Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Collect for the 22nd Sunday in Trinity

LORD, we beseech thee to keep thy household the Church in continual godliness; that through thy protection it may be free from all adversities, and devoutly given to serve thee in good works, to the glory of thy name; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

We pray that God may enable us for perseverance or continual godliness.
     A.   The Church God’s Household.
The same description of the Church occurs in the Collect for the Fifth Sunday after Epiphany, the Sunday of Patience, a similar Collect dealing with a very similar subject. God’s patience is manifest in His household. In that household the servants all are children, and the children servants, and God is Father though Master, and Master though Father.
     B.   A Prayer for God’s Perseverance with Us.
We pray that He would keep us with His Fatherly care, and that He would protect us from all adversities, for only thus can we hope to obtain that for which we next pray.
     C.   A Petition for Our Own Perseverance.
We pray that we may be devoutly given to serve in good works. The Master’s care must be repaid by willing service. If He perseveres with us we must persevere in all our duties, both to Him and our fellow-servants. Oh, for such continual recollection of our position and duties as members of the family of God!
by the Rev. Prebendary Melville Scott, D.D.
from The Harmony of the Collects, Epistles, and Gospels.
A Devotional Exposition of the Continuous Teaching of the Church Throughout the Year,
S.P.C.K., London, 1902.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

20th Sunday in Trinitytide CHEERFUL SERVICE.

To “serve God and be cheerful,” the motto of Bishop Hacket, expresses the teaching of this very characteristic Sunday, which follows so naturally upon the Gospel of last Sunday—“Son, be of good cheer; thy sins be forgiven thee.” The Sunday of Renewal is most fitly followed by the Sunday of Cheerful Service, a service only possible for “liberated minds,” which is the literal meaning of the phrase in the ancient Collect, now translated as “cheerfully.”

S. Paul brings before us the duty of joy, for we must not mistake peremptory duties for optional privileges. No such word as “privilege” exists in the Bible, for whatever we can attain in the Christian life it is our bounden duty to attain.
This short Epistle contrasts two apparently opposite views of religion.
     A.   The Seriousness of Religion.
The Christian life demands—
     (1)   Intense Caution.
In a world of so many inward and outward enemies the Christian must “look carefully how he walks,” and employ caution and wisdom in all the relations of life. Many eyes are upon him, especially One.
     (2)   Active Diligence.
We have fallen on evil days, and it is our duty to make them better. We are therefore to redeem the time, or, more accurately, “to buy up the opportunity,” at any expense of effort and self-denial. Everything is so against us that we must make the most of every passing help, influence, and means of grace. Our sails must be so set as to catch every transient breath of favourable wind. We must be alive also to every opportunity for doing good. We must endeavour to discover the will of God and act upon it, avoiding the folly of ignorance and the greater folly of disobedience. We shall thus be able both to gain and impart good.
     B.   The Happiness of Religion.
This happiness is a thing commanded, for it is as much our duty to be “filled with the Spirit” as not to be “drunk with wine.” Certain features of this happiness are to be noted.
     (1)   Its Source
Is the Spirit of God. We are to seek for satisfaction, not in the wine of earth, but in the wine of Heaven, and are not to be content with any mere taste of it, but to be filled.
     (2)   Its Expression.
This joy will find a vent in holy intimacies and friendships, for we are to speak of it “one to another” (R.V.). It will show itself in the melody of Christian song, and in the melody of the heart no less than of the voice. Its inspiration will be gratitude “to the Lord,” Who has redeemed us, and thus will be like that of the songs of Heaven. The revellers in the wine of earth sing, and shall not we; we are to sing in the Church on High, shall we not begin here?
     (3)   Its Thankfulness.
This is an essential element in Christian joy, for we are to be thankful always and for all things, for everything which the Father sends is good and for our good.
     (4)   Its Self-Restraint.
This joy must not lead us to forget plain duty, as do the joys of revelry, for we are “to submit ourselves one to another.” It is not inconsistent with the utmost reverence, for amid all the joys of service we are to remember that our Master is One to be feared as well as rejoiced in. These two views of religion as here described are not inconsistent. To take religion seriously is the only way
to find it a happy service, without misgiving and without remorse. A little religion will make us sad, but much will bring the joy of Heaven. Heaven is only this Epistle carried out to the letter.

