Sunday, May 24, 2020

A conviction of spirit

Sermon for the Sunday after the Ascension

When the Lord ascends into heaven, we find ourselves looking back to see what he has already told us to see if it makes sense after His Resurrection.

At the Last Supper, He tells us that He will send His Spirit and, lo and behold, He appears after His Resurrection breathing out His Spirit onto the Disciples. But what does He say at the Last Supper?

"And when he is come, he will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: Of sin, because they believe not on me; Of righteousness, because I go to my Father, and ye see me no more; Of judgment, because the prince of this world is judged."

What does He mean?

[PAUSE]

The message of Our Lord has always been that we must repent from sin and to Him. Throughout His ministry, He battles the authorities of a world that has become spiritually bankrupt. He has preached against those who make up their own version of righteousness. He scolds those who call people out as sinners but without doing anything about their own sin. He exposes those who make up their own sins.

Is it any wonder that the Holy Ghost wi do exactly the same thing? 

The Holy Ghost will show that the world is wrong about sin because it refuses to believe Our Lord's clear statement that He and only He is the Way out of sin and death and into Life.

The Holy Ghost will show the world is wrong about righteousness because Jesus ascends into Heaven, so His followers must live by faith in Him who is unseen and that this faith is the beginning of our righteousness.

The Holy Ghost will show the world is wrong about judgment because the way the world makes judgments is based on a law of accusation and recrimination rather than the Law of God which seeks to make right rather than  condemn. This is why the prince of this world can only be Satan Himself. The Holy Ghost will reveal this fact to all of Our Lord's Church.

[PAUSE]

Often we are told that the Holy Ghost is working in the Church only by people speaking in tongues, or by excitable exhibitions of worship, or by miraculous healings. While He may certainly be present in any one of these ways, the fact remains that we know that the Holy Spirit is working in the world, in the Church and in our lives when we see people turn to Christ, when we see people repent of their sins and when they renounce evil.

Does that sound familiar?

[PAUSE]

This is what it means to be baptized in the Holy Ghost. At our Baptism, we make these promises either for ourselves or for our godchildren. It is a commitment to allowing the Holy Spirit to live in us and in our children. This is the grace that we are given at Baptism for we gain the conviction to reject the world in favour of the true worship of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

And the Holy Ghost will give us the courage of our convictions

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Moving in Anglican Circles

I returned to Facebook after a couple of years off mainly to keep in touch with family and friends and participate with my wider church and the G4 community that I now joyfully belong to.

However, within a fortnight, I have felt like dropping the whole thing again due to the actions of some people in a supposedly "Anglican Catholic" group. Admittedly, the term "Anglican Catholic" is not owned by my church, though it does hold the legal right to "Anglican Catholic Church". This means that there is a discrepancy between what some see as a synonym for "Anglo-Catholic" and our more deliberate use of the term.

However, what I found in this group was what I would describe as a lack of definition of terms. Thus, in the group, we had members of the Anglican Communion, members of the Anglican Ordinariate, and members of the G4. Some were liberal, supporting heterodoxy of the Anglican Communion. Some were roundly Protestant, seeking to enforce the Thirty-Nine Articles at every stage.

It meant that the same arguments would be held again and again. The same old points would be raised, the same old questions asked, the same old arguments raged. All the newcomer to the group had to do was say, "hooray for women priests!" or "do Anglican Catholics believe the XXXIX Articles?" and much virtual blood would be spilt as the Reformation happened all over again. And I got sick of it.

The things that infuriated me most were the invective levelled at each other, or the claims to great personal doctrinal authority by people speaking codswallop, and the constant talking past each other. There was no common language: everyone said just what they wanted to hear. The moral that has taken me all to long to learn is that if you join a Facebook group to be educated, you will only be educated in the fallenness of mankind.

One thing I love about my Anglican Catholic Church is that it is clear what it believes and states it. If you cannot accept that belief then peace be with you as you travel on. If you can accept our belief then will be happy to walk with you.

The fact of the matter is that we are a broader church than people would give us credit. We can accommodate Masses in the Roman style with the "Big six", triple candles at paschaltide and biretta. We can accommodate Masses in the Sarum style. We can even accommodate prayer book Masses. The provisor in each of these cases is that the liturgy has to be allowed by canon. We may not use the Roman Missal, nor the Sarum missal nor the prayerbook Missal that does not conform to the 1549 and thus the 1928 US prayer book. For example, the canon of the 1662 BCP is too truncated for our public Mass.

In our Church, we have those who accept the Perpetual Virginity, Immaculate Conception, and Assumption of the Blessed Virgin. We have those who will not pray to the saints, preferring the "direct line". This is all fine. However, the principle that we must follow is given by St Benedict.

