Friday, December 08, 2017

Second Sunday in Advent (Bible Sunday)

Romans 15:4-13 * Luke 21:25-33

The opening of today’s Epistle and the last line from today’s Gospel are the seeds of today’s Collect.  Together, they explain why this Sunday has come to be called “Bible Sunday”.

That Collect speaks of the obligation we each have concerning the Holy Scriptures:  we are to “hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them….”  Then, the Collect suggests, comes the work of the Holy Spirit as He uses those Scriptures within us to plant and grow the patience and comfort that keep us upon, and help us along, the path to eternal life in Jesus Christ our Lord. 
Also, in the Epistle and Gospel for this day we find that hope to be what our Prayer Book calls “the sure and certain hope of the resurrection unto eternal life.”  This “hope” is not a mere wish for something that may never happen.  When we examine the meaning of “hope” as it relates to “faith”, we see that the Scriptures clarify their meaning by adding the words “sure and certain.”  This important qualifying phrase comes from the Epistle to the Hebrews:

"Wherein God, willing more abundantly to shew unto the heirs of promise the immutability of his counsel, confirmed it by an oath:  That by two immutable things, in which it was impossible for God to lie, we might have a strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before us:  Which hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast, and which entereth into that within the veil.”[1]

Thus we see that the Bible does not separate “hope” from “faith” and never separated either of these two from “charity”.  These three virtues grow together and hope depends on faith.  Hope believes, faith works, and charity labors.
We find our sure and certain hope in the word of God.  Faith grows within us when we hear that particular voice, the voice of God that we discern so clearly as he speaks to us now within the Scriptures.  Written so long ago, when they are spoken or read God Himself speaks to us in the present.  Never are they worn out or obsolete or irrelevant.
A common misconception is that the Bishops of the Christian Church assembled in the city of Nicea under the direction of the Emperor Constantine and there, at his behest, began cutting books out of the Bible.  In fact, when the Council met and the all-powerful Emperor presumed to address the Bishops of the Church, they told him that he, not being a bishop, could not address their assembly.
Something similar is true of the notion that those same Bishops set out to prune the Bible of important books they did not wish the Christian people to know about.  The truth is that the Bishops at Nicea did not decide which books then in circulation were actually Scripture and which were not. All those Bishops did was to affirm in unity of mind – and under the guidance of the Holy Spirit -- that the books the Church already perceived as the word of God were, indeed, just that.
The process of recognizing the books of the Old Testament and the New was what we might call the vox populi, the “voice of the people”, that is, the common consensus of the household of the faith.  The ancient Jewish people had discovered, over time, which books spoke to them in what they recognized as the distinctive voice of God; these books became the Jewish Bible which is now our Old Testament.
St. Paul tells us in what high regard we must hold the Old Testament in today’s Epistle: “Whatsoever things were written afore time were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.”
In the earliest days of the Church this Old Testament formed the only Canon of scripture.  But, by the early years of the Second Century, additional books had already been received into Christian congregations and there quoted as the word of God.  These twenty seven books eventually formed additional and final portion of the Canon of Scripture, that we know as the New Testament. 
In some places a few questions were raised about II Peter, Jude and Revelation.  But over time skepticism about them disappeared.  In a few places some people thought that a work called The Shepherd of Hermas might be part of the Canon of the Church’s Scriptures but it failed the prime test for acceptance.
That question was, as it had been for the ancient Jews before, did or did not the people of God recognize the voice of God in this book? In this book, as in the other books that ultimately were not recognized as part of the Canon, the early Christians simply did not hear the clear and familiar voice of God in the same way as they heard God’s voice in the books they recognized, and that we accept, as Canonical Scriptures.
Thus, long before the Council of Nicea in 325 A.D., the Church had defined its Canon. This was the same as the one we have now, adding to the Jewish Scriptures the Church had inherited the twenty-seven books of the New Testament.3
Thus, too, there were no books for the Bishops at Nicea to delete, but, instead, only a Canon that had already been established before any of them had been born.
In Advent, the Church traditionally reads Isaiah’s passages about the Suffering Servant, the one by whose stripes we are healed and who prolonged his days after dying, that he would live forever as the agent of God's will.  The Lord Himself assures us that His coming again will be our redemption and that the fears and darkness of this age will disappear in the light of His glory.
His coming to rule over heaven and earth, cleansing this world from all evil, from death and suffering, and all such things, is sure and certain.  If instead of comfort, this fills your heart with fear, then that means that you must repent from all your sins.  Turn, then, to the Lord, that you may enter that blessed state of sure and certain hope, and be strengthened by the Holy Spirit. 
Today’s Epistle speaks of Christ’s ministry, first to His own people of Israel, and then of the way that ministry extends to all nations through those people of Israel who believed in Him and became His disciples. This recalls the words of Simeon, when he held the infant Jesus in the Temple: “A light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel.”[2]
This light shines into the darkest places where we try to hide from God because we are conscious of our own sins. If we respond to His mercy, that same light of revelation brings comfort and hope, the sure and certain hope of the resurrection unto eternal life.
The invitation is extended by His words:  come, eat and be filled with the food and drink of eternal life. Come feed on the Living Bread that has come down from heaven, and with hearty repentance and true faith receive Christ through these humble means unto everlasting life with him in glory.

