Saturday, October 29, 2016

Twenty-third Sunday after Trinity

Phil.3:17-21 * Matt. 22:15-22

I question if we ever think clearly about how difficult a concept it was to “render unto Caesar” in the place and at the time that we read about. How very different is our society, in which the politicians must answer to the public at least once every two, four and six years, respectively, and to the Rule of Law (theoretically at least), from the life of the Jews under the power of the empire of Rome. This empire had once been a republic, and it still had a Senate. But, in the time of the Caesars it had become a totalitarian regime, and by means of empire, a foreign power that had invaded, defeated and presumed to rule. The fact is, whether or not taxes were paid voluntarily, they would most certainly be taken by force.
          The Pharisees knew that if the Lord had answered that taxes were unlawful they could then see to it that this information found its way to the governor, so that he could be put to death for sedition. On the other hand, if he answered that taxes to Caesar were lawful, they could use this to try to discredit him with the people, claiming that he was on the side of their conquerors. No matter how much they tried to flatter him as they built up to the question, the question was meant as a dagger. It was intended to kill him or silence him; they imagined it presented a no win situation.
          The answer our Lord gave was not an evasion, but rather authoritative teaching. He did not walk into their trap, but presented the truth, and in so doing he confounded the expectations and presumption of his enemies. Within a generation his Church would be persecuted to the death by the empire, treated as a criminal organization from the time of Nero until the edict of Milan, that is the edict of Toleration by Constantine in 313 AD.  Yet, under that burden it was the duty of the Apostles to present to the churches a doctrine that “all authority is from God.”1 The evil and injustice of the empire did not prevent St. Paul from teaching that, in general, a ruler is not a terror to good works, but to evil. St. Peter also taught that the king should be honored.2
This important for us today, in our own time, for many reasons. First of all, Christians are not to be “rebels without a cause.” I think of a man who came home from the grocery store with his wife, and discovered that their children had poured molasses on the cat. “I don’t understand,” said their mother. “They have never poured molasses on the cat before. Why would they even think of such a thing?” Her husband answered, “I don’t understand it either. In fact, the very last thing I said to them, before we went out was, ‘Don’t pour molasses on the cat.’” The truth is, for some of us the idea of walking on the grass never comes to mind until a sign says, “keep off the grass.”
Remember the lesson from the Book of Acts, however, that only one reason exists to disobey proper authority. That reason is because our consciences constrain us to obey God rather than men3 when we are faced with a conflict. This was the answer that St. Peter gave to the High priest when he was asked why they had continued to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ after being ordered by the Sanhedrin not to do so. St. Peter’s conscience told him that his first obedience was due to God, and that Christ’s clear command to preach the Gospel was from the highest authority, the revealed will of God against which no man had the authority to command silence.
          Totalitarian regimes know nothing of Christ’s teaching that constitutes the second part of this teaching that came in his answer. “…and to God the things that are God’s.”
          Often people want to render unto Caesar the things that are God’s, and that includes the conscience. We are taught by Saint Paul to be subject to the authorities, and, if we may put modern American terminology to the Apostle’s teaching, to be model citizens (Romans 13:1f). We obey the law, pay taxes, and respect the offices of those in government. In this way we render unto Caesar what is his due.
          Now, the conscience of the Christian is supposed to be informed by the word of God, and so it is the duty of every Christian to learn the scriptures and to learn the meaning of the scriptures from the Tradition of the Church. When the conscience finds itself pitted against authority, it ought to be for a very clear and very real reason. Totalitarian regimes want to take the place of God. Tyrants want to displace the conscience.
           In the last Century Christians were subjected to more injustices than during the Roman persecution (and we see no sign that things are getting any better). In the 20th century more Christians died as martyrs than in all previous centuries of the Church combined. Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin, Idi Amin, the Ayatollahs and Sheiks of radical Islam, all wanted to be obeyed absolutely, to dominate the conscience of their subjects, to be in the place of God.  And, so it remains in this century. The Christians who have been killed for their faith knew something we need to know: We ought to obey God rather than men. When Jesus gave this answer, it was to a hostile question. The question was meant as a weapon, a clever no win scenario.
          But, the answer teaches us the priorities by which we order our lives as men under authority. Your first obedience is to God. Your conscience was designed by the Creator to be the voice inside of you where his Law is written, the inner voice that resonates with the Holy Spirit, and with the word of God. Therefore, the Book of Exodus praises the midwives who refused to murder the male children at Pharaoh’s command. The Bible praises the faith of Rahab who hid the spies, and of Esther who entered the king’s chamber unbidden to plead for the lives of her people. The same Bible condemns the obedience that Doeg the Edomite rendered to Saul when he murdered the priests at Nob as commanded by the mad king.
Too many people are careless in their reading of scripture. When certain leaders of that other denomination over there wanted to blame the Holy Spirit for their heretical and immoral innovations, they decided to proclaim to the world that the Bible approved of slavery. Then, they tried to say that nowadays we know better because the Holy Spirit has corrected his former mistake that he made back then, and so he must have grown in his understanding (they seem to have a very different “Holy Spirit” than the One we know). I love to point out that Deuteronomy 23:15, 16 4 absolutely, and for all time, forbade slavery. The whole idea of slavery is condemned and forbidden in those two verses. The New Testament, specifically in the writings of St. Paul, addresses the reality of slavery in the pagan empire of Rome. The Apostle taught Christians who happened to be slaves, how to behave as Christians in their circumstances. To read approval of the pagan system of slavery into the New Testament is absurd, since the mission of the Apostles was not to lead a rebellion like Spartacus, but to build the Church in all nations of the earth. I mention this because, we see here that even rebellion for a good cause is not always a duty to God.
          The Bible requires obedience to the voice of conscience, and it is the duty of the Christian to inform his conscience not by the changing fashions and whims of culture, but by the word of God. The Affirmation of St. Louis contains this statement:

