Sunday, August 30, 2015

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Thirteenth Sunday after Trinity

Galatians 3:16-22 *  Luke 10:23-37

The parable we have heard today is called the Parable of the Good Samaritan. However, the Lord Jesus simply called the man "a certain Samaritan." Christ also taught us, "So likewise ye, when ye shall have done all those things which are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants: we have done that which was our duty to do." (Luke 17:10) The Lord did not, therefore, assign the title "good" to the Samaritan for doing what was, in the story, simply the man's duty to his neighbor as revealed in the Law of God. The Samaritan is not held up as an extraordinary example, but merely as a proper example. If there is anything praiseworthy about the Samaritan, it is his mercy and humility. For, the Samaritan was chosen to be an exemplary character in the story, quite deliberately, to make a simple point: You must love your neighbor without regard for how he has treated you, or how you expect him to treat you later.

The Samaritans were despised by the Jews, and they returned the resentment with no love lost. Jesus, however, reached out to the Samaritans. On one occasion the Samaritans of one village refused to receive him (Luke 9:52); but earlier another Samaritan village did receive him (John 4:1-42). Even there, however, the Samaritan woman at Jacob's well reminded him, "the Jews have no dealings with the Samaritans."

It is highly significant, therefore, that the man in the story is a Samaritan. Of all the men who came by, and saw the wounded Jewish victim of a criminal attack lying on the side of the road, the Samaritan was the least likely to want to help him. Why should he help a man who, no doubt, was entirely prejudiced against him? Perhaps, if the victim were awake and alert in his helpless condition, he would fear the Samaritan's approach. Perhaps, despite his need for help from somebody -- anybody -- he might nonetheless say something like, "don't touch me with your Samaritan hands!" 

But the Samaritan was set on one purpose, and that was to love his neighbor as himself, and therefore to act according to the man's need. He may never gain a friend for doing so; maybe not the man himself, and maybe no one back home who might disapprove of helping a Jew. He may have been afraid to tell the folks back home. But, at that moment he was "moved with compassion," and he obeyed the Law of God; he acted out of charity. 

The lawyer, in this case the student of the Torah, who asked Jesus about the commandments, no doubt had heard the Lord teach. He already knew what were, in the teaching of Jesus, the two greatest commandments of the Law: "'Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself.' And [Jesus] said unto him, Thou hast answered right: this do, and thou shalt live.'"

Of course, Jesus did not teach these things only. He demonstrated them as well. The Prophet Isaiah foretold the day when God would commend "his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us," (see Rom. 5:8) in the famous Suffering Servant passage. The prophet foresaw the day when the crowds would be turned against Jesus, rewarding the man "who went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed of the devil" (Acts 10:38) with hatred and rejection for all the good he had done. So wrote the prophet, roughly 700 years ahead of that day, "He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not." (Isaiah 53:3) In that context, wherein the Lord was treated worse than a Samaritan by his Jewish brethren, and worse still by the Romans who perpetrated the violence and cruelty that he endured, we are told of how much he acted with love, according to the needs of each and everyone of us.

"Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows:
yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.
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." (vs. 4-6)

He had said, "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends." (John 15:13) He defined for us, by his actions, that a friend may not be one who loves you; but, he is someone you love as your neighbor. Jesus called even Judas, "friend" as he betrayed the Lord (Matt. 26:50 "And Jesus said unto him, Friend, wherefore art thou come?"). From his perspective, as he was hanging on the cross and pouring out his soul unto death for you, and for me, Jesus Christ did not have an enemy in the world. Yes, he saw that they poured forth their hatred against him:

"Many bulls have compassed me: strong bulls of Bashan have beset me round.
They gaped upon me with their mouths, as a ravening and a roaring lion.
I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint: my heart is like wax; it is melted in the midst of my bowels.
My strength is dried up like a potsherd; and my tongue cleaveth to my jaws; and thou hast brought me into the dust of death.
For dogs have compassed me: the assembly of the wicked have inclosed me: they pierced my hands and my feet.
I may tell all my bones: they look and stare upon me.
They part my garments among them, and cast lots upon my vesture." (Psalm 22:12-18)

Yes, they saw him as an enemy, and treated him as a conquered enemy, exhibiting glee from the spectacle of his torments, triumphing with cruel merriment. But, from his Divine and human perspective, he was laying down his life for them, and that made them his friends, as it makes you his friend.

