Monday, November 25, 2019

Homily for "Sunday Next Before Advent," November 24, 2019

Yet another homily, this one preached November 24, 2019, also at Christ Church Anglican, Summerville SC, where I am the non-chalcedonian, West Syriac Rite Orthodox\Old Catholic priest in residence (or something):

First, here's a link to the audio. If you can only listen or read the text, I would recommend listening since I do occasionally, as they say, "depart from the prepared text."

Also, this did not start out to be a homily that would be appropriate for the Sunday before Thanksgiving (here in the United States), but when I was done, I was pleased (and surprised) to note that it had become such a homily.

Homily for "Sunday Next Before Advent"

Readings: Jeremiah 23:5-8 St. John 6:5-14

(A supplementary reading, given in the Morning Prayer lectionary of the 1928 U.S. Prayer Book for this Sunday, is I Cor. 11:17-32.  This includes St. Paul's account of the institution of the Eucharist.)

And here is the text:

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be always acceptable in Thy sight, O Lord, my strength and my redeemer.  Amen.

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

Good Morning.

So… Food.

But first…

According to the traditional Anglican Ordo Kalendar that we use, as well as the contemporary Western liturgical calendars, all of which have a four Sunday cycle of Advent, today is the last Sunday of the liturgical year, with the new liturgical cycle that for 2020, beginning next Sunday, the first Sunday of Advent.  If anyone asks, you can tell them that for the contemporary Roman Catholic and Revised Common Lectionary (as used by the Episcopal Church, the ELCA, and others), 2019-2020 is Year A on the Three-Year Sunday cycle and, since 2020 divides evenly by 2, Year II on the two-year weekday cycle.

We, however, use the traditional Anglican one-year cycle which is based in the pre-Vatican II Roman Catholic Latin Rite liturgical cycle.

Now, according to the contemporary Western calendars, today marks the celebration of the Feast of Christ the King.  However, we celebrated it on the last Sunday of October, four weeks ago.  It is not precisely clear why Pope Pius XI chose that particular date, but it is worth noting that in my own West Syriac Rite, it is, for all practical purposes, actually the last Sunday of the liturgical year.  The liturgical calendar of the West Syriac Rite is divided into seven seasons, each more or less seven weeks in length, forming a “week of the year”.  The last such season, that of Holy Cross, begins on the Sunday nearest Holy Cross Day, so the last Sunday in October is the Last Sunday of the Season of the Cross and the first two Sundays in November, “Sundays of Dedication,” are devoted to celebrating our Christian Faith’s roots in Judaism as each focuses on the historic temple in Jerusalem.

These are followed by a six-Sunday season of “Annunciations” or Advent and the gospel reading for each of these six Sundays before Christmas tells of an “Annunciation” or “Announcement” leading to the birth, first, of John the Baptist and then, of Jesus the Messiah, so not only the event known as the “Annunciation” in the West, but also, the Archangel Gabriel’s appearances to Zechariah and to Joseph and others, including the Visitation of the Theotokos to Elizabeth, the mother of St. John the Baptizer.

So given a shorter, four week season of Advent, it is entirely plausible to celebrate Christ the King today and even the Gospel reading given for today on the traditional, Pre-Vatican II Kalendar of the Roman Rite is eschatological in tone.  This reading is Matthew 24:15-35, a portion of what Scripture scholars sometimes call the “Matthean Apocalypse” in which Jesus describes events that will occur prior to his return in glory.

I say all this to underscore that in the West liturgical tradition, regardless of the specifics celebrated, today is definitely eschatological.  We focus on the end of history, the return of the Lord with and in glory to judge both living and dead and to manifest the fulness of his Kingdom, the Reign of God “which has no end”.

So have you ever read a book that changed your life?  I’m sure you have.  I’ve read several.  One of the first was C.S. Lewis’ “Mere Christianity”.  I read that as a young teenager.  Another such book is written by the late Fr. Alexander Schmemann. Fr. Schmemann was an Eastern Orthodox priest, a man whose family fled the Soviet Union in the 1920s when he was a young child.  He eventually found his way to the U.S. and, upon his premature passage from this life, was or had been Dean of St. Vladimir’s Orthodox theological seminary, one of the premier Orthodox seminaries, not only in the U.S., but world-wide.  The book is called For the Life of the World:  Sacraments and Orthodoxy.  It has had a profound influence on Christians of many different traditions, including Roman Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran, and of course, Orthodox.  It is one of only a few books that have profoundly formed me over the course of my spiritual journey.

The book begins with a meditation on food.  Schmemann writes that the nineteenth century atheist, Ludwig Feurbach, observed that “humans are what they eat” and by stating this, thought Feurbach, he had put an end to all religion.  However, Schmemann notes that this statement is the most religious statement possible.  Food is at the center of our relationships with each other and with God, going back to creation itself and the fall, humanity withdrawing from communion with God and thus, from God’s providential protection, over a command about food and what amounted to covetness and an unwillingness to be grateful for the far-more-than-adequate provisions that God had already given them to eat.

So now, the curse:  humans must work for their food and the earth, previously providing a bountiful harvest with no effort on humanity’s part, prefers to grow only weeds and thorns.  Eventually, humanity will also be provided the flesh of animals to eat, possibly to divert them from human sacrifice.

Food is absolutely essential for human life and, throughout history and even now, is often in short supply.  Thus, wars are fought over it, and we note that the transition from human pre-history to history and what we call civilization, only occurs after humans have mostly stopped acquiring their food by hunting and gathering and have started farming and raising livestock, meaning that groups of humans now feel the need to defend turf, their fertile ground and good pastureland, against interlopers and invaders.  Some suggest that in biblical terms, this change corresponds to what happens after the fall, and we certainly see echoes of this epoch-changing process in the story of Cain and Abel.

