Saturday, February 22, 2014


II Cor. 11:19-31  * Luke 8:4-15  

The Gospel and the Epistle appointed for this day blend well together when we consider the patience of St. Paul. He endured all things that could come on anyone, and so brought forth fruit an hundredfold. When he began his walk he turned away from the cares and riches and pleasures of this life. In time of persecution he did not fall away; and in his case the time of persecution was lifelong until his death as a martyr. Instead of complaining that God was terribly unfair in leading him through fire and water, he gave thanks that he could suffer with Christ. Paul saw his own sufferings as leading to good, especially emphasizing how God used those very trials to further his evangelistic mission as an apostle. Through those sufferings Paul was able to reach people with the message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and his salvation. 

He said as much in another epistle, writing to the Church in Philippi:

"But I would ye should understand, brethren, that the things which happened unto me have fallen out rather unto the furtherance of the gospel; So that my bonds in Christ are manifest in all the palace, and in all other places; And many of the brethren in the Lord, waxing confident by my bonds, are much more bold to speak the word without fear (Philippians 1:12-14).”

In today's epistle, the long list of things he endured was not written down for the sake of boasting, but to establish that he had credentials that his critics did not have, namely certain false apostles and teachers who were troubling the Church in Corinth. That is, he was not waxing rich or gaining status in the world, and was not living in luxury. That he chose to continue with his life of persecution and danger, and great discomfort, was a proof that his service was genuine, instead of going back to Tarsus and profiting from his family's tent-making business (no doubt as suppliers to the imperial army), . For that reason, and that reason alone, he wrote those words to the Christians in Corinth, that they would hear him and turn away from the false teachers, whose teaching the Apostle condemned in the strongest terms, in this part of the same chapter from which today's Epistle was taken: 

But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtilty, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ.  For if he that cometh preacheth another Jesus, whom we have not preached, or if ye receive another spirit, which ye have not received, or another gospel, which ye have not accepted, ye might well bear with him (II Corinthians 11:3,4).”

It matters very much indeed who you allow to serve as your pastor, teacher and guide. Our own separation from the Episcopal Church was due to this very problem, a false gospel, another Jesus, and another spirit which we did not receive. And our continued separation is due to the fact that their errors have remained uncorrected, and have gone from bad to worse. One of their clergy came here to gain “clients” from this congregation, for some new age type of self-improvement program called “coaching.” He told me that “coaching” had helped him to, as he put it, “evolve.” He offered as his example that he had recently driven up to Maryland to do his first ever blessing of a same sex “marriage.” I told that priest that he had not “evolved,” but had backslidden and fallen away from Christ. St. Paul is telling the Corinthian Christians that some ministers are called into their vocation by Satan, not by God. 

For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ. And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness; whose end shall be according to their works (vs. 13-15).”

In case anyone thinks this whole thing is all about what prayer Book we like better, or what kind of liturgy pleases us, let me make something very clear: The issues are of eternal consequence, not simply matters of taste. Furthermore, with eternity in mind, it is necessary to be in the Church where the true Gospel is taught, where the pure Word of God is preached and valid sacraments are duly administered, whether everything is to our taste or not. It is not about satisfying our emotions (which satisfaction may come or not come) but about eternal life with Christ, as opposed to being lost. 

It is in the context of St. Paul telling those ancient Christians in Corinth that they needed to follow him, and reject the false ministers of a false Gospel, that he reminds them of his own sufferings and persecutions. I have quoted a few parts of the same chapter that lead to the Epistle appointed for this day. Let me remind you of a little bit of it:

Are they ministers of Christ? (I speak as a fool) I am more; in labours more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent, in deaths oft. Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one. Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep in journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness. Beside those things that are without, that which cometh upon me daily, the care of all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? who is offended, and I burn not? If I must needs glory, I will glory of the things which concern mine infirmities. The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which is blessed for evermore, knoweth that I lie not.”

So, once again I want to quote these words from another epistle, the Epistle to the Philippians.

"But I would ye should understand, brethren, that the things which happened unto me have fallen out rather unto the furtherance of the gospel."

