Tuesday, January 30, 2007

The one advertisement

Check it out.

Well, sort of.

It won't be the old Cross Theology which you knew and loved, without which you couldn't fall asleep at night. But, well, hopefully it will be something.

In fact, it will be something! It has been growing on my conscience that this something should be! And here it is:

Cross Theology is back in business. Check in daily or weekly for an assortment of pertinent and important quotes and readings from my personal studies into the Church and her context in modern north America and the world.

Wait. Don't fall over! I know. It sounds far too good to be true. But hey, no need to thank me. It's my pleasure.

But, seriously, I hope I find some niche in your world once again, to benefit your growth in faith and life, as you seek to follow the Apostles teachings and apply that Gospel to your present tribulation.

Your servant,

Father Jonathan Fisk

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Epiphany 3 - 2 Kings 5

(wma podcast download link)

So…you’ve just won the superbowl. You led the team the entire season. You called the plays on the final drive. You caught the pass with no time on the clock to gain the one point lead. And now, you’ve resigned for more money than anyone’s made in the history of football. Not to mention, your wife is beautiful. Your kids got your skills. You’re main house is huge and your summer home is gigantic. You are the envy of the entire world…or, well, you would be, if you didn’t have terminal cancer.

That’s about what it felt like to be Naaman. Naaman was almost a King in almost the most powerful nation on earth. His whims and dreams and cares were nothing. The world was his oyster. Except…he was a leper.

Now, you may not know much about leprosy, but to call it cancer is a pretty good equivalent. Contrary to popular belief, leprosy was not contagious. The only reason lepers were ostracized in Jewish culture was because of ritual purification laws, not because of any contagion. So a leper in the ancient world could live just fine, that is, until his face rotted off and he died of consumption at a very young age. Think cancer, only on the outside, and you’ve about got it. So Naaman had it all, except the he was a dead man walking.

So imagine – imagine the hope which filled his superstitious, pagan heart when he heard from a little slave girl about a prophet in Israel who could heal even leprosy because of a God who was truly alive and active. Now maybe he was a skeptic at first, but all the text says is that he sought after this man as quickly as if his life depended on it…because, well, it did.

Yet the most marvelous thing about this history from the Old Testament is not that a pagan would journey to the Israel in search of healing, nor that his King would endorse this trip with gold and silver and passports, nor that the King of Israel would consider it all an act of blatant subterfuge and aggression. The most amazing thing is that, after the prophet Elisha steps into the mix, and after Naaman comes riding into backlands Samaria with all his horses and chariots and pomp and show, and after Elisha then gives Naaman the very thing he’d been seeking – that is, the promise and Word of God assuring him of true, real, tangible healing – the amazing thing is that the first thing superstitious, pagan Naaman does is – go figure – not believe it. Ha!

He wanted smoke and mirrors. He wanted a big half-time show with guest appearances and some fireworks. And all he got was a simple Word telling him that the answer was found in plain, old, dirty river water.

How can water do such things?

“How can water do such things?” he asked in anger! “Is not the water of Syria far cleaner than this filthy Hebrew puddle?”

And that is exactly how far unbelief masquerading as faith will get you. You can seek the answers. You can look for truth. You can be dying to find that thing that deep down you know you really need. But, without faith, when what you really need – a Word from the Living God – comes to you and stares you in the face, and gives you the ultimate answers, without faith, the human being, you, can’t and won’t believe it.

And this is the incredible thing about this text, for it is easy for us to sit and scoff at Naaman, but the reality is that this story isn’t about Naaman at all. It’s about you. You don’t really want God’s answers either. Sure, you say you do, but you’re not fooling anyone, except, maybe yourself. You don’t want God’s answers. You want God to give you your answers. You don’t want eternal salvation as simple as a little water splashed on your face with a promise from the mouth of God about your being connected to his crucified Son. No. You want smoke and mirrors too. You want perfected feelings and adrenalized emotions and ardent, fervor-filled zest for life. You don’t want the Church. You want a good show. You don’t want to have to believe God’s promises. Like the prodigal son, you want see your inheritance right now, so you can spend it on your passions in this life. None of this, “believe it will be done and wait patiently,” stuff for your heart. You want to see it done now, and then, maybe, you’ll believe.

And that’s just it right there. A sinner (which is what you are) can’t believe the Word of God. It’s just not possible. Even with miracles and signs, the crowds still rejected Jesus. They demanded more. To them he replied, “You have the prophets and the Scriptures. If you will not believe them, then even a man rising from the dead will not convince you of who I am.”