"As often as any special business has to be transacted in the monastery, let the abbot convoke the whole community and himself state what is the matter in hand. And having listened to the counsel of the brethren, let him settle the matter in his own mind and do what seems to him most
expedient. And we have thus said that all are to be called to council because it is often to a junior that the Lord reveals what is best. But let the brethren so give counsel with all subjection and humility that they presume not with any forwardness to defend what shall have seemed good to them; but rather let the decision depend upon the abbot’s discretion, so that he shall decide what is best, that they all may yield ready obedience: but just as it behoves the disciples to be obedient to the master, so also it becomes him to arrange all things prudently and justly." (Chapter III of the Rule)

For any Catholic Church, we must read "bishop" for "abbot" in the above.  In our Anglican Catholic Church, we MUST accept the bishop's authority in all matters of faith that are lawful and honest. That is what we sign up to when we join, and say our canonical oaths. In signing up to being Anglican Catholic, we are subordinating our opinion to the rule of the Church and accepting an authority that is above us. We must accept the hierarchy. That is a humiliation and obedience. The upshot is that we learn humiliation for the love of Christ and we learn obedience to Christ for love of Him, especially when we have to do as we are told when we don't like it.

On the other hand, the wise bishop will seek to be as accommodating as possible within the bounds of his own obedience to the Church and the Catholic Faith. This means not only accepting Low Church worship in a High Church but cherishing it as a valid way of doing things in accordance with Our Lord's command.

I have been blessed by those in my Diocese whose liturgy is different from my own. I have been blessed by those who do not see Our Lady as Immaculate but love her nonetheless. I have been blessed by all my confraternity because they represent the colour and breadth of strict Orthodoxy as expressed in the Anglican Catholic Church.

I am glad to have left certain Facebook groups and they are probably very glad that I have left due to my holding to the ancient Catholic Faith. My hope is that we learn to live truly and authentically within the parameters of what is orthodox and, having given our opinion, move on in seeking first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, at all times seeking to maintain true charity especially with those who disagree with us.


Sunday, May 17, 2020

Commitment to the Lukewarm

Sermon for the fifth Sunday after Easter

We have travelled with St John to five of the seven churches. Now it's time to visit the last two. Or do we have to? Can we just say that we've visited them and leave it there?

Obviously we can't stop! We've started so we must finish.

And that's the point.

[PAUSE]

The churches of Philadelphia and Laodicea have very different attitudes to commitment.

Philadelphia has seen a lot of persecution by the Jewish authorities of that area and is under constant threat of being wiped out by people who hate the Christian Faith. Jesus says that these particular Jews who hate so much are in a synagogue with Satan himself. And yet, the Philadelphians are holding on to the good that they know. And Jesus says that their patience is His patience. Just as they share His suffering, He shares their suffering. Commitment goes both ways. And by patiently enduring persecution, they will share in Our Lord's victory.

The Philadelphians have started, and they will finish. They are committed.

Not so the Laodiceans.

[PAUSE]

The Laodiceans, by contrast, are entitled. They have a thriving economy, excellent medical facilities and hot running water - all the mod cons. They have become comfortable and their love for Our Lord has cooled: it has become lukewarm. How will they act if they suffer the same persecution as the Philadelphians?

You might struggle in thinking that they are committed Christians.

[PAUSE]

Some people have a very peculiar idea of commitment. These are Today's Laodiceans. They will join the church enthusiastically, go to all the festivals, put on all the vestments, and meet all the dignitaries. They will take up positions in the church that look good and hold honour. They might even swear canonical oaths in order to make their position look more serious and responsible. 

However, then the bishop asks Today's Laodiceans to do something that they don't want to do. Or the bishop might ask Today's Laodiceans to stop doing something. The result is the same in either case. The moment that the bishop exercises his rightful authority, they take umbrage and leave. They will not endure. Their commitment is worth nothing.

And Jesus says, "No man having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.”

[PAUSE]

The problem is that Today's Laodicean always has an eye to the exit, just in case. They will not set sail because they always have one foot on dry land. They will only burn a bridge as long as they have built another to run back. They will marry but only with a prenuptial agreement. 

At no point are they prepared to take the chance and suffer for their faith. At no point are they prepared to submit fully to authorities over them under God to shape them into more spiritually adept Christians willing to serve the Church and Her Bridegroom.

[PAUSE]

Most of us are somewhere on the path between Philadelphia and Laodicea. We need to make sure that we are walking to Philadelphia from Laodicea by committing ourselves to becoming more committed to Christ. Ours isn't an overnight transformation, but a hard process that will involve hardship, pain and suffering as well as fellowship, feasts and joy. It requires active obedience, laying aside our own desires, and embracing the humiliation of the Cross.

