Saturday, March 29, 2014

Fourth Sunday in Lent

Galatians 4:21-31 * John 6:1-14
No more sophomoric a gesture can be made then to try, by measures understandable to the created mind, to discredit the Almighty. We have all heard it, the attempt to bring the idea of omnipotence into question by a foolish question: "Can God make a stone so heavy that he cannot lift it?" Well, of course, to raise the question at all only demonstrates the absurdity of measuring infinity by ordinary and mundane things, that is, the One who is Wholly Other from every created nature by things in creation. And, of course, if we reply that such an attempt to ask a hypothetical question has been answered in the Incarnation, our hypothetical sophomore is likely to be terribly confused.

But, we have the answer to a counter question, one that exists on our level as creatures. God has made a stone so heavy that we cannot carry it. In fact two. The two tablets of the Law teach us of our duty to love God and our neighbor. Even without all of the regulations and ordinances of the six hundred and thirteen commandments of the Torah, all of those burdens about everything from Kosher laws to ceremonial laws, just the Ten Commandments alone are more than anyone of us has kept perfectly..

Now, St. Paul, in the Epistle, wants the Galatian Christians to know that the Old Covenant of Sinai will not give to them the freedom that comes from a good conscience, and that faith in Christ does. All too often Christians are short sighted on this subject. Too many have been programmed to perceive every reference to a difference, in the two covenants, in purely legal terms. The Jews in the Old Testament were burdened with laws about food, and all sorts of things like that, and we are not. So, they figure, we have less of a burden, fewer laws to worry about.

Well, that may very well be true. But, the difference between the two covenants, in this case the Covenant made when God revealed the Law through Moses and the New Covenant1 in Christ's blood, is far more significant than simply the fact that they were forbidden to eat pork, or had to be kosher, or had to practice all the ceremonies of the temple that no longer even stands. The difference, in light of today's Gospel, is about whether you are feeding on Christ, the food and drink of eternal life, or receiving the judgment of condemnation. It is the difference between grace and wrath.

Indeed, the tablets of the Law are too heavy for anyone of us to carry. And, those two tablets were just the moral Law alone, without all the regulations and ordinances. Those heavy stones contain the Ten Commandments. Now, recall what you were taught for Confirmation (or should have been taught before receiving that sacrament). Remember, assuming you heard it, that when you look at the Ten Commandments in light of the two Great Commandments we hear in the Summary of the Law, you notice that the first four are about loving God, and the remaining six are about loving your neighbor. The tablets of the Law boil down to those two Great Commandments: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, with all thy soul, and with all thy mind; and thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets."

Let us consider what those poor Galatians were being taught by the first heretics in Christian history. St. Paul was setting them straight because false teachers had gone out, with no authority from the Apostles, and told converts from among the Gentiles that they had to keep the whole Law of Moses with its six hundred and thirteen commandments, and had to be circumcised, in order to be saved. So, he told them that the children of that covenant were like the children of the bondwoman, not heirs with the true children. They were Ishmael, not Isaac.

But, he does not stop there. He makes the issue of the Law relevant for everybody, even those who had turned to Christ from among the Gentiles, by telling them the Law was our schoolmaster to bring us to Christ. Indeed, that is part of the same Epistle that today's reading came from. For, with all of the condemnation and fear the Law brings, it is a good thing. As he says in another Epistle: "Wherefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good." 2 In addition to teaching us how to live, it reveals to us that we are sinners, and that we need a Savior.

Frankly, the New Testament gives us the commandments of God in a way that requires us to take them internally. Which is easier, to keep the body from infidelity, or to keep the heart from it? Jesus tells us that the commandments against murder and adultery are broken, by God's absolute and holy standard, whenever we are resentful or lustful. Unjustified anger, or coveting a woman by looking at her with lust, are not just tendencies toward sin, but are sin. Oh yes, the tenth commandment begins to say this, for the law against covetousness gives an order to the heart itself, a commandment about motivation and attitude: "Thou shalt not covet." You see, what the Lord taught in the Sermon on the Mount was really the same thing he had taught Moses and the people of Israel centuries earlier by the tenth Commandment.

