Sunday, October 31, 2010

Homily for the Festival of the Reformation


John 8:31-36; Romans 3:19-28; Revelation 14:6-7

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.

“And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” Or, so reads the motto carved in granite inside the main lobby of the old CIA building in Langley, Virginia. That institution’s use of these words of our Lord is somewhat telling. It is telling in that it reveals how men feel about the truth. The truth is a means to an end. The truth is something that is to be discovered. It has to be discovered because there are men who desire to keep it hidden. But, of course, the men who desire to discover the truth themselves desire to keep certain truths hidden, to withhold certain truths, and to dispense as truth what are actually half-truths, and, sometimes, not truth at all.

Less than a century ago, men still believed that there was truth underlying all observable things and phenomena. That was the great Modern Age when science and human knowledge replaced the need for superstition and religion, for God. As men formulated and tested their theories, little by little, year after year, the space for God seemingly became smaller and smaller. It was believed that, ultimately, a single theory for everything would be formulated and that then men would finally know the truth of all things and would be truly free at last – free from the tyranny of God, and free from the unenlightened simpletons who believe in Him. Today, however, in these so-called Post-Modern times, it is popular to believe that there is no universal or absolute truth, but that there is no possible theory of all things, but, only personal truth or emotional truth, that is, subjective truth. Indeed, it appears that the truth did not set us free, but, rather, that we have set ourselves free from the truth.

For, the truth is this, men don’t care much for the truth. The truth is, the truth makes men uncomfortable, because their deeds are wicked. For, the truth is a rule, the truth is a measure, outside of one’s self, that judges men’s thoughts, words, and deeds and condemns them. So, wicked men flee from the truth, the way cockroaches flee from the light, for fear that their wicked deeds be exposed.

And, Jesus knows this about you. He knows how you fear the truth too, how you seek to hide from the truth, to bend the truth, to deny the truth. And, that is why He says to you “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” Jesus knows that you are not free, but, that you are in slavery to sin and death. And, Jesus knows how this truth terrifies you. But, Jesus speaks of another truth, a truth that sets you free from all that, a truth that is known by abiding in His word. And, Jesus is the Word, and Jesus is the Truth, and Jesus is the Truth that sets you free from slavery to sin and death. The Jews to whom Jesus spoke these words wouldn’t believe the truth standing right there before them in their very presence. They were afraid of the truth, so they told themselves half-truths and false-truths to comfort themselves. But, the truth is, they remained in slavery to sin and death, while Truth Incarnate, Jesus Christ was present to free them from all that.

Nearly fifteen hundred years later, men continued to fear the truth, to hide from the truth, to bend the truth, and to deny the truth because their deeds continued to be wicked. Some things never change. But, even worse, men also feared, hid, bent, and denied the Truth that had in truth set all men free from sin and death, Jesus Christ. For fear of losing power and influence to both foreign and regional political forces, and for a multitude of other social, cultural, and political reasons, the Church had covered over, had hidden and conditionalized, the Gospel Truth of men’s justification by faith in Jesus Christ. They exchanged the Truth for a lie and kept men in slavery to sin and death. It was this long social, cultural, and political process that set the stage for the Reformation in the 16th century.

There had been numerous reformers before Martin Luther including John Wycliffe and Jan Hus. Most of them and their efforts had been stamped out and some of the reformers were even executed. But, all of them were martyrs, that is, witnesses, for the Gospel Truth. They were sowers of the Gospel seed who would not live to see the fruits of their labors. But, when the time was right, God, and God alone, saw that His message would ring out to the ends of the world.

Again, the reasons for the Reformation were multitude. Politically, the Holy Roman Empire was in decline and was threatened by the Turks and barbarians from without and by territorial unrest from within. Socially, there was increasing strife between peasants and landowners. And, then there was spiritual strife within the Church as the forgiveness of sins was being sold as a commodity through the sale of indulgences and even the sale of the holy sacraments. Arguably, however, the greatest factor in the rapid spread and success of the Reformation was the invention of the movable type – Gutenberg’s printing press of the mid 15th century.

For, what did the printing press serve to do but to spread the Word of God? In all likelihood, were it not for the press, Martin Luther would be but another footnote in pre-Reformation history. Indeed, the Reformation was God’s doing, in His way, at His time, in the place of His choosing. And, as hard as men may strive in fear to hide, bend, and deny the truth, the Eternal Gospel of the Truth still stands and will continue to ring out to the ends of the earth. Again, Jesus said “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” Ultimately, it was the truth of the word that was uncovered in the Reformation and, thanks to the press, rapidly spread throughout Europe and the rest of the world. Wycliffe had translated the entire Bible into English and Luther translated it into German. In addition, numerous commentaries and theological tracts were read by more and more people. The Word of the Truth was out of the bag, proclaimed, as it were, by one of God’s holy angels to those who dwell on earth, to every nation and tribe and language and people “Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come, and worship him who made heaven and earth, the sea and the springs of water.”