God has allowed us our own portion of suffering. So, here is how to think about difficult times: God will use the seemingly unhappy time to further the Gospel. If you will remain faithful, some day in the future you will be able to look back at that time, and what will have followed, and say with St. Paul, "The things which happened unto me (or to us) have fallen out rather unto the furtherance of the gospel." That phrase, "the furtherance of the gospel," speaks of the evangelistic mission of the Church. It is a time to increase the level of your own commitment, not to be discouraged. Accept it as a challenge, take it as an opportunity, and embrace it as an adventure. 

I suppose also that none of us has ever attended church in a catacomb, sneaking there before sunrise to avoid being captured and executed by the authorities for the crime of being a Christian. And, in many lands, the persecution goes on. Anyone who needs a nice church building, a bell and organ, and stained glass windows, in order to feel like they are in church, would have had quite a problem in the time of persecution, roughly 250 years between Nero and Constantine. Most of "Our fathers chained in prisons dark" did not, in time of persecution, fall away. But others did, of course, fall away. Those who fell away had not received the word in the good ground of a sincere heart.

By the standards of the world, we live in luxury. And, as far as suffering goes, ours has been light. But now, embrace the opportunity that lies ahead. Remain faithful, increase your own level of commitment, and let everybody out there know that the Church of Jesus Christ is alive and well, alive because Christ is risen from the dead: Well, because the Holy Spirit is with us in all his power. In the time that lies ahead, you will discover the gifts He has given you, gifts that some of you had not known before. You will know a joy that comes only by working together with God. And, you will see that whatever things that have happened to you will have fallen out to the furtherance of the Gospel.

Saturday, February 15, 2014


I Cor. 9:24-27 * Matt. 20:1-16
We begin the Pre-Lenten Season today. This may be a confusing time for some who have been in more modern "up-to-date" churches that no longer observe this time. However, the Penitential season of Lent, which will start on Ash Wednesday, is so important that we prepare for it with these next few weeks of the “gesimas.” Septua, Sexa and Quinqua, that is, seven, six and five weeks before Palm Sunday and Holy Week. It seems like the very opposite of the times in which we live, very counter to this era of indulgence, that we take the Penitential season of Lent so seriously that we prepare for it by the Pre-Lenten season. But, we need to see that our sins and weaknesses are to be taken seriously, and what we learn from today's parable in the Gospel, teaches us that only in light of our true need, the goodness and mercy of God comes across to us.

The Epistle reading says that “In a race all run, but one receiveth the prize.” The Gospel reading ends with “Many are called, but few are chosen.” This teaches us not to presume upon the grace of God by willful sinful living. The over all message of both readings teaches us to receive the grace of God.

The laborers who had borne the heat of the day had every reason to expect that their reward would be greater than the late comers. When they saw that those who had worked but one hour were receiving what was, by the standard of that time and place, a full day’s pay, they assumed that the owner of the vineyard was loose with his money, that he paid by a higher standard than was normal, and that they would be paid more. This was only logical, and so it seemed to them, fair.

To bear the heat of the day is to live the way Saint Paul describes. It is to work hard to obtain mastery over oneself, over everything that leads to sin and that slows us down in the race. It is no easy thing. To labor in the vineyard speaks of a life dedicated to God, and of dedication that is tied into a life within the Church that involves the development of the virtues, especially of charity. It is a life of service, and of witness as part of the Church and her mission to reach the lost. None of this is to be taken lightly.

However, the parable reminds us that our salvation, wrought for us by Jesus Christ, was not something we earned. Whatever works and goodness we might achieve, the forgiveness of our sins is not earned by our own efforts. Neither can we do those extra meritorious things beyond what God requires. Article 14 speaks to the limits of what we can do:

"XIV. Of Works of Supererogation.Voluntary Works besides, over and above, God's Commandments, which they call Works of Supererogation, cannot be taught without arrogancy and impiety: for by them men do declare, that they do not only render unto God as much as they are bound to do, but that they do more for his sake, than of bounden duty is required: whereas Christ saith plainly When ye have done all that are commanded to you, say, We are unprofitable servants."