In order to commit fully, we have to burn our bridges, close our escape routes and tear up any thought of a prenuptial agreement. We have to trust in God wholly and completely, or at least work to be able to do that. This involves courage but not risk, for God is worthy of our trust, even when we can't see through the darkness. We have to burn for Christ which we can't do if we've left the door of the oven open to escape if it gets too hot! 

That's what we sign up for as Christians. Shall we endure to the end? 

Sunday, May 10, 2020

How to kill a church

Sermon for the fourth Sunday after Easter

After cycling around Ephesus, Smyrna and Pergamos, we have discovered the need to keep elements of those churches alive. We need to be as strict with our doctrine as Ephesus, admit that we are in spiritual poverty as Smyrna, and seek to be as well-read and as intelligent about the ways of the world as Pergamos. If we follow this, what could possibly go wrong? 

Unfortunately, we find our answer in the churches of Thyatira and Sardis.

[PAUSE]

As we enter the church in Thyatira, we are confronted with a charismatic woman - a prophetess - who claims to be speaking the word of God. Although we don't know her real name, Jesus names her Jezebel. That's rather harsh. You will remember that Jezebel is the wife of Ahab who incites people to worship Baal rather than God and opposes the rightful prophet Elijah. You may also remember that she meets a bad end, courtesy of faithful servants and a pack of dogs. 

So this Thyatiran prophetess is being identified with that wicked queen. Like Jezebel, she is enticing people to sexual immorality and to idol worship. And she claims to be a Christian.

Sometimes, all it takes is a charismatic leader to make a church turn bad. We see this time and again with the likes of those televangelists who cream off vast sums of money and live morally reprehensible lifestyles while prattling pious platitudes to the people. This Charismatic Leader will convince people that God has changed His mind about certain sins and that it is now okay to commit them. The Charismatic Leader will put up a picture of Jesus which fits this teaching and make Him unrecognisable. This picture is a cartoon, not an ikon. This Charismatic Leader, male or female, has the spirit of Jezebel.

[PAUSE]

The church in Sardis doesn't fare much better. Jesus call that church dead. Why's that? It looks okay, services are taking place, people call themselves Christians. But there is a great big temple in the centre dedicated to Cybele who is thought to be able to bring the dead back to life. So the people of Sardis don't consider it any problem that they can go to church to worship Jesus and then pop in to offer a sacrifice to Cybele. After all, they both teach the same thing that the dead can be raised. Doesn't matter, does it? It's all good.

[PAUSE]

No, it isn't. While different religions teach similar things, even things that we Christians believe, we believe in one God, not one God among many. We believe that only in Our Lord Jesus Christ is there true salvation from sin and death. Only in Him will we find our own resurrection as part of His Church.

In Sardis, we see how it is easy to pay lip-service to all gods and none in order to get what we want.

The lesson from both Thyatira and Sardis is clear: if you want to kill a church, embrace paganism, embrace sin especially those of idolatry, fornication and idolatry, and embrace the cult of personality. 

[PAUSE]

Thus we must leave Thyatira and Sardis, not on foot, or by cycling, but by Formula One racing cars. We have to avoid these churches like the plague, isolating ourselves from their contageous teaching that leads to death.

The only Charismatic Leader we must embrace is God who is truly charismatic for He gives His good gifts to His children. Our bishops and clergy only ever lead us by holding fast to the teaching of the Church as it has been given to us. We can trust our bishops but we need to educate ourselves so that we encounter God for ourselves in our Bible reading, our study and in receiving Him in the sacraments of the Church which are unalterable for the very reasons that Thyatira and Sardis show us. Knowing that we are active in our faith helps our bishops and clergy to continue the teaching and the sacraments of God so that we can all work together to bring life and light to the world. 

[PAUSE]

Our duty is always to love God first and then neighbour. Jezebel does neither. However, we have God's promise: Jezebel will fall from her tower, and the Children of God will rise from the dead to Eternal Life. Let's live that promise!



Sunday, May 03, 2020

Cycling around Ephesus, Smyrna and Pergamos

Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamos

Which church would you like to belong to?

[PAUSE]

The Church in Ephesus is the major church in Asia. It stands in the centre of Greek worship of pagan gods and calls out heresy. The Church at Ephesus tests all that it bears and measures it against the Word of God.

The Church in Smyrna is a poor church and is surrounded by a large population of Jews who hate Christianity for perverting the Jewish faith. It does all that it can to use its meagre resources to carry on.

