Saturday, February 27, 2016

Third Sunday in Lent

Click on the illustration for the link.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

The Little Jesus who Would

My latest Touchstone article has been posted online, so I refer you to it here.

That contrasts quite sharply with the Book of Common Prayer tradition, in which everything is intended to conform wholly to Scripture, and the standard for prayer is the one that Jesus taught, which includes the Church's petition to the Father, "Thy will be done." The new liturgical phrase, "disordering our boundaries and releasing our desires," sounds much more like the slogan of an early twentieth-century pagan cult,The Law of Thelema,created by a magician named Aleister Crowley. To each member of the cult it is taught, "Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law."

Read more: Click on the image of the magazine cover

Second Sunday in Lent

(I Kings 8: 37-43) * I Thess. 4:1-8 * Matt.15: 21-28

Sadly, in this period of history, some of the clergy have preached a false gospel about another Jesus (II Cor. 11), not the Christ of the Scriptures. They have abused the text from St. Matthew and taught that Jesus was enlightened by this experience, that He overcame his Jewish prejudices, and that he learned to accept others for who they were. Can they really imagine that this Man, who years earlier at the age of twelve knew the truth of His unique relationship with His Father (Luke 2:49), suffered the same foolishness that is common to fallen and sinful men? They drag the Lord Jesus down to our level, as if He was from below, as if he was of this world (John 8:23).
Jesus acted and spoke deliberately to this woman, with perfect wisdom and genuine compassion-as always. He knew what he was doing, and had no need of enlightenment. He is the Light. In Him was no darkness then, and in Him is no darkness now. He saw clearly then, and He sees clearly now. It is He Who teaches, and it is we who learn from Him. His words and actions that day were perfect, and we have no reason to presume otherwise.

Something strange to us
Nonetheless, in today’s Gospel we do see something strange to our way of thinking, as modern Westerners long accustomed to thinking of Christianity as universal, perhaps even as democratic in the classic sense, maybe as egalitarian to some degree, or, at the very least, as polite. We see Jesus appear unwilling to help this Gentile woman until she humbly acknowledges that she, not being Jewish, is like a dog asking for scraps that fall from the Israelite table.
           It seems even more strange after the Morning Prayer lesson from I Kings in which Solomon asks God to grant the prayers of the stranger who comes and prays in the Temple, having heard of God’s great Name, that all the world may know that there is only one God. It seems strange when we remember that Jesus had angered the people of His hometown by saying that they would reject Him, but that as Elijah was sent to a Gentile widow, and as Elisha had cured the leper Naaman, from Syria, His own ministry would benefit even the Gentiles who would trust Him.
          The story of Naaman is very dramatic, and a lot like this story. The Syrian General, who had been Israel’s enemy, came to be healed by the prophet Elisha. By the grace of God, he was healed, but not before humbling himself and accepting the one demand that the prophet made; that he wash himself in the Jordan river (and what do we learn from this? Naaman’s mikvah, his cleansing, in the River Jordan signifies that some day the Gentiles would be able to enter into the covenant by baptism). The prophet did not even bother to come meet this very important man, but simply sent a messenger. At first Naaman was angry and started to leave in a huff, but his friends reasoned with him. Like this woman we read of today, he had to humble himself in order to receive a gift from God.

    Of course, Jesus did grant her request, and before He was finished, He commended her for her faith. But why did He put her through it? What point was He making?
    The point has everything to do with the Covenant, specifically the Covenant that God made with Abraham. Abraham is the father of the people of Israel, which means, as St. Paul would write, that he was the father of all who have faith in the true and Living God, the true God Who is known only by the revelation of Himself. Out of that Covenant came the other Covenants, the Covenant of Sinai, when the Law was given to the people who were freed from slavery in Egypt, and the Covenant of the Kingdom made with David. These grew out of the Covenant that God made with Abram, when he was yet uncircumcised, that is when he was still a Gentile named Abram, and had not yet become Abraham, before he was circumcised, before he was the father of Isaac and thereby the father of a multitude.
     The last Covenant to grow out of the Covenant of promise to Abraham was the Covenant that Jesus Christ would make, the New Covenant, the B’rit Hadashah, prophesied of by Jeremiah:

"Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will make a New Covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which My covenant they brake, though I was an husband unto them, saith the LORD: But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the LORD, I will put my Law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be My people. And they shall teach no more every man his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying Know the LORD: For they shall all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, saith the LORD: For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more (Jer. 31: 31-34)."

