29 November 2011

The problem...

...with Protestantism is not so much in the predicates--its words or works--as it is in the subject doing the predicates. To use an analogy: speaking the words or doing the works of a husband does not make one a husband. One must be husband first, truly to say husbandly words or do husbandly things.

If a Protestant were able to offer quotations from hundreds of their writers on every conceivable topic, and if (impossible as it is) all of them were found to be completely Orthodox...if Protestants were able even to demonstrate Orthodox worship (whether of the Western or Eastern rite, it matters not)...none of those things would fix the root problem.

What's lacking is ecclesiality.

Whatever it is--a school of thought, a religious assembly of like-minded people--it isn't Church.

That is the tragedy of Protestantism.

20 November 2011

Homily on the Entrance of the Theotokos

Today we mark the feast of the Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple, to the Holy of Holies. There are some who would say that the Scriptures are silent about this Feast; but that is because they read the Scriptures in the way of the Sadducees, who read the book of Exodus again and again and never saw, in the story of the burning bush, a proof of the resurrection.
The Theotokos is the ark of God, foreshadowed by the Old Testament Ark of the Covenant. Just as the Ark contained the tables of the Law of God, so she held within her womb the God who gave the Law. Just as the Ark was most holy, so also she is most holy.
In last evening’s Vespers service we heard three Old Testament readings. The first marked the setting up of the tabernacle, the tent of meeting. When Moses put the ark of the covenant into the tabernacle, the Lord’s glory filled the place and Moses himself could not enter. The second reading marked the completion of Solomon’s temple. We read, “And the priests brought in the ark of the covenant of the Lord unto his place…and when the priests had come out of the holy place, the cloud filled the house, and the priests were not able to minister.” The final reading is Ezekiel’s prophecy of the Theotokos as the new and final Temple. But in Ezekiel, no ark is mentioned! Why? Because in the New Covenant, the Theotokos is both the Temple and the ark of God. She contains God within her womb.
What more natural place for the Ark of the New Covenant, then, but the Holy of Holies of the Old Covenant’s Temple? There, we are taught, the Mother of Light was led by the lights of the temple virgins up the steps of the Temple. She entered the Most Holy Place, as was fitting; and there she lived until the time she was given to Joseph.
And so in this feast, we mark the beginning of the end of the Old Covenant, and the beginning of the beginning of the New Covenant. The Old Testament types find their fulfillment in her: The Tabernacle of the Word enters the tabernacle; the Ark of the Word enters the most holy place. The Book of Life, who would receive the imprint of the living Word, comes to the place where the tables of the Law had been kept. And so we sing:
Today the Virgin is the foreshadowing of the pleasure of God,
and the beginning of the preaching of the salvation of mankind.
Thou hast appeared in the Temple of God openly and hast gone before,
preaching Christ to all.
Let us shout with one thrilling voice, saying:
Rejoice, O thou who art the fulfillment of the Creator’s dispensation.
What does this mean for us, then, beloved? For you young people, who ask yourselves, “Why am I here? What is the purpose of my life?”—follow the Theotokos and learn to seek your fulfillment, not in the distractions and deceitfulness of the world, but in the holy place of God. You will not find God’s will for you in amusement and distraction, but by sitting quietly in his holy place. “Blessed are those who hear the Word of God and keep it,” just as did Mary.
And for us who are older, let us beware of wandering too far from the Temple. Let us occupy our minds and hearts with the Word of God and with prayer. Let us prepare a place within ourselves, that He whose first coming we remember in this season may find a fitting home when he returns in the glory of his Father with all the holy angels. Amen.

14 November 2011

Sermon on the Good Samaritan 2011

“Desiring to justify himself, the lawyer asked, ‘But who is my neighbor’?” We can understand that question. It’s one we ask each and every day. If that person is my neighbor, I have a responsibility for him. God tells me to love him as I love myself…and that means to care for him in practical ways, to remain open to him, to forgive him.
But if I can truly say he’s not my neighbor, then I’m off the hook. When God asked Cain, “Where is your brother?” and Cain answered, “Am I my brother’s keeper?,” Cain was really saying, “He’s not my neighbor.” Cain was trying to justify himself.
The problem the lawyer in today’s text had, was that he thought of the word “neighbor” as a noun. A neighbor is someone I have. When the priest and then the Levite pass by the half-dead man on the road, it’s because they had learned not to see him as neighbor. It’s a survival strategy. When I see someone as neighbor, I see his plight as mine. I enter his experience. I run the risk of harming myself to help him. “How can I stop to help that guy?” the priest and Levite must have thought. “For all I know, the robbers are waiting for me.”
Who is my neighbor? Is it the man on the road? Is it the revolutionaries in Libya? Is it Quadaffi? Is it the Occupy Wall Street protesters? The Tea Party? The victims of child abuse? The abuser? The ones who covered it up? The Israelies, or the Iranians? Who’s wrong, and who’s right? Who is my neighbor? I suppose if you were to sum up the whole course of human history, from Cain and Abel to this morning’s headlines, it’s nothing but a constant posing and answering of that question. How’s that workin’ for us?

There is another way…a way Christ gives us in our Gospel. That’s to see the word “neighbor” not as a noun, but as a verb. Neighbor isn’t something I have; neighbor is something I do. See how Christ concludes our text: “Which of these showed himself to be neighbor?” When the lawyer answered, “The one who showed mercy,” Christ responded, “Go and do the same.”
This view, that neighbor is a verb, is stressed in The Brothers Karamazov. Listen to just one excerpt:
Do not say, "Sin is mighty, wickedness is mighty, evil environment is mighty, and we are lonely and helpless, and evil environment is wearing us away and hindering our good work from being done." Fly from that dejection, children! There is only one means of salvation, then take yourself and make yourself responsible for all men's sins, that is the truth, you know, friends, for as soon as you sincerely make yourself responsible for everything and for all men, you will see at once that it is really so, and that you are to blame for everyone and for all things. But throwing your own indolence and impotence on others you will end by sharing the pride of Satan and murmuring against God.
Everyone we see, everyone we hear, everyone we hear about—each of them is my neighbor. Love makes no distinction of persons. And I am responsible for them, to do whatever I can to serve—not their passions, but them.
Only when I see my responsibility, can I learn my inability, my unworthiness. I can see myself as broken and battered, lying by the side of the road, wounded not so much by others as by my own self-centeredness.

But then it is that I see the Samaritan who came for me…who entered my reality and life and joined it with his own. Only then can I see how great a gift he gives me in this inn, this church, this hospital for sinners. He is my neighbor, who showed himself my neighbor by bearing all my sin and by dying my death. He is my neighbor, who washed me clean in Baptism, anointed me with his Holy Spirit, feeds me with his life-giving body and blood.

I am responsible for all; I am guilty before all of you; and therefore I am justified—not by anything I have done, but by him who justifies the ungodly and shows mercy to sinners.