“The hour of his judgment has come,” for, God has judged men to be righteous in Jesus Christ – and that is the truth. So, there is nothing to fear from the truth unless what you fear is losing your enslavement to sin and death. The truth is that you are set free from all your secret sins, from having to hide them and cover them up, from having to fear their being exposed, from having to bend the truth to make yourself look better in the eyes of men and of God. Therefore, confess your dark sins, expose them to the light of the Truth, and watch them disappear like vapor in the full light of the sun. Be free from sin and death and do not submit yourself again unto a yoke of slavery. For, the Son has set you free, and you are a son, not a slave. The righteousness of God has be shown in that He is just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. So, you are free from performing works of the Law to merit salvation through the blood of God’s sacrificial Lamb. You are free to worship Him without fear, holy and righteous in His sight all the days of your life to the glory of God the Father.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Magic, Sorcery, Witchcraft, and Alchemy–A Natural Science Rather than A Spiritual One?

Opponents of Christianity often point to supposed atrocities committed in the Name of Christ, particularly during the so-called “Dark” Ages and the Late-Medieval Period, such as the Spanish Inquisition and witch trials, to demonstrate that Christian faith is inherently superstitious, ignorant, and violent. Once again, however, David Bentley Hart masterfully and scholarly demonstrates the historical aberrations, misconceptions, and exaggerations in such claims in his book Atheist Delusions – The Christian Revolution and Its Fashionable Enemies. Hart demonstrates that heresy and sorcery during this time was much more a concern of the state rather than of the church. The Inquisition and, later, witch hunts, were more about maintaining political power than fending off the powers of darkness. This is not, however, to exonerate the Church completely of periodic complicity with the state in the violence of early modernity, but the contemporary portrait of this period and the Church looks nothing like that which emerges when honest historical scholarship commands the palette and brush.

In the following paragraph, Hart demonstrates that magic, sorcery, witchcraft, and alchemy were not spiritual or religious by nature but were more akin to an emerging modern scientific understanding in which there is no transcendent, spiritual realm but rather subtler, hidden material forces and substances to be discovered and manipulated by men to achieve ever-increasing dominance over the material world. This is always sinful man’s greatest desire – to be god unto himself.

In truth, the rise of modern science and the early modern obsession with sorcery were not merely contemporaneous currents within Western society but were two closely allied manifestations of the development of a new post-Christian sense of human mastery over the world. There is nothing especially outrageous in such a claim. After all, magic is essentially a species of materialism; if it invokes any agencies beyond the visible sphere, they are not supernatural – in the theological sense of “transcendent” – but at most preternatural: they are merely, that is to say, subtler, more potent aspects of the physical cosmos. Hermetic magic and modern science (in its most Baconian form at least) are both concerned with hidden forces within the material order, forces that are largely impersonal and morally neutral, which one can learn to manipulate, and which may be turned to ends fair or foul; both, that is to say, are concerned with domination of the physical cosmos, the instrumental subjection of nature to humanity, and the constant increase of human power. Hence, there was not really any later modern triumph of science over magic, so much as there was a natural dissolution of the latter into the former, as the power of science to accomplish what magic could only adumbrate became progressively more obvious. Or, rather, “magic” and “science” in the modern period are distinguishable only retrospectively, according to relative degrees of efficacy. There never was, however, an antagonism between the two: metaphysically, morally, and conceptually, they belonged to a single continuum.

David Bentley Hart, Atheist Delusions – The Christian Revolution and Its Fashionable Enemies, p82

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Homily for the Twenty-First Sunday after Trinity (Trinity 21)


John 4:46-54; Ephesians 6:10-17; Genesis 1:1 – 2:3

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.

There’s a lot of talking going on in that first chapter of Genesis. There’s a lot of talking going on, but, there’s no people, it’s all God. And, yet, look at all the stuff that happens: The heavens and the earth are created. There is light. There are oceans, seas, and land. There are stars, the moon and the sun, and all the celestial bodies. And, then there are living things, first grass, plants, and trees, but, then, birds and fish, and, finally, land animals of all kinds --- all this from God, and from God alone, talking, speaking His creative and life-giving Word, bringing all things out of nothing. As St. John the Evangelist writes in the Prologue to His Gospel, “All things were made through [the Word], and without [the Word] was not anything made that was made.” All things were made through the Word of God, the Word that was with God in the beginning, the Word that was God and is God still.

