Archive for the ‘Scripture’ Category

Psalms That Speak

I always am amazed, but never surprised, at the way Scripture speaks to my condition or needs at any given time. This particularly is the case with the Psalms.  This morning at Matins, we came around to Psalm 56.  It is spot on for me on this rainy Saturday.Psalm 56

Psalm 56. Miserere mei, Deus.
BE merciful unto me, O God, for man goeth about to devour me; * he is daily fighting, and troubling me.
2 Mine enemies are daily at hand to swallow me up; * for they be many that fight against me, O thou Most Highest.
3 Nevertheless, though I am sometime afraid, * yet put I my trust in thee.
4 I will praise God, because of his word: * I have put my trust in God, and will not fear what flesh can do unto me.
5 They daily mistake my words; * all that they imagine is to do me evil.
6 They hold all together, and keep themselves close, * and mark my steps, when they lay wait for my soul.
7 Shall they escape for their wickedness? * thou, O God, in thy displeasure shalt cast them down.
8 Thou tellest my wanderings1; put my tears into thy bottle: * are not these things noted in thy book?
9 Whensoever I call upon thee, then shall mine enemies be put to flight: * this I know; for God is on my side.
10 In God’s word will I rejoice; * in the LORD’S word will I comfort me.
11 Yea, in God have I put my trust; * I will not be afraid what man can do unto me.
12 Unto thee, O God, will I pay my vows; * unto thee will I give thanks.
13 For thou hast delivered my soul from death, and my feet from falling, * that I may walk before God in the light of the living.

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On Sunday, October 29th, the adult class will begin a four part study of angels and demons using Dr. Peter Kreeft’s book Angels (and Demons): What Do We really Know About Them? The class meets in the parish library from 9:30 to 10:45 a.m. and will be open to adults and young adults.

The assignment for the first Sunday will be to find references to angels and the “other guys” using only the Bible and a concordance. Of particular interest will be any physical descriptions that the participants can find. In the second week, we will take up Kreeft’s discussion of angels from his book, and, in the third week we will discuss his descriptions of demons. Finally, in the last week of the course the class will have the opportunity to see a video lecture on the book by Dr. Kreef’s himself. This will take slightly more than an hour to view so the class will start promptly at 9:30.

To whet the appetite, the following is a list by Dr. Kreeft of the 12 most important things to know about angels. Be sure to invite a friend to what promises to be a lively and thought-provoking class.

1. They really exist. Not just in our minds, or our myths, or our symbols, or our culture. They are as real as your dog, or your sister, or electricity.
2. They’re present, right here, right now, right next to you, reading these words with you.
3. They’re not cute, cuddly, comfortable, chummy, or “cool”. They are fearsome and formidable. They are huge. They are warriors.
4. They are the real “extra-terrestrials”, the real “Super-men”, the ultimate aliens. Their powers are far beyond those of all fictional creatures.
5. They are more brilliant minds than Einstein.
6. They can literally move the heavens and the earth if God permits them.
7. There are also evil angels, fallen angels, demons, or devils. These too are not myths. Demon possessions, and exorcisms, are real.
8. Angels are aware of you, even though you can’t usually see or hear them. But you can communicate with them. You can talk to them without even speaking.
9. You really do have your very own “guardian angel”. Everybody does.
10. Angels often come disguised. “Do not neglect hospitality, for some have entertained angels unawares”—that’s a warning from life’s oldest and best instruction manual.
11. We are on a protected part of a great battlefield between angels and devils, extending to eternity.
12. Angels are sentinels standing at the crossroads where life meets death. They work especially at moments of crisis, at the brink of disaster—for bodies, for souls, and for nations.


Canon Nalls

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A tip of the biretta to John Dixon over at St. Athanasius for letting me know about Melville Scott’s The Harmony of the Collects, Epistles and Gospels. Originally published in 1902, this little gem is available in reprint from Lulu for $20.00 in hardcover or a paltry $10.00 in trade paperback.

Apart from the fact that the Lulu edition has a typeface that proves actually readable,  the book begins with an analysis of the themes and teachings of the Collects, Epistles, and Gospels of the Christians Year as set out in the 1662 Book of Common Prayer.   Scott shows not only the theme of the day and how the lessons and collect relate to each other, but also how the propers for each Sunday interrelated with those of the Sundays both previous and following.

