Friday, February 27, 2015

Second Sunday in Lent

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 is from the word emet, 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 Spirit,” 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, February 20, 2015

First Sunday in Lent

Read it here.

Two Lenten Readings

The following was written in 1688 by Bishop Thomas Ken, Bishop of Bath and Wells, as a letter to all his clergy preparing them for Lent. We posted this before in 2009. It is valuable to read each year early in this season. 

All Glory be to God.
Reverend Brother,
THE time of Lent now approaching, which has been anciently and very Christianly set apart, for penitential humiliation of Soul and Body, for Fasting and Weeping and Praying, all which you know are very frequently inculcated in Holy Scripture, as the most effectual means we can use, to avert those Judgments our sins have deserv'd; I thought it most agreeable to that Character which, unworthy as I am, I sustain, to call you and all my Brethren of the Clergy to mourning; tomourning for your own sins, and to mourning for the sins of the Nation.
In making such an address to you as this, I follow the example of St. Cyprian, that blessed Bishop and Martyr, who from his retirement wrote an excellent Epistle to his Clergy, most worthy of your serious perusal, exhorting them, by publickPrayers and Tears to appease the Anger of God, which they then actually felt, and which we may justly fear.
Remember that to keep such a Fast as God has chosen, it is not enough for you to afflict your own soul, but you must also according to your ability, deal your bread to the Hungry: and the rather, because we have not onely Usual objects of Charity to relieve, but many poor Protestant Strangers are now fled hither for Sanctuary, whom as Brethren, as members of Christ, we should take in and Cherish.
That you may perform the office of publickIntercessour the more assiduously, I beg of you to say daily in your Closet, or in your Family, or rather in both, all this time of Abstinence, the 51st Psalm, and the other Prayers which follow it in the Commination. I could wish also that you would frequently read and meditate on the Lamentations of Jeremy, which HolyGregory Nazianzen was wont to doe, and the reading of which melted him into the like Lamentations, as affected the Prophet himself when he PenÍd them.
But your greatest Zeal must be spent for the Public Prayers, in the constant devout use of which, thePublick Safety both of Church and State is highlyconcern'd: be sure then to offer up to God every day the Morning and Evening Prayer; offer it up in your Family at least, or rather as far as your circumstances may possibly permit, offer it up in the Church, especially if you live in a great Town, and say over the Litany every Morning during the whole Lent. This I might enjoyn you to doe, on your Canonical Obedience, but for Love's sake I rather beseech you, and I cannot recommend to you a more devout and comprehensive Form, of penitent and publick Intercession than that, or more proper for the Season.
Be not discourag'd if but few come to the Solemn Assemblies, but go to the House of Prayer, where God is well known for a sure Refuge: Go, though you go alone, or but with one besides your self; and there as you are God's Remembrancer, keep not silence, and give Him no rest, till He establish, till He make Jerusalem a praise in the earth.
The first sacred Council of Nice, for which the Christian world has always had a great and just veneration, ordains a Provincial Synod to be held before Lent, that all Dissensions being taken away a pure oblation might be offer'd up to God, namely of Prayers and Fasting and Alms, and Tears, which might produce a comfortable Communion at the following Easter: and that in this Diocese, we may in some degree imitate so Primitive a practice, I exhort you to endeavour all you can, to reconcile differences, to reduce those that go astray, to promote universal Charity towards all that dissent from you, and to put on as the Elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, long-suffering, forbearing one another and forgiving one another, even as Christ forgave you.
I passionately beseech you to reade over daily your Ordination Vows, to examine yourself how you observe them; and in the Prayers that are in that Office, fervently to importune God for the assistance of His good Spirit, that you may conscientiously perform them. Teach publickly, and from house to house, and warn every one night and day with Tears; warn them to repent, to fast and to pray, and to give Alms, and to bring forth fruits meet for repentance, warn them to continue stedfast in that faith once delivered to the Saints, in which they were baptiz'dto keep the word ofGod's Patience, that God may keep them in the hour of Temptationwarn them against the sins and errours of the age; warn them to deprecate publick judgments, and to mourn for publick provocations.
No one can reade God's holy Word but he will see, that the greatest Saints have been the greatest Mourners: David wept whole Rivers; Jeremy wept soreand his Eyes ran down in secret places day and night like a Fountain; Daniel mourned three full weeks, and did eat no pleasant bread, and sought God by prayer and supplications, with fasting, and sackcloth and ashesSt. Paul was humbled and bewailed and wept for the sins of others; and our Lord himself when He beheld the City wept over it. Learn then of these great Saints, learn of our most compassionate Saviour, to weep for the publick, and weeping to pray, that we may know in this our day, the things that belong to our peace, lest they be hid from our eyes.
To mourn for National Guilt, in which all share, is a duty incumbent upon all, but especially on Priests, who are particularly commanded to weep and to say, Spare Thy people, O Lord, and give not Thine Heritage to reproach, that God may repent of the evil, and become jealous for His Land, and pity His people. [4/5]
Be assur'd that none are more tenderly regarded by God than such Mourners as these; there is a mark set by Him on all that sigh and cry for the abominations of the Land, the destroying Angel is forbid to hurt any of them, they are all God's peculiar care, and shall all have either present deliverance, or such supports and consolations, as shall abundantly endear their Calamity.
Now the God of all Grace, who hath called you unto His eternal Glory by Christ Jesus, make you perfect,stablish, strengthen, settle you in the true Catholic andApostolick Faith profess'd in the Church of England, and enable you to adorn that Apostolick Faith with anApostolick Example and Zeal, and give all our whole Church that timely repentance, those broken and contrite hearts, that both Priests and People may all plentifully sow in Tears, and in God's good time may all plentifully reap in Joy.
From the Palace in Wells,
Febr. 17. 1687.
Your affectionate
Friend and Brother
Tho. Bath and Wells.

