Thursday, December 31, 2015

The Circumcision of Christ January 1.

Romans 4:8-14 * Luke 2:15-21 

Back in the 1970s, when I was in my first year in college, I had a run-in with a Philosophy instructor. The older I get, the more I read and the more I learn, the more I know how right I was, and how wrong the instructor was. Now, that is not the normal reflection one makes of his first year of college, and not the normal reflection I make of my undergraduate days in the 1970s when I was a mere boy and a beardless youth (a time my own kids think could not have existed. When I tell them I was once their age, I am not sure they believe me).

Anyway, this Instructor told the class that the ancient Greeks had believed that matter was evil (so far she was somewhat right), and that, in her words, “we see this as part of Christian teaching, that matter is evil.” I did not hesitate to contradict her. I spoke right up: “That is not Christian teaching,” I said. And I was right. She said to me, “Defend that statement.” So, I did. I pointed out that as early as the Book of Genesis, God looks at His creation and says, “It is very good.” I mentioned the sacraments, specifically bringing up baptism and the Lord’s Supper, which use matter for what is holy. I was about to point out the most important part, that Christians believe that God Himself has appeared in the world of matter in what we call the Incarnation, the Christian teaching that God the Son is fully God and fully man in one Person. But, she cut me off, and repeated her assertion that Christians have always believed that matter is evil.

The entire concept of matter being evil was the worst of ancient Gnostic heresies taught by one Marcion, whom the bishop and martyr Saint Polycarp called “the firstborn of Satan.” I am sure that these names were not familiar to the instructor. To this day I am irked by the fact that standards at that college were so low as to make an instructor out of someone so totally unqualified. And yet, if that unfortunate person had not been presenting herself as someone who is educated, we could have a certain amount of sympathy.

After five centuries of division and confusion among Christians, it is all too true that the heart of the message is missing from what most people think we believe. During this season of Christmas, and particularly this eighth day of Christmas, the Feast of the Circumcision of Christ, it is a good time to state some basics about our faith. In particular, what does it mean that God the Son was born into the world as a human being? And, what does it mean about the use of matter in sacraments and also for worship in general? It is right that we can see water, incense, the sound of bells and other created things as useful in worship. Our God made a good world, and created things have been sanctified by Christ taking human nature and coming into the world of matter, of space and of time. Eternity and time have met in one Person. For people who object to water, to incense, to bells and to the Real Presence in the Sacrament, I can only ask what they have against Jesus Christ having come in the flesh.

The fact that we believe such a thing, that we believe “the Word was made flesh,” is rather startling, quite a shock when we really take it in for the first time. I recall vividly when I was very young, attending a Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve in the 1970s, and the Rector of Saint Mark’s Episcopal Church, a small country church in Maryland, read the opening of the Gospel of Saint John, the appointed Gospel for Christmas. I knew the words already, but as they were read in the context of the Church in that holy service, on that holy night, they hit me like a bolt of lightening. “…the Word was God…And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.” A few days later I was walking the family dog, and those words came again. I already believed that Jesus Christ is fully God and fully man; but the idea of what that means, once again, was like being struck by lightening. It really is rather a shock, a good shock and happy, to grasp the fact that God the Son has condescended to take our very nature into His eternal and uncreated Person- God equal to the Father and the Holy Ghost.

The very fact that Saint Luke tells us that he was circumcised takes on great significance. Every Jewish boy was circumcised on the eighth day. This is what God had commanded Abraham. But, what does it mean that Jesus Christ was circumcised? What does it tell us about creation and redemption, and God’s love for the human race?

Well, to begin with, as our Collect points out, Jesus Christ would fulfill the Law. For redemption, it reminds us of words from the Epistle to the Hebrews: “For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin (Heb. 4:15).” The fact that He fulfilled the Law perfectly, and was Himself without sin is essential to our salvation; the Righteous One being sacrificed as a Lamb without spot, himself pure from all sin, “Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed (I Pet. 2: 24).”  As Isaiah put it, in the 53rd chapter:

 “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.”

The sinless One, like Adam whose sin made the many guilty, has by His obedience unto death as the atoning sacrifice, made the many righteous. In this first shedding of blood by circumcision He begins to obey and to fulfill the whole Law; no one else ever did it perfectly. No one else could. No man in heaven or earth was worthy to open the scroll, says the Book of Revelation, except for the One who was like a Lamb that had been slain, and is called the Lion of the Tribe of Judah.

What else does His circumcision tell us? It tells us that we can identify Him as an individual in history. This is very important, indeed essential, to believing that His Incarnation was real and not allegorical. Back in the 1980s, in New York City, one of the “progressive” Episcopal churches in town decided to display a female corpus- that is, the body of a woman- on a crucifix. One of the great errors of our time is the kind of feminism that wants something other than simply equal respect for both men and women, which is a good thing in itself. But this is, instead, that other kind of feminism, the Satanic kind that hates human nature as God created it, and meant it to be. It is the kind that hates life, that makes the sin of murder by abortion into its only “sacrament.” Like the witch in Narnia, it makes it always winter but never Christmas. A female corpus on the crucifix gets to the heart of error. Jesus Christ, in His sacrifice is transformed into a mere symbol. How backwards from reality.

God is the great Reality, and we human beings are the image. Jesus Christ in His human nature is the exact image, the express icon of the Father. His Circumcision reminds us of this reality: namely, that He entered real human history. That is, the world, as it really is, received into its created existence the Lord Himself. He was real, and as an individual had marks that made Him of the male sex and of Jewish ethnicity, just as we all have these same distinctions of belonging to one of the two sexes, and to our own specific lineage from our ancestors. His sex was male, His people were Jewish.

It is important that He was male. This is no “accident” of the Incarnation, but rather, part of the plan. It is important that He was Jewish, descended from the Royal line of David. This too was no mere “accident” of the Incarnation, but an essential part of the plan of His Incarnation. Only a man could be our High Priest and represent all of humanity in One Person- as head. Only a Jew from the line of David could be the eternal King whose government and peace will have no end. 1

And, all of this ties into that other fact of His Circumcision, His name. “And when eight days were accomplished for the circumcising of the child, his name was called JESUS, which was so named of the angel before he was conceived in the womb.” Jesus, Y’Shua, is a Hebrew name that means Salvation. As it says in the book of Isaiah:

Ci’ Adonai Shof’tenu
Adonai Mak’ka’kenu
Adonai Malkenu
Hu Yashi-enu

“For the LORD is our judge, the LORD is our lawgiver, the LORD is our king; He is our salvation (Isaiah 33:22).”

