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Finally, there are the Fourth and Fifth Marks of St. John Baptist. St. John was a bold rebuke vice and a prophetic call to righteousness. His was an imperfect baptism, but the summons to holiness was clarion. In the end, unjustly condemned and murdered as would be the master, St. John would patiently suffer for the truth’s sake.

So, this month let us meditate on these Marks of St. John Baptist, and lead lives that will allow us to constantly speak the truth, boldly rebuke vice, and patiently suffer for the truth’s sake; through Jesus Christ our Lord. That is authentic Christian witness.

ALMIGHTY God, by whose providence thy servant John Baptist was wonderfully born, and sent to prepare the way of thy Son our Saviour by preaching repentance; Make us so to follow his doctrine and holy life, that we may truly repent according to his preaching; and after his example constantly speak the truth, boldly rebuke vice, and patiently suffer for the truth’s sake; through† Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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St John the Baptist 011The third Mark of St. John Baptist is simply humility. It is inexorably tied to a life that points toward Christ. The first chapter of St. John’s Gospel affords us a succinct picture.

19 And this is the record of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, Who art thou?
20 And he confessed, and denied not; but confessed, I am not the Christ.
21 And they asked him, What then? Art thou Elias? And he saith, I am not. Art thou that prophet? And he answered, No.
22 Then said they unto him, Who art thou? that we may give an answer to them that sent us. What sayest thou of thyself?
23 He said, I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord, as said the prophet Esaias.
24 And they which were sent were of the Pharisees.
25 And they asked him, and said unto him, Why baptizest thou then, if thou be not that Christ, nor Elias, neither that prophet?
26 John answered them, saying, I baptize with water: but there standeth one among you, whom ye know not;
27 He it is, who coming after me is preferred before me, whose shoe’s latchet I am not worthy to unloose.
28 These things were done in Bethabara beyond Jordan, where John was baptizing.
29 The next day John seeth Jesus coming unto him, and saith, Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.
30 This is he of whom I said, After me cometh a man which is preferred before me: for he was before me.

St. Augustine offers this brilliant exposition of the Mark of Humility in St. John Baptist as described in these passages. He notes:

And yet, just notice how this forerunner of his Lord, of one who is God and man, how much he humbles himself. No one has arisen greater among those born of women than this man, and here he is, questioned about whether he is himself the Christ. He was so great that people could make this mistake. They wondered whether he was himself the Christ, and they wondered about it seriously enough to question him. Now if he had been a son of pride, not a teacher of humility, he would not have taken steps to make them think that, but he would simply have accepted what they were already thinking. It would possibly have been overreaching himself to wish to persuade people that he was the Christ. If he had tried to do so and had not been believed, he would have been left high and dry, both rejected and dejected, both despised among people and condemned in God’s eyes. But there was no need for him to persuade people. He could already see they were thinking this about him. He could simply accept their mistake and boost his own prestige.…

Consider how inferior to him he would have been, even if he had been worthy. Consider how much he would have been debasing himself if this is what he had said: “He is greater than I am, and I am only worthy to undo the strap of his sandal.” He would have been calling himself worthy at least to stoop down to his feet. But now, as it is, see how exalted he proclaimed him to be when he declared himself unworthy even to touch his feet, or rather his sandals! So John came to teach the proud humility, to proclaim the way of repentance. St. Augustine of Hippo-SERMON 293A.4.

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“There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. The same came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all men through him might believe. He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light. That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.”-John 1:6-9

The second mark of St, John Baptist is “pointing”.  His entire life pointed toward Christ even from the womb:  Nowhere is this more apparent than in the first chapter of the Gospel according to St. John.

“He it is, who coming after me is preferred before me, whose shoe’s latchet I am not worthy to unloose.”-John 1:27

“The next day John seeth Jesus coming unto him, and saith, Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.”-John 1:29

St. Cyril of Alexandria noted that St. John Baptist was essentially a sign post pointing away from himself and toward Christ, He says nothing else than other than that “the one you are looking for is finally at the doors. Indeed, the Lord is within the doors. Be ready to go [with Christ] whatever way he asks you.” COMMENTARY ON THE GOSPEL OF JOHN 1.10.

This is the essence of witness-a point that escapes too many in modern ministry.  To evangelize aright, our words and our lives must point toward Jesus Christ.  So, for today’s meditation on the second “mark of St. John Baptist, let us consider how our we my better point to Christ especially through lives that have been wholly directed to Christ Jesus.