Some Hints for Lent

By the Rt. Rev. A.C.A. Hall
Bishop of Vermont (Episcopal Church) in the early 20th century

"WHAT mean ye by this service?" the Jewish child was to ask his parents; it the yearly celebration of the Passover. Many who endeavor to "Keep Lent'' lose much of the profit they should derive from its observance, because they have not clearly before them the object and purpose of the season.
The recurrence (if Lent is a call to renewed spiritual effort. This is the great object of the Lenten Season, that we may ''grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ" (2 S. Peter iii. 18). To this end all its exercises are to be directed. The chief duties of Lent, to be undertaken with this Purpose constantly in mind, are Retirement, Prayer, Fasting, Repentance, and Almsgiving.
I. Lent is a time for Retirement. We are bidden at this season to follow our Lord, in some measure, into the wilderness, and give a few weeks to a closer inquiry into the state of our souls, and a nearer approach to God.
We cannot, nor ought we to, withdraw from the duties of our state of life, whether in the family or in business. The retirement to which we are called is from the unrestrained social intercourse and from the amusements which at other times may be perfectly innocent, and even beneficial, but which we now put aside for a time, in order to give ourselves the better to higher and more important interests.
It would be well to make a rule not to go during Lent to any place of public amusement, and, as far as possible, to keep from social entertainments. Try to be sometimes alone. "Commune with your own heart, and in your chamber, and be still:" this is one great rule for Lent. Secure time, and freedom of mind, for prayer, for the study of God's Word, for self-examination, and the works of repentance, and for gaining instruction in religious matters.
Many persons remain in ignorance of much that they ought to know concerning Christian faith and practice, because they do not take pains to gain instruction. Persons often in these days are bewildered by some infidel objection or argument which is brought before them, and which, even if they cannot directly answer, they should, by their assurance of the positive truth of their religion, be able to withstand. For our own sake, for the sake of others whom we may help, and for the honor of our Lord, we ought to be ready with meekness and reverence, as St. Peter bids us, to give to every man that asketh us a reason of the hope that is in us (i S. Peter ii. 15). While carefully avoiding a controversial spirit it would be well in Lent to take in hand some instructive religious reading (e. g. of Church History), as well as that which is more distinctly devotional. Some time might be saved from newspapers and other light reading for this purpose.
II. Lent is a time for more frequent Prayer, both Public and Private.
A. Public Prayer.--Make a conscientious use of the opportunities provided for you in your own Parish. Very likely you cannot attend all the services. It may not be desirable that you should do so. Services of different characters and at different times are intended to meet the needs of various classes of persons. You will probably find it best to choose some one or more courses of services (as the daily prayers, or weekly service and instruction), and make a rule of regular attendance at these. If you are in a large city, where there are several churches, be on your guard against the danger of religious dissipation, going about with itching ears to hear different preachers, or to take part in different services, moved rather by curiosity than by devotion or a desire for edification.
If a Communicant, you may well desire to receive the Sacrament more frequently during this season. Abstaining from earthly food, and from social pleasures, you may approach more often the Holy Table to feed upon the Bread of Life, and hold communion with your Lord. No general rule can of course be given about the frequency of Communion. Each person must decide the question (with the help of such advice as he can get), according to his own needs and opportunities.
If not yet admitted to Holy Communion, or if you should have ceased to be a Communicant, remember that one special purpose of your Lent should be by a true repentance (concerning which some hints will be given presently) to be prepared worthily to receive the Holy Sacrament at Easter. If we are rightly to commemorate our Lord's Passion, the atoning death of the spotless Lamb of God Who taketh away the sins of the world, we must "shew forth His Death" according to His commandment, pleading in His own appointed way His Sacrifice as the ground of our hopes, and seeking to have its merits applied individually to ourselves. In the typical Sacrifice of the Passover, the lamb was not only to be slain, but for any to share in the benefits of the sacrifice the blood of the victim must be sprinkled upon their house, and they must feed upon its flesh (Ex. .ii.). "Christ our Paschal Lamb is sacrificed for us, therefore let us keep the feast'' (i Cor. v. 7, 8).
If you have not been confirmed, you should in Lent set yourself distinctly to prepare, both intellectually and morally, for that holy rite, that by the Seven-fold Gift of the Holy Spirit you may be strengthened for your Christian life, and be ready to receive the spiritual food of the Body and Blood of Christ.
B. Private Prayer,--Do not let anything hinder from (nothing can take the place of) private personal communion with God. It would be very helpful to make a rule to pray over, for a few minutes, quietly in your room, and on your knees, each sermon and instruction that you hear. How many good impressions fade away and are lost for want of subsequent and prayful recollection, by which they should have developed into deliberate resolves, and so have been found fruitful in our lives The fowls of the air are too often allowed to snatch away (even at the Church porch) the good seed which has been sown.
