Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘St. John Baptist’

“He hath done all things well: he maketh both the deaf to hear, and the dumb to speak.”

+ In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

 

“Loving our Neighbor through Good Works”

In St. Mark’s Gospel, this healing and the healing of the Syrophoenician woman which precede it together form a turning point in Christ’s ministry.  This healing in particular shows the firstfruits of salvation from the Jewish Messiah which will come to the Gentiles after Pentecost.  Although this miracle is done privately, it is a very inclusive miracle.  Instead of healing only one of the Chosen People, Christ the Messiah heals a man from outside the Old Covenant.

Travelling with His disciples amongst the Gentiles, Jesus fulfills two Messianic prophesies.  These include Isaiah xxxv.5, “Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped” and Ezekiel xxiv.27, “In that day shall thy mouth be opened to him which is escaped, and thou shalt speak, and be no more dumb: and thou shalt be a sign unto them; and they shall know that I am the LORD”.

God has power over hearing and speech.  Exodus iv.11 reads, “And the LORD said unto him, Who hath made man’s mouth? or who maketh the dumb, or deaf, or the seeing, or the blind? have not I the LORD?”.  Christ is a Jew, but He is God Incarnate.  He has power over hearing and speech.

St. Matthew 11.2-6 shows that Christ is doing the works that the Christ was prophesied to do according to the Forerunner, St. John Baptist:

2 Now when John had heard in the prison the works of Christ, he sent two of his disciples,

3 And said unto him, Art thou he that should come, or do we look for another?

4 Jesus answered and said unto them, Go and shew John again those things which ye do hear and see:

5 The blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them.

6 And blessed is he, whosoever shall not be offended in me.

 

31:  JESUS, departing from the coasts of Tyre and Sidon, came unto the sea of Galilee, through the midst of the coasts of Decapolis.

In this part of St. Mark’s Gospel, Christ and the disciples left the pagan region of Tyre and Sidon, the site of ancient Phoenicia and modern Lebanon, and headed back towards Judea.  They stopped off in the area of the Ten Cities, the Decapolis, on the other side of the Sea of Galilee.  These are ten Hellenistic, or culturally Greek, cities east of Samaria and Galilee, across the River Jordan.

Christ had already healed the demoniac possessed by Legion whilst visiting there before, so His reputation probably preceded Him.  According to Acts ix.2, this area was evangelized early.  Decades later, some Christians fled to one of these cities from Judea during the last war between Rome and the Jews.

32:  And they bring unto him one that was deaf, and had an impediment in his speech; and they beseech him to put his hand upon him.

The people of the Decapolis asked Christ to heal this man.  His own people asked on his behalf.  They intercede to the Son of God for his healing.  The week before last, a small group of us gathered to pray for others.  We’ll be doing that again in a few weeks.

Every Sunday and every Mass we lift up the names brought to us by the members of Christ’s Body here in this parish to God the Father Almighty, joining them in the mystical and eternal sacrifice of the Son to the Father in the Eucharist, the good gift.  We bring those we know and love to the attention of God so that he may heal them and have mercy upon them.

The local Gentiles interceded on behalf of their deaf friend who couldn’t speak to the Messiah of Israel.  They showed faith and love:  Faith that Christ could heal him and love for him that he might be healed.

33a:  And he took him aside from the multitude,

Privately, away from the public.  This is normally used for Christ alone with His disciples.

Christ avoids making miracles in public and seeks to avoid public praise for them.  He does not seek His own glory but the healing and mending of the bodies and souls of the lost.

Pseudo-Chrysostom tells that Christ took aside the man privately, “teaching us to cast away vain glory and swelling of heart, for no one can work miracles as he can, who loves humility and is lowly in his conduct.”

Indeed, pride is incompatible with thaumaturgy or wonderworking.  Pride is a sin against God.  God gives the good gifts which we work amongst our fellows.  It is through Christ that we do good works.  Sin and good works are incompatible and irreconcilable; sin and good works in Christ cannot exist together.  We must give up pride and seeking after glory for ourselves or we can no longer do good works in Christ.

33b:  and put his fingers into his ears, and he spit, and touched his tongue;

This seems rather vulgar and unbecoming the founder of our religion.  Yet this putting his hands inside his mouth and spitting makes sense.  Christ actually touched the man, showing that this world is part of God’s creation.  Christ the Son of God uses his perfect fingers and sacred spittle to touch the man in ears and on tongue to heal part of creation which has fallen away from God.

34:  and looking up to heaven, he sighed, and saith unto him, Ephphatha, that is, Be opened.

