Mostly stuff on Christianity by an Anglican priest who reads a lot of C. S. Lewis. Please note: all my posts about Lewis' book How To Pray are on the site, under Social Media/blog.

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Living Integrated Lives in a Fragmented World

I summarize and comment on the recent address by Dick Keyes at the Friends of L'Abri Conference at Lipscomb University this past weekend.  However, I do start with a few brief comments about the order in which the Narnia books can be read - I refer, btw, to a previous video I recorded for my Patreon supporters.

Monday, July 1, 2019

C. S. Lewis on Holy Communion

This is an excerpt from Session 7 of my course on C. S. Lewis and prayer, filmed in Lewis's home church in Oxford.

Sermon for St.'s Peter and Paul

Image: crop of Saint Peter and Saint Paul: Artist: El Greco (1541-1614) 

This is the text from my sermon recently.

It is an understatement to say that the institution of the church in the western world today is in a mess.  There has been so much compromise and so much worldliness that the idea of a true Christian in the mind of many observers outside the Church is very confused indeed.  To whom do we point today to say, "That's a Christian?"  Is it Joel Olsteen?  Is it Pope Francis?  Is it Bishop Gene Robinson in the Episcopal Church?  All these people believe very different things and live very different lives.  

Well, today we are remembering the apostles Peter and Paul, and I think it's safe to say that they were true Christians.  Thankfully we know what they would say about it all, for we can read their opinion in the New Testament.  As for Paul, he tells us here in our lesson from Ephesians - in verse 20 - that the Christian Church is like a temple that is built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the chief cornerstone.  And individual Christians are members of this household of God, joined together with all the other members by virtue of their faith and union in the Body of Christ.  And all the members of this assembly grow into this one temple, where God manifests his glory by His Spirit.

As for Peter, he himself says the same sort of thing.  If you look in the second chapter of his first epistle, he writes:  "you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ" (v 5).

Now, this being the case, it is apparent from what Peter and Paul say, if we would have a clear message to the world as to what the Christian Church really is like and what a Christian's life is really like, we need to be sure we have a clear picture ourselves of what Christianity is built upon; a clear picture of our foundation: the apostles and prophets; Jesus himself the cornerstone.

So, how are we to understand this foundation?  Well, the first obvious answer is that the Christian faith, individually and corporately, is built upon certain beliefs.  There are things that we believe about God.  And we believe the story in the Gospels about Jesus' life and death and resurrection, as something that has actually happened in history.  And just for ease of reference, we can simply point to the Nicene Creed, which we confess each week, as a good summary of these facts about God and the story about Jesus.  And the fact that this story is a true story is important.

The Christian Faith, the foundation of the apostles and prophets, is not mere philosophy; we are talking about history.  That is why the reference to Pontius Pilate in the Creed is so important.  It roots the story of Jesus squarely in history.  And this rootedness in history is part of why, in order to be an apostle, you had to have been an eye-witness of these events.  At its foundation, the Christian Church is based is built on certain eye-witness testimonies of Jesus' words, his life and his deeds.   

But there is another very critical ingredient to this foundation about which we must be clear.  And it is based on the most important part of the foundation: the Cornerstone.  Think about it: did Jesus leave us only with a set of beliefs; did he leave us only his teachings?  Is that how he founded the Church?  We are thankful for these, but the answer is, "No."  Paul does not say the teaching of Jesus is the cornerstone of the Church.  He says Jesus himself is the cornerstone of the Church.  Jesus founded the Church by shedding his own life's blood for her.  He founded her by buying her with his own blood on the Cross.  And when he rose from the dead, he gave her new life, and with his apostles began to add those living stones.  

Here is the point I wish to make: as the Cornerstone, so the rest of the foundation.  The apostles did not merely lay the foundation of the Church with their teaching.  They, following their Master, laid it with their own blood as well.  This is critical for understanding true Christianity.  Christianity is not merely a set of beliefs; it is a life lived on the basis of those beliefs.  It is the life that is an answer to Jesus' call to be his disciple.  "The disciples were first called Christians in Antioch."

Remember how the apostles had originally been fishermen, or tax-collectors, or political activists.  Jesus called them to be his disciples.  And then he taught them what it meant to be a disciple.  He did not say, "Whosoever will come after me must take a class on the Bible and pass a quiz and get confirmed."  No.  He said, in Mark 8: "Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me."  In other words, if you will be my disciple, as I am going to lay down my life for the Gospel, so you must lay your life down for the Gospel, if you would save it. To be a disciple of Jesus - which is what a Christian really is; a learner, a follower - is to both confess the faith of Jesus' disciples and to step out into a life lived for Jesus and his Gospel, carrying our own cross, as Jesus carried his, dying to ourselves that we might save our lives and the lives of others.  And this the apostles did, and thus they laid the foundation of the Church - not only with their teaching, but with their lives.  

