Edward Bouverie Pusey, Priest and Teacher of the Faith

         O God, our Heavenly Father, you raised up your faithful servant Edward Bouverie Pusey to be a pastor in your Church and to feed your flock:  Give abundantly to all pastors the gifts of your Holy Spirit, that they may minister in your household as true servants of Christ and stewards of your divine mysteries; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

NEARLY SIX YEARS AGO, shortly after his election as Archbishop of the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA), Foley Beach was interviewed on a range of topics related to his vision for our province.  One question asked then — and a question that seems always in the forefront of Anglican discussion — concerns Anglican identity.  Who are we as Anglicans?  What is distinct about us?  Here is an excerpt from that interview.

Q: How would you define the Anglican identity”? What does ACNA distinctively have to offer both Christians and non-Christians in America? Should Anglicans have more of a “confessional” identity? Is the new catechism an attempt to develop a more confessional identity, especially given Dr. Packer’s recommendation to teach it in ACNA parishes at the Provincial Assembly?

Abp. Beach: Let me answer that last question first. I think a lot of us get in trouble when we think we have the Anglican identity, because we’re a diverse lot. From our formation days back in the Reformation, we’ve been a diverse group. Currently—and this is something I think that’s very distinctive about who we are— we are a group that is Anglo-Catholic, Evangelical, and Charismatic. Some call that the ‘Three Streams,’ and that’s a simple way of explaining it. But, even some of our most Anglo-Catholic folks would be more charismatic than I am. All of us tend to have those three streams somewhere in our mix.

I think that’s very unique for American Christianity today. All of us have our core; my core would be evangelical. Although I have the other two pieces, my core or default is evangelical. But, these streams enable us to bring the richness of the breadth of Christianity, and it’s truly powerful when these streams are together.

In its best moments, the ACNA particularly, and Anglicanism generally, can be described as unity in diversity.  There is a core deposit of the faith contained in Scripture, Creeds, and Church Councils; on this consensual faith we must all agree.  This faith once delivered to the saints is embodied and lived sacramentally in Baptism and the Eucharist; in these we must all participate.  The fullness and authenticity of that faith is taught, protected, and defended by the godly historic Episcopate — by our bishops, and by those entrusted by them to be teachers of the faith; in this lies our connection to the Apostolic faith.  This faith is expressed for worship, tradition, and order in the Book of Common Prayer, including the Ordinal (the services for ordinations) and the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion (a brief exposition of some disputed points of doctrine).  In all of these lies the unity of Anglicanism.

But there is diversity in the way we understand, practice, and embody this one faith.  This diversity is largely a matter of emphasis — more stylistic differences and differences of interpretation than fundamental differences — though there are some substantive disagreements.  This diversity is often characterized as the three streams of Anglicanism that Archbishop Foley mentioned:  Evangelical, Anglo-Catholic, and Charismatic.  Painting with a very broad brush, I might describe these three streams as Word, Sacrament, and Spirit.

The Evangelical Stream shares the Reformers’ emphasis on the Word of God and the necessity of a personal faith in Jesus as Lord and Savior.  I share that emphasis.

The Anglo-Catholic Stream shares the Reformers’ emphasis on the faith as understood and practiced by the earliest Church Fathers — those closest to the Apostles — and on the power and effectiveness of the Sacraments (Baptism, Eucharist, and others, as well).  I share that emphasis.

The Charismatic Stream shares the Church’s emphasis on the continuing presence and activity of the Holy Spirit, not least through the gifts the Spirit provides the Church:  vocations, administration, discernment, faith, healing, knowledge, teaching, tongues, interpretation of tongues, and more.  I share that emphasis.

This diversity, when held together, strengthens the whole Church.  And, as Archbishop Foley mentioned, “all of us tend to have those three streams somewhere in our mix.”  Apostles Anglican Church does.  I do.  Most every Anglican I know does to some extent.  And I think that is a good thing, a spiritually healthy thing.

But, as our Archbishop also mentioned, we all tend to favor one stream a bit over the others; think of our preferred stream as our native language of faith.  We “speak” it fluently and without thinking while we must translate in all the other streams.  The man whose feast we celebrate today, Edward Bouverie Pusey, was Anglo-Catholic, perhaps the most influential Anglo-Catholic spokesman ever to grace our church.

Before we look a bit at Pusey’s life and influence, I should say a word about the term catholic.  When we say in the Apostles’ Creed, “I believe in the holy Catholic Church,” or in the Nicene Creed, “We believe in the one holy catholic and apostolic Church,” we are not referring to the Roman Catholic Church.  The catholic church of the Creeds is the universal church — that is what catholic means — the church spread throughout the world and throughout time.  It is a way of stating that there is only one Church of our Lord Jesus Christ, passed down to us through the Apostles, governed by Scripture, guided and protected by bishops, nourished on the Word and Sacraments.  The Roman Catholic Church is one family of members of that Church, as is the Orthodox Church, as is the Anglican Church.  Our branch of the family grew up in England — that’s what Anglican means — and its children moved to many other places throughout the world, including those Colonies that became the United States.  So, the term Anglo-Catholic simply means the English branch of the one, universal Church.  In that sense, all of us who are Anglicans are Anglo-Catholics.  This was one of Pusey’s insights and emphases, an earlier version of the ACNA notion of three streams.  He considered the one holy catholic and Apostolic Church as a great river flowing in three branches:  the Roman Catholic Church, the Orthodox Church, and the Anglican Church, because these three have preserved the fullness of the faith.  This meant that, unlike many of his Anglican contemporaries, Pusey did not view the Roman Catholic Church in apocalyptic terms as Babylon or the Pope as the Antichrist.  As the Articles of Religion state, Rome has erred.  But Pusey still considered it as a branch of the true Church.

Now, just a bit of biography.  Pusey was born in 1800 to a lower-level, upperclass family.  His parents were devout, but strictly so in the sense of a severe and rigorous practice of the faith.  Pusey carried that demeanor with him throughout his life.  His parents provided him an excellent education and Pusey emerged as a recognized scholar in theology and in Semitic languages (languages of the Old Testament).  At age twenty-seven he was appointed Professor of Hebrew at the University of Oxford.  A year later he was ordained to the priesthood and appointed as Canon of Christ Church Cathedral at Oxford.  He served in both of these positions until his death at age eighty-two.

Around the time of his ordination, Pusey began to associate with and share the views of John Henry Newman and John Keble.  To understand these views, we need to look at the purpose and consequences of the English Reformation.  The initial purpose of the Reformation in the sixteenth century was to purify the Roman Catholic Church of errors in and additions to the faith.  The way the Reformers proposed to do this was through an appeal to Scripture and to the faith and practice of the early church, before the Church had split into its Eastern and Western branches.  The Word and the Fathers:  these were to provide the pattern for right faith and worship.  As the English Reformers considered the state of the Roman Catholic Church they recognized that some elements of Roman faith and practice had to be retained, some had to be reformed, and some had to be rejected.  For example, the orders of deacon, priest, and bishop had to be retained as the Biblical and historical practice of the Church.  The Eucharist — both its theology and its liturgy — had to be reformed.  The very notions of purgatory, indulgences, and the treasury of merit of the saints had to be rejected.  Retained, reformed, rejected:  this was the process of the English Reformation.

The English Reformers were quite zealous for this work and quite anxious — both for religious and political reasons — to define the English Church in stark contrast to the Roman Catholic Church.  The process of reform was not always charitable and not always faithful to its original intent.

So, some three hundred years later, Newman and Keble — both at Oxford University — began to reassess how well the Reformers had accomplished their task.  In retaining, reforming, and rejecting elements of faith and practice, how true had the Reformers been to their guides of the Word and the Fathers?  Newman and Keble felt that, in many cases, the Reformers had been overzealous, that they had thrown out the proverbial baby with the bath.They were concerned that the Reformers had so emphasized the Protestant nature of the English Church — a nature different than the Roman Catholic Church — that they had forsaken its catholic identity, its unity with the one, holy, catholic and Apostolic Church.  So they began to move for a reclamation of the catholicity of the English Church.  Because of their association with the university, their movement became known as the Oxford Movement.  Pusey “joined” and became influential in the movement, so much so that detractors of the movement began to refer to its members as “Puseyites.”

So, what changes did the Oxford Movement — and particularly Pusey — want to see?

The first was simply a change in perceived identity:  less Protestant and more catholic (with a little c, not Roman but universal).  They felt the English Church had overemphasized its continuity with Reformers like Luther and Calvin and had underemphasized its continuity with the historic Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches, the historic, universal church.

