Sermons

Trinity 18, 2020 “Finding Winterberries” – Fr. Peter Geromel

“For everything its season, and for every activity under heaven its time: . . . a time to plant and a time to uproot.” Ecclesiastes 3:1-2

Recently, we have gotten a jolt due to the weather. We have been reminded that winter is coming. “Winter is Coming” as a saying has been quite popularized lately by the TV series Game of Thrones, in which the main civilization, The Seven Kingdoms of the continent of Westeros, await the coming ice age. They know it will come. They do not know when. Hence the folk of the northern area have a saying, “Winter is Coming.” They are always preparing for it. Often the work after Harvest and before Winter has to do with seeds: Pumpkin seeds to be roasted, chestnuts to be collected, berries (with or without seeds) to make preserves, wheat that has been harvested must be ground up and made into grain: Out of this bread is prepared. We stock up on these seeds and other things because “Winter is Coming” and Our Lord had a few things to say about this. Our Lord said, “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed.” It is small, but it grows into a huge tree. He said, “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast, which a woman took and mixed with three measures of flour till it was all leavened.” (Matt. 13: 31-33) ‘Till it was all leavened – He did not say, until she wanted it to be leavened. He did not say until part of it was leavened. He said until all of it was leavened. He did not expect for her to say, I have a TV show I want to watch at seven, so the bread needs to rise now on my timetable rather than the bread’s.

Baking bread is an all-day process, or at least it used to be until the advent of the bread maker. Jams and Jellies and Preserves take up a lot of time preparing for winter. But we are going a bit off topic – not a lot off topic, but a bit off topic. What is the topic? St. Paul said in First Corinthians, “I planted the seed, and Apollos watered it; but God made it grow.” He makes all of it grow in His time, just as He makes all the lump to leaven in His own good time. St Paul goes on to say, “It is not the gardeners with their planting and watering who count, but God who makes it grow.” He continues, “Whether they plant or water, they work as a team, though each will get his own pay for his own labour. We are fellow-workers in God’s service, and you are God’s garden.”

We are in a season of sowing seeds – spiritually, I mean, and primarily, I mean. It is a pretty peculiar or pretty unsuccessful farmer who does not know what season it is. In Spring, of course, we plant seeds. In summer, we water and let the heat of the sun do its magic. In Fall, we harvest and in winter we let the ground rest from its labour. Thus speaks the farmer. Fair enough. When the Pharisees and Sadducees came to test Jesus they asked for a sign from heaven. He said that they knew it would be fine weather the following day, because the sky’s red and that it in the morning, if the sky is red, there would be storms. Yet they could not figure out the signs of the times. So these Pharisees and Sadducees were pretty bad farmers – spiritually, I mean. They could interpret the Law. They could be amateur meteorologists, but they couldn’t figure out the signs of the times.

We are always in the business of planting seeds no matter the weather, no matter the future. We who are in the Church are always so acting; it is our modus operandi. St. Paul is quite clear about this in the instance of telling young people that they should not hesitate to get married and bear children despite the fact that persecution is coming. The early Christians knew it was coming. They knew that Christ had said, “Alas for women with child in those days, and for those who have children at the breast! Pray that it may not be winter or a Sabbath when you have to make your escape” (Matt. 24). He was talking about the Tribulation. They knew The tribulation might be coming so they were abstaining from marrying and having children. But Paul was essentially saying: it is always the season for having children, just as it is always the season to be planting the Word of God.

Sometimes you need an incubator, a greenhouse, if you want to plant seeds out of season. That is what the Church is. She is an incubator, a greenhouse. In early spring, while the frost was still crusting the earth, my mother would be in my room early in the morning to tend to the early spring plants. She had a greenhouse built onto one of the windows in my room. Sometimes we need such a feature. Sometimes we need to find a plant that is hardly holding up against the weather and we need to transplant it and let it grow in a greenhouse, away from the early spring frosts. This is evangelism and discipleship.

When planting season comes, we need to pierce the earth, puncture the earth and insert the seeds in the ground. How is this done? Today, it is done with a tractor. Before, it was done with a plow. Before that, it was done with a stick, especially by monks. And we can imagine the great missionaries, the bishops and apostles of the Church, St. Peter and Paul and their companions in the Roman Empire, St. Bartholomew and his companions among the Aramaic speaking peoples, St. Thomas in India, St. Mark among the Egyptians, the great missionaries to the Ethiopians, walking hundreds of miles and, like Johnny Appleseed, spreading the Word as they went. The Crozier is not only a sign of pastoring sheep, hooking them and pulling them one way, prodding them and driving them another. The Crozier is a symbol of this act of puncturing a hole deeply into the earth and inserting the Word of God there.

When summer comes and springtime is over, the seed time is not over. Remember, different things take root at different times. Different things blossom at different times. Different things are harvested at different times. We know when the big harvest arrives, at the end of summer, at the beginning of fall. Yes, but what of all those little harvests that come with so many blessings? What of the watermelon, and berries, the fruit ripening on the trees. Even dandelions have a wonder all their own and medicinal value. Yes, we all want to be in on the big harvests. We all want to see the big take at the end of summer, but these are not the only fruits of the earth to be had. What is the analogy here? The analogy is that there are different sorts of people with whom the Word of God takes root at different times. It may be a small berry here, and medium-sized apple or pear there – a little bitten by the worm, not quite pretty to look at – and this too is a harvest. This too is glorious to God.

