St. Matthew 25:14-29
Homily for Trinity 22 delivered at Christ Chapel on 8 November, 2020
Dr. T. Y. Hiter
“Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth;” Paul, of course. Who else would even think of starting a lesson with guidance like that? “Mortify therefore your members!” What does that even mean? Well, to “mortify”, according to the dictionary, means “to punish one’s body or control one’s physical desires or passions by self-denial” , so in King James language, Paul is telling his readers to practice self-control. What are the “members”? Again according to the dictionary, a “member” in this context is “a distinct part or element of a whole”. So: Paul is saying control your physical urges so that you can avoid sinful behavior. More modern translations don’t say it a lot more clearly. In fact, they are sometimes not even as clear as King James!
The NIV says “Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature”. I’m not sure that helps very much. The Revised Standard says “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you”, and the New English Bible says “Then put to death those pars of you that belong to the earth”. Frankly, that doesn’t help, either. One last example, from the English Standard Version: “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you…,”
To tell you the truth, I don’t like any of them as well as I do the good old King James. “Mortify” does not mean “Put to death”. That might be “kill”, or something like it, but “mortify” doesn’t mean “kill” it means “make (something) like it is dead”. We get into the parts of speech, here, and into translation from Latin/French into Germanic/English, and that’s not what you wanted to hear about, but if Paul had wanted to say “kill” your members, he’d have said so. He said “mortify” which means “control”, and that’s what the lesson calls for. And what are the “members” he’s referring to? Well, the sexual parts, certainly, as he makes clear in the rest of the sentence, but others, as well. Look at the list of behaviors Paul lists: anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy communication out of your mouth. These are behaviors that use physical body parts, but they are not exactly the same thing as physical parts.
The mouth is a member, by Paul’s definition. If we use it to lie, then we are sinning. Now, note this: God does not forbid lying. Not in His ten Commandments. He forbids perjury. “Thou shalt not bear false witness”. But Paul says “Don’t lie”. Lying may not be a violation of God’s Holy law, but it is a sin. It may very often violate “Love thy neighbor as thyself”! So Paul’s injunction is not “Put your tongue to death so it can’t lie”, it is “take care to control your mouth so that no lie passes your lips.”
With just a little effort, we can easily identify several more sins that we might very well commit with our bodily members. If we use our hands to steal, we commit sin. If we use our feet to go to a pagan temple, we practice idolatry. Even if we do not actually use our bodies, but just our passions, we may be sinning. Giving our emotional attention to sports or movies or our automobiles when our thoughts ought to be on God is sinning. What Paul is telling us is to learn, practice, and use self control. If we catch ourselves drifting off course, we must pay attention! We should self-correct.
Does this mean that we should think of nothing, do nothing except worship God? No, not really. It means that nothing should take priority over God, and that our nature as human beings is to let our minds and bodies go off onto other things instead of God. That is idolatry. If we’re enjoying a sporting event, or a bike ride, or simply being outdoors in the sun, or the rain, or whatever, and we’re conscious that it is God’s gift to us to be there, and if we thank him for making it possible for us, then that is not sin. But, if we take the credit, or if we ignore God and give all our attention to the school or the team, or the person, then that, most assuredly, is sin. That’s what Paul is saying.
This, you see, is what being a Christian is all about. It’s not about being baptized, though we do respect and value that; it’s not about going to Church, though we do believe we ought to do that; being a Christian is about being a new person, a new human being, made in the image, the exact likeness of God almighty. We are, after baptism and the receipt of the Holy Ghost, no longer Jew or Gentile; no longer male or female, bond or free; no longer addicted, no longer sinful. We are part and parcel of Jesus Christ. How are we to stay that way? By self-control. By “mortifying” our members. For as Paul says, in the end, Christ is all, and in all. Amen.
Homily at Christ Chapel for All Saints (Trinity 21), 2020; 1 November, 2020
By Dr. T. Y. Hiter
St. Matthew 5:1-12
“Saints” is an interesting word, isn’t it? Today is “All Saints” Day. It used to be called “All Hallows Day”, from which we got the “Halloween” that we celebrate by contributing happily to the poor dental health of countless swarms of young people every thirty-first of October or thereabouts. If you look up “hallows” in the dictionary, you’ll find that it means “to sanctify or make holy”. Sanctify comes from the Latin sanctus, as does “saint”, so you see the connection. But then, what’s a “saint”? One group that likes to call itself “saints” is the Mormon Church, which used to like being called “Mormons”, but many of whom now get offended at that name and like to be called “Saints” based on the long-form name of their Church, “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints”. Still doesn’t answer the question, does it? So, let’s go back to the dictionary.
A “saint”, according to my edition of Mr. Webster, is “a holy person”. Then, it goes on to say “a person who is exceptionally meek, charitable, etc.” So, according to the English language dictionary, at least, two distinct, if related, meanings to be aware of, this morning. The first is one that applies to almost any truly practicing Christian. Indeed, this definition is used even of pre-Christian Jews in the Old Testament. But in the New, we find it in Matthew, Acts, Romans, Corinthians and most of Paul’s other books, and in Revelation. According to this definition, we all, along with, apparently, the Mormons, can legitimately be called “Saints”.
But the other definition, the one that more of us are probably most familiar with, is a different matter altogether. In that kind of “saint”, we’re talking about a formal designation by the Church. A “Saint” in this form is someone like the great “Saints” of the early Church, (and here we’re talking about the Apostles and early Church Fathers, mostly), a great collection of Martyrs and Confessors, and indeed a long line reaching all the way up to St. John Paul II, who was just recently elevated to that position by the current Pope, Francis. Mother Teresa, also of recent memory, has also been designated a “Saint”. On his visit to the US just last month, Pope Francis named Father Junipero Sera, the Spanish priest who explored and converted much of the American Southwest during the early days of Spanish colonization of that region, a “Saint”. To qualify for this honor, a person must, among other things, show evidence of especial holiness by doing miracles from “the other side” after they die.
So. Which kind of “saint” are we celebrating, today? Take your pick. The day is open to various kinds of interpretation. It’s especially noteworthy to me in that it is followed immediately (and I do mean “immediately”: tomorrow!) by “all souls day”. That’s the day we celebrate all departed spirits. “All Saints” is special, we can surmise, in that it deals with a special class of departed spirits.
In the British Isles, churches were already celebrating All Saints on the first of November as early as the beginning of the 8th century. As such, it may have replaced the Celtic festival of Samhain, which was celebrated on the same day and for much the same reason. It may also have replaced the ancient Roman holiday the Feast of the Lemures, in which malevolent and restless spirits of the dead were propitiated. In modern Mexican and some other Latin American tradition, a “day of the dead” is held separate from All Saints, or Halloween. The truth may be that virtually all ancient religions held some sort of festival that noted the passing of spirits to the netherworld. The Church, though, having had more than its share of Martyrs in its first three centuries, felt a need to especially recognize the members who had passed on, and that’s where we get the name, today.
Keeping all this in mind, let’s look at the Lectionary lesson, for today. You recognized it, of course, when it was read earlier. Everybody knows or at least recognizes the Beattitudes. The eight “pearls of great price” with which Jesus opened his Sermon on the Mount. Why do you suppose the composers of the Lectionary chose this passage for today? Well, perhaps for the very good reason that Jesus gives us as good a definition of a “saint” in these few lines as there exists anywhere.
In the Epistle, we were shown a picture of the other kind of saint: St. John saw tens of thousands of Saints, all clothed in white and holding palm fronds, assembled with the angels around the throne of God, worshipping and singing praises. When John was asked who they were (but didn’t know), he was told “these are they who came out of the great tribulation”. But, Jesus didn’t say anything especial about a “great tribulation” is designating the other kind of saint. He just listed attributes: meekness, mercy, peacemakers. Poor in spirit but pure in heart.
Is there room for both on this “All Saints Day”. I sure hope so. I wish sincerely that I could be the one kind; I fear that I would lack the resolution to be the other. I think there is a much better chance for most of us to get in under Jesus’s scrutiny than under St. John’s. In any case, today is the day on which we celebrate sainthood. Let us all pray that we may become suited to be called the one, and, let us also pray, especially in light of recent governmental and judicial pronouncements, that we are never called to be the other. I don’t do “meek” very well, but I’m really awful at “martyr”.
Homily for Trinity 20 at Christ Chapel, 25 October, 2020
Dr. T. Y. Hiter
I Corinthians 10:14-22
Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians! What a wonderful lesson for us, this morning. Now, to be perfectly truthful, we’re not much like the Corinthians, for the most part. We’re more like the Romans, in most ways, but there is a little of the Corinthian Church in every Church; there’s a little of the Corinthian ideas about Christianity in all of us. We can certainly learn from what Paul had to say to them.
So, let’s take a moment to remember what was going on. Paul had come to Corinth in the middle of his Second Missionary Journey. In the First, he had worked with Greeks, but they had been Asian Greeks. Syrians, largely, and what we think of as Turkey, today, though the Turks had not yet appeared on the world scene. And, Paul had wanted to go there again on his Second Journey, but the Holy ghost re-directed him, across the Adriatic Sea, to Macedonia, and from there down into mainland Greece as we know it: to Athens, and to Corinth.
Corinth was one of the biggest cities in the world, in those days, and one of the richest. Going to Corinth in the First Century was almost exactly like going to New York City would be, today. The city itself was the metropolis of that part of the world, and the people were pretty much what you would expect. Many were corrupt, and many were abrasive and pushy. As soon as Paul had left, they had fallen into all sorts of controversy. That’s what the First letter is all about: taking them to task for their many mistakes. One of those mistakes, as we read in our lesson this morning, was idolatry.
So, what is “idolatry”? Well, the easy answer, of course, is “the worship of idols”, but that’s not enough, when we consider the Corinthians. Paul knew the difference, and he was giving them no breaks. “Flee from idolatry”, he tells them! Not just “avoid it”. Flee from it. What is he talking about?
Well, first of all, let us understand a little something about worship as it was being conducted in big cities in the Roman Empire. We’re not talking, here, about bowing to little wooden tiki statues in the door of your tent, as you pass by them, the way the Bedouins did (and still do) to their “family Gods”. We’re not even talking about “knocking wood”, or saying “scat” when somebody sneezes, though both of those are idolatry, in some ways. No, worship was big business in Corinthian Temples. Christianity is big business in many big American Churches, right now! But, were talking about Greek gods in the First Century!
Let’s say you’re a Priest in the Temple of Zeus or Apollo, in a large Greek city in 45 Ad. What did you actually do? Well, first of all, you were there to honor the God. Zeus, or Apollo, or whoever. How did you do that? You burnt incense at all hours of the day and night; you burnt sacrifices that people brought in. You led prayers, and put together processions and shows and other spectacles. You managed the services of the Temple prostitutes, who themselves were available for a certain kind of worship. And of course, you scrubbed and swept and touched up the paint and the gold leaf and so forth of the Temple, itself. How did you pay for all this? Well, you collected tithes, and the prostitutes brought in a certain amount of money, but mainly you ran a meat market!
People brought in animals to sacrifice, and they were sacrificed. Some part of the animal would be burnt, but most of it was eaten. Some was kept for the priests, and some went to the person making the sacrifice, and a lot of it was set out for daily free (or very low cost) meals for daily worshippers in the Temple. But most of it went to the market. One of the major jobs of a priest was to be a butcher.
And, that brings us to the lesson, today. Some members of the Corinthian church appear to have been in the habit of going around to the Temples (and there were many of them) and sitting in with the pagan “worshippers” who were eating the cheap meat. Needless to say, the bread offered at these meals would have been blessed to the use of the pagan deity, as well, and wine, even if it was sold and not given away, would have been blessed the same way. Paul is telling the Corinthian church that they must stop doing this. “But I say, that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to devils, and not to God: and I would not that ye should have fellowship with devils.” Is how Paul puts it. And, “Ye cannot drink the cup of the Lord, and the cup of devils: ye cannot be partakers of the Lord's table, and of the table of devils.”
Not that Paul is indicating in any way that the “gods” of the pagans have any real existence! Paul is not saying that the pagan gods are gods at all; just that the pagans who worship them do so: “What say I then? that the idol is any thing, or that which is offered in sacrifice to idols is any thing?” Paul in no way recognizes the pagan gods and goddesses. There is only one God, but Paul recognizes that people are going to worship in error, and he is simply telling the Corinthian church not to allow itself to fall into this sort of error.
The worship of idols is fruitless. It is meaningless. But, it is still idolatry. We Christians worship one God, the Father Almighty. Hanging out with pagans and eating their sacrifices is tantamount to worshipping their gods, even if we don’t believe in them. So, Paul is saying, “don’t do it!”