Be careful to say your regular prayers with earnestness and devotion, adding, perhaps, morning or night, one or other of the Seven Penitential Psalms (vi, xxxii. xxxviii, li, cii. cxxx, cxliii), and one or more of the Ash-Wednesday collects from the Prayer Book. In the use of such prayers you will unite your private devotions with the penitential prayers and exercises of the Holy Church throughout the world at this common fast of Christendom.
Lent is a good time to begin or take up a fresh practice of meditation or the devotional use of Holy Scripture, reading and praying over a few verses, as one miracle or parable of our Lord, or one mystery in His Passion, and begging God to apply its lessons to yourself. Most persons could give a few minutes each day during Lent to this practice, and by its means would certainly be enabled to grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. In making any rule for this practice, it is better to devote a certain time (say five, ten, or thirty minutes, as you may be able), rather than to resolve to read a certain quantity.
III. Fasting.--All the forty days of Lent, the Prayer Book tells us, are to be observed with "such a measure of abstinence as is more especially suited to extraordinary acts and exercises of devotion." Fasting is intended
1) To subdue the flesh to the spirit;
2) To express sorrow and humiliation, acknowledging ourselves undeserving freely to partake of God's good gifts, and avenging past wrongful indulgence;
3) To quicken the soul for prayer.
For all these purposes God's servants under both the Old and the New Dispensation have practised bodily mortification; nor can we without grievous fault and loss disregard a practice enjoined by our Lord's own example and constant teaching. All should form some rule for bodily discipline. Such a rule must vary with different persons, occupations, temperament and strength. It must not interfere with health, but should be such as to be really felt. All but very few could resolve to eat more sparingly and of a plainer diet, and to abstain during Lent from luxuries. Many perhaps by making a rule to rise somewhat earlier than usual would at once combat sloth and gain undisturbed time for devotion.
Amidst the enervating luxuries of our modern civilisation it is especially incumbent on Christian people to learn to endure hardness.
"What a shame," exclaimed a holy man of old, "to be the soft and luxurious member of a Head that was crowned with thorns!"
In Lent especially, when we commemorate first the Fast and then the Passion of our Lord, the Church, His mystical Body would have her members in sympathy with the suffering experiences of His natural Body, now much of the excess, intemperance and sensuality that among all classes bring disgrace on a so-called Christian land may be traced to the softness and absence of discipline of which perhaps we have boasted as the sign of Christian liberty, though in direct violation of the example and precept of Christ!
If the Word of God, the example of our Lord, the practice of His Church, the experience of His saints, and our own so far as we have followed in their steps, are to be of any weight, we must, if we would grow in grace and in the knowledge and love of God, set ourselves to mortify the flesh with its affections and lusts. It is by the practice of self-denial with regard to things that may be innocent that we gain the power of self-control, and are enabled at once to say No when tempted to some unlawful action.
It is not of course the body only that needs control, though that in the disordered condition of our fallen nature is the cause of many sins. There must be a universal self-denial, including the discipline of our words, our tempers, our thoughts, our will. We must seek by degrees to bring every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ.
IV. Repentance.--This is the great work of Lent.
"Turn ye even to Me," saith the Lord, "with all your heart, and with fasting, and with weeping, and with mourning." (Joel ii. 12).
"Seek ye the Lord while He may be found, call ye upon Him while He is near: 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" (Isa. liv. 6, 7).
The work of Repentance in its several parts of self-examination, sorrow for sin, confession of sin, amendment and satisfaction, cannot be better summed up than in the weighty words of the exhortation in preparation for Holy Communion in the Prayer-Book. Those who would find acceptance with God are therein bidden:--"First, to examine your lives and conversations by the rule of God's commandments: and whereinsoever ye shall perceive yourselves to have offended either by will, word, or deed, there to bewail your own sinfulness, and to confess yourselves to Almighty God? with full purpose of amendment of life. And if ye shall perceive your offences to be such as are not only against God, but also against your neighbors; then ye shall reconcile yourselves unto them, being ready to make restitution and satisfaction, according to the uttermost of your powers, for all injuries and wrongs done by you to any other; and being likewise ready to forgive others who have offended you, as ye would have forgiveness of your offences at God's hand."
With regard to Self-Examination, consider not only your past life, but also your present state before God, the real condition of your soul in His sight: consider the graces and virtues that should adorn it, as well as the vices that actually disfigure it. Be definite in your examination and in all your repentance.
"I so run, not as uncertainly: so fight I, not as one that beateth the air," said the Apostle, (i Cor. ix. 26). Many of those who are really trying to serve God would have to say of themselves if they truly described their manner of struggle, "I run indeed but very uncertainly"--not keeping in view the goal to be reached, and stretching continually toward it, with no particular virtue that I am striving for, no definite standard before me; '' so fight I just like one that beateth the air," spending my strength in vain because I do not clearly see the enemy with whom I have to contend, and against whom I ought to direct my blows. Find out your besetting sin or sins, the faults into which you most commonly fall, that are at the root of most evil in your life, the habits that more particularly hinder and mar your Christian life. Set yourself during Lent in good earnest to combat these. Concentrate the force of your prayers, your self-denials, your sacraments upon these strongholds of the enemy within you.