Now humans were created to share food with each other.  They were created to offer the gifts of the earth, food and drink, back to God in thanksgiving and to share them with each other.  This is the basis for eucharistic sacrifice, the “sacrifice of thanksgiving” which is found in all cultures and predates the coming of Christ.  In doing this, humanity assumes the role given it in the cosmic process of creation and consummation, whereby the Father eternally generates the Son and Word and sends forth the Holy Spirit and then, these Two, acting together, create the cosmos and humanity as its culmination in the Divine Image and Likeness.  In offering the fruits of the earth, food and drink, back to the Father in thanksgiving, humanity shows itself to be the priesthood of creation and fulfills the cycle in which the Son and the Spirit offer the cosmos back to the Father in thanksgiving.  This is at the heart of the heavenly liturgy described in Hebrews, Revelation and elsewhere and this too is discussed in Schemann’s wonderful little book.

Now, in the description I have just given you, I have not mentioned redemption, that is, release from the consequences of the fall and the role of the Incarnate Christ and bringing that about.  As we have noted previously on other Sundays, the Incarnation was an integral part of the original Divine plan.  Indeed, it was the reason for creation in the first place.  It was also, some say, the reason why Lucifer and his minions rebelled.  They could not stomach the idea that one of the Divine Persons would become flesh-and-blood, earth-and-mud, would, like all of us, generate raw sewerage.  This does not accord with their concept of Deity and the idea of worshipping such a being, both God and human, both uncreated and created, both immaterial and material, was utterly repugnant to them.

In any event, at some point, the Incarnation would have occurred had the fall never happened and the cosmic sacrifice of thanksgiving would have been consummated with the full manifestation of the Kingdom of God and, in the end, God would still become “all-in-all” or “everything to everyone” as St. Paul writes.  This, of course, is still the plan, but, given the fall and the subsequent tragedy that is human history, some things had to change in order to bring it about.

First and foremost, after the fall, the Incarnation inevitably involves the death of the Incarnate and Eternal Son of God.  Now, as a consequence of his death, his state-sponsored murder (but the state was only one of three actors here:  socioeconomic culture and revealed religion:  yes, REVEALED religion, were also involved) Jesus conquers death by His resurrection.

He returns to life in a glorified state, his humanity fully deified, and will never die again.  He overcomes sinfulness and begins the process of healing the damage it has caused in humanity.  He also defeats the ultimate source of the fall, the demonic adversary and begins to dismantle and rebuild fallen human society, often called “the world”.  Because of His resurrection, the Father sends the Holy Spirit in Christ’s Name and gives spiritual birth to the Church, making it the mystical Body of Christ in accord with Jesus’ promise to be with the Church “until the end of the age”.

But what does Jesus do in order to gather the Church throughout the ages?  While they were at supper the night before Jesus died, he took bread and, after thanking the Father for it, Jesus said, “This is My Body.”  He also took the Cup and, after giving thanks as well, said, “This is the Cup of my Blood, the blood of the new and everlasting covenant.  Whenever you do these things, you will do them to commemorate me.”  And St. Paul adds (if Jesus hadn’t said it himself, and many liturgical traditions indicate that Jesus did), “You will proclaim the death of the Lord UNTIL HE COMES.”  We will do this and we will do it in order to pray for the coming of the Kingdom of God, for the full manifestation of what Christ started in His life, death, resurrection, and ascension.  We pray for the return of Christ even as he comes to us now as food, as bread and wine in the sanctification of our sacrifice of the “fruits of the earth and vine”.  We are  praying for the end of history, when, after the judgment, after all have been raised, God will be “all-in-all”.

Food.  Drink.  Bread.  Wine.  The Body and Blood of Christ, broken and shed for us.  “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you shall not have life within you” says Jesus later on in this same Sixth Chapter of John.  This is the source of unity in the Church, the way in which the Holy Spirit unites us as members of Christ.

In the Didache, the “Teaching of the 12 Apostles,” written probably sometime shortly before AD 100, we read a prayer that concerns the Eucharist:

“As this broken bread was scattered upon the mountains, but was brought together and became one, so let thy Church be gathered together from the ends of the earth into thy kingdom, for thine is the glory and the power through Jesus Christ for ever."
This is echoed in a Eucharistic Prayer of the Coptic Church of Egypt.

And because we as members of Christ share in this food and drink, this bread and cup, we are called to feed the world, not only with the eucharist, but also, with the more common everyday food that everyone needs to sustain their physical life, the common food and drink that makes the Eucharist possible.

As someone has said, “Food for me may be a material concern, but food for everyone else is a spiritual concern.”  Why?  Because we are all in this together and we are, in the words of St. Paul, all “members one of another.”  This is true in Christ, but also, in Adam.

As I look on the Church today, I recognize that it definitely looks back to Christ and the first apostles and it traces its existence, its structure, its teaching, its worship and everything else back to that time.  However, precisely because this is true, the Church is also called to consider the eschatological future, the fulness of the manifestation of the Kingdom of God.  Now, I almost forgot to mention here, as I must, that one major image of the Kingdom in Christ’s words is that of the eternal wedding banquet in which the archetypal marriage, between Christ and the Church (and through the Church, the entire cosmos) is consummated.  This is one bit of information concerning the “Kingdom which will have no end.”  Another is found in St. Paul’s words, concerning the fact that there is no longer “Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female, but all are one in Christ Jesus.”