We are at once reminded of the parable of the Great Supper (S. Luke xiv. 16), the Gospel for the Second Sunday after Trinity. There is much in common between the two parables, but there is a degree of difference, and each is appropriately placed by our Church. The Gospel of the earlier Sunday illustrates our response to the loving invitation of God, this the call to rejoice. The good man who made a supper is here the King seeking the happy service of His people. There was the sin of ingratitude, here the deeper sin of rebellion, and the penalty of the outer darkness. The invitation was a call to happiness, and to enter into the joys of their Lord, but it was the invitation of a King.
Two points may be singled out for special notice.
     A.   The Reason of Refusal.
We cannot understand the refusal of happiness, still less the angry treatment of the servants. What was the cause of this bitter refusal? The answer is plain. They would have none of the feast because they would have none of the King. Each man would go to his own farm or to his merchandise to show his independence of the King. But more than this, they were roused to active opposition of insult and violence.
This was the case with the Jews—and it is often the case now. Men reject the offer of happiness, because it means service, a will and heart given to God. Thus they resist, and try to kill the messenger conscience, and to discredit all other God’s messengers. Let such opposition teach us that religion must be a very real thing, or men would not be so indisposed to accept it.
     B.   The Rejection of the Guest.
Why was this one guest rejected? Evidently his lack of education was no impediment, for such is not to be sought among the highways and hedges. His character was no objection, for bad
and good were alike invited. What was, then, the wedding garment which he had not on? Evidently he came without the desire to be glad in that which was the joy of the King. The same disobedience which made others refuse, made him, though present, to be unfit.
The garment of renewal offered in Christ, and explained in the Gospel for last Sunday, was rejected. If any are cast into the outer darkness it will be because they will not put on the new man. If we miss the joy of service it is because we will not serve.

There is such intimate connection between Collect and Epistle, the doctrine of the one suggesting the petitions of the other, that we may regard the Collect as the Epistle done into a prayer.
There are three main petitions
     A.   For Preservation.
We pray against all hurtful things which may hinder us from cheerful service, and especially as taught by the Epistle, from the carelessness which gives no heed to watchful circumspection, from the indolence which fails to redeem the time, and from the self. indulgence wherein is excess. In days which are evil we must ever pray to be kept from all things that may hurt us.
     B.   For Preparation.
We pray for such preparation of body that we may avoid all temptations to excess, and for such preparation of soul that we may understand what the will of the Lord is. We need this twofold readiness, for the spirit may hinder by unwillingness, and the flesh by weakness.
     C.   For Performance.
We pray that, thus guarded and guided, we may cheerfully accomplish the things which God would have us do, whether pleasing or trying, in the joyful spirit described in the Epistle. We are not to be like Jonah, or even Moses, but like Him Whc was ever about His Father’s business.

by the Rev. Prebendary Melville Scott, D.D.
from The Harmony of the Collects, Epistles, and Gospels.
A Devotional Exposition of the Continuous Teaching of the Church Throughout the Year,
S.P.C.K., London, 1902.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

18th Sunday in Trinitytide

Best wishes to Fr. Don who is recovering from a minor surgery.  In his absence we read from Fr. Lou Tarsitano's sermons today.  Fr. Tarsitano was a wonderful priest and gifted homilist and a good friend of our founding clergy.  May he rest in peace.  

The Whole Truth
     The Eighteenth Sunday after Trinity—October 3, 1999
"On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets" (Matt. 22:40).

