Monday, January 21, 2019

The Kingdom of God is at Hand - a sermon for Epiphany 2

Epiphany 2 Morning Prayer
Psalm 47
Joshua 3
Mark 1:1-15

I will begin with a confession.  The Gospel of St. Mark, the beginning of which we heard earlier, has often struck me as a bit odd.  For St. Mark seems to be in such a hurry.
He begins with Isaiah’s prophecy of the messenger who will call people to hurry up and “prepare the way of the Lord.”  Then suddenly John the Baptist appears.  Mark skips the Annunciation and the birth of Christ. When I was younger, I thought, “What?  No Christmas story?” And I sometimes still think that!
But St. Mark instead skips to John the Baptist proclaiming the coming Messiah.  Then Jesus appears and as soon as Mark mentions Jesus, he is baptized by John.  St. Mark seems even to have Jesus in hurry.  Then “immediately” – remember that word – “immediately” the heavens open, the Spirit descends like a dove and the Father proclaims, “You are my beloved Son, with You I am well pleased.”
And then the Spirit “immediately” drives Jesus into the wilderness.  Even God seems to be in a hurry in the Gospel of Mark!
By the way, note that there is no contradiction between the Father’s expressed love for his Son Jesus and then His immediately driving Jesus off into the wilderness.  Sometimes God puts his children through difficult wilderness times precisely because He does love them.  That was the case with Jesus, and it is so with us.
But was God really in a hurry?  Well, probably not, at least not in the way we think of being in a hurry.  But why did St. Mark seem to be in a hurry and even seem to have God in a bit of a hurry? 
I think here it might be helpful to step back and look at how the four evangelists, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, focused on time in their gospels – how the four evangelists would have the reader look at time and at God in time.  
St. Matthew was interested in connecting the time and proclamations of the prophets with the life and times of Christ.  Again and again, he pointed out that an event in the life of Christ was a fulfillment of prophecy.  Matthew is not at all alone in the New Testament in doing that, but he particularly emphasized the connection between Old Testament prophecy and the life of Christ.
St. Luke was a detail man.  He focused on the life and times of Christ as he said he was doing in his introduction to his Gospel.  Unlike Mark, he even began a bit early with the promise of the birth of John the Baptist and then with the Annunciation to Mary that she would give birth to Jesus.  And Luke took his time with a longer narrative of the birth of Jesus than in the other gospels.  And he is the only one to show us Jesus between infancy and adulthood.  As we saw last Sunday, Luke gives us the story of Jesus in the Temple at age 12.  Later, he tells us much of Jesus’ interaction with his disciples between the Resurrection and Ascension.  Through Christ, God acted in time, in history, and Luke looked at that in detail.
Now St. John wants us to look beyond time.  For Jesus comes from beyond time.  John’s Gospel begins in eternity past: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”  And John continues to remind us that Jesus is very God of very God from eternity past, particularly when Jesus confessed, “Before Abraham was, I AM.”  
St. John is more selective than Luke in presenting us events in Christ’s life as John is intent on presenting this big eternal picture of who Jesus is.  One way he does this is by presenting particular miracles as signs revealing the divine nature of Christ.  The first such sign is one associated with this Epiphany season, the Wedding at Cana in which Jesus turned the water into wine.  John concludes his narrative of this miracle this way: “This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him.”
John presents these signs that we may believe as well, as he wrote at the end of chapter 20:
Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing, you may have life in his name.
So how did St. Mark deal with time? And why did he seem to be in such a hurry?  The end of our second reading tells us why in no uncertain terms:
Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand;repent and believe the gospel.”
“The kingdom of God is at hand” – these words of Jesus are a theme, perhaps thetheme, of St. Mark’s Gospel.  And because Christ and St. Mark see that the kingdom of God is at hand, there is an urgency to this Gospel.  Remember that word “immediately”?  By my count, it occurs 36 times in Mark.  Immediately, this happens, and immediately Jesus does that.  St. Mark’s Gospel moves quickly! For there is no time to waste.  And there is no time to be complacent.  For the kingdom of God is at hand!
The end of time and the consummation of the kingdom of God are very naturally of interest to Christians.  And we have been looking at that Wednesday nights as we go through the Book of Revelation.  St. Mark provides a good balance that should be our attitude toward the end.