And that is the predicament of the entire human race. Naaman wasn’t weird for thinking that washing in a dirty river seven times wouldn’t take away his leprosy. Naaman was normal for thinking that. And you’re not weird for doubting the power of God for regeneration in the plain water of your baptism. You’re normal for thinking that. But normal is the problem. And there we’re stuck. If it’s up to us to believe in Jesus in order to earn our salvation, we’re all done for. So it’s a darned good thing that Jesus didn’t come to demand that we believe in him. It’s a wonderfully good thing that Jesus came to give us belief.

For the greatest miracle of all is not even that Jesus Christ is raised from the dead. The greatest miracle of all is that, because of the working of the Holy Spirit, you believe it. By your own reason or strength, the saving power of a dead man on a cross is foolishness. But because the Spirit of God has come to you in that testimony that Christ has not only died, but risen and will come again, because of the persistent confession of this truth other saints past and present, all saying to you, “Is this not a great Word that God has spoken,” because God has by this same Word flushed your heart and mind with the cleansing waters that hold the power of his eternal Name, - because of all of this work He has done for you - you believe, in spite of your reason and strength.

Reason and strength, once dead in unbelief are now made alive in Christ, renewed and invigorated to apprehend the Word of God. The Lord, because he is merciful, has pursued you, just as he pursued Namaan, so that, even now, he is chasing you, pulling at you, speaking to you words through his servants, guiding you in loving persistence, and gradually, promise by promise, abnormalizing you away from the narrow minded focus of the world and into a cross-eyed addiction to faith. And not just faith in anything, but faith that there truly is a God in Israel, in the catholic Church, in his Church, and that this true God not only exists, but exists in an eternal desire to love you, to want to do good to you, to rejoice in forgiving you of your sins, and to go to any length to save you from death and the power of the devil.

Unbelief is leprosy, and we’ve all got that disease. It’s worse than cancer. It eats away at you. It tears you apart. It ruins you. It turns you into a rotting mass of boredom and complacency, always looking for the better smoke and the shinier mirrors. But faith is the working of the Word of God in you as he purges you of your disease. He says it, and then he does it. And this is what he has said to you. “I wash you, with my name. You are clean.” Is this is not a great word that he has spoken? It’s way better than even winning the Superbowl.

In the Name…

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Epiphany 2 - John 2 (sorry it's late!)

(wma download link here)

You know that kind of day – the kind of day when you just can’t catch a break. It’s not just the boss or the teacher or the traffic or the lines at the store. It’s not any one thing. It’s all of them. They add up, piling on top of each other like a tower of emotional frustration.

It’s usually after one of those days - when you’re just barely getting dinner started, and the kids are hungry, and the spouse is cranky, and your feet are hurting - it’s usually one of those days that it happens. You need it, but there’s no more milk in the fridge. Then it all adds up. The tower of frustration falls over. Life just doesn’t seem to be worth living because the milk has run out.

Maybe that’s never happened to you. But things like that have happened to you. Life has a way of running out just when you feel like you need it most. You need cash, but there’s none in your wallet. You need credit, but it’s maxed. You need socks, but they’re dirty and full of holes. And if you think that’s bad, try living in Darfur where thousands are dying of starvation, disease and murder right now, because of their race and their religion. Or move to south America and see what it’s like to have drug cartels run your country. Or head east in our dear Jersey and get out of your car where the homeless families and prostitutes roam. Life has run out early for them. And you live on, getting upset when you go a day without milk.

What’s going to happen when things really start running out? Oil? Clean air? Drinkable water? If we’re to believe Al Gore’s recent movie about the polar ice-caps, such times may not be so far away. If we pay attention to the rising toll of bird flu deaths in Asia, the pandemic they say is coming might give us cause for pause and prayer. And if we continue to ignore the gradual implementation of Islamic shria law in western civilization, the jihad that will follow will no doubt finally teach us how good this world is at taking away the things you need for security just when you’ve put all of your trust in them. And this is to say nothing of the fact that time itself is running out, running out on you, and on your death bed you will be left wishing you had done more, knowing you haven’t done enough. There, all your selfish pining for a chance to make it up won’t do you a bit of good.

This running out of things, of course, is no mystery to anyone. The rich and completely self-centered people, people like us, do manage to ignore our world’s shortage problem most of the time. Yet, even we are forced to suffer the pain of it. Nothing is sacred to the curse. Nothing is safe from mold, rust and moths. That gas tank revolves around empty like a never ending harpy screaming for you wake up and realize that something is going wrong. Things are running out.