“The conscience, as the inherent knowledge of right and wrong, cannot stand alone as a sovereign arbiter of morals. Every Christian is obligated to form his conscience by the Divine Moral Law and the Mind of Christ as revealed in Holy Scriptures, and by the teaching and Tradition of the Church.”

Furthermore, it is the duty of parents to teach their children these things, because popular culture will teach a false version of morality that has no foundation, and that changes with every breeze that blows. As it says in the Book of Deuteronomy: “And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up.”5 Now, if any Christian wants to disobey people in authority, it must be for the sake of this higher principle of the conscience as it has been formed by the word of God.
          The direct subject of the answer, “render unto God the things that are God’s” is part of a question that has to do with money. To the Jews who heard this answer, the whole subject of tithing would have come to mind, as well as commands to aid the poor. The way that some churches have addressed the subject of contributing, in my experience, can make the poor feel unwelcome. I want to be clear; people who are struggling to get by, and who have no money to spare, are perfectly welcome here. This is the household of God, the Body of Christ. Let me be clear about something else. Those who object to the normal standard of the tithe, that is of ten percent, need to realize that we really owe God one hundred percent. The poor widow received the praise of our Lord Jesus Christ because she cast in more than all of the rich, because her two mites were all that she had
We are stewards of all that we possess. It all belongs to the Lord. I know that some people cannot give ten percent of what they simply don’t have. Others can give more then ten percent. They can give other things too, such as time and effort. The real question is this: are you giving in a way that is sacrificial? Let me really meddle. Who needs three hundred channels instead of the few you have time for? What is the real point in much that we do with time, money and own energy? Is your giving sacrificial? And, though we think of the word “sacrificial” as something that should hurt and as a loss we should feel, let us turn that around. Let us think of it as an offering, that is, as part of how we worship God by honoring him with our substance. What we contribute should be given with joy; it should represent our very selves as living sacrifices poured out on the altar of joy and service with faith.
The opposite of this is the kind of life that St. Paul speaks of, with sorrow, in today’s Epistle.  Earlier I mentioned that other denomination over there, and I suppose most of you know the one I was thinking of. I was thinking of religious teachers whose entire life’s work has been for the purpose of scratching itching ears.6 Talk of giving one hundred percent of your life to God, your whole self to God, requires an embrace of Christ’s call to carry the cross. The Epistle warns us not live a life centered on indulgence of our appetites and whims, of lusts and desires.       The Apostle uses a curious phrase, one that could pass us by unheeded unless we slow down and consider it. He speaks of “enemies of the cross of Christ.” What is an enemy of the cross of Christ? Some people seem to think they can be friends of Jesus, but enemies of his cross. Jesus said, “Whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple.”7 To carry the cross means to walk with the burden of death on one’s back. The people who heard him speak these words knew what crucifixion was, and the image this statement brought to mind would have been graphic. Nonetheless, what do we see as the natural reaction that his disciples had when they first heard him foretell his own death? Immediately, after being told that he was blessed, that he was the rock upon whom the Lord would build his Church, we find St. Peter reacting to the Lord’s prediction that he would be put to death, and then rise on the third day.