If we eat their meat and share table fellowship with them, how will we say “no” when they invite us to go pray with them, or to watch one of their many processions? How will we resist when the guy we just ate supper with, and whose invitation may well be what paid the bill for it, suggests we go visit the temple virgins (which we can be assured were not virgins!)? Better, Paul says, to just say “no” in the first place. Buy your own meat; stay home with your own husband or wife, and fellowship simply with other members of the Church. Not bad advice for us, after all, is it?
Homily for Trinity 19 delivered at Christ Chapel on 27 October, 2019
Dr. T. Y. Hiter
Exodus 19:1-7, 16-19, 20:1-3, Romans 3:1-2, 19-31, Psalm 99
They say there’s no necessary direct relationship between our lessons, on any given day or Sunday, according to the Lectionary, but it’s clear to me, at least, that there’s a common theme that runs through our Old Testament and New Testament lessons, this morning, and even in our Psalm. That theme involves the Law. God’s law.
Our First Lesson closes with the opening line of the Decalogue: “And God spake all these words, saying, I am the Lord thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. Thou shalt have no other gods before me.” We hear that every time we celebrate Holy Communion, don’t we? Or, if we don’t, we hear the Summary of the Law that Jesus spoke, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart and all thy soul and all thy mind”, which includes the First of the Ten Commandments, along with four others. It’s all about God’s Law. Not, by the way, “The Law of Moses”. We’ll get to that, but right now, I want to talk about God’s Law. We generally call it “The Ten Commandments”, or “The Decalogue” which means the same thing. The ten specific things that God told Moses He required of the Jews, both while they were in the Wilderness and thereafter, in the Promised Land.
It’s not the only such collection of God’s laws, you know. It’s just the set God gave to Moses to guide the Jews. Moses then put together some 613 “regulations”, if you will, or “commandments”, extrapolating the ten to apply to all the situations he could think of that the Jews needed, whole in the wilderness. But also in the Old Testament, if we look, there are listed seven “Noahide” laws; God’s Law given to Noah, and which we have to believe both applied to everybody, including Gentiles, and which remained in force until the special set of ten was given to the Jews. And do, today, for non-Christians! The Noahide laws are:
1. Not to worship idols.
2. Not to curse God.
3. To establish courts of justice.
4. Not to commit murder.
6. Not to steal.
7. Not to eat flesh torn from a living animal.
The similarities are obvious. In the New Testament, also, when the Apostle Paul went to Jerusalem to report to the leaders of the Church what he had been doing among the Greeks, Peter, James and the others all eventually agreed that Paul had been correct in not requiring Gentiles to obey the Law of Moses, but that even Gentiles had to observe certain laws, including abstaining from blood and from meat sacrificed to idols, and observing sexual chastity. In other words, the Noahide Laws. Acts 21:25 is the best reference for this. Nobody in those days called them that, but that’s what they were: Laws for Gentiles not subject to the Ten. We, though, as members of the body of Christ, a Jew, are still subject to the ten.
And that brings us to the Second Lesson for today. Paul is writing to the Romans, or better, the Church at Rome. Were they Jews or Gentiles? They were probably some of both. Indeed, there appear to have been two Christian churches in Rome, in the earliest days, one mostly Jewish (the Church of the Circumcision) and one made up mostly of Gentiles—Paul’s church. Paul addresses this in Galatians, Chapter 2. This two-church solution would offer a solution to the conflicting records that still exist today concerning the first non-Apostolic Bishop of Rome: was it Linus, appointed by Paul, or Clement, appointed by Peter? Both are so named in very early records. Well, if there were two Churches, there may well have been two overseers. Neither would have been called “pope”. That title wasn’t invented until 325 AD.
But, anyway, in our lesson, Paul is writing to Roman Christians, trying to explain to them that we Christians, while we are still subject to God’s laws, as all people are, we are not required to observe the Law of Moses. That is for observant Jews. Now remember, from Acts 21, that Paul himself was still subject to the Law of Moses! He was a Jew, and had no problem with obeying the laws as such. But notice what he says in our lesson, this morning: “Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law:” But Gentiles, or Jews, for that matter, who had accepted Jesus Christ, were not still “under the law”. “Therefore by the deeds of the law”, Paul continues, “there shall no flesh be justified in his sight:… But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;… Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus:… Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? of works? Nay: but by the law of faith.” The purpose of the Law of Moses was to apply the Ten Commandments to everyday life. That was necessary because the Jews, like all men, were fallen creatures. But we are Christians; we are part of the Body of Jesus Christ. As such, we are no longer fallen creatures. We are still subject to the Laws of God, whether the 7 Noahide Laws or the 10 Commandments, or whatever. Those are God’s laws, and we must obey them, or try to. But when we break one, we can go straight to God for forgiveness. Jesus Christ bought us that right and that ability. Our loyalty is to the law of Faith.
Homily for Trinity 18 at Christ Chapel, 11 October, 2020
Dr. T. Y. Hiter
I Timothy 3:14 - 4:16
The Apostle Paul did a great many things. He travelled, he preached, he defended himself in court, he performed miracles, he wrote letters and, if I read the scriptures right, he also displayed a number of “gifts of the spirit”, as our Pentecostal brethren call it. Within the “he wrote letters”, there is even a wide variety of styles and subjects. Indeed he wrote all kinds of letters! The letter to the Romans has been called “the Gospel according to Paul”, for it is a very wide-ranging theological work. He wrote letters of correction, such as the two (or, more likely, three or four) to the Corinthians. He wrote happy, friendly letters, such as those to the Philippians and Thessalonians. And, he wrote what are generally called his “Pastoral Letters”. The Pastoral Letters are the three letters Paul wrote to his younger assistants Timothy and Titus—men Paul had personally trained to lead flocks of Christians, and who were, by the time of the writing, out on their own, leading what would come to be called “Provinces”—very large geographic areas composed of several “Dioceses” each. Our lesson this morning comes from the first of these, written to Timothy in about 63 AD. Paul may well have been in prison, in Rome, awaiting trial before Caesar, or he may have already been tried and released. He could have been en-route to Spain, if he ever made that trip, as some believe he did. He may even have been in France or-dare we suggest it—Great Britain, where persistent legend has him travelling before returning to Rome in 65, to be martyred. Timothy was, at this time, in Ephesus, in what we would call eastern Turkey. Paul wrote to him to advise him on the responsibilities of a pastor, and his advice was obviously meant not just for Timothy, but for all Christians at all times. As Paul said, in the lesson, “that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.” So, it’s for us, too!
To paraphrase a recently popular insurance commercial, “Paul knew a few things about Church leadership because he’d seen a few things”! That’s the message for us, this morning. “That thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.”
Paul opens his advice by citing his source, and his source is pretty reliable. It is the Holy Spirit, Himself. That’s important, and easy to skip over, but we mustn’t! Paul is just writing along, here, and very matter-of-factly slips in this sentence: “Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils; Speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron; Forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth.” Wow! That’s a huge mouthful, all at once, isn’t it? In this little run-on sentence, Paul identifies the Holy Spirit and His role is setting down the Gospel; he prophesies that in our day (and all days before and to come) that evil spirits (he calls them devils, but if there’s a difference between evil spirits, demons and devils, it’s too arcane for me to figure out); makes a short list of some of the things that the evil spirits will try to insert into the worship of God, into the Church (forbidding marriage and forbidding the eating of meat); and assures us all that God is good, and that everything He has created is good, if used in the right way. That about “forbidding marriage” and “forbidding the eating of meat” has been used and abused since the Protestant reformation against the Roman Catholic Church to pretty good effect, but if you read it carefully, you have to admit that that’s not what Paul was talking about, at all. The anti-marriage line isn’t about a voluntary assumption of celibacy by clergy, it’s about marriage as a gift of God—for everybody. Certain early Christians did so forbid marriage, especially among the Gnostics, and the “not eating meat” likewise meant a complete renunciation, not avoiding meat (or dairy, or whatever) as a Fast, dedicated to God. As Paul says, “For every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving: For it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer. If thou put the brethren in remembrance of these things, thou shalt be a good minister of Jesus Christ,”.
“But refuse profane and old wives' fables,”, he continues, “and exercise thyself rather unto godliness. For bodily exercise profiteth little: but godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come. This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptation.” This is a very Paul-like statement: compare it to the line in the “comfortable words” portion of the service of Holy Communion, in the Prayer Book: “This is a true saying and worthy to be received by all men…,”
Well, Paul goes on, of course, and where he goes, in my opinion, is to the most important thing he said in this whole lesson; in the whole letter, for that matter. “We trust in the living God, who is the Saviour of all men, specially of those that believe.” And, then “These things command and teach.” God, is the savior of all men, especially of those that believe”. Is there better news, this morning? Not that I can think of! And, we ought to be out proclaiming it!
Paul’s final advice to us all was “be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity. Till I come, give attendance to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine. Neglect not the gift that is in thee, which was given thee by prophecy, with the laying on of the hands of the presbytery. Meditate upon these things; give thyself wholly to them; that thy profiting may appear to all. Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them: for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee.” Now, that’s certainly pastoral advice, but it’s more than that, too. Judy has the gift of music, and she uses it to play the keyboard for us. Vern has the gift of vocal singing, and without them both, our worship would be far less beautiful than it is. If they weren’t married to each other, I suppose we’d have to marry them! Jim has a gift for teaching, and what he’s able to give to motorcyclists saves lives! Madge had a gift for needlework, and our banner is just one example of it. Of course, she was exercising that gift when she died, almost literally. Judy has a gift for growing flowers and they grace our altar regularly. Robert has a gift for raising gardens, too, though his gifts run to produce, rather than flowers. Linnet cooks and cleans, and doesn’t mind doing windows. I have a very large mouth, though little else, but all of us, every one of us, seems to have been given the gift of carpentry and or decoration. You don’t think that’s a gift of God? Look around you! People from all over the country have expressed admiration for our little Chapel. We all have gifts of the Holy Spirit. Paul tells us to use them for the glory of God. Good advice, I think, this morning.
Homily for Christ’s Chapel delivered on Trinity 17, 4 October, 2020
Dr. T. Y. Hiter
St. Luke xiv. 1.
“ IT came to pass, as Jesus went into the house of one of the chief Pharisees to eat bread on the sabbath day, that they watched him.” Oh, dear. We may be here all day! There are at least three sermons in that first sentence of our lesson! What? You didn’t catch all three? Well, let’s look: first, Jesus was going to the house of one of the chief Pharisees to eat. Why would he do that? Usually we’re told about him eating with disgusting ordinary people, and the pharisees fussing about it. Why, on this occasion, was he the dinner guest of one of the “chief” Pharisees? And, two, what on earth did it mean to be one of the “chief” Pharisees, anyway? What was a Pharisee, anyhow?
“Pharisee”, for us, has come to mean something very different from what it meant in the First Century. For us, based primarily on the New Testament stories surrounding them, think of pharisees as being people who are rather self-righteous, or sanctimonious; quarrelsome people, often over minor or unimportant points. People who enforce the letter of the law, while often ignoring the spirit of it. That’s not what they were in Jesus’s time, though. Not really.
In Jesus time they were a recognized political and social party, opposite the Sadducees and opposing, if not quite opposite, the Essenes. These three are described by the writer Josephus, and we can learn almost as much about them from him as we can from the Gospels. “Pharisee” is derived from a Hebrew word meaning “separate”, or “scatter”. What that meant was that the Pharisees of Herodian times believed in spreading the Law of Moses out to individual Jews, wherever they lived and worked. The Sadducees believed in a centralized religious practice, and were very strict about practicing the Law in the Temple precincts. They weren’t very concerned about what went on out in the sticks. A Sadducee, then, would insist that every Jew come to Jerusalem at every feast day, make every sacrifice exactly in accordance with the Law, and so forth. A Pharisee would instead insist that the Law was to be enforced every day and in every place, not just in the Temple. Sadducees were all about Temple worship. Pharisees may have been at least in part responsible for the establishment of Synagogic worship. Synagogic worship, developed, it is thought, during the Babylonian Captivity as a way to keep the worship of God alive away from the Temple. Both were experts in the Law, but Pharisees were dedicated to seeing it practiced out among the people. N, that was the religious difference; there were also differences based on their various reactions to Roman occupation, also, but that wasn’t, evidently, Jesus’s issue with them. But, when you get right down to it, Jesus may very well have thought of himself as a Pharisee, and they may very well have thought of him as one of them, too. He was well versed in the Law, and he certainly was not a Sadducee or an Essene. He evidently had every right to eat with the chief Pharisees.
“And they watched him”. Why? I mean, why would they especially “watch” him, especially if he was one of them? What’s that all about?
