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Jesus “saith unto them, Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men. And they straightway left their nets, and followed him.”

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

 

This verse exemplifies the theme of utter renunciation found throughout the Gospels.

Fishing was a prominent industry in the Sea of Galilee, so Ss Simon and Andrew were leaving behind a stable and prosperous future.  Here, the brothers leave their livelihood behind to follow our Lord.  In a moment of decision, they left their nets and followed Christ.

“Follow me!” is a manly command from Christ.  Indeed, Follow Me is the proper name of the statue we called Iron Mike at Fort Benning, of a Korean-War-era soldier leading men into combat.

St. Andrew and his brother could support themselves and their families with their fishing, but making a living differs from making a life.  They left their nets and followed the Living God to a more meaningful existence.  They became fishers of men and bold missionaries eventually martyred on their missions.  They did not follow a school of thought or pious notion but a Man, a divine Person, the Son of God, their friend Jesus.

St. Gregory the Great, a pope devoted to missions and St. Andrew wrote:

Peter and Andrew had seen Christ work no miracle, had heard from him no word of the promise of the eternal reward, yet at this single bidding of the Lord they forgot all that they had seemed to possess, and ‘straightway left their nets, and followed Him.’

We see this ready obedience to instantly follow Christ in the New Testament.

Further along in the Gospels of St. Mark (x.28) and St. Luke (xviii.28) we read :  “Then Peter said, Lo, we have left all, and followed thee.”

St. Luke shows Christ calling various men.  In ix.59:  “And he said unto another, Follow me.”  (St. Luke ix.61-62):  “And another also said, Lord, I will follow thee; but let me first go bid them farewell, which are at home at my house.  And Jesus said unto him, No man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.”

Christ demands our obedience to His call.  Each of us must make a decision to the command given to Ss Peter and Andrew.  Consider St. Luke xii.20, after the rich man accumulated great wealth:  “Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee:”

One of my personal favorite verses of Scripture is from St. Paul in 2 Corinthians vi.2.  Quoting Isaiah il.8, he writes:  “(For he saith, I have heard thee in a time accepted, and in the day of salvation have I succoured thee: behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.)”

 

That now of immediacy is an interesting thing.  In that moment, that now, you can hold your breath, you can stand still, but you cannot keep it.

The now, that moment when swimming in which you are present, but within the flow of movement from what has been to what will be.  Each moment when swimming, you can feel the water flow over your skin, you can feel the resistance of the water as you move forward.  But each moment is a snapshot of our lives in time.  How can we feel the flow of our bodies in the water in a moment?  This is a paradox.

We follow Christ in a moment of immediacy amidst a journey with Him.  The now is not isolated; it is but a moment of our lives:  This moment, this most important moment.

 

Also consider what we do with our hearts and with our bodies.  When President Carter said he had lusted in his heart, he thereby acknowledged that he had effectively committed adultery in the eyes of God.  For we are culpable for what we have done in our hearts.

While you and I may not have been called to renounce our family and work to follow Christ, we ought to be willing to do so in our hearts.  He who puts his hand to the plough and looks back is not worthy of the kingdom of God.  Yet many a farmer keeps ploughing with his body whilst following Christ in his heart.

You and I may not be called to shed our blood for Christ, as St. Andrew and his holy brother did.  Yet we ought to be willing to do.  Each moment is the moment we ought to turn to our Lord and follow Him.

 

As our hearts wander from our Lord, so must we turn back to Him.  We always do this in our now.  This very moment is always the moment to return to Him.  As we slip and fall along the way, so must we accept the Lord’s help in picking us up and setting us back on His path.

1 St. John i.8-9:  “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.  If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

We cannot confess the sins we are currently committing, for we have not turned from them.  But if we confess our past sins now, we head off into a future of righteousness in Christ.  We must drop what we are doing and follow Him.

 

Jesus “saith unto them, Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men. And they straightway left their nets, and followed him.”

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

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“O sing unto the LORD with thanksgiving : sing praises upon the harp unto our God:”

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

 

The prayerful roots and intention of this national holiday are nicely summarized in today’s collect:

O MOST merciful Father, who hast blessed the labours of the husbandman in the returns of the fruits of the earth; We give thee humble and hearty thanks for this thy bounty; beseeching thee to continue thy loving-kindness to us, that our land may still yield her increase, to thy glory and our comfort; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Unlike the earlier service of thanksgiving by Virginia colonists, which was focused on prayer for deliverance, our Thanksgiving Day is based more upon the harvest.  Hence, the collect’s mention of “the husbandman”, “the fruits of the earth”, and “thy bounty”, as well as praying God that “our land may still yield her increase”.  These are important things.  We still must eat, even as one-fiftieth instead of nine-tenths of our population produces our food.

 

So it is that we ought return to our more ancient roots.  Thanksgiving is more than thanking God for our physical sustenance.  Thanksgiving is primordially a response to God’s gift of our lives and his gift of himself to us.  Our giving of thanks to him is, in the words of The New Dictionary of Catholic Spirituality, a “sign of self-transcendence”.  It is the active response of our thankfulness towards God.

God’s graciousness to us and our response of thanks to him cause us to realize our inherent contingency upon him.  We would not be here without him.  Without him, there is no us.  God did not have to create us.  However, we had to have God create us.  This is more than a case of we needing him more than he needs us.  He does not need us at all.  We need him as a matter of our very existence.

