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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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“For our citizenship is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ: who shall change the body of our humiliation that it may be conformed unto the body of his glory”

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

 

In today’s Epistle, St. Paul begins:  “BRETHREN, be followers together of me, and mark them which walk so as ye have us for an ensample.”

The Philippians are to imitate St. Paul as he imitates Christ.  Christ sent the Holy Ghost into the world and into our hearts, gave us the Blessed Sacrament to commune directly with Him, and gave us the Church and the priesthood to provide us with the Blessed Sacrament.  God’s grace is constantly mediated to us.  Indeed, we are ministers one to another and together to the world.  There is someone in your life right now for whom Christ has appointed you to be a minister to.  That person will get to know the love of God in Christ through your ministry to him or her.  You may well not even know who that person is, because you are to be living in the image of Christ at all times and before all men.

We need godly models to emulate.  When we are children, we unconsciously model ourselves after our parents, as well as siblings and friends.  We do not pick our accent as children; it just comes to us.  Models for those in formation provide a picture of what a mature and seasoned individual can be.  Of course, we will not grow up to be our mentor’s image, but we will grow up to be our mentor’s colleague.  Teaching your child your trade is a perfect example of this.

So it is with matters of faith.  The best way to learn how to pray is to pray along with someone who already knows.  This is one reason why Holy Mother Church puts such emphasis on public worship.  If you are interested in learning how to say Evening Prayer on your own, then simply come to our Tuesday night worship and learn by doing.  Once you have the basic tools of prayer – the Lord’s Prayer, the creeds, the Glory be to the Father – then you will find it easy to join in communal prayer here in church or pray to our good God in the privacy of your room.  We learn by modeling, and St. Paul is a most excellent example to follow.

He continues:  “(For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ: whose end is destruction, whose god is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things.)  For our citizenship is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ:”

This reminds me of Colossians iii.2:  “Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth.”

It is shameful for Christians to live lives of self-indulgence.  While God created the world and he created it good, and while we may enjoy God’s good earth and the things thereof, all our enjoyment must be so ordered that it glorifies God.  Fast cars, fancy wine, tasty food, and nice clothes are to be driven, sipped, eaten, and worn for the Lord.

If we live our lives to maximize our own personal happiness, then that happiness had best be in the Lord.  If we live for our own selves and our own amusement, that is where we put our treasure.  If our god is our belly, then our end will be destruction, for the belly will pass away at the end of our lives, but our standing in the eyes of God is forever.

Each of us must therefore make a choice.  We cling to this world and the pleasures thereof, or we accept whole-heartedly our citizenship in heaven.  Right now, each of us who is Baptized and believes has one foot in heaven and one foot on earth.  But one day, unless the Lord comes again first, we shall die and leave our body behind to decay without us.  If we put our trust in pleasures and comfort and our belly, then we have rejected our greater glorious citizenship.  But, if we claim the Heaven which claims us for its own, then we are inheritors of eternal life in Christ.  We will live for all eternity, for all ages, with God who is the maker of both body and soul and the ultimate end for whom we are created.

To be a citizen of Heaven involves declaring openly that you belong to Heaven and Heaven is where your loyalties lay.  Many Americans are proud to be citizens and to call this fair land home.  In my experience, naturalized citizens love this country more than native-born ones, for they do not take it for granted.  They left their native lands for good reasons.  Likewise, we are not native-born citizens of Heaven but naturalized citizens by virtue of the Blood of Christ which has washed us clean of our stains and sins.  We are entering into a new country, the Heavenly realm, the home of Almighty God, his holy angels, and the Church Triumphant.

To accept this claim of eternal life with God, we must put aside all that which would keep us here in our native land of sin and death.  Heaven accepts no sin or death within its precincts.  We must leave them behind.  Who wants to bring diabetes and cancer and arthritic joints into eternity?  Who wants to bring idolatry and adultery and thievery into the presence of God?  God the Son came down here to end the power of that stuff over us so we could rise with Him into holiness.

Unfortunately, we are a hard-hearted and contrary people.  All of us are.  The sweetest and gentlest of us can be hard-hearted spiritually.  Look past the surface and into the heart.  We must go to war inside of ourselves on the side of Christ and the holy angels.  We are given grace and divine aid in the fight to shake off the putrid stench of sin and death.  Shall we go to Heaven?  Or shall we rot in Hell?  Hell will let us take our favorite sins with us, but Heaven is a lot more comfortable in the long run!

St. Paul concludes:  “who shall change the body of our humiliation that it may be conformed unto the body of his glory, according to the working whereby he is able even to subject all things unto himself.”

God did not create us to be disembodied souls floating about.  He created us with physical bodies on his physical earth and called it all very good.  Christ was made Incarnate as one of us, with a body of bone, meat, and blood like everyone else.  He Ascended into Heaven in His glorified Body to break the seal of the Heavenly realm so that we could all go with Him and live with Him forevermore.  Thus, since God’s creation was created good and since God became a man, so our bodies are part of God’s plan.  Our bodies are profoundly ours in that they are part of who we are.  Our souls are one with our bodies, and we will have our glorified bodies with us forever.  But these sickly bodies of this world will die the death of this world.

