St John’s Church will celebrate the Feast of the Ascension on Thursday, May 6th at 6pm outside in the garden.
Palm Sunday – March 24 Mass 8am & 10:30am
Monday – March 25 Mass 9:30am
Tuesday & Wednesday – March 26 & 27 Mass 12:15pm
Maundy Thursday – March 28 Washing of the Feet & Mass 7pm
Good Friday – March 29 Veneration of the Cross & Eucharist 7pm
Saturday Easter Vigil – March 30 Mass 9pm
Easter Day – March 31 Mass 8am & 10:30am
Advent Lessons and Carols, Sunday December 23rd at 4:00 p.m. with reception to follow.
Caroling at 5:00 p.m. followed by Mass at 5:00 p.m.
Caroling at 10:00 p.m. followed by Midnight Mass at 10:30 p.m.
Christmas Morning Mass at 10:00 a.m.
Come join with us as we adore our Lord Jesus Christ in worship and adoration this Christmas.
A few months ago in the Evangelist, I promised a series on the five Sacraments we often forget, after Baptism and the Eucharist. Much has happened since then to distract me. Here, we get back on track and ponder the mysteries of the latter Sacraments!
The Sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation share an intimate relationship. But, many people have gotten the two quite wrong. A corrective is needed in the Church so that we might fully appreciate the gift of God in these Sacraments.
Baptism is incorporation into the mysteries of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, into Christ himself. It is thus discipleship which is at the heart of Baptism. So, we are talking about both the efficacy of Baptism to remove Original Sin and remit sin, but we are also talking conversion itself. This is the fundamental mistake many make in assuming that Baptism is for infants – it certainly is not. In fact, the Church assumes that adult baptism is the norm and dispenses from this rule when the parents of an infant or small child are discipled, believing Christians. The truth is that Baptism normatively expresses conversion, discipleship, and forgiveness of sins by uniting us to Christ. When we baptize infants, we do so in full expectation that a life of conversion, discipleship, and forgiveness will be the marks of this child’s life. Why? For the same reason we don’t expect children to be sociopaths – we are willing to put in the hard work of discipline, instruction, and moral formation. We are willing to love our children! Why not more so when we commit them to Jesus Christ, Our Lord?
For a long time, it was assumed that a child is born, baptized within a few months, confirmed at age 12, and so forth. That is no longer a safe assumption, but it was this assumption which tainted our understanding of first Baptism and then Confirmation.
Two errors stand out:
The first is that Confirmation completes Baptism. The assumption was that a child who has been baptized should also be converted to faith, and therefore will take the faith as his or her own and that this is rightly recognized in Confirmation. This position has two problems. First, it denies that Baptism is, itself, a complete sacrament imparting all that we say it does, namely regeneration in Christ and full membership in the Church. Second, it assumes that confirmation is only for youth. This is certainly not so. A good many adults were never confirmed, especially people converting to Anglicanism from Evangelical churches.
The second error is that Baptism constitutes a sign-up sheet for a place in Heaven and therefore Confirmation is much more a way of saying “Keep up the good work!” This will not do. The life begun in the waters of Baptism must be sustained. It will not do for anyone to say: oh, I’m baptized, no need to talk to me about the need for repentance and faith. Rather, all of us must be devoted to the life of faith and repentance because we are Baptized, never presuming anything. Many people, you’ll note, live in this assumption. They say “I am a member of the Church because I was baptized oh so many years ago. I’d never darken the door these days, but still I am a member of the church.” It is this same idea which drives parents who do not take the Faith seriously, yet are absolutely neurotic about the need to have their children baptized. Through the years, I have noticed this same attitude toward Confirmation.