Christ heals the man with six actions:  taking aside, putting hands in the ear, spitting, touching the tongue, deep groan (“sighed”), and command of healing.  This is like our liturgical action at Mass and other services such as Baptism and Confirmation.  He looked up to Heaven.  He said ephphathah, the Aramaic word for “be opened!”  It serves as a word of power, which is not a magical incantation of superstitious nonsense.  This is a direct command from God to be healed.  As the earlier quote from Exodus iv.11 showed, Christ has the power of God to heal the deaf and mute.

St. Bede says that from Heaven comes all healing, which is why Christ looked up.  All we can do for healing also comes down from Heaven.  Whether it be our medical technology or the wise word properly delivered into the ready ear, all our help comes from our Creator and Redeemer who gives us all good things in the first place.  God uses our hands like he uses the hands of Christ for the good of our fellow man.

Likewise, the good we do must not be good only in our eyes but in the eyes of God as well.  Thus, we ought to always keep a healthy suspicion upon ourselves and watch ourselves to ensure that we do God’s work and not our own particular preferences.

35:  And straightway his ears were opened, and the string of his tongue was loosed, and he spake plain.

“His ears were opened” literally means is ‘his hearing was opened’, referring to the act of hearing not to the thing of ears.  We do hear through our ears, but the ears being restored was secondary to Christ restoring the hearing.  We see that today with the new cochlear implants which do not fix the ears but restore hearing.

36:  And he charged them that they should tell no man: but the more he charged them, so much the more a great deal they published it;

God is now at work among the Gentiles.  He has said, “be opened!” and they now hear, and proclaim, and are enthusiastic.  Christ will not finish His work among the Gentiles directly; but His apostles will carry the Gospel to the ends of the earth, performing great works in His Name.  God’s plan of salvation requires we sinful humans to proclaim Christ to the world.

“so much the more a great deal they published it” – published in the sense of ‘they proclaimed it’, with the religious note of proclamation.  When I preach or proclaim the Gospel, I am publishing it.  Think of publish glad tidings, tidings of peace!  I do not publish in the manner of printing a book or magazine, but rather in proclaiming to the hearing of others personally.

It goes on, “And He charged them that they should tell no man.”  Pseudo-Chrysostom: “By which He has taught us not to boast in our powers, but in the cross and humiliation.”  Wherefore it goes on, “but the more He charged them, so much the more a great deal they published it.”

We ought not to seek praise for that which we do well and to praise those who do well to us.  Praise is not our due; even the Son of God did not seek praise.

As for those who seek the approval of others (St. Matthew vi.1-2, 5):

1 Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven.

2 Therefore when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.

5 And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.

Christ tells us to refrain from doing our duty in public so to avoid receiving men’s praises.  Christ often refrained from performing healings in public so to avoid receiving men’s praises.  Both by word and example we are to serve humbly and obediently, willingly sacrificing our pride upon the Cross.  Remember, we can do no good thing on our own, but only insofar as we participate in Christ.

37:  and were beyond measure astonished, saying, He hath done all things well: he maketh both the deaf to hear, and the dumb to speak.

Once the people know that the man they brought forward to be healed has been healed, they get excited and pass on the news.  This is not what Christ wanted.  He healed the man because Christ is the Son of God come into the world to save us, and healing our bodily ailments is one portion of that salvation.  Today’s healing is a foretaste of tomorrow’s incorruptible bodies.

When we follow in His way, the Way of the Cross, we ought to leave others better off for having known us.  I know of many ways in which many of you have made the lives of your fellows better in this vale of suffering and tears.  It is incumbent upon us to serve our fellow man, not as an end unto itself, not as a means of gaining glory for ourselves, not even as a means of gaining glory for God, but to show forth the love of Christ unto those whom He came to save, our very own neighbors.

 

“He hath done all things well: he maketh both the deaf to hear, and the dumb to speak.”

+ In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

 

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

“Parthians, and Medes, and Elamites, and the dwellers in Mesopotamia, and in Judaea, and Cappadocia, in Pontus, and Asia, Phrygia, and Pamphylia, in Egypt, and in the parts of Libya about Cyrene, and strangers of Rome, Jews and proselytes, Cretes and Arabians, we do hear them speak in our tongues the wonderful works of God.”

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

 

“Speaking the wonderful works of God”

 

God has spoken to Man throughout the ages.  God communed with Adam in the cool of the morning.  God accepted Abel’s sacrifice but not Cain’s.  God commanded Noah to build the Ark.  God chose Abraham and sent him on his journey, communicating to his through angels.  God spoke to Moses from the burning bush to lead the Exodus of the Jews from Egypt and gave him his sacred Law.  The tabernacle of the Ark of the Covenant signified the presence of God to the priests and people of Israel.

