Monday, September 28, 2015

Saint Michael and all Angels, September 29

See the video sermon at this link.

For the Epistle. Revelation 12: 7-12
THERE was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels, and prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven. And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him. And I heard a loud voice saying in heaven, Now is come salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of his Christ: for the accuser of our brethren is cast down, which accused them before our God day and night. And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death. Therefore rejoice, ye heavens, and ye that dwell in them. Woe to the inhabiters of the earth and of the sea! for the devil is come down unto you, having great wrath, because he knoweth that he hath but a short time.

The Gospel. St. Matthew 18:1-10
AT the same time came the disciples unto Jesus, saying, Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven? And Jesus called a little child unto him, and set him in the midst of them, and said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoso shall receive one such little child in my name receiveth me. But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea. Woe unto the world because of offences! for it must needs be that offences come; but woe to that man by whom the offence cometh! Wherefore if thy hand or thy foot offend thee, cut them off, and cast them from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life halt or maimed, rather than having two hands or two feet to be cast into everlasting fire. And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life with one eye, rather than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire. Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones; for I say unto you, That in heaven their angels do always behold the face of my Father which is in heaven.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Seventeenth Sunday after Trinity

Ephesians 1:1-6 * Luke 14:1-11
Because I work to teach the meaning of Scripture on a wide scale, having been convinced from an early age that this is a gift and vocation, and now having doors opened to fulfill that calling, I encounter several responses. Sometimes it is complimentary, and sometimes it is challenging. In terms of internet comments, especially on The Continuum, I am accustomed to comments written to debate what I have said; and from a worthy challenger it is always wise to be ready and willing to learn. So, I am ready to do. After all, if the objective is to know the truth, any means of arriving at the truth is worthwhile, provided that we do not mean merely gathering of facts, but knowing the word of God more fully in order to know Him more deeply.

I have noticed that among challenging comments there are different kinds, indeed more kinds than we need to mention here; so I will address two. Of these two, the first is debate motivated by charity. For example, we have had Roman Catholic readers, or sometimes what are now called Reasserters on the opposite side, whose comments have been written in order to convert us, trying to win us over (I assume) because they honestly believe that they are trying to save us from heresy, and therefore from its consequences. In some discussions wherein I have answered most firmly, I have appreciated the fact that a commenter may be very mistaken, but nonetheless motivated by a genuine virtue, namely charity. On the other hand, there are some who debate because of pride; they feel that they must appear to win an argument at all costs. Their pride becomes apparent, after a while, because they become abusive and begin to communicate in terms of contempt or anger. Such comments, when they reach that level, do not appear on The Continuum, because of our one rule of "robust if polite" discourse. We generally allow any point to be made, as long as it is made with a reasonable degree of courtesy (since we are not afraid to be challenged).

I believe that the Pharisees in today's Gospel reading were full of malice because of their pride. Here was a man, a carpenter by trade, whose formal education was simply that of any Jewish man; far better on average than that of the Gentiles if only because Jews have always aimed at 100 percent literacy. All of their people (men and women) could read at least their prayers and the Psalms. But, Jesus had not sat at the feet of any of the notable Rabbis of their time, such as Gamaliel, who was in his own day the equivalent of a highly reputable Professor of Theology in our time. Nonetheless, Jesus the carpenter spoke with authority that the Pharisees could not even so much as imitate; and beyond that, His word was with power. His word drove out demons, healed those with diseases and afflictions of all sorts, and on at least three occasions brought dead people back to life. He did not need the Pharisees, and He did not seek either their guidance or their permission to teach and to heal.

On this day, the Pharisees were threatened by a man who wanted to be healed on the Sabbath; for if Jesus were to grant such a request He would openly contradict their teaching just by doing the healing. He would not have to say anything. As if that was not bad enough, Jesus silenced them in front of everybody by uttering a simple "one liner" hypothetical question: "Which of you shall have an ass or an ox fallen into a pit, and will not straightway pull him out on the sabbath day?" St. Luke goes on to tell us, "And they could not answer him again to these things." Simply by having the power to heal, and by using that power, Jesus won the argument. We know from Mark's Gospel that it was at this point that some of these same Pharisees either joined the effort, or maybe even started the effort, to have Jesus put to death. Matthew tells us that when the time finally came that Jesus was tried by Pilate, the Roman Governor knew that not only the Pharisees, but also the chief priests and Sadducees, wanted Jesus dead because of their envy (Matt. 27:18).

But on this particular day, by demonstrating His divine power to heal, Jesus won the argument twice over. For, already He had spoken with wisdom beyond the reach of His foes; and then He acted with power they could never match. But, the Lord really had no concern with something as trivial as winning arguments. Possessing all wisdom, a mere show of cleverness would have been quite beneath Him. His motivation had no room for anything petty, or self-seeking. First of all, He had compassion on the man who suffered, and on all who needed to see the grace and love of God demonstrated by an act of mercy. For every healing Jesus ever did signified something far more important for all of us than simple physical healing in this transitory life. Every healing proved that God does not deal with us as our sins deserve; every healing pointed to something greater and far more permanent: Every healing pointed to the forgiveness of sin, which is of eternal value.

