Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Saturday, December 12, 2020

THIRD SUNDAY in ADVENT

Please CLICK HERE for the ante-communion and sermon. Check later for a second sermon, from Archbishop Haverland, that I plan to post after the 10:00 am Mass.

Tuesday, December 01, 2020

The Current St. Benedict's Newsletter

I want to share this newsletter with everyone, because we are all going through this year together.

T H E   B E N E D I C T I O N

Newsletter of St. Benedict’s Anglican Catholic Church

 


O  WORSHIP  THE  LORD  IN  THE  BEAUTY  OF  HOLINESS

Our parish (founded in 1979) has maintained the Liturgy of the traditional Book of Common Prayer. Our preaching and teaching draw on the Holy Scriptures in light of the Tradition of the Church from the earliest days.

 

Advent and Christmas 2020

From the Rector’s Desk

 Some call 2020 “The Year From Hell.” At times I have felt discouraged and put upon, only to quickly remember that it is not only we at St. Benedict’s, nor only we in North Carolina, nor even only the United States, but the whole world that has been stricken by the pandemic. Our country is among those suffering the worst of it, and the reason is obvious: Too many people here (unlike anywhere else on earth) have lied to themselves about the fact that the disease is very real. As a result they have put themselves and others at unnecessary risk. One sad lesson that this year has taught us is that too few have regard for the commandment, “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” Beginning with the selfish hoarding of paper supplies in March, following on to attendance in large groups that have practiced no safe guards, a shocking number of modern Americans have proved themselves to be much too selfish.

          I am not among the modernist theologians who presume that there is no devil, no demons, and no genuine spiritual warfare. Too many people want the Church to be a vacation cruise, when it is a battle ship. Now, everyone is in the battle, whether or not they choose to be on the ship, because the war is everywhere, and certainly whether or not they man their battle stations. But someone looking for the shuffle board is in more danger than someone who knows what is really happening (read Ephesians 6:10-17).

          To discourage you to the point where you would give up on church is the work of the devil. To plant in your mind some notion that the Church is failing, or that it must be all over, is Satan’s voice in your head. Have the wisdom to reject such lies. It is true that we are yet enduring a difficult season. In it my work is harder because it is like a time of war or plague. So, I am ready to visit you with the sacrament (call me and I will come – my cell phone number is 480-760-5978), and also to make weekly videos on the church’s You Tube channel so that you can pray along on Sunday, and hear a sermon from me (and I hope all of you have been using these). I know why most of you will be avoiding crowds until the pandemic is over, and I respect that decision, so I have to add to my efforts.

But do not learn the wrong lesson. I spoke prophetically months ago (in a couple of the videos) that a vaccine would begin to turn things around about the middle of December. This is exactly what is beginning to happen. Certain select At Risk people will be first, vaccinated even during December, we are told. A few months from now the “All Clear” will sound. Each and every one of you will then be called, by Christ, back into the assembly of His Body. The wrong lesson from 2020 is that you do not need the Church. But you do. You need the fellowship of your spiritual family. You need corporate worship. You need the preaching of God’s word. You need the sacraments. If Satan has convinced you otherwise, banish him, with his lies, from your lives in the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching (Hebrews 10:25).”

          And they continued stedfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers (Acts 2:42).”

 The humility of God is a staggering fact that leaps off the pages of the Gospels. For we see the Son, equal with God, deem to be made human for the sake of a race of rebels; to take upon Himself our very nature, to be found in fashion as a man, to take upon Him the form of a servant, to be obedient unto death, even the death of the cross, as spoken of in Saint Paul’s famous passage to the Philippians. This obedience and service would be quite remarkable from someone who is a creature; but the Son is not a creature; He is begotten not made. He is equal with God, eternally one with the Father and the Holy Spirit. What great kindness shown to us, the race of rebels, that we see His sacred face the holy night of His birth. Into the eternity of His Divine Person He took time; into His Godhead eternally begotten not created, He took our created nature; into His omnipotence he took the weakness of a newborn infant; into His omnipresence He took the location of a human body; into His omniscience He took the mind of a man. Into His Divine life as the maker of created life, He took our mortal nature, indeed death itself and so swallowed up mortality in eternal life.

In all of this we see that God does not deal with us as our sins deserve. If we must cast aside our hope in the best idealism that fallen man can muster, it is for a greater hope, a love that exceeds the story of every romance ever written. It is the love of God for the undeserving children of men, benevolence extended where wrath is deserved, immortality where death is justly due, the joy of God’s kingdom where hell was earned. This hope for all who will believe and repent, purchased by our Redeemer’s shed blood, sealed by His resurrection and trampling of death, is peace with God. This is the song of the angels: This is “Peace on Earth, goodwill toward men.”

Pledge

Please send in your pledge for 2021 as soon as you can. If you cannot find the letter just contact me or Michael Murray. You can even email it to mail@saintbenedicts.net.

 

Christmas Offering

Enclosed please see the envelope for your Christmas Offering. This is for special thanks to God for everything this feast means to us.

