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“Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall.”

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

 

“Temptation in Our Lives, Churches, and Society”

Looking at today’s Epistle lesson, we should know that the Corinthians were proud converts from the pagan religions of Greece and Rome.  Unlike many of the other church folk to whom St. Paul corresponded, they were not mostly converts from Judaism.  Their problems were different.

The Corinthians were tempted to compromise with their old religion, the religion of their friends, families, and social superiors. The Corinthians were tempted to consider Holy Baptism and the Blessed Sacrament as magical talismans which warded off evil and ill health.  Of course, they are nothing of the sort!  These Sacraments connect us deeply into eternal life in Christ.

St. Paul wrote to former pagans living in a pagan society.  He warns them from continuing to participate in banquets dedicated to heathen gods.  These compromises were hazardous to their spiritual health.  They were to avoid these sources of temptations lest what happened to Israel in the wilderness happen to them.

A healthy familiarity with Exodus comes in handy when reading this lesson.  Like the Corinthians and their Holy Baptism, Israel underwent a type of baptism with Moses in the Red Sea.  Like the Corinthians and receiving Holy Communion, Israel ate manna from Heaven and drank water which miraculously sprang from the rock.  But these blessings did not keep Israel from being “overthrown in the wilderness”.  They worshipped the golden calf and were punished.  They tempted God and were destroyed by serpents.  They rebelled from God and suffered horribly.  In the end, only Caleb and Joshua out of all those thousands made it into the Holy Land.  St. Paul writes, “Now all these things happened unto them for ensamples:” – or examples – “and they are written for our admonition.”

But with this warning to avoid compromise with unrighteousness and pacts with wickedness, St. Paul gives the Corinthians good news:  God always helps us in temptation.  At the end of the lesson we receive, along with our brethren the Corinthians, the promise that God will guard us from suffering unbearable temptation:  “God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.”

On the one hand, God only allowing us to be tempted at a level we can resist means that we are fully culpable for each and every sin we commit.  We can resist every temptation.  Therefore, if we fail to resist a temptation, we are to blame for not having resisted more.

On the other hand, God loves us and cares for us so much that he will not tolerate his beloved souls mistakenly breaking communion with Christ our Lord.  Being grafted onto Christ, we never suffer any temptation which forces us to break communion with him without our consent.  Christ wants us with Him for all eternity.

As an aside, notice that the Apostle to the Gentiles does not say here that God will not suffer us to receive more than we can handle.  We often receive more than we can handle.  I understand, not from experience, that young mothers can feel overwhelmed from lack of sleep and a demanding little baby.  I sometimes temporarily feel overwhelmed.  God will allow our decisions and the working of our mortal life to require more of us than we can possibly give.  It is precisely at this time that we should turn to God for comfort, meaning both strength for the journey and consolation.  We will never be tempted beyond what we can bear, but we may be given more to handle than we can bear.

 

Now, having seen how St. Paul considers temptation in First Corinthians, let us turn to three ways that we may be tempted.  We may be tempted morally in our lives of personal sanctity such as bearing good fruit in our relationship with Christ and other people.  We may be tempted sacramentally and ecclesiastically in our communal experience of worship, fellowship, service, and doctrine.  And we may be tempted socially in our lives in society and culture.

We manfully fight against temptation to secure our moral lives.  Three weeks ago we read in Romans vi that we were buried in Christ’s Crucifixion and raised in His Resurrection.  Our old man of sin died, and we put on Christ.  Two weeks ago we read that in Christ we went from earning wages of sin through our actions to receiving the free gift of God, “eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”  Last week we read in Romans viii that we have received the spirit of adoption, making us sons of God.  Instead of being slaves of sin, we are heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ.  Out of this new life in Christ we are expected to bear good fruit as befits a good tree.

Christ recognizes that temptation is dangerous and includes in the prayer He taught His disciples “and lead us not into temptation”.  St. Peter recognizes this and warns us in his first epistle, in words oft recited in Compline, “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour:  Whom resist stedfast in the faith.”  We are to pray to avoid temptation.  We are soberly to discern our actual situation regarding sin and temptation, sticking to the truth and not deceiving ourselves.  We are to watch for temptation with vigilance, never letting down our guard and allowing temptation to take hold and grow like a cancer into sin.  We are never in so great a danger as when we think that we are no longer susceptible to the power of temptation.

Since our old man of sin is dead and we are living in Christ, made one with His Body, we ought to strive to resist temptation and produce good works.  We can only produce good works in conjunction with avoiding sin.  Remember that the goodness of our good works does not come from our finite sinful lives but in Christ’s infinite holy life.  We guard against temptation to keep producing good works that joyfully reflect the beauty of the world, love amongst men, and love between God and man.

Think of our consecrated lives in Christ as a clear mirror which reflects Christ’s love back at Him and our fellow man.  Think of sin as besmirching that formerly clear mirror so that our reflection of Christ’s love is muddled and rendered ineffectual.  We watch out for temptation to keep our good works good.

 

We manfully fight against temptation to secure our sacramental and ecclesiastical lives.  If you recall, I once ran in horror from the Anglican Catholic Church.  I developed five reasons to never become a “Continuer”.  Yet in my fourteen years in the Episcopal Church, I saw heresy after heresy.  I tried to follow Christ, suffering mockery with my comrades, while others forged a new religion utterly at variance with the historic and Apostolic religion of the faith once delivered to the saints.  I fell to the temptation of compromise with the intolerable – valuing ersatz visible union – than to conforming myself to unwavering Gospel truth.

