Rants and Ruminations: Keeping the Sacred, Sacred

Viral Vicar

A column in a British newspaper sings the praises of a female vicar in England for leading a flash mob dance in church at the conclusion of a wedding. The columnist suggests that if there is going to be anyone in the pews in 50 years that the Church needs to revamp its worship to include this kind of fun and spontaneity.

What the columnist fails to recognize is that there is a vast difference between worship and entertainment/amusement. If you watch the video (I must admit I could not get through it all) you will notice a number of things. A sacrament has just been completed in consecrated space and suddenly secular music overtakes the space and the wedding turns into a party. Parties are wonderful. I love a party, but parties are what you do in the parish hall or in your home or at the lodge. Sacred space should be kept sacred. There is a time and place for everything but that was neither the time nor the place. You will also notice that a couple of women had the good sense to get up and walk out when the foolishness began.

The Vicar drug the golden calf of amusement into the church and this we are told is how we are to attract people. But if we draw people into church through amusement, then the only way to keep them will be to keep them amused. Ironically “amusement” comes from the Latin and it literally means “to stare stupidly.” That is not the Church’s calling. Jesus’ command to the Church was that we are to teach and make disciples. We are supposed to help and inspire people to take up their cross and follow Him. The argument the Church needs to be more entertaining is like telling a School Board that school would be more popular if there were more recesses and less classes. That is true, but that is not the mission of the school.

But even more grievous than turning a house of prayer into a party zone is the theology behind what they are doing, even if they are doing it unawares. To go from a sacrament that reflects Christ and His Bride to dancing down the aisle to grinding secular music, is to shift from the worship of God to the celebration of self. The Vicar clearly drew attention from God to herself, saying by her actions, “Look at me, aren’t I hip and cool?”

When we replace the worship of God with the celebration of self, we are on the thin ice of lake blasphemy. Jesus said that we are to worship God in spirit and truth. Worship is about Him. God is our focus, not how much fun we are or are not having. It is a spiritual seduction to replace spirit filled worship with soulish enjoyment.

We know from the Gospels that Jesus enjoyed a good party. His first miracle was turning water into wine and some called Him a drunkard and a glutton. Others were offended by the company that He kept. So while we can easily picture Jesus feasting at someone’s home it would take an impossible stretch of the imagination to picture Him leading a flash mob in the Temple in order to attract followers. If anything I could see Him showing up to the Vicar’s parish with a whip in hand to return it to a house of prayer.

Sermon – 4 Pentecost C – 2013

Alabaster Jar

“I don’t go to church because it is full of …………” “Hypocrites.” That is the number one reason I am given and I bet you hear that one all the time too. Of course the one making that statement is himself perfectly free of any such accusation.

It puts me in mind of a story I read about an 18th century King of Prussia. One day he was inspecting a jail and was confronted by prisoner after prisoner who claimed that they were innocent and therefore unjustly imprisoned. Eventually he saw a man sitting in a corner, not making a fuss like the others. He asked the man why he was in jail. The man replied that he was imprisoned armed robbery. The king asked him if he was guilty. The prisoner said, “Yes indeed your Majesty. I deserve what I have received.” The King then gave orders to the jailer to release the guilty man because he did not want him corrupting all of those “innocent” prisoners.

While I would never deny that there truly are hypocrites in the Church, we must admit also that frequently people make such claims to justify being the lords of their own lives. They know deep down that God has commanded us to honor the Sabbath and keep it holy but they would rather be on the golf course or on the lake or laying in bed reading the Sunday paper and so they bring up the hypocrisy excuse to salve their consciences for breaking the Commandments of God
But I also believe that people make the accusation of hypocrisy because they genuinely don’t know the difference between a hypocrite and a sinner seeking forgiveness. They think that we are claiming to be perfect when in fact we are only claiming to be forgiven.

I think there is even confusion within the Church. On occasion I will ask someone to serve in a particular ministry and they will tell me that they would feel like a hypocrite doing it, when what they really mean is that they feel unworthy. Our lessons to day should clarify the matter for us.

