Saturday, October 25, 2014

Nineteenth Sunday after Trinity

Ephesians 4:17-32   *  Matthew 9:1-8
THIS I say therefore, and testify in the Lord, that ye henceforth walk not as other Gentiles walk, in the vanity of their mind, having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them…

Saint Paul’s exhortation to the Church in Ephesus specifically told them not to live by the same standards as other Gentiles, that is, non-Jews; in this case that means people who are not Christians either. He was telling them not to live like the people around them, and he mentions Gentiles specifically because, as the text says, of “The ignorance that is in them.” In other words, having no knowledge of God’s commandments, they live by a different standard than God’s people, who are commanded to be holy. Remember how Jesus spoke of the Gentiles in the Sermon on the Mount. Gentiles are people that no disciple of His should emulate. In the Sermon on the Mount He mentions the Gentiles in terms of their unbelief.

In the Book of Esther, the evil Haman tells the king that all of the Jews should be killed. “And Haman said unto king Ahasuerus, ‘There is a certain people scattered abroad and dispersed among the people in all the provinces of thy kingdom; and their laws are diverse from all people; neither keep they the king's laws: therefore it is not for the king's profit to suffer them (Esther 3:8).’” He gave as his reason for having the Jews exterminated, that they lived by a different set of laws. We know that to be God’s commandments.

Increasingly, we are living in a society that resembles that kind of Gentile world; that is, like the days of Esther, and like the days of the earliest Christians, we find ourselves among a people who simply do not know God’s commandments. They do not teach their children to live by God’s commandments. A lot of that ignorance is due to the fact that God’s law has been forgotten by some, rejected by others, and in either case, it is not passed on to new generations. Neither are they pagans. Pagans worship their gods. But the modern Gentiles (if I may use that word in the way St. Paul used it, and frankly in the way Jesus Himself used it) in America do not sacrifice to any gods. Many of them are in what passes for Christians churches. In fact, we can expect, now that some activist judge has struck down Amendment One to the North Carolina State Constitution, that the Episcopal parishes in this very town will be conducting what they call “Same Sex Weddings.” Perhaps, for St. Benedict’s, that might bring us new members from people in the Episcopal “Church” who suddenly wake up and discover that they have been sleeping behind enemy lines.

We do not have the right to lower our standards in order to keep up with the world and its ways. We are commanded to be holy all throughout both testaments. But, many nominal Christians have accepted the world’s standards over God’s commandments. They live, frankly, like the Gentiles. They have sexual relations outside of marriage. They consider options such as abortion (which is murder, plain and simple). They promote what they foolishly call “Marriage equality.” How are they any different from the unbelieving people around them? 

But ye have not so learned Christ; if so be that ye have heard him, and have been taught by him, as the truth is in Jesus: that ye put off concerning the former conversation the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness. 

We live in a time and place in which people are obsessed with how they feel. The belief they express is that the truly kind thing to do is always to make people happy and consider their feelings. The modern idea of ethical behavior is to feel good and make others feel good. I am glad surgeons do not live by that code. Neither can we if it means affirming people in their sins so that we may be, as they call it, “inclusive.”

The kindest thing for a doctor to do may seem cruel. He might have to tell someone bad news about a diagnosis. He may have to say that unless the patient changes his habits, he will surely die, or suffer a stroke, or something equally unpleasant. Jesus, as the Great Physician, came to call sinners to repentance (Mark 2:17). Repentance, a true change of mind, μετνοια (metanoia), is the prescription. Without that medicine, the prognosis is very grim.

No one enters the Kingdom of God on his own terms. One can enter the Kingdom of God only on God’s terms. My charge is to teach and preach the truth faithfully, not to offer my opinions – not even to offer good opinions. My charge is to preach the word of the Lord. Somehow, people have come to the erroneous conclusion that God changes His mind, and that true morality is a matter of fashion. Don’t believe it. God does not care about what is fashionable, but about what is true and right. It is not consistent with God’s love to enable people in their own self-destruction.