"What evil habit," ask yourself, "am I specially to grapple with this Lent? What virtue in particular am I to cultivate?"
The Seven Capital Sins (so called because under one or other of these heads of evil all possible sins whether of thought, word, or deed, can be classified) are sometimes more helpful than the Ten Commandments as an outline for self-examination, because we are thus enabled to trace the symptoms of evil (condemned by God's commands) to the roots of evil horn which they spring. Pride, Envy, Anger are more especially the works of the devil; Covetousness, the worldly sin; and Lust, Gluttony, Sloth, the sins of the flesh. The capital sins are the development of the three-fold root of evil, the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, and the pride of life, which draw away from the love of God (i St. John ii. 16).
The knowledge of our sins must be followed by a humble Confession of them before Almighty God, with a true sorrow for the offence we have thereby committed against Him, and a sincere purpose of amendment. There can hardly be a better form of confession, if one be needed, than the General Confession in the Service for Holy Communion, if we say it in the singular number, slowly, and pausing at the end of each clause, to recall our own special transgressions, and to let the words we repeat find a real echo in our hearts.
Concerning the special further confession of our sins to God in the presence of His Priest, the exhortation which has been already quoted thus concludes; "Because it is requisite that no man should come to the Holy Communion, but with a full trust in God's mercy, and with a quiet conscience, therefore, if there be any of you, who by this means [of private personal repentance] cannot quiet his own conscience herein, but requireth further comfort or counsel, let him come to me [the Parish Priest], or to some other minister of God's Word, and open his grief; that he may receive such godly counsel and advice as may tend to the quieting of his conscience, and the removing of all scruple and doubtfulness."
Let none whose consciences are troubled, either with the burden of past sin or with evil habits from which they find themselves unable to break free, shrink from seeking the help and assistance of those whom (as Richard Hooker puts it) "our Lord Jesus Christ hath left in His Church to be spiritual and ghostly physicians, the guides and pastors of redeemed souls, whose office doth not only consist in general persuasions unto amendment of life, but also in the private, particular cure of diseased minds."
The bringing home to the individual soul of God's pardoning word may be of unspeakable comfort to the penitent, while the personal guidance of one accustomed to deal with spiritual things may be of great value to a soul in struggling against temptations.
Among "works of repentance" by no means forget the necessity of reparation for wrong done and of the forgiveness of injuries suffered, if we are to be ourselves at peace with God. Take care that you incur not the rebuke of the prophet, "Behold, ye fast for strife and debate, and to smite with the fist of wickedness" (Isa. lviii. 4). Put away in Lent the leaven of malice and wickedness that you may celebrate the Paschal feast with "the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth" (i Cor. v. 8).
V. Almsgiving is another special duty of Lent. Some of the money which is saved from luxuries, from amusements, and from dress, should be devoted to pious and charitable purposes. Some of the time which is rescued from society may be well employed in works of mercy and kindly offices to those in spiritual and temporal need. "Break off thy sins by righteousness, and thine iniquities by shewing mercy to the poor" (Dan. v. 27).
"Is not this the fast that I have chosen, saith the Lord, to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke? Is it not to deal thy bread to the hungry, and that thou bring the poor that are cast out to thy house? when thou seest the naked, that thou cover him; and that thou hide not thyself from thine own flesh?" (Isa. lviii. 6, 7).
We may think of Lent as being spent under the teaching of St. John the Baptist. First he preaches Repentance, drawing the people after him into the wilderness, bringing home the conviction of sin, leading to confession, and enjoining works meet for repentance. Then to those thus prepared the Baptist pointed out Jesus as the Lamb of God who taketh away the sin of the world (St. Matt, iii., St. Luke iii., St. John i. 29). Having in the earlier weeks of Lent endeavored to deepen our repentance we too in Passion-tide are pointed to the Saviour and His Cross, that we may behold at once sin's work and its remedy. It is at the foot of the Cross that the great lessons of the Christian life are to be learned. Remember that the Son of God was given to be both a sacrifice for sin and also an ensample of godly life. Seek more truly to die with Him to sin that with and in Him you may rise to newness of life.
Three dangers we ought specially to guard against, lest we lose the benefit of Lenten observance.
Avoid formality; whatever measure of strictness you may be able to adopt, be real.
Avoid aimlessness; be definite in your purpose and endeavors.
Avoid gloominess; there should be a true joy even in penitence, since in penitence we are returning to Him Whose love has borne with us and recalls us to Himself.
The end of this, as of every, commandment is charity, the love of God above all on account of His own intrinsic worth, and of our brethren for His sake, out of a pure heart, cleansed by grace, and a good conscience, set at peace by true repentance, and of faith unfeigned, and strengthened by spiritual exercises, (i Tim. i. 5).