This means that, if we meet an individual or a clergyman, or visit a church, and in their lives there is no cross, there is no dying to self that others may live for Jesus, then this is not the true item.  Their profession of Christianity is not built upon the right foundation, for it is not built on both the beliefs and the cross-bearing life-style, if you will, of the apostles and prophets; even of Jesus himself.

So, hopefully now we are clear on what the Christian faith is by recognizing what it is built upon.  And if we meet someone who is confused about the Faith, we can perhaps help clarify things for them.  

But I want us to consider a practical matter at this point by asking another question.  What does this have to do with our own day-to-day lives as disciples?  Well - again, looking at our foundation - what did it have to do with the day-to-day lives of the apostles?  

When we read the New Testament, we find Peter and Paul talking about the day-to-day lives of believers.  They give us instruction about our daily lives: how we are to live in our families, our churches, on the job, and in the community at large.  But I want us to consider a particular time when Jesus told the apostles what he expected of their daily lives.  I refer to the Upper Room on the night Jesus was betrayed.  

What did Jesus tell his future apostles what he expected of them in the future, after he had returned to the Father?  Well, if you look at the Upper Room discourse in the gospel of John, you see several things.  Jesus told them to love each other and to abide in him, so they could do so.  He told them to keep praying, using his name.   But he also harped on how the world was going to hate them.  If in that confused world - for their world was confused in that day as well - they would live day-to-day as his faithful disciples, the world would hate them.  He told them that he expected them to be persecuted.  After all, since the world hated Jesus, they were certainly going to also hate his followers.  

So here's where I'm going with this.  If we ourselves are daily living our lives as disciples, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus our Cornerstone, our faithfulness will also lead to the hatred of the world and persecution, of some kind or another.  That's what this clear understanding of our foundation has to do with our daily lives.  Listen to how Peter describes the life of the disciple in I Peter 2:21f: "For even hereunto were you called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that we should follow his steps ... Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not, but committed himself to him that judges righteously."  Peter is saying that if we are called to follow Jesus, to follow in his steps as his disciples, we are not only going to learn what we are to believe from him, but we are going to follow his example in living and thus suffer persecution for it.  

And this should not surprise us.  Peter says in 4:12: "Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to test you, as though some strange thing happened unto you."  After all, if he who is the Cornerstone of the Church was hated by the world, if his apostles and prophets who finished off our foundation were hated by the world, then we should not be surprised that a life lived as a faithful disciple of Jesus in this world leads to our own experience of hatred from the world.

Now there are seasons when we experience this hatred and seasons when we do not.  There are probably some here today who are in the thick of it right now.  You are hurting today because a family member, or a co-worker, or someone in the neighbourhood is mistreating you right now, or won't talk to you, or is making fun of you in front of others.  What is sad is that your persecutors may even be professing Christians, but they have absorbed the spirit of the world around us, and are so out of sympathy with being a disciple of Christ, that they hate you as if they were not Christians at all.  I know what that's like.  I've had friends who professed to be Christians, but when I had to take a stand on an important moral issue and not compromise my conscience, they turned on me.  It hurts.

But as Peter says to us, let us not be surprised, but as he goes on to say in I Peter 4, following the teaching of his Lord, let us rejoice.  Peter is remembering how Jesus said on the mountain: "Blessed are you when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and say all manner of evil against you falsely for my sake.  Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven; for so persecuted they the prophets (and we could add, the apostles) who were before you." (Matt. 5:11-12).  

In conclusion, a true Christian is someone who is a living stone in God's temple, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets - their beliefs and their lives, even unto blood.  He or she is someone who, because they themselves are disciples of Jesus, have their face set against the opinions and pressures of the world around them which oppose the love of God for them in the gospel.  And thus a true Christian is someone who is going to be despised by worldly people, either in the Church or outside of it.  Yet, the true Christian is able to rejoice, even though it be through their tears, because they are thus privileged to own the reproach that our beloved Saviour took upon himself to rescue us and them from eternal death and to give us eternal life.  And when we suffer with him for the sake of the gospel, we heap up for ourselves more glory to share with him on the Day of Vindication.

Some of Paul's last written words were these - from 2 Timothy: "It is a faithful saying, for if we be dead with him, we shall also live with him.  If we suffer, we shall also reign with him.  If we deny him, he also will deny us.  Therefore, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus, and endure hardness as a good soldier of Jesus Christ.  A crown awaits all who love his appearing.  Amen.

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.