Friday, May 22, 2015

Pentecost commonly called Whitsunday



Acts 2:1-11 * John 14:15-31


This is the day in which that small band grew very suddenly from five hundred eyewitnesses of the resurrection, to thirty five hundred people, only to continue growing. Men who, just a few weeks earlier, had argued over who would be the greatest, who had hidden in fear, who briefly had doubted Christ’s resurrection until seeing Him face to face, stood tall and unafraid as leaders and as fishers of men. St. Peter, who only a few weeks before had denied the Lord for fear of his life, now rose up as brave and bold as any hero in battle. Through these men the very same miracles that Christ had wrought, and greater in number than He had done, gave proof of His Gospel; the lame walked, the blind saw, the dead were restored to life, demons were driven out of the afflicted and possessed. What gave such power and courage to these same men who, in the four Gospels, had never come across as impressive?

The answer is simple, but it is so hidden to the eyes of those who cannot believe that it may as well be very complicated. The simple answer is, they were filled with the Holy Ghost. It was the day of the Church’s corporate baptism as the Body of Christ.

The very first thing that becomes evident is the sound of them preaching the truth of Christ in foreign languages that they had not learned. We would expect them to speak Aramaic, and to speak and read Hebrew. We would expect that they could address these same people in the Lingua Franca of their day, that international language, Greek. But, they spoke directly to men’s hearts in the local languages of their various homelands, the apparent mastery of the tongues themselves serving as a sign, a miraculous sign that the Logos, the Word made flesh, is the Master, as in the Lord, of all communication. His word is for all people, for every kindred and tongue, people and nation. As Man, in his sinfulness, was divided by the sentence of God at Babel, so the scattered peoples of the earth are gathered as one in Christ, who speaks to all in their own tongues.

When we look at today's reading from the Gospel of John, we learn that the Church was not designed to function without the Holy Ghost. He is the Comforter, which is Paracletos (παράκλητος) in Greek; that is He comes to our side, pleads for us and gives us aid. “Comfort,” in the mind of the readers of the King James Bible when it was translated, did not speak of a cushion that helps us to relax and go to sleep. The meaning of the word is found, really, in the second syllable, in fort, as in fortify- to strengthen. We see that fortification in St. Peter, who, knowing the sentence of death that only weeks earlier had been passed on His Master, nonetheless had the courage to rise to his feet and preach. We hear, in his sermon, wisdom from God, as he opened and explained the meaning of the Scriptures, unraveling the mysteries of the ancient prophecies with understanding and conviction. This simple fisherman had the power to persuade men’s hearts, suddenly transformed into a master orator. Just as he had, years before, thrown out his dragnet and hauled in large catches of fish, so now he is a fisher of men, converting three thousand people by preaching the Gospel with power and authority.

In St. Peter’s sermon we see, as in every other utterance of the Holy Ghost through the apostles, the clear and straightforward doctrine of Christ exactly as we know it to this day, as we say it in our creeds, as we pray it in the whole of our liturgy, as it is found on every page of scripture, and as it is especially clear, with perfect focus, in the New Testament. This, that we believe today, is the same Gospel that was preached on that day.

Right here, we need to understand what tool the Holy Spirit used to draw in three thousand people in one day. Peter did not erect an altar and celebrate a Mass. He preached the Gospel. Why am I saying this? I am saying it because we need to see what a powerful and effective tool true preaching is. Like Archbishop Thomas Cranmer who gave us our Book of Common Prayer, I believe that it is necessary to have Holy Communion every Sunday and good for the Church to have it every day so that people may have frequent Communion. I would like to see us achieve that ideal some day. But, somehow over the last century, some people, including a few I have known, have decided to embrace the fallacy that the Word and the Sacrament are in opposition, or tension, and that the truly "Catholic" thing is to place an under emphasis on preaching in order to highlight the sacrament. They have accepted a romantic notion in which the Christian priesthood is only about celebrating at the altar. I have news for anyone who believes that: It is not, and never was, the Catholic Tradition of the Church. Read the sermons of the Church Fathers in Antiquity, such as St. John Chrysostom. Good, sound diligent preaching is the Catholic Tradition, not light little seven minute homilies.

And, beginning with St. Peter's Pentecost message, the stuff of proper sermons is the story of who Jesus is, and what He did when He died for our sins and rose again, and that He is Lord and Christ, and will come again. We see, also, beginning with Peter's sermon, that the meat and substance of effective and powerful preaching is Holy Scripture. He showed that the Scriptures of the Old Testament were about Christ. He unlocked from Scripture the meaning of the events he had witnessed, opening the mysteries formerly hidden, of Christ's betrayal, passion and death, and of his having risen again. He opened the mysteries of the Kingdom of God with the keys he had been given. He showed that the Scriptures are about Christ, and that by them we know the Gospel. Good preaching is not drawn from personal anecdotes, and it is not designed to impress people with worldly wisdom from academe. It is aimed at the mind and at the heart, calling all men everywhere to repent, and it is the means by which faith comes, for it is the proclamation of the Word of God.