It is not possible to do works of supererogation. You and I cannot do what God requires, let alone do more. You are commanded to love God with all of your heart, soul, mind and strength, and your neighbor as yourself. Even when we have grown in virtues, even if we live the life of holiness as saints, even if we receive signs like the stigmata or visions and revelations of the Lord, our salvation is a gift, and something we cannot obtain by our own efforts. Christ earned it for us and bought us back from sin and death by the full, perfect, sufficient sacrifice, oblation and satisfaction of Himself once offered. We were under sentence of death because of sin, eternal separation from God. The one Who was Himself without sin bore our sins in His own body on the tree of the cross. He made there the one and only Atonement.

He is the Lamb of God with His cross, upon which he took away the sins of the world and made the atonement, the covering- the Kippor- for us. This was not even our idea, let alone our accomplishment. The dove with the olive branch comes from the story of Noah. When Noah left the Ark he made his offering, and God was pleased with the sacrifice and promised not to destroy man from the face of the earth.

The symbol of the dove in Genesis is that of reconciliation with God. This reconciliation was made for us by God, by the Person of God the Son in the flesh, in His sinless human nature, in the likeness of our sinful flesh, dying as an offender upon the cross for the sins of the whole world. Pilate wrote the accusation over His head- "Jesus of Nazareth the King of the Jews." But, in his Epistle to the Colossians, Saint Paul tells us that the real accusation over Christ’s head was the entire Law of God. That Law that He alone kept perfectly; and so His death was the death of the just for the unjust, the sinless One for the sinners. He was the One for the many, to make those rendered guilty by one man’s offense righteous. We are saved by the perfect obedience of the One, by Christ Who gave Himself up for us with the words, “Not my will, but Thine be done.”

What we are given, we are given by His goodness, not by our deserving. It is all by grace.

A good confessor always reminds the penitent that the forgiveness of sins is given because Christ died for us. The act of penance does not earn the forgiveness, and, in fact, penance is done after the Absolution. Rather, penance is meant to strengthen and reinforce repentance and amendment of life, to direct the mind and heart towards God.* Do you know why the “Comfortable Words” follow the General Confession and General Absolution in our liturgy? Well, I can think of three reasons:

1.To make clear that the forgiveness of sins is real
2.That it is the gift of God to us through Jesus Christ
3. and as a light and general penance.

Whatever you feel you deserve, we are going to make the Confession of sin in a few minutes. The day’s pay is being given, not because of your labors but because of Christ’s labor on your behalf. And, the gift of Absolution that is given is the same for everyone who believes and with a true heart repents. We are unprofitable servants, and what is given to us is due to His goodness.

* For more thoughts on penance, click on this link.

Saturday, February 08, 2014

Fr. Wells' Bulletin Inserts


The Gospel reading which we hear on this fifth Sunday after the Epiphany (or in most years, on the 25th Sunday after Trinity) is one of two or three parable using the symbols of the sower, the good seed, the obstacles to its progress, and the certainty of a good  harvest.  Another “seed/sower” parable  we will soon read on Sexagesima Sunday. You may find it on page 121 in your Prayer Book.

In the parable before us today, we see a picture of the church as a mixed multitude (usually more mixed than multitudinous)  of “wheat and tares.”  The sower (who is Christ) has sown good seed, but an enemy (who is the devil) has tried to spoil the crop by sowing bad seed which sprouts into weeds.

From its very inception, the Church, as the people of God, who profess faith in Jesus Christ, has been a mixture of  the faithful and faithless, the weak and the strong, the zealous and the indifferent, those who persevere and those who fall away, those whose presence is a blessing to the Body and those who mostly make trouble. It was ever thus, from the time of Ananias and Sapphira (Acts  5) and Euodia and Syntyche (Phil. 4:2).  The Church has always been full of imperfect people.  This is why the Church was created in the first place, to be a refugium peccatorum, a place where sinners are welcome

But ultimately, a separation of wheat and tares, a division of the true and false members of the Church is bound to come.  The Prayer Book selection sadly does not include our Lord’s explication of his own parable, wherein He said, “Just as the weeds are gathered and burned with fire, so will it be at the close of the age.  The Son of man will send his angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom, all causes of sin and all evil-doers… there men will weep and gnash their teeth (Matt 13:42)."  We should note how frequently our Lord spoke of eternal damnation in very graphic terms.