For the purposes of what we are considering today, we can focus on the fact that the differentiation between “slave and free” is passing away.  This broadly refers to socioeconomic differentiation and oppression in all its forms.  Thus, when workers “strike and organize,” one does not only find the presence of “Joe Hill” but also, of Jesus Christ even as He was present with Harriet and Tubman and the other conductors on the Underground Railroad.  This socioeconomic diferentiation and oppression comes into existence after the fall and, before the first coming of Christ, serves to help prevent all of humanity from destroying itself by establishing some level of societal order.

While all of these are in fact “passing away” given the coming of Christ (and the establishment of the Church, his historical and mystical body), they are also still in play.  Thus, the lifestyle of the very early Church in Jerusalem was communal, and there are hints in the early writings of the Fathers that this actually spread outside Jerusalem into the larger Church.  However, by the Fourth Century, by the time that John Chrysostom, the Sainted Archbishop of Constantinople, was writing, it had been confined to what would come to be known as monasticism.  Lamenting this, St. John Chrysostom opined that it was because of this that the Church of his day saw few signs and wonders.

It would seem possible that the Church, or at least some portions of the Church, might reflect on this and consider establishing communities of common life that involve everyone, regardless of whether they are clergy or lay, monks or nuns or what-have-you.

But the major consideration is that the fulness of the Kingdom will provide all things necessary for humanity and the cosmos in abundance precisely because God will be “all-in-all” and the Wedding Banquet of the Lamb will be in full swing for all eternity.

So we end the liturgical year reflecting on the Second Coming of the Messiah and what follows this, the fullness of the Reign of God.  Next week, we begin reflecting on the coming of the Messiah in human history, born of the Virgin, who, when he has become an adult, begins his preaching by proclaiming, “The Kingdom of God is at hand!  Repent and believe this good news!

To Him who is indeed the Messiah and the Creator and Savior of the Cosmos, the Incarnate and only-begotten Divine Son and Word, Jesus of Nazareth+, together with His unorginate Father, and the all-Holy, Good, and Life-Creating Spirit, proceeding from the Father and resting on the Son, One God, be all glory, honor, and worship, both now and ever and unto the Ages of ages.  Amen.

Sunday, September 29, 2019

Homily for St. Michael and All Angels, Sunday, September 29, 2019

Yet another homily, this one preached September 29, 2019, also at Christ Church Anglican, Summerville SC, where I am the non-chalcedonian, West Syriac Rite Orthodox\Old Catholic priest in residence (or something):

First, here's a link to the audio. If you can only listen or read the text, I would recommend listening since I did occasionally, as they say, "depart from the prepared text."

Homily for Michaelmas

Readings: Revelation 12:7-12 Matthew 18:1-10

And here is the text:

Homily for St. Michael and All Angels, Sunday Mass for September 29, 2019, 
Christ Church Anglican, Summerville SC
By Fr. Gregory Ned Blevins, West Syriac Rite Orthodox/Old Catholic Priest in Residence

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be always acceptable in Thy sight, O Lord, my strength and my redeemer.  Amen.

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

Good Morning.

So, like my 6 y/o granddaughter, I enjoy Youtube videos.  However, the ones I watch are quite different from the one she prefers.  I like videos that are about things I’m interested in, certainly Christian liturgy and theology, but also trains.  I am an unabashed train nut, a “foamer”.  There is also the “History Guy” and then, a man named Briggs.  Briggs is in his forties, spent some time in the Army, and actually earns a living making videos about places, usually with titles like “The Top Ten Reasons not to move to Chicago” and so on.  He says people will only watch negative videos so these are the ones he usually makes.  I also enjoy watching videos from a young man with a Ph.D. who teaches Old Norse at the college level and related subjects and who discusses them in his Youtube videos.

And then, there are videos from a man named John Michael Godier.  He describes himself as a  “science fiction author and futurist”.  Virtually all of his videos discuss topics related to space travel, and one issue in particular he returns to again and again is the Fermi Paradox.  Named after pioneering nuclear physicist Enrico Fermi, this paradox notes that the universe is huge, containing trillions of stars and thus, statistically, should be teaming with life.  That being the case, where is the life?

Well, in thinking about this, one thing that gets noticed frequently is the exceedingly small chance of everything coming together such that life, and intelligent life at that, would arise “from the dirt of the ground” here on earth.  If many and various things had been  different, just by a few fractions of percentage points,  life could not have arisen here in this way.  It is ironic to me how many times scientists, committed (and rightly so) to “methodological atheism,” reach a point where they can go no farther because they come up against a brick wall.  

This leads to  some, shall we say, strange speculation.   For instance,  this matter of this planet in this solar system being seemingly tailor-made to produce intelligent life has led to some scientists positing, some who are perhaps not only committed to methodological atheism,  but also, to philosophical atheism, that there are multiple universes, all coming into existence by chance, all separate from each other, and there being so many of them that in at least one of them, such a solar system and such a planet would be inevitable.  Kind of like a billion computers working for a billion years.  One will certainly reproduce the collected works of Shakespeare in that time.  But the problem is,  there is absolutely no evidence for such a multi-verse, and it is difficult to see the possibility of such evidence, even if this hypothesis is correct.

There is also the question of whether or not this universe is a computer simulation.  This seems unlikely, given the amount of computing power and energy it would take to simulate even a very small part of the universe.  However, what if there is a “Mind” that underlies the existence of all creation, that hold everything together?