"And when they were come to the place, which is called Calvary, there they crucified him, and the malefactors, one on the right hand, and the other on the left. Then said Jesus, 'Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.' And they parted his raiment, and cast lots." (Luke 23:33,34)

So, Jesus not only taught us to treat everyone, including those who regard us as enemies, as we would treat friends; he did so himself.

"Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. 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. For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same? And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so? Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect." (Matt. 5:43-48)

This is not to be treated lightly. As God on his throne in heaven, equal to the Father and the Holy Spirit, the Son could not be harmed by man's malice. But, as a man, we see Jesus demonstrating the love of God through his human nature, actually suffering injustice, cruelty and pain; and he responded by forgiving and praying for his persecutors. This was Divine forgiveness from the Man Christ Jesus. (I Tim. 2:5)

Getting back to the parable, look at the men who "passed by on the other side." They saw their brother, a man of the same people and the same faith, stripped of his raiment, wounded and half-dead. The first man who saw him was a priest of the temple. No doubt, he had his religious duties to attend to. Perhaps, from all he could tell, the man was dead, and therefore the priest did not want to be made unclean. So too the Levite. He also served in the temple, and if this man was dead, he, like the priest, did not want the inconvenience of being made ceremonially unclean. Their religious duties, awaiting them in Jerusalem, must have seemed too important to be interrupted by the need, even the desperate need, of this their neighbor. 

I would think the Lord was using irony in the parable. Here are two men who know the Law, who belong to the temple, who do sacred work, passing by the man, passing by on the far side of the road. But, a Samaritan, despised and rejected wherever his business took him in Israel, is the one man who obeys the Law. Yes, I would think the Lord was using irony, if not for my many years of seeing some religious people, the kind who are very correct about every little detail all the time, who know the rubrics better than God does, but who behave, nonetheless, the same way that the priest and the Levite do in the parable.

Someone who serves in the temple might pass by on the other side. However, one who serves God would not, even if he is only a Samaritan. 

The Samaritan in the story did not do a great thing, but merely did his duty. The priest and the Levite did a great thing, for they committed a very grave sin. When news came to Tobit that a man of Israel had died, he rose from his dinner and buried him, even though the king had ordered that the corpses of Jews were to be left to rot, so that the crowds could belittle and insult them even in death.

And in the time of Enemessar I gave many alms to my brethren, and gave my bread to the hungry, and my clothes to the naked: and if I saw any of my nation dead, or cast about the walls of Nineve, I buried him. And if the king Sennacherib had slain any, when he was come, and fled from Judea, I buried them privily; for in his wrath he killed many. (Tobit 1:16-18, see also Tobit 2:3-8)

Acts of charity are always in accord with the Law of God. If the rare occasion arises wherein charity appears to conflict with a religious duty, God has commanded us to see charity as the higher priority. The Priest and Levite should have risked ceremonial uncleanness, a mere concern of the "Kosher Laws," to love their neighbor in his time of need. Someone else could serve in the temple during the time in which they might have become lo tahor, or "unclean." It would not have been the end of the world. If ever your sensitivities, and not merely but especially your religious sensitivities, incline you to place ceremony or rubrics ahead of charity, be certain that God will not hear your prayers. "He that turneth away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer shall be abomination." (Prov. 28:9)

And, concerning that Law, the second great commandment is this: Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. Jesus has taught us the way, and in showing us the way has redeemed us from sin and death on his cross.
"'Which now of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbour unto him that fell among the thieves?' And he said, 'He that shewed mercy on him.' Then said Jesus unto him, 'Go, and do thou likewise.'"

Friday, August 21, 2015

Twelfth Sunday after Trinity

I give you two sermons from the archives, here and here.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Newest News on the Shroud

I consider the Shroud of Turin to be, most likely, God's sign to modern unbelievers, planned for a time when only computer technology would give people something utterly astounding that could not be known and appreciated before.