Thus, in thanking God, we transcend our limited state and acknowledge our dependency upon our creator.  In thanksgiving, our hearts, our souls, and our minds open to the giver of good gifts and especially the ultimate giver of all gifts.  Thanksgiving is a response necessary to our Christian journey which will take us far beyond our understanding and expectations.

 

Contrary to what is true and evident from the beginning of Genesis until the end of the Revelation and in all services of Holy Church, we exhibit a tendency to limit our thankfulness to a list of good gifts.  This is seen by the child’s bedtime prayers in which he thanks God for mama and daddy and sissy and brother and Rover.  And, indeed, he should show God his gratitude for them.

We read in St. James that “every good gift is from above”.  God created creation.  God gives us good gifts.  We tend to reserve our thanksgiving for blessings received and prayers answered, but we may and ought thank God for much more than these.

In Psalm cvii.21-22, we read:  “O that men would therefore praise the LORD for his goodness; and declare the wonders that he doeth for the children of men!”  We ought to thank God for more than our usual lists.  Especially, we ought to thank him for being him.  We ought not take God, his Persons, and his works for granted.

A fine example of this more God-centered thanksgiving is found in the General Thanksgiving in Mattins and Evensong, especially where we pray:

We bless thee for our creation, preservation, and all the blessings of this life; but above all, for thine inestimable love in the redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ; for the means of grace, and for the hope of glory.

But where it continues on takes thanksgiving into even deeper profundity:  “And, we beseech thee, give us that due sense of all thy mercies that our hearts may be unfeignedly thankful;”  Instead of informing God of our thankfulness for yet another thing we give thanks for, here we pray God to increase the thankfulness of our hearts.  You and I can only gin up so much thankfulness on our own, even when God has given us a gift which meets with our approval.  Better yet is the earnest supplication for a more thoroughly converted heart with which to thank him and to love him.

 

Thanking God for his goodness and his good gifts is as necessary for us as breathing.  An unthankful heart might as well be holding its breath for all the good it is doing.  It is difficult to pray when not thankful.  It is difficult to love when not thankful.  So we ought to exercise our thankfulness by giving thanks.

In the way of prayer taught by St. Peter of Alcantara, we learn that thanksgiving is less a set form of prayer and more of an “act of worship and joy”.  This is seated in our love for God and our response to God’s love developed in worship and prayer, study and good works.

The minute or two following our reception of Holy Communion is a most precious and delicate moment.  We are then very close to our Lord.  This is not a time to quickly mumble prayers or escape to the parish hall.  This is an extraordinary moment to commune with Christ in our hearts.

I commend to you all to relish this moment before heading out to turkey and pumpkin pie.  This is a time to let our souls thank our good God with our affect and not to effect.  Let us revel in our disposition towards Christ for this moment.  Let us truly thank God with our hearts.

 

“O sing unto the LORD with thanksgiving : sing praises upon the harp unto our God:”

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

“. . . Walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God . . . .”

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

 

St. Paul noted the marvelous progress shown by the Christians at Colossae.  They bore evidence of good Christian life regarding our Lord, each other, and themselves.  St. Paul had heard of their “faith in Christ Jesus”.  He had heard of the love which they had “to all the saints”.  And he had heard of “the hope which is laid up” for them in heaven.  The Colossians had progressed beyond the basics of the Christian Faith, and St. Paul loved them all the more for it.

St. Paul knew that progress towards God continues on.  So, the Lord moved the Apostle to the Gentiles to make repeated intercession for the perfection of his brethren.  Five times he prayed for the Church at Colossae to continue to grow in the faith.  St. Paul knew nothing of resting on his laurels.  He prayed and preached and urged and loved until he was martyred in Rome.

God created us in his own image.  We love, we have a soul, we create.  God the Father loved us so much He sent His Son to be born of a woman, to die for our salvation.  St. Paul experienced conversion of his soul and increased in the Holy Ghost until he died and went to heaven.  Likewise, we follow our Lord Christ and the saints before us.  We put off the old man of sin and put on the new man of salvation.  Donning righteousness, we grow into Christ.

Spiritual growth is the maturity and continuation of our salvation.  As Christians, we are called to Christ, to His sacred Person.  Getting up and following Him, the journey changes us.  As we continue walking, we grow.  We are all lame and befuddled, running into each other and going in circles entirely too often.  But so long as we walk the way of Christ, we continue to progress in the Holy Ghost.  If we sit down and go no further, then we jeopardize our growth and our salvation.

 

What does this past progress and future perfection mean for the Colossians and for us?  Here are five theological words united by doctrine and their ending:  “Justification, sanctification, consecration, purification, and assimilation.”

Christ saves us in justification and sanctification.  As Fr. Francis Hall wrote, “Justification initiates sanctification, and sanctification affords the explanation and fulfils the implied promise of justification.”  Consecration, purification, and assimilation are aspects of sanctification.

Justification is Christ making us acceptable to God.  Christ makes us acceptable by His Incarnation, Crucifixion, and Resurrection.  Justification is both an instant and a beginning.  Christ’s death and His sanctifying work in us sets us on the way of becoming united with Christ.

Christ continues the work of justification through the Holy Ghost in the process of sanctification.  Sanctification is part of our salvation.  Our continuing growth in holiness cannot be understood apart from Christ’s saving of us.  The two are bound together.