     In a few minutes we will hear the words of Jesus: "This is My Blood of the New Testament, shed for you and for many for the forgiveness of sin." The disciples at the Last Supper knew what He was referring to, for they knew these words of the prophet Jeremiah about the New Covenant.
    But, before proceeding with what we can say about that, we need to see that the Gentile woman who came to Jesus was not included in the Covenants of God made with Israel. She was, to use the words of Isaiah, from the 57th chapter of his book, one who was "afar off." St. Paul described the situation of the entire Gentile world in these words: "Wherefore remember that ye being in time past that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world..." He concludes, "But now, in Christ Jesus, ye who sometimes were afar off are made nigh by the blood of Christ (Eph. 2: 11-13)."
    Our Lord helped the woman, and granted her prayer, as she was the stranger coming to the One Who was greater than the temple, and was making her prayer of the One true God, the only God in all the earth (I Kings 8:41-43). But, first He made clear the truth, and it was for her to accept it in humility. She was an outsider, and was not requesting something to which she was entitled; she was not one of the children. Understand, that her faith changed this, as faith did for the centurion whose servant was healed. Foretold in that ancient story of Naaman is the truth of what happens when one who is “afar off” has faith. When Jesus commended this woman’s faith, He was not simply granting her request, but acknowledging her as a daughter of Abraham, a Gentile no longer.
    This is lost on many people who cannot understand the words of this woman, when she spoke with humility. Against the warning of St. Paul they "boast against the root" that bears them, that is against the Jewish heritage of the Church by which all Christians are made children of Abraham through faith in Jesus Christ. They presume, they boast, and think that God is a modern egalitarian Who accepts everyone and everything as six of one and half a dozen of the other. We are very comfortable hearing about the New Covenant, and the forgiveness of sins, but what does it all entail? What do we need to be asking and learning?

    Is the New Covenant made with all mankind? We know that there is only one God, and that Jesus would send His disciples on the mission, the true mission of Israel, to be the light of the world, a light to the nations. "Go and make disciples of all nations," He would tell them, after His resurrection, "baptizing them in the Name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you." (Matt. 28: 19,20) So, it seems that the Covenant is with all mankind equally- right? Wrong.
    Look again at the words that Jeremiah spoke, to which Jesus clearly alluded, by speaking of the New Covenant. Jeremiah said that the New Covenant is with the house of Israel; it is not made with the nations. It is part of the Covenant of Promise made with Abraham. The only people with whom God made the New Covenant are the Israelites, not the Gentiles. If you understand that, you must then begin to understand why the Great Commission is given with these provisions and conditions: The disciples from all nations must be baptized in the Name of God, the Trinitarian Name; and they must be taught to live by all of Christ’s commandments.
    The New Covenant brings with it the Law written on the human heart, the forgiveness of sins, and the knowledge of God. The people who enter into it by baptism, and who have faith in Jesus Christ, are not Gentiles; Christians are not called Gentiles; rather St. Paul says "ye were Gentiles in time past." He writes to the Roman Christians that they have been grafted into the tree of Abraham. He tells the Ephesians and the Corinthians that they were Gentiles (past tense), and that when they used to be Gentiles they were led astray by dumb idols. But, now, in Christ, they have been brought near by the Blood of the Messiah, the Blood of the New Covenant and the forgiveness of sins.
    The Law is written on our hearts, which is the work of the Holy Spirit. We read it and learn it; but more than simply that, it is within us on a deep level of conscience that is unknown to unbelievers. For we know not only the Law of Christ- about which more needs to be said- we know the One Who gives it. We know and love the Lawgiver; we are personally affected by His great act of love when we think of the cross of His Passion. We know what it means that we are bought with a price, that is, His blood. His Spirit is within us, and we have a conscience quick to feel, which we could not have otherwise. This is the meaning of the Epistle reading for this day, St. Paul’s first Epistle to the Thessalonians: "This is the will of God, even your sanctification."
    In Lent we are reminded of this portion of the New Covenant in a special way, not to be forgotten the rest of the year; that the Holy Spirit writes the Law on our hearts, and that we know God in a manner that makes our consciences grieve when we sin against Him; and that convicts our consciences to live in a way that pleases Him. For, having entered into the New Covenant, and having been made a part of Israel by faith, we are given that Law as our guide, we are given the forgiveness of sin, and we know the Lord. The words of Isaiah are true for us: "The Lord is our Judge, the Lord is our Lawgiver, the Lord is our king, He is our Salvation." (Isaiah 33:22)
    The message of the Church to God’s ancient people of Israel is, "the temple is here, the sacrifice is here, the Messiah Whom we know will come again; this is your heritage as children of Abraham, born to live under the New Covenant." Our message to the whole world, and its many nations is, "there is no God in all the earth but in Israel; We know Him through Jesus Christ."

