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St. Matthew xxv.41:  “Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels:”

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

 

I read an anonymous quote this week which seemed appropriate to share with you this Sunday, the fourth of the Four Last Things, Hell:  “Everyone will live forever. Not everyone will enjoy it.”

 

Satan hates us so very much.  For all the rebellion and hatred he bears to God, he cannot hurt God directly, for God is all powerful.  Even when he thought he could hurt Christ, he could not tempt Him into sin.  He could not break Christ on the Cross.  Instead, Christ broke the power of Satan and Hell on the Cross.

However, Satan can hurt God’s creatures.  Unlike the angels, we men are made in the image of God.  Satan seeks to destroy us like a ravening lion. So when Old Scratch and his demons get their filthy claws on us in Hell, they torture for all eternity.

Both man and angel are created, are designed, are built to bask in the presence of the great giver of life, the Lord God Almighty.  As much as man and angel may hate God and seek to flee from his presence, so both are horribly distressed by great longing for God.  That impure corrupted longing turned long ago into distorted loathing and hatred and contempt for the erstwhile object of love.

As Fr. Von Cochem says about the Devil:

Of all the fallen spirits, not one is so abominable as the chief of all, the haughty Lucifer, whose cruelty, malice and spite render him an object of dread not merely to the damned, but also to the devils subject to him. This Lucifer is called by various names in Holy Scriptures, all indicating his malignity. On account of his repulsiveness he is called a dragon; on account of his ferocity, a lion; on account of his malice, the old serpent; on account of his deceitfulness, the father of lies; on account of his haughtiness, king over all the children of pride; and on account of his great power and might, the prince of this world.

The other devils and demons are fallen angels who are not as mighty or created as perfectly good as Lucifer, and therefore are not so evil and ugly as him.  Just as men often in Scripture behold angels and attempt to worship them because of their beauty and goodness, so we would hardly be able to abide the presence of demons in their unhidden form because of their ugliness and wickedness.  That we can scarcely contemplate how miserable in appearance devils are is why they are often portrayed in a gruesome and grotesque manner.

Immediately after making my confession on retreat at Holy Spirit monastery in Conyers, I was visited in a nightmare by a creature so horrible in countenance that I could only barely describe it.  I was immensely terrified and would have been frightened away from spiritual matters entirely – thus acquiescing to the damning of my soul – were I not fortified in the Holy Sacraments and prayer.  The Sacraments are the grace of God the Son and prayer is ultimately of God the Father – when mediated by God the Holy Ghost, we are invincible to all demonic spiritual attack.

Hell is the place reserved for Satan, his demons, and cursed men.  It is a place of everlasting fire.  St. Matthew xxv.41:  “Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels:”  Hell is real and everlasting, as is Heaven.  The wicked and damned go to Hell forever, and the righteous and saved go to Heaven forever.  St. Matthew xxv.46:  “And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.”

The Roman Christians in antiquity would stand prayerfully together as they would be mauled to death by wild animals in the Coliseum.  They could die heroically at peace in our Lord while vicious beasts, deranged by hunger, would pounce upon them, pull them down, and tear their flesh with fang and claw.  They could die this way because they had victory in Christ and knew that Hell had worse to offer.  Think upon that, dear souls!  How ruthlessly did the lions rip into their flesh!  Would the angry hungry evil angels be more merciful than a brutalized innocent animal?  Our brethren knew that the feasting of demons upon their Resurrection bodies would go on for eternity – and the demons would never eat their fill or satisfy their lust for flesh.

Oftentimes I have heard that the company would be better in Hell than in Heaven, as if Hell would be some great party that would never end.  Perhaps the companionship would not be near as boring as would be the squares in Heaven.  But loving-kindness is entirely missing in Hell.  There is no camaraderie amongst the damned.  Hell is the realm where all are embittered against each other, mocking and cursing with enmity for all.

 

St. Mark ix.43-4

And if thy hand offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter into life maimed, than having two hands to go into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched:  Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched.

Christ says this not to injure our bodies.  Sin does not work in our hands and feet and eyes.  Sin works in our hearts.  But indeed we should be counted among the blessed if we were to lose our hands and feet and eyes in this world and flourish in Heaven above for all eternity!  The holy martyrs certainly thought so.  St. Lawrence the Deacon was roasted alive.  Yet knowing that Christ was his redeemer, he famously said to his executioners to turn him over, for this side was done!  How could he be so bold as he died a death of torture?  Because His savior lived!  And St. Lawrence was about to join Him in Heaven.  Truly the slings and insults of this world are nothing compared to the agonies of Hell.

So Christ says it is better to cut off your own body parts and live maimed than to go to Hell intact.  And three times here in St. Mark’s Gospel Christ tells us why:  “Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched.”  The filthy, rotten, tormenting, grotesque demons of Hell do not die in Hellfire.  They gnaw on your soul for eternity.  And the fire never wanes or dies either.  For age unto age the blast furnace heat far exceeds the fire into which King Nebuchadnezzar threw Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.  That pagan king heated up that furnace seven times beyond its regular blaze.  So very hot was it that the men who threw the three Jewish lads into it died from exposure to the heat.  Yet God sent his angel to protect the young men in there.  But Hellfire is profoundly hotter than the furnaces of Babylon, and God keeps his holy angels far from pits of Hell.

The rich man asked Father Abraham to send Lazarus with his finger dipped in water so to cool his burnt parched lips.  But Father Abraham told that wicked soul that he had enjoyed his good things in his life and not done justice.  There was no relief for him who had ignored the righteous soul starving at the gate, stepping over the poor man on his way about town.  There is no relief in Hell, there is no companionship in Hell, there is no clean air to breathe in Hell, there is no rest from torment in Hell, and there is no peace and quiet in Hell.

The unforgiving oven of Hell continuously burns all flesh therein.  And since all the cursed souls in Hell possess their eternal bodies, the stench of burning flesh does not abate over the millennia.  The cries of the cursed, the stench of the damned, the torments of the devils, the separation from God, and the sheer inescapability of it all are too gruesome for us to understand but in the extremes of our language.  For we still possess our frail bodies of our mortality.  We still live our lives of decision.  We may yet turn to God.  We may yet spurn Satan and embrace Christ.  Our judgement is still yet to come, for we mortal men remain alive … today.  But as death and judgement await us, so does either Heaven or Hell.

 

St. Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians ii.9, “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.”  Wonderful bounteous beauties await those who follow Christ unto the end.  There, in Heaven, we will eternally witness and experience the dynamic loving-kindness of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.  But those in Hell are denied this, the Beatific Vision.  The damned do not behold God, for they lived without God; they lived for themselves, and so they remain tortured by the lack of God for which they were made in the company of all the foul spirits who rejected God for themselves.  Thus, those in perdition suffer the company of the most selfish wicked souls ever created while those in bliss enjoy the great love of those who put you above themselves.