Jesus was quite willing to trample on the sinful pride of fallen man, sparing no one's delicate ego when knowledge of the truth was at stake. But, this is not about truth merely in some academic sense. It was about something infinitely more important than who was correct. It says in the eighth chapter of the Gospel of John, "Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on him, If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free (31,32)." What truth is that? Is it a perfect grasp of History, of Mathematics or of Science? Is it even truth about various peripheral and speculative areas of theology, or of liturgy, or of Biblical Literacy? As important as these academic subjects are, we need to know the truth that is deeper than any of them. Indeed, if someone knows the facts and details of the Bible, and yet cannot know the Word who is present, Himself, throughout all of it, he does not really know the Bible at all. Jesus Himself is the Truth, as He said: "I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me (John 14:6)." As the Truth He is also the only Path to the Father, and the only Life that overcomes death.

This knowledge of the Truth, of Jesus Christ the Word who is eternally with the Father and the Holy Spirit, and who has been made flesh and dwelt among us, gives us knowledge of all truth. When we understand the truth as it is revealed fully in Jesus Christ, we know the truth about ourselves, and first of all, that we are sinners utterly in need of His salvation from sin and death. We begin by knowing we are lost, and we need Him to take us home; that we are blind and need Him to open our eyes to see; that we are deaf and need Him to open our ears to hear. We need forgiveness of sin, but cannot buy or earn it; the Healer must give us mercy just as he gave it to the man with the dropsy-the same mercy that does not deal with us as our sins deserve.

Jesus did not have tolerance or respect for the pride and hypocrisy of the Pharisees, and He had no regard for their delicate egos that could not stand to be proved wrong. The only argument He wanted to win was that of light over darkness, of mercy over condemnation, of love over indifference. His argument was for truth on the very practical level of meeting real human need, the need of a man with dropsy and the need of sinners everywhere and always to know the truth and to be made free. So must our concern for truth be; not to be proved right as pride would have it; but to impart the life-giving knowledge of God's truth to a world in need, beginning with the need of your neighbor. To be correct academically, and to be lauded for it, is of very small value. Christ-like desire to clarify the truth is practical; it is pastoral and evangelistic; it is motivated by love, which is of great worth in the eyes of God.

Every healing that Jesus did demonstrated not only mercy, but also the price of love that He planned to pay later for each act of compassion. As Isaiah the prophet foretold, "By His stripes we are healed." Matthew records that as Jesus went about doing good and healing He fulfilled these words by the prophet: "Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows (Isaiah 53:4)." But, these words are not from a passage that foretells the glory of His miracles; these words are from the famous Suffering Servant passage in Isaiah, the fifty-third chapter; and they are followed immediately by the words, "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. 5,6 See Matthew 8:17, and compare)

When Jesus healed the man with the dropsy on that Sabbath, to the anger of those Pharisees, He was planning to pay later, on the cross. All of His compassion and all of His mercy moved Him to forgive and to heal as He walked the earth among the lost sheep of the House of Israel. When He told those who had marked out for themselves places of honor, that they ought rather to have taken the lowest place, He bade them repent and follow Him; for He was going to take up the cross and carry it to His humiliating and tortuous death. There He took away the sins of the world, and on the third day when He rose again, He also conquered death for you and for me. So, we must follow, beginning at the lowest place; and beginning again today at that lowest place, beginning always anew at that lowest place when we confess our sins, before we may be bidden to come up higher, bidden to come to the very rail of the altar to partake of His Body and Blood.

Know this: Hanging on the cross was no occasion for pride. But, what an argument He won, indeed what a battle.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Sixteenth Sunday after Trinity

Ephesians 3:13-21 * Luke 7:11-17

A few years ago I was asked about a few words in our liturgy, namely from the Prayer of Humble Access, that beautiful prayer that begins with the words, “We do not presume to come to this thy Table, O Merciful Lord, trusting in our own righteousness, but in thy manifold and great mercies…” The specific words that I was asked about are these: “Grant us therefore, gracious Lord, so to eat the flesh of thy dear Son Jesus Christ, and to drink his blood, that our sinful bodies may be made clean by his Body, and our souls washed through his most precious Blood…” It is significant that these words were removed from the version of this prayer that is found in the 1979 Book of many services that replaced the Book of Common Prayer in that ever decreasing denomination called the Episcopal Church. They were cut out, as were the words “miserable offenders” from the daily Morning and Evening Prayer, despite the excellent apologetic for them provided by C.S. Lewis many years earlier. Those words were removed because modern people are offended by them. The well known Charismatic priest in the Episcopal Church, Terry Fullam, once related the story of a woman who said to him, “I may be a sinner, but I am not a miserable offender.” I remember a man who derided us by claiming that all our religion could produce was “miserable offenders” unlike his Pentecostal church that produced “saints.”

People are offended by the term “miserable offenders” because it tells the truth. We are miserable offenders, and without the grace of God in Jesus Christ we would, each and every one of us, be lost. But this, deleted from the Prayer of Humble Access, “…that our sinful bodies may be made clean by his Body, and our souls washed through his most precious Blood…” offends the modern mind, because the modern mind cannot comprehend- as well I understand and sympathize- how the body could possibly be sinful. After all, the body is just a house, and it is the mind that can reason and incur guilt, so we think. I understand only too well why modern people need a theological justification for the words, “our sinful bodies.” The words themselves have a dubious history, because of a Medieval teaching that has long since ceased to be relevant. But, if we consider the words biblically and theologically, these words that we shall be praying within only a few minutes, we will have a new and stronger appreciation for the Gospel, for the Incarnation and for the Blessed Sacrament of Holy Communion which is “generally necessary to salvation.”