Be it far from thee, Lord: this shall not be unto thee. But he turned, and said unto Peter, Get thee behind me, Satan: thou art an offence unto me: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men. Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it.”8

We can identify with Peter’s incredulity, if we are honest. Who wants to bear the cross? In worldly eyes, albeit religious eyes, success demands that we present a Christ who carries no cross. This christ of theirs, their Jesus, makes no demands that we die to ourselves in order to follow him. His own death makes no sense in their new religion. But, we know why he can call us to lay down our lives to be his disciples. “We love him because he first loved us.” 9 We can pour out all that we have, and all that we are, with joy as living sacrifices to God, 10 only as our life of worship and thanksgiving, and only by knowing what he did for us. We were lost in trespasses and sins, subject to the twofold power of sin and death, but for the kindness of God our Savior, even the Lord Jesus Christ who “poured out his soul unto death;”11 “for the blood maketh atonement for the soul.”12 I have said this many times, and I will repeat it many more times. You need to come to the foot of the cross, and spend some time there, looking up at your Lord; you need to “See from His head, His hands, His feet, Sorrow and love flow mingled down!” as his blood makes atonement for your soul, as he gives up his spirit to death for you. This is the great offering of love that you need to behold, and you need to take it personally.
Only in the light of this love does it make sense to talk of giving to God one hundred percent of your very self as your life of worship and thanksgiving. Only in light of this love can we speak of the everlasting joys won for us on the first Easter in the triumph of his resurrection, when he overcame death and the grave and opened to you the way to everlasting joy. We are speaking of the love that we have for God and for one another as the fruit of gratitude that begins to grow within us as the love of God is poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit. It begins at the cross of Christ.

  1. Romans 13:1-7
  2. I Peter 2:13-17
  3. Acts 5:27-29
  4. “Thou shalt not deliver unto his master the servant which is escaped from his master unto thee: He shall dwell with thee, even among you, in that place which he shall choose in one of thy gates, where it liketh him best: thou shalt not oppress him.” Simply put, to obey this commandment makes it impossible to treat human beings as property
  5. Deut. 6:6, 7
  6. II Tim. 4:2-4
  7. Luke 14:27
  8. Matt. 16:16-25
  9. I John 4:19
  10. Rom. 12:1,2
  11. Isaiah 53:12
  12. Lev.17:11

Friday, October 21, 2016

Twenty-second Sunday after Trinity


Matt. 18:21f

The parable of the Unforgiving Servant should remind us of words that the Lord spoke earlier in the same Gospel, in the sixth chapter:

…And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen. For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. (Matt. 6:9-15)

Later today in this service of Holy Communion we will be bold to say “Our Father.” Following the Prayer Book translation of 1549, we will use the word “trespasses” instead of the word “debts” from the King James Bible, published later, in 1611. However, the word “debts” is actually a more accurate translation of the Greek word (opheilema) .

The servant owed the king ten thousand talents, but was owed by his fellow servant a mere one hundred pence. The difference is staggering, sort of like a man who was released from a debt of a million dollars demanding full payment from another man who owed about, as one hundred pence suggests, ten dollars. Frankly, the use of absurdity is a method of humor that Christ employed in His teaching (“ye strain out a gnat and swallow a camel” - a perfectly ridiculous picture). But, the fact is that both men in this story were too poor to pay, and could have faced a lifetime of debtor’s prison or slavery unless they were given mercy.

When the Lord Jesus addresses the issue of our sins He forces us to face the fact that we are much too subjective. We do not look at the world objectively, but rather as it affects us, and how we feel. So He compares the act of repentance from our cherished sins to the pain of self-mutilation, an act of amputation. Go back to chapter five:

Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery: But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart. And if thy right eye offend thee (i.e. if it makes you sin), pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell. And if thy right hand offend thee, cut if off, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell. (Matt. 5:27-30)

For people who are fond of their sins, to repent can feel like self-mutilation, as hard as pulling out an eye, or cutting off a hand. That bit of lust, that secret desire- how can they live without it? The price of holding on to sins, including cherished sins, is far worse than being maimed, loosing an eye or a hand. It is an eternity of separation from God. The danger is that those who do not repent in this life could cling to their sins forever, growing more attached to them, going only further into darkness, into Hell.

The same subjectivity that deceives us about our own sins, and makes repentance seem painful (painful, that is, until we have done it and realize that we are free), is the same cursed subjectivity that distorts the truth about the offenses that others have committed against us. And so it is that the mercy that was just shown to me, the mercy that forgave my million-dollar debt, seems small compared to the ten dollars that my fellow servant owes me. That is what sin does to our common sense; that is how it distorts our perspective.