Even with this dire and dreadful certainty, the chief message of this parable is that our business as servants of the householder is to wait patiently until the harvest, when the angels will be sent to make the separation finally and for ever.

But in the meantime, it is not for us to take matters into our own hands.  We do not yet know who are the wheat and who are the tares, and we are under a commandment not to make any preliminary assessments.  It is only for us to make sure that we are not weeds spoiling the crop, praying that we may be good seed, bringing forth a good harvest.                LKW

Friday, February 07, 2014

Fifth Sunday after Epiphany

Matt. 13:24-30
Any sermon on today’s Gospel really ought to include the Lord’s interpretation of His own parable:

“Then Jesus sent the multitude away, and went into the house: and his disciples came unto him, saying, Declare unto us the parable of the tares of the field. He answered and said unto them, He that soweth the good seed is the Son of man; The field is the world; the good seed are the children of the kingdom; but the tares are the children of the wicked one; The enemy that sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the world; and the reapers are the angels. As therefore the tares are gathered and burned in the fire; so shall it be in the end of this world. The Son of man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity; And shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth. Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Who hath ears to hear, let him hear (vs. 36-43).”

The plants that are called tares are very much like wheat in appearance, but they lack the nutritional properties of wheat. You can’t eat from these weeds. However, it is very difficult to distinguish with the eye between the tares and true wheat.

When the oldest of my sons was only about six or seven years old, he created his own superhero, one who fought against crime. He told me that his superhero would see the bad guys and kill them. I decided that I ought to teach him principles of law and justice, so I asked a hypothetical question: “Tell me, David. How does he know who is a bad guy just by looking at him?” I saw that he was thinking very hard, as his forehead became wrinkled and his eyes half closed in a squint. Finally, he answered: “He has really good eyesight.” I saw that my attempt to teach a lesson about "the presumption of innocence" until proved guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, was possibly not getting through

And, as we know, the destruction of the ungodly was not the reason why Christ came; He came to call sinners to repentance, as a physician comes to heal the sick. He came not to judge the world, but to save it. He would, as the Lamb of God, take away the sins of the world by going to His cross to pour out His one oblation of Himself once offered; the full, perfect and sufficient sacrifice, oblation and satisfaction for the sins of the whole world. Before that time, He would go about “doing good and healing all who were oppressed of the Devil.” He did not call down fire from heaven upon the Samaritan village that refused Him, as the sons of thunder bade Him to do; He told them they knew not what spirit they were of, for the Son of Man had come to save men’s lives not to destroy them.

In the Old Testament, the worst of the kings of Judah was Manasseh. He practiced idolatry, even the offering of children to Baal, filling Jerusalem with innocent blood, which the Lord would not pardon two generations later. Now, here was a tare that deserved to be uprooted. It is safe to judge, even within the limits of our own human understanding, we can be certain that he was beyond all hope of redemption-can't we?

He was captured and taken into captivity. But, while being held captive, he humbled himself and repented of his sins, and besought God. The Bible says that God forgave him, and restored him to his throne in Jerusalem. Here we read it, in II Chronicles 33:12, 13.

“And when he was in affliction, he besought the LORD his God, and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers, And prayed unto him: and he was intreated of him, and heard his supplication, and brought him again to Jerusalem into his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the LORD he was God.”