Beaten and humbled, I finally surrendered, yielded my own willfulness, and submitted to the Gospel in the Anglican Catholic Church.  Nightmares I had suffered for ten years vanished.  My broken and compromised faith slowly healed.  I welcomed good old-fashioned sin and forgiveness in the parish without any heresy and false sacramental unity.

We Anglican Catholics truly believe all the ancient truths of the Christian faith without any whitewashing.  I came to regard with great affection the Affirmation of St. Louis, a witness for the Gospel against the temptations of today:  No mealy mouthed half assurances about abortion; clear teaching about Apostolic Order and completeness of Holy Scripture; traditional liturgy; robust understanding of the sanctity of marriage.  I underwent Confirmation at the hands of Archbishop Haverland, as some of you did as well, as some of you look forward to doing.

I look at my friends who are priests in the Episcopal Church and the Neo-Anglicans of the Anglican Church in North America and wonder what happened.  Those ecclesiastical bodies either remain or claim to remain in sacramental communion with the Church of England, that same church which claims to ordain women into the priesthood and thereby proves that they do not adhere to the universal Catholic understanding of Holy Order.  We simply mean different things with the same words by “priesthood”, “episcopacy”, and “Sacraments” than they do.  We continue Anglicanism because we keep the same faith that Lady Julian, Charles I, Samuel Seabury, John Keble, and Albert Chambers did, even if we keep neither the once-venerated name nor the buildings of the Episcopal Church.

 

We manfully fight against temptation to witness in our public lives in society.  We can consider this in two ways, enticing society and threatening society.  The company of our good friends and of the “better” elements of society can tempt us away from the Gospel truth.  A desire to fit in with those friends who might be offended tempts us into living a public life without spiritual integrity.

We know from Holy Scripture and the teaching of our Mother the Church that we were created male and female.  In a day when marriage is openly mocked in both same-sex unions and open acceptance of divorce and remarriage, the confusion brought about by claiming to be male when born female and vice versa tempts many of us to humor those who confound the truth of the matter.  When we acquiesce or conform to those who spin fables, who entice us with social station, employment, and good reputation, then we may very well be yielding to the temptation of participating in the sins of others by silence or approval.  Many fall into sin under the guise of good manners.  Sacrificial loving-kindness produces true good manners but tolerates no caving to temptation.

Dangerous society holds its own temptations as well.  During the Boko Haram attack on the Nigerian schoolgirls this April, a seven-year-old girl was asked to deny Christ with a rifle to her head.  She refused.  Urgently asked again, she refused again.  Amazed, the Moslem jihadists let her go.  Who of us here today would have been so bold?  As Christ said, “Verily I say unto you, Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, he shall not enter therein.”

This past week, the Chaldean Christian primate of Iraq announced that the last Christian families in Mosul had fled with their lives before the onslaught of the ISIL.  This is the first time in 1,600 years that this ancient city has had no Christians in it.  Many are martyred, others have fled, and their property has been confiscated to distribute to Moslems.  In China, the Communist government is trying to take control of all Christian churches.  No one is dying, but would I resist unto death the government dictating to me how to preach and administer the Holy Sacraments?  I would like to think so.  But I have not suffered that temptation yet.  I pray that I never do.  But our brethren around the world are paying with their lives this very day.

 

Temptation is so important to our life with God that we pray about it every time we pray the Lord’s Prayer.  The wholesome habits, Christian character, and openness to God that helps us avoid and survive temptation helps us flower with the fruit of many virtues and good works pleasing to God.

Remember that in our Christian pilgrimage, God will not allow us to be tempted beyond what we can bear.  So whether in our day to day lives, our lives in Christian unity, or moment of need before the despisers of Christ, the Lord will cover and protect us in our hour of temptation.

 

“Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall.”

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

 

 

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“Then said Jesus to them again, Peace be unto you: as my Father hath sent me, even so send I you.”

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

 

Being Sent

THE same day at evening, being the first day of the week….  This first verse shows that the Church has gathered and worshipped together on the Lord’s Day beginning with that very first Easter.

St. Ignatius of Antioch, a disciple of the Apostle John whom the Romans martyred in AD 117, wrote in his Epistle to the Magnesians:

“…those who were brought up in the ancient order of things have come to the possession of a new hope, no longer observing the Sabbath, but living in the observance of the Lord’s Day, on which also our life has sprung up again by Him and by His death….”

The Vigil of Sunday is Saturday night, so there was likely some stages in between our neighbors’ synagogue worship on Saturday morning and our Church worship on Sunday morning.  The Vigil of Easter takes place on Saturday evening, which is the third Jewish liturgical day of Christ’s death.  The Jewish day begins at nightfall.  But the day Christians worship is invariably Sunday.

The doors were shut can also be translated the doors were locked.  St. John says here that the disciples feared the Jews, but they feared the Romans as well.  Their leader, the Christ, had been taken from them.  They were afraid.  If we no longer had Christ, if we lost faith in Christ, we too would be afraid.

Today we keep our church doors unlocked so that anyone off the street (we earnestly hope!) might come in and worship God with us.  But the disciples kept their doors shut and locked to protect themselves from danger.

