Note to readers: Liturgical entries on this blog are based on the traditional calendar of the Books of Common Prayer and the traditional one-year Eucharistic lectionary. If you follow a newer calendar or three-year lectionary, there are variations in names for some Sundays and in the readings.

Saturday, December 31, 2011

The Circumcision of Christ and the Holy Name

The Epistle for the first of January contains these words from Philippians 2: 9-11, "God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father."

Naturally, at this time of the year, we think of the naming of Jesus at His circumcision when He was a week old. This naming fulfilled the instructions of the angel to Mary and Joseph before Christ's Birth (St. Luke 1:31; St. Matthew 1:21; St. Luke 2:21). He was given the Aramaic version of the name "Joshua" which means "the LORD will save." That name progressed through Greek and Latin into the modern form "Jesus." Although the name was common in Jewish circles, it had a special application in the case of this child. It prophesied His work of redemption.

In the Epistle from Philippians 2 assigned for the day, St. Paul looks at the same point from a different historical perspective. The verses just before the ones about His name refer to the humility of Christ's incarnation. This humility extended even to death on the cross. And this lowliness is followed by ultimate victory in resurrection and glorification, so that Jesus is indeed Lord of all, with a name above every name.

The days of Christmastide should be a time of reflection on the whole Gospel, not just the birth narratives. In particular, let us pause to think of our Lord's name. The name is no accident; it has great doctrinal significance. Jesus is the One who has come to save us. Through His Nativity, Life, Ministry, Passion, Death, Resurrection and Ascension, He has accomplished God's saving work and deserves our praise and thanksgiving.

Friday, December 23, 2011

The Nativity of our Lord or Christmas

For this Christmas, the selection from the Epistle to the Hebrews 1:1- 12 is my focus. The first four verses set the apostolic writer's theme for the whole epistle, and the next eight verses are a series of Old Testament citations about God and the Messiah or Christ.

The first sentence is four verses long: God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds; who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his power, when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high; being made so much better than the angels, as he hath by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they (1:1-4).

These words are an early affirmation of faith or creed that summarizes the story of Christ. The Incarnation of God's only Son is the decisive divine intervention in human history. The coming of Jesus Christ is the ultimate Word of God to us; He has purged our sins and returned to heaven in glory and honor. He surpasses not only prophets but also angels. He shares His Father's divine nature and power.

Thus, Hebrews 1:1-4 tells us about the real significance of Christ's birth. Like the Gospel from St. John 1, this passage brings out the deep meaning of the beautiful story recorded in St. Luke 2. The birth of the babe in Bethlehem is more than just the birthday of the greatest of the prophets. This birth is an inseparable part of the whole New Testament message; it is bound up with Christ's Ministry, Passion, Death, Resurrection and Ascension. Christ's Nativity is the opening chapter of the the most important story in human history- the coming of God the Son to save us from our sins and to triumph over death and evil. Believers in Christ can apply a verse often used at Easter to Christmas as well: "This is the day which the LORD hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it" (Psalm 118:24).

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Fourth Sunday in Advent

Some liturgical traditions assign this Sunday's Epistle from Philippians 4:4-7 to the Third Sunday in Advent because they want a lighter tone then. Sometimes, this has been associated with rose vestments or a rose Advent candle. However, it seems to me that the Epistle is more appropriate where the Prayer Book has it as Advent draws to a close.

Philippians 4 reminds us that despite the need for somber reflection on the human condition, the message of Christ is indeed good news, cause for rejoicing. As our selection says, "the Lord is at hand." We look back to the first time when Christ was at hand, as Israel awaited the Messiah, as Mary and Joseph awaited the birth of the one promised. As Christians, we are also aware that He continues to be "at hand" in our lives through Word and Sacrament. And as we look at the sin-darkened world around us, we are reminded that He will return in judgment.

All these things are very serious, but because of Christ, we do have great reason to rejoice. Despite our sinfulness, we have hope because of the peace that God brings through Christ. For believers, there is an awareness that every time the Lord Jesus Christ comes, He comes "to save us all from Satan's power." These are truly "tidings of comfort and joy."

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Third Sunday in Advent

The Epistle from 1 Corinthians 4. 1-5 brings up two distinct themes appropriate for this day. One theme is Christian ministry. This theme is appropriate because Wednesday, Friday and Saturday of this week will be the traditional Advent Ember Days (see last year's post on this topic). The other theme of the Epistle is judgment when Christ comes again. In I Corinthians 4:5, the Apostle Paul writes, "Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts: and then shall every man have praise of God."

In speaking of judgment, this single verse makes several points. Echoing the words of Christ in the Gospels, it warns believers about judging. Certainly we have to make practical decisions or judgments all the time in order to live and deal with people, but we should always remember that our judgments in specific moral and spiritual cases are tentative. Even our opinions about ourselves may be inaccurate. Final judgment belongs to our Lord Jesus Christ who will judge us at His second coming in glory. He is the One who can bring light into the darkness and rightly evaluate the thoughts of human hearts.

Looking to Christ's judgment can be cause for fear because we realize that we are His unworthy and imperfect servants. Looking to His judgment can also be cause for hope because we know of His grace for us and that the only praise that really matters must come from Him- His final "well done, good and faithful servant" (St. Matthew 25:23). Being mindful of Christ's final coming in judgment can help keep us on our toes; it can be a constant encouragement to serve our Lord more faithfully. It can also be an encouragement as we face human difficulties.

Although we have legitimate concerns about other people and their opinions, we know that their opinions only have limited value. Just as St. Paul faced opposition in Corinth, any of us will face some opposition when we seek to serve the Lord in a fallen world. While we are concerned to minister to others and their ultimate well-being, we know that out chief concern is to look to Christ. Christ's judgment of us, which is both perfectly just and perfectly merciful, is the only one that counts in eternity.

For different thoughts on this Sunday, see last year's post:

Saturday, December 03, 2011

Second Sunday in Advent

This Second Sunday in Advent has often been called "Bible Sunday" among Anglicans and other English-speaking Christians. The collect and lessons for the day were developed by Archbishop Cranmer for the 1549 BCP. They all refer in differing ways to the importance of Scripture and reflect the Reformation influence on Anglican foundations.

We also see this theme in the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion. Article VI is titled Of the Sufficiency of the Holy Scriptures for Salvation, and it says: Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation: so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man, that it should be believed as an article of the Faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation. In the name of the Holy Scripture we do understand those canonical Books of the Old and New Testament, of whose authority was never any doubt in the Church.

Thus, authentic Anglicanism believes in the supremacy of the Holy Scriptures. There may be other things in life that are good, useful or beautiful, but Scripture reigns supreme in matters of doctrine, in matters of salvation. Church tradition, human reason and individual inspirations from the Holy Spirit have their places in Christian life and thought, but they must always be subjected to God's revelation contained in the long-accepted canon of Holy Scripture. There is no surer foundation in this world, and consciences must not be burdened by those who would impose other standards.

Some people like to claim that the Scriptures are not clear. And they can sound convincing to those who do not know Scripture well, but to the careful student of Scripture such a claim is nonsense; it is a falsehood that can damage human souls. The general teachings of the Bible are clear and have been agreed upon by sensible and honest Christian readers for two millennia. Although there are legitimate debates about how to read some individual verses, there are clear teachings about the basics. These basics are the kinds of things that have been summarized in the Apostles' and Nicene Creeds, in the Ten Commandments, in the Two Great Commandments and in the Catechism. Such clear teachings permeate the whole canon of Scripture, and any verses that seem obscure should be understood in ways that are consistent with the clearer passages.

With this general view of Scripture in mind, let us now turn to a verse from today's Epistle. In Romans 15:4, St. Paul writes, "Whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope." These words focus on the practical importance of the Holy Scriptures for every Christian believer.
Of course, in the historical context and in the immediate literary context of the Epistle to the Romans, the Apostle is referring to the Old Testament, especially to the Psalms and the Prophets. But the same can be said about the whole canon of Scripture. Christians believe that God's Spirit inspired human beings to write down various stories, histories, poems and prophecies, that the same Holy Spirit has guided the community of faith to accept these writings rather than some others and that God continues to speak to believers through the words of Scripture and the guidance of the Holy Spirit. This is one of the basic assumptions of the Christian faith. And like other basic points, we either accept the Scriptures as a basic part of Christianity or we refuse to accept the Christian message.

If we accept Christianity and its Scriptures as given by God, then we see the purposes of the Scriptures. The Bible was "written for our learning." Apart from Scripture, we know very little about God. We might philosophize about a creator. We might even theorize about some sort of moral order in the universe. Yet, such philosophy is rather vague and does not do much to satisfy human souls. And apart from Scripture, we would not know about Jesus Christ. From general history, we might believe that there was some Jewish teacher by that name from Galilee who impressed some ancient people. However, apart from the canonical Scriptures, we would not know much about His person, teachings or deeds. And apart from Scripture, we would not know Him as the living Word and Son of God who laid down His life and took it up again to save our very souls.