The gas tank, just like the empty bag of sugar in your pantry and the worn out soles on your shoes are there as messengers from God. In an attempt to jerk you out of your sinful enslavement to the materials of this world as your idols and your sources of hope and trust, God withholds from you good things in abundance. God has cursed these good things with rot and decay and non-renewableness because he wants you to see that a sinful life in a broken world is not about fun or entertainment or even good family memories. It’s not about seeing what you can, or getting what you can, or even surviving as long as you can. Those life-goals can be met by just filling up the gas tank again, putting more food on your plate and buying more love in your life. But even with all of that you still are enslaved to your problem, to being in curvatis, to being completely “curved in on yourself.” Things run out from your life because you have run out of faith in God. And as a wakeup call to this problem of your heart, God has withheld all good things in abundance from you, to show you what needs to be filled up first.

But it was to prove that he was the man sent to fill up the first things that Jesus Christ, one day at a wedding in Cana, started bringing about the abundance of paradise just a little bit early. For Isaiah the prophet had foretold that in the world to come God the Lord would “make for all peoples a feast … [including] well aged wine.” And this feast would come with the appearing of the King who would shepherd the peoples back to their God. And in his work of filling the world up with grace again, from the moment he was born in grace as the form of a man, to the moment when he repented in grace of the sins he had not committed and was baptized for their forgiveness, to the many times when he gave that grace in miracles which stopped the running out of wine and bread and health and life, even so that something as simple as a wedding could go on – all of it of was part of his bring to completion that grace in a march with a hardened face towards a cross where the substitution of God for man did more than just give wine in abundance – it kill death and running out forever. More than simply taking away the running out which is the fruit of our sin, it destroyed the faithlessness which is the root of our sin, and by the Word of his resurrection, gave us something to believe in which is the forgiveness of our sin.

When the master of the feast at Cana tasted the wine that Jesus had made, he found that Christ had brought him a wine far better than that which he had tasted before. The wine of this world had not only run out, but paled in comparison to the water combined with the Word of God. And even to this day, in water combined with the Word of God and in wine combined with the Word of God, the best which is yet to come – the best which is saved for last – still comes early in the epiphanies of our Lord, where he manifests and reveals himself to us as the God with the power to stop all running out once and for all, beginning not with the milk or the socks, but starting with your heart, where he has and will continue to give you the faith which brings hope in life everlasting. And believe you me, that is going to be one not-hell of a party.

In the Name…

Saturday, January 13, 2007

The Baptism of Our Lord - Matthew 3

(wma download link here)

“Repent!” That was John the Baptist’s preaching in the wilderness. “Repent, you sinners!” That was what he said to people like you and me; average, mostly-honest people who came out to hear a good, entertaining preacher by the shore. “Weep, mourn and wail. Turn your joy-filled relaxation into bitter distress. Rend your garments as a sign of despair. Repent of your sin.”

Imagine being there, watching this camel-hair wearing, bug-eating semi-lunatic. Do his words truly apply to you? Is it fair that he should speak so loudly, and with such conviction of you? Is it just(ice) for him to claim that you are a sinner worthy of eternal damnation? Because he is the last of the prophet’s of God, sent to prepare the way of the Lord, yes.

Repent, he says, to one and all. And he doesn’t hold back. He doesn’t let you or me anyone off the hook. The Pharisees came to him saying, “How can you tell us that we are at risk of losing salvation? We have Abraham as our father.” That meant “we’re in.” That meant they had made their decision and purchased their salvation ticket. They believed, and they believed they believed…but what they actually believed was not in the forgiveness of sins, but in their own ability to please God.

So, “You brood of vipers,” John lashes out at them. “How dare you try to flee from the wrath of God without faith in your need for forgiveness. And here’s the catch in what he says to them, “Bear fruit in keeping with your claims of repentance.” Faith is not an intellectual yes, but a death to self and rising of God in your life. So John says, “Do not assume that once you have told yourself you believe, you are free to live however you will, and can never fall out of grace. You come to God through mercy. And you stay with God through mercy. So stop seeking your own ends, and live in need of mercy.”

It’s a frightening thing, hearing John the Baptist preach. Terrifying. But, thanks be to God, this is not the main point of Matthew’s Gospel! Thanks be to God, Matthew has something to say to us beyond the Truth that John preached. And try, for a moment, to picture this occasion. John is in the wilderness, preaching this “repent!”, and shouting this “be baptized for forgiveness!” He is accusing the best “believers” of the day of being vipers and liars. He is tearing down every man so that each of us might see our need to be saved from the Lord who was coming very soon to judge and destroy, to burn and devour. And then, in a moment, suddenly he sees that very Lord standing before him, saying, “Baptize me.”

