Saturday, September 17, 2016

Seventeenth Sunday after Trinity

Click on the illustration below for the link to a written sermon


Saturday, September 10, 2016

Sixteenth Sunday after Trinity

Eph. 3:13-21 * Luke 7:11-17

And there came a fear on all: and they glorified God, saying, That a great prophet is risen up among us; and, That God hath visited his people.


The people's reaction to this miracle, Jesus raising the dead man back to this mortal life (unlike His own resurrection to follow), has behind it the great Tradition of the Old Testament. The prophets spoke the word of God with power, power that changed things, such as Moses rolling back the waters of the Red Sea, or Elijah bringing down fire from Heaven to turn the hearts of the disobedient back again. 1 The word of God came with such power as we see in the opening of Genesis, where all creation comes alive when God says, "let there be light." The word of God comes with power, miraculous power. The word of God, in the mouth of a prophet, is powerful. 2

The word for "power" in the Greek New Testament, that is also translated as "might" (as in "mighty") in today's Epistle, is a word always associated with miracles. It is δ
ναμις (dynamis), from which we get the word "dynamic." The New Testament reveals that the Christian life is the life of power that comes from the Holy Spirit. It is a supernatural life that does not depend on mere human strength. It is the life of the Risen Christ imparted to us from the Holy Spirit by our baptism into Christ 3 and to which we have access only by faith. This power converts our hearts to faith and obedience, and brings us to the knowledge of God. The word of God proclaimed in the Gospel contains this supernatural power of the Holy Spirit within it, because whenever and wherever the Gospel is proclaimed the Holy Spirit speaks to the hearts of believers and unbelievers alike, 4 creating faith in unbelieving hearts as he convicts the world. 5

We can approach this life in different ways. Today's Epistle tells us, as believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, how we ought to approach this life, living here and now the life that draws its power from the life of the Risen Christ, and that is breathed within us by the Holy Spirit. Look at those powerful words of St. Paul, and ask yourself, honestly, if you find them meaningful, or completely hidden to you.

...that he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might (δ
ναμις) by his Spirit in the inner man; that Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; and to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fullness of God.

Is that how you approach each day? Do you begin your day in prayer, asking for this to be your experience throughout the day? Do you hear these words as hollow and meaningless, or do they entice you, in a good and healthy way, to know God better?

I do not mean to create the impression of a life that is always full of some kind of emotional high, nor do I underestimate the necessary times of dryness that mystics call "the dark night of the soul." The life of faith faces the same setbacks and fears that affect all people everywhere. But, the life of faith perseveres, and is not overcome by this world, because Christ Himself, the Risen and Glorified Lord, is its source, its goal and its hope. Only the Holy Spirit can give you this life, because it is not a man made commodity.

It begins each day by the honest recognition that we have sinned, and have not earned some right to know God. It begins in the honest light of humility that confesses, repents and asks forgiveness. The life of faith means that you receive that forgiveness because you understand that Christ has paid the full price for all your sins, that he did this when He poured out His soul unto death for you on the cross, 6 and that through Him the Father welcomes you into His presence, fully justified because you are in Christ. Because you know this, by faith, you dare to ask for the grace of God that is brought to you by the Holy Spirit, and for the power to live in that grace.

...to be strengthened with might (δ
ναμις) by his Spirit in the inner man; that Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith...

Because of this power and grace from the Holy Spirit, that God gives you breath by breath as you live in your own daily reality, you can love your neighbor with the love of God, even when your own power fails.

...that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height...

You can give the love of Christ freely, because, freely, it has been given to you. 7

...and to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fullness of God.

The life of faith is simple but not easy. It is powerful, but known only in weakness. St. Paul wrote to the Church in Corinth:

And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure. For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me. And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 8

What is the weakness in which Christ's power is made perfect in our own experience? It is when we have come to the end of our own power, and learn that we need His power. It is why I remind you, on the First Sunday after Trinity, that it is harder by far to love thy neighbor than it is to love some big impersonal thing we call "mankind." Our own weakness is evident in many ways, as it was for Peter, James and John who fell asleep, though they really had intended to watch with Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane. We know we ought not to fear death as others do, but we cannot live without some fear of it from time to time. We cannot forgive others as God forgives us, that is, we cannot forgive when we rely on the power of our emotions. I could go on and on, for there is much we cannot do.