Even in winter there are fruits to be gathered. I looked them up. Consider these: Citrus, Citron, Mandarin, sour Orange, Kumquat, Mandarin/Kumquat, Crabapple, Bearberry, Firethorn, Strawberry tree, Barberry, Beautyberry, Clusterberry, Holly, Dwarf pomegranate, Laurustinus, English hawthorn, Washington thorn, and Pomegranate – No wonder the Pomegranate was a sign of eternal life to the ancients, because it harvests in winter. Beloved, if we are going to be good spiritual farmers, we must know what blooms when. We must know the type of people and when to give them the Word of God and when to Water them, how to Water them, and when to Harvest them. This is not just an endeavor to be done when the major harvesting is done, the times of revival and spiritual awakening. This must be done all year round. A different approach for different folks!

Yes, we must look for winter berries if, indeed, winter is coming. This is harder. It requires leaving our warm toasty homes, strapping on our snowshoes and our skies, bundled up carefully against frostbite. It requires searching diligently; striving against the cold and biting wind. It requires us to be more than just good stewards and good farmers. It requires us to be good hunters. Yes, we must look for those winterberries if, indeed, winter is coming. But more importantly, whatever the season is, we need to be poking and prodding around, seeking an opportunity to plant a seed. Let us pray.

O God, Who employest men to plant and water Thy vineyard, whilst Thou alone givest the increase; grant Thy grace unto Thy fellow-workers, that, going on unto perfection in holiness and good works, they may not only save themselves but those who hear them. Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (The Priest’s Prayerbook #136)

Michaelmas – Balaam’s Ass, Fr. Peter Geromel

“Then the Lord opened the eyes of Balaam, and he saw the angel of the Lord standing in the way, and his sword drawn in his hand: and he bowed down his head, and fell flat on his face. And the angel of the Lord said unto him, Wherefore hast thou smitten thine ass these three times? Behold, I went out to withstand thee, because thy way is perverse before me:” Numbers 22.

As we are celebrating St. Michael and All Angels today, it is alright to speak a bit about other angel stories in the Bible, including the Old Testament story of Balaam’s talking donkey. It is a story that you will find skipped over in your 1928 Book of Common Prayer. Even in 1928, liberalism had so crept into the Episcopal Church that they did not expect you, educated and sophisticated people that you no doubt are, to believe that a donkey actually spoke and as in Numbers 22: 28 said “’What have I done unto thee, that thou hast smitten me these three times?” And Balaam said unto the ass, Because thou hast mocked me: I would there were a sword in mine hand, for now would I kill thee.” Balaam the prophet, you see, had been called upon as the prince Balak’s prophet to curse the people of Israel. Balaam had withstood these commands of men and said that he would only say what the Lord allowed him to speak. Balaam gave in to pressure at one point from the princes of Moab to accompany them. Then “God’s anger was kindled because he went: and the angel of the Lord stood in the way for an adversary against him.”

On this occasion the Angel stands with a sword in his hand. When else does an angel stand with a sword in his hand? In the Book of Genesis. There God “drove out the man; and he placed at the east of the garden of Eden Cherubims and a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life.” To keep the way of the tree of life. To protect us from taking something that would harm us, God put up a flaming sword and angels to keep us from that way that would bring us to harm. Similarly, Psalm 91: 11-12 says “For he shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways. They shall bear thee in their hands, that thou hurt not thy foot against a stone.” There we have the idea of “way” again. The way to the Tree of Life is stopped by angels for our protection. The way for Balaam was kept, similarly, by a sword, to keep him from doing something that would be bad for him. The angels keep us in all of our way, that we hurt not our foot against a stone.

This then points us to an important role for Angels – keeping our way, keeping us from harm. It isn’t just physical harm. Man fears the “boo boo” sometimes more than the boogey man. This is true. We often desire protection for our physical body from our guardian angel but, hey, if I can hazard my soul for a little fun or to vent a little anger or to get a little more rest today because – after all – I work pretty hard, well hopefully God is merciful. God is merciful. But He doesn’t just forgive us for making mistakes and sinning and polluting our souls, He actually keeps our way, the way of our soul, with holy Angels so that we don’t pollute our soul. He made our soul, just as much as our bodies. The soul is precious in His sight. The guardian angel, stands, even with sword in hand, to keep us from polluting our souls. This is an important thing to note in the story of Balaam’s Ass and Balaam’s Guardian Angel. This Guardian Angel assigned to Balaam was actually ready to strike off his head and slay him rather than let Balaam pollute his soul be turning from the path of integrity and give in to peer pressure and princely pressure and curse that which God had already blessed, and the way that God had already blessed, the way of Israel through the wilderness and through the land of Moab. So, for God, the “boo boo” is sometimes better, even unto death, rather than that we should fall into the hands of the boogey man, Satan, who wishes to inflict torment and punishment on us for all eternity.

