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.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Holy Matrimony

With all the debates about marriage taking place in western societies, it seems useful to think of the traditional Christian perspective, especially Anglican views. Although Anglican teachings about marriage can be found many places, a short and beautiful summary is found in the minister's charge at the start of the marriage rite in the 1927/28 proposed English Book of Common Prayer. Here we have "the causes for which matrimony was ordained.

First, It was ordained for the increase of mankind according to the will of God, and that children might be brought up in the fear and nurture of the Lord, and to the praise of his holy name.

Secondly, It was ordained in order that the natural instincts and affections, implanted by God, should be hallowed and directed aright; that those who are not called of God to remain unmarried, but by him are led to this holy estate, should continue therein in pureness of living.

Thirdly, It was ordained for the mutual society, help, and comfort, that the one ought to have of the other, both in prosperity and adversity."

This summary of marriage is rooted in theological language. Notice phrases such as "according to the will of God," "natural instincts and affections," "implanted by God," and "called of God."  Marriage is not viewed as a mere social institution; it is a basic arrangement from creation rooted in the divine plan for human life.
The first basic purpose of marriage involves child-bearing and child-rearing. For a variety of reasons, every marriage may not fulfill this purpose, but it is involved in the majority of marriages.
The second purpose of marriage is expression of sexuality. Given human nature and history, any adult knows that sex often takes place outside marriage, but the ideal context for sexual expression both for the individual and for society is in a stable marriage.
Thirdly, marriage provides a special human social relationship. Many marriages obviously do not provide much help and comfort, and many people find degrees of help and comfort in other relationships with family or friends. Nevertheless, such supportive companionship is a goal for every marriage.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Seventh Sunday after Trinity

Because of computer issues, I was unable to work on a post before Sunday. My intention was to comment on the traditional Epistle from Romans 6: 19- 23:
I speak after the manner of men because of the infirmity of your flesh: for as ye have yielded your members servants to uncleanness and to iniquity unto iniquity; even so now yield your members servants to righteousness unto holiness. For when ye were the servants of sin, ye were free from righteousness. What fruit had ye then in those things whereof ye are now ashamed? for the end of those things is death. But now being made free from sin, and become servants to God, ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life. For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

This selection continues the theme of Christian freedom through the work and grace of our Lord. A key verse is Romans 6:23- "For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord." Although a famous verse, it does not seem to be cited very often these days. It runs counter to the permissiveness of the age. Many contemporaries do not believe that the cost of sin is eternal spiritual death. They have distorted divine mercy and forgiveness into an acceptance of sin. The Scriptures, including all those beautiful passages about grace and reconciliation, do not contradict God's holiness, righteousness and justice. Sin is serious, and it has destructive consequences in every human life. If we fail to face that reality and teach others to do the same, we not not being honest or merciful.
Instead, we must face the biblical truth about sin in order to appreciate the remedy that God has provided in His only Son Jesus Christ our Savior. Because of Christ, there is hope for deliverance from slavery to sin. This deliverance rooted in divine grace begins in this world as we are united with Christ through repentance, baptismal grace, and faith. We are freed from the domination of sin and given the grace to bear fruits of holiness. We remain weak and imperfect sinners in this world, but we can start to change and produce good fruit. This is a gift of God, and it points us to another gift of God- eternal life through Christ. Eternal life is not the same as immortality of the soul. In a sense, the soul remains immortal even in eternal death and separation from God. Rather, eternal life is life lived in fellowship with God through the grace of His Son. Eternal life begins in this world with a faithful response to grace, and it reaches its fullness in the world to come.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Sixth Sunday after Trinity

The traditional Epistle for the Sixth Sunday after Trinity is from Romans 6:3-11 . It says, Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection: knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin. For he that is dead is freed from sin. Now if we be dead with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him: knowing that Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more; death hath no more dominion over him. For in that he died, he died unto sin once: but in that he liveth, he liveth unto God. Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord.

This is a wonderfully rich passage from a chapter that emphasizes Christian freedom. There are Christological, sacramental, mystical, spiritual and moral implications. Since there are many themes in the passage, there are many possible approaches, but this time, I would focus on three points: Baptism, spirituality and morality.

1)  Christians acknowledge that the Apostle talks about the importance of Baptism, but many have failed to notice the emphasis upon the objective divine grace operative in Christian Baptism. There is more than mere symbolism in the Sacrament; there is divine power made available to those who accept it and respond to it. The Sacrament is a spiritual dying and rising again with Christ. It has a certain once in a lifetime character even though it may be renewed throughout life. Indeed, since even the just remain sinners in this life, Baptism must be renewed constantly through reflection, repentance, confession, re-commitment and re-affirmation of faith.

2) This spiritual dying and rising is made possible through divine grace, and divine grace can change lives- either immediately or over a period of time. Dying and rising with Christ starts as an interior or spiritual change. Ignoring this spiritual aspect of grace is a great danger, and it affects many practical-minded people. Those who are baptized are united with Christ. They are freed from the bondage to sin which characterizes all human beings. New spiritual life is implanted in their souls, and although sin remains, it no longer reigns. Even in moments of weakness when Christians fall away from baptismal grace, that grace is not totally extinguished. As long as there is life, there is hope that every baptized Christian will turn and allow God's grace in Christ to be revived to transform first their inner life and then their outer behavior.

3) This brings us to the issue of morality. As important as baptismal grace is in itself and as important as a spiritual transformation is, neither should be separated from moral fruits. In theory, the progression should be easy and natural, but in practice, the remnants of sin in believers and the fallenness of the surrounding world demand a conscious awareness and a deliberate response. All too often in the history of the Church and in the lives of individual believers, this need for moral effort has been ignored or abused. Some people seem to think that bearing fruit just happens without self-discipline while others have down-played the necessity of divine grace and spirituality. Romans 6:4  makes the connection clear. Because of what God has done in Christ and because we have been united with Christ in Baptism, "even so we also should walk in newness of life." The new life filled with moral fruits is not some hollow moralism; it is rooted in the Death and Resurrection of Christ and our spiritual union with Him. Only in such a spiritual context can morality have power and meaning. Through Christ's work and our union with Him, we have been set free for true life and goodness.

Friday, July 06, 2012

Fifth Sunday after Trinity

Personal note: Still taking some family time.

This week the traditional Epistle, like the one two weeks ago, is from 1 St. Peter. In 1 Peter 3:8-15a, there is an exhortation to embody Christian virtue amid the diffuculties and sufferings of earthly life. Trusting in God's grace enables believers to live in love, restraint, patience, peace, etc. with those inside and outside the church. A deep and true happiness based on faith is possible for believers even when they are suffering for the sake of righteousness.