"The Turin Shroud is the most important and studied relic in the world. Many papers on it have recently appeared in important scientific journals. Scientific studies on the relic until today fail to provide conclusive answers about the identity of the enveloped man and the dynamics regarding the image formation impressed therein. This book not only addresses these issues in a scientific and objective manner but also leads the reader through new search paths. It summarizes the results in a simple manner for the reader to comprehend easily. Many books on the theme have been already published, but none of them contains such a quantity of scientific news and reports. The most important of them is the following: the result of the 1988 radiocarbon dating is statistically wrong and other three new dating methods demonstrate that the Shroud has an age compatible with the epoch in which Jesus Christ lived in Palestine. A numismatic analysis performed on Byzantine gold coins confirms this result. This book is, therefore, very important with respect to the Turin Shroud. It is unique in its genre and a very useful tool for those who want to study the subject deep."

Read more at this link.
And here as well.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Eleventh Sunday after Trinity

I Cor. 15:1-11 *  Luke 18:9-14

What ties together the Epistle and the Gospel for the Eleventh Sunday after Trinity is the life of Saint Paul. In his time he had been both of the men in today’s parable, both the Pharisee and the Publican. He knew what it was to believe himself a righteous man. Listen to other words he wrote, to the Church at Philippi:

“Though I might also have confidence in the flesh. If any other man thinketh that he hath whereof he might trust in the flesh, I more: Circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee; Concerning zeal, persecuting the church; touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless. But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ, And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith.”- Phil. 3: 5-9

What happened when he approached Damascus turned his whole world upside down, as indeed, he needed. He was sure that what crowned his righteousness was his zeal to persecute the Church. What he learned was that his crowning act of righteousness was, in reality, the worst sin a man can commit. By persecuting the Church he was persecuting the Messiah, and making himself the enemy of God. At once he was face to face with his guilt, but also with mercy, suddenly knowing the cross of Christ for what it is. He was no longer self-righteous, but for the rest of his life regarded himself as the chief of sinners, and the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an Apostle, because, as he reminds us, he had persecuted the Church of God. He could now humble himself, like the Publican. The old Saul of Tarsus was dead. He would write: “The life I live now in the flesh, I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.” I will say more about his conversion further on.

In today’s Gospel the Pharisee and the Publican have one thing in common: Both men are telling the truth. The Pharisee really did not commit those outward acts of sin that he mentions - that is, those specific outward acts of sin which he selected from the list. And he really did pay tithes and fast twice a week. The Publican spoke the truth also, by calling himself a sinner.

Back on Good Friday 2006, in Arizona, I found some old printed copies of the Reproaches, and thought to use them for the service at noon. But, although they began as the classic Reproaches (found in the Missal), they diverted into a liturgy of group repentance for such things as the Crusades, the Holocaust, racism and pollution of the earth. I threw away every copy we had. Repenting of sins that we regard as having nothing to do with our own lives, especially when it affords us the opportunity to feel morally superior, is to pray with the Pharisee: “I thank Thee God that I am not as other men are- polluters, racists, and intolerant bigots,” the whole time using the words of the Publican and feigning a plea for mercy. This is a very subtle trend in modern religion, and can be a handy tool in self-deception, as if we needed one. The Pharisee did this too. He confessed other people’s sins rather than his own. He was simply a bit more honest than sophisticated modern people who imitate his self-righteousness, only by making a mockery of repentance instead of boasting as he did

This brings me to the advice I give about Confession, which came from recognizing my own fault one day. I was driving to see another priest and confess my sins, and trying to think of a way to confess one of them in such a way as not to sound quite as bad as I really am. I wanted to whitewash the picture just a bit. But, then it dawned on me that I was supposed to be appearing for the prosecution, not for the defense. When you make your confession of sin, understand that you are appearing for the prosecution, that you are there to accuse yourself. Not in a morbid and dramatic way, but rather in an honest way, simply tell the truth. As the Lord put it in today’s Gospel, humble yourself. In confession you are the prosecutor; you have an Advocate who pleads your case by His cross and death.