“Now the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that ye may abound in hope, through the power of the Holy Ghost.”


[1] Hebrews 6:17-19 (KJV).
[2] Luke 2:32 (KJV).
3 For purposes of this sermon and its basic message, I have not brought up the Apocrypha. Suffice it to say, it is covered in Article VI.

Saturday, December 02, 2017

FIRST SUNDAY IN ADVENT

Painting by El Greco
Romans13:8-13 * Matthew 21:1-13
What a confusing choice for today's Gospel, the same reading we have in the Blessing of the Palms on Palm Sunday, before the first Eucharist. What does this have to do with the main theme of Advent, that we must be prepared for the second coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in glory to judge both the quick and the dead? After all, as everyone should know, it is about our own real preparation to come face to face with God. The season is about the Four Last Things, Death, Judgment, Heaven and Hell. Among these, Heaven and Hell take on powerful significance as the Resurrection to immortality, to live and reign with Christ forever, and the resurrection of those who will go into the lake of fire. As the Lord said: "Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, and shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation."1 In light of these themes, it is not enough to be aware of the joy that awaits those who will enter the blessed state of glorification as the sons of God. We must also be aware of the terror of the Lord so as to persuade men,2 including ourselves, to be ready for the Lord at all times.

Several religious leaders from various churches must have voted, about a century or more ago, to close Hell. Like some prisons, it has perhaps become overcrowded, and so nobody else can go there, even though some people are dying to get in. Why else would it sound so strange to hear it mentioned in a sermon-in church of all places? Maybe Hell has become the sort of topic, like for example, sin; something that fashionable people just do not discuss in church. It's not nice, it's not warm and fuzzy, and it contributes, no doubt, to global warming. The problem is, the ultimate "fire and brimstone" preacher in the Bible is Jesus Christ-no more Mr. Nice Guy to anyone shocked to learn it. Yes, St. John the Baptist has a few words to say about it. St. Paul never mentions it directly, though clearly warning about it indirectly. Some theologians want to blunt the effect of every passage that does mention it. If we are to be serious about the words of the Lord Jesus Christ, we must face this subject, namely, the danger of going into the outer darkness "where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched."3 The worms and fire invoke an image of a dump, but it was a reference to where bodies are left unburied after a great slaughter.

The Greek word for that ultimate Hell is Ge'enna (γε’εννα). It refers to a terrible place mentioned in the Old Testament as a site where children were murdered in sacrifice to Molech, the Valley of Ben-Hinnom. Our Lord spoke of it in terms of that final and dreadful verse in the Book of Isaiah: "And they shall go forth, and look upon the carcases of the men that have transgressed against me: for their worm shall not die, neither shall their fire be quenched; and they shall be an abhorring unto all flesh."4

God "commandeth all men everywhere to repent."
5 The Gospel command to repent is also a word of hope. It is centered on the grace of God, and the love of God demonstrated and revealed in the cross of Christ. 6 How simple and yet powerful are those words of St. Paul, "Christ died for our sins."7 In that light, we obey the command to repent, and therefore are filled with joy because he gives us the certain hope of eternal life. "Repent, confess, thou shalt be loosed from all."8 This alone gives hope. A false gospel of acceptance and inclusion cannot revive and comfort anyone's conscience. The words of today's Epistle tell us how to live our lives in this world in the fear of God, and also in the grace of God. "The night is far spent, the day is at hand: let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light. "

Why are we given this selection from the Gospels?
Why this picture of Christ being welcomed as the Son of David, the king, and then getting off the donkey, going into the temple, and casting out the money changers? We understand why this leads to the Passion, and is read at the start of Holy Week when we bless the palms. We understand that other judgment, that in the cross of Christ it was the Prince of this world who was judged and cast out. 9 When we begin Holy Week it makes sense. What, however, does this have to do with the coming again in glory of our Lord Jesus Christ, to judge the quick and the dead? As an event in history, how do we place some meaning of it in the future? as a recorded past event, how does it find its way into eschatology (the study of the End)?