What? Baptize the one who baptism is given to protect us from? Baptize for repentance the one who has nothing to repent of? Baptize for forgiveness the one who comes to forgive? What? “No, no, Lord. It is you who must baptize me, for I am not worthy to do even the most menial tasks such as untie your sandals.”

“Do it, John. For now. This will fulfill all righteousness.” What that means is, this is how I have come to save. Not by power. Not by might. Not by war. Not by destruction. Yes, by bloodshed, but, ponder the marvel of it, by my own bloodshed. I have come to save, not by stopping the wrath to come, but by taking it upon myself in your place. I have come to be baptized for you.

“And look, by being baptized for repentance, I do what you cannot do. I repent for the sins of the whole world and that I do perfectly. I stand as a man and say, “Yes, mankind has been wicked for a long time.” And I plead with my Father, “forgive us.” And look, I will even bear the weight, pay the price, stand in the stead of many by dying their death for them.”

And even as John obeyed his Lord’s words, the clouds opened up, the sky rent in two, the Spirit of God came down to hover over the waters, and the voice of the Father said, “Yes, I am well-pleased with this substitution.” “Yes, I will accept this repentance.” “Yes, my Son, draw all men to yourself and in yourself set all men free.”

If you were here last week, you learned that Epiphany means “revealing,” and that from here until Lent the Church follows the life of Jesus as he reveals to the world that a God become man is a man who has the power of God for salvation built into his blood. The nations saw it first last week through the eyes of wise men. Today, the prophet’s of Israel have also seen and believed.

And why is this? What is all this repentance about? Is it a mandate that we live in constant guilt and shame? No! The opposite! We are not accused so that we shall be driven away thinking we are not saved. We are accused so that we might walk away knowing in all fullness what we must be and are saved from. And seeing that: real, terrible sin in your own heart, in your own life: is to know you have received the substitution of the baptized Son of God, who came down from heaven and was made man in order to repent of that sin for you, and take its punishment upon himself in your place. In him, all righteousness has been fulfilled, and just as his baptism took your sin into himself, your baptism puts his righteousness into you.

It is the great reversal. God says to man, “Repent!” And the Son of God became man so that for man he can say to God, “It is finished.”

In the Name…

Saturday, January 06, 2007

The Epiphany of our Lord - Isaiah 60 (and thank you Father Marc!)

(windows media audio download link here)

Darkness covers the earth. Thick darkness. You lay in your bed. Uncertain. Cold. What is this eclipse? What is this heavy shadow?

You stumble around your house, banging your toes and cursing every piece of furniture you’ve ever bought. You reach for the light switch. Click. Nothing. You look to the windows, thinking there ought to be moonlight, but you can’t even see your hand in front of your face. No microwave clock. No blinking light on the fire alarms. Nothing. Groping, you find the book of matches and emergency candles. You strike one. Nothing. You strike another. You hear the snap and flash of phosophorous, feel the heat, but you see nothing. The world is covered in darkness. Thick darkness.

Such darkness cannot be ignored. It blinds you. It smothers you. It buries you alive. The plants wither and die. The people huddle in corners, frightened, uncertain, wondering why and how this great plague has come. Despair is the song of the darkness. Fear is the strength of the darkness. Ruthless is the heart of this darkness.

And sitting in this darkness, more and more goes by unnoticed. The killing of others so that we might live. The stealing from others so that we might have. The abusing of others because I’m going to get mine, and it’s me against the darkness, so stay out of my way. It is the chaos and hate of deep and unending twilight. Have you lived in this darkness? Can you feel this darkness?

And if the image I paint for you were true…think…how would you live? What would you do? What wouldn’t you do to stay alive when you found that there wasn’t enough food to go around, that there wasn’t enough heat to go around, that it was kill or be killed, have or be had, dog eat dog and man eat man?

No sun, no moon, no stars, no light. A land plunged into neverending darkness. They call it earth, and it already is your home. What would you do? What haven’t you done? Who haven’t you hurt and abused so that you can get yours, so that the darkness doesn’t get you? How much have you befriended the darkness, become a part of it, given your heart to it, in order to survive?

Do you call that survival? Do you call the darkness your light?

But let us return to our fantastic image of a pitch black world, without star or moon, without even fire or spark. Let us imagine ourselves in this valley of the shadows. Let us think how the horror would grip our every waking hour…and then…let me ask you…what would you do…what would you do if in that deep, buried world, you heard a word on the street…you heard a rumor from the mists…you heard a story from others in the shadows… the legend of a city, a city on a mountain, a city on a mountain in a sea of darkness where there was no more darkness but true and living light!?