 

Annual Meeting

Please take note: Every member of the congregation is hereby informed that the Annual Meeting for 2021, at which decisions are made by the voting members of the parish will be on Sunday January 31 following the 10:00 AM service of Holy Communion. Because the pandemic is expected not to end by then, we will forego the usual potluck luncheon and keep the meeting short. Wear a mask and practice social distancing please.

 

Food Basket

Please remember items for the Food Basket. It goes to help people in need of food.

 

Archbishop Haverland is scheduled to visit us on the Third Sunday in Advent, December 13. We will have to forego the usual potluck luncheon.

 

IF YOU COME TO SERVICES please practice the cautions appropriate to the pandemic. A mask and social distancing are simply good manners right now.

 Schedule for Christmas Services

Christmas Eve

11:00 PM Holy Communion (Traditional Midnight Mass)

Christmas Day

Holy Communion 10:00 AM

 

Feast of the Epiphany Wednesday January 6

Holy Communion 12:00 Noon and 7:00 PM

 

Regular weekly schedule

Sundays

8:30 AM Morning Prayer

9:30 AM Sunday School for children

10:00 AM Holy Communion 11:40 Bible Study

Wednesdays

Holy communion 12:00 noon

Evening Prayer 6:30 pm

 

 

St. Benedict’s Anglican Church is a parish of the Diocese of the South, Anglican Catholic Church, Original Province.

 

Most Rev. Dr. Mark D. Haverland, Archbishop Ordinary

 

Rev. Robert Hart, Rector

Mr. Michael Murray, Senior Warden

Mr. Terence Smith, Junior Warden

Mr. James Lazenby, Minister of Music

 

St. Benedict’s website: www.saintbenedicts.net.

Phone# 919-933-0956

Monday, October 12, 2020

FAITH & SCHOLARSHIP

Serving in my diocese’s Commission on Ministry, I meet men who aspire to holy orders. When I consider the importance of one aspect of ordained ministry, preaching, I find myself always ready to give practical advice. One thing I would never say from the pulpit is, “scholars say that Jesus didn’t actually say this,” or even, “scholars agree that Paul didn’t actually write this epistle,” (with the obvious exception of Hebrews, inasmuch as the epistle is, on the face of it, anonymous. Paul always identified himself up front. I think it contains Paul’s teaching, but was written by someone who had been in his missionary company before his martyrdom in Rome).

This is not because I have failed to read the arguments; it is mostly because nothing deflates a sermon faster than distancing oneself from the source of authority that undergirds your very presence in the pulpit. But, it is also because, having read the arguments and knowing the consensus (a word that has come to imply, to many, infallibility), I see holes that are not neatly sewn up. I appreciate the consistent logic that has been built into a tower; but, at times, I see what appear to be cracks in the foundation. The tower is a very impressive edifice, and the workmanship is unquestionably fine. But, what is below ground as a foundation?

 

Facts and logical constructs

            Even in my earliest days as an undergraduate student pursuing a degree in history, I was taught that my discipline was a science. It was impressed on me by professors that nothing takes the place of evidence and documentation. As the years went on I began to see that a lot of writing about history (as opposed to writing of history) argues a point. In every science those who make arguments need to practice detachment (especially detachment from ego) inasmuch as “facts are,” as John Adams observed, “stubborn things.”

          A subtle trap lies in this: In every science a certain amount of logic must be used to construct any theory. In reality theory is a word that includes basic things we know to be true, such as gravity. A true theory is proved by the facts, even though it can undergo additional elements, which indeed happened to our understanding of gravity when Einstein examined the work of Newton in light of Relativity, adding to the theory of gravity what we now know about the way it bends both time and space. So, a proven theory can grow to include newly discovered facts.

Some theories, on the other hand, can be proved false. That happens when logic, even flawless logic, is confronted by a fact that stands as a contradiction to some part of the premise upon which a theory was constructed. In other cases a theory can be on the table, based on a combination of evidence and logic, depending on logic to cover gaps that the evidence alone cannot prove. Indeed, such theories can be so impressive in their logic that they are quite convincing. This dependence on logic, to fill in the evidentiary gaps, helps to create consensus (and the same basic reality, in a very different way, applies to juries in courts of law).

The problem that I am faced with by some of the scholarly consensus on the Bible is not only gaps in the evidence, but arguments that can be made, and made quite plausibly, not with the logical construct of a given theory, but with the premise. This brings me full circle to the very basic History 101 caveat, that everything presented as a fact must be documented with evidence. The evidence comes first, and the logic follows, for logic is subject to facts; facts, those stubborn things, refuse to be subjected to logic, even the best logic of the finest scholars and scientists. When one moves up the academic ladder in any science, no matter to what height, the rule remains in place, reputations not withstanding, that facts come first, and logic follows. So, a theory that is yet unproved (and a collegial consensus all by itself is no substitute for proof), is constructed partly by evidence and partly by logic.