Is the burden of the Law really easier for us? Well, yes and no. Yes, because we do not have all those many regulations. But, no, because something is happening that is deeper. The nature of the New Covenant, as Jeremiah foretold, is that the Law of God it is written on the heart, and this is the work of the Holy Spirit, who has been active in the Church since the Day of Pentecost. He is the invisible Presence among us that shapes our hearts and minds, which is why true believers inevitably know many things and think alike, that is, with the mind of Christ. But, it may be easier for being less burdensome; it is a closer and more deeply felt reality because it is engraved on the conscience, written on the heart. But, Jeremiah also tells us that the New Covenant comes with the forgiveness of sins, and the promise that we will each one know God.

The same Lord who seemed to make the Law impossible to keep was the one so gracious that He fed the multitude with the loaves and fishes, a miracle of feeding them in the wilderness. He was so gracious that He went on to say that He would give His very self, His flesh for the life of the world. He would be for us the food and drink of eternal life, a saying so hard for many that they never walked with Him again, even after seeing His power and the miracles he worked.

Well, Jesus did not merely seem to make the law impossible. In the Sermon on the Mount He was telling us, in fact, that we are sinners.; that the Law is impossible for us to keep perfectly, and it is our schoolmaster. Moses was in diagnostics, and our Lord is the healer. The stone tablets of the Law are too heavy for us to carry. But, instead of coming to destroy us, the Son of God came to save us.

I described for you the first heresy. That heresy was described in the Book of Acts, and it is answered in that same book. It is answered very thoroughly in the Epistle to the Galatians. Often this can be misunderstood. As should be obvious by now, Paul was not finding fault with the Law. Rather he was pointing out that it cannot save you; indeed, it was never meant to save you. The weakness is in the flesh, not in the Law of God. The way that he uses that word, "flesh," is to speak of the weakness inflicted on our nature by sin and death.

In a very real way, the first heresy was repeated in the fourth century by Britain's first heretic, Palagius. He taught that there is no such thing as "Original Sin," and that we can save ourselves just by the mere strength of human effort. We could make ourselves holy without the grace of God. It takes sheer will power, said Palagius. But, this burden is intolerable, to carry all that heavy weight without grace from the Holy Spirit, and all those wonderful promises of the New Covenant.

The feeding of the multitude in the wilderness shows us the goodness of God. This too was a place of weakness, where the people would become too hungry to go on, and would faint. Our condition, weakened by sin and death, is hopeless without grace. The Lord gave them the bread in the wilderness, showing that what Moses had given by the miraculous Manna, was a picture. That bread, and the bread of Christ's miracle, were there to teach them that they must feed on Christ to live forever.

Every day we all break the Law in many ways. Even with the grace of God, we still live also in the weakness of a fallen nature subject to death. Sinful thoughts and attitudes, with words and deeds, come from us all the time. And yet, even now in this weakened state, the Lord gives Himself to us in his Body and his Blood. Even as we live in this fallen state, we also receive His grace each day. When the people were weak through hunger, He fed them by means of a miracle.

He established the New Covenant, mentioning it the night in which He was betrayed, before completing the painful task later that night and most of the next day. He was sold by a friend, delivered to the Gentiles, tried, mocked, scourged, crucified dead and buried. So He took away the sins of the world. Then He rose the third day and appeared to witnesses. The Law diagnosed our need, and Jesus healed us. He has carried the full weight for us.

1. Jeremiah 31:31-34
2. Romans 7:12

Monday, March 24, 2014

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Third Sunday in Lent

Ephesians 5:1-14 * Luke 11:14-28

He that is not with me is against me: and he that gathereth not with me scattereth.

These words of Jesus are the most essential part of today’s readings. Both the Epistle and the Gospel readings appointed for today are summed up in these words. Both of the readings are very much about spiritual warfare. Saint Paul writes to remind us of God’s moral laws, the difference between light and darkness, and that we must live in the light and walk in the Spirit. Jesus spoke about the very real activity of a defeated enemy, but one who is allowed to operate for yet a while longer. At the center are these radical words:

He that is not with me is against me: and he that gathereth not with me scattereth.