No, the Lord does not uproot the wheat in order to destroy the tares. Consider what it would mean if He did. Look at Saint Paul. If ever there was a tare that deserved uprooting, it was the persecutor of the Church, Saul of Tarsus. He had been confident in his own righteousness as a Hebrew of Hebrews, a Pharisee who was, as touching the Law of Moses, blameless. And, the crowning virtue of his righteousness was his zeal that he demonstrated by persecuting the Church. When the Lord Jesus appeared to him, as he approached the Damascus Gate, and was knocked to the ground, Saul learned that his crowning achievement of righteousness was actually the great sin of persecuting none other than Messiah Himself by persecuting His people. What had been in Saul’s mind the seal and mark of his own righteousness, was in reality a filthy rag, a grievous sin. And, at the same moment that he was being made aware of the enormity of his guilt, he was being shown mercy, called from the darkness of ignorance and sin into the light of Christ, and to the righteousness that comes by faith in Him. It is no wonder that this whole theme would dominate the message of what, today, we call Pauline theology. And so it is, this one-time enemy of the Church became Saint Paul the Apostle.

Ah, but if the tares were to be so soon uprooted, then we would have had no Saint Paul.

In the 1960s an obstetrician named Bernard Nathanson performed thousands of abortions. Furthermore, he was one of the people who started the National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL). But, his mind began to resist his own propaganda as his conscience caught up with him. Later he would write, “I came to realize that what I had presided over was thousands of deaths.” Eventually, he wrote Aborting America, and became one of the greatest advocates for the pro-life cause, a defender of the rights of unborn children to be spared, to be allowed to live. Bernard Nathanson was an Atheist, and a mass murderer of unborn children, all in the name of “safe and legal” abortion, a hired assassin under the guise of medicine. If ever there was a tare that deserved to be uprooted, this was the man. We would be safe to judge him so, would we not?

But Christ does not deal with us as our sins deserve. Today Bernard Nathanson is a believing and devout Catholic, and he has saved countless lives by speaking out against abortion, adding a voice that contains thorough authoritative scientific knowledge.

You see, we cannot tell the tares from the wheat, because every saint is a redeemed sinner. If the tares were to be uprooted, none of us would live to repent; the Great Physician would have no sinners to call to repentance. God’s world would be clean and neat and orderly again, and His righteousness vindicated. But, His love did not allow that. Instead He did the very messy thing of coming into the world in the Person of His Son. The Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, took our created nature into His uncreated Person, our temporal nature into His eternity. “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us,” “going about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the Devil,” using His power on earth to forgive sins and giving this power unto men, not dealing with us as our sins deserve, not breaking a bruised reed or quenching a smoking flax. He removed our guilt by removing our sins, and that by bearing them in His own body on the tree of the cross, the Lamb of God slaughtered as our Passover. And, having released us from sin, He freed us from death by rising on the Third day and making Himself seen by witnesses, his chosen martyrs – witnesses - of the resurrection. They, in turn, yielded up their lives to give us the assurance of hope, that we might know of their certainty that they saw Him alive again after His resurrection.

He does not root up the tares lest he root up the wheat with them; for we must come to the knowledge of Christ in order to be freed from sin and death.

Those who believe are “the elect of God, holy and beloved” (as Saint Paul wrote in the Epistle for today). Is there - if I may dare use the word - discrimination to be made between wheat and tares? Yes. We should have a holy fear of God, for on the Last Day at the final judgment, the wheat will be divided from the tares, and the judgment will be rendered. Those who have refused to believe and have clung to their sins will be sent away.

But for now, thank God for His wisdom. For only with His foreknowledge could we know the wheat from the tares; and that foreknowledge is His alone; we cannot share it. He knows a repentant Manasseh, a Saint Paul the Apostle, a Bernard Nathanson champion of the unborn. He alone knows the wheat from the tares. This is something that perhaps even the eyes of angels may not see.


Thursday, February 06, 2014


Canon Matthew Kirby wrote shortly after midnight, U.S. Eastern time, to report the death of Brother John-Charles, fifth Acting Primate of the Anglican Catholic Church.  His Grace died peacefully, and Canon Kirby was with him at the time.
Please feel free to notify those whom you know who will want to know this. 
The ACC website with have further information.  Canon Kirby will take the requiem Mass and funeral according to Brother John-Charles's instruction.
May he rest in peace.
+Mark Haverland
(The Most Reverend) Mark Haverland, Ph.D.
Sixth Acting Primate, Anglican Catholic Church