In other parts of the world, Christian congregations have to post guards.  In one of our parishes in Pakistan, the priest’s son keeps guard with an AK-47 in case Moslem terrorists attack.  Our parishes in the Congo have faced attack, and at least one of them has been completely wiped out – raped and murdered.  We ought to give thanks to our good God that we do not have such problems here.  While being thankful, we should also remain vigilant that such attacks upon the peaceful practice of religion are defended against here.

Peace be unto you is a standard rabbinical greeting.  But it is also used in Judges vi.23 and Daniel x.19 when angels visited the frightened Gideon and Daniel.  Since the disciples are afraid, Christ speaking this privileged religious greeting to them is most appropriate.

As with Gideon and Daniel, the moment of this greeting is important.  Christ is declaring His peace to His disciples.  Christ, being God made man, who was killed and yet triumphed over the grave, has created an eschatological peace, a peace for the end of time, a peace for the disciples and all others as well.

The terrors and sorrows of death, of sickness, of grief are put to bed with their defeat by our King and our God.  We are promised the peace that passeth all understanding.  This peace is not a simple hello; it is not just a comfort and joy amidst grief and fear; no, this peace is a deep permanent peace which will follow you to the grave and out the other side into Resurrection!

Earlier in St. John xiv.27, Christ says:  “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.”  Peace here is not a worldly peace which is a mere respite from trouble; this is an eternal peace which is a gift from Heaven.  With the reception of the Holy Ghost, Christ’s peace becomes something that not only lives inside each of disciples but which they take out into the world.

And when he had so said, he shewed unto them his hands and his side.  Later in verse 25, Christ shows the disciples the nail holes in His hands and the lance wound from His side.  Christ comes to them, gives them His peace, and shows these frightened disciples His sacred wounds.

St. Luke xxiv.39 mentions His hands and feet.  Two hands plus two feet plus one side equals the five wounds of Christ.  If you cross yourself with your hand flat, you are using all five fingers.  Upon my ordination, I changed how I held my hand when I crossed myself so to remember the five wounds of Christ, the wounds Christ suffered when He gave Himself up for me and for you.

After years of modern scholars dismissing the nailing of feet by Romans during First-Century crucifixions, archaeological evidence was found in 1968 showing nail holes in the ankles of one crucified.  As to the objection that nails in the hands would not have held victims up, both the Greek and Hebrew words for hands could also refer to wrists and forearms or lower legs.  The five wounds of Christ are real, despite what skeptics and non-traditional Christians say.  Christ suffered those for us, died, and then rose again.  Here in today’s Gospel, the disciples see it for themselves with their own eyes, and St. John bears testimony to this across nineteen hundred years.

Christ shows the disciples His Body, showing the physical evidence of the continuity of the Crucifixion and the Resurrection.  Theologically, we understand that the Resurrection completes the Crucifixion.  Liturgically, Easter follows Good Friday.  But Christ shows our spiritual ancestors physical evidence of the bodily continuity of Christ’s Body in life, in death, and in Resurrection.

Then were the disciples glad when they saw the Lord.  Of course they were!  Imagine their emotions as their human minds tried to sort out the miraculous workings of God.  Their hearts had been up, down, and all around those last few days.  Now, they have proof that their Christ Who died on the Cross was the very same Who stood before them in the flesh — alive!  The wounds proved it so.

And now, St. John switches terms.  After the Resurrection, St. John begins referring to Christ in His Gospel as the Lord.  Christ is our Lord.  We know that.  But for those who walked with Him for years, they had to learn that.

And lest we forget, those around us who do not have the sweet consolation of Christ in their lives must also learn for themselves that Christ is the Lord.  They will watch you.  They might imitate you, especially if they are children.  They might test you if they are family or friends.  But either way, they will watch you for signs of the Resurrection life in your life.

If you see Christ, if you see Him in life, if you visit Him in His Passion, if you watch Him die, if you mourn for Him, and then if you rejoice in His Resurrection and accept the Peace of the Lord, then you will be different, and those out hurting and grieving in this sinful and broken world will see that difference for themselves.  And with God’s grace, they will want to share in that Resurrection life as well.

As my Father hath sent me, even so send I you.  This closely parallels St. John xvii.18, when Christ prays to the Father, “As thou hast sent me into the world, even so have I also sent them into the world.”  The word apostle means one who is sent.  The disciples in a sense become apostles here, for they shall bear Christ into the world.  They continue the mission of God the Son into the world.  Christ bears witness to the Father, and the apostles bear witness to the Son.

The continuation of the Resurrection is the evangelization of the entire world.  Our sharing the Good News is an extension of Christ’s Resurrection.  The living out in our lives loving-kindness and communion with God brings forth Christ’s Resurrection into the lives of those who did not experience it themselves.  We continue, we carry on, that which has been given to us.  Like as we have mothers and fathers, so we bring forth children who themselves become fathers and mothers.  I may not have earthly children, but I may have spiritual children.  Likewise, he who has earthly children may be destitute of spiritual children.

And when he had said this, he breathed on them….  God breathes the breath of life into Adam in Genesis ii.7.  Some ancients at that time held that the breath of a holy man had great power.  Christ certainly has great power.

The filioque clause of the Nicene Creed which we say every Sunday means from the son.  The Creed in its Western revised form we use says that the Holy Ghost proceeds from the Father and from the Son.  This verse is evidence that the Holy Ghost does in fact proceed forth from the Son, but not necessarily in the same way as from the Father.  We could change the Creed back to the way it was and drop this and be fine, but we are not incorrect in saying that the Son sends the Holy Ghost into the world.