We ought to study the two comings of Jesus Christ as they are revealed in the Old Testament: His first coming as Priest and His second when He will come as King. For today, let us consider the meaning of His circumcision, the first shedding of His blood, and His particular history as a male of the house of David, of the tribe of Judah. This real man in real history has overcome the barriers between us and God. By taking human nature He has overcome the chasm between Creator and creature that separated us from God. As the Lamb of God Who took away the sins of the world in His atoning death, when He offered Himself on the cross as the full, perfect and sufficient sacrifice, oblation and satisfaction for the sins of the whole world, He removed the separation between us as sinners and the Holy God. When He rose from the dead He did away with death that separated us from the Living God, the source and author of all life.

He has redeemed us by means of the good world He created, in a body of flesh and bones, in time and space. His Name is Jesus. He is our salvation.

1. Isaiah 9:6,7. These two verses reveal that Messiah must be a male of David’s line.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

St. John December 27

I John 1:1-10 * John 21:19-25

The beloved Disciple, Saint John, Apostle and Evangelist, has set a standard for every genuine Christian theologian. How glorious and sublime his words, how enlightened his understanding, how profound his teaching; and yet his feet are planted in the real world. He opens his First Epistle as he opens his Gospel, speaking of the mysteries of God as they are revealed and made known to His Church through the Apostles and their teaching. He speaks of high and heavenly things, of mysteries beyond human comprehension, of truth so profound we can but scratch the surface, of mysteries hitherto locked away from the dawn of time, and now made known. Yet, in the same Epistle he speaks directly to the most material needs, the necessities of the body in our duty to the poor among us: "But whoso hath this world's good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him?" (I John 3:17)

And, this is not forced and awkward; it is not a sudden change of subject, or a redirection of thought. It all flows together; it is of one part, combined most naturally by a single thought, the love of God. And, who better than John "the disciple whom Jesus loved" (e.g. John 21:20) to unlock this mystery in his writing? The meaning of this phrase, "the disciple whom Jesus loved," can be reduced, by immature thinking, to some form of favoritism, or simple friendship. But, in light of the great themes of his writing, the Apostle was more likely to have been letting us in on revelation that made him the Theologian. He saw in everything that Jesus taught and did that inexpressible love beyond all human imagination. He saw it as the Lord was going about teaching and healing. He saw it as the Lord washed the feet of the apostles on the night in which He was betrayed. He saw it as he stood and beheld the agonies of Christ dying on the cross, giving his life willingly. He saw it when the Lord appeared after his resurrection to extend grace and mercy. To John it was this love that opened his eyes so wide that he could write, "And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us."

John saw the love of God in Christ, for he had stood at the foot of the Lord's cross when he died. Writing of this, the revelation of God's love from the cross for all mankind, John takes that love personally by so describing himself: "the disciple whom Jesus loved." He knew that Jesus loved him, for he saw the Lord die for him, in his place, and cancel out forever the debt of his, of John's, sin: "It is finished (τελέω)." (John 19:30) John describes the effect of that death in these words: "If any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world." (I John 2:1, 2) He writes to open the door to everyone, that all who believe will also know that love, and also know what it means to be the disciple whom Jesus loved. See the Lord lifted up from the earth on his cross, and know that you are also, if you will learn the truth that makes you free, the disciple whom Jesus loved (8:31,32); for he loved you from his cross of death when he canceled out your debt of sin.

And so, he tells each of us that God's love is so great that we can enter the fellowship of those who have heard, who have seen with their eyes, who have looked upon, and whose hands have handled the Word of life. He dwelt among us because of what was made known to this one Apostle, that the Lord loved him. He could write of that love only in the great eternal and universal themes of his Gospel.

The Incarnation and the Trinity. The love of God, the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, is revealed in the uncreated eternally begotten Person of the Son among us, sharing our created nature as human beings and speaking of the other Paraclete to come. This double theme of the Trinity and the Incarnation permeates his writings, and those same writings rest on this double theme as a foundation.

The Atonement. As with every presentation of the Gospel, the facts are presented clearly, that Christ died for our sins, was buried and rose again the third day appearing to witnesses who saw Him alive. He writes of John the Baptist identifying the Lord as the true Passover, slain to free us from sin and death: "Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world (John 1:29)," the One who suffered and died to take away our sins.

The Resurrection. Indeed, in the opening of his First Epistle he writes in such a way as to give us a completed picture of Christ, that He is God the Word, that He has passed through death, and has risen. For, only after his resurrection are we given specific words in Scripture to touch the body with his scars of death: "And after eight days again his disciples were within, and Thomas with them: then came Jesus, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, Peace be unto you. Then saith he to Thomas, reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side: and be not faithless, but believing. And Thomas answered and said unto him, My Lord and my God." (John 20:26-28) As also St. Luke records, about the Risen Lord Jesus appearing to them: "And he said unto them, Why are ye troubled? and why do thoughts arise in your hearts? Behold my hands and my feet, that it is I myself: handle me, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have." (Luke 24:38, 39)

So, it is all of one, one seamless garment of the love of God revealed in Christ. St. John writes of the mystery of God in opening his Gospel, where he writes of the Word (λόγος) who is God, one with the Father and with the Holy Spirit, through whom all things have been made, taking us to that Holy of Holies within the Holy Scriptures: "And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth." (John 1:14) Within the Holy of Holies in the Old Covenant Temple, the glory was hidden to all but the High Priest, once a year and not without blood. In the revelation above every other revelation, the direct revelation of God in the Incarnate Word, in Jesus Christ very God and very man, that glory is seen by all. "He that hath seen me hath seen the Father." (14:9) And, this High Priest, the Incarnate God, the Lamb slain, the Risen Lord Jesus Christ, may show the glory to all who will believe, and not without His own blood, which had been shed as the Lamb of God.