St. Paul depicts an image of the mature Christian, full grown.  Spiritual growth is not just about the initial act of salvation.  Rather, we wend our way along the path our Lord went before us.  We respond to a calling.  Being called to the Person of Christ, we change along His way.  This sanctification is part of our journey.

Sanctification has three aspects:  consecration, purification, and assimilation.  We are set apart as holy, or consecrated.  We are made clean from our sinful ways, or purified.  We are made to grow into the likeness of Christ, or assimilated.

As members of Christ’s Body and justified by Him, we are a holy people united to Christ.  We are consecrated.  The Holy Ghost mystically joins us together with Christ in the Sacrament of Holy Baptism.  In the waters of Holy Baptism, our sinful natures die, and we arise in Him.  Through Christ, the Holy Ghost sets us apart from sin.

If we are set apart, we cannot fall back to our earlier state of sinfulness.  To remain consecrated, we cannot sully ourselves continually with the filthiness of sin.  We must also be purified of all sin.  This second aspect of sanctification called purification assists in the retaining the state of the first aspect of sanctification called consecration.

Christ calls us to grow into the likeness of the divine nature of God.  He is God incarnate.  He is God with us.  As He lived, so are we to live.  He avoided all sin.  He lived in the will of God the Father.  He loved everyone.  He prayed for His persecutors and died for our sins.

This is the life we too must live.  This is the life which will let us live in the presence of God for all eternity.  This is the image of God in which we were made.  We must join in the divine character of God.  We must assimilate into Godliness.  This is the third part of sanctification.

We are justified and sanctified to be made fit for eternal life in the Kingdom of God.  Thus, we must go through this consecration, purification, and assimilation.  St. Peter quotes Leviticus when he writes, “Be ye holy; for I am holy,” in 1 St. Peter i.16.  Our Lord Himself says, “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect” in St. Matthew v.48.  Only in the participation of the divine life of God are we fit to enter Heaven.

This sounds like a tall order.  It is.  But, “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me” (Philippians iv.13).

To be with God for all eternity, we must change.  We cannot stay as we are.  We are mortal.  God is immortal.  We are sinful.  God is holy.  We are selfish.  “God is love.”  We are made acceptable to God the Father by God the Son through God the Holy Ghost.  As Christ makes us acceptable through His death and Resurrection, so we must continually grow to become like Christ.  Set apart in holiness, purified of all sin, we assimilate into the perfect life of the Blessed Trinity.

 

Looking back to the epistle lesson, we probably find it incoherent to simply “walk worthy of the lord”.  We are called to become united with Christ through justification and sanctification.  What does this look like?

We must grow into and keep God’s will as it is known to us in Holy Scriptures, in Holy Church, and in our informed conscience.  In particular, Christians bear six basic duties in our progress towards God.  These are weekly worship, frequent Holy Communion, regular fasting, tithing, keeping a clean conscience, and keeping ourselves chaste.

If you are able, you have an obligation to attend Mass every week.  Due to my chronic illness, I was unable to regularly attend Mass over the course of two years.  I found it frighteningly easy to get used to it.  It is not good for the soul.  Regular attendance will not get you into heaven, but avoiding the worship of the Living God is no way to live with him forever.  If we will worship Him for all eternity, we had best get used to it now.

Almost all of us receive the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ at every Mass.  In olden times, this was uncommon.  I am thankful that this parish is faithful in receiving the Blessed Sacrament so frequently.  Frequent communion often comes at the price of poor preparation to receive.  We should all strive to diligently prepare to meet our Lord on Sundays and other festal days.

Fasting has faded as a Christian discipline and reëmerged as matter of diets and fads.  When we read the Gospels and devotional aids, fasting confronts us frequently.  If you look at page Roman number fifty one, “LI”, of our Book of Common Prayer, we see two fasts, Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, and three sets of fast days.  The first set is the forty days of Lent, the second is all the Ember Days, and the third is all Fridays outside Christmastide and the Feast of Epiphany.

The Church Kalendar is particularly helpful in noting fast days.  Sometimes we see a distinction between fasting and abstention, with fasting being the reduction of amount of food eaten and abstention being the reduction of the quality of food eaten, usually meat.  Fasting is to be accompanied by prayer.  Fasting is only reserved for those physically healthy enough to fast and who do not need great physical strength in the course of their day.

Tithing can be a difficult subject.  Suffice it here to say that God has given us various amounts of material wealth to support our lives, and we have an obligation to return to him an appropriate amount in thanksgiving.  We should especially note that tithing is less a manner of fundraising or meeting a budget than it is a spiritual discipline of thanking God with our substance.

Keeping a clean conscience is a most critical method of pursuing sanctification.  There are two parts to keeping a clean conscience.  The first is to confess our sins, for by it we present to God our sins for Him to wash away.  This continues the work begun in us in Holy Baptism.  Perhaps you commit fewer sins than I, but I find the three-fold discipline of confessing my sins privately at night, daily and weekly at the Offices and Mass, and occasionally privately with a priest most helpful.

This brings us to the second part of keeping a clean conscience.  We are to avoid sin.  Sin is an offense against God, and sin is a state of brokenness between us and our loving Savior.  We are to flee from sin and to Christ.  We need to educate our conscience by learning right from wrong and seeking counsel on tricky circumstances when needed.  We need to exercise our conscience by avoiding occasions of sin and participating in the sins of others.  The more we educate and exercise our conscience, the less we will need to confess our sins.