Receive ye the Holy Ghost:  But wait:  The Holy Ghost comes upon the Apostles and Blessed Virgin Mary at Pentecost according to St. Luke in the Acts of the Apostles!  What does this mean?

The Second Council of Constantinople, being the fifth Ecumenical Council, condemned the view of Theodore of Mopsuestia.  Theodore held that Christ did not really impart the gift of the Holy Ghost upon the Apostles on the night of Easter.  This is contradicted right here in St. John’s Gospel.

St. John Chrysostom preached that this gift of the Holy Ghost empowered the forgiveness of sins while the gift of the Holy Ghost at Pentecost in Acts gave “the power to work miracles and raise the dead.”  Others have made different suggestions, but the fact here is that He breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost.  Christ gives the Holy Ghost to those who will preach His Gospel and …

Whosesoever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whosesoever sins ye retain, they are retained.  This Authorized Version translation wisely shows these sentences in passive voice.  That is, these things are done, but it does not say who does the doing of them.  This is important, for when a priest says that he forgives you your sins, technically he is authoritatively declaring that your sins are forgiven.  And they are forgiven.

But God is the actor, not the priest, not the apostle.  When a bishop as the successor of the apostles, and priests as his parish agents, forgive sins or do not forgive sins, then so those sins are forgiven or not forgiven.  But the apostle, the bishop, and the priest are agents of God, and God is the one who completes the action.  This is the Sacramental grace of Penance or Confession.

The role of the forgiveness or retention of sins, as well as of binding and loosing, directly supports the command to take the Gospel to all nations, to be sent as Christ has been sent.  The world is to be freed from the tyranny of the world, the flesh, and the devil.  Souls will be saved, people will be liberated, sins will be forgiven, and loving-kindness shall rule all relationships upon the preaching of the Good News of Jesus Christ!

 

“Then said Jesus to them again, Peace be unto you: as my Father hath sent me, even so send I you.”

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

 

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“Wherefore if they shall say unto you, Behold, he is in the desert; go not forth: behold, he is in the secret chambers; believe it not. For as the lightning cometh out of the east, and shineth even unto the west; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be.”

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

 

One hundred sixty nine years ago, something strange happened.  A former Army captain who had spent many years studying the Scriptures by his lonesome supposed that he had figured out the year of Christ’s return.  He spent five years checking his interpretation and math.

Immediately upon publishing his news near and far, many flocked to him to hear how he had done it.  Amazingly, the year predicted was only a few years away.  Many of those flocking around him started figuring out the numbers for themselves, and one prediction became quite prominent:  The Lord Christ would return between March 21, 1843 and March 21, 1844.  March 21, 1844 rolled around and the Lord had not returned.  Again, heads were put together and figures were added with a new date, April 18th, not March 21st.  April 18th rolled around, and still our Lord had not returned.

The followers of the man were puzzled.  Then a new man arose at a camp meeting and claimed that he knew when Christ really really was coming back:  October 22nd, 1844.  October 22nd rolled around with the predictable results.  I suppose the third time was the charm, because this time the man Miller’s followers were devastated in what became known as The Great Disappointment.  One wrote:  “Our fondest hopes and expectations were blasted, and such a spirit of weeping came over us as I never experienced before… We wept, and wept, till the day dawn.”

Most of Miller’s followers, called Millerites, drifted away from the man and the movement.  But some clung tenaciously on.

Captain Miller was a false prophet.  He and his other leaders claimed to bring to the faithful the coming of Christ, but they did not.  Denominations have arisen from Miller’s disciples, and they are still soft on Christ’s Second Coming.

Most everybody has some bad apples in their church family tree.  Our own Henry VIII separated the Church of England from the Church of Rome in order to get a divorce – a bad reason – as well as some better reasons.  Certainly the Churches of Rome and the East have had atrocious bishops before.  But these three Churches are essential apostolic and catholic in nature.  Miller’s descendants, the Seventh-Day Adventists, struggle to lead people into the proper worship of Christ partially because of distortions in their understanding of the Second Coming of Christ.

We are not to be swayed by false teachers who come to us with signs and wonders.  Simon Magus in the Acts of the Apostles (viii.9) showed false signs to people which they were not to believe.

St. Paul tells us in Galatians i.8:  “But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed.”  Think of that:  Even if an angel comes with new doctrine, we ought to hold fast to those things found in Scripture and taught in the Church.  Some will be tested and led astray by false teachers; “they shall deceive the very elect”.  We ought to firmly hold on to the apostle’s teaching and preaching and shun strange doctrines.

We simply do not know when Christ will return.  Those who claim to know are trying to disturb Christ’s faithful, and this is the act of antichrist and false prophets.  They will be seductive, showing signs and wonders.  They will be destructive, deceiving the very elect.  Resist them as you would the devil himself.  Live each day as if it is your last.  One day, either death will come for you or Christ will return “with power and great glory”.  At that time, the faithful in Christ will be gathered by His holy angels.

But just because false prophets claim to know when Christ will return does not mean that we should commit the opposite error of thinking that Christ is not coming.  Right here in today’s Gospel, Christ tells us that He is.  So first, we must not follow false teachers and get disturbed by claims that Christ is coming on a particular date.  And second, we must not follow doubters and get disturbed into thinking that Christ will not return.  He will return, and we do not know when.