The Church is described uniquely in the opening of St. John's First Epistle. It is the very fellowship of all who believe the Apostles who had seen, and who had touched with their hands, the Word of Life. The implications are quite clear, that by believing the word taught by the Apostles, and touching the same Lord in his sacraments, we have fellowship with those Apostles across the barriers of time, fellowship with the Incarnate Christ who is the head of the Body, with God the Father, and with each other.

It is said that when he was elderly, John was carried about on a stretcher, unable to walk anymore. When he would arrive in a city he would go into the church, gather his strength, and say simply: "Love one another." This would have been no mere sentiment, no empty phrase, or idealism. He had lived through many deaths, his colleagues dying one after another as martyrs (beginning with his brother James); and now he survived to be the last of the Apostles. More importantly, he had seen his Lord die on the cross. He knew that same Lord to be alive, and to be present by His Spirit in the Church. For this old man to have said "love one another" was to speak volumes, to speak words filled with their own glorious weight of meaning, filled with the revelation of the Word made flesh.

So, let it be for us, a phrase filled with all the same meaning, a standard for every genuine Christian theologian and teacher, a standard for every beloved disciple.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Fr. Wells' Bulletin Inserts

Who would not love thee, loving us so dearly?

The beautiful line from the beloved great Christmas Processional, Adeste fideles, is made elegant by a play on the word “dearly.”  “So dearly” can mean “with such intense affection,” or “at such great expense to himself.”  As we contemplate the miracle of the manger, we see that both meanings apply.  The threefold God, Father, Son and Holy Ghost truly loved us with an everlasting love, having loved us In Christ before all worlds, loving us with a love that sin does not cancel, death does not terminate, and hell itself cannot overwhelm.   But this unspeakable love was manifested at incredible pain and expense to the Divine Lover.  From the wonderful night when there was “no room in the inn,” though a humble and uncomfortable life in which the Son of Man had no place to lay His head, to the agony and bloody sweat of Gethsemane, to the pain of the cross itself, truly He loved us both intensely and expensively.
      But sadly, this line is a rhetorical question which provokes more than one answer.  The desired answer is that this amazing love manifested in the manger and the cross arouses our love in return.  Simple logic seems to decree that great love of God calls forth an equally great love on the part of the beloved.  But sadly, there were and still are many who do not love the manger child.  Who would not love him? Herod would not, nor Pontius Pilate  nor Judas Iscariot.   They were perfectly capable of answering Divine love with cruelty and hate. Nor the reveling multitudes who use His birthday only as a time for extravagance and self-indulgence. They, like Herod and Pilate, would not love Him because of their own depraved nature.  As St John tells us, “He came unto His own, but his own received Him not.” We wish we could say that God’s dear love for us constrains us to love Him proportionately  in return. But honesty compels us to confess that the lovelessness of Herod, Pilate and Judas was only our ingratitude writ large.  If only Abelard were right, when he wrote,
“Our sins, not thine, thou bearest, Lord, Make us thy sorrow feel,
Till through our pity and our shame, Love answers love’s appeal.”
Yes, He truly bore our sins, since He had no sins of His own.  But love’s  appeal was answered only with rejection, slaps, mockery and spitting.  Surely there is nothing in the universe so defiant of simple logic, so irrational, so criminally insane, as not loving Jesus. 

      St John, the apostle who wrote most deeply about the Divine Love, spoke more wisely than our beloved Christmas carol, or than Abelard, when he wrote, “We love Him because He first loved us.”      This love, vastly earlier, deeper and more enduring, is perfectly encapsulated in the tiny babe wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a feeding-trough. Because he loved us so much we are bound to love Him and to love one another.    LKW

Audio file: Christmas Sermon 2015

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A Christmas bit of original music tracks

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A Christmas sermon

For a Christmas sermon from the archives you may click on the link.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Laymen's Guide to the Thirty-nine Articles

Article XXXIII

Of Excommunicated Persons, how they are to be avoided

That person which by open denunciation of the Church is rightly cut off from the unity of the Church and excommunicated, ought to be taken of the whole multitude of the faithful as an heathen and publican, until he be openly reconciled by penance and received into the Church by a judge that hath authority thereto.

De Excommunicatis Vitandis

Qui per publicam Ecclesiae denunciationem rite ab unitate Ecclesiae praecisus est et excommunicatus, is ab universa fidelium multitudine, donec per poenitentiam publice reconciliatus fuerit arbitrio iudicis competentis, habendus est tanquam ethnicus et publicanus.

Archbishop Peter Robinson
Church discipline is a concept with which modern day Anglicans are unfamiliar. Basically, it has been a long time since any sort of real discipline has been exercised over the laity, though the clergy still have to be aware of the fact that they can be disciplined for error in religion as well as viciousness of life. One of the sadder tasks that I have as a bishop is that very occasionally I have to institute an investigation into alleged clergy misconduct, and although most of these turn out to be matters of, shall we say, perception rather than reality, the Church nonetheless has an obligation to maintain discipline among those it commissions to be ministers of Word and Sacraments. In times past the Church exercised similar supervision over the laity, and the main weapon in the church's armoury was excommunication, which meant that the person upon whom, after due process, the sentence of excommunication had been pronounced was excluded from Holy Communion until such time as they were reconciled through penance (Lesser Excommunication,) or excluded from the Church altogether (Greater Excommunication). In the Early Church, those who were under lesser excommunication were required to leave the Church at the end of the ante-Communion service, and in the Orthodox liturgy there are still vestiges of the dismissal of the catechumens 1 before the actual liturgy of the Eucharist begins.

One of the objections that the Reformers had to church discipline as it then stood was that excommunication was used far too frequently, and had lost much of its force in a church where the laity only received communion once a year anyway. As a result, the Reformers sought to end the use of excommunication for trivial offences, whilst at the same time making it a far more formidable punishment. It also has to be remembered that whilst the original version of Article XXXIII was being drafted Archbishop Cranmer was also working on a new Canon Law Code for the English Church. Indeed had all three parts of Cranmer's programme of Reform - the Articles, the Prayer Book, and the Canon Law - been completed, the Church of England would have had a comprehensive Church Order comparable to those drawn up in Lutheran Germany. Unfortunately, Cranmer's plans for the revision of Canon Law were cut short by the death of Edward VI in 1553, and so the process of reform was taken up firstly by Matthew Parker in the 1560s, and then by Richard Bancroft at the beginning of the reign of James VI & I. This culminated in the 1604 Canons, which remained in force for the next 361 years.