The life we live is the life of faith, and it is the sacramental life.

When you approach God today it is with thanksgiving, hearing His word, confession of sin, receiving His forgiveness, and then actually partaking of the Food and Drink of Eternal Life by taking and eating, and by drinking, Christ's own Body and Blood as He gives Himself in the sacrament. You need His grace, and ought to avail yourself of every means of grace. Seeing this need for what it is, requires the honest evaluation of humility. You need what He gives. He gives Himself; as he gave Himself on the cross, he gives Himself through every means He has established, and by faith you receive Him. That is what His grace is--it is His own presence and power here and now.

But, beware of what St. Paul described in words he wrote to St. Timothy about some

...having a form of godliness, but denying the power (δ
ναμις) thereof: from such turn away. 9

I hope that none of you think of this time spent in church as merely "a little religion" to distract you from real life. Real life is here, and real life is in Christ. The world offers many distractions, and those are the fantasy, the things that pass away. Eternity is forever (as much as that may sound like a Yogi Berra-ism). St. John said it better:

Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever. 10

You may approach the Christian life merely as religious duty, concerning which you have little conviction, about which you think, "let's not get carried away." You may think it enough to give God one hour each week (which is never a time limit we set on a service!), but then to live the rest of your time assuming that He will be satisfied with that, as if you gave Him something that He needed. God does not need an hour from you once a week, and He does not need a bit of your money, or a few hours from you on Holy Days. He does not need anything from you, and you cannot give Him anything.

You need
You, however, need to give God as much attention as you can. You need to give what you can. You need to come here, you need to pray each day wherever you are, you need to hear His word (to read it), and you need to take the sacraments He offers. You need to obey His voice, and you need faith that is present moment by moment, day by day. The power that you need is a gift that is given, and that you need to receive every hour of your life. Do not hold a mere form of godliness if you are going to go out of here to deny the power thereof.

Instead,

know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fullness of God.
____________________

1. That is, to the fathers, or to the wisdom of the just; cp. I Kings 18:37, Malachi 4:5,6 & Luke 1:17
2. cp. Jer. 15: 19 & Isaiah 55:11
3. Romans 6:1f
4. "For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek." Romans 1:16
5. John 16:8
6. Isaiah 53:12
7. Matt. 10:8
8. II Cor. 12:7-9
9. II Tim. 3:5
10. I John 2:15-17

Tuesday, September 06, 2016

Pakistani Christian Refugees Suffering in Thailand

Please see this video, just under half an hour. Click here for the link.

Among Christians suffering in this way are Anglicans, as well as everybody else.

Saturday, September 03, 2016

Fifteenth Sunday after Trinity

Study of the appointed Epistle reading: Galatians 6:11-18

It may well be that Saint Paul’s words in this Sunday’s portion of his Epistle to the churches of Galatia, sound a bit strange. All of this talk about circumcision contrasted against the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, and people “glorying”- that is, in modern English, boasting- about the “flesh” of these Christians, may well confuse a new Bible reader. It can lead to mistaken ideas. The first mistaken idea is that whatever Saint Paul was talking about cannot be relevant to modern people. The second mistaken idea is that this provides a basis for an anti-Semitic interpretation of scripture. Another mistaken idea would be we have no need for the authority and teaching of the Church.

In fact, let me deal with this third mistake. In so doing, I will have already answered the others. Since we speak in the Creeds of the Catholic Church and of the Catholic Faith, which we believe, we are stuck with the Catholic Tradition- and thank God we are. The Nicene (Constantinopolitan) Creed says, “I believe One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.” Yes, we do believe in the Church, because Christ Himself founded her and is her Head. But, in this great Creed you say I believe the Church; I believe what she teaches.

The scripture, without solid teaching of what it means, can be taken captive by any kook, fraud or con-man. So, when we speak of the Catholic Tradition we must go back to the ancient times, those early centuries when the Church was under persecution, or just emerging from persecution. We are saying that we believe what Christ promised, namely that the Spirit of Truth would guide the Apostles into all truth (John 16:13). And, as that promise of Christ applies to this passage from Galatians, the young Church first had to deal with a heresy that came about so early in its history that we see it addressed by St. Paul. When the Apostles and Elders gathered in Jerusalem, they also, with complete unanimity, addressed and refuted it (Acts chapter fifteen). This ancient heresy taught that, in order to be saved, a Gentile who converts to Christianity must be circumcised and live by all of the 613 commandments of the Law of Moses.