It was that Word that became flesh and, in the person of Jesus, made His dwelling amongst us. So, God continued to talk, God continued to speak His creative and life-giving Word, and creation continued to happen, through the Words of Jesus, who is the Word of God become flesh. The people of Israel understood that God created all things out of nothing by His powerful and creative Word, but they did not understand that God’s creative and life-giving Word could possibly stand right there in their very midst to re-create His fallen creation. Jesus, the Word of God made flesh, was able to turn water into wine, to heal the sick, and to raise the dead by His Word alone, still the people demanded signs and wonders in order to believe. Sometimes Jesus granted them signs and wonders, but ultimately He invited them to believe that He was the Word of God incarnate, the glory of God and His Word of creation, present in their very midst. It’s still all God, and it’s still all by God’s Word. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end.

When Jesus healed the sick, raised the dead, and cast out demons it was by the power of the Word of God. In all such cases it was God’s creative Word re-creating His creation ruined by sin and the temptations of the devil. Each and every case was a confrontation between the Word of Life and the powers of darkness. When Jesus Himself was tempted by the devil in the wilderness, Jesus drove away the devil by the Word of God alone. In His death on the cross, the Word of God, Jesus, was triumphant over the devil, destroying his power forever.

Your old evil foe is defeated, but still he tempts you, and often convinces you, to believe that this is not so. Each day of your life, therefore, you are under siege from his temptations. Yet, still, for you, now, the Word of God alone can drive away the devil. Thus, Paul instructs you to “Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.” Such armor is defensive, not offensive, for, it is not you who will be doing the fighting. Indeed, the fight is already over and the victory is won for God through Christ’s death and resurrection. But, you need protecting, still, from the temptations of the evil one; you need defensive armor. God supplies you that armor in Jesus Christ: He supplies you with the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the gospel of peace as shoes for your feet, the shield of faith, and the helmet of salvation. These are defensive armor; they will protect you from the assaults of the devil if you trust in them. Indeed, the only offensive weapon that is given you is the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God. It is the Word alone that heals the sick, that raises the dead, that casts away demons, that drives off the devil.

So, it was not necessary that Jesus go to the official’s dying son, but for Him only to speak His Word. The official sought out Jesus because he believed Him to be a healer, otherwise he would not have come to Jesus. The official believed that Jesus could and would heal his dying son, but he wrongly believed that it was necessary for Jesus to be physically present. “Unless you see signs and wonders,” Jesus says to him, “you will not believe.” Jesus was not sent to receive glory for Himself but glorify His Father who sent Him by restoring His fallen creation and by redeeming men who He created in His own image.

There is a similar account in St. Matthew’s Gospel of a Roman centurion who asked Jesus to heal his servant who was tortured with palsy. In that account, Jesus answers straightway “I will come and heal him.” But, the centurion replied, “Lord, I am not worthy that You should come under my roof, but only speak Your Word and my servant will be healed.” Why is it that when the official asks Him to come to his son Jesus refuses to go their bodily, while, though not asked to come to the servant of the centurion, He offers to go there at once? Is it not to rebuke man’s sinful pride? Is it not to show that the ways of men are not the ways of God? Is it not to strengthen men’s faith in the Word of God alone and to demonstrate that the Word of God made flesh in Jesus is everywhere present as He fills all things? Is it not to show that faith that demands signs and wonders to believe is a little faith or no faith at all? The official came to Jesus seeking healing for his son; he went home that day with so much more, true, unshakable, unwavering faith. He who had faith to come needed a greater faith to go away, faith that believes without seeing, faith that finds peace in the Word of God alone.

“All things were made through [the Word], and without [the Word] was not anything made that was made.” Jesus is the Word of God made flesh and dwelling amongst. Forty days after His resurrection from the dead, Jesus ascended to the right hand of His Father in Heaven. In Christ’s Ascension, it was not that Jesus was taken away from His disciples and that He was no longer with them, but it was simply that they would no longer see Him in the same way. Indeed, during those forty days after His resurrection, Jesus willfully appeared and disappeared before the presence of His disciples, first at His empty tomb, then in the upper room behind closed doors, with the disciples on the road to Emmaus, and with his disciples on the shores of the lake. Though He has now ascended to the right hand of the Father, in so doing He fills all things and is present everywhere as He promised, “I will be with you always, even unto the end of the age.”