In practice most disciplinary cases in the Church of England involved adultery, bastardy, and slander, which led to the consistory courts gaining the nickname 'Bawdy Courts' in the 17th century. Most cases resulted in public penance being imposed on the guilty parties, usually during the Sunday morning service at the parish church, in which the person doing penance dressed in a white robe, and was seated in the middle of the church. At the appointed time, they would stand and read, or repeat their assigned confession and penance before the congregation. Excommunication was seldom used after the Reformation and then only for cases of unrepented 'open and notorious sin.' However, the major part of the business of the church courts was occupied with probate cases, which remained within the jurisdiction of the Consistory Courts until probate secularized in the early 19th century. One major difference to the Consistory Courts of Lutheran Germany and Scandinavia was that the English system was that the church courts were not involved in divorce cases. This is mainly because divorce was the province of parliament, this making it very difficult to obtain.

After the decline of the old church discipline concerning gossip, slander, and bastardy, the old Consistory Courts continued to meet from time to time for Clergy Discipline cases. The proceedings of such courts were reformed and simplified by the Clergy Discipline Act in the mid-nineteenth century. By the 1980s the main business of the Consistory Courts in the Church of England seemed to be problems arising from the granting of faculties for alterations to church buildings, and the occasional 'naughty vicar' whose sins landed him in the consistory court rather than in the civil justice system.

Fr. Robert Hart
The scriptural basis for excommunication begins in the Law of Moses, when one penalty is to be cut off from Israel. An example is Numbers 15:30,31.

"But the soul that doeth ought presumptuously, whether he be born in the land, or a stranger, the same reproacheth the LORD; and that soul shall be cut off from among his people. Because he hath despised the word of the LORD, and hath broken his commandment, that soul shall utterly be cut off; his iniquity shall be upon him."

In the New Testament we find the words of Jesus Himself, in Matthew 18:15-18

"Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother. But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican. Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven."

To treat such a person as "a heathen man or a publican" is reflected in the words of St. Paul from the fifth chapter of First Corinthians, "With such an one, no not to eat." The entire chapter is short.

"It is reported commonly that there is fornication among you, and such fornication as is not so much as named among the Gentiles, that one should have his father's wife. And ye are puffed up, and have not rather mourned, that he that hath done this deed might be taken away from among you.For I verily, as absent in body, but present in spirit, have judged already, as though I were present, concerning him that hath so done this deed, In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when ye are gathered together, and my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, To deliver such an one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.

Your glorying is not good. Know ye not that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump? Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened. For even Christ our passover is sacrificed for us: Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.
I wrote unto you in an epistle not to company with fornicators: Yet not altogether with the fornicators of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or with idolaters; for then must ye needs go out of the world. But now I have written unto you not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such an one no not to eat. For what have I to do to judge them also that are without? do not ye judge them that are within? But them that are without God judgeth. Therefore put away from among yourselves that wicked person."

We must explain some of what appears in that text, first noting that in his Second Epistle to the Corinthians we find evidence that the man repented and that St. Paul instructs the Church to receive him back, and to assure him of forgiveness. In chapter 2:6 and following we read, 

"Sufficient to such a man is this punishment, which was inflicted of many. So that contrariwise ye ought rather to forgive him, and comforthim, lest perhaps such a one should be swallowed up with overmuch sorrow. Wherefore I beseech you that ye would confirm your love toward him. For to this end also did I write, that I might know the proof of you, whether ye be obedient in all things. To whom ye forgive any thing, I forgive also: for if I forgave any thing, to whom I forgave it, for your sakes forgave I it in the person of Christ; Lest Satan should get an advantage of us: for we are not ignorant of his devices."

The curious phrase "To deliver such an one unto Satan..." must be interpreted by the context, in which it becomes evident that his exclusion from the Church removes a kind of protection from the spiritual forces of darkness. The command at the end of the chapter is to "put away from among yourselves that wicked person." Therefore, we must conclude that the meaning is to expel the unrepentant and notorious sinner from the fellowship of the Church. 

In our day and age that seems almost impossible. After all, the Church has never been authorized by God to make use of physical force or violence. We have control, however, over the reception of Communion, which is why excommunication is viewed mostly as refusal to administer this sacrament to someone. The Book of Common Prayer, as written for the Episcopal Church in the United States, the 1928 edition, reflects this in its rubrics.

If among those who come to be partakers of the Holy Communion, the Minister shall know any to be an open and notorious evil liver, or to have done any wrong to his neighbours by word or deed, so that the Congregation be thereby offended; he shall advertise him, that he presume not to come to the Lord’s Table, until he have openly declared himself to have truly repented and amended his former evil life, that the Congregation may thereby be satisfied; and that he hath recompensed the parties to whom he hath done wrong; or at least declare himself to be in full purpose so to do, as soon as he conveniently may.

However, merely withholding communion is less than what St. Paul commanded, and less than what Christ Himself commanded. The person excommunicated is not to be granted the fellowship of the Church, not even in a social setting. The degree to which this is possible in modern society needs to be thought through and discussed, but not ignored.

Also, the person who is excommunicated is not to be cast out because of anything less than open and unrepentant sin, inasmuch as his or her life is a scandal to the people of God. Excommunication is not an appropriate punishment for merely offending some priest or bishop. I recall an event from the life of the late and very famous John Lennon, when he was granting an interview to the press. Telling of when he was fourteen, and attended church regularly (the Church of England), he would become emotional in "the House of God," as he put it. But on one occasion a bit of laughter came over him that he could not entirely restrain, which is one of the weaknesses of being fourteen (for those of us who can remember). The vicar took it personally, and feeling insulted he told the young John Lennon that he was never to return to his church. At the time he was telling the story Lennon concluded with the words, "That was the end of the Church for me." He never became an unbeliever; but how tragic that his fellowship with the Church was cut off that way. 

