Saturday, December 29, 2007
Our Gospel today from Saint Matthew completes the telling of the story of our Lord’s birth that was begun on Christmas Eve. Each of the stories that were told on Christmas Day emphasizes a different aspect of Jesus’ birth. The Gospel of Saint Luke tells us the story of the Nativity from the perspective of the world. The Blessed Virgin Mary gives birth in the stable and the Angels appear to shepherds, telling them to not be afraid and singing celestial melodies of “Glory to God in the Highest.” The Gospel of Saint John recounts a different story of the Incarnation, identifying Jesus as the Word and describing how the Word has existed with God from the very beginning and is indeed God. This passage culminates in the powerful sentence, “The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.” The Gospel of Saint John is the story of the cosmic battle between light and darkness, between good and evil, between God and the Devil. But the Gospel of Saint Matthew tells a different story, the story of a simple carpenter, Saint Joseph. Saint Joseph was a man much like us and in this short passage in which Saint Matthew describes the birth of Christ, the Evangelist tells us several facts about Saint Joseph that serve as models for us in our Christian life.
The first fact that the Gospel tells us is that Saint Joseph was a just man. Now justice is something that has a specific meaning for the Jew. A “just” man is a man who is faithful and absolutely obedient to the Law. As would have been the custom, Joseph would have been a man who had been circumcised according to the Law of Moses, educated in the Jewish scriptures, and faithful to his duty in the synagogue. A carpenter, Saint Joseph would have spent time as an apprentice before becoming a master of his trade and taking on apprentices himself. As an employer, a just man would have treated his apprentices with the same respect, firmness and fairness that a father would show to his sons. In short, to be a just man is to be a man who lives his life in conformity with the Law of God and that fairly describes Saint Joseph.
The second characteristic that the Bible tells us about Saint Joseph is that he was a merciful man. When Joseph learned that his fiancée Mary was pregnant, he was aware that it was his right under the Law to publicly humiliate her. In fact, the Law would have even allowed him to have her stoned to death. Mary’s pregnancy would have been shameful to Joseph because it would have meant that she had been unfaithful to him even before their marriage or that they had been unfaithful to the Law and customs of their faith. Either way would have been terribly shameful both for Joseph and for Mary. But what does the Bible tell us about Joseph? When faced with this horrible shame, he decides to divorce Mary quietly. He doesn’t wish to create a public spectacle in order to save his own reputation. Nor does he desire to have her punished under the Law as was his right. Rather, Saint Joseph understands the failings of human nature and he decides to show mercy and allow Mary a dignified way out of a difficult situation, a quiet divorce that would reduce her shame. Only a man who understood the mercy and forgiveness of God could have done such a thing and that fairly describes Saint Joseph.
The Gospel then goes on to tell us of a third characteristic of Saint Joseph: He was absolutely and unequivocally faithful to the commands of God. Lying his bed, faced with disappointment that he would not take Mary for his wife, he drifts into sleep. And in that sleep, an Angel appears to him in a dream. The Angel tells him, “Do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife. The child she is carrying is of the Holy Ghost. And she will bring forth a son, and you will call him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” And what does Joseph do? Does he question his senses? Does he say, as would only have been human, “I cannot allow myself to be subject to the humiliation and ridicule that would come from taking this woman as my wife”? Does he say, “What kind of foolishness is this? This dream is not from God, it is simply my own mind playing tricks on me,” much in the same way that Scrooge though Marley's visitation was the result of undigested meat. No, Joseph knows the Scriptures and he knows that God often speaks in dreams. And he understands what he must do: He must take this woman, Mary, to be his wife. He must raise this child, Jesus, as his own, teaching him the lessons that only a Father can teach; nurturing this child in the Law that has sustained him; and protecting Jesus from all that would harm him. Only a man who was absolutely faithful to God could place the command of an Angel in a dream before his own needs and reputation and that fairly describes Saint Joseph.
As we gather here on this First Sunday after Christmas and we hear the story of Saint Joseph, we realize that Saint Joseph is a model for us and a challenge to us at the same time. Joseph was a just man who lived in obedience to God’s Law. Does a commitment to the Law of God fairly describe us? Saint Joseph was a merciful man who placed his concern for others before his own reputation. Does a commitment to the mercy of God fairly describe us? Joseph was absolutely faithful without reservation to what God asked him to do. Does that type of fidelity to God fairly describe us? Every year the Christmas season presents us with the story of our Lord’s Nativity from a variety of perspectives, but only on this, the First Sunday after Christmas Day, do we encounter a man, much like us, who is called by God and asked to do a remarkable thing. On this day, we are given the example of Saint Joseph, a man of justice, mercy, and fidelity. Let us ask Saint Joseph to intercede for us with the Father, so that the values which characterized his life may live in us as well both in this Christmas season and for evermore.
Monday, December 24, 2007
Monday, December 17, 2007
Here, sadly, is the link:
Saturday, December 15, 2007
At that time: Now when John had heard in the prison the works of Christ, he sent two of his disciples, and said unto him, Art thou he that should come, or do we look for another? Jesus answered and said unto them, Go and shew John again those things which ye do hear and see: the blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them. And blessed is he, whosoever shall not be offended in me. And as they departed, Jesus began to say unto the multitudes concerning John, What went ye out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken with the wind? But what went ye out for to see? A man clothed in soft raiment? behold, they that wear soft clothing are in kings' houses. But what went ye out for to see? A prophet? yea, I say unto you, and more than a prophet. For this is he, of whom it is written, Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee.
To a large extent, Advent is a season of promise and a season of hope. Our preparation for Christmas, when we remember the birth of Christ as man, is also a preparation for the fulfillment of the promise that Christ will come again in power and glory. There is much in our world that suggests otherwise. First of all, it’s been 2,000 years and Christ has yet to return. Second, the world itself can be a pretty grimy place, with war, disease and corruption seemingly everywhere. If there was ever a challenge for Christians, it is remaining hopeful and optimistic in the face of so much evidence which seems to lead, not to hope, but despair. It is this question of hope and despair that our Gospel addresses on this Third Sunday in Advent.
Our Gospel from Saint Matthew begins in a pretty hopeless place, King Herod’s dungeon. In the gloom of the prison sits St. John the Baptist, arrested at the whim of Herod. The Baptist is no fool and he knows that the odds are quite good that he will die in that jail, that he will die very soon, and that it will not be pleasant. In the depths of his prison cell, he sends two of his disciples to Jesus with a simple, but powerful, question: “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect another?” This question has puzzled scholars for some time and there are several different interpretations concerning John’s motive for asking the question and the nature of the question itself.
As to the motive, some scholars say that John only asked the question to help clarify Jesus’ mission in the minds of John’s disciples. After all, John was Jesus’ first cousin and other biblical narratives tell us that John even lept in the womb at the presence of Christ. So John obviously had no doubts either about Jesus’ messiahsip or what form Jesus’ messiahship would take. Therefore, the question had to be asked in order to help John’s disciples transfer their allegiance from John to Jesus.
