Mostly stuff on Christianity by an Anglican priest who reads a lot of C. S. Lewis.

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Notes on Ascension Day

For a small group study:

From the Book of Common Prayer: GRANT, we beseech thee, Almighty God, that like as we do believe thy only-begotten Son our Lord Jesus Christ to have ascended into the heavens; so we may also in heart and mind thither ascend, and with him continually dwell, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, one God, world without end. Amen.
Luke’s account: Acts 1:1-12

What happened when Jesus arrived in “heaven?” 
- Jesus began his reign as the true King David: Ephesians 1:15-23; I Cor. 15:24-26;
- There was war: John’s account: Revelation 12.*
- There was Pentecost:
Peter’s commentary: Acts 2:14-36
Paul’s commentary: Ephesians 4:7-12; we understand this equipping of the Church to be the very thing that happened at Pentecost (the gift of the Spirit was given, with his gifts), Acts 2:16-17.  Cf. Hebrews 1:3
- We arrived in heaven, too: Ephesians 2:4-7; if you will, this is “the first resurrection” Revelation 20:1-6 (cf. Romans 6).  Rev. 20 is perhaps the hardest part of Revelation to figure everything out.  Cf. Hebrews 2:8 (note the “now and not yet”)

* The book of Revelation is a revelation.  It is something meant to be understood.  In fact, we are held accountable for understanding it (1:3).  There are several places in the book where we are told what is going on to help us with the symbolism (e.g., 11:8; 12:9,17).  The book is also very full of Old Testament references, which, if we know the OT, help us to understand.  We should not get bogged down in the details.  A lot of the details are there to help the narrative to flow; they, in themselves, may not have any particular reference.  The main idea is to follow the main idea and benefit from the encouragement this book gives us about the purposes of our King and his final victory over all his enemies.

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Sermon today, St. Luke's Blue Ridge - Easter III

Sermon preached today at St. Luke's Epsicopal, Blue Ridge, GA, by The Rev. Victor Morgan

Easter 3 (MP-1) (2019)

 A young mother returned from her first Mother’s Day service in an Episcopal Church and was sorely disappointed.   It seems that Mother’s Day in the church in which she grew up was much bigger – second perhaps only to Christmas or Easter. But in this service the day got bare recognition . . . and they even ran out of red carnations.

Well, here at St. Luke’s we aim for the middle way . . . the via media between making it Holy Mother’s Day and ignoring the holiday all together.  While continuing to focus on the theme suggested in our appointed lessons, we nevertheless, try not to short change our mothers or fail to note the importance of the home.

This last – the importance of the home -- is of particular is importance at this time. How so?  Because the homes in which many of us grew up are almost non-existent . . . not completely but almost.   The homelife pictured in the early days of television – anyone remember the Cleavers on “Leave it to Beaver”? – is gone with the wind.  Today’s homes are little more than places where an assortment of people sleep and play electronic devices solo. 

Gone are the days when mother, father and children sat down and ate meals together and talked.
Gone are the days when mother read Bibles stories and passed on the Faith to the young.
Gone are the days when manners and knowledge were taught and where respect and civility were insisted upon.
Gone are the days when family members worked alongside each other at common tasks and enjoyed it.
Gone are the days when there were boundaries and consequences for crossing those boundaries.

Could what happened this past week at the school in Colorado be a sign that all is not right, not only in our schools, but in our homes?   Of course, there are other factors – mental health being one – but this one seems – at least to my way of thinking – paramount.

 Homes, as I said earlier, were once places where the faith was passed on and such boundary markers as the 10 commandments were learn and practiced.  Where is this happening today? Where is this transfer taking place? Certainly not in public schools, nor in most homes. And we are reaping the consequences.

                      * * * * * *

The home – ideally mother and father and perhaps grandparents – is the place where young people need to be given space to grapple with life’s “ultimate questions”.

What are these questions?  Who am I? Why am I here? What is wrong with the world? and How can what is wrong be put right?   Another – actually related to these four – might be added to the mix: What is human destiny? Why are we here anyway?

If I am just here by chance . . . if I am a blob of protoplasm . . . if I am just a product of blind evolution . . .  if there is no God directing the show . . . if all -- myself included -- ends in oblivion . . . all is meaninglessness, and what I do is meaningless.  If that is the case, grab and consume all can. Live for the day. Do as you please.