Lastly, keeping ourselves chaste means seeking holiness in our sexual relationships.  Single or married, we are called to comport our sexual lives like the rest of our lives:  faithful and consecrated to God.  We cannot remain chaste when we lust with a roving eye or when we sleep with those whom are not our spouse.  Keeping ourselves chaste, like all these other duties, is fundamental to our journey of sanctification.

 

To “walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing”, we ought to pursue God vigorously and to respond when he calls us.  Our ultimate end is with God, and our journey here on earth should take us to heaven with him.  Taking care of our fundamental obligations helps us work with Christ and the Holy Ghost and not against them.  Remember today’s epistle.  The Colossians began the race well, and St. Paul earnestly prayed that they would continue the course until their reward.

 

“. . . Walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God . . . .”

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

“O ALMIGHTY God, who hast knit together thine elect in one communion and fellowship, in the mystical body of thy Son Christ our Lord; Grant us grace so to follow thy blessed Saints in all virtuous and godly living, that we may come to those unspeakable joys which thou hast prepared for those who unfeignedly love thee;”

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

 

St. Ephrem the Syrian is the first in the historical record who mentioned the Feast of All Saints, doing so before A.D. 373.  The Orthodox still celebrate the feast on its older day, the first Sunday after Pentecost, when we now celebrate Trinity Sunday

We derive the word, saint, from the Latin, sanctus, which means holy.  To make something holy is to hallow it.  All Hallows means All Saints.  Thus, Halloween or All Hallows’ Eve means All Saints’ Eve.

A saint is a holy person.  All whom God judges righteous and elects to go with him into everlasting felicity are saints.  In the end, there are only the saints and the damned.  If we persevere in Christ, we shall be saints too.

 

Sometimes, Christians on Earth are called saints.  But as with the wheat and the tares and the wedding banquet and the wedding-garment, some who will not persevere are mixed in with those who will.  We do not know who will be faithful and who will fall away.  Thus, we usually reserve calling saints only those whom we strongly suspect of profound personal holiness.

The Church acknowledges heroic Christians as saints.  The Body of Christ can discern what we cannot as individuals.  Dying the martyr’s death is a particularly good indicator of sainthood.  A holy life and performing miracles possibly indicate sainthood.  However, being a prominent Christian, such as a king or bishop, is not a trustworthy sign of sainthood.  A common quip amongst the saints is to the effect of:  ‘the road to Hell is paved with the skulls of bishops and priests’.

Whether recognition of saints is formal, as with the Church of Rome, or informal, as with the Orthodox and Anglicans, it is not an individual thing.  All require the recognition of the Church.  Formal or informal, the Church gets a collective sense of a soul’s holiness and faithfulness.

 

Today, we worship together and celebrate the feast of all God’s saints.  The first documentary evidence for invoking the saints is from around A.D. 156, when the Church celebrated the anniversary of St. Polybius’ martyrdom.  The cult of relics, with its own Scriptural and theological support, reinforced the cult of saints.  In the Fourth Century, St. Cyril of Jerusalem distinguished between the martyrs included at the Mass who pray for us and the regular dead whom we pray for.

Some of us are quite devoted to one saint or another.  Many of us learn lessons on how to walk the way of Christ from the examples of the saints.  We ask for the prayers of the saints.  But we may take our admiration or veneration of the saints too far, confusing the creature and the Creator by worshiping or adoring them.  That is idolatry.  An immeasurable gap between Creator and creature exists between the Lord God and the saints, including the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Truly, only Christ has the merits, the unburdened freely earned goodness and virtue, to bestow upon us.  We who sin can do no good thing without the burden of our sins.  We cannot repay the damage we have caused, much less add more atop it.  Only Christ was sinless, and only He performed holiness with what He innately possessed, for He is true God of true God.  We are not.  We derive our goodness from Him.  The saints do not have their own merits.  So, we do not invoke the merits of the saints, for theirs are the merits of Christ.

During the Medieval era, the veneration of saints gained some unbalanced additions.  The Reformation cleaned house, as it were, too far amongst Lutherans and Calvinists and not far enough amongst Romans.  Our relationship with the saints ought never obscure the fundamental truths of the Faith and the Persons and work of Almighty God.  The invocation of saints is a vital but subsidiary part of our Christian faith.

Throughout the year, the Church celebrates a great many saints in her kalendar.  The feast of the apostles Ss. Simon and Jude were last week and that of St. Andrew is at the end of this month, with many less prominent saints in between, such as the Martyrs of Uganda and St. Hilda.  But a great many saints are little known.  The Feast of All Saints includes both the recognized, or canonized, saints and the saints who died in obscurity.

The saints above intercede for us as we intercede for each other down here.  We pray for the dead, the Church Expectant.  The saints in glory, the Church Triumphant, pray for us.

Holy Church understands that the prayers of the saints are efficacious to us, but we know not how.  We know that the saints pray for us and this avails in our lives in ways we do not comprehend.  Fr. Knowles, the author of The Catholic Religion, said:  “Their holy prayers to God for us must aid our faulty ones to Him!”

 

“O ALMIGHTY God, who hast knit together thine elect in one communion and fellowship, in the mystical body of thy Son Christ our Lord; Grant us grace so to follow thy blessed Saints in all virtuous and godly living, that we may come to those unspeakable joys which thou hast prepared for those who unfeignedly love thee;”

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

“Jesus answered, My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence.”