 

Angela and I have seen heat lightning on our long commute on I-20 many a time.  But the first time I recall ever truly paying attention to it was years ago.  I was in a field in central Florida on a warm night in the middle of summer.  The lightning started up and I had to turn my head to catch it as it raced from one side of the sky across to the other.  I was amazed.  So much light arcing across without a storm dazzled me.

But I have also sat through some powerful storms out in Greene County, when the whole sky erupts from darkness and lights up.  You could almost feel the electricity in the air.

I wonder what it will look like when He comes again.  Christ says in today’s Gospel:  “For as the lightning cometh out of the east, and shineth even unto the west; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be.”

Regardless of what kind of lightning Christ’s return will be like, His return will be visible to all and universal to all.  Like lightning, the burst of Christ before the world shall make bright all the dark places.  Lies will be exposed, hidden places made open, and darkness made light.

We do not have to wonder when Christ will return.  When He returns, we will notice.

 

What will happen when He returns?  “And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.”

“His angels” and “His elect” refer to the angels of Heaven and the saved of Earth, the two sets of folks who will live with Christ forever.  Christ’s coming again will unite together all those who are already mystically united in Christ.  The time of trial and tribulation will be over.  Then will we reap the reward.  We have the promise now.  We will have the fullness of the actuality of it then.  Between now and then is a time of hope, and we have God’s promise that this hope will be fulfilled.

We ought to believe that as Christ came a first time, He will come again.  As He saved us with His first advent, so will He fulfill our salvation with His second advent.  But we aren’t to be wrapped up in speculating what that will be like, for if we spend our time doing that, we find ourselves in two traps.  First, the more we speculate, the easier we are for others to convince us, or for ourselves to convince us, that these speculations are instead fact.  That was Miller’s problem.  Second, the more we speculate, the less we pay attention to living our lives after the example of Christ.

George Buttrick wrote, “The crucial task for the disciples, as all the Gospels emphasize, is to seek the dignity and honor of the Messiah in the circumstances of humiliation and apparent defeat.”  We should not be so distracted by His coming in glory that we lose focus on the Christ Who has already come and Who has been with us and showing us the way.  We must prepare for His judgement by living in His humiliation and Resurrection.  For in Christ’s weakness, does He conquer, in His brokenness, does He redeem, and by His stripes, we are healed.

Thus, the major motif of all this is preparation.  We do not know when Christ will come again, only that He will come again.  We had best be prepared when He gets here.  (Of course, we might die before He arrives again, and thus we had best be prepared for our death.)

We live in expectation.  We live in hope:  Hope for Christ’s return.  Christ has saved us, and He will return shortly to gather us up to be with Him forever.

So let us live in hope.  Let us prepare to meet our God.  Let us never give in to despair or think that we are alone – we should let our hope increase our faith and loving-kindness.  We are never to give up but with hard work prepare ourselves, with God’s help, to meet Christ when He returns.

 

“Wherefore if they shall say unto you, Behold, he is in the desert; go not forth: behold, he is in the secret chambers; believe it not. For as the lightning cometh out of the east, and shineth even unto the west; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be.”

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

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“…Walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, with all lowliness and meekness, with long-suffering, forbearing one another in love; endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”

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

 

Fr. F. P. Harton, Dean of Wells in the Church of England and great scholar and believer wrote:  “Humility consists in seeing oneself truly, as one is in the sight of God, nothing more nor less, realizing that one’s whole being, with whatever is good in it, is God’s though defiled by one’s own sin; and in desiring that place and those things only which God wills for us, loving His will above all things and one’s own not at all.”

Humility is not a popular virtue, but a necessary one for the Christian soul.  Why?  Because God loves humility.

–        In the Magnificat, the wonderful song of St. Mary:  “For he hath regarded the low estate of his handmaiden: for, behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.”

–        In St. Luke xviii.13-14:  “And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner.  I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.”

–        Also, the same in today’s Gospel:  “For whosoever exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.”

–        St. Augustine, that great Doctor of the Church, prayed:  “Diffidam mihi, fidam in Te.”  Let me distrust myself and put my trust in Thee.

Our prayers are not magic.  They are not incantations that effect a change in the world.  Instead, our prayers are conversation with the great Creator and Redeemer of the world.  The only way our prayers are efficacious and effect change in the world is when we come to God as we are, without pretense, without deceit, and without pride.  If we come to God to seek his face, but spend our time preening in front of a spiritual mirror, looking only at ourselves, then our time is wasted.  We must see who and what we are and then let go of ourselves to reach out and cling to safety to the great sovereign Lord of the universe.

Philippians ii.3:  “In lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself.”  If I think that I am better than another person, then I fundamentally misconstrue that person’s relationship with God, God’s relationship with me, and my relationship with that person.  If I think that I am better than another person, then I am wrongly and sinfully giving myself higher honor than another.  And what does Christ say of this in today’s Gospel?  “Give this man place; and thou begin with shame to take the lowest place.”

When we sin, when we see that sin in ourselves, let us humbly turn to the Lord our God, and seeing his great love for us, confess our sin and turn from it entirely.

Fr. Bede Frost said:  “Humility … consists in a true knowledge and acknowledgement of what one is….”  Humility lies in accepting that we are so very weak and God is so very strong, that we are so very wicked and God is so very good, that we are so very thoughtless and God is so very mindful of us, that we are so very weak and unable to help ourselves and God is so very powerful and ready to help us.  We act in humility when we behold ourselves as we truly are in right relation with each other.