And why? Why does he we wish to do this? Simply because you were born. That’s all. Satan is so jealous of your body and soul that he wants to destroy it over and over again in a fiery furnace for all eternity. A fellow once said to me, “Why am I stuck between God and the Devil and all I did was be born and I didn’t choose to be born.” Well, you’ve just answered your own question. You were born. That was enough. It isn’t necessary to blame God for placing you between Himself and the Devil. The Devil doesn’t like what God chose to do, to let you be born. The Devil doesn’t like anything God chose to do, because He chose to do it – and that was enough to tick the Devil off. Yet God is merciful. He gives to you guardian angels to keep that fiend far from you, even if it means allowing you to die sooner lest you fall into that fiend’s hands for all eternity. You will get your body back, after all, in the life of the age to come. It’s pretty easy for God to give you another body. But that soul is another matter. That soul is you. The soul is you consistently as the atoms in your body come and go. In a few years not a single atom remains in your body that was there before. You see, science shows us that God does give you a new body, several times in your lifetime, by changing the atoms out with new atoms. God gives you a sign in science that proves that He can give you a new body in the life of the age to come. But that soul is you. Tarnish that, lose that, and you are lost, because that soul is you. There’s no getting you back again once you’re eternally lost.

One of my students in Ethics was telling me about her sense of ethics – it’s a pretty common one today: Everything is permissible unless you are harming someone else. Well, that would be pretty okay, except that there is always somebody that you are harming when you sin. We all hurt ourselves when we sin. We misuse the body that God has given to us and we hurt, tarnish and pollute our souls. Once you realize that, you might start to realize all the ways that you hurt other people every time one of God’s commandments is broken. Two consenting adults doing whatever they want, for example, in the privacy of their own bedroom does not make a right, just as two wrongs don’t make a right. They might believe very strongly that they have not misused each other, that everybody in the room was consenting and freely giving of themselves to one another, but, if it is against a commandment, it definitely hurts your own soul. So even when freely giving of yourself in a consenting but illicit relationship, you are actually helping someone else hurt his or her own soul, and that is just not a very kind thing to do as it happens. It isn’t free love – because love is never free. Love is always a bondage and a sacrifice of self for another, even unto death.

Why do we celebrate the Holy Angels? Because they love us. They didn’t just get made and then choose to love us. They actually engaged in a really real conflict in heaven, fighting against apostate and wicked fellow creatures, in order to be able to help us in our spiritual journey. They freely chose a course of action, fighting with Michael and the blessed company of heaven, that would lead many of them to be linked and bonded to us through thick and thin. What do I mean? Angels have to watch every time you fall into sin. Every time you and I do something in secret that you and I would and should blush to tell someone else, they, who observe the indescribable glories of heaven, are forced (not “forced” they freely choose it) to observe and bear with us through all the mud and mire of mortal life and the sinful strife of the soul. The Holy Angels, once upon at time, chose love, real love, suffering love; they chose to do God’s will and be with us and that’s worth celebrating.  Let us pray.

We humbly beseech thee, O Lord, that the prayers of thy holy Angels may assist us thy servants who offer unto thee this sacrifice of praise: that this our offering may be acceptable in thy sight, and profitable unto us for our salvation. Through… (“Secret” for Michaelmas)

Trinity 15, 2020 – Fr. Peter Geromel

On Monday, we celebrated the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross and, today, we are again brought to that theme, especially in the Epistle lesson from Galatians. The very term “Exaltation” carries with it a paradox because the Cross, as an instrument of torture, is not a means of “exaltation” but an instrument of “humiliation”. Our Collect calls to mind our frailty as men, and frail we are. Is not the answer to our plight then “Exaltation” and not “Humiliation”? This is the secular answer. The thing needed in our frailty, in our vulnerability, in our exposure to the changes and chances of this mortal life, to the possibility of racial injustice, of sexual assault, to prejudice, is not further humiliation but rather exaltation in the form of “empowerment.” If we are oppressed, the answer according to the secular world must be empowerment. If we are vulnerable, it is the same. Many are the preachers who preach not the Cross and Humiliation, but Empowerment, not the Frailty of man but the Exaltation of man. This is not to preach at all because this is not the Christian faith. It should be added that there is probably a morally neutral version of “empowerment”. You have the right to choose a doctor, and you are empowered to do so by those who remind you to get a second opinion. You have a right to choose a good college or a good job, and you are empowered to do so by the laws of the land which outlines equal opportunity. But the whole concept when brought forward as a virtue in itself, let alone when it is brought to a frenzy, means nothing more than a passionate feeling for or against something. Passion even in its moral neutrality still has a dangerous tendency to elevate the worst of human nature – selfishness.

In almost a commentary on our Collect today, Nicholas Arseniev, reflecting on Russian Piety, says, “There is a dilemma here: We are called to be soldiers of God, we are called to virility, courage and activity, to effort and spiritual combat, and yet we are feeble, powerless, and ought not even to dare to enter into the fray on our own resources. How may we resolve this dilemma?” How indeed? His answer – he says, it’s St. Paul’s answer – is prayer and not just prayer, but prayer that leads ultimately to humility. Thus “[w]e are weak, but in Christ we become strong. . . . We are called to be active, but we cannot be active by our own power. For it is He who comes to fight for us and to sustain our efforts. . . . There are the gifts of the Spirit, the grace of perseverance in combat, the virility of the soul, spiritual heroism, the process of sanctification and ascension which begins now and to which we are called now. But all these are gifts, powers which He lends to us and which He can withdraw at any moment.” What Arseniev sees as necessary is humility. He says, “this humility is not a ‘virtue’ that is added, it is the fundamental quality of the holy soul who sees himself in the presence of God, who sees his own littleness and feebleness, and God’s greatness.”[1]

What does this humility, this humility of the Cross look like? Monk Damascene says, “True Christian love is not just a feeling or a pleasant disposition of the soul. It is a self-sacrificing, ceaseless, life-long act of heroism – unto death. It is fiery yet dispassionate, not dependent on anything, not on being loved in return . . . One no longer thinks of receiving something for oneself. One can be spat upon and reviled, and yet in this suffering there is such a deep, profound peace that one finds it impossible to return to the lifeless state one was in before the suffering. One blesses life and all that is around one, and this blessing becomes universal. Such love can only come from God.”[2] How different this is from the world’s sense of “empowerment,” this desire to be lifted up high above others in a selfish justice that claims that you are the wronged party and everyone else is wrong. Holy justice instead vaunts not itself, is not puffed up, and claims that one’s personal sins are the worst sins in the world. The Eastern Orthodox prayer before Holy Communion is a confession that the one about to receive Holy Communion is the worst sinner in the world – “of whom I am chief.” This is the way of the Cross. This is to be humiliated with Him that we might be raised with Him, glorified, exalted.