 But if there is a God, and I am here for a purpose, and God wants me to live one way over against another, and there is something after this life, a hell to be avoided and a heaven won . . .  then all is changed. 

Both our readings this morning have something to say about human destiny and life beyond this life.  In the first – our Old Testament lesson – David, Israel’s great yet flawed king, has suffered a great loss. The child born to him by the wife of Uriah the Hittite is dead. Following the infant’s death, we hear David speak these words:   “Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me.”

His words are rich in pathos but short on hope. There is no definite conviction here of any assurance that he will see the child again.  At the most, the matter ends with a question mark.  But, what a remarkable difference there is between what David’s says on this occasion and what Jesus says to the disciples just prior to His arrest and crucifixion: 

“Let not your hearts be troubled . . . In my Father's house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you . . . I will come again.”

What has happened between these two statements?  Here is my suggestion.  Picture the question mark I just mentioned, the one standing behind David’s words about his young son.  Imagine that question mark being stretched . . . elongated . . . unhooked.  What would you have if this were to happen? An exclamation point!

And this is precisely what happened with the coming of Jesus . . . in particular what happened on Easter morning. A question mark is stretched into an exclamation point.  Human destiny is no longer up for grabs. Hence, Jesus’ words to Thomas: I am Way, the Truth and the Life.

He is not only our Saviour but our Forerunner . . . πρόδρομος (prodromos) in the Greek . . . one who goes ahead and makes it safe to follow. (Hebrews 6:20)  In the light of the death and resurrection of Jesus, how might one who has been united to Him in faith and baptism answer those ultimate questions of life?

Who am I? A child of God, a sheep of His pasture, a sinner of His own redeeming, and inheritor of the Kingdom of God.

Why am I here? To re-take-up the vocation given to Adam in Eden: To bear God’s image and reflect His glory into the garden of the world. And in the time leading up to Jesus’ Second Coming, to bear witness to Jesus and His resurrection.

What is wrong with the world? Sin or rebellion against the Creator. St. Paul in Romans, chapter 1, diagnoses the problem like this. He says humans give up the knowledge of God . . . their foolish hearts are darkened . . . they worship and serve the created thing rather than the Creator.  What is the result? Death on a number of different levels.

How can what is wrong be put right? What humans could not do God in Christ has done. The breach between God and humans has been bridged. Now, united with Christ, we can find victory and purpose, destiny and life.

Life’s great question mark is stretched into an exclamation point.  If all this is true . .  If Jesus really has gone to prepare a place for us and is coming to receive us unto Himself?  If sin and death have been dealt with and conquered? . . .  What should be our response?  Go and wait to be taken up into heaven?   Go and complain about the miserable shape the world is in . . . rail against the darkness?

No. Go be the light.  Go and make disciples, as Jesus instructed in the Great Commission.  Go and serve in the world as Christ did.  Go and be the best mother, father, grandparent you can be. Rock the cradle so faithfully that strong men and women may be raised up for the future.  Go and build homes where love, grace, forgiveness and civility are modelled.

 And just perhaps, when all is said and done, this is best hope we have.  

Friday, May 10, 2019

We already have a free education...

Free college tuition is being touted at present, with the claim (opinion) that college education is a right.  After all, everyone needs a job (note the questions begged here)  Of course, such an arrangement would be one more straw on the camel's back of our economy.

We already have a "free" (tax-payer paid) education system, that, if it was doing a wiser job, would make college unnecessary for many people.  If we would get rid of our "one size fits all" mind-set, and recognize that people are different, we could do much to serve our young better.

Why do we make teen-aged students - especially boys - sit through classes in highschool that they know are not fitting them for anything they want to do?  We need to do what the Brits do: differentiate between those who are talented for academic careers and those who will be entering trades.  We need to discern the differences between our students and serve those who need to be learning a trade.  Get those energetic and bored young men learning a trade so that, when they graduate, they can earn a living and get on with adulthood.

A real college education is, if anything, an academic pursuit.  Students who are not academically inclined in high school aren't going to be academically inclined in college (can we say frat parties?).  They need a different path to adulthood and they need to get on with it earlier.

But the free college tuition idea serves another Federal-level power grab.  God help our children.