You see, we cannot pay God the price for our sins. But, it has been paid already; the King Himself to Whom we owed our hopeless debt said, upon the cross before He gave up His spirit and died, "teleō" -“it is paid in full” (translated, "it is finished" in the KJV). The debt is impossible to pay ourselves because we cannot redeem ourselves, and because God is infinite in His Divine Majesty. Yet, it was paid in full,1 and we are frankly forgiven all. But, whatever offense has been committed against us has been committed against a finite creature by another finite creature. It has been committed against one sinner by another sinner. It has been committed against one creature made in God’s image by another creature made in God’s image. It has been committed against someone for whom Christ died by another person for whom Christ died. It has been committed against one object of God’s love by another object of God’s love. It has been committed against one person called to share in Christ’s resurrection by another person called to share in Christ’s resurrection.

I hope this puts the million-dollar debt against the ten-dollar debt into perspective. Furthermore, we have three classes of wrongs. Some wrongs are very real, for if you live in the real world, somebody somewhere, perhaps even somebody close to you, has hurt you or wronged you. These are the real offenses against you. Other wrongs are simply perceived wrongs, but they seem to be real. Perceived wrongs can be accidental, or maybe even things others have done innocently, or even quite correctly because they had to; but from our perspective they appear to be wrong. A third category is the grudge, the wrong we refuse to forgive. Be it real or simply perceived, be it a wrong done to us, or a grudge we bear out of loyalty to another person who bore his own grudge, and for whose sake we must carry on the grudge so as not to feel disloyal to a friend, one who may be dead or alive. Whatever, if I bear a grudge for my own sake or for the sake of someone else, it is killing me, bringing death into my own spirit unless I cast it off.

I know, I know, it feels like a bigger debt than ten dollars. Bad enough those strangers who hurt you; but if it is a person close to you… That person ought to be dropped into boiling oil, because his ten-dollar debt is so big, so much bigger than the million you once owed the king before he frankly forgave you all. There it is, the curse of subjectivity. Do you know why you are asked to forgive your debtors? For the same reason that God your Father forgives you your debts. You must forgive for the sake of the One Who shed His blood to atone for every sin against God. He bought their forgiveness from the Father, and for His sake you must pray for their salvation.

What will you really mean when you pray today, “forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who have trespassed against us?” Taken in one sense you maybe would not want to ask such a thing. Who would want to limit God’s mercy to the smallness of our mercy? To understand the meaning of this prayer, look at the version of the same prayer from the Gospel of Luke: “And forgive us our sins; for we also forgive every one that is indebted to us.” (Luke 11:4)

And so we see that when you pray these words you are actually pronouncing forgiveness upon everyone who has hurt you. At least, that is how you are supposed to mean it. “Forgive us our debts, as we here and now forgive everyone who is our debtor.” You are pronouncing your forgiveness in the very words of this prayer. And, this brings us to that last problem of subjectivity. You are not forgiving because your emotions agree with the need you have to show mercy. Indeed, your emotions may not agree. But, like that repentance that may seem to be as impossible as cutting off a hand, the pain is not real. The freedom that follows the effort, once the deed is done and the decision made, outweighs the pain we had imagined. Destroy your resentment, cast if off, have done with it, and find your freedom.

In the Old Testament Chronicles, a prophet named Zechariah (not to be confused with the later prophet of the same name), suffered this fate:

And the Spirit of God came upon Zechariah the son of Jehoiada the priest, which stood above the people, and said unto them, Thus saith God, Why transgress ye the commandments of the LORD, that ye cannot prosper? because ye have forsaken the LORD, he hath also forsaken you. And they conspired against him, and stoned him with stones at the commandment of the king in the court of the house of the LORD. Thus Joash the king remembered not the kindness which Jehoiada his father had done to him, but slew his son. And when he died, he said, “The LORD look upon it, and require it.” (II Chron. 24:20-22)

However, in the Book of Acts, we read of the same fate being suffered by the first Christian Martyr, Saint Stephen centuries later. Notice the difference.

  • Ye stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Ghost: as your fathers did, so do ye. Which of the prophets have not your fathers persecuted? and they have slain them which shewed before of the coming of the Just One; of whom ye have been now the betrayers and murderers: Who have received the law by the disposition of angels, and have not kept it. When they heard these things, they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed on him with their teeth. But he, being full of the Holy Ghost, looked up steadfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God. And said, Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God. Then they cried out with a loud voice, and stopped their ears, and ran upon him with one accord, and cast him out of the city, and stoned him: and the witnesses laid down their clothes at a young man's feet, whose name was Saul. And they stoned Stephen, calling upon God, and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit. And he kneeled down, and cried with a loud voice, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge. And when he had said this, he fell asleep. (Acts 7:57-60)