Remembering that “the kingdom of God is at hand” helps us to avoid two extremes.  One extreme is thinking that Jesus will come back tomorrow or very soon or on x date.  It is interesting how often such thinking has occurred in church history, including recent history. Remember those billboards in 2011? Those old enough, remember all those books in the 70s and 80s?  Further back there was a rash of those setting dates for the Second Coming of Christ in the 19thCentury.  The Seventh Day Adventists and the Jehovah’s Witnesses have quite a history in that regard.
And I could go on all the way back to the early church.  Yes, some in the early church had a problem with this to the point that St. Paul felt the need to address it in his 2ndLetter to the Thessalonians.  No, the Thessalonians were not putting up silly billboards – at least I don’t think they were.  But Paul noted they had another problem.  Some were convinced that Jesus was returning very soon, and they used that as an excuse not to work, to be idle and lazy.  That prompted St. Paul to write, “if any would not work, neither should he eat.”
Instead, St. Paul, as exhorted the Ephesians, we should seek to make the most of the time. That’s how the Second Coming of Christ should motivate us, not to laziness or other foolishness.   
The other extreme is a complacent or skeptical attitude towards the Second Coming of Christ, an attitude that he surely won’t come in our time or may not come at all.  Yes, there are those in the organized church (I use the word “church” loosely.) who think that that Second Coming of Christ in glory is a doctrine for the overly pious or excitable but won’t really happen, not in a way people will see anyway.  Such skepticism was described well by St. Peter in his second letter: 
. . .scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires. They will say, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.”
Such a complacent attitude about the end of time can also lead to laziness.  If one thinks one has plenty of days to waste, it is tempting to waste them.  And please note that this also applies to thinking that the end of our personal time, the end of our lives, is way, way in the future. The days of our earthly lives are not unlimited, even if it may feel like it when we are young.  Our time on this earth is limited, so we should make the most of the time and not fall into laziness.
As for the Second Coming of Christ, St. Peter answers the skeptics by presenting a balanced attitude:
But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. . . .
Thus even if the Lord waits another two thousand years or more before returning, that is still a short time to him.  And if he delays, he does so for the good and loving reason that he wants more and more to join him in his kingdom.
But Jesus will come again.  And he will come “like a thief” – when people are not expecting it.  So if someone puts up a billboard saying Jesus is coming back on May 11th, 2020 or whenever, you can bet it won’t be that day.  And if someone says it will be a long time before Jesus comes again, they might be wrong, too.
Instead, St. Mark and St. Peter would have us have the balanced view that the kingdom of God is at hand and that Jesus could return to fully establish his kingdom on Earth at any time, but that we do not presume to know when that time will be.
If we have such a balanced view, then what should our response be? For knowing that the kingdom of God is at hand surely demands a response.
We should certainly seek to make the most of each day, since we see that neither Earth nor our Earthly bodies have an unlimited supply of days. But what should be our first response?
Our first response should be what Jesus called people to do, what he calls us to do – “Repent and believe the gospel.”  For sooner or later, he will come again and judge the living and the dead.
Now many series of sermons have been and could be preached on repentance and belief.  But since you probably do not desire for me to be up here preaching until the Lord returns, I will very briefly summarize what it means to “repent and believe the gospel.”
To repent means to turn, to completely change direction, away from your sin towards God.  It is more than only agreeing with God that he is right and that your sin is wrong.  It is acting upon that agreement and changing direction to follow Jesus, to seek to walk in his ways.  That’s repentance.
To “believe the gospel,” we need to know just what is the gospel. As we mentioned, the Gospel of St. John summarizes the gospel very well.  That Jesus is God from eternity past who entered human time, who entered history to live, die, and rise again for us, to save us so that we may live with him in His kingdom for eternity future.  And to believe the gospel is, again, more than just agreeing with that, but trusting in Jesus and in his life, death, and resurrection for us.
As we’ve seen, that is the very reason St. John and all four evangelists wrote -- that, in John’s words, “you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing, you may have life in his name.”
May God help us to repent.  May He help us to believe.  And may He help us to live like it.  For the time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand.