So, the Word made flesh, Jesus Christ, is with you, now, to forgive, to nourish and strengthen, and to feed you, His disciples, with His creative and life-giving Word and His precious body and holy blood that you may believe and have peace and live to the glory of His Father in His most Holy Spirit.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Homily for the Twentieth Sunday after Trinity (Trinity 20)


Matthew 22:1-14; Ephesians 5:15-21; Isaiah 55:1-9

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.

God is holy, and God commands that you must be holy as He is holy. But, what does it mean to be holy? For God to be holy means that He is not like you. God is wholly other than you; His holiness is the state of His being. And, for you to be holy is not what you think, it is not to be moral. Holiness is not morality, and sanctification is not moral improvement or self-improvement. Holiness is a state of being in which you share something of God’s holiness, for only God is holy. Your Holy God makes you holy in the cleansing blood of Jesus Christ. The pre-requisite for sharing in God’s holiness is purity, being cleansed of stain of your sin guilt – it is to be justified, before being sanctified. Only God is holy. Thus, when He commands that you must be holy as He is holy, He is not commanding something for you to do, He is commanding something for you to be. In fact, He is declaring something about you that is true – you are holy – because God has made you holy in the atoning death and resurrection of His Son. In Christ, you are clean and you are holy, you are justified and you are sanctified. And this is entirely God’s work, done for you, done to you, in Jesus Christ your Lord.

To shed more light upon this truth, let us consider these very familiar words of Jesus: For God so loved the world, that He gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. Now, this is not merely a description of God’s great affection for you, His love for you, though it is that, but, first and foremost, this is an explanation of the very way in which God has loved you – God has loved you like this: He gave His only Son for you. God gave His Son, not for His chosen people, not for the moral and the upright, not for the faithful and the good, but, God gave His Son for the world – that the world, and everyone in it, would be holy as He is holy.

This is the doctrine of objective justification – That is to say that the reason that you are pure and clean before God lies entirely outside of you in the objective death and resurrection of God’s Son Jesus Christ. Jesus, the Lamb of God, died for the sins of the entire world. This is the doctrine of Universal Atonement – That is to say that Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection was for the entire world and for everyone it. There is no one who has not been cleansed in the blood of the Lamb of God. Therefore, there is reconciliation with God the Father, there is forgiveness, there is cleanness from sins, there is purity and there is holiness for everyone. This is an objective fact for you, for everyone you know, and for everyone that has ever lived or will ever live.

But, do not be confused, that Jesus Christ died for all, that all are cleansed in His holy blood, does not mean that all will join in the marriage feast of the Lamb and His Bride the Church, for, as Jesus said in the parable, many are called but few are chosen. That is to say that, though all are invited through the blood of Jesus, all are atoned for, cleansed, and made holy through the blood of Jesus, many still refuse to come to God, many still refuse to receive His gifts. In the parable, some persecute and kill the Lord’s servants sent to call them to the feast. Others try to come on their own terms, by their own worth and merit and they are cast out into utter darkness. Still, all were invited, the prominent land owners and business men first, then the commoner, then the strangers, sojourners, and outcasts from the highways and the byways. All were invited, all have been cleansed, purified, and sanctified in Jesus’ blood; still, so very many refuse. So, if you find yourself in the kingdom of heaven, that is entirely to God’s credit and glory, not yours; but, if you find yourself in darkness and damnation, well, that is entirely your fault.

For, that is what the kingdom of heaven is like. The kingdom of heaven is like a king who gave a wedding feast for his son, and sent his servants to call those who were invited to the wedding feast, but they would not come. They were invited, that was a fact, by the king’s love and grace; all they had to do was come and receive the gifts the king desired to bestow, but they refused. Some were simply disinterested. Others were too preoccupied, to busy with work, possessions, and play. Others were belligerent, angry, and violent; they mocked the king’s servants, treated them shamefully, and killed them. They were in God’s grace, but now they have incurred God’s wrath. Jesus says that they were not worthy, but that is only because they despised the Lord’s gracious invitation. They counted their own affairs of greater value than the Lord’s invitation. Therefore, they are judged according to their own works and merits and worth, and they are condemned. The King orders the destruction of those murderers and the burning of their cities. They will be as stubble.