Saint Stephen had an advantage that Zechariah, centuries before, did not have. We do not criticize Zechariah for demanding justice when he died, because, unlike Saint Stephen, he could not look back to Jesus Christ on the cross. We all know the words from the Gospel of Luke: words spoken by Jesus as He was hanging upon the cross: “Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” (Luke 24: 34) The Word made Flesh, God the Son in His human nature, showed us what mercy truly is. We already knew that God, from heaven, forgives sins. God cannot be harmed, wronged or deprived of anything. Yet, as a Man, it is God who was mocked, beaten and crucified by sinful men, and who pronounced forgiveness. No angel can preach on this subject as well as you and I can, for it takes human frailty to understand the reality of forgiveness, especially if we forgive after we have suffered.

So we do not criticize the holy prophet, Zechariah, of the Old Testament; Instead, we see that Saint Stephen had even more grace, for he could look back to God the Son, in His human nature, forgiving the very men who were murdering Him, who were enjoying the spectacle of His suffering, as they displayed the depths of schadenfreude. Saint Stephen could recall God in the flesh forgiving genuine pains that were inflicted upon His Person.

May our Lord Jesus, grant to us the joy that comes when we are free to love everyone, including those who have wronged us, with that charity placed within us by the Holy Ghost; for only that God-given charity can make us perfect, as our Father in heaven is perfect. Amen
1. "It is paid in full" is an acceptable alternative translation of the words rendered "It is finished" in John 19:30. The Greek word used is τελε’ω (teleo). It means to finish, and was used often to speak of complete payment of a debt.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Twenty-first Sunday after Trinity

Ephesians. 6:10-20

"For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand."

In the nice world of religious pleasantries, today’s text from Saint Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians has no meaning. The idea of spiritual warfare, striving against demons, is seen as quaint, outdated, the product of an age of ignorance rendered irrelevant by scientific rationalizations. In other words, it is disregarded due to the bigotry of our modern age, and the arrogant assumption that the little bit of knowledge we have gained about material things gives us wisdom about the invisible world and its realities. The words of Shakespeare’s Hamlet speak to our age : “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”

The problem with the modern Rationalist prejudice is that people who suffer from it think it is not a prejudice. They do not know the difference between being rational and being a Rationalist. I, for one, am rational enough to know that the belief that there is a scientific explanation for everything, is simply a new dogma that rests on faith without evidence- the very thing they accuse us of. They say “a rational explanation” or “scientific explanation” because they either disregard the true meaning of words, or do not know what the words mean. By “rational,” they do not mean the use of reason, but rather the prejudiced dismissal of belief in natures supernatural to those natures below them. By “scientific” they do not mean the acquisition of knowledge through empiricism, but rather, the dismissal of facts that cannot be explained in strictly material terms. For these reasons, I do not regard the Rationalists, or believers in what is called "Scientism" (as opposed to simply "science") as being either rational, scientific or sophisticated. Quite the opposite.

On the other hand, a large number of people these days who escape the influence of the Rationalist prejudice look for the supernatural in all the wrong places. A few years ago I was watching something, that passed for a documentary, about a family that had been living in fear and torment because their daily experiences indicated to them that their house was haunted. In fact, they feared that the spirits were evil, and even called them demonic. But, to whom did they turn for help? They called in a man who supposedly was a “Doctor of Paranormal Psychology.” I don’t know where they found this D.P.P., but, I do know that there is no university anywhere that would bestow a doctorate for something called “Paranormal Psychology.” That is, of course, unless Mr. Haney from the old comedy “Green Acres” has opened his own university. And, who did this alleged doctor call in for “expert” help? A psychic. And, did the "psychic"- that is, medium- offer any help? No. Just very bad advice, namely, to regard the tormenting affliction as a rare “psychic” gift. Finally, after finding no help from the psychic, they asked their pastor for help. It turns out that they were members of some sort of Pentecostal denomination. It was obvious, from a scene filmed in their church, that theirs was not one of the kooky fringe snake-handling types, but a simple old fashioned Protestant congregation with a seemingly reasonable pastor, one who seemed to know how to pray in faith. I wonder why these church-going people failed to go to their pastor first.