Two things, really. First, they watched him because that’s what Pharisees did. They watched everybody. And they corrected them. They asked people “why did you do that?”, and frequently told them “hey, you are not supposed to do that!” Remember their basic purpose: to spread observance of the Law of Moses out to all Jews, everywhere. Pharisees watched everybody. But too, there was another whole new reason for watching Jesus. Jesus was widely acclaimed as a prophet. Some Jews started calling him “the Messiah” almost as soon as he started his ministry. Now: how was a Messiah to be recognized? By his actions. Jewish tradition and scripture said that the Messiah would be a son of David. Jesus was a son of David. It was believed that he would heal the sick, restore sight to the blind and raise the dead to life. Jesus did all these things. And, whose job sas it to check out possible Messiahs, to see if they were the real thing? Exactly! The Pharisees! They were out there in the countryside anyway, trying to get people to obey the Law. Who better to check our claimants to the throne. So, it was their JOB to watch men who claimed to be the Messiah. It was their job to watch Jesus.
So, how would you try to get a look at some particular individual, to determine whether he met the religious requirements for Messiahship? Why not invite him to dinner? Many of the Laws of Moses involved eating anyway. Why not invite him to a meal and watch how he washed his hands (a requirement of the law), how he kept his dishes separate (another requirement of the law) and ask him questions? A LOT of questions!
That’s what the Pharisees did, when dealing with Jesus, and he outdid them every time. And they killed him for it. He showed them who he was, and he showed them who they were. What a shame they didn’t figure it out. For them, at least. For us, maybe it’s a good thing it worked out as it did.
Homily for Christ’s Chapel delivered on Trinity 16, 27 September, 2020
Dr. T. Y. Hiter
I Peter 5:1-11
“The elders which are among you I exhort, who am also an elder,”. That’s how our lesson opens, this morning, and I can think of no better place to start the sermon. The speaker, of course, is the Apostle Peter. The Rock upon whom Jesus promised to build his Church. The rough, untutored commercial fisherman who Jesus called from his boat to follow him. The same one who proclaimed Jesus to be the Son of the Living God, to his face, but who denied him three times between his arrest and his execution. And the one who Jesus three times exhorted to “feed his sheep”, after the resurrection. If you think there might be a correspondence between those three things, then you may be a student of Jesus Christ.
It has been argued, especially by those who argue about everything, that Peter did not write the letter that we know as “ Peter, but by the same token, most of those who say that have nothing better to offer, and today, most conservative Bible Scholars seem to have returned to the very ancient tradition that the author was, in fact, the Apostle Peter. One of the main arguments against Peter as the author is that the original is written in very good, educated Greek, which no Galilean fisherman would have been able to write. This argument loses much, though, when we consider that Silas, Paul’s frequent companion is acknowledged to have assisted, and that acknowledgement erases the major argument against the Apostle. The letter was probably written during 64 or 65 A.D., in Rome.
“The elders which are among you I exhort, who am also an elder,”: Let’s start with that. “Elder is a much abused word in the King James version of the Bible. Not only in antiquity, but in the modern era, there has been extensive discussion as to what the original usage was. Some scholars read it literally, meaning an older person, particularly an older man. This was generally understood to be the meaning of the Hebrew and Aramaic word that was translated into Greek that we know, though it could also be used to mean “mighty”, “high”, “long”, or several other things. So: in Hebrew, either “older” or “higher” could be inferred. Gadol, in Hebrew, became presbuteros, in Greek. Presbuteros means “older”, but “presbuterion”, a derivation, means “sanhedrinist”, a member of the ruling council of the Temple. Which of these was Peter using? We’ll get to that. In the meantime, there is another Greek word that we need to define. That word is “episcopos”. Episcopos means “overseer”. In the first Century (and possibly longer), as the Church began to try to organize itself for administration (Jesus did not leave a blueprint for that, remember) it developed a three-part clergy, which it used the words “episcopos”, presbuteros” and “diaconos” to describe. “Episcopos” and “presbuteros” ended up being used pretty much interchangeably until 325, when the Emperor Constantine standardized them as we have it, today.
So, what was Peter calling himself? Presbuteros. What did he mean by it? I’ve no idea. He certainly was an older man by this time; he was certainly very senior in the hierarchy of the Church as it then existed, but we would be very wrong to interpret that in modern terms. Most likely, Peter was saying “to those of you who are leaders in the Church, I am also a leader, and one of you”, or something very much like that. Then he goes on, “Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; Neither as being lords over God's heritage, but being ensamples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away.” Note that first line: “Feed the flock”. Does that sound familiar? You bet it does. Those are the very words that Jesus himself used to shame, forgive, and challenge Peter with. “Peter”, he said, “do you love me?” Peter answered yes three times, and each time Jesus answered him with some variant on “feed my sheep”. That’s how we can identify leaders in Christ’s Church. Leaders; true leaders, will feed their sheep. True church leaders will, as Peter goes on to say, “be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility:… Be sober, be vigilant;….” And, he tells us why to be this kind of leader “because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour:”
“Because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour:” Good Christian people, there is a devil. Call him “the devil”, if you like, or call him “Satan”, as Jesus did, or “Lucifer”, as Christian writers in the Middle Ages did. The name doesn’t matter. Evil is real; the devil is evil personified, but his works may not look evil. They may very well and very often look attractive, at least to us, and they may seem like the best possible thing we could do. Certainly that is what Eve thought, when tempted to disobey God in the Garden. Certainly it seemed right to Peter to deny the Son of God in the courtyard of Caiaphas house, in Jerusalem. But Jesus corrected him, gently, and with wonderful love and mercy, and Peter remembered that, and used it to instruct us, who are the leaders of his flock.
Why? What’s the point of all this humility and self-subjection and all that? Peter tells us that, too: “. But the God of all grace, who hath called us unto his eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after that ye have suffered a while, make you perfect, stablish, strengthen, settle you. To him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen.” Because God wants us to, that’s why. Can anybody think of a better reason?
Homily for Christ’s Chapel delivered on Trinity 15, 20 September, 2020
Dr. T. Y. Hiter
St. James 4
How often do we hear somebody complain, “Well, I prayed and prayed, and my friend still died!” Or, how often do we hear others say (and even say ourselves), “I asked God to give me a decent living. I asked over and over, and what do I get? Nothing! I don’t believe in it, anymore!” Let’s face it: we hear these things almost daily, don’t we? We may not say them out loud, but let’s face this, too: we feel like saying ourselves, every now and then, don’t we?
Every week, sometimes multiple times a week, we pray the Prayer of St. John Chrysostom: “Oh, God, who hast promised that whenever two or three are gathered together in Thy Name, thou wilt grant their requests.” Yet we have prayed for the healing of folks on our prayer list for months, and they still die. What’s going on, here? We’ve been praying for peace, yet the death toll grows. We pray for relief during the pandemic, yet it continues to spread. Isn’t God listening to us? Well, the short answer is “yes”. He is. So, why is it that our prayers don’t seem to be being answered?
The somewhat longer answer is that sometimes when we pray, the answer is “no”. It’s that simple. St. John Chrysostom (which, by the way, means “the golden mouth”; John was quite a preacher) didn’t get it exactly right, in his famous prayer. He should have consulted this Chapter in St. James before writing it. James tells us very clearly in this lesson that all our prayers will emphatically not be answered, at least with a “yes” answer! Look again at the text: “From whence come wars and fightings among you? come they not hence, even of your lusts that war in your members? Ye lust, and have not: ye kill, and desire to have, and cannot obtain: ye fight and war, yet ye have not, because ye ask not. Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts.” If we ask for the wrong things, or even if we ask for the wrong reasons, God’s answer may very well be “no”. We can only expect a “yes” answer if we ask for the right things, for the right reasons, and maybe even only in the right ways!
Early in the service of Holy Communion, the Priest prays at one point for God to “direct, govern and sanctify both our hearts and our bodies in the ways of thy laws and the works of thy commandments”. When the disciples asked Jesus to teach them how to pray, he taught them by providing an example: “Our Father who art in Heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven. Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.”
There are dozens more examples. You know them as well as I. In none of these examples of proper prayer is there a sample petition to God to make us rich, or to arrange for a particularly desirable young person to find us attractive, or even, for that matter, for any given person, friend or foe, to remain in this life for a minute longer than God has already appointed for him or her to do so. Indeed, Jesus tells us, and St. James, his brother, the same brother who later wrote this passage, re-emphasizes it in this lesson, that we should never ask for that kind of thing. We should ask for Grace.
We should ask for understanding. We should ask for discernment. We might ask for wisdom. We should always ask for mercy, for us, but more especially for others. Those are the things God wants for us, and those are the things he wants us to ask for. And, if we will ask for those, honestly and without hidden agendas, He’ll hear us and He’ll grant our requests. Read St. James again: “Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts.”
What does that mean “consume it upon your lusts?” We’ve come to understand “lust” of course. In our most modern world, we know that lust is all about sex, and sex is likely to lead to fornication and adultery and all manner of other evils and sinful behaviors, so we’re pretty sure we know about wasting God’s gifts on lust. Right? Well, not exactly.
“Lust” , according to my dictionary, means “pleasure”, or “delight”, or “appetite”. “Lust” as a sexual taste only comes in during the third of four possible definitions. “Lust” is any pressing desire to satisfy the physical senses. Remember the old Tennessee Ernie Ford song, “Sixteen Tons”? One line says “A man will have lust for the lure of the mine”. There’s a great truth in that. Men do lust after the mines. Other men lust after their work, too. Farmers are often so eager to get their tractors out in the fields that they’ll get them stuck in the mud from going too early. May I say without too much incredulity that there are preachers who lust after the pulpit? There are men and there are women who lust after power and money and celebrity and health and, well, any and all kinds of satisfaction of the senses. I think that, rather than simple sexual lust, was what St. James was talking about. An unreasonable attachment to the pleasures of the physical senses. All the senses.
What are we really asking for, when we pray for someone to get well from an illness? Are we asking God to help us understand and accept His will in the matter? Or, are we trying to make ourselves feel good that we have intervened? The latter may well be seen as consuming God’s time and energy on our own lusts, and St. James says He won’t look favorably on that.
Instead, what we ought to be praying for, and what we ought to be honestly seeking, is to align our prayers with what God wants for us. What’s that? St. James tells us that, too: “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you.” That’s all. He wants us to submit to God and resist evil. Why? Just this: “For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away. For that ye ought to say, If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this, or that.” “If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this, or that.”
So, if we ask God for something and don’t get it, we ought not to accuse God of unfaithfulness, for He is God. He CANNOT be unfaithful! If our prayers aren’t answered, it’s because we asked for the wrong thing, and we ought to look seriously at what we asked for, and why. Oh, and we might ask Him to show us that “why”, as well. He will, you know. He certainly will.
Homily prepared for Christ Chapel on Trinity 14, on 13 September, 2020
Dr. T. Y. Hiter
Why do we “go” to Church? Did you ever think about that? We used to go because somebody made us, either the king or our parents, but we don’t have to go, now, so why do we? To learn something? Hopefully. To have an encounter with God? What a great reason! But let’s face it: too often, we go to Church only to be griped at! How often we expect the Sermon to be negative! In this part of the world, at least, we have a saying “don’t preach at me!”, meaning, more or less, “I know I’m sinning; leave me alone!”, or something like that. How often is the conversation in the car on the way home more about how unsatisfactory the conduct of the service was, or how ugly the flowers were, or how badly the acolytes did their jobs? Or, of course, the old reliable, how loud and offensive the preachers sport coat was, or the old lady in the amen corner’s hat was. How often do we go home complaining about the temperature, the lighting, the sound system or the noise level outside? Too often, I submit. We’d complain more about the text of the sermon, except we rarely listen closely enough to critique it.
There’s another old saying, around here, that “if you want to be absolutely sure of being in the presence of the devil, then you should go to church on Sunday morning, for you will most certainly encounter him, there.” There aren’t many places where you can simultaneously encounter lust, envy, greed, pride, anger, laziness…, any of the mortal sins, like you can in Church on Sunday morning! Why? Isn’t it obvious? This is where God’s people gather! This is where all the love and forgiveness and worship of God happens most, and so the devil wants to be here, to get his licks in! Church is the battlefield where the spiritual war we hear so much about is being fought. Of course the devil is here, and laying out all his wares! Perhaps the most remarkable thing is that, despite all this, most of us are able to go home with at least some good feelings towards God and our savior Jesus Christ. The devil isn’t winning, but he’s certainly in there fighting! And this is where our lesson comes in, this morning: “Rejoice in the Lord alway: and again I say, Rejoice.” That’s Paul speaking. Remember this lesson comes from Philippians. It’s a happy letter. Paul didn’t write to the Christians in Philippi to correct them of some wrong, seen or reported. He wrote to them as a friend, and his advice is friendly advice. Rejoice in the Lord, he says, and that’s what he means for all Christians to do: Rejoice! Be joyful! He doesn’t want us to be angry. Anger is sin. He doesn’t want us to be mean and spiteful. Those are related to envy and pride and avarice. He wants us to be happy. And, if Paul wants that for us, we can be sure that Jesus Christ wants them for us, too! And, he says a little later on, “And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” He’s not saying “Do these things or else!” He’s saying that if we do do them, we will be able to be at peace. We won’t be bothered by the assaults of the devil if we keep our focus on God.