A better way of thinking about Confirmation is that it is much more like an ordination, although not at all an ordination. It is simply this – the Bishop praying for the flourishing of the gift of the Holy Spirit by the laying on of his hands and anointing with oil. In this way, we maintain clearly that a) Baptism is complete in every way and b) that the life of conversion, repentance, and faith is exactly the life which the Holy Spirit attends! We must begin to imagine the Church, not as the body of immobile “butts in the pews” led by a few elite clergy, but much more like what the ancient Church embodied – a Church full of passionate believers who passionately pursued holiness of life. If that wasn’t the case, the ancient Church said to adults – no Baptism for you! And to parents – no baptism for your children!
I hope this is clear: when adults and youth are confirmed at Saint John’s, my heartfelt desire is that they be people who are actively engaged in the Christian faith and life. If that’s true, they have found themselves to be targets for attack, and therefore what we want is to equip them with the effective prayer of their bishop, and the great joy that accompanies his prayers for the increase of the Holy Spirit.
In order for this to happen, it is essential that first, parents take their God-given duty to catechize their children very, very seriously. It is not the priest’s job, or the youth minister’s job, or the Sunday School teacher’s job – it is theirs. It is the Church’s job to encourage and equip parents in this task. Secondly, it is the task of the Church to, especially with youth and adults, create a culture of faith. The principle of culture is this: “whatever one sows, that will he also reap.” (Galatians 6:7) If you plant wheat, you get wheat. If you plant asparagus, you get asparagus. If you plant faith, you get faith. If you plant repentance, you get repentance. If you plant strong teaching and catechesis, you get people who are well-instructed and fully formed in the faith. The trouble today is that many Christians are suffering from deep “spiritual birth defects,” as a bishop friend of mine says. A culture of faith, forming generations in faithful discipleship is the answer. Confirmation is the sacrament of that very thing happening.
If you have not been confirmed, I encourage you to join the Catechesis Course, held Sunday mornings at 9:30 in the Conference Room. If you were confirmed as a youth, and realize that there was something lacking in your prior instruction and that you would like to take up serious discipleship – the Catechesis Course is for you as well!
The renovations to the Sacristy, which were long overdue, have recently been completed. Join us for a consecration and blessing of the renovation this Saturday afternoon at 3:00 p.m. The Altar Guild will host a reception afterward in the Guild Hall.
Before we begin, I must say that it is not primarily the task of preaching on Independence Day to sing the praises of our country. That may be possible, indeed it may be essential, but it is not the primary goal.
The primary goal is to remember where our rights and freedoms as Americans come from, that as the Declaration of Independence puts it, human beings are “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights.” That, again as the Declaration puts it, we have rights to which we are entitled by the “Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God.” The exercise of these rights cannot be abstracted from God himself, who is the giver of all good gifts. And, for those of us who as Christians believe not in the generic “god,” but in God the Father, the Creator of all things, Jesus Christ his Son, and the Holy Spirit, the undivided Trinity, all the more reason to speak of such rights, derived from the dignity with which God endows every human being.
Contrary to the modern popular opinion, this means that rights do not mean entitlements, and freedom does not mean “the ability to do whatever I want.” Rather, we mean that every human being is deserving of justice and that every human being should be given the freedom which makes doing right not only possible, but laudable, and indeed, easy. Men like Plato believed that good societies were those in which it was very easy to be good and very difficult to be bad. Yet, for some reason, our ridiculous notions of freedom make it very easy, if not even preferable, to be bad – to live life in contrariety to the commandments of God and His revelation of Himself.
This is largely because America has rejected the God of revelation and embraced either a) a God who is in robotic sympathy with our governments or b) a God who doesn’t care. Neither of those is true. But, when they are accepted, legal and moral chaos ensues.
These are quite simple to identify. They are a disregard for the dignity of human life, a disregard for the rule of law, and a disregard for our moral duty to our fellow man.
First, our country will be most severely judged for the legalization of abortion. A nation which brutally murders her most helpless and innocent members will not be held guiltless. That is the simple truth. My brothers and sisters, those who sing “God bless America” and “Lift High the Cross” from the same pew will not be silent in the face of the evil of abortion. We cannot forget that 1.3 million human beings are slaughtered each year in this country. All of our rights and freedoms begin in this simple fact: that God has given us life, from the embryo to the elderly.
