George MacDonald on Forgiveness (3)

But there are two sins, not of individual deed, but of spiritual condition, which cannot be forgiven; that is, as it seems to me, which cannot be excused, passed by, made little of by the tenderness even of God, inasmuch as they will allow no forgiveness to come into the soul, they will permit no good influence to go on working alongside of them; they shut God out altogether. Therefore the man guilty of these can never receive into himself the holy renewing saving influences of God’s forgiveness. God is outside of him in every sense, save that which springs from his creating relation to him, by which, thanks be to God, he yet keeps a hold of him, although against the will of the man who will not be forgiven. The one of these sins is against man; the other against God.

The former is unforgiveness to our neighbor; the shutting of him out from our mercies, from our love—so from the universe, as far as we are a portion of it—the murdering therefore of our neighbor. It may be an infinitely less evil to murder a man than to refuse to forgive him. The former may be the act of a moment of passion: the latter is the heart’s choice. It is spiritual murder, the worst, to hate, to brood over the feeling that excludes, that kills the image, the idea of the hated.

—From Creation in Christ by George MacDonald

For those with ears to hear, listen and understand.

George MacDonald on Forgiveness (2)

There are various kinds and degrees of wrong-doing, which need varying kinds and degrees of forgiveness. An outburst of anger in a child, for instance, scarcely wants forgiveness. The wrong in it may be so small, that the parent has only to influence the child for self-restraint, and the rousing of the will against the wrong. The father will not feel that such a fault has built up any wall between him and his child. 

But suppose that he discovered in him a habit of sly cruelty towards his younger brothers, or the animals of the house, how differently would he feel! Could his forgiveness be the same as in the former case? Would not the different evil require a different form of forgiveness? | mean, would not the forgiveness have to take the form of that kind of punishment fittest for restraining, in the hope of finally rooting out, the wickedness? Could there be true love in any other kind of forgiveness than this? A passing-by of the offense might spring from a [frail] human kindness, but never from divine love. It would not be remission. Forgiveness can never be indifference. Forgiveness is love towards the unlovely.

—From Creation in Christ by George MacDonald

For those with ears to hear, listen and understand.

George MacDonald on Forgiveness (1)

I wrote about this in a different context but here the old Scottish preacher waxes much more eloquently. For those with ears to hear, listen and understand.

“Every sin and blasphemy,” the Lord said, ‘will be forgiven unto men; but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven.” God speaks, as it were, in this manner: “I forgive you everything. Not a word more shall be said about your sins—only come out of them; come out of the darkness of your exile; come into the light of your home, of your birthright, and do evil no more. Lie no more; cheat no more; oppress no more; slander no more; envy no more; be neither greedy nor vain; love your neighbor as I love you; be my good child; trust in your Father. I am light; come to me, and you shall see things as I see them, and hate the evil thing. I will make you love the thing which now you call good and love not. I forgive all the past.”

“I thank you, Lord, for forgiving me, but I prefer staying in the darkness: forgive me that too.”

“No; that cannot be. The one thing that cannot be forgiven is the sin of choosing to be evil, of refusing deliverance, It is impossible to forgive that sin. It would be to take part in it. To side with wrong against right, with murder against life, cannot be forgiven. The thing that is past I pass, but he who goes on doing the same, annihilates this my forgiveness, makes it of no effect.”

“Let a man have committed any sin whatever, I forgive him; but to choose to go on sinning—how can I forgive that? It would be to nourish and cherish evil! It would be to let my creation go to ruin. Shall I keep you alive to do things hateful in the sight of all true men? If a man refuse to come out of his sin, he must suffer the vengeance of a love that would be no love if it left him there. Shall I allow my creature to be the thing my soul hates?”

There is no excuse for this refusal. If we were punished for every fault, there would be no end, no respite; we should have no quiet wherein to repent; but God passes by all he can. He passes by and forgets a thousand sins, yea, tens of thousands, forgiving them all—only we must begin to be good, begin to do evil no more.

—From Creation in Christ by George MacDonald

Our Human Condition

It seems so wrong that everyone under the sun suffers the same fate. Already twisted by evil, people choose their own mad course, for they have no hope. 

Proverbs 9.3, NLT

This verse from Proverbs—cited from the NLT which is a paraphrase of the original Hebrew, but reflects its intention nevertheless—summarizes the human condition perfectly. In the biblical context the human condition refers to the state of humanity estranged and alienated from God our Father, the Author of all life. With God there is perfect health and happiness, the likes of which none of us have ever seen or experienced since humans rebelled against God in paradise (Genesis 3; cp. Genesis 2.8-25). Our human condition is often characterized by sickness, rancor, strife, suffering, injustice, sorrow, disease, madness, unhinged behavior and so much more—evidence of the reality of Evil and Sin at work in humans. By the grace of God not all things are bad of course, but there is much to be desired in this world and our lives, a good and beautiful world despoiled by the power of Sin and Evil and laboring under the curse of its Creator because of human sin and rebellion. Name me an evil in this world and I will usually point you to the human condition that results from our alienation and estrangement from God our Father.

