2 Trinity 2008

The Second Sunday After Trinity
June 1, 2008
Verse 13 of I John 3:13-24
‘Marvel Not, My Brethren’

This past Friday I finally completed a reading of the 13 books of the Apocrypha (plus the additional 6 Apocryphal books that are found only in the Greek and Slavonic bibles). In a few instances some of the material is repeated; one example I found to be particularly striking.

Of particular interest is an account that is found in the 7th chapter of the 2nd Book of Maccabees and is repeated at greater length in the 8th through 18th chapters of the 4th Book of Maccabees. 10 chapters are given over to this one story (this is over _ the 4th book). The material describes the tortures endured and the martyrdom suffered by Seven Brothers and their Mother at the hands of the tyrant Antiochus, after he first tortured and killed Eleazar, an old man and leader of the Jews.

The tyrant Antiochus wants to force the Greek way of life upon the conquered Jews. Among the tyrant’s demands is the stipulation that the Jews be compelled to eat pork and food sacrificed to idols, of which neither is permitted or allowed by Jewish Law. And if the Jews were not willing to eat the defiling food, they were to be broken on the wheel and killed.

Many of the Jews acquiesced to the tyrant’s demands; but devout Jews opposed and resisted. Of those who opposed and resisted and stood firm in the Jewish Faith and the Law were the elderly man, Eleazar, and Seven Brothers and their Mother. The tortures were indescribably cruel: Scourging, racking, disjointing, breaking of fingers, elbows and limbs, cutting out of the tongue, scalping, flaying and being thrown into a cauldron or into the fire.

All of the Seven went courageously to their cruel deaths while at the same time eloquently proclaiming their faith in God and their love for His Divine Law. The Mother of the Seven Brothers was forced to watch the torture and execution of all seven of her sons, before she herself was presented with the ultimatum of compliance with the tyrant’s demands or adherence to the Law of God. Without a moment’s hesitation, she chose to honor the latter with her own life. All of them, for the sake of their belief in God and His holy religion died as martyrs.

The author of 4th Macabees says this of her: ‘Yet that holy and God-fearing mother did not wail with a lament for any of them, nor did she dissuade any of them from dying, nor did she grieve as they were dying. On the contrary, she implored them and urged them on to death for the sake of religion. By (her) words the mother of the seven encouraged and persuaded each of her sons to die rather than violate God’s commandment. They knew also that those who die for the sake of God live to God…’ And he ends the last book of the Apocrypha with these words: ‘…The sons of Abraham with their victorious mother are gathered together into the chorus of the fathers, and have received pure and immortal souls from God, to whom be glory for ever and ever.’

St. John writes in the 3rd chapter of his First Epistle, ‘Marvel not, my brethren, if the world hate you.’ And these words immediately follow, ‘We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren.’ And a little further, ‘Hereby we perceive the love of God, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.’

Indeed, from the first century down to the current new century, millions upon millions of followers of Jesus Christ have been called upon to follow his example, and have literally laid down their lives, for the Faith and for the sake of their brethren.

During Bishop Seeland’s pastoral visitation last week, within the context of his sermon he predicted that the time is coming when Christians who speak out for the Gospel and stand up for traditional Christian morality will increasingly be accused of intolerance and of promoting hatred, and will stand before judges being charged with committing hate-crimes.

To the contrary, it is traditionalist Christians standing up for the Faith and for our Lord’s teachings on issues of morality, who shall bear the brunt of hatred. And if a Christian is dragged into court on the pretext of hate-speech, shall the justice system treat such an individual with fairness? And realistically, can he be assured he shall receive a fair trial of his peers?

We have seen the disregard the courts of our land hold for the teachings of God and of Christ. It all began back in the days of ‘Roe v. Wade’, when the Supreme Court of our nation declared surgical abortion (the killing of innocent human life) to be legal, in total disregard for the Judeo-Christian religious tradition regarding the SANCITY of human life.

Rooted in our Lord’s own teaching about the sanctity of ALL human life, the Church has maintained down through the centuries that ALL human life is SACRED and that human life EXISTS in the womb from the moment of conception.

The Biblical basis for her teaching is that the Son of God became incarnate and, as a consequence, that Jesus Christ was fully human from the moment of his conception in the womb of the Blessed Virgin.

Ignoring the Word of God, the Supreme Court ruled to cancel the Constitutional right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness of the most innocent, and thereby to deny protection to the most defenseless of the members of human society, the human fetus.

In their wisdom in turn the Supreme Court also ruled to outlaw: prayer in school, any display of the Ten Commandments or any use of Christian symbols in school classrooms or in or on any public property. Even the bringing of a Bible onto a public school ground for one’s private use is forbidden by court ruling. (Ironically, meanwhile all kinds of nonsense is tolerated and taught in our classrooms).

Look too at what is happening to the Union of one man and one woman in Holy Matrimony, or put more commonly, with regard to traditional marriage.

A recent State ruling is clearly inconsistent, contrary and opposed to the Word and Will of God regarding marriage. (One is not being a ‘hate-monger’ to point this out!). Not only with disregard for the Word and Will of God, but in the past month disregard has been shown by the State Supreme Court’s overturning of the word and will of the people! Same-sex couples will now be able to ‘wed’ in the state, despite a previous decision by a clear majority of the California voting public who voted to bar such allowance.

The passage of an initiative proposed for the November ballot, once again defining marriage as being between a man and a woman, could possibly overrule the State Supreme Court. So, we can be fairly confident that the Court, post-haste, will move rapidly ahead to implement its recent ruling.