In the passages both from First and Second Corinthians we must conclude that the true purpose of excommunication is not to rid the Church of "such an one." Rather, that his or her exclusion from the fellowship and sacraments of the Church may move the sinner to repent. Again those words that sound so strange to modern ears, "To deliver such an one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus." The removal of spiritual protection, and the isolation in being "cut off from among his people" is, in all its gravity, a service of charity when all else has failed.

But, in this day and age we have a weakness in the Church due to its divisions, indeed even its competition for members as if it were comprised of local businesses hungry for customers. Merely filling pews with bodies that still breathe is not evangelism (nothing short of saving souls is genuine evangelism). The temptation exists to increase the attendance and donations, no questions asked. If someone is excommunicated nothing prevents him from joining another church, and even telling everyone about the alleged evils of his former affiliation.

Sadly, this practically seems to nullify the effect of the Article, the effect of St. Paul's words, and the effect of Christ's own instruction to us.
1 The distinction to be made is that catechumens are those yet being catechised, that is taught, and have not yet been admitted to Communion.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Study on the Gospel

for the Fourth Sunday in Advent. Click on the icon.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Fourth Sunday in Advent

Isaiah 40:1-11 * Psalm 80 * Phil. 4:4-7 * John 1:19-28 

Again we see that mysterious image of John the Baptist, the burning and shining light who bore witness by his life and death to Jesus Christ. “He must increase, and I must decrease,” said this prophet, this man whose unique vocation was that he bridged the Old Testament and the New. Two weeks ago we saw that all of the scriptures bore witness to Jesus Christ; and now, this last prophet of the Old Covenant bears direct witness to Christ, baptizing Him, and seeing the Spirit of God come upon Him as a dove out of Heaven. This last prophet of the Old Covenant is the first prophet of the New Covenant. The Lord said through the prophet Isaiah, “Behold, I will do a new thing; now it shall spring forth; shall ye not know it? I will even make a way in the wilderness, and rivers in the desert (Isa. 43: 19).” God called this prophet, this unique prophet, to show that the new thing, the New Covenant spoken of by Jeremiah the prophet (Jer. 31:31f) was upon them. John’s father was a priest under the Law of Moses, a descendent of Aaron. Therefore, John was also, by that Law, a priest. Yet, John the son of Zechariah, went into the desert to be the voice of one crying in the wilderness, “prepare the way of the Lord.”

Advent is about the last things, and especially meant to remind us that Christ will come again in glory to judge the quick and the dead, to make the heavens and the earth new, and to rule forever on His throne, surrounded by saints whom He has redeemed from sin and death to rule forever with Him. But, as we have seen, instead of having us read the many passages of scripture that deal very directly with eschatology- the study of the end- the Gospel readings appointed by the Church give us a glimpse of Christ’s second coming by reminding us of events that happened when He came at first. The first week we saw that His kingdom brings judgment on the very House of God in the midst of the holy city, and cleanses it by driving out those who defiled it by their practice of unrepented sin. The picture ought to inspire the healthy fear of God, and to make us repentant and resolute to live in such a way that we will be among those who remain in His house forever, instead of being driven out into outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

And now, thanks to the wisdom of the Church, we are reminded of the Baptist who prepared the way of the Lord by preaching repentance and cleansing. John the Baptist bridged the Testaments and prepared the way for Christ by offering hope, by giving sinful people a chance to start over again. The sinners who came to him were given a new beginning, hope and cleansing- themselves cleansed rather than tossed out as the Lord tossed out the money changers when it was the temple that was cleansed of evil presences and practices. In other words, the vocation of John the Baptist was to prepare people to see Jesus as the Messiah, and the preparation was repentance, the only way to be prepared to meet the Lord. The Advent message of repentance is necessary. Modern popular religion tells everyone that they need not repent of their sins, but rather that everyone is accepted with all of their ungodly baggage. The truth is, some churches are simply helping people go into the outer darkness. After all, St. Paul warned of people he called Satan’s ministers (II Cor. 11:13-15). The real ministry of the Church is the most important and serious thing in the world. Here we deal with things more important than mere life and death. We speak and administer the word and sacraments that have to do with the eternal kingdom to come. We give out both a warning and hope: "Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand."

Now, about the comings of Jesus Christ, and the life of this mysterious John the Baptist, we should dig a little deeper. The word “Christ” is from the Greek for the Hebrew word Meshiach, or as we pronounce it in English, Messiah. We have come to call the Lord by two names more than all others, Jesus and Christ. The one means Salvation- Y’shua. The other means “the anointed” – Meshiach. The implication is the Old Testament expression, “the Lord’s Anointed.” This comes with two pictures, as the word "messiah" is sprinkled generously throughout the pages of the Old Testament (generally translated "anointed"). The word speaks of priests and kings, and the anointing comes by the hand of a prophet.

The first men to be called meshiach were the brother of Moses, Aaron the High Priest, and his sons the priests. The King James Bible uses the phrase “the priest that is anointed.” The original Hebrew is h’ kohan h’ meshiach- “the priest the messiah.” The second class of men to be called messiah (meshiach) are the kings. David would not stretch forth his hand against Saul, because he was “the Lord’s anointed.” That is, the Lord’s messiah. Every priest was a messiah, and every king was a messiah. And, yet, the scriptures clearly speak of the one Man who would be both priest and king, and who would be the only hope of the whole world, being the one Jews call H’ MeshiachThe Messiah. So, first Messiah is the priest, and then after that He is the King.

His two comings are foreshadowed in these pictures. First he came as priest. The Epistle to the Hebrews is the most explicit New Testament book that tells of Christ’s priestly ministry when he came the first time, and does so in light of the hope of those who look for His second appearing. As the priest He offered Himself as the sacrifice. The Book of Leviticus tells us clearly how a priest made kippur, that is atonement, for a repentant sinner who confessed his sin to the priest and brought a sacrifice. The real meaning is that the priest himself is the atonement, and offers the animal because he cannot sacrifice himself. This is a type and shadow of Jesus, who did offer Himself as priest and sacrifice when He came the first time. The importance of the Suffering Servant passage to the clear New Testament proclamation of atonement cannot be overstated. You will find it in the 53rd chapter of the Book 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.”