Another explanation goes this way: John the Baptist was in the dungeon both physically and spiritually. He had dedicated his life to the proclamation of the coming of the Messiah. But what Messiah had he proclaimed? Most Jews, and the Baptist may have been no different, expected a Messiah to come who would be a political ruler, overthrowing the Romans and restoring the primacy of Israel. Was that the Messiah to come and, if so, what about Jesus? Didn’t John witness the sky open up at Jesus’ Baptism, didn’t he hear the voice, “This is my Son, my beloved. In whom I am well pleased. Listen to him.” Well, if those were the words of God and Jesus was indeed the Messiah, then John needed to know in the darkness of his prison cell whether or not his life had been a mistake, because Jesus did not seem to be living in a way that would bring him to the pinnacle of this world’s power. In asking the question, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to expect another,” John is placing himself squarely between hope and despair: The hope that Jesus was truly the one who is to come or the hard truth that he was not and that John’s life which would end soon with the executioner’s blade might have been lived for nothing.
So the disciples of John go to Jesus and they ask him the question: “Are you the one who is to come, or do we expect another?” And the Lord, who knows John’s pain and confusion, who knows that he lives on the edge of hope, tells them, “Go and tell John the things which you have heard and seen. Tell John that the blind have received their sight. Tell John that the lame are walking, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the Gospel, the Good News of God, preached to them.” And in that message, Jesus restores John’s hope. He tells John that his Lordship was not one that would find its center within the corridors of political power or at the front of mighty armies. Rather, Jesus’ Lordship was over the human heart. As the human heart is touched by Jesus, miraculous things begin to happen, life emerges from death, health from sickness, and what was once muddled is now clear. Jesus message that comforted the Baptist in his final hours was this: “I am the Lord and you, cousin John, have been my messenger. You have proclaimed my coming as the Messiah who came to suffer and to serve and in suffering and service, to win the souls of all men and women who live in their own darkness, their own dungeons of sin and death.”
Jesus’ message did not save John from the executioner, but it gave him the comfort of Christian hope. You know, hope is a funny thing and it’s a term that is often misunderstood, but for a Christian, it is an absolutely vital concept. Our hope is in the promise of Christ that if we will follow him, we will live with him forever. As we live our lives as Christians, this hope that comes from Christ actually becomes manifest itself in different ways. It can be observed by others in a variety of ways. In some cases the hope of Christ comes in the dramatic forms of physical healing, in others it takes the form of the resolution of estrangement. Sometimes, the evidence of Christian hope can be found in serendipitous coincidences, like the telephone call from the friend who said just what you needed to hear. But in each case, the evidence of Christian hope can be found in the fruits of the believer’s life. If a Christian truly has the hope of Christ, the evidence will be present in their life, because Jesus transforms the lives of all that he touches.
As we come to the midpoint of our Advent celebration, let’s pause and give thanks to God for the hope that he has given us in Jesus Christ. Let’s ask God to see the gift of his Son in the birth of a babe in Bethlehem. Let us pray, as Christmas approaches, that as God came to earth to dwell with us so many years ago, so he will come again in great glory to fulfill the hope that he has given us.
Friday, December 14, 2007
San Joaquin has left the Episcopal Church in order to align itself with a third-world Anglican province in order to remain in communion with Canterbury. Much of the initial response centered around the potential for lawsuits between the Diocese and the National Church. I thought another matter was of equal importance and submitted this post, which I have decided to share with you here.
Here's the link to the original post. My response follows.
I keep thinking about Archbishop Haverland's excellent but uncomfortable article some months ago about "pseudo-Anglicans," those folks who adhere to a patchwork Anglicanism that accepts some developments but rejects others. For example, Canon Hollister puts it well when he describes some jurisdictions as accepting the attempted ordination of women to the priesthood. According to Archbishop Haverland, there are many different iterations of this phenomenon. Some hold to the 1979 BCP but reject the rest, some hold to the new Baptismal covenant while others don't, and some like everything up to the election of Gene Robinson.
Some people might say that Anglicanism is by its very nature something of a patchwork and they would probably be right. But there is, I think, a true Anglicanism, and that is an Anglicanism that grounds itself in a solid Catholic faith, one that is based on fidelity to the Councils of the undivided church; that holds to the traditional worship forms that have been laid down in Anglicanism, less some of the ambiguous texts that are symptomatic of the aforementioned patchwork; and, most importantly, is faithful to the command of our Lord that only men can be ordained to the sacerdotal priesthood.
If a church decides to break away from the Episcopal Church or any other church in communion with the See of Canterbury, which itself has abandoned these foundational principles and therefore their apostolic connection, then it is simply a matter of time before that same group is brought into the very fire from which they have attempted to extricate themselves.
This is, at least to my mind, the reason why San Joaquin's efforts are ultimately futile. To them it is important to remain in communion with Canterbury, a see that has rejected the above-noted principles. Now think about this for a moment: If Canterbury is holding positions that have historically been classified as heresy, can they be in communion with anybody? And is anybody ever benefited by seeking to remain in a union with a heretic? I think not.
Parenthetically, this is also a problem with Roman Catholic/Anglican relations. With all due respect for Roman Catholics, and my respect for that church is quite high, the continued attempts at dialogue between Rome and Canterbury is absolutely astounding to me as Canterbury and its satellite churches (I can't refer to an Anglican Communion because I think it ceased to exist long ago) have absolutely no intention of engaging in any behavior or recantation that would be necessary in bringing about a true ecumenical dialogue. Until Rome understands that true Anglicanism exists within the Anglo-Catholic segment of the continuing church and seeks dialogue with that group, then any ecumenism is a house built on sand.
I know that many will disagree with me and I'm sorry for the discomfort that my words might cause for well-meaning Episcopalians or Protestants or even contemporary Catholics. But I firmly believe this and I further believe that until disaffected Episcopalians understand that they have to cut out their problems and errors root and branch, they will not find long-term relief simply by staying in an alliance with a see that is, quite possibly, not only heretical but apostate.
Tuesday, December 11, 2007
Here's the link:
So I went to a wonderful website that specializes in the dispensation of such titles. It's "Your Peculiar Aristocratic Title." This website will take your name and gender and give a title that is just for you. Don't like what they suggest? No problem. Keep clicking until you get one you do like.
So, are you ready for my Peculiar Aristocratic Title (and believe me, it is peculiar.)
Here it is:
"His Grace Lord Robert the Mellifluous of Lower Bumhampton"
I got this one on the first click!