There were specific theologies, practices, and structures that also required reconsideration and, in some cases, reappropriation.  Under Henry VIII, religious orders had been eliminated and monasteries looted and destroyed.  Pusey was quite intent on re-establishing religious orders, and the Oxford Movement resulted in this, for both men and women.  The practice of auricular confession — confession by an individual to a priest — had been largely rejected by the English Church.  Since Pusey found warrant for it both in Scripture and in the Fathers, he sought its restoration.  That we accept that practice today is largely a result of the Oxford Movement.  Pusey was also concerned that the English Church had lost the sense of  importance — the centrality — of the Eucharist.  It was celebrated infrequently in the English Church; Pusey and the Oxford Movement pushed toward greater emphasis and more frequent celebration of the Eucharist.  Part of his legacy is our weekly celebration of Holy Eucharist.

Pusey was equally concerned about the sacrament of Holy Baptism — not about its practice, but about its theology.  What happens in baptism?  He felt that the English Church had lost its convictions about baptismal regeneration:  about new birth, forgiveness of sin, and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit that comes in and through baptism.  Pusey wrote this:

Our life in Christ is, throughout, represented as commencing when we are by Baptism made members of Christ and children of God.  That life may through our negligence afterwards decay, or be choked, or smothered, or well-nigh extinguished, and by God’s mercy again be renewed and refreshed; but a commencement of life in Christ after Baptism, a death unto sin and a new birth unto righteousness, at any other period that at the one first introduction into God’s covenant, is as little consonant with the general representations of Holy Scripture, as a commencement of physical life long after our natural birth is with the order of His Providence” (Pusey, Tracts, 5, 28, see also 172).

His language is not our language, but his meaning is clear enough.  You are born again, cleansed of sin, and made the child of God by adoption through the Holy Spirit in baptism.  To say that all these occur only later — when you repent and confess faith for example — is like saying you are born only when you are old enough to blow out your own birthday candles.  Baptism is not the end of our salvation, but it is the beginning of it.

In all these matters, Pusey was moving the English Church toward a reclamation of its catholic identity (with a little c, not Roman, but universal).  He always based his theology in Scripture and in the practice of the universal church.  He always pursued a Biblical Catholicism.

Pusey, along with Newman, Keble, and others in the Oxford Movement published their ideas in short articles called Tracts for the Times.  Because of this, the Oxford Movement is sometimes called Tractarianism.

Pusey continued his work at Oxford University, his writing and editing, until his death in 1882.

His legacy to us is a re-emphasis on the common faith and heritage of the church, and his conviction that the Anglican Church is one of the three, great branches comprising the one, holy, catholic and Apostolic Church of our Lord Jesus Christ.  From Pusey we get the understanding that the English Church is certainly reformed, but that it is Reformed catholicism (with a little c, not Roman, but universal).  For that, we celebrate Pusey’s life and influence and give thanks to God for his servant Edward Bouverie Pusey.  Amen.

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Holy Cross Day

   In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

The siege began on 14 April, in the year 70 AD.  Four years earlier the Jews had rebelled against Rome, and Rome had finally had enough of that irritation.  From that moment, Jerusalem was doomed.  The siege lasted only four months, four difficult, horrible months for the Jews trapped in the city.  The walls were breached in August, and by 8 September the Roman General Titus — soon to be Emperor — had razed the city and the temple.  All was ruin and rubble.

Some sixty years later, circa 130, the Emperor Hadrian began to rebuild Jerusalem as a Roman city, Aelia Capitolina.  This reconstruction altered the landscape of Jerusalem; many holy sites were lost — some covered with fill dirt and rubble, some buried under new construction — Calvary and the Holy Sepulchre among them.

Fast forward to the reign of Constantine (AD 306 – 337) who ended the formal Roman persecution against the Christians in 313 and declared Christianity a tolerated religion.  Surely, Constantine had political motives for this, but his own conversion to the faith seems genuine, so that he may rightly be called the first Christian Emperor.  He built churches and supported the clergy.  He called the Council of Nicaea to deal with heresy and to define and unify the orthodox faith.  And he turned his attention toward the holy city of Jerusalem.

The holy places in Jerusalem needed churches to mark them and to serve as sites for pilgrimage, so Constantine thought; he set about the task of locating those sites and building those churches.  None were more important than Calvary and the Holy Sepulchre, sites lost during the building of Aelia Capitolina.   Pious legend tells how Constantine awarded his devout Christian mother Helena the honorable task of locating those sites and directing the building of the churches.  The early Church historian Eusebius wrote this about Helena:

Especially abundant were the gifts she bestowed on the naked and unprotected poor. To some she gave money, to others an ample supply of clothing; she liberated some from imprisonment, or from the bitter servitude of the mines; others she delivered from unjust oppression, and others again, she restored from exile. While, however, her character derived luster from such deeds … , she was far from neglecting personal piety toward God. She might be seen continually frequenting His Church, while at the same time she adorned the houses of prayer with splendid offerings, not overlooking the churches of the smallest cities. In short, this admirable woman was to be seen, in simple and modest attire, mingling with the crowd of worshipers, and testifying her devotion to God by a uniform course of pious conduct” (The Life of Constantine, XLIV, XLV).

The stories of how Helena located Calvary and the true cross of Christ are many and varied.  I’ll mention just two that I like.  While searching for Calvary, Helena noticed a large patch of an aromatic herb unknown to her.  She felt compelled to dig in that spot and there she uncovered the wood from three separate crosses, those of the thieves and Jesus.  As an aside, that herb is now named basil, from the Greek basileus meaning king.  Many churches are decorated with basil plants in observance of Holy Cross Day.

So far, so good; Helena had discovered Calvary and wood from three crosses.  But which one was the true cross of Christ?  A woman suffering from a terminal illness was brought to the spot and asked to touch the wood from each of the crosses in turn.  When she touched the wood of the last one, she was miraculously healed; that must be the true cross of Christ.  And so began the veneration of the Holy Cross of our Lord Jesus.  The church built on that site to house the cross was completed on 13 September 335 and formally dedicated the next day, 14 September, which we now observe as Holy Cross Day.

Holy Cross Day is an occasion to think deeply about the cross, to venerate it:  not to worship it but to reverence it, to honor it as the instrument on which and through which the Lord Jesus triumphed over sin and death, trampling hell and Satan under his feet.  This is a day perhaps to sit silently before the cross, to gaze at it in wonder,  to sing its glory.  In the church of my youth we had no custom of venerating the cross, but we did sing this:

On a hill far away stood an old rugged cross

The emblem of suffering and shame

And I love that old cross where the dearest and best

For a world of lost sinners was slain

So I’ll cherish the old rugged cross

Till my trophies at last I lay down

And I will cling to the old rugged cross

And exchange it some day for a crown (The Old Rugged Cross, The Rev’d George Bernard)

In the Anglican Church, as part of the Good Friday liturgy, we may observe Devotion Before the Cross.  A covered wooden cross is brought into the church in the sight of the people.  As it is uncovered, this antiphon is said or sung:

Behold the wood of the Cross, on which was hung the world’s Salvation.

O come, let us adore him.

Anthems follow:

We glory in your Cross, O Lord,

and praise and glorify your holy resurrection;

for by virtue of your Cross

joy has come to the whole world (Anthem 1, BCP 2019, p. 574).

And this:

We adore you, O Christ, and we bless you,

because by your holy Cross you have redeemed the world (Anthem 2, p. 574).

Those who are not Christians are sometimes puzzled at our devotion to the cross.  Why take a murder weapon and make it the symbol of the faith?  Why venerate the cross?  This is a good day to reflect on those questions.

The Roman Empire was certainly one of the world’s greatest civilizations, but, at its core, it was based upon violence — threatened and real — and upon power, brute force exercised by the government.  Its military instilled fear and obedience.  Its justice did likewise.