We were made by God to enjoy God.  To be denied God for eternity is the greatest sorrow man can know.  Now we are on the earth in our mortal life, and so we can only barely glimpse what the damned miss.  For we ourselves are yet getting to know God.  We still foolishly believe that something other than God may bring us greater joy than our Creator.  St. Bonaventure said, “The most terrible penalty of the damned is being shut out forever from the blissful and joyous contemplation of the Blessed Trinity.”  St. John Chrysostom said, “I know many persons only fear Hell because of its pains, but I assert that the loss of the celestial glory is a source of more bitter pain than all the torments of Hell.”  Every moment we feel loss or long for something we cannot have, we are touched by the lack of God in our lives.  So we try to fill up our emptiness with the delights of the flesh and the world, with passions, honors, riches, sensual gratifications, and all the vain and fleeting pleasures of this realm.  But all of these things are hollow and empty.  God alone is the one true source of the soul’s happiness.  To be finally denied the only source of happiness is logically to live in eternal despair and agony.

The eternal sorrow of the damned will recall their many occasions to turn from the way of wickedness, all the wrongs committed against God and neighbor, and all the many times their friends and family urged them to amend their ways.  Thus their conscience will pain them beyond measure, along with the stench, the heat, the cries of the lost, and the torments of demons.  They will forever know that they could have avoided such an unbearable fate had they only responded truthfully to the Lord of life instead of making their own way according to their own perverse and peculiar thoughts.  Alas, the presence of their own minds, will, conscience, and memory, cause the damned everlasting torment so unspeakable that our stomachs quiver in disgust.

 

Dear children of God, do not listen to the whispers of this world, which are either the hushed tones of sinful men or fallen angels.  David said (Psalm xiv.1):  “THE fool hath said in his heart, There is no God.”  You will hear that there is no God, no punishment, and no Hell.  You will be told that you may live your life however selfishly you wish and will never have to answer for your crimes.  But those words tempt you away from Christ and straight into the maw of Satan.

 

To avoid Hell, you must believe in Jesus Christ and give your heart to Him, you must be Baptized into His Death and Resurrection, and you must repent of your sins.

To grow in Christ as a living branch of his Body, you must obey the Six Precepts or Duties of Churchmen.  That is, worship every Sunday and Holy Day of Obligation.  Receive the Body and Blood of Christ frequently.  Give our Lord the first tenth of your income in the tithe.  Seek after righteousness by keeping your conscience clean of all sin and confess your sins if you fall.  Fast like our Lord did when directed to by His Body.  And keep the marriage laws of the Church, witnessing to the holiness of Christ.

If you are doing all these things, then seriously attend to prayer, good works, and studying the Holy Scripture.  It is possible and not all that difficult to live such a life.  Besides avoiding Hell, the soul who carefully lives a Christian life will grow closer and closer to our Lord while you still draw breath on this earth, after which He will not forget you in the world to come.

 

St. Matthew xxv.41:  “Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels:”

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

 

 

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In the Collect for Advent, we pray to God, “that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the quick and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal….”

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

 

“Preparing for Heaven”

A wonderful Christmas hymn by Blessed Charles Wesley concludes with this stanza:

Made perfect first in love,
And sanctified by grace,
We shall from earth remove,
And see His glorious face:
His love shall then be fully showed,
And man shall all be lost in God.

We will experience Heaven as being lost in God; solely desiring Him and living with Him; detached entirely from the things of this broken and corrupt world.

Father Paul Raftery said:

Man is made for union with God. The fulfillment of this union comes in heaven. Only there will the human creature, into which God has placed a profound desire for Himself, have the satisfaction of all its hopes and desires. All the limited goods of this world cannot touch the desire for God that He has place within us. Nor can we simply turn off this desire. It is fixed within us, an irrevocable part of our nature.

Heaven is eternal presence of God.  God created all good things.  Only perfect things and imperfect things exist.  We are fooled by imperfect things to not follow God.  Thus we say with Hank Williams, Jr., “If Heaven ain’t a lot like Dixie, I don’t want to go.”  But God eternally satisfies us; he made us this way.  The real attraction of ourselves to a broken thing is in how that imperfect thing shows off God to us.

Today, we are confused why Heaven can be so delightful because we are confused in our attachment to the world.  Our spiritual work as we mature in Christ is to detach from earthly things and see the sweetness of God.  As we walk the Christian Way, we increasingly understand that our true desire is for God.  We will thus eagerly desire to live with Him for all eternity.

So we must lose our attachment to the broken things of God and the lusts thereof (“the world”) which is done by attacking our lusts of those things (“the flesh”).  Thus we must battle our flesh in order to get ready for Heaven.

 

Now we do not battle our flesh by ourselves and thereby gain Heaven.  Not at all.  We are Christians, not Buddhists.  St. John iii.16 reads, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”

Christ our Lord came down from Heaven and was born a little baby on Christmas day over two thousand years ago.  He defeated sin and death by His Crucifixion and Resurrection and prepared a place for us in Heaven in the Ascension.  In our Baptism, we connect to Christ in His death and Resurrection, so we can enter wrapped in Christ into Heaven.  We are part of Christ.  We are made holy through Christ in Holy Baptism, the Holy Eucharist, and the other Sacraments.

About the Holy Communion, Christ says in St. John vi.53:  “Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you.”  So we know from Scripture that we ought to follow the precepts of the Church and communicate regularly.  Indeed, to be a member in good standing, you must eat Christ’s Body and drink His Blood at least three times a year.  This is one of the Six Duties of Churchmen.

Besides Holy Baptism and the Mass, we are brought into Christ through His other Sacraments.  If married, we ought to be married in Holy Church.  We ought to use Confession as required.  We ought to be Confirmed.  We ought to receive Unction if necessary.  We ought to be Ordained if so called.  These are all sure and certain means of grace which help unite us to Christ.

 

Besides the Sacramental means of grace, in order to gain Heaven we must live our lives in this world in keeping with our divine calling.  We are to imitate Christ.  Christ is without blemish and without flaw.  But we are well blemished and deeply flawed.  What are we to do?

Christ tells us in St. Matthew v.48, “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.”  In order to perfectly love and to live without sin, there are three things we must do.

First, we must keep the Ten Commandments and other matters of moral law, including the Church’s Law of Marriage to keep sexual purity.  Thus we try to obey God’s will.

Second, we must repent of our sins when we fall, using the Sacrament of Penance when necessary, and firmly resolve not to commit those sins again, even when we keep falling into the same sins.

Taken together, these first two non-Sacramental actions are also two of the Six Duties of Churchmen:  Keeping a clean conscience and keeping the Church’s Law of Marriage.

But the things of this world are lovely and sweet because they are created by God.  Foolishly, we chase them instead of living holy lives.  So the third thing we ought to do after the Sacraments is to break our attachment to the good things which God has made.  This is called mortification.

Mortifying ourselves means living a life of countless little deaths of our own pleasure and our own will so that we may clear our minds of our inordinate love – that is, our love which is out of order – for this world so we can focus on loving God.