This is an outstanding “secret weapon” for preachers who use the traditional propers of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer and with the 1928 American book favored by us unreconstructed traditionalist folk.  The book also serves well for laymen at two levels.  In the first and most basic instance, it affords folks a great devotional commentary to supplement the Sunday sermon.  Secondly, it shows the genius of an actual BCP (as opposed to post-1979 imitations) in presenting a cycle of Scripture that draws a parson into the themes of the Christian year and, eventually, brings newcomers to the Church into a common place in the annual readings with parishioners who have been around a bit longer.

The benefits to catechesis are apparent, and, a shared thematic approach to the propers is a great avenue for building community in parishes of any size.  Finally, the expository treatments of each lesson provide a great, off-the-shelf Bible study that works with the homily wherever the priest is preaching from the lessons appointed for particular Sundays.


A great companion to Scott’s book is the weightier Sermons on the Epistles and Gospels by Isaac Williams and also available from Lulu. (No, I don’t get a commission.)   Originally published in the mid-19th Century, this book is more a commentary on the Sunday propers than a short-cut for desperate preachers who are looking for a little something to fill up an otherwise blank page.

Williams’ sermons exhaustively cover the Epistle and Gospel lessons found in the eucharistic lectionary of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, and it works just fine for the 1928.  For each set of lessons, the reader has a solid exposition of the day’s Epistle as a lead-in to an exposition of the Gospel.  Williams then concludes with devotional thoughts and practical application of the text.  Williams does an remarkable job showing the theme of each set of lessons, and offers examples of how the lessons tie into the theme of the day.  In this way, the reader or the preacher (whether desperate or not) can handily move from exegesis to exposition to practical application.

The publisher, listed as The Anglican Expositor of British Columbia, deserves thanks for bringing these works back into an accessible, reasonably-priced, and well-made book.


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Our Wednesday Bible study has moved from First to Second Peter as we approach Advent.  Verses 5-11 of the first chapter form an interesting “ladder” describing growth in the spiritual life.

The text begins, of course, in verse 5 with faith to which we are to add virtue.  To virtue, we are to add knowledge.  In turn, St. Peter admonishes that we add temperance to knowledge, patience to temperance and Godliness to patience.

This progression allows the believer to break through to “brotherly kindness”, and, finally to charity.

Keeping to this pattern leads to growth, particularly in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. Finally, as knowledge enhanced by the cardinal virtues grows, we return to the “everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.”

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A Psalm for The Day

This morning, we chanted Psalms 73 and 74 for Matins. (Yes, I know they are for Evening Prayer, but, we do the whole Psalter here at St. Alban’s.).  Psalm 73 seemed most appropriate to the circumstances today.  Here it is so that you may lift up your hearts:

TRULY God is loving unto Israel: * even unto such as are of a clean heart.

Nevertheless, my feet were almost gone, * my treadings had well-nigh slipt.

And why? I was grieved at the wicked: * I do also see the ungodly in such prosperity.

For they are in no peril of death; * but are lusty and strong.

They come in no misfortune like other folk; * neither are they plagued like other men.

And this is the cause that they are so holden with pride, * and cruelty covereth them as a garment.

Their eyes swell with fatness, * and they do even what they lust.

They corrupt other, and speak of wicked blasphemy; * their talking is against the Most High.

For they stretch forth their mouth unto the heaven, * and their tongue goeth through the world.

Therefore fall the people unto them, * and thereout suck they no small advantage.

Tush, say they, how should God perceive it? * is there knowledge in the Most High?

Lo, these are the ungodly, * these prosper in the world, and these have riches in possession:

And I said, Then have I cleansed my heart in vain, * and washed my hands in innocency.

All the day long have I been punished, * and chastened every morning.

Yea, and I had almost said even as they; * but lo, then I should have condemned the generation of thy children.

Then thought I to understand this; * but it was too hard for me,

Until I went into the sanctuary of God: * then understood I the end of these men;

Namely, how thou dost set them in slippery places, * and castest them down, and destroyest them.

O how suddenly do they consume, * perish, and come to a fearful end!

Yea, even like as a dream when one awaketh; * so shalt thou make their image to vanish out of the city.

Thus my heart was grieved, * and it went even through my reins.

So foolish was I, and ignorant, * even as it were a beast before thee.

Nevertheless, I am alway by thee; * for thou hast holden me by my right hand.

Thou shalt guide me with thy counsel, * and after that receive me with glory.

Whom have I in heaven but thee? * and there is none upon earth that I desire in comparison of thee.