In the Gospel reading we heard, Jesus did not approve the man’s sins. He did not affirm him in whatever lifestyle choices he might make. He did forgive the man, which is very different. He saw their faith (that is the faith of the man “sick of the palsy” and his friends). Faith cannot live side by side with willful sin. Their faith was more than intellectual assent. They went to a lot of trouble to make an opening in the thatched roof, and lower the stretcher with their paralyzed friend lying on it. They worked hard to get him to Jesus. They went to great effort, and it was worth every bit of it. The healing was a sign of forgiveness. The forgiveness was given at no cost to the formerly paralyzed man, for Jesus Himself would pay the full price for all human sin on the cross. The Lord’s words and actions were kind; they were what the man needed.

Love tends to people’s needs; but it may not always tend to their feelings. Indeed, love, which rejoices in the truth (I Corinthians 13:6), cannot affirm a lie. “Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law (Romans 13:10).” I haven’t always made everybody happy, and sometimes have had to tell people the very opposite of what they wanted to hear. A truly loving person always means well, and often might have to suffer for it. Not everyone welcomes the truth. Jesus did good for people, and the world assigned Him the cross for it.

Like the days of Esther, and like the days of the earliest Christians, we should be prepared for persecution. Our laws are different from the fashionable and changing mores of the Gentiles. Like “Hebrew National” hotdogs, we answer to a Higher Authority. The times are changing, as times always do. Things that were unthinkable yesterday are treated as normal and are accepted today. Tomorrow will they be required?

I told you last week about the ordained ministers in Idaho who have been told that they face jail time and fines for refusing to perform a same sex “wedding” in their chapel. I don’t know how intolerant our society may have become by the end of next year. The power of the state has been brought to bear on dissent, even the kind of dissent that was clearly guaranteed in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Some judges in the courts have proven that they are quite willing to make unlawful rulings that can be upheld by nothing more than the raw exercise of power. What can be done in the face of lawless judges? “If the foundations be destroyed, what can the righteous do?” asked the Psalmist (Psalm 11:3). That is not a fatalist question; it is a real question. The answer is, if necessary, endure persecution for refusing to call good evil, and evil good (Isaiah 5:20).

I have written about this in Touchstone before: I have had people come to me because they wanted to have a church wedding, and I mean a genuine couple (a guy and a gal), and I couldn’t do what they asked of me. These days too many members of the clergy fail to set a proper standard. I have a rule I live by. I will not marry any couple unless they promise me that they will abstain from sexual relations until the wedding night – no matter what may have gone on before. Do they want a Christian marriage, or do they simply want to place a legal stamp on fornication? “Oh, but if they’re truly in love…” If they’re truly in love they can wait until the wedding night.

I tell you this because nobody has ever presumed that clergy may be ordered to marry anybody. I was in an elevator in Baltimore several years ago, not wearing my collar. The building was full of legal offices. A man and his attorney got on the elevator on a certain floor. They were in the middle of a conversation. The lawyer was telling his client, “These days you just have to have a ‘prenup’ (that’s a signed and sealed Prenuptial Agreement).” His client was shaking his head. The lawyer turned to me, a stranger, and asked, “Hey you agree don’t you? These days people getting married need a ‘Prenup?’” I answered, “I am a priest, and if a couple came to me with a Prenuptial Agreement, in case they decide to divorce, I would refuse to marry them unless they tore it up.” The lawyer’s client liked my answer, but the lawyer didn’t (A good attorney never asks a question without knowing the answer – right?).

As a priest I can use my own discretion, so that I never violate my conscience by performing a wedding that is not entered into with a true Christian understanding. But, in the People’s Republic of Idaho, ordained ministers can be ordered, apparently, to marry a same sex couple or go to jail and pay outrageous fines. The word “discrimination” gets a lot of mileage. So far it’s a wedding chapel, but it is still a chapel, not a secular business or a courthouse. By next year will ministers in the U.S face the same thing in parish churches? Can it happen in North Carolina? What persecution might we face, as time goes by and things get muddier, because we are resolved firmly to obey God rather than men (Acts 5:29)?