Let us pray.

Lord Jesus Christ, help us to hear you as you proclaim, “The kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe the gospel.” Help us to repent. Help us to believe. For the time grows shorter and shorter before you come again in glory to judge the quick and the dead; and the kingdoms of this world shall become the kingdom of the Lord and of His Christ.  We earnestly desire to be loyal and obedient subjects of that kingdom. We desire to be loyal and obedient subjects of Thee, King Jesus.  So help us.  Help us through Thy Holy Spirit and through Thy powerful yet tender mercies.  Amen. 

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Unusual Takes on Epiphany Readings from Pusey House

A friendly tip: when one listens to a sermon from the current Principal of Pusey House, do not allow your mind the usual drifting. Otherwise, you will surely miss something. For George Westhaver’s sermons are brief, fast-paced, and packed!
And so it is with his first sermon of Hilary Term this past First Sunday after Epiphany (the text of which may be found on the Pusey House recent sermons page).  His unusual takes on two Epiphany readings are especially edifying.
On the Gospel from the end of Luke 2, Dr. Westhaver suggests that the wisdom of the 12-year-old Jesus may have come more from his being unclouded from sin than from his divine nature.
This had not occurred to me.  But it is in line with Dr. Pusey’s view, noted in Westhaver’s DPhil thesis, that sin can and does cloud the intellect.  Accordingly, Westhaver in his sermon contends, “We don’t know what a human mind free from the pollution of sin is capable of.”
Then he presents the anxious search of Mary and Joseph for the boy Jesus as a type of our search for Him.  This, too, is an unusual take today but in line with Dr. Pusey’s thinking.  For, as the aforementioned thesis examines, Pusey advocated a revival of typological interpretation of scripture and rightly thought our study of scripture is impoverished if we are not alert for types.  Westhaver’s take in his sermon demonstrates how types can enrich interpretation:
The events of the Gospel are not just stories about Him, they are stories about us. We should not be surprised that before Christ has fully grown up within us, before he has fully taken possession of us, that he may appear to be lost to us. We find ourselves in the situation of the bride in the Song of Songs, ‘I sought him whom my soul loveth: I sought him, but I found him not. I will rise now, and go about the city in the streets, and in the broad ways will I seek him whom my soul loveth’.[1]  The experience of the saints through the ages has been that there are times when Christ seems lost to us, and the only way to find him is with a kind of struggle and anxiety. 
The Gospel does give us some pointers to help us in the search. We may still expect to find our Lord in his temple, His Father’s House, in the place of worship, not only there, but certainly there. We don’t need to be afraid of our questions and doubts – He will listen to us with the same attention he gave the Doctors, his attention is His love. We can also expect him [to] address us with penetrating questions, His love for us, questions which are no less difficult than the journey, questions which are part of the answers He will give us, also in Love. 
Turning to the Gospel for the Feast of Epiphany itself, the sermon also uses Herod and the travels of the Magi as types.  Herod represents our fallen selfish nature that prefers King Me to King Jesus.  And, as the Magi were directed to avoid Herod after they met Jesus, so we need to avoid selfish grasping King Me after we meet King Jesus.
Herod is not just a figure in history. We too have to avoid Herod, because we all have something of Herod in us.  Herod did not want to have a rival, and it is part of our condition that we don’t want to have another king, even a king as wise and as good as Christ. Even after we have seen and adored Christ, we still have something of Herod in us, and so we must avoid our Herod-nature.  If we want to the transformed minds which share in the divine freedom and light, then we need to turn away from the Herod-nature in us.
Did I mention George Westhaver’s sermons are packed?  So do read it for yourself.  And, as you are able, avail yourself of the wealth of erudition and activities at Pusey House, both past and present.
Yes, Hilary Term is off to a very good start at Pusey House.