My flesh and my heart faileth; * but God is the strength of my heart, and my portion for ever.

For lo, they that forsake thee shall perish; * thou hast destroyed all them that are unfaithful unto thee.

But it is good for me to hold me fast by God, to put my trust in the Lord GOD, * and to speak of all thy works in the gates of the daughter of Sion.

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On November 7th at 9:30 a.m., St. Alban’s Adult Sunday School will begin a study of the book of Esther.   Based on the LifeGuide study Esther: Character Under Pressure, this nine session course will explore how to develop a godly character in a society that does not emphasize doing right.  The opening class, Getting the Most Out of Esther. will introduce the study and provide study guides for the first chapter of Esther.  Please join us for this exploration of a powerful, yet under-studied part of Scripture.

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Topic: Sin Will Find Us Out

Covering up sin leads to severe consequences.

Read: Joshua 7

Who remembers Ai? Because of one man’s hidden sin, the Israelites were defeated in battle. In this session we will see that all humans are sinners, but our
sins don’t have to be fatal. Through Christ’s work on the Cross and confession of sin, we can find forgiveness.

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(Given at St. Alban’s Richmond, Virginia)

“THIS I say therefore, and testify in the Lord, that ye henceforth walk not as other Gentiles walk…”-Ephesians 4:17

What a baffling and confusing world we live in today. So many conflicting ideas and concepts are thrust upon us from every direction and many of them seem directly contradictory. Self-proclaimed authorities tell us one thing and then another and what they say clashes violently. Pick an issue, take a trip through cable television or on the internet, and there is always a pundit or talking head willing to put their two-cents in. This is particularly the case in this heated political season. Sometimes, we find it hard to know what to believe. No wonder that many are confused and ready to follow any voice that seems to offer a way out.

Now, to a Christian living in this often confusing, baffling, bewildering world, St. Paul has a very definite word to say. It is not worldly, vague, uncertain word of advice. It is not simply another of the voices on every hand today, but it is clear and precise and right to the point of the problem that you and I are facing.

In the opening verses of the 4th chapter of Ephesians, the apostle has been dealing with the nature of the church and the part each Christian has to play in its operation and its growth.
But now, in this 17th verse, he turns to the Christian in relationship to an unbelieving world, a world in which we as Christians must live. Though this account was written almost two thousand years ago, it is impossible to read this thoughtfully without seeing that the world today is exactly the same, and our reaction as Christians must be exactly the same.THIS I say therefore, and testify in the Lord, that yet henceforth walk not as other Gentiles walk, in the vanity of their mind… Look at the force of that verse, the apostle says “I say and testify in the Lord.” That means this is not merely a piece of apostolic advice or simple human reasoning. This is a result of divine revelation. This is the finger of God placed squarely at the root of a human problem.

Well, what is it St. Paul says? He says, “You Christians must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the vanity or futility of their minds.” It is helpful to translate the word Gentiles here by the word nations-it means “the nations,” worldlings, those outside of Christ. “You Christians,” St. Paul says, “must no longer live as they do.” How is that? “In the futility of their minds.” St. Paul is saying, “The place to start in living as a Christian is to recognize you must think differently than the world does.” He does not start with actions. He starts with thinking.

St. Paul is not one of these do-gooders who moves in and tries to change the outward scene only. He starts with the mind, and he declares that the world’s thinking is futile –empty. This is the vital appeal that he makes to Christians, “You must not think like the worldling does, you must not adopt the world’s philosophy of living, or follow the world’s systems of value.” Why? “Because the worldling lives in futility, emptiness of mind.”

If this is true you can see why there is such a fundamental cleavage between Christianity and the world, and why the Lord Jesus drew a distinct line between the thinking of the world, the direction of the world, the destiny of the world, and those of the Christian. This is why the Christian is told he cannot love the world and the Father at the same time.

St. John makes that crystal clear in his first letter {cf, 1 Jn 2:15}. There is a fundamental difference between the two. This is why “friendship with the world,” in the words of St. James, “is enmity with God.” {cf, Jas 4:4 KJV}. Notice, not friendship with worldly people, that is something different, but friendship with the world, with its ways of thinking, its philosophy. That is enmity with God.

Now I want to emphasize this point, because it is a very important distinction. As we all know, we pride ourselves on the ability to reason. We consider this the highest function of humanity and take great pride in our ability to ferret out knowledge and to put various items of knowledge together to produce very practical gadgets. We point with pride to the technological perfection of our modern society, to the skill with which science has appears to have harnessed the forces of nature and made them the servants of man-no matter what the moral consequences.