The simple answer (so obvious once we realize it) is that, in her wisdom, the Church puts before our eyes this picture of our Lord Jesus Christ, from his first coming, that most closely resembles his second coming. Here is the Lord who suddenly comes to his temple and cleanses it. We see the Lord who casts out from the place of that holy presence of the Shekinah, those who have been living unrepentant in sin. The authority of the Lord, to mete out judgment, to evict sinners from his presence, to cleanse, to purge, and to purify, is seen in this Gospel passage. That harder side of the One who was able to forgive and heal with compassion is here made visible. This picture shows the judgment of the Lord; it shows his unique authority as the Word and Son of the Everlasting Father, that power that comes so genuinely from within Himself that all of these men felt compelled to obey His voice, and had no power in themselves to resist His words of eviction from the Holy Place. He had no visible army to carry out His commands, no soldiers to enforce His decree; and yet His power was such that no one could resist, and no one could refuse. Just as He had power to cast out demons so that people would not be tormented any longer, so His word with power casts out willful sinners so that they can no longer defile. Yes, this is the best picture we have of the Lord who comes again as Judge.

                    Bible illustration by Gustave Dore

St. Peter wrote: "For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God: and if it first begin at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God? And if the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear?"10 If we submit to the work of the Holy Spirit among us, we will experience that gentle judgment that saves us here and now. After all, even though St. Peter makes direct reference to the End, that is the Last Day when Christ comes again, and does so with words to place the fear of God in our hearts, he begins with "the time is come." If the message is about "the end" of those who are removed, thrown into Ge'enna with its hungry worms and perpetual burnings, what judgment is there that begins now in the house of God? Jesus cast out the works of darkness from the house of God, the temple in Jerusalem, casting out those who had worked that darkness openly and unashamed, and who insulted the holy place no less than the sons of Eli had done long before.11 But, St. Peter urges us with a present hope: "For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God." What is this judgment that must begin now? Pray God, let it be for each one of us the very self-examination that aids those who repent to make a good confession of their sins with all of the sincerity of a heart moved by the Holy Spirit.

Let us recall that other name, that specifically Anglican name that we give to the main service each and every Sunday: "The Holy Communion." Other names are good too, such as The Divine Liturgy (the Orthodox name), the Mass, and the Holy Eucharist. But, I like the Anglican name, The Holy Communion. It was first used to make something very clear to the people of the Church of England, which is that the purpose of the Sacrament of Christ's Body and Blood, is that it be taken and received. The Catechism tells us that two of the sacraments are generally necessary to salvation, Baptism and the Lord's Supper. The purpose of coming and receiving this Blessed Sacrament is to feed on the Living Bread that comes down from heaven, which if a man eat, he may live forever. Jesus told us that He is the food and drink of eternal life, and to eat His flesh and drink His blood.
12 First we make confession of sin based on the self-examination we should make every time; as St.Paul wrote: "But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup."13 It is in that self-examination and the resulting sincere confession, that we prepare for the coming of the Lord right now, that is, his coming to our altar, and then into our very bodies as we eat the food and drink the cup of eternal life-His flesh and blood. If we live always ready for this Sacrament, we will live always ready to meet the Lord face to face.

In today's Gospel passage, we see important elements of His Second Coming, elements that are true to the Person of the Son of God, the everlasting Son of the everlasting Father. He is the only king and savior. He is the judge “Whose fan is in his hand, and he will thoroughly purge his floor, and gather his wheat into the garner; but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” 14 Judgment will begin at the House of God, until His whole creation is cleansed and purified, made ready for a habitation of His righteousness, a dwelling place of His glory among men. The purpose of a Penitential season is to learn to sharpen and focus our self-examination, the same self-examination that we should do every time we draw near to receive the Body and Blood of Christ. I know that a “feel good” religion is the popular model for success in today’s “spiritual” market; but the only good feeling we should ever trust is that spoken of by the Psalmist: “Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.”15
To be ready for the last Judgment, we must be willing to let the Holy Ghost shake up our world, we must allow Him to shake up our very selves. Indeed, to prepare for the coming again of Jesus Christ, we must draw near "with hearty repentance and true faith" in order to make a good confession, sincere and resolute of purpose to "walk in newness of life." Indeed, to prepare for the coming again of Jesus Christ, we need do no more, and no less, than we do when we prepare to receive the Communion of His Body and Blood.16