And now unto God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Ghost be ascribed, as is most justly due, all might, majesty, dominion, power and glory henceforth world without end. Amen.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

First Sunday in Lent

Here are two posts for the First Sunday in Lent. The first is a sermon on the Gospel reading, and the second an essay on the Epistle (I.e. part of the appointed Epistle for this day).

Friday, February 05, 2016


Confusion about the word “Love”

I Corinthians 13  *  Luke 18:31-43

At the present time the Church and all of society are in a crisis due to the attempt to rob the word “marriage” of any true definition, adding more confusion to what has been imposed in the past by a rampant divorce culture. The secular proponents of what they call this “evolution” justify it by using the word “equality” without definition and in place of a substantive argument. The religious proponents of it try to justify it by the word “love.” After all, “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.”    The problem is that we use the word “love” in English to mean several things, making it unlike many words in our language that are precise. You may say “I love a juicy steak.” But you cannot have charity for a juicy steak.    

          The King James version of today’s Epistle reading, I Corinthians 13, uses the word “charity.” In most other places where the same word, agape (γάπην), appears in the original Greek, the King James Version has it translated as “love.” Here it is translated, however, with the word “charity” perhaps to be very specific, coming as it does from the Latin caritas, into which agape was translated by St. Jerome. Good Biblical exegesis and study places agape on a higher level than the other words also translated “love.” Indeed, it is not too much to say that this word speaks of the love of God, and that this love is a virtue that can be grown in our lives only by the Holy Spirit (Romans 5:5, Galatians 5:22). The character of this love is described very powerfully in today’s Epistle reading, and in the character of this love we see the character of God, in fact, we see Jesus.

          The character of this love is completely giving and selfless, and this love was the love that kept Jesus Christ from coming down off the cross. This love, not the nails, held Him there. As I have said before, take that love personally, as did St. Paul :  “…the Son of God who loved me, and gave Himself for me (Galatians 2:20).” In no way is this love ever selfish, self-seeking, indifferent, or apathetic. It overcomes anger, and wants the best for everyone in a sincere, indeed active, manner. It produces spontaneous fruit of good works and it forgives instantly. We also see that “Charity…rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth.” And, to that point we will return.

          Another word that is used in the original Greek New Testament, and that is translated “love,” is philea (φιλία), which means brotherly love and also friendship. From this we have the words Philadelphia, that is, City of Brotherly Love, and philosophy, that is, love of wisdom, philanthropy, that is, love of mankind, etc. It is a very good and positive word when speaking about human relations, love of friends and family. It is consistent with agape, though not itself as high and spiritual in nature. Surely, philia is present where agape is present; however, I cannot make the same guarantee in reverse. One’s sincere and heartfelt love might fall just short of Divine love, choosing in some crisis the comfort of being loved in return over that of complete selfless giving, or maybe failing in courage.