How similar this Russian theology is to our own ancient Anglo-Saxon tradition. In the Dream of the Rood, one of the earliest pieces of English religious poetry we have, there is a vision of the Cross, the Rood, and in it the visionary sees a simple piece of wood that stands by the Crucified and doesn’t leave Christ before the Sacrifice is complete. The hardwood stands fast. As such, the Cross is likened to a loyal and steadfast retainer, a holy knight, that does not leave his Lord but stands by him in battle, in the spiritual and physical suffering, to the death. Here we can imagine how a retainer stands by his lord in victory or defeat, not just in Anglo-Saxon culture, but in so many great warrior societies – Japan for example. If the lord makes a mistake and leads the earthly soldiers into a battle that can’t be won, they don’t forsake him but stand fast as if they are tied to a pole and cannot retreat. In this poem, in apparent defeat, the Rood stands by the Saviour of the World and by such wins great honor and is thus exalted. Such is the Christian. Andrew Murray, the insightful Presbyterian spiritual writer and missionary said, “Our King is none other than the crucified Jesus. All that we know of Him – His divine power, His abiding presence, His wonderful love – does not teach us to know Him fully unless we are deeply conscious that our King is the crucified Jesus. . . . Christ’s cross is His highest glory. Through it He conquered every enemy and gained His place on the throne of God.”

We carry our cross and we are the crucified if we follow Christ. We follow into apparent defeat, into apparent reproach, into apparent confusion, and into real suffering for as Isaiah says, “every battle of the warrior is with confused noise, and garments rolled in blood . . .” (9:5). One scholar comments on the Dream of the Rood saying, “The Rood and Christ are one in the portrayal of the Passion – they are both pierced with nails, mocked and tortured. Then, just as with Christ, the Cross is resurrected, and adorned with gold and silver. It is honoured above all trees just as Jesus is honoured above men.”[3] So, you see, the Cross is a type of the Christian. And in the Shield of the Crusader, which when interpreted is “soldier of the Cross”, we can see a symbol of our Christian life. As you leave today, take a look at the heraldry, the crest, of the Anglican Catholic Church on our sign outside. You will see the Cross, the Cross of St. George, and of our English Heritage sure. But you will see the crossed crozier and key in the blue field. Both are symbolic tools for the frailty of man. The crozier is the shepherd’s crook that guides, because we are all frail sheep likely to stray. The key is the key of Church Discipline and absolution, it opens up the kingdom of heaven when we do err and stray like lost sheep. The collect today, in fact, matches the original Epistle lesson for Trinity 15 as it stood in the Sarum Missal. In the middle ages, the earlier part of the same chapter in Galatians was read instead, the part that says, “if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one . . .” – that’s what the Keys of the Kingdom are for. Yet I want you to notice most of all the shape of the shield. It is pointed at the bottom – that’s the “knight’s shield” that we recognize from our cultural heritage. But why is it pointed at the bottom? It was originally pointed at the bottom so that it could be planted into the ground. So that the loyal retainer and shield-bearer could stand firm and stand resolute in the face of oncoming hordes, howling and shouting as if from hell itself, so that the Christian knight could hear the words of Christ as from the mouth of Moses, “Fear ye not, stand still, and see the salvation of the LORD, which he will shew to you to day: for the [sufferings, the tears, the reproach, the hellions, the hordes of Satan] whom ye have seen to day, ye shall see them again no more [in the life of the age to come]” (Exodus 14:13).

[1] Nicholas Arseniev, Russian Piety, 34.

[2] Orthodox Word #75.

[3] Adelhied L. J. Thieme as quoted in Wikipedia, The Dream of the Rood.

Praying practically for Faith, Hope, and Charity with the Litany – Trinity 14, 2020 by Fr. Peter Geromel

We pray today for the increase of Faith, Hope, and Charity. It is all well and good to know that we should have it and that, with it, should come other spiritual blessings – the Fruit of the Spirit. What are the “Fruit of the Spirit”? “Love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.” But how do we pray for it? How do we receive this spiritual blessing?

Let us pray. “God of grace and God of glory, On thy people pour thy power. Crown thine ancient Church’s story; Bring her bud to glorious flower. Grant us wisdom, grant us courage, For the facing of this hour.” Amen.

The first question we need to ask ourselves is how badly do we want it? Galatians says that we need to “crucify” these lusts of the flesh. St. Paul in writing to the Galatians lists out various things that we must crucify, many things. “Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envying, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like.” It isn’t a comprehensive list, but it is circumspect. We can’t enter the kingdom of God with these things implanted in our hearts and rooted in our souls, so it seems pretty important to get rid of them. Again, we can ask, how do we do this? “Lo!” Says the hymn we earlier prayed, “the hosts of evil round us Scorn thy Christ, assail his ways!” The Catechism gives us the answer, “My good Child, know this; that thou art not able to do these things of thyself, nor to walk in the Commandments of God, and to serve him, without his special grace; which thou must learn at all times to call for by diligent prayer.”