So mortification is essential to living with God in Heaven forever.  While we have time on God’s green Earth, we must demonstrate that we chose God instead of his good things.

There are three ways we may mortify ourselves.  First, we fast.  Second, we give alms.  Third, we offer to God things which are perfectly legitimate for us to use.  Notice again that both fasting and almsgiving are found in the Six Duties of Churchmen.  There is a reason why the Six Duties are the irreducible minimum of the practice of the Christian Faith.

The reason why the Scriptures and Church tell us to fast and give alms is not to lose weight, control diabetes, and help make sure someone else gets the food they need to eat.  Those are good goals, but those are worldly reasons to fast and donate to a good cause.

The spiritual point of fasting and giving alms is to recollect that our bodies and wealth are God’s good gift and belong to him, and that our bodies and wealth should be used to glorify God and not ourselves.  So we fast and we give alms, mortifying our bodies and souls.

Our bodies and wealth are good things, but we curtail them for the glory of God.  It is okay for us to have that cookie and to buy something for ourselves, but by not eating that cookie and giving someone else the money we wanted to spend on ourselves, we thwart or deny our own appetites for God’s sake.  In the Holy Ghost, we tame our passions.  In a tiny way, we join in Christ’s Passion and Crucifixion.

But we can mortify ourselves beyond fasting and almsgiving.  We can willingly offer up to God those things which are perfectly okay for us to enjoy.  I do not mean sinful things which we must give up, but things which we peculiarly enjoy.

An example of this is giving up chocolate for Lent.  We are supposed to fast and give alms during Lent, but we are allowed to do something extra.  Chocolate is a good thing which God has given us.  Some of us like chocolate very much.  For us to willingly offer our temporary abstinence from enjoying the pleasures of chocolate to tame our appetites and show God our thanks is a laudable and praiseworthy task if it is wisely and prudently done.

But giving up chocolate while in the ninth month of pregnancy, immediately after having lost a job or parent, or during a divorce is probably not a good idea.  Mortification has not the urgency which undergoing Holy Baptism and receiving Holy Communion have.

Along with trying to live a righteous life and repenting of sin, putting our wills and appetites to death over and over is a vital and important part of spiritual growth.  Indeed, we cannot really grow in Christ unless we fast, give alms, and deny our wills and appetites on occasion.

 

This week is Embertide in the holy season of Advent, three days of special fasting and abstinence.  Let us fast, give alms, and work at mortifying our will so that we may ably assist the Holy Ghost in breaking the world’s hold upon us so that we may thoroughly thirst for Christ.

 

In the Collect for Advent, we pray to God, “that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the quick and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal….”

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

Read Full Post »

In today’s collect, we pray to God, “that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the quick and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal….”

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

 

“Preparing for Judgement”

The end things, or Eschaton in Greek, can be categorized in two parts, the individual and the general.

The individual part of the End of Days is the story of our own soul:  Death, our individual judgement, and then either Heaven or Hell.  These are the Four Last Things.  It is the story of our souls at our individual end according to Scripture, especially in the Gospels.

The general part of the End of Days is the story of the entire cosmos, or Creation:  The approach of the End, the resurrection of the body, the general judgment, and the final consummation of all things, new Heaven and new Earth.  This story is told throughout Scripture but especially in the Revelation of St. John.

So, when we speak of Christ’s judgement of our souls in the end, we mean two things, His judgement of each of us upon our deaths and His judgment of all of us at His Second Coming.

Today, let us consider the individual judgement, Christ’s judgement of our soul upon our death.

 

Think of that for a moment.  As if death is not scary and awful enough, we will undergo judgement before the throne of Christ immediately following our death.  We will draw our last breath, our soul will be ripped apart from our body, and then Christ will judge our earthly life.  Christ will justly judge each immediately separated soul and determine its eternal home.

This is eminently logical, but nevertheless quite dreadful.  For no matter how loving and holy a person we are, and so very few of us can say that, not a single one of us is as loving and holy so to not have horrible sins for which Christ will damn us.

We do not like to admit it, and perhaps some of us never admit it, but we do not live our lives as if we are in the presence of Christ.  Maybe we think that God has more important things to do than concern himself with our little lives.  Maybe we act like functional atheists, living our daily lives like God did not exist, not praying to him, not thanking him for our blessings, and doing what we will as if we were not going to be judged.  Maybe we don’t really understand what we mean by “God” – not thinking of him personally so that we could love him, maybe thinking of God as some kind of divine principle or force.

Did you notice what I left out?  I left out living in our sin because we don’t care what will happen to us in the future so long as we get our pleasure now; living like we are junkies only concerned about getting our next fix, not giving a thought for the consequences of doing so.

Sin is enticing.  If sin were not so tasty, hardly anybody would sin.  Adam and Eve were set not only for life but for eternity in the Garden, but sin was so tasty to them that they risked it all and suffered death and misery just for a taste.

Sin makes us stupid.  We love our sin.  We love our greediness.  We love our booze and pills.  We love our prideful disdain of others.  We love talking behind each other’s backs.  We love sin.  So we focus on our beloved sin instead of Christ and His judgement.

 

Some object to being judged upon our deaths on theological grounds.  Some Protestants hold that the dead fall asleep and wake up at the Second Coming of Christ to be judged in the general judgement then.  But when we read the Holy Scriptures, we see that this is not the case.

In St. Luke xxiii.43, Christ says to the penitent thief, “Verily I say unto thee, To day shalt thou be with me in paradise.”  The penitent thief was about to die, to suffer the separation of his soul from his body which is the curse of our sinful ancestors and his own vile sin.  And after that death, according to our Lord’s own words, that that soul was to be with God in paradise.

Also in 2 Corinthians v.8, we see St. Paul speak of the faithful Christian, “We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord.”  The godly Christian, when he is then absent from his body, is present with Christ.  In other words, the faithful and just Christian is present with the people of God here on earth and with God himself in Heaven.  You go from the one state to the other.

We also see in the parable of Lazarus and Dives that each has undergone judgement upon their deaths.  While this is a parable, its setting keeps with Christ’s words to the penitent thief and St. Paul’s words of encouragement to the faithful.  We die, and then we are judged by God.

 

How will we be judged?  We will be judged by faith and by our actions.  Indeed, perhaps the particular judgement may not be Christ sitting on His throne waiting for our death and then sitting as the judge of our souls.  Instead, the moment of our death may be the end of our chance to alter our eternal destination.  For we will have then had the chance to call upon Christ as our Savior, the chance to respond to God’s election of us in Holy Baptism, and the chance to live holy, loving, and morally upright lives here on earth.  Thus, judgement is also a reckoning.  It is the working out of God’s eternal self and law upon us, his creation.