Yet even when the Ark was lost, God still spoke through the prophets of Israel, correcting and admonishing the priests, kings, and people when they grew lax with God’s Law and sought to worship themselves instead of God.  These prophets and the calamities visited upon the Israelites scattered many of them but sharpened and honed others.

Out of these others came Ss. Mary and Joseph, Ss. Elizabeth and Zacharias, and those who waited for the consolation of Israel.  The Son of God the Father became Man in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary as the Holy Ghost came upon her and the power of the Most High overshadowed her.  God raised a great prophet in the elderly womb of St. Elizabeth.  As her son, St. John the Baptist, preached and prepared those hoping for the restoration of Zion to receive their king, Jesus grew in stature and wisdom until his Baptism by St. John and his ministry amongst the Jews.

Thus we understand the first two verses of Hebrews:  “God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds;”

As we have worshipped in the cycle of Holy Church through the preparation for Easter, Pre-Lent and Lent, and thence through Passion Week and Holy Week, worshipping through the Passion, death, Resurrection, and then Ascension of our Lord Christ, so we come to the time Christ promised us:  Pentecost.

WHEN the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.”

Christ gave the Holy Ghost to the Church to hold her accountable to what He taught her.  We are given the Holy Ghost in the Sacraments to bring God’s presence into our lives and accomplish all things necessary for holiness.  The Third Person of the Holy Trinity, God the Holy Ghost, instructs us, seals us in the knowledge of God, and preserves the teachings of Jesus Christ.

 

From the Confirmation rite found in the Book of Common Prayer:  “Strengthen them, we beseech thee, O Lord, with the Holy Ghost, the Comforter, and daily increase in them thy manifold gifts of grace: the spirit of wisdom and under-standing, the spirit of counsel and ghostly strength, the spirit of knowledge and true godliness; and fill them, O Lord, with the spirit of thy holy fear,”

Zechariah vii.11-12:  “But they refused to hearken, and pulled away the shoulder, and stopped their ears, that they should not hear.  Yea, they made their hearts as an adamant stone, lest they should hear the law, and the words which the LORD of hosts hath sent in his spirit by the former prophets: therefore came a great wrath from the LORD of hosts.”

St. John iv.22b-24 “…Salvation is of the Jews.  But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him. God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.”

Romans viii.9-11:  “But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his. And if Christ be in you, the body is dead because of sin; but the Spirit is life because of righteousness. But if the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwelleth in you.”

I Corinthians ii.9-10, 12:  “But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him. But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God…. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God.”

 

We are comforted – strengthened – by the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit also leads us into all truth.  The two come together in that teaching of Christ, that the Holy Ghost will preserve and keep us in the word of God from Christ.  He “brings all things to remembrance”.

In the Collect, God “didst teach the hearts of thy faithful people, by sending to them the light of thy Holy Spirit” and we beseech God to “Grant us by the same Spirit to have a right judgment in all things”.

Teaching the hearts of the faithful and granting us right judgement are both brought about by the first thing St. Peter does after receiving the Holy Ghost at Pentecost.  He preaches.

He preaches that those who have not heard may hear.  He preaches that those who do not understand may understand.  He preaches that those who fail may be strengthened to succeed.  He preaches that the faithless may find faith.  He preaches that the stout-hearted give glory to God and lead others to glorify God as well.  He preaches by telling the truth that the authorities do not want to be told.  He preaches by speaking the wonderful works of God.

Will you stand up alongside the great apostle and speak the wonderful works of God?

 

“Parthians, and Medes, and Elamites, and the dwellers in Mesopotamia, and in Judaea, and Cappadocia, in Pontus, and Asia, Phrygia, and Pamphylia, in Egypt, and in the parts of Libya about Cyrene, and strangers of Rome, Jews and proselytes, Cretes and Arabians, we do hear them speak in our tongues the wonderful works of God.”

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

Read Full Post »

“I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord, as said the prophet Esaias.”

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

 

Hell

 

Those words of St. John Baptist build upon the prophecy of Isaiah, where in the fortieth chapter he says:

The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain: And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together: for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it.

St. John Baptist, one of the central figures of Advent, called men to repentance.  The tricky part of calling for repentance is that it assumes a couple of rough things.  First, calling for repentance assumes that there is something to repent from.  In other words, you’re doing something wrong.  Second, calling for repentance assumes that there is a better way.  In other words, I’m doing something right.  Fundamentally, a call for repentance is a call to make a choice.

In Deuteronomy, we read of an earlier choice.  “I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life.”  The whole story of the Bible, from the Law through the Prophets and culminating in Christ, points us the way to righteousness, the way to Heaven, the way to communion with God forever.

But if we may choose life, then there is another way we may choose, and we are free to choose it:  Hell.