But, then the king sent his servants, amazingly, to gather both the good and the bad and to invite them to the feast, for, the good and the bad, alike, are holy in Jesus’ blood, and the wedding hall was full of guests. Yet, there was one man who did not have a wedding garment. Now, you must remember that none of these guests was prepared to attend a great wedding banquet; just moments earlier they were out and about their business, presumably in their normal day to day attire. So, it was the king who provided his guests with the proper wedding attire upon entering his hall. This, in fact, was a custom in Jesus’ day. Then, how is it that this one invited guest does not have on a proper wedding garment. He was an invited guest. The king addresses him as friend. He was provided clothing just like all the other guests, but he refused to wear it; he rejected the king’s provided clothing. Again, the king is angry; He commanded his servants to “Bind him hand and foot and cast him into the outer darkness” where there is “weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Perhaps the weeping and the gnashing is due to the fact that the souls there were invited guests, they had everything, and they willfully chose to reject it because of their pride, envy, sloth, or whatever. It was their own damned fault.

For, God is holy, and God commands that you must be holy as He is holy. And, God has made you holy in the death and resurrection of His Son Jesus Christ. You are invited to the wedding feast and you have been clothed in Christ’s righteousness that covers all you sins. If you refuse God’s gracious invitation and do not come to Him, if you reject the garment of Christ’s righteousness, then you stand only with what you have to offer, your sin-tainted works, your sin-corrupted flesh and blood. God is holy, and God commands that you must be holy as He is holy. And, God has made you holy in the death and resurrection of His Son Jesus. But, you are not holy on your own. And, to accept God’s invitation and His garment of righteousness is not a choice that you make or a work that you do, but, it is the way things are, a true and present reality, by God’s grace, mercy, love, and holy will. The only choice that you make is to say “No”, to reject God’s grace, mercy, and justification. God has already judged you holy and righteous in Jesus Christ, to reject this is to stand in His condemnation and wrath. All persons in the parables that end up being judged were first chosen.

God is not like you, He is wholly other. God is holy, but He is not remote. God is with you, and He has invited you to this foretaste of His wedding feast now. For, the Holy Spirit has called you by the Gospel, enlightened you with His gifts, sanctified and kept you in the true faith. He has clothed you in the baptismal garments of Christ’s righteousness and you are clean. And, now He feeds you with the choicest of meats and the finest of wines in the holy body and the precious blood of the Son of God become Man, Jesus Christ, your Savior. The invitation reads: Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

David Bentley Hart on the New Age Movement

In a chapter of his book Atheist Delusions dealing with the nature of perceived free will, Hart posits that, almost universally, “the inviolable liberty of personal volition” or “choice” is the first principle of perceived human freedom, “often seeming to exercise an almost mystical supremacy over all other concerns.” Hart observes that, due to our belief that personal choice is the “highest good,” we fear that subscribing to some established tradition, belief, worldview, etc. is to limit our freedom to choose. Thus, the great claim today is to be spiritual and not religious. It is popular to string together bits and pieces of religion, philosophy, political views, scientific theories, etc. as if we were choosing selections from a cafeteria buffet. Hart writes:

This is especially obvious at modern Western religion’s pastel-tinged margins, in those realms of the New Age where the gods of the boutique hold uncontested sway. Here one may cultivate a private atmosphere of “spirituality” as undemanding and therapeutically comforting as one likes simply by purchasing a dream catcher, a few pretty crystals, some books on the goddess, a Tibetan prayer wheel, a volume of Joseph Campbell or Carl Jung or Robert Graves, a Nataraja figurine, a purse of tiles engraved with runes, a scattering of Pre-Raphaelite prints drenched in Celtic twilight, an Andean flute, and so forth, until this mounting congeries of string, worthless quartz, cheap joss sticks, baked clay, kitsch, borrowed iconography, and fraudulent scholarship reaches that mysterious point of saturation at which religion has become indistinguishable from interior decorating. Then one may either abandon one’s gods for something new or bide with them for a time, but in either case without any real reverence, love, or dread. There could scarcely be a more thoroughly modern form of religion than this. It certainly bears no resemblance to the genuine and honorable idolatries of old, or to the sort of ravenous religious eclecticism that characterized the late Roman Empire. The peoples of early and late antiquity actually believed in, adored, and feared their gods. No one really believes in the gods of the New Age; they are deities not of the celestial hierarchy above but of the ornamental étagère in the corner, and their only “divine” office is to give symbolic expression to the dreamier sides of their votaries’ personalities. They are purchased gods, gods as accessories, and hence are merely masks by means of which the one true god – the will – at once conceals and reveals itself.

From Atheist Delusions – The Christian Revolution and Its Fashionable Enemies by David Bentley Hart, pp 23-24

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Killing is a human constant.