Now isn't that magnificent? It's pompous, pretentious, and utterly frivolous. And I'll bet that you want a title too. Here's how you can get your own Peculiar Aristocratic Title: Click on
By the way, if you see my wife and daughter, don't forget to greet them with their new peculiar titles. My wife is henceforth known in pomposity as:
"Her Most Serene Highness Lady Mimi the Harmonious of Puddleston St. Droop"
Our daughter Melanie will henceforth frivolously be known as:
"Her Exalted Highness Duchess Melanie the Discombobulated of Pigotts Sty"
(Duchess Melanie's title took more than a few clicks to find the one that fit!)
Sunday, December 9, 2007
Lasting three full days in January, the conference is choosing to discuss perhaps one of the most powerful issues facing the Anglican world: The problem of religious violence. I had to laugh when I saw this. Here is a church that is hemorrhaging members, where entire parishes and now entire dioceses are leaving because of the church's apostasy, and they want to talk about violence in the name of religion. What a frivolous waste of time and resources!
And they do not intend to talk about violence in any one religion. Oh, no. It is the contention of the speakers that religiously inspired violence exists among all people of faith. Okay. I'll buy that. After all, don't we all have vivid memories of how those Jews strapped bombs on their bodies and blew up innocent Arabs in that shopping mall? And who can forget those vicious Christians who flew that airliner filled with nuns and orphans into the Eiffel Tower?
All right, maybe I'm being a little sarcastic. But a glance at the speakers gave me pause. One of the speakers is a former Roman Catholic Priest who is a noted peace activist. Another speaker is a reformed Jewish rabbi, also a peace activist. Then there is the ubiquitous Muslim whose purpose at the conference seems to be to decry people who seem to have misconceptions concerning the "religion of peace." Finally, there is a Buddhist or Hindu, I don't remember which. I think his purpose was to show how thousands of people meditating on peaceful images will improve both the shape of ice crystals and Dick Cheney's hunting aim. Finally, as if this cast of characters wasn't enough, the big selling-point in the brochure was the televised Vespers from Trinity Church with, don't hold your breath, a sermon from Mrs. Katherine Jefferts-Schori, the ersatz Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church. If that isn't enough to lure you in, then I don't know what is.
Back to the issue of religious violence. Perhaps I would take this conference a little more seriously if they were addressing the issue of how do we interact with a religion that has, in its sacred text, the command that all people must either convert, submit to the religion in a second-class status, or die? How do we talk about religious violence when the mere naming of a teddy bear can cause a non-practitioner of a religion who was without malice in any way to face the possibility of enough lashes to kill a man and, surviving that, imprisonment?
Along these same lines, I read a review on National Review Online of the new movie, The Golden Compass. The movie, which has caused great consternation in Christian circles, was panned by the writer, who described the film and the books that inspired it as an attempt to create, "a checklist to infuriate conservative Christians." What is most interesting to me is the following paragraph comparing and contrasting the Christian reaction to The Golden Compass and the Muslim reaction to perceived insults. Discussing why the writer of The Golden Compass used Christians as a symbol of ruthless authoritarianism rather than a benign country such as Iran, the author writes:
"What is notable is that most of the outraged buzz circulating about the movie did not ask it to be banished from the screen. In fact, the opening line of one of the most widely circulated e-mails mildly states, 'If you decide that you do not want to support something like this, I suggest that you boycott the movie and the books.' A comparison of Christian objectors to rioting Islamists provoked by cartoons and teddy bears would be laughable. And that comparison is precisely what makes it so revealing that the film (and the books) chose not to use radical Islamic republics as its stunt double."
The writer's point also raises the issue of why the Trinity Institute this year is discussing a silly topic: Discussing the issue of religious violence without focusing on the one religion that uses terror as an evangelization tool is absolute madness. Attend the Trinity Institute at your local church if you want. Perhaps it will be good entertainment. However, I'd prefer to see three days devoted to the proclamation of the saving love of Christ to a world lost in sin and darkness. I wonder if we'll ever see that topic discussed at Trinity Church, Wall Street?
Here's the link to the review of The Golden Compass:
At that time, Jesus said unto his disciples: And there shall be signs in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars; and upon the earth distress of nations, with perplexity; the sea and the waves roaring; men's hearts failing them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth: for the powers of heaven shall be shaken. And then shall they see the Son of man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. And when these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh. And he spake to them a parable; Behold the fig tree, and all the trees; when they now shoot forth, ye see and know of your own selves that summer is now nigh at hand. So likewise ye, when ye see these things come to pass, know ye that the kingdom of God is nigh at hand. Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass away, till all be fulfilled. Heaven and earth shall pass away: but my words shall not pass away.
My father-in-law has an unbelievable devotion to The Weather Channel. There seems to be no limit to the amount of time he can spend in front of the television waiting for yet another announcement, “And now, here’s your Local on the 8’s.” In fact, he will watch The Weather Channel for hours, even when a big red “H” has remained steady over his Florida home for days. Undoubtedly, my father-in-law loves The Weather Channel. And, I must confess, so do I. The fact of the matter is this: Everybody wants to know the future. Everybody wants to know what’s coming next. Perhaps this comes from our desire to be prepared for bad weather, or sour economic times. Or maybe it simply comes from our desire to remain dry. But whether your passion is The Weather Channel, or “The Universal Stock Market Timer,” or – God forbid – the Psychic Friends Network, everybody wants to know the future. Christians are no exception to this. For example, take a look at today’s Gospel.
In our Gospel reading from Saint Luke, Jesus warns His disciples of the signs of the end of the age telling them what the markers would be that signaled His return. Jesus paints the picture of a horrifying apocalypse in which there are signs in the sun, the moon, and even the stars in heaven. He describes political tension and great confusion among the nations, men living in terror as even the very powers of heaven, the entire angelic chorus is shaken by the force of the coming of the Son of Man. Jesus then goes on to tell the parable of the fig tree and He uses it to teach the disciples and us to read the signs of the times. Our Lord tells us that when we see these signs come together, then we should lift up our heads and rejoice. Rejoice, even though the world quakes in terror, because we will know with blessed assurance that our redemption draweth nigh, that the Lord of Heaven and Earth, the Lord of our lives, is coming in great power and glory.
For over 2,000 years, the Christian world has waited for that day when the Lord will return. Saint John the Divine saw the return of Christ immanent in the great persecution of the Roman Emperor Diocletian. Saint Augustine was convinced that the fall of Rome would usher in the return of the Lord. Throughout history, generation after generation of Christians have been born, lived and died with the conviction that they were living in the last days, that the final battle between the Antichrist and the Lord Jesus was just around the corner. Even in the last century the global terrors of the First and the Second World Wars, the nuclear terror of the Cold War, and now the conflict with Islamo-fascism, all lead some Christians to see the end of time and the coming of the prophesied “son of perdition,” the Antichrist.