Indeed, we are so resolved. I am so resolved. If faced with jail, fines or even death, I will not deny Christ before the world. By his grace I will confess Him before men, and that both by word and deed (Matthew 10:32,33). I will never deny Christ in order to obey the state, for to do so is to receive the mark of the Beast. Caesar has only a limited claim to what we may render him; we will render unto God the things that are God’s (Matthew 22:21). If we are to be people who “put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness,” than we cannot render our consciences unto Caesar; but only unto God. Nor can we alter our convictions to accommodate the changing moral fashions of the Gentiles. They do what they do because of ignorance and darkness. But we must walk in the light.                                                              

Friday, October 10, 2014

Saturday, October 04, 2014

Sixteenth Sunday after Trinty

Eph. 3:13-21 * Luke 7:11-17

And there came a fear on all: and they glorified God, saying, That a great prophet is risen up among us; and, That God hath visited his people.

The people's reaction to this miracle, Jesus raising the dead man back to this mortal life (unlike His own resurrection to follow), has behind it the great Tradition of the Old Testament. The prophets spoke the word of God with power, power that changed things, such as Moses rolling back the waters of the Red Sea, or Elijah bringing down fire from Heaven to turn the hearts of the disobedient back again. 1 The word of God came with such power as we see in the opening of Genesis, where all creation comes alive when God says, "let there be light." The word of God comes with power, miraculous power. The word of God, in the mouth of a prophet, is powerful. 2

The word for "power" in the Greek New Testament, that is also translated as "might" (as in "mighty") in today's Epistle, is a word always associated with miracles. It is δ
ναμις (dynamis), from which we get the word "dynamic." The New Testament reveals that the Christian life is the life of power that comes from the Holy Spirit. It is a supernatural life that does not depend on mere human strength. It is the life of the Risen Christ imparted to us from the Holy Spirit by our baptism into Christ 3 and to which we have access only by faith. This power converts our hearts to faith and obedience, and brings us to the knowledge of God. The word of God proclaimed in the Gospel contains this supernatural power of the Holy Spirit within it, because whenever and wherever the Gospel is proclaimed the Holy Spirit speaks to the hearts of believers and unbelievers alike, 4 creating faith in unbelieving hearts as he convicts the world. 5

We can approach this life in different ways. Today's Epistle tells us, as believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, how we ought to approach this life, living here and now the life that draws its power from the life of the Risen Christ, and that is breathed within us by the Holy Spirit. Look at those powerful words of St. Paul, and ask yourself, honestly, if you find them meaningful, or completely hidden to you.

...that he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might (δ
ναμις) by his Spirit in the inner man; that Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; and to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fullness of God.

Is that how you approach each day? Do you begin your day in prayer, asking for this to be your experience throughout the day? Do you hear these words as hollow and meaningless, or do they entice you, in a good and healthy way, to know God better?

I do not mean to create the impression of a life that is always full of some kind of emotional high, nor do I underestimate the necessary times of dryness that mystics call "the dark night of the soul." The life of faith faces the same setbacks and fears that affect all people everywhere. But, the life of faith perseveres, and is not overcome by this world, because Christ Himself, the Risen and Glorified Lord, is its source, its goal and its hope. Only the Holy Spirit can give you this life, because it is not a man made commodity.

It begins each day by the honest recognition that we have sinned, and have not earned some right to know God. It begins in the honest light of humility that confesses, repents and asks forgiveness. The life of faith means that you receive that forgiveness because you understand that Christ has paid the full price for all your sins, that he did this when He poured out His soul unto death for you on the cross, 6 and that through Him the Father welcomes you into His presence, fully justified because you are in Christ. Because you know this, by faith, you dare to ask for the grace of God that is brought to you by the Holy Spirit, and for the power to live in that grace. be strengthened with might (δ
ναμις) by his Spirit in the inner man; that Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith...

Because of this power and grace from the Holy Spirit, that God gives you breath by breath as you live in your own daily reality, you can love your neighbor with the love of God, even when your own power fails.

...that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height...

You can give the love of Christ freely, because, freely, it has been given to you. 7

...and to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fullness of God.