What would you pay? What wouldn’t you do to reach that city? To find that living? To make your hard and wearied way out of the valley of the shadows and into the rising of the Son that knows no setting? What wouldn’t you give? What could you ever hold back if you knew that there was hope to see again, to feel, to really live, to truly love outside the darkness, in the light of eternal Day.

This is what we remember today, the day we commemorate the Epiphany of our Christ. On this day, we remember a day long ago, a true day, full of real light, when magi from the far east made there way out of their pagan darkness, their godless religions of empty ritual and cabalistic spiritism, of horoscopes and reading of the bowels of dead chickens – they made their dry and weary way out of that darkness, through dangers and perils unknown and untold, in order to fall at the feet of a child. This was because, like you and I, those magi knew the darkness all too well, and, Lord have mercy, they wanted out.

And there, in Jesus Christ, in his person, in his body, the creator of the universe had sent a tabernacle, a tent, a resting place for the glorious light of deity to come into the darkness and get man out. Oh, how wonderfully Isaiah the mighty seer foresaw that great day when he heralded it’s coming time and time before by saying, “the nations lift their eyes from the morbid darkness in which they dwelt without rest; and behold! A light far off but coming. A holy mountain on which God dwells with man again! A haven, a rescue, a place of refuge. And see how the people weep with joy. Look how they come with long awaited yearning. Their sons run. Their young daughters are carried on their shoulders, as in lines and lines of caravans the refugees from the darkness forsake all they knew, all they had, all that in the darkness faded like sunset in behind painful shadows of futility – they leave it all in order to be in the light now and at last.”

Nothing can stop them, nor the Spirit which drives them. All that strives to impede them and stand in their way are indeed mere shadows and whisps of would-be which bleed into the nothingness that is left behind. For these people, blessed of God, see the holy city. They see the Church, and in her midst, as her heart, beaming with a glory original and all his own, the Lord himself is their light – the man, Jesus Christ, high and lifted up, drawing all men to himself, pouring out essential radiance, essential righteousness, essential life upon them. They bathe in him. They eat and drink from him, from his cross. They thrill and exult continually before him, awash in the praises of the Lord.

Like the pillar of fire which went before the people of God of old through desert wastes, the Lamb at the center, even now, is light for we who sojourn in the gloom of this present age. And though he sits on high, you know as well as I by now, that he gives us here, in this place, his own majestic activity: his Word: a lamp to our feet and light to our path. His water: a river of life which flows from a fountain of glimmering eternity. His flesh and blood: the Lamb of God who was slain, and behold, he lives forever in order to take away the sins of the world.

Dear people, what a day to remember and see again this great light. The tomb is empty. The Church has been sent. And she carries the Word which endures for the purpose letting you see to live again.

Will you walk out of these doors then, and in haste forget the light you have seen? Will you, like a fool, turn your back on the beacon of our Holy City? Will you sever yourself from the assembly of the forgiven? Will you make of yourself nothing but a mere pretender, who says, “Ah yes, I see, I see,” but meanwhile meanders on under the inky pall of unbelief, and therefore even teaches your own children to do likewise? Do you think you can live in light and love the darkness?

There is no fellowship between light and darkness, for light by its nature is the destruction of darkness, and darkness by its nature is nothing but the absence of glorious light. You may have everything, or you may have nothing, but you cannot have both. And look, the city of God is before your eyes. And at her heart, as her body, the man Jesus Christ. Here the light is more free than that of the sun or the stars, and the majesty we receive in his own gifts shall not fade with the setting of this world, but endures everlasting in the next. Here heart, and mind and body are warmed by the shining of the Son of the Living God.

The world dwells in tents which burst open and collapse with every strong wind of teaching. But here we find fortified walls made of jasper and glimmering amethyst, beaming with brightness that cannot be hidden. The world trembles with starvation and wanders in search of any porridge to stop the belly’s rumbling. But here there is bread without price, and milk and honey without cost. Here the tree of life bears fruit in season, and there is never heart that will not be fed. The world is cold, uncovered, and futile to the final bitter breath. But here, God has spread himself over us. He has dwelt with us, his people. And he has pointed us in the Spirit to that day not too far off where this Jerusalem will burst forth like lightning from the heavens, and all that we have believed here in the promises of God will be revealed for the world…even as the child, Jesus Christ, was revealed by a star to the nations who had for so long been looking for him.

Epiphany means revealing. And from here until Lent we will see in text and word and song that the finding of the child savior by the magi was but the first of the many epiphanies of our Lord as he manifested his light to the world. At Christmas God appeared a man. Now we will see a man reveal to us that he is God, that hanging a new star in the sky was only a foretaste of the prophet’s words: Arise, and shine. Your light has come.”

In the Name…

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