Besides basic religious knowledge, the Scriptures also provide believers with "patience" or endurance and "comfort" or strength. The Bible helps us deal with real life, with our situation as imperfect believers within an imperfect world. And this in turn leads us to have "hope." Despite our own sins and frailties and despite the corruptions we see in the world around us, Christians are characterized by hope. We have hope, hope for the grace to be faithful in this world and hope to dwell with God eternally after our time in this world.

Advent is a season characterized by hope, but hope must not be nebulous. From ancient Israel, through the New Testament period and down through Christian history, true hope depends upon divine revelation in the Holy Scriptures. In particular, our hope depends upon Jesus Christ, the living Word to whom all Scripture bears witness. He is the one who was to come, who has come, who keeps coming into our lives and who will come again. "O come, O come, Emmanuel."

Saturday, November 26, 2011

First Sunday in Advent

The theme of this First Sunday in Advent is based upon the Latin word adventus, "coming, arrival, approach." The collect, epistle and gospel selection all reflect this theme in different ways, and throughout this season of spiritual preparation for Christmas, we focus on the various ways Christ comes to us. We think of the prophets who prepared the Hebrew people for His first coming. We also look to His second and final coming to complete earthly history and render judgment. And we think of His various comings into our lives.

Today's Epistle from Romans 13 ties together some of this ways that Christ comes to us. In Romans 13:11-12, the Apostle Paul writes, "And that, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep: for now is our salvation nearer than when we believed. The night is far spent, the day is at hand: let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armour of light."

Earthly history and human life move on. So the time of salvation for the faithful keeps drawing closer. Anticipation of Christ's final coming means that we must wake up in a spiritual sense. We must cast off our old fallen dark ways and put on the gracious goodness already offered by Christ, the armor of light. Or as Romans 13:14 says, "...put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ...."

Putting on Christ is another way of speaking of allowing Christ to come in, permeate and cover our moral and spiritual lives. The only way for us to prepare for Christ's final coming is to have Him already have come into our hearts, minds and souls many times to transform us into His likeness. Advent is a time on the church calendar when we try to be more aware of our need to have Christ come into our lives in a more profound manner, a time to rouse ourselves from spiritual lethargy and allow Christ to clothe us with His presence in new and deeper ways.

For last year's comment on Advent I, see

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Thanksgiving Day

The theme for the day is admirably summarized in the Epistle from St. James 1: 17-
Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights....

All human beings should give thanks for what God our Creator has provided in nature: food, shelter, clothing, human fellowship, etc. Christians have even more reason to give thanks because of the supernatural grace offered through Jesus Christ. The giving of thanks, Eucharist, is at the heart of Christian worship and community.

The Collect
O most merciful Father, who hast blessed the labours of the husbandman in the returns of the fruits of the earth; We give thee humble and hearty thanks for this thy bounty; beseeching thee to continue thy loving-kindness to us, that our land may still yield her increase, to thy glory and our comfort; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

For a different treatment of the theme, see last year's post:

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Sunday next before Advent

This Sunday is the last Sunday of the liturgical year, and there have been various ways of dealing with it. Sometimes it has not been given special attention; some modern calendars have invented new observances such as the feast of Christ the King. The 1928 Book of Common Prayer went back to the Sarum tradition for the name of the day and for the collect and lessons. A popular medieval English name was "Stir up Sunday." This nickname comes from the opening words of the collect which says:

Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people; that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works, may by thee be plenteously rewarded; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

We see a similar theme in the liturgical epistle which is actually a selection from the prophet Jeremiah. Jeremiah 23:5 looks to the day when the LORD will raise up a new king to lead His people in justice and righteousness. Thus, both the collect and epistle point to the need for a new beginning.

As long as this world endures, human beings will always need new beginnings. Because of our fallen and sinful condition, we need for God to stir us up. We need to look to Christ our King to lead us into greater righteousness. We need His grace to renew in us those good works which are the fruits of faith.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Twenty-first Sunday after Trinity

The Epistle this Sunday is another in the series from Ephesians. In Ephesians 6:10-20, we have the famous imagery of the "whole armour of God." Although the details of the armor are interesting and important in themselves, the key issue is to "be strong in the Lord and in the power of his might." There is no other source of spiritual power. The armor that defends the faithful is not some human construction or accomplishment; it is a divine gift through Jesus Christ. And that divine origin is the reason that we can have confidence in our deliverance. No matter how well-intentioned they may be, those who try to depend upon merely human virtue are fighting a loosing battle. Only divine strength can withstand the ferocious spiritual attacks of the devil and his allies. Thus, the ultimate offensive weapon always remains "the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God." This word is found in Scripture and in the person of Jesus Christ, our living Lord.

Saturday, November 05, 2011

Twentieth Sunday after Trinity

The Epistle from Ephesians 5:15-21 is part of a series of selections from this letter during this part of the Trinity season. In general, all of these selections have a two-pronged emphasis: sound doctrine about Christ and His Church and a Christian way of life. These two points are not separate because as the Apostle teaches repeatedly, a truly Christian way of life is a result of basic beliefs about God's redeeming work in Christ.

Ephesians 5:15 says, "See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise...." Here St. Paul begins an emphasis on wisdom. This is similar to certain points in Colossians (4:5 and 3:16-17). This is not some generic wisdom; it is the wisdom of the Christian walk or way of life. It stands in contrast to the general wisdom of the pagan world, which is really foolishness. The Christian wisdom that the Apostle promotes is based on the divine wisdom manifested in Jesus Christ.

Walking in such wisdom, Christians will be "redeeming the time, because the days are evil" (Eph. 5:16). The world is fallen and corrupt, and Christians are to make the best use of the time. So in Ephesians 5:17, Paul exhorts,"Wherefore be ye not unwise, but understanding what the will of the Lord is." The way to true wisdom is not through some pagan philosophy or some mysterious cult; the way to true wisdom is to know and follow God's will revealed in Scripture and most especially in Jesus Christ.

In Ephesians 5:18-20, the Apostle points out a few specific ways that wisdom is manifested: "And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit; speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord; giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ;..." In 5:18, the reference to drunkenness may be more than a practical warning against the dangers of too much alcohol; it may be a contrast with the popular religious cult of the wine god, Bacchus or Dionysus. In any case, Christians are to be under the influence of the Holy Spirit, the channel of true wisdom. And they are not to be singing degraded worldly songs of pagans and drunks but holy songs praising God. Furthermore, their lives are to be characterized by giving thanks to God. Even the bad things in life can become opportunities through divine grace.

Finally in Ephesians 5:21, we see that following Christian wisdom means "submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God". This stands in contrast to worldly wisdom where any form of submission to others is a sign of weakness. And there are forms of submission that are results of moral weakness. We can't always "go with the flow" of a fallen world and a corrupt society. Christians must be strong in the Lord and refuse to endorse evil. Christ certainly exemplifies such strength. At the same time however, Christ also shows us how to submit to others in love. He humbled Himself to become a servant in order to offer salvation. Likewise, Christians must humble themselves in love in ways that contribute to the salvation of family, friends, neighbors and any others they encounter. A life characterized by such Christian submission to one another is a life filled with the highest wisdom.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Nineteenth Sunday after Trinity

In today's Epistle from Ephesians 4:17- 32, St. Paul continues to show how commitment to the basic truth of the Gospel influences Christian behavior.

This I say therefore, and testify in the Lord, that yet henceforth walk not as other Gentiles walk, in the vanity of their mind, having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart: who being past feeling have given themselves over unto lasciviousness, to work all uncleanness with greediness. (4:17-19)

By these words, the Apostle bluntly states the truth as he sees it. Non-Christian Gentiles have serious problems. The first basic issue is mental or intellectual. Their understanding is darkened and they are alienated from God. Secondly, such spiritual ignorance and blindness has moral consequences. Like many biblical references to sin, from the Hebrew prophets onward, immorality is described in terms that have a sexual connotation. And certainly in contemporary society, we can see all sorts of sexual sin and corruption. Yet, such corruption is only one obvious and dangerous manifestation of the self-centered greediness of fallen human nature.

In Ephesians 4: 20-24, the Apostle continues: But ye have not so learned Christ; if so be that ye have heard him, and have been taught by him, as the truth is in Jesus: that ye put off concerning the former conversation the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts; and be renewed in the spirit of your mind; and that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.

Here we see the contrasting situation of Christian believers. They have learned the truth embodied in Jesus Christ. Believers are not by nature better than other fallen human beings. They share the corrupt desires and behavior of "the old man." However, through Christ, believers have had their minds renewed, and they have "put on the new man." This spiritual and mental transformation is the source of any true holiness in human life.