In our lesson from Galatians, Cephas, who is the Apostle Peter, is being confronted by the Apostle Paul. Paul was calling him out for being a hypocrite. Here is the situation from the Kasch Standard Version. Peter had come to Antioch, which was a Gentile town, to preach the Gospel. He was successful and a church was planted. Being good Southerners they had a cookout and invited Peter to attend. When he got there he realized that they were serving pork ribs but since there were no other Jews around to get offended, Peter went ahead and ate with them. In fact this was not a one time event. He did so regularly. Peter loved him some ribs!

Meanwhile back at the Church of Jerusalem, they heard about the growing church in Antioch and so James as the Bishop sent some leadership to Antioch to see what was going on. These Christian leaders from Jerusalem were Jews like Peter. When he realized they were coming, Peter who didn’t want to get caught eating ribs with Gentiles, pulled away went back to the kosher deli. To make matters worse, Barnabas, Peter’s companion, joined him in this hypocrisy and that is why Paul called him on it.

The hypocrisy here is evident. Peter had earlier received the vision of all the animals on a sheet and God telling him to take them and eat them. When Peter objected, saying that he had never eaten anything unclean, God told him not to call anything unclean that God had made. Peter knew then that God was speaking about people and that in Christ, Jews and Gentiles were one. He did not need to fear becoming unclean by being with them. Peter knew this and so he was right to be eating with the Gentiles. That wasn’t what made him a hypocrite. What made him a hypocrite was that he changed his ways for fear of his reputation. He was acting one way around one group of people and another way around a different group of people. That is the essence of hypocrisy.

If we act in such an inconsistent way, as Peter did, we too could be justly called hypocrites. People notice when you are pious in church but then treat your family or employees with disrespect.But that is not the same thing as admitting as we do every week, that we have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. It is not hypocritical to come to find forgiveness and healing. We can see the difference more clearly in the Gospel account.

The woman in this story wasn’t pretending to be something she was not. She was so moved to be in the presence of Jesus that that she wet Jesus’ feet with her tears, dried His feet with her hair, and she poured ointment on His feet from an alabaster jar. She was not trying to impress anyone nor was she seeking to protect her reputation like Peter was doing. In fact she broke the rules of protocol including offending the host of the party. If she had been a hypocrite, Jesus would not have responded to her as He did. Her extravagance was a scandal to the religious leader but not so to Jesus. Not only did Jesus praise her for her actions but also He pronounced absolution for her sins. Her actions were, as we say in the Mass, “meet and right so to do…”

So we can observe in these two stories a number of important differences to make a clearer distinction between being a hypocrite and a sinner seeking grace. The first and most important difference between a hypocrite and a sinner seeking grace is their motivation. What was Peter’s concern? As I said earlier, he was worried about his reputation. He was concerned with what others would think about him.

The woman on the other hand was not focused on herself. She was focused on Jesus. She was not there to protect her reputation; she had no reputation to protect. She saw love incarnate before her and she responded in worship. No one had greeted Jesus or given Him water to wash or oil to anoint his head and this woman did it all. She anointed Him with oil or perfume and the implication of the text is that she did not get the money for this oil by selling Girl Scout cookies. That is why the Pharisee was so offended. “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him – that she is a sinner.”

But she wasn’t concerned with what people thought of her and neither was Jesus. She had come to worship and Jesus received her worship. If the religious folks were offended by her extravagance then so be it. There is nothing hypocritical going on here, just a sinner looking for mercy and receiving it.
So the lesson here is that the hypocrite is focused on self, the sinner is focused on Jesus. If your motivation is to serve Christ, then people may call you a hypocrite, but that does not make you one. We must remember that they falsely accused Jesus too and so we must not let what others may say, deter us from being obedient.

A second distinction between a hypocrite and a sinner seeking forgiveness, is seen in their demeanor. Peter is very cautious like a chess player. If no one is around I can do this but if others show up I have to move over here. We see in him caution, carefulness, and apprehension.By contrast the woman throws caution to the wind. She risked a lot by even showing up at a Pharisee’s house in the first place. How did she know that she would even be allowed entrance? Then she goes over the top in her expressions of love. Jesus said, “…but from the time that I came in she has not stopped kissing my feet.” It was the custom of the day for the host to greet his guests with a kiss on the face so we can see in her extravagance and humility in kissing Jesus’ feet.