 

Our closing hymn today sums up our end with Christ’s end; that is, it matches our holy response to Christ’s work among us with Christ’s Second Coming.  Instead of death, sin, and Hell, instead we sing:

Yea, Amen!  Let all adore thee,

High on thine eternal throne;

Saviour, take the power and glory;

Claim the kingdom for thine own;

Judgement is that mechanism, that decision-making process that aligns our end with the end of the Cosmos.  Our glory in Christ, which is our salvation from sin and entrance into everlasting life with God Almighty, our glory in Christ is but a part of Christ’s glory in epic cosmic victory, banishing forever the powers of wickedness and sin and triumphing eternally in loving-kindness, mercy, and peace with the Triune God, the glorious angels of Heaven, and all the faithful saints.

But Judgment recognizes that all this glory is not a given; it is worked for.  God the Son worked for this glory by suffering the indignity of becoming a mere man as a babe in a manger in Bethlehem, by living the life of a mortal man, of suffering His Passion, of experiencing excruciating death, rising again, defeating death forever, and Ascending into Heaven.  You and I work for it by believing in Christ, joining with Him in His Body the Church so that He can save us, and conforming our sinful lives to His holy life.

Both experience and Scripture show us that we have a choice.  Many exterior forces work upon us, such as where we are born, the caliber of our family, the opportunities to hear the Gospel and so on.  Many interior forces work upon us, such as our mental health, the pain which afflicts us, our past sins, and so on.  Even with these exterior and interior forces working upon us, we still have the choice – even if it is a small one – to follow Christ and obey Him or not to follow Christ and disobey Him.  And what matters is not what we claim to do, but what we actually do, and Christ is the judge of that.

Judgement is Christ stopping the clock at our death and seeing what we have done with our lives.  He is with us every minute of every hour of every day of our life.  He is not ignorant of us when He judges us; He knows us intimately and loves us dearly.  But upon our death, when our soul rips away from our body, our time on Earth is done.  The moment of truth has arrived.  It is the same thing when Christ returns in power and great glory – our moment of truth has arrived.

What have we done with what He has given us?  That is the ultimate point of judgement.

And in the end, the discerner of hearts and lover of souls will decide if we would rather live without Him and thus go to Hell with the wicked angels and men, where God’s presence is withdrawn, or if we would rather live with Him and thus go to Heaven with the holy angels and men, to live in the presence of God for all eternity.

Sometimes we hear of meeting somebody half-way.  Christ has met us all the way.  He left His Heavenly home and come all the way down to earth to become one of us as a little baby that Christmas morning in Bethlehem.  Christ is the only way to God, for He is both man, like us, and God.  Our salvation absolutely and completely relies upon Him.  All our efforts are to become like Him, to help and not hinder Christ’s transformation of us into His divine image.  For Heaven is the home of the divine, and we must be perfectly holy to life with Him there.

At the Resurrection of the Dead, we will receive our new heavenly bodies.  But what about our souls?  We can do nothing about our future bodies now, but each one of us can make the most life-altering decisions about our souls today.

To be awarded Heaven when Christ judges our souls, we must be like Christ:  Pure of heart and innocent in deeds.  We must work with the Holy Ghost in transforming ourselves to Christ’s image by doing works of righteousness and confessing our sins when we fall.

 

In today’s collect, we pray to God, “that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the quick and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal….”

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

 

Read Full Post »

In today’s collect, we pray to God, “that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the quick and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal….”

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

 

“Preparing for Death”

I remember watching my father breathe his last breath and literally expire.  One minute my father lay sick, and the next minute his body lay dead.  Right before was the last minute of my life with him, and right after was the first minute of my life without him.

Anguish washed over my soul.  I did not know how to breathe without him in my life; I did not know how to eat, sleep, or go to school without his presence.  But I learned.  And learning how to live my life without him was horrible beyond description.

 

We fear death.  We fear death because in dying we leave this way of existence and head into another way of existence, a way which we know nothing about by personal experience.

We fear death because we have seen others die.  We continue on, and they apparently do not.  We wish to continue on, even if our current life is miserable.  We instinctively cherish our own lives and do not want to give them up.

We fear death because death comes when the body sustains irreparable damage by accident, disease, or age.  All three are deeply ugly in our sight.  We shudder when we imagine ourselves receiving damage from a horrible accident, or succumbing to a deadly disease, or wasting away in our elder infirmity.  We would rather live in our youthful bodies, or failing that, our bodies as we currently have them.

We fear death because we naturally perceive that death is contrary to the created order of things.  Why would God create us if we were to die?  God Incarnate, Christ Himself cried when He beheld the dead body of His friend Lazarus.  If God who overcomes death cries at death, we who cannot overcome death certainly quail in its presence.

 

Death is one of the essential facts of Creation’s brokenness.  The other is sin, intimately related to death.

In Genesis, we read that “God created the heaven and the earth.”  And after each day of Creation, “God saw that it was good.”  Except on the last day, when “God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.”  On that sixth day, “God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good.”

So the human race is the capstone upon Creation, that finishing part that made it “very good” in God’s sight.  We were to live with God for all eternity in the Garden.  Possessing both body and soul, we were to walk with God and enjoy his immediate and direct presence.

But our ancestors broke our communion with God when they defied him and sought to live in power and glory without him, partaking of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.  And lest they stretched forth their hands and partake of the Tree of Life, God expelled them from the Garden.

Before he expelled them, God cursed us, saying, “In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.”

So it is that death is an unnatural state brought upon by Man’s Fall into sin.  It is necessarily related to sin.  Sin brought death into the world of men.  The only way to remedy death is by remedying sin.

 

Death is a miserable predicament.  Death breaks asunder that which God created to be one.  We are meant to be whole, body and soul.  Death is like unto divorce, which rips apart that which God has joined together.  Once God has put these things together into one essential and holy thing, it is against nature and God to destroy it.  Thus, death is an abomination by its nature and by its disobedience to God’s will.

We brought upon ourselves this death, this destruction.  By following their will instead of God’s will, Adam and Eve chose to destroy themselves.  They didn’t know what they were getting into, but out of their stupid lust they went and wrecked what God had created.

And we are no better than they were.  You and I are guilty of this sin.  We have caused our own deaths.  Even the best of us “have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;”  By thinking that our ways are better than God’s ways, we stray from him.  God is the creator, nurturer, and sustainer of life; yet we think that we can create, nurture, and sustain ourselves away from him.  Each one of us has earned his own death.

 

So from the time of Adam and Eve until the Annunciation to the Blessed Virgin Mary, death reigned in the lives of men without any sure remedy.  But God did not leave men alone.  The Patriarchs spoke with God personally, and he guided them.  God gave the Law through Moses to Israel.  God sent the Prophets to preach to Israel.

Then, as St. Paul wrote in Galatians iv.4:  “But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman ….”  Christ became Man, uniting the fulness of divinity and the fulness of humanity in one holy Person.  St. Paul also wrote in Romans xiv.9, “For to this end Christ both died, and rose, and revived, that he might be Lord both of the dead and living.”