I’ve been reading off and on a book by David Bentley Hart entitled Atheist Delusions – The Christian Revolution and Its Fashionable Enemies. In this book, Hart takes to task the so-called “Four Horsemen” of the further so-called “New Atheist” Movement: Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, and Sam Harris. Hart’s is the first Christian response that I’ve seen whose arguments are not just as ignorant and foolish as those he is responding too. On the contrary, Hart has a great command of history, sociology, and philosophy, particularly logic, and mastrerfully exposes the false presumptions, premises, reasoning, etc. of his opponents. Hart’s book, for me, is not a quick read. It’s one of those books that is simply chock full of rich tidbits that I find my mind wandering off on inspired tangents so that a page, or a paragraph, a day is about all I can process. I make no promises, but I hope to share a few gleanings from this thoughtful book.

Today, I share with you Hart’s reflections on why men kill. Proponents of the New Atheist movement like to claim that religion is inherently violent and has been responsible for the world’s greatest number of deaths by persecution, war, etc. Hart demonstrates, from common sense and a simple historical awareness, that killing is a human constant wholly apart from religious belief or unbelief:

… the broader, even more general, and yet more pertinent truth is that men kill (women kill too, but historically have had fewer opportunities to do so). Some kill because their faiths explicitly command them to do so, some kill though their faiths explicitly forbid them to do so, and some kill because they have no faith and hence believe all things are permitted to them. Polytheists, monotheists, and atheists kill – indeed, this last class is especially prolifically homicidal, if the evidence of the twentieth century is to be consulted. Men kill for their gods, or for their God, or because there is no God and the destiny of humanity must be shaped by gigantic exertions of human will . They kill in pursuit of universal truths and out of fidelity to tribal allegiances; for faith, blood and soil, empire, national greatness, the “socialist utopia,” capitalism, and “democratization.” Men will always seek gods in whose name they may perform great deeds or commit unspeakable atrocities, even when those gods are not gods but “tribal honor” or “genetic imperatives” or “social ideals” or “human destiny” or “liberal democracy.” Then again, men also kill on account of money, land, love, pride, hatred, envy, or ambition. They kill out of conviction or out of lack of conviction. […] Does religious conviction provide a powerful reason for killing? Undeniably it often does. It also often provides the sole compelling reason for refusing to kill, or for being merciful, or for seeking peace; only the profoundest ignorance of history could prevent one from recognizing this. For the truth is that religion and irreligion are cultural variables, but killing is a human constant.

From Atheist Delusions – The Christian Revolution and Its Fashionable Enemies by David Bentley Hart, pp12-13

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Homily for The Nineteenth Sunday after Trinity (Trinity 19)


Matthew 9:1-8; Ephesians 4:22-28; Genesis 28:10-17

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Throughout the Old Testament, in many and various ways, God dwelt amongst His people. In the beginning, Adam and Eve had a special relationship with God; they had fellowship with God primarily through the eating of the fruit of the Tree of Life and by abstaining from the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. It even seems that God walked and talked personally with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, but, the first mention of this in the Bible occurs shortly after their Fall, and they hid themselves in fear of God, knowing their sin, shame, and nakedness, and that they could no longer abide in God’s holy presence.

In Divine Mercy and Holy Love, God took action to right man’s wrong; He made a promise to the devil, to our First Parents, and to all mankind that He would send one from woman’s seed, one that would crush the devil’s head and break the curse that had enshrouded the world. From that point on, there was a sharp divide between those who believed God, whose faith He counted as righteousness, and those who disbelieved. And, great, though imperfect, men of faith marked God’s faithfulness throughout the centuries and millennia, men like Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph.

Then, in the days of Moses, Aaron, and Joshua, God dwelt amongst His people as a Pillar of Cloud by day and as a Pillar of Fire by night. The same Cloud and Fire that had enshrouded Mt. Sinai went before His people as they made their way to the Land of Promise, enshrouding the Tabernacle when the people stopped and made camp and lifting up and moving on when they broke. It was the same Shekinah Glory, the presence of God, which filled the Holy of Holies in King Solomon’s temple, the Glory of God’s Real Presence, though veiled, in the midst of His people.

Because men could not come into His holy presence, God came to men in veiled forms. But, in the Incarnation, God took on the veil of human flesh and became a man: The Word became flesh and made His dwelling amongst us, and we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.