You see a hypocrite has mostly love for himself so he is not extravagant in his love towards other or towards the Lord. Jesus said of such a one, “But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.” Conversely the one who has been forgiven much loves much.

I have a friend who is not an Anglican but keeps up with what is going on with St. Patrick’s. Several years ago he sent me a very generous check for my discretionary fund that I use primarily to help others in ways that are not a part of the church budget. Just after I received the check he called me and said that he has not been able to sleep. A letter that I sent out that described how the African bishops paid their own way to America to attend our Bishop’s installation service troubled him. I told him that they did this so that no one could accuse them of coming to our aide in order to get American money. He said that he understood this and appreciated it but did not think it was right. So he sent me an additional $5,000 to send to Archbishop Akinola to help him defray some of his expenses. What was even more noteworthy was that he wanted the gift to the Archbishop to come from St. Patrick’s. Now again, this guy is not an Anglican so he does not have a dog in our fight. Why would he care if an Archbishop from Africa received an offering and why would he care that St. Patrick’s gets the credit for it? It is because he is a man who knows that he has been forgiven much and so he loves with an extravagant love. He is one of the most grateful people I have ever known and therefore one of the most generous. He lives his life with thankfulness and expectation and joy. He does not give his love to God or his neighbor in thimble fulls but he gives poured out and overflowing as God’s love has come to him.

A third key difference between a hypocrite and a sinner seeking forgiveness is their underlying theology. At the core of their beliefs, whether they would put it in these words or not, the hypocrite believes that he can be saved by his own efforts and the sinner seeking forgiveness knows that they are saved only by the grace of God. The hypocrite says, “I’ve go this covered, I can do it myself” while the sinner cries out, “Son of David have mercy on me a sinner.”
What made Paul particularly angry with Peter, as Paul stated was that Peter was “not acting consistently with the truth of the Gospel.” Their message to the Gentiles was that you are saved not from observing the law but by faith in Jesus’ sacrifice. So for Peter to return to the ceremonial law, for the sake of his reputation, was to negate the very truth of the Gospel that they had been preaching. That is why Paul felt that Peter needed not only to be rebuked but also to be rebuked publically. There was something more important going on here that just Peter’s hypocrisy. The true Gospel needed to be upheld and bad theology had to be corrected.

“Therefore I tell you that her sins, which are many, have been forgiven, hence she has shown great love. But the to whom little is forgiven, loves little.” The hypocrite is oblivious to the enormity of their debt and so they are not appreciative for the grace offered to them. The sinner, on the other hand, is fully aware how indebted they truly are and so they stand in awe of the grace that would cancel such a huge debt.

To change analogies to another one that Jesus used, if you think you are well then you don’t truly appreciate the doctor. But if you are terminal, he is your best friend. It may sound a little selfish but the reality is that our love for the Savior is directly related to our need for salvation. If we think we can do it on our own then we sing the song “Jesus is just alright with me.” But if we thought we were beyond hope and grace came to us then we sing “Wonderful Merciful Savior.”

Given that we are not perfect, just forgiven, none of us can be truly free of hypocrisy. We all fall into it from time to time and I at times am the chief among us. Further, we can have no control over what others may think of us or call us. So we should not let the fear of being called a hypocrite influence our lives. Our focus should be to live lives filled with the kind of gratitude and faith that the woman displayed. In the end it only matters what one Person thinks of us because only He has the power to say to us, “Your faith has saved you, go in peace.” Amen.

Reflections on the Lessons of the One Year Bible

I Kings 19:19-21
ox bbq

We are taught to be cautious, to keep our options open, to not burn our bridges. Generally that is good advice, except when it comes to pursuing the kingdom of God.

Elijah called Elisha by throwing his cloak on him. Elijah’s actions tell Elisha that the prophet’s mantle will one day pass to him. In a scene that is a foreshadowing of Jesus calling His disciples (Luke 9:61), Elisha asks he can first go say goodbye to his family. And just as Jesus cautioned His disciples to count the cost, Elijah tells him to go back and think about it.