 

Speaking of Hell makes us sound like loons.  Nobody in polite society wants to hear us talk about Hell.  But Hell is a central doctrine of the New Testament.  Christ spoke of Hell more than anyone else in the Bible, warning people from Hell to salvation in Him.  Hell is mentioned in the Apostles Creed.  Hell is a reminder that each of us faces an ultimate choice about our fate.  This is impolite.  We want to ignore it.  We want to lock it in the cellar with the red-headed step-child.  We want to ameliorate this doctrine, soften it.  We want to explain it away.  As a child I asked about Hell.  I was told:  ‘There is a Hell, but no one really is in it.  Maybe Hitler.’  Hell is awkward!

It is so awkward, that if we lower the standards for Christianity by removing it, more people will find us more attractive.  Here at our parish, we are committed to growing.  Many of us are praying and thinking hard about what we can do to grow and spread the Kingdom of God.  If we toss aside the doctrine of Hell, then more people here in Augusta will find us palatable.  But those people who would then come here would remain unconverted to the full Gospel of Christ, and we as Anglican Catholics are committed to preaching God’s truth entire.  We have seen all too well the dangers of preaching simply what we like, discarding our Prayer Book and rewriting Church teachings.

When we teach the whole truth and nothing but the truth, we hold up our people to Christ so that they may be truly converted, heart and soul.  But many find holding up the whole truth offensive.  In the days to come, they will find it more and more offensive.  To offer real Christian discipleship to some, many will turn us down.  This too is part of having a choice.

 

Now just because Hell and permanent alienation from God and goodness and joy and life are terribly sad choices doesn’t mean that they aren’t choices.  Therefore, blinding ourselves to the reality that some people make these horrible choices is not noble, it is pathetic.  Hell is a logical, Scriptural, and necessary part of Christian doctrine.  Mature Christians, that is, Baptized and Confirmed adult believers, must sternly look this possibility in the face lest we have no happy effect upon those who have not yet committed their lives to Christ.

Admittedly, choosing is a tricky thing.

This can be seen by the parable of the two sons in St. Matthew xxi:28–31:

A certain man had two sons; and he came to the first, and said, Son, go work to day in my vineyard.  He answered and said, I will not: but afterward he repented, and went.  And he came to the second, and said likewise. And he answered and said, I go, sir: and went not.  Whether of them twain did the will of his father? They say unto him, The first.

Flapping your gums and moving air about, pantomiming pure and soulful answers is easy.  At the end of the day, you get up off your duff and go to work in your father’s vineyard . . . or you don’t.  Christ makes this most clear.

Indeed, Christ speaks of relentlessly evil choices in the parable of the wicked husbandmen in St. Luke xx:9-16:

A certain man planted a vineyard, and let it forth to husbandmen, and went into a far country for a long time.  And at the season he sent a servant to the husbandmen, that they should give him of the fruit of the vineyard: but the husbandmen beat him, and sent him away empty.  And again he sent another servant: and they beat him also, and entreated him shamefully, and sent him away empty.  And again he sent a third: and they wounded him also, and cast him out.  Then said the lord of the vineyard, What shall I do? I will send my beloved son: it may be they will reverence him when they see him.  But when the husbandmen saw him, they reasoned among themselves, saying, This is the heir: come, let us kill him, that the inheritance may be ours.  So they cast him out of the vineyard, and killed him. What therefore shall the lord of the vineyard do unto them?  He shall come and destroy these husbandmen, and shall give the vineyard to others. And when they heard it, they said, God forbid.

Some sinners are unrepentant and choose to continue to sin.  They are relentless in their movement away from Christ and vigorous in their pursuit of self-interest.

In that little gem of a book, The Great Divorce, C. S. Lewis says:

There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, in the end, ‘Thy will be done.’ All that are in Hell, choose it. Without that self-choice there could be no Hell.

Christ is very clear what He would have us do:  Follow Him.  But sometimes laying down your nets and following Christ is not as difficult as it gets.  When the going gets really rough, Christ turns to an equally rough saying in St. Matthew v.30:

And if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell.

 

But we should not so much seek to avoid Hell as to embrace Christ, and with Him, all goodness, righteousness, health, peace, and life everlasting.  All this, in the presence of God, is Heaven.

What have we to do to gain Heaven and forever lose Hell?  We must participate fully in Christ and His salvation.  In the words of St. Paul in the eighth chapter of Romans:

That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.

Every member we have is ours to make choices with.  But notice here how the apostle focuses on the heart and the mouth.  Our heart is where our treasure is.  If you value more highly your wit, your lineage, your possessions, your politics, or even your family higher than you value Christ, then your heart is not in the right place.