In 4:25-32, the verses show the concrete results that are to be found in the Christian life: Wherefore putting away lying, speak every man truth with his neighbour: for we are members one of another. Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath: neither give place to the devil. Let him that stole steal no more: but rather let him labour, working with his hands the thing which is good, that he may have to give to him that needeth. Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers. And grieve not the holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption. Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice: and be ye kind one to another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you.

Of course, Scripture teaches the general importance of honesty and the undesirability of falsehood, but here we have an exhortation to honesty in relationships within the Church. Such honesty can naturally include some anger. But anger must be strictly controlled lest it lead into sin. Afterwards, there is a catalogue of some Christian virtues such as hard work, charitable giving, guarded speech, peace and kindness. Finally, among believers, there must be mutual forgiveness. And the need for forgiveness brings us full circle because mutual forgiveness among Christians is based upon the heart of the Gospel: God has forgiven believers for Christ's sake.

In summary, today's Epistle from Ephesians 4 shows us that sin and redemption have both mental-spiritual and ethical dimensions. The basic corruption of humanity is based on ignoring spiritual truth. This wilful spiritual ignorance leads to various types of immoral behavior. To overcome such a fallen state, believers must have their minds renewed by God's gracious truth in Christ. This mental and spiritual renewal can then lead to ethical behavior among Christians, behavior that is especially characterized by mutual forgiveness for Christ's sake.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Eighteenth Sunday after Trinity

In the brief Epistle selection from 1 Corinthians 1:4-8, St. Paul brings up some key themes about issues in the church at Corinth and in doing so refers to key issues of the Christian life. The overriding theme is "the grace of God which is given you by Jesus Christ" (1:4). Without the general grace of God, there is no human life; without the specific redeeming grace of God in Christ, there is no Christian life, no gift of eternal life.

This grace through Christ is a rich treasure. It is the the power source for two aspects of the Christian life that were highly prized by the Corinthians: utterance or prophetic speaking and spiritual knowledge (1:5). Unfortunately, some people at Corinth distorted these gifts. They used speaking and knowledge in an egotistical and divisive manner. They approached these gifts in exaggerated ways and tended to separate them from the general Christian message- from "the testimony of Christ" (1:6) The saving grace of Christ is the heart of the Christian message, and any meaningful speaking and knowledge must relate to Christ's Gospel.

Furthermore, grace is the source of other gifts of the Christian life. The Greek word translated here as "gifts" is charismata, related to the word grace itself, charis. Throughout his letters, St. Paul refers to many gifts of the Christian life. Later in I Corinthians, he stresses the three greatest gifts: faith, hope and love. Without such gifts, especially love or charity, other gifts lack true significance. A believer must not "come behind" (1:7) or be lacking in such key gifts of Christ's grace.

Finally, grace is related to Christian perseverance. Grace enables believers to wait for Christ's final coming, and grace strengthens believers to the end. Only through the grace of God in Christ can fallible human beings hope to "be blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ" (1:8).

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Seventeenth Sunday after Trinity

In today's Epistle from Ephesians 4:1-6, the Apostle continues the discussion from last week about the interplay of Christian doctrine and ethics. In 4:1, the Ephesians are exhorted "walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called." The Christian walk or way of life is based on vocation or the divine call to believe in and follow Jesus Christ. In verses 2-3, this way of life is presented both as an individual embodiment of virtues such as humility, patience and loving forbearance and as a communal way of life which holds on to the unity given by the Holy Spirit.

Ephesians 4:4-6 develop the theme of true Christian unity. Such unity is not some human achievement of organizational recognition. While greater cooperation among Christian organizations is often desirable, the unity presented in this portion of Scripture is of a different nature. This unity already exists as a gift of God to believers. It is rooted in the unity of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. Christians are already members of "one body" empowered by "one Spirit." They share "one hope..., one Lord, one faith." They have been grafted into the Body of Christ by "one baptism." And above all these aspects of oneness, there is "one God and Father of all." He is the ultimate source of any good kind of unity.

In contemporary society, there is much talk about unity of all sorts. While many kinds of unity can be relatively good, not all unity is good. Some unity can be based upon acceptance of sin. Criminals and dictators may achieve certain superficial types of unity. And even the unity of social clubs, teams, businesses and political entities still remains superficial. Indeed, certain kinds of unity among Christians may just be of uncertain or superficial political value. However, the true unity among believers presented in our Epistle is much deeper. It is truly a spiritual recognition of a common faith in Christ which already exists despite external human differences of race, language, culture or church affiliation. May we always endeavour to keep this unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (4:3).

Saturday, October 08, 2011

Sixteenth Sunday after Trinity

The Epistle for this Sunday from Ephesians 3:13-21 weaves together several themes of St. Paul's understanding of the Gospel. First, there is a Trinitarian aspect: worshipping the Father, being strengthened by the Spirit and having Christ dwell in one's heart. These things take place in the family of God through faith which leads to an awareness of divine love in Christ. Such love surpasses knowledge (gnosis), and it leads to a fullness of blessing and a glorification of God in the Church of Jesus Christ.

In language that is both highly theological and poetic, the Apostle provides a short summary of the Christian life. The Christian life begins and ends in the worship of God. It depends upon faith and finds its highest expression in Christ-like love. The Christian life is both highly individual and deeply corporate. It is rooted in the the individual heart but expressed in the community of faith which is God's family and Christ's Church.

Saturday, October 01, 2011

Fifteenth Sunday after Trinity

This Sunday's Gospel from St. Matthew 6: 24-34 is a rich passage with an important main theme and several meaningful sub-points. The main theme is "No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon" (6:24). We must choose: either we serve God or we serve material wealth or possessions. We can not have two top priorities, and if we try, life is filled with irreconcilable conflicts. This is an on-going issue in human life. When they are prospering, people tend to become greedy to increase profits or comforts. When they are facing economic uncertainty, people tend to become anxious or grasping just to maintain minimal standards. In either case, materialism tends to push loyalty to God and His eternal values aside.

Among the sub-points of this passage, there are also beautiful images of what life can be like when human beings put God first and trust in Him. Christ points us to examples from nature. Even birds and wildflowers which live briefly are cared for under divine providence. So believers should find comfort and joy in life. Earthly life may be fleeting, but God cares for us and gives us what we need. And as believers, we trust that when our allotted time here is complete, God will grant us even greater spiritual solace.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

St. Michael and All Angels- 29 September

For a comment about the general background of this feast day, see last year's post:

This year, let us focus on the Epistle lesson from Revelation 12:7- 12:

THERE was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels, and prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven. And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him. And I heard a loud voice saying in heaven, Now is come salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of his Christ: for the accuser of our brethren is cast down, which accused them before our God day and night. And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death. Therefore rejoice, ye heavens, and ye that dwell in them. Woe to the inhabiters of the earth and of the sea! for the devil is come down unto you, having great wrath, because he knoweth that he hath but a short time.

Here we see the Archangel Michael's role in the cosmic struggle between God and the Devil. Michael is the battle leader of the spiritual beings that remain loyal to God. As such we should remember him and give thanks for his continuing service. At the same time, we must be clear about his role. Unlike Satan, Michael does not exalt his own importance and power.

On the contrary, Michael serves the cause of Christ, the Lamb of God who sheds His blood to bring salvation, strength and the kingdom of God. The ancient struggle between good and evil continues, but great victories have already been won, especially through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The evil one continues to afflict humanity, but his time is limited. Thanks to God the Father who gave Michael victory and who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Fourteenth Sunday after Trinity

The Gospel from St. Luke 17:11-19 has a thematic tie with last Sunday's Gospel: a Samaritan. In both cases, a Samaritan is shown in positive light. Last week in St. Luke 15, the Samaritan in the parable showed greater moral sensitivity by being a neighbor to the man who had been robbed and beaten. This week, the Samaritan leper shows greater gratitude and devotion.

As Jesus passed through a village on the way from Galilee to Jerusalem, "there met him ten men that were lepers, which stood afar off: and they lifted up their voices, and said, Jesus, Master, have mercy on us. And when he saw them, he said unto them, Go shew yourselves unto the priests. And it came to pass, that, as they went, they were cleansed " (St. Luke 17:12-14). Of the ten, only one bothered to glorify God and thank Jesus, the Samaritan. Christ emphasized this point, and then "he said unto him, Arise, go thy way: thy faith hath made thee whole"(17:19). So the despised Samaritan who had also been a contagious and disfigured leper becomes the great example of faith in God in general and in Christ in particular.

This point advances the one made in last week's Gospel a step further. Not only is it possible for a person who is not a pious Jew to exemplify better moral behavior, it is also possible for such a person to exemplify greater religious faith. And faith is the ultimate issue. Regardless of all other characteristics, faith in God through Christ is the core of a person's identity. Physical health, nationality or membership in a certain religious group are much less important than a person's faith in and gratitude toward God.