First of all, let us consider today’s Gospel. In this Gospel reading we are given a clue about how the body is sinful. We see the Lord raising a dead man to life. Before we go any further, we ought to grasp a very important fact of Christian doctrine. When I was very young, and had only begun to read the Bible, I was struck by the part of St. Paul’s first Epistle to the Corinthians in which he says: “But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the first fruits of them that slept (I Cor. 15:20).” I was wondering how Christ could be “the first fruits of them that slept,” because he had on at least three occasions restored dead people to life. He had called Lazarus, and the twelve year-old daughter of the synagogue ruler, and this man we read about today, back from death. And, in the Old Testament we read of the one child brought back from the dead by Elijah the prophet, and the child brought back by Elisha the prophet, and the young man restored to life by the bones of Elisha (which provides a biblical justification for relics). So, what did Paul mean by calling our Lord Jesus Christ “the first fruits of them that slept?” Simply this: All of those people who had been brought back from death were brought back into this world that has been contaminated by sin and death, and they had been restored to a life that must end in mortality. They were not risen as creatures who were no longer fallen into sin, and no longer subject to death. All of them did, eventually, find their way back to the grave where they must wait, with us, for “the manifestation of the sons of God.” But “Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more; death hath no more dominion over Him. For in that He died, He died unto sin once: but in that He liveth, He liveth unto God (Romans 6: 9, 10).” The Lord Jesus Christ, after dying for the sins of the whole world- for the sins of each of us, your sins and mine- became the first to enter into the immortal state and the glorified state that awaits us when He comes again in glory. Christ is the first fruits, and when He comes again we shall be the harvest: The general resurrection of the dead on the last day will destroy that last enemy to be destroyed, death. So says the Bible, as we find in St. Paul’s first letter to those in Corinth (in chapter fifteen).

The Law of Moses teaches us that if anyone so much as touched the dead body of any person, he was unclean and had to bring an offering to be cleansed. But, in the New Covenant that has been established in the blood of Jesus Christ, we see the body as the temple of the Holy Spirit, so that even in death the body of a Christian is the dead body of a living person, a living soul, a seed to be planted that will spring up as a glorified and eternal, indeed, a spiritual body. You can imagine that the soul and spirit of man might be liberated from the body of death to enter into a spiritual existence. But today’s Epistle tells you that God “is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us.” And so it is that even the body will be granted immortality and glorification. Our hope and eternal destiny is the sure and certain hope of the resurrection on the last day. You will never be reincarnated, and you will not remain forever a bodiless spirit either. Your eternal hope is to be raised from the dead by the power of God when our Lord Jesus Christ returns in glory, to be patterned forever according to His immortality that He apprehended for us on that first Easter.

The body, as it is now, however, is affected by sin because it will die, and death itself is unclean. Death is not natural at all in the philosophical and theological sense. Death is the consequence of sin, not a good and natural part of God’s creation, but the last enemy of God and man that will be destroyed at Christ’s coming. So, how do we understand those words from our Prayer of Humble Access?  “…that our sinful bodies may be made clean by his Body, and our souls washed through his most precious Blood…” We must think about what we are about to do. In a few minutes you will confess that you are a sinner like everybody else. The General Confession is the opposite of the proud Pharisee’s prayer. He thanked God that he was not like other men, like the sinners; that was because he deceived himself. But we will confess the very opposite: We will confess the truth, seeking to be forgiven by God, outwardly signified by Absolution (if we speak with “hearty repentance and true faith”), and so we will approach, will draw near to take into ourselves the very body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. Remember His words:

“Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him. As the living Father hath sent me, and I live by the Father: so he that eateth me, even he shall live by me. This is that bread which came down from heaven: not as your fathers did eat manna, and are dead: he that eateth of this bread shall live for ever (John 6: 54-58).”

Because we eat and drink, having communion with the living Christ in this sacrament, and because we do so with genuine faith, our sinful bodies will made clean from death by His body as we rise to immortality on the Last Day, when He comes again in glory. Even now our souls are washed through His most precious blood of the New Covenant. Springing from His Incarnation, from the Word made flesh, is this sacrament by which we feed on Christ, the Bread of Life, the food and drink of eternal life. Today’s Gospel demonstrates His power over death, His power to give life, and to do abundantly above all that we ask or even think, according to God’s power that worketh in us. 

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Video: a sermon for the Fifteenth Sunday after Trinity

Click on the picture.

Don't believe it

Matt. 5:17-19

"Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil.  For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven."

There it was again, the same lie, this time on Facebook from a "friend" who should know better. Proudly displayed on a meme, with a picture of Jesus teaching, were the words: "Jesus never said anything about homosexuality." Really? How about the part that is quoted above? The commandments of God about sexual relations have never changed, for they are part of the moral law. Clearly written are the words, "Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination (Leviticus 18:22)." Arguing that the same book forbids eating unclean food is not an argument at all, for the Kosher laws are not part of the two tables, the moral law. This why the laws concerning sexual morality are repeated in the New Testament, in this case, we find (in addition to the oft quoted Romans 1:26, 27 in a context of warning) a relevant passage in I Corinthians 6:9-11.

"Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind,  Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God."

It is not only the word translated "effeminate" - μαλακς  (malakos) - that identifies the specific sinful practice, but also the word translated "fornicators" - πρνος (pornos) from the word πορνεω (pornea), always translated “fornication.” For, although the word "fornication" is understood these days to refer to sexual relations of a male and a female outside of marriage, the actual word means much more. It means any and every kind of sexual transgression, including but not limited to adultery, homosexual acts, sexual child abuse, sexual relations with animals, etc. Jesus never said anything approving about pornea, but instead only as sin, with strong words of warning.