And speaking of the Antichrist, speculation has run rampant as to his identity. Some thought that Nero and Diocletian were good candidates. Nero’s full name actually had the numeric value of “666.” Martin Luther was convinced that the Antichrist would be one of the popes and I’m sure that several of the popes felt the same way about Martin Luther. Adolf Hitler was the candidate for many people, and he certainly was an appropriate candidate. Even the late President Ronald Reagan was considered a candidate for the position of Antichrist since each of his names, Ronald Wilson Reagan, had six letters in it, making him the dreaded 6-6-6.
Additionally, theories concerning the end times have abounded since the earliest days of Christianity. Many of our evangelical brethren hold to theological positions that are known by the technical titles of “pre-millenarianism,” “post-millenarianism,” or “amillenarianism.” Our Catholic brothers generally foresee a great chastisement followed by the restoration of a Catholic spiritual and political order. And our liberal protestant brothers…Well, they just believe that it’s all a myth that means anything other than what the Bible really says. So with all these competing theories, what is a Christian to believe?
Which one, of all the competing theories, is right? Well, I’ve studied them all pretty closely over the years and I think I have reached a definitive conclusion: I have no idea. But there are a couple of things that I do know. There is a one good simple reason why every generation believes that it is the “Terminal Generation.” Only the Father knows when the Lord will return. The Devil does not know and this puts him at a distinct disadvantage. Since only the Father knows when the Lord Jesus will return, then Satan is forced to have an Antichrist in the wings at all times, waiting for that moment in history when the time will be right for his emergence on the world stage. So, to a greater and lesser degree, the signs of the times foretold by our Lord are always present in our world.
The only way to resolve this tangle of theory is this: As Christians, we are called to live in the awareness that our Lord could return at any moment. Think of what our lives would be like if all Christians woke up every morning resolved to live their lives as though the Lord would return before the day was over. What difference would it make in how you lived your life if you knew for a certainty that Jesus would come to earth this very day? Would you be kinder? Would you be more charitable? Would you look at your brothers and sisters in Christ in a different light? Would you hold up your head and rejoice as your salvation drew nigh?
My brothers and sisters, the signs of the times are among us now, just as they have been for more than 2,000 years. As we prepare to gaze on the Christ-child in the manger in just a few weeks, we recognize the promise that just as Christ became Man in Bethlehem, so too will He return to call us all to Him. As Advent continues, look up and rejoice, because your salvation draws near.
Thursday, December 6, 2007
Here's the link:
Wednesday, December 5, 2007
Sometimes I think that Christians have been treated like the lobster who is put into the pot of cold water and then slowly boiled by imperceptible increases in temperature. I say this because images such as this stand in such contrast to where we were as a nation just a century ago and the slow, almost imperceptible, marginalization of Christianity that has occurred, particularly in the last 50 years. It should really remind us of the need to pray and to work diligently to bring more people to a personal knowledge of Jesus Christ.
Sadly, here's the link:
Sunday, December 2, 2007
When they drew nigh unto Jerusalem, and were come to Bethphage, unto the mount of Olives, then sent Jesus two disciples, saying unto them, Go into the village over against you, and straightway ye shall find an ass tied, and a colt with her: loose them, and bring them unto me. And if any man say ought unto you, ye shall say, The Lord hath need of them; and straightway he will send them. All this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying, Tell ye the daughter of Sion, Behold, thy King cometh unto thee, meek, and sitting upon an ass, and a colt the foal of an ass. And the disciples went, and did as Jesus commanded them, and brought the ass, and the colt, and put on them their clothes, and they set him thereon. And a very great multitude spread their garments in the way; others cut down branches from the trees, and strawed them in the way. And the multitudes that went before, and that followed, cried, saying, Hosanna to the son of David: Blessed is he that cometh in the name 'of the Lord; Hosanna in the highest. And when he was come into Jerusalem, all the city was moved, saying, Who is this? And the multitude said, This is Jesus the prophet of Nazareth of Galilee. And Jesus went into the temple of God, and cast out all them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the money-changers, and the seats of them that sold doves, and said unto them, It is written, My house shall be called the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves.
Today’s Gospel reading, St. Matthew’s story of our Lord’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem and the cleansing of the Temple may, on first hearing, seem a strange choice for the First Sunday in Advent. After all, we’re preparing for Christmas, aren’t we? That special feast when we celebrate the birth of a little baby in the stable of Bethlehem. We’ve cleaned our church. Many of us have been cleaning our homes preparing for the guests who will descend upon our families like the Wise Men from the East. We’re buying gifts, boy are we buying gifts. We’re listening to Christmas music, XM Satellite radio has five, count them five, channels exclusively devoted to the Sounds of the Season. So, if the church were in step with the world, you’d think that we’d hear a story about the angels. Maybe we’d hear about the angel Gabriel appearing to Mary. Maybe we’d hear something from Luke about shepherds. Definitely we should hear something upbeat, something that makes us feel good about being a Christian at this most wonderful time of the year.
But the Church, as we all know, is not in step with the world. Rather than the flutter of angel wings, we are presented with the story of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, that pivotal event that begins his Passion. Then follows the story of the cleansing of the Temple, when Jesus drove the moneychangers and merchants from the Temple, claiming that they had made His Father’s house, “a den of thieves.” The Church uses this puzzling story to mark the beginning of Advent, that special season when the church stands at the foot of the Cross and looks backward to the mystery of the Incarnation and forward to the triumphant return of Christ at the end of time. Today, let’s spend a few minutes together meditating on these two comings of Christ. Let’s further reflect on Christ’s call to us to cleanse the temples of our own hearts in preparation for both of his comings.
Standing at the foot of the cross, we see the suffering Lord who assumed the burden of our sins. We see his agony and we realize that this man, this innocent man, has chosen to die for us so that we might live. And looking back across the years, beyond the miracles, beyond the call of the disciples, beyond the finding in the Temple, we are left with the promise of a baby; a very special baby. For this baby Jesus is the Promised One of Judaism. He is the Messiah, the one who will set the Israelites, and indeed all mankind, free from their sins. In fact, we see a baby with a unique destiny, a unique purpose. For when we contemplate the coming of Jesus in manger at Bethlehem, when we behold the wonder of the Incarnation, we are immediately struck by a painful but glorious reality: This is a child who was born to die! Yes, a child who was born to die. Now for most parents the promise of a child lies in what they will accomplish with their lives. We worry about where they will go to school, who they will marry, what they will do with the gifts God has given them. But, when we reflect on the coming of Jesus, the God made man, we are brought face to face with the fact that Jesus’ primary purpose in coming to earth was to die so that man could be free from sin. Remember, left to our own devices we are wrapped in the mantle of sin, the cloak of darkness. There is no way that we can make any sacrifice for ourselves because we are unclean. So the promise of the Incarnation is this: In taking on human flesh, God has willed to take upon himself all of our failings, our weaknesses, our sins. God, in the person of Jesus, pays the price of death so that we can be set free. Yes, my brothers and sisters, the promise of the Incarnation is the promise of a child who was born to die.
