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Archive for April, 2012

The Good Shepherd

O God, whose Son Jesus is the good shepherd of your people; Grant that when we hear his voice we may know him who calls us each by name, and follow where he leads; who, with you and the Holy Spirit, lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

 

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Fr. James Martin answers the question “Why stay in church?

Philip Reed reviews Alasdair MacIntyre’s latest book, “God, Philosophy, Universities: A Selective History of the Catholic Philosophical Tradition.”

The blog Catholicity and Covenant offers some constructive criticism of the ecclesiology implicit in Eliud Wabakala’s opening address at the GAFCON leadership conference in London.

James R. Rogers examines the theological themes of self-sacrifice in the book “The Hunger Games.”

 

 

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Last Sunday and this Sunday (Easter Sundays II & III), the Eucharistic lections from Acts dip us into a very neat sequence of events that transpired in the first weeks of the Church, giving us some helpful models of what it means to be a witness of Christ.  I thought it’d be fun to make a conglomeration of my sermons from these two Sundays into one little summary article.

Acts 3:1-11 ~ the Initial Encounter

Peter & John are off to the Temple to pray the 3:00 Office (a Jewish precursor to the Christian daily office), and they come across a crippled beggar at the gate who asks them for money.  They don’t have any, but offer him healing in the name of Jesus, at which point the man leaps up and causes quite the scene with rejoicing.  People notice, people ask questions, and Peter & John are the center of attention.

Acts 3:12-26 ~ Peter’s First Speech

(I didn’t analyze the entire speech, just through verse 20, so forgive me if you were hoping for more commentary than I’ll offer here.)

v12-13a: Peter explains what they’d done, and emphasize that they didn’t perform the miraculous healing themselves, but God had done it in order to glorify the name of Jesus.  This is just one example in the Bible of this fact, reminding us that the entire ministry of the Church – our spiritual gifts, our entire lives – must be done for God’s glory also.  We cannot claim any credit nor seek fame; we live for Christ.

v13b: Peter explains who Jesus is – the guy that his audience had gotten executed roughly two months ago.  In particular, he reminds them that Pilate was going to let Jesus go free, had they not insisted.  As Jesus had said to Pilate, “they are guilty of the greater sin.”

v14: What’s worse, they even preferred receiving Barabbus back instead of Jesus.  They literally disowned God, since Jesus was the King of the Jews, and they instead proclaimed “we have no king but Caesar!”

v15: But Jesus did not just die, he was also resurrected, and Peter makes a point of identifying himself (and the other apostles) as eye-witnesses.  Now, we are not first-hand witnesses of the resurrection, and the non-believers in our midst are not the original crowd who pushed to get Jesus executed, but we have received the eye-witness account of the resurrection (and indeed the entire gospel message), and the sins of the whole word are what ultimately nailed Christ to the cross, so we can still learn from these verses: we cannot escape the reality of our sinful human nature.

v16: Peter describes the man’s healing as having been accomplished through Jesus’ Name with faith in Him.  It’s tempting to take this as some sort of magic formula – there have been Christians, churches, and even whole denominations that misapply this verse to make the heretical claim that “if you’re not healed, you don’t have enough faith!”  The formula-like description of this verse must be read in balance with verse 13a: all miracles are done to glorify Christ.  We cannot manipulate and control the Holy Spirit.  We can, however, be open and receptive to the ministry He wants to carry out in us and through us, including miraculous healings.

v17: The Jews had Jesus killed “in their ignorance.”  Ignorance does not excuse sin, but it does highlight the very real possibility of change.  Peter will get to this in verse 19.

v18: First, Peter shows why they should not have been ignorant: the entire Hebrew Bible (our Old Testament) foretells the entire gospel of Christ!  This assertion is also supported by Jesus in Luke 24:26-7 and 24:45-47.

v19-20: This where Peter offers them a chance to escape their ignorance.  Repentance toward God yields the wiping out of sin, which yields refreshment from God.  Peter’s witness of Christ (explaining the miracle and sharing what he knows about Jesus) led straight into preaching the gospel.  Now, witnessing and preaching are two different things, but what Peter does here is run the two together in a neat fashion.

Acts 4:1-7 ~The First Response

The Priests then have Peter and John arrested, because they don’t approve of all this Jesus nonsense.  The next day, they assemble a group of respected Jewish teachers, Priests, the High Priests, and such, and bring Peter & John in for questioning.

Acts 4:8-12 ~ Peter’s Second Speech

v9-10: Peter basically just repeats what he said before – healing is a miracle wrought by God for the glory of Christ Jesus.

v11-12: Peter now repeats (and summarizes) the gospel message he’d proclaimed before.  If anything, it’s even more intense than before, because he quotes Psalm 118:22 (in verse 11) and emphasizes that salvation is in Christ alone.