"Then answered Peter and said unto him, Declare unto us this parable. And Jesus said, Are ye also yet without understanding?  Do not ye yet understand, that whatsoever entereth in at the mouth goeth into the belly, and is cast out into the draught?  But those things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart; and they defile the man.  For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies: These are the things which defile a man: but to eat with unwashen hands defileth not a man (Matthew 15:15-20)."

All sin is serious enough for Jesus to have taken up His cross of death, not to approve of sins, not to change the moral law, but to atone so that we may be forgiven all of our sins and enter into eternal life. Jesus came to save His people from their sins, not to make the world safe for pornea.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Provincial Woes

Concerning the recent and current problems  of the Anglican Province of Christ the King (APCK), I have declined to say anything to date. What news there is has been covered by Virtue Online, in two stories. As a result of Archbishop Provence's resignation the new Archbishop of the APCK, their third to date after the long oversight of the Most Rev. Robert S. Morse and the brief oversight of Archbishop James E. Provence, is Archbishop Frederick G. Morrison, of whom I last wrote back in 2007.

I consider it best, in light of my conscience, to issue a very real caveat to clergy who are considering a move to the APCK, especially with this new authority given to Archbishop Morrison. You may want to check with some of us who have been there before making any kind of commitment, especially if it could cost you money that your family depends on. Until things change for the better, the APCK remains a very risky bet for you. Any loyalty you would give, under its current leadership, would be strictly unilateral.

Archbishop Morse
Archbishop Provence
Archbishop Morrison
It is also wise to learn a lesson from history. As much as Archbishop Morse did a lot of good, and as much as I liked him personally, the lesson that needs to be learned is that a church body cannot be healthy if it is dominated by the strong personality of a leader. The episcopal history of the APCK has been shaped by one prevailing problem. It is quite evident that priests were elevated to the episcopate largely based on Archbishop Morse's perception of personal loyalty to him.

Nonetheless, the APCK has had some very good priests and healthy parishes. We hope that, in the future, it will participate in the attempts the other jurisdictions are making to cooperate, work together, and establish unity. Pray for that to happen. But, without a miracle, it will not happen under the oversight of Archbishop Morrison. I invite him to prove me wrong, and hope that he will.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Always relevant until the evil is stopped.

The Affirmation of St. Louis commits us to be Pro-Life beliefs as an essential part of Christianity. See this video. and listen.

Or read the transcript:

Transcript of Gianna Jessen’s Testimony to the House Judiciary Committee
Good morning,

My name is Gianna Jessen, and I would like to thank you for the opportunity to testify here today. My biological mother was seven and a half months pregnant when she went to Planned Parenthood, who advised her to have a late-term saline abortion.

Screen Shot 2015-09-09 at 4.19.06 PM

This method of abortion burns the baby inside and out, blinding and suffocating the child, who is then born dead, usually within 24 hours.

Instead of dying, after 18 hours of being burned in my mother’s womb, I was delivered alive in an abortion clinic in Los Angeles on April the 6th, 1977. My medical records state: “Born alive during saline abortion” at 6 am.

Thankfully, the abortionist was not at work yet. Had he been there, he would have ended my life with strangulation, suffocation, or leaving me there to die. Instead, a nurse called an ambulance, and I was rushed to a hospital. Doctors did not expect me to live.

I did. I was later diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy, which was caused by a lack of oxygen to my brain while surviving the abortion. I was never supposed to hold my head up or walk. I do. And Cerebral Palsy is a great gift to me.

I was eventually placed in foster care and later adopted. I forgive my biological mother. Within the first year after my birth, I was used as an expert witness in a case where an abortionist had been caught strangling a child to death after being born alive.

Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood, said the following: “The most merciful thing that a large family does to one of its infant members is to kill it.” – Margaret Sanger, “Woman and the New Race”
Gianna Jessen's medical records.
Gianna Jessen’s medical records.

Planned Parenthood is not ashamed of what they have done or continue to do. But we will have to give an account as a nation, before God, for our apathy and for themurder of over 50 million children in the womb. Every time we falter in courage as individuals and fail to confront this evil, I wonder how many lives have been lost in our silence, while we make sure we are lauded among men and do not offend anyone? How many children have died, and been dismembered, and their parts sold, for our ego, our convenience, and our promiscuity? How many Lamborghini’s were purchased with the blood of innocent children? The blood that cries to the Lord from the ground, like that of the blood of Abel. Not one of them is forgotten by Him.

I would ask Planned Parenthood the following questions:

If abortion is about women’s rights, then what were mine? You continuously use the argument, “If the baby is disabled, we need to terminate the pregnancy,” as if you can determine the quality of someone’s life. Is my life less valuable due to my Cerebral Palsy?

You have failed, in your arrogance and greed, to see one thing: it is often from the weakest among us that we learn wisdom – something sorely lacking in our nation today. And it is both our folly and our shame that blinds us to the beauty of adversity.

Planned Parenthood uses deception, the manipulation of language and slogans, such as “a woman’s right to choose,” to achieve their monetary aims.

I will illustrate how well they employ this technique with the following quote: “The receptivity of the masses is very limited, their intelligence is small, but their power of forgetting is enormous. In consequence of these facts, all effective propaganda must be limited to a very few points and must harp on these in slogans until the last member of the public understands what you want him to understand by your slogan.” – Adolf Hitler

We often hear that if Planned Parenthood were to be defunded, there would be a health crisis among women without the services they provide. This is absolutely false. Pregnancy resource centers are located nationwide as an option for the woman in crisis. All of their services are free and confidential, and they can be reached by texting: “HELPLINE” to 313131. There is access to vital exams for women other than Planned Parenthood. We are not a nation without options.

