Read, Mark, Learn
St. Augustine of Canterbury Anglican Church
Bishop Peter F. Hansen
Sermon for the 2nd Sunday after Easter, April 26, 2020
Read, Mark, Learn
“Other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one flock, and one shepherd.”
WHAT IS YOUR CHRISTIAN NAME? It’s a funny question. You are born and given a name on your birth certificate. Your parents chose, and like it or not, that’s your name. But now this awkward question is asked at the start of a ritual that’s somewhere between a catechetical interrogation and a ritualized dance. You can’t resist it. My name is Peter Falconer. (Not Hansen—that’s my family name.) My Christian name was given by my sponsors at baptism. That day I was made a member of Christ, the child of God, and an inheritor of the kingdom of heaven. It’s a better answer than stuff about the county register of live births.
This strange ordeal called the Offices of Instruction is a restating of our catechism in a service of worship for the young, so it’s placed in the prayer book between baptism and confirmation. Let’s look it over and see what it teaches us.
We recite that our baptismal sponsors promised things in our young names, “to renounce the devil and all his works, the pomps and vanity of this wicked world, and all the sinful lusts of the flesh; Secondly, that I should believe all the Articles of the Christian Faith; And Thirdly, that I should keep God's holy will and commandments, and walk in the same all the days of my life.” It was promised for me then, but now I “heartily thank our heavenly Father, that he hath called me to this state of salvation, through Jesus Christ our Saviour. And I pray unto God to give me his grace, that I may continue in the same unto my life's end.”
I remember being taught the catechism when I was preparing for confirmation. It was hard to remember all the answers, but we had to memorize and recite them. I was tempted to see such rigors as only a memory test. But how powerful those first statements are. Renounce the devil, the world and the flesh so that I may give my life to the salvation of a man named Jesus. It’s the right answer to the right question.
The questioning goes on in reciting the Apostles’ Creed, which is an ancient list of all doctrines taught to every candidate for confirmation since the 2nd century. More memory work. But then we are asked what it means.
The Father made me and the world. The Son redeemed me and all people. The Holy Ghost sanctifies me and all God’s people. It’s a simple statement, but how powerful it is. We’ve only just begun.
Ten commandments are spoken out, and then explained. First, that they really mean what Jesus taught, to love God with our heart, mind, soul and strength, and love our neighbor as much as ourselves. Our duties to God and our neighbor are detailed.
I must believe in God, fear Him, and love Him by worshiping Him, thanking Him, trusting, serving and calling on Him, with honor for His Name and His Word.
I must love others, honor my parents, obey authorities, hurt none, bear no malice, keep my body in “temperance, soberness, and chastity,” not steal, speak no evil, and want only what I labor for.
You don’t value what you never give words to. So, it’s good for us today to go over our adolescent lessons, that we may not even have gotten back then. And it’s the great COVID-19 shut down, so we have this opportunity to do something different. This first office sets up a relationship between me and God. I find that I’ve been saved and in baptism I have begun the path to living a better life. In my path I meet other people and I learn how to behave toward them, but more than that, how to feel about them. When our lives don’t measure up to the offices of instruction, it’s time for remedial work.
We resist rules. Rules feel demeaning. Rules are for foolish children, to keep them in line so the adults can go about their business unperturbed by what they imagine the children are getting up to. The children eventually figure that out, that these rules are just to keep them quiet. So, they learn to disobey, first so obviously that it gets them into trouble, then covertly, which gets them into trouble with God and their own conscience. The rules feel foolish until we grow up and perhaps have already started families, with children of our own. Then the rules all of a sudden make sense. The rules were always meant to keep us safe. To get us home again after the long day.
If the first office of instruction is about me and what I do, the second is about the church: what it is and what it does.
“The Church is the Body of which Jesus Christ is the Head, and all baptized people are the members… described in the Creeds as One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic.” By that we mean it’s “One; because it is one Body under one Head; Holy; because the Holy Spirit dwells in it; Catholic; because it is universal; Apostolic; because it continues stedfastly in the Apostles' teaching and fellowship.”