Your heart is where you love.  I love Christ.  I love my wife.  I love my mama.  I love my country.  I love my friends.  But without Christ, none of these loves would stand.  For Christ is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.  He was present at creation, and He knew me in my mother’s womb.  As St. John wrote:  “We love him, because he first loved us.”

I was asked once if a court of law sought to convict me of being a Christian, was there enough evidence to secure a conviction?  A court cannot read my heart, but it sure can hear my words.  Not only must I believe in my heart, but I must confess with my lips.

Here in St. Luke Church, we acknowledge Christ at Mass, Offices, Baptisms, Confirmations, Institutions, and Burials.  And that’s just in worship!  I walk around here and Augusta and hear from your lips the faith you place in Christ.  Well, I hear it from some.  If you aren’t using your lips to confess your faith in Christ on your own time, then I’d say that you have some work you need to get to.

 

My dear sons and daughters, we must believe in our hearts, we must confess with our lips, and we must let go of those things which keep us from Heaven by dragging us down to Hell.  Our respectability, our patriotism, our family, our work, our ideals, the things of this world.  These are usually good things, perhaps even things to which we are called to do.  Yet if we do even one of them to the exclusion of loving Christ first and foremost, then we have given up on living with Him forever.  For Christ must come before our respectability, our patriotism, our family, our work, and our ideals.  And if we are with Christ foremost, then we can rest assured (Romans viii.38-39) “that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

If Christ comes first, then all the rest will follow.  If we put Christ second, then we never had any part of Him.  And that, by definition, is Hell.

 

“I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord, as said the prophet Esaias.”

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

 

Read Full Post »

“THERE was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels, and prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven. And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.”

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

 

Nowadays, many people dismiss angels as merely poetic or symbolic, but not truly real.  People, learned people especially, tend to dismiss Satan as the personification of evil, that is, we pretend he is a person exemplifying evil traits and not a real spiritual person.  These notions come from the folly of naturalism, the Enlightenment and Modern philosophy that only “natural (as opposed to supernatural or spiritual) laws and forces operate in the world.”  This notion sits more firmly in minds of even the faithful than we would like to think.

Therefore, we tend to think very little of angels because they are not popular like they were in medieval and ancient times.  They do not really fit in with our modern ways of thinking.  We believe that if we do not think of them much, it does no damage to our Christian faith.

But this last point is wrong.  Not believing in actual spiritual beings called angels does hurt our faith in Christ.  If we do not believe in angels, we cannot consistently hold that Christ was the spiritual God from Heaven come down and made Man, and that directly contradicts the Holy Scriptures, Creeds, and teaching of Holy Mother Church.  You can explain away angels and thus deny Christ, or you can believe in both.

If we believe in Christ and thus believe in angels, then we may be comforted by the idea of the Heavenly Host doing God’s will and ministering to us.  Hebrews i.14:  “Are they not all ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation?”  That we are aided by supernatural spirits gives us comfort, hope, and courage in our battle against sin.  We join the ranks of Christians throughout all the centuries who took practical help from angels.

Naturalistic philosophy holds that science teaches us about our world.  But science can only examine the material world, although it does that very well.  Many questions of our race remain unanswered by science.  Psychology and medicine explain some of the cases of demon possession and miracles in the Bible, but they cannot explain all of them.  Evil angels cause evil disorders.  What science teaches us is correct so far as it can go.  The natural world and the supernatural world are but different parts of God’s good Creation.

Indeed, our personal experiences bear out the existence of both holy and diabolical angels.  Who here has not been sorely tempted and then found sudden inexplicable relief?  Who here was otherwise doing fine until suddenly tempted or troubled with the most unsettling thoughts?  Some of this may come from habit, diet, and rest, but can all of it be explained so?

The Holy Scriptures mention angels many times, but the angels are never the point of the Holy Scriptures.  Thus, most Biblical references are indirect.  To understand angels in the Bible, we must look at references that are about other things and glean what we can from them.

We know they exist and that they communicate with men.  Angels conveyed messages to Abraham, Jacob, Balaam, Moses, Daniel, St. Mary, the ladies at the Empty Tomb, and the apostles.  We know that they are not flesh and blood from Ephesians vi.12.  We know that angels do not marry from St. Matthew xxii.30.  We know that they are wise from 2 Samuel xiv.20.  We know that they are moral creatures from St. John viii.44.  We know that they will be judged on the Last Day from St. Jude 6.  We know that we share with the angels in the communion of saints from Hebrews xii.22-23

Angels appear throughout the Scriptures, from Satan and the angel in the Garden of Eden in Genesis to St. Michael and Satan in the Revelation of St. John the Divine read today for the Epistle.  But angels especially appear around Christ.