As an expression of its power and with the purpose of instilling fear, Rome devised the most brutal form of execution then known:  crucifixion.  Its purpose was not merely to physically torture and destroy the victim, but to publicly debase and humiliate the victim as a deterrent against similar crimes.  Through the beatings, the forced march through town, the nailing of hands and feet, the stripping naked of the victim, the hours of agony suspended between heaven and earth, the mocking by the gathered crowds, Rome was declaring the victim to be sub-human, vermin, worthy only of being exterminated.  All this came to Jesus not for anything he had done, not for any sin he had committed, but for us and for our salvation.  He bore our sins on the cross in our stead.  So the cross tells the great truth about us.  Look at Jesus; this is what sin had done to us, what sin had reduced us to.  That was our true state.  When Pilate said, “Behold, the man,” he wasn’t just speaking about Jesus beaten, bloody, and shamed.  He was speaking about mankind — about all of us and each of us — under the burden of sin.  We sometimes wink and smile at sin:  white lies, harmless infidelities, petty thefts, small betrayals, momentary anger — little things that everyone does.  But the cross will not tolerate that self-deception.  Look at Jesus on the cross.  That is the result of your white lies, your harmless infidelities, and all the rest.  That is what your sin has reduced you to.  We venerate the cross because it confronts us with the damnable truth of our sin like nothing else can do.

But the cross also reveals to us the length, the depth, the breadth, and the height of God’s love for us in Christ Jesus, the willingness of God, in Christ, to sacrifice himself for us and for our salvation.  The cross declares that those created in the image of God, though beaten, marched through town, stripped naked, nailed to a tree, mocked by evil powers through their own sins, are nevertheless the beloved of God in whose image they may be restored.  We venerate the cross because it reveals to us the self-sacrificing, unfathomable love of God for us like nothing else can do.

There is no way to explain this, no words of human wisdom adequate for the mystery of the cross.  There is only proclamation, adoration, veneration.  As Paul writes:

1 Corinthians 1:18–21 (ESV): For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written, 

  “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, 

and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.” 

20 Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe.

1 Corinthians 2:1–2 (ESV): And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. 2 For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.

We venerate the cross because we worship Christ Jesus and him crucified.

Holy Cross Day also marks the beginning of the Fall Ember Days, the Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday following Holy Cross Day.  These are days to fast and pray for those called to ordained ministry in the Church, but also to remember that we are all called to ministry, that is, we are all called to take up our cross daily and follow Jesus.  As another hymn from my childhood asked:

Must Jesus bear the cross alone

And all the world go free?

No, there’s a cross for ev’ry one,

And there’s a cross for me.

But, the hymn continues:

O precious cross!  O glorious crown!

O resurrection day!

Ye angels, from the stars come down

And bear my soul away (Must Jesus Bear the Cross Alone?, Thomas Shepherd).


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In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

I have seen cars destroyed in a split second, in brake-squealing, fender-crunching collisions, and I have seen cars destroyed over time through lack of routine maintenance:  failure to change oil, check fluid levels, follow the service schedule.  I have seen houses burn to the ground in a matter of minutes, and I have seen houses slowly crumble when left vacant and unattended.  I have seen relationships instantaneously explode through a single act of infidelity, and I have seen relationships slowly disintegrate through years of inattention.  I have seen faith rejected in anger and confusion over God’s apparent absence in a moment of crisis, and I have seen faith squandered — more just gradually lost than cast away.

So I understand the sense of caution and warning in our reading from Hebrews:

Hebrews 2:1–3 (ESV): Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it. 2 For since the message declared by angels proved to be reliable, and every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution, 3 how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation?

Drift away.  Neglect.  The concern here is not something dramatic like blasphemy, heresy, or apostasy; it is the drifting away of the soul from God through neglect of the relationship.  When I taught high school I used to tell my senior students that if they kept in contact with just two or three of their school friends after graduation, they would be doing well.  Of course, they doubted me.  And then time went by.  Ten years passed and they realized they hadn’t heard from or seen their high school BFFs — Best Friends Forever — in a decade, though we have more social media than ever.  There was no falling out, no hard feelings.  They were just in different places, doing different things, with different people, and pursuing different priorities.  High School friends just naturally drift away from one another, not through animus but through neglect.  And, as the writer of Hebrews warns us, that can happen with God, as well:  not that God drifts away from us or neglects us, but that we grow slack and cold and distant toward God.

We start out fired up to pray without ceasing, then little-by-little we find ourselves skipping Morning Prayer.  We start out longing to come into the courts of the Lord, then little-by-little we find ourselves “worshipping” in nature instead of in church:  in the mountains or at the lake, on the golf course or at the Little League or soccer game.  We start out to read the Bible through in a year and little-by-little we hit Leviticus, then we opt for binge watching the Office instead.  None of this is a repudiation of the Gospel.  None of this is a rejection of the faith.  Of course we still believe.  It is just a drifting away, a neglect.

Hebrews 2:1–3 (ESV): Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it. 2 For since the message declared by angels proved to be reliable, and every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution, 3 how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation?

How shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation?  An equally pressing question is this:  How do we escape neglecting such a great salvation?  How do we keep from drifting away?

The whole thrust of the Epistle to the Hebrews is that we drift away from the true faith — we lose our way — when we take our eyes off Jesus and look to something else, to anything else.  We humans are easily distracted.

Long before we had GPS with a nice, British voice saying, “In 500 feet, turn left onto Robinson Road,” we had directions that sounded like this:  

Go a couple of miles past that filling station — I think it’s a Shell or an Exxon, I can’t remember — and you’ll see a blue house on the right; turn left there and go to the second big curve and turn right.

The reality never looked like the directions though.  First you came to a BP, not a Shell or Exxon.  Is that the right filling station?  You take a chance and turn.  Then, a little way further, you see a bright blue house; but it’s on the left, not on the right.  And so it goes.  Because things don’t look exactly as expected, it’s easy to get lost, easy to drift away from the right path.

That is the second warning in our Hebrews’ text; keeping our eyes on Jesus is not as easy as we think, because things don’t always look like we expect.  We read:

Hebrews 2:7–8 (ESV): You made him for a little while lower than the angels; 

you have crowned him with glory and honor,

8  putting everything in subjection under his feet.”

Now in putting everything in subjection to him, he left nothing outside his control. At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him.

We are expecting a blue house on the right, but it appears on the left.  We are expecting to see Jesus with everything in subjection under his feet and yet, when we look around, we see the nations in rebellion against him, not subject to him as promised.  So, do we turn now or go straight?  Keep to the course.  Keep looking to Jesus:  not to what you see with your eyes when you look around, but to what you see and know to be true through faith:

Hebrews 2:8–9 (ESV): At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him. 9 But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone. 

Where do we see Jesus crowned with glory and honor if not in the world around us?  In the worship of the Church.  In the words of Scripture.  In the bread and wine of the Eucharist.  In the lives of the saints.  In the depths of a heart purified by prayer and fasting and repentance and service.

There is a two-fold warning in this Hebrews’ text:  don’t neglect such a great salvation and so drift away from the faith, and don’t take your eyes off Jesus no matter what the world around you looks like.

I think this is a fitting word at the moment.  During this time of Covid-19 restrictions, many of our habits of worship have been interrupted and curtailed.  As we grow used to this “new abnormal,” as an emotional malaise sets in, it might be easy to neglect our great salvation, to drift away from an intentional practice of our faith.  But now those core disciplines of our tradition — daily Morning and Evening Prayer, weekly Eucharist, personal devotions — become perhaps more important than ever.  During this time of social unrest — with both legitimate protest and unwarranted violence — during this time of heated political partisanship, during this time of natural disasters, during this time when almost everything in this world seems to be in rebellion against the kingdom of God, it might be easy to take our eyes off Jesus.  But now the exercise of our faith, the opening of our eyes to its reality, may be more important than ever if we are to see Jesus crowned with glory and honor because of his suffering and death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.

This is a good time to read Hebrews; I’m glad our lectionary has landed us there.  From start to finish its message is two-fold:  the superiority of Jesus and the need to hold fast to him.  We must not neglect our great salvation.  We must not drift away.  We must fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith.  Amen.

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What Can the Righteous Do?

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

There is an old saying — at least I’ve heard it all my life — that I will have to clean up a bit for Morning Prayer:  “When you’re up to your waist in alligators, it’s hard to remember that you came here to drain the swamp.”  Unfortunately, “drain the swamp” now has political connotations; that’s not what I have in mind at all.  I’m thinking more theologically, more along these lines:  the moment of crisis is not the best time to tackle deep, theological questions.

A young woman — a new widow with an infant child — talks to her priest very soon after burying her husband.  “Why did this happen to him, to me?  He was a good man, a faithful man.  How could the Lord do this to us?”  The woman is in crisis.  If I were her priest, I would not attempt to answer her questions at that moment; I would not delve into the issue of theodicy with her in that state.  Even if I could explain perfectly — and I can’t — that wouldn’t matter.  She doesn’t really want an explanation.  She wants her husband back.  She wants her life back.  She wants the pain to cease.