Well! How do we then do that? Our lesson tells us that, too. “Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things. Those things, which ye have both learned, and received, and heard, and seen in me, do: and the God of peace shall be with you.”
We don’t have to be bitter and negative and nasty! We can, but we don’t have to be. Whenever we see or hear ourselves drifting in that direction, we can simply stop! We can, instead, think about something positive. Something lovely. Something pure and praiseworthy. That’s all. Just think about something else! Can it really be that easy? I submit that it can.
We are in the midst of a political campaign. Perhaps you hadn’t noticed that, but it is true. Both candidates seem to be intent on casting the most negative possible light on their opponent. Indeed, this seems to be pretty much what our political system has degenerated into. Donald’s incompetent. Joe’s a crook. Donald is an ex-womanizer. Joe’s a child-sniffing pervert. Okay, preacher: find something pure, something positive to say about the campaigns! Well, first of all, I might suggest that we not pay an awful lot of attention to them, at all!
We’ve all made our minds up. Most of us had done so by February, three years ago!. We know who we’re going to vote for, and we know why. What if we just drop it, for now, and wait until November to re-engage? Why not? What is there to be gained by wallowing in the mire that is our national political scene? One national party platform favors abortion. The other opposes it. One favors a loosening of the immigration laws; the other opposes that. One favors a dramatic expansion of what most of us call sinful behavior; the other at least claims to support Christian values. Both major party candidates claim to support their party platforms. What is there that could convince us to get any more involved than that? I suggest (and I think Paul would agree) that whenever we come across any smear campaign, we don’t get mad; we don’t get involved; we just think about something else. I suggest that, when we encounter yet another attempt to sexualize our elementary schools, we simply decide to be against that whatever, if it ever comes to a question, and think about something else. I suggest that, when we read about one or another faction of the Church, or one or another priest, Bishop or preacher having embarrassed the Church and himself with one or another kind of misbehavior, we regret it, make a mental note to oppose him or them, if we ever have the opportunity, and think about something else. Does that mean we have to accept incredibly sinful (and criminal) behavior on the part of priests or preachers? Of course not! But, let’s be realistic: we’re not in charge of them, either. There’s little that can be accomplished by our being angry. Let’s resolve to do what we can to correct the abuses, and then think about something else.
Homily for the 13th Sunday after Trinity, 6 September, 2020; our 15th Anniversary Sunday
Rev. Dr. Tom Hiter
St. Luke 10:23
Fifteen years ago today, that is, on the 4th day of September, 2005, Labor Day, we held our first worship service in this building. We had been working on it all summer, and meeting in homes while we built it. Almost a year earlier, we had organized as Holy Trinity Anglican, and we’ve since been that and the Lighthouse, and finally Christ Chapel. The names don’t matter much. Since Labor Day of 2005, we’ve lost Charlie and Betty, to age, and Wayne, too young, but also to death; Carol moved away; Newman worshipped with us for a time, before he died, and George Plant. Joe and Linda were mainstays, but Joe was killed on his way to work, in an automobile accident, and Linda went home to the Church she grew up in. Maynard and Glenda retired and moved to Nashville. But four of us are still together, and we’ve been joined over the years by Jim and Madge, and Robert. By Phil and Carol, though Phil, like Madge, has gone on to his reward, as well. We’ve added Lin and Jared and Tom and Tony; Gretchen and Mike and Jason; Rachel and Eric, and their boys. Most recently, Nikki and Chris and Emilee have been part of us. We are tiny, but we have done God’s work, here in Marshall County. We’ve built beds for children who had none; we’ve supported Hope Clinic and Bags of Love and Project Hugs. We’ve made it possible for indigent families to have heat in the winter, and electricity at other times of year. We’ve given to national and international charities. We’ve hosted the Diocese for our Annual Convocation, and we’re about to do it, again.
The Homily on our first meeting occasion was from Sermoncentral.org, and was prepared by pastor Damien Spikereit, titled “A Life of Contentment”, and it came from Luke 12:13-21. Pastor Spikereit started off by telling the story of the barber in a small town who was busy cutting hair one day when the local cop walked in to get a haircut. The barber was feeling a bit generous that day, so he said to the cop... "Since you do such a good job protecting us, and watching over us... today’s haircut is free." The cop said he appreciated that, and the next day when the barber showed up at his shop, there were a dozen donuts waiting for him.
In walks a local florist. The barber tells him how much he appreciates all the work that he has done around town, planting bushes and flowers and making the town look real nice, so he gives him a free haircut. The next day, the barber shows up at his shop and there are a dozen flowers waiting for him. In walks the local preacher, the barber tells him how he is feeling generous that day, and how much he appreciates all his hard work with the children and taking care of the needs of the people, so the preacher gets a free haircut. The next the barber shows up at his shop, and there are a dozen preachers waiting there for him.
Preachers talk a lot about humility, but sometimes we do get a little bit out of hand. In any case, our lesson on this Sunday comes from a different part of St. Luke, Chapter 10. In it, we read “Blessed are the eyes that see the things that ye see; for I tell you that many prophets and Kings have desired to see the things which ye see and have not seen them, and to hear the things that you hear and have not heard them.” Then, a teacher of the Law, a Pharisee, no doubt, tempted him by asking “Rabbi, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus answered him sith the story of the Good Samaritan.
We’ve talked about the story of the Good Samaritan many times. You all know it almost by heart. You know, too, that there has even been discussion about whether it is in fact a parable, or whether it is an actual story about an actual event. You probably remember that my personal position is that it doesn’t matter whether it was real or a parable: the great truth contained within it is too big to be contained in any written account.
We are all neighbors. That is what Jesus is saying to the Pharisee, and what he’s saying to us. Every human being on the planet is God’s special creation, and every single one of them deserves our love. Does that mean we’re supposed to show affection to them all? No; we’ve discussed the meanings of the four or five Greek words that we English speakers translate as “love”, too. We are to love them all as God loves us. Does that mean we’re to accept their sometimes very ungodly behavior? No, it does not mean that. It means we are to look after their very real and very human needs in spite of their bad behavior. Does it mean we’re required to pay for their bad habits? It doesn’t say that. It says we’re to treat them with love and caring, just as God loves and cares for us. The 13th Chapter of I Corinthians tells us what that means: Love is patient, love is kind, love is honest. Love is persistent, and it is focused on the other person, not on itself. Do we have to enable bad behavior on other people’s part, even on other Christians? Absolutely not. Often the most loving thing we can do for another is to withhold the means to further their addictive or self-destructive behavior.
God told Adam to work for his living. He means for all of us to do the same. It is not un-Christian to expect the same of our neighbor. If someone sells his or her clothing to buy drugs, we are not required to replace the sold items. But, if cold weather is just around the corner, it would not be too much to ask of us to give him or her a ride to the Salvation Army. Jesus told us to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. There can be no better guidance.
If we believe that no automobile older than 2 years is acceptable for a Christian to drive, then we should be willing to help our neighbors have the same. If, on the other hand, we think of a car as simple transportation, then that’s what we are supposed to make sure our brothers and sisters have access to. So, does that mean we should all drive old clunkers and wear hand-me-down clothes? You’re not listening!
Nobody, nowhere in the Bible even suggests that such self-sacrifice is expected, or even salutary. If our neighbor is in want, we are expected to help. If our neighbor just wants, then he is expected to get a job and earn the money to pay for it. The Good Samaritan did not build a clinic and staff it with the finest surgeons and nurses available at the time. He bound up the man’s wounds and took him to a nearby inn. “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself”.
It’s the 13th Sunday after Trinity. The long, green season of the year is half over. There are 24 Sundays after Trinity, this year, and today is number 13. Let’s spend the rest of this year living out our Lord’s guidance on being a Christian!
Homily for Christ Chapel on Trinity 12, 30 August, 2020
Rev. Dr. T. Y. Hiter
“Servants, obey in all things your masters according to the flesh;” It’s easy to start an argument with that as an opening salvo, these days. It’s especially inflammatory if we use the original Greek: The word that is translated as “servants” here is douloi, “slaves”. I heard a preacher on the radio, the other day explaining that, as he said, “slavery was different in Palestine in the first Century than it was in this country.” No, it wasn’t. Slavery is slavery, and it was there and then, too. The fellow was making a classical mistake in reasoning. He wanted to be politically correct and assert that slavery in this country was race-based, and that slaves over there, back then, were just like their masters, serving out their time. No. Sorry, a slave is a slave. Paul knew exactly what he was talking about. The King James translators did, too! It’s us who have trouble with the meanings of words.
But to tell the truth, this whole passage has been the source of all sorts of discontent, all over the place! Paul had opened the Chapter with his famous dictum, “Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands”, which causes modern day feminists to go apoplectic, at times, and he also in this passage, enjoins fathers not o “provoke” their children’. Oh, well. The truth is that the apostle Paul tended to be confrontational, even in his own day. Perhaps it is not surprising that he is so in ours, as well. But, let’s not tarry over words that aren’t even in our lesson. Let’s go on with what Paul had to say to us about obedience.
“Servants, obey in all things your masters according to the flesh; not with eyeservice, as menpleasers; but in singleness of heart, fearing God:” Don’t just appear to obey, and secretly resist, or keep it in your heart that you are only obeying because you’re forced to; actually try to do what you’re told to do. Put your whole heart into it! And then he goes on: “And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men;” Now, that has to be looked at.
Why on earth would he say that? Isn’t it good enough for a person who’s being held against their will to do the absolute minimum, in terms of labor? It’s forced labor, in the first place, isn’t it? Why should a slave, an unwilling one, in most places, do any more than the absolute minimum? For that matter, why should a wage worker do any more than he or she is being paid for? Let’s say you have a job as a ditchdigger. Paul is saying “if you’re a ditchdigger, be the hardest working, the very best ditchdigger you can be!” Why? Why should we do that? That is the point of the lesson.
Why should we put out more than we absolutely have to? Because, Paul says, that’s just what Christians do. That’s what being a Christian means. God does not hold back on the Grace he showers on us. “Knowing that of the Lord ye shall receive the reward of the inheritance: for ye serve the Lord Christ. But he that doeth wrong shall receive for the wrong which he hath done: and there is no respect of persons.” God is absolutely just, and God has adopted us as his own sons and daughters. God has made us his very heirs to the Kingdom, spiritually. It is inconceivable that we should be heirs of God in Spirit, and at the same time less than totally committed, in this physical body!
By the same token, Paul then says, “ Masters, give unto your servants that which is just and equal; knowing that ye also have a Master in heaven.” As with all the other dichotomies in this passage, everything is in balance. We don’t often hear the other side of the equation: We all know “wives, submit to your husbands”, but how often do we read or hear about “husbands, love your wives”? And the Greek word for “love” that’s used here is not “affection”, it is “agapate”: “the same way God loves you”. Selflessly; uncritically; with complete abandon. The same is true for the slave-master and the parent-child relationships. Paul is just using real human relationships to make a greater point. That point is that we are only temporarily in this mortal body, and among other mortal people. Our real home is Heaven, and we’re all truly servants of God. We are all going, in just a few more days or weeks, to a place where what we were in this life will have no bearing at all on what we are and what we do for all the rest of eternity: “just a few more days,, for to tote the weary load”, as the Kentucky state anthem used to say, before it became politically incorrect to say it. Then, in eternity, all of us who have tried sincerely to be God’s children in this life,, will be God’s children, there. That’s why we ought to act like Christians in this life; because we’re going to be Christians for a very long time, in the next!
So, how are we supposed to do this? Paul has the answer: “ Continue in prayer, and watch in the same with thanksgiving;…,Walk in wisdom toward them that are without, redeeming the time. Let your speech be alway with grace, seasoned with salt, that ye may know how ye ought to answer every man.” Live like a child of God. “Work hard; pray often. Watch your mouth. Act like the Christian you are”. Pretty good advice, I think!
Homily for Christ Chapel on the 11th Sunday after Trinity, 1 Sept., 2019
By Dr. T. Y. Hiter
Today is our anniversary day, or very close to it. Today we celebrate the end of 14 years of worship in this building. Our first such worship was held on Labor Sunday in 2005. The picture on the front cover of the pew sheet was taken on the 27th of August, that year. Our joint adventure was just beginning, though we all, I think, thought at the time that it was almost over, and that we were about to be able to settle down and just worship, for a while. And, I guess we did.