 

Predictive prophecy

          When I first read the original Book of Daniel I was struck quickly by the fact that I was reading not Hebrew, but Aramaic, but not throughout the entire book. Many ancient manuscripts come to us in fragments. Here was a book put together, I realized, from Hebrew fragments and Aramaic fragments. I questioned what had happened. Was a Targum of Daniel, that is an Aramaic translation from Hebrew for Jewish readers of a later period, mixed with older Hebrew portions? Of course, many writers have weighed in.

We are told that the scholarly consensus is that the predictive prophetic portions were added after they had been fulfilled. Of course the text states otherwise rather boldly, that Daniel was praying and was visited by angels. In the science of textual criticism a simple acceptance of the claims in the text are not taken as evidence. That I understand, because that is how real science is done. The problem is a different question altogether. The question is, did prophets foretell?

According to the content of scripture, throughout all of it, one element of prophecy was prediction. Bear in mind; that was only a part of it. Prophecy is when one speaks as the mouth of God, and most of the words of the Old Testament prophets were not predictive in nature, but rather an outcry against evil and injustice, mostly against injustice to the poor and the oppressed. However, the predictive element is so obviously and consistently woven into Biblical prophecy that no one can state that prediction of the future is no part of it. To say that Biblical prophets did not foretell is ridiculous on the face of it. Actually, nothing can be more obvious. According to the words in the texts, predictions as an element of prophecy take place quite often. No matter where you look in the Old Testament, this is an undeniable fact.

When we come to the New testament we see exactly two prophetic predictions in the Book of Acts, both from a Christian prophet, obviously recognized as such by the Church, named Agabus (Acts 11:28f, 21:10f). In the eleventh chapter this prophet foretold a drought. The Church had such faith in the predictive element of prophecy that the apostles themselves took action, and so we read in the Book of Acts, and in St. Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians, about the “collection for the saints,” the money donated for the yet-to-be poor in the city where the Church was first established, Jerusalem.

Clearly, to those earliest Christians, it was no strange thing for prophets to tell the future. They had inherited this belief from their Jewish past, for it was a part of Jewish faith. Moreover, had they failed to heed the predictive element of prophecy, they would have not taken the actions needed to prepare for the future. Such a course of action must have brought to mind the story, already ancient in that time, of Joseph and Pharaoh in Genesis. Note, the prophecies of Agabus had nothing to do with revelation about matters of doctrine, such matters having been entrusted, according to the text, to the apostles rather than to the prophets of the Church. What is crystal clear is that the predictive element in prophecy was here, as in all of scripture, taken for granted by the believers. Had you told the ancient Christians that prophets did not predict the future, they would have regarded you as uneducated and foolish.

          Herein lies the problem I have with one scholarly consensus, the cracks I see in the foundation of an otherwise impressively constructed tower of logic. The rationalization of some is that the Gospel of Mark, chapter thirteen, had to have been written after the year 70 AD. Maybe it was written that late. The real issue to me is a simple nagging question: Why must it have been written after 70 AD? One answer, we are told, is because it foretells the destruction of Jerusalem and of the temple.

In other words, contrary to what all of the Christians and Jews of the time had always believed, that the word of the Lord by the prophets often contained a reliable predictive element, we are to assume that Jesus could not really have predicted the future. The simple reality is this: that assumption has demoted Jesus not only to a mere man, someone who was not the Son of the Everlasting Father, but to someone even less than what all the prophets had been taken to be: the mouthpiece of God who knows all things, past, present and future. Aside from the assumption that Jesus could not have actually predicted the future, I accept reasonable evidence that has been presented for dating the synoptic Gospels as late. 

I think it must be true that the Church had a Quelle (“source” in German) document, or “Q,” simply because it makes no sense to believe that the Church would have failed to put into writing the most important words ever spoken. The Church’s resources were never limited to complete dependence on nothing other than an oral tradition because it was never populated only by illiterates. That Mark and Matthew drew from this “Q,” and that Luke drew from it and other sources when addressing each of us as a “friend of God (Theophilus),” is indeed quite logical, indeed, obvious. We do not have the “Q,” but we do have the Gospels. In fact, in the seventh chapter of First Corinthians, Paul makes a distinction between the teaching of the Lord, and his own merely human but likely reliable judgment; the implication is that Christ’s teaching had been preserved faithfully, and that his readers knew what was in it

If you take away Jesus’ clear foretelling of the destruction of Jerusalem and of the Temple, you have to take away so much with it, the Parable of the Vineyard, the warning that the Kingdom of God would be taken from them and given to the Gentiles (spread to all nations), His use of the imagery of the Valley of Ben Hinnom (Gehennah)  – the place where slain corpses are abandoned – and everything he foretold about the judgment to fall on “this generation.” Finally, when you come to the end of the Gospel of Luke, and read about the Risen Christ teaching His disciples about the Old Testament scriptures that had predicted the events of His life, His death and His resurrection, you have to assume that those ancient martyrs and fugitives, all of whom could have lived freely and without fear by simply coming clean and being honest, made up a bunch of tales not to be believed at all.