To affirm that marriage is between a man and a woman is not ‘hate mongering’. It is first of all honoring the Word of God, as that unique union was first described in Genesis, and again blessed by our Lord’s presence and first miracle at the Wedding at Cana. And as set forth in ‘The Form of the Solemnization of Matrimony’, in the Anglican Book of Common Prayer. Which clearly sets forth that the union is between a Man and a Woman. That holy matrimony is: ‘An honorable estate, instituted of God, signifying the mystical union that is between Christ and his Church. A holy estate and honorable. Not to be entered into unadvisedly or lightly; but reverently, discreetly, advisedly, soberly, and in the fear of God’. Such words are not ‘hateful’, but truly godly words.

And it is intended not to exclude the natural procreation of children. Further, the family as it has been constituted is the very foundation and building block of human society.

The Church does not condone same-sex unions, let alone the instituting of same-sex ‘marriage’, because the Church, consistent with our Lord’s teaching, admonishes that any human sexual act expressed outside of Christian marriage is unlawful and sinful.

But the Courts are about to deal another blow to Christians who believe in traditional values. The Los Angeles Times (May 29, 2008) reported that State Justices appear ready to end a doctor’s right to deny patient care because of religious beliefs! It was a several column reporting about a woman and her female life-partner who is upset with two doctors who, for reasons of religious belief, refused to perform an intra-uterine insemination for the petitioning woman. The doctors contend that their religious objections dealt with unmarried women, not only with lesbians, and that the state Constitution protects a doctor’s right to exercise religious conscience in their practice. Perhaps soon, that will be true no more!

Why will the high court’s final ruling be important to traditional Christians? Especially to physicians and surgeons of faith? Here are some reasons why.

If the high court rules that doctors and physicians cannot deny anyone treatment, what then will be the fate of those doctors and physicians who for reason of religion refuse to perform the insemination of unmarried women, including lesbians? How could a doctor then refuse, if a woman of lesbian persuasion is ‘married’ to a same-sex partner?

If the high court rules that physicians and surgeons cannot deny anyone treatment based on religious convictions or objections, what will be the fate of any physician or surgeon who for reason of religion refuses to perform abortions? Refusing, for reasons of religious conscience, to provide and perform such abominable death.

And in the future, for physicians who on the basis of religious objection refuse to administer euthanasia to a terminally ill patient who demands it, what will be their fate? Having refused to administer assisted death. The time of such decision-making is forthcoming. With the sky rocketing costs of medical care and hospitalization and hospice care, be certain that in time the courts are going to allow and sanction that immoral and heinous practice.

How then shall ‘obstinate’ health care professionals who refuse be disciplined? Through fines? Denial of malpractice insurance coverage? The revoking of their medical license? Trial? By imprisonment?

And if physicians and doctors end up being disallowed to refuse anyone what they demand, it is only a question of time before the ordained clergy will be the next to feel the lash for declining or refusing for reasons of religious conscience to ‘marry’ same-sex couples or for applying any other of the Church’s standards and rules.

How would such ‘obstinate’ clergy who refuse be disciplined by the State? Through fines or tax audit? Revoking of his State license to perform marriages? By the revoking of the ‘tax exempt’ status of the minister’s housing allowance, or the loss of his parish’s non-profit ‘tax-exemption’ status? Refuse yes, but in so doing, at what personal cost?

That for exercising religious conscience one would ever be tortured and put to death (as were the old man and the seven brothers and their mother) or by some equivalent contemporary form of brutalization or death, I do not believe any medical practitioner or ordained minister, living in a free and democratic society, would ever be.

But difficult trials in one form or another are in the wind for us, and I believe they will come through the courts of our land, as increasingly religion becomes outlawed from the public domain, and eventually the private sector, and even in the personal realm of the exercise of one’s religious conscience, as has already occurred! Can you fathom, the Constitution defends our freedom of religious belief: yet the State increasingly dictates to us what we are permitted to believe and act upon.

Those who ‘are of the truth’ believe on Jesus Christ as the Son of God, and like those Seven Brothers will keep the Divine law. And for this their opponents, who are worldly and humanistic in general, may in time even wax despotic toward them. Marvel not, my brethren!

But as always Jesus Christ is our pattern and his love for us, and our love for him, means that as sacrificial ministry is our calling; eventually martyrdom might be our fate. And that is why St. John forewarned us: ‘Marvel not, my brethren, if the world hate you’.

One day in loved Jerusalem There rushed a shrieking, maddened crowd
Upon a lowly kneeling form Before his God and Saviour bowed:
And when with cruel stones they crushed His beautiful and gentle life,
He prayed the Father to forgive Their ignorance and raging strife.
This man was Stephen – born a Jew Who died for Christ. Would I? Would you?

See! Far upon a lonely isle An aged man with snowy locks
Exiled to labor in the mines, His only temple wind swept rocks.
‘Twas he once leaned on Jesus’ breast And gazed with fond adoring eyes
Into that face where love divine Still beams upon us from the skies.
This man was John beloved, a Jew, Witness for Christ? Am I? Are you?

A Galilean fisher stood Amidst a fierce and angry throng.
No tremor spoke of hidden fear: His face was peaceful, calm and strong.
And when they nailed him to a cross As they had nailed his blessed Lord.
He gloried thus to die for Christ And counted it a rich reward.
This man was Peter, born Jew Who died for Christ. Would I? Would you?

A captive, bound, was brought one day To Nero’s judgment seat in Rome;
For Christ he wore a heavy chain, For Christ he had nor wealth nor home.
The noblest martyr Rome could boast Of all the thousands that Rome slew,
The great apostle sent by God To Gentiles with the message true.
This man was Paul, by birth a Jew, Who died for Christ. Would I? Would you?