Thus, as we think about the the basic identity of other people we encounter, we must think of their attitude toward God rather than obvious external characteristics. Furthermore, as we think of our own lives, we should not center our identity in worldly traits such as appearance, physical health, nationality or religious affiliation. Instead, we should ask ourselves whether we are humbly faithful and grateful to God for His work in Jesus Christ. For it is such faith that determines who we really are.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Thirteenth Sunday after Trinity

The Gospel for this day from St. Luke 10:23-37 contains the familiar parable of the Good Samaritan. Of course, that parable has important moral implications, but in re-reading it this time I was also struck by the theological context. Notice the beginning words:Blessed are the eyes which see the things that ye see: for I tell you, that many prophets and kings have desired to see those things which ye see, and have not seen them; and to hear those things which ye hear, and have not heard them (St. Luke 10:23-24). This is a point about the identity of Jesus as the Christ. He is the Messiah whom prophets and kings have longed to see and hear. Those in His presence should be thankful for the great blessing granted to them.

However, the shift to the scholar of the Law provides a stark contrast. This man does not acknowledge the true greatness of Jesus. Instead of being grateful to be in the presence of the Christ, the lawyer tries to put Jesus on the spot. He tries to test Him by posing a question which the lawyer hopes will trap Jesus in some inappropriate statement. In His usual manner, Christ answers such questions with questions and leads His would-be opponent to make an unexpected point. Thus, the lawyer summarizes the Law the same way that Christ does in other contexts:
Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself (10:27).
Notice again that the theological point comes first. The moral issue of loving the neighbor is dependent upon first believing in and loving God.

Yet, the lawyer is not content. He still desires to gain debating points, "to justify himself ."So he replies to Jesus, "And who is my neighbour?" (10:29) At this point, Jesus chooses to end the lawyer's legal debating game. Our Lord chooses to make His point through the parable.

The lawyer and other hearers may have had sympathy for the man who was robbed and beaten. And they probably also expected someone like the Aaronic priest or the Levite to become heroes. Near the end, they might have expected the third man to be a simple pious Jew. But no, the parable took an unexpected turn: the one who had a living faith which was expressed in doing mercy was a despised Samaritan. The lawyer was so upset that he could not even mention the name of the despised sect. When Jesus asked the lawyer who was the true neighbor in the parable, the legal scholar simply replied, "He that shewed mercy on him" (10:37). So the true neighbor is any person who shows mercy, and the lawyer is asked to do likewise.

The truths in this encounter are not limited to first century Palestine. As Christians who acknowledge Jesus as the Christ, we have been blessed in ways that ancient prophets and kings longed to know. We are still called to love God first and then love our neighbors. Loving neighbors is not to become some excuse for self-justification or self-congratulation. It is simply what sincere believers do when they have the opportunity. We are called to show mercy on those that we can help, no matter what group they or we belong to. Such mercifulness can not be reduced to some legal code or minute ethical rules; it is a natural expression of our love for God who is the Creator of all sorts and conditions of men.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Twelfth Sunday after Trinity

The short selection from the Gospel of St. Mark (7:31-37) seems simple but has rich significance. The location is important: Decapolis was a Gentile territory, and thus the story is one of the few examples of Christ reaching out beyond His primary earthly mission to Israel. Then, after the healing miracle, there is Christ's approach to the situation and the reaction of the crowd.

Jesus "charged them that they should tell no man: but the more he charged them, so much the more a great deal they published it; and were beyond measure astonished, saying, He hath done all things well: he maketh both the deaf to hear, and the dumb to speak " (St. Mark 7:36-37).
This is an example of what has sometimes been called the Messianic secret. In order to continue His work, our Lord tried to keep the public reaction relatively low-key. He sought to avoid popular misunderstandings of His work and complete it as the Father intended. But the crowd became increasingly enthusiastic as the people sensed the uniqueness of His work. Whether consciously or not, their words echoed Messianic prophecies. He made the deaf to hear as in Isaiah 35:5; He made the mute speak as in Ezekiel 24:27.

As we reflect on this Gospel, at least two points should guide us. First, there is the universal nature of Christ's mission. Although during His earthly life the emphasis was upon ethnic Israel, even then there were hints of the universal mission of His Church. Secondly, there is the unavoidable proclamation of Jesus as Messiah. While it was appropriate to avoid uproar and false interpretations of the Messiah during Christ's earthly ministry, it is now appropriate to proclaim His Lordship far and wide. Jesus has indeed "done all things well" and fulfilled the highest expectations of the ancient prophets. This good news is no longer a secret; it is to be shared to the ends of the earth.

Saturday, September 03, 2011

Eleventh Sunday after Trinity

The Gospel from St. Luke 18:9-14 is the parable of the Pharisee and the Publican (or Tax Collector). When he prays the Pharisee gives a true catalogue of his virtues. He is a very dedicated man and many others would do well to share some of his good points. Unfortunately, there is a theological tragic flaw. He is self-righteous to the core. Not only does he praise himself for having a superior way of life, he despises his fellow believer who struggles to approach God. Even worse, the Pharisee seems to assume that he is on the same plane as God and fails to see his own need to be humble and seek divine grace. By trusting in his own accomplishments, he has separated himself from God.

The Tax Collector, in contrast, knows his need for divine grace. Because of his job working for the Roman oppressors, he is an outcast. And if he is like most of his profession, he is not a very nice person. Tax Collectors were noted for padding tax bills, extorting every penny they could, associating with the criminal fringe and oppressing the poor. Yet, this Publican has a conscience. He approaches God in humility, acknowledges his sinfulness and places his trust in divine grace and mercy. And it is this Tax Collector who returns from prayer justified by faith in divine grace.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Tenth Sunday after Trinity

The Gospel for this Sunday (St. Luke 19:41-47) consists of two events: Christ's lament over Jerusalem and the cleansing of the Temple. In the first, Jesus points out that Jerusalem and its people do not know what leads to true peace. And this is not merely a lack of awareness, it is a willful rejection. In His ministry, He has tried to get through to them but they have stubbornly refused to heed Him.

In the second event, Jesus goes into the Temple, comments on the corruption and temporarily chases out the moneychangers. Of course, this action is very important, but it is mainly a symbolic illustration of the cleansing that is needed. The general stubbornness of the city of Jerusalem is amplified among the elite who profit from the religious establishment. The Temple which was created for lofty purposes has been defiled by the self-centered greed of the leaders.

The writer Luke puts these two events in sequence, and thereby suggests that they also have a thematic connection. Both point to the stubborn blindness of people who think that they have all the answers while they continue in their sinful ways. The people of Jerusalem and the Temple leadership had a false sense of security. They depended upon their religious heritage even though they did not live according to the values of that heritage. They failed to see that the historical process would bring divine judgment upon them if they did not repent. So they rejected Jesus and His spiritual ways. They continued to play power politics with the Romans and with revolutionaries. And within a generation, Jerusalem was destroyed.

This historical reality speaks of dynamics that still apply. All too often Christian people and church leaders have been like the people of Jerusalem and the Temple leaders. In modern America, some people have a false sense of security because we have a great religious and moral heritage. But a great heritage demands an appropriate response. We must truly know the things that make for peace. We must live by the values of our Christian heritage- values that respect God, life and morality-, and if we do not live by these values, then the processes of nature and history bring judgment upon our society.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Ninth Sunday after Trinity

The Gospel from St. Luke 15:11-32 is well known. In fact, it might be so well known that we overlook its depth of meaning. This passage has often been called "the parable of the prodigal son," and the wasteful son surely is an important character. He is an example of all of us who abuse our birthright, run away from God, eventually come to our senses and return to our heavenly Father in repentance.
The other son is also an important example. He seems to be mature, dutiful and disciplined, but as some commentators or preachers have rightly pointed out, he is also self-righteous and needs to repent in a different way. No doubt, we can sometimes see ourselves in this example as well. Even the most dutiful of God's children still has reason to repent.

Yet, although both sons are important and although we should examine our lives with reference to their examples, the key character in the parable is the forgiving father. It is the Father who exemplifies the qualities of God the Father. He cares for both sons. He respects their freedom and allows them to develop in their individual ways. He gives them guidance and sustenance, and He is saddened when they misunderstand Him, make mistakes and drift away from Him in their different ways. Nevertheless, His love endures and is ready to express itself when one of His children repents and returns in humility. In His graciousness, He is ready to rejoice and have a feast when the penitent returns. We all have such a loving, gracious and forgiving Father; let us arise and go to Him.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Eighth Sunday after Trinity

The Gospel for this Sunday (St. Matthew 7:15-21) is from the Sermon on the Mount. In it, Christ warns about a serious danger for the faithful: hypocritical leaders. Of course, any kind of deception can have dangers, but deceptive religious leaders endanger souls in unique and subtle ways. False prophets look good at first glance, but given the opportunity, they can devour the very souls of their followers. Despite initial appearances, these leaders do not bear good fruit. They may profess religion, but they do not do God's will.