Peter had changed. He had been a natural man (ψυχικός psychikos-soulish) unable earlier in his life to understand why the Christ, the Son of the Living God, was ready and willing to take up the cross; later he was afraid and denied the Lord three times. But, now he stands on his feet boldly, not afraid of death, having his mind focused on the truth, able to understand and know from Scripture everything that had unfolded and was unfolding. He had been a disciple for more than three years, but now was closer to Christ than at any time when he beheld Him with the eyes; for he was now part of the Body of which Christ is the Head. Many a time Peter had stumbled and tripped over his own tongue, and he had failed to speak the right words on the night in which his Lord was betrayed. But, now he spoke with more clarity, more power and more authority than any prophet of the Old Covenant. He delivered the first Christian sermon, as he was now the fisher of men Christ had foreseen; for his dragnet of words brought in about three thousand souls. The whole band of Apostles was transformed. They taught and worked miracles, continuing the ministry of Christ Himself.

None of this was man-made. The best efforts of organization could not have produced it; the most detailed planning could not have pulled it off. No human effort could have brought it forth in a day, because the New Covenant people, the Church, manifested on the Day of Pentecost, was chapter two of the Word made flesh: The Body of Christ revealed in the world as His Church. 

Frankly, in light of the foolishness of sinful men, it is very obvious that God's power and grace have never depended on anyone less than God Himself. Never think that we, as the Church, have succeeded in anything simply by our own human cleverness, or our best laid plans, or our own strength. We have an organized structure, but the permanent shape of that structure was revealed and enacted by the Holy Spirit. The whole life of the Church is charismatic (χάρισμα); from the receiving of Scripture to the Sacraments, from the Apostolic Succession to the faithful service of each member. From powerful miracles to simple hospitality, the gifts of the Holy Spirit are worked through each member of the Body.

St. Paul, speaking in the context of spiritual gifts, even goes as far as to call the Church by the name of Christ himself: "For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ...Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular." (I Cor, 12:12, 27) So, I have not spoken carelessly in saying that the Church is part two of the Incarnation. The Jesus who goes about now doing good and healing is none other than the Body of Christ and members in particular. He does His work through you, through His Body the Church, by the Holy Spirit, the other Comforter who is with us and in us.

We know from the end of the Gospel of Luke that the disciples were forbidden to take this new work on themselves prematurely, as if it depended simply on human power and wisdom. What is the life of the Church? It is the Holy Spirit present within us. What is the strength of the Church? It is the power (δύναμις) of God by his Holy Spirit, present within us. Who is it that takes fallible and failed human beings, lifts them up from the ground and sets them on their feet? It is the Holy Spirit present within us. Who is it that puts His word of eloquence and power on their formerly unclean lips? It is the Holy Spirit present within us. Who is it that fulfills His own purpose and will with flawed human instruments? It is the Holy Spirit present within us. Who makes Christ known among all nations of the earth, making one redeemed people from every race and tongue? It is the Holy Spirit present within us. Who has unlimited power, and works most effectively through us after we have come to the end of our own strength, and can go no further? It is the Holy Spirit present within us. Who makes us into children of God accepted in the Beloved Son? It is the Holy Spirit, at work in us, present here and now as Lord of the Church.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Correction

It had been reported to a source that Archbishop Robert Morse had entered larger life. We are now told that he is still with us. We can only offer prayers for him and his family, so let us continue to do so.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Sunday after Ascension Day