This Suffering servant, after His death in their place, rises and takes up a ministry of intercession for sinners. “When thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in his hand.” A dead man cannot prolong his days unless he rises again. In this passage, His death and resurrection are priestly, because he dies as the one true sacrifice, the atonement, and after rising “he ever lives to make intercession for them,” that is, for those who come to God through Him (Hebrews 7:25). The Old Testament sacrifices on those altars foreshadowed His true sacrifice, just as our sacrifice on this altar, in which nothing is killed, proclaims it. In fact, there is only one Mass (Eucharist or Holy Communion), and always when it is offered anywhere in the world by the Church, it is joined to the one true sacrifice on Calvary.

When he comes again, the image of Messiah as King will be fulfilled in all of its glory. This is the terror of all that is evil, and it is the hope of the Church. It is a certainty that he will come on the Last Day to judge the living and the dead, to establish Heaven on Earth, to rule and so grant peace forever. Both testaments speak of His coming as the King Messiah. Daniel saw one coming in the clouds of Heaven as the Son of man to rule with the Ancient of Days; Moses saw that “the Earth shall be filled with the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.” Our eternal hope is not based upon imagination and conjecture, but upon the sure promise given in and by Christ’s resurrection from the dead. We are given the “sure and certain hope of the resurrection on the Last Day.” It is the only such hope, and it is impossible to separate that hope from Jesus Christ, because immortality, the hope of eternal life, is granted through His resurrection. So writes Saint John about those who, due to this hope, purify themselves: “Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is (I John 3:2).”

John the Baptist prepared the way of the Lord by his message of repentance. Pondering these pictures of the Messiah as priest and King we are both warned and encouraged with both fear and hope. This is the meaning of Advent. It is of eternal consequence that we give heed.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Benedictine influence

This article is educational and worth reading. It is consistent with something I wrote here long ago about Benedictine influence on our Book of Common Prayer tradition.

Written in 1980.
Thus, the Anglican insists that if one wishes seriously to come to terms with Anglicanism, he is going to have to go back to its true roots and study Augustine, Ninian, Patrick, Aiden and Cuthbert (all of them monks), and especially that most Benedictine of these founding fathers, also 'that most typically Anglican of all ancient saints, the Venerable Bede.'
The Anglican theologian Anthony Hanson notes that there is nothing particularly, new about this insistence on Anglican continuity with the pre-Reform Church: 'Anglican apologists in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries constantly maintained that the Church of England was not a breakaway Church, like the Evangelical Church in Germany or the Reformed Church in France. It was the same continuous Catholic Church that had at the Reformation "washed its face."'
And the Roman Catholic scholar of Anglicanism George Tavard, citing Anglican theologians of the sixteenth century regarding the 'uninterrupted succession' of their sacraments, theology and faith, acknowledges that among the Anglican writers of that period 'this theme constantly recurs.'
You can read the whole article by clicking on the icon above.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Third Sunday in Advent 2015

Faithful Stewards of the Mysteries of God

I Corinthians 4:1-5  * Matthew 11:2-10

As we ponder the Epistle and Gospel appointed for this day, in light of the Collect, we see that John the Baptist is a model for one of the essential features of ordained ministry in the Church. It is the duty of every bishop, priest and deacon, by the grace of God, to live up to this calling: "The ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God." It is essential to the very nature of the ordained ministry that a man "be found faithful," and that his life and teaching present a constant message that is part warning and part comfort. A warning that "we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ (Romans 14:10)," and the comfort of imparting strength to persevere by the gifts of the Holy Spirit. The words, "stewards of the mysteries of God" sum up the priestly ministry as expressed in our Ordinal: "And be thou a faithful Dispenser of the Word of God, and of his holy Sacraments." For every Divine mystery (μυστήριον) is both of these, God's word and his sacraments.
          In light of the Collect, and of the message of Advent in general, the Church is saying to us, from generations past, that the priestly ministry in the church has as its purpose to prepare each person to meet Jesus Christ face to face when He comes again in glory, and when each of us stands before His holy presence. Who better than John the Baptist can so model this ministry, a man who was both priest and prophet? He was a priest, the son of a priest who was named Zechariah, as we learn from the opening of the Gospel of Luke. The Levitical priesthood was inherited, as we know from the Law of Moses. John's priestly ministry was quite unusual, as his offering was the oblation of baptism for every penitent who came in sincerity to be cleansed in his mikvah, his baptism. And, John was a prophet who proclaimed the word of the Lord. He spoke the word of the Lord by the banks of the waters of Jordan. He was not preaching his message simply to add another idea to the eschatology of Judaism, or to promote an intellectual curiosity. Jesus was about to arrive on the scene, and John's message was to make ready a people to follow him.
          John was sent "in the spirit and power of Elijah to turn the hearts of the fathers to to the children, and the disobedient to wisdom of the just (Luke 1:17)." The angel Gabriel combined words from Malachi with words from the Books of the Kings (Malachi 4:5, I Kings 18:37), an actual angelic commentary on scripture. Elijah "turned the hearts" of the people of Israel back to God through his miraculous victory over the prophets of Baal. "The wisdom of the just" is the wisdom of our fathers.