Elisha must have realized that he had asked the wrong thing, just as the man who asked Jesus if he could first go bury his father. So instead of returning to his family to say goodbye, Elisha made a sacrifice of the oxen with which he had been plowing. It was a dramatic way to make a total commitment to follow his Master. He did not leave himself the option of going back.

This kind of commitment, which seems fanatical to the world, is a thread that runs through the Scriptures. It is what the Lord expects of us. When Lot and his family left Sodom they were told not to look back. His wife paid a sodium chloride filled price for her disobedience. When Abraham raised the knife to sacrifice Isaac, he was fully committed to obey. In God’s covenant with Abraham the rite of circumcision was irreversible. When the children of Israel crossed the Red Sea and Pharaoh’s army was drowned in it, there was no going back to Egypt. And so Jesus tells us that if we put our hand to the plow and then look back, we are not worthy of the Kingdom of God (Luke 9:62).

This is the nature of our calling as Christian. He asks for our total commitment. We are not to have a plan B if this Christian thing does not work out. Note that Jesus is not saying that we have to be perfect to follow Him, we simply have to be fully committed. He wants to hear from us, as in a marriage, “till death do us part.” That is how the Master/disciple relationship begins and it builds from there. Without this commitment, the relationship is shallow at best.

While such a commitment seems daunting, what makes it easy to do is when we truly realize our options. There came a time in Jesus’ ministry when He delivered some hard sayings and many of His disciples left Him. When He turned to the twelve and asked if they too were going to leave, Peter said, “Lord, to whom should we go, who else has the words of eternal life….” (Jn 6:68). Who else can we trust? I have trusted in institutions and they have not remained true. I have trusted in others and have been bitterly disappointed. I have trusted in myself and I have let myself down. The Rock is Christ. Everything else is shifting sand. When we see it this way, it ceases to be daunting to make a total commitment to Him. In fact it becomes the wisest thing we will ever do. What we need to ask ourselves is if we have any oxen that we need to burn, and if we do, then invite our friends to the barbeque.

Stump the Rector : On Prayer

Kelli writes
Could you please explain the difference between prayers, supplication and petitions?
Unrelated-during one sermon you showed us 5 things to pray for on your hand, with us being the pinkie. Could you repeat that?

Supplication and petitions are synonymous and they are one of the many types of prayer available to us. A simple way to remember different forms of prayers is ACTS

A – Adoration. This is where we worship or bless God for who He is. The first line of the Lord’s Prayer is adoration.
C – Confession. This is where we admit our sins to God and ask not only for forgiveness but the power to amend our lives. Psalm 51 is a classic.
T – This is where we give thanks to God for His love and care and for answered prayer. Jesus tells of healing 10 lepers and only one returns to say “Thank you”. We tend to overlook this form of prayer but we should work to be the one who returned.
S – Supplication. This is where we make requests or petition God on behalf of others and for ourselves.

In teaching children to pray you can use your fingers as a guide. Thumb – This is the finger closest to you so you pray for family and friends. Index – Here you pray for teachers and priests and all who are pointing the way. Middle – The tallest finger so you pray for the government, courts, police and all in authority. Ring – The weakest finger so you pray for the sick and those in any kind of need or trouble. Pinky – this is where you pray for your own needs.

Rants and Ruminations : Going Amish

Enjoying-a-museum

Okay perhaps it is an exaggeration to say that I am going Amish but I am declaring war with technology and I am going to work out a strategy that will make me victorious. Here is why.

We were recently with some friends in Savannah and we walked to a historic park that was canopied by regal oaks draped in Spanish moss. The park’s welcoming atmosphere was accentuated by a number of park benches. As I stood in the middle of the park, I could see every bench and each one was occupied by a person fixated on their phone like a hypnotized gorilla. Rather than being present in the moment, they were lost in cyberspace. They were unaware of the beauty around them and they were oblivious to the presence of others.