In fact, your whole defense is what the Epistle for today is all about, that selection from the fifteenth chapter of I Corinthians that I refer to as the Gospel According to Saint Paul. Here we see a definition of the Gospel, with its facts clearly spelled out for us. The very word “Gospel” must be understood from this portion of scripture. In recent years a very phony bit of noise has been made about Gnostic gospels- so called, especially the supposed “Gospel” of Thomas. The Church never covered up the existence of any of these books; rather the Church simply refused to grant them any status since there never was a basis for recognizing them as authentic. But, even if the book of Thomas had been received, it still would not have been proper to call it a Gospel. It stops short of the four things that Saint Paul listed as the definition of the Gospel. The four Gospels are called Gospels because they contain within them the Gospel.

Looking at those first eleven verses of I Corinthians chapter 15 we find that four facts emerge. Furthermore, each of these can be found in every sermon of Saint Peter, and then in every sermon of Saint Paul, that is recorded in the Book of the Acts of the Apostles. Each of those sermons contains these four facts, because these four facts are the Gospel itself.

  1. Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures.

Here, as in the Creed, the phrase “according to the scriptures” means “in fulfillment of the scriptures.” Look at the 22nd Psalm. Look at the Suffering Servant passage from the 53rd chapter of Isaiah: “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.”

  1. He was buried.

That is, He died, really and truly in fact, He was dead. The one Man who ever lived and did not deserve the wages of sin, death, was dead and buried just like everyone else.
      3. He rose the third day according to (again, in fulfillment of) the scriptures.

Throughout the book of Acts the most commonly used passage of the Old Testament for this is in the 16th Psalm: “Therefore my heart is glad, and my glory rejoiceth: my flesh also shall rest in hope. For thou wilt not leave my soul in hell; neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption.”

      4. He appeared to witnesses.

This last part is essential to the Gospel. Without these eyewitnesses, the resurrection of Christ would be a mere story. But, the resurrection of Christ is a fact of history, recorded with the blood of martyrs, men who saw Him alive again after His resurrection. While Saint Paul was writing this Epistle, many of these witnesses were yet alive, giving the Church that assurance and confidence that it needed to survive the earliest days of persecution. Eventually, this witness, this martyrdom, cost them their lives in this world; but having seen the resurrected Christ, they despised death; they feared the grave no longer.

Months from now, in the winter, we will celebrate the Conversion of Saint Paul. On that day, we clergy wear white. If the feast is about Saint Paul, then surely we ought to wear red, should we not? Red is the color of martyrs. But, the Feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul is not about Paul; it is about the last Easter appearance, a part of Easter “out of due time,” just as Saint Paul was called by seeing the Risen Christ “as one born out of due time.” His conversion came from being the last witness of the resurrection of Christ, at which point he learned all of these things we meditate upon today. He learned that he was a sinner. He learned that he was forgiven. He learned that this forgiveness was given by the sacrifice of Christ on his behalf.

The love of God is not just a theoretical thing, a warm fuzzy feel good sentiment. If you want to know the depths of God’s love for you than look at the beaten, crucified bleeding Christ, hanging there and pouring out His soul unto death for you. Take it personally, this love, just as Saint Paul did: “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me (Gal. 2:20.)”  Knowing this love, seeing it in those four facts that define the Gospel, you can then pray for God’s mercy, just as the Publican did. And, you can do so in full assurance of faith.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

The Doctrine of the Lord Jesus Christ concerning marriage

The following is a reworking of an older post (Man and Woman), reworked because the earlier one was written before the Supreme Court ruling on June 26, 2015, and for the purpose of setting these details out in a purely teaching format.

