Wednesday, August 30, 2006

The Shriven Woman

Tonight I'll be preaching on the Gospel from St. Luke 7, so I'll muse about it a bit in print. This woman kisses Jesus' feet and washes them with her hair, because she loves Him. She loves Him because she was forgiven much, as He says. So the false religion of this Pharisee is exposed. See, he had invited Jesus to dine with Him, no doubt because Jesus' high esteem among the people would likely help the Pharisee's own esteem with them. So it is with many who call themselves Christian yet know nothing of associating with sinners, to say nothing of repenting themselves. The Pharisee's indignance likely showed on His face, for when we are told that Jesus gave answer to what he was saying only within himself, we need not suppose that our Lord was drawing on His omniscience to know it; it was surely evident. There's a wonderful renaissance painting of this scene -- it might be a Rembrandt -- which shows the pomposity of the rich Pharisees decked out anachronistic nineteenth-century attire, while this poor ragged woman crawls up to Jesus' feet in their midst, making all the dinner guests uncomfortable. How little she has regard for appearances, thinking only of the overwhelming fact that she is in the presence of her Master; but how much they regard appearances, thinking so much of them that they miss the wonder of this occasion: their God is visiting them here, but they are too busy being indignant to notice.

Let all beware of false piety, and of keeping up appearances for their own sake. And let us follow the example of this public sinner, this harlot. She is unquestionably Mary of Bethany, as we are told in St. John 11 where this occasion is connected to Jesus' visit to her home. And when Jesus on another occasion visited Mary and Martha, it was Mary who sat attentively at Jesus' feet. This is not because she wanted to come off as pious, but just the opposite. She was utterly taken with Him, absorbed with Him, and her cup overflowed.

So must we all learn to be. Repent of false piety, and find your place on your knees before Jesus' feet. Wash them with your tears and wipe them with your hair; place yourself meekly beneath Him. For He forgives sins, another thing the Pharisees could not abide.

Become like Mary, then: close out the world and its Pharisaical masks. See only Jesus before you, and be overwhelmed: your God is He, claiming you, shriven sinner, for Himself, and forgiving all your sins.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

A Priestly Blessing

I trust Father Hollywood won't mind if I paste his belated reply to an earlier post here, as I find it most helpful, and something with which I heartily concur. Father H., I like the way you think:

"I realize this post is delinquent, I had meant to chime in earlier. A benefit of living in a heavily Roman Catholic area is that people seek out the blessins of the clergy. They "get" just what you're saying about the priestly blessing and the authority given to Christ's ministers.

"Strangers will come up to me and ask me to pray for them and bless them - even with my wife and son in tow (obviously, I'm not a Roman priest).

"This happens even more frequently when I'm in a cassock. To those who think the 'adiaphora' of clerical garb is useless, or even worse than that, negative - you need to put on a cassock and stroll around the neighborhood.

"Big guys with tattoos and little old ladies will come to you with pained looks on their faces and ask you to give them the blessing of the Lord Jesus - whom they know you represent and in Whose stead you stead.

"That's evangelism without a program, slogan, balloons, or even the letters 'TM' in fine print. "

Amen to that.

Monday, August 21, 2006

A Must Read

Say what you want about Ann Coulter, this latest book of hers is right on the mark, besides being an entertaining and fascinating read. No wonder the Left hates her so much: she is unafraid to call a thing what it is, and she does it with matchless wit and sauciness.

The reason I likewise am unafraid to recommend Godless: the Church of Liberalism is that it is not so much the reflection of a particular political stance as it is the exposing of scoundrels whose true aim seems to be the destruction of what is good (even of life itself, as in her arguments against the abortionists), and the rejection of the Creator (as in her case against evolution). This is not really a political book; it is true to its title, and it makes its case with remarkable skill.

And it does so with a flair which leaves no one wondering if Miss Coulter isn't just another fundamentalist bent on denouncing immorality for its own sake. She is too sarcastic and funny to be one of those; yet she argues with an aptitude which reminds me that she was once a lawyer by trade. She is a veritable Xena with words; even the New York Times has had to admit as much.

The first half of the book is methodical in its demonstrations of its claim that the Left is godless, so thorough that it left me feeling rather like St. Anselm's interlocutor blurting out that there is no possibility remaining of anyone issuing a rejoinder. Miss Coulter clearly subscribes to the doctrine of employing overwhelming force against the enemy, at least in literary terms.

About midway through the book she takes her case into the classroom, and proceeds to take on the myths promulgated by the behemoth teachers' unions in America. But this in itself provides a segue into the last, unexpected half, in which she dedicates several chapters to dismantling the myth of evolution.

She joins a host of recent writers who have begun to take on the scientific community's most basic Darwinian assumptions. In effect, the Scopes monkey trial is being revisited in our day. In fact, she exposes in particular that trial as the publicity stunt that it was.

But Miss Coulter is no slouch: she provides a tremendous amount of research and support for her claims, which is especially significant when she makes her case against Darwin and his heirs. And there is a difference between the way she battles the evolutionists and the way the fundamentalists have done so. She battles them on their terms, and exposes their tactics, while at the same time revisiting the case for Intelligent Design, unafraid to take on even a recent op-ed in the Wall Street Journal.

And she is not, contrary to popular belief, merely the conservative movement's answer to Michael Moore. Or if one insists on making the comparison, then only insofar as one can compare high class and savvy to juvenile follies.

But no mere reviewer can really make this point stick merely by saying it, which leads to the chief assertion of this review: Godless is a book that deserves to be read, by friend and foe alike. Anyone who chooses not to do so with a dismissive wave of the hand, as if to say, "Oh, that's just Ann Coulter, after all," has no business arguing against her case.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Back from Idaho

We're back from a fine vacation in Idaho, and I expect to be posting soon. One thing I mused on while seeing gorgeous tree-blanketed Rocky Mountains was this: These mountains must have been created by the Flood, in one day. The continents shifted west and caused the backwash of oceans to make a mountain range all along the west coast right down to the tip of the Andes. So the jagged edges of rock so prevalent there are a reminder of God's power and wrath. But the fact that many of them are now covered with trees ought to be a reminder that the wrath of God has now subsided, even as the flood waters themselves did. Indeed, what better natural symbol of mercy could there be than a tree? As the hymnist Fortunatus said it, "Faithful Cross! above all other, One and only noble tree! None in foliage, none in blossom, None in fruit thy peer may be. Sweetest wood and sweetest iron! Sweetest weight is hung on thee." So the image portrayed to knowing eyes by tree laden mountains is this: God's wrath has been put aside by the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, and mercy abounds. No wonder the scene is so idyllic and calm.