Man exalts his reason, but the writers of Scripture universally agree, though all this may be very impressive, clever, and remarkable in the eyes of men, in the eyes of God the reasoning of man is vain. As the Lord Jesus himself put it, “What is highly esteemed among men is abomination in the sight of God,” {cf, Luke 16:15 KJV}. Now that is plain, strong speaking.

But see how the apostle brings us as Christians face to face with the fundamental issue? Either God is right or the world is right, one or the other. It cannot be both. The Christian must choose on which basis he is going to live his life. If he is to follow Christ, he must be willing to have his thinking changed. When you become a Christian this is the first issue you face. You must be willing to have your whole fundamental outlook on life drastically altered. Christianity is not merely a change in outward actions, or a bit higher moral or ethical level. Christianity is a revolutionary change of internal government which results in a radical change in behavior. This is what St. Paul drives home, before analyzing more closely this problem of faulty thinking. What can make our thinking pointless, so without ultimate significance? The answer he gives is in Verse 18:

they are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart; {Eph 4:18 RSV}

St. Paul is tracing a chain of cause and effect here. The first step is that the worldly think futilely because their understanding is darkened. Just as a cloud, passing over the sun, darkens the light of it, so the thinking of man in his fallen state is shadowed, obscured, darkened. Scripture continually uses these terms, light and darkness, as metaphors for truth and ignorance. Truth is light; ignorance is darkness. St.Paul declares that men’s thinking is shadowed with ignorance. That is rather convicting, isn’t it? We think we know so much, and, in fact, we do. We know so much, but we never know quite enough. That is what the apostle is saying.

Again this relates to a truth that we find widespread throughout the Scriptures: Man is ignorant because there is a part of his being that does not function. It is his spiritual life. His spirit is blank, darkened, obscured. In that part of our being which was intended to function as the key to our lives there is nothing taking place. As a result, knowledge is broken, unrelated, incomplete. That is the picture St. Paul draws. What man thinks, though it may be very clever, does not bring him anywhere, does not better him. We are haunted these days with the question: Is this tremendous civilization, increasingly secularized, really doing anything for us?

Some years ago, I wandered among the ruins of an ancient civilization in Monte Alban in Mexico. Many of the half-covered temples are just now being excavated from the dirt and dust of centuries, and the more archaeologists uncover the ruins, the more we learn of the remarkable civilization of that day. But modern man is continually haunted with the question, “Are we really any better than that pagan society?” We may be better off, but are we any better? Have we really advanced in ways that matter, or are we on the retreat from the truth?
The understanding of man is darkened and it is especially evident in his thinking about himself and about God. It can be seen in our value systems, our power structures, particularly here in our Nation’s capitol. And we see it in the way in which people determine what is important and what is not important.

Illustrations abound for this. Coming back from Grand Rapids a couple of weeks ago, I sat down on the plane to prepare a sermon and re-read this most incredible paragraph,

The decline in religious feeling among civilized people is an indication that man is steadily becoming more rational and less subject to superstition and therefore less likely to kill and maim those who disagree with him.

Certainly the writer didn’t take into account rampages in Pakistan, Afghanistan or any other stan, the incredible spate of shootings and mass murders these last weeks, the violence of the abortion industry, the ongoing religious persecution and the viciousness of rogue nations and terrorist groups. What a confirmation of the apostle’s analysis of human thinking. The minds of “rational” modern men and women fallen man are darkened. They don’t not see things as they really are. So many can ignore obvious facts that thrust themselves upon us constantly and blithely dismiss them with a wave of the hand to pronounce that mankind is getting better and better.

This unaccountable darkness is seen in the glib talk today about “situational ethics” — morals determined by situation, expediency. We hear it also in claims of the relativity of morals, and the widespread acceptance of the idea that sexual promiscuity is an expression of personal freedom, even though those who indulge in this kind of living inevitably show themselves to be increasingly the slaves of human passion, and suffer in their own lives the consequent inevitable restlessness of spirit and torment of heart. How can man be so blind?

In our blindness, so many think they are all right, and, therefore, they do not need God. The next step is inevitable. They are “alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them.”
St. Paul is not blaming mankind for this, any more than God blames us for it. It is important to recognize, though, that the world is encouraging an ever darkening understanding, that leads to a rejection of the life of God and divorce ourselves from the one thing we need to be fully human! Both nature and Scripture agree that we are incomplete without God.