I Pet. 4:7-11 * John 15:26-16:4a
On Thursday, which was Ascension Day itself, I said this in my sermon:
"We have been led to think of the Ascension as Christ's coronation. This is not the emphasis of the scriptures, because the New Testament clearly reserves that significance to the day in which he will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, when the Father will put every enemy under his feet. These scriptures we have read are concerned, rather, with the continuation of Christ's own charismatic (χάρις) ministry through his Church, to spread the Gospel to all nations in the working out of salvation among all peoples of the earth." 
As we look at today's Collect and Scripture readings we must notice that same emphasis. For reasons hidden and mysterious, in the wisdom of God the Ascension of the Son is mainly about the coming of the Holy Spirit. Recall the Gospel of John, and the words we heard from it on the fourth Sunday after Easter: "Nevertheless I tell you the truth; It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you (John 16:5).” And, we meditated that Sunday on the ministry of the Holy Spirit through the Church to convince the fallen world concerning Christ.         
It is of great importance that we understand the Procession of the Holy Spirit from the Father exactly as our Lord Jesus speaks of it here. We must consider it in the context of the same Gospel of John where we find Jesus teaching clearly about his own Divinity: "Jesus said unto them, If God were your Father, ye would love me: for I proceeded forth and came from God; neither came I of myself, but he sent me. Why do ye not understand my speech? even because ye cannot hear my word (John 8:42,43).” Here the Lord speaks of two things. First he tells us who He is, and uses the Greek word translated "proceeded forth" (ξέρχομαι, exerchomai), and then speaks of his Incarnation and coming into the world with the word translated "sent" (ποστέλλω, apostellō). Indeed, he could have said, "I AM eternally begotten of the Father, and I AM the Apostle of the Father." It would mean, in his case, the same thing as the words he did say. For the fact that the Son proceeded forth from the Father is more often spoken of, in this same Gospel According to John, with the word "begotten." (μονογενής, monogenēs). 1 But, on this occasion He says that He "proceeded forth."
The Lord is not speaking here in redundant fashion. When Jesus spoke of His having "proceeded forth" from the Father, and His being "sent" by the Father, I hope you see very clearly that He speaks of two distinct things: 1) who He is as God the Son or Word, and 2) His mission in the world as the Father's Apostle.     
Now, when we look at the Gospel for today, and how Jesus speaks about the other Comforter (παράκλητος, paraklētos), by telling His disciples that the Holy Spirit proceeds (κπορεύομαι, ekporeuomai) from the Father, and that He, the Son, will "send him" (πέμπω, pempō), the idea is the same as what we saw when Jesus spoke of Himself, His own proceeding from the Father and also His being sent into the world. The Greek words used are not the same. What is the same is the distinction between two things that He tells us, first about Himself, and then here after the Supper when He echoes the same distinction, speaking about the Holy Spirit. In both cases we see a divine Person who proceeds from the Father's very Being. We can say truly of both of these Persons, the Son and the Spirit, "God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God." Indeed, we can say truly of both the Son and the Spirit, "Being of one substance with the Father." And, in both cases we see a Divine Person who is sent into the world.
.........In the case of Jesus "the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us" by taking human nature into the Godhead, our created nature into His uncreated Person, being conceived by the Holy Ghost, of the Virgin Mary. In the case of the Holy Spirit, by His presence with us the Word continues to dwell among us in "the Church which His Body, the fullness of Him which filleth all in all (Ephesians 1:23).” For, even though the Persons of the Trinity are distinct, they are also inseparable. Where the Spirit is present the Son cannot be absent. Where the Son is present, the Father must be present also. Where God is, He is there in his fullness (this is the meaning of "Divine Simplicity"). Indeed, the whole Gospel of John is about the Trinity and the Incarnation,2 opening with two verses in which God is named thrice, and then concentrating on the Word (λόγος, Logos), especially as we come to the Holy of Holies in all scripture: "The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us." (John 1:14) 