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

 

“This world is not our home”

Christ did not say that His kingdom was not in this world.  Christ said that His kingdom is not of this world.  All men who live or who have ever lived are of this world.  We are all born of the corrupted seed of Adam.  But all who are born again in Christ are made into a kingdom not of this world.  God the Father “hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son.”

Christ is not a king like the kings of this world.  He derives His authority from God the Father, who has given Him all authority upon Heaven and Earth.  His authority derives from on high, not from this world.

Christ’s kingdom is an eternal kingdom, it lasts through the end of the world.  Given from God the Father, this kingdom existed before the world and will outlast it.  God’s kingdom is strange to the ways of this world.  Christ shows that His government is above worldly government, which is corrupt and mortal.  His kingship is not after the manner of earthly kings.

This world is the realm of power and politics and lording it over one another.  Violence and force do not bring people to the kingdom of God; persuasion and witness do.  While violence and force have their place in this world, governed as it is by the powers of darkness, they have no place in the kingdom of God.

The kingdom of God sounds archaic, for it is a monarchy.  Christ is King.  Jesus is Lord.  We use ancient language to describe our relationship with Him.  The Roman Catholic Church goes even further by saying that cardinals are princes of the Church!

I suspect that we feel uncomfortable with the idea of Christ as our King.  We like Him very much as a baby in a manger.  I suppose other times we feel comfortable with God running things in heaven, looking out for us in his Godlike and almighty way.  But when it comes to subjecting ourselves to the rule of Christ in our daily lives, we sometimes hesitate.

When the early Church worshipped Christ, they became more and more like Christ, and they grew like wildfire.  The early Christians did not attend parishes that were most like what they wanted, make the service the way they wanted, or conform the teaching to be as they wanted.  Rather, they passed from the kingdom of this world to the kingdom of God.

And the world spat on them, as it had done before with Christ our king.  Converting to Christ is no way of accruing worldly honor.  The early Christians obeyed their Lord and Savior, they became like Him as disciples, and they grew and spread, adding souls to the kingdom.  This is the way not only of faithfulness to God, not only of resisting the sinfulness of the world, but is the way of evangelism, growth, and maturity.

Christ is the anointed monarch of heaven and earth, of Church and of Creation.  The mission of Holy Church is Christ’s salvific work in the whole broken cosmos.  In St. Paul’s Epistle to the Colossians, Christ is called the “head of every rule and authority”.  Christ created all and rules all.  We are members of His Body in that broken cosmos.  Each one of us has a high position.  Each one of us who answers the call and conforms to Christ is part of the greatest story ever told.

 

We are citizens of two cities – the city of God and the city of this world.  We are subjects of Christ our King and citizens of this world.  How we comport our lives in this world is both informed by the eternal kingdom and influences our eternal lives.  Conversely, our life under Christ our King informs our citizenship here on earth.

The zeal of the French Revolution and the political forces which followed it sought to destroy what Edmund Burke called the “little platoons” of society.  This was his poetic phrase for those free associations of people mediating between the state and the individual.  The governments of this world count Holy Mother Church as one of those institutions which must be controlled or destroyed.

The Bishop of Rome created this feast of Christ the King in 1925.  I heard it told that he did so as a challenge to communism.  There is some truth to this, but the truth is bigger yet.  The run of politics throughout the world in the 1920s continues today.  From totalitarianism to liberal democracy, modern men are inclined to accord the state, the worldly government, as the comprehensive authority over humanity.  This was not always true.  The modern state is, well, a modern development.

Christians, ruled from on high by Christ our King, ought to doubt the health of this development.  Old governments, tyrannous they might be, never reached so deeply into the lives of their subjects.  Neither the Roman Senate nor King Herod could watch us like communists or Nazis, who in turn could never so thoroughly search our private lives like the big data of networked computers, sophisticated software, ubiquitous cameras, and tracked internet activity.

This world is not our home.

 

This past Friday was the Feast of Blessed Alfred the Great.  Our collect for this feast sheds a powerful light on the proper relationship between this corrupt kingdom and the Kingdom of God:  “O God, who didst call thy servant Alfred to an earthly throne that he might advance thy heavenly kingdom….”  This part of creation is passing away.  Alfred the Great’s God-given task was to govern his earthly kingdom so to advance Christ’s heavenly kingdom.

I always crack a smile when we celebrate this Feast of Christ the King during an election season.  So we well should turn in the Prayer Book to the collects following Morning and Evening Prayer.  There, we find in A Prayer for Congress the petition that God the Father would be pleased to

direct and prosper all their consultations, to the advancement of thy glory, the good of thy Church, the safety, honour, and welfare of thy people; that all things may be so ordered and settled by their endeavours, upon the best and surest foundations, that peace and happiness, truth and justice, religion and piety, may be established among us for all generations.

The invasion of the Kingdom of God into this world would indeed bring “peace and happiness, truth and justice”, and “religion and piety”.  This would transform our world.

We ought not be bosom friends with this here haunted and broken kingdom.  We are sojourners in this world.  United with Christ, He has graciously translated us into His eternal Kingdom.  We have already begun our lives into eternity, which will be consummated on the day of doom, the day of judgement, the day when we have our new bodies and go to live with Christ forever whilst the damned are cast into the eternal flames.