In any event, it’s hard to remember that of the dozen or so people who were there, that day, in that picture, or not, at least six are gone. Joe and Charlie, in the pic, and also Betty, who was indoors, and Wayne; I don’t know where he was. Maynard and Glenda were both still working, and neither were there, that day, but they have since retired and moved to Tennessee. But, on the Sunday after that photo was taken, we all worshipped here for the first time.
Our homily was by a preacher named Damien Spikereit. We weren’t writing our own, yet. Charlie, Joe and I were all licensed Lay Readers, but none of us was licensed to preach. We got most of our homilies off the internet. The text that morning opened with a story: “A barber in a small town was busy cutting hair one day when the local cop walked in to get a haircut. And the barber was feeling a bit generous that day, so he said to the cop... "Since you do such a good job protecting us, and watching over us... today’s haircut is free." The cop said he appreciated that, and the next day when the barber showed up at his shop, there were a dozen donuts waiting for him. In walks a local florist. The barber tells him how much he appreciates all the work that he has done around town, planting bushes and flowers and making the town look real nice, so he gives him a free haircut. The next day, the barber shows up at his shop and there are a dozen flowers waiting for him. In walks the local preacher, the barber tells him how he is feeling generous that day, and how much he appreciates all his hard work with the children and taking care of the needs of the people, so the preacher gets a free haircut. The next the barber shows up at his shop, and there are a dozen preachers waiting there for him.” Not a bad introduction for any number of homilies, and in fact, I wouldn’t mind reading the rest of it, but unfortunately the text was from the 12th Chapter of Luke, and our text today is from the 18th, so we’ll just have to move along. Sorry.
Our text deals with the rather more familiar story told by Jesus, himself, that of the parable of two men who went to the Temple to pray.
9 And he spake this parable unto certain which trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others: 10 Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican. 11 The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. 12 I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess. 13 And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner. 14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.
As I have said before now, I believe that in every one of Jesus’s parables, we can each find ourselves. This parable, though, puts that assertion to the test! There are only two characters. One is as righteous a man as ever lived; a Pharisee, a Jew who knew the law and who made it his whole mission ion life to apply the finest point of the law to every life situation he encountered. The only other character in the play is a Publican. Now, Publicans are often referred to as “tax collectors”, but in fact, they were much, much worse than that. The word “publican” means “tax farmer”, and carries the connotation of unfairness and corruption, at the very best. A Publican not only collected taxes, he made his living by overcharging taxes. Most often, he employed thugs to extort money from people, far more than they ought to have had to pay. Some got rich by doing it well. Today, we’d think of them as gangsters. Even the Pharisee noted this, in the lesson. While listing all the disreputable people that he was better than, he included extortioners and adulterers ahead of the Publican. Yet, Jesus tells us that the Publican went away justified, while the Pharisee did not. Ouch.
We have to note there’s no in-between. In the real world, there may be. I certainly hope so. But there’s not in the parable. In the parable, we have to decide: which is better? A self-righteous arrogant braggart who has attended to every miniscule point of the Law, or a known sinner who is at least honest about it? Jesus went with the latter. Of course, he always did. He said himself that he came into this world to save sinners. I know where I fit. Where are you?
Now, let’s be clear: you don’t have to be a Publican to be a sinner! But, you don’t have to be a pharisee to be self-righteous, either. Jesus had a way of drawing word pictures that can make us pretty uncomfortable, didn’t he? I suspect he knew that. But this gets us into some very sticky theological argument, too, doesn’t it?
People are constantly asking “How can God forgive that?”, when referring to some egregious sinner’s behavior. Well, the answer is “Jesus already paid the price”. Fair? Spend some time at that whipping post, or worse yet, up on that cross. THEN ask me about the value of the sacrifice. He paid for all of the sins of mankind, all at once. How is not a question we need to ask. He paid for it all.
“But I try really hard to please God, most of the time”, we also hear, or similarly, “Well, I’m working really hard to get into heaven”. The truth is, neither one matters one bit. The very best we can be isn’t enough to earn a spot in Eternity. Only one thing does that: the suffering and death of Jesus Christ, for us. That’s what the parable is about. That’s what salvation is about.
“God bless us, every one”, as Tiny Tim so happily proclaimed! It’s been an eventful fourteen years. Hopefully, we’ll have that many more.
Homily for Christ Chapel on Trinity 10, 16 August, 2020
Rev. Dr. T. Y. Hiter
II Corinthians 4:7
“But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us”. What on earth do you suppose that is all about? Well, before we get into that, maybe we ought to look at some background.
We’re reading from Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians, the 4th Chapter. Now, remember what was going on with the Corinthians. Paul had founded the Church there, during his Second Missionary Journey. Corinth was a huge metropolitan city. It was a very rich city, having pretty much a monopoly over the transportation of goods from the Aegean to the Adriatic Seas. It was also a very corrupt city; a very sinful city. In fact, it was so dissolute that the Romans had once completely wiped it off the face of the earth, but it had regrown. It’s location was just too important for it not to regrow.
After Paul had left, the Church had fallen into all sorts of difficulties, listening to false teachers, dividing into factions, following after certain men rather than others, and Paul had written to them, correcting them, and he had sent at least one more letter to them, possibly hand carried, by Titus. There may well have been two or three letters to them that eventually got included in what we call II Corinthians. Certainly the tone of the letter changes, as it goes along. And, that brings us to today’s lesson. “But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us”. The “treasure” Paul is referring to is identified a few verses earlier. In Chapter 4, verse 5, Paul had told them, “what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants. For God, who said Let light shine out of darkness, made his light shine in our hearts to give us…the light of God’s glory displayed in the face of Jesus Christ….” Then the next verse begins our lesson: “But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us”. The “treasure” he’s talking about is the knowledge of Jesus Christ that God has given to him. “But”, he’s saying, that treasure is “in earthen vessels”.
Earthen vessels did not get much respect in 1st Century Palestine, at least among Jews. They were never used for any but the most mundane purposes: animal feed, chamber pots, that sort of thing. Vessels, cups, pitchers, bowls, jars made of metal were very expensive, and as such were well respected, and indeed were only easily available to the very rich. Vessels of stone were also quite expensive, and of course vessels of glass and china were almost completely unknown. Ordinary people would have had ready access to vessels of wood or earthenware, which were reasonably priced and reasonably available, but they wouldn’t have been able to use them for anything very important. For that, they needed stone or metal. The problem was that they were ritually unclean, and simply could not be washed enough to change that. So, vessels that could be washed and reused were too expensive for everyday use by most people, and thus were of great value. Ordinary pots were not. Paul is comparing himself to an ordinary earthen pot. He’s saying that God sent his message concerning Jesus Christ to the Corinthians in a distinctly common and worthless vessel—Paul, himself. He goes on to elaborate on that:
“We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; Persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed; Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body.” “Nothing that they can do to me can hide the fact of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ”. “I’m just an ordinary pot, but inside me is the word of God, himself, revealed in the image of Jesus Christ.” Mistreat me? So what? The message is still there. Beat me, persecute me, imprison me? I don’t care. You cannot beat the fact of Jesus Christ out of me. Jesus lived. Jesus died. Jesus rose again, and in doing so made it possible for you and for me to do the same. That is a fact. That cannot be changed. “For we which live are alway delivered unto death for Jesus' sake, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh.” Paul is talking about himself again, here. Himself and perhaps those closest to him: Timothy and Titus, certainly, Barnabas and Silas and probably Luke, but also whoever had, by this time attached himself (or herself) to him. Paul was, by this time, a corporate body, cutting a wide swath across Greece and Asia Minor. So he’s saying that the whole story of God’s plan for the salvation of all mankind lived in his body, but by implication, we can take it (because he constantly uses “we” and “us” instead of “I” here, that he means the whole Gentile Church that is travelling and working with him), but his point is made in the next verse where he says “Knowing that he which raised up the Lord Jesus shall raise up us also by Jesus, and shall present us with you.” “With you”! In other words, he is saying, it lives in ours! This is stereotypical Paul. His logic is impeccable. He starts with a fact concerning himself, shows how it includes everybody who is a part of his entourage, then extends it to the whole Church! It is a wonderful exercise in classical logic. And he goes on to explain, “For all things are for your sakes, that the abundant grace might through the thanksgiving of many redound to the glory of God.” It’s not just about him. It’s about us! We, like the Corinthians, even though both they and we are part of a troublesome, sinful and difficult congregation, we are really no different from Paul, himself: “earthen vessels” in which is kept the most wonderful, glorious treasure imaginable: the love of almighty God!
Homily for Christ Chapel on Trinity 9, 9 August, 2020
Rev. Dr. T. Y. Hiter
I Thessalonians 4:
They tell us there are two kinds of sermon, and by extension, I suppose, two kinds of “homily”: Expository and Exhortatory. “Expository” sermons are favored by most “reformed” Churches and Churchmen, most of the time. They are all about explaining the Scriptures; “exposing” the meaning of God’s word, written, in the Bible. When performed by Anglicans or others who use a Lectionary, they are in the business of “exposing” or explaining a given text so that the hearers will be able to better understand what they’ve heard or read. “Exhortatory” sermons “exhort” the listeners to act in a certain way. In the BCP, there are a set of particular “exhortations” suitable for appending to any sort of sermon or homily, and one or two that are specifically for use during or after Holy Communion. Today’s lesson is an interesting one in that it sets itself off right away as an “exhortatory” text. “Exposing” or explaining it is hardly needed. But we’re going to do it, anyway!
The lesson assigned to us today, in the Lectionary, in the Prayerbook, comes from I Thessalonians, the 4th Chapter. First Thessalonians is, of course, an Epistle; a letter to the Christians in Thessalonica, in what is now Greece. When Paul; wrote the letter, it was in Macedonia. Now, it didn’t move; the city, that is, but Macedonia itself is an interesting place, if you can call it “a” place at all. Over the centuries, it has been several “places”. Even today, when we say “Macedonia, we have to be specific. Are we talking about the independent country of that name, the one that lies north of Greece and south of the Balkans? Or, are we talking about the former Soviet “republic” of the same name—the one that disappeared in the breakup of the Soviet Union? Or, are we talking about the Greek administrative province called “Central Macedonia”? Or, all of them, or none? Well, the city of Thessalonica is where the Church was planted, and that’s in the Greek region, so I guess we ought to go with that. In those days, it was in the Roman Province of Macedonia, but even the borders of that particular spot changed several times. Paul had “planted” the Church there, and later, having heard that they were having some trouble, had written to them, “exhorting”, or “encouraging” them to stick to the teaching he had first converted them with.
So, today, in the fourth Chapter of First Thessalonians, we read “Furthermore then we beseech you, brethren, and exhort you by the Lord Jesus, that as ye have received of us how ye ought to walk and to please God, so ye would abound more and more. For ye know what commandments we gave you by the Lord Jesus”. Paul was not a man to mince words. “Look, folks”, he’s saying, “You know how you’re supposed to act: I told you what God expects, and by now you ought to be getting better and better at it!” And then, he lists some examples: “ye should abstain from fornication: That every one of you should know how to possess his vessel in sanctification and honour; “not in the lust of concupiscence, even as the Gentiles which know not God:” Now, editorially, I have to tell you that nobody knows exactly what’s meant by that line “possess his own vessel”. Some have suggested that it means “control your own body”, but really nobody knows exactly what it means. It was evidently an idiom that was in use in that place and that time, but that’s no longer in use. That next line makes it clear what Paul is saying, though, so we don’t have to know exactly. “The lust of concupiscence” makes it pretty clear w hat we’re to avoid. “Lust means “inordinate desire”, and “concupiscence” means “sexual desire, or sexual appetite; sexual longing, sexual passion…,” You get the idea. So did the Thessalonians. “Keep your pants on.”
The lesson continues “That no man go beyond and defraud his brother in any matter: because that the Lord is the avenger of all such, as we also have forewarned you and testified. Where did this come from? Is this one of God’s Commandments’ or did Paul just make this up? Or, maybe this is one that the 12 made up, when Paul went to Jerusalem, and they gave him a set of rules for Gentiles? Well, think about it for a minute. “That no man go beyond and defraud his brother in any matter:” To “defraud” is to take away. To steal, when you think about it. What’s the 8th Commandment? Thou shalt not steal. Cheating, defrauding, stealing; it’s all the same to God. God gives us what we need, and he expects us to work for it. That’s the way he set it up. Theft, fraud, slick dealing of any kind is a violation of God’s own commandments, and we’re not supposed to do it. “For God hath not called us unto uncleanness, but unto holiness. He therefore that despiseth, despiseth not man, but God, who hath also given unto us his holy Spirit.” When we steal, when we commit fraud, when we cheat, we’re not just taking away from a fellow human being, we’re taking away from God!
