A cry of blessed desperation

Jesus’ lament over Jerusalem (Luke 13:31-35) ends on a note of hope, “And I tell you, you will not see me until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” This is the cry of “Hosanna!” which the crowds would be shouting upon his entering the city. It is also the “Hosanna!” of the Sanctus et Benedictus, the unending hymn of angels, archangels, and all the company of heaven which worshipers join each time they celebrate the Eucharist.

It is, ultimately, a cry of victory. The Lord’s Anointed One (Messiah) will come to save and deliver his people at last. In the present time, however, it is a cry of desperation, “Save us now, Lord! How long will you delay? Come and rescue your people!” This is why the Pharisees were so upset when the crowds greeted Jesus in this way (Matthew 21:15).

Jesus laments over Jerusalem because the Holy City and its people are about to reject God and his promised Messiah. There can be only one way for Jerusalem to be saved now. Its people must come to a place where they know only desperation, and in that desperation, cry out, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”

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Apostasy, resurrection, and a little common sense

In preparing them for his ordeal of suffering and death, Jesus told his disciples they would “all fall away” in fulfillment of the prophecy, “I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered” (Mark 14:27). There is an element of common sense here which is often overlooked. In Greek, the words for “apostasy” and “resurrection” are antonyms. There is the sense that one must “fall away” before one can “stand up again.” In other words, the familiar teaching in Christian eschatology that there must first be a “falling away” before the consummation of all things, that is, before the resurrection, is rooted in this very basic premise.

Jesus cast the ordeal of his suffering, death, and resurrection against the grand backdrop of God’s plan for the redemption of his creation. In the midst of his ordeal, his disciples would “fall away.” The intensity of the conflict would be such that they would abandon the faith and look instead toward self-preservation. Peter would embody this “falling away” with his three denials “before the rooster crows twice” (Mark 14:30).

Things would be quite different following the resurrection, however. Jesus assured his disciples that “after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee” (Mark 14:28). Rising from the dead, Jesus would restore the faith of those who had fallen away. The meaning and purpose of the resurrection is intensified by the fact that it would be preceded by the apostasy. Had there been no apostasy, there would have been no need for the resurrection; but because there was an apostasy, the power of the resurrection to restore all things is all the more glorious.

In order to appreciate fully what Jesus accomplished in rising from the dead, it is first necessary to realize how far we human beings have fallen from our original state of righteousness. We are children of Adam and Eve and, therefore, heirs of the great apostasy by which we lost our standing in right relationship with God. Only the cross can atone for our sin. Only the resurrection can restore our standing with God.

TEC is the quintessential church for this age of absurdity

spongDuring the 21-year period of 1978-1999, the Episcopal Diocese of Newark lost 27,983 members, a decline of 43.5 per cent. The Episcopal Church (TEC) nationally was also not doing so well during that time, losing 23.4 per cent of its membership. The national church’s decline (which continues to this day at an ever accelerating pace) could be attributed in general to the doctrinal adriftness embraced by its upper echelon leadership. Newark’s far steeper decline, nearly double the national average, could be attributed specifically to the flamboyant shenanigans of its bishop, John Shelby Spong, a self-styled “maverick” for whom every tenet of Christian orthodoxy was a target for his poison pen. Spong was a prolific writer whose books often included the provocative sub-title, A Bishop Rethinks . . . 

In other words, Spong exploited his episcopal office to sell books in which he questioned the validity of nearly every basic doctrine, from the virgin birth to the resurrection. Along the way, he trampled upon two thousand years of Christian teaching on human sexuality and marriage, placing his imprimatur on every form of deviancy imaginable (and some truly unimaginable).

Royalties from book sales, of course, were not Spong’s chief source of income. All the while he was making a name for himself as an author of popular books, he was drawing his salary as a bishop and functioning as such within the bounds of his diocese and in the councils of the church. Yet, his high profile and notoriety came about as a result of his acting in a manner utterly contrary to the nature of his office. In his voluminous writings and public pronouncements, Spong, while presenting himself as a bishop of the church, attacked and undermined the very faith he was bound to uphold and defend.