One excellent way to pray for Faith, Hope, and Charity can be found in the Litany starting on page 54. Before the Book of Common Prayer was forged as a mighty weapon of prayer against the spiritual adversary in 1549, the Litany was written in the original English form at least by 1544, printed and circulated prior to the whole Prayer Book project being completed. The Litany was a hammer of prayer to help the whole of England be protected while the Prayer book was being forged. In all fairness to history, it does borrow from both medieval English sources as well as from Luther’s own German Litany. Incidentally, in many Lutheran and German Reformed hymnals in English published last century, you can see that their litanies and ours are really incredibly similar, although each German-American denomination renders the original Litany by Luther a little differently. It was said of Luther that, after the Lord’s Prayer, he believed the best prayer possible was the Great Litany, as the Lutherans have tended to call the German one.

I was, for a short time, a youth minister or youth leader in a Methodist Church during seminary. The pastor I was working for was a really decent guy but when there were complaints from parents (would you believe it!) that I was praying the Litany with the youth group, the pastor said to me that he loved the Book of Common Prayer and the language therein but it was basically of no practical value today. You can imagine why I didn’t last long at that job. You can very well imagine I begged and do beg to differ and not only for the reasons that I am about to give. Nevertheless, I am about to give some very practical reasons why the Litany is practically useful today in relation to what St. Paul begs us to do today.

First, to get rid of the things we don’t want, there are petitions in the Litany such as “From all blindness of heart, from pride, vainglory, and hypocrisy; from envy, hatred, and malice, and all uncharitableness. Good Lord, deliver us.” Right there, we’ve covered praying against hatred – obviously – variance and wrath – all mentioned in Galatians 5. We’ve prayed against idolatry, in the form of pride and vainglory, because the root of idolatry is pride and vainglory – reveling in ourselves rather than in God. When we pray against “sinful affections” and ask to be delivered “from all the deceits of the world, the flesh, and the devil” we’ve prayed against “Adultery, fornication, uncleanness” and “lasciviousness” “drunkenness, revellings, and such like.” We pray also against “sedition, privy conspiracy, and rebellion . . . all false doctrine, heresy and schism” and in so doing we do as St. Paul bids us and “pour contempt” and spit upon the works of the Devil as they manifest themselves in “strife, seditions, heresies” and “witchcraft” – witchcraft being rebellious and conspiratorial dark arts intended to subvert the created order of God. These are the ways in which the Litany helps us to do what St. Paul encourages us to do, to get rid of these evil works lest we miss the narrow gate that leads to eternal life. O Lord, “Grant us wisdom, grant us courage, Lest we miss thy kingdom’s goal.” The exhortation commanded to be read to the people of England as they first used the Litany in 1544 said this, “Our ghostly enemy is strong, violent, fierce, subtle, and exceeding cruel. And therefore we must continually pray, with all instance that in all his assaults we may be delivered by the mighty hand of our heavenly Father from all evil.”[1]

Now it is time to see how the Litany helps pray for Faith, Hope and Charity. First Faith is prayed for when we appeal to the Trinity, “O God the Father, Creator of heaven and earth;” “O God the Son, Redeemer of the world;” “O God the Holy Ghost, Sanctifier of the faithful;” “O holy, blessed, and glorious Trinity, one God; Have mercy upon us.” We don’t primarily have faith, you see, by somehow studying in a scholarly way the truths of God, and who God is. We have faith by confessing the faith. Faith is a gift. It isn’t something we primarily grasp by our own power, but by grace. The Faith is professed, confessed, and invoked when we say, “By the mystery of thy holy Incarnation; by thy holy Nativity and Circumcision; by thy Baptism, Fasting, and Temptation” “By thine Agony and Bloody Sweat; by thy Cross and Passion; by thy precious Death and Burial; by thy glorious Resurrection and Ascension; and by the Coming of the Holy Ghost, Good Lord, deliver us.” These are all basically points of the Creed.

Next, Hope. We pray for Hope when we pray for the Church and the State. There is so often reason for pessimism and cynicism when we observe the Church and the State. The practice of praying hopefully, feeds Hope. “We beseech thee to hear us, good Lord” is a hopeful prayer. It is certainly charitable to pray for these two institutions as well. So from praying for the President of these United States through the petition “That it may please thee to give to all nations unity, peace, and concord” I would say we are praying in the spirit and with gift of Hope. This is because our ultimate Hope is for the Kingdom of God to come. The Church and the State are foretastes of the Kingdom of God to come, a Kingdom which is, as the proper preface for the Feast of Christ the King recites, “a Kingdom universal and everlasting; a Kingdom of truth and life; a Kingdom of sanctity and grace; a Kingdom of justice, love, and peace.” In all hopefulness, we don’t want to miss His kingdom’s goal, do we. And so we pass to the biggest one, Charity.