We need not die like those without hope.  Christ took on our mortal human nature and died.  God the Father sent God the Son into the world as the Christ, the Messiah, the Savior of the world.  And He conquered death.  But He conquered death in a most interesting way:  Christ conquered death by dying Himself.  He apparently yielded to sin and death.

But no!  Christ rose from the grave, defeating death and sin.  In Christ, we are victorious over the grave.  The grave has claimed the life of almost every man who ever lived, save only Enos and Elijah in the Old Testament.  Christ has destroyed the hold of the grave over us.  Yet we must enter the grave just like our Lord Christ did.  Each of us will die, but for those who are counted among the redeemed of the Lord, we will live with God for all eternity.

 

So, given that each of us must die unless the Lord returns first, it obviously follows that we must prepare for our deaths.  I say obviously, but sometimes it doesn’t seem obvious at all.  I want to forget that I will die, my body will rot, and my soul will flee.  I want to live my life blissfully ignoring this obvious fact of my life.  I want to ignore it because I want to do whatever I want whenever I want.  I want to dictate the terms of my life to God, just like Adam and Eve did, just you do, just like we all do.

This is wrong.  But we still do it.  So, the first thing we must do to prepare for our inevitable end is to think upon our death each and every day.  This is called memento mori.  Some will object that this is morbid and sad.  To this the Church answers that the only way to life everlasting is through faith in Christ, and that means that we must think on our death and on our Savior.  So first, remember that you will die.

Secondly, we must not only remember that we will die but have faith in Christ and repent of our sins.  The minimum duty of Churchmen, the Six Duties of Churchmen, are not only our least duty but also our saving path.

We must attend Mass each and every Sunday and Holy Day of Obligation.  We must receive the Body and Blood of Christ at least three times a year, one of those times being during Christmastide.  We must tithe, fast, and keep the Church’s rules for sexual relations.  And we must keep our consciences clean.  These tidily fall into three sections for preparing ourselves for Heaven.

First, we must focus upon the objective worship of Christ in the Mass.  We each subjectively worship Christ in many parts of our lives, such as holy thoughts, devout feelings, and inspired sharing.  But Christ gave us His Body and Blood to partake of it, not to ignore it.  When we join ourselves with Christ’s offering of Himself to the Father, we mystically join together with Christ.  A woman who has done this reverently for seventy years is better prepared to meet Christ’s Judgement than a man who mostly forgets to show up to worship.

Second, tithing, fasting, and keeping the Church’s Law of Marriage help us live our lives in the moral way Christ would have us live them.  We ought to be generous, loving, patient, self-sacrificing, and treat our selves and other people’s selves in holiness and godliness.  If we were to tithe, fast, and keep ourselves sexually as we are supposed to while worshipping God and keeping our consciences pure, then we would find ourselves moving in the right direction to God, thus preparing for our judgement.

Third, we must keep our consciences pure.  On the one hand, we must avoid sin and eagerly seek after righteousness.  On the other hand, we must confess our sins.  Thus we repent, or turn away from, our sins.  We should privately tell God each day what we have done wrong, our firm resolution to avoid doing that again, and asking him for forgiveness.  We also can assist our devotion at Mass by remembering our sins and earnestly saying the confession with these sins on our hearts.  We can also come to me or another priest and confess our sins in the Sacrament of Penance.

When our last hour comes, our soul will be brutally torn away from our body.  Satan and the wicked demons will assail us at that hour to tempt us away from Christ with thoughts that He cannot save us, that our sins are more than He can forgive, and that we have no need of Christ at all.  Although our guardian angel and patron saints will powerfully intercede for us at that moment, the singularly best way for us to prepare for the torment and temptation of our death is to be strong in prayer and pure in soul.  And that requires preparation.

 

Advent is upon us.  Holy Church has for many centuries preached on death this very Sunday, which is most proper for helping us prepare for Christ’s return or our death, whichever comes first.

This Advent, I urge you to prepare for the inevitable fate you face.  I love you as my dear children.  I want each and every one of you to prosper in the loving-kindness of Jesus Christ our Lord.  I want each and every one of you to live with each other forever in God’s Kingdom.  I want to enjoy your presence forever before God our Father in the Holy Ghost.

With these wishes of love and peace and enjoying you as you were made by our Lord God, I ask you this week to try at least one of two things.  First, thoughtfully make a list of your sins and then reverently confess them to Christ either with the prayer of confession in the Prayer Book or in the Sacrament of Confession.  Second, pick your most intractable or hardest to control sin and try very hard to confess and turn from it every day this week.

The best way to prepare is to exercise.  The best way to prepare for a spiritual struggle is spiritual exercise.  Try at least one of these confessions of sin this week and prepare to meet your maker.  If you earnestly try, you will find yourself in better shape to be judged by Christ.

 

“that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the quick and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal….”

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

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“STIR up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people; that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works, may by thee be plenteously rewarded;”

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

 

“Preparing for Our Lord’s Return”

This beautiful collect is famous for its call for God to “stir up … the wills of thy faithful people.”  Archbishop Cranmer used this old Latin prayer in our Book of Common Prayer.  In this collect, we ask God to stir up our wills, the “wills of thy faithful people”, so that in “bringing forth the fruit of good works”, we may be rewarded plenteously by God himself.

I have heard today called “stir up” Sunday.  These words are inspiring.  We hereby ask God to move us into action by quickening our wills.  The will is the part of ourselves that moves other parts of ourselves into action.  Think of this as cranking a lawn mower.  Before it is started, the lawn mower has an engine, blade, fuel, and physical structure holding it all together.  But one thing is lacking – getting the thing to start doing what it is made to do.

So it is for us.  We have reason, memory, and intellect; we have body, spirit, and all things necessary to love and to serve and to obey Almighty God.  But until we are spurred into action, until our wills are stirred up, we are all potential and no actuality.  In this prayer, we ask God to move us, to start us, to get us going so, in the words of the thanksgiving after Mass, “we may continue in that holy fellowship, and do all such good works as thou hast prepared for us to walk in.”

As Christians, we need to do more than sit pretty and receive God’s grace.  We are called to respond to God’s love; we are to do that which God would have us to do.  We are to “bring forth the fruit of good works.”

 

We pray this prayer on this Sunday, the Sunday next before Advent, for a reason.  During Advent, we are to do works of holiness and righteousness; we are to prepare to receive the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

In the season of Advent in the Christian Year, the faithful look back and remember the first advent of Christ as a baby in Bethlehem and look forward to the second advent (or second coming) of Christ in power and great glory as He returns to put an end to suffering, misery, and death and gloriously fulfill His mission of saving His people and creation.

Advent is a time of compassionately looking back and expectantly looking forward.  Traditional practices of preparing for the coming of our King include lighting the candles of the Advent wreath, omitting our joyful Gloria in Excelsis at Mass, changing the liturgical color to purple and rose, singing Advent hymns, giving for missions in mite boxes, and preaching on the Four Last Things.