But there is another view from the Cross: It is the view forward to the end of time, when Christ will return in power and glory to make all things right, to judge the living and the dead, and to call all men and women who have believed on His Name to live with him for ever. This is the second, and, in some ways, the most important aspect of Advent. Can any of us, as we reflect on this powerful Day of the Lord, be any less than struck speechless at the power of our God? That God, who made the heavens and the earth, who set the stars in their courses, who knew each one of us by name when were yet unborn, that God who holds all things in existence simply by his willing them, will return in power to judge the living and the dead. Well, if a Christian has an ounce of sense in him, then he will want to be ready for that great and terrible day, when he will stand before his Lord for judgment. And this Second Coming, this Day of the Lord, brings us to our third point: the call to prepare and cleanse the temples of our hearts.
When Jesus entered the Temple, he was faced with the powerful effects of good that had been corrupted. A place that had been set aside by God for His worship had been corrupted by sinful men. What was the sin of the moneychangers and the merchants? Was it the practice of their trades? Probably not. The fact of the matter was that Roman money could not be used in the Temple and Temple money could not be used in the secular world. The merchants who sold lambs and doves for sacrifice provided a necessary service for those who came from all over Israel to offer sacrifice to God. So what was their sin, their wickedness? Many speculate that the sin of the moneychangers and merchants was that they placed their livings above their devotion to God. They misplaced their devotion, focusing their best efforts on the means of their income rather than the ends of the worship of almighty God.
And there is the lesson for us at the beginning of this Advent season. The Church and our Lord call us to cleanse the temples of our hearts. Jesus asks that we allow him to enter our hearts and to upset all of the tables on which rest the misplaced devotion, the foolish priorities of our own lives. Jesus asks us to allow him to cleanse us from our pride, our greed, our sloth, our lusts; all of those things that hold us back from following the Lord more closely. Jesus promises us that if we offer our hearts to Him this Advent, then he will cleanse us from all that separates from him. Jesus will prepare us to see anew the promise that will be in the manger at Christmas and he will grant us the assurance that, “When next he comes in glory, and the world is wrapped in fear, may he with his mercy shield us, and with words of love draw near.”
Friday, November 30, 2007
Each year, in thousands of cities big and small, the same ritual plays itself out as the Holiday Season begins. Even though our society makes ever so bold attempts to trivialize and secularize our winter holiday season, the truth is that at this time it is natural to look back to the sacrifices and hardships endured by the pilgrims, to the sacrifice and powerful witness of the Maccabes, to the ultimate sacrifice of God becoming Man in the Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ. We consider these events and recall our own family members, living and dead, and we consider their witness, their sacrifices, both small and great, for their families, for us who have followed them. Yes, despite our society’s best efforts, each year we almost instinctively look back and give thanks for those who have defined us in our families, in our nation, and in our Christian faith.
During this time of reflection, the Church focuses our attention, not on the past, but on a totally new year, as the liturgical year 2008 begins with the First Sunday of Advent. Interestingly, the church year begins not with a glance backward at the manger in Bethlehem, but with a look forward to the Second Coming of Christ in all of its power. The first three weeks of Advent remind the Christian that Christ will come in majesty and power at the end of time to restore all creation into one in Him. This is why we wear violet during this season, the color of kings and the color of penance. We wear violet because we are only too aware of our own unworthiness to stand before the King of all creation and give an account of our lives. We understand only too well that of our own merit we are not worthy for the Lord to come under our roofs. We are all too convinced of our own need for redemption, for a Savior who can save us from our own depravity.
This leads us to the second focus of the Advent Season: The coming of Christ as Man, the Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ. On about the fourth Sunday of Advent, the church changes the focus from what will come, to the reality of what has already happened in a small out of the way town 2000 years ago. Society wants to reduce the birth of Christ to an event that is marked by love, warmth, and an outpouring of an insipid charity, sort of a prolonged “Dr. Phil” moment of warmth and fuzziness. Others in the world want to see Christmas simply in terms of the economic benefit that derives from the massive sales of toys, jewelry, and foods.
No matter how much the world tries to hide it, the fact of the matter is this: The Nativity of our Lord stands as a witness to God’s enduring love for all of mankind. The Nativity, the very enfleshment of God, stands as a witness to the Devil and his legions that God loves His creation and will sacrifice everything, even His only Son for those whom He has made. He will even become one with them, taking on human flesh, and suffering the most humiliating death in order to free man from his sin. That is what we come to adore. This sacrificial love of God, this enduring love of God, is the true point of Advent and Christmas and is the reason that Christians remember the Incarnation and look forward with trembling and anticipation to Christ’s return.
So this Advent 2008 looks forward and backward, as it does every year. As we proceed to Christmas, let’s remember and give thanks for the love of all who have made sacrifices so that we can worship the God of steadfast love. Let’s remember and give thanks to God for the gift of His Son and let us look forward to his glorious return.
Monday, November 26, 2007
When Jesus then lifted up his eyes, and saw a great company come unto him, he saith unto Philip, Whence shall we buy bread, that these may eat? And this he said to prove him: for he himself knew what he would do. Philip answered him, Two hundred pennyworth of bread is not sufficient for them, that every one of them may take a little. One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter's brother, saith unto him, There is a lad here, which hath five barley loaves, and two small fishes: but what are they among so many? And Jesus said, Make the men sit down. Now there was much grass in the place. So the men sat down, in number about five thousand. And Jesus took the loaves; and when he had given thanks, he distributed to the disciples, and the disciples to them that were set down; and likewise of the fishes as much as they would. When they were filled, he said unto his disciples, Gather up the fragments that remain, that nothing be lost. Therefore they gathered them together, and filled twelve baskets with the fragments of the five barley loaves, which remained over and above unto them that had eaten. Then those men, when they had seen the miracle that Jesus did, said, This is of a truth that prophet that should come into the world.---
Beginnings and endings have always been important times. We mark them with rituals and, in the church, set them apart with sacraments. When babies are born we bring them to Church and baptize them, washing them from original sin. When children reach an age of decision, we come again to the Church and, through the imposition of hands by the Bishop and the anointing with the holy oil of Chrism, they receive the gift of the Holy Spirit through Confirmation. In fact, all of the Sacraments stand as markers and consecrators of time and our passage through it. Next to the Eucharist, the most prominent markers of the church are baptism, matrimony, and burial. Or, as some clerics call it, “hatch, match, and dispatch.” This desire to mark beginnings and endings has its counterparts in the secular world, as any graduation ceremony will show. Beginnings and endings are indeed important and few times in the Church year show this more than our celebration today on the Sunday Next Before Advent.