It is the Incarnation of the Son of God that is prefigured in Jacob’s ladder extending from heaven to earth. For, Jesus is such a bridge between God and man; for, Jesus is the very gate of heaven. God’s holy angels rejoice to serve us for the sake of the Son of God become the Son of Man. Wherever Jesus is present, there God is present, and there the entire kingdom of heaven is present. And, for the baptized into Christ, that is everywhere! For, Christ fills all things and the whole earth proclaims the glory of the Lord! Where Christ is really present in flesh, blood, and spirit, there the angels of God ascend and descend, there life reigns over death, there darkness is dispelled by light, there is eternity now and forevermore! Truly we must confess and glorify God with Jacob, the Patriarchs, Prophets, and Apostles, with all Saints and God’s holy angels, “This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.”

The Incarnation of the Son of God changed everything! This is why Jesus says to the paralytic “Your sins are forgiven” prior to healing the man of his paralysis. In the Incarnation of the Son of God, the Word of God made flesh and dwelling amongst us as one of us, Jesus is forgiveness. Jesus is life, Jesus is salvation, Jesus is healing, and Jesus is the resurrection now. This He teaches by forgiving sins before healing. This He teaches by forgiving sins in place of healing. “Which is easier, to say ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’?” It is easier to say that your sins are forgiven, for they are! That is the fundamental reality! Any healing is but a physical sign of a spiritual reality. If the physical healing is not granted, that does not change the fact that you are forgiven. Yes, of course, healing is good, healing is desirable, but even the healed die in the end. Even those Jesus raised from the dead died in the end. But physical death is not spiritual death anymore than physical life is spiritual life; you have spiritual life because you have spiritual forgiveness through the Incarnation, Death, Resurrection, and Ascension of the Son of God and Son of Man Jesus Christ, and that is the Truth that no one can take away from you.

The scribes were right, no one has the authority to forgive sins except God; for a man to claim otherwise is blasphemy. But, Jesus Christ is God in human flesh. And, He didn’t become human to forgive sins, He is the forgiveness of sins in human flesh. Jesus Christ is Peace between God and men, He is the bridge, the ladder between heaven and earth. Thus, it is blasphemy to say that Jesus cannot forgive sins. Jesus is the Gospel, the Good News come into our world of spiritual paralysis; Jesus is the Good News that we are set free from all that, we are forgiven! The scribes, in their zeal for the Law, desiring to protect God, actually deny that God forgives sins; that is blasphemy!

But, Jesus doesn’t hate the scribes; and, they weren’t the only ones who were confused and wrong. So, Jesus gives them the sign; He says to the paralyzed man “Rise, pick up your bed and go home.” And, he rose and went home. The crowds were astonished! They were afraid. And, they glorified God. But, the great Truth that they walked away with that day was the Gospel, the Good News, that God had visited His people in forgiveness and mercy and they did not perish, and, that God had given this authority to forgive sins to the man Jesus Christ.

But, to give such authority to Jesus is to give it to all men, for Jesus is not simply a man unto Himself, but He is all flesh, He is all men. He is the New and Greater Adam, the Father of us all, David’s Lord; and He is our brother and our neighbor, David’s Son – Son of God and Son of Man. He is Immanuel, God with us. And, He has come to grant us forgiveness, release from the paralysis of sin and death. He has come to bring us spiritual healing now and physical healing now in accordance with His will, but perfect healing and life in the resurrection of the body on the Last Day.

Christ has come to you this day and has raised up your New Man once again in the forgiveness of your sins; and, your forgiveness is as certain on earth as it is in heaven. Now your Lord says to you, “Come, eat my flesh and drink my blood, and live; for, whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the Last Day.” This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven! For, the Incarnate Son of God Himself is present in Word, Water, Body, and Blood; and, where Christ is there is forgiveness; and where there is forgiveness, there is eternal life and salvation.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

"We need to stop arguing about trivial things like the truth."

Ok, so there are some problems with the red balloon handler's argumentation, but still, this video, in a simple way, demonstrates the many problems with post-modern, relativistic theories of, and denials of, truth and it also elegantly sets forth one of the chief conditions for truth: The truth is true whether you believe it or not.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

The Eighteenth Sunday after Trinity (Trinity 18)


Matthew 22:34-46; 1 Corinthians 1:1-9; Deuteronomy 10:12-21

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.

“What does the LORD your God require of you?” Now, there’s a question that gets down to brass tacks. But, isn’t that what you’ve desired, a straight-forward, no-holds-barred, just-tell-me-what’s-expected-of-me-so-that-I-can-do-it sort of statement? “Just tell me what I need to do, Lord, and I’ll do it!” Well, ok then, here you go: Fear the Lord your God. Walk in all His ways. Love Him. Serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul. Keep the commandments and statutes of the LORD. Thus saith the Lord. Do this, and you will live.