Planned Parenthood receives $500 million dollars of taxpayer money a year, to primarily destroy and dismember babies. Do not tell me these are not children. A heartbeat proves that. So does 4-d ultrasound. So do I, and so does the fact that they are selling human organs for profit. Do not tell me this is only a woman’s issue. It takes both a man and a woman to create a child. And to that point I wish to speak to the men listening to me: You are made for greatness, not passivity. You were born to defend women and children. Not use and abandon us, nor sit idly by while you know we are being harmed. I am asking you to be brave.

In conclusion, let me say, I am alive because of the Power of Jesus Christ alone. In Whom I live, move, and have my being. Without Him I would have nothing; with Him, I have all.

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Fifteenth Sunday after Trinity


GALATIANS 6:11-18 * MATTHEW 6:24-34

The scriptures today warn us of two kinds of deception, namely the deception of false religion and the deception of the cares of this world. And, what we see connecting these passages of scripture is summed up perfectly by our Lord when He tells us to seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness. In that seeking we are not escaping reality, rather we are facing it in its fullest. We can face good news and bad, even the fact of our own mortality, with a brand of courage unknown except by faith.

Saint Paul, in this Epistle to the churches in Galatia, saw the need to correct the heresy of self-appointed teachers who proclaimed a new and different “gospel.” In the first chapter (vs. 6-9) he told them:

“I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel: Which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ. But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. As we said before, so say I now again, if any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed.”

These words may sound harsh to people who imagine that all religion is good: But every genuine pastor, every sincere bishop, priest, or deacon, must teach faithfully what has been revealed and handed down. We must not accept what is taught in cults, or even in churches that are turning away from a clear and faithful adherence to "the faith once delivered to the saints (Jude 3)."

The heresy addressed in this Epistle was a new teaching that all of the Gentiles who had converted to Christ could not be saved unless all the males were circumcised and kept the ceremonial rituals of the Torah, that is "the works of the Law," and then only as interpreted by their approved Rabbis. Today we have false teaching of every sort all around us, and it has terrible consequences spiritually, and sometimes physically.

For example, the Jehovah’s Witnesses not only teach the Arian and Pneumatimachian heresies by denying the Trinity, by denying the existence of the Holy Spirit, and denying the bodily resurrection of Christ (who appeared to witnesses). They also cause their people to die, and at times have caused the deaths of their own children, because they forbid something as good and practical as blood transfusions. It is tragic. For many years my father worked side by side with a good friend, a man we all liked very much, who died at the age of sixty from heart disease. A very simple medicine could have kept him alive to this day; but he was a member of Mary Baker Eddy’s so-called “Christian Science Church,” (three misnomers) and so he would not take medicine. As a result of his beliefs he died before he could retire, before he could meet his grandchildren. The picture we are given of God, by these kinds of doctrines, is one of a very unreasonable and harsh taskmaster whose yoke is not at all easy, and whose burden is terribly heavy.

To avoid false gospels we need sound doctrine, and true theology.

In the Gospel Jesus lifts our eyes heavenward. The Book of Common Prayer (1928, American) does something unusual in this passage. It does not use the exact words of the King James Bible, “give no thought for the morrow.” Instead, this one passage uses the 1888 Revised Version: “Be not anxious for the morrow.” Anxiety can take your mind off of the Lord; it can disturb your peace and ruin your whole life. Anxiety is the opposite of faith. Isaiah the prophet tells us:

“Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusteth in thee. Trust ye in the LORD for ever: for in the LORD, the LORD, is everlasting strength (Isa. 26:3,4).” 

This strength is real and effective for us here and now in this life, and it is the only strength that lasts forever. No matter what evils come in this life, as people face the death of loved ones, as they face betrayal, economic hardship, illness, their own mortality and the hostility of an unbelieving world, in the Lord is everlasting strength.

“Ye have heard of the patience of Job,” we are told (James 5:11). Let us look as well to the suffering of the Apostles. One of the most moving passages in all of Saint Paul’s Epistles, at least for me, is a personal plea that he wrote near the end of his life to his son in the Faith, Timothy. It is not a deeply theological passage, at least not in an academic sense. It is not a passage that we can use to illuminate our minds with doctrine- and yet is a very useful passage for theology and doctrine if you reflect upon it. In the last chapter of Second Timothy we find two requests. First he wrote: “The cloak that I left at Troas with Carpus, when thou comest, bring with thee, and the books, but especially the parchments.” Then he wrote, “Do thy diligence to come before winter.”

Think about that. When the Romans locked up a prisoner they did not feed him, or tend to his needs. All of the prisoner's needs had to be arranged by family and friends. At the end of his many years of service, which he once described as involving constant persecutions, and other troubles such as shipwrecks, hunger and cold, he had come to this. The Saint, the former Rabbi who was the father of the Gentile Christians, the man who wrote about charity in words more meaningful than any other passage ever written about love, the man who gave us most of the words of the New Testament, bearing in his body the marks of Christ, glorying only and ever in the cross of Christ, had instead of retirement and a nice pension, a cell in a dungeon and a sentence of death. He was going to face Nero's executioner. To get through his last Winter on this earth he asked Timothy to bring the cloak, and to hurry up and get it to him before the cold winds of Winter could blow through his cell.