Jesus is the Apostle of the Father, and it was expedient that He go away so that His own apostles could establish the Church by the supernatural and charismatic ministry of God with us.      
This Sunday in Ascensiontide points us to next Sunday, Whitsunday or the Feast of Pentecost. Every passage of scripture appointed for Holy Communion during Ascensiontide emphasizes the coming of the Holy Spirit. Today's Collect directs our attention to Christ's exaltation back into the hidden dimension of Heaven that surrounds us, that is separate from the world where sin and death have their allotted time; and it tells of His exaltation only to turn our attention to our dependence on the Holy Spirit. Next week, we will read about the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, and see that Saint Peter tells us this about the resurrected and glorified Christ: "This Jesus hath God raised up, whereof we all are witnesses. Therefore being by the right hand of God exalted, and having received of the Father the promise of the Holy Ghost, he hath shed forth this, which ye now see and hear (Acts 2:32,33).”
Remember what the Lord told the apostles after His resurrection: "As my Father hath sent (ποστέλλω,apostellō) me, even so send (πέμπω, pempō) I you." (John 20:21) The Apostles are sent by the Son as He is sent by the Father, and He sends them as He sends the Holy Spirit to them. When you say I believe the Apostolic Church, you are saying a mouthful about the men who have succeeded the Apostles into the college of the apostles; a mouthful about the mission of the whole Church; a mouthful about dependence on the Holy Spirit that the Church must acknowledge, and then trust in; a mouthful about the presence in and among us of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, as the Church derives its very being and life from God. For it is not only the apostles, and not only the bishops who have Apostolic Succession, but it is the whole Church that is Apostolic, by the gifts of God that come through them.
We must depend on the Holy Spirit. This means two things: We must not rely on the flesh as if our warfare was carnal; and it means we can have faith in the presence, power and gifts of the Holy Spirit, as well as His direction if we will only learn to hear His voice. Ah, but how can we learn to hear His voice until we learn that He is speaking and giving direction that we are all too often too deaf to hear? No, He does not reveal new doctrines, for all truth has been revealed ; but if we listen He may tell us where to break new ground, where to scatter seed, when and where to drop our nets for a catch. We treat the Holy Spirit like a stranger, and we assume that we must go about the mission that Christ gave his Apostolic Church by our own cleverness, and by our own means, and within our own limitations. No wonder our labors are lost, and we produce results that are blasted and dried up. If you want the ground to bring forth fruit you must pray for rain. If you want the Church to grow so that "Israel may blossom and bud and fill the face of the world with fruit (Isaiah 27:6).” you must gather as the disciples did in Ascensiontide, and pray for a mighty outpouring of God the Holy Spirit.        
Jesus said "without me ye can do nothing."(John 15:5) For this reason He has sent the Comforter, the Spirit of Truth. Look at the words of St. Peter from today's Epistle: "As every man hath received the gift (χάρισμα, charisma), even so minister the same one to another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God; if any man minister, let him do it as of the ability which God giveth: that God in all things may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom be praise and dominion for ever and ever." How can we heed these words without gifts of knowledge and of utterance beyond the limitations of our own wisdom? How can we grow in grace unto holiness and develop virtues unless the Fruit of the Holy Spirit grows within our lives, as spoken of in the fifth chapter to the Galatians? How could our sacraments work effectually, or our message go forth, without the charismatic gifts of laborers spoken of in the fourth chapter of Ephesians? How could men receive Holy Orders without the gifts that Paul writes of in both Epistles to Timothy, that were given by the laying on of his apostolic hands?    
My message in Ascensiontide is simple: As you pray, learn dependence on the Holy Spirit. Stop trusting the arm of flesh which will fail you. Our warfare is not carnal, but spiritual. 


Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, saith the LORD of hosts. (Zechariah. 4:6)


1. Examples: John 1:14, 18; 3:16, 18.


2. The fact that the Gospel According to John is about the dual and heavily related (interdependent) themes of the Trinity and the Incarnation should help us understand why John 14:6 cannot be controversial to true believers.

Saturday, May 09, 2015

Fifth Sunday after Easter

Rogation Sunday

The word 'Rogation' comes from the Latin verb rogare, meaning 'to ask,' and was applied to this time of the liturgical year because the Gospel reading includes the passage "Ask and ye shall receive" (John 16:24). And it goes on to say: 'At that day ye shall ask in my name.'" 

Some people believe that the name of Jesus Christ will work like a magic charm if only we have faith. I suggest it has more to do with the words of St. John in his First Epistle: "And this is the confidence that we have in him, that, if we ask any thing according to his will, he heareth us." (I John 5:14) On one hand, some may say, we have these words from Jesus: "And whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son." (John 14: 13) and, "that whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in my name, he may give it you." (John 15:16) Some may interpret the words from the Gospel of John to indicate that all we need to do is ask in his Name, and others may interpret the words from the Epistle to mean that we may ask nothing with real confidence, because how could we know the will of God? Yet, John writes this about why we do have confidence. It is understandable, therefore why some would be confused.

Some will make the problem worse by telling you that if you really have faith, you will always be healed, miracles will happen everyday, and you will enjoy wealth and prosperity as a sign of God's favor. They twist a simple greeting from Scripture and make a doctrinal statement out of it, namely these words, "Beloved, I wish above all things that thou mayest prosper and be in health, even as thy soul prospereth." (III John 2). But, that was not a revelation from God containing a promise for all who have faith; it was, for anyone who knows how to read with comprehension, a greeting from John himself, no more significant than saying, "Godspeed." John was being polite and friendly, and that is all there is to it (the Epistle is Scripture and therefore inspired by the Holy Spirit; but, it was also a letter from a man to someone specific, and has a human element, namely a simple greeting. Even so, what would constitute health or prosperity in the spiritual and Apostolic mind of St. John? I dare say, not things by the standard of a worldly mind).

But, it is equally wrong to assume that we cannot pray with faith that God will intervene for good in the lives of those we love, and to meet our needs. God's will is not some clouded unknowable mystery, so that all we can say is "thy will be done," with no real substantial petitions for those in need. Rather, the issue of God's will it is partly an attitude of heart that we must have, that is, the resolution that by the grace of God at work through the Holy Spirit, we will walk henceforth in newness of life in obedience to the will of God as he revealed it by his commandments. It is no good trying to know the will of God unless we accept the commandments that contain the revelation of what His unchanging will for us most certainly always is.