When you’re up to your waist in alligators, it’s hard to remember that you came here to drain the swamp.

So, I would assure her of God’s love for her, for her child, and for her husband.  I would assure her of the church’s love, and I would commit on behalf of the church to walk with her through her grief, to support her as family, to meet any needs she and her child might have going forward.  I would talk to her of hope and of resurrection.  I would tell her to cast her grief and her questions upon God in prayers of lament.  I would encourage her to hunker down, to hold on, to drink deeply from the well of faith.  There will be time later to deal with her questions.

This is, in part, why I have been reticent to do much public theology in this time of pandemic and social unrest.  Why has God allowed Covid-19 to devastate our world?  Has he brought this plague upon us as punishment?  Why so many natural disasters in the midst of it:  hurricanes, derecho, wildfires, floods?  What is God up to?  Good questions, all, but now may not be the right time for them.  Hunker down, hold on, drink deeply from the well of faith.  We’ll talk later, we’ll theologize later when the moment of crisis has passed.

When you’re up to your waist in alligators, it’s hard to remember that you came here to drain the swamp.

I am not trying to avoid the difficult questions.  The church can and must address them.  I am suggesting that timing is important; timing is of the Lord.  Better than dealing with these questions in the midst of a crisis or even after it, is resolving them before the moment of crisis:  better to be prepared than to recover.

Psalm 11 — a Psalm of David — is a good place to start.  If anyone knew moments of crisis, it was David.  He could navigate them, withstand them, because his faith, his life, were founded on the goodness and faithfulness of God before the moments of crisis broke over him.  He could say:

Psalm 11:1–3 (ESV): In the Lord I take refuge; 

  how can you say to my soul, 

“Flee like a bird to your mountain, 

 2  for behold, the wicked bend the bow; 

they have fitted their arrow to the string 

to shoot in the dark at the upright in heart; 

 3  if the foundations are destroyed, 

what can the righteous do?” 

This is a man who knew how to hunker down in the Lord, to hold fast to the Lord, to drink deeply from the well of faith.  This is a man who had found the Lord to be a safe refuge, a rock, a fortress.  This is a man who could ignore the anxiety around him, dismiss the fearful advice the mob:  “Run away.  Flee like a bird to your mountain.”  The  mountain here may be an allusion to the high places, those hilltops where pagans and even Israel sacrificed to the gods of the nations.  “Hedge your bets,” the mob shouts.  “Grasp for security wherever it might be found.”  Our culture has its mountains too, its high places where sacrifices are offered to the false gods of pleasure, prosperity, power, and pride.  “Run away:  flee like a bird to these mountains,” says the mob.  No:  in the Lord we take refuge.

Then comes the key question, the one we need to have answered before the evil day comes, before the time of crisis:  “If the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?”  In one sense, that’s a false question; its assumption is in error.  It’s like asking:  What color is yesterday?  It is a false question because the foundations of the righteous cannot be destroyed.

Ephesians 2:19–22 (ESV): So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. 22 In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. 

This foundation — the foundation of the righteous — cannot be destroyed because it is built upon the witness of the apostles and prophets and held fast by Jesus Christ the cornerstone.  The holy temple of the Lord built on this foundation cannot be destroyed.  This is the wisdom of Psalm 11, written a millennium before Jesus, because it looked forward to Jesus.  In answer to the question “If the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?” David answers simply:

Psalm 11:4 (ESV): The Lord is in his holy temple; 

the Lord’s throne is in heaven…

The only foundation that really matters — the foundation of the Lord’s holy temple — cannot be destroyed because God dwells in the temple and secures it.  His throne may be in heaven, but as Isaiah saw, his train fills the temple on earth.  No, the foundation cannot be destroyed, but it can be shaken, it should be shaken by the praise of angels, archangels, and all the company of the righteous in heaven and on earth:

Isaiah 6:1–4 (ESV): In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. 2 Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. 3 And one called to another and said: 

  “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; 

  the whole earth is full of his glory!” 

4 And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. 

What can the righteous do in the moment of crisis when the world cries “Flee to the high places and offer sacrifices to the gods of the nations”?  The righteous come to the temple of the Lord whose foundations can never be destroyed.  The righteous lift up their voices in the cry, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts!” and they shake the foundations of that temple with praise.  The righteous hunker down, hold fast, and drink deeply from the well of faith

The foundations of false security, of first world privilege, of scientific omniscience and omnipotence, of political protection are being destroyed around us.  False expectations of health and long life, of a hospitable natural world, of social progress are being destroyed around us.  The thin veneer of faith of our post-Christian culture is being stripped away and the chasm at the heart of Christendom is being laid bare.  Fine.  Good. So be it.  Thanks be to God, even.  That which is false must crumble so that which is true may be seen to stand firm, immovable.

Haggai 2:5–9 (ESV): My Spirit remains in your midst. Fear not. 6 For thus says the Lord of hosts: Yet once more, in a little while, I will shake the heavens and the earth and the sea and the dry land. 7 And I will shake all nations, so that the treasures of all nations shall come in, and I will fill this house with glory, says the Lord of hosts. 8 The silver is mine, and the gold is mine, declares the Lord of hosts. 9 The latter glory of this house shall be greater than the former, says the Lord of hosts. And in this place I will give peace, declares the Lord of hosts.’ ” 

What can the righteous do?  Take refuge in the Lord who is in his holy temple, whose throne is in heaven.  Amen.

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Identity and Uniforms

A Homily for ADOTS Morning Prayer:  28 August 2020

(Colossians 3:12-25)

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

You’ve seen the commercials on television, haven’t you?  An earnest looking actor in a white lab coat half leans, half sits on the corner of a desk in an office filled with shelves of medical books and journals.  Perhaps there is a stethoscope around his neck.  He looks meaningfully at the camera and says, “I’m not really a doctor.  I just play one on TV.”  Then he proceeds to give you medical advice anyway, to explain why you should try a particular medication that some pharmaceutical manufacturer has paid him big bucks to shill.

Of course, this same actor might also have played a cowboy or a soldier in another program.  But, the producers didn’t dress him in chaps or camo fatigues for this commercial.  They needed him to look like a doctor for his pitch to be believable.  I am amazed that ad men think such silly stunts work; I am even more amazed that such silly stunts actually do work.  Viewers seem only too willing to suspend disbelief and take medical advice from a soap star.  Once during her annual physical my wife said to her doctor, “I’ve been meaning to ask you about this drug” — and here fill in any drug name that you see on television; I can’t remember the one she said — “you know the one for” — and here fill in any illness that you see on television; again, I can’t remember the exact one.  “But you don’t have that condition,” her doctor said, a bit puzzled.  “Oh, I know, but the “doctor” on television told me to ask you about it.”  Then she laughed.  I don’t think her doctor did.

So, what’s the point to this?  Putting on a white lab coat doesn’t make you a doctor.  You first become a doctor; then you put on the “uniform”:  identity first, then the uniform.

Ordination to the priesthood is another good example of this order of events, and one I am familiar with.  First the Bishop issues The Exhortation in which he details the responsibilities, challenges, and general gravitas of the priesthood; it is a sobering moment.  This is followed by The Examination:  pointed questions as the Bishop probes the ordinand’s commitment to the doctrine and discipline of the Church and to the unique duties of the priesthood.  Here the priest-to-be makes binding vows.  Lastly, there is The Consecration Of The Priest in which, by prayer and laying on of hands by the Bishop and the other priests gathered, the ordinand “receives the Holy Spirit for the office and work of a Priest in the Church of God” (BCP 493).  He is thereby admitted to the Order of Priests; he is, from that moment ever onward, a priest.

But one thing remains, another essential part of the rite.  The new priest is then vested — dressed in vestments — according to the Order of Priests.  The Bishop or a significant person in the priest’s life — in my case it was my wife — places the stole around the neck and across the shoulders of the new priest.  It is the outward, visible symbol of the priesthood, the yoke of the Lord.  The priest may also be vested in a chasuble, the poncho-like garment the Celebrant wears at the altar, a symbol of charity and a perfect work.  Identity first, then the uniform.

Now understand, anyone can go to C. M. Almy’s website and order a stole and chasuble.  You don’t need an ordination certificate, just a credit card.  Anyone can put on the priest’s uniform.  But, like the TV doctor, the uniform doesn’t make the priest.  The uniform doesn’t change one’s identity.  The order is important:  identity first, then the uniform.