Right away, in the Book of Acts, we discover that the apostles relied on specific texts of Old Testament prophecy, in fact predictive prophecies, to prove that their man was the promised Anointed Son of David who had risen from the dead. The passage most often used in the Book of Acts, and that is either quoted or alluded to by most of the writers of the New Testament, is the Suffering Servant of the Book of Isaiah (Isaiah 52:13-53:12). This is brought home most clearly in the eighth chapter of Acts when Philip identifies the man of whom the prophet spoke as Jesus (Acts 8:35). When did the Church learn this, if not when the risen Lord was instructing the disciples as we read about near the end of Luke’s Gospel?

 

Human element

          Unlike a Fundamentalist I recognize the human element in scripture. Matthew wrongly attributed a passage from Zechariah to Jeremiah, and Luke mistakenly names Quirinius as the Governor of Syria at an incorrect date. The Scriptures contain variants, and it is not always clear which of them is correct. No modern person should take the earliest chapters of Genesis as either science or history, but as allegory (after all, the incarnate Christ taught in parables when he walked the earth – so what’s the problem?). The greetings in the epistles, Paul’s expression of aggravation concerning those who troubled the Church in Galatia – yes, Fundamentalism insults the intelligence.

          But, the human element contains a very real weakness in St. Paul’s writings, in fact his dictations. Early epistles, the ones everybody attributes to Paul, show that his amanuensis probably found it very difficult to keep up with his excited dictation. The amanuensis who took those epistles down did not tidy it up like a good editor would, not even completing every sentence. Yet, the Epistle to the Ephesians is polished and stylistically different, and the later Pastoral Epistles so different that the scholarly consensus is that Paul could not have written them. Furthermore, those epistles, unlike the earlier ones, show a church that is formed and organized instead of organic and purely charismatic, if not egalitarian.

          Fair enough. I will say that in about another seventeen hundred years a music scholar may well say that the works attributed to J.S. Bach must have been written by no less than three separate composers, and for very similar reasons. Obviously, and worthy of an agreed consensus, the same man who composed the Toccata and Fugue in D minor, so much resembling the works of Buxtehude with its triple ending and very informal cadence to a minor resolution, cannot have been the man who wrote those later contrapuntal works, and someone else altogether must have written those concertos in various different ethnic styles. However, a mere three hundred years after the life of the composer, we know too much to make such astounding claims. A lot more has to be lost, and much history forgotten, before we can become so clever as all that.

          As for Paul’s epistles, and those attributed to him (from Romans to Philemon – Hebrews remaining anonymous and obviously written by a man who followed the lead of St. Timothy, as Paul never did), I make no arguments. Rather, I question why a pseudonymous writer would wax so autobiographical and personal as we see in the last chapter of the Second Epistle to Timothy. But that is a question, not an argument. I have another question, knowing that Paul signed his epistles, always near the beginning, and in large letters (Gal. 6:11), could not differences in style and polish be differences between the men who acted as his amanuensis? Could not the more organizational content, ecclesiastically speaking, of the Pastoral Epistles reflect the growth and maturity of the Church as it evolved over time? These are questions, not arguments, and I am not the first to raise them. I might be the first, however, to desire an answer more evidentiary in nature than “consensus,” which, in the final analysis, is no answer at all, that is, unless this is all an art, not a science.

          One answer I cannot accept is that we must reject the supernatural explanation. The assumption that Jesus could not have foretold the events of 70 AD, because we assume that prophecy has no predictive element, not only lacks evidence: It contradicts all of the evidence of the entire Bible and the of the world in which it was written and compiled. Moreover, it comes across to me as nothing but a mask for unbelief. What else could He not have done? What about having been born of a virgin mother? and what of rising from the dead into a new and immortal nature to save us? If he could not speak as the prophets were believed to have spoken, certainly He could not have done any of those other supernatural things either. But, in fact, He did it all. And, that is in accord with the consensus that matters most: The One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church guided, by the Spirit of Truth, into all truth.

Friday, October 02, 2020

FOR THE POOR


For poor families who call the church in need of immediate assistance. Regular calls include turn off notices for water bills and electric bills, or a need for food when a family has nothing to eat, or a need for medicine. This includes a woman with two teenage sons currently in a state of medical and financial crisis, who needs medicine she cannot afford, for which she is not covered by any insurance or program while her S.S.I. case is delayed in what has been a lengthy appeal process with no end in sight. I, the Rector, have a discretionary fund, but we are a small church and the money simply does not go far enough. This is about poor people who call churches because they fall through the cracks, or they are waiting for the process to be completed for Social Services or the Social Security Administration, but face turn-off notices, food shortage, and an immediate need for medicine. They need help NOW, not when the system finally (if ever) provides. When they call a church it is because they have already reached the end of their rope.

CLICK ON THE PICTURE TO DONATE
Thank you

Campaign renewed on October 2, 2020

Saturday, August 29, 2020

12th SUNDAY AFTER TRINITY

Apparently I failed to hit the “publish” button before today Fri. Aug. 4). My apologies. I wish they wouldn’t change formats!