In this light, to pray in the name of Jesus is not merely to be a name dropper, to impress the Father by claiming to know Someone in the ultimate Who's Who directory. How can we presume to think we have asked anything in the Name of Jesus Christ merely because we have spoken his Name? Anyone can say his Name, and say it as if it were merely the magic words. Invoking the Name of Jesus Christ carries with it the implication of asking according to God's will, and of living according to his revealed will, as revealed in Scripture through those things He has commanded us.

I would like to pray that the Baltimore Orioles win the World Series (still a Marylander where that is concerned), but I cannot ask such a thing in Christ's Name (and it has not appeared to be the will of God for a long time anyway). You cannot ask, in Christ's Name, that you win out over the competition in business; but you can ask, in the name of Jesus Christ with full confidence and assurance of faith, that He provide your every need. Certainly, we cannot ask God to do evil to others, or to assist us in an immoral cause; and it would be blasphemy to do so, double blasphemy to do so in the Name of Jesus Christ.

Asking in the Name of Jesus Christ has everything to do with the doctrinal revelation I am drawing out from Scripture for your edification in this sermon (below). It also provides a check within our hearts about what we may ask with faith.

Why are we told to ask the Father our requests in His Name? In Genesis we see that there came a time when men first called upon the Name of the Lord. That is during the life of one named Enos, in the fourth chapter of Genesis, verse 26: “And to Seth, to him also there was born a son; and he called his name Enos: then began men to call upon the name of the LORD.” When I read this in Hebrew I saw that it really should be translated: “then began men to call in the Name of the Lord.” It was quite unmistakable; B’Shem Adonai. So, in using the words, “ask in My Name,” the Lord Jesus is again letting us know that he and the Father are One.

And, beyond that, we are told to pray to the Father in the human Name of the Person who is the Eternal Word, the nature He took into His uncreated eternal Person when “the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.” We do not pray to the Father without coming in the Name of the Son of God, specifically, the human Name of Jesus Christ. We could speak of Him as God the only begotten Son, or as the Word (or Logos). These are Names that speak of Him as God; and yet, in His human nature He is still One with the Father, while He shares our nature; fully God and fully man. Can we not simply come to the Father without this Man acting as our Mediator? Are we not good enough? The answer is no. We are not good enough to come to the Father, because we are sinners. If you are looking for a religion that flatters you, affirms you, and tells you how wonderful you are, you have come to the wrong place. Here we are all self-confessed “miserable offenders.” We spend a great deal of our time when we pray together, asking the Lord to have mercy upon us. So, no, we are not good enough to come to the Father without a Mediator.

Saint Paul wrote, in the first Epistle to Saint Timothy, the second chapter:

 

1Tim.2:

[1] I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men;
[2] For kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty.
[3] For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour;
[4] Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.
[5] For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus;
[6] Who gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time.

Paul, writing by the Holy Spirit, reminds us that we have as our only Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus who gave Himself a ransom for all. He overcame the separation between the uncreated God and human creatures by taking created nature into His uncreated Person, becoming fully human while remaining fully God. He overcame the separation between God and man due to sin by dying for our sins on the cross. He overcame the separation between the Living God and our death by overcoming death. As one Person complete in two natures, Himself both fully God and fully Man, Jesus Christ is our Mediator. No man comes to the Father but through Him. That is true of our salvation, it is true of our worship, it is true also of our prayers. This is in the same text as, “No man cometh unto the Father but by Me (John 14:6).” The entire Gospel of John focuses on the Trinity and the Incarnation.

To pray in the Name of Jesus reminds us of these things. It reminds us that we need and have a Mediator, because we are sinners. It reminds us that He died for our sins, rose again and ascended into heaven. It reminds us that He is the one Mediator between God and Man because He is fully God and fully man, unique as the one whose Name alone is given under heaven among men by which we must be saved. (Acts 4;12) “Hitherto have ye asked nothing in my Name,” He said. “Ask and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full.” As the Epistle to the Hebrews puts it:

Hebrews 10:
[19] Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus,
[20] By a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh;
[21] And having an high priest over the house of God;
[22] Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water.

(And, what are we to ask for? Above all, in this text, we are to ask for the Holy Spirit, the other Comforter.)

On this Rogation Sunday, as we prepare for the Day of Ascension, and then for the Day of Pentecost, hoping for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in power, let us have these words as frontlets between our eyes: “Ask and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full.”