This brings us round to the second lesson for the morning, the reading from St. Paul’s Epistle to the Colossians.  Paul writes, in part, to make sure there are no play-actors in the church, to make sure that no one can say, “I’m not really a Christian; I just play one in the gathering” — or in the market or anywhere else:  no fake white linen robes — the baptismal garment of the saints — masking the identify of a pagan.  Remember the essential order:  identity first, then uniform.

That’s where Paul starts in our lesson from Colossians — with identity.  He writes to those who are “God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved” (Col 3:12a).  That’s their identity — chosen, holy, and beloved — and that identity is essential.  If we are not God’s chosen ones, if we are not the ones whom he has declared holy in Christ and whom he is sanctifying in the Spirit, if we are not his beloved ones, then nothing that follows makes any sense, nothing that follows is even possible.  Strip away for a moment all the characteristics you typically use to identify yourself:  your family relationships, your work, your hobbies and interests, your political affiliation, your church denomination, your cultural heritage, your place of residence, all of it.  When it is all stripped away, what is left of your identity?  What is most fundamental to it?  Who are you?  You are God’s chosen one, holy and beloved.  This is your true identity in Christ.  This is who you are and who you were made to be.  This is the identity — and the only identity — out of which you may truly live.  If this is not true of you, if you are not yet in Christ, not yet God’s chosen one, holy and beloved, then start there; seek the Lord, for he wills to be found.  Call upon him, for he is near.  Find a church; find a priest.  Turn to the Lord Jesus.

If this is your identity, then you may put on the uniform.  In fact, you must put on the uniform; it’s not optional.  The uniform of the saints is not made with fabric woven by men; it is made of Christ-like character imparted by the Holy Spirit.  Paul writes:

Colossians 3:12–13 (ESV): Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, 13 bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 

This is the uniform of the saints, at least part of it; Paul has more to say.  But notice, even now, that when we are putting on this uniform, we are really putting on Christ.  Our hearts suffer with those who suffer, just as Christ suffered with us and for us.  We seek the lowly place, the place of kindness, humility, meekness and patience, just as Christ emptied himself in his incarnation — God in human flesh, the Uncreated Creator born of woman, the King of kings in a stable, the Lord of all a refugee, the one who spoke worlds into being making doors and tables in a carpenter’s shop.  We forgive one another just as Christ lived and died to forgive us.  Putting on the uniform is putting on Christ.

What is it that really makes a uniform, that really sets it off?  There’s always something, that one thing.  For soldiers it might be the medals or the insignia of rank.  For a police officer, perhaps the badge.  For the Secret Service agents who guard the President, it’s the black sunglasses.  For the saints, it’s love.

Colossians 3:14 (ESV): And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.

Why is love so important?  Because you can buy and wear knock-off uniforms.  Want a Louis Vuitton or a Coach purse on the cheap?  Go to Chinatown in Manhattan.  If you’re not afraid to follow a stranger down an alley, you can get a great deal.  Unless you are truly gullible, you know it’s not the real thing, of course:  a good fake, but not genuine.  You have to look closely to tell, though; it may be in the stitching or in the quality of the leather, but there are subtle, telltale signs that the product is not authentic.  The same is true with the saint’s uniform; there are knock-offs out there:  people who seem so compassionate, so kind, so humble, so forgiving.  But stay around them long enough and you get the sense that something’s off.  You get the sense of play-acting.  Something’s missing, and that something is love.  Love is the mark of authenticity.  Love is the one thing that can’t be imitated.  If you question this, read 1 Corinthians 13 again and see if you can really fake that for the long term.  We must put on love because God is love, perfect love hung high on the cross for all to see.  You can’t fake that.  Putting on love is putting on Christ and taking up your cross daily to follow him.

There is much more in this passage that I’d like to pull out, but this homily is already growing a bit long and you may need to get about your day.  But I must mention just one more item in the uniform because Paul mentions it three times in quick succession:  thankfulness.  Listen:

Colossians 3:15–17 (ESV): And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. 16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. 17 And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. 

If the self-emptying virtues are the fabric of the uniform, if love is the one thing that sets off the uniform and proves its authenticity, then maybe thankfulness is the proper fit of the whole uniform.  Because, given who God is, given what he has done for us, what is more fitting for the saints than a thankful heart and spirit?  Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift to us and to all who put on Christ, the uniform of the saints.  Amen.

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Who Would Jesus Endorse

WARNING: The following post is political — not partisan — but political nonetheless.

Jesus had options, political options aplenty. Not at the “national” level: that arena was dominated by Rome and Rome’s puppets. But, all politics is local and there were several viable local options, all with national aspirations: Sadducees, Pharisees, Zealots, Essenes. Each group was implicitly political in its intent to form a people; at least one was explicitly political in seeking to overthrown foreign rule.

The Essenes were The Benedict Option party of the day: withdraw from corrupt culture, create counter-communities and structures that promote and nurture righteousness, prepare for the apocalypse and what, if anything, comes after.

The Zealots were the Antifa of the day, if Rome might be considered the far right. They said their prayers and sharpened their knives, praising God and slitting Roman throats to restore home rule.

Neither of these were viable options for Jesus. So, it came down to a two-party system: Sadducees or Pharisees. Which to choose? Which party more nearly reflects — and will most strenuously advance — Jesus’ own political agenda?

The Sadducees ingratiated themselves with Rome, with the powers-that-be, so that they might preserve temple worship and their place of prestige within that system. Some were undoubtedly true believers; what they believed in was the question. Still, affiliating with the Sadducees would give Jesus access to the halls of power, access to the “room where it happens.”

The Pharisees were the purity party of the day; their world divided cleanly between saints (Pharisees) and tax collectors and other sinners. They were esteemed by the people for their personal piety, and they were “local organizers” at the synagogue level. Affiliating with Pharisees would give Jesus the populist vote, and certainly a reputation for righteousness.

So, on Election Day, when Jesus emerged gaunt and haggard from his trial in the wilderness, which lever did he pull, which ballot did he mark?

“The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (Mk 1:15, ESV).

Repent, you Sadducees. Repent, you Pharisees. Repent you Zealots and Essenes. Repent, you who have placed your hope in these blind guides. Repent for the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe in the gospel.

No party was the “Kingdom of God Party,” so Jesus called each to repent, to align itself with his agenda.

Repent you Republicans. Repent you Democrats. Repent you Liberals and Conservatives. Repent you who have placed your hope in these blind guides. Repent for the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe in the gospel.

No party is the “Kingdom of God Party” today, so Jesus still calls each party to repent, to align itself with his agenda. Jesus still calls each of us individually to repent, to align ourself with his agenda.

As we approach the upcoming election, we must fast and pray as Jesus did in the wilderness before casting his vote. We must seek the will of God and reject the temptations of the evil one to put our trust in shortcuts to power. We must vote or abstain from voting as we believe God wills for us. We must repent for the kingdom of God is at hand. We must repent and believe in the gospel.

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God Does Everything

Pelagius and Augustine

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Pelagianism lies on one end of the salvation spectrum; Universalism lies on the other end.

Pelagians deny the effects of the fall on the nature and will of man.  All men are born as Adam was created, they say:  in innocence and with the freedom of will needed to choose a life of righteousness by keeping God’s law.  You are born sinless, and by discipline, will, and obedience you can remain sinless and grow into perfection.  No grace is needed.  No redemption is needed for those without sin.

Universalists are a more diverse lot, so it is a bit hard to generalize.  But those on their far end of the spectrum hold this belief in common:  the sacrifice of Christ was for all men, and all men are included under it — without exception, without conditions, without requirements.  In answer to the question, “What must I do to be saved?” the true universalists answer, “Nothing.  You are already saved by the work of Christ.  There is nothing you must do.  In fact, there is nothing you can do.  Like it or not, believe it or not, accept it or not, you are saved through the work of Christ.”

Perhaps we could summarize these two ends of the salvation spectrum like this:

For Pelagians:  it all depend on you.

For Universalists:  it all depends on God.

At each end of the spectrum lies heresy.  Pelagians and Universalists alike deny the Gospel as given in Scripture, as received by the Church, as passed down through the generations by orthodox Christians everywhere, always, and by all.

So, where should the church fall on this spectrum of salvation?  Right in the middle:  fifty percent God and fifty percent man?  More toward the Pelagians or more toward the Universalists?  There are serious theological dangers anywhere you decide to “camp out” along that spectrum.  And that suggests that the true answer isn’t on the spectrum at all.  The true answer lies above it and denies the false dichotomies imposed by the linear scale of the spectrum.