But there is yet more here in this Epistle passage. If people were cut off from God only because of ignorance of Him, they might well excuse themselves, for no man can be blamed for not having what he doesn’t know exists. But we now we learn the whole truth. It is all “due to their hardness of heart.” People remain cut-off from God only because of the hardness of their hearts-flat stubbornness.

A young Christian, who may be a bit too market-oriented, said to me recently, “Why is it, when we have the world’s greatest product, it is so hard to sell?” The reason is because human beings resist the truth, reject light, turn from God’s love, cling to error, and thus make their hearts gradually harder and harder and more unable to respond. All of this marks the shadowed thinking into which the world tries to draw us. St. Paul says, “You Christians must not think this way any longer.” If you are going to live a Christian life, first change your thinking. Do not follow these philosophies, do not agree with these attitudes, do not adopt these value systems.” Those who do:
…become callous and have given themselves up to licentiousness, greedy to practice every kind of uncleanness. (Eph 4:19 RSV)
We hear the same warning in the first chapter of Romans, “God gave them over to a reprobate mind” (Rom 1:28b KJV), that they might practice the awful list of evil deeds that is so frankly and bluntly described there. It sounds like it was culled from the pages of any morning newspaper today.

Why do people do these things? Why is moral licentiousness and our standards so constantly deteriorating? In the words of St. John Chrysostom, “There is such a thing as being in the dark, even while the light is shining…. And so surely is it also here; when the strong current of the affairs of this life overwhelms the perceptive power of the understanding, it is thrown into a state of darkness.”
But the good news of the Gospel is love of Christ penetrates this darkness and melts the hardest of hearts. So we must not blame people like this, or withdraw from them. We are to remember that we, too, we too were there. As St. Paul says in Colossians 1:21,

… you who once were estranged and hostile in mind, that is the way we thought too, until God’s love reached us. So we are not to be not to be hard and harsh, toward these who think this way. This is the basic condition of humanity to which the Gospel makes its appeal and we are to speak the truth in charity.

Now there is one other thing. The only hope of helping these people is to demonstrate a wholly different pattern of thought, a wholly different set of values, and a different and transformed life. If we live like the world lives, even though we are Christians, there is not a thing we can do to help others; not a thing!

There is an old story of a boy who thought he would teach some sparrows to sing like a canary, so he put them in a cage with the canary, hoping the canary would teach them to sing. In a few days he found the canary chirping like the sparrows. This is always the case, is it not? If we give ourselves to the attitudes and ways of thinking of those around us, we will inevitably do the same things. We seem to be constantly surprised these last few years at leaders who have gone through moral breakdowns. Why? Because somewhere along the line they succumbed to the futile thinking of the world. This is what makes even those who seem to be strong in the faith to turn from the things of Christ to materialism or personal ambition or worse. St. Paul offers a response, You did not so learn Christ! — assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus. {Eph 4:20-21 RSV}

In Christ, you have the truth by which you can test everything else, the truth as it is in Jesus. That is a wonderful phrase. That ought to form the basic concept of all Christian thinking. You have found in Jesus Christ the truth, the simple truth: About life, about yourself, about the world, about the makeup of science and nature, about human behavior. “In him are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge,” {cf, Col 2:3}. You have found in Christ the truth.

Jesus said these challenging words. “If any man follow me, he shall not walk in darkness but shall have the light of life,” {cf, John 8:12}. That means a Christian does not need to walk in uncertainty about things, in lack of knowledge. Christ said to his disciples, “If you continue in my word … you shall know the truth, and the truth will make you free,” {cf, John 8:31b, 8:32}. That is what the truth always does, it sets us free. Truth, even though it is hard truth, difficult truth, is realistic and therefore it sets us free and tears away the veils of illusion and brings us to reality.

That is where we are to begin to live, and this is why St. Paul says we “must no longer live as the Gentiles do.” The is strength here far greater than the worldly can dream of. There are possibilities of fruitfulness and glory and grace in Jesus Christ which, if they begin to manifest themselves in your life, will set your neighbors and friends saying, “what has this person got? What kind of a faith is this?” “What do these people have that makes them able to live like this?”

Therefore, what we are must be what Christ is, for that is the only life that arrests and challenges others and changes the world. Amen.
-The Rev. Canon Charles H. Nalls

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