Prayers by Bishops for Bishops

The Rt. Rev. William Meade, Bishop of Virginia
From the Memoir of the Life of Bishop Meade regarding an agreement made among the bishops convened in 1838 for the consecration of Bishop Leonidas Polk:

Among the private devotional exercises of Bishop Meade, the following prayer and superscription are found in his own handwriting:

"The following is the joint composition of Bishop Otey and myself, the result of an agreement between Bishops McIlvaine, Otey, Polk and myself, to pray specially for each other every Sabbath morning:

"O God, who art pleased not merely to receive the intercessions of thy son Jesus Christ in behalf of Thy poor sinful creatures, but dost command them to pray one for another, and promise that the effectual fervant prayer of the righteous shall much avail, favorably regard the prayers of Thy servants for themselves and each other, which we desire to offer up, trusting that our great Advocate will intercede mightily for us with Thee.

"And oh, that the Holy Spirit may intercede within us, with groanings not to be uttered, making us all deeply to feel our corruptions and weaknesses, and earnestly to desire what we pray for, assured that none but God can help us.  O that we may come unto God with strong faith, verily believing, that He will reward those who diligently seek Him through His Son, asking his best spiritual gifts.

"O God!  who knowest our needs, Thou knowest that ours is no common office, but the highest in Thy glorious Church on earth, and that the honor of Thy Son, and the salvation of immortal souls are connected with it.  O why didst Thou put such a trust into such unworthy and feeble hands, and expose such great interests to such imminent hazard.  Were it not enough that we have to answer for our own souls, and run the fearful risk of their eternal perdition?  Must we in some degree be accountable for others also, and for such numbers too?  And oh! awful thought, must we be responsible to Heaven not merely for our little flock given to us to tend, but, in a measure, for all those numerous ones scattered over the hills and valleys which we are appointed to survey, and not merely for our ministry, but for the ministers of those over whom Thou has placed us, giving us the oversight thereof.  Great God! who is sufficient for this?  Which of us can be saved?  O God!  Thou must have great compassion on us, and deal very gently with us, and remember the infirmities whereof we are made - that we are only earthen vessels - weak things, and foolish things which Thou hast chosen to magnify, that in them Thou mightest show to the world that the work is Thine, and Thine the glory.

"But still, O Lord, we cannot but tremble at the thought of the work we have undertaken, and sometimes greatly to fear, that though we have solemnly declared that we believed Thy Spirit called us to it, it was our own foolish vanity which led us to do it.  But it is now too late to draw back, for that would be to our own perdition.  The most solemn vows are upon us to do all that in us lieth, to fulfil the great duties of our office, and to whom shall we go but to Thee for strength to perform them?  O God!  If there be any upon this earth who need a double portion to enlighten, to sanctify, to strengthen and to comfort them, are not we the very persons?  And hast Thou not promised grace according to our day, and that Thou wilt not put on man more than Thou wilt make him able to bear?  O, then, unto us be the spirit of Thy servant Moses, ruler over the Jews, yet meek above all men - the spirit of Joshua, fearless of man, and trusting in the Lord - the spirit of David, man after Thine own heart, full of holy zeal and deep contrition - the spirit of Abraham, interceding for the cities of the plain - the spirit of the Apostles, and Prophets, and Martyrs, and holy men of God in every age.  Above all, oh! for the heart, the tender heart of the holy Jesus weeping over the city of God, and making ready to die for sinful man!"

So far, Bishop Meade; the following is Bishop Otey's:

"Almighty and everlasting God, mercifully hear and graciously answer the prayers which Thy servants have covenanted to offer for each other at this time, through the intercession of Thy dear Son.  Grant, oh Lord, that we may never lose sight of the weighty responsibility resting upon us.  May we ever realize an abiding and deep sense of the value of souls, and never relax our exertions to win them to Christ.  May we always have such views of the dreadful nature and danger of sin, and be so affected with the love of Christ in dying for sinners, that we may esteem no toil too great, no hardship too severe to endure, in warning the ungodly, in reclaiming the erring, that they may be saved through Christ Jesus.  Be with us in all our journeyings, protect us in all our dangers, assist us in all our difficulties, support us under all our trials; enlighten our understandings with heavenly wisdom, establish our hearts with grace, and so replenish us with the truth of Thy doctrine, and adorn us with innocency of life, that, by word and deed, we may faithfully serve before Thee, to the glory of Thy name, and to the edifying and well governing of Thy Church and people.