1. John 5:28, 29
2. II Corinthians 5:11
3. Mark 9:42-50
4. Isaiah 66:24
5. Acts 17:30
6. Romans 5:8
7. I Corinthians 15:3
8 From Weary of Earth and laden with my sin, Hymn 58 in The Hymnal 1940.
9. John 12:31, 32
10. I Peter 4:17, 18
11. I Samuel 2:12f
12. John 6:26-59
13. I Corinthians 11: 29
1
4. Matthew. 3:12
15. Psalm 32:1

16. I Corinthians 10:16

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Forty Years Long...


The four leading bishops are pictured above, from left to right, the Rt. Rev. Paul Hewitt (DHC), the Most Rev. Walter Grundorf (APA), the Most Rev. Dr. Mark Haverland (ACC), and the Most Rev. Brian Marsh (ACA). 

As promised, I write my reflections on the 2017 Joint Anglican Synods. For those not knowing what it was, the Anglican Diocese of the Holy Cross (DHC), the Anglican Province in America (APA), the Anglican Church in America (ACA), and the Anglican Catholic Church (ACC) came together last week in Atlanta Georgia. Each jurisdiction held the business sessions necessary to a provincial synod separately, inasmuch as those meetings are about all sorts of specific things, many of which are put to a vote, some involving budgets, etc. But the spiritual and social activities, from church services to meals, were all held together. On the last day of the gathering, Friday October 6, all synod business having been concluded, everything was done together. In the morning, the four leading bishops signed the agreement for full communion. This was followed by a man calling out "Praise God!" and a spontaneous rendering, sung by all of us, of the Doxology. A little bit later the four jurisdictions held a Mass together. 

Whether they drew lots or simply discussed who would do what (I can ask my Archbishop if anyone thinks it matters how), the celebrant was Bishop Paul Hewitt, and the preacher was Bishop Grundorf. In his sermon, Bishop Grundorf preached on the theme "For such a time as this," words of Mordecai from the Book of Esther. As the keynote address the night before, by Fr. Charles Clendenin, Bishop Grundorf's sermon was direct, to the point, and very honest about the forty years long of our wandering (Psalm 95:10). He also spoke to the times in which we find ourselves, and about the challenges and opportunities before us. I believe both men were more than a keynote speaker and a homilist. They spoke as prophets, as I said this past Sunday in my own sermon (at this link you may find the sermon for the 17th Sunday after Trinity 2017). 

Earlier, when the four leading bishops were preparing to sign the agreement, Bishop Hewitt spoke of the "hand of God" on us, and of "the anointing" of the Holy Spirit. When considering the Biblically significant number of forty years (since the St. Louis Congress in 1977), and the leading of four bishops (evoking the memory of the first four Continuing bishops of the Denver Consecrations a few months after the Congress of St. Louis), it does appear that God Himself is the One Who has arranged these events, and Who is speaking to us "for such a time as this." I believe that God Himself judged it best for us to wander in division until He cleansed out from us much of the sins and error still in our old Episcopal Church and Church of Canada hard hearts, most especially the deadly sin of pride. As the ancient prophets of Israel told on their own people, and as the people eventually heard it to become a people prepared by God, so it is for us at this time. 

For my own reflections to be complete for you, I recommend hearing the sermon I preached two days later, as I linked above.

Press conference during the Joint Synods

Anglican Joint Synod - Press Conference

Anglican Joint Synod - Keynote with Fr. Clendenin

Saturday, October 07, 2017

Communion at the Joint Synods Mass, Oct. 6, 2017



The hymn you hear is very appropriate. This was during the receiving of the Holy Communion. Check this spot for my reflections on the 2017 Joint Synods Mass, which I will be writing and posting soon.

The Offering

of the collection taken at the 2017 Joint Synods Mass will be used to help ACA parishes and people in Puerto Rico, because of the terrible damage from the hurricane.

I will write my impressions of the Joint Synods after discharging the usual duties of my ministry here brought on by what seems to be, after this week, the sudden arrival of the weekend. Suffice to say, it is the hand of God at work that has created this new beginning after the biblically significant period of forty years.