Now, there are some scientific projects that are in fact significant  for  theology.  One such area is called neurotheology.  It studies, among other things, how a lifetime of prayer and meditation might affect the brain.  Well, it turns out that the effect of such a lifestyle is rather similar to that of NDEs or “Near Death Experiences” as demonstrated by brain imaging devices such as  PET scans which look at brain activity, and both of these tend to have positive effects on psychological health.

But what does all this have to do  with angels you ask?  Well, I’m getting there.  I know a man (okay, so he’s my bishop) who, at age 5 (and if you knew him, you would completely understand this), decided to jump into the family swimming pool and to try to breathe like fishes do, inhaling water into his lungs.

Kids, do NOT try this at home!  

Well, of course, the results could have been tragic, but his father, a man who had been a Navy medic in WWII, was standing right there.  He  pulled the little boy, whose name was Victor, out of the swimming pool and got the water out of his lungs as best he could without specialized equipment, and got him breathing air again.  But in the meantime,  my bishop, now known as Victor Mar Michael, was having a Near Death Experience.  He has never told me exactly what he experienced.  It is likely beyond words.  However, at age 5, his life course was set by that experience.  From that moment on, he began to seek to have it again, to find the source of what he had felt, seen, and heard.  

As he got older, he became involved with the mystical traditions of many different religions.  At age 16, for example, he told his parents he was going camping with friends over the weekend, but instead, he got on a bus and rode from Knoxville TN to somewhere in Pennsylvania.  When he arrived, he was initiated into the worship of Ganesh, the Hindu elephant god.  All the while, his mother was praying for him, and eventually, he began encountering angels.  They did not look at all like what we think of as angels.  They appeared to him as what we might think of as space aliens, little creatures in shiny silver jumpsuits.  However, they directly challenged him with the good news of Jesus Christ.  They called upon him directly to take up that they said was his calling, “to serve as a priest in the Holy Catholic Church, whose head is Jesus Christ.”  And he, like St. Paul on the road to Damascus, eventually said “Yes”.  I perhaps would not be standing here today as a priest had it not been for angelic intervention in my bishop’s life.

Others have had experiences with angels.  Some of them are recorded in the Bible.  The word, as you likely know, means “Messenger”.  Billy Graham wrote a book about them, called “God’s Secret Agents.”  They tend to show up, both in Scripture and in our lives today, at critical moments.  We can think of the encounters that Zachariah and Mary had, telling them that they would become parents of some very important people,John the Baptist and Jesus.

Then,  there are all the stories from the blizzard of 1983.  My wife and I  ourselves were caught in this, driving from Wisconsin to Charleston.  We had a car seemingly miraculously continue to run without a critical belt in place until we could get it replaced.  Many had their broken-down vehicles towed to safe places, only to have the tow truck and driver seemingly disappear into thin air, leaving no tracks in the snow.     

Now, of course, science cannot verify the existence of angels.  However,  there is a realm of human experience that may be amenable to showing the effect encounters with angels may have on the brain, given the proper instrumentation, but the experience itself is completely subjective.  Often NDE’s are like this.  Someone, for example,  experiences themselves outside their body, maybe above their body,  which is perhaps lying on an operating room table.  From this perspective, they see things that  they could not otherwise see, the surgeon’s bald spot, things on top of cabinets, or what-have-you.  When otherwise rational people tell such of such events, and then, speak of encountering a comforting light or whatever which sends the person back into their body, we must take such stories seriously, especially when these person’s demonstrated what is clearly some kind of conversion.  This is also true of encounters with angels.

At the same time, discernment is necessary.  We do not allow such events, or the persons having experienced them, to determine our theology.  We can fit such events into our theology, yes.  However, we must know that not all “angels” are good.  Some, quite frankly, are literally demons and they can appear, as St. Paul writes, as angels of light.  One man, one man whose holiness in this life was manifest thanks to the power of God working in and through him, was Padre Pio, now known as St. Pio of Pietrelcina.  He often encountered angels, especially his guardian angel, as well as the Blessed Mother, other Saints, and Christ himself.  However, he was also frequently attacked by demons and frequently, these demons would be disguised as “angels of light” or even, as the Blessed Mother, other Saints, or even Christ.

St. Pio, through these experiences, was given and developed a very sophisticated sense which of these experiences came from God and which did not.  To discuss this in detail, of course, is far beyond the scope of this sermon.  However, I would give you one tip:  if you experience such things, say, in the word of the Archangel Michael as record in Scripture:  “Satan, the Lord rebuke you.  In the Name of Jesus.”  If what you are experiencing is from the adversary, it should instantly go away.

So this kind of brings us back to St. Michael the Archangels and his colleagues.  Also, “the angels” of children, constantly beholding the face of the Father.  In the first reading, we see Michael and the other angels who remained loyal to God (and humanity) defeating the adversary and tossing satan and his minions out of heaven.

This biblical book, Revelation or the Apocalypse, is of course highly symbolic.  Perhaps I should go off an anti-Darby/anti-Hal Lindsey rant here, but I think we all know that this is not the way to interpret this material.  But it is relevant to ask, symbolic although this passage is, when this battle occurred, will occur, or is occurring.

In general, the classical, traditional way of interpreting this book is something Augustine got right.  Using symbols and allegory, this book details the defeat of the world, the flesh, and the devil by Christ in His life, death, and resurrection. It then goes on to document the Christianization of the Middle East and Western World, particularly the Roman Empire both East and West and what comes out of it.  Thus, “the millennium” is basically the time of Christendom.  So, if one wishes to ask, “Where are we in terms of the Revelation timeline?” (if such exists), the best answer, in my opinion anyway, is that we are now in the period mentioned at the end of the book, prior to Jesus Christ coming again in glory.  