Thursday, February 19, 2015

That Corinthian Problem

For those who are following the Daily Lectionary, I see that you will be reading I Corinthians for a while. I wrote a feature article on the whole epistle a few years ago, and it may be useful in understanding how it  fits together.

The Long Reach of an Infamous First-Century Church
by Robert Hart
The disarray, foolishness, and sin that St. Paul addressed when writing his first extant epistle to the Church in Corinth have worked to our benefit, for they gave rise to teaching in the Scriptures that has been needed throughout the subsequent history of the Church, and that we need today. As the selling of Joseph into Egypt was used by God to save Israel from famine, so can anything be used by God for good. This is one aspect of Providence. Thus, we see how the sins and foolishness of the Church in Corinth were used by God through Paul to give us salutary words of Holy Scripture.

Read more:

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Laymen's Guide to the Thirty-nine Articles Article 32 - Of the Marriage of Priests

Articles XXXII to XXXIX: Miscellaneous

Article XXXII

Of the Marriage of Priests

Bishops, Priests, and Deacons are not commanded by God's laws either to vow the estate of single life or to abstain from marriage. Therefore it is lawful also for them, as for all other Christian men, to marry at their own discretion, as they shall judge the same to serve better to godliness.

De Conjugio Sacerdotum

Episcopis, Prebyteris et Diaconis nullo mandato divino praeceptum est, ut aut coelibatum voveant aut a matrimonio absteneant. Licet igitur etiam illis, ut caeteris omnibus Christianis, ubi hoc ad pietatem magis facere iudicaverint, pro suo arbitratu matrimonium contrahere.

Archbishop Peter Robinson
The history of celibacy in the Western Church is a convoluted one, and worthy of a full length book in its own right. As early as the sixth century clerical celibacy was strongly encouraged in the Western Church, and at times, attempts were made to make it a positive law, mainly to prevent church benefices becoming heritable property. However, on the whole clerical celibacy was only intermittently enforced, and in some provinces, it was not enforced at all. 

The Anglo-Saxon and Anglo-Danish kingdoms that preceded a unified England certainly did not enforce clerical celibacy, and it seems that even some senior bishops, such as Stigand, Edward the Confessor's Archbishop of Canterbury were married men. Clerical celibacy was only enforced after the Norman conquest and remained the norm for the rest of the Middle Ages, though as much in the breech as in the observance. Clerical unchastity was common enough for it to be used to extract a laugh or two from the reader of Chaucer's 'Canterbury Tales.' The Lollards opposed clerical celibacy during the 14th century, and it was an open secret that many senior clergy had irregular or illicit relationships with women, including William Wareham, and Thomas Wolsey. Ironically, Henry VIII was opposed to clerical marriage, which was a major inconvenience to Thomas Cranmer, who had been married since 1532, illegally so far as English Law was concerned, to a niece of Osiander in Nurnberg who he had met whilst serving as Henry's ambassador there. 

Clerical celibacy, or rather the lack of it, was an open scandal in England in the early 16th century, and it was clear that something had to be done, which it duly was in 1548 when clerical marriage was legalized by Edward VI's first parliament. It seems that about a third of the English clergy took wives, or regularized their existing sleeping arrangements, between 1548 and 1553, and this one measure, it has been asserted, probably did more to popularize reform with the clergy than any other. Clerical celibacy returned under Mary I, but when the reformed Church returned under Elizabeth, clerical marriage was again legal, though the Queen herself seems to have been uncomfortable with married clergy. There was no married Archbishop of Canterbury between Matthew Parker (1559-1575) and the reign of William III (1688-1702), though most parish clergy were married by the 1580s

Fr. Robert Hart
This Article is very short and to the point. On this subject the Lutheran document, the Augsburg Confession, in its Article XXIII, gives a much fuller treatment, one which goes into more detail about what the Bible says on this subject, one in which history is accurately examined, and in which a very useful criticism of Rome's required priestly celibacy experiment was shown already, five hundred years ago, to have failed. What is written there is completely in accord with Anglicanism, and mostly in accord with the Eastern Orthodox practice, though in that tradition two things developed in earlier centuries: 1) A man is forbidden to marry after he is ordained, and 2) their bishops are all required to be celibates. But, in both Lutheran and Anglican tradition a deacon, priest or bishop may marry after receiving Holy Orders. 