The best answer I’ve heard to this question comes from the ACNA Canon Theologian of the Diocese of the Upper Midwest, Fr. Stephen Gauthier.  Whether this formulation is original with him or whether he is quoting another, I don’t know.  But about our salvation, Fr. Stephen says this:

God does everything.  We do something.

And that takes us off the spectrum entirely.  We don’t parcel out responsibility by percentages:  this much of salvation depends on God, that much on man.  No.

God does everything.  We do something.

That may sound like a paradox, but many deep, theological truths do, don’t they?  God is one-in-three and three-in-one.  Jesus is fully God and fully man.  The Blessed Virgin Mary is the Mother of God.

God does everything.  We do something.

Of course, some paradoxes are just nonsense, not paradoxes at all but real contradictions.  What about this one?  How are we to understand it?  What — if anything — does it mean?  We turn to Paul, from our Epistle reading this morning.

Philippians 2:12–13 (ESV): Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. 

“Work out your own salvation,” Paul says; we must do something.

When I taught calculus, I would often present my students with a problem that seemed — and really was — absolutely unsolvable given their mathematical tools and understanding.  This — this cognitive dissonance — was the impetus to develop something new, to deepen their understanding and skill.  So, together — with me leading the way, of course — we would derive a new theorem, one that could unlock the problem.  Then, I would step back and say to the class, “You take it from here.  You work out how this theorem applies to and solves this problem.”  If I had done my job well, they were able to work it out — sometimes with fear and trembling — and they grew in the process; their knowledge deepened, their skills developed, their confidence blossomed.  So I ask, “Who solved the problem?”  In one sense, I did.  I gave them everything necessary for the solution, both the theorem and the motivation to apply it.  I did everything.  But the students had to do something.  They had to work out the application of what I had done for them, what I had given to them.  It’s a flawed analogy, as all analogies are, but you see it, right?

I did everything.  The students must do something.

Without me, the solution was not possible.  Without the students the solution was not realized.

Philippians 2:12–13 (ESV): Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. 

There is something much deeper here than the solution of a calculus problem.  But the same principles apply, I think.  In our salvation, God does everything.  It is impossible without him; the Pelagians were and are wrong.  The cross is the crux of everything, absolutely essential.  Without the intervention of God the Father, through Jesus Christ his only Son, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, we are irrevocably lost.  Grace is all.  God does everything.  And yet, we must do something; the Universalists were and are wrong.  You must “confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, [and] you will be saved” (Rom 10:9).  You must work out your own salvation with fear and trembling as we pray in the General Thanksgiving:

And, we pray, give us such an awareness of your mercies,

     that with truly thankful hearts

     we may show forth your praise,

     not only with our lips, but in our lives,

     by giving up our selves to your service,

     and by walking before you 

     in holiness and righteousness all our days (BCP 25).

This is exactly what Paul is calling for.

Philippians 2:14–16 (ESV): Do all things without grumbling or disputing, 15 that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, 16 holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain. 

We do not earn our salvation, but we do work it out.  We work out of our salvation.  Knowing that God does everything, we are freed and empowered by God to do something, to work out just what it means to be God’s saved people in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, just what it means to shine as lights in the world.

God does everything.  We do something.

And even the something we do is not independent of God’s agency.  Paul is clear:  “for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Phil 2:13).  God, and God alone, saves us.  And then, as a further expression of his grace — as if any more were needed! — God works in us to cause us to desire his good pleasure, to empower us to do his will, to grant us the great grace and dignity of working out our salvation with fear and trembling.  This is nowhere on the spectrum; this is the wisdom and grace of God.

So, though I think he is right, with great respect, I think I might slightly reword Fr. Stephen’s statement of all this:

God does everything.  We do something.  God does everything.  


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Look To The Rock

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

I am no seer, but I do see things.  I am no prophet, but I do read the times through the words and visions of the prophets.  I am no doom-sayer, but I do glimpse signs of warning at every turn, as did the Roman Catholic Cardinal Francis George (1937 – 2015) who said of this and future generations:

I expect to die in my bed, my successor will die in prison and his successor will die a martyr in the public square.  His successor will pick up the shards of a ruined society and slowly help rebuild civilization, as the church has done so often in human history.1

Cardinal George denied that this was a prophetic utterance, but I think otherwise.  Time will tell.  But, if prophecy is Godly social commentary — the world seen and judged through God’s eyes, if prophecy is Godly warning about what will likely transpire if the course of a people does not change, then this statement may well be prophetic.  Time will tell.  But time may be what we do not have in abundance; time may be growing short.

I am convinced that one of the most pressing challenges facing the Church is the formation of confessors and martyrs:  people who know the truth, people who will confess the truth before the world and its powers regardless of the personal cost, people who will die for the truth with the words, “Jesus is Lord” and “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do,” on their lips.  It is time for such formation and for such people.

I expect to die in my bed, my successor will die in prison and his successor will die a martyr in the public square.

Such things do not happen overnight; there is a slow but accelerating progression.  Culture moves the Church from influential to tolerated, from tolerated to marginalized, from marginalized to silenced, from silenced to criminalized, from criminalized to exiled, from exiled to martyred.

I think we must do two things at once now:  pray to God that this is not the path we are on, and prepare — for God’s sake — as if it is.

The truth:  that’s the key to the formation of confessors and martyrs — the truth.  And here we must reckon with and answer Pilate’s question:  “What is truth?”  Where is truth to be found?

Isaiah 51:1 (ESV): “Listen to me, you who pursue righteousness, 

you who seek the Lord: 

  look to the rock from which you were hewn, 

and to the quarry from which you were dug. 

The truth rarely lies on the surface; you have to dig for it, you have to excavate it.  And people are digging today; all around us people are digging, looking for truth.  But mostly they are digging shallow holes, dry wells, broken cisterns that won’t hold water.

Isaiah 51:1 (ESV): “Listen to me, you who pursue righteousness, 

you who seek the Lord: 

  look to the rock from which you were hewn, 

and to the quarry from which you were dug. 

Disciples, confessors, martyrs:  these have to dig deeper; these have to strike rock.  Even that image is not quite right.  It is God who has done the excavation; it is God who has hewn us out of the rock; it is God who has quarried us.  Our task is to remember what God has done, to reckon who we are, and look to the rock from which we were hewn.

Isaiah 51:2 (ESV): Look to Abraham your father 

and to Sarah who bore you; 

  for he was but one when I called him, 

that I might bless him and multiply him. 

This is the rock from which we were hewn, the quarry from which we were dug:  Abraham, Sarah, and the covenant God made with them to bless them and to make them a blessing to all nations.  This is our story, the story we are to confess before the world:  the story of how God did not abandon the world to its own corruption, but chose a people through whom he would redeem and restore the world, a people through whom God’s justice would shine forth as a light to all peoples, a people through whom God’s righteousness would be displayed and God’s salvation made manifest:

Isaiah 51:4–6 (ESV): Give attention to me, my people, 

and give ear to me, my nation; 

  for a law will go out from me, 

and I will set my justice for a light to the peoples. 

 5  My righteousness draws near, 

my salvation has gone out, 

and my arms will judge the peoples; 

  the coastlands hope for me, 

and for my arm they wait. 

 6  Lift up your eyes to the heavens, 

and look at the earth beneath; 

  for the heavens vanish like smoke, 

the earth will wear out like a garment, 

and they who dwell in it will die in like manner; 

  but my salvation will be forever, 

and my righteousness will never be dismayed. 

This is the rock from which we were hewn; this is the quarry from which we were dug.  But the digging must go on; we are not yet at bedrock.  Down through the strata we chip away to reveal Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Egypt, slavery, Moses, exodus, the Law — this is our quarry, the quarry of the Lord — Joshua, the Promised Land at last, the Judges, the Kings — Saul, David, Solomon — the civil war and the divided Kingdom, the Prophets — Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel — the idolatry and destruction of Israel, the injustice and unrighteousness of Judah, the exile, the return, the waiting, the expectation and longing for God to fulfill his covenant at last.  The digging is getting harder now; we are nearing bedrock, the strata laid down from the very foundations of the world, the pillars of the earth on which all things in heaven and on earth and under the earth rest.

Matthew 16:13–18 (ESV): Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” 14 And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” 15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16 Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 17 And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. 18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. 