ALMIGHTY God, by whose providence thy servant John Baptist was wonderfully born, and sent to prepare the way of thy Son our Saviour by preaching repentance;* Make us so to follow his doctrine and holy life, that we may truly repent according to his preaching; and after his example constantly speak the truth, boldly rebuke vice, and patiently suffer for the truth’s sake; through† Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

 

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Saint-John-the-Baptist-web

Before leaving for Synod last week, I prepared an homily so as to be ready on Sunday morning.  On returning and re-reading the , I discovered that the wise words I had left to age were…well….so much rubbish.  As these things go, I was prompted to preach on the Five Marks of the Life of St. John Baptist and how to live them.

First, there is joy at the presence of the Incarnate Christ.  Indeed, St. John, himself in utero, leapt when the Blessed Virgin, with child, entered into his house. As we hear,

And it came to pass, that, when Elisabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elisabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost:…-St. Luke 1:41.

How this prefigures the words of the Apostle, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” Philippians 4:4

Here, we find joy in recognition.  These pose today’s meditation questions.  Do we react in joy in the presence of Christ?  Do at least our hearts leap in joy, if not our whole selves?  Or, do we even recognize Him and that we are always in His presence?

Think on recognition and joy as we pray this week noting particularly toe portions of the Collect in boldface,

ALMIGHTY God, by whose providence thy servant John Baptist was wonderfully born, and sent to prepare the way of thy Son our Saviour by preaching repentance;* Make us so to follow his doctrine and holy life, that we may truly repent according to his preaching; and after his example constantly speak the truth, boldly rebuke vice, and patiently suffer for the truth’s sake; through† Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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gregory

Today is the feast day of St. Gregory the Great of Rome.  Of his remarkable life, work, and witness, I will leave it to the reader to peruse the internet for factual or fictitious accounts.  Today, I will celebrate the saint by simply repeating an homily to which all clergy ought to pay serious and considered attention.  I have added any emphases that may show.

SERMON: ST. GREGORY THE GREAT ON THE PASTORAL OFFICE
Addressed to Bishops and Clergy assembled in Council at the Lateran Basilica, circa 591

Dearly beloved brethren, from none, in my opinion, does God receive such prejudice as from priests, when they who are set up for the reformation of others set an example of wickedness, and when we ourselves, who should correct the faults of others, are guilty of sin. And what is still worse, oftentimes priests, who ought to give what is their own in alms, take what belongs to others. Often times they deride such as live in humility and continence. Consider, then, what is the fate of the flock when the pastors become wolves.

For there are men who undertake the care of souls, and yet they are not afraid to lay snares for the flock of the Lord, which needs to be protected against them. We seek not the good of souls, we are intent on our own interests ; we covet earthly things, we strive to obtain the praise of men. And since our rank above others gives us greater liberty to act as we please, we make the ministry of blessing a means to further our ambition.

We abandon the interests of God, and give ourselves up to worldly business ; we occupy a position which is holy, and we entangle ourselves in the affairs of the world. Truly the words of Scripture are fulfilled in us, “There shall be like people, like priest” (Hosea 4:9). For the priest does not differ from the people when he does not surpass the people by the merits of his life.

Let us then make our own the lamentation of Jeremias; let us consider our state and say: “How is the gold become dim, the finest colour changed; the stones of the sanctuary are scattered in the top of every street?” (Lamentations 4:1). The gold is become dim, because the life of priests which formerly shone with the splendour of virtue has now become vile through the baseness of their actions. The finest colour is changed because the habit of sanctity, through the abject occupations of the world, is degraded and despised. The stones of the sanctuary were carefully guarded, and were worn by the High Priest only when he went into the Holy of Holies to appear before God in secret. We, dearly beloved brethren, are the stones of the sanctuary, and we should always remain in God’s sanctuary, and not be seen abroad, that is occupied with what does not concern our vocation. But the stones of the sanctuary are scattered at the top of every street, when those, who by their action and their prayer should ever abide within, live abroad by their vicious conduct.