All right. Now an important question comes about your bounden duty, if you are a member of this Church. “My bounden duty is to follow Christ, to worship God every Sunday in his Church; and to work and pray and give for the spread of his kingdom.” Following Christ was what you swore at baptism, but what does that mean? Become like Him. Then worship every Sunday in Church, if possible. Work, pray and give so Christ’s kingdom on earth may grow. Rules these are, if you like, but good rules. Rules are how you gage your life and see how you measure up. The measuring stick is the person of Jesus Christ.
The office speaks of confirmation and communion, then asks how many sacraments are there that Christ ordained. Like good Lutherans, we repeat that “Christ hath ordained two Sacraments only, as generally necessary to salvation; that is to say, Baptism, and the Supper of the Lord.” Good Anglicans would say, “Seven: the first two always required, the others are also sacraments: namely confirmation, matrimony, confession, ordination and unction.” But we agree that baptism and communion are both commanded by Jesus for us all.
The important question next asked, and one I insist all members remember, by rote: “What do you mean by this word Sacrament?” “I mean by this word Sacrament an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace given unto us.” The lesson then examines what are outward signs and inward graces in Baptism. “The outward and visible sign or form in Baptism is Water; wherein the person is baptized, In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost… The inward and spiritual grace in Baptism is a death unto sin, and a new birth unto righteousness; whereby we are made the children of grace.” I would go further, as I teach four inward graces – the washing of sin, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, a new birth in the spirit, and ingrafting into the Body of Christ, the Church. That’s what happens, invisibly, upon that holy day when you got your Christian name.
We then learn of the inner and outer mysteries of the Lord’s Supper. “The outward part or sign of the Lord's Supper is, Bread and Wine, which the Lord hath commanded to be received. The inward part is the Body and Blood of Christ, which are spiritually taken and received by the faithful in the Lord's Supper.”
Ministers of the Church are then defined. “The office of a Bishop is, to be a chief pastor in the Church; to confer Holy Orders; and to administer Confirmation. The office of a Priest is, to minister to the people committed to his care; to preach the Word of God; to baptize; to celebrate the Holy Communion; and to pronounce Absolution and Blessing in God's Name. The office of a Deacon is, to assist the Priest in Divine Service, and in his other ministrations, under the direction of the Bishop.”
Today’s collect speaks of a powerful spiritual exchange, that titanic battle wherein Christ won our salvation by becoming the sacrifice that saves us all, then that He lived the life we all should live, showing us, in His humanity, who we are and how to please our God. It’s a good prayer.
ALMIGHTY God, who hast given thine only Son to be unto us both a sacrifice for sin, and also an ensample of godly life; Give us grace that we may always most thankfully receive that his inestimable benefit, and also daily endeavour ourselves to follow the blessed steps of his most holy life; through the same thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Rules, religion or relationship? I hear a lot of Christians today cursing the word ‘religion’ as though they know what it means. Webster defines religion as the “service and worship of God; the commitment or devotion to religious faith; a personal set or institutionalized system of religious attitudes, beliefs, and practices; or a cause, principle, or system of beliefs held to with ardor and faith.” I don’t hear anything there to revile. Religion can be true or false, for sure, but the rules by which we define obedience and orthodoxy aren’t there to hurt us, but to shape our thinking and let us know when we rightly believe. If we stand to recite the Creed, we honor God, and maintain the Church that is one, holy, catholic and apostolic – powerful words with the meaning we recite like little kids when we are little kids, but now we understand them and don’t need the rules now. We’re living them anyway.
It’s like the campaign St. Paul waged against the Law. He has no problem with the laws, per se, that make it immoral to kill or steal. But people may hold others’ lives and property sacred without having laws to punish living outside law. They learn respect some other way. But if we get that respect, and pattern of living, by repeating, from time to time, our well-defined rules for living, then we remember and appreciate a simpler time when everyone lived by these blessed rules.
What is your Christian Name?