On this rock:  there it is.  We have now reached the bedrock, the foundation of all things, the one place where we can build without fear of being shaken.  “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”  This is truth, the Truth which Peter confessed before the world and for which he was martyred.  It is the Truth proclaimed by all faithful confessors and martyrs for two millennia, and it is the Truth the Church must confess today regardless of cost or consequences.  In a grand mixing of biblical metaphors, this is the rock from which we were hewn, this is the quarry from which we were dug, this is the rock upon which the Church is built:  You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.

There is a divine ambiguity in the language of this passage.  Simon, son of Jonah, confesses Jesus as the Christ.  Jesus acknowledges his confession as a revelation that Simon has received from God and blesses him for it.  To acknowledge this profound moment Jesus changes Simon’s name to Peter, Πέτρος, a word which sounds like rock, πέτρα.  Then Jesus says:

18 [And] I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. 

How do we parse this text?  Who or what is the rock?  Is it Jesus himself?  Is it the revealed truth of Peter’s great confession that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God?  Is it Peter?  Yes.  Yes, it is, yes to all and thanks be to God we do not have to pick and choose among the meanings, because that holy ambiguity enables Paul later to say of us:

Ephesians 2:18–22 (ESV):  19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. 22 In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. 

Jesus is the cornerstone that orients, stabilizes, and holds together all else.  Peter as representative of the Apostles, and the prophets as representatives of Israel, are the foundation stones affixed to Jesus.  And we are there too, living stones being built upon this foundation, being “built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit,” as we confess that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, not only with our lips, but in our lives.

Isaiah 51:1 (ESV): “Listen to me, you who pursue righteousness, 

you who seek the Lord: 

  look to the rock from which you were hewn, 

and to the quarry from which you were dug. 

The Father’s love is the quarry.  Jesus is the rock.  The Holy Spirit hews and builds and fills the temple made of living stones.  Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit.

Jesus promises that the Church built upon this rock will conquer the very gates of hell.  To confess that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God is to engage battle until the end of your days, to fling yourself upon the gates of hell and to storm them with all the power the Spirit provides.  I know that martial language — battle talk — is out of favor today; few sing Onward, Christian Soldiers anymore.  But Scripture is not hesitant to speak of warfare or to sound the charge.

Ephesians 6:10–13 (ESV): [Finally,] be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. 12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. 

Brothers and sisters, we are engaged in this great battle.  It has always been so, though I fear the Church of recent years has mistaken the absence of open hostility for peace.  But the enemy has been on the move.  Rulers, authorities, cosmic powers, spiritual forces have stealthily wormed their way into culture, structures, organizations, laws, politics, education, and yes — Lord, have mercy — even the Church.  Our culture is post-Christian, more concerned with deconstruction than with recognizing the faith once delivered to the saints.  Our structures and organizations have largely abandoned the faith that gave them birth and nourished them.  Our laws, in the name of freedom and equity, permit practices that would have been unthinkable two generations ago.  Our politics…I will say no more.  Our public schools train students for productive employment but do not have adequate time, resources, or mandate to teach students to think deeply about beauty and goodness and Truth.  Good, faithful Christians labor in all these areas, to be sure, bringing the Kingdom of Heaven as near earth as they can.  Those who so labor faithfully are missionaries.  They are Christian soldiers, to whom we say “Onward!”  Thanks be to God that they have not abandoned the public square to its own devices and desires.  Theirs is not an easy task.  They are confessors, and daily their confession becomes more costly.  So they must dig deeply into the Truth.  They must look to the rock from which they were hewn, and to the quarry from which they were dug.  They must hold fast to the Truth.  So must we all, for we are all engaged in the great battle.

A good place to start is with The Sermon on the Mount.  Dig deeply there.  I think this sermon must become the Rule of Life for all Christian soldiers, confessors, and martyrs.  Read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest those words.  And then, with God as your helper, live them.  To conclude that sermon, to show how crucial it is, Jesus told this parable:

Matthew 7:24–27 (ESV): Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. 26 And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. 27 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.” 

Is the theme emerging?  Look to the rock from which you were hewn, and to the quarry from which you were dug.  “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God;” yes, and upon this rock I will build my church.  “Everyone who hears these words of mine and does them will be like the wise man who built his house upon the rock.”

We are in a storm.  Plague stalks us.  Institutions fail us.  Justice is denied to too many of us.  Politicians pander to us.  Cultural norms shift under us.  The wind is blowing and beating on our house.  Will it stand?  Many won’t.  Many builders did not look to the rock from which they were hewn, to the quarry from which they were dug.  Many builders do not confess the rock solid truth that Jesus is the Christ, the son of the living God.  Many builders do not hear and heed his words, and so fail to build upon the rock.  Beloved, the rains will fall, the floods will come, and the winds will blow and beat against all houses.  The houses of soldiers, confessors, and martyrs will stand, because they are founded on the rock.

And this brings me back to Cardinal George:

I expect to die in my bed, my successor will die in prison and his successor will die a martyr in the public square.  His successor will pick up the shards of a ruined society and slowly help rebuild civilization, as the church has done so often in human history.

I don’t know if this is right, if we are there yet, or even nearly there yet.  God knows, and time will tell.  But we must live as if we are.  We must look to the rock from which we were hewn, and to the quarry from which we were dug.  We must confess Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the living God, for that is the rock upon which the Church is built.  We must sink our foundations deeply into the truth of the Sermon on the Mount and build our houses on that rock.  We are all soldiers in the great battle.  We must all become confessors.  We may — some of us — become martyrs.

Nebuchadnezzar had a dream in Daniel’s day.  And Daniel, who was both an exile and a confessor, told him what his dream was and what it meant.  A great statue — an idol — appeared before the king, an image constructed of many different materials.  These represented kingdoms that would rise and fall in the future — awesome and awful kingdoms.  But as the king looked, there came a stone cut out from a mountain by no human hands, and it struck the image and broke it in pieces.  The wind blew and the dust from the shattered image scattered like so much chaff so that not a trace of the former kingdoms could be found.  But the stone grew and became a great mountain and filled the whole earth.  And Daniel confessed to the great king Nebuchadnezzar that his kingdom would fall and be ground to dust by the stone, by the kingdom of God that will stand forever and fill the whole earth.

Isaiah 51:1 (ESV): “Listen to me, you who pursue righteousness, 

you who seek the Lord: 

  look to the rock from which you were hewn, 

and to the quarry from which you were dug. 



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What Is That To You

    In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

You know about life verses, yes?  If not, Google “life verse” and this is what you’ll find:

A life verse is a verse from the Bible that speaks to you in a very special way.  It seems as if it were put in God’s Word just for you!  There is usually a reason why it so resonates with your soul and spirit and you probably have a story connected with it.

How do you choose a life verse?  Well, if you’re a Calvinist, the life verse chooses you.  If you’re an Arminian, you choose the life verse.  If you’re an Anglican, you first have to decide if you want a 1662, 1928, or 2019 life verse.  I’ve even heard of a 1979 life verse, but no one admits to that in public.

I lived three-quarters of my allotted life expectancy without a life verse, so I don’t really think one is necessary:  nice, perhaps, if you have one but nothing to worry about if you don’t.

Well, you might imagine my surprise when, sometime last year, my life verse leapt off the pages of the Gospel according to St. John.  It is short and to the point:  six words in Greek, eight in English.  It is Jesus’ rebuke of Peter when Peter asks about John’s future.  Jesus says,

What is that to you?  You follow me.

I recognized it instantly, though I had read it countless times before:  that’s my life verse.  I’m a good Southern boy and that’s a good Southern verse, like a granny chiding an uppity kid:  “Child, mind your own business, and do what I tell you.”

Sure, there are reasons this has become my life verse, stories connected with it.  But, I’ll not be telling you; that’s between me and my spiritual director.  If you’re really curious, I refer you to the verse itself:  What is that to you?

I mention all this because it seems to me that my life verse is the perfect summary of Romans 14, our second reading for the morning.  There are some conflicts over personal piety in the Roman churches.  Some, the weaker in the faith, are essentially vegans.  This may be a hyperextension of kosher restrictions or an attempt to avoid eating meat offered to idols; Paul doesn’t say.  Others fill their plates with anything and everything.  Paul’s message to both is simple.  The omnivores must not disparage the vegans for their scruples, nor should the vegans judge the omnivores for their embrace of all foods.  Paul asks each a pointed question:  “Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another?”  Each of these belong to God and each will stand or fall before God.  Concerning the dietary habits of your brother —I might slightly alter my life verse:

What is that to you?  You follow Christ.