The Church Year runs on a different calendar from the secular world. Each liturgical year begins on the First Sunday of Advent. So, next Sunday, December 2, 2007, will actually be the first Sunday of Liturgical Year 2008. On first thought, this seems somewhat odd. Why wouldn’t the two calendars correspond to each other a little better? Maybe this answer will help: Starting the church year almost a month before the secular reminds us that God’s time is not our time. It reminds us that God’s timetable works off a different standard, a standard that is based on the salvation of souls rather than the accomplishments of secular power. Perhaps our task on this day is to take stock of where we are in our Christian journey and see what our Gospel can tell us about the road ahead.
Today, we hear the story of Jesus feeding the multitudes. But this story is different from the others. First of all, it occurs in the Gospel of St. John. All the other stories are found in the first three Gospels, so this marks one of the few occasions that all the Gospels record the same story. Jesus looks up and sees a great multitude before him with no money to buy food for them all. So he takes five barley loaves and two small fish. Following a clearly Eucharistic formula, Jesus blesses and feeds the multitudes taking care to gather up all the crumbs, so that “nothing be lost.” In this story, we learn two simple truths on which we can meditate as one year ends and another begins.
The first truth is this: Christians find their source and summit, their beginning and end in the Eucharist. As Christ gives His Body and Blood to us, we are healed and strengthened for our Christian journey. To a certain extent, then, we are the multitude in this story, hungry and lonely, without provision. We are the multitude that needs the healing bread that only comes from the loving hand of Jesus. We are fed miraculously by what appears to be a small piece of unleavened bread and a cup of wine, but is actually the food and drink of the Angels. We share in the Eucharist, the Great Thanksgiving, where Christ offers Himself to the Father in an unending Sacrifice, and offers Himself to us as the Food of our Salvation. Yes, for us the beginning and end of all things is the Eucharist.
The second truth follows: As Christ fed the multitudes so we, as the Body of Christ, are called to feed the multitudes of our day with the truth that comes only from Jesus Christ. We live in a starving world, a world that can almost seem insane. In our time we are told that there is no such thing as truth, that salvation is a meaningless illusion, and that sin is not something that demands justice but a behavioral condition that can be fixed with the right psychological and sociological solutions. The world in which we live is confused, hungry, and isolated. Our task as Christians is to feed them with the Bread of Life and the Cup of Salvation. Our task to is to let the world know that there is a Word of Truth and that Word is Jesus Christ. And as Jesus Christ fed the souls of the early Christians, as He feeds our souls today, so too He will feed the souls of all who will come to Him with outstretched hands, a humble heart, a desire to become new creatures in God.
On this Last Sunday of the year, let’s give thanks for this great gift, this Eucharist, this Thanksgiving. And as we begin the liturgical year 2008, let’s resolve to call all the hungry, all the lonely to the truth that is Jesus Christ, so that no fragment, however small, be lost.
Friday, November 16, 2007
Here's the link:
Thursday, November 15, 2007
Have a great Thanksgiving. I'll be away from all computing until Monday, Nov. 26th.
An atheist was walking through the woods.
"What majestic trees"!
"What powerful rivers"!
"What beautiful animals"!
He said to himself.
As he was walking alongside the river, he heard a rustling in the bushes behind him. He turned to look. He saw a 7-foot grizzly bear charge towards him.
He ran as fast as he could up the path. He looked over his shoulder & saw that the bear was closing in on him.
He looked over his shoulder again, & the bear was even closer. He tripped & fell on the ground. He rolled over to pick himself up but saw that the bear was right on top of him, reaching for him with his left paw & raising his right paw to strike him.
At that instant the Atheist cried out, "Oh my God!"
The bear froze.
The forest was silent.
As a bright light shone upon the man, a voice came out of the sky. "You deny my existence for all these years, teach others I don't exist and even credit creation to cosmic accident." "Do you expect me to help you out of this predicament? Am I to count you as a believer"?
The atheist looked directly into the light, "It would be hypocritical of me to suddenly ask you to treat me as a Christian now, but perhaps you could make the BEAR a Christian"?
"Very Well," said the voice.
The light went out. The sounds of the forest resumed. And the bear dropped his right paw, brought both paws together, bowed his head & spoke:
"Lord bless this food, which I am about to receive from thy bounty through Christ our Lord, Amen."
Tuesday, November 13, 2007
Wednesday, October 31, 2007
This fall, our Adult Education class at church has studied Lee Strobel's book, The Case for Faith. Strobel wrote this volume to present Christian doctrines and beliefs that are often stumbling blocks for moderns. I chose this book because I thought that it presented a good alternative to the spate of books written by atheists that have been published recently.
I must confess that I've never really understood atheism. Perhaps it's because I've always been a Christian that the issues which drive people from faith to anti-faith have never been compelling to me. In fact, I've always harbored a radical theory about atheism, a theory that probably would be called intolerant and insensitive by many. I also have no proof for my theory; hence, it may simply be a reflection of my own intellectual bigotry. However, if that be the case, rest assured that I will amend my thinking as soon as I am presented verifiable evidence to the contrary.
Having said all of that, here's the theory, one that I have never shared publicly until now: I believe that most people who claim to be atheists do so because they are engaged in a behavior or behaviors that they know to be sinful and they have no desire to change. In our culture today, most of those behaviors center around the vice of lust, but any of the cardinal vices will do just as well. Okay, I've said it. Call me a bigot if you want, but please, please prove to me the error of my ways.
The atheist, having denied the authority of God, usually in the moral sphere, then has to engage in ever more strange beliefs in order to justify their idea that there is nothing in which to believe. This leads to some pretty unusual and convoluted lines of thought. To my way of thinking, no atheistic theory strains credulity as much as the theory of Darwinian evolution. This theory, which has more twists that a pretzel, has been around for about a century and it has permeated every aspect of our educational system even though the evidence to support it is skimpy at best. A lot of people might debate whether Christianity and evolution are compatible citing Darwin’s own opinion that there was no inherent conflict. However, letters published years after Darwin’s death have revealed that his hope in developing this theory was to eliminate the necessity for God in the creation of the world. That’s a pretty godless position and so I think it’s safe to say that evolution is an atheistic theory from its very origin.
“No matter what argument you make against evolution, the response is Well, you know it’s possible to believe in evolution and believe in God. Yes, and it’s possible to believe in Spiderman and believe in God, but that doesn’t prove that Spiderman is true.”
"Suppose you awaken alone in your house with its doors and windows locked to find your table set with a scrumptious breakfast awaiting you. Which explanation satisfies you? Your breakfast always existed in its present form, or your breakfast organized itself from lesser matter? Maybe the eggs, ham and cheese just evolved into an omelet, the muffin popped itself into the toaster then rolled around in the butter, the oranges squeezed each other, and there’s coffee but no Mr. Coffee.