Click here for the link to the video service and sermon.

Friday, August 21, 2020

Benevolence Fund Update

  1. The family of Litasha Louise, whom we have helped over the years, really has to move in the next few days. She has asked for immediate assistance of $265. She is raising her children in a dangerous and violent part of Durham. She can, with that money, move to a place much safer for raising her three kids. She is severely disabled. She even suffered a stroke last year at the young age of 41. 

Fr. Hart’s statement in election year

MORAL THEOLOGY in application.

The political pendulum doesn’t change issues of morality and justice. It was wrong for Obama to assist the war crimes of the Saudis: That doesn’t make it right for Trump to continue (and intensify) assistance. It was wrong for Obama to put children in cages. That doesn’t justify Trump continuing (and greatly intensifying) it. It was wrong, speaking as a pro-life Christian, for Obama to sign into law each year budgets that added funding to Planned Parenthood, resulting in the predictable rise of abortions. It is also wrong for Trump to keep doing the same (which he has done each of his four years in office) resulting in an even further rise in the number of abortions reported by Planned Parenthood under his watch - despite his empty words that impress uninformed pro-life voters (even now I see your faces turning red as you try to head to the State of Denial). As for proper help to the poor, for basic essentials such as food, housing and healthcare: We have the programs, but neither party is trying to make them work effectively. It’s all about having issues every two, four, and six years respectively, depending on which office a politician is running for: It’s about appealing to that voting base, and not about solving the problems that lose them their issues to run on.

Morality and justice are actually consistent realities that cannot change. As long as Democrats and Republicans refuse to hold their Presidents and legislators to actual principles, America will remain an unjust country that must answer to God like Sodom and Gommorah. Stop playing politics with justice. Whoever wins in November, stand by your God, not by your party.

Monday, June 15, 2020

WHY WE PREACH

This I wrote and posted in two parts back in 2008 entitled "Preaching: Why we do it" Parts 1 & 2. Here it is combined and re-posted.

"For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel: not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect. For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God."
- I Corinthians 1:17, 18



"If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God."

- I Peter 4:11


I know that some priests consider preaching to be a necessary evil, straining to get through a mere seven-minute homily. One priest asked me how I felt about preaching (why are we Americans so obsessed with how we feel anyway?), and I told him how much I feel at home and in my element when in the pulpit. Like Jeremiah, the word of God is a fire in my bones, and I simply have to proclaim it. He shook his head, and he told me how it was with him: "I try to play it down, so it doesn't get in the way of the sacrament." I told him I was not buying it. The word of God and the sacraments of his Church are never in competition, and without sound preaching, how do we prepare people to receive the body and blood of the Lord? I did not say, but thought later, that of all the excuses for dereliction of duty, a sanctimonious one has to be the most odious. Recall that last part of the Imperative Prayer in the Ordinal: "And be thou a faithful Dispenser of the Word of God, and of his holy Sacraments; In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen."

Before I make my major point, I want to ask why it is that any priest has trouble thinking of what to say in a sermon? For crying out loud, we have the greatest writers of all behind us. Moses, David, Isaiah, James, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, along with Peter and Paul, to name a few. Everything they wrote came straight from the Holy Spirit. As the papal document Dominus Iesus put it so well about the books of scripture: "These books have God as their author." Just lean back into the scriptures, pray for the power of the Holy Spirit, and let the truth flow out like living water. You have it in you: The part that is knowledge by diligence, and power and charisma through the laying on of the bishop's hands.

Is the sermon merely a little instruction, something mild and short and tasteful? Too many Anglo-Catholics have decided that good preaching is a Protestant sort of thing; so, to prove what good Catholics they are, they aspire to be lousy preachers. All too often they accomplish their goal. Have they never heard of the great Catholic preachers in the ancient Church? Was Chrysostom so named (Golden-Tongued) because he offered forgettable seven-minute homilies? Furthermore, why do we preach at all? And, for that poor clergyman who feared that he might compete with the sacrament, it is because of the sacrament that your preaching must be excellent.

I believe we ought to take a good look at where the sermon is placed in our Liturgy (yes, in our Liturgy, not as an extra tacked onto it). It is followed directly (in the BCP we use) by the Offertory, and prayer. But this leads to the General Confession. What is this all about? The General Confession is a prayer of cleansing, followed by a General Absolution that only a priest may say, which rubric itself shows that the act is sacramental, not merely ceremonial. Unless it is intended as a real Absolution it would not be reserved to the priesthood. Look at the words which preceded it:

"YE who do truly and earnestly repent you of your sins, and are in love and charity with your neighbours, and intend to lead a new life, following the commandments of God, and walking from henceforth in his holy ways; Draw near with faith, and take this holy Sacrament to your comfort; and make your humble confession to Almighty God, devoutly kneeling."