Friday, May 08, 2015

Man and Woman

And Adam said, This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man. Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.      (Genesis 2:23,24)

And he [Jesus] answered and said unto them, Have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female, And said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh? (Matthew 19:4,5)

Dearly beloved, we are gathered together here in the sight of God, and in the face of this congregation, to join together this Man and this Woman in holy Matrimony; which is an honourable estate, instituted of God in the time of man's innocency, signifying unto us the mystical union that is betwixt Christ and his Church.
(Book of Common Prayer)

(The time of this writing is May 8, 2015) 

As we await news of the Supreme Court's ruling, among the editorial writings in papers and posted on the internet, have been warnings that making same sex "marriage" the law of the land would eventually lead to the courts taking away the religious liberties even of churches themselves. Frankly, that may very well be true. Strange things are coming out of court rulings, and I would not dismiss anything as impossible anymore. What seems more likely, in the foreseeable future, is that the government might take away tax exempt status from churches who do not fall into line and who refuse to march in lock step.

But, whatever they may throw at us, we will never, under any circumstances, perform same sex "weddings." It isn't going to happen; end of discussion. They may throw us in prison or even kill us - or more likely in the short run, take away our tax exempt status for failing to honor their laws and their rulings. But, as St. Peter said, "We ought to obey God rather than men (Acts 5:29)." In response to the times we live in, that means (among other things) that the Church has no authority to recognize or perform same sex "marriages." This is a matter of doctrine, coming from God and recorded in Scripture.

Some people speak as if they have never heard of Civil Disobedience. For a Christian the words of St. Peter, that I have quoted above, lay the foundation for Civil Disobedience. Some may ask, "But, what if they make us comply?" Or, "What if they rule against us in some future court case?" The answer remains, "We ought to obey God rather than men." For ancient Christians this meant dying as martyrs rather than offering incense to Caesar as a god. And, indeed, we are speaking of choosing to obey either human authority or God when they conflict. So, what has God revealed?

In the two quotations from Genesis and from Matthew we have been given God's word on the matter. As you can see, Jesus quoted from Genesis, but deliberately modified it with the word "Two" (or "Twain" in the older English of the KJV), thus ruling out polygamy for His followers. What we have, therefore, from the teaching of our Lord Jesus Christ, is His word that marriage is between one man and one woman. 

Also, we have the teaching of sacramental marriage, that is, that marriage is God's own work. For, He follows it directly in the next verse with the words, "Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder." Sacramental marriage is what we celebrate and bless in the Church, because it is the work of God Himself: "What therefore God hath joined together..." Not simply the Church, not simply the power of the state, but God makes the man and the woman one flesh.

And, indeed, it is clear both in Genesis and in Matthew that two people of the same sex cannot be married in the eyes of God. The Hebrew words in Genesis are unmistakable. The word for "Woman" and "Wife" are one and the same word: Ishah (אִשָּׁה). The word for "Man" is Ish (אִישׁ). The same applies to the Greek original in Matthew. The word for "wife" is Gyne (γυνή), from which comes the English word "Gynecology," and which means a woman of any age, and also means "wife." Furthermore, this follows the words from Jesus' own mouth: "Have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female..." making the following words obvious in meaning. "For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh." Sexual complementarity, something two people of the same sex do not have and cannot have, was created by God for marriage as a sacramental bond, to produce children and establish the family.

I understand why the Bible translators used the word "Wife" rather than "Woman" in both Genesis and Matthew. In English, to say that a man shall be joined to his woman might suggest something other than marriage to lazy ears, even though it is clear from the context that marriage is the only possible understanding of the words. But, in this day and age, we need to know that in Hebrew and in Greek the words for "Woman" and "Wife" are the same, with the meaning of a married couple derived from the context.

I was made aware of some celebrity championing same sex "marriage" with the argument that its advocates do not want to change the definition of what marriage is. That statement is absurd on the face of it. Of course it is a redefinition. In the whole history of the world every civilization has known that sexual complementarity - male and female - are of the very essence of what marriage is. It has never been understood any other way. From the teaching of scripture we see why: It is literally a part of God's creation, and not a man-made institution. Its roots do not come from jurisprudence. It is a part of human nature itself, as anthropology confirms (this celebrity went on to bring up Women's Suffrage and the Civil Rights Movement as if there is a connection between those important accomplishments and this new thing. But there is no genuine connection, none whatsoever; only what some want to create by the power of suggestion rather than by reason and logic).

One might as well argue that a triangle has the right to define itself as a circle, and that such an expanded definition of the word "circle" would not change the nature of circleness. If the word "circle" can mean also a triangle, then we have lost the meaning of the word. Such a definition is too inclusive to be meaningful. If the cause of including recognition of a triangle as a circle is fortified by the ruling of a court, all that would happen is that Mathematics teachers could no longer teach geometry, that is, not legally. 