Second, our nation has become freewheeling with the rule of law. One of my ancestors envisioned “a nation of laws, not men.” Yet, we have become a nation in which a man may disregard the law if he sees fit. The president can make laws for himself. The Supreme Court can uphold the unconstitutional as constitutional. And the Congress believes it can make any law it likes. This disregard for the rule of law is nothing less than anarchy, and we must demand that our lawmakers and elected officials keep the law. That we grow concerned that our religious freedoms are being taken away is a deep threat, not merely to the Church, but to our country. We have seen the First Amendment eclipsed by the vague idea of the “freedom to worship.” Secularism, not truth, is the standard by which laws are judged.
Lastly, we have become a nation which ignores our moral duty to our fellow man. When wars are initiated ruthlessly, and lawlessness ignored on the international level, we have said that some lives are worth less than our own. This cannot be permitted. When the disabled and those with Down’s Syndrome are deemed as having little value, when our allies deny basic human rights to their citizens, when the Chinese force abortion, when Christians are persecuted, prudence and charity demand that we not be silent. Yet, on a more basic level, we teach our children that selfishness is a virtue and that the only person who matters is you. Essential to our nation’s life is the assertion that God has given us responsibility to our fellow man – he cannot be ignored.
The Church’s vocation in this age is essentially this: to point all men back to their Creator, to reorient society to the Lord of all. We cannot do this if we are not likewise pointed and oriented. This is the reason that first, the Church must be faithful in her vocation to worship God and Him alone and second, that the Church must resist all forms of secular government’s coercion of our consciences. We have a vocation to serve God as He has revealed we should, and a vocation to make this known – so that salvation may be enjoyed by all men in that perfect country, which he prepares for us.
We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. (Romans 6:4)
Many Christians are under the impression that the Christian life is begun in conversion and newness and that, over time, this newness of life leaves you behind. In other words, when beginning the Christian life, it is new, but after a while, it is old. This is a misconception. Saint Paul teaches us that the purpose of baptism is to incorporate us in the Death and Resurrection of our Lord. His Death and Resurrection result in His life being eternally new. His human nature, which had been subject to death, is no longer subject to decay and oldness. Saint Paul teaches that it is this newness of life to which the Christian is to cling.
Our Lord says: And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; if he does, the wine will burst the skins, and the wine is lost, and so are the skins; but new wine is for fresh skins. (Mark 2:22) In essence, the New Wine of the Kingdom of God is to be poured continually into and out of new wineskins, which are provided by lives which are continually renewed. But what does this mean? How does this work?
Since were not in the habit of putting wine into skins, few other analogies might help. There are things which we are constantly in the habit of replacing, from the bottle of shampoo in the shower, to our trash can liners, to the milk thats gone bad, to ink cartridges in our printers. We replace them constantly because they either run out or they become deficient over time. Snakes shed their skins. Our fingernails are constantly renewed, replacing what is old. These are very helpful in understanding the wineskin analogy. Regular renewal is the basis for living a life that is not stagnant.
One of the main enemies and barriers to living a fruitful and faithful life is congestion. Many people wake up the same today as they were ten years ago. They havent changed. They may work in a different career, or live in a new house, but on the interior, they are the same. The world tells us that people dont change. But, the Scriptures teach us that change (or conversion) are essential to this life. People are meant to grow in grace, experiencing afresh the goodness of God, leaving behind the life of sin and death and embracing the new life which Christ has given.
The Christian fights stagnancy and walks in newness of life after Baptism by making a regular confession of sin, daily examining his life, receiving the Sacraments, continually renewing the mind by the reading of Scripture and receiving good teaching, and by a life of daily prayer. If your life has become stagnant and congested, if you have found that you havent grown recently, embrace these disciplines. You will find yourself renewed.