The life of faith is simple but not easy. It is powerful, but known only in weakness. St. Paul wrote to the Church in Corinth:

And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure. For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me. And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 8

What is the weakness in which Christ's power is made perfect in our own experience? It is when we have come to the end of our own power, and learn that we need His power. It is why I remind you, on the First Sunday after Trinity, that it is harder by far to love thy neighbor than it is to love some big impersonal thing we call "mankind." Our own weakness is evident in many ways, as it was for Peter, James and John who fell asleep, though they really had intended to watch with Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane. We know we ought not to fear death as others do, but we cannot live without some fear of it from time to time. We cannot forgive others as God forgives us, that is, we cannot forgive when we rely on the power of our emotions. I could go on and on, for there is much we cannot do.

The life we live is the life of faith, and it is the sacramental life.

When you approach God today it is with thanksgiving, hearing His word, confession of sin, receiving His forgiveness, and then actually partaking of the Food and Drink of Eternal Life by taking and eating, and by drinking, Christ's own Body and Blood as He gives Himself in the sacrament. You need His grace, and ought to avail yourself of every means of grace. Seeing this need for what it is, requires the honest evaluation of humility. You need what He gives. He gives Himself; as he gave Himself on the cross, he gives Himself through every means He has established, and by faith you receive Him. That is what His grace is--it is His own presence and power here and now.

But, beware of what St. Paul described in words he wrote to St. Timothy about some

...having a form of godliness, but denying the power (δ
ναμις) thereof: from such turn away.

I hope that none of you think of this time spent in church as merely "a little religion" to distract you from real life. Real life is here, and real life is in Christ. The world offers many distractions, and those are the fantasy, the things that pass away. Eternity is forever (as much as that may sound like a Yogi Berra-ism). St. John said it better:

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. 10

You may approach the Christian life merely as religious duty, concerning which you have little conviction, about which you think, "let's not get carried away." You may think it enough to give God one hour each week (which is never a time limit we set on a service!), but then to live the rest of your time assuming that He will be satisfied with that, as if you gave Him something that He needed. God does not need an hour from you once a week, and He does not need a bit of your money, or a few hours from you on Holy Days. He does not need anything from you, and you cannot give Him anything.

You need
You, however, need to give God as much attention as you can. You need to give what you can. You need to come here, you need to pray each day wherever you are, you need to hear His word (to read it), and you need to take the sacraments He offers. You need to obey His voice, and you need faith that is present moment by moment, day by day. The power that you need is a gift that is given, and that you need to receive every hour of your life. Do not hold a mere form of godliness if you are going to go out of here to deny the power thereof.


know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fullness of God.

1. That is, to the fathers, or to the wisdom of the just; cp. I Kings 18:37, Malachi 4:5,6 & Luke 1:17
2. cp. Jer. 15: 19 & Isaiah 55:11
3. Romans 6:1f
4. "For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek." Romans 1:16
5. John 16:8
6. Isaiah 53:12
7. Matt. 10:8
8. II Cor. 12:7-9
9. II Tim. 3:5
10. I John 2:15-17

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Laymen's Guide to the Thirty-Nine Articles Article 30 - Of Both Kinds

Article XXX

Of Both Kinds

The Cup of the Lord is not to be denied to the Lay-people: for both the parts of the Lord's Sacrament, by Christ's ordinance and commandment, ought to be ministered to all Christian men alike.
De Utraque Specie
Calix Domini laicis non est denegandus, utraque enim pars Dominici sacramenti, ex Christi institutione et praecepto, omnibus Christianis ex aequo administrari debet.

Archbishop Peter Robinson

Article 30 is one of the simplest of the Articles of Religion. The Cup had gradually been withdrawn from the laity for pragmatic reasons during the Dark Ages. The usual reasoning being to prevent the "irreverence" arising from long mustaches dangling in the chalice. Whilst this may have been a legitimate concern, it still went against what Jesus instructed His disciples to do, which is to eat and drink in amnesis of Him.