Evidence from early councils shows that the Eastern Orthodox practice concerning bishops was not the universal rule of the Church in its most ancient times, not even as late as the fifth century. Indeed, when one council of bishops exceeded its regional authority, they tried to require episcopal celibacy of African churches that had never practiced it as a rule. For example, a historian named Philip Delhaye wrote the following: "During the first three or four centuries, no law was promulgated prohibiting clerical marriage. Celibacy was a matter of choice for bishops, priests, and deacons. ... The apostolic constitutions (c. 400) excommunicated a priest or bishop who left his wife 'under pretense of piety' (Sacrorum Conciliorum nova et amplissima collectio 1:51)."

We also have this, by St. Clement of Alexandria, who lived in the second and early third centuries: "Marriage, if used properly, is a way of salvation for all: priests, deacons, and laymen (Stromata 1.3.12; Patrologia Graeca, ed. J. P. Migne, 8:1189)." It is well-known that the grandfather of St. Patrick was a priest in fourth century Briton. Also, in the fourth century, St. Hillary of Poitiers was a bishop who was married, as was Pope Felix III in the fifth century, and Pope Hormisdas in the sixth century. It can be argued, and quite rightly, that some ancient writers, including St. Jerome, believed that bishops who were married should, after consecration, abstain from sexual relations with their wives. However, in those centuries this was never a law of the universal Church, and seems more in keeping with the pagan stoics than with anything we can know about the Apostles, those other than St. Paul who were married men, and about the earliest bishops.

The first two Lateran Councils of the Latin (or western) Church, in the years 1123 and 1139, forbade all clergy to contract a marriage, and even rules such marriages as invalid; "For a union of this kind which has been contracted in violation of the ecclesiastical law, we do not regard as matrimony (Second Lateran Council, Canon 7)." These new rules, regarding priests and deacons, contradicted what is called the Quinisext Council, that had met in Constantinople in 692. In Canon 13 we find this:

"Since we know it to be handed down as a rule of the Roman Church that those who are deemed worthy to be advanced to the diaconate or presbyterate should promise no longer to cohabit with their wives, we, preserving the ancient rule and apostolic perfection and order, will that the lawful marriages of men who are in holy orders be from this time forward firm, by no means dissolving their union with their wives nor depriving them of their mutual intercourse at a convenient time. Wherefore, if anyone shall have been found worthy to be ordained subdeacon, or deacon, or presbyter, he is by no means to be prohibited from admittance to such a rank, even if he shall live with a lawful wife. Nor shall it be demanded of him at the time of his ordination that he promise to abstain from lawful intercourse with his wife: lest we should affect injuriously marriage constituted by God and blessed by his presence."

In short, we can say that the history is very complicated. But, a major point of having a reformation in England, from the time of King Edward VI, and again from the time of Queen Elizabeth I, was to be true to the teaching and practice of the most ancient Catholic bishops and doctors. Therefore, it is best to begin with Scripture, and then to practice and teach what the Apostolic Church practiced and taught. And, we should do so bearing in mind the last part of our Article: "Therefore it is lawful also for them, as for all other Christian men, to marry at their own discretion, as they shall judge the same to serve better to godliness." The issue is godliness. What serves better to help a man live a godly life? Here is where the Augsburg Confession, in its Article XXIII, makes points that are both drawn from the Bible, and indisputably true about the consequences of casting aside what the Bible teaches. The first two paragraphs summarize scriptural teaching, and refer to problems that were no secret then, and are no secret today. 

"There has been common complaint concerning the examples of priests who were not chaste. For that reason also Pope Pius is reported to have said that there were certain causes why marriage was taken away from priests, but that there were far weightier ones why it ought to be given back; for so Platina writes. Since, therefore, our priests were desirous to avoid these open scandals, they married wives, and taught that it was lawful for them to contract matrimony. First, because Paul says, 1 Cor. 7:2,9: To avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife. Also: It is better to marry than to burn. Secondly Christ says, Matt. 19:11: All men cannot receive this saying, where He teaches that not all men are fit to lead a single life; for God created man for procreation, Gen. 1:28. Nor is it in man's power, without a singular gift and work of God, to alter this creation. [For it is manifest, and many have confessed that no good, honest, chaste life, no Christian, sincere, upright conduct has resulted (from the attempt), but a horrible, fearful unrest and torment of conscience has been felt by many until the end.] Therefore, those who are not fit to lead a single life ought to contract matrimony. For no man's law, no vow, can annul the commandment and ordinance of God. For these reasons the priests teach that it is lawful for them to marry wives.