St. Gabriel appeared to Zacharias to announce the birth of St. John Baptist.  The same St. Gabriel appeared unto the Blessed Virgin Mary to announce the birth of our Lord and Savior.  The heavenly host appeared to the shepherds “keeping watch over their flock by night”.  Angels ministered to Christ in the wilderness after His Temptation and announced His Resurrection on Easter morn.  Christ taught that angels minister to His children.  Christ exorcized demons and came to deliver men from the power of the one who had power over body and soul in Hell.

Fr. Hall:  “It has always been generally believed by Christians that multitudes of angels exist; that they are created and personal spirits, possessed of high intellectual power and capable of considerable although limited influence upon nature and upon man; that they belong to various orders, to which diverse functions are distributed; that, originally created good, many of them have fallen away, and under Satan’s leadership oppose themselves to divine purposes and to man’s moral and spiritual welfare; and that the holy angels not only minister to God in heavenly places, but also to the souls of men, defending them against the assaults of Satan and his hosts.”

Other than this common core of belief, Christians from the age of the early Church Fathers until now have supposed many things.  The most accepted of these, Pseudo-Dionysius, whose writings have been very persuasive, lists nine orders of angels he found in Holy Scripture.  The highest of the three sets of three are the thrones, Cherubim, and Seraphim, who minister directly to God in his presence.  The middle of the three sets are the dominions, virtues, and powers, who are, in the words of Fr. Hall, “more or less associated with works of power in nature and warfare.”  The lowest order includes principalities, archangels, and angels, who are often God’s messengers to men.  These orders are included in the Eastern liturgies of St. Basil and St. James and are included in our closing hymn today.

Angels have more powers than men but less than God.  They are personal, moral creatures who possess free will, know more than men, and enjoy the presence of God – the Beatific Vision.  But they do not know the Day of Judgement, and they cannot discern men’s thoughts.  They are not of flesh and blood but seem to have power over men’s bodies.  They are local in presence and motion but can move very swiftly.

Since they do not marry, they do not generate themselves.  They were each created directly by God.  Unlike us, when some of them fell, they did not all fall.  Therefore, Christ did not have to come to save angels.  Christ only came to save man.

Holy Scripture assumes that there are seven archangels, of whom Ss. Michael and Gabriel are named in the primary canon and Ss. Uriel and Raphael are named in the deutero-canonical Scripture, otherwise known as the Apocrypha.  Jewish tradition names the other three.

We know angels protect us and guide us in God’s will.  They seek to help us towards salvation and guard us against the evil angels.  They accompany our prayers to Heaven, witness our tribulations, rejoice over our repentance, come with Christ on the Day of Judgement, and generally do God’s bidding.

Fr. John Henry Blunt wrote:  “It has been a constant tradition of Christianity that angels attend at the ministration of Holy Baptism, and at the celebration of the Holy Communion; and that as Lazarus was the object of their tender care, so in sickness and death they are about the bed of the faithful, and carry their souls to the presence of Christ in Paradise.”

Then, there are evil angels.  God is good, and he created everything good.  But those of us with free will, namely men and angels, have the capacity to rebel against God and goodness.

Our pets and animals, however, cannot willfully choose evil.  They naturally live for the glory of God.  However, we are responsible as stewards with dominion over the earth to take care of them and treat them well.  But these animals of ours cannot choose evil.

But the evil angels do.  They beheld God’s face and wanted to live for themselves anyway.  They were given freedom by God and chose to misuse that good gift.  Evil angels fell before the Fall of Man, for Satan there tempted Eve in the Garden of Eden.  Evil came to men from fallen angels.  Many theologians have sought to explain this, but that is the extent to which Scripture teaches.  We can only speculate how Satan and the evil angels fell and why they tempted man.

Satan has limited dominion over our world and will be consigned to the “lake of fire and brimstone” at the Day of Doom.  Since we are fallen and unstable, we are particularly susceptible to the wiles of Satan and his demons.  They are far older, wiser, and more evil than we are; they are very dangerous.  But in the Sacrament of Holy Baptism, we are washed in the Blood of the Lamb Who Was Slain, and their evil influence upon us is limited.

Unclean spirits cannot alter God’s natural laws but only manipulate them for evil purposes.  Holy Scripture shows this limitation.  When we use mediums and other wicked means to communicate with the dead, setting aside cases of fraud, the poor quality and vanity of that supernatural communication shows the origin of these communications to be from demons.  St. John warns us to test the spirits.  St. Paul tells us that the power to discern spirits is a gift of the Holy Ghost.  Christ said, “by their fruits ye shall know them.”