In the passage above, the old Teacher cuts right to the chase about our plight. How often we humans in our foolishness and folly seek human-made solutions to our problems, solutions that often make our plight worse than when we started. Not all man-made solutions are bad, of course, but when we lose our bearings because we reject the laws of God our Creator (thereby rejecting God) and the workings of his created order, we often make things much, much worse. Consider, for example the the whole LGBT movement, especially transgenderism. We see people, twisted by evil and unhappy with who they are and/or their lot in life, i.e., people with no hope, choose a mad course and try to alter the created order. Men can be women and vice versa we are told. We can be whoever or whatever we desire because we are the only reality. Good luck with that. Many of these poor souls seek permanent, life- and body-altering solutions to their problems in a futile effort to find meaning and happiness, all the while oblivious to the reality that only a real relationship with the one true and real God, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, can produce the happiness and fulfillment they desperately seek in their futile effort to “be themselves.” It truly makes the heart sad. They really are sheep without a real Shepherd, Jesus, the only One who has the power to heal them.

To make matters worse many of these poor souls rage at those who point out the folly of their ways and madness, accusing their critics of hatred/bigotry (or worse). No one likes to be reminded of their foolishness; I get that. But if we are truly to love all people regardless of their condition we must try to warn them that their path is leading them to a life of misery in this mortal life and eternal destruction in the world to come, all the while offering them a better solution, which is a real relationship with Christ. As I have argued elsewhere, that’s not hate but love.

We can also see the madness about which the old Teacher speaks played out in the folly of the current social justice movement. To be clear, God demands true justice for all people, not just some, and Christians should be the first to advocate for reform that leads to real justice, a justice based on the laws of God and the created order. But being twisted by evil, we see folks with no hope (because they have no relationship with God) advocate for a false brand of justice that encourages evildoers to make the most of their evil and madness, all in the name of “justice.” The result? A breakdown of the rule of law and chaos, the very essence of Sin, and a very unjust world where wrong is encouraged, evildoers are rewarded, and righteousness based on God’s good laws is punished. Equally amazing is the fact that advocates for this kind of false justice refuse to acknowledge the folly of their ways, even in the face of compelling evidence. The old Teacher would surely understand.

And the above examples are not the only ones I could cite. No one is going to find true meaning and happiness in money, in toys, in power, in sexual exploits, in fame, in hedonism, in human-developed political/social/economic systems, or anything else of this world because nothing in this world is permanent, good and beautiful as things sometimes are and can be. Simply put, we were created to be wise stewards who watch over God’s good creation on God’s behalf, not to develop a relationship with the world to replace our right relationship with God our Father.

Neither are Christians immune to this evil because the old Teacher includes everyone in his observation above. We see this when Christians rail against the brave new world being imposed on us by the woke. I am not talking about speaking the truth in love and naming evil and wrong for what they are and condemning such. I am talking about Christian and/or conservative commentators who use the weapons being aimed at them by their enemies: vitriol, rancor, half-truths, lies, snark, anger, tit-for-tat, and the rest.

But the war against Evil is not won by using the weapons of the Evil One and his minions. No, there is a better way as seen in this example from the Acts of the Apostles.

23 As soon as they were freed, Peter and John returned to the other believers and told them what the leading priests and elders had said. 24 When they heard the report, all the believers lifted their voices together in prayer to God: “O Sovereign Lord, Creator of heaven and earth, the sea, and everything in them— 25 you spoke long ago by the Holy Spirit through our ancestor David, your servant, saying,

‘Why were the nations so angry?
    Why did they waste their time with futile plans?
26 The kings of the earth prepared for battle;
    the rulers gathered together
against the Lord
    and against his Messiah.’

27 “In fact, this has happened here in this very city! For Herod Antipas, Pontius Pilate the governor, the Gentiles, and the people of Israel were all united against Jesus, your holy servant, whom you anointed. 28 But everything they did was determined beforehand according to your will. 29 And now, O Lord, hear their threats, and give us, your servants, great boldness in preaching your word. 30 Stretch out your hand with healing power; may miraculous signs and wonders be done through the name of your holy servant Jesus.”

31 After this prayer, the meeting place shook, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit. Then they preached the word of God with boldness.

Acts 4.23-31

The context for this scene is clear. The nascent Christian faith and Christ’s followers were under attack by a variety of enemies, enemies bent on destroying those who followed Christ and their saving message. What did the early Church do in response? Did they resort to name-calling? Did the cower in fear? Did they let their enemies silence them? Did they lose their faith? Did they resort to name-calling and ad hominem like their opponents? No, they gathered together in prayer and they prayed for BOLDNESS to preach the gospel faithfully! They knew they had the best solution around to heal the world’s sin-sickness! They also prayed for God’s power to accompany their proclamation to show an unbelieving world that the new Christian faith and teaching were grounded in a new reality, the reality of God’s in-breaking kingdom brought about by the Death and Resurrection of Christ. They ignored their enemies’ threats, focusing instead on proclaiming Christ and living out their faith in him in the power of God the Holy Spirit!

Where is that same prayer and boldness today from Christ’s people? I can’t speak for anyone else but I am not seeing much of it. Too often we have let ourselves be cow-towed by our enemies and I suspect this has happened in part because many Christians today really don’t believe in the power and efficacy of Christ’s Death and Resurrection the way his first followers did, a story for a different day and post.

