Thursday, November 20, 2014

From the upcoming Newsletter of St. Benedict's

I decided to share these thoughts with readers of The Continuum.

Advent Christmas Epiphany 2014-15
From the Rector’s Desk
Every year, at this time, I am acutely aware of the difference between how the commercial world views this season, and how we should view it. To the department stores and shopping malls “Christmas” runs from – what? Maybe the fourth of July? - until December 25, when they are grudgingly forced to close for a whole day. They think it is all over at 12:01 AM December 26. Suddenly, when the twelve-day season of Christmas is just beginning, they have ended their season. Some stores advertise what they now call “the twelve days of Christmas,” by which they mean the last twelve days of Advent, the “shopping days” leading up to the unfortunate day in which they cannot make anymore money.
But to us, the twelve days of Christmas begin with the Feast of the Nativity on December 25, and end just in time for the Feast of the Epiphany on January 6. Beginning, this year, on November 30, we enter the season of Advent, beginning a new church year.
Now, I say all this because the world has converted our holy days and liturgical seasons into something unrecognizable, and the secular “Christmas” has a way of applying pressure of its own that can, if we let it, drown out the true meaning for us. To some degree that is unavoidable; so just remember not to let it spoil your joy in Christ. To those who will be celebrating His Nativity on the day we call Christmas (Christ Mass), a blessed, holy and merry Christmas. To those who do not, well…May they have a nice December 25.

Daily Office

As we enter Advent, the beginning of the church year, a penitential season, you might want to begin using, if you have not already begun, the practice of Daily Morning and Evening Prayer. The season opens with Messianic words of the Prophet Isaiah, included in the scheduled readings from the Bible. This marvelous Rule (Regula) of Life is one of the great gifts of our Anglican heritage in the Book of Common Prayer. I will be glad to help any of you who want to practice it, and who may have questions about how to use the Book of Common Prayer. 

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Twenty-second Sunday after Trinity

I want to add only one thing to my sermon at this link. In our modern culture we are made to feel inordinately bound to our emotions and feelings. People often say, "I only hope I can find it in my heart to forgive..." (by "heart" in modern culture, meaning emotion, unlike the way Jesus used the word) or, worse, "I can never forgive..." But, in point of fact, forgiveness is a decision, and it is not dependent on emotion. However, if you need help battling bitter feelings, than act on some very practical wisdom (as commanded). "But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust (Matt. 5:44,45)." What applies to present mistreatment applies to past wrongs. It is very difficult to resent someone for whom you are praying.

Saturday, November 08, 2014

Laymen's Guide to the Thirty-Nine Articles Article 31 - Of the oneOblation of Christ finished upon the Cross.

The offering of Christ once made is that perfect redemption, propitiation, and satisfaction, for all the sins of the whole world, both original and actual; and there is none other satisfaction for sin, but that alone. Wherefore, the sacrifices of Masses, in the which it was commonly said, that the Priest did offer Christ for the quick and the dead, to have remission of pain or guilt, were blasphemous fables, and dangerous deceits.

De unica Christi oblatione in Cruce perfecta

Oblatio Christi, semel facta, perfecta est redemptio, propitiatio, et satisfactio pro omnibus peccatis totius mundi, tam originalibus quam actualibus; neque praeter illam unicam est ulla alia prop peccatis expiatio. Unde missarum sacrificia, quibus vulgo dicebatur sacerdotem offerre Christum in remissionem poenae aut culpae pro vivis defunctis, blasphema figmenta sunt et pernitiosae imposturae.

Archbishop Peter Robinson
Article 31 takes aim at two favourite targets of the Reformers; popular misconceptions concerning the Church's teaching on the Mass, and the notion that anything can be added to what the Book of Common Prayer refers to as his 'one oblation once offered.' However, it should be noted that the Article is quite narrow in its focus and does not condemn the notion that the Lord's Supper is a feast upon the one true sacrifice, but that of the "sacrifices of masses."

In crude terms, popular piety had, from the early Middles Ages onwards, had a nasty tendency to treat the Eucharist not so much as an amnesis of Christ's saving work, but as a particularly powerful form of magic. Local councils had to ban practices such as offering Mass to procure the death of an enemy in order to preserve some sort of Christian decency to the use of the Sacrament, but this same impulse finds a new outlet in later centuries in the cult of the dead.