The issue of the Cup had been raised a little over a hundred and twenty-five years previously by the Hussites or Bohemian Brethren, who demanded the restoration of the Cup to the laity and practiced it in their own congregations. It was among the concessions the Papacy was prepared to make in order to end the Hussite schism, but it was to be another 500 years before they would grant permission for the laity throughout the Latin Rite to 'drink of that Cup' as our Lord commanded. Even then, the Vatican II Council gives only conditional permission for the laity to receive the Cup.

The other element stresses the priesthood of all believers in that it says that the Cup ought to be administered 'to all Christian men alike.' Anglicanism shares with Lutheranism a very strong sense of both the priesthood of all believers, and also of the need for a ministry of Word and Sacrament set apart by prayer and the laying on of hands. Both are strictly Scriptural. Unlike the Roman Church we do not believe that ordination makes an ontological change in a person, but rather sets apart a man to certain functions - the administration of the sacraments and the preaching of the Word.

Fr. Robert Hart

In English speaking countries the Roman Catholic Church uses modern language translations of the Mass. They come to the words of the Lord about the cup, "Drink this all of you." The use of the vernacular instead of Latin may be one of the reasons that they began offering the chalice to laity. 

But, in some places they still refuse the chalice to laity, as if ignoring the very words of Jesus. The doctrine of concomitance is the rationale. That Roman Catholic doctrine teaches that the whole Christ is present under each separate Eucharistic species. Therefore, they teach, the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ are present fully in each of the consecrated elements. Many Anglicans have accepted this same doctrine, but they apply it in practice only to the reserve sacrament that they carry out of the church to those who are sick or otherwise unable to come. 

It is not my purpose here to argue either for or against concomitance. I will say only that it is not based on any revelation taught in Scripture, so I cannot simply affirm it as dogma. The issue here is one of the Church obeying her Lord. Reading the words of Jesus as translated into plain English, and then refusing the chalice to the laity, is a clear example of why it is difficult, indeed, to ascribe much good to Newman's Theory of Doctrinal Development. Based on a scholastic bit of reasoning, developed by human reason to the status of revealed dogma, the word of the Lord is set aside. I am not disputing the doctrine, but merely pointing out that it is used as a rationale for open disobedience to the very words of Christ, something no one has the authority to do.

In our Prayer Book Holy Communion we use older English: "Drink ye all of this." The problem with that is the way it sounds to modern ears. As a child I thought it meant to drink it all, and waste none of it. I did not understand that "ye all" meant "all of you" - like the quaint Southern  expression, "y'all." When I celebrate I try to make the actual meaning come across to modern ears, even Northern ears, which requires seeing two commas where they really were not placed. Thus, when I am at the altar it comes out, "Drink, ye all, of this." I have had people comment that they finally got it.

Aside from simply obeying the Lord, some have speculated that each element, once consecrated, imparts a specific grace. This idea was at least mentioned by E.J. Bicknell in his excellent book about the Thirty-Nine Articles. Our Prayer of Humble Access contains words that can reflect an old idea that the Body of Christ cleanses our sinful bodies, and His blood washes clean our souls, as separate actions. The actual words in the Prayer are fine when interpreted along different lines, such as remembering that by the Risen Body of Christ, our own bodies will rise free from the uncleanness of death, etc. Nonetheless, the idea of separate operations of grace is purely speculative at best. It cannot be proved by Scripture, and has not been taught by most of the Church.

Personally, I prefer the idea of concomitance over that idea, or rather, I prefer something to the effect that the communicant receives the fullness of God's grace through faith while receiving the sacrament. I have had a young man kneel at my altar rail, willing only to drink from the chalice, but not to eat. For medical reasons, he must not consume wheat. I cannot imagine God withholding any grace from him on that basis. In addition, it is clear that a preoccupation with trying to understand how God through the sacrament imparts grace (which is not understandable with the mere human mind) distracts us, all too often, from remembering the Lord's sacrifice as we partake of His covenant supper together as the Church.

In the final analysis, however, to withhold the chalice from the laity, when present at the actual celebration of the Eucharist, is simple disobedience to Christ Himself. It flatly contradicts His clear instruction. And, as I said, that is something no one has the authority to do.