Here then is the solution to problems involved with our human condition. We must steep ourselves in Scripture and relearn our story and take it to heart, unbelievable as it can seem at times. We must really think and believe that we have the best story and game around! We must believe that God really is in charge and loves the world and us so much that he gave his only Son Jesus Christ to heal our sin-sickness! Christ really did die for us sinners out of God’s love for us and to satisfy God’s righteous anger against human sin and the evil it produces. God really did raise Christ from the dead to usher in the beginning of God’s new world, the new heavens and earth, a world where the human condition is restored to its original intended goodness, health, and vitality. This is the future for anyone who puts their hope and trust in God through Christ and who rejects merely human solutions for our problems. We are to give our lives to God in prayer and ask the Father to intervene on our behalf for the healing of the nations, us included. And we are to avail ourselves to the power of God working in everything through the Holy Spirit to bring to fruition the healing and redemption of God’s world and its creatures, especially us image-bearers.

We can do none of the above if we don’t first know our own Story and are convinced that it is Real and True. Even then, as the old Teacher points out elsewhere (see, e.g., Ecclesiastes 9.1-2), we are not immune from our own hurt and failures and the vicissitudes of life. What our faith and knowledge of the power of our Story do give us is a hope and a future, which in turn gives us confidence to live in the love and power of God to work his will in and through our lives to accomplish his good purposes, and we must do all this together as God’s people. As Christ reminds us, he came to bring the sword, i.e., his Word and Presence will always cause division and conflict in the world because of the reality of Evil and evil-doers who hate him and his Father (see, e.g., Matthew 10.32-42), and so we will always have enemies because we share in our Lord’s life and death. But we are also promised that we will have God’s power and grace which are more than sufficient for the battle, which has already been won for us, even if it costs us our mortal life. Let those who believe this Promise take up the fight with courage, humility, and hope, and fight the good fight.

For those with ears to hear, listen and understand.

Reading Ecclesiastes (and Life) Through the Lens of the Resurrection

13 I devoted myself to search for understanding and to explore by wisdom everything being done under heaven. I soon discovered that God has dealt a tragic existence to the human race. 14 I observed everything going on under the sun, and really, it is all meaningless—like chasing the wind.

15 What is wrong cannot be made right.
    What is missing cannot be recovered.

Ecclesiastes 1.13-15 NLT

I was reading from the book of Ecclesiastes this morning and ran across the verses above. Ecclesiastes is a book that cuts to the chase about this mortal life—nothing new under the sun, life is meaningless because it is so fleeting, etc. There is no sentimentality to be found in it, and for our good. If you’ve not read it, do so sometime. It will give you much food for thought to chew on.

At any rate, when I came to verse 15 above I realized just how massively important is Christ’s Resurrection for us. Why? Because without it, life can really be dark and depressing. As the old Teacher in Ecclesiastes reminds us starkly, the present created order is under God’s curse, a curse brought on by human sin and rebellion. God’s cursed created order causes all kinds of hardship, sickness, madness, alienation, suffering, injustice, disease, and ultimately death. The curse is the reason life is fleeting and meaningless. Indeed, what is wrong cannot be made right. What is missing cannot be recovered. For example, think about the criminal justice system. Even when justice is served, it will not restore the victim and his family. The murdered are still murdered. Their families still grieve. Or take the discussion about reparations for 19th century slavery in this country. Even if there was merit behind the argument of reparations, it will not undo the evils of the past or change for better the lives of those slaves who directly suffered under that massive and wicked injustice. We can only influence the people and events of our day, not the past or the future. The only time we have is now to make things right and the only people affected are those who live right now. No amount of money can right that wrong because money is not the solution to real living. It is part of the inherent incompleteness of our system of justice system that labors under a cursed created order. Of course we must pursue justice for victims of crime and injustice; but we also must realize perfect justice is beyond our reach in this mortal life, try as we may to achieve it. We are only mortals after all.

Think too about things and people missing, about all the folks who have died, some unjustly and seemingly before their time, or about those robbed of their memory and humanity by Alzheimer’s. They are gone forever in this mortal life because nothing in this life is permanent, people included. Think about the injustice and wickedness of cancer, even if a person is fully cured. What happens eventually? We all die as the Teacher in Ecclesiastes observes. And we all know dead people don’t come back to life. Death is permanent. Nothing can change that. It’s part of God’s cursed created order. Seen and contemplated from this perspective, a perspective without God and his Christ, life can indeed look pretty bleak, pretty grim, pretty meaningless and futile.

Enter Christ’s saving Death and Resurrection. They are God’s perfect solution to reversing the curse that has plagued the created order and humans since the Fall. If the Resurrection and the New Creation it announces are true, then everything changes. Life is no longer meaningless because we have a real hope and future. For example, God’s perfect justice is achieved in God’s new world, the new heavens and earth (see, e.g., Isaiah 25.6-9; Revelation 21.1-8ff). Murder victims are restored to new life and given a new body that is impervious to death and illness and murder. Victims of slavery are set free to operate as equals in God’s new world. Families who have put their hope in Christ are reunited, their mourning and tears and the pain of permanent separation wiped away for good, forever to live in God’s direct Presence, a Presence that guarantees perfect happiness, perfect wholeness, perfect health, and God’s incomprehensible peace that is only partially available to us in this mortal life. Evildoers and the evil they practice will be excluded from God’s new world. Death, the final enemy, will be abolished forever. Sorrow and sadness and loneliness and madness and alienation will likewise be swept away. The beauty of God’s new created order, an order that will never again be subject to God’s curse because human sin and evil are forever destroyed, will be more beautiful than we can ever imagine. In short, Resurrection and God’s new world it inaugurates are the perfect and only real solution to the meaninglessness, fleetingness, pain, sorrow, and futility of this mortal life. And Resurrection and God’s new world are only made possible because of the saving Death of Jesus Christ on the cross to atone for our sins. Without it, none of us have hope because none of us has a future beyond our death.