There have been many examples of such false prophets throughout history. In Old Testament times, various priests and prophets promoted false religion. Some urged the Israelites to blend with the practices of their pagan neighbors; others promised that all would be well for Israel or Judah no matter what their moral condition. In New Testament, there was also much false religion. The official Judean religious establishment compromised their standards but claimed that all would be well as long as they cooperated with the Roman Empire. At the other extreme, militant prophets and pseudo-messiahs claimed that all would be well as long as people accepted their leadership for rebellion against Rome.

Similar tendencies have continued through the centuries of Christianity. Both establishment and anti-establishment religious leaders have promoted themselves while devouring Christ's flock in various ways. The same continues in our time. For example, there are liberal Christian leaders who can put on impressive displays while they ignore or oppose Biblical standards. There are various conservative leaders who indulge themselves and do not even try to practice what they preach. There are various religious extremists who invent new beliefs to gain followers that they lead into disappointment or even despair.

So the danger of false prophets is still with us. This means that we must beware. We can not expect human leaders to be perfect, but we must look at their fruits. These fruits include spiritual, doctrinal and moral aspects. Religious leaders who truly follow Christ are not necessarily those who have great titles or make loud claims. They are those who bear Christ-like fruits.

Saturday, August 06, 2011

Seventh Sunday after Trinity

The Gospel for the Seventh Sunday after Trinity is from St. Mark 8:1-9. This is one of several gospel accounts of feeding the multitudes (there are two similar accounts in St. Mark). Christ notes His compassion toward the physical hunger of crowds (8:2). Later in the same chapter (8:14-21), our Lord also points out that He is also concerned about spiritual hunger.
Furthermore, in the context of St. Mark chapters 7 and 8, this particular feeding seems to be set in the Decapolis, a Gentile area near Galilee. So there is an implication that despite an emphasis on the lost sheep of Israel, Christ's compassion extends even to Israel's traditional enemies.

These facts about the episode of Christ feeding the 4000 include three points that still apply to the mission of the Church. 1) Like our Lord, we should manifest compassion to the physical needs of human beings. 2) This compassion for physical needs also has spiritual dimensions; it applies even more to spiritual needs. 3) The concern for both physical and spiritual needs is universal. That is, compassion extends to all people. Although compassion must naturally be expressed in our ordinary human contacts, it must extend to anyone that we meet who has a physical or spiritual need.

Friday, August 05, 2011

Transfiguration of Christ- 6 August

This day commemorates an important and mysterious event from the Gospels (e.g. , St. Luke 9:28-36). Strangely enough, however, the feast of the Transfiguration has not always received very much emphasis. In the Eastern church, the observance goes back to the fourth century, but it did not spread in the Western church before the ninth century. It did not become a universal feast of the Latin church until 1457. In the English Church, the feast was removed in 1549 and was restored as a "Black Letter Day" in 1561. In the American Book of Common Prayer, the Transfiguration was restored with liturgical propers in 1892.

In the Gospels, our Lord takes Peter, John and James up onto a mountain where He has a shining appearance during prayer. Moses and Elijah appear and converse with Jesus, and a divine voice proclaims, "This is my beloved Son, hear him."

This event says three things about Jesus: 1) the Law and the Prophets witness to Him as He continues their work, 2) His work involves dying at Jerusalem and 3) He is the unique, glorious and beloved Son of the heavenly Father.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Sixth Sunday after Trinity

The Gospel from St. Matthew 5:20-26 may be viewed as an explanation of an earlier verse. In St. Matthew 5:17, Jesus says: Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. These words of our Lord proclaim the enduring value of the old covenant. Christ does not destroy the Old Testament; He fulfills it. He fulfills it by obeying it perfectly and by applying it in a deeper way. Our passage for this Sunday indicates how this is true with the command not to murder. The command still stands, but people need to be aware that more than physical murder is implied. Deliberate humiliation of another or anything that destroys the value of another human life is also contrary to the commandment.

Unfortunately, from New Testament times onward, some professed Christians have not respected the true value of the Hebrew covenant. That was true at the time of the Reformation, and thus, Anglican Article of Religion VII was put forth to defend the value of the Old Testament.

VII. Of the Old Testament.
The Old Testament is not contrary to the New: for both in the Old and New Testament everlasting life is offered to Mankind by Christ, who is the only Mediator between God and Man, being both God and Man. Wherefore they are not to be heard, which feign that the old Fathers did look only for transitory promises. Although the Law given from God by Moses, as touching Ceremonies and Rites, do not bind Christian men, nor the Civil precepts thereof ought of necessity to be received in any commonwealth; yet notwithstanding, no Christian man whatsoever is free from the obedience of the Commandments which are called Moral.

In the way that they have been deepened by Christ, the spiritual and moral implications of the Hebrew covenant are still a guide for Christians. We live in an age of relativism, antinomianism and revisionism. Some so-called Christians deliberately reject eternal moral principles, and even some sincere believers fail to appreciate the value of the Old Testament. Today's Gospel is a reminder that Christ does not destroy the Law and the Prophets. Christians are not bound by the minute details of Hebrew jurisprudence and ceremonial, but the spiritual and moral principles revealed by God in the Old Testament apply throughout human history. They apply in our lives.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

St. James the Apostle- 25 July

James the Apostle was the elder brother of the Apostle John and is sometimes called James the Greater. James is a British form of the common biblical name Jacob or "Iakobos." This James was among the first followers of Jesus (St. Matthew 4:21); he was also part of the inner group of disciples present at the Transfiguration (St. Matthew 17:1) and near Christ in Gethsemene (St. Matthew 26:37). He was among the Eleven Apostles who encountered the risen Christ, and he is mentioned in the list of those present after the Ascension (Acts 1:13). Although at one point James had hoped for earthly honors (St. Matthew 20:20-23), he was the first of the Twelve to suffer martyrdom for the Gospel (Acts 12:2).

The Collect:
Grant, O merciful God, that, as thine holy Apostle Saint James, leaving his father and all that he had, without delay was obedient unto the calling of thy Son Jesus Christ, and followed him; so we, forsaking all worldly and carnal affections, may be evermore ready to follow thy holy commandments; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Fifth Sunday after Trinity

The Gospel from St. Luke 5:1-11 elaborates on Christ's call of the Galilean fishermen, Simon Peter in particular. After teaching the crowds from Simon's ship, Jesus tells the reluctant Simon where to find fish. Simon is then so amazed by the miraculous "draught of fishes" that he becomes fearful. He realizes that Jesus embodies a powerful holy presence, and this causes Simon to recognize his own human sinfulness. "Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord" (St. Luke 5:8). Our Lord is not put off by such professions of unworthiness. He tells Simon that he will become a new kind of fisherman; he will catch men (5:10). Whereupon Simon and his companions James and John leave their ships to follow Jesus (5:11).

Of course, this Gospel tells of a unique historical event. It tells us about Peter, along with James and John, recognizing the divine power at work in Jesus. These fishermen have a deep awareness of their own unworthiness, but they also hear and accept Christ's call to follow Him in His mission and ministry.

Although we are in much different historical and personal situations, the same dynamic can be applied to our encounters with Jesus Christ. First, we must recognize the holy power that has worked and is working through Christ. As we do so, we become more aware of our human sinfulness and unworthiness. It is appropriate for human beings to be somewhat fearful before God as we recognize our failings. Yet such reverence does not mean that we are to retreat or do nothing. So secondly, even as we become more aware of our own unworthiness, we hear Christ calling us to service. In whatever way He chooses to use us, we are asked to help bring other people to Him. Thirdly, as we hear His call, we must respond. Whenever we encounter Him and hear Him, we can not ignore Him. Sometimes we might remain in the same external surroundings, and sometimes we may have to move on to another place. In either case, in our hearts, minds and souls, we must make a break. We must forsake some aspects of our previous life in order to follow and assist in His work in this world.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

St. Mary Magdalene- 22 July

St. Mary Magdalene is a biblical saint who has sometimes been neglected while at other times she has been the subject of extravagant and even heretical legends and literature. The New Testament evidence that is clearly about her is simple but important. She was one of several women named Mary (Maria, Maryam or Miriam). Christ healed her from demonic afflictions (St. Luke 8:2), she became a loyal supporter (St. Luke 8:3), was present at the Crucifixion (St. Mark 15:40), was one of the first witnesses at the empty tomb (St. Mark 16:1; St. Matthew 28:1; St. John 20:1-2) and was the first witness who encountered the risen Lord (St. John 20:11-18).

Anything else about her is legendary or speculative. Second or third century Gnostic accounts and early medieval French legends are very unlikely, unbelievable and based on various ulterior motives. The Eastern Orthodox tradition that Mary Magdalene eventually accompanied the Apostle John and the Virgin Mary to Ephesus is plausible but lacks early written documentation.