Any way we act towards our neighbors which is not grounded in love is foolish, for it is not building us treasure in heaven.  Our default position regarding others is to use them to get us what we want, whether we want recognition and respect, whether we want advancement and profit, whether we want good feelings, or whether we want darker things.  Christ did not come to us for His Own sake, for Christ needed nothing, for Christ is God.  No, Christ came to us to save us from the mess we have made.  Christ did not come to profit from us, but to give us blessings upon blessings, to save our lives for all eternity, to show us loving-kindness and heavenly grace.  If we walk in the way of the Cross, then we too will suffer and die, but we will live in love and live for all eternity.

Our primary responsibility to God is to love him; likewise, our primary responsibility to our fellow man is to love him.  And if we love like Christ, then we love our fellow man even, or especially, when he is not lovable, when he hates us, when he mocks us, when he insults us, when he lies to others about us, when he sins against us – all these things in no wise bar us from loving him, but indeed show that he needs our love more than ever.  In all humility, we see that we, too, are sinners and have done others wrong, have done God wrong.  We have no superior standing to answer insult with insult, hate with hate, sin with sin.  Seeing ourselves as we really are, sinners who have hurt our neighbors and hurt our good God, we humbly love one another as Christ has loved us.

Once we have taken our blinders off and taken a long hard look at ourselves, and knowing what we know about ourselves, we are to always treat ourselves harsher than we treat others.  All the great saints have done the same.  The holiest teachers of Christian morality throughout the ages – St. Francis of Assisi, St. Dominic, St. Alphonsus – have applied exceptional rigor to their own spiritual lives while acknowledging the weak humanity in the lives of others.  We should all pull a breath, give our neighbor a break, and come down on ourselves doubly hard.  Examine your conscience so carefully and regularly so never to let those who hate you truly condemn you of something you have not condemned in yourself already.

I understand that a couple of weeks ago that Fr. Rosenkranz said that anxiety and prayerful living were contradictory.  Let me add to that:  Anxiety and humble living are contradictory.  St. Luke xii.27-28:  “Consider the lilies how they grow: they toil not, they spin not; and yet I say unto you, that Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.  If then God so clothe the grass, which is to day in the field, and to morrow is cast into the oven; how much more will he clothe you, O ye of little faith?”  The Lord will provide for us; do not worry, he loves us and sends us good things.

Yet our anxiety comes from a perception of ourselves in the world which is wrong and leads us to desiring things we ought not to desire, to expecting things which never come, and to feeling dissatisfied with the lot the Lord has given us.  Our anxiety betrays our mistrust of the providence of God the Father.  This is not accurate; this is a false view of God and his creation; this is no good.

There are two ways to gain humility:  Following Christ and accepting humiliations.

To follow Christ means, after having taken a good look at oneself and learning of our profound and utter poverty of soul, and then moving on from there, that we behold Christ as He is in the Scriptures and in the Sacraments, in His infinite Being, and in His unimaginable goodness and reaching a profound feeling of Him or a deepened faith in Him.

To accept humiliations means to practice humility in the best and foremost way of practicing it:  Not only to experience, not only to acknowledge, but to embrace and to accept the humiliations which come your way during the course of your life.

To accept a rebuke is one of the most powerful spiritual acts you can commit.  To truly thank another for his criticism of you frees your soul.  Taking responsibility for one’s own actions is something I hope that we learn in the process of growing up, but many an adult try to slip out of bad consequences.  It is no lie that priests ought not to grant absolution to a criminal who is unwilling to answer for his crimes.  If we resist the humiliation or make light of the slight, then we are not accepting the humiliation.

Accept your humiliations and learn from them.  Learn that you are fallible.  Trust not in your own righteousness.  Accept that you have only one savior, and you are not him.  You cannot truly trust in Christ, to lean on Him for salvation, if you really think in the back of your mind that you can pull this off by yourself.  You can’t.  He can.

When we seek to avoid humiliations and deep time with Christ and wish to find our own way to humility and loving-kindness, we err again.  We will not find our own special way to quick and easy humility.  One of the great benefits that older converts to Christianity bring us is an ignorance of the childish faith we passed through to become adults.  They convert to Christianity, wait for virtues to spring up everywhere, and realize that saying “I believe” does not finish their Christian walk.

I will be dead honest with you:  The Christian walk is very difficult.  Many do not make it.  They fall out along the way.  The devil tempts them away.  The world tempts them away.  Their own vices and flesh tempt them away.  Christ’s walk led Him to death on Golgotha, and you can expect the same.  Oh, you might die in your sleep, but that doesn’t make walking the walk instead of talking the talk any less difficult.

Pride is a deadly sin, and its antidote is humility.  Our society thinks very little of humility, and humility is often portrayed as self-abasing untruths.  A lady will put on a grand party, the food, the music, the company will be all excellent, everyone will be impressed, and when complimented she will say, “Oh, I know it’s nothing, but it’s the little bit I could do.”  That’s a lie.  It was a grand party, and everyone had a grand time.  Pictures from it made the newspaper.  It may not advance your salvation a whit, it may mean nothing in the grand scheme of things, but feigning incapacity when excellence has been witnessed is false and self-flattering.