This is why Saint Paul could tell the church at Corinth to be strong and immovable as they worked tirelessly for the Lord Jesus (1 Corinthians 15.58). Sure, our efforts may seem futile. It may look like nothing is being accomplished or nothing is happening as we labor in various ways for the Christ we love. Who among us doesn’t grow weary at times, even the most faithful? Don’t give up, says Saint Paul! Don’t lose hope! Why? Because nothing we do for the Lord is ever useless (or in vain or meaningless)! Why is that? Because as Saint Paul has just finished explaining to them and us in 1 Corinthians 15, Christ’s Resurrection guarantees we Christians have a real hope and future, unlike the world and those who refuse to believe in Christ and to accept God’s perfect gift to us. We have the hope and future of the resurrection of the body, a body equipped and powered by God’s Holy Spirit to live in God’s perfect new world. And what we do here and now for the love of Christ helps prepare us to live in that new world when it comes in full! That’s why it is critical for Christians to have a robust theology about Christ’s Resurrection and all that flows from it. The NT writers certainly did and they went on to change their world for the better! That same hope and future are available to us today.

If this doesn’t give you hope and encouragement, I know of nothing that can or will and you are most to be pitied. Take the time, therefore, to consider these things, these promises, what you hope for and what your future looks like. Read about the resurrection promises in 1 Corinthians 15 and elsewhere. Consider the breathtaking vision of God’s new world, a world only made possible by the grace of God the Father and the saving Death of his Son, Jesus Christ, presented in Revelation 20-22. Pay attention to the fact that the new world does not become a reality until God and his Christ have defeated the reality of Evil and all its sources. Having a resurrection hope and faith will not only help you read tough books in the Bible like Ecclesiastes with real hope, it will also help you live your life with joy and hope and courage because you know God is faithful and trustworthy, and God’s promises are always true, no matter what the outward circumstances may look like. Embrace the hope and promise of the resurrection of the body and God’s new world. Give your life to Christ who alone has the power to make your hope a reality.

For those with ears to hear, listen and understand.

George Weigel (First Things): Looking for the Lord Jesus in Lisbon

Love Weigel. Let the Church say, “Amen!” For more background, read here.

Pondering this latest example of Catholicism dumbed down to the Religion of Nice, I remembered a radically different approach to explaining the relationship of the Lord Jesus to the yearnings of young hearts. It was the approach taken by Pope John Paul II at Tor Vergata in Rome, during the night vigil before the closing Mass of World Youth Day 2000. There, the pope put Christ at the center of an immense gathering of Catholic young adults with these memorable words: 

It is Jesus you seek when you dream of happiness; he is waiting for you when nothing else you find satisfies you; he is the beauty to which you are so attracted; it is he who provokes you with that thirst for fullness that will not let you settle for compromise; it is he who urges you to shed the masks of a false life; it is he who reads in your hearts your most genuine choices, the choices that others try to stifle. It is Jesus who stirs in you the desire to do something great with your lives, the will to follow an ideal, the refusal to allow yourselves to be ground down by mediocrity, the courage to commit yourselves humbly and patiently to improving yourselves and society, making the world more human and more fraternal.

Such robust Christocentrism is not, I submit, “proselytism.” It is a Christian witness to Christian truth. It’s an affirmation that combines conviction with compassion. It’s an explication of the basic confession of Christian faith: Kýrios I?soûs, “Jesus is Lord.” And that Christocentrism is what has inspired millions of the young Catholics who have attended World Youth Days since 1984 to be the missionary disciples they were baptized to be.

As for this tiresome psychobabble about walking together into the future, Bishop Aguiar and others who indulge it might reconsider St. Luke’s beautifully crafted story of the two disciples walking to Emmaus on Easter Sunday afternoon (Luke 24:13–35). They were walking together. But they were walking in the wrong direction until they encountered the Risen One. Then they started walking together again, but now in the right direction: toward a Jerusalem transformed by the Resurrection, from which they and the others who had met the Lord Jesus would be sent throughout the world to invite others to “the city of the living God” (Heb. 12:22).

That is the “walking together” that World Youth Days should inspire: a walking together that leads to Christ and to mission.

Read it all.

July 2023: Wisdom from the Second Vatican Council

Good words for all Christians.

The Sacred Scriptures contain
the Word of God
and, since they are inspired,
really are the Word of God…

This sacred Synod urges all the Christian faithful
to learn by frequent reading of the divine Scriptures
the “excelling knowledge of Jesus Christ.”
“For ignorance of the Scriptures
is ignorance of Christ.”

Therefore, they should gladly put themselves
in touch with the sacred text itself…

And let them remember that prayer should accompany
the reading of Sacred Scripture,
so that God and man may talk together;
for “we speak to him when we pray;
we hear from him when we read the divine saying.”

From Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation by the Second Vatican Council

The Incoherence of the Theology of Inclusion

I was talking with some folks recently about the painful split looming for their congregation over the issue of “inclusion,” i.e., whether to welcome and accept gays or not. I could hear the hurt in their voice and feel their pain as they described how it was going to tear apart their beloved congregation, not to mention themselves. I get it. They truly love the Lord and are trying to obey his command for us to love one another. I’ve also sadly been there and done that with the episcopal wars about 20 years ago and I wouldn’t wish that on anyone. I have great compassion for them as well as sadness because this is not going to turn out well for them or anyone else; it will rip their parish family apart, and all for a false agenda and lousy theology. I also have great anger for those who are trying to foist that false and incoherent theology and agenda on our churches, all in the name of “inclusion.” But what does it mean to be inclusive? The way the issue is framed is that inclusive folks are loving and accept folks as they are (in this context homosexuals—see the way the issue was framed above) while those who are not inclusive are haters, bigots, judgmental, and self-righteous. But that is utter nonsense and those who argue this way are either ignorant of the story contained in Scripture and/or deliberately deceptive in their teaching.

How can I say this? After all, aren’t we all sinners in desperate need of Christ’s healing love and forgiveness? Of course we are! None are without sin. None have any hope without the saving Death and Resurrection of Christ, so shouldn’t all Christians be “inclusive”?

But that is not what the inclusive crowd is talking about. Instead, an incoherent theology is being propagated that is actually hateful toward those these folks profess to care about. God the Father accepts us all for who we are and how we come to him, warts, sins, ugliness and all. But Christ did not die so that we can keep on sinning. His Death is not a get out of jail free card that allows us to live in open and ongoing rebellion against God’s good will and purposes for his creatures, especially his human image-bearing creatures, and his created order. Christ died to set us free from our slavery to Sin, a slavery that must lead to our death without God’s gracious intervention in and through Christ. Freeing us from our slavery to Sin’s power is the truly loving thing to do! So being inclusive should never, ever be about accepting a lifestyle or belief that will lead to death and eternal destruction. There is nothing loving about that; just the opposite in fact. Yet that is what we are being asked to do in the name of “inclusion”. It’s all about elevating individual identity to idol status and the acceptance of that identity and the lifestyle it usually produces, a lifestyle that is antithetical to the gold standard of God’s created order (one man, one woman in a lifetime monogamous relationship, see Gen 1.26-31, 2.18-25). We are being asked to bless what God consistently condemns and that cannot and will not stand. There is no way this is the “loving” thing to do. What Christian who takes his or her faith seriously would accept and bless an unrepentant adulterer or an unrepentant murderer or child molester or thief? Where is the sanity or goodness of embracing those lifestyles/behaviors in the name of inclusion and tolerance? Why then would we be willing to give a free pass to a lifestyle and behaviors Scripture clearly condemns in the name of inclusion? How is that a loving thing to do?

No. If we love the person we would encourage that person to abandon any wicked lifestyle and give his/her life instead to Christ, to start living his/her life in a way that is pleasing to God and consistent with God’s will. Instead of embracing a false identity in sexuality or whatever else, we would encourage that person to find his/her identity in Christ because only Christ can truly heal us and allow us to reject our sinful nature and the lifestyle it produces. We would do this all very gently, humbly, and with great compassion, tenderness, and reticence because saying hard but true things to those we love is never an easy thing to do, despite being the right thing to do. We wouldn’t bless adulterers because they were “built that way” or buy the argument that being an adulterer is the only way they can find true happiness so why would we make an exception in this case, especially when God does not bless homosexual behavior? Instead, if we loved them we would call them to repentance, just as Christ and his Father do, just as we try to do for ourselves. Denying self, taking up one’s cross, and following Christ does not produce a self-indulgent or self-centered or disordered lifestyle. There is no coherent orthodox theology that would espouse this, especially if we believe that Scripture and Christ represent the authoritative word of God the Father.

It is also critically important in this discussion to consider these things from a practical perspective. What do I mean by that? I mean that the issue of a person’s sexuality just doesn’t come up very often if ever in the daily life of a parish family. I was a parish priest for 15 years and never once did I have to admonish a parishioner for his or her sexual preference or identity (unfortunately I had to do my share of admonishing, but not for things like this). Why? Because we called all people to repentance and confession on a regular basis and trusted they would take their sins to God with a truly penitent heart. We didn’t target one group of people and/or elevate one set of sins over others. All sin is death-dealing and destructive and so we encouraged people to lay their sins at the foot of the cross through confession and repentance and let the Lord heal them in his good time/ways. We also encouraged our parish family to encourage and exhort each other to holy living, clergy included. Now had someone asked me to bless a sin or a sinful lifestyle or elevate an identity to idol status in the name of inclusion so that it became a public scandal that had the potential to destroy our parish family, I would have had to address the issue with that person in the manner I just discussed above, but privately. I know of no church that asks newcomers about their sexual preferences/lifestyles as soon as they walk through the door the first time, so this argument is based more on theory than the reality of actual parish life. The fact is, many who stay away from church do so because they don’t want to have to come to terms with their sin or they don’t believe there will be any consequences for living a life of rebellion against God. There’s more to it than that, but not less.

In light of what I have just said, does all this mean I advocate that we hate people and reject them? Certainly not! God forbid! A truly inclusive church invites all comers, no matter how bad they are, to come and die to Christ, to subject themselves and their lifestyles to his lordship so that he can begin to heal them of their sin-sickness that will allow them to find real life, real joy, real peace. We all are in the same boat when it comes to this and we all desperately need the help and love and power of Christ and him alone if we are to have a hope and a future. This is the kind of inclusion that is truly life-giving and affirming. Blessing false identities and the death-dealing lifestyles they typically produce is not the loving or coherent thing for Christians who profess to be orthodox to do.