I mention this because, if any of you are impressed by psychics, or fortune-tellers, or go to seances, or any engage in any other occult practices, I want to be clear with you. The kinds of evil spirits that Saint Paul speaks of in today’s Epistle are very real. If you are looking for the supernatural in all the wrong places yourself, there are two things you need to know. First of all, it is a sin. It belongs to a forbidden world of idolatry and magic that the Biblical prophets referred to as a spiritual form of adultery, because it is unfaithfulness to God. Secondly, it is forbidden because it is dangerous. You may think that demon possession is only a Hollywood genre within a larger genre of horror movies. No. It is real, and the Church has always maintained that it is real. I have had to perform an exorcism on a real life demon possessed person in my time (more than one really), and I know it is real. Just as I know that miracles of healing still happen by the power of Christ, because I am an eyewitness to them. It is all of it quite real, everything you see in the pages of scripture, all of those supernatural events recorded in the New Testament (and, by the way, if you think you may need someone to do an exorcism, don’t call in a psychic. It is a job for a priest, not a circus sideshow act).

We live in a natural world that interacts with a world of holy angels and fallen angels. The holy angels are God’s servants, and the fallen angels are called "demons" (δαιμόνιον, daimonion) in the New Testament (translated as “devils” in the King James Version). The latter seem not to be super-human, but sub-human. The evidence indicates that they resent us, because we are destined to be, by God’s grace in the Lord Jesus Christ, “partakers of the Divine nature.” (II Pet. 1:4) Satan and his fallen angels were defeated when Christ died on the cross, the sinless One for the sins of the many. If you saw Mel Gibson’s The Passion, you may recall that right after the Lord gives up His spirit and dies, and the earth quakes, that Satan cries out in agony from being defeated. That is not a bad scene at all; it makes a very true point about Christ in his cross defeating the enemy of mankind. Because we live in the time of Easter, that is Christ’s resurrection, and because we live in the time of Pentecost, that is, because we are the Church of Christ filled with the Holy Spirit and His gifts and power, we need not fear any evil power such as the spirits mentioned in today’s Epistle. They are, as the Lord Jesus told us, subject to us. If I may be critical, an exorcism is not something to be tried or attempted. It is, rather, something to be done. When it is the appropriate thing to do, it must be done with faith, faith that it cannot possibly fail.

Listen to these words from the tenth chapter of Luke’s Gospel:

"And the seventy returned again with joy, saying, Lord, even the devils are subject unto us through thy name. And he said unto them, I beheld Satan as lightning fall from heaven. Behold, I give unto you power to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy: and nothing shall by any means hurt you. Notwithstanding in this rejoice not, that the spirits are subject unto you; but rather rejoice, because your names are written in heaven." (Luke 10:17-20)

This brings us to an unavoidable question: If they are subject to us, and we can trample all over them, and they cannot hurt us, why does Saint Paul tell us to put on the whole armor of God? Why are we in a fight? The answer is to be found in scripture, and also in the tradition of spiritual warriors throughout the history of the Church, such as Saint Anthony and the desert fathers; it is continued today among monks such as my younger brother got to know on the famous Mount Athos, and many others who have been spiritual directors. The demons work hidden from our view through temptations into sin, and they work mainly through deception.

In the New Testament we see that false teaching is attributed to the work of demons. The scripture speaks of “seducing spirits and doctrines of demons,” “the spirit of error” and the “spirit of Antichrist.” How do you understand that in our time the former Episcopal bishop of New Jersey attracts audiences and readers by proclaiming that it is high time for Christianity to abandon belief in God? How is it that many cults exist that cause people to suffer both spiritual and physical harm? Apart from the countless and shocking examples of heresy, ask yourself how much you are willing, in your own mind, to abandon the direct teaching of the word of God in the scripture as understood by the Church in every place and age, in favor of ideas that you like better? Where do those ideas come from? These ideas, that we all must fight by wearing "the helmet of salvation," are capable of reaching the flesh because it has sympathetic vibrations in its tendency to sin. All of us must wear the armor, the whole armor of God, and we must consciously and deliberately put it on every day.

My dear brothers and sisters, it is time we all took heed to Saint Paul’s words. It is time we all put upon ourselves the whole armor of God, and gave ourselves to prayer.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

The burden of the word of the Lord

“The prophet is a fool, the spiritual man is mad, for the multitude of thine iniquity, and the great hatred.” Hosea 9:7

What might I say about my country, at this time, if I were a fool and mad? I think something like this:

The Lord spoke a word in my ear, and kindled a fire in my bones: Cry out and say,
“I have looked, I have seen. I will have blood for blood for all the innocent blood that is shed.”

Do not trust in technology and wealth anymore, neither in might and in weapons. In a flash and an instant these will all be taken away, and we will be left exposed to the forces of nature. Innocent blood of infants in the womb is shed because of profiteers greedy for gain. Blood of innocent people in foreign lands is shed for the greed of our military industrial complex. Our officials are mad. The North Atlantic Treaty is a snare. Our government is in a drunken stupor. The call to arms, the lust for war, the charge into battle, are all a sword that will strike at our own side. The blood that will flow will not bring profit or wealth anymore, not to the slayers of infants, not to our military industrial complex, not to politicians bought and paid for. For all their plans to profit will be to their own destruction, and to the falling of the empire that strikes fear throughout the earth.