So thus, Revelation 20:7-10:   “And when the thousand years are ended, Satan will be loosed from his prison  and will come out to deceive the nations which are at the four corners of the earth, that is, Gog and Magog, to gather them for battle; their number is like the sand of the sea. And they marched up over the broad earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city; but fire came down from heaven and consumed them,  and the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulphur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night for ever and ever.”

One could preach a whole sermon on this passage itself, but that will have to wait.

So, when does St. Michael and his angelic army throw the evil one and his forces out of heaven?  Well, let’s look at what comes immediately before, in Rev. 12:1-6 (RSV):

“And a great portent appeared in heaven, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars;  she was with child and she cried out in her pangs of birth, in anguish for delivery.  And another portent appeared in heaven; behold, a great red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and seven diadems upon his heads. His tail swept down a third of the stars of heaven, and cast them to the earth. And the dragon stood before the woman who was about to bear a child, that he might devour her child when she brought it forth; she brought forth a male child, one who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron, but her child was caught up to God and to his throne, and the woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God, in which to be nourished for one thousand two hundred and sixty days.”

Again, I am not going to go into detail, but it is clear that this passage speaks of the coming of Jesus Christ, the Messiah, the “one who is to rule all nations with a rod of iron” and then, that this child is caught up to God.  So Jesus appears in heaven and then, what happens?  St. Michael and angels remaining loyal to God throw Satan and his minions down upon the earth where they wreak havoc until  their “short time” is done, only after a long period, “the millennium” they are released to wreak more havoc for a short time.  We apparently, are privileged to live on earth during this “short time.”  (Remember: ever blessing is also a curse and vice-versa.)

But the overall point is a very simple one:  the world, the flesh, and devil are defeated by the life, death, and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.  This reading in Revelation tells of this defeat in symbol and allegory.  We are literally saved by clinging. through active faith, to Christ and His Body, the Church, where the fulness of faith, and the fulness of the sacraments are found.  In so doing, we become like little children in our faith and thus, we too can be assured that our “angel” as well constantly behold the face of the Father.  If God is for us, who can be against us?  Only the world, the flesh, and the devil, and they are now nothing.  We need not fear them, we need not fall victim to them.  Christ has conquered!

So thus, to Him who is the Eternal Son and Word of God made flesh+, to his eternal and unorginate Father and to the all-Holy, Good, and Life-giving Spirit, be all glory and honor and worship both now and forever and unto the Aeon of aeons!  Amen. 

Monday, August 19, 2019

Homily on the Prodigal Son for the Ninth Sunday after Trinity 2019

So here's another homily, preached August 18, 2019, at Christ Church Anglican, Summerville SC, where I am the non-chalcedonian, West Syriac Rite Orthodox\Old Catholic priest in residence (or something).  On the traditional American Anglican/Episcopalian Ordo Kalendar, this was the Ninth Sunday after Trinity.

First, here's a link to the audio. If you can only listen to read the text, I would recommend listening since I did occasionally, as they say, "depart from the prepared text."

Homily on the Prodigal Son

And here's the text:

Readings: 1 Corinthians 10:1-13 Luke 15:11-32

These Readings Are Found Here

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be always acceptable in Thy sight, O Lord, my strength and my redeemer. Amen.

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

Good Morning.


I get to preach on the Story of the Prodigal Son!

But first, the Epistle: There are two major things here. The first is the sacramental realism that one also finds throughout the New Testament. There is not a single example in the New Testament that can be stretched to infer that the sacraments are not spiritually efficacious. No, baptism is, in the words of St. Paul elsewhere, “the washing of regeneration” and the eucharist is, in the words of St. Paul immediately following this reading, “communion with the body and blood of Christ”.

I am not going to focus on the latter section, vs 14 to the end of the chapter, but a couple of things should be noted in passing. First, in saying that one cannot partake at the “table of the Lord” and “the table of demons,” St. Paul strongly implies that the Eucharist, like the rituals which involve killing animals in pagan temples and offering these animals to pagan deities, is indeed a sacrifice. However, perhaps now is not the time to discuss this further, but only to note that such implications are found throughout the New Testament as well as the Old.

But back to the epistle reading for today: the Children of Israel participated in what the Letter to the Hebrews calls “shadows” of the sacramental realities that we have. Nevertheless, they sinned and their lives were often cut short. Thus, let us never think that just because we participate in the sacraments, our perseverance is faith is assured. We can, and often do, wander. However, such wandering is really to be expected. Thus, the question then becomes, what do we do next? Do we repent and return to the Lord? We have a sacrament for that as well, BTW. And what does repentance mean exactly, anyway?

Well, one thing that Luther was right about, at least in his 95 Theses (and I don’t think, actually, that Roman Catholic theology, then or now, disagrees): The Christian Life is one of perpetual repentance. There are a couple of ways of illustrating this. One is a statement from a monk, I think of the East. He was asked what the monks did all day. Said he, “We fall down and we get up. We fall down and we get up.” Now, the immediate, literal reference was to the fact that monks, and other Eastern Christians, literally fall down many times a day during prayer, prostrating themselves, and then, they get back up and do it again. Of course, there is also a less literal meaning: we fall into sin, and then, and repent and we stand back up. If the monks continue to lie on the floor, they will fall asleep (monks don’t sleep a great deal so they are often continually fighting off sleep). If we don’t get back up, we too will fall into a different sort of sleep, a spiritual stupor.