In good Evangelical terms, we may call this an "Altar Call." The difference is, "we have an altar"1 unlike many others. The call goes out to the people that in order to approach in a few minutes, to eat and drink the body and blood of Christ, their hearts must be cleansed, their consciences must be healed from sin. This is the laver, and it is the fountain of cleansing in Christ's blood.

After the General Confession, note what is said by the priest, with the rubric itself included here for your attention:

"¶ Then shall the Priest (the Bishop if he be present) stand up, and turning to the People, say,
ALMIGHTY God, our heavenly Father, who of his great mercy hath promised forgiveness of sins to all those who with hearty repentance and true faith turn unto him; Have mercy upon you; pardon and deliver you from all your sins; confirm and strengthen you in all goodness; and bring you to everlasting life; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen."

Look at both the call to confession and the Absolution, and notice the conditional nature of both. It is no small matter that the 1979 so-called Prayer Book, in its Rite II, removed the conditions, and made the whole thing a matter of mere priestcraft and magic. The General Confession must be accompanied by the sincerity of true repentance, a condition that is always necessary for the efficacy of the sacrament of Absolution, whether General or private.

The call to Confession is conditional as well, a reminder before the confession is made that "hearty repentance and true faith" must be present at this point. To replace this Call with something else, such as I have heard among even Continuing Anglicans, is a grave mistake. I have heard it replaced often with this insufficient and disappointing formula: "Let us pray for the whole state of Christ's Church, beginning with the words of the General Confession." Then the Prayer for the Whole State of Christ's Church is skipped, and the Confession is said without this eloquent invitation that our Anglican fathers had the wisdom to provide.

Consider the importance of this: The people are about to come forward for the Food and Drink of Eternal Life. 2 They are about to receive one of those two sacraments that are "generally necessary to salvation."3 The sermon that precedes this must have an aim not unlike the best preaching of some of the finest Protestant Evangelists, such as Billy Graham. These men see the purpose of their preaching as no less than the salvation of souls, the difference between something far more important than life and death. The difference, as I said, is that "we have an altar" and on that altar the sacrament of Christ's body and blood, "the food and drink of eternal life." Our altar call has this substantial reality that theirs lacks. All the more reason, because the people come forward to eat and drink Christ, and they are in a state that is either worthy or unworthy. They must first have their consciences cleansed, their souls washed by a sincere confession "with hearty repentance and true faith," so that the priestly Absolution is received into the good ground of a believing heart. So, they come, they eat and drink, and they live forever.

Preach as though the souls of those who hear you depend on what you say. Endeavor to bring them, by your words face to face with Jesus Christ. For, indeed, "in so doing thou mayest save thyself and them that hear thee."4

PART II

Let us now focus on the rhyme and reason for entering the pulpit in the first place. These are practical items.

1. Preaching must be pastoral.

A good sermon need not be the most clever, the finest writing, nor a brilliant display of theater or performing arts. On the other hand, it must not become merely a ceremonial routine, something to get through because, well, there it is in the rubrics. A good sermon must come from a pastoral heart, and be delivered by a father who loves his congregation and wants to feed them. It must come from a physician who wants to heal wounds, diagnose illness, and provide a cure. This is why I advise you who preach, not to look at the ceiling, the door to the church, or any other fixed point, but to move your eyes across the congregation, engaging people face to face, while you speak to their minds and hearts. This is about feeding them, curing their souls, helping them to know the Father and Jesus Christ whom he has sent (John 17:3). It must never become anything less, and it is your responsibility to see that it does not.

2. Preaching must be theological

By "theological" I do not mean academic, since the challenge in preaching is not to speak to scholars and theologians, but to communicate to everyone. That, far more than academic speaking, is the more difficult. By "theological" I mean that it must be based on the revelation of God in scripture, and it must bring out the true meaning.

Believe it or not, people really do want to understand their Faith. Some clergy think that people will choke on theology, and that it is best not to present it to them. The people have just said the great Creed of our Faith, a creed filled with the most profound words that summarize the whole Bible, and therefore contain the height and depth of Divine revelation. It is a literary puzzle also, jumping from metaphor to direct statement of fact; for example: "...light of light, very God of very God..." If they can say these words, they deserve some explanation. And, it is your responsibility and office to teach them.

The Incarnation, which includes the entirety of the Gospel, is theology- real theology as revealed by God. In order to meet the needs of the people, in line with point number one above, this is the medicine, and the food.

3. Preaching must be Biblical

You are called and ordained to preach the Word of God, not your own ideas; not even your own good ideas. The scriptures have been read to the whole congregation, and you have no need to find anything else for your material. Furthermore, you must not draw from any other material as your main text and direction. You must draw out the meaning of the scriptures.

At the risk of looking egotistical, I will quote another earlier post:

"While walking the earth, the Son of God proclaimed that the Old Testament scriptures were, in fact, actually testifying about Him. After His resurrection He expounded on the meaning of all the scriptures as the things concerning Himself, and opened the minds of His disciples to understand them.