There’s a video floating around on the social networking sites, especially twitter and facebook. Its made by a young poet entitled “Jesus > Religion.” There is a long list of complaints against religion. Among them, that religion is focused on the externals, never getting to the core, that it is responsible for wars and judgmentalism, that it’s “perfume on a casket” and “behavior modification.” He says Jesus hated religion and that religion is manmade, on the opposite end of the spectrum from Jesus. His emphasis on grace and the love of God is laudable, and he is clearly a very gifted poet. But, theologian he is not. Scripture scholar he is not.
Here’s my most basic response, on which I would like to elaborate:
My take on the hate religion, but love Jesus bit: “Folks, Jesus Christ established the Church, with rituals (Baptism the Eucharist), prayers (the Lord’s Prayer), Holy writings, authority structures, and clear teaching. Thats religion. You can’t just make religion a bad word because you don’t like those things. And – you can’t say that Christianity is just about loving Jesus – it isn’t. This sort of talk is just hyper-individualistic pietism taken to the nth degree. It has never done anything but make people into total snobs, not saints.”
First, Jesus Christ established His Kingdom on Earth. In the ancient era in which he inserted himself, every kingdom had a religio or a cultus. The prime example is that of Caesar. Caesar had a religion which surrounded him, requiring Roman citizens to worship him, and in a proscribed way. Jesus does not separate himself from this, for He, unlike Caesar, is actually worthy to be worshipped. (John 9:38, Rom 14:11, Philippians 2:10) Jesus established clear instructions to his disciples, including instructions regarding the making of disciples and baptism (Matthew 28:19), the celebration of the Eucharist (1 Corinthians 11:23-24), the forgiveness of sin (John 20:23), and many others. He is very clear that love for Him does not consist in the mind or the heart, but in action – in obeying His commandments. (John 14:15) That’s religion. If it’s not, what could we possibly call it?
The second problem comes from this, and it is an intrinsically postmodern contempt for the meaning of words as well as for institutions. This young man has made religion a category for all the things he turns his nose at. But, religion is actually a word coming from the re-reading of texts, as was done by medieval monastics. Hence re and legere, rereading. The other possible source for the word is the Latin religare, to bind fast. This meaning speaks to obligations of vows. From the earliest days, the Church has had the vows of Baptism and a great deal of clarity regarding the obligations of Christians, including the obligation and duty to know the faith, to keep the sabbath, to give to the Church, etc. This is not legalism, nor is it onerous duty. It is the wonderful privilege of each and every Christian as well as being the means of growing in Faith and the love of God. Practices cultivate virtue, religious practices specifically. This young man has, unfortunately, let contemporary postmodern distaste for such things infect him.
Further, postmodernism elevates relationship above truth. For instance is the insistence that relationship matters more than morality. If two men have a sexual relationship, this is more important than moral truth. In fact, what Aristotle says is the truth: “For though we love both the truth and our friends, piety requires us to honor the truth first.” I fear that contemporary Evangelicalism has elevated a personal relationship with Jesus Christ to the status of an idol, saying my relationship is the most important thing, when it is clear from the Scriptures that faith without works is dead and that love for neighbor is part and parcel with love for God.
But, the worst of all of it is that this young man displays what the Church has always called Gnosticism. Gnosticism, in its heyday, sought to be free of religion too. It taught that man must free himself from the shackles of this earthly and bodily existence and open himself to the knowledge of the infinite. Gnosticisms insistence on knowledge is the source of its name, gnosis being the Greek word for knowledge. Gnostics were suspicious of the Incarnation, preferring to say that Jesus actually intended to free us from our bodies, that he was not divine, and that he was primarily concerned with the spiritual and not the practical. Gnosticisms emphasis upon the evil of the flesh (most of them said that physical things were created by a malevolent demi-God) led them to fall into two camps. Some said that the physical outworkings of life were without benefit, leading them into licentiousness of the worst sort. Some, like the Manichees, believed that extreme asceticism was the cure for an overly-physical life.