Well, the courts can force Mathematics teachers to obey I suppose, if it ever came to that. But, if they tell us to disobey God, and to obey them instead, they would be wise to get this message and never forget it: We will not obey you under any circumstances, no matter what force you bring to bear. Christians have been persecuted many times, and are being persecuted even to the death in far away lands today. "We ought to obey God rather than men," and so we will.

Saturday, May 02, 2015

Fourth Sunday after Easter

Morning Prayer: Psalm 116  *  Job 19:21-27a  *  John 12:44-50
Holy Communion: James 1:17-21 *  John 16:5-14

From today's Scripture readings we may learn that God is the author of our salvation, that it was all his plan, and that it is his gracious will that sustains us throughout this life, and guarantees the joy of eternal life in Christ. None of these good things were our idea, nor were they a grudging benefit in answer to our pleading. Our entire inheritance given to us in Christ's Testament, the New Covenant, has been the will of God the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit from all eternity. In that long discourse after supper, recorded by John, Jesus spoke words beyond the understanding of the disciples, words that demonstrated how fully, how detailed, is the counsel of God's will (Eph.1:11). Jesus said to them just enough, in that discourse, for them to remember later, at the time when the Holy Spirit would be with them as the other Comforter, the other paraklētos, and as the Spirit of Truth.
When that time would arrive, the Day of Pentecost, when they would be baptized with the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:5), they would begin to be the voice of God in the earth, the messengers by whom the Holy Spirit would convict the world of sin, and of righteousness and of judgment. They would know the truth and be able to teach it to all generations that have followed. This plan from eternity, the eternal counsel of God's will, has meaning for us as the Church, and for each one of you as a member of the Body of Christ.
To begin with, based on the promise made here by the Lord Jesus Christ, you may believe the teaching that has been handed down throughout the centuries. "Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth," is not spoken to any of you as an individual. You cannot decide the truth, in this sense, for yourself.

The truth has been revealed; and so, from earliest times, the Church has heard the voice of the Lord above all in the books set apart as Holy Scripture, the New Testament books recognized very much as we have them in our Canon alongside the books of the Law, and of the Prophets and Sages of Israel who had spoken before of the coming of Christ, all quoted as having special authority by the earliest Christian writers. In spite of popular fiction to the contrary, the New Testament was recognized by the Church, it was a vox populi recognition- yes, with a few questions raised about II Peter and Revelation, and a few people who believed in a book called The Shepherd of Hermes. But, the overwhelming consensus throughout the Church was that the voice of God was recognized clearly in the Twenty-Seven books of the New Testament, as that same Voice had been recognized in the Old Testament all along. No one imposed any of it, certainly not an emperor.                 