[1]Song 3.1-2

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Perfect. Anglican Communion Ambassador to Rome is a Resurrection Denier.

Archbishop Cranmer is among those provoked that an open Resurrection denier has been appointed Interim Director of the Anglican Centre in Rome, which is effectively the embassy of the Anglican Communion to The Vatican. Hence its Director is in effect the Ambassador of the Anglican Communion to The Vatican.
The said Resurrection denier is the Very Rev’d Dr John Shepherd, formerly Dean of St George’s Cathedral, Perth, and Chaplain of Christ Church, Oxford from 1980 to 1988.  For Easter, he has said the following and more:
The Resurrection of Jesus ought not to be seen in physical terms, but as a new spiritual reality. It is important for Christians to be set free from the idea that the Resurrection was an extraordinary physical event which restored to life Jesus’ original earthly body.

Jesus’ early followers felt His presence after His death as strongly as if it were a physical presence and incorporated this sense of a resurrection experience into their gospel accounts. But they’re not historical records as we understand them. 
There’s video, too:
But Happy Easter anyway!
One wonders if he would have been appointed if he were an open “Climate Change Denier.”  Heck, we wonder no such thing.  We know what would have happened.
But personally I am only mildly provoked by this appointment.  It is old hat really.  And, frankly, the Romans under Pope Franco deserve an insulting appointment like this.  The Vatican has a LibPope who enables and promotes abusing and abuse-enabling LibChurchers.  Really, The Vatican deserves worse than John Shepherd.  I hope Gene Robinson and Peter Ball were given due consideration.
This appointment is also appropriate due to the history of openly apostate bishops in the Anglican Communion, none of whom have been defrocked for fifty years and more if my memory is correct.  John Shelby Spong, David Jenkins, Shepherd, and no telling how many other allegedly Anglican bishops and clergy have openly denied and even mocked the physical resurrection of Christ.  How many have been defrocked? Hmmm?
That has provoked me for decades and still does. But with that history in mind, John Shepherd is a very appropriate appointment indeed.  Canterbury and Rome deserve no less.

Tuesday, January 08, 2019

Are we at Revelation 13:17?

When I was younger and more Dispensationalist, I took the Book of Revelation pretty literally.  I therefore expected Revelation 13:17 to be fulfilled by a world government requiring an actual mark or tattoo of some sort with those not submitting being unable to buy or sell.
Now with bar codes and the like (and with several governments making cash more and more unusable), such a literal fulfillment is certainly possible.  But I am beginning to wonder if a less literal fulfillment is happening now.  For both governments and corporations are making doing business more difficult for those who do not submit to lib/left cultural standards.  Robert Spencer of JihadWatch has been banned by Patreon and MasterCard.  The State of New York has made banking difficult for the National Rifle Association.  And this is for starters only.  Those in power, both government and corporate power, with totalitarian tendencies are making life more and more difficult for more and more of those determined to exercise their free speech against various Leftisms and Islam.
Jordan Peterson is so concerned about Patreon’s part in the attacks on free speech that he is leaving that platform.  His announcement of that also summarizes much of the current war on free speech. 
Bishop Gavin Ashenden has also noted the use of finance to attack free speech.  He, too, wonders if this is Revelation 13:17 happening today.  
And really such a less literal fulfillment is more likely. Why should “the Beast” bother with putting physical marks on everybody if invasive modern technology can be used more effectively to “deplatform” and defund those who refuse to submit? That certainly seems the direction the beast of tyranny seems to be going today in its attacks on free speech.
And remember this is not the first time corporations have been the willing tools of tyrants.  That is exactly what happened in Nazi Germany and what has been happening in China for years.
And now it’s beginning to happen even in the United States. Whether this is Revelation 13:17 or not, that should alarm.