For behold, at the present time there is hardly any kind of secular business in which priests do not take a part. Hence, as in spite of the sanctity of their state they are engaged in exterior things, it comes to pass that the stones of the sanctuary are scattered.
And as in Greek, the word, street, lateia, is derived from breadth; the stones of the sanctuary are in the streets when religious persons walk in the broad paths of the world. And they are scattered not merely in the streets, but at the top of the streets, because through covetousness they do the works of the world, and yet by their religious profession they seek to occupy the place of honour. They are scattered at the top of the streets, because while their occupations degrade them, they desire to be honoured for the sanctity of their profession.

You yourselves are witnesses of the wars which afflict the world, and the scourges by which the people perish every day. To what is this to be ascribed but to our sins? Lo! cities are devastated, fortresses are overthrown, churches and monasteries are destroyed, the fields are laid desolate. And we who ought to lead the people to life are the cause of their destruction. For through our fault many of the people have perished, because through our negligence we did not instruct them unto life.

What appellation should we give to the souls of men but the food of God, for they were created to be incorporated in His body? that is, to increase the Church which is eternal. Now we ought to be the seasoning of that food. For as I have already said, when He sent His preachers, He said to them, “You are the salt of the earth.” If, then, the people are God’s food, priests should be its seasoning. But as we have abandoned prayer and sacred learning, the salt has lost its savour, and cannot season God’s food, and therefore God does not partake of it; because, as we have lost our savour, it is not seasoned.

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St. Joseph of Arimathea


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Today in the Anglican Breviary we mark the feast of St. Joseph of Arimathea.  He was, according to all four canonical Gospels, the man who assumed responsibility for the burial of Jesus after Jesus’ crucifixion. A number of stories that developed during the Middle Ages connect him with both Glastonbury, where he is supposed to have founded the earliest Christian oratory, and also with the Grail legend.

And did those feet in ancient time
Walk upon England’s mountains green?
And was the holy Lamb of God
On England’s pleasant pastures seen?

And did the Countenance Divine
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here
Among these dark satanic mills?

Bring me my bow of burning gold!
Bring me my arrows of desire!
Bring me my spear! O clouds, unfold!
Bring me my chariot of fire!

I will not cease from mental fight,
Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand,
Till we have built Jerusalem
In England’s green and pleasant land.

William Blake

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africa

For some reason, my Ordo Kalendar omitted this most important day dedicated in the Anglican Breviary to the Martyrs and Missionaries of Africa. The day seems to be commemorated in various ways on various calendars of the Eastern and Western Church.

Among the martyrs and missionaries of nearly 2,000 years, today we mark in particular the life, work, and awe-inspiring witness of Bernard Mizeki, who was born in Portuguese East Africa in about 1861. His legend is set out in the supplemental saints section of the Anglican Breviary. His legend recounts that he attended classes at an Anglican school. Under the influence of his teachers from the Society of Saint John the Evangelist (SSJE, an Anglican religious order for men, popularly called the Cowley Fathers), he became a Christian and was baptized on 9 March 1886. Besides the fundamentals of European schooling, he mastered English, French, high Dutch, and at least eight local African languages. In time he would be an invaluable assistant when the Anglican church began translating its sacred texts into African languages.

After graduating from the school, he accompanied Bishop Knight-Bruce to Mashonaland, a tribal area in Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), to work there as a lay catechist. In 1891 the bishop assigned him to Nhowe, the village of paramount-chief Mangwende, and there he built a mission-complex. He prayed the Anglican hours each day, and eventually opened a school, and won the hearts of many of the Mashona through his love for their children.

He moved his mission complex up onto a nearby plateau, next to a grove of trees sacred to the ancestral spirits of the Mashona. Over the next five years (1891-1896), the mission at Nhowe produced an abundance of converts.
During an uprising in 1896, Bernard was warned to flee. He refused, and he would not desert his converts or his post. On 18 June 1896, he was fatally speared outside his hut.

His wife and a helper went to get food and blankets for him. They later reported that, from a distance, they saw a blinding light on the hillside where he had been lying, and heard a rushing sound, as though of many wings. When they returned to the spot his body had disappeared. As recounted by our music master here at St. Alban’s. Mr. Bernard Riley who is a South African who has visited the place of Mizeki’s death, it has become a focus of great devotion for Anglicans and other Christians. On Easter morning, thousands gather at the place to sing, pray and rejoice over the Resurrection.

PRAYER

Almighty and everlasting God, who didst enkindle the flame of Thy love in the heart of thy holy martyr Bernard Mizeki: Grant to us, thy humble servants, a like faith and power of love, that we who rejoice in his triumph may profit by his example; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

 

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