Christianity was not "invented" by Jesus Christ, the way Buddha invented Buddhism, or Confucius invented Confucianism, or Mohammed invented Islam. Jesus Christ did not "start" a religion at all. Instead, he fulfilled and completed the saving work of God that was begun by God’s call to Abraham to leave the Ur of the Chaldees for a new life of grace. 

We have to have words to call different things, and so we are probably stuck with calling Christianity a "religion" in modern English. But "religion" is a broad and inaccurate word, because it was always meant to be. All it means in the original Latin is "that which ties things together" or "that upon which men rely." The ancient Romans settled on this word because their Empire treated all "religions" as more or less equally true and more or less equally false. 

The Romans had to be vague because they valued civil peace above truth. They feared that any assertion that one religion was true in a way that all the others weren’t might lead to riots, disorder, and a disruption of trade. We find a perfect example of this Roman attitude in Pontius Pilate, the Procurator of Judea, who condemned our Lord. As St. John tells us:  Pilate therefore said unto [Jesus], Art thou a king then? Jesus answered, Thou sayest that I am a king. To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth. Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice. Pilate saith unto him, What is truth? (John 18:37-38).

Our Lord bases his entire defense, not on a claim of kingship, but on the truth. Pilate’s answer, "What is truth?" isn’t an expression of his willingness to learn the truth, as much as it is a confession: "What is ‘truth’ to me, when I am about to have a riot on my hands?" The members of the Jerusalem mob, made up entirely of an occupied people, had been studying their captors for a long time, and they had discovered this weakness. They pushed Pilate by telling him, "It thou let this man go, thou art not Caesar’s friend" (John 19:12).
And how did Pilate respond to the choice between the truth of Jesus Christ and the policy of his Caesar to maintain civil peace at any price? St. Matthew tells us: And the governor said, Why, what evil hath he done? But they cried out the more, saying, Let him be crucified. When Pilate saw that he could prevail nothing, but that rather a tumult was made, he took water, and washed his hands before the multitude, saying, I am innocent of the blood of this just person: see ye to it. (Matthew 27:23-24)

In this way, Pilate avoided the "tumult" or riot that he feared, but at what price? He crucified a man that he knew was innocent, and he tried to wash his hands of both the truth and the blood. It should be brutally obvious that no one on earth, then or now, can wash his hands of either the blood or the truth of Jesus Christ, but that remained the policy of the Roman government for most of three centuries. The Roman government attempted to continue its "civil peace at any price" policy that all "religions" are of equal value and truth, even erecting a public building called "the Pantheon," the "place of all the gods." Each religion was allowed a niche in the Pantheon, as long as its members never claimed the absolute truth of their particular religion.

The Christians, however, refused to participate. They had Jesus Christ, after all, and he is the Truth, as well as the way and the life. Their Lord had said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me" (John 14:6). And they believed him. They proclaimed that only the Way of Jesus Christ is true, and that all other "religions" are false, man-made or so man-distorted that they neither serve God or lead to him. 

The Romans were outraged at this threat to their civil peace, but they offered the Christians one final out. The Christians could declare themselves a "private cult," a special category under Roman law that would allow them to practice their religion in private as long as they did not interfere in any way with the religion of anyone else. But again the Christians refused, citing the final commission of their Lord before his ascension into heaven: All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen (Matthew 28:18-20).

"All power in heaven and earth" is given to Jesus Christ by his Father in heaven, which leaves no power over truth to any other religion or to any government, including that of the Roman emperors. Christianity is, by definition, a missionary faith, and the Christians could not practice it without asserting the absolute and final truth of the Gospel against all comers. The Christians had to make disciples for Jesus Christ of the peoples of every nation in order to be Christians. And so the Roman government persecuted them and killed them, using as two of the main accusations against them "atheism" (for their refusal to acknowledge other gods and religions) and "hatred for humanity" (since they would not disobey Christ and leave mankind in the peaceful possession of its fallenness and sin).