By all means, love folks and take them as you find them. Be and do for them the way you want God and others to be and do for you. Welcome them and help them become part of your parish family. Just don’t be content to leave them where they are, any more than you should be content to wallow in your own sin-sickness. Instead, encourage one and all to develop their identity in Christ and ask them to encourage you likewise, because Christ is the only way to life, now and in the world to come. Bid them, in other words, to come and die to Christ along with you so you all can find real life. That is the only loving and inclusive thing to do.

For those with ears to hear, listen and understand.

Chose Love

I was reading from Saint Paul’s letter to the Romans this morning. In chapter 9 he deals with the issue of why so many Israelites had rejected Jesus as their Messiah, especially if they were God’s chosen people (which they are). That conversation must wait for a different day. What caught my immediate attention was this. In his opening thoughts, Saint Paul speaks of his own deep personal pain over their rejection of Jesus saying that, “I would be willing to be forever cursed—cut off from Christ! [emphasis mine]—if that would save them” (Romans 9.3).

Did you catch that? Saint Paul equates being cursed with being cut off from Christ! In other words, if we do not have a relationship with Christ we are looking at eventual eternal destruction. Christ is the only way to God the Father, our only Source of life, because only Christ’s atoning death makes reconciliation with God the Father possible and cleanses us sufficiently to live in God’s direct Presence as the Christian hope contained in the NT promises. Without Christ, we are all without hope and a future. How do I know this to be true? Because Jesus Christ is resurrected from the dead, an event with solid historical evidence and the evidence of the shared experience of hundreds of millions of lives of Christians over time and across cultures.

This thinking and theology does not play well with modern audiences, at least in the west, which is unfortunate for obvious reasons. Instead, we are often told to “choose love, not hate.” I couldn’t agree more. What I disagree with, however, is the definition of “love” that most have in mind when they say this. But if you are in agreement with what Saint Paul says above, then you are on the right track.

True love always seeks the best for the beloved. Saint Paul loves his fellow Israelites so much, i.e., wants the best for them, that he is willing to be cut off from Christ—willing to submit to eternal destruction—if he could get some of them to believe that Christ is the only way to God’s promised new world as explained above. Being cut off from Christ, whether we fall away from him or are too proud and arrogant (and foolish) to believe in him in the first place, results in Death and eternal destruction, in being cut off from the Presence of the living God who is our only Source of Life forever.

How is advocating for beliefs/lifestyles that magnify our brokenness and rebellion that result in our alienation from God our Father and our eternal destruction in anyone’s best interest?

Of course having a real relationship with Christ means that we must have the willingness and humility to repent of (turn away from) following our own path to happiness because such a human-devised path doesn’t exist and never has. The only path to true happiness and thriving in God’s created order is following the path that our Creator has set out for us because only our Creator can really know what is best for us that allows us to thrive; he is our Creator after all. This is not easy for humans because we don’t want to be the creature. We want to be the Creator, but we lack God’s wisdom, (fore)knowledge, and power (for starters). Thriving in this mortal life begins with following the 10 Words (Commandments—Exodus 20) and ends with imitating Christ, the living embodiment of God our Father and his 10 Words.

If you really want to thrive—and let us be very clear, God created us to thrive and wants us to thrive as evidenced by the creation narratives before the Fall (Genesis 1-3) and elsewhere in the Scriptural narrative, not to mention the lived experience of hundreds of millions of humans over time and across cultures—then choose Christ. It is the only way to succeed. Period. End of story. But be warned: following Christ is not easy or for the faint of heart because we are all profoundly broken and sin-sick creatures. Yet what worthwhile endeavor in life is ever easy? And what is more worthwhile than choosing to follow Christ who is our path to thriving in this mortal life and enjoying God’s promised new heavens and earth forever?

So by all means, choose love and not hate. But be careful what kind of things and people you choose to love and hate. There is only one Way to thrive and to enjoy eternal life. Those who advocate for the unjust, the wicked, the perverse, the disordered, or the chaotic loves that swirl in and around us and which lead to our mortal death and eternal destruction have never offered any kind of explanation as to how this is a “loving” thing to do and how their beloved will thrive. Please don’t be the fool who rejects Christ and is cut off from him. Choose love. Choose Christ. Choose to live and thrive, even in a dark and desperate world or in the chaos of your own life.

For those of you who have ears to hear, listen and understand.

Saint Gregory the Great Reflects on the Interior Witness

Whoever is mocked by his friend, as I am, shall call upon God, and he shall hear him. A weak-minded person is frequently diverted toward pursuing exterior happiness when the breath of popular favor accompanies his good actions, So he gives up his own personal choices, preferring to remain at the mercy of whatever he hears from others. Thus, he rejoices not so much to become but to be called blessed. Eager for praise, he gives up what he had begun to be; and so he is severed from God by the very means by which he appeared to be commendable in God.

But sometimes a soul firmly strives for righteousness and yet is beset by men’s ridicule. He does what is admirable but he gets only mockery. He might have gone out of himself because of man’s praise; he returns to himself when repelled by their abuse. Finding no resting-place without, he cleaves more intensely to God within. All his hope is fixed on his Creator, and amid all the ridicule and abuse he invokes his interior witness alone. One who is afflicted in this way grows closer to God the more he turns away from human popularity. He straightway pours himself out in prayer, and, pressured from without, he is refined with a more perfect purity to penetrate what is within.