"The response is usually an ontological admission, as in, ‘Somebody came into my house while I was asleep and fixed breakfast,’ or a simple ‘I don’t know.’ I’m amazed at the atheists who find it easy to swallow the big bang but not the evolving breakfast."
Tuesday, October 30, 2007
True words, not only for evangelicals, but for most traditional Christians. It's too easy to forget that our Lord reminds us constantly that His kingdom is not of this world.
Here's the link:
Thursday, October 25, 2007
A couple of months ago, I wrote about prayer as a process by which the believer comes to know the Lord. In this month’s column, I would like to discuss the importance of time in the life of prayer. Time, the passing of minutes into hours, and hours into days, has, historically, had two significant roles in our communing with the Lord, both of which deserve some discussion.
The first role of time concerns how it punctuates the day. In the earliest times, Christians would gather together at least twice a day, at sunrise and sunset, in order to praise God in psalms, readings and songs. This tradition has been maintained in Anglican churches by the recitation of the Daily Offices. Later, as the monastic movements developed in the fifth centuries, these times of prayer expanded to mark the passage of the entire day. Two offices (Lauds and Vespers) expanded to include a night office and seven other times of prayers evenly distributed throughout the day. Interestingly the earliest times of prayer were based on the passage of the sun through the sky. However, as civilization became more technologically advanced, the clock replaced the sun as the timepiece of prayer and it is now more common to think of morning prayer as occuring at 6:30 rather than as at “sunup”.
The point to this is pretty simple. Since its foundations, Christians have found it necessary to hinge their prayer lives on the passage of time. So it should be with us, too. I am not saying that every Christian should dedicate the forty minutes or so daily that it takes to recite the day’s offices, but I am suggesting that the prayer life of the individual believer should be grounded in a period of prayer in the morning and in the evening. The 1928 BCP makes accomodation for this by providing forms for family prayer at the back of the book. A good start to a prayer life is a commitment to recite these prayers out loud on a daily basis.
The second role of time concerns a word that I used in the last paragraph: Committment.
A life of prayer cannot succeed without the Christian’s commitment to devote the time necessary to actually pray. Remember, the ultimate purpose of prayer is draw closer to God, to deepen our relationship with Him. This is not something that can happen without time being given to the task. Think of it this way. In our culture, a man and a woman do not simply out of the blue decide to get married. Instead, the courtship process takes time to develop, people need time to get to know each other. Similarly, after marriage, a couple must spend time with each other in order to continue to cultivate the relationship that they built in courtship.
As it is in marriage, so it is with our relationship with God. We begin by making a commitment to pray once a day, twice a day, and we stick to it. No matter how dry the time seems, no matter how unfruitful the prayer seems. There is no substitute in the spiritual life for “sticktoitiveness.” As we proceed in the coming months to discuss prayer “forms,” let’s first make a commitment to pray regularly, let’s make a commitment to show to God the same interest, the same love, that He has shown to us.
Monday, October 22, 2007
Saturday, October 20, 2007
Here's the link:
Wednesday, October 17, 2007
Tuesday, October 16, 2007
Sunday, October 14, 2007
Saturday, October 13, 2007
Let me get this straight:
1. The traditional prayer book of the Anglican world has been ripped from the hands of the faithful.
2. The Episcopal Church and others have attempted to "ordain" women to the priesthood and the episcopate.
3. Episcopal and Anglican Bishops have denounced basic doctrines of the faith.
4. The role of human sexuality within the context of marriage has been utterly abandoned.
For over 30 years, the Anglican Communion has hemorrhaged members. BUT NOW, and only NOW, when the communion is in shambles, now when after all that has occurred, an avowed homosexual has been made a bishop (although his consecration is questionable, not because of his sexual orientation, but because of the probable invalidity of the orders of his "consecrators"), NOW a line has been crossed and the fabric of the Communion is torn??
We in the continuum have said for years that this would happen. We said back in the mid-1970s that an attempt to change traditional Anglican formularies and the attempt to "ordain" women would ultimately lead to a major fracture and a departure from Christian Tradition.
My heart aches for all of the Episcopalians who remain loyal to this church that has been so disloyal to them and to the faith of our Fathers. For any loyal Episcopalians left, all I can say is: "Find yourself a home with us."
Mimi and I just returned from Chicago, where we met a new friend. He simply blue us away!
In two days we managed to work in two great meals, one at Morton's and one at Mia Francesca, two great shows (Jersey Boys and Blue Man Group [see new friend in picture]) and three pairs of women's shoes (for Mimi).
Saturday, October 6, 2007
Thursday, October 4, 2007
The author, my friend Quin Hilyer, writes nicely about people who have not only played the game well, but have also lived their lives with the same integrity. This particularly refreshing for those of us who live in the age of the anti-hero, an age that is marked by bad manners and the desire to reduce the truly great to as low a level as possible.
Wednesday, September 26, 2007
Tuesday, September 18, 2007
When they arranged to meet, they were greeted with a shock. However, a Rupert Holmes moment (the creator of the song Escape) was not in store. They were so angry that they are now suing each other for divorce. The grounds? Adultery.
The woman said: "I thought I had found the love of my life. The way this Prince of Joy (his screen name) spoke to me, the things he wrote, the tenderness in every expression was something that I had never had in my marriage."
The man said: "I was so happy to have found a woman who finally understood me. Then it turned out that I hadn't found anyone new at all."
I say: This is absolutely nuts! This couple's problem is obviously one of communication not compatibility.
What do you say?
The reaction of liberal Catholics and others was amazing. They immediately sought loopholes to prevent this implementation and in several cases have made it plain that any priest who dares to offer the old form would face an ecclesiastical banishment, or whatever it is that Romans do these days. I find it interesting that it is perfectly acceptable in the Roman church to celebrate any one of a number of rites and variations thereof except the rite that has existed in their church for 1500 years!
This reminded me of the actions in the Episcopal Church over the 1979 revision of the Book of Common Prayer. When the '79 Prayer Book was introduced, the only books that were forbidden were books derived from the 1928 Book of Common Prayer (including the Anglican Missal). Liberals understood quite clearly the principle of lex orandi, lex credendi or "The law of prayer is the law of belief." They understood that if we can change the grammar by which people offer their prayers to Almighty God, then they will by definition have changed what people believe about Him.
Hence, prayer books and Missals that had set forms of prayer (such as the 1928 Prayer Book) that did not deviate from week to week presented a vision of God that was stable and orderly. They presented a God who ruled the cosmos in an methodical way and who gave an objective standard of faith. This was a worship that was primarily God-centered with little concern for the needs of men, needs of which God was very much aware before they could even be uttered.