From the 1200s onward, it had been an increasingly common practice for men and women to leave money to pay for Masses to be offered to ease the passage of their souls through Purgatory. Many of these Chantry bequests were for a given number of years, others were suppose to be perpetual, which in the case of England ended in 1545 when Henry VIII - who you will remember was no Protestant - ended the practice. Well, ended it apart from the royal chantries at St George's Chapel, Windsor! Lurking at the back of these chantry bequests was a notion akin to the idea that each Mass had a definite value in terms of both remitting actual sin, and also taking time off Purgatory. For this reason, the Article focuses on this rather crude and simplistic understanding of Eucharistic sacrifice, rightly describing the notion that the Eucharistic sacrifice is a piece of "magic" or spiritual currency with which God can be appeased or bargained with as a blasphemous fable.

However, I would be doing you a disservice if I did not point out that the Article only condemns the idea that each Mass is individually a sacrifice with a definite propitiatory value. This leaves other understandings of 'Eucharistic Sacrifice' open to us.

Firstly, there is the idea of the Mass as being a commemoration of Christ's one true sacrifice upon the Cross. However, the NT Greek conception of commemoration is not so much one of remembering a past event which remains firmly in the past, but one of bringing the past into the present. This implies, very firmly, that when the Eucharist is offered, there is a sense in which we step out of time into the eternal where the one sacrifice of Christ is an ever present reality.

Secondly, we have to consider that offering of 'ourselves, our souls and bodies, to be a reasonable, holy and lively sacrifice unto thee." This offering of ourselves to God through the Eucharist should serve as a reminder to us that Christ's wonderful mercy towards us in His sacrifice requires a meaningful response from us - dedicating ourselves in a sacrificial way to God's praise and service.                     
  Thirdly, there is the sacrifice of thanksgiving, from which the secondary name for the Communion Service - 'Eucharist' - derives. This idea of giving thanks by celebrating the Eucharist is one of the oldest ideas in Eucharistic theology, and can be seen in the 'gave thanks' clause in the words of Institution. Although this directly refers to the Jewish blessing of bread and wine, which Our Lord took and reinterpreted when He instituted the sacrament, it also indicated the importance of thanksgiving element to the Eucharist. The phrase 'sacrificium laudes' occurs many times in the Early Fathers when they discuss the Mass.

We can see from the above considerations that the Reformers were far from ruling out the notion of sacrifice altogether, but they were very careful in how they define the concept as it relates to the Eucharist. It is quite clear that there is no Christian sacrifice than that of Christ upon the Cross, and that the Mass is not a sacramental re-enactment of Calvary, but they do accept that it both a living memorial of the one true sacrifice, a sacrifice of our service to God through Christ Jesus, and also a sacrifice of our thanksgiving for Christ's saving work.

Fr. Robert Hart
The double plural in "sacrifices of Masses" has been explained above by Archbishop Robinson. Frankly, what the Article condemns is not Catholic teaching, and yes, not the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church in this day and age. What it was was a corrupt practice that grew in use during the Medieval era. In truth, we can say that there is only one Eucharistic sacrifice, no matter how many times it is celebrated.

Let us now turn to the theology of Christ's one sufficient sacrifice. The scriptures attest to it clearly.

"Christ is not entered into the holy places made with hands, which are the figures of the true; but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us: Nor yet that he should offer himself often, as the high priest entereth into the holy place every year with blood of others; For then must he often have suffered since the foundation of the world: but now once in the end of the world hath he appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment: So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation...But this man, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God; From henceforth expecting till his enemies be made his footstool. For by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified. (Hebrews 9:24-28, 10:12-14)."

It is, therefore, error to speak of "the sacrifices of Masses," in the double plural, "in the which it was commonly said, that the Priest did offer Christ for the quick and the dead, to have remission of pain or guilt." Offering Christ again is neither possible nor necessary. The opening of our own Anglican Canon of Consecration ties Christ's one sacrifice into the Eucharistic sacrifice, or as our Book of Common Prayer puts it, as a synonymous thought, our "sacrifice  of praise and thanksgiving."

"Almighty God, our heavenly Father, who of thy tender mercy didst give thine only Son Jesus Christ to suffer death upon the Cross for our redemption; who made there (by his one oblation of himself once offered) a full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction, for the sins of the whole world..."

This also draws from the First Epistle of St. John: 

"My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world (I John 2:1,2)."

We learn clearly from the Scriptures, therefore, that Christ offered Himself once, and that His sacrifice is for the whole world. In a mystical way, our celebration of Holy Communion together as the Church (at least two or three gathered together) brings that one sacrifice into the present by our offering of worship.

"When Jesus therefore had received the vinegar, he said, It is finished: and he bowed his head, and gave up the ghost (John 19:30)."