What are the “Four Last Things”?  They are death, judgement, Heaven, and Hell.  According to medieval and modern tradition, these are preached on the four Sundays of Advent.  This is part of preparing ourselves for Christ’s arrival, both in the past in His Incarnation and in the future when He returns again.

The ancient tradition of preaching on “The Four Last Things” on the Sundays in Advent (Death, Judgment, Heaven, and Hell), goes back to the early medieval period, more than a thousand years ago.  The Four Last Things were explicitly mentioned in a Confession of Faith at the Second Council of Lyons in 1274.  More than a hundred years later, Saint Vincent Ferrer particularly emphasized the Four Last Things in his preaching.  He died in 1419.  Since that time, it became embedded in the traditions of Holy Church.

First Sunday of Advent – November 30th – the subject is death,

Second Sunday of Advent – December 7th – judgment,

Third Sunday of Advent – December 14th – Heaven, and

Fourth Sunday of Advent – December 21st – the subject is Hell.

They are called the four last things because these are the four last things until Christ returns for the Last Judgement, when He will finally and permanently separate the sheep from the goats, the wheat from the chaff, and the elect from the damned.  We are not gloomy when we consider these serious subjects, preparing for one of the most glorious times of the year, Christmas.  Instead, we take our joy and our preparation to meet that joy seriously.

As we acknowledge that we will die, be judged, and go to either Heaven or hell, so we encourage ourselves to build up what is weak in our lives, repent of our sins, and strive to more fully love our God and our neighbors.  We are reminded that whether we like it or not, whether it is a polite topic or not, each one of us will die unless God returns again first.

And whether we like it or not, once we die, Christ will judge us.  This is inevitable as we come face to face with our maker.  Simply being confronted by the ultimate being who is love himself, our faults and lack of love will become more evident than ever before.  And after the judgement, we will end up in either Heaven or Hell.  There is no third place where we will spend eternity.  We will live with God forever or not.  It is that simple.

These sermons are supposed to examine these last things before Christ returns and inspire us to bring “forth the fruit of good works” so that we of God may “be plenteously rewarded.”  We are to change our behavior and conform to the model of Christ our Lord.  We are to live our lives now as if we truly believed Christ was coming soon, because the fact is that Christ will return, and with His return, this broken mortal life as we know it will disappear into the glory of immortality.

In the words of St. Peter in his second epistle,

But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up.

We do not know when Christ will return, only that He will return.  And when Christ returns, if you are anything like me, you will sorely regret that you did not spend your time now preparing for His return.  For Christ has told us that He will return again and that we will answer for how we have lived our lives.  He says in St. Matthew xvi.27, “For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then he shall reward every man according to his works.”

 

Here at St. Luke’s this Advent, we will follow the custom of Holy Church and prepare for the coming of Christ at Christmas and in the future.  Our main goal now is to think ahead to next month on how we are going to join in the Church’s preparation for Christ’s return.  What concrete steps will we take this Advent to prepare for Christ’s return?

Will you take advantage of our weekday Masses to attend an extra Mass per week of Advent?

Will you take advantage of our Sunday Morning Prayer to add to your prayer life on the Sundays of Advent?

Will you forgo listening to Christmas music to concentrate instead upon the Church’s season of Advent, of preparing to make the most of Christmas?

Will you take on the responsibility of reading a chapter of Scripture each day of Advent?

Will you respond to the sermons on death and judgement, Heaven and Hell by confessing your sins to your priest this Advent?

Will you respond to the glory of Christ’s Incarnation, or taking on of our frail human nature, to give sacrificially over and above your tithe for missions with the mite box?

Will you reflect upon your calling from God and the need of your parish to discern a new area of ministry for you to enter into?

You do not have to decide today.  But Advent begins next week.  How will you prepare for the coming of Christ this Advent?

 

“STIR up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people; that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works, may by thee be plenteously rewarded;”

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

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“I THANK my God upon every remembrance of you”

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

 

 

“Our Highest Calling”

St. Paul dearly loved the Church at Philippi, and today’s Epistle lesson shows it.  The prayer and rejoicing which shine forth in these verses set the tone for the entire epistle.  Let’s take a closer look at it.

 

 

“I THANK my God upon every remembrance of you “

“I thank” is the same root as Eucharist, actually eucharisto here.  He thanks God for his remembrance of them.  They have supported him in his mission amongst the Gentiles.  St. Paul is grateful for them.

St. Paul loved all of the Philippians and cared for them all, even though he had words of warning for some of them.  He could criticize them, indeed he was obligated by his office as apostle to admonish them, but that in no way diminished his love for them.  God loves us all, regardless of whether or not we deserve his love.  That’s the way that the love of God is – it is never earned, only given – and received.  St. Paul knew this personally, for he had been a persecutor of the Church and was complicit in the martyrdom of St. Stephen.

 

 

“always in every prayer of mine for you all making request with joy,”

Here St. Paul mentions prayer twice, once with the word prayer and also in “making request”.  He writes, “for you all” praying for all of the Philippians, not just the elite or saints, including those who are difficult, the ones he will later chastise.

This prayer for each other builds what they already have between them and is a result of the love they have between them.  The relationship of prayer with those who are joined in Christ is never simple and one-directional.  They are bound in prayer for each other to God as they are bound together in Christ’s love.

“With joy” opens one of the important themes of the epistle.  He prays for them with joy.  In Ephesians, he writes so much of love.  Here in Philippians, he writes wrapped in joy.  He wrote in Galatians v.22, “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy,” and so on.  As John Wesley said, “Joy peculiarly enlivens prayer.”

 

 

“for your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now;”

One reason for St. Paul’s joy is fellowship, or in Greek, koinonia.  In Christian terms, fellowship is more than association.  It is an evocative word, summoning meanings of emotion and practicality.  The Gospel brings all Christians into a relationship of responsibility for each other.

In this particular situation, the Philippians have shared responsibility with St. Paul for his missions.  The Philippians have looked after St. Paul – and he after them – with care, joy, thanksgiving, and prayer.  They have a past together, but they also have a future together.  He was genuinely thankful for the Philippians’ participation in his ministry.  For truly the ministry is neither yours or mine but His – Christ’s.  They shared in His ministry together.

 

 

“being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ:”

God, by his grace, has begun a good work in them which he will bring to perfection.  What God begins, he sees through to the end; the end of God’s work is perfection, or it is not God’s work at all.  The “day of Jesus Christ” is the day of Christ’s Second Coming.  This is when the worship of Him by the entire cosmos in ii.10-11 will manifestly become a reality.  When Christ returns, we will then see

That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

 

 

“even as it is meet for me to think this of you all, because I have you in my heart; inasmuch as both in my bonds, and in the defence and confirmation of the gospel, ye all are partakers of my grace.”

“To think this” is not just the stuff of intellect, but to judge or to hold an opinion; to have an attitude toward something.  To “have you in my heart” speaks to the deep emotional bond St. Paul has with the Philippians.  The heart is not just seat of emotions but center of a person.