And then, Paul shifts the discussion a bit. From some things that the Thessalonians may not have been doing just right, he shifts to something they were very good at: “ But as touching brotherly love ye need not that I write unto you: for ye yourselves are taught of God to love one another. And indeed ye do it toward all the brethren which are in all Macedonia: but we beseech you, brethren, that ye increase more and more;”. So: not only are we to avoid sexual immorality and treat other people honestly, fairly, and as we would want to be treated, ourselves, we’re supposed to love them. Phileo. Brotherly love. Hey, where have we heard that, before? And then finally, Paul gives some advice of his own. He’s told us what God expects of us, and that’s to pretty much follow the Ten Commandments. To avoid adultery, stealing, lying, coveting…, all the second half of the tablets. But, how are we to do that? Paul has the answer: “And that ye study to be quiet, and to do your own business, and to work with your own hands, as we commanded you; That ye may walk honestly toward them that are without, and that ye may have lack of nothing.
Wow. Be quiet, mind your own business and work with your hands. Now, THAT is an exhortation that we could all use. Praise be to God.
Homily delivered at Christ Chapel on Trinity 8, 2 August, 2020
Dr. T. Y. Hiter
St. Matthew 7:15
I don’t know what you think of Rush Limbaugh. I rather enjoy listening to him on occasion. Every day is a bit much, but in moderation, I like to listen to him as he takes leftist politicians and media figures and just rips them to shreds using their own bitter tools and techniques. That capability is what Rush built his empire on: leftist comedians had been doing the same to normal people for decades, and everybody thought it was funny. Rush did the same to them, and suddenly the shoe was on the other foot, and they hate him for it. Well, anyway, Rush was quoting an ex-Roman Catholic priest on his show, a while back. Actually, I guess he is an “ex-“priest. He’s working as a “religious analyst” for CNN, now. Anyhow, the “religious analyst” was holding forth on how Jesus Christ was not a nationalist, and how he was all about inclusion and reaching out to Gentiles, and so forth. Rush took issue with him, but I went berserk!
In the very first place, Jesus may not have been a nationalist, but there is no question that he was crucified for being one, so Pontius Pilate must have thought he was. Remember the sign Pilate had made and posted above him on the cross? “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews”. It’s pretty clear what he was being crucified for, and it wasn’t reaching out to Gentiles.
But most of all, Jesus was not a nationalist because “nationalism” hadn’t been invented, yet. At least in the way the fellow on CNN was trying to communicate. It wouldn’t have been healthy. “Nations” were groups of people; usually a group of related tribes. “The Nation of Israel” did not refer to a piece of dirt, it referred to a group of people. “Nationalism” as the ex-priest was using the word was not invented until the idea of a nation-state was advanced, sometime after the Middle Ages. And, Jesus specifically, on several occasions, one being one that the CNN guy cited, told Gentiles to go away; that he had not come to save them. But, to get to our lesson, this morning!
“15 ¶ Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. 16 Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? 17 Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. 19 Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.
20 Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them. 21 ¶ Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.” Wow. Talk about “nationalism”!
“16 Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? 17 Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. 19 Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.
20 Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.” There’s an old American Indian or African slave story that didn’t make it into the “Uncle Remus” books that goes to this point perfectly, I think. One day a snake, a beautiful, but deadly snake, fell into a hole on a chilly day, and couldn’t get out. Brer Possum was passing by and the snake heard him, and called out “Brer Possum! Save me!” Brer Possum heard the call, and, curious, went to see what was going on. Brer snake said “Brer Possum! You got to save me”. Brer Possum “said “Save you!? Why heck no! You’ll bite me!” Brer Snake, using his sweetest and friendliest voice eventually cajoled Brer Possum into pulling him out of the hole. Then, he convinced the possum, in a similar discussion, to put him in the possum’s “pocket”. Well, sure enough, the snake warmed up, and proceded to bite the possum. The possum was scandalized and cried “Brer snake! I saved you, and here, you bit me!” The snake, with a bit of a grin, crawled away, flinging back (over his shoulder, if he had had a shoulder), “well you fool possum, you knowed all along I was a snake!”
Indeed, he did. How often do we ordinary humans make the same mistake as Brer Possum? Evidently, we’ve been doing it for a very long time. “18 A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit.” A snake is going to bite you, if you mess with it.
So, how can we tell? How do we know who is someone to trust and who is going to do us dirt? Jesus told us the answer: “20 Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.”
Now, you say, “that’s harsh!” That seems to justify racism, and sexism, and all sorts of other “ism”. No, it doesn’t. This is not a defense of stereotyping; far from it. Wolves may indeed look like sheep. Jesus didn’t say “go by their appearances”. He said “go by their actions.” Their fruit. Wolves kill sheep. Bad trees bear bad fruit. Snakes bite.
So, where are we supposed to go with this? Are we to go around typing people and choosing who to avoid and who to embrace? Well, let’s look at the source of the lesson, as we try to get to the bottom of that. The lesson is from Matthew, the 7th Chapter. Matthew, most Christians believe, was written to Jews, sometime before 70 AD. We know the date because the Temple seems to have still been there, and it was destroyed in 70 AD. Matthew consists of five great “discourses”, or speeches delivered by Jesus, during his ministry. Today’s lesson comes from the first, the Sermon on the Mount. The part of the discourse that we’re reading this morning dealt with Prophets and how to deal with them. Jesus was not telling us how to deal with everybody we meet. He was telling us how to recognize true and false “prophets”. Now, that, too, is a word we need to be clear about. “Prophet”, as used here does not necessarily mean “prognosticator”. It means “truthteller”. A false prophet is someone who purports to be a teacher, but who instead tells lies. Jesus was telling his listeners to be wary of teachers who spoke lies, even in His Name. There have been many, over the years, who did exactly that. There are at least ten major heresies, several of which are in use today. Islam is one such: it started as a Christian sect called “Monarchianism”. “New Age” Christianity is nothing more or less than Montanism. Mormonism is tritheism. None of these led to salvation. None of these ever were, nor are they now, the One true Church, the whole body of Jesus Christ. Their “fruits” are not salvation and eternal life. We’d do well to be aware of that.
Homily for Trinity 7 at Christ Chapel at Sound Retreat Farm, 26 July, 2020
Rev’d Dr. Tom Hiter,
“Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof.” That’s how our lesson opens this morning. We’ll get to what that means, but first let’s look just a bit at the background.
It comes from Romans, of course: Paul’s letter to the Romans. Sometimes, as we’ve discussed before, that book is called “The Gospel According to Paul”. It’s not a “gospel”; gospels are a unique form of literature. It’s a letter. It’s a very long and detailed letter, but a letter it is, but in that letter the Apostle Paul lays out the “good news” (and that’s what “gospel” means, really) as he understood it, perhaps more clearly than at any other point. He wrote it to the Christians in Rome before he ever got to Rome. We can’t be sure whether he had spent much time with Roman Christians, or not, but it seems likely that he had. The Emperor had expelled the Jews from Rome during one of Paul’s Missionary Journeys: probably the Second, which is usually dated to about 49 AD to 52 AD, and the Emperor Claudius is generally credited with expelling the Jews in 49. Paul lived and worked with Priscilla and Aquilla for about 18 months in Corinth, and may very well have gotten the idea of writing to Roman Christians from them. Might, by the way, take this as evidence that there were already Gentile Christians in Rome at that time, as Paul couldn’t very well have written to Jewish converts because they would have been expelled, as were Priscilla and Aquilla.
But, anyway write it, he did, and later he did in fact visit, and is widely believed to have appointed the first Bishop there, Linus. Others believe Peter appointed the first Bishop there, Clement, and the Roman Catholic Church itself claims Peter, himself, as the first Bishop there. We’re probably not going to sort it out, this morning. Paul wrote the letter. In 49 AD. Let’s get on with the lesson!
“Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof.” “Sin”, as it is translated here, is our usual translation: “hamartia”. “To miss the mark”. So we’re not talking about intentional disobedience, here; we’re talking about human nature. We’re talking, as Paul was talking, about the normal human inability to do what God wants us to do. And he’s telling the Romans, and he’s telling us, not to let this tendency to “miss the mark” “reign” in our mortal body. The Greek word that we translate as “reign” that Paul used was “basileueto”, kind of a funny word that is certainly connected to “king” (basileo), and so “reign” is probably as good as we can do to translate it. The remaining word we need to understand is, I think, “lusts”. Paul did not use “porne”, which we usually translate as “lust”, but rather “epithumiaic”, which is better translated as “desires”. “Lust” means “inordinate desire”. “Desire” just means “desire”, or so I take it. So, another way to translate Paul’s sentence might be: “Don’t let your inability to do God’s will rule your mortal body so that earthly desires take the place of Godly ones.” Not as much fun as all that about “sin” and “lusts”, but I think the meaning is a little more clear. This body is not what it’s all about, but it’s what we have to work with. Paul does not call upon us to renounce our human body, as did some of the First and Second Century Christian writers. He does not call on us to go out in the desert and starve our bodies; he does not call on us to punish ourselves with whips and chains and underwear made out of horsehair. He simply advises us not to let our human nature rule our lives.
What shall we put in its place? That’s in the lesson, too: “Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness? But God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you. Being then made free from sin, ye became the servants of righteousness.” We don’t have to yield our lives, even in this human body, to our human nature. We can, and we should yield ourselves to God.
We do not have to live as animals. We are animals, the scientists tell us. Charles Darwin went to great lengths to prove that we are simply hairless apes. Turns out, he was wrong, but the evolutionists are still hanging on in many places, and the truth is that we are most decidedly not “just animals”. God uses our animal bodies to house our spiritual bodies, while we’re here on this earth, it is true, but we do not have to live like animals. We have souls, and those souls, through baptism, have been become part of a different body: the glorified body of Jesus Christ.
So, is it possible for us to simply act out like dogs or cats, or apes? Sure. The mortal body God gave us is of this world. It is no different from those other animals. I’m told we share over 90 % of our DNA with certain worms. What a charming thought that is! But we are not worms, and we are not apes. We are integral parts of the mystical body of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. We are children of God. Let’s try to act like it!
Homily for Trinity 6 at Christ Chapel at Sound Retreat Farm, 19 July, 2020
Rev’d Dr. Tom Hiter,
II Timothy 2:7-13
We don’t actually know exactly how many letters the Apostle Paul wrote in his time. We have managed to keep copies of thirteen of them, but we know that at least one of those (Second Corinthians) contains parts of at least one more to the same address, and there are some who believe that at least two of the others are actually variant copies of what was originally just one letter(Colossians and Ephesians). It is miraculous that we have preserved any, when you think about it.
Most were written to specific Churches or communities, to address certain specific questions. We find this trend in Romans, both letters to the Corinthians, both letters to the Thessalonians, and so forth. He also wrote at least one completely personal letter, to Philemon, a well-to-do Christian in Colossae, urging him to be merciful towards his slave Onesimus, who had run away, but while in that status had come to Christ and become a good friend and helper to Paul. Both Philemon and Onesimus were Christians, and Paul wrote asking Philemon to work out the legal issues not as an owner, but as a Christian brother. We don’t know if he did, or not. And Paul wrote two personal, pastoral letters to Timothy and one to Titus, both younger co-workers of his, giving them advice on how to be proper Christian leaders. Our lesson this morning comes from the second letter to Timothy.
It was written, most likely, from Rome, while Paul was in prison there, probably in 66 or 67 AD. It gets more complicated to go much deeper than that. To be much clearer, we have to get into the question of whether Paul was in prison in Rome once or twice. The traditional answer, as interpreted from Acts, is “once”, but there is massive evidence that he was released from that first imprisonment, travelled some more, and was imprisoned again, after which he was executed during the Neronian persecution. First Timothy seems to have been written before 65 AD, and Second Timothy late in the Sixties. Certainly, Paul was near death, and knew it. This letter was his parting missive to the man he thought of as a spiritual son.
“Consider what I say; and the Lord give thee understanding in all things. Remember that Jesus Christ of the seed of David was raised from the dead according to my gospel:” That is the central truth of the Christian Church. “Think about this”, he’s saying; Pay attention! This is important! And then, a little prayer. “and the Lord give thee understanding”. “I suffer trouble, as an evil doer, even unto bonds; but the word of God is not bound.”
Paul was in jail, chained. He wasn’t protesting his innocence! He was just stating a fact. There would have been no point in Paul launching into a dissertation concerning his crimes or lack of them. Timothy knew why he was in chains, and Paul knew that he knew. Paul was simply commenting upon his state. “I am in shackles, but the Word of God is free”!
“And furthermore”, Paul says, “It’s worth it!” “Therefore I endure all things for the elect's sakes, that they may also obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory.” That’s what that means. “If chaining me brings more people to Jesus Christ, then let’s go for it!”, he’s saying. “For if we be dead with him, we shall also live with him: If we suffer, we shall also reign with him:” This life is not about chains and prisons. It’s not even about death or taxes. It’s about living life like Jesus Christ, or at least as much like him as we can possibly manage. Nothing in this world means a hill of beans, compared to being a part of the body of Jesus Christ! God’s idea in creating us seems to have been to make a creature that would be exactly like Jesus Christ, but we fell away from that, so God send Jesus himself to earth, to show us how to do it, and he did.