In this context, the words apply: Whoever is mocked by his friend, as I am, shall call upon God, and he shall hear him. For while the wicked reproach the just, they show them whom they should look to as the witness of their actions. Thus afflicted, the soul strengthens itself by prayer; it is united within to one who listens from on high precisely because it is cut off externally from the praise of men. Again, we should note how appropriately the words are inserted, as I am. There are some people who are both oppressed by human mockery and are yet deprived of God’s favorable hearing. For when the mockery is done to a man’s own sin, it obviously does not produce the merit that is due to virtue.

The simplicity of the just man is laughed to scorn. It is the wisdom of this world to conceal the heart with stratagems, to veil one’s thoughts with words, to make what is false appear true and what is true appear false. On the other hand it is the wisdom of the just never to pretend anything for show, always to use words to express one’s thoughts, to love the truth as it is and to avoid what is false, to do what is right without reward and to be more willing to put up with evil than to perpetrate it, not to seek revenge for wrong, and to consider as gain any insult for truth’s sake. But this guilelessness is laughed to scorn, for the virtue of innocence is held as foolishness by the wise of this world. Anything that is done out of innocence, they doubtless consider to be stupidity, and whatever truth approves of, in practice is called folly by their worldly wisdom.

—Moral Reflections on Job by Saint Gregory the Great, pope, Lib 10, 47-48

In reading this I couldn’t help but reflect on what is happening to Christians today who are confronted fiercely by wokery. Take, for example, the sad case of Anthony Bass, who pitches for the Toronto Blue Jays. He had the audacity to post support for those who are boycotting Bud Light and Target for their bowing the knee to Baal. When confronted about this, Mr Bass, repented of his Christianity and bowed to the fierce criticism that enveloped him. I do not say this in judgment of him. He has already brought judgment on himself and we all have failed morally and disastrously on occasion; it ain’t pretty. Rather, I say it in sadness because it is tough being a Christian these days and even tougher to stand up publicly for the Truth and one’s faith. As our Lord himself told us, those who deny him now will discover to their horror that he denies them in the world to come (Matthew 10.32-33). Whatever that looks like, it can’t and won’t be pretty.

No, echoing the words of his Lord Jesus, Gregory reminds us above that as difficult as scorn and ridicule are, there are benefits to be derived from our faithfulness. God can and does use our trials to help us grow closer to him in our relationship with him and to overcome the evil of this world (and make no mistake; when wokery or anything else tries to silence the Truth, it is evil). The key paragraph above is the last one in which Gregory acknowledges none of this is a recent phenomenon. The world hates Christ and his followers, always has and always will until he returns again in glory to finish his saving work. In the meantime, we Christians must realize we are at war with the spiritual powers and principalities who use human agency to try to destroy us. What should we do in response? Stay the course, speak the truth in love, boldly and faithfully with all humility, and let God use our enemies’ hatred to help bring us closer to him.

Gregory also has wise advice for those on either side of the political spectrum. Be firm but gentle in our response to our enemies. Conservatives should pay special heed to this advice because when we get in the ditch with the pigs we get as muddy as those who sling mud at us, and this doesn’t bring honor to our Lord or those who profess to love him. Instead we should remind ourselves daily about Saint Paul’s musing on God’s interaction with his people:

18 Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later. 19 For all creation is waiting eagerly for that future day when God will reveal who his children really are.20 Against its will, all creation was subjected to God’s curse. But with eager hope, 21 the creation looks forward to the day when it will join God’s children in glorious freedom from death and decay.22 For we know that all creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23 And we believers also groan, even though we have the Holy Spirit within us as a foretaste of future glory, for we long for our bodies to be released from sin and suffering. We, too, wait with eager hope for the day when God will give us our full rights as his adopted children,including the new bodies he has promised us. 24 We were given this hope when we were saved. (If we already have something, we don’t need to hope for it. 25 But if we look forward to something we don’t yet have, we must wait patiently and confidently.)

26And the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. For example, we don’t know what God wants us to pray for. But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words.27 And the Father who knows all hearts knows what the Spirit is saying, for the Spirit pleads for us believers in harmony with God’s own will. 28 And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them. 29 For God knew his people in advance, and he chose them to become like his Son, so that his Son would be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.

Romans 8.18-29

Pentecost 2023: An Ancient Account of how Pentecost was Celebrated

From here.

But on the fiftieth day, that is, the Lord’s Day, when the people have a very great deal to go through, everything that is customary is done from the first cockcrow onwards; vigil is kept in the Anastasis, and the bishop reads the passage from the Gospel that is always read on the Lord’s Day, namely, the account of the Lord’s Resurrection, and afterwards everything customary is done in the Anastasis [the cross], just as throughout the whole year. But when morning is come, all the people proceed to the great church, that is, to the martyrium [the church], and all things usual are done there; the priests preach and then the bishop, and all things that are prescribed are done, the oblation being made, as is customary on the Lord’s Day, only the same dismissal in the martyrium is hastened, in order that it may be made before the third hour [9am].