St. Paul is explaining to them why he loves them and feels so close to them.  He himself is preparing for trial in Rome, and is probably using evidence and trial terms in this epistle.  They have helped him afford to travel and preach.  They have operated together, if even not in the same place always.  He longs for them, and he prays for them.

 

 

“For God is my record, how greatly I long after you all in the tender mercies of Christ Jesus.”

Like in a trial, St. Paul swears under oath – as God is my record.  He eagerly desires to be with them.  He longs after them and yearns for them.  He uses the words tender mercies for compassion, which means guts.  An old way of saying this is “bowels of mercy”.  And these are not St. Paul’s tender mercies, but Christ’s.  He loves them, but it is not his own tenderness which he has towards them, but the tenderness of Christ Himself.

Remember that we, you and me, are no longer simply our own persons but are united to Christ as members of His Body.  The love we have for one another shares in the love Christ has for each of us.  That is to say, I love you with the love Christ loves you.  That love is much better and more perfect and complete than my own impaired, imperfect, and limited love.  As Christians, we love each other with the infinite love of Christ Himself.  This is the love of God which can work miracles.  This is what we have right here together in this parish.

 

 

“And this I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and in all judgment;”

He begins by writing of “your love”, the loving-kindness which the Philippians have with each other, their mutual love which is the reflection of the love of God.  He prays that this love of God which they have for each other “may abound yet more and more”!  He wishes above all things, so much so that he goes to the Lord in prayer to intercede on their behalf, that the Christian self-sacrificial loving-kindness which they have for one another would continue to increase to maturity.

To this unquenchable fire of divine love he then follows “in knowledge and in all judgment” – this is the fruit of the love.  And why do they need this knowledge and judgment?

 

 

“that ye may approve things that are excellent; that ye may be sincere and without offence till the day of Christ;”

The word “approve” here means to discern or prove.  This is not a nod of the head.  This is a searching understanding for that which is spiritually solid and excellent.  He asks for an increase of love for right judgment so to approve only the best things.  And why?

“That ye may be sincere and without offence till the day of Christ”  Sincere here literally means, “tested by sunlight”, like holding up jars of jelly or glasses of wine.  “Without offence” means “without stumbling”, or without offense, such as in 1 Corinthians x.32:  “Give none offence, neither to the Jews, nor to the Gentiles, nor to the church of God:”  The “day of Christ” is the parousia, which is the Second Coming of Christ.  St. Paul often mentions this as a way to remind the churches to prepare for this day, which of course is a day which we should prepare for as well.

What a wonderful prayer!  We could not ask God for something more wonderful for each other.  Loving-kindness, spiritual knowledge, discernment of excellence, all effective to ensure that they be judged by Christ on the last day to be blameless.

 

 

“being filled with the fruits of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ, unto the glory and praise of God.”

This “being filled with the fruits of righteousness” means completed, brought to maturity, and perfected.  Being morally and spiritually perfected and brought to maturity gives rise to the “fruits of righteousness”.  This term is from the Old Testament.  Righteousness means being right with God.

The reading concludes with “the fruits of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ, unto the glory and praise of God.”  We do not repair our relationship with God through our own effort.  Christ completes us and our relationship with Him.  The fruits of righteousness are by Christ, are from outside of ourselves.  We are the recipients of the fruits of righteousness as we are recipients of the fruits of the orange tree.  The tree makes the fruit, and we receive and eat the fruit.

The righteousness of the Philippians is from Christ, and to Christ St. Paul gives thanks and praise, for he loves them, and he loves Him Who saved them and is perfecting them in love and righteousness.  His love of them brings him to thank God.  His love of these wonderful people brings him to love God even more.

Here is where the unity of the Two Great Commandments which I recited earlier this Mass comes from.  The love of God and the love of neighbor are essentially one movement of love, one gracious outpouring, one cycle building up one, then the other, and then the one again.  The love of God shows us to love our neighbor, and the love of neighbor lets us give thanks for God’s love.

 

 

Because we are members one with another with our fellow Christians, we are to love our neighbors as ourselves even when our neighbors are not Christian, not our friends, and not our family.  We are to enter into personal loving relationships with our neighbors because we are followers of Christ whom He has redeemed and made righteous.  Christ’s calling is the highest calling in the entire world, the whole cosmos.  In the entirety of our lives, there is nothing we can do that is as important as loving the Lord our God with our whole selves and loving our neighbors as ourselves.

 

 

“I THANK my God upon every remembrance of you”

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

 

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“They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick.”

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

 

“Church:  Hospital or Hospice?”

There are no people who are to be unwelcome here!  No one here has ever told me to make this a hoity-toity society parish, but many people have placed little limits here and there about making sure the riff-raff is kept out.  But we are the riff-raff in the eyes of God!  And the truth in the eyes of the eternal and Almighty God is actually true, unlike our notions of polite society which are here today and gone with the wind tomorrow.

We have need of physicians of the soul for we are sinners.  When Christ sat at dinner to eat with St. Matthew and the other tax collectors, he sat with men who were known to take bribes, work for the Roman occupying force, and wring as much as they could out of the population.  When the self-righteous Pharisees complained about that, Christ told them, “They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick.”  The Body of Christ is to be a hospital for repentance and healing and not a club for the redeemed.

We are sinners.  St. Paul says in Romans iii.23, “ For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;”  We are not to be only treating our pain but undergoing spiritual healing.  We can never think first of the pain.  Who would ever set a broken bone if we only thought of the pain?  Who would take months of chemotherapy if we only thought of the pain?  We have amongst this parish survivors of cancer who have undergone very difficult treatment.  I for one am glad that they – y’all – underwent such painful treatment, for I would rather you be with us than not.

If we are doing the Lord’s work, we can welcome the criticisms of our enemies because they give us the opportunity to explain ourselves and what we are doing.  The criticisms of the Pharisees allow Christ to explain the hospital concept.  He isn’t just hanging out; He is doing the work of God with actual people, people like you and me.

Christians are to follow Christ in allowing everyone to come in to the community before we expect righteousness of them.  Anyone with a soul is welcome.  We do have standards of conduct, such as repenting of sin, receiving Holy Communion, and fasting, but these standards are for those who are already members, not standards to obey before you come to know Christ.  Thus it is that we are a hospital for sinners.  Faith comes before righteous living. Our modified behavior is our response to the great goodness given to us by Christ our Lord.

“Follow me” is the shortest, simplest, and most succinct call to Christian discipleship.  To follow Christ is to live in His manner of life.  We follow those upon whom we model ourselves.  “Follow me” implies personal loyalty.  Christ is not trying to get people to follow His set of rules or His philosophy but rather His Holy Person.  Our faith is one of loving-kindness between persons.  For instance, I am the husband of Angela, and Angela is the wife of me.  I said that I took her as my wife, and she said she took me, bless her heart, as her husband.  We did not become something complex like cult members or philosophers or disembodied talking heads when we married; we married each other.