"So, too, the New Testament is rich with the reports of Christ’s actions, His words, His life, His death and His resurrection. They tell us, also, who He is: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God… 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 1:1,2, 14).” It goes on to tell us how His Incarnation is extended in this world through time and space by His Church, founded by Him and indwelt by His Spirit. The doctrines of that Church are forever enshrined in the Epistles, and our hope made firm by the last prophetic Revelation.

"This is the hammer that breaks the rock in pieces, a fire that bursts forth and blazes, consuming everything, and making new life. It is a power that transcends every natural force, and every embellishment of those forces, electric or atomic. “The voice of the Lord is mighty in operation; the voice of the LORD is a glorious voice…the voice of the LORD shaketh the wilderness (Psalm 29: 4, 7 BCP).” The scriptures kill and make alive, meeting the truest and deepest needs of man. And yet, many clergymen struggle very hard, trying to think of something to say. Why?

"Every seminary everywhere ought to teach a very important principle: It is not the duty of the clergy to blunt the sharpness, to soften the hammer, or to quench the fire. Woe to the preacher who protects the people from the word that kills, because he protects them also from being made alive- truly and forever alive. Woe to the preacher who acts as a buffer, deflecting the force of the scriptures to soften the blow, because in protecting from the stroke, he prevents the healing. If his labors in the pulpit amount to a lifetime of standing between the people and the word of God, reducing its effect, taming it and making it polite, presentable and harmless, he will have nothing to show for it in the end but wood, hay and stubble instead of gold, silver and precious stones.

"It far easier to preach if a man will ride the scriptures like a wave, letting them make their own point, and arrive at their own destination (informed by the Tradition of the Church). If the passages that have been read speak of life and death, then elaborate on life and death. If they speak of repentance then preach that men should repent. When they encourage faith, proclaim faith. When they warn of Hell and the judgment to come, then blow the trumpet as a faithful watchman on the walls. When they comfort, speak as a pastor who feeds the sheep. Let the meaning of the scriptures be expounded to their full effect, proclaiming from them the truth that affects the eternal destiny of the souls in your care."

There it is: 1. Pastoral 2.Theological 3. Scriptural.

One last word of advice: If all this seems a bit too much for a mere man, all the better. Pray earnestly for the guidance and power of the Holy Spirit, both in giving you grace and power to preach, and to the people the grace to hear and receive. None of us can afford anything less than prayerful dependence on the Holy Spirit.


1. Hebrews 13:10

2. John 6: 53-58

3. Anglican Catechism: "Question. How many Sacraments hath Christ ordained in his Church?

Answer. Two only, as generally necessary to salvation; that is to say, Baptism, and the Supper of the Lord."

4. I Timothy 4:16


Thursday, June 11, 2020

The Vigano Letter

To my colleagues who are impressed by Cardinal Vigano’s recent letter to President Donald Trump: How has it escaped your notice that the letter contains a dualistic heresy in which God, by being locked in an “eternal” struggle with evil, is portrayed as merely equal to that evil? If the struggle is eternal, therefore unresolved forever, if Satan is God’s “eternal enemy,” so that God never wins, how can this be the God we believe in? It can’t be! So limited a being isn’t our God. How has this not clued you in to the logical realization that Vigano (a slanderer of note) speaks by another spirit - a spirit of error? So, his letter goes on by teaching you to be wary of human beings as your enemies, “children of darkness,” instead of as sinners in need of the Gospel, and as objects of God’s love, as well as of yours? How does it not flatter your pride to be told that you are “the children of light” not because you are in Christ, but because you back a particular politician?

It is all so very wrong. In the words of Jesus, I tell some of you: You know not what spirit ye are of. I urge you not to respond to me until you have sought God in prayer. If the light that is in you is darkness, how great is that darkness.

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Tsadokah


And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions: And also upon the servants and upon the handmaids in those days will I pour out my spirit.- Joel 2:28,29
          
When I read the Prophets for the first time, long, long ago, I noticed that their books were not filled mostly with predictions; I had thought they would be, and saw quickly that such is not the case. They contained predictions as part of the content of prophecy; I paid special attention to those predictive prophecies that were directly foretelling the coming of Christ. But, the role of the prophet was not to act like some kind of fortune teller; it was to be the mouth of God. I also noticed that a very large portion of their prophecy, indeed, the largest content of certain prophets, especially Amos, was to speak directly about justice and injustice to the poor. Through them God spoke to the conscience of fallen men.
          The word translated “justice” is also translated “righteousness.” The word is Tsadakah (צְדָקָה). In the novel, The Chosen, by Chaim Potok, the old Rabbi who led his people to the United States decades earlier, accepts the decision of his son not to follow in his footsteps, but to become a psychologist. From the 1982 movie version, I can still hear Rod Steiger as the Rabbi, saying, “So, become a psychologist already. When you go into the world you go as a Jew, and you keep the commandments of a Jew. My son is a Tsadok, he is a righteous man; and the world needs a righteous man. It is good.”
          The prophets of the Old Testament, therefore, spoke the word of God directly about justice or righteousness. They cried out mostly against two evils: Idolatry and injustice to the poor. We cannot know what they sounded like, except that often the scriptures say they “cried out.” Indeed, it is difficult to imagine much of their words spoken without passion. Jeremiah tried to hold God’s word inside him, but found he could not.