          Today there is increasing pressure on clergy to conform to a new standard, and to reject the word of the Lord as it has been revealed, received and taught by all of our fathers, both our Jewish and Christian fathers, and above all Christ the Everlasting Father (Isaiah 9:6,7) or Last Adam (I Corinthians 15:45) of the new and redeemed humanity. But, following the model of John the Baptist, every faithful steward resists the pressure to rewrite God's Law, the pressure to grant permission instead of absolution, the pressure to call evil good, and good evil; for a faithful steward turns the disobedient to the wisdom of the just by teaching right doctrine, and calling for repentance. He remains faithful to what has been declared from the beginning, Quod ubique, quod semper, quod ab omnibus creditum est.
          The faithful steward preaches his message to make ready a people, each member of the Church and those will hear and become members, for the same Christ who was here before, for the day that is coming when each of us will see Him as He is, risen and glorified. That day will be the time when unbelievers will be filled with dread to look upon His holy face. To prepare the heirs of salvation and eternal life is what our mysteries are for, and why we must be faithful stewards.
          The message from the Gospel reading appointed for today is this: Do not look to be impressed by the standards of this world. Do not look for a man to be "charismatic" in secular terms, but rather see and know that he is charismatic in the truly Biblical sense of that Greek word. That is, look to the gifts of God that come through a faithful steward, and know that each has the grace, or gift (χa’ρισμα, charisma) of Christ's own ministry. What did you expect to see here? What do you want to see? A king? A potential CEO or President, a man with worldly wisdom? Someone with razzle-dazzle who can charm or memorize? A skillful or exciting entertainer? These things may impress the carnally minded. All you see here, with natural eyes, are men. We do not live in king's houses.
          Neither can a faithful steward allow himself to be "a reed shaken with the wind." He must not present new and exciting doctrines, or claim to have revelations that set him apart from or above the teaching of the Church in every age. St. Paul warns about the winds of doctrine that blow in the absence of God's apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers (Ephesians 4:11f). That is, when instead of listening to faithful stewards, "people heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears," that "they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables (II Tim. 4:3,4)." Such fables plant what he also called "the doctrines of demons (I Tim. 4:1)." If only we would be reeds shaken with the wind, we could invent whatever new and strange doctrine it takes to have a following. Not merely a cult following in the sense that is shunned and rejected by society, but the respectable sort of following that wants to hear "a new thing" other than the only authentic "new thing," that is, the Covenant established by Christ (cp. Isaiah 43:19 with Jeremiah 31:31-34).
          But a faithful steward is not a superstar with the worldly and carnal sort of "charisma," and he is not willing to teach windy doctrinal innovations that blow the people around. The faithful steward reminds everyone that Jesus Christ is coming, and we must all be prepared to meet Him. Unbelievers will cry out to the mountains and hills to hide them from His face, while believers will see Him as He is, and be transformed after His immortal likeness to become partakers of the Divine nature. The faithful steward reminds everyone that it is and shall be "either-or." Each person will be in one of two camps: Either the coming of Christ will be dreadful and the gloom of darkness, or will be the great joy of eternal life, and the brightness of eternal day. Are you prepared? Which camp will you be in? Which camp are you in right now?

          The mysteries that we teach are those of the Gospel, and if you understand that Christ died for your sins (I Corinthians 15:3) and was raised again for your justification (Romans 4:25), you know how to repent and be forgiven, free from all sin and every barrier between your soul and God's mercy. You may also receive the mysteries that we administer, and be absolved from your sins, and feed on Him as the Bread of life and so live forever. The faithful stewards are here to be instruments of Christ's salvation for all who are in the camp of joy, those who will be glad at the Lord's appearing.

Sunday, December 06, 2015

Saturday, December 05, 2015

Second Sunday in Advent

Romans 15:4-13 * Luke 21:25-33

Taking a cue from the opening of today’s Epistle, and the last line from today’s Gospel, and of course the Collect, this Sunday has come to be called Bible Sunday. The Collect speaks of two things, one being the obligation of each one of us concerning the Holy Scriptures to “hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them;” the other being the work of the Holy Spirit as he uses those scriptures to grow within us patience and comfort that keeps us along the path to eternal life in Jesus Christ our Lord. And, if we think about the Epistle and Gospel for this day, we find that hope to be what our Prayer Book calls “the sure and certain hope of the resurrection unto eternal life.”

Recently, someone questioned me on why we refer to hope of the resurrection; after all, we hope for things that may never happen. I must disagree; we may wish for things that will never happen; but, hope cannot exist in such wishes. Or we may hope for things that might happen, but might not. But, to emphasize the meaning of hope as it relates to faith, we clarify our meaning with the words “sure and certain.” This comes from the Epistle to the Hebrews:

"Wherein God, willing more abundantly to shew unto the heirs of promise the immutability of his counsel, confirmed it by an oath: That by two immutable things, in which it was impossible for God to lie, we might have a strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before us: Which hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast, and which entereth into that within the veil (Hebrews 6: 17-19).”

It is clear that St. Paul never separated hope from faith, and never separated these from charity. These virtues grow together, and hope depends on faith. Hope believes, and love works; faith hopes and charity labors. What feeds us in our sure and certain hope is the word of God. Faith grows within us when we hear that particular voice, the voice of God that we discern so clearly as he speaks to us now within the scriptures. They cannot become irrelevant. Written so long ago, when they are spoken or read God himself speaks in the present. Never are they worn out.

People have asked about the Holy Scriptures, when were they put together? One very unfortunate mark of our times is the quickness with which misinformation becomes “common knowledge.” Over the last few years some con artists have discovered that one way to make a lot of money in a hurry is to write a sensational, wholly misleading but shocking thesis about the Bible or Christian Faith in general, and then sell it directly to the public. The more revolutionary it is, the better. The more shocking, the more blasphemous, above all the more sensational, the easier it is to draw attention to it, and get it promoted on TV. We have seen these sensational works, all claiming to be a challenge to the Christian Faith, each make its rise and fall before burning out entirely. One very important point about that whole new industry is that none of those authors presents the shocking alleged discovery in the truly scientific arena of the academic world. If they did, they could not make the same amount of money overnight- or ever. If their shocking “discoveries” were put through the genuine process of scientific analysis they would die a quick death and be forgotten, and no one would get to make a killing. This con art was perfected by Elaine Pagels, herself someone taken seriously by the public, but never in the real world of professional academics, where her name is not respected at all. But, if she cries about the bad reputation she has in the academic world, she does so all the way to the bank.

As a result of the sensational, irresponsible and unprofessional, thoroughly unscientific misinformation that has been thrown in the face of the public for the last few years, several people think that the bishops of the Church assembled in Nicea and began cutting books out of the Bible. Most of the people who believe this also think the Emperor Constantine was running the Council of Nicea in 325.
A few facts help to clean up this misinformation. Even though he was the Emperor, and even though the Christians of that time knew that the Edict of Milan in 313 AD had ended two and a half centuries of persecution (a virtual holocaust during the earliest centuries of the Church), and even though they knew that he had the authority to return to the older laws that had made Christianity an offense punishable by death and revive them, he was not given the power to run the Council of Nicea. When the Council met and the Emperor presumed to address the bishops of the Church, they told him that he was not allowed to address the assembled bishops of Christ’s Church. Basically, they told Caesar, the Emperor Constantine to whom they owed so much, to sit down and shut up.