Our own government and society are in the process of adopting a policy on "religions" that isn’t very different from that of the Roman Empire. We are told that we must be more than civil to the people of other religions. We are told that we must give them our approval and encouragement, as if their errors are on an equal footing in reality as the truth of Jesus Christ. We are told that we must pretend that other "religions" have the power to save souls and to guide lives to God.

While we should be civil and, more importantly, charitable to others, since this is only what the law of Christ demands of us as Christians trying to make disciples for him; we must also recognize that true charity does not permit us to leave our neighbors in deadly error. Even more, we must recognize that our duty to Jesus Christ outweighs our desire for civil peace, or we will find ourselves saying with Pontius Pilate, "What is truth?" Peace with God comes first, and at any price. And that is why we must be careful when we speak of our Christian faith as a "religion," because we must understand that the One True God considers the following of his only-begotten Son to be much more than a "religion."

Abraham did not leave his home in Ur for a new religion. God did not promise Abraham a new religion, but a new life, and the fulfillment of that promise of new life arrived in the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus of Nazareth is called "Christ" in the Greek or "the Messiah" in Hebrew, because he is the Chosen One of God to fulfill all of God’s promises of life whatsoever. Jesus Christ is God, the eternal Son of God made man, to redeem mankind from sin and death. Jesus Christ is Christianity, if "Christianity" means following the Christ, the Son of God, the Chosen One who is, in and of himself, the new life that God first promised to Abraham.

God, of course, was not idle in the years between Abraham and the coming of Christ. God actively taught Abraham’s descendants, the Israelites. God gave them his holy moral law, still summarized today by the Ten Commandments. God sent prophets to speak and to teach in his Holy Name, so that the details of his Son’s coming and the response that we should make to that coming would be clear. God, by the Holy Ghost, made certain that both his Law and the words of his prophets would be written down, perfectly, clearly, and accurately in the Holy Scriptures. These words were the promise, and Jesus Christ is the total keeping of the promise.

We call the book that recounts the promises of God "the Old Testament," just as we call the book that completes the Bible by recounting God’s fulfillment of his promises "the New Testament." These were not the terms in use, however, when our Lord was made flesh and walked the earth. The New Testament was yet to be written down, so that it could only be heard in the preaching of the Gospel by Jesus Christ and his Apostles. The Old Testament had a different name, too, based on the way that God had revealed it. It was called "the law and the prophets."
When our Lord gives "the Summary of the Law," the first great commandment to love God with all that we are, and the second like it that we love our neighbors as ourselves, he concludes by saying, "On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets." By these words, he is telling us more than "all the teaching of God in the Old Testament can be summarized by two simple statements from it." He is telling us that he brings to earth nothing new, that he isn’t starting a new religion to replace the religion of the Old Testament. He tells us that all of the truth of God is fulfilled in himself, and that he is the Chosen One, the Christ. 

All who wish to have the life-giving relation that God first gave to Abraham must now turn to Jesus Christ, who is the perfection of that gift and the reality of it. All of the so-called "world religions," whether in the Roman Pantheon or in the modern American social equivalent, are outside of this one relation of life in God. They are all, unfortunately for those who profess them, untrue and powerless to give true moral guidance on earth or eternal life in the kingdom of heaven. 

Christianity is true because Jesus Christ is the one and only Truth of God. It is up to us, then, as Christians to do what Christians have always done, and to hold up the one Truth of God, Jesus Christ, before all men, whether they like it or not. We can’t wash our hands of this truth, and neither can they. And we do them the greatest service in the world as our neighbors, and we love God best, when we do not let them settle for anything less that the complete and utter Truth of Jesus Christ. This is how we obey the Two Great Commandments that summarize all of the Law of God and the teaching of all his prophets.
L. R. Tarsitano—Saint Andrew's Church, Savannah  GA.

Blog (news and archives)

(Check out our new site)