Another way of speaking of “repentance”, a word that, in Greek, literally means “to change one’s mind,” is to consider how we drive motor vehicles. Even going in a straight line, we must remain alert and continually correct our direction of travel. If we don’t (assuming we are not driving one of these new, self-driving cars), we will either end up on the curb or in the ditch on the far right or, in the wrong lane. This is a vivid picture of repentance, I think. Constant vigilance and constantly correcting course.

So now, on to the Gospel reading: but before I say I anything else, I want to say that the Father in this story gives us about the clearest picture we can have of God the Father and of, indeed, the other two Divine Persons, as well as of the Trinity that is the Godhead. When we read, “God is Love," in I John, John is serious.

We know this, of course, intellectually. But do we know this, do we experience this, down in our gut, in our heart, in the depths of our being. Do we experience the fact that God is Love?

As you know, I grew up in a very devout, Evangelical/Holiness household with a lot of Pentecostal influence. While my father, a lay preacher who indeed filled many pulpits on many occasions in the very rural part of the world where I grew up, would have said he believed that “God is Love” because the Bible says so (my father stated that if the Bible stated that Jonah had swallowed the fish, he would have believed it), he would immediately have found ways to qualify it. Also, my parents were pretty old school when it came to discipline, and, while perhaps some children benefit from this, I did not. I was already a “good kid” and the last thing I needed was to get spanked for the occasional mistakes, or even worse things, that I actually did.

So this is not to complain, but I want to make the point that I grew up with deep ambiguity about God’s love for me. Now, my father was an Wesleyan Arminian. This means that he thought that it is possible, once reborn, to become unreborn. Now, he was right about that, but not really in the way he thought. Anyway, such teaching, coupled with an Anselmian view of what Christ accomplishes on the cross, did not help matters.

So, at some point, around my sophomore year of high school, I encountered Peter Gillquist, then a “once saved always saved” charismatic Baptist, along with similar teaching from Hal Lindsey, and became convinced, at that time, that “once saved always saved” was correct. This lifted a huge psychological and spiritual burden and allowed me to begin developing more normally, not only as a Christian, but as an adolescent.

Fast forward a bit: I’ve graduated high school, gone off to Marquette University, become Roman Catholic, and eventually dropped out of Marquette due to majoring more in “politics and partying” instead of any academic subject. I soon find myself in the U.S. Navy and stationed in Charleston at the Naval Hospital. So, I eventually take some leave and drive northward, back to my old stomping grounds, to attend the graduation of an on-again/off-again girlfriend in Milwaukee (This was before I met my wife.) Her brother, a high school senior, is also there, and he and I hit it off, so he and I talk his mother into allowing him to stay a bit longer, and I will bring him home via Pittsburgh.

So, when we leave Milwaukee, I drop him off in Pittsburgh and head South. Now, bear in mind that at the time, the nation-wide speed limit was 55 and, while I was something of a prodigal son myself, I was not one to drive any faster. So I drive south through W.VA and VA and into NC. In Southern VA and into NC, I had to detour off the Interstate and take mountainous two-lane roads for a time due to roadwork and finally, I get back on the southbound freeway in NC. It is getting dark and I am not at all sure that this little Pinto will make it. I have to be back in Charleston the next morning or I will be AWOL. So I am praying quietly: “Lord, please let me get back in time! Please don’t let me be AWOL!” And so on.

Now, I have had some rather profound experiences with the Lord, generally letting me know that I should stop being a twit. I include this statement to make it clear that I am NOT bragging. Well, this was one of those experiences. I distinctly “heard”, in my mind, the Lord say, “I LOVE you! Do you really think that I am just out to get you? I LOVE you!” While I did not immediately begin living a less prodigal life myself (I was, after all, young and in the Navy), that had a profound effect on my spiritual life and my expectations of God.

So yes, God loves us, each and every one of us, and when we “come to ourselves” in a far-off place, and return to God, to the Church, God is waiting with open arms to welcome us.

But then, we have to say something also about the older brother. These are the people that most concern me, although there are times when I am tempted to move in this direction as well.

I know a woman who, at least when I last had any contact with her, maybe 5 or more years ago, was the “older sister”. She lives a respectable, responsible lifestyle. Works hard, pays her bills, goes to church, volunteers at church. But she thinks, and she has said this, that God owes her something because of this and she is not fond at all of the prodigal types nor of the fact that God loves them as much as God loves her.

So here’s the deal, to cut to the chase so to speak: we’re all going to die into God, into the immediate, undiluted experience of God and the Divine Nature which, as we said, is “Love”. Now we also read in Scripture that God is “consuming fire” and we read that in the age to come, Satan, the demons, and yes, apparently some humans will be consigned to a place of torture, a “lake of fire”.

So how can we reconcile these two things? Well, first, if God is “consuming fire”, what will be consumed? Our sin and the things that it produces, of course. As with gold, and we read this in Scripture as well, God will purify us, as God is indeed now doing in our lives as Christians. These are the things that burn when they come in contact with God and the first of these is self-righteousness. “Love covers a multitude of sins” we read. “Cover” here basically means to remove, resolve, heal from. The more we love, the less self-righteous we become, and, in the end,the only sin that God cannot deal with is self-righteousness. It stops us from allowing God to heal us of everything else.