In St. Matthew, we see that the damnation of Satan and the demons is eternal.  His work to corrupt man had its singular epic success in the fall of man, but subsequently their evil work has expended itself upon sinful men.  The plans of God are not thwarted.  Satan can plot and plan all he likes, but the eternal goodness of God continues on as always, unabated, unaltered.  Those evil plans are often turned into following God’s perfect plan, as goodness and grace and protection pours upon his people through his ministering spirits.  We repent and return to God despite the wiles and viciousness of the Devil.  The holy angels protect and defend us, the Holy Scriptures teach us, the Holy Sacraments empower us, and the Holy Spirit of God lives in us.  The power and hostility of demons are real, but God’s eternity, grace, and loving-kindness are so much more powerful.  We are not pawns in the battle of good and evil.  We are powerful yet flawed men who must decide for ourselves if we shall fight on behalf of our Father in Heaven, His Son Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost alongside the saints and angels, or if we shall fight in rebellion to the Blessed and ever glorious Holy Trinity along with other evil men and the wicked angels.

We have countless fellow-creatures and friends who wish us well, who watch over us day and night, who are always ready to whisper to us a word of encouragement or warning.  They possess heavenly rectitude and wise judgement and ever stand ready as good examples for us.  Satan and his evil angels are out to get us, but our friends the heavenly host do battle and assist us.

The angels in Heaven are above us now, but after the Last Judgement when we enter into the glory that Christ has prepared for us, we shall indeed be higher than the angels.  Angels are not little gods.  They, too, are creatures.  We never worship them.  Only Christ can lead us into Salvation.  They are not our brothers, but they are our fellow creatures who share in God’s love and ministry.  We are never alone.  We always have help.

And let us dare not forget the words of the Mass, which in a short while I shall sing on behalf of all the faithful gathered here together:  “Therefore with angels and archangels, and all the company of heaven, we laud and magnify Thy glorious Name, evermore praising Thee, and saying, Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of Hosts, heaven and earth are full of Thy glory: Glory be to Thee, O Lord most High.”

Believe in the holy angels of God.  Ask for divine help from on high whenever you are in trouble or temptation.  Befriend your guardian angel.  Y’all are in it together.  And as St. Peter warns:  “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour:  Whom resist stedfast in the faith.”

 

St. Michael and All Angels, pray for us.  Amen.

“THERE was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels, and prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven. And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.”

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

 

Read Full Post »

“The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.”

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

 

St. Mark begins his Gospel not with stories of the infancy of Jesus or the Word of God, but dives right in, using rough grammar, to use these words to tell of St. John Baptist.

Beginning your Gospel with the blessed Forerunner to Christ is a great way to begin.  All four Evangelists tell of the Baptist, and all four think that he is very important.

St. John occupies a peculiar place in the calendar of the Book of Common Prayer.  I am wearing white today.  St. John is not a Christian martyr who shed his blood for Christ.  He is the last prophet of the old covenant, told of in Isaiah in our Epistle today and in the Morning Prayer reading from Malachi.  On most saints’ days we celebrate their death, that is, their going to glory.  We celebrate today the Baptist’s birth, which is six months before the birth of Jesus.   This feast fits in with that cycle of feasts of Christ’s birth along with Christmas, Circumcision, Presentation, and Annunciation.  Even in Elizabeth’s pregnancy, he was being prepared for his role.  He was in his mother’s womb when she said to the Blessed Virgin Mary, “Blessed are thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.”

St. John Baptist unifies in a special way the old and new covenants.  Being the last prophet, the one foretold, he pointed to Jesus as the Lamb of God.  St. John used water to baptize sinner for the remission of their sins.  Following Christ, we baptize with water and the Holy Ghost to not only baptize sinners for the remission of their sins, but to baptize into the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  The Baptist called Jesus the Lamb of God, and we are washed in the blood of the Lamb.

Today’s Gospel lesson takes place after Gabriel has spoken to St. Mary and she has conceived her child.  She went off to the country to see her cousin Elizabeth, who was pregnant herself.  This is called the Visitation.  After visiting with Elizabeth, the Virgin returns home.

Elizabeth also had a miraculous pregnancy, for Elizabeth was barren.  One day in the Temple, where Zacharias was serving as a priest of God, the angel Gabriel visited him and announced that Elizabeth would bear a son, that the boy’s name would be John, and that “many of the children of Israel shall he turn to the Lord their God.”  Zacharias doubted the angel, so Gabriel struck him mute.

St. Luke shows how Elizabeth’s and Zacharias’ family and friends insisted that the baby’s name was Zacharias at his circumcision but how Elizabeth said no.  When the others insisted on checking with Zacharias, he, being mute, wrote his answer down, “His name is John.”  At that moment his tongue was loosed and he prophesied over his child.

This prophecy has been said every day by millions of the faithful around the world for almost two thousand years.  You might know it better as the Benedictus, the second canticle in Morning Prayer.  It is the counterpoint to the Song of Mary, known as the Magnificat from Evening Prayer.  The prophecy over St. John Baptist is so important that it is said by folks every day over the world and throughout time.