That is what it all boils down to. That is where it all begins and ends.
          We hear a lot about things that simply do not matter compared to this. If the things we do hear about and think about really stem from the radical commitment to Christ to which he calls us in these words, and lead back to it, then they have a serious claim to our consideration. Otherwise, we need to adjust our priorities.
Christian people may live their faith in Roman Catholic terms, Eastern Orthodox terms, Lutheran terms, Calvinist terms, Baptist terms, etc. For me, the Anglican Catholic Church offers the best way I know of to be committed to the Lord Jesus Christ. It cannot be less than that. I am not here because of anything less than my belief that it is here that I find the best way to be committed to the Lord Himself. For others, it should be no less true.
          Some lay members of the Roman Catholic Church (if you will indulge me for a moment), including my in-laws, have a habit of speaking that really bothers me. Even when they know you are a Christian, they ask, “what religion are you?” They mean what denomination or affiliation. First and foremost, I am a Christian as they also are. Furthermore, not only is that my religion; it is my life. But, among the world’s religions, Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, Islam, and so on, I am a Christian.
          Now, if my commitment is first and foremost to being whatever my family is, whatever my parents and grandparents have been, whatever my ethnicity tends to favor, etc., then today’s readings are practically meaningless. The reality of spiritual warfare and the call to walk in the light as God’s children, is not some formal matter of family heritage and whatever club that places me in. It is not about external things either.
The western culture of today has lost all sight of morality. Many parents today, excluding those present, do not take their children to church. They do not teach them right from wrong by the eternal and unchanging standards of God’s commandments. They do not prepare them for life with the strength and tools it takes to live by the true and unchanging code of genuine morality: The commandments of God. But, is it any better to raise children in a church that never teaches them to follow Christ, or that treats Christian faith as nothing more than merely a social affair?
Forty percent of American children are born out of wedlock, or so reported the Washington Times in July 2009. The whole notion that children should be taught to wait until marriage is laughed at and scorned. A clergyman who makes any mention of God’s moral laws in a sermon might have to contend with the so-called faithful in his own congregation, as I found out years ago in Arizona. Because the times have changed, we are supposed to assume that God Almighty, who has revealed that He never changes, has nonetheless changed with the times. We are supposed to just accept things the way they are.
          I am reminded of other words by St. Paul:

“This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, Without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, Traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away.” (II Tim. 3:1-5)

A form of godliness that denies the power of its own message and grace, that denies the reality of the power that God imparts by grace, may be somebody’s idea of a religion, or of a church. It may include the best architecture, the most impressive people by worldly standards, good music, fine art, and all those other things. In fact, that is exactly the case in many a church that has turned its back on God.
But, the Scriptures we read today call us to overcome a very real spiritual enemy, a defeated but active foe who has power only to the extent that we believe his lies. For without deception, the devil has no power. The Scriptures we read also call us to overcome the enemy within, the fallen nature that is inclined toward sin, that sympathizes with all that is deadly and destructive. A half-hearted commitment based on one’s own idea of nice religion is not going to provide any genuine motive for engaging in that battle.
For Anglicans, the perfect church according to taste, whether that means just high enough, just low enough, or not too much of either, needs to become a lower priority than it often proves to be (and I am not talking about compromising theological principles, but about less emphasis on personal taste). The simple fact is, right now we need each other’s faith in an ongoing battle to do away with every good thing we have, above all, the call to gather with Christ.

“And it came to pass, as he spake these things, a certain woman of the company lifted up her voice, and said unto him, Blessed is the womb that bare thee, and the paps which thou hast sucked. But he said, Yea rather, blessed are they that hear the word of God, and keep it.”

Jesus did not respond this way to the woman as a reproof, and certainly not to dishonor His mother whom she had blessed. He was, rather, drawing the attention from things of this earth to God. He is calling us to “hear the word of God and keep it.”
Now, in the Gospel we preach, God has revealed the commitment He has to us. Jesus bore the cross of suffering and death, and with His own blood redeemed us to God, buying us back from sin and death. The risen Christ commands our commitment both as the God who formed us from the dust of the earth, and as the perfect Man who died for us. As God the Word He commands your commitment by His eternal and infinite power. As the perfect Man, He appeals to your hearts to return the commitment He has demonstrated. As your Creator He requires your commitment by right. As your Redeemer He has purchased it at great cost.
            Unless we gather with Christ Himself, the words of St. Paul that urge us to walk as children of God (not as in childhood, but as God’s sons and daughters), to live holy lives and to avoid the occasion of sin, might come across as boring clichés. They would fall flat without any power to convict the heart. They would be no more compelling than the saying of Mammy Yokum: “Good is better than bad because it’s nicer.” Who needs it?  Unless we gather with Christ Himself, all His talk about spiritual warfare and driving out the power of evil becomes meaningless to us. For God delivers us from our enemies; but, He does not deliver us from our friends. If we make friends with evil, we will find ourselves destroyed by it.