As we sing in the second stanza of Hymn 209, O salutaris hostia:  “O grant us life that shall not end, In our true native land with thee.”  Our true native land is the Kingdom of God.  We were born into this world, the same world which did not welcome Christ.  But through our Baptism into the death and resurrection of Christ our Lord, we boldly “enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, By a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh;” (Hebrews x.19-20) and are translated from this dying kingdom to the eternal Kingdom of God.

 

Tomorrow is the Feast of the Martyrs of Uganda, the many Anglican and Roman Catholic boys who were the pages of the pagan king of Buganda.  Concerned by encroaching colonial powers and the missionary struggles between Moslems, Romans, and Anglicans, the king doubled down on his worldly authority.  In trying the obedience of his worldly subjects, he demanded that his pages submit to him sexually.  The devout Christian boys refused.  For their disobedience to their earthly king and their obedience to the King of Heaven, they were martyred.  Nourished by their blood shed for their true king, Holy Church grew enormously in Buganda through witness and persuasion, not force and violence.

Our true home is with our Lord, where He reigns.  This world is not our home.

 

“Jesus answered, My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence.”

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

“And when the king came in to see the guests, he saw there a man which had not on a wedding-garment: and he saith unto him, Friend, how camest thou in hither not having a wedding-garment? And he was speechless.”

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

 

“So those servants went out into the highways, and gathered together all as many as they found, both bad and good: and the wedding was furnished with guests.”

All men have evil in them, and some men have good besides the evil.  In this present age of the Church, there is good mixed with bad, one with the other.  We must suffer the bad with the good, until the day of judgement.

Consider the parable of the wheat and the tares, in St. Matthew xiii.24-30.  The sower sowed wheat in his field.  At night, the enemy sowed tares in it.  The wheat and tares grow up together, but the tares are not weeded out lest by pulling them the wheat is pulled too.  Come harvest-time, the two will be separated, and the tares burnt.

All men are wicked.  Only some men are good, and they by God.  Consider the Last Supper (St. Matthew xxvi.21-22):  “And as they did eat, he said, Verily I say unto you, that one of you shall betray me.  And they were exceeding sorrowful, and began every one of them to say unto him, Lord, is it I?”  The apostles knew they were evil.

Being a wicked person does not exclude one from God’s call.  The Church contains both good and evil until the Last Judgement.  When the king judges, he will separate the bad from the good.

 

“And when the king came in to see the guests, he saw there a man which had not on a wedding garment:”

Now the wedding feast of Christ and His Church is filled with guests.  Both the good and bad were invited, but the bad are not to remain bad.  They are to put on new clothes fit for the king’s feast:  wedding-garments.  The King then comes up to behold his guests and ensure that they properly honor the marriage of his Son and the Church, delighting in those properly attired and condemning those improperly dressed.  This is the Last Judgement.

Alas, as the king enjoys the company of those who have finally heeded the call to the joyous feast, he finds one who has not put off his old ways.  There is only one who has done so, for those who continue to serve wickedness after coming to faith are all of but one kind.

St. Gregory the Great wrote,

What ought we to understand by the wedding garment, but charity?  For this the Lord had upon Him, when He came to espouse the Church to Himself.  He then enters in to the wedding feast, but without the wedding garment, who has faith in the Church, but not charity.

 

“And he saith unto him, Friend, how camest thou in hither not having a wedding garment? And he was speechless.”

The Christian who continues in his beloved sin can produce no excuse.  He stands mute.  Questioned by God, there can be no blustering or denial as the angels and the world bear witness against the sinner.  He has no words.

Indeed, the one who has carried the stink of his former life to tKhe great feast seems surprised.  Perhaps he did not consider that he was unprepared.  He sat at table with his fellows in good cheer until light shone upon his soul and his filth discovered.

 

“Then said the king to the servants, Bind him hand and foot, and take him away, and cast him into outer darkness; there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.  For many are called, but few are chosen.”

Many people never set off with a right foot.  They distract themselves with the affairs of the world.  They seethe in resentment against the good God.  Others accept the invitation but do not finish the course.  They tire and fall away.  They cannot shake loose of their favorite delicious sin.  Many are called, but few are chosen.

These terrible closing words warn us that on the last great day we might be represented by the one who wore not a wedding-garment.  If we do not continue to the end, we will not prove suitable for our high calling.

This parable warns us that we have no claim on the privileges of God’s kingdom if we are unwilling to change into the likeness of Christ.  Answering the door to our heart is not the same as welcoming Christ to live in us.

 

What is this wedding-garment?  St. Paul writes in his first epistle to St. Timothy (1 Timothy i.5):  “Now the end of the commandment is charity out of a pure heart, and of a good conscience, and of faith unfeigned:”  In 1 Corinthians xiii.1, he says, “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.”  Pure and undefiled love is the wedding-garment, without which we are cast out of the king’s banquet and into the outer darkness of eternal torment.

If we have such love, then we ought have no fear of being cast out of the feast.  As loving-kindness grows, so must desire wane.  Every soul possesses wickedness.  We must starve that sleepless unending maelstrom of desire which moves the evil inside us and replace it with the self-sacrificial loving-kindness of Christ our Lord.  Remember with St. John (1 St. John i.8-9):  “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.  If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”  At the Lord’s Feast, we dress ourselves in righteousness and love lest we give offense to God’s purity and holiness.

This divine love:  What are we to do?  Later in this same chapter of St. Matthew (St. Matthew xxii.37-40) we read:

Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.  This is the first and great commandment.  And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.  On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.