And when the dismissal has been made at the martyrium, all the people, to a man, escort the bishop with hymns to Sion, [so that] they are in Sion when the third hour is fully come. And on their arrival there the passage from the Acts of the Apostles is read where the Spirit came down so that all tongues [were heard and all men] understood the things that were being spoken, and the dismissal takes place afterwards in due course For the priests read there from the Acts of the Apostles concerning the selfsame thing, because that is the place in Sion—there is another church there now—where once, after the Lord’s Passion, the multitude was gathered together with the Apostles, and where this was done, as we have said above. Afterwards the dismissal takes place in due course, and the oblation is made there. Then, that the people may be dismissed, the archdeacon raises his voice, and says: “Let us all be ready to day in Eleona, in the Imbomon [place of the Ascension], directly after the sixth hour [noon].”

So all the people return, each to his house, to rest themselves, and immediately after breakfast they ascend the Mount of Olives, that is, to Eleona, each as he can, so that there is no Christian left in the city who does not go. When, therefore, they have gone up the Mount of Olives, that is, to Eleona, they first enter the Imbomon, that is, the place whence the Lord ascended into heaven, and the bishops and the priests take their seat there, and likewise all the people. Lessons are read there with hymns interspersed, antiphons too are said suitable to the day and the place, also the prayers which are interspersed have likewise similar references. The passage from the Gospel is also read where it speaks of the Lord’s Ascension, also that from the Acts of the Apostles which tells of the Ascension of the Lord into heaven after His Resurrection. And when this is over, the catechumens and then the faithful are blessed, and they come down thence, it being already the ninth hour [3pm], and go with hymns to that church which is in Eleona, wherein is the cave where the Lord was wont to sit and teach His Apostles. And as it is already past the tenth hour [4pm] when they arrive, lucernare takes place there; prayer is made, and the catechumens and likewise the faithful are blessed.

And then all the people to a man descend thence with the bishop, saying hymns and antiphons suitable to that day, and so come very slowly to the martyrium. It is already night when they reach the gate of the city, and about two hundred church candles are provided for the use of the people. And as it is agood distance from the gate to the great church, that is, the martyrium, they arrive about the second hour of the night, for they go the whole way very slowly lest the people should be weary from being afoot. And when the great gates are opened, which face towards the market-place, all the people enter the martyrium with hymns and with the bishop. And when they have entered the church, hymns are said, prayer is made, the catechumens and also the faithful are blessed; after which they go again with hymns to the Anastasis, where on their arrival hymns and antiphons are said, prayer is made, the catechumens and also the faithful are blessed; this is likewise done at the Cross. Lastly, all the Christian people to a man escort the bishop with hymns to Sion, and when they are come there, suitable lessons are read, psalrns and antiphons are said, prayer is made, the catechumens and the faithful are blessed, and the dismissal takes place. And after the dismissal all approach the bishop’s hand, and then every one returns to his house about midnight. Thus very great fatigue is endured on that day, for vigil is kept at the Anastasis from the first cockcrow, and there is no pause from that time onward throughout the whole day, but the whole celebration (of the Feast) lasts so long that it is midnight when every one returns home after the dismissal has taken place at Sion.

—Egeria, Abbess (late 4th century), The Pilgrimage of Egeria85-90

Feast of the Ascension 2023: N.T. Wright on the Ascension of Jesus

The idea of the human Jesus now being in heaven, in his thoroughly embodied risen state, comes as a shock to many people, including many Christians. Sometimes this is because many people think that Jesus, having been divine, stopped being divine and became human, and then, having been human for a while, stopped being human and went back to being divine (at least, that’s what many people think Christians are supposed to believe). More often it’s because our culture is so used to the Platonic idea that heaven is, by definition, a place of “spiritual,” nonmaterial reality so that the idea of a solid body being not only present but also thoroughly at home there seems like a category mistake. The ascension invites us to rethink all this; and, after all, why did we suppose we knew what heaven was? Only because our culture has suggested things to us. Part of Christian belief is to find out what’s true about Jesus and let that challenge our culture.

This applies in particular to the idea of Jesus being in charge not only in heaven but also on earth, not only in some ultimate future but also in the present. Many will snort the obvious objection: it certainly doesn’t look as though he’s in charge, or if he is, he’s making a proper mess of it. But that misses the point. The early Christians knew the world was still a mess. But they announced, like messengers going off on behalf of a global company, that a new CEO had taken charge.

What happens when you downplay or ignore the ascension? The answer is that the church expands to fill the vacuum. If Jesus is more or less identical with the church—if, that is, talk about Jesus can be reduced to talk about his presence within his people rather than his standing over against them and addressing them from elsewhere as their Lord, then we have created a high road to the worst kind of triumphalism.

Only when we grasp firmly that the church is not Jesus and Jesus is not the church—when we grasp, in other words, the truth of the ascension, that the one who is indeed present with us by the Spirit is also the Lord who is strangely absent, strangely other, strangely different from us and over against us, the one who tells Mary Magdalene not to cling to him—only then are we rescued from both hollow triumphalism and shallow despair.

Conversely, only when we grasp and celebrate the fact that Jesus has gone on ahead of us into God’s space, God’s new world, and is both already ruling the rebellious present world as its rightful Lord and also interceding for us at the Father’s right hand—when we grasp and celebrate, in other words, what the ascension tells us about Jesus’s continuing human work in the present—are we rescued from a wrong view of world history and equipped for the task of justice in the present. Get the ascension right, and your view of the church, of the sacraments, and of the mother of Jesus can get back into focus.

— N. T. Wright, Surprised by Hope.