The antidote to the sin of pride is neither more lies nor more sin, but rather more truth – truth told from God’s perspective.

 

“…Walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, with all lowliness and meekness, with long-suffering, forbearing one another in love; endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”

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

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“How then doth David in spirit call him Lord, saying, The LORD said unto my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand, till I make thine enemies thy footstool? If David then call him Lord, how is he his son?”

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

 

1.         In the Eighth chapter of the Acts of the Apostles, St. Philip meets the Ethiopian Eunuch.  He “heard him read the prophet Esaias, and said, Understandest thou what thou readest?  And he said, How can I, except some man should guide me? And he desired Philip that he would come up and sit with him.”

Reading the Old Testament can be difficult.  Like the Ethiopian eunuch, we need an interpreter.  Merely reading the words of the Hebrew Scriptures is not good enough; we need someone to show us how God is Trinity in the Old Testament as well as the New, to show us how Jesus is prophetically proclaimed in the Old Testament, to show us the unity of the Old Testament with the New.  We must keep in mind that when people in the Gospels and Epistles speak of the Scriptures, they are referring to what we call the Old Testament.

2.         The first Christian heretic was Marcion, a wicked bishop of the second century.  He taught that the God of the Old Testament was not the God of the New Testament.  The God of the New Testament is a god of love and peace and spirit while the God of the Old Testament is a god of vengeance and wrath and physical things.  This directly contradicts what we call the Last Gospel, the Prologue of the Gospel according to St. John:  “In the beginning was the word.”  The Word was there from the beginning, and the Word became flesh in Jesus.  The Old and New Testaments together tell one complete story.

3.         I don’t know about you, but when I was growing up, I loved stories.  I still do.  History was my big thing, the story not only of my family and my country, but of the people of Israel and the creation of the world.  The Indian mounds and other vestiges of our Native Americans were a vivid reminder that things were not now as they had been.  As I grew up, I learned of many other things, like the Viking raids of Europe.  Stories transported me to places very different such as the Arabia of Sinbad and the Japan of the Shoguns.  The world became immense.  And for the most part, I kept my faith in a God who was the Lord of Time and the Lord of all the world; and this same God was the one we worshipped on Sunday at our Methodist Church, often using many of the same words found in our beautiful Prayer Book.

Believing in the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost and thinking about history, the past, also put something else that is immense into my mind:  All the time that is to be.  Seeing as we will live with God for eternity – which is far greater than a very long time – our journeys are only now beginning.  We will live in the New Jerusalem with all the rest of the faithful – some of whom we have loved and have loved us, some of whom we have yet to meet, and others of whom we will be surprised to see – we will live with them and with our Risen and Ascended Lord Jesus for ages to come, without pain or worry, without fear or anxiety, without grief or sorrow.

But to get there, we have to travel through the past and through the time we have left to us here.  And when we travel, we travel with the eternal Word of God, the Son of the Father, our Lord Jesus Christ.

4.         In our Gospel reading today, we see that the Two Great Commandments show how Christ fulfills the Law, and the Psalm reference shows how Christ fulfills the prophets.  The Old Testament prefigures, foreshadows, and points to the New, and the New Testament fulfills, recapitulates, and redeems the Old.

Our Lord, the apostles, and the evangelists use the Old Testament in a different way than the ancient Jews.  Our New Testament Scriptural authorities do not take the literal meaning of the Hebrew Bible; they make an inspired new take on those Scriptures.  Fundamentalists, strict Calvinists, modern skeptical scholars, and others who claim a bare reading of the Hebrew Scriptures are doing something other than what Jesus, St. Paul, and St. John do; they are doing their own thing.  This is an important reason why I am an Anglican Catholic:  We don’t do that here.  Blessed Richard Hooker chastises the Puritans about this very issue of Biblical interpretation in his Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity more than five centuries ago.

As Christians, we should be able to guess what is the main difference between the Old and New Testaments:  Jesus Christ.  All the people who lived before Jesus did not have access to His spiritual Gospel.  When we read of commands to slaughter everyone and to abstain from certain foods in order to be holy, we need to remember that the physical was all they had.  They looked for a righteous warrior king for their Messiah; we have the Prince of Peace as our Christ.  They did not have the options that we have; they had different, harsher rules.

As we read the Old Testament from beginning to end, we see how God progressively and incrementally teaches his people and prepares the way for the fullness of His Advent in the Person of Jesus.  The Law had 613 commandments.  In Psalm 15, David consolidates it to eleven.  Isaiah reduces it to six, Micah to three, Amos to two, and Habakkuk to one.  Then Jesus in our Gospel today tells us the two great commandments, upon which “hang all the law and the prophets.”  The whole Old Testament moves toward and leads to the New Testament.

When we look back at the Old Testament as Christians looking through the eyes of faith, those Scriptures open up to us like they never did for the Jews of old.  The first three verses of Genesis now show the Blessed Trinity:  “1 In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. 2 And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. 3 And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.”  The prologue of St. John’s Gospel, says:  “1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 The same was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.”

When we look back with the Gospel in our hearts, we see signs and foreshadowings that God’s chosen people did not fully understand until later.  For instance, the teenaged St. Mary was pregnant with Jesus, who called Himself in St. John’s Gospel the Bread of Life.  The Holy Mother carried the Bread of Life inside of her.  The Ark of the Covenant carried manna sent from heaven to feed the people of Israel in the desert.  Like the Ark, the Blessed Virgin Mary is holy.  But like the Ark, she is not holy because of who or what she is, but by what is contained inside of her.  The Ark is a type of the Blessed Virgin.  The Blessed Virgin is a fulfillment of the Ark of the Covenant.  You could go so far to call her the Ark of the New Covenant.