Walk as children of light: (for the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness and righteousness and truth;) proving what is acceptable unto the Lord. And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them.”

St. Paul’s words fall flat unless we are motivated by genuine faith and a radical commitment to the Lord Himself. Otherwise, they are just rules; “and rules” we like to tell ourselves, “are meant to be broken.” But, Paul is not writing this to people who lack the motivation of true faith. It is more than rules for the sake of rules. It is instruction on how to live for those who really are committed to Christ, and who want to know how to live out that commitment.
          And, Christ’s words that instruct us to clutter our lives with the glorious clutter of true faith (not having our houses “swept and garnished” for the comfort of unclean spirits), above all to “hear the word of God and keep it,” offer only a passing interest to many people. They do not hold the attention of anyone whose form of godliness denies the power thereof.

He that is not with me is against me: and he that gathereth not with me scattereth.

Friday, March 21, 2014

March 21, Thomas Cranmer

Click on the picture for an article posted last year, written by Archbishop Peter Robinson

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Second Sunday in Lent

(A rerun)

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

Friday, March 07, 2014

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 quais-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, will never understand the portion of the Gospel according to Matthew that we read this first Sunday in Lent. Like Pelagius of old, his modern followers 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 Gospel is this: "For 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.
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 gives, 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 which no sinner could make either for himself or as a ransom for his brother (as we see in Psalm 49:6,7). The will of God foretold by the Prophets, that Christ rose again on third day, was for our sakes; by His resurrection He meets our greatest need, the gift of eternal life to save us from the full power of the grave. With mighty signs and wonders He went about "doing good, healing all who were oppressed by the Devil."7 But, here, in the desert wilderness after forty days of fasting, He was tempted by the Devil to use miraculous power for Himself. But, that creative power had only 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 misstated.
This temptation was to place the word of God on trial, and to do so 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 when he comes in His kingdom 8. When He comes again in glory, this will happen, and will happen in a way far beyond our present ability to perceive. Understand the nature of this temptation for what it was: This temptation was to avoid the cross. That is why we see this echoed in Christ's words to his own Apostle Peter. Remember one day, as we read later on in the Gospel According to St. Matthew, 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 was 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 also all other 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. And, beyond the obvious, read the fifth chapter of St. Paul's Epistle to the Galatians about "the works of the flesh" that are the opposite of "the fruit of the Spirit." It includes as sins, works of the flesh, occult observance and heresy, and other things.

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 already in the Law of Moses, in the tenth Commandment: "Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's wife, etc."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 impossible satisfaction. As the writer to the Hebrews put it, "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. It never satisfies, and indeed, each drink of the seawater (that is, saltwater) only makes one thirstier and thirstier, leading to death by dehydration, and only after madness.         

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. Pride neither bears a cross behind the Lord, nor accepts the grace given through Christ’s cross.

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, March 05, 2014

Remember O Man

In its emphasis on mortality and guilt, Ash Wednesday offers a two-fold remedy to what ails society. That is, to what ails society because of the prevalent deception that is in the air, and is, like most unthought-out yet strongly held opinions, caught like a virus. Only someone with a Christian mind understands why the thought of our death and our guilt brings comfort. But then, this also suggests why only the Christian can, in the end, be truly happy...Read more at this link:

A plea to my fellow clergy on Ash Wednesday

Dear brothers, I know that the altar Missal, used by so many Continuing Anglicans, has many blessings of the ashes, and for many it seems like the way to start the service (though I simply cannot say, "We who here make atonement..." No we don't! Even the RCs don't translate the Latin that way. Christ made the One and Only Atonement). Well, bless the ashes as many times as you want, though I think once is enough, and doesn't tire out your congregation. That's just my opinion.

But, whatever you do or don't do, for Heaven's sake use A PENITENTIAL OFFICE FOR ASH WEDNESDAY. In the American Book of Common Prayer it begins on page 60. It actually gives the congregation a way to pray that is designed for just this very day. They get to join in and pray, and enter into the spirit of Lent, something that helps meet their true need.

Well there you have my two cents worth; a radical idea indeed, actually using the Book of Common Prayer and letting the people pray along. Try it, you'll like it.

Saturday, March 01, 2014