Likewise, Christ is not trying to sell something here.  We follow Him.  This is why we are not people of a book like Jews and Mohammedans.  We follow Christ – we are Christians.  We are people in a personal relationship with our Lord and Master.  This is why Apostolic Succession is so important – our faith is transmitted from mouth to ear and heart to heart.  You cannot truly read yourself into the Christian Faith.  Reading theology is not the basis of Christian ministry.  Love between members of the household of God is.  I am your spiritual father, and you are my spiritual children.  And so on.

Buying your child or grandchild a Bible is no substitute for attending Mass with her.  It is more important for him to hear you answer the question in person than to have him look up the answer for himself.  Even though we fail as leaders to our children and priests fail as leaders to our people, this way of communicating between persons is the fundamental way of learning about Christ.  Getting embarrassed about speaking religion to each other is part of our relationship with each other.

Christ is Himself the answer to sin, sickness, and death.  Christ is a bold one, for He is the Incarnate Son of God made flesh down here on earth to save us from sin, sickness, and death.  Christ is both the messenger and the cure.  Christ is both the priest and the victim.  Christ is both God and Man.  Our connection with God, our source of ultimate healing is found in that singular human person, that ancient Jew.  Christ is entirely God and entirely human and yet is but one single Person, the Holy Person whose Name

is above every name: That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.  (Philippians ii.9b-11)

St. Matthew found the “pearl of great price”, and nothing in this world could compare with the Man Who found Him.  So, like the others fishing in their boats, the Evangelist and Apostle dropped what he was doing without a care of what might befall him to follow the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
A hospice is a place where you go to die.  The folks who work with hospice do not allow any fighting to save your life.  They want you to die peacefully and with as little pain as possible.  A hospice is not a place to go in order to heal.  One is supposed to be carried out of a hospice.

A hospital is a place where you go to heal.   One goes to a hospital in order to get back on your feet and eventually leave under your own power, even if they insist on the wheelchair ride to the front door or to your car.

I have had a season-long clinical pastoral education internship at a hospital in Illinois and a year-long CPE residency at a hospital in South Carolina.  One of my problems in these hospitals is that the spiritual care, the pastoral care provided seemed to be of a palliative nature.

According to getpalliativecare.org, palliative care “focuses on providing patients with relief from the symptoms, pain, and stress of a serious illness—whatever the diagnosis.”  Palliative care makes the physical, social, mental, and emotional burdens of being sick more bearable.  It does not attempt to cure the ailment.

I confess that I am not a big fan of palliative care.  I have a painful chronic illness, and I would much rather receive a therapy which gets me healed up and on my way.  Instead, the medicine I take helps me tolerate the burden of being sick.  I am thankful for this care and medication, for it allows me to do more than I was able to do before I took the medicine.

But, I much prefer therapy that improves my condition.  One of the reasons I felt so called to amend my life and trust in Christ was that I saw someone live a better and holier life that I did.  Forgive me if you heard my story, but some fellows and I worked together in Atlanta many years ago.  We were smart-alecs, jerks, clever boys with a turn of phrase who thought that we were hilarious.

One of the ladies were worked with seemed like a silly girl.  She dressed funny and talked funny, and we made fun of her.  I’m sure it wasn’t fun to her.  But here’s the kicker – she always treated us with decency and respect.  She was a follower of Christ in that she actually walked with the Son of God and treated other people with the love with which Christ loved her.

Confronted with genuine Christian loving-kindness, I stood convicted of my sins.  I underwent the painful realization that my life of disrespect was not worth living.  I wanted to love other people and myself the way she loved me and the way Christ loved her.  I came back home to church and repented of my sins.  I am honored to tell you here today that in the last few weeks of my father’s life he saw this son of his come back into the Christian walk that he had taught me to walk in.

Here I stand twenty-five years later a changed man.  I am not as good a man as I hope to be someday, but I can safely say that I am a better man.  Angela has known me long enough to attest to the fact that I am a better man today than when she first met me.

But here is the thing about palliative care:  If I had not felt that pain of public humiliation realizing that I treated others poorly, I can’t see as how I would have repented from my sins.  The pain I felt was a good thing.  It taught me, it schooled me that I was on a road to damnation.  I knew my life was out of order when I felt that pain.  I thank God Almighty sitting in Heaven above that I was not provided palliative spiritual care, Christian ministration that got the pain to stop.

That pain was good for me.  I went to the hospital of Christ’s church to get spiritual healing.  If I had been taken to a spiritual hospice, I would have been told that I was good enough just the way I was and that I did not need to change.

My dear children, Christ sat at table full of sinners so that He could redeem them.  Our parish here is named after the most famous physician of Holy Scripture, St. Luke.  Jesus Christ has established His Bride, Holy Church, here on earth to help save sinners.  We sit here on Wheeler Road so that we may do the work of Christ and be a place of spiritual healing.

That means that we will hurt.  We will hurt from our own sins.  And Christ wants us to hurt from our sins.  We are not to cover over our sins and adopt pseudo-therapies that reduce our suffering.  No!  We must suffer fully.  We must feel our hurt so that we may correct our lives!  We must let our brothers and sisters who are members of Christ’s Body feel their hurt so that they may amend their lives.  We spiritually injure our fellow members of Christ’s Church when we try to take away their suffering before the time is over.

That means that others will hurt.  We are a hospital for sinners.  When we welcome people who suffer the pains of this fallen world through their own fault, the fault of others, and the assaults of the Devil, we must take them in and bandage them up like the Good Samaritan did.  We must suffer with them – that is what the word compassion means:  To suffer with.

We must embrace the pain of this world and let folks know that they can come here for spiritual healing.

 

This parish holds together two different notions of what a parish ought to be.  For on the one hand, we know each other well, we are friends with each other, we seek out others who will serve what we have already established as members of this parish, and we seek out others who will keep our parish family going.  This is a cozy, comfortable, and unfruitful way of conducting ourselves.

But on the other hand, we are a mission outpost of the right bank on the Savannah River.  All Saints’, Aiken has the left bank.  This is our duty station, and from here we are to fulfill the Great Commission given to the Apostles and thus to our bishops – “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.”

We are both a family and a mission outpost.  As a parish family, we show some of the domestic loving-kindness made possible in Christ our Lord.  But we are also tempted towards living out the Christian life in this parish as a hospice, avoiding pain, keeping peace, and not rocking the boat.

As a mission outpost, we focus on preaching the Gospel and loving our neighbor as ourselves.  Thus we are tempted towards living out the Christian life in this parish as a hospital, dragging in the wounded off the street, binding their wounds, and loving them, encouraging those who have fallen, strengthening those who are weak, and occasionally sending on their way those who simply stopped by for a rest.

Discerning correctly and loving appropriately is the principal challenge for us here at St. Luke Church as we grow into the future.

 

“They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick.”

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

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