We were born in grace, but that grace was polluted.  Throughout history we see the human story, poor souls crying out for redemption from the bondage of sin and death.  We see propitiatory sacrifices made to gods to sway their favor towards us.  We see moral goodness coëxisting with unspeakable horrors.  We know what we are.  We are more than a mess.  We are more than conflicted.  We hide evil within our breasts.  The only effectual remedy is to crucify our wicked nature upon the Cross of Christ, the Cross of love.  Our bonds of continuing sin and dark desires will bind us body and soul for all eternity if we do not change into the loving-kindness of Christ.

Faith is necessary but not sufficient.  As St. James wrote (St. James ii.19), “Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble.”  St. Peter proclaimed Jesus as the Christ, yet devils fearing his healing powers loudly acknowledged Him the Son of God.  So faith is needed, but without love it is incomplete and thus ineffective.  Again we find in 1 Corinthians xiii.2:  “Though I have all knowledge and all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing.”

But as faith without love is incomplete, this godly love requires faith, too.  How can you love the Lord your God without faith in him?  Psalm liii.1:  “THE foolish body hath said in his heart, There is no God.”  St. Augustine preached, “Possible it is that ye may believe that Christ hath come and not love Christ.  But it is not possible that ye should love Christ, and yet say that Christ hath not come.”

The wedding garment is faith completed by love.  Faithful and loving Christians love Christ, love their neighbors, love their enemies, love one another.  It is difficult indeed to love our enemies, but they are our neighbors too.  If you have difficulty loving your enemy, consider our Lord, torn asunder, hanging from His Cross, saying (St. Luke xxiii.39) “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.”

The first martyr, St. Stephen the Deacon, after rebuking the Jews and asking the Lord to receive his spirit, then prayed (Acts vii.60), “Lord, lay not this sin to their charge.  And when he had said this, he fell asleep.”  His last prayer, his last words, were for his murderers.  That is loving your neighbor.

Shall we applaud ourselves for accepting the invitation to dine with the King?  For when we examine our hearts as we shall one day be judged, we see all manner of vile and abhorrent offenses against divine love.  Have we done our duty towards God?  Have we forgiven those who have offended us?  Have we begged forgiveness from others for having offended them?  Have we not crowed as we have seen our rivals humiliated and thwarted?  Have we not crossed on the other side of the road when we saw our neighbor in need?  Have we not cursed God when we had not our own way?

Look at your neighbor who offends you and your neighbor whom you offend.  Behold this person.  Can you see that he is a man whom God has made?  Do you hate him because he is God’s precious creation?  Even the saints argue with each other.  But insofar as God has made this man, we cannot revile or spite him.  We may hate the evil which others do, just as we hate the evil which we do, but we do not hate the soul lovingly created by our Heavenly Father.

Insofar as any of us are evil – and we are all partly evil – it is through disobedience to God, particularly in not loving him and not loving our neighbor.  Of this, we are all guilty.  What we despise in others resides in our own hearts.  Every man has sin.  God loves his creation and hates the disobedience.  God preserves the man and cures the sin.  When we are finally made whole, we shall remain entirely human but without a spot of sin, filled with love, like our Lord Christ.

To live the life of love, we must extend His self-sacrificial loving-kindness in our lives.  It is easy to love our friends and family.  Beasts and birds have this sort of love.  The sparrow does not look after his offspring thinking that they will look after him in his old age.  Rather, he feeds them out of natural paternal affection.  The bird neither reflects upon his actions nor hides secret intentions.  We have, lurking somewhere in our hearts, an inclination to provide for our young.  But we still must labor against our unnatural inclinations to greed and sloth in doing so.  Even when we love our spouses and children and friends, we have not yet that unblemished wedding-garment.

We must extend the love in our lives to God.  We love God in our hearts.  We love God with our souls.  We love God with our minds.  We love God when we draw near to him, and when we draw those we love towards him.  We draw our husband towards God.  We draw our sister towards God.  We draw our friend towards God.  We draw our enemy towards God.  These are not pleasant words but a harsh challenge.

Do we draw those whom we despise towards God?  We most likely are afraid of the answer.  Yet each of us have known those loving souls who elevate those around them, who draw them towards light and goodness, towards God.

St. Augustine said:

So let charity be advanced, so be it nourished, that being nourished it may be perfected; so be ‘the wedding garment’ put on; so be the image of God, after which we were created, by this our advancing, engraven anew in us.

 

“And when the king came in to see the guests, he saw there a man which had not on a wedding-garment: and he saith unto him, Friend, how camest thou in hither not having a wedding-garment? And he was speechless.”

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

From St. Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians (iv.4-6):  “There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.”

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

 

On page 37 of the Book of Common Prayer, we find the prayer For the Unity of God’s People.

O GOD, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, our only Saviour, the Prince of Peace; Give us grace seriously to lay to heart the great dangers we are in by our unhappy divisions. Take away all hatred and prejudice, and whatsoever else may hinder us from godly, union and concord: that as there is but one Body and one Spirit, and one hope of our calling, one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism, one God and Father of us all, so we may be all of one heart and of one soul, united in one holy bond of truth and peace, of faith and charity, and may with one mind and one mouth glorify thee; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

This prayer takes the heart of its content from today’s Epistle lesson.  It seems different to our ears.  Poetical.  Liturgical.