Well, that may not seem like a very deep theological passage. But it is. We see the faith of this saint who looked above the things of this world, this last witness of Christ’s resurrection facing death without fear, suffering the loss of all things with joy. His needs were real. He needed the cloak. Also, he wanted his books, probably hand-written copies of the Old Testament scriptures. What good were “the books, especially the parchments,” to a man on death row? The answer is, he wanted to keep his mind fed with the word of God, because he knew, living in prison and facing death, that the truth of the word of God was his anchor.

“Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you.” Everything you need for this life will be added. You have no cause for anxiety as unbelievers do. But more than that, more than food and drink, clothing and a place to lay your head, in the Lord is everlasting strength, the gift of sharing immortality with the Risen Christ, and the hope of partaking of the Divine nature through grace. You need not fear that the one who died to take away your sins, and who has promised in His resurrection to be with us forever, will change His mind and break His promises. What you need in this life will be provided as you seek first His kingdom and righteousness. But, even more so, “in the Lord is everlasting strength.” The pledge is eternal life through the risen Christ who has overcome death.

This is the faith that takes you through a life of real struggles and temptations. To feed and strengthen this faith you need to know what to rest your hope upon. For that you need the teaching that God has given by the revelation of His word. Dare I say it? You need the stable anchor of true theology and sound doctrine, because His word revealed in Scripture and known to His Church is where you discover the truth of God’s love.

Epistle Study for the Fifteenth Sunday after Trinity

Study of the appointed Epistle reading: 
Galatians 6:11-18

It may well be that Saint Paul’s words in this Sunday’s portion of his Epistle to the churches of Galatia, sound a bit strange. All of this talk about circumcision contrasted against the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, and people “glorying”- that is, in modern English, boasting- about the “flesh” of these Christians, may well confuse a new Bible reader. It can lead to mistaken ideas. The first mistaken idea is that whatever Saint Paul was talking about cannot be relevant to modern people. The second mistaken idea is that this provides a basis for an anti-Semitic interpretation of scripture. Another mistaken idea would be we have no need for the authority and teaching of the Church.

In fact, let me deal with this third mistake. In so doing, I will have already answered the others. Since we speak in the Creeds of the Catholic Church and of the Catholic Faith, which we believe, we are stuck with the Catholic Tradition- and thank God we are. The Nicene (/Constantinopolitan) Creed says, “I believe One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.” Yes, we do believe in the Church, because Christ Himself founded it and is its Head. But, in this great Creed you say I believe the Church; I believe what it teaches.

The scripture, without solid teaching of what it means, can be taken captive by any kook, fraud or con-man. So, when we speak of the Catholic Tradition we must go back to the ancient times, those early centuries when the Church was under persecution, or just emerging from persecution. We are saying that we believe what Christ promised, namely that the Spirit of Truth would guide the Apostles into all truth (John 16:13). And, as that promise of Christ applies to this passage from Galatians, the young Church first had to deal with a heresy that came about so early in its history that we see it addressed by St. Paul. When the Apostles and Elders gathered in Jerusalem, they also, with complete unanimity, addressed and refuted it (Acts chapter fifteen). This ancient heresy taught that, in order to be saved, a Gentile who converts to Christianity must be circumcised and live by all of the 613 commandments of the Law of Moses.

Trendy writers have sold the idea that some controversy raged over what to do with Gentiles converts. They sell the notion that this alleged controversy raged for years, even among the Apostles, pitting Paul against James, and maybe against Peter. They insist that we may infer, from this invented story of theirs, that important questions can go unresolved and debated within the Church for extended years before the Spirit leads us to a right conclusion. They use their false and contrived reading of the New Testament to justify new and outrageous ideas (including women's ordination and same sex blessings, etc.).

But, that tale of a raging and prolonged controversy is pure fiction; and so, like the future, it can teach us no lessons. What we really see in the New Testament is that the Proto-Council in Jerusalem was unanimous in its conclusion, without disagreement among the Apostles and the Elders. At the Council they unanimously affirmed the earlier decision recorded in the eleventh chapter of the Book of Acts, when they all agreed with Saint Peter that he had been right to baptize the new Gentile converts without circumcising them; because when the Holy Spirit came upon the Gentiles, gathered that day in the house of Cornelius, God made no distinction between Jew and Gentile. The immediate and unanimous Apostolic conclusion had been, at that time, “Then hath God granted the Gentiles repentance unto life (Acts 11;18).” So, when a new teaching – a heresy- arose, as Gentile Christians were troubled by unauthorized teachers who wanted them to be circumcised and to keep the Law, Saint Paul was in complete agreement with Saint James, and with Saint Peter, and with all the Apostles, that the Tradition of the Church’s Apostolic doctrine (new as that Tradition was, but established nonetheless) had to be defended. What Saint Peter had learned by Divine revelation years before, when Gentiles first converted to Christ, and what his fellow Apostles affirmed without argument (if you simply read the record in the Book of Acts), was the very same teaching proclaimed by Saint Paul, and the same teaching that the Council in Jerusalem upheld for all of the churches everywhere. In short, the New Testament does not show a controversy among the Apostles, but rather that they were in complete unity, agreeing among themselves concerning what it was that the Holy Spirit had revealed. And so, in the New Testament we see the Church teaching the content of Apostolic witness.