Monday, December 31, 2018

A New Year, Time, Academics, and me

2018 was an auspicious one for me, particularly for my studies.  I finally converted my efforts into a post-graduate piece of paper, a Certificate of Anglican Studies from Cranmer House – a demanding program I highly recommend. And I spent the Michaelmas Term independently studying in Oxford, using Pusey House as a base – and what an excellent base it was.  Being a part of the life of Pusey House really made my time in Oxford.  (And, yes, preaching a sermon there was a highlight of my year.)  I cannot recommend Pusey House enough as community of faith, fellowship, and scholarship.
Now I have embarked on applying my studies, not that I have not applied them already and not that my studies won’t continue.  But I am not seeking further certificates or degrees.  While at Pusey House, conversing with different students and their plans, I inwardly regretted not getting a handle on what I wanted to do academically sooner.  I heard a plan or two that sounded like a good fit for me years ago.  But now I am at an age where I realize my earthly time and energy is very limited.  And I think spending further years earning degrees would be unwise – how much time and energy would I have left once I spent years earning another degree or two?
Thus 2019 will more or less be the first full year of applying my studies.  I will venture to see if this man of some learning can make good use of his learning without prestigious degrees to back it up.  Many have done just that, particularly in the 19thcentury and before, but how well can it done now?

If there is a bright side to the decline of most universities today, it is that their pieces of paper are not as well regarded, not as credible as in the recent past.  Therefore, I expect what one actually produces with one’s learning will become more examined.  Men and women of learning will be judged more by that.  I am going to find out anyway.
Not that I will necessarily write for an academic audience although I might.  I intend to speak and write to a broader audience, particularly to further the education and edification of the church.  On a small scale, I have a few sermons and lectures coming up along those lines already.
Yes, given that I do not have the usual degrees (although I have studied more than many who do have them), my ambition is a bit bold.  But even if you think me slightly foolish, do pray for wisdom, creativity, and energy in putting my past and continuing studies to good use to the glory of God and for the good of His Holy Church.

Thank you.

P. S. Although I am not a New Year’s Resolution kind of guy, I do have one – to post legitimate comments faster.  Sorry for my recent negligence.

Saturday, December 29, 2018

A New Year’s Word for Evangelical Anglicans

I never have been much into New Year’s resolutions.  I tend to make my resolutions scattered throughout the year, especially at Lent and Advent as the Lord intends.  But I just came across a word that resonates so and that I think a number of Anglican jurisdictions (I will restrain myself and not name names here.) need to take to heart that I have to publish it myself as a suggested resolution.
It comes from Gerald McDermott via Duane W H Arnold, who prefaces it as “a word to my Anglican friends who wish to be missional and contextual at the expense of the Tradition...”
Anglicanism without the beauty and power of liturgy and sacraments would become just another evangelical alternative. It might continue to use the "Anglican" moniker, but it will be indistinguishable from many nondenominational networks that are now denominations by another name. It will not be able to compete with its flashy competitors on the other side of town with more exciting youth programs, and sermons tied more directly to the latest cultural trends. People will wonder why they should be Anglican when they can get pretty much the same thing elsewhere without the name. But if Anglicans retrieve their ancient heritage of liturgy and sacrament they will have something unique to offer this new century when the beauty of holiness (Ps 96:9) is resonant in ways it has not been for centuries.
Amen!  And Happy New Year.

Friday, December 28, 2018

About that Mary Queen of Scots Movie…

I’ve noticed – it is hard not to notice thanks to bombardment of silly social media ads – that there is a new Mary Queen of Scots movie that portrays Queen Elizabeth I as a very mean and naughty villain who scowls a lot at Mary the heroine.  Never mind that in actual history Mary was a fool caught plotting against Elizabeth and thereby gave her little choice but to lop off Mary’s regicidal head.  And even then Elizabeth was reluctant to do so.
But during this Christmas season I wish to be full of peace and good will.  So I recommend the following presentation which I find to be more enlightening and historically accurate.  You’re welcome.