Trendy writers have sold the idea that some controversy raged over what to do with Gentiles converts. They sell the notion that this alleged controversy raged for years, even among the Apostles, pitting Paul against James, and maybe against Peter. They insist that we may infer, from this invented story of theirs, that important questions can go unresolved and debated within the Church for extended years before the Spirit leads us to a right conclusion. They use their contrived reading of the New Testament to justify new and outrageous ideas (including women's ordination and same sex “marriage,” etc.).

But, that tale of an ancient prolonged controversy over what to do about Gentile coverts is pure fiction; and so, like the future, it can teach us no lessons. What we really see in the New Testament is that the Proto-Council in Jerusalem was unanimous in its conclusion, without disagreement among the Apostles and the Elders. At the Council they unanimously affirmed the earlier decision recorded in the eleventh chapter of the Book of Acts, when they all agreed with Saint Peter that he had been right to baptize the new Gentile converts without circumcising them; because when the Holy Spirit came upon the Gentiles, gathered that day in the house of Cornelius, God made no distinction between Jew and Gentile. The immediate and unanimous Apostolic conclusion had been, at that time, “Then hath God granted the Gentiles repentance unto life (Acts 11;18).” So, when a new teaching – a heresy- arose, namely Gentile Christians troubled by self-appointed teachers who wanted them to be circumcised and to keep the Law, Saint Paul was in complete agreement with Saint James, and with Saint Peter, and with all the Apostles, that the Tradition of the Church’s Apostolic doctrine (new as that Tradition was, but established nonetheless) had to be defended. What Saint Peter had learned by Divine revelation years before, when Gentiles first converted to Christ, and what his fellow Apostles affirmed without argument (if you simply read the record in the Book of Acts), was the very same teaching proclaimed by Saint Paul, and the same teaching that the Council in Jerusalem upheld for all of the churches everywhere. In short, the New Testament does not show any controversy among the Apostles, but rather that they were in complete unity, agreeing among themselves concerning what it was that the Holy Spirit had revealed. And so, in the New Testament we see the Church teaching the content of Apostolic witness.

What does this mean for you? It means that what the Church has always taught since her earliest days, as recorded in Scripture, is to be believed. In this case, believe and know that you cannot save yourself by your own power. That first heresy, that we are saved by circumcision and by keeping the 613 commandments, suggests that we have the power to save ourselves without God’s help--that we can pull ourselves up to Heaven by our own bootstraps. It teaches that the flesh is strong enough to obey perfectly the Law by its own power (Romans 8:3, Acts 15:10).  A few centuries later, this same idea would reappear in another form from Britain’s very own heretic, a fellow named Pelagius. Pelagius taught that we can, without God’s grace, live holy lives simply by our own will power; that Christ came merely to be our example. The man who worked hardest to refute the heresy of Pelagianism was Saint Augustine. He picked up the teaching of the Apostles back in the first Century, that we cannot save ourselves by our own power; that we need the grace of God.

Today we can speak of the heresies of the Judaizers and of the Pelagians with ease. But, think of what it meant for people back then to hear such teaching. What if Christ had come only to be the example of perfection? Would not we be without hope? We should all know about the problem of sin and death. Death is the flip side, and part of the problem, of sin; sin and death are two sides of one coin. One thing I do not need is a perfect example to make the sting of my condemnation worse. I need a Savior, both to rescue me from the reality of guilt (whether or not I have the good sense to feel guilt), and to heal my fallen soul of its waywardness. Jesus the Good Example cannot save me; Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh, the Lord and Savior Who is One with the Father, forever God even as He takes into His own Person our human nature and redeems it, and by grace perfects it, can and does save me. And, no one else can; certainly I cannot save myself. In Christ, however, no longer am I bound for destruction, for an eternity of death without God. Rather, forgiveness is extended, along with grace and power by the Holy Spirit to be transformed, right up until that day when we are made partakers of the Divine Nature (II Pet. 1:4). This is because the One Who, in His Person is God the Son, was made man, and gives us grace.

So, I trust you see that Saint Paul’s words are very relevant to you.



Saturday, August 13, 2016