What does this mean for you? It means that what the Church has always taught since its earliest days, as recorded in Scripture, is to be believed. In this case, believe and know that you cannot save yourself by your own power. That first heresy, that we are saved by circumcision and by keeping the 613 commandments, suggests that we have the power to save ourselves without God’s help--that we can pull ourselves up to Heaven by our own bootstraps. It teaches that the flesh is strong enough to obey perfectly the Law by its own power (Romans 8:3, Acts 15:10).  A few centuries later, this same idea would reappear in another form from Britain’s very own heretic, a fellow named Pelagius. Pelagius taught that we can, without God’s grace, live holy lives simply by our own will power; that Christ came merely to be our example. The man who worked hardest to refute the heresy of Pelagianism was Saint Augustine. He picked up the teaching of the Apostles back in the first Century, that we cannot save ourselves by our own power; that we need the grace of God.

Today we can speak of the heresies of the Judaizers and of the Pelagians with ease. But, think of what it meant for people back then to hear such teaching. What if Christ had come only to be the example of perfection? Would not we be without hope? We should all know about the problem of sin and death. Death is the flip side, and part of the problem, of sin; sin and death are two sides of one coin. One thing I do not need is a perfect example to make the sting of my condemnation worse. I need a Savior, both to rescue me from the reality of guilt (whether I have the good sense to feel guilt, or not), and to heal my fallen soul of its waywardness. Jesus the Good Example cannot save me; Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh, the Lord and Savior Who is One with the Father, forever God even as He takes into His own Person our human nature and redeems it, and by grace perfects it, can and does save me. And, no one else can; certainly I cannot save myself. In Christ, however, no longer am I bound for destruction, for an eternity of death without God. Rather, forgiveness is extended, along with grace and power by the Holy Spirit to be transformed, right up until that day when we are made partakers of the Divine Nature (II Pet. 1:4) because the One Who as God was made man, gives us even this very grace.

So, I trust you see that Saint Paul’s words are very relevant to you.

Friday, September 04, 2015

Fourteenth Sunday after Trinity

The Epistle. Gal. 5:16-24 * 
The Gospel. St. Luke 17:11-19

Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh

The key to understanding the Epistle reading appointed for this Sunday is to know the Holy Spirit for Who He is. It is not enough to know about the Holy Spirit in terms of Trinitarian theology, that he proceeds from the Father, that He is one with the Father and the Son, "Who with the Father and the Son together is worshiped and glorified." We may know all that, and be able to say all the right things about the Holy Spirit. But, unless we know that He works among us and in us, and unless we learn to recognize His work, He remains a stranger. His is a Mysterious Presence, but His indwelling ought to be a known and discerned Presence. 

It would be easy today to zero in on the "works of the flesh," and to preach against various sins. Now, it is right to preach against those things that St. Paul lists, but only if we do so keeping in mind that he prescribes the cure before detailing his diagnosis. We should know that all of the things St. Paul lists are sinful, and that the consequences of living with those things willfully is dangerous indeed; as he wrote: "They which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God."

It is not fashionable to preach about Hell or even to mention it. It is fashionable in modern religion to make the Church safe for warm fuzzies, for feel good religion. It is not fashionable even to mention death in church anymore. Is that not ironic? The one context in which we learn how to face death without fear, church, has become a venue in which we are supposed to avoid all mention of death. That time will come, when there will be no death, for Christ shall come again. But, if we are to arrive safely at that destination, risen with Christ in glory to die no more, we need to prepare. 

Sin and death are the sickness of the human race. This list that Paul gives us, that he calls "the works of the flesh," is merely a list of symptoms. Nonetheless, a real problem today is that some people cannot recognize the symptoms for what they are. For example, "Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness" are on the list. But, in some churches, no one has even taught the children, as they begin to mature, that everyone is commanded by God to wait until marriage. Television, movies, and the mores of our popular culture all seem finely tuned to teach your children to accept a standard of sexual conduct that is, frankly, sinful and forbidden. I don't care if "wait until marriage" seems quaint and outdated or not. You are required to teach it to your children, and to live by it. We don't get to make the rules, and we are forbidden to change them. It is God who has commanded us to obey His Law, and He never changes. Fornication is still a sin, and it will be a sin in the future too. Some things do not change, especially the commandments of God.

Hatred and wrath are also on the list. Indeed, the Epistle reading we heard today is followed by these words, as the last two verses of the chapter: "If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. Let us not be desirous of vain glory, provoking one another, envying one another." And, there is more on the list, including such things as heresies and witchcraft- by which the King James translators meant occult practices (seances, fortune telling, and other forbidden practices, that I hope no one here dabbles in. The danger in those things includes demonic possession).

Here too we see the need for the remedy. We are told to avoid all these sinful things. But never forget, this comes to us in a larger context, one that begins by telling us that the solution is to walk in the Spirit. The larger context tells us more than not to hate or envy. It tells us to love one another, something positive, and that is more dynamic and radical than merely not hating. The whole context, remember, speaks of this remedy coming from the Holy Spirit.

If we really want to understand the meaning of today's Epistle reading, we need to see the contrast between "the works of the flesh" and "the fruit of the Spirit." St. Paul is not merely preaching against giving in to sin. He is providing the solution to the problem, and telling us more: How to advance into our calling to be holy people, that is, saints. And, he seems to be saying that we are stuck between two opposing forces: The Holy Spirit and the flesh.

When St. Paul uses the word "flesh," he takes his meaning from the words of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane.