We pray for Charitable things and we feed our hearts into being more Charitable. In the Litany, we start to pray for Charity when we as for “an heart to love and fear” God “and diligently to live after [his] commandments”. We then pray that ourselves and others may have “increase of grace to hear meekly [His] Word, and to receive it with pure affection, and to bring for the fruits of the Spirit.” (Those are, again, those exact fruits of the Spirit mentioned in Galatians 5 today.) We pray for folks who are in heresy and schism – “That it may please thee to bring into the way of truth all such as have erred, and are deceived.” Thus we are praying for those who are swept up in heresies, witchcraft, idolatry as well as for those who have contempt for God’s holy word. We pray for those who are strong, those who are weak, those who have fallen, that we and they may “beat down Satan under our feet” – we’re all in the same condition, we’re all in this together. We pray for those “in danger, necessity, and tribulation” and for those who travel, pregnant women, sick persons, children, prisoners and captives; for the fatherless children and widows, the desolate and oppressed.” It is summed up as well praying that God would have “mercy upon all men” and asking God to “forgive our enemies, persecutors, and slanderers.” These are all prayers for charity.

I will end with a short quote from Richard Sibbes, the Puritan Anglican, in his work filled with spiritual salve and healing, The Bruised Reed: “Let us then bring our hearts to holy resolutions, and set ourselves upon that which is good, and against that which is ill, in ourselves or others, according to our callings, with this encouragement, that Christ’s grace and power will go along with us. . . . . According to our faith, so is our encouragement to all duties, therefore let us strengthen faith, so that it may strengthen all other graces. The very belief that faith shall be victorious is a means to make it so indeed.”[2] Let us pray for Faith, Hope and Charity.

O Lord, “Set our feet on lofty places; Gird our lives that they may be Armored with all Christ-like graces In the fight to set men free. Grant us Wisdom, grant us courage, That we fail not man nor thee. Amen.”

[1] “An exhortation unto prayer, thought mete by the King’s Majesty, and his clergy, to be read to the people in every church afore processions,” 1544.

[2] Richard Sibbes, The Bruised Reed (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2008), 127.

“God is One,” a Moral and not just Metaphysical Fact. – Trinity 13, 2020 by Fr. Peter Geromel 

By this one statement from St. Paul, he places himself squarely within the Jewish tradition. It is this statement that forms a connective between the Epistle and Gospel lessons. The lawyer in the Gospel lessons quotes from the Shema, after all, the Jewish recitation of the whole of duty of man, Love of God and Love of Neighbor; the statement that “God is One” is the beginning portion of that summation. “Hear, O Israel, the Lord thy God, the Lord is One.”

In this statement, we hear of the doctrine of “Divine Simplicity.” Simply put, that means God is perfect, cohesive, an inseparable being. “There is but on living and true God, everlasting, without body, parts, or passions” says the First Article of Religion and we fail to recognize this truth to our peril. It is not just a metaphysical fact. It is a moral fact.

We might ask then of the Holy Trinity. The First Article just quoted recognizes this blessed Trinity saying, “And in unity of this Godhead there be three persons, of one substance, power, and eternity . . .” How does divine simplicity, the notion that God is One, square with that? Perhaps, first, by contrast. Imagine the heathenism, the paganism, all around the Jews. Multiple gods. They are in rivalry. Forming allegiances with some and not others. They are passionate and excite the passions, being more like Hollywood celebrities than divine beings. Their mythology is like a soap opera and trying to base your morality off of such is about as crazy as basing your morality off of a soap opera. This mythology is metaphysical, supposedly, but fails the test of being moral. The Holy Trinity, on the other hand, promotes morality, by providing and example of true love, neighborly love, between the persons of that blessed union.

The heathens couldn’t shake addiction to these myths, like we in our Hollywood culture can’t. Our Hollywood celebrities are moral and upright people, right, who promote charities? That’s the myth. In their personal lives they can’t maintain a decent marriage, when really ever married at all, for a decent period of time, failing morally. We nevertheless stay loyal to these gods, our actors. They represent something to us of great metaphysical and, in some sense, moral import – They are our totems. Our movies unite us as a culture.

We should not diminish the devastating influence that idols play in our lives. Idolatry is not simply a primitive culture falling down before wood and stone, a thing we might be tempted to pity, and laugh at, rather than to actually confront as Christians, because we love them. Idols play a role in our modern lives as well. It isn’t just the love of food or drink, of lust and all those pleasurable “devices and desires of our hearts.” Idols invade the mind from everywhere. It is even frighteningly possible to idolize God, by making Him after our own hearts rather than as He actually is. To make a straw man of God might be a likely candidate for what is actually blaspheming the Holy Spirit, the only unforgivable sin. If you really think you’ve got God pegged, and know Who it is that you are worshipping, and from Whom you are receiving forgiveness, you might be in trouble if wrong. How can you receive forgiveness from the God that is, when you are seeking forgiveness from the god that is a fiction of your own mythology?

This is what occurs here in our Gospel lesson. The lawyer has the right morality but has mythologized it. He knows what it is to “Love God, Who is One.” But he’s missed Who God actually is. You see, the lawyer in today’s Gospel lesson chose not the God of Moses, but Moses’ Law as his god. He idolized the Law and thought God was the Law, and the Law was God. Lucky for him, when asked to flesh it out, the lawyer realized that he’d missed God in God’s Law; he’d missed his neighbor.