Now, about the Bible, the bishops at the Council of Nicea did not go about deciding which books were scripture, and which were not. All they did was to affirm in unity of mind that the books already perceived to be the Word of God were, indeed, just that. The Old Testament was not the issue at all, because it was declared to be the Word of God by no less a Person than the Living Word of God. These books had been received by the Jewish people for centuries, and were passed on to the Church with sure and certain authority. The process of recognizing these books was, by all accounts, the vox populi of the Jews. The Jewish people knew in what books to find that distinctive voice of God, and so it was that when Jesus Christ walked the earth and referred to the scriptures, in every synagogue of the Jews were those specific scrolls that formed the common library for all of them. We see in Luke that he read from the scroll of the prophets, reading from Isaiah and saying that scriptures spoke of none other but himself, Messiah and hope of the world.

In the earliest days of the Church this Old Testament formed the only Canon of scripture. But, by the early years of the second century we find that twenty-seven additional books were already received and quoted as the word of God; these twenty seven books forming an additional canon of scripture. These books are the New Testament. In some places a few questions were raised about II Peter, Jude and Revelation. But, over time they were received. In a few places some people thought that The Shepherd of Hermas might be part of the Canon of the scriptures of the Church. But, long before the Council of Nicea in 325, the Church had defined its Canon as the books we have now, adding to the Jewish scriptures it had inherited only the twenty-seven books we call the New Testament. Again, as it had been among Israel, when the scriptures were received and recognized vox populi, so it was with the Church of Christ and the canon of the New Testament. There were no books for the bishops to delete, but rather a Canon already established before any of them had been born.

Now, why was The Shepherd of Hermas not among the books of this Canon? Again, by that same vox populi that, by the principle of whether or not the people of God recognized the voice of God, this book had not been under serious consideration. Simply put, our fathers among the Jews and the early Christians simply did not hear the clear and familiar voice of God in any other books as they heard it in the scriptures. They knew the voice of God in the Law, the Prophets, the Wisdom Literature and the Psalms. And, they knew that same voice of God in the four Gospels, the Epistles and the prophecy of St. John the Revelator. They did not hear it as the voice of God in other books (not that most of them were ever aware of the many Gnostic writings given so much undue attention by today’s money making sensation mongers).

St. Paul tells us about the high regard we must give to the Old Testament in today’s Epistle: “Whatsoever things were written afore time were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.” Think of that history of Israel, from the calling of Abraham to the coming of Jesus Christ who died for our sins and rose again, the history of one people who were never allowed to give themselves over to sin and so be lost among the many pagan nations that served false gods. A people constantly purified by the prophet’s words, and many times by purging and suffering, given to captivity in Babylon but returned to their home after seventy years never to fall again into the worship of idols.

They were a people so purified that among them was found one young virgin who echoed the faith and obedience of Abraham, and more perfectly than the ancient patriarch himself. Written "afore time" was not only this history of the people through whom the Word, Jesus our Lord, would be incarnate, but the predictions made by the prophets of his life, his death on the cross, and his rising again. We all need to read Isaiah about the Suffering Servant by whose stripes we are healed, and who prolonged his days after dying, that he would live forever as the agent of the Lord’s will. We read of his suffering through the words of King David who foresaw the agonies of the Lord’s crucifixion, able to predict them in the first person as though suffering with him. We read also, in the words of this prophet king, of the joy of the resurrection of our Lord whose death was so brief a thing that he never saw corruption.

The Gospel today also gives us this hope, for the Lord himself assures us that his coming again will be our redemption, and that the fears and darkness of this age will disappear in the light of his glory. We are told to lift up our heads, not to look down and hang our heads. His coming to rule over heaven and earth, cleansing this world from all evil, from death and suffering, and all such things that will be no more, is sure and certain. And, if instead of comfort this fills your heart with fear, then consider that fear with genuine care. It means that you must cast off the works of darkness and out on the armor of light, repent from all your sins and turn to the Lord that you may enter that blessed state of sure and certain hope, and be strengthened by the Holy Spirit.

Does the voice of God fill you with hope or with dread? I hope it does one or the other. For, anyone to be indifferent to these words is the only real danger. As our Lord said in his parable of Lazarus and the rich man, “If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.”1 Our Lord told the Church of the Laodiceans, “I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth.”2 

Indifference to the word of God is a danger beyond any other, closing the ears that they cannot hear. But, even if the word brings dread, this too leads to comfort and hope since the Holy Spirit uses what you hear to bring you to repentance, true repentance from the heart, and to faith in Jesus Christ. May God grant ears to hear, eyes to see and a heart to understand, that each one who is lost may turn and be healed. 3

The Epistle today speaks of Christ’s ministry first to his own people of Israel, and his ministry through those people of Israel that believed in him and became his disciples as it extends to all nations.

“Now I say that Jesus Christ was a minister of the circumcision for the truth of God, to confirm the promises made unto the fathers: and that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy; as it is written, For this cause I will confess to thee among the Gentiles, and sing unto thy name. And again he saith, Rejoice, ye Gentiles, with his people. And again, Praise the Lord, all ye Gentiles; and laud him, all ye people. And again, Esaias saith, There shall be a root of Jesse, and he that shall rise to reign over the Gentiles; In him shall the Gentiles trust.”

This brings to mind the words of Simeon, that he spoke when he held Jesus as an infant: “A light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel.” 4 This light and this glory has been known to the world because it is the purpose of God to shine the light of Christ into every dark place. Into the darkness of pagan dread and superstition, into the darkness of ignorance and foolishness, into the darkest places of sin and death. This glorious light of Christ shines into the darkest places where we try to hide from God due to our own sins; and if we respond to his mercy that same light of revelation brings comfort and hope, the sure and certain hope of the resurrection unto eternal life. The invitation is extended by his word: come, eat and be filled with the food and drink of eternal life. Come feed on the Living Bread that has come down from heaven, and with hearty repentance and true faith receive Christ through these humble means unto everlasting life with him in glory.

“Now the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that ye may abound in hope, through the power of the Holy Ghost.”

1. Luke 16:31
2. Revelation 3:15, 16
3. From Isaiah 6:9

4. Luke 2:32