          Another Greek word is storge, (στοργή), which is the affection of parents to their children. It is a word that was not used much in ancient literature, but it has survived.

          The fourth Greek word for love is never used in the New Testament, though it appears in the Greek Apocrypha. That word is eros (ρως), and from it we have the English word “erotic.” It is the love of sexual passion. When the word has a good meaning it is only between a man and his wife. It can be present side by side with both philea and even agape. But, again, only between a man and woman who are married to each other is this kind of love a good thing. Eros can be present, however, with practices forbidden by God’s commandments in such sins as adultery or fornication.

          Here we must deal with another Greek word that appears quite a bit in the New Testament, a word that is never translated “love,” and never should be so translated. In the Gospel accounts of things that Jesus said when warning against carnal sins, in the Greek manuscripts quoting Him, He used this word; that word is pornea (πορνεία). From it come the words pornography and fornication. Obviously, pornea has no redeeming value. It is always sin. The weakness of translating the word pornea as “fornication” is that modern people assume that fornication is limited in definition to premarital sex. But, in fact, pornea means any and every kind of sexual immorality, from adultery to incest, from premarital sex to same-sex acts, etc.

The following things, therefore, can be present in combination:

1.     Eros and pornea

2.     Eros and philia

3.     Philea and pornea.

4.     Philea and agape

5.     Perhaps even eros and agape, but only in marriage.

(In the above, bear in mind that pornea is never translated as love.)

     But what can never be present in combination is pornea and agape, for, as we heard read in today’s Epistle, “Charity … rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth.” We also heard, “Charity … seeketh not her own.”

     To equate love of neighbor, which is agape, with eros is a problem. Such love should be exclusive of a man for his wife, and a woman for her husband. And since pornea is not love at all, but lust, even if it is combined with eros, it is certainly not the love God commands us to have for our neighbor, and is far from the new commandment of Christ, “That ye love one another as I have loved You (agape).”

     Indeed, when it comes to the subject of sin, if seeing that one’s neighbor is in the grip of sin and needs to repent and be forgiven by Christ, charity, agape, cannot rejoice. Charity moves us to pray and hope for the person’s repentance and salvation. It cannot move us to participate or enable sin. Such is not the love of God.

     Some indeed protest that their acts and relationship of pornea are a kind of love, a kind the Church needs to affirm. So they tell us that the Church ought to bless same-sex “marriages.” But, I ask you, cannot two people in an adulterous affair also claim that their acts and relationship are a kind of love? Indeed, inasmuch as eros may be filled with emotion, people do say it and mean it. If we can bless a sinful union then why not have the Church some up with rites to bless an adulterous affair? After all, they are in love, and love is always good – right? But the true love of God, charity, agape, cannot rejoice in iniquity. It will move one to repent, and to want the other party to repent also.

     Let us look at the context of that specific commandment that Jesus quoted as the second great commandment of the Law:

Thou shalt not hate thy brother in thine heart: thou shalt in any wise rebuke thy neighbour, and not suffer sin upon him. Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself: I am the LORD (Leviticus 19:17, 18).”

Does the love of God actually rebuke? In this case, does it actually move one to urge repentance of his neighbor? Yes. You see agape doesn’t seek its own gratification, and is willing to be unloved and rejected, just as Christ was willing to go to the cross and endure the hostility of sinners against Himself.

     So throwing around the word “love,” as these proponents and apologists of sin do all the time, turns the word into a sound no more meaningful than a dog’s bark. The Son of God came into the world to save the world, not to make the world safe for immorality. Jesus showed the love of God by dying for our sins and offering forgiveness and a new life to all who come to Him with sincere repentance and true faith.