And, even with its human imperfections and sins, the Church has been what St. Paul called her, when writing to St. Timothy, "the house of God, which is the Church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth (I Tim. 3:15).” What it means for you, as an individual, whether or not you are a scholar, is that when people come literally knocking at your door with another gospel about another Christ, you may be certain that the Holy Spirit, in his role as the Spirit of Truth, guided the Apostles into all truth, and the Church has received by revelation what it has passed on to you and your children with authority, especially as it is summarized in that great Creed we have said together this day.       
The old phrase from what we call the Vincentian Canon is not true literally; but is true with poetic license. The phrase translates into English as "That which has been believed everywhere, always and by all." In absolutely literal fact, nothing has been "believed everywhere, always and by all." But, using poetic license, it tells us that from earliest times the Church was guided by pastors and teachers who received the teaching of the Apostles and understood the Scriptures with a like mind. The poetic license by which we say "That which has been believed everywhere, always and by all," is, in fact, that they heard their Master's voice in the words of the Apostles and Prophets, and so they preserved that same doctrine in the Scriptures, which they understood. What makes us catholic people is that we receive not only the books they believed in, but we receive those books as they understood them, not with some novel interpretation. As Anglicans, everyone of you is encouraged to read the Scriptures yourselves. We, among the clergy, ought never to teach the whims of human beings, the doctrines merely of men, hoping that we may rely on your ignorance, so as not to be discovered. We teach the plain meaning of Scripture relying on you, that reading it daily yourselves, you may glean the truth from what we say, however imperfectly we may express it.          
Be like the noble Bereans, and search the Scriptures daily to see if what we say is so. (Acts 17:11) And, be guided by the wisdom of the Church from its earliest generations. Let me make this simple; if someone's teaching and preaching does not agree with that Creed we said, you may be confident that it does not agree with Scripture; and that means that it contradicts what the Spirit of Truth revealed to the Church. By the way, the Holy Spirit does not grow in His understanding, He does not learn new things, and He does not change His mind. His wisdom is perfect and eternal.
This brings us to the Epistle we heard, the words of St. James, that with God there is "no variableness, neither shadow of turning." In fact, we have two phrases from that Epistle that can cause problems to modern ears. This phrase, "no variableness, neither shadow of turning," sounds so grand and musical that we may fail to think about it. The other is, "superfluity of naughtiness," because it makes sin sound trivial. Today we think of "naughtiness" merely as childish misbehavior, and it suggests innocence. The Third Millennium Bible is almost word for word the King James, but with a few differences. It says "superfluity of wickedness." We need to understand both of these phrases, and to understand them in context.    
First of all, however, notice that James affirms what I told you, that our salvation is God's gracious will in eternity. It was all his initiative. "Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth," says James. That means that everything that happened in Christ's coming, when the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14), was the plan of God in eternity, the one will of the Trinity. It was God's will to beget us again, that we would be born again unto eternal life, delivered from sin and death. Christ delivered us from sin and the consequences of sin by his cross.   
This was not Jesus coming to pacify His angry Father, as some have accused us of teaching. This was God satisfying the just requirements of His own holiness, acting in His own love, and also healing the conscience of each person who repents. God saved us in that terrible way, by the cross, because our condition of sin was truly terrible, as St. Paul wrote: "To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus (Rom. 3:26).” God's love turned on His own holiness and perfect righteousness, and His own holiness and perfect righteousness turned on His love, so that God Himself, in the Person of the Son, Jesus who is the Word incarnate, took the full weight of human sin on Himself and bore it unto death. This was the will of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, the eternal counsel of God's will. Therefore, God justifies sinners, and is also just in doing so; for on the cross He took away the sin of the world. This is the greatest love story of all.
He conquered death also, which is what this season of Easter is all about. His resurrection will be our resurrection when He comes again in glory; and as He cannot die again, (Rom. 6:9) we too will become immortal through Him, and live forever. Now, that is the Gospel, and never let anyone tell you another gospel; for there is no other Gospel in truth.
So, that phrase, that sounds so grand we may fail to hear its meaning, ought to comfort us greatly: "The Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning." The word for this in academic theology is "Impassibility." It means, simply, God does not change. He does not change His mind, He does not change His nature, He does not change His will, He does not change at all. In all eternity God is perfect in three Persons. He has no need of learning, He does not need to gain wisdom (certainly not from puny creatures), He does not need to mature, and nothing has ever created a change in God. He is perfect in all eternity. The cross and resurrection did not change God; they changed us.
The impassible God, the God who does not change, will not forget you.

"But Zion said, The LORD hath forsaken me, and my Lord hath forgotten me. Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? yea, they may forget, yet will I not forget thee. Behold, I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands; thy walls are continually before me (Isaiah 49:14-16).”

         
In some religious circles it is popular to promise that everyone who has faith, that is real deep faith, will be healed of all earthly sickness, will be in perfect health, will be rich, and live in victory over all things all the time. By twisting the Scriptures and wrenching Bible verses violently from their context, they present this burdensome, impossible, and dangerous doctrine, and often extract great sums of money from people looking to escape from desperate poverty by what actually constitutes a practice of attempted magic. But, these "faith and prosperity" preachers will get old themselves, and they will die the death of all men.   
Real faith carries with it trust. If God overtly hears your prayers and grants you what you ask of Him, it is because of His love and wisdom. But, if He seems never to hear a word you utter, and does not appear to grant your prayers (as you understand your needs), and if often it seems He is far away, that too is because of His love and wisdom. He need not prove His love. He proved His love for you already on the cross, and calls you His friend from the cross. It is the same love and the same Fatherly wisdom from God who does not change. You may have faith enough, for a grain of mustard seed is enough, and yet have a share of suffering that seems impossible to bear. Another may hate God and seem to have all his heart's desire. What matters for you is that God knows what is best for each of his children, and so you may trust His love and wisdom, the love of the one who has the scars in his hands and feet, with the wound of the spear in his side. You may trust Him whether you have prosperity and healing, or whether you have a share of suffering for a time.  
Only one thing can stand between you and the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord, and it is not a created thing, that is, it is not a thing that God made (Rom. 8: 38,39): That one thing is unrepentant willful sin, or, as James calls it, "superfluity of wickedness." Remove all such barriers, if they are in your life, and you may trust that whatever comes is, ultimately, in the hands of the One you may trust absolutely.         Then we have only one thing left to do, and that is to give thanks. In the words of today's Psalm from Morning Prayer:

What reward shall I give unto the LORD * for all the benefits that he hath done unto me? * I will receive the cup of salvation, * and call upon the Name of the LORD.