"It is also evident that in the ancient Church priests were married men. For Paul says, 1 Tim. 3:2, that a bishop should be chosen who is the husband of one wife. And in Germany, four hundred years ago for the first time, the priests were violently compelled to lead a single life, who indeed offered such resistance that the Archbishop of Mayence, when about to publish the Pope's decree concerning this matter, was almost killed in the tumult raised by the enraged priests. And so harsh was the dealing in the matter that not only were marriages forbidden for the future, but also existing marriages were torn asunder, contrary to all laws, divine and human, contrary even to the Canons themselves, made not only by the Popes, but by most celebrated Synods. [Moreover, many God-fearing and intelligent people in high station are known frequently to have expressed misgivings that such enforced celibacy and depriving men of marriage (which God Himself has instituted and left free to men) has never produced any good results, but has brought on many great and evil vices and much iniquity.]"

When it says, "Nor is it in man's power, without a singular gift and work of God, to alter this creation," the allusion appears to be to I Corinthians 7:7, in which St. Paul sees his own life of celibacy as coming from a gift (χρισμα, i.e. charisma) of God. The Greek word is the same used elsewhere in the Epistle to speak of supernatural manifestations of the Holy Spirit, gifts that include tongues, prophecy, the working of miracles, and so forth. The problem, therefore, is that what God gives to certain individuals as a gift, cannot be enforced as a discipline without severe consequences. It is not that a man cannot live a successful celibate life, but that without a gift from God, he is going to face unnecessary temptations, and most likely troubling of conscience. So the Augsburg Confession states in the same Article:

"But while the commandment of God is in force, while the custom of the Church is well known, while impure celibacy causes many scandals, adulteries, and other crimes deserving the punishments of just magistrates, yet it is a marvelous thing that in nothing is more cruelty exercised than against the marriage of priests. God has given commandment to honor marriage. By the laws of all well-ordered commonwealths, even among the heathen, marriage is most highly honored. But now men, and that, priests, are cruelly put to death, contrary to the intent of the Canons, for no other cause than marriage. Paul, in 1 Tim. 4:3, calls that a doctrine of devils which forbids marriage. This may now be readily understood when the law against marriage is maintained by such penalties.

"But as no law of man can annul the commandment of God, so neither can it be done by any vow. Accordingly, Cyprian also advises that women who do not keep the chastity they have promised should marry. His words are these (Book I, Epistle XI): But if they be unwilling or unable to persevere, it is better for them to marry than to fall into the fire by their lusts; they should certainly give no offense to their brethren and sisters."

The failed experiment of required clerical celibacy was known then to cause crimes and scandals, and today we have seen that among those crimes and scandals are perversions, including the sexual abuse of children. True celibacy, as a gift of God, does not cause these evils. But, enforced "celibacy" gives a hiding place to disordered and perverted individuals, provides them with means and opportunity to carry out their crimes on helpless victims, and greatly narrows the field of men who may carry out priestly ministry, perhaps ruling out those whom St. Paul would have considered most qualified.

And, whereas that last line may seem to run against his personal regard for genuine celibacy as expressed in I Corinthians chapter seven, when it came time to issue instructions to those he left in charge, St. Timothy and St. Titus, he seems to have prefered married men, that is, those who rule well their own households, have their children in subjection, and are free from scandals, "For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God? (I Tim. 3:5)" The relevant texts are I Timothy chapter three, and Titus 1:5-9. In light of those passages, especially in I Timothy, and in light of history and experience, we may well agree with the words of the Augsburg Confession, that "such enforced celibacy and depriving men of marriage (which God Himself has instituted and left free to men) has never produced any good results, but has brought on many great and evil vices and much iniquity."

To limit the talent pool, and exclude the very men St. Paul considered generally to be most qualified, runs contrary to Scripture, and also to what history reveals. Therefore, whereas others inflict the enormous burden on their own communion, we do not. 

Saturday, February 14, 2015

QUINQUAGESIMA or the next Sunday before Lent.

I Corinthians 13 * Luke 18:31-43

The word “charity” is generally rendered “love” in just about any other translation of the Bible. The King James use of the word “charity” is something that may be instructive, if we take advantage of it. After all, the Greek word translated here as “charity” is agape’ (γπη), and in most places the King James Bible also translates it as “love.”

          One example is Romans 5:5: “And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us.” Notice, this love, agape’, is not just any love. It is the love of God. Well, if this is God’s own love, how can we be expected to have it ourselves? The answer is twofold.

          First of all, it is in the verse itself: “…the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us.” It is God’s own love, resident by grace, in the human heart. Second, as we continue to read, we see these words: “For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die. But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us (vs.6-8).” God commends His love, once again, His agape’ (His charity, or if you prefer Latin, His caritas).

