Saturday, March 19, 2011

The Living Chain

 continued from the prior post

After hands were laid on Paul, he went to Cyprus and Greece to evangelize. Y'all know about Greece, right? Yes. It's still a country, and Cyprus is a copper-mining island near Greece. The word copper comes from Cyprus. Paul intended to bring the Gospel to Jews living in Greece and Cyprus, but he had better luck with Gentiles, people like us who weren't Jews. Let's imagine Paul coming to a new town, let's say Corinth in Greece. What would you call people who live in Corinth? Corinthians? Yes. Paul would go to the synagogue or the marketplace, and start preaching about Jesus to whichever Corinthians would listen. As people came to believe in Jesus, Paul would baptize them. After a couple of months, there would be enough new Christians to start a small church; usually people would meet in someone's house. But was Paul's job to stay in one town and run a parish? No, he had to go to other places. Yes, why? Well, to tell everybody about Jesus. Yes. Now when Paul would leave a new flock of Christians, what would they need? A shepherd! Yes, and would the sheep hire their own shepherd? No, Paul would pick one! Yes. He might ask the flock to suggest someone to be in charge of them, but it was his decision to appoint a shepherd. Yes? I thought Jesus was the shepherd. He is, but remember how Jesus gave his authority to the apostles to feed the multitudes, baptize, forgive sins, and so on? Yes. Well, the apostles laid hands on Paul to give him their authority; and in turn, Paul laid his hands on men he would authorize. Just like Isaac "handing" down his authority to Jacob. Let's jump ahead a bit since you bring this up now. Later on in his travels, Paul makes bishops of two men named Timothy and Titus. In a letter he wrote to Timothy, Paul said, "I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands." And what do people rekindle? A fire. Yes, in this case spiritual fire. And he wrote to Titus, "I left you in Crete, that you might...appoint elders in every town as I directed you." Paul is always careful to appoint shepherds or bishops by laying of hands; people don't vote for them. And he expects those lay hands on people too. Yes, in this example, to "appoint elders." In those days if someone claimed to be an elder, he might say, "The apostles laid hands on Paul; who laid hands on Titus; who laid hands on me." That way people could see that he shared the authority of the apostles. The Bible doesn't say one way or another, but I expect that Jesus laid his hands on the apostles to start the chain.

Speaking of all this hands-laying, what will happen to y'all next year? We get confirmed. More specifically, please. The Bishop lays his hands on us? Yes. He's at the end of a 2,000-year-old living chain of authority and hand-laid blessings and going back to Jesus. So in a couple of years when you're confirmed, you'll become a part of that chain.

And when y'all are Confirmed, are y'all going to be bishops? Ha! No! Oh....are you going to be priests or deacons? No, we just stay the same. Well, actually you don't stay the same; there is a change, but the change isn't obvious.

When a baby is born, what's the first thing Christian parents do? Get the baby baptized. Yes, when the priest squirts ketchup on its head? No! He uses water! Oh yeah, water....what does the water wash away? Original sin! Yes...and if the priest prays real hard but doesn't pour water on the baby, does that work? No! Right; Jesus said you have to be born again of water and spirit. So the water and the Holy Spirit together change the baby. Can you tell the baby is different? His head's wet. Uh-huh, thank you for your contribution.....after his head dries off, he seems exactly the same as before, but the Holy Spirit's made a big spiritual change. Original sin is gone, and the baby is permanently changed, even if he sins when he gets older. He can never be un-baptized.

Through Baptism the baby is cleaned of Original Sin by a big first dose of the Holy Spirit.

But in the New Testament we see the Apostles get extra doses of the Holy Spirit after Baptism. The second time is when the resurrected Jesus breathed on them and says, "Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” (Jn 20) Then on Pentecost Sunday the Apostles got a third dose of the Holy Spirit. What did that dose look like? You could see it above their heads.... Oh, fire! Yes, fire; they were...fired up! Yes! So we know the Apostles got at least three separate doses of the Holy Spirit. I doubt they looked any different after any of them, so don't be disappointed if you look the same after Confirmation.

Later in Acts, the Apostles 'hand' out doses of the Spirit like so: "Now when the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent them Peter and John, who went down and prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Spirit, for it had not yet fallen upon any of them; they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then they laid hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit." (Acts 8:14-18) The Bishops today lay hands that same way. And their blessing is like Isaac's: so special that it makes a permanent difference. You can usually tell a blessing is special when someone with authority puts his hands on the head of the person being blessed.