Although not in the 1662 Book of Common Prayer or the 1928 American version, the 1549 Book of Common Prayer includes this feast, as does the Scottish Prayer Book of 1637. The 1962 Canadian Book includes an excellent collect and gospel that refer to her importance in the Scriptures.


O Almighty God, whose blessed Son did sanctify Mary Magdalene, and call her to be a witness to his resurrection: Mercifully grant that by thy grace we may be healed of all our infirmities, and always serve thee in the power of his endless life; who with thee and the Holy Spirit liveth and reigneth, one God, world without end. Amen.

THE GOSPEL: St John 20. 11.

Mary stood without at the sepulchre weeping: and as she wept, she stooped down, and looked into the sepulchre, and seeth two angels in white sitting, the one at the head, and the other at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain. And they say unto her, Woman, why weepest thou? She saith unto them, Because they have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid him. And when she had thus said, she turned herself back, and saw Jesus standing, and knew not that it was Jesus. Jesus saith unto her, Woman, why weepest thou? whom seekest thou? She, supposing him to be the gardener, saith unto him, Sir, if thou have borne him hence, tell me where thou hast laid him, and I will take him away. Jesus saith unto her, Mary. She turned herself, and saith unto him, Rabboni; which is to say, Master. Jesus saith unto her, Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God. Mary Magdalene came and told the disciples that she had seen the Lord, and that he had spoken these things unto her.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Fourth Sunday after Trinity

The Gospel for this Sunday is from St. Luke 6:36-42. These verses are from a section of the Gospel that is sometimes called the Sermon on the Plain, St. Luke's parallel to the Sermon on the Mount. In these verses, our Lord speaks about being merciful, about not being judgmental toward other people and about forgiving others. Such virtues are central elements of living a Christ-like life, yet they do not come easily to most of us most of the time. They must be deliberately pursued, cultivated and empowered by the grace of God. And even when people pursue these virtues, we do not always pursue them wisely. Especially in our day and age, human beings spout a lot of nonsense about not judging. Some people seem to think that Christians can not even rebuke sin since diagnosing sin is a kind of practical judgment.

In reality, human life is impossible without certain kinds of practical judgments. Each day, we must make some judgments about people and about moral behavior. Survival would be impossible if we did not make certain judgments. Trusting the wrong people in the wrong circumstances can be dangerous and even fatal. Trusting the right people in the right circumstances is not only useful but is also part of loving family and friends. And sometimes, warning others to avoid sin or repent of their sins is actually an expression of mercy. In the Gospels, Christ encourages us to be wise and to watch out for wolves in sheep's clothing. He also calls upon His followers to rebuke sin and preach repentance.

So Christ's warning about not judging others must be interpreted in a reasonable manner. What does our Lord mean by "judge not"? In this sense, not judging means that we recognize the limits of our human competence. Some judgments concerning other people are often necessary, but they are always tentative and partial; they are never infallible. Even when we try to be perceptive, we can only look at externals. We do not ultimately judge souls; we make decisions about behavior. And even in such decisions, we must always humbly recognize our tendencies to be hypocritical. That is, as fallen human beings, we are likely to condemn others for faults that we also have- maybe we even have some faults in greater proportions than our brothers and sisters.

In conclusion, being merciful, not being judgmental and forgiving others are central virtues in a Christian life. Applying these virtues does not mean moral indifference or having low standards. On the contrary, living by these virtues means embodying high standards and having high expectations for ourselves and others. At the same time that we promote high standards, however, we humbly acknowledge our human weakness and the need that we and others have for divine mercy and grace.

Saturday, July 09, 2011

Third Sunday after Trinity

The Gospel from St. Luke 15:1- 10 illustrates the importance of grace and repentance by two brief parables: the lost sheep and the lost coin. Human beings are generally concerned about what they lose. Thus, a shepherd who loses one sheep out of a hundred and a housewife who loses one coin out of ten look hard in order to recover whatever has been lost. And when they do recover the lost item, they rejoice greatly. The parables present the divine attitude toward sinners as being similar. Our heavenly Lord is concerned over the loss of any soul, no matter how insignificant that person might seem to the world. He keeps searching for the lost, and He rejoices over every soul recovered.

These parables apply to us in two ways. First, we all belong to God, and we have been, may still be or may be at some future point among the lost that God seeks to recover. Each of us has great value to God, and He seeks us out. If we are among the faithful, then we have benefitted from God's amazing grace, and we should remain grateful that we "once were lost but now are found." If not yet among the faithful, we should be aware of and appreciate God's desire to recover us. Secondly, the parables apply to us as Christians in our mission to be instruments of God's work in the world. We should share a desire to recover all the lost and return them to God, their rightful owner. Joining in God's search for the lost is one of the great privileges and duties of the Christian life.

Friday, July 01, 2011

Second Sunday after Trinity

The Gospel from the St. Luke 14:16-24 is one of several parables about the Messianic feast or banquet. The host invited many people and prepared a great meal, but when it was time for the party, the invitees started coming up with excuses. Their excuses were not implausible; they reflected important things that can come up in life. However, central points are that those first invited did not appreciate what they were offered and that they did not respect their host. The parable warns that people with such priorities will be excluded and that the host will have his servants go out into the streets to invite all sorts of people to the feast.

Of course, we can look at this parable in terms of the New Testament period where we see two distinct applications. 1) The first invitees can be seen as the observant Jews of various perspectives who did not accept Jesus while many less reputable Jews responded to His ministry. 2) The first invitees can be seen as the majority of the Jewish people who did not recognize Jesus as the Messiah while many Gentiles accepted Him and His Gospel and streamed into the Church.

A similar dynamic can be seen throughout church history. There is a tendency for many people with good religious backgrounds to fail to appreciate what God offers in Christ and to make excuses while many people of less desirable backgrounds are moved to come into the Church and enjoy the spiritual feast. In our time more than ever, some people from respectable Christian backgrounds do not appreciate what they are offered while some people who have pagan or secular backgrounds respond to the Gospel with an active faith and commitment.

Regardless of our personal backgrounds, we all need to consider God's invitation. Our Lord offers us the great feast of living in His presence forever. We must not take His offer for granted; we must not allow other things in life- no matter how legitimate those things may be in themselves- to distract us from what God offers. As in our parable, work and family can be laudable pursuits, but they are not more important than God's invitation to come to Him and enjoy His spiritual fellowship. Among all the things that are part of life, there are many that are good, but God's call must always be our first priority.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Saint Peter the Apostle- 29 June

29 June is one of the oldest saints' days on the Christian calendar. In 258 A.D. , the Church at Rome set aside this day to honor Saint Peter and Saint Paul. In the Middle Ages, the two saints were honored separately on several different days. At the time of the English Reformation, the Book of Common Prayer simplified the calendar; it kept 29 June to honor St. Peter and 25 January to honor St. Paul.

Throughout the New Testament, we are reminded of the importance of Simon Peter. Although he has obvious human weaknesses, he is a leader who often speaks for the whole band of apostles. Such is the case in today's Gospel from St. Matthew 16:13-19. The most important thing about St. Peter is not some personality trait or human accomplishment. In the New Testament, he is never some authoritarian human ruler of Christ's Church. He is most important because of his witness to the common faith which unites all faithful disciples. The authority that he is granted comes from his confession in St. Matthew 16:16, "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God."

Such is the faith that all of us, no matter what our roles in the Church, must profess and live. Like Peter, we all have our human foibles and our moments of weakness. Like him, we are also called to have faith in Jesus as the Christ and follow Him wherever it leads us.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

First Sunday after Trinity

The Gospel for this Sunday from St. Luke 16:19-31 is the interesting parable of the rich man and the beggar Lazarus. The rich man (in some church traditions called "Dives" from the Latin word for "wealthy") indulged himself, ignored the misery of the beggar at his gate and assumed that all was well until he ended up dead and in torment. The poor beggar lived humbly and ended up in paradise. The rich man wanted relief and also hoped that the beggar could go back to warn his brothers. However, he was told that this was impossible, and that his brothers would have to heed the guidance already present through the Moses and the prophets.

This parable is a stern warning to all those who refuse to be spiritually and morally sensitive. God's expectations about how to live are clear for any who pay attention. There have been many great prophets and teachers through the centuries who have proclaimed divine standards. If human beings do not close their eyes and harden their hearts, they have some general awareness about how to live and how to treat their neighbors. People are responsible for the ways they respond to the moral and spiritual standards that are generally available. And if they refuse to be sensitive in these matters, people are choosing their destinies.