Now, such self-righteousness can take many forms. I have known people, for example, who were struggling with the Church’s teaching, with Christ’s teaching, on this, that or the other thing (okay, so especially with young people, this is usually related to sex, but it can be other things as well, even the command to treat others like we want to be treated), and so they stop trying and they stop praying. Now, I suspect many of us stopped trying to conquer this or that sin in the past, but the real problem is when somebody stops praying. What happens is that they usually eventually lose their faith completely. This is a form of cognitive dissonance.

So, a word to pass on to anyone in this situation: keep praying no matter what!

Finally, something that must be said, speaking of sex: Divine Love is not merely detached, as we read of in I Corinthians 13. It certainly starts there, but it also includes interpersonal affection, and finally, God really does DESIRE, infinitely DESIRE that we be in communion with the Divine Persons. This is the purpose of which we were created. God desires, infinitely desires, to be in communion with us humans. Thus, a Divine Person became human, as was the plan from the beginning.

Again, this stuff excites me! God loves ME! God loves US! God loves EVERYBODY!

So, with that in mind, all we can do is offer praise and thanksgiving, glory, honor, and worship, to this one God, the unoriginate Father, the only-begotten and incarnate Son+, and the all-holy, good, and living-giving Spirit, proceeding from the Father and resting on the Son, eternal, adorable, and one in Essence, both now and ever, in both worlds and unto the Aeon of aeons. Amen.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Homily for Trinity Sunday and Fathers' Day, 2019

Homily for Trinity Sunday and Fathers' Day,  June 16, 2019,
Christ Church Anglican, Summerville SC
By Fr. Gregory Ned Blevins, West Syriac Rite Orthodox-(Old) Catholic Priest in Residence

Readings:  Revelation 4:1-11 John 3:1-15

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be always acceptable in Thy sight, O Lord, my strength and my redeemer.  Amen.

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

Good Morning.

So let’s imagine some “person on the street” interviews, with the question being, “What are some major Christian holidays or holy days?”  Of course, probably the first and most frequently named would be Christmas, but Easter, and maybe, Pentecost, would be named as well.  Would anyone name Trinity Sunday?  This is certainly not as likely as mentions of the others.

Well, as of today, which is Trinity Sunday, we reach the culmination of a liturgical and theological journey we began on the First Sunday of Advent, about a month or six weeks before Christmas.  This journey has included Christmas, and Easter or Pascha, and Pentecost.  But today, Trinity Sunday, is the culmination and after today, up until the next First Sunday of Advent, we observe, at least on the traditional Anglican liturgical kalendar, the season of Sundays after Trinity.  This latter can be thought of as the “Season of the Church”.

Oh, and today is also Fathers’ Day.  What a coincidence!

You will never hear me complain about having to preach on Trinity Sunday.  I LOVE celebrating the Trinity!  At the same time, I never really understood the Trinity (and yes, I can say that I have some understanding of the Trinity) until I began exploring Eastern Orthodox Christianity.  That understanding began with a book called The Orthodox Church written by an Orthodox bishop, a man who converted to Eastern Orthodoxy from the Church of England, Timothy Kallistos Ware, and then, my learning continued with a book called Being as Communion:  Studies in Personhood and the Church by a man who was a Greek Orthodox lay theologian when he wrote it.  He later was made a bishop, largely, as I understand it, because of his theological prowess.  His name is John Zizioulas.  He later wrote another book called Communion and Otherness:  Further Studies in Personhood and the Church.  These books not only helped me to come to an understanding of the Trinity per se, but also, the critical importance of the fact that God is Trinity for ecclesiology and the importance of ecclesiology in our lives as Christians.

So thus, the text for his homily is not from either of the readings, but is found in two other places, Romans 12:5 and Ephesians 4:25.  In both places we read, “we are members one of another.”  We also read, in Ephesians 3:14-15, that “every family” "in heaven and on earth", takes its "name" from the Father in heaven.  Thus, every family, every community of humans, including humanity as a whole, images, is an ikon of, the Divine Community that is the Trinity.

So thus, the Creed could say that “I believe in one God, the Father Almighty,” not only “maker of all that is, visible and invisible,” but also, “source of all that is, both created and uncreated”.  You see, in one eternal act, the Father “generates” or “begets” or “gives birth to” the Eternal Son and Word and also, breathes forth the Holy Spirit.  (Thus, God the Father is "the Father who give birth".)  In so doing, the Father empties Himself, putting all that the Father is, the infinite Divine Being, Essence, and Substance, into both the Son and Spirit.  In turn, they are, as St. Irenaeus says, “the two hands of the Father” who work together to bring creation into existence and then, to redeem and finally, to consummate to that creation as well.

For us humans, creation and redemption are first a matter of being ikons, or images, of God, both as persons and also, as a whole species.

So therefore, we are members one of another, as baptized Christians, because, first, each of us is a member of Christ.  That is, we are members of Christ’s body, the Church.   And because of this, we are, indeed “members one of another.”  We are brothers and sisters.  We are family.  We are community.  We are one in Christ.

And the basis of this is the fact that humanity, created in the image and likeness of God, is being re-created in that same image and likeness in the Church, in Christ, the Incarnate God the Word and Son.

And that is true because God, the Three Divine Persons, are themselves “members one of another.”  In theology, there are two technical words for this.  One is "interpenetration".  The other is "perichoresis".

God the Most Blessed Trinity is Community.  God is the Eternal, Archetypal Community of Three Eternal, Divine Persons, yet one in Being, Essence, and Substance.