The dose of the Holy Spirit we all receive at Confirmation doesn't authorize us to forgive sins, but it is a bit like the Apostles' last dose on Pentecost. You'll be spiritually strengthened, and receive what are called Gifts of the Holy Spirit. Everyone doesn't get the same gifts: like St. Paul said, a body has different parts, but they all work together. But you'll get something, and it may be years before you realize what it is. It took me about 30 years. My gift is making 6th graders suffer! We know that already! Oh.

And what else will the Bishop do? No guesses, that's ok. You'll get treated like King'll get...anointed? Yes, genius! We will? Yes, no kidding. Remind me please, Messiah [on the board] is the Hebrew word for anointed, yes, and Christos [on the board], or Christ would be...? Greek for anointed! Yes. They both mean anointed. At Baptism a baby gets oil put on its head, it's called Chrism [on the board], the Greek word for oil. See how Christ and Chrism are related? And when priests are ordained, their hands are anointed with...Chrism. Yes.

All these anointings with Holy Chrism mark a permanent change in the anointed people: the King is permanently King; a baby becomes a member of Christ's family; a priest is permanently a priest. When you are Confirmed, you'll be anointed, marking a permanent change in you. Sort of a spiritual doesn't come off. By the way, the Greek churches call Confirmation 'Chrismation'...why is that? Because that's Greek for Anointing? Yes, genius at work, you are right!

These are the things that will happen to you at Confirmation: the Bishop, who is a successor to the Apostles, will lay his hands on you in blessing. You'll be anointed with Holy Chrism. You'll receive another dose of the Holy Spirit, giving you Gifts to help to live your Christian faith. All these things have been done for God's children for thousands of years, and soon you'll be a new link in that living chain of spiritual fire. So when the bishop lays his hands on you, don't just think about the bishop. Think of the apostles on Pentecost Sunday getting fired-up with Gifts of the Holy Spirit; the apostles handing that fire on to the bishops; and the bishops keeping the fire alive for 2,000 years so that those Gifts can be handed on to you.

But suppose I said you can skip all that Confirmation business; I'll rub some oil and lay hands on you right here in class? How about that? It wouldn't work. Why not? You aren't a bishop. Right; I don't have...authority? Yes. I don't have apostolic authority.

Back to Paul. Remember he converted more Gentiles than Jews to Christianity. The problem was that Gentiles did things Jews didn't do: eat pigs, oysters, lobsters, food that was unclean for Jews; do whatever they wanted on Saturday, ignoring those 39 rules the Pharisees were so obsessed with; and paid no attention to all that Levitical sacrifice business at the Temple in Jerusalem. Well, the Jewish Christians thought the Gentile Christians needed to do all the Jewish stuff in order to be Christians. After all, Jesus followed all the Mosaic laws; shouldn't his followers do the same? And weren't the scriptures God's Word? Who could ignore them? Trick question: what did Paul decide? That they didn't have to do that stuff? Good guess, but no; Paul didn't make a decision on his own. "Paul and Barnabas and some of the others were appointed to go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and the elders about this question..." Even though Jesus had personally appeared to Paul, spoke to him, blinded him, and knocked him down, that didn't give Paul authority to make this big decision by himself. "When they came to Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and the elders, and they declared all that God had done with them...But some believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees rose up, and said, "It is necessary to...charge them to keep the law of Moses."..."The apostles and the elders were gathered together to consider this matter." Did the whole flock of sheep get together? No, just the shepherds! Yes, genius; just the shepherds. And guess which apostle spoke first? Peter! Yes, "...after there had been much debate, Peter rose and said to them...why do you make trial of God by putting a yoke upon the neck of the disciples which neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear?" Then James said, "Therefore my judgment is that we should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God..."  And so the apostles and elders decided, "For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay upon you no greater burden..." So the shepherds as a group decided that people who belonged to the New Covenant didn't have to obey the rules of the...Old Covenant? Yes. And they understood that the Holy Spirit would guide them to the right answer. The apostles didn't cast lots or draw straws to find out what God wanted, like they did when they replaced Judas with Matthias; they were were more confident now about making decisions together with the Holy Spirit. And even though some of the sheep didn't like the apostles' decision they had to accept it, because the shepherds had...authority? Yes. Neither Paul nor the sheep could decide for themselves what Scripture means, or what the Church should do.

When all the shepherds meet to make big decisions for the whole flock, it's called a council.  Because this council was held in Jerusalem, it's called the...Council of Jerusalem? Yes. And there have been many other councils in other cities since then. That first council was held by Peter and the apostles, but they're all dead. Who would be at a Church council now? Umm, the Pope?  Yes, and? Bishops?  Yes. The most recent council was held in Rome when I was about your age, the Second Vatican Council. Bishops came from all over the world to that council; it was very exciting even for kids.

That's it for tonight...praised be Jesus Christ!

Now and Forever!