This of course was not the first time that I had witnessed such a thing. I have observed couples at dinner ignoring one another as they surfed on their smart phones. I have been nearly knocked down by other pedestrians who were looking at their phones rather than where they were walking. I have seen kids ignore adults trying to talk to them because they were absorbed by an electronic game. I once saw two teenage girls sitting across from each other at a fast food restaurant. Both of them we texting at the same time and one of them let out a short laugh and looked up at the other girl and said, “I know.”

But for whatever reason, the event in that park in Savannah is what did it for me. It made me angry and as I tried to discern why I was so angry, I realized that I too had become a slave to technology and that I needed to fight for my freedom. So now I’m looking for my kilt and some blue paint for my face.

When I was a boy only comic book characters like Dick Tracy had hand held electronic devices. We had one phone in the house and we took turns answering it because no one really liked talking on it. As a matter of fact, I still don’t. Later only emergency personnel like doctors and first responder had pagers. There was a time that if you were a regular civilian and had a pager then you were probably a drug dealer. People didn’t have fourteen ways of instantly reaching one another nor did anyone think about announcing to the world what they ate for dinner. We chopped down trees and made rectangular flat objects we called “paper” and we wrote “letters” to each other using complete sentences and proper grammar. Or even better, when we wanted to talk to someone, we went to their house and spoke to them face to face. What a concept!

While it is often true that the good old days were never as good as we remember, still I believe we were a better people before the advent of social media. I know for certain that while I enjoy many of the wonders of technology, it has made my life more complicated. I have lost my privacy. “Didn’t you get my text/email/voice mail?” Having hundreds of “friends” on social media has increased expectations for me to respond and probably taken time away from my flesh and blood friends. I have found also that when I become a slave to technology I feel less human. What I mean by feeling less human is that rather than experiencing life by taking it in through my God given senses, I see it through the lens of technology and then I am one step removed from the actual event. I become like a photographer who is so busy taking pictures of a rainbow, in order to preserve the moment, that I do not stop to simply take it in and enjoy the moment. I go back to the scene in Savannah of the zombies on park benches. Ignoring nature so that we can surf the web has to make our souls a little more impoverished.

So what am I going to do to get my freedom? I don’t have all the answers yet but I am making a commitment to seek for them. Obviously, since I am making this statement on a blog, I am not abandoning technology. I am, however, going to fight so that I am the master and not a slave.

I am making a commitment to not look at my phone if I am with others. The people that I am with will be my priority. On my days off I will not answer a phone, look at email or get on Facebook. A day off is so that we can be re-created and that does not happen for me through social media. I am going to stop trying to fulfill people’s expectations of instant access to me. I will be available to my flock and family and friends but my availability needs to be within reason. I will not be checking email and texts and Facebook messages all hours of the day and night. If it is important I trust them to give me a call but other than that I will do as I do with snail mail and check the other forms of mail once a day. That will be, I hope, a good start.

I saw a great idea for a new trend. When friends get together at a restaurant they pile their smart phones together. The first one that looks at their phone buys the meal for everyone. That is the kind of creative fighting back I intend to do. Who is with me?

Sermon – 2 Pentecost C – 2013

The recent IRS scandal, which included asking Christian groups to disclose what they are praying about before they could receive tax-exempt status, sure seems to underscore an old adage that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. It is in our DNA as Americans to distrust and even to rebel against authority particularly when they abuse their power. That certainly happened when the King taxed our tea without first giving us proper representation. Americans are known worldwide for our rugged individualism. People in around the world, who barely know a word of English, will come up to you on the street when they realize that you are an American will raise up a thumb and say “John Wayne.”

But we must not allow our American DNA to counteract or negate our Christian DNA because while we may think that we are John Wayne, the Holy Spirit did not birth us into a state of rugged individualism. “For by one Spirit we have all been baptized into one Body.” Our nation may function as a democracy, but there is nothing democratic about the Kingdom of God. We as the Church are in a hierarchy and there is nothing wrong with that. In fact there are great advantages to it. The Gentile Centurion understood how the Kingdom of God worked and he used that knowledge to receive a blessing for his servant. Perhaps if we too can have a better understanding of the Kingdom, and what it means to live under authority, then we can use that knowledge to also receive a blessing.