There are many hard sayings in the Old Testament which we would want to reject unless we looked at them with the understanding that Jesus has come.  To take an example, some modernistic scholars think that you only look at the text in front of you, taking care not to consider the whole of Scripture.  This poses insoluble problems for reading those hard sayings.  Consider the last two verses of Psalm 137:  “O daughter of Babylon, wasted with misery; yea, happy shall he be that rewardeth thee as thou hast served us.  Blessed shall he be that taketh thy children, and throweth them against the stones.”  We look at that and think it is insane.  But each snippet and verse of Scripture is to be understood in relation to the whole of Scripture and to Jesus.  After all, the whole notion of verse and chapter are creations of scholars well after the writing of the Scriptures.  Holy Scripture is to be taken as a whole.  Therefore, one must consider the bashing of babies’ heads as something other than what we immediately think it must be.

I know of at least three faithful responses to reading Psalm 137.  First, we can think that God spoke to people where they were at and not where they were to go, such that revenge and slaying of whole populations was a foreshadowing of purity, but at a level they understood.  Second, we can read these verses in an allegorical manner.  St. Benedict thought that this bit of bashing babies had to do with stopping the little temptations:  “While these temptations are still young, catch hold of them and dash them against Christ.”  Christ, as you may remember, is also called the rock.  Third, we can throw ourselves on our knees before God and say, “Lord, I do not know how you could say this; please help me to understand.”  This is a hard saying, and I for one cannot explain and expound upon each and every hard saying in the Bible.  The Lord’s inspiration is not necessarily identical to what the Psalmist intended to write.  Also consider that the people under the old Law and those who were not Jews did not yet have Jesus to reconcile them to God.  In such a world, killing your enemies had a more immediate consequence than killing your sins, or demons, or your own sinful nature.

You may well ask at this point what proof I have of any of this.  I am up here speaking of interpreting God’s written words for us to “read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest.”  This is important stuff here.  Well, I do not speak on my own authority, but on the authority of the Church and her Scriptures.  Let’s look at today’s Gospel.

“Jesus asked them, saying, What think ye of Christ? whose son is he? They say unto him, The son of David. He saith unto them, How then doth David in spirit call him Lord, saying, The LORD said unto my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand, till I make thine enemies thy footstool? If David then call him Lord, how is he his son?”

The Psalm says, “The LORD said unto my Lord.”  In the Hebrew, these ‘Lords’ were two different words, the lord Jehovah and the lord the king.  Our Authorized Version shows the first ‘lord’ in capital letters and the second ‘lord’ without.  But in the Greek, both are kyrios, or lord.  Jesus takes the new translation and uses it to show that the Messiah is God also.  Jesus Christ Himself takes a new and unfamiliar and unexpected interpretation of the Old Testament to teach the highest Jewish Scriptural authorities about His Advent into the world.  But they, steeped in their old tradition, could not understand or debate Him.  This new interpretation of Jesus is picked up by Ss. Paul and John in Ephesians, Hebrews, and Revelation.

Sometimes interpreting the Old Testament through the New means interpreting the Hebrew through the Greek.  This happens when St. Mary conceives Jesus without knowing a man.  The verse in Isaiah means “young woman” in Hebrew, but it means maiden or virgin in the Greek Old Testament, the Septuagint.  Both St. Matthew’s and St. Luke’s Gospels clearly show that the Holy Mother was a virgin when she conceived.  Isaiah’s words in Hebrew would not prove this, but the Septuagint Greek translation of Isaiah does.  The faith has changed over those years from the Garden to the Maccabees in order to prepare the world for the Advent of God’s coming into the world and taking our own flesh as one of us in order to redeem us.  The Garden did not work; the Flood did not work; the Law did not work; the Judges did not work; Saul’s kingship did not work; David’s dynasty did not work in the way expected.  The prophets increasingly show the way from these historical facts of God’s love of first a part and then the whole of mankind.  All of humanity – without any exceptions – is swept up into the Advent of Jesus Christ, Son of God and Son of Man through the Virgin Mary.

 

5.         Brothers and sisters, I encourage you to do four things:

First, stand firm with the ancient teaching of Holy Mother Church against those who teach wrongly, including pop culture caricatures, fundamentalist preachers, and faithless scholars.

Second, read and study the Old Testament, either in Morning Prayer or on your own.

Third, attend Naomi Williams’ Sunday School class before this service at 9:30 in the fellowship hall next door.  She is teaching on I & II Samuel.

Last, set your hearts free and enter fully in this offering of Jesus Christ, Who is “the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever”.

 

“How then doth David in spirit call him Lord, saying, The LORD said unto my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand, till I make thine enemies thy footstool? If David then call him Lord, how is he his son?”

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

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http://orthocath.wordpress.com/2012/08/02/the-true-beauty-of-romans-9/

“Disproving Calvinism from Scripture” might be a stretch.  This blog post from Orthocath does nothing to show the perversity of the Calvinist heresy or its place as a peculiarly half-baked Anglican strain of thought, but does make a beautiful and elegant argument from Romans 9.

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