Of course, the problem of our fallen human condition is that each of us has times when we are spiritually and morally insensitive. To some people in some situations, each of us fails to express divine love as we should. We constantly need to have our sensitivity renewed, and we constantly need greater wisdom in expressing the sensitivity we do have. May God's grace, which is always available in this world, open our hearts and help us to live as our Lord has shown us.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Saint John Baptist-24 June

This saint's day has important historical associations for a number of locations in the Caribbean and North America. Hence we have San Juan, Puerto Rico, St. Johns, Newfoundland and the provincial holiday of Quebec. And of course, this feast is six months before Christmas Eve, a deliberate development in the church calendar. The Gospel from St. Luke 1 is about the birth, name of John and Zacharias' hymn the Benedictus.

The meaning of the Gospel is nicely summarized in Cranmer's 1549 collect:

ALMIGHTY God, by whose providence thy servant John Baptist was wonderfully born, and sent to prepare the way of thy Son our Saviour by preaching repentance; Make us so to follow his doctrine and holy life, that we may truly repent according to his preaching; and after his example constantly speak the truth, boldly rebuke vice, and patiently suffer for the truth's sake; through the same thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

On this day, we recall a great example of holiness, honesty and courage. Yet, there is more to the commemoration. It is more than a saint's day: it is also a reminder of the Gospel of Christ's Incarnation. John is impressive among men, but he is more important as the forerunner of Christ.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Trinity Sunday

Among the great feast days of the Church, Trinity Sunday is rather new. As a general feast in the Western liturgy, it dates from a papal decree in 1334. The origins of the feast can be traced back to the 900's in what is now Belgium, and the observance became widespread in northwest Europe. As Archbishop of Canterbury, St. Thomas à Becket required the commemoration throughout England. In the medieval English liturgical traditions of Sarum (Salisbury), this Sunday was so important that it gave it's name to the remaining half of the church year. This Sarum practice is the origin of the naming of Sundays after Trinity in traditional Books of Common Prayer.

Certainly, the Christian doctrine of the Trinity goes back to many passages in the Scriptures and is expressed in the decrees of the Ecumenical Councils. It is the first of the Anglican Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion:
I. Of Faith in the Holy Trinity. There is but one living and true God, everlasting, without body, parts, or passions; of infinite power, wisdom, and goodness; the Maker, and Preserver of all things both visible and invisible. And in unity of this Godhead there be three Persons, of one substance, power, and eternity; the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.

Anglicans have also affirmed the Trinity on a regular basis through the Apostles' and Nicene Creeds. In traditional Books of Common Prayer, except the American, Anglicans also affirm the so-called Athanasian Creed or Quicunque vult:

Whosoever will be saved: before all things it is necessary that he hold the Catholick Faith.
Which Faith except every one do keep whole and undefiled: without doubt he shall perish everlastingly.

And the Catholick Faith is this: That we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity;
Neither confounding the Persons: nor dividing the Substance.
For there is one Person of the Father, another of the Son: and another of the Holy Ghost.
But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, is all one: the Glory equal, the Majesty co-eternal.

Such as the Father is, such is the Son: and such is the Holy Ghost.
The Father uncreate, the Son uncreate: and the Holy Ghost uncreate.
The Father incomprehensible, the Son incomprehensible: and the Holy Ghost incomprehensible.
The Father eternal, the Son eternal: and the Holy Ghost eternal.
And yet they are not three eternals: but one eternal.

As also there are not three incomprehensibles, nor three uncreated: but one uncreated, and one incomprehensible.
So likewise the Father is Almighty, the Son Almighty: and the Holy Ghost Almighty.
And yet they are not three Almighties: but one Almighty.

So the Father is God, the Son is God: and the Holy Ghost is God.
And yet they are not three Gods: but one God.
So likewise the Father is Lord, the Son Lord: and the Holy Ghost Lord.
And yet not three Lords: but one Lord.

For like as we are compelled by the Christian verity: to acknowledge every Person by himself to be God and Lord;
So are we forbidden by the Catholick Religion: to say there be three Gods, or three Lords.

The Father is made of none: neither created, nor begotten.
The Son is of the Father alone: not made, nor created, but begotten.
The Holy Ghost is of the Father and of the Son: neither made, nor created, nor begotten, but proceeding.

So there is one Father, not three Fathers; one Son, not three Sons: one Holy Ghost, not three Holy Ghosts.
And in this Trinity none is afore, or after other: none is greater, or less than another;
But the whole three Persons are co-eternal together: and co-equal.
So that in all things, as is aforesaid: the Unity in Trinity, and the Trinity in Unity is to be worshipped.

He therefore that will be saved: must thus think of the Trinity.
Furthermore it is necessary to everlasting salvation: that he also believe rightly the Incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ.
For the right Faith is that we believe and confess: that our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is God and Man;
God, of the Substance of the Father, begotten before the worlds: and Man, of the Substance of his Mother, born in the world;
Perfect God, and Perfect Man: of a reasonable soul and human flesh subsisting;
Equal to the Father, as touching his Godhead: and inferior to the Father, as touching his Manhood.
Who although he be God and Man: yet he is not two, but one Christ;
One, not by conversion of the Godhead into flesh: but by taking of the Manhood into God;
One altogether, not by confusion of Substance: but by unity of Person.
For as the reasonable soul and flesh is one man: so God and Man is one Christ.
Who suffered for our salvation: descended into hell, rose again the third day from the dead.
He ascended into heaven, he sitteth on the right hand of the Father, God Almighty: from whence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.
At whose coming all men shall rise again with their bodies: and shall give account for their own works.
And they that have done good shall go into life everlasting: and they that have done evil into everlasting fire.

This is the Catholick Faith: which except a man believe faithfully, he cannot be saved.

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son: and to the Holy Ghost;
As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be: world without end. Amen.

Such creedal affirmations are very important. They deserve more attention in our Christian instruction and devotion. They are safeguards against much of the shallow theology that tends to permeate contemporary religious bodies.

At first glance, the Gospel from St. John 3:1-15 does not seem closely related to high theological reflections on the theme of the Trinity. There are other passages of Scripture that can provide a more obvious basis for theology, but meditation upon the theme of being born again does have Trinitarian associations. And for most Christians, a practical devotional approach to the doctrine of the Trinity is usually more meaningful than theological abstractions, no matter how true or profound.
So in St. John 3, we can see the mystery of the Trinity at work in the context of personal salvation. Those who of us are born again through Christian Baptism and Faith are adopted as children of God the heavenly Father. We look to Jesus the only begotten Son of God as the source of new and eternal life. And God the Holy Spirit grafts us into the Body of Christ, enables us to call God "Father" and continually gives us new life.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Ember Days after Pentecost

The Wednesday, Friday and Saturday in Whitsun or Pentecost Week are Ember Days. These days occurring four times a year are devoted to prayers for the increase of the church's ministry. After Pentecost, such prayers can have a special focus on the role of the Spirit in calling and equipping the ministry. The first Pentecost empowered the body of disciples, especially the Apostles, to proclaim Christ's Gospel to the world. Likewise, we continue to pray that the Holy Spirit will call and inspire candidates for the ordained ministry and continue to bless the work of those who are already ordained.

The Collect for the Ember Days from the 1928 American Book of Common Prayer is especially appropriate for this week:
O ALMIGHTY God, who hast committed to the hands of men the ministry of reconciliation; We humbly beseech thee, by the inspiration of thy Holy Spirit, to put it into the hearts of many to offer themselves for this ministry; that thereby mankind may be drawn to thy blessed kingdom; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Pentecost, commonly called Whitsunday

This Sunday is one of the oldest Christian celebrations. Indeed, it is rooted in the first-century Jewish calendar where the Greek word Pentecost (meaning "fifty") was applied to the Feast of Weeks. This feast, held seven weeks after Passover, had associations with the spring grain harvest and with the giving of the Law. This Jewish feast is the background for the Epistle from the Acts of the Apostles 2:1-11.

The disciples were gathered in Jerusalem for the feast as they awaited Christ's promised Comforter. In this Christian context, Pentecost received a new meaning when the Holy Spirit came down upon the early disciples in a new and powerful way. They proclaimed the Gospel of Jesus Christ in various languages to Jews gathered from across the world. This key event has often been called "the birthday of the Church."

As we think about Acts 2, it provides a guide for our understanding of the coming of the Holy Ghost. While the divine Spirit does work in many and diverse ways, the emphasis in Acts is upon His work through the community of disciples led by the apostles; that is, the emphasis is upon the Spirit's work in the Church. The central gift of the Holy Spirit is to transform a group of ordinary, provincial and somewhat timid individuals into a bold community of faith with a mission to the whole world. Although they had witnessed and believed in Christ's Resurrection and Ascension, the disciples needed to receive the power of the Spirit from on high. And once that happened, they could no longer keep quiet about the Faith.

As Pentecost is a recurring feast, so is the work of the Holy Spirit on and through the Church. Our individual spiritual experiences can have their importance, but the central issue is the work of the Spirit in the whole Christian community. Christ's does not promise the Comforter just to make individual believers feel good; the Spirit comes primarily to strengthen the disciples as the Body of Christ who continue the proclamation of the Gospel in the world. As we seek spiritual blessings, let us renew our dedication to that mission of Christian proclamation and witness.

