly in saying that the Church is part two of the Incarnation. The Jesus who goes about now doing good and healing is none other than the Body of Christ and members in particular. He does his work through you, through His Body the Church, by the Holy Spirit, the other Comforter who is with us and in us.

The day of Pentecost was a feast in the Law of Moses when the first sheaf of the harvest was waved before the Lord. It was also the same day that the Lord had descended on Mount Sinai, when the whole nation of Israel heard the voice of God as He spoke his ten commandments. Therefore, it is quite fitting that the Lord Jesus foretold the outpouring of the Spirit in terms of his commandments. "If ye love me, keep my commandments. And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that He may abide with you for ever; even the Spirit of truth." Therefore, if we remain faithful to him, we continue to take part in His Incarnation as the Church, the Body of Christ. For His Spirit not only comes upon us, but abides within us always.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

The Sunday after Ascension Day

We have been led to think of the Ascension as Christ's coronation. This is not the emphasis of the scriptures, because the New Testament clearly reserves that significance to the day in which He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, when the Father will put every enemy under his feet. These scriptures we have read are concerned, rather, with the continuation of Christ's own charismatic (χάρις) ministry through his Church, to spread the Gospel to all nations in the working out of salvation among all peoples of the earth.

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

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

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

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

Jesus is the Apostle of the Father, and it was expedient that He go away so that His own apostles could establish the Church by the supernatural and charismatic ministry of Jesus our Emmanuel -God with us.

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

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

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

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

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

Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, saith the LORD of hosts. (Zechariah. 4:6)

1. Examples: John 1:14, 18; 3:16, 18.
2. The fact that the Gospel According to John is about the dual and heavily related (interdependent) themes of the Trinity and the Incarnation should help us understand why John 14:6 cannot be controversial to true believers.

Thursday, May 09, 2013

Saturday, May 04, 2013

Fifth Sunday after Easter

Rogation Sunday

The word 'Rogation' comes from the Latin verb rogare, meaning 'to ask,' and was applied to this time of the liturgical year because the Gospel reading includes the passage "Ask and ye shall receive" (John 16:24). And it goes on to say: 'At that day ye shall ask in my name.'" 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why are we told to ask the Father our requests in His Name? In Genesis we see that there came a time when men first called upon the Name of the Lord. That is during the life of one named Enos, in the fourth chapter of Genesis, verse 26: “And to Seth, to him also there was born a son; and he called his name Enos: then began men to call upon the name of the LORD.” When I read this in Hebrew I saw that it really should be translated: “then began men to call in the Name of the Lord.” It was quite unmistakable; B’Shem Adonai. So, in using the words, “ask in My Name,” the Lord Jesus is again letting us know that he and the Father are One.

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

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


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

Paul, writing by the Holy Spirit, reminds us that we have as our only Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus who gave Himself a ransom for all. He overcame the separation between the uncreated God and human creatures by taking created nature into His uncreated Person, becoming fully human while remaining fully God. He overcame the separation between God and man due to sin by dying for our sins on the cross. He overcame the separation between the Living God and our death by overcoming death. As one Person complete in two natures, Himself both fully God and fully Man, Jesus Christ is our Mediator. No man comes to the Father but through Him. That is true of our salvation, it is true of our worship, it is true also of our prayers.

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

Hebrews 10:
[19] Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus,
[20] By a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh;
[21] And having an high priest over the house of God;
[22] Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water.

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

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

Thursday, May 02, 2013


by Fr. Laurence Wells

The word “humanism” usually does not sound good in Christian conversation.  When preachers describe someone as a “humanist” it is probably not to pay a compliment.  These terms have unfortunately been kidnapped or surrendered to an atheistic point of view which claims that man is the measure of all things.  Human history is mostly the out-working of the serpent’s false promise, “ye shall be as gods, knowing [i.e. determining] good and evil.”  The net result of that deceit is man’s vain-glorious ambition displayed at the tower of Babel, “let us make a name for ourselves.”This insolent rebellion continues to manifest itself  in godless secularism, our futile attempt to live as if God did not exist.

Ascension Day offers us a clear and hopeful alternative to the humanism which led Adam and Eve into spiritual exile in a harsh and cruel world of toil and sweat, or the frustration and confusion of the Tower of Babel.

When our dear Lord was “taken up” He did not cease to be human.  The central truth of our precious faith is summed up in the word Incarnation:  in Jesus Christ God truly became man, taking not only our nature but submitting to our condition also, our frailty and our mortality.  But this was no brief or temporary episode. He not only became man at Bethlehem  or lived as a man at Nazareth or Capernaum He died as a man at Calvary and was Raised as a man on the “third day.”  At his Ascension He carried our human nature into heaven, taking our true flesh and blood into the very presence of His Father. In His Ascension we see at last a humanism worthy of the name.

On Ascension Day we have an answer to the question of Psalm 8:4, “What is man that thou art mindful of him, or the son of man that thou visitest him?”  As the Lord Jesus was taken up, the God incarnate, Man divine, was truly crowned with glory and honour.”

In the Ascension of Jesus Christ we celebrate not only His exaltation but our own final destiny.  As He was raised, so we shall be raised from the dead.  As He was taken up, we too will be exalted in the presence of  His Father.

He promised, “I go to prepare a place for you....In my father’s house there are many mansions.” The Proper Preface for Ascensiontide declares, “That where He is, thither we might also ascend, and reign with Him in glory.”  Here is a genuine humanism worthy of the name.

There is no hymn in our hymnal more audacious than Bishop Wordsworth great hymn, "See the conqueror mounts in triumph" with its bold line, "man with God is on the throne."  No modern secular humanist ever went so far.