It’s important for us to notice that after being arrested for witnessing & preaching, Peter did not back off in the message he proclaimed.  The truth of Christ is more important than our comfort, our safety, or even our lives.  When our witness to the gospel faces backlash (be it mockery, social stigma, or actual persecution), we need to have the integrity to stick to our guns and not compromise.  (Of course, there’s nothing wrong with re-evaluating how we present our witness to the world.  Peter, afterall, did address the two crowds differently.)

Acts 4:13-18 ~ The Second Response

The Sanhedrin (the Jewish court) is far from convinced by Peter’s testimony.  However, they recognize that what Peter’s talking about has gotten the crowds really excited, and they cannot deny the reality of the miraculous healing.  So the best they can do is ask Peter and John to shut up and stop talking about that Jesus guy.

This is an interesting response, probably the most like what we get in our current culture.  It’s neither overwhelmingly positive (winning over the religious elite of the culture), nor overwhelmingly negative (getting Peter & John martyred), but rather it’s in between (a restraining order).  Our society pushes us to be quiet about our faith, in the name of religious peace and tolerance.  How we might handle that is modeled by Peter in the next few verses.

Acts 4:19-22 ~ Peter’s Closing Words

Who do we obey, human authority or God?  How can we not share what we know about our Creator, our King, our Savior?  We need to acknowledge openly “what we have seen and heard.”  For sure, this will look very different according to the situation.  In some places and professions it is practically illegal to display our faith openly, such as for school teachers.  This begs the question, do we need words to be witnesses to the gospel?  Eventually, yes, for Jesus is the Word of God, but our very lives can be silent witnesses too.  There’s a time for “go out into all the world and preach the gospel,” and a time for simply saying “come and see.”

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Jeroboam Idolatry

“You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself a carved image…”~Exodus 20:3-4.

It is our common obligation, as children of God, to consecrate ourselves completely to him. Nothing proved more difficult, however, for God’s ancient people, than this command. We marvel in seeing how quickly they descended into idolatry. It seems that his goodness, in any moment of crisis, could easily be effaced from their memory.

The reason, however, was not that the Lord was at fault, as if he withdrew his blessings, but that they were blind to seeing his many operations. Did he not wrap their feet in his love, preventing any sharp rock from puncturing them, or becoming scorched in the sun? Yet how quickly they threw their children into the fires of Molech. Was not the Lord their victory in battle? Yet how quickly they called for the intercession of idols. The Church of God has a valuable lesson to learn. Our flesh is powerless to hold tight to our God. We must look away from ourselves, to another bonding-agent, so that we might be held firmly in Christ’s bosom. And this we have been given, from the kindness of our Mediator, in the gift of his Holy Spirit (Gal 4:6). In ourselves, we are decayed and condemned shacks. Yet when the Spirit gathers us together, he consecrates us as Temples of the Living God (1 Cor 3:16).

The effects of Adam have spread across our world. I am speaking of his transgression, which has been frequently called Original Sin. There are complex debates about the nature of this doctrine, but most agree on certain effects, amongst which is the spread of sin to our species. The result is that humanity – the appointed image of God – has blocked out the Lord with thousands of idols. This was true of those nations that surround Israel. And it is equally true in our own day. The people of God still dwell amidst unbelief and apostasy. Indeed, the City of Man has been laid upon the foundation of blasphemy and arrogance. And mankind, left alone, erects monuments of self-glorification, monuments which are simply new towers of Babel. This is why the people of God, wherever they live, always yearn for a better City, whose builder and maker is our God (Heb 11:10). How difficult it is, however, to patiently endure our current testing. All around us, and even bubbling inside of us, are the springs of idolatry. We learn, from Paul, that idolatry proceeded from ingratitude, and is perpetuated because the minds of men are seared with obstinacy (Rom 1:21). So long as Adam’s mantle drapes over us, our species is subjected to futility, and can only bear the fruits of death (Rom 6:21; 8:20). Moreover, so insidious is the power of sin that it infects the household of God, which was appointed as a refuge from Satan’s throne (Rev 2:13; 1 Cor 5:5). We see many of our friends, who once joined with us in prayer, departing after all the false gods of this world. This they do when they trade piety for profanity, humility for vanity, and prefer to soothe themselves in the balm of sinful behavior.

We must learn from them a lesson about ourselves. We are naturally inclined to evil behavior. And we cannot coast into our heavenly inheritance. Instead, we must mount up on the wings of the Holy Spirit, in order to fly with his power. For the Spirit makes us fertile to bear the fruits of obedience. It is necessary, therefore, if we would obey the first commandment, that we would strive to be filled with the Holy Spirit. This means cultivating reverence for the sacred day of Pentecost. Our Lord Jesus appointed that day to be marked by signs of his power, from rushing wind to fiery tongues, so that we would apprehend with our senses what is true of His Spirit, namely that He alone fills us with godliness. We should not get hung up on the well-worn debate, namely whether the ancient Israelites experienced the Spirit’s power. Whatever they received, it is insufficient to be compared with the advantage in the Church of God.  St. Paul, for simplicity’s sake, often identifies this advantage with the Holy Spirit. “The righteous requirement of the law,” he writes, “is fulfilled in us,” because we walk “according to the Spirit”(Rom 8:4). For everything proceeds to us from our good Father, through the mediation of his Son, and in the power of his Holy Spirit.