Then I said, I will not make mention of him, nor speak any more in his name. But his word was in mine heart as a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I was weary with forbearing, and I could not stay.  Jer. 20:9

So, when they spoke passionately about justice, what did it mean? To modern Americans the working definition of “justice” is often limited to punitive measures taken by the authorities. But, the prophets spoke of justice/righteousness as the same thing, and as on behalf of the poor, the widow, the orphan, those imprisoned (rightly or wrongly, it doesn’t specify) and the stranger from a foreign land. Where else do we see those categories, but in the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats?

“…Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink?  When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?  And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me…Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee?  Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me….”  (See Matthew 25:34-46)

Look again at the Old Testament, this time the words of Isaiah.

“Woe unto them that decree unrighteous decrees, and that write grievousness which they have prescribed; To turn aside the needy from judgment, and to take away the right from the poor of my people, that widows may be their prey, and that they may rob the fatherless! And what will ye do in the day of visitation, and in the desolation which shall come from far? to whom will ye flee for help? and where will ye leave your glory? Without me they shall bow down under the prisoners, and they shall fall under the slain. For all this his anger is not turned away, but his hand is stretched out still.”  Isa. 10:1-4

What is meant by “the right” of the poor in that passage? For people living by the Torah, in ancient Israel, many commandments answer the question. To begin with, freedom from debt and help with the circumstances caused by poverty. This was the Law in Deuteronomy chapter 15. It included the foreigner who came as a refugee (Deut. 10:19). There are other similar passages in the Law of Moses, and those commandments obligated the people to open their hands in generosity to the poor.
          It is of interest that in the modern United States, the poor have certain rights prescribed by our laws. But many years of experience with the poor on the frontlines, so to speak, has taught me that they are denied even those rights by an impersonal and uncaring system locking them in endless appeals if they are disabled. What is required by law to take place as quickly as possible instead drags on for years. I have known people to die while living in the stressful anxiety of trying to get their rights to a basic income and some kind of healthcare, all of which is denied them for a long time. It is also clearly observable to me, having worked many years as a legal/medical investigator, and now as a priest finding that I continue to serve the poor as what seems an inescapable calling, and that when I bring up the rights of the needy, and the obligation of Christians not to turn a blind eye to their needs, but to open their hands, that my fellow believers, more often than not, hear and respond in love as they are able. It is good, and beautiful to behold.
          But, this does not mean that the Church - which in real life is the local church trying to get by on a budget - can take the place of the Social Security Administration or of Social Services. It is not possible, and never has been possible. Unfortunately, like so many issues of morality and justice, care for the poor cannot be wholly divorced from politics. So it is, that some people argue that we should not be taxed to care for the disabled; that the church would do a better job. How unrealistic that is. Most of our local parishes and missions cannot do much more than we are doing, helping the poor members of our own churches as well as helping poor strangers who come to us and ask in times of need.
But, if you swallow an ideological reason not to be generous, such as blaming all poverty on the people who have been trapped in it, or perhaps some misguided Libertarian objection to taxation, the chances are very good that you also will not give a penny to a starving family. You might give a thousand dollars for something like a stain glassed window; but you would never give a penny to the poor. Or so I have observed. The same people who argue that the church, instead of government, should shoulder the burden of feeding, housing and providing medical care to the poor who cannot make ends meet on their own, would never contribute for that purpose themselves, even if the whole idea was not a complete fantasy to begin with. And, it is a fantasy. Churches simply do not have that kind of money.
One thing of which you can be certain is that the Church, from the Day of Pentecost forward, is the modern home of prophecy. It was Peter, on Pentecost, who quoted those words of Joel that I have placed at the heading of this article. What does that mean for us? It means that the Church must be the voice of moral guidance, and that the clergy (among whom are Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, Pastors and Teachers - Eph. 4:11) need to speak directly and with moral clarity. Just as we must speak on other issues of justice and morality, such as the Divine requirement that we protect innocent life in the womb, just as we teach people how to live morally in a true marriage rather than to give license to the flesh, so we also must be willing to pick up the mantle in those words, “I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions.”
That means we cannot escape all that is meant by that powerful word in the vocabulary of the prophets, Tsadokah – justice that is also righteousness. If you find yourself always or by impulse to be on the side of the rich and powerful, or if you find yourself supporting a system or program or ideology or party that denies the right of the poor and needy, you had better pay attention to the Bible much more than you have before: Hear the word of the Lord. You see, this is about a sin we often ignore. You cannot escape guilt if you turn a blind eye to the needy. Moral issues often spill over into politics; that is the nature of things. It is for the Church, led vocally by the clergy, to provide moral guidance with clarity. The old Rabbi was right: The world needs a righteous man. Who, if not followers of the Son of Man?