The Church in Pergamos is an academic church with a large library. Emperor worship occurs in the city yet the church holds fast to the Name of Jesus.

So which church would you like to join?   

[PAUSE]

Hold on! Aren't they all supposed to be part of the same One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church? If so then it really doesn't matter which church you go to. Surely the orthodox Ephesus, the impoverished Smyrna and the well-read Pergamos are the same. They all peach the risen Christ, don't they?

This is true. In order to be a Christian, you have to accept that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, God Incarnate, born, crucified and risen from the dead. If we believe in the Risen Christ then we have to believe that He has risen again for a reason. We have to believe that He is still interested in His Church despite His Ascension. We have to believe that He continues to speak to His Church as well as through His Church.

He says very different things. While these churches are all part of the One Church, they are doing things differently and they all need to hear what He says to them. And what does He say? 

The orthodox Ephesus: He calls it lacking in love.
The poor Smyrna: He says that it is going to suffer greatly.
The well-read Pergamos: He says that it has compromised the Christian Faith with false teaching.

Which church do you want to belong to, now?

[PAUSE]

We might say in a fit of piety that we would want to be part of the church in Smyrna because at least that Church hadn't departed from the Faith. But then, in order to join, we should make ourselves as poor as they, sell all that we have for its support and prepare for hard times.

Fair enough, let's go to Ephesus instead to make use of the riches that we have. We might say that we want to make sure that we preach the right things, believe the right creeds, and reject all false doctrine. So many people do this but, in their zeal, they forget to love. They become Thought Police and Christianity becomes an exercise in ticking boxes and reading the right documents.

Hmm. Perhaps we should go to Pergamos instead in order to be a little more open to other possibilities. We might say that we want to be well-read and accommodate different opinions. The trouble now is that we compromise our Faith and water it down by accepting doctrines that go against what Jesus says.

Well then, we need to go back to our Faith and give up all our books and learning and be small and simple. Let's go to Smyrna.

And round and round we go. Smyrna, Ephesus, Pergamos and back to Smyrna.

[PAUSE]

We cannot expect our local church to be unchanging. We have to listen to Christ and grow. This does mean that there will be stages in how we grow. We need Ephesus and Pergamos to balance out and we need Smyrna to keep things real. Orthodoxy is vital because Orthodoxy points to Who God is. A broad education prevents us from becoming brittle. And we must remember our spiritual poverty to prevent us from becoming proud or too loose in our belief.

The key thing is that we are not treading in circles. We are spiralling upwards towards Christ. That might seem like circles at times but, if we're truly listening, we will get closer and closer to what the three churches have in common - Our Lord Jesus Christ.



Sunday, April 26, 2020

Unfair God

Sermon for the second Sunday after Easter

God discriminates.

This is quite true: Our Creator is guilty of discrimination. Many people in this day and age put God on trial for discrimination against women, against people who describe themselves as gay, even against animals given all the ritual slaughter of lambs, oxen and other animals in the Old Testament.

God is not an equal opportunities employer: women have all the hard work in bearing children and still cannot become priests. Those who work for an hour get paid as much as those who do a full day's work. Those who break the rules succeed at the expense of those keep the rules.

God is even described as a monster for torturing His own Son to death.

God is unfair.

And that's how it should be.

[PAUSE]

St Paul explains very clearly just why God should be unfair:

 "I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ, and be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith: that I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death; if by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead."

God has created each one of us with a sense of fair play. It's something that He shares with us. He is utterly righteous and so we have that. 

The trouble is that we have corrupted our sense of right and wrong. Many of our decisions of what is fair and right are to do with how powerful we are or how powerful someone else is, or how rich we are or how rich someone else is. Sometimes we judge what is fair out of envy rather than looking at real need.

And St Paul wants to get away from all that. He sees his own sense of righteousness as severely lacking in comparison with God. What he gains in the world's eyes, he loses in God's eyes. He wants to get away from the language of rights, entitlement, oppression and privilege, and back to the language of Love which can only come from God Himself.

[PAUSE]

It is ironic that people try to judge God using their understanding of what is good and righteous. These are like people who refuse to switch on the light and blame the light for the room being dark!

If they think that God is a monster for sacrificing His Son, then they miss the fact that the Son willingly offers Himself up as a purely Good sacrifice in order to destroy Evil as one might destroy a hole in a pure gold bar by filling it in with pure gold.

[PAUSE]

In order to be righteous, we must always look to God. We have to stop valuing what we have and who we are by our own reckoning and seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness. Only then will we gain, and what we gain will be of more value than we can imagine. What we gain will be God Himself.