Christianity, beginning with the Incarnation itself, is a synthesis/sublation of both the supernatural revelation of Judaism and the natural, but often distorted, revelation found in paganism:  God is Community and the People of God are invited to become gods, as Jesus says, expanding that community through participation in the Incarnate, executed and raised up God, being made/becoming by grace, adoption, and incorporation what the three primordial Divine Persons are by nature and essence.

So what does that mean for us in the future and then, because of what it means for us in the future, what does it mean for us in the present?  In the future, we shall fully share in the Divine Nature and thus, be fully that “beloved community” in the Kingdom of God that we were created to become.  We read at the end of the Book of Revelation of the New Jerusalem, described in highly symbolic terms, but what makes this New Jerusalem and the New Heaven and New Earth what it is will be the fullness of the manifestation of God and our communion with the Three Divine Persons as well as with each other.

We also read a couple of other things in Scripture that point to the future fullness of the Kingdom of God.  We read that “God will be all-in-all” or “everything to everyone”.  We also read that in Christ, “there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”  This too will be fully manifest in the fullness of the coming Reign of God:  no ethnic divisions or domination of one ethnic group by another;  all will be free as "slaves" of God; and if one is male or female will have little importance.

So, in this life, here and now, we experience a foretaste of this, especially in our celebrations of the Eucharist.  I have perhaps mentioned this before, but the Eastern Orthodox emphasize this especially, noting that each celebration of the Divine Liturgy, the Eucharist, brings us into that Kingdom where it is possible, as Fr. Alexander Schmemann notes, that bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ, something not possible, he writes in "this world".  In the Anaphorae, or Eucharistic Prayers of the Byzantine Rite as well, not only is the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of the Lord Jesus as well as Pentecost referred to in the past tense, but the second coming as well.  The vantage point is that of the future Kingdom of God.

But there are also more “practical” implications.  We have been given behavioral directives and these are grounded in love, the divine love called Agape that is the love which constitutes the Divine Essence.  We find a description of this love in I Corinthians 13.  Love God and love neighbor, we are told.  Who is the neighbor?  Everybody and anybody, including those least like ourselves, those we are least likely to want to love, normally speaking.   Treat them like we wish them to treat us, and so on.  Of course, that often requires a good measure of forbearance and forgiveness in that we all tend to be much more lenient with ourselves and judgmental of others unless we work to change this.  Thus, perhaps we should attempt to reverse this, except we need to be lenient with ourselves while also giving our neighbor the same benefit of the doubt we give ourselves, so simply turn the tables here is inadequate.

In short, we in the Church are called to live, according to the grace given us, in a way that images the Kingdom of God here and now, and that Kingdom is nothing other than the shared communal, Divine Life of the Three Divine Persons.  Regarding this, St. John Chrysostom, the fourth century Archbishop of Constantinople, thought that the Church of his time saw few signs and wonders because it had marginalized the communal living of the very early Church, confining each such community to either single men or single women who had taken specific vows, these being monks and nuns.  He may have a point.

So today, on Fathers’ Day, we celebrate the Divine Community that is our God, the Most Blessed Trinity, in whom the fullness of our life is found.  Let us also celebrate and give thanks for all parenthood, biological and otherwise, in that it participates in the Divine Parenthood of God the Father, the "Father who gives birth".

To the Eternal and unoriginate Father, to the only-begotten and Eternal Son+, and to the All-Holy, Good, Eternal, and Life-Giving Spirit, proceeding from the Father and resting upon the Son, be all glory, honor, and worship, both now and ever, in both worlds and unto the Aeon of aeons.  Amen.

A New Ministry Project in a New Context: An Introduction

Well, about seven months old actually.

Several years ago, I had been approached by Fr. Steven Smith, a young African-American priest, now in one of the lesser-known, but older, Continuing Anglican jurisdictions, about assisting him in a Church plant here in Summerville, South Carolina.

Late in 2018, I finally got back to him, and after obtaining the necessary blessings from his bishop and mine, I began assisting him with Sunday Mass, alternating preaching every other Sunday with celebrating.  The liturgy used is from the 1928 Prayer Book\American Missal and often involves incense.  We are also learning to sing this liturgy, although I don't think we are as far along with that as either of us would like.  As far as I know, this Church plant, Christ Church Anglican, is the only place of worship in the Summerville SC area using the '28 Prayer Book on a regular basis.  The next closest place of which I am aware is St. Timothy's Anglican Catholic Church in the West Ashley area of Charleston, about 20 miles away.

So Christ Church Anglican, a start-up if there ever was one, worships in a rented chapel on the grounds of the Reformed Episcopal Cummins Theological Seminary.  The chapel, formerly "St. Barnabas Episcopal Church", was purchased by the REC and moved to the current location many years ago.  The edifice is now known as "Bishop Pengelley Memorial Chapel of the REC".  The seminary address is 705 S. Main Street, Summerville, and the freestanding chapel is located behind the main building on E. 6th Street South.  Mass is at 11 AM every Sunday morning.  We welcome you!  If we add additional service or activities, I will post them here on my blog.

Above, Fr. Steven gives the final blessing.  His son Jayden is the acolyte.  Below, I pronounce the "Ecce Agnus Dei" (in English).  For several Sundays, the air conditioning was not working, so I vested minimally.

And the chapel interior definitely grows on one.

The main reason I posted this was to serve as an introduction.  Over the past few months, I have accumulated several sermons based on readings from the single-year eucharistic lectionary of the 1928 American Anglican Prayer Book.  I have intended to post them for some time, but hadn't gotten to it.  They will not be in chronological order, and the first one will be from Trinity Sunday and Fathers' Day, June 16, 2019.

Watch this space!