Saturday, June 04, 2011

Sunday after Ascension

The Ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ is an important and much neglected Christian feast and a basic Scriptural and Creedal doctrine. Each time that I meditate upon it, I find some new way in which it relates to the broader Christian message. This time, I am struck by the opening words of this Sunday's Gospel from St. John 15:26-27a:
When the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me: and ye also shall bear witness...

Christ's Ascension prepares the way for Pentecost. The risen Lord's physical departure from ordinary earthly contact with His followers allows the Comforter, the Spirit of truth, to come in a new and more powerful way. Note the Trinitarian theme: the Spirit proceeds from God the Father and testifies of the Son. This is a beautiful summary of the Christian perspective on revelation and redemption.

Yet, this sublime truth is not all; the message of the Ascension is not just abstract and heavenly. There is also a specific implication about the way Christ's followers are to live in the world. Our Lord tells His disciples that they shall bear witness. If we who follow Christ know something of heavenly truth, we are not to hide it. We are to share it in word and deed. Yes, Christ's Resurrection, His Ascension and the Descent of the Holy Ghost are great events in salvation history. But we are not merely to bask in glorious reflection. We are called to active mission in the world.

Thursday, June 02, 2011

Ascension Day

The Collect
GRANT, we beseech thee, Almighty God, that like as we do believe thy only-begotten Son our Lord Jesus Christ to have ascended into the heavens; so we may also in heart and mind thither ascend, and with him continually dwell, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, one God, world without end. Amen

I do not yet have a new comment for Ascension Day, but here is the link to the one from last year:

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Fifth Sunday after Easter, commonly called Rogation Sunday

One historic name for the the Fifth Sunday after Easter is Rogation Sunday, and the Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday of this week have also long been known as Rogation Days. The term rogation comes from the Latin verb rogo,rogare. This is one verb for praying, and its future is used in the Latin version of St. John 16:26.

Rogation Days date to the sixth century at Rome where Christian prayers for crops were appointed. Early processional litanies were associated with this observance, and other prayers of supplication were included during times of disaster. At the time of the English Reformation, the Rogation Days continued to be occasions for the Litany (modified and first published by Cranmer in 1544).

English Books of Common Prayer from 1549 onwards continued to include the Litany petition "that it may please thee to give and preserve to our use the kindly fruits of the earth so as in due time we may enjoy them." There were also other prayers related to nature and weather. From the time of the Royal Injunctions of Queen Elizabeth I, Rogation observances have continued, and some English dioceses have developed their own authorized devotions. In 1689, the Commissioners of the C of E published an alternative collect for Rogation Sunday, and since 1892, the American BCP has incorporated this collect in the section of prayers and thanksgivings.

For Fruitful Seasons.To be used on Rogation Sunday and the Rogation Days:
ALMIGHTY God, who hast blessed the earth that it should be fruitful and bring forth whatsoever is needful for the life of man, and hast commanded us to work with quietness, and eat our own bread; Bless the labours of the husbandman, and grant such seasonable weather that we may gather in the fruits of the earth, and ever rejoice in thy goodness, to the praise of thy holy Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Fourth Sunday after Easter

The Gospel from St. John 16:5-15 is another selection from the Farewell Discourses where our Lord prepares the disciples for His physical absence from them. Let us focus on these words which begin at verse 13: Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come. He shall glorify me: for he shall receive of mine, and shall shew it unto you. All things that the Father hath are mine: therefore said I, that he shall take of mine, and shall shew it unto you.

These words stress the necessity of the work of the Comforter or Holy Spirit. Christ's disciples always need guidance, and Jesus promises that the Spirit of Truth will guide them into all truth. However, this truth is not some isolated or esoteric knowledge. New applications of divine truth flow naturally from what has already been revealed.

In our passage, we see two clear characteristics of the work of the Holy Spirit and the truth which He presents. First, the work of the Holy Spirit remains Christocentric. That means that the Spirit guides believers into Christ's truth, into Christ's teachings and style of life. Anything that is really inspired by the Spirit is consistent with the message of the incarnate Lord Jesus. Secondly, like all redemptive activity, the work of the Holy Spirit is Trinitarian. God the Father is the source of truth. He has shared this with the Son, and the Spirit will continue to proclaim and apply this divine truth. These two characteristics mean that there is continuity in divine revelation and in the application of saving grace to the faithful throughout the generations. The risen Lord, the eternal Son of the Father, is still working among us and guiding us by His Spirit.

(For a different approach to today's Gospel, consult last year's post:

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Third Sunday after Easter

The Gospel for the Third Sunday after Easter (St. John 16:16-22) is the first in a series of selections taken from the "Farewell Discourses" of Christ. St. John sets these discourses during Holy Week, but the words of Christ in these selections have multiple applications. The mention of not seeing Jesus for "a little while" can apply to both His Crucifixion and Death and to His Ascension. The statements about seeing Jesus again can apply apply to His Resurrection, His continuing spiritual presence among the faithful and to His Second Coming in glory.

A major theme in today's selection is expressed as follows: ye shall be sorrowful, but your sorrow shall be turned into joy (St. John 16: 20b). These words can be applied in different ways, but they reflect a basic dynamic of the Christian life. The disciples were sorrowful because of Christ's Passion, but their sorrow was turned into joy at His Resurrection. The disciples would be somewhat sorrowful or at least anxious with the Ascension, but joy would come again with the descent of the Holy Spirit upon them. During the ups and downs of life in the world, there would be various times of trial and sorrow for the disciples. Yet, there would also be moments of rejoicing when they saw Christ again in a spiritual sense and anticipated fuller reunion with Him at the end of earthly history.

So indeed, sorrow being turned into joy is a summary of the Holy Week-Easter experience. This dynamic can be a commentary on our whole life as faithful believers. As St. John 16:22 says: And ye now therefore have sorrow: but I will see you again, and your heart shall rejoice, and your joy no man taketh from you. There are truly many sorrows of earthly life; the cross is always with us in a variety of ways. But the cross is transformed by the Resurrection. Christ lives and comes back to us again and again through Word, Sacrament and prayerful encounters. The sorrows of life in this world are repeatedly punctuated by moments of joyful resurrection and redemption. And despite times of sorrow, no one can take this joy away from those who are faithful to Christ.

Saturday, May 07, 2011

Second Sunday after Easter- Good Shepherd Sunday

This Sunday has often been called Good Shepherd Sunday because of the Gospel from St. John 10:11-16. This short selection is packed with meaning and can be approached in a number of ways. The key idea, as in much of St. John's Gospel, is the identity of Jesus Christ. Two times in these verses, Jesus says, I am the good shepherd ( St. John 10: 11 and 14). These are "I AM" sayings where Christ alludes to His divine nature (see Exodus 3:14). Indeed, throughout the Old Testament, the primary shepherd is the Lord God (for example, Psalm 23). This is a unique role; Christ is not just "a" good shepherd, but rather "the" good shepherd.

Some of the many things that being the good shepherd means are highlighted in our Gospel. Jesus says :the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep (10:11- and in slightly different words in 10:15). An ordinary conscientious shepherd would face danger for his sheep, but Christ the Good Shepherd does more. He offers Himself as a sacrifice for His flock. This is a reference to the unique redemptive work of Jesus through His Passion and Death. The overwhelming significance of His self-offering is further developed in the verses which follow today's Gospel. There our Lord points out that since He lays down His life voluntarily, He can also take His life up again (10:17-18). In other words, the Good Shepherd does more than die for His sheep. He also rises to life again and continues to care for His flock.

Christ the Good Shepherd is not like a hired hand who does not have sense of ownership. The hireling fleeth, because he is an hireling, and careth not for the sheep (10:13). Instead, Christ can affirm: I am the good shepherd and know my sheep, and am known of mine, even as the Father knoweth me, and I know the Father (10:14). The relationship between Christ and His flock is deeply personal and loving; it reflects the relationship between God the Father and His only begotten Son. There is a closeness and a deep knowledge of one another's nature. There is an abiding and profound commitment to each other's well-being.

This close relationship between Christ and His sheep has further implications for Christ's flock, that is to say, for His Church. Our Lord sums it up in these words, And other sheep I have... and there shall be one flock, and one shepherd (10:15). The close tie that the sheep have with their Good Shepherd means that they also have a close tie with each other. Even if they are scattered among different folds and have never met one another, they are still united because of their relationship with their shepherd. All true followers of Christ are related to each other. This is not their accomplishment; it is Christ's. Certainly, Christ's sheep may do better at cooperating with Him. Christians may do better or worse at expressing the reality of their unity in Christ. But the unity is an underlying reality based on their unity with Christ Himself.