Now, perhaps some of you think that sounds pretty good? You hear this Law and think that you size up pretty well, especially when you compare yourself to some of your neighbors, co-workers, friends, and relatives. And, to be sure, the devil will pump you full of pride and will encourage those thoughts. Well, as one of my seminary professors has infamously said, “You know not the Scriptures or the power therein!” That is to say, you know the letter of the Law, but you do not know its spirit. You are like the Pharisees, who must continually whittle down the Law to make it more do-able and contrast yourself against others to improve the image of your performance. But, there’s a bit of a problem with your way of thinking. The Law of God expects and demands absolute perfection, in thought, word, and deed. Doing some of the Law or even most of the Law earns you only damnation and hell. God is not partial and He takes no bribe.

On the other hand, perhaps you are all too aware of how you fall short of the expectations of God’s Law. You know that you don’t do it or keep it, and, even though you try, you fail, daily. Then, the same devil will attack you and accuse you so that you despair of forgiveness, believing there is no hope for your salvation. What, then, are you to make of all this? “Damned if you do; damned if you don’t?” Yeah, that’s pretty much it, if you insist that your righteousness is achieved by your works according to the Law.

You see, the Pharisees asked Jesus a Law question because they wanted to justify themselves according to the Law: “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” “Let’s narrow down those Ten Commandments, indeed the other 603 (613 total) in the Torah as well, to just one, one that we can say we do and that others don’t.” Jesus knows their hypocrisy, the Pharisees know very well that the Great Commandment of the Law is to love God with absolutely everything that you are, heart, soul, and mind, and that the other side of that commandment is to love everyone as you love yourself. In fact, everything in the Law and the Prophets, the entire Hebrew Scriptures, which we call the Old Testament, hangs upon this Great Commandment – Love. Love God and love your neighbor, always, perfectly, without failing, in thought, word, and deed. That is the summation of the Law.

But, the Pharisees were too wrapped up in the Law for them to love. Since the Law was so impossible to do, they had to continually diminish it and sub-divide it to make it more do-able. The result of this is that they neither fulfilled the Law of God, nor did they truly love God or their neighbors. That’s why Jesus directs them away from the Law and points them, instead, to the Gospel. Jesus asks the Pharisees a question: What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he? The answer the Pharisees gave was the standard one from the popular understanding that the Messiah would be an earthly king descended from the line of David. Thus, Jesus points them beyond this understanding to a mystery saying, “How is it then that David, in the Spirit, calls him Lord, saying, ‘The Lord said to my Lord, sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet’? If then David calls him Lord, how is he his son?” The question is this, “How can David’s Lord also be David’s son?” This is a profound mystery, but it is the key that unlocks the messianic prophecy as well as the key that unlocks the shackles of God’s holy Law.

David’s Lord is God. David’s son is a descendent of his lineage. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is at once David’s Lord, since He is God, and the son of David, born of the Virgin Mary of the house of David and adopted by Joseph of the house of David. Jesus is the Son of God and the Son of Man; He is David’s Lord and He is David’s son. This truth we sing at Christmas: Son of God and Son of Man. This truth we confess in the Athanasian Creed: He is God of the substance of His Father begotten before all ages, and He is Man, born from the substance of His mother in this age. Perfect God and perfect man, composed of a rational soul and human flesh; equal to the Father with respect to His divinity; less than the Father with respect to His humanity. Although He is God and Man, He is not two, but one Christ. Jesus is the key because He is the divine link between the two Great Commandments. Jesus is God in human flesh, come as our neighbor, to be loved as we love ourselves. And, Jesus is God in human flesh, come as our neighbor, that God could love us as a neighbor as Himself. Jesus is the fulfilling of both tables of the Law, righting out relationship with our neighbor and righting our relationship with God.

Thus, Jesus is also the love of God poured out for us loveless sinners, the love that conquers death, the earnings for our sin, in His own sacrificial, substitutionary, and atoning death. Jesus is Love, thus He is the fulfilling of the Law. He has set us free from the shackles of the Law so that we may do it freely and without fear or coercion. And, He has sent us His Holy Spirit so that we are not lacking in any spiritual gift. There is, therefore, no need to pare down God’s Law to make it more manageable, for it has been fulfilled in love; there is no need to ask “Who should I love? And, to what extent? And, how often?” for there are no quotas and there is nothing to lose, while there is everything to gain. Love God, and love your neighbor, freely, recklessly, and with utter abandon, for you are beloved of the Father, in the Son, and with the Holy Spirit.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.