God will not be mocked. Many who read this Gospel lesson miss God and mythologize Him. They hear of the “Good Samaritan.” They read their bibles. And then, frustratingly, decide that love is God and they idolize love. Fact Check: God is Love; love is not God. Here they have failed and built up an idol after their own hearts, literally. They take human love and decide that anytime human love is manifested, there is God. They cannot see the God Who is Love, because they’ve idolized Love. Fact Check: God is One. His love is one. He is to be revealed and manifested in love toward neighbor. God is to be emulated and we are to become holy by practicing loving neighbor as self. This is all true. Yet to disconnect some act of love which we perform from God and set that up as our idol is to worship a work of our own hands, and thus to worship ourselves. “What I do is my God.” Love that is disconnected from the God of Love withers and dies, just as the Law of Moses, disconnected from the God of Moses, withers and dies. Both are idolatrous and thereby incomplete, finite, and decaying, putrefying, actions. There is no wholeness in those acts severed from the Author of goodness, from the God who Is and the God who is One.

This last point was a subtle one, but what I am about to say will be understood clearly enough. In the Roman empire, many gods could be tolerated as long as the One Emperor was considered Divine. Today, Christians are asked more and more to navigate between two extremes – the fully-engaged version of Socialism and the undiluted form of Islam. In this form of Socialism, many gods can be tolerated as long as Love is elevated, that is to say, when “The Love of Neighbor” is supreme. In undiluted Islam, love of neighbor is only fully meritorious when practiced by one who is submitted to the one god Allah, on behalf of another who has also submitted to the one god Allah. Socialism has made a god of “Love of Neighbor,” a god which will unite the whole world in love and peace, so it is promised, if we would just get on the band wagon. Islam has made Allah the one god to whom submission must be made if the world is to be united in love and peace.

Both have the scriptures to base their arguments on. Both, like Herod and Pilate, can unite when crucifying Christ afresh, and persecuting good Christians. Islam relies on the Old Testament, Socialism on the New. You will find very few Socialists arguing for Socialism from the Old Testament and very few Muslims arguing for Islam from the New Testament. But God is One. He is the God of both the Old Testament and the New. Article VII says, “both in the Old and New Testament everlasting life is offered to Mankind by Christ, who is the only Mediator between God and Man, being both God and Man.”

Labor Day is one of those days that was put on the secular calendar, for better or worse, to promote the brotherhood of man, love of neighbor. It is fitting then that we pray for the same, as long as we understand that any love of neighbor disconnected from the One Mediator, Jesus Christ (Who unites all in all) is doomed to fail. Let us pray.

Almighty God, who rulest in the kingdom of men . . . Draw together, we pray thee, in true fellowship the men of diverse races, languages, and customs, who dwell [throughout the nations of the world], that, bearing one another’s burdens, and working together in brotherly concord, they may fulfil the purpose of thy providence, and set forward thy everlasting kingdom. Pardon, we beseech thee, ours sins and shortcomings: keep far from us all selfishness and pride: and give us grace to employ thy good gifts of order and freedom to thy glory and the welfare of mankind; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, to whom with thee and the Holy Ghost be all glory and dominion, world without end. Amen.[1]

[1] Adapted from a prayer “For the British Empire,” Proposed 1928 BCP of the Church of England, 126.

“Building an Identity in Christ” – Trinity 12, 2020 by Fr. Geromel

“O Look unto him and be lightened; and your faces shall not be ashamed.” – Psalm 34

What I wish to consider today is “Building an Identity in Christ.” What does that look like? How do we do it? Two weeks ago, when I preached to you last, we looked at the idea of the city – how man is a microcosm of it, or rather how the city is a macrocosm of a man. How a man is divided up a bit like the way a city is divided up. There are the different parts or faculties of a man and there are the different parts and faculties of a city. There are different organs or “members,” all belonging and related to one another. Two weeks ago, we saw Jesus weep over a city that didn’t work right, that was not at unity, divided against itself, not long to live – the Romans were going to come in in 70 A.D. and destroy it. It was divided by sin. Two weeks ago, we followed Jesus as he stepped further into the city, to the very heart of it, the Temple of the Lord there. We see him drive out the symbolic sin that, like leaven and malice, like mold and mildew, creeps in and divides worshippers from their own God. He drove out “them that sold therein, and them that bought.” A week ago, we saw Jesus observe by parable two men, the hearts of two men – and so we have gone even deeper into the personhood of a man. What the Temple is to a City, the place of worship, so is the heart of a man. The heart of a man is his place of worship. If the heart is right, worship is right. If the heart is wrong, worship is wrong. So in the Temple, there are two hearts, two temples – one beating towards God aright, and one not so much; two hearts, one is able to worship right – the Publican – the other is not able to worship aright – he’s the Pharisee, the Hypocrite. You see how we are entering in further and further into the very identity of a man here.

The city was, in ancient times, a man’s identity. I am an Athenian. I am a Spartan. Your ideals, your virtues, your personhood, was in relation to and relation with other people living in community. A Jew was very much, if right believing and right worshipping, a man or woman of Jerusalem. There the ideals are framed. There the virtues are primarily taught, by priests and rabbis and scribes and Jesus Himself, once upon a time. Even if you were in exile, living in Nineveh, or Babylon, your mind and your heart, if you were a Jew was centered on a city, and the heart of that city, the Temple. Today, you may be a Jew living in New York or New Jersey, but I guarantee a part of your heart is always in Jerusalem. Jerusalem is an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual personhood, the man of God.