And, of course, Paul was, if anything, completely honest: he told the other side of the story, too: “if we deny him, he also will deny us: If we believe not, yet he abideth faithful: he cannot deny himself.” Jesus Christ, the Son of David, to Jews; the Son of the Living God to us, cannot deny himself, and so if we are members of him, by faith, he cannot and he will not deny us eternal life with him. Only we can do that. He died to save us. That’s a fact. He made us eternally a part of Him through Baptism. That’s a fact, too. Now it’s up to us whether to accept it, or not. We don’t have to.
We can say “Oh, no, thank you. I believe I prefer chains to freedom. I think I’d rather lie in prison than to run free.” We can do that. And, the chains don’t have to be made of iron, either, and the prison doesn’t have to have walls of stone. A man or woman can be quite as tightly bound with cords of silk or velvet as with chains of iron or steel. Chains of our own making are quite as restraining as those imposed upon us. And prisons? Hate is a prison. So is Lust. So is envy. And gluttony: have you ever seen one of those National Enquirer stories about a man or woman who can’t get out of bed because they’ve eaten themselves beyond the power of their muscles to allow them to move? Every year we read and watch movies about man’s ability to break out of prisons of greed, whether it be Ebenezer Scrooge or the Grinch who stole Christmas.
Oh, yes, there are many prisons waiting for us, and many of them have very soft and comfortable cells, with very comfortable cuffs and chains in them. And, I haven’t even mentioned the harder, harsher chains inside the even higher and darker walls of drug and alcohol abuse, and the sex trade and organized crime. But through all this, we must remember the words of our lesson this morning: “the Word of God is not bound”. Whatever our situation here in this life, “the Word of God is not bound”. And, as the Apostle John said in a slightly different context, “In the Beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God….” Jesus Christ is the Word of God, and in Him lies complete freedom, not just now, but for all eternity. Amen.
Homily for Trinity 5 at Christ Chapel at Sound Retreat Farm, 12 July, 2020
Rev’d Dr. Tom Hiter,
“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. For by it the elders obtained a good report. Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear.” I won’t go on; at least not right now. You all recognize this lesson. Almost every Christian recognizes the 11th Chapter of the Book of Hebrews. It even has a common name: “The Faith Chapter”. It’s because that’s what it deals with, more in detail and more thoroughly than any other chapter anywhere in the New Testament.
It is, of course, found in the Book of Hebrews. Hebrews is one of those unusual Books in the New Testament Canon. It was written anonymously. Nobody claimed credit. Christians over the years have given credit, of course! For most of Church History, Paul was given credit for Hebrews, though today (and for the past several hundred years), that view has not predominated. Some have named Clement of Rome as the probably author, and others Luke, the Evangelist. Others have suggested Barnabas as the author, and still others Silas. Martin Luther argued in favor of Apollos, but the truth is, we just don’t know. We know that it is very early, having been written while Timothy was still alive, as well as some other Apostles and disciples, for they are mentioned in the text. Persecutions were going on, but that was true of virtually every decade after AD 30. But still, it seems almost certainly to have been written during the 1st Century.
We know, too, who it was written to: Hebrews. Jews, probably Jewish converts to Christianity, though actual conversion may not have been assumed, quite yet. Christians may very well still have been Jews, in the opinion of Rome and many others, at the time. The purpose of the letter (for it was written as a letter) is not in wide question, either: it was written to ethnic Jews and/or Jewish Christians to “clear up” some Jewish ideas about Jesus and the Church. In its earliest form, the text was titled “To the Hebrews”. The author makes frequent reference to Old Testament writings, as if he assumes his readers will be familiar with what he says, but the text he cites is the Septuagint—the Greek version of the Hebrew texts. Now, we mustn’t make too much of this, for Jesus himself often quoted that source, but in a letter addressed specifically to Jews, one might have expected a bit more Jewishness than is apparent.
But, anyway, that’s what the book is about: a letter to Jewish converts to Christianity, designed to reinforce in them the fact that Jesus Christ had come to fulfill their own earlier Jewish faith. That he was, indeed, their Messiah! And that brings us to our lesson, this morning. Faith!
“By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, by which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts: and by it he being dead yet speaketh. By faith Enoch was translated that he should not see death; and was not found, because God had translated him: for before his translation he had this testimony, that he pleased God. But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him. By faith Noah, being warned of God of things not seen as yet, moved with fear, prepared an ark to the saving of his house; by the which he condemned the world, and became heir of the righteousness which is by faith.” And, so forth. I could go on. Indeed, I am tempted to do so. Nowhere is it made clearer what is expected of us in terms of faith! “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”
People ask us sometimes what we “believe”. The only reasonable answer lies in the 3 ancient Creeds and the 39 Articles of Religion, but those are all manmade documents! They provide answers as to why we believe, not “what”. If someone wants to know “why” we believe, the answer is simpler: “Faith”. Faith gives us all the answer we need. Indeed, faith gives us all the proof we could ever ask for!
How was Abraham able to keep on getting up, folding up his tents and walking off into the desert while in his 90s? Because he had faith. How was Sarah able to conceive and bear a child at the same age? Faith. If we have faith the size of a grain of mustard seed, we could move mountains, Jesus told us. People question your faith? Pshaw! Faith proves itself. You may lose your beliefs, but you can never lose faith, not once you have it! “These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. For they that say such things declare plainly that they seek a country. And truly, if they had been mindful of that country from whence they came out, they might have had opportunity to have returned. But now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he hath prepared for them a city.” We can believe” almost anything we like, but if we have faith, then we will go to be with God in the hereafter. That’s faith!
Homily delivered on Trinity 4 at Christ Chapel, 5 July, 2020
By Rev. Dr. Tom Hiter
St. Luke vi. 36.
How many brief quotations from our lesson this morning do you suppose made it into Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations, or Roget’s Thesaurus? Quite a few, I’ll bet! Just look: “Judge not, and ye shall not be judged:”; “give, and it shall be given unto you;”; “Can the blind lead the blind? shall they not both fall into the ditch?”; “The disciple is not above his master:”. And, so on. But my personal favorite has to be “And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but perceivest not the beam that is in thine own eye?” Wow. That really hits home with me. I’ll tell you why.
I have made a long life out of telling other people how to behave!
I joined the Boy Scouts when I was eleven years old, and within a year I was an assistant patrol leader, giving people orders. Not that I started then; I had been ordering my sister around for years. But it got to be a recognized trait in the Scouts. Assistant Patrol Leader, Patrol Leader, Senior Patrol Leader, Junior Assistant Scoutmaster, and eventually Assistant Scoutmaster, Scoutmaster, District Chairman, District Commissioner, Council Commissioner and member of the National Council. Eagle Scout, Award of Merit, Silver Beaver, Woodbadge…,
And perhaps my first adult act was to sign a contract to join the ROTC. Cadet, Second Lieutenant, First Lieutenant, Captain, Major, even Lieutenant Colonel, if you count State and National Guard ranks. All of them, every job in every unit for twenty years, all about telling other people what to do, every day all day. And lots of nights! And, my second career, in education: I could have done my Ph.D. in History and become a scholar in a subject I dearly loved, but no, I had to do it in Ed Leadership, and get a School Superintendent’s License! Twenty more years spent telling people how to teach, instead of actually teaching, and how to run schools, instead of actually running one. Well, running many; I did run one, for a while, though not very well. And now, this!
But, the lesson this morning has to be spoken to; it is the word of God, and it is true, and so I have no choice but to do it, even though it seems to be aimed directly at me, if you get my drift. The clear message of today’s lesson is “mind your own business, if you want to get along”. Oh, dear.
But, then, maybe it’s not quite as bad as it looks. That lesson is, after all, from the parable. Jesus told the parable as an answer to observed behavior, didn’t he? He almost always did. Having observed bad behavior, he would tell a parable to show the offenders how they had screwed up. I think that’s what he did in our lesson this morning.
So, what’s the bad behavior? Well, obviously, criticizing the behavior of other people, when you’re guilty of the same thing (or worse), yourself. Note the qualifier in there: not just criticizing other people’s behavior; in fact, near the end of the lesson, he seems to virtually encourage criticizing bad behavior, but only after you have fixed your own behavior! Quite a difference, when you think about it. “Thou hypocrite, cast out first the beam out of thine own eye, and then shalt thou see clearly to pull out the mote that is in thy brother's eye.” This was not new territory for Jesus. Remember the story of the woman caught in adultery? Even given that there has historically been some question as to the authenticity of that whole passage from John, Chapter 8, recent finds dating back as far as 75 AD include it, and the best modern Bible scholarship tends to accept it as valid, and in it, Jesus, who certainly had a perfect right to criticize the woman’s obviously bad behavior (I mean, she had been caught in the act!), he did not. Nor, did he judge. He didn’t forgive, either, though many people argue that he did; he simply refused to judge. He told the crowd, “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone”. Nobody did, and the crowd of men slipped away. When they were all gone, Jesus asked the woman not “Woman, are you without sin?”, but rather, “Woman, where are your accusers?”. She said “They’re all gone”, and Jesus simply said, “well, I won’t accuse you, either”.
In our lesson this morning, it’s clear that he was suggesting the same rule of behavior for all of us. “Judge not, lest you be also judged”. Actually that precise wording is itself a misquote, and of a different passage, anyway. The verse that is usually quoted is Matthew 7:1-2, which actually says “Do not judge, so that you will not be judged, since you will be judged in the same judgment that you make, and you will be measured by the same standard you apply.”, or words that mean the same thing. Again, we humans have changed Jesus’s words around a little, to make it look like we’re not quite as culpable as we secretly know that we are. But, the intent is the same, in both cases. Or, all three, if we include the story of the woman in John. So, that makes Matthew, Luke and John, all teaching the same lesson from Jesus, and that’s pretty compelling, isn’t it? So, what is the message?
I think it’s just what Jesus said it was and is. We are going to be judged by the standards we judge others by. We are going to receive the same treatment we treat other people with. Call it “karma”, if you like. Or call it the Golden Rule. We’re not told “don’t judge”. We’re told “you’re going to be judged exactly as you have judged”, and that seems to mean “Be merciful, if you’re interested in obtaining mercy”. Not even “judge fairly”. Some of us, like me, can’t afford “fairness”. I need mercy, and so, if I understand the lesson correctly, I’d better show mercy. Amen.
Homily delivered at Christ Chapel on Trinity III, 28 June, 2020
By Dr. T. Y. Hiter
I Peter 3:17 - 4:6
Millie and I watched a movie on EWTN the other evening. “Peter”. It opened with the crucifixion, then followed the Apostle Peter through the next several years, until, in fact, he left Jerusalem to go to Rome. It was as accurate a portrayal as any fictionalized movie can be, and the actor who played Peter did, I think, a good job. The only real problem I had with it was that I found myself agreeing with it, by and large. That is, my idea of the Apostle Peter is of a gruff self-centered older man, a commercial fisherman way too likely to go off half-cocked and frankly not too terribly smart. A lot like me, I think. So, when Peter is portrayed this way in a movie, I instinctively distrust it, because while that picture may be accurate concerning Peter before the crucifixion, it most certainly was not so, afterwards. Peter the dumb old Galilean fisherman no longer existed after the fires of the Holy Ghost descended on him on that long-ago Pentecost. Peter may have remained illiterate (or he may not have—we don’t have any information on that), but he was no dumb clod. He spoke and he wrote (through a secretary—John Mark, mostly) some of the clearest and most moving lines of scripture there are.
If Peter wrote a Gospel, it did not survive. In fact, there was a “Gospel of Peter” that circulated in the First and Second Century, but it was rejected when the Church put together the New Testament Canon as being unlikely to have been written by Peter, himself. The letters though, nobody really even suggests that they were written by anybody but the Rock, himself.
The first one, the one that our lesson comes from, was apparently written in the early 60s, AD. Silvanus, or Silas, helped put it together and may have taken it as dictation. 2nd Peter was written a few years later, shortly before Peter’s death, traditionally in Rome, and traditionally during the first Roman persecution, under Emperor Nero. Our lesson comes from the third Chapter. It is largely a work of Theology, and it is not the work of an unlearned man.
We are told in this short little lesson, for example, facts about God and about both the Old and the New Testament that we can get nowhere else. In Genesis, we’re told that Noah and his wife and their three sons and their wives survived the Flood in the Ark. But we get no details about how many wives the sons had. Peter answers that: 8, total. Four men and four women. Monogamy was what God chose to save from the flood. Likewise, we are told nowhere else that Jesus went to preach to the souls in Hell during the time he was dead. We’re told elsewhere that he went to Hell, but what he did there is revealed in this letter from Peter. We’re told here, too, that Jesus is in Heaven, seated at the right hand of Got the Father, Almighty. These are not the cogitations of an ignorant hillbilly. These are great Theological truths.