The reason I say this is that many modern Christians, in their neglect of the Incarnation, have unwittingly slipped into this mode. Heaven becomes an entirely body-less existence filled with disembodied souls. Faith is about one’s own spiritual life, not so much about action. Sacraments are the object of suspicion and religious people are the bad guys. Christianity becomes about knowledge and relationship and neglects duty, ritual, practice, and charity.
Lastly, the Gnostics were snobs. They immediately created hierarchies of progress for their movements. Certain blessed people had more knowledge than others. And, of course, their knowledge was more the result of their enlightenment than their formation and instruction, which was basically non-existent. The Church did the opposite. No knowledge was hidden, any question could be asked, and the Church was passionate about catechesis and formation of Christians, the introduction of religious practices, rituals, and articles of belief.
At the end of the day, I am not against having a relationship with Jesus. In fact, I am quite in favor of it. But, it is a relationship of marriage, not puppy-love. Married people know that you show your love for your spouse by emptying the dishwasher, taking out the trash, remembering anniversaries, spending time together, paying the bills, getting up and going to work. This is maturity in marriage. I fear that a new generation, in their lust for eternal youthfulness, in their rejection of institutions, in their distrust of received practices, has been sentenced to immaturity. You see, religion and relationship have a symbiotic need for each other. I have witnessed, through the years, that the people with the most maturity in the faith were the ones who dragged themselves to Church Sunday after Sunday, who made regular retreats, who lived by a Rule of Life, who made their confessions regularly. They’re not snobby about their faith. They’re lights to the world. They’re mature. They’re saints.
In the meantime, I pray that this young man will come under the influence of mature Christians who can direct his passion and guide him to the fulness of the truth.
and a voice came from heaven, Thou art my beloved Son; with thee I am well pleased.
From the Gospel According to Saint Mark, in NOMINE…
As I said Friday night, the plan of this Epiphany is to focus upon the three themes of Epiphany laid out in the three Gospel readings, for this past Fridays celebration of Epiphany, today, and next Sunday. In Latin, these are rendered as illuminatio, manifestatio, and declaratio. In these ways, the Divine Son of God, the King Jesus is shown forth to the world. The star illuminates his identity to the Magi of the Gentiles, the Divine Presence is manifested at his baptism in the Jordan, and he is believed in by the disciples for the first time after changing water into wine at the Wedding Feast at Cana.
Todays theme then is manifestatio. The word manifest comes from two Latin words manu and festus. Manu is the same word where we get manual. It means hand. The Latin word festus means struck. So, manifest means, literally, struck with the hand. It refers to being hit upside the head! And this is an appropriate word for today, in which we celebrate the Baptism of Jesus in the Jordan, when in the most dramatic way possible, he is declared to be the beloved Son of God. The account from the Gospel of Mark does not contain the detail or the dialogue which the other Gospels contain, but it is dramatic nonetheless. At the core of the account is the very public revelation from God that Jesus is the very one whom John the Baptist has awaited, that He is the King who has come to rescue the world, and that He is the One who will, filled with the Holy Spirit, heal the sick, raise the dead, and preach the Kingdom.
Todays readings have nothing to do with the response of faith to the work of God, but entirely to the work of God. Note that today, we dont hear of crowds hearing the voice from heaven and henceforth worshipping and following Him. As dramatic as the account of His baptism is, it seems to have little effect on the multitudes gathered. Yet, Saint Peter looks upon it as the very beginning of Jesus ministry. It is almost as if this event is the Hand of God smacking the world back into reality.
For, as much as we try to delude ourselves into thinking that sin is the only reality, that the world is so bad, or we are so bad that there is little else to concern yourself with, the reality of God dwarfs anything we can even imagine. You see, we are very selfish people. Most of us, rather than accepting Gods grace do one of two things. We are either so presumptuous as to think that we are too good for God, or we are so horribly coarse and prideful that we think were too bad for God to do anything for us. This is the darkness sin and death made perfectly clear. We are so selfish that yes, a smack of the hand to the head is need to awaken us to the truth.