"Bless us in all our labors this day, and grant that we may rejoice in every opportunity of spreading abroad the truth of Thy gospel, and proclaiming the glad tidings of reconciliation with Thee.  Bless Thy ministers and people everywhere, and grant that "Thy ways may be known upon earth, and Thy saving health among all nations."

"Hear us in these our prayers, answer us as shall be most expedient for us, and grant us all needful blessings, according to Thy will in Christ Jesus our Saviour, to whom, with Thee, O Father, and Thee, O Holy Ghost, be glory everlasting.  Amen."

Memoir, pp. 237-239.

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

The inspiration of the rest of the NT

It may be easy to see how the Gospels are "inspired," but what about the rest of the New Testament? 

Article VI of the XXXIX Articles states:
VI. Of the Sufficiency of the Holy Scriptures for Salvation.
Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation: so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man, that it should be believed as an article of the Faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation. In the name of the Holy Scripture we do understand those canonical Books of the Old and New Testament, of whose authority was never any doubt in the Church. ... All the Books of the New Testament, as they are commonly received, we do receive, and account them Canonical.

So what's the rationale for this? Apostolic authority, for one thing. Jesus promised that the Spirit would bring all things to the disciples's remembrance. John 14:25,26 25 “These things I have spoken to you while being present with you. 26 But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you. 

John 16:12-13 also says: 12 “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. [Jesus promises more instruction to the future apostles] 13 However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; [the Spirit is going to guide them into all the true things they need to know, believe and pass on to the rest of the Church] for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; [One of the main reasons for the coming of the Holy Spirit was to do this task: continuing the teaching of Jesus] and He will tell you things to come. [compare this with Revelation 1:10 - John ties the revelation of Jesus to the presence of the Holy Spirit in his soul]

Paul speaks of this very action of the Spirit in his own teaching: I Cor. 2:12,13 12 Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God. 13 These things we also speak, not in words which man’s wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual.

See also Ephesians 3: 3 For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for you Gentiles— 2 if indeed you have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which was given to me for you, 3 how that by revelation He made known to me the mystery (as I have briefly written already, 4 by which, when you read, you may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ), 5 which in other ages was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to His holy apostles and prophets: [note also the use of the plural]

Note how Paul describes his own teaching: I Thessalonians 2:13. 13 For this reason we also thank God without ceasing, because when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you welcomed it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which also effectively works in you who believe.

It is no wonder that the apostle Peter equates Paul's writings to the Old Testament scriptures: 2 Peter 3: 14 Therefore, beloved, looking forward to these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, without spot and blameless; 15 and consider that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation—as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given to him, has written to you, 16 as also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which untaught and unstable people twist to their own destruction, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures.

The Acts of the Apostles is only Part Two of one work by Luke. It is taken as having the same authority as Part One, the Gospel.

So much for the rationale. There are also instructions in the NT of how the epistles are to be used that show they are to be taken as authoritative (e.g. 1 Thess. 5:27: 27 I charge you by the Lord that this epistle be read to all the holy brethren. 2 Thess. 15 Therefore, brethren, stand fast and hold the traditions which you were taught, whether by word or our epistle.)

Saturday, April 27, 2019

Wendell Berry's Divine Comedy?

I just finished Jaber Crow.  Berry says the book is about heaven.  And then he says it's about hell.  His main character, Jaber, one day sees a young girl passing by, avidly talking with her friends, and he is stirred by her beauty.  Toward the end of the story, she is his companion - and even guide at points - in the midst of a patch of woods that is like heaven.  The more I think of the story, the more parallels I see with Dante's Comedia.  This means I need to read it again!

Jaber Crow is another example of how the great stories can be set in many times and places.  Great themes can be found in our lives, if we look for them.  How much more the Greatest Story of all?


Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Prayer in the dark

Psalm 37:23 The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord: and he delighteth in his way.  

Lord, we must believe that you are here and more present than all our circumstances combined; more present and determining than any disturbing imagination, any decision we make, any action we take. You are God. You do not fail your own. We are your very flesh and bones, and loved as such (Eph. 5:30). Fill us with thanksgiving and expectancy as we walk in your ways of delight.

Father, You have already solved every problem we face.  We simply need to walk forward into your solutions, with you.  Your rod and your staff comfort us. Restore our souls.