The truth is that we are all under authority. I have a long time friend named Jim who was walking past his children’s room when he overheard this conversation between his young son and daughter. “No, no Danielle, that’s not the way it works. I’m the boss of you, Daddy is the boss of me and Mommy is the boss of Daddy.” Hierarchy is the way life works. It exists in homes, our schools, our businesses, the military, the government and the Church. As Bob Dylan put it in a song, “It may be the devil, or it may be the Lord, but you’re going to serve somebody.” People who don’t think that they are under authority are either delusional, like cult leaders or incorrigible, like the thugs who spend most of their life in prison. And isn’t that ironic since there is no more severe hierarchy than prison. So being under authority is a way of life and in Christ it is a very a good thing.

One of the major reasons for the miracles that Jesus performed was to establish His authority. When He calmed the storm the disciples asked what manner of man He was that even the winds obey Him. When He healed on the Sabbath the Jewish leaders asked by what authority He did so. He proved His authority over Satan in casting out devils and He proved His authority over death itself in raising Lazarus from the dead. It is one thing to say it; it is quite another to do it. For example Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of Christian Science taught that death was an illusion. And yet you can visit her grave in Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Jesus, however, who claimed to have all authority over heaven and earth, has no grave because He is who He said He was.

So this Roman Officer understood how authority works. When you want something done, you go to the person in charge. You don’t go to the ones who claim to be in charge, like the Scribes and the Pharisees and the Roman Officials. You go to the One who is truly in charge. He goes to Jesus who has already proven His authority.

But notice an interesting twist in the story. He does not make his appeal to Jesus directly. The test says, “When he heard about Jesus, he sent some Jewish elders to Him, asking Him to come and heal his slave.” And the Jewish elders go to bat for him. The Centurion would have been what the Jews called a “righteous Gentile.” He would not have been a circumcised member of the covenant but he would have been a believer in the One True God and a man full of good works. They even appeal to Jesus that he deserves Jesus’ attention because he loves the Jewish people and he built their synagogue. (So he was welcome to give to the building fund, he just couldn’t vote at the annual parish meeting or serve on the Vestry).

And what was Jesus’ response? He said, “I don’t believe in people asking God to do something for other people, if he wants it so badly he needs to come and ask me himself.” No, of course not! Jesus accompanied the Jewish elders and went toward the man’s home but the man sent out others to meet Jesus even before he arrived at his home.

Now I don’t want to stretch the point too far, but to me this is a great picture of Jesus responding to the intercession of others. As Christians we know that Christ has given us direct access to the throne of God but we also know that He has placed us in Christ’s Body for a reason. And so we shouldn’t give it a second thought to ask for one another’s prayers. Since God answers prayer, why wouldn’t we use the great resource of the Body of Christ and seek the intercession of others? If I am going through something and I ask for your prayer then you become like the Jewish elders who took the Centurion’s request to Jesus. You play a part in the miracle the Jesus will perform in answer to our intercessions. That is a privilege is it not?

The other thing that you see about this Centurion, in his understanding of Jesus’ authority, is his humility. It was an act of humility for him to solicit the help of the Jewish elders just like it takes a measure of humility to ask for other’s prayers and intercessions. He says outright to Jesus, “for I am not worthy to have come under my roof; therefore I did not presume to come to you.” Because he understood both who Jesus truly is and because he knew himself, this is not false humility nor was he having an “Aw shucks” moment. The Centurion was making an honest evaluation of himself and the situation and like a good soldier he was figuring out a way to improvise, adapt and overcome. Humility is how you approach authority and it opens the door for a positive response. There is an old custom in Anglicanism before receiving the Blessed Sacrament to strike the breast and paraphrasing the Centurion say three times, “Lord I am not worthy that Thou shouldest come under my roof, but speak the word only and my soul shall be healed.” It is in humility that we are to approach God.