And Adam said, This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man. Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.      (Genesis 2:23,24)

And he [Jesus] answered and said unto them, Have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female, And said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh? (Matthew 19:4,5)

Dearly beloved, we are gathered together here in the sight of God, and in the face of this congregation, to join together this Man and this Woman in holy Matrimony; which is an honourable estate, instituted of God in the time of man's innocency, signifying unto us the mystical union that is betwixt Christ and his Church.
(Book of Common Prayer)

In the two quotations from Genesis and from Matthew we have been given God's word concerning marriage, and specifically, in Matthew, the words of Jesus Christ Himself. The purpose of this article is to examine and highlight what He Himself taught when He was physically present in this world. As you can see, Jesus quoted from Genesis, but deliberately modified it with the word "Two" (or "Twain" in the older English of the KJV), thus ruling out polygamy for His followers. What we have, therefore, from the teaching of our Lord Jesus Christ, is His word that marriage is between one man and one woman. He follows that by saying that “some have made themselves eunuchs for the Kingdom of Heaven’s sake (v.12).” Christians have always understood this to mean there are two states of life for believers. One is marriage, and the other is complete abstinence from sexual relations, whether one remains open to marriage in the future, or lives as a lifelong celibate by vocation. Aside from these two states of life, marriage or complete abstinence, no third alternative exists for anyone who seeks to follow Christ and be His disciple, that is, a Christian.

We have been given, in Christ’s doctrine, the teaching of sacramental marriage, that is, that marriage is God's own work. For, He follows it directly in the next verse with the words, "Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder (v.6)." Sacramental marriage is what we celebrate and bless in the Church, because it is the work of God Himself: "What therefore God hath joined together..." Not simply the Church, not simply the power of the state, not simply a covenant between a man and a woman, but God Himself makes the man and the woman one flesh.

And, indeed, it is clear from both Genesis and the words of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew that two people of the same sex cannot be married in the eyes of God. The Hebrew words in Genesis are unmistakable. The word for "Woman" and "Wife" (as quoted above) are one and the same word: Ishah (אִשָּׁה). The word for "Man" is Ish (אִישׁ). The same applies to the Greek original in Matthew. The word for "wife" is Gyne (γυν), from which comes the English word "Gynecology," and which means a woman of any age, and also means "wife." Furthermore, this follows the words from Jesus' own mouth: "Have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female..." making the following words obvious in meaning: "For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh." Sexual complementarity, something two people of the same sex do not have and cannot have, was created by God for marriage as a sacramental bond, to produce children and establish the family.

We can well understand why the Bible translators used the word "Wife" rather than "Woman" in both Genesis and Matthew. In English, to say that a man shall be joined to his woman might suggest something other than marriage to lazy ears, even though it is clear from the context that marriage is the only possible understanding of the words. But, in this day and age, we need to know that in Hebrew and in Greek the words for "Woman" and "Wife" are the same, with the meaning of a married couple derived from the context.

I was made aware of some celebrity championing same sex "marriage" with the argument that its advocates do not want to change the definition of what marriage is. That statement constitutes a factual absurdity. Of course it is a redefinition. In the whole history of the world every civilization has known that sexual complementarity - male and female - are of the very essence of what marriage is. It has never been understood any other way. From the teaching of scripture we see why: It is literally a part of God's creation, and not a man-made institution. Its roots do not come from jurisprudence. It is a part of human nature itself, as anthropology confirms (this celebrity went on to bring up Women's Suffrage and the Civil Rights Movement as if there is a connection between those important accomplishments and this new same-sex “marriage” idea. But there is no genuine connection, none whatsoever; only what some want to create by the power of suggestion rather than by facts, reason and logic).

One might as well argue that a triangle has the right to define itself as a circle, and that such an expanded definition of the word "circle" would not change the nature of circleness. If the word "circle" can mean also a triangle, then we have lost the meaning of the word. Such a definition is too inclusive to be meaningful. If the cause of including recognition of a triangle as a circle is fortified by the ruling of a court, all that would happen is that Mathematics teachers could no longer teach geometry, that is, not legally, because words would have lost their meaning. 

The revelation of Christ’s own teaching is not subject to change, whether one calls it “evolving” or “being led by the Spirit.” The Holy Spirit will not contradict what Christ has taught, because God will not contradict God. The truth is settled forever. 

Saturday, August 08, 2015

Sunday, August 02, 2015

Saturday, August 01, 2015