"The Preachers chiefly shall take heed that they teach nothing in their preaching, which they would have the people religiously to observe and believe, but that which is agreeable to the Doctrine of the Old Testament and the New, and that which the Catholick Fathers and Ancient Bishops have gathered out of that Doctrine." A proposed canon of Elizabeth I, 1571

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Location: Bedford, Texas, United States

I am a presbyter in the diocese of Fort Worth, Texas (Anglican Church in North America). I serve as Chaplain at St. Vincent's School and as a canon of St. Vincent's Cathedral Church in Bedford, Texas. In addition to my parish duties and teaching Religion classes in the school I am also the Middle School Social Studies teacher.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

A Homily for Holy Tuesday

Our reading tonight from St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians is one of my favorite passages of Scripture. This might surprise you a bit, as St. Paul’s dismissal of “the wisdom of the world” is sometimes thought to be “anti-intellectual.” And as many of you know, I have spent a fair amount of time in school. (My parents are sitting there thinking “That’s an understatement!”) Most of my adult life has been spent in the company of the “wise men” and “scribes” of a dozen colleges and universities. And when I hear “the debaters of this age” dismissed by the blessed apostle tonight I instantly think of my days as a lawyer in west Texas. So perhaps you can understand why tonight’s epistle lesson seems to have been written just for me! I know the wise men, scribes and debaters of this age pretty well, and frankly, they could stand "a good talking to"!

But first, let me clear up one misconception. St. Paul was not anti-intellectual. From the Acts of the Apostles we learn that Paul was himself a student in Jerusalem of the respected Rabbi Gamaliel, one of the finest intellects in first century Judaism. From Paul’s letters we can tell that the apostle had received a good education, equivalent to that of a college graduate in the Humanities today. He quotes from Greek poetry and alludes to the teachings of some of the great Greek philosophers from time to time. In short, Saint Paul was a bright, well-educated man who carefully crafted his letters and speeches to appeal to bright, well-educated people. He clearly respected “the life of the mind.”

However, Paul insisted that his Christian converts keep things in proper perspective. For even though the human intellect is capable of amazing things, we must never forget that our minds bear the marks of the Fall, just as our bodies and wills do. To paraphrase St. Paul, we have become futile in our thinking and our senseless minds have been darkened. We ought to be able to see the hand of the divine Artist in the beauty of the world around us and spontaneously offer worship to our Creator God. Yet our minds seldom rise above the stuff of earth, so we bow down to second-rate, imitation gods of our making instead. The Lord in whose image we are made saw fit to implant His moral law within our hearts, yet our feeble minds can make out only its vaguest outlines. So we cobble together our own makeshift “moralities” instead, chasing after a phantom “goodness” we can never achieve on our own. Nor were these problems solved when God sent Moses and the holy prophets to carry His Word to the covenant people. The same defective intellects that failed to find God by means of the created order could not comprehend the depths of Scriptural truth either. So the human race languished in ignorance and idolatry from Adam until the coming of Christ. And the fallen human mind--what St. Paul called “the wisdom of the world” and we tend to call “common sense”--told us “that’s just the way the world works.”

But when Redemption finally did come it flew in the face of this “common sense.” We should admit it: it is difficult to think of a more “contradictory,” “illogical” and “wrong-headed” plan for salvation than the one God sprang upon the world two thousand years ago in Palestine. The all-powerful Lord of the Universe came to us as the weakest of things, a newborn babe in a manger. The Eternal One entered into time and passed His days just as you and I do: eating, drinking, sleeping, laughing with his friends or sitting alone being bored. And try this one on for size: the God who knows the position of every atom in the cosmos wound up being home-schooled by His mother, a Jewish peasant girl from Galilee! Can you imagine God-on-earth learning to sing “the alphabet song” or doing His math homework? Now that is just weird. You call that a respectable religion? It’s preposterous.

Of course, the contradictions of the Gospel crescendo during Holy Week. For in the coming days the God-man will wash the feet of His friends as if He was the basest of slaves. The Master of the banquet will serve His friends His own flesh and blood for dinner. And the One whose divine finger wrote the Law of God on tablets of stone on Mt Sinai will be condemned to death as a blasphemer of that same Holy Law. That is simply absurd, is it not?

On Friday the King who was hailed by the multitudes last Sunday as He entered His city in triumph will be condemned to death by those very same voices and he will receive his royal crown and purple robes at the hands of Roman specialists in torture and humiliation. And then Love Incarnate will mount His cross and take all the pain and grief and loss the world has ever known or will ever know into His own soul and carry that wretched lot into Hell where they belong. And so the Lord of Life will die to set us free from sin and death.

How does that make any sense? How can a fallen human mind possibly comprehend that? I do not care how much of the world’s wisdom you may possess; it counts for nothing at the foot of the cross of Christ. God-in-the-flesh died for us, so that we need never taste death. The reflections of the wisest of men are like childish babble in comparison with the reality of the Redemption Christ accomplished for us at Calvary. “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”

We cannot do this Truth justice, and yet we must try to speak. If we did not, the very stones themselves would cry out the glories of so great a salvation. So we come here to praise our Father God in the Great Thanksgiving, telling of His love and mercy as our feeble wisdom gives us skill. Then let us offer up ourselves, our souls and bodies, in gratitude for the most precious gift of His Son, “Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.” May the wise men, scribes and debaters of this age remain silent, and learn with us from Christ, the wisdom of God. Amen.


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