          This special love, the love of God, is given to us, that is, made to grow within us by the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit also makes us understand this particular love by seeing it in the death of our Lord Jesus Christ. He had said, the night before His death, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends (John 15:13).” It has been said before that Jesus showed something greater than mere human love, that is Divine love, by dying for His enemies. And, though I appreciate a measure of truth in that statement, I prefer to take it a step further. In the following verse Jesus said, “Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you (v.14).” Yet, His death is once for all, for every human being, every sinner, who has ever lived (Hebrews 10:10, John 1:29, I John 2:2). That is, from the Divine perspective, everyone has been treated as a friend, even the worst enemies who were crucifying Him. That is what His cross and death were about, reconciling the lost and fallen world to God. To whatever degree you may have ever acted like an enemy of God, on the cross Jesus has treated you as if you were a friend; for He gave His life for you.

          To experience Divine love for others as a gift, as grace, planted within you, as the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22f) that grows within you, you need to receive the Holy Spirit. He alone can make this happen within your heart. It is more than natural love. It is supernatural love. In our Epistle reading this day, that most famous passage St. Paul ever wrote, we learn that this love is completely selfless, completely altruistic. It seeks nothing for itself. It endures everything, even the worst that people can do to you – and don’t we see that in Jesus as He forgave those who were crucifying and mocking Him?

          The reason charity “endureth all things” and “never faileth” is because it is God’s love. Faith works, love labors and hope endures. But, it is all because God’s children have the grace of God that comes only from the Holy Spirit “shed abroad in our hearts.” Without the Holy Spirit, you may love and love deeply. But, only with the grace that comes from the Holy Spirit, can you love perfectly. It is more than emotion; it is always giving. It doesn’t tire out when you come to the end of your own strength. Indeed, it may even begin there.

          And, as we have seen, you cannot understand this love unless you understand what Jesus did for you on the cross, when “He poured out His soul unto death (Isaiah 53:12)” to pay the full price for all of your sins. God commended His love to us, sinners, unworthy, indeed guilty before God, in that Christ died for us.

          How astounding are the words of St. Paul. To see them with fresh eyes, let’s look at some of today’s Epistle with the RSV:

“And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing (v.2).

Remember these words from the sermon on the Mount:

“Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out demons? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity (Matthew 7:22,23) .”

          What do we learn from this? That even power to work miracles, even great knowledge and understanding, are no mark of a holy life. Since the Apostles went out and worked miracles, sent by Jesus to “every village and town” while He was with them on earth, we may be sure that Judas worked miracles too. It is no proof whatsoever of sainthood. That is because it is God’s work, not man’s. A holy person, a saint, cannot heal you by his own power anyway. And, evil men may still have the gifts and callings of God, even the power to work miracles (Romans 11:29).

          Then we look at these words from today’s Epistle reading (again let me use the RSV):

“If I give away all I have, and if I deliver my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing (v.3).” 

          Why is that? Well, if you understand anything at all about the Gospel, you should know that good works do not atone for sin. Who, not having the love of God shed abroad in their hearts, go to great lengths such as we read about here? Is it not those who believe that they can atone for their own sins? Is it not those who believe they can earn God’s favor? But you cannot earn God’s favor, and you cannot atone for your own soul, neither for that of anyone else (“They that trust in their wealth, and boast themselves in the multitude of their riches; None of them can by any means redeem his brother, nor give to God a ransom for him.” -Psalm 49:6, 7).

          One and only one atonement has ever been made. Every Old Testament sacrifice was a sacrament that would have meant nothing apart from Christ coming and fulfilling the whole Law, and offering Himself for sin. And, when you confess and repent, it is not atonement; you are not paying for your sins with penance. You can’t pay for them. Listen and hear the words again: “But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” Let those words sink down into your ears. Let them take hold in your heart. That, His death, is the only price that has ever been paid, ever could be paid, or, indeed, that we need to have paid, for our sins.

          So, of course, you “gain nothing.” Of course “it profiteth me nothing.” It cannot anyway, nor have we need of any such thing to be justified by God.

“For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them (Ephesians 2:8-10).”

          What then about good works that God has “prepared for us to walk in?” Are they not the fruit of love, of agape’ shed abroad in your heart by the Holy Spirit? Are they not the spontaneous response of a true believer, because you simply cannot do otherwise, and could not let yourself turn away? The person who acts from this love of God is not seeking to profit, not looking to gain anything for himself. Such a person knows how to depend on the Holy Spirit, and such a person is grateful always to God for the atoning death of Jesus Christ by which salvation has been freely given. So, such a person will always treat even “one of the least of these” as if he was serving the needs of the Lord Jesus Himself (Matthew 25:31-46).

          “And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.” For, that is no less than the presence of God Himself, for “God is Love” – “God is agape’ (I John 4:8, 16).”