Make war if you desire; but the Lord will not be with our troops for victory. Go forth to battle, but do not ask the Lord’s blessing; rather cry, “Woe unto us. We battle not for justice, and not in defense of freedom, but in lust for conquest that we might rule all the earth for profit. And we cannot prevail.”

Those are things I could picture myself saying, if I were a fool or mad - as Hosea said. 

Tuesday, October 11, 2016


[The following is a rare excursion into the current political mess here in the United States where I am living. To those of you in other countries, pray for us in this hour. It is posted because every significant choice in life must be considered in light of morality and conscience as informed by our Faith.]

“Leadership” is a word misused today. When it is applied to elected representatives simply by virtue of their election, its use is downright contrary to the American democratic idea of representation as a public service. It is obvious that neither Donald Trump nor Hillary Clinton can be leaders, and that neither ever will be. Neither is a fit role model for children. Neither one is impressive on a moral level. Indeed, the polls show, among many details, that most people who have decided to vote for one of them is doing so mainly to vote against the other. No leadership there. Bernie Sanders was once a leader, but he has lost his followers because he sold out to the very Wall Street power (personified in Hillary Clinton) that he had campaigned against. President Reagan was a leader, not because he was the President, but because his ideas appealed to many people, and because he inspired hope, and was an impressive person. But Trump and Clinton are so flawed that neither can be a leader. This brings us to the only reasons remaining for voters if they are weighing the choice between the two major party candidates: Policies and appointments.

Dr. Wayne Grudem has withdrawn his endorsement of Donald Trump, and I believe that endorsement was overstated. Neither Hillary Clinton nor Donald Trump is a “morally good” choice. But, the first part of Dr. Grudem’s argument was perfectly reasonable, that is, that we will have to live with the policies and appointments of one or the other. I know that if Hillary Clinton becomes President that the courts, including the Supreme Court, will be packed with judges and justices who radically stand for things that I very much oppose; and that I may not, in fact, be allowed to live freely without actual persecution by the government on matters concerning which I will not violate my conscience or the Canon Law of my church (which two things happen to be in perfect agreement). If she becomes President then more innocent blood will be shed, not just through abortion, but in the Middle East and in Africa. Very possibly, almost probably, her gung ho saber rattling against Russia will lead NATO aggression into the “Dr. Strangelove” scenario, nuclear war from which almost no one survives of any species save cockroaches. Her appointees to the departments will not be qualified and experienced, but simple political cronies (remember, this is the person who put forth Janet Reno – need I say more?).

Trump could be better only if he surrounds himself with somewhat-to-very wise counsel such as appears to be the case now, if he appoints the people he has promised to appoint, actually does make peace with Russia, actually defeats ISIS instead of our current foreign policy of supporting them and pretending to believe in a three-sided war, and (or but) also continues to no longer believe in some of the craziest and unjust things he was saying last year, e.g. “taking out” the families of terrorists, reinstating torture, etc. However, he appears to be unpredictable and impulsive in things he has said. As to what he would do no one can be sure. 

A third debate is scheduled. In that debate will the promised appointments and policies be what is on most minds? Will those things be the focus? If it is about those two persons, then, no matter who wins, we all lose, and so does the world. It’s a shame, because the real issues are heavier than ever before in history.

Friday, October 07, 2016

Twentieth Sunday after Trinity

Ephesians 5:15-21  *  Matthew 22:1-14

The reaction to the king's kind invitation, bidding people to attend the wedding of his son, reminds me of the fifth seal in the Book of Revelation:

“And when he had opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held: And they cried with a loud voice, saying, How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth? And white robes were given unto every one of them; and it was said unto them, that they should rest yet for a little season, until their fellow servants also and their brethren, that should be killed as they were, should be fulfilled (Rev. 6:9-11).”