In today’s Gospel lesson, what is happening? We again find Jesus in relation to cities, cities of Gentiles, of pagans. Tyre. Sidon. And then going to another set of cities, Decapolis. Where is Decapolis? Tyre and Sidon are modern day Lebanon. Decapolis is on the border between Lebanon and Israel and Syria. They are Hellenic cities. The Greek word just means, “Ten” – “Deca” – “Cities” – “Polis”. So he is going from city to city proclaiming the Kingdom of God, healing the sick. There in Decapolis “they bring unto him one that was deaf, and had an impediment in his speech”. He was not at unity in himself. He couldn’t hear and he couldn’t speak. We know something about that today. We wear masks, so we can’t hear each other; and we have trouble speaking. We feel disconnected as a society, as a city. We tend to have to work harder to be clear with each other and not be short with one another, on zoom meeting for work, in meeting with colleagues. We know that lack of communication is a problem for any city, company or family.

There was an effect of sin here, in this man. Did this man or his parents sin that he had these impairments? Not necessarily. But the effect of sin is that we are separated one from another, not reconciled, not able to communicate or hear each other well. This man has a straightforward and very personal handicap. But he becomes a sign of generic man in his sinfulness. Man that is not at unity with himself, others, and God; he’s under a curse. Here we have the cultural idea of the “Forgotten Man,” a hobo, a homeless person. Not at unity with society nor with himself, because, if nothing else, he isn’t a part of society.  It isn’t the only imagery we can conjure up with this gospel lesson, but it’s the one I am going to go with.

This week, as I set up a bank account and put the information together for that, I was reminded of how difficult it is for someone to lose his or her identity. All it takes is for someone, homeless, to have a wallet stolen and it can take years to rebuild your identity. How easy it can be for someone to steal your identity as well. (It seems unfair that it is perhaps easier to lose or have your identity stolen than to rebuild your identity after it is lost. But so it is.) This is because one document is dependent on another. If I try to go get document A over again, they will ask for document B and C. If I then go to another bureaucratic center to get document B they will ask for document A and C. Around and around you go. In our Quakertown church where I came from, it took five years to help one fellow do all of this and get out of a bed bug infested no-tell motel and into subsidized living. Add on the possibilities of impaired faculties, difficulties of speech, hardness of hearing, mental exhaustion combined with chronic malnutrition, if not straight up mental illness and it can be very difficult very quickly to help such a person rebuild his identity if his wallet is stolen.

But this is very much what Christ is trying to do for us. Each part of our body is infected with sin, disunited in some sense from itself, from God, from neighbor. You think that your hip can’t do what you want it to do because of an old wound or an old car accident or because you earn you daily bread sitting at a desk all day or driving around all day? Think of your will, your soul. Like St. Paul, you do the thing you don’t want to do and the thing you want to do, you can’t do it! The whole self is not adhering together as a consistent whole unit, worshipping God aright and loving neighbor as self. You are like that man who begs an overworked bureaucrat whose hip hurts from sitting all day for one single document so that he can get the ball rolling and get all the other documents.

We might ask why God in Christ Jesus chose to heal both the deaf ear and the impaired speech? Why does he heal some in one way and not in another? Why doesn’t he just heal everything at once? The short answer is, because he’s God and I don’t really know why. But I’ll hazard a guess this morning as the preacher. – Because he’s building the identity, his identity in another person. His identity is being built; ours is not being rebuilt.

Now this is on a metaphysical level. If your hip is bad, Jesus isn’t going to give you his hip, in a hip replacement. No, he’ll give you one that’s an immortal in the life of the age to come. If you lose your driver’s license, you won’t wake up with one that says Jesus on it hiding under your pillow as if the tooth fairy put it there. But in Baptism, we begin the process of rebuilding our identity in Christ. It’s a slow process that lasts all of our lives. And it’s a necessary one, because, like that the homeless man or the fellow with an impediment in his speech and ringing in his ears, or whatever he had, we’ve lost ourselves. We’ve lost our identity. We are disconnected from God, Society, Neighbor, ourselves. We need to replace all of our documents, all of our faculties; everything has to be reidentified with Christ.

Of course, we don’t cease to be us in this process. That’s an important point. Yet we’re still hesitant to undergo that process that began at our baptism. Why is that? Well, I’ll try to help you see one or two reasons: If each one of us were to take out our driver’s licenses right now, they’d probably look reasonably in good condition. If a cop pulled us over, he wouldn’t haul us away because he couldn’t read it. When I used to check Driver’s Licenses as a security guard, logging in and out trucks from warehouses, I saw some pretty beat up licenses. Now when that’s the case, it isn’t hard to convince somebody that, when they’ve got the time to stand in line at the bureaucratic office, that they should go get a new one. Of course, a truck driver can be away from a home state for quite a while and not be able to replace it. A homeless person doesn’t take much convincing either. Hey, you don’t have a life, let’s get you one and some means of identification to go along with it!

But it’s just harder when things seem to be pretty good. When your identity looks pretty good, it’s hard to convince you to work on getting a new one just as quickly as you can. The Sacraments do help though. They infuse grace into our lives. They both inspire us to do, and help us to accomplish, and, also, they preserve us in the way of everlasting life. They preserve us in the path that continues the process of reidentifying us in and with Christ. They even actively do some of the reidentifying of us with Christ. They are agents to “be filled with [His] grace and heavenly benediction” that we may be “made one body with him, that he may dwell in us, and we in him.” That sounds like pretty powerful reidentification to me. Let us pray,

Regard, O Lord, we pray thee, this our bounden duty and service: that this sacrifice may be an oblation acceptable unto thee, and effectually avail for the succour of our frailty. Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.[1]

[1] “Secret” priestly prayer for Trinity 12, from Anglican Missal.