You may know that our Orthodox brothers and sisters take fasting very seriously.  They are on some kind of fast for nearly 200 days each year:  no cheese this week, no wine or oil the next, no meat after that.  It’s all pretty complicated and especially confusing for converts.  When she was a new convert to Orthodoxy, writer Frederica Mathewes-Green was confounded by the fasting rules.  One Sunday at the church “coffee hour” — during a fasting season — she noticed a difference between her plate and the plates of those around her, those seasoned in Orthodoxy.  Her plate was nearly empty: just a few carefully chosen morsels in keeping with fasting restrictions.  Their plates were weighed down with savory and sweet delicacies of all kinds.  In an honest attempt to understand, she pointed this out to her priest and asked, “What are the fasting rules?”  He thought for a moment and replied, “The first rule of fasting is to keep your eyes on your own plate.”

What is that to you?  You follow Christ.

Some in Rome observed special days — perhaps the Jewish Christians holding onto new moons and Sabbaths, the feasts and fasts of the fathers.  Others made no distinctions among days, esteeming them all alike.  Paul says, what matters is that your practice — whatever it is — honors the Lord.  This is the day the Lord has made; we will rejoice and be glad in it.  And, if your brother honors the Lord in a different fashion:

What is that to you?  You follow Christ.

We must ourselves give an account to God for ourselves.  We must not demand an account from our brother.

Are there limits to this “I’m OK, You’re OK” attitude toward personal piety?  Of course.  The true limit is your brother’s welfare.  You may never use your personal freedom as license to wound the conscience of your brother.  Imagine a “coffee hour” or a love feast in one of the first century Roman house churches.  A Gentile Christian has his plate loaded with all kinds of food, including a beautiful slice of ham.  A Jewish Christian stands beside him with a few, carefully selected items on his plate, mainly vegetables.  He doesn’t know where the food came from and how it has been prepared, so he’s being careful.  Noticing the difference in plates, the two strike up a theological discussion on what is proper for the Christian to eat.  The Gentile is older in the faith and a more experienced debater.  He convinces — he pressures — his Jewish brother to try a bite of ham, knowing that this is really against his brother’s beliefs.  And, in the name of freedom, he wounds his brother.  He is actually the occasion of sin.  Paul is clear:

But whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith.  For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin (Rom 14:23, ESV).

In these matters of personal piety, don’t judge others.  Don’t wound them either, by insisting upon your rights and freedom to their detriment.

For if your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love.  By what you eat, do not destroy the one for whom Christ died (Rom 14:15).

This is deep theology, but it’s also common sense, common Christian charity.  I am free to have a glass of wine with my meal, but I wouldn’t drink one if I’m sharing the meal with a recovering alcoholic.  What’s more important:  my enjoyment of a good Moscato D’Asti or the welfare of my brother for whom Christ died?

So, there are two fundamental principles at work here.  The first is this:  keep your eyes on your own plate.  When it comes to my brother, I should mind my own business and leave him to his.  It is my life verse:

What is that to you?  You follow me.

The second principle kicks in when my brother fails to follow the first one, when he does begin to look at my plate, when my legitimate behavior threatens to wound his conscience.  When it comes to my brother, I should put his legitimate spiritual welfare before my own personal freedom.  My freedom is not absolute; it is conditioned by my love for my brother.

That’s it; that’s Romans 14 in a nutshell.  But, I can’t leave well enough alone, so I have to meddle a bit with one application.  Paul starts his instruction with this:

As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions (Rom 14:1).  

We have become a quarrelsome society, a cancel culture.  And, to our shame, the church is not immune to this evil.  Civil, charitable discourse is drowned in a sea of invective.  We are suspicious of one another; we are dismissive of one another.  We take sides and divide up our forces over matters that are not the Gospel.  We wound with our words; we alienate with our actions.  And for what?  To be right?  To be self-righteous?  About what?  Mere opinions on nonessential, non-gospel matters?  Paul speaks to us:

As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions (Rom 14:1).

The church must take this seriously, because the world will not.  The church must model forbearance and charity, because the world will see it nowhere else.  For the sake of our brothers and sisters whose consciences we wound, we must heed Paul’s admonition.  So someone has a different understanding of something absolutely adiaphora, something absolutely nonessential.

“What is that to you?” Jesus asks.  “You follow me.”


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No Condemnation

     In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Wouldn’t some good news be welcome right about now?  A therapeutic cure for COVID-19 or a vaccine for it or the dawning of true Kingdom of God justice for every family, language, people, and nation or maybe even the dawning of the Kingdom itself on the last, great day.  Can you imagine how it would feel to have a tsunami of grace break upon us and wash this tired, old world clean?  Can you imagine how it will feel when heaven and earth are joined, when the dwelling place of God is with man, when he will be our God and we will be his people?

Revelation 21:4 (ESV): He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” 

Wouldn’t some good news be welcome right about now?  Can you imagine how it would feel?

We don’t have to imagine.  We just have to listen to Paul.  We just have to believe that what he says, as incredible as it seems, is really true — really true about us:

Romans 8:1–4 (ESV): There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2 For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. 3 For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, 4 in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. 

This is the tsunami of grace that Paul proclaims to the Christians in Rome and to all Christians everywhere:  no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, freedom from the law of sin and death, life in the Spirit.  Frankly, bad as they seem, the recent troubles are as nothing, just the tip of the iceberg, just symptoms of the decay and death at the heart of the human condition:

Ephesians 2:1–3 (ESV): And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— 3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.

How ironic that those who are dead in their trespasses and sins are afraid of a plague.  How ironic that those who cry for justice and those who pervert it are both alike the sons of disobedience.  How ironic that those who champion freedom are slaves of their own passions and are by nature the children of wrath.  And that is not just some of us, but all of us.

We stand in the dock guilty as hell awaiting the righteous judgment of God, and instead we hear:

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

Brothers and sisters, we could not have imagined this good news; we could not have dared hope for it.

Ephesians 2:4–10 (ESV): But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. 

We were dead in our trespasses; now we are alive in Christ.  We were consigned to the dustheap, to the dungeons; now we are seated with Christ in the heavenly places.  We were paupers; now we are heirs of immeasurable riches of grace.  We were disfigured image-bearers; now we are the very workmanship of God, created in Christ Jesus for good works.

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

Just let that wash over you for a minute.  Let it wash away your fear and anxiety, your pain and suffering, your doubt and despair:

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

Isn’t this the good news that we really need, the good news the world really needs?  If our scientists discovered a cure for COVID-19 tomorrow, that would not eliminate disease and death.  If our society ended racism tomorrow, that would not resolve the broken relationships among men.  If tomorrow we solved the climate crisis, eliminated third-world poverty, destroyed our nuclear arsenals, beat our swords into plowshares and made peace among rival nations, that would not keep this broken old world from coming apart at the seams.  Please, God, let us strive for all these good things and may God, in his mercy, bless the works of our hands.  But, none of this would be the good news.  This is the good news:

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

And like the accused in the dock who has, against all reason and expectation, been declared not guilty, we find ourselves free:  free to set our minds on the Spirit, free to put to death the passions of the flesh, free to live righteously in the Spirit, free to cry out to God, “Abba!  Father!” because

Romans 8:16–17 (ESV): The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. 

Oh, it was tempting to leave off the last part of that last verse:  “provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.”  It would have made this homily flow so much better.  But it would have been untrue and unfaithful to Scripture.  And, frankly, it would diminish the good news.  Though we are no longer condemned — if we are in Christ Jesus — though we are no longer condemned, we are nonetheless resident aliens in this fallen world.  And we will suffer.  We are suffering now in all the ways I mentioned earlier:  pandemic, anxiety, injustice, racial tension, and on and on it goes.  We suffer.  But how we suffer makes all the difference in this world and in the world to come.  With whom we suffer makes all the difference in this world and in the world to come.  We suffer with him — with Christ — in order that we may also be glorified with him.  We unite our suffering with his as our offering of obedience and love, praise and thanksgiving.  We suffer as he did:  not for unrighteousness, but for the sake of righteousness; not for injustice, but for the sake of justice; not with hatred and recrimination, but with love and forgiveness.  We suffer this way not on our own — who is able to do so? — but by the power of the Holy Spirit who bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God (Rom 8:16).  Oh, and if we suffer in this way — with him — we will surely be glorified with him.  And that truly is part of the great good news:

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord (Rom 7:25a).  Amen.

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