Then saith he unto them, My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death: tarry ye here, and watch with me. And he went a little further, and fell on his face, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt. And he cometh unto the disciples, and findeth them asleep, and saith unto Peter, What, could ye not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak. (Matt. 26:38-41)”

It seems a simple task. Jesus told them to watch, to stay awake during His time of agony and prayer. They intended to watch and pray, but fell asleep because of the weakness of the flesh. "The spirit indeed is willing (in this case He means the human spirit), but the flesh is weak." How is the flesh weak? It seems, rather, to be quite strong. At times, it seems to have a power that grips and imprisons the human will. It seems strong indeed when someone finds it next to impossible to resist the flesh if certain properties are set in motion, such as lust, jealousy or rage.

Whether we think the flesh is strong or weak depends on what we intend to do. The disciples intended to do the right thing, that is, to stay awake, to watch with their Lord. But, they were overcome, and that is because the flesh had no power to resist exhaustion. And, that is what happens if we think we can rely on merely human power to become the holy people we are called to become. We find that the flesh, the stuff of which we are made, fails. It has no strength to do anything except to seek gratification and survival. That is the result of having a nature that is fallen. The flesh, this stuff of which we are made that is mortal and subject to death during this time of sojourn in the wilderness, does not possess the supernatural grace of God.

Therefore, though we constrain ourselves and act like civilized people, and exert a measure of self-control, we are still faced with that weakness that cannot rise to the ever present occasion of God's commandments, as they are summed up in the two greatest commandments of the Law. How can I love God? How can I love my neighbor? Where does the necessary power come from?

"But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law."

What is that? The list of sinful symptoms are "the works of the flesh," and the list of godly virtues are "the fruit of the Spirit." We need to understand the contrast between the flesh and the Spirit, and also the contrast between works and fruit. Works are man made. We produce things by what we do, and we call the result our works. In a positive sense, we may speak of the works of Shakespeare, the works of Mozart, the works of Rembrandt, and so on.

But fruit is grown. It is not produced only by human effort, but by its nature and the nature of the soil. It grows by the power of life that is within the seed, and that is planted in good ground. It is God Who makes things grow, and therefore Paul uses the word fruit to speak of God's grace working in us.

However, although the growth of fruit is not a human work, it is aided by the right kind of labor. Human labor consists of preparing the earth, tending to the growing produce, and reaping it at the right time. But, it grows by another kind of power, and human hands cannot make it. Now, we are given gifts and helpful instruction to live by. We are given the gifts of Prayer, Scripture, Sacraments and the godly fellowship of the Church. We are given, therefore, means of grace to cultivate the fruit of the Spirit in our own lives, and we must make use of them.

We must approach this based on what Jesus said:

Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me. I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing. (John 15:4,5)”

Jesus said those words the night before He went to His cross to die for our sins. He taught that, after he would rise from the dead, He would leave again to go to the Father (not by dying again, but by a mystery we call the Ascension), and that another Comforter (paraklētos) would come, that is, the Holy Spirit. And, although the Holy Spirit is another Comforter, that is, He is not the Son, still He is God and is One with the Father and the Son. Jesus said "Without me ye can do nothing," and then spoke of His own Presence coming through "another (allos) Comforter." He made it clear, in saying these things, that He would be with us by the Holy Spirit. (That is because God is One. Where the Holy Spirit is Present in power to work in us, He brings the presence of the Father and of the Son.)

Look again at the fruit of the Spirit. It begins with love at the top of the list ("love, joy, peace," etc.). That is the truly Divine love, using the Greek word agapē. This is what St. Paul describes in that famous chapter thirteen of his First Epistle to the Corinthians:

Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. Charity never faileth (I Cor. 13:4-8).”

Where does that love come from? Paul, again, gave the answer:

"The love (agapē) of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us (Rom. 5:5).”

We need the grace and power of that Mysterious Presence among us. We need the Holy Spirit to be active in us. And, we need to participate and find communion in that life and power that He alone gives. Otherwise, we cannot bear the fruit of the Spirit.

Today's Gospel reading teaches us what the key is.

"And one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, and with a loud voice glorified God, and fell down on his face at his feet, giving him thanks: and he was a Samaritan. And Jesus answering said, Were there not ten cleansed? but where are the nine?”

The Samaritan who had been healed of leprosy returned to the Lord Jesus to give thanks. The key is in that expression of gratitude. If you know the full weight of what has been done for you by God's grace, by Christ pouring out his lifeblood for you on the cross, by His rising again to remain forever the one Mediator between God and man as the High Priest who ever lives to make intercession for us, and by pouring out that other Comforter on his Church, you will return to give thanks. If you know what was done for you in your own baptism, the cleansing and rebirth in Christ, you will return to fall at His feet and give thanks.

The fruit of the Spirit cannot be made by our efforts, but we cultivate that fruit by cooperating actively with God. To walk in the Spirit is active, not passive. Each day we need to return to the Lord to give thanks. We give thanks by hearing His revealed word in the sacred Scriptures, by prayer, by the sacraments and by the fellowship of the Church. We are given grace, and our participation, fellowship and communion (all of which are summed up in the original Greek New Testament by one word, koinōnia) must be active, not passive. We should not sit back, passively, and assume the fruit will grow without our cooperation; for then the weeds would strangle it. The flesh would be overcome by every passion, and we would be lost. 

No, we cannot make the fruit by our own hands; it grows by the power of the life within it. But, we can prevent its growth by failing to cultivate it, by failing to return to the Lord Jesus Christ to give thanks. Without Him we can do nothing. With Him, and by abiding in Him, we can bring forth much fruit. Our lives can become the blessed, holy and joyful fellowship with God that lasts forever, that proclaims Jesus, and that makes Him known to every person we meet, whether or not we say a word.