It takes three English words to translate one Greek word. Teleo (τελέω) is thus rendered, "It is finished." Here a very significant historical fact must be noted. Greek (not Latin) was the Lingua Franca, or universal language in the Roman Empire of Christ's time. The word Teleo was written on receipts to show that a debt had been fully paid, and nothing more was owed. Christ's utterance could be interpreted into English, "It is paid in full" without any lack of fidelity to the original text; for so it was commonly understood when St. John wrote this word, possibly interpreting an Aramaic word, or possibly quoting Jesus own use of the Greek word itself. 

The theological meaning is clear. Nothing can be added to Christ's one sacrifice, nor need anything be added. It is paid in full, and so "He is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world." The whole debt of humans sin was paid by His one sacrifice of Himself, for all peoples for all time.

Here we must not close without speaking of the Person of Christ. To suggest that anything is needed in addition to His one sacrifice of Himself, or that anything additional can be added, be it "sacrifices of Masses," "merits" of saints, indulgences, use of relics, etc., is to deny His Divine nature. The simple words of Charles Wesley come to mind: "Amazing love, how can it be, that Thou my God shouldst die for me?" If, with St. Thomas, we know the risen Christ to be "My Lord and my God (John 20:28)," acknowledging that He is One with the Father and the Holy Spirit in all eternity, "Light of Light, very God of very God," how can we fail to believe in the complete sufficiency of His human death as the one perfect Atonement? So, this is a matter of orthodox Christology.

Twenty-first Sunday after Trinity

Ephesians 6:10-20 * John 4:46-50

MY brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might. Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.

The second lesson from Morning Prayer today says something very similar.

“For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds (II Corinthians 10:4).”

Have you seen in the news this week the report from Ft. Lauderdale Florida? A ninety year-old man, a World War II veteran, and two ministers have been arrested, twice, facing five-hundred dollar fines and sixty days in jail for each “offense.” Do you know what their crime was? They were feeding homeless people as a Christian ministry. I haven’t yet learned what denomination they belong to, or if they are even entirely orthodox by our standards. But, I know that they are obeying commandments in the Bible that go back as far as the Law of Moses, and are repeated in various ways in the New Testament. The name of their organization is “Love thy Neighbor.” (Heavens! What a subversive name indeed!)

Here are people trying to obey God by feeding the poor. In recent weeks I have told you about instances in which Christians find themselves as outlaws, facing criminal penalties, simply by being obedient to God’s commandments. In the case of feeding the homeless, this new trend in legislation, which I guess we may call “America‘s War on Charity,” has been enacted in about a hundred and thirty cities and towns across the United States. Sadly, one of those cities is nearby, our state capitol, Raleigh. Yes, in addition to the War on Drugs, and the War on Terror, we see the War on Charity, as well as the War on Unwanted Unborn Babies, and all other sorts of dangerous enemies of the state.

Now I mention this story as an example of something we must face sooner or later. As long as we live in this world, we are in a spiritual battle. Imagining that we have the world’s support, in our endeavor to follow Christ, is a way of begging to be disappointed – at best.

I am reminded of William Wilberforce, the 18th century Englishman, in fact a Member of Parliament, who worked relentlessly for years to abolish the slave trade. As one writer tells us:

Because his colleagues in Parliament would refuse to listen to his words, Wilberforce would sometimes pull heavy chains from under his chair and drape them over himself to dramatise the inhumanity of slavery. Nonetheless Christians and non-Christians ignored him and ridiculed him for years. Sniffed one slave owner, ‘Humanity is a private feeling, not a public principle to act upon.’ Another, Lord Melbourne, angrily agreed: ‘Things have come to a pretty pass when religion is allowed to invade public life.’” 1

Coming so soon on the heels of All Saints Day (which, in the readings, as well as our liturgy and hymnody, is really about the Church Triumphant), I think we could call the Twenty-first Sunday after Trinity, “Church Militant Sunday.” And, I mean not just militant in the sense of being alive, but truly militant in the sense of taking up arms, albeit, spiritual arms in the spiritual war.

My fear is not for people who are willingly on the frontlines in spiritual warfare, but for those who try to avoid it. Only they are in real danger. Seeking peace, while living in this world is understandable, but impossible to achieve without compromising with evil. Sooner or later, the world gives us no choice. The illusion that the western civilization is friendly to Christianity, rather than hostile to the Gospel of Christ, becomes less and less tenable each passing day.