Looking at the Benedictus:  Zacharias first praises God.  As soon as he has his voice back, he praises God.  Would that I had such faith!  Indeed, the phrase, “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel” is a berakah, a Jewish ritual blessing.  Zacharias blesses God.

He tells of God raising up a horn of salvation from the house of David.  This of course, is Jesus.  Like the bull’s horns, the horn is a symbol of power and might, and this horn of salvation comes from the promised line of descendants as found in the old covenant.  God is raising up his Messiah!

“As he spake by the mouth of his holy prophets….”  That which is occurring before Zacharias’ very eyes is that which was promised long ago through the prophets.  There is continuity of the old and the new, of the word of God spoken through his prophets and here in St. John the Baptist.

Next, Zacharias prophesizes “that we should be saved from our enemies, and from the hand of all that hate us”, meaning not only Roman occupiers and the people of this world who are killing Christians in Nigeria, the Sudan, and Pakistan to this day, but from the ways of the world, the flesh, and the devil which assault and assail us every single day, without let-up, without pause.  We are saved from the powers of death.  Christ is coming; Christ has won the victory.

Zacharias tells of “the mercy promised to our fathers, and to remember his holy covenant; the oath which he sware to our father Abraham”.  God made a covenant with Abraham.  This is the covenant of Israel.  Zacharias prophesizes the remembrance of this on the occasion of his son’s circumcision, which is the sign of that covenant.

And this remembrance of the old covenant comes with a promise of future glory.  “That we being delivered out of the hand of our enemies might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him, all the days of our life.”  He has already promised deliverance from our enemies, but now we see what awaits the faithful:  To “serve him without fear in holiness and righteousness before him all the days of our life.”

Two things here:  First, fear.  Here this does not mean holy fear, but craven fear.  We ought to have holy fear for God, for he made us and not we ourselves.  He is infinite, and we most assuredly are not.  We ought to have awe of him, but we ought not to cringe like he is about to beat us.  Not this our God.

Second, holiness and righteousness.  God is holy, and he called out Israel to be his holy people.  In this new covenant, we who are made joint-heirs with Christ and united with His body are brought into this holy and righteous covenant, this majestic and heavenly promise of the Most High.  We are to be apart from the world and in Christ.  We are to love rightly and act justly.

Zacharias, speaking prophetically, addresses his own son, not as a father, but as a prophet.  “And thou, child, shalt be called the prophet of the Highest: for thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to prepare his ways.”  St. John Baptist is a prophet, and as we heard in the epistle and as I began this sermon and is quoted in St. Mark, the Baptist comes to prepare the way.  This is why he is called the Forerunner.

“To give knowledge of salvation unto his people by the remission of their sins.”  This points directly toward his ministry in St. Luke’s third chapter when St. John calls all to repent and be baptized.  Forgiveness of sins is part of salvation, the entryway to salvation.  Salvation is happening all around you, for we stand amidst the mystically epic drama of the creation and redemption of man and the whole of creation, but we access this through the remission of sins.

Who brings this salvation and remission?  “Whereby the dayspring from on high hath visited us, to give light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

We “sit in darkness and in the shadow of death”.  We do.  Other people do, but we do.  We need a savior.  We have our savior!  And here in history, the last prophet of Israel rises up to prepare to point the way to the Christ, the “dayspring from on high”.  Dayspring from on high is the only example of this phrase in antiquity and does not seem on first glance to say this in the Greek.  But the word “to rise” is used very similarly to Malachi 4.2, where it does say “Sun of righteousness arise”.

At the end of today’s Gospel for this Feast of St. John Baptist, we read, “And the child grew, and waxed strong in spirit, and was in the deserts till the day of his shewing unto Israel.”  Indeed, the next time we read of the Forerunner in St. Luke is in the third chapter, when “the word of God came unto John the son of Zacharias in the wilderness.”  That was the time of his showing, to proclaim Jesus as the Lamb of God and to baptize Him in the River Jordan.

Righteousness involves turning from sin and serving the Lord.  Part of turning away from sin is refusing to participate in evil.  Part of refusing to participate in evil is to rebuke vice and lead people into holiness.  For us to repent of our sins – to turn away from sin – and for us to live in God’s righteous ways, we must never countenance evil and wickedness.  Not that we have to butt into other people’s affairs, but we must never let other people’s wicked affairs butt into our lives.  We must never walk in their paths; indeed, we must never walk in our paths; instead, we must walk in the paths of God’s righteousness, where “Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain: and the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together: for the mouth of the LORD hath spoken it.”

 

“The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.”

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

Read Full Post »