When the guests who were invited snub him, and refuse his invitation, and then persecute the messengers of his gracious invitation to the death, the king becomes "wroth." His judgment falls on those murderers, and he sends his army to slay them. The word "wroth" is, of course, a form of the word "wrath." In many passages of scripture we read about the wrath of God. What is the wrath of God?      
          To answer that, we look at the image of God in this parable. The king represents God, and the invitation represents the proclamation of his mercy offered in the Gospel. The invitation is to attend "the marriage supper of the Lamb" (Rev.19:9), the marriage feast of the King's Son. The image in the parable includes the obvious implications of forgiveness of sin (purchased by that Son on the sacrificial altar of the cross, and his resurrection that destroys death), showing that the heart of the king is generous, benevolent and gracious. "God is good."
          When the invited people refuse this kindness, and persecute his messengers, they incur his wrath. The king has not changed, the people have. His principles are solid and unmoving. His wrath comes from the same heart as his generosity. Of course, the wrath of God is not exactly like the wrath of this king, for the king is a man who changes due to emotion. This brings up a very ancient doctrine of the Church, and the term for that doctrine is Divine Impassibility: It means that God does not change. In fact, as our own Anglican Article I teaches, he is "without passions."
          Some modern theologians object to this, and insist that the scriptures present to us an emotional God who makes up his mind by reacting to events. They see metaphorical language as literal, forgetting that God has revealed his word to our minds by use of our own language. Emotion includes motion, that is movement and change. But, God does not change. The king in today's Gospel appears to be moved, sometimes by anger and sometimes by his own generosity. Unlike God, this king can be surprised, because he does not know all things before they happen. But, he is in the story only to represent God as an imperfect human illustration, a character who is metaphorical in nature. God's wrath is itself a metaphor. What it means is that you stand on one side of the line or the other, either accepting his kind and gracious offer in the Gospel of his Son, or you refuse that offer and side with the world, the flesh and the Devil. Because God never changes, you stand either on the side of  wrath or on the side of mercy.
          Look at the word that the king uses when he must have his bouncers kick out an impolite guest: "Friend, how camest thou in hither not having a wedding garment?" This word, "friend", seems rather odd. In fact, it means that this impolite guest, the one who refused the wedding garment (that is, refused the vestment handed out by the king's servants at the door) in a gesture of disrespect, was in some way beloved of the king. That is what it means that he was called "friend" (ταρος, hetairos). The same word is used later in this same Gospel (Matthew) when Jesus addresses the traitor Judas in the Garden of Gethsemane.

“And forthwith he came to Jesus, and said, Hail, master; and kissed him. And Jesus said unto him, Friend, wherefore art thou come? Then came they, and laid hands on Jesus, and took him (Matt. 26:50).”

What could better demonstrate that the Impassibility of God is consistent with the fact that God is love? (I John 4:8, 16) He does not change. Jesus loved Judas, even knowing that the man was a devil, the traitor, for whom it would have been good had he never been born. Jesus was not changed toward Judas, though Judas had renounced him, had abandoned his apostolic office to betray him to the death. "Friend, wherefore art thou come?"
          The king casts the impolite and contemptuous guest out of his palace because that man had placed himself beyond the reach of the king's generous and gracious nature. The man did not need to buy some expensive garment, because it was the host of such a feast who provided these garments, outer garments or vestments, at the door. And, in polite society it was expected that a guest would put the garment on over his own clothes.

“The night is far spent, the day is at hand: let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armour of light. Let us walk honestly, as in the day; not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying. But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfill the lusts thereof (Rom. 13:12-14) .”

We are told to "put on Christ." But, first we are instructed to cast off the works of the flesh. Everything is provided for us. We put on Christ by hearing the word of God, remembering that in Hebrew the word for "hear" is the same word as "obey." We put on Christ by staying within his Church. We put on Christ by hearty repentance and true faith. We put on Christ by the sacraments that are generally necessary to salvation. We put on Christ by cooperating with the Holy Spirit who forms within us the virtues, above all charity. This is the life of faith, belief in what God has revealed as true.        
          All the parts of the life of faith are gifts of God, provided like the wedding garment given to each guest. We are invited and granted mercy and grace, to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light, to be partakers of the divine nature having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust. We are given everything we need so that we become behind in no gift; waiting for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. As you are called in Christ, to become saints in Christ, so live in Christ, having been baptized into his death unto sin, and in whom you live unto righteousness.
          If you refuse the invitation, or if you come to the feast but refuse the gracious provision of the king, it is your choice, never understanding the heart of one who calls you "friend." Above all, from the cross he has called you "friend." Do not turn from his love. Put on the Lord Jesus Christ.

Saturday, October 01, 2016

Nineteenth Sunday after Trinity

Oops. I posted one for a different Sunday by mistake. But Facebook readers are enjoying it, so I'll leave it up.

   St. Paul in Prison by Rembrandt Van Rijn

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 cannot simply smile and 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 they were circumcised and kept the Six Hundred and Thirteen Commandments of the Torah, 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 who demands the impossible without providing grace.

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. That 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, the same Gospel the Apostles preached, because His word revealed in Scripture and known to His Church is where you discover the truth of God’s love.