He tells us something else, too. He tells us how to handle our former friends who can’t understand why we’ve rejected their lifestyle by becoming Christians. Look there in Chapter 4, verses 3 through 6: “3 For the time past of our life may suffice us to have wrought the will of the Gentiles, when we walked in lasciviousness, lusts, excess of wine, revellings, banquetings, and abominable idolatries: 4 Wherein they think it strange that ye run not with them to the same excess of riot, speaking evil of you: 5 Who shall give account to him that is ready to judge the quick and the dead.” “Your former friends want to know why you no longer carry on the way you used to? Because Jesus Christ died to earn forgiveness for me, that’s why!” They badmouth you for it? Fine. They will have to answer for their lifestyle. You will not. Even though you lived the same way: even if you engaged in all the sins Peter lists, sins of the flesh and all kinds of lusts and drunkenness and lasciviousness, you will not have to answer for them. Jesus Christ did that, already. It’s over. As Peter says, “Forasmuch then as Christ hath suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves likewise with the same mind: for he that hath suffered in the flesh hath ceased from sin; That he no longer should live the rest of his time in the flesh to the lusts of men, but to the will of God.” Does that mean we’re never supposed to go to another party? Of course not. Jesus did his first miracle at a wedding reception. So what’s wrong with “revellings” and “banquetings” ? Look at the very next few words: “and abominable idolatries”; These parties Peter’s talking about were sponsored by the various pagan temples, in honor of their gods and goddesses. They were worship events, where people were invited to come and eat,, drink, and whatever. Often, there were drunken orgies, and the priests of the temple would write it all off as “worship”. That’s what Peter is talking about. Not wedding feasts. Not even block parties, or Tater Day or the Fourth of July. God wants us to celebrate that kind of thing. He just doesn’t want us to fall into drunkenness and lasciviousness in doing it. That’s Satan’s idea, not Gods. Peter was working for God.
And, Peter says “you’re forgiven”. What if you sin again, after Baptism? That’s been an item of debate ever since the First Century. We have an answer in Article 16 of the 39 Articles of Religion: We are forgiven, and God has forgiven us. That’s all we need to know. It’s a mystery. How far can we push God, before it becomes sin against the Holy Ghost? I do not know. That’s up to God. I’m pretty sure that if I don’t TRY to stop sinning, I’ll have to pay for it, but I do not know the details. Peter tells us that Christians try to live like Christ. That’s good enough for me.
Homily delivered at Christ Chapel on Trinity II, 21 June, 2020
By Dr. T. Y. Hiter
I Corinthians 13
Even people who have never been inside a Church, upon hearing almost any line of our Second Lesson will respond “that’s from the Bible”. It appears in the ritual of any number of organizations, some of a Christian nature, and some not. It has been a favorite of poets, songwriters and others for at least as long as we have been using the King James Bible. It’s a standard in marriage ceremonies, at least in its most modern translations. It is one of the most beautiful sets of words to be found in the English language. The reason, of course, is the recurring emphasis on “charity”. “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing.” And, so it goes. For more than a dozen lines, Paul spells out the variety of things that are meaningless without “charity”.
Almost all the later translations change the word from “charity” to a very different one, for us, though it is an accurate translation in King James terms: “love”. To be fair, there are almost as many of us who are familiar with the passage using “love” as there are who remember the good old King James “charity”, but that just makes it the more interesting, doesn’t it? What does “love” have to do with “charity”?
Well, first of all, we have to remember that the English word “love” is a multi-purpose word, to say the least. Traditionally, there are three Greek words that translate into English as “love”: eros, phileo, and agape. These are traditionally clarified as “the love between a man and a woman”, “brotherly love”, and “godly love”. Actually, eros never appears in the New Testament, so I’m not sure why we worry much about it, in making translations. But, between the remaining two words, as noted in Vine’s Expository Dictionary, even phileo and agape are very different things. Not once are we exhorted to “love” God with phileo. We worship God with agape. To “love” life, as in John 12:25, with phileo is very bad. To “love” life as in 1 Peter 3:10, with agape though, is laudatory. It’s all about us, really. It’s about why we do the things we do in the two cases. C.S. Lewis, in his beautifully clear and readable The Four Loves from 1960 argues that there were actually four Greek words for what we call “love”: eros, phileo, storge and agape. Lewis translates these as eroticism, friendship, affection and charity. I like his typology a lot, but I would even add a fifth kind of “love”; one that didn’t even exist, when Paul’s letter to the Corinthians was written: Romantic Love.
Romantic love was invented during the Middle Ages, somewhere in southern France or Northern Italy. It came about as medieval ladies found themselves surrounded at court by dozens of virile young knights and squires, some number of musicians, called troubadors, all writing and performing the newly invented “love songs”, and, without a doubt, splashing through oceans of sexual tension. The husbands of these ladies were, likely as not, off crusading or jousting or hunting. The kind of “love” most of us think about when we hear the word used in a current popular or country song is this kind of love. The kind of love dramatized in thousands of what my old high school English teacher used to call “John loves Mary” novels. Harlequin Romances. The very word “romance”, until very recently, was used to describe this kind of fantastic, half-imaginary tale, filled with bigger than life characters, bigger than life concerns, bigger than life sexual attraction, but without any (or at least very much) actual sex. Indeed, the word “sex”, itself, has been misappropriated in this regard. The English word “sex” is taken from a Latin word that just means “half”. Half the human race is male. The other half is female. Thus, “sex”. There are two of them. Nowadays, though, “sex” has come to mean “sexual intercourse”, and this is largely as a result of this emphasis in our popular culture on romantic possibilities. You see, to call it “erotic” makes it somehow dirty, and fit only for backstreets and commercial ventures in porn shops. To “make love” or increasingly, “to have sex” is much more refined than to do the same things and call them by their rightful English names. Oh, well. It’s done, and this kind of relationship has gotten all mixed up with “affection” and “sexual attraction” and even with “friendship” to the extent that when we hear the word “love”, even in today’s passage of scripture, we often think of something that wasn’t really meant.
But, the word that Paul used in our passage wasn’t sex, it wasn’t friendship, and it wasn’t even affection. It was agape, and agape is a very special kind of love. So, then, think “charity”. What do we mean, when we say “charity”? Charity is defined as “good will” or “benevolence”. It is found in gestures of kindness and generosity. When involved in the giving of time or money, which has become the most popular modern definition, it emphasizes the voluntary nature of such giving. Charity is selfless giving of one’s own self or resources. This is made most clear in Paul’s injunction “Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked”.
Now, one might think that “charity”, using the modern definition, would be perfectly captured in the phrase, “And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing”, but here, we have to look behind the actual words. For example, look at the word “profit”. What does “profit” have to do with it? Do we somehow “profit” from giving charity? Well, we might. In the New Revised Standard translation, it says “if I hand over my body that I may boast”. You see, it’s not the act that’s important, it’s the reason for the act. If we get to brag that we’ve done (or are about to do) it’s not charity, no matter how “good” it is. It’s not agape. It might be friendly; it might be affectionate. It might even be sexy. But, it won’t be charity. If we stand to gain from it, it’s not what Paul is telling us is the most important thing we can ever do, to anyone, for any reason.
Jesus sai: that charity is why we’ve been put here on this earth! Not “love”. Love can mean at least three other things, as we’ve seen. Only charity, only agape carries the selfless, voluntary cachet that is necessary. And, that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it? Paul makes that very clear. “When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.” He’s speaking as a mature adult, here. Not as a lovestruck teenager or even as a hearty good fellow among friends or an affectionate advisor or family member. He’s speaking as a sober adult, with all the duties and responsibilities of one such. And, he’s telling us directly: voluntarily giving of ourselves to help others is why we’re here. Why? Well, he’s not entirely sure. “For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.” One translation says “in riddles”; others say “obscurely”, for “through a glass, darkly”. I like the King James English. The point is the same: One day, in heaven, it’ll all be made clear. In the meantime, Jesus told us to love God and love one another. The word He used in both cases was “agape”. Charity. Selfless, voluntary giving of ourselves, in goodness, to another. It’s also the word used in the Bible for the love God has for us. Maybe that’s why Paul ended his passage with “but the greatest of these is charity”. We’d do well to copy him, in this. Someday, we’ll know why. In the meantime, Jesus says, “just do it!”
Homily for Christ Chapel on Trinity 1; 14 June, 2020
Dr. T. Y. Hiter
Sin enters creation and is defeated
Genesis 3 and Romans 5
Our homilies usually deal with the message in the New Testament, or “second” lesson. Every now and then, they will deal with the First Lesson, the Old Testament text. But sometimes, just every now and then, there seems to be no choice but to deal with both texts, and this morning is one of those days. The First, or Old Testament lesson deals with the entry of sin into the world. The Second, or New Testament lesson explains God’s plan for overcoming it. They fit perfectly; there seems to be no choice but to combine them into one sermon.
We all know the story of Eve and the Serpent. Even non-Christians can pretty well recite it. Things were going really well; God had created everything and then finally a beautiful and verdant garden, which He called Eden. He created a man to maintain it, named Adam, and even gave him a woman to be his wife and helper. He only made one Rule: Don’t eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, or you will die. Adam named his wife Eve. Adam named a lot of things. Then, one day, the snake came to Eve and in the sneakiest way imaginable, talked her into eating the fruit of the tree. She in turn, beguiled her husband into doing the same, and sure enough, once they recognized the difference between good and evil, they started hiding from God because they were naked. God saw what was going on, threw them out of the garden, and sure enough, they died, just as God had told them would happen.
Well. That’s the Cliff’s Notes version, but it’s pretty close to the original. With Eve’s disobedience, and Adam’s going along with her, sin entered God’s previously perfect creation. The thing has been debated ever since: Is sin woman’s fault, because she gave in to the devil? Or, is it the man’s fault, because he listened to her? Or, is it the snake’s fault, because he lied to them in the first place? The arguments go round and round, and nobody ever quite proves any of it. The snake, the serpent, the devil, when you get right down to it, was then and is now the sworn enemy of mankind as well as of God. His hatred for us is excelled only by his devious ways of getting us to sin against God. We’ve talked about this before: most sin as it’s discussed in the bible is, in the Greek, “hamartia”, “to miss the mark”. But this is not the only word for sin. We also find the Greek word “hamartemo” sed in the New Testament, and that word means “an act of disobedience to divine law”. Disobedience is quite a different thing than missing the mark. Now, of course, this story comes not from the New Testament, but from the oldest of the Old: the third Chapter of Genesis, so it makes no difference what the Greek word might have been. And, guess what? Adam’s and Eve’s disobedience is not even called “sin” in Hebrew. It’s just “disobedience”.
So, what was the original sin? That of Adam and Eve, without regard to who went first. Why was this unfortunate listening to the guidance of the devil, in the person of a snake, the precursor to all sin? Because it was the first instance of our all too-human tendency to think we know better than God. All our sins, really, come from that. God makes rules. We think we understand the situation better than He does. God sets a mark for us to shoot at. No matter how hard we try, we miss. We always miss. That’s sin, but we miss, always, because we rely on our own skills and knowledge and strength instead of His. Adam and Eve’s sin was not eating the fruit. It was thinking they could make up their own minds about it, instead of just obeying. And, that brings us to the Second Lesson. Our original sin not only made it difficult for God to reveal himself to us; it made it impossible! So God set out right then and there to find a way to make it possible, again. How? Let’s read from Paul’s letter to the Romans:
“Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned: (For until the law sin was in the world: but sin is not imputed when there is no law. Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over them that had not sinned after the similitude of Adam's transgression, who is the figure of him that was to come. But not as the offence, so also is the free gift. For if through the offence of one many be dead, much more the grace of God, and the gift by grace, which is by one man, Jesus Christ, hath abounded unto many. And not as it was by one that sinned, so is the gift: for the judgment was by one to condemnation, but the free gift is of many offences unto justification. For if by one man's offence death reigned by one; much more they which receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness shall reign in life by one, Jesus Christ.) Therefore as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life. For as by one man's disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous. Moreover the law entered, that the offence might abound. But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound: That as sin hath reigned unto death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord.”
Sin entered the world and made us incapable of approaching God when Adam and Eve decided they knew better than God. That brought death into the world along with pain and suffering and disobedience. God realized that only through a “new Adam” could the stain of disobedience be wiped out, and He sent His own son to live a sinless life and die for all mankind regardless, and that is exactly what happened. Sin has no hold on us. Nobody ever had to disobey, but we all had to “miss the mark”. Now, we no longer have to do either. We are Justified just as if it had been us on that cross. That’s the good news.