The point of all these things is simple: the first commandment is fulfilled by the energy of the Spirit. Thus, let us not pretend to call Jesus our Lord, when we live according to the flesh, and not by the power supplied by the Holy Ghost. “No one can say Jesus is Lord,” at least not with sincerity, “except by the Holy Spirit”(1 Cor 12:3). This world brims with evils, such that Paul’s statement is self-evident, that “the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit”(1 Cor 2:14a). The world cannot understand why we would cleave to the promises of our Savior, holding them against the day of the Lord. And Paul gave us the reason why the natural man blocks out God’s precepts, “for they are foolishness to him”(1 Cor 2:14b). Because idolatry is a danger for us, we have no other recourse than to find our strength in God. We should present our hearts to the Lord, so that His Spirit would descend into them. Without his assistance, our hearts become crusted like the natural man. And soon, we descend into apostasy and self-love, such that we become worse than beasts. It is imperative, therefore, that we labor to have the law inscribed within us, written not on stones, but on our very hearts. And this alone is administered by the secret power of the Spirit (Rom 2:15, 29) .

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Grant to me, O Lord, to know what I ought to know, to love what I ought to love, to praise what delights thee most, to value what is precious in thy sight, to hate what is offensive to Thee.  Do not suffer me to judge according to the sight of my eyes, nor to pass sentence according to the hearing of the ears of ignorant men; but to discern with true judgment between things visible and spiritual, and above all things to inquire what is the good pleasure of thy will.

 

 


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The journal Faith & Leadership provides a Q&A with Lauren Winner on her new memoir “Still: Notes on a Mid-Faith Crisis,” where she explains how the spiritual life is not always defined by ecstasy.

Professor Brandon Withrow discusses Jonathan Edwards, the Holy Spirit, and Evolution over at Patheos.

Relevant magazine answers the question: What is Sexual Holiness?

 

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On some calendars, today is the feast day of St. Mellitus (died 624), first Bishop of London and third Archbishop of Canterbury. Mellitus was one of the missionaries that assisted St. Augustine of Canterbury (not of Hippo) with the re-evangelization of Britain.

One small thing that Mellitus is important for is for being the recipient of a letter from Pope Gregory the Great regarding the interaction between Christianity and the paganism Mellitus so often confronted in his mission. Below is the text of this brief letter, perhaps it might be of some instruction for us today as we think about engaging in a similar project.

“To his most beloved son, the Abbot Mellitus; Gregory, the servant of the servants of God. We have been much concerned, since the departure of our congregation that is with you, because we have received no account of the success of your journey. When, therefore, Almighty God shall bring you to the most reverend Bishop Augustine, our brother, tell him what I have upon mature deliberation on the affair of the English, determined upon, viz. that the temples of the idols in that nation ought not to be destroyed; but let the idols that are in them be destroyed; let holy water be made and sprinkled in the said temples, let altars be erected, and relics placed. For if those temples are well built, it is requisite that they be converted from the worship of devils to the service of the true God; that the nation, seeing that their temples are not destroyed, may remove error from their hearts, and knowing and adoring the true God, may the more familiarly resort to the places to which they have been accustomed. And because they have been used to slaughter many oxen in the sacrifices to devils, some solemnity must be exchanged for them on this account, as that on the day of the dedication, or the nativities of the holy martyrs, whose relics are there deposited, they may build themselves huts of the boughs of trees, about those churches which have been turned to that use from temples, and celebrate the solemnity with religious feasting, and no more offer beasts to the Devil, but kill cattle to the praise of God in their eating, and return thanks to the Giver of all things for their sustenance; to the end that, whilst some gratifications are outwardly permitted them, they may the more easily consent to the inward consolations of the grace of God. For there is no doubt that it is impossible to efface every thing at once from their obdurate minds; because he who endeavours to ascend to the highest place, rises by degrees or steps, and not by leaps. Thus the Lord made himself known to the people of Israel in Egypt; and yet he allowed them the use of the sacrifices which they were wont to offer to the Devil, in his own worship; so as to command them in his sacrifice to kill beasts, to the end that, changing their hearts, they might lay aside one part of the sacrifice, whilst they retained another; that whilst they offered the same beasts which they were wont to offer, they should offer them to God, and not to idols; and thus they would no longer be the same sacrifices. This it behoves your affection to communicate to our aforesaid brother, that he being there present, may consider how he is to order all things. God preserve you in safety, most beloved son.”

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