Some of you might be remembering the only liturgical smack to the head you have ever received. On the day of your confirmation, the Bishop gave you a gentle smack on the cheek. I have waited for a while to see a Bishop who does more than this. Ive only heard about it. Perhaps our new bishop wont be so gentle! But, the tradition comes from an initiation into the Roman military. The commanding officer or general would smack the new soldier across the face, saying something to the effect of let that be the last hit you sustain. It was meant to fill the soldier with courage and make him fight. It reminds me of the wonderful line from the baptismal rite from the old prayerbook, when the priest says:
We receive this person into the congregation of Christ’s flock; and do *sign him with the sign of the Cross, in token that hereafter he shall not be ashamed to confess the faith of Christ crucified, and manfully to fight under his banner, against sin, the world, and the devil; and to continue Christ’s faithful soldier and servant unto his life’s end.
Both events speak to the steadfastness and perseverance that come after someone has been smacked upside the head with the truth. The world looks different, it is seen through different eyes. My point this morning is not to smack you in a similar manner, but merely to recall you to how earth-shattering the truth of the Gospel that Gods Son has come into the world is. How that ought to change your life. How it is impossible to come to this truth and have your old assumptions and beliefs remain unchallenged.
No, the Gospel is very challenging. It calls us to a completely and totally renewed life. One cannot be the same after professing Jesus Christ and being baptized into Him. The words of the catechism stick in my head – that in baptism, you become a member of Christ, the child of God, and an inheritor of the kingdom of Heaven. To become this is to leave all selfishness behind, to turn from sin and death and embrace the reality of the divine life of God.
The reason I say all of this is that we readily disassociate from the Baptism of Jesus in the Jordan. Very few of us were baptized in rivers, let alone the Jordan. The one who baptized us what very likely wearing very nice vestments, and not camels hair. We were, for the most part, baptized in fonts and handed keepsake candles and anointed with oil. Not one of us heard God say as the heavens opened, Thou art my beloved Son; with Thee I am well pleased. Although, maybe if we were listening closely, we would have.
I want to challenge this disassociation. For, the Baptism of Jesus in the Jordan is the initiation of a whole new era in the world. It is the initiation of a world in which sinful men can become children of God, in which those destined to die can live the blessed life of God, and in which poor paupers can become inheritors of the Kingdom of Heaven. In fact, the very water into which you were baptized is that same water into which Jesus was baptized.
One of the greatest of the Church Fathers, Saint John Chrysostom taught that when Jesus was baptized, as he went down into the water, he sanctified all the waters of the earth so that you and I receive that One Baptism.
Chrysostom also believed that the newly baptized had special powers. He would routinely ask them to pray the Lords prayer over him, as he believed that this particular prayer was particularly powerful. What he knew, and what we have forgotten is that the gift of Baptism is a radically life-changing gift, getting to the very heart of who we are.
So, the message this morning is not that the manifestation of Jesus as the Son of God is not some remote event in history, but a continual reality, shedding glorious light on our world even now, bringing many into the fellowship of the children of God the Church. Perhaps this will put evangelism into context.
This year, as in every year, I issue the challenge to you to be an evangelist for the Gospel of Jesus Christ in your own world and life. I challenge you to consider one person in your life whom you can lead faith and new life in Christ. I challenge you to pray for them daily and look for opportunities to share the faith with them. Because the reality is this: you either believe the Faith enough to share it, or you do not do either.
If you are thinking to yourself, I dont really know enough to do that – there is no excuse. You need to be in my Catechesis class. If youre thinking, I dont have the courage – wake up! Do you not love your friend, your family member? If youre thinking, God couldnt use me to do that, consider the men whom Jesus chose – fishermen, a tax collector, a persecutor. None of them had skills, but they had grace. Pray for the gift necessary to be an evangelist.
For God is continually manifesting Himself to this world, drawing the nations to His light. Will you be a part of it? In NOMINE…