In retirement, Spong has been no less outspoken, thundering his opposition to all things orthodox while continuing to wear his purple shirt and gold pectoral cross, although slowed in recent months by poor health. His legacy, for which he has no regrets, is an Episcopal Church that has so cast off the restraints of orthodoxy that it now embraces even the most radical fringe elements of theological revisionism and the sexual revolution, all the while continuing to present itself as a church in historic continuity with such Anglican luminaries as Cranmer, Hooker, and Seabury.

Notwithstanding the tiny remnant of faithful Christians still residing within its structures, TEC has become the mirror opposite of what a church is supposed to be. Instead of proclaiming Jesus Christ as the way, the truth, and the life, TEC proclaims many paths to truth and many ways to God. Instead of honoring marriage as God’s divinely instituted means of perpetuating life, TEC extols the virtues of same sex intercourse, transgenderism, and unrestricted abortion.

Newark’s rapid decline under Spong is more and more becoming the national trend as the continued viability of TEC beyond its present generation of aging membership grows less and less likely with each passing day. Having abandoned the rich storehouse of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, it is left with nothing but the perishable resources of earthly wealth, which its leaders have poured into one lawsuit after another, seeking to punish those individuals, parishes, and dioceses who, having discerned the way forward does not include remaining tethered to TEC, have sought to escape its clutches.

It should come as no surprise, then, that the false church which allowed a false bishop to propagate a false gospel should now concoct the false charge of “false advertising” against a true man of God.

Bp LawrenceAs Bishop of South Carolina, the Right Reverend Mark J. Lawrence led his diocese for over half a decade in a vigorous, but ultimately futile, resistance against the apostasy that was rapidly engulfing TEC. Finally left with no other options, the Diocese of South Carolina disaffiliated from TEC in 2012, provoking the wrath of the national church, which had an ace in the hole on the South Carolina Supreme Court. Not content to snatch away historic church properties, however, TEC and its local rump affiliate in South Carolina have taken aim at Bishop Lawrence himself, suing him in federal court for violation of the Lanham Act.

With a straight face, TEC has lodged against Bishop Lawrence the charge that he is falsely presenting himself as a bishop.

The charge is patently absurd on its face. But we are living in an age of absurdity and TEC is the quintessential church for such an age. It is an utterly apostate body that has coddled a bishop who denigrated the faith and is now pursuing a vindictive campaign against a bishop who not only upholds and defends the faith but, with his very life, embodies and exemplifies it.

Driven away by love (Mark 10:17-31)

uptton-clive-the-rich-young-manThe rich young man wanted to know what he had to do to inherit eternal life. He knew all the commandments and had kept them from his youth (or so he claimed). He still lacked one thing, though, so Jesus told him to “go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”

Upon hearing this, the young man “went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.” Gaining eternal life meant losing temporal pleasure. It was a price the young man was unwilling to pay.

Many are drawn to Jesus because of his love, the love that counted not even death too great a cost to purchase the world’s redemption. Yet, in this instance, Jesus’ love turns the rich young man away. “And Jesus, looking at him, loved him.” It was the same love that drew Jesus to the cross that compelled him to tell the young man what he was lacking in his search for eternal life. This time, however, that love did not draw the young man in. Rather, it drove him away.

What the young man lacked was not compassion for the poor. Neither did he lack a heart filled with charity for others. What he lacked was faith in Jesus to provide for all of his needs. The young man failed the test not because he wasn’t willing to give up his possessions, but because he wasn’t willing to trust Jesus. He could hear Jesus’ commandment not as a loving invitation to enter into a life-transforming relationship, but as an impossible requirement for membership in an exclusive club.

Eternal life does not come cheap for anyone. It costs us everything because it cost Jesus everything. In love, he invites us to die with him to sin and rise with him to new life in the kingdom of God. That boundless, infinite love draws in all who have faith. It also drives away those who lack it.