A second form of authority that we see in our lessons today is the authority of the Church. This authority is embodied in St. Paul who in his letter to the Galatians declares that he is an apostle, “sent neither by human commission nor human authorities, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead.” That sounds a little arrogant but as the saying goes, “it ain’t bragging if it’s the truth.” St. Paul is establishing his authority at the beginning of the letter because he is going to say some hard things to them and they are going to need to hear it. He wants them to know that as an apostle, he is sent to them directly from God and not by human commissioning. (“For God so loved the world He didn’t send a committee”).

The Church is a divine institution rather than a man-made institution and this is something that needs to be repeated often because we live in an age that has lost that understanding. People will say that they are spiritual but not religious or they will echo the viral YouTube “Why I love Jesus but hate religion.” But what they fail to realize is that they are falling for an evil deception. We, as the Prayer Book so beautifully puts it, are to be one flock under one Shepherd. In John 17 Jesus prayed for us to be one. He did not pray for us to be alone, He prayed for us to be united. The game the wolf plays is to find the lone sheep that has strayed from the flock and make a meal out of him.

In terms of application, there is a real danger in the overemphasis of Protestantism on private interpretation of the Bible. That is one reason that there are over 30,000 different denominations in America. In my studies I have concluded that every cult is begun by someone who claims special revelation and that everyone up until them has gotten it wrong. So while we do need to be reading, marking, learning and inwardly digesting the Scriptures, we need also to be constantly checking back with the Church to see if we interpreting it correctly. As Anglicans we do not believe that the Church is infallible, that the councils of the Church have and do err. But we also believe that because she is Christ’s Body, there is a better chance of discerning God’s will through the mind of the Church rather than seeking it on our own.

The third source of authority that we see in today’s lessons is the Gospel. Now remember, the New Testament has not been compiled at this point. Paul’s letters predate Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, but even at this early, early stage of Christianity there is an agreed upon message that is not to be altered. St. Paul says, “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel – not that there is a different gospel.” He goes on to say, “But even if we or an angel from heaven should proclaim to you a gospel contrary to what has been proclaimed to you, let that one be accursed.”

These are strong words, protecting a received body of truth. The Holy Spirit continued to inspire authors to record the life of Jesus and He inspired the Apostles to guide and correct the Church through personal visits and letters but these later teachings were in accord with the original Gospel of Christ. Over time they coalesced into what we call today The New Testament, which offer us a consistent, cohesive Gospel. And if you want to bring ruin on your life or do damage to other people, the sure way to do it is to abandon or alter this Gospel. That is why St. Paul was not being overly dramatic to curse anyone who preached a different Gospel.

Living under the authority of the Gospel, just like living under the authority of Christ and of His Church, also requires humility. As we saw last week in Trinity Sunday, there are things in the book that we do not understand and maybe never will. Also there are things in the book, like loving your enemies, which seem impossible. They drive you to your knees to seek God’s help to be obedient. There are even things in the book that you wish were not there, like if you eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out because it is better to go to heaven with one eye than to go to hell with two. Obviously we are not to take that literally or else this would be Stevie Wonder Anglican Church, but still those are strong words that make us uncomfortable.

And yet when we look at the life of our Lord we see how He lived under the authority of Holy Scripture. When the devil tempted Him to do certain things He would reply that He could not “for it is written.” He did not say it is okay because “God is doing a new thing these days.” He did not even say “Look I’m God, I wrote the book so I can change it if I want to.” He submitted to God’s Word and said, “No, it is written…” As His disciples how can we have a different approach?

Like the Centurion, probably everyone here is in need for Jesus to hear our intercessions and to bless us or someone that we love. While He is not a vending machine that responds in an automatic fashion, we can have faith that He will come to us when we humble ourselves and submit ourselves to His authority which we demonstrate by honoring His Body the Church and His holy Word. The opposite is certainly true. If we rebel or reject His authority it will not go well with us. St. James says in his letter that God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble.

Our challenge from this story of the Centurion is to model his faith. Just as he asked for the aid of the Jewish elders, why not ask for others to pray for you this week? Then with the childlike faith of the Centurion, ask Jesus to bless someone you love. As you do, look for Him to answer because He is the same yesterday, today and forever. Amen.