I grant, it is more frightening to live in other parts of the world, places that some of you have come from, where Christians are very openly persecuted to the death. In Touchstone Magazine, we have a feature about “The Suffering Church,” a simple collection of news reports about persecution, in every issue. And we must never forget our persecuted brothers and sisters in our prayers.

But, I don’t want you to imagine that the world is supportive of and friendly to your Christian life anywhere. It cannot be so in this life. Don’t go looking for trouble. Just don’t expect that your life as a Christian, if you really want to follow Christ, will be easy. We don’t live in that kind of world. You need, as St. Paul says, to “put on the whole armor of God.” There is no other way to live a godly life that is pleasing to God.

When the Apostle tells us to “be strong in the Lord, and in the power of His might,” and that “weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds,” he means that the only power and might for the spiritual battle is the power of the Holy Spirit.

“This is the word of the LORD unto Zerubbabel, saying, Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, saith the LORD of hosts (Zechariah 4:6).”

Another way to translate this from Hebrew is, “Not by might, nor by armies…” All of the armies in the world cannot win the spiritual war. The weapons they carry are carnal. They have weapons merely against flesh and blood. Our enemies are invisible to the human eye, and attack the mind, the soul and the will. They would drain you of faith in God and lure you into sin. They would have the whole Church lose her faith, throw away her creeds, ignore her Scripture, and corrupt her sacraments. They would have the Church overly busy with worldly preoccupations so as not to have time to pray. They would have her members squabbling with each other. They would have her children ignorant of the truth of God’s word.

And, up to now, I have spoken only of defensive warfare. The Church has one offensive weapon in the armor of God, and that is “the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” Remember the words of the Lord Jesus, “And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free (John 8:32).” Jesus did not tell us to avoid spiritual battle, but to advance into the world with the Gospel. Listen to our marching orders, His last orders issued before he ascended to the Father’s right hand.

“When they therefore were come together, they asked of him, saying, Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel? And he said unto them, It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in his own power. But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth. And when he had spoken these things, while they beheld, he was taken up; and a cloud received him out of their sight (Acts 1:7-9).”

There it is again, the power (dunamis) of the Holy Spirit. Jesus did not send the Church out into the world to fight this battle by mere human effort. It is not our own organizational skills, our own brilliance, or our own strength that overcomes the spiritual forces of evil. We absolutely need the power of the Holy Spirit to fight the spiritual battle. Jesus also said, “And, behold, I send the promise of my Father upon you: but tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem, until ye be endued with power from on high (Luke 24:49).” In other words, He ordered them not to go forth in their own strength, but only in the power of the Holy Spirit. To try to carry on the work that Christ gave to His Church, in merely human strength (which is the weakness of the flesh), is disobedience to the Lord.

I recall one night in 1985, during a service of prayer in a church outside of Baltimore City. A woman in her thirties would attend church services with her parents. She was always kind of gloomy looking, visibly unhappy. What I did not know, until after the events of this story, is that she had been married to a man who used physical bullying to force her into occult activities (a very dangerous thing indeed). During the prayers, she decided, for the first time in years, to really join in by faith and make the prayers her own.

While praying together, we saw this woman suddenly rise in the air a little bit, and proceed to move as if she had St. Victus Dance, contorting her body in a way no dancer or athlete could ever possibly imitate, and manifesting emotional torment. She fell to the floor announcing in Hebrew, “Meshiach! Meshiach!” – a word, it turns out, that she didn’t know. It meant that something in her was alarmed to be aware of Christ’s own presence among us, as we were gathered together in His name.

Everyone in the room, except Diane (who was pregnant with our son David) and me, ran to a corner of the room and huddled together, disappointing me with their apparent fear. I walked over, Diane behind me, and used the one exorcism rite that always has to work, what I call “The Ritual Saint Paul” – from Acts 16:18 – “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” I said it a second time, and added the word, “now.” The woman opened her eyes, sat up and began to cry. She had no memory of how she ended up lying on the floor several feet away from where she stood. She thought she had seen a vision of Jesus Christ as soon as she decided to pray, after so long a time. I suppose the demon in her saw the vision too, and reacted with the kind of fear we read about in the Gospels.

Anyway, after that night she no longer looked gloomy, but instead very cheerful and full of life. Her long dark night of suffering had ended. If I had tried to use mere human strength I might have gotten into a long exhausting sort of exorcism “wrestling match.” But instead, I was aware that the only power that overcomes this sort of thing is the power of the Holy Spirit, and so I said the right words and allowed Him to be the active One.

Mere human strength cannot do God’s work by itself; it might even get in the way. Rather, “Be strong in the Lord, and the power of his might.”

1. From Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day.