The new "prayer books" and Missals took a different approach. With a multiplicity of options, it became possible for each community to pray in a way that best suited it. While this sounds nice in theory, it is unsatisfactory in practice because it has destroyed - or seriously damaged - the connection that exists between different churches. Where churches previously had prayed essentially the same things in essentially the same way, that is, in common, now the prayer of the church reflected a focus that was more on the person praying then the Person being prayed to. This approach has been rightly called "man-centered" in that it takes as its starting point the needs of the people rather than the worship of God. This style of worship leads rather easily to a view of God as changing and subjective and, further, the "man-centered" style assaults any notion that there is an ultimate source of divine order, an "uncaused cause" in the world. It also undermines the concept of an ultimate source of morality.
One of the many reasons that I'm pleased to be a priest in the Anglican Catholic Church is because we hold steadfastly to the first form of prayer, that which is based on a theology of a stable and unchanging God. While we allow differences in our church concerning level of ceremonial (some use an unaltered prayer book service, others use the Missal), we have a remarkably consistent understanding of the Eucharist as sacrifice and the Real Presence of Christ offered for our sins. Our approach to prayer, then, is very definitely God-centered. By maintaining the traditions of those who have come before, by holding fast to the 1928 Prayer Book and the Missal, we tether ourselves to the Tradition of the Faith, which has nourished saints and converted sinners. Interestingly, although there are other issues that divide us, on this point we are in agreement with Benedict: We recognize a difference in ceremonial but not a difference in theology. We hold with the ancient Church that God is one, holy, catholic, apostolic and unchanging.
Sunday, September 16, 2007
Saturday, August 25, 2007
This one concerns the tendency of liberals to want to talk things out versus the more conservative propensity to decisive action. The nugget in this one, to me at least, is the notion of the development of psychoanalysis. The author makes the valid point that Freud's initial view of analysis was the amelioration of suffering and the ability of the individual "to love, work, and tolerate common human misery." In the new world, psychoanalysis has assumed the broader role of helping people achieve what Maslow would later call "self-actualization." This change in focus from removal of symptoms to enhancement of quality of life probably has lead to what has been called by the late Christopher Lasch, "The Triumph of the therapeutic." Another way to view it from a Christian perspective is the denial of the effects of original sin. Pelagius would be proud.
Friday, August 24, 2007
It’s very hard to take a report like this seriously, but I think it is highly instructive that we do so in order to understand why no thinking Christian could ever refer to God as “Allah.” As a first step, we have to understand that Muslims use the term Allah because they consider God to be utterly transcendent and unknowable. The title “Allah” is not God’s name, but is, rather, a derivative of the Arab word for “Lord”, something closely akin to the Hebrew elohim. God cannot be known for the Moslem unless and until the world has been made pure for him and this can only occur after people do one of three things: (1) convert to Islam, (2) agree to live under sharia (Islamic Law) in dhimmitude, or (3) die. Only then will Allah reveal himself to his creation.
Christians have a very different view. We believe in a God who is not only knowable, but also desires to be known by his creation. He yearns to share his love with his people and stands steadfastly by them. In juxtaposition to our Islamic friends, we do know the name of God. In Exodus, Moses asks the Lord for his name and God replies, “I am who am.” The Hebrew language has a word for it that translates YHWH (Hebrew has no vowels). To this day, faithful Jews will not pronounce the name of God and evidence for this can be found in the Bible. You may note in the King James and other versions that you will see the word LORD in small capitals. This denotes a reference to YHWH and acknowledges the Jewish practice of substituting the word elohim for the name of God. Notice that devout Jews and Christians know the name of God but only use elohim as a sign of respect.
Now let’s move forward to the New Testament. We know the name of God in the New Testament. God has revealed himself through Jesus Christ, the second Person of the blessed Trinity. God has given us this name and Jesus tells us that through him we see and know the Father. He further states that through Him (Jesus), the Father knows us. Jesus goes on elsewhere to give us another name for God. In the Lord’s Prayer, he refers to the Father (and instructs us to do this as well), as Abba, or “Daddy.”
We could expand any one of these references, but I think the point is clear. For a Christian under any circumstances to refer to God as “Allah” is unthinkable in that it is a rejection of basic Christian doctrine which is founded both in the Bible and in the Tradition of the Church. We are blessed and privileged to know the name of God and to be marked as His own forever. Perhaps Bishop “Tiny” needs to revisit a theology text instead of the dessert bar.
Thursday, July 19, 2007
Now I’m not saying that God won’t bless people with prosperity, nor am I intimating that God secretly wants people to be hypertensive, depressed, and anxious. But I think that the people who write these volumes and the marketers who promote them are barking up the wrong tree (or the wrong totem pole, as the case may be). I suspect that what has happened in these cases is that many of these writers have witnessed the popularity of things such as the New Age Movement and quasi-religious organizations such as Science of Mind and Unity, and they are trying to say that Christianity in its more traditional form can offer something similar.However, to make this claim is, to my way of thinking, a serious error. False mysticism is dangerous because it is a subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) attempt to entice a Christian to embrace clearly heretical paths. All of the movements noted above each share a common error: They seek to raise man to the same plane as God, or, at worst, seek to find ways that force God to do man’s bidding. This is a serious problem and it is one to which serious Christians should be alert and from which one should run at all costs.
Having spent some time talking about what prayer is NOT, let’s take a few moments talking about what prayer IS. Although I do not profess to be an expert in prayer, I believe that prayer is the process by a person or a community develops a relationship with God. It is noteworthy that all men were created in the image and likeness of God. Prior to Adam’s fall, man enjoyed an intimacy and a communion with God that was lost with the transgressions of our first parents. It is this intimacy and this communion that we seek to regain through the life of prayer. Prayer is the desire of the human heart for intimacy with its Creator.Saint Augustine says it very well in his famous Confessions: “...Man, being a part of Thy creation, desires to praise Thee, -- man, who bears about with him his mortality, the witness of his sin, even the witness that Thou 'resistest the proud,' -- yet man, this part of Thy creation, desires to praise Thee. Thou movest us to delight in praising Thee; for Thou hast formed us for Thyself, and our hearts are restless till they find rest in Thee.”
The true purpose of prayer, according to Augustine, is a response to the goodness of God. We respond to God’s gift of life in us and we express what our deepest, fundamental desire is: To draw closer to the God of our salvation. In fact Augustine, goes further when he says, “Our hearts are restless until they find rest in Thee.” The saint implies that until our hearts are filled with God, until we are conformed to his will through our life of prayer, then we can never know true rest. This is why, in the end, these fads of prayer do not satisfy and ultimately wither and die. They seek to force God to change to suit us, rather than forcing ourselves to change to suit God. Until the human heart does the latter it cannot know true peace. Let us each pray that God will open our hearts to conform ourselves in His image and likeness.
Sunday, July 1, 2007
Liberal Christians seek to exercise power to bring about change. They seek to remake the Church in the world's image. Traditional Christians seek to exercise service to the Word and Tradition. They seek to remake the world in Christ's image. I'll side with the traditional.