 

1:  I THEREFORE, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called,

“Vocation” speaks of being called.  Being called by God demands a response:  How we walk in the Lord and our life in the congregation.  Calling presumes God’s initiative and relates it to right behavior.

We Christians are called by God to a unity which is part of God’s spiritual design of a redeemed and holy cosmos.

Our individual walks with Christ, as well as our walk together with Him, must be done worthily as to the Lord.  We do not do this for ourselves.  We follow Christ in accordance with the vocation to which He called us.

 

2:  with all lowliness and meekness, with long-suffering, forbearing one another in love;

As we are all called by God, so our response must be godly.  How we behave in our vocation is rooted in God’s divine plan for our lives individually, for our lives together, and for the entire redeemed cosmos.  Our Christian walk can be described through lowliness and meekness, long-suffering, and forbearing one another in love.

Long-suffering is a better translation than patience, because it not only means enduring provocations but refusing to give up hope for improved relations.  Patience can give the sense of only suffering for a bit until the problem goes away.  Long-suffering points towards the goal of good and holy relations between brethren through the firm practice of hope as that holy restoration is worked out.

Christians don’t just give up and walk away from difficult relationships.  Christians dig in deep and love like Christ loves until a good relationship flourishes.  Long-suffering means that we must not only endure but we must change into the image of Christ so that we may grow in loving-kindness.

Forbearing one another in love is the culmination of the holy virtues with which we live out our high calling.  We do not shrivel up so that others may flourish around us.  Rather, we live boldly in Christ-like loving-kindness, forgiving those who sin against us while striving with all our might not to sin against others, thereby building up godly relationships with our brother and with our neighbor.  Christ commands the disciples in St. John xiii:34:  “A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.”

St. Paul writes previously in this epistle (i.10), “That in the dispensation of the fulness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in him:”

This is the end to which we are heading.  This is what Christ has in store for us and for the entire cosmos.  Any impairment we suffer with regards to unity is an impairment of the whole world.  We work against Christ when we hold grudges, when we vaunt ourselves in front of others, when we work to silence others, when we work to politic our way into getting our peculiar lovely thing accepted by the group.  All those things are not even worthy of worldly relations.

 

3:  endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

We have unity in the Holy Ghost.  Our unity together as members of one Body is God’s work, not ours.  We must labor to maintain, to keep this unity.

And how?  “In the bond of peace”.  A bond can mean physical glue like ligaments and beams or ethical glue like loyalty or law.  This is a good, necessary, and wholesome thing, not a wicked thing weighing us down.  Indeed, in Colossians iii.14, the bond is love.

 

4:  There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling;

5:  one Lord, one faith, one baptism,

6:  one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.

The “body” is a reference to Christ’s universal Church.  Through the Spirit, Christians gain access to the Father.  The Father calls the Christians through the Holy Ghost.  The “one hope of your calling” is eternal life in Christ, which believers have received from God.

“One Lord” reminds us that both Jews and Gentiles, indeed all Christians, have but one lord, and this when there were many earthly lords abounding.  In the first chapter of this epistle to the Ephesians (i.21), we read of the triumph of Christ over all other lords, both worldly and otherworldly.  The latter half of the second chapter of Ephesians (ii.11-22) tells of Jew and Gentile united “by one Spirit, unto the Father”.

One faith reminds us that there are not several faiths, but one faith, faith in Christ Jesus, the orthodox faith, eschewing all heretical and heterodox faiths.  We may struggle in darkness to find the right path, but doubt not that there is a right path.  We are not abandoned in the cosmos to make our way alone.  We have a savior, the God-become-Man, our Lord Christ.

If that seems rather epic or deep, that’s because it is.  St. Paul reflects this cosmic or universal understanding through this more poetical part.

St. Paul elaborates this in I Corinthians xii.12-13:

“For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ.  For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit.”

Our holy God teaches us that things are united in him, not divided.  Reading the Revelation, we see that those who divide themselves away from God will ultimately suffer a final and permanent separation from God.  God is one, and we are joined in God.

This extends to God’s relationship to all of the created order, the whole cosmos.  God is not only father of men, but the Father of the whole creation.  The Father is not Father by apparent relationship and called so by man, but is called so in Holy Scriptures as the proper address for the First Person of the Holy Trinity.

 

Unity is one of the Notes of the Church.  In the Nicene Creed we say, “I believe in the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.”

We are all one in Christ.  Jesus Christ is the mediator between God and Man.  He is truly God, being the Son of the Father, the Word of God, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity.  He is truly Man, born of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Subsisting in Christ, we are one with God.  We do not become gods ourselves.  We do not become angels.  We do not wind up as disembodied spirits in the presence of God.  We are human.  We share the same nature.  Every human person you meet, whether profoundly mentally retarded, utterly lost in addiction, or entirely given over to wickedness, every person is human.  We share this with each other.  We share this with Christ.

We are not all the same person; we are not all in the same parish; we are not all of the same sex; we are not all of the same class; we are not all of the same ethnicity.  Becoming one in Christ has little to do with breaking down such barriers.  Our unity with each other and with God in Christ transcends these differences.

Christ demolishes these pale notions of human life.  Each soul stands before God on her own.  We are all equal in our humanity.  We are all beneath the holy dignity of divinity.  Each one of us must join with Christ, Who is God Incarnate, eternally begotten of God the Father before all worlds and born of Saint Mary the Mother of God in Bethlehem.  Only insofar as we unite in Christ are we saved.

 

“There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.”

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.