God has a plan for our bodies.  They are not to be abused but are to be used on behalf of God’s will.  What we do with them now will have a direct effect on where we spend eternity.

In God we will be more satisfied and more useful than ever before.  Forget this business of sitting on a cloud with a harp.  With our Lord, we will be the full stature of who he created us to be; we will be fully ourselves, beyond our unsteady selves now.  We will be without sin, washed clean in the Blood of the Lamb, living in the presence of God.  We will have changed from the body of our humiliation to conform to the body of his glory.

Our bodies’ transformations will occur in the future.  It will be accomplished through the power of God in Christ.  And we will receive a new body.  We have not earned a new body.  We do not yet have a new body.  That is for later.  Our fight so far is not yet over.  We cannot sit back and call it a day.  The battle we fight between good and evil, Heaven and Hell, rages on.  We look around at our brothers and sisters and know that they, too, are in the fight.  We are in the fight together.  We are not just brothers and sisters; we are comrades.  We dare not let any of our brethren fail and quit.  We are striving to live out our lives in the shadow of the Cross of Christ.  It is not over until Christ comes again in glory to judge both the quick and the dead or until our time here on earth is done.  Either way, we are not calling the shots; we have not yet earned our heavenly crown; we do not yet have our glorified bodies.

The way to that heavenly crown, the way to that glorified body, is the way Christ showed us:  The way of the Cross.  We are to die to this world and rise gloriously for eternity.

Christ’s Holy Body suffered horribly, and the wounds upon it were blasphemies.  Our frail imperfect bodies suffer too, but Christ’s Body was more horribly disfigured precisely because of its perfection.  Our imperfect bodies are marred with imperfection, and that is awful; but worse is that His perfect Body was marred with the burden of sin and disfigured by imperfection.  Truly He bore our griefs and carried our sorrows.

Are you ready to receive your martyrdom?  Are you willing to follow Christ to the Cross?  Or do you wish to run away from the challenges of life, to escape from the pain of our existence, to live a life of ease and luxury?  Comfort in this world does not make for holy men and holy women.

I could run down a list of heroes of our culture who did not sit still but went out and worked hard to accomplish something great, to learn something new, to build up and not tear down.  But what is the point?  We know that we are to act, to learn, to build.  From Christ’s teachings, we know that we are to love, to sacrifice, to worship.  Contrary to what some say, you cannot truly worship God from your kitchen table Sunday morning when you can make it to the offering of the Body and Blood of Christ.  You cannot truly love your neighbor as yourself if you refuse to go out and meet your neighbor.  You cannot sacrifice for something wonderful if you are unwilling to let go of your tight grip on the pitiful excuse of the life you live.

We are called to follow the way of Christ, the way of the Cross.  That means that we must endure the taunts and jests of those who mock us and despise us.  This is hard.  In the words of the Forty-Fourth Psalm:

“Thou makest us to be rebuked of our neighbours, * to be laughed to scorn, and had in derision of them that are round about us.

Thou makest us to be a by-word among the nations, * and that the peoples shake their heads at us.”

If you pick up your cross and follow Christ, others will not understand.  Friends will laugh at you for taking this whole superstitious nonsense seriously.  Family will not understand why you are taking the hard road.  Your reputation may suffer and your feelings will hurt if you follow Christ.

To follow the way of the Cross means that we are to fall down and then get right back up again.  This is hard.  It is easier to stay down.  I think of that boxing match in Cool Hand Luke.  Squared off against a large and powerful man, Luke keeps getting knocked down.  His friends tell him, “Stay down, Luke.”  Yet he keeps getting up.  Luke’s opponent’s victory turns into defeat as he ever more easily knocks down the staggering Luke.  The crowd shows silent disgust.  His opponent says to him, “Stay down.  You’re beat.”  But the sheer unwillingness to accept defeat as everyone averts their eyes from the horror of the beating wins Luke a victory far beyond beating his opponent.  He assumes heroic stature in the eyes of his fellow men.  Getting back up after getting knocked down is essential for the victorious Christian.

To follow the way of the Cross means to willingly lay down your life when the time comes.  This too is hard.  Charles Stuart, King and Martyr, exemplifies this for us.  Charles might have been a good man, but he acted the tyrant.  When the Parliamentarians won the English Civil War, they offered him his life in exchange for the apostolic episcopacy of the Church of England, our ancestor.  At first, in weakness, he agreed.  But then, God spoke to him through his conscience.  Saint Charles reneged on the deal, honored the Church of Christ, was taken to the executioner’s block, and accepted his fate, winning the crown incorruptible and saving the integrity of the Church of England.

By contrast, that integrity was cheaply thrown away by his Hanoverian successor, Elizabeth II, when she accepted women priests in that formerly Catholic body, breaking our communion with them.  What Elizabeth gave up without a fight, Saint Charles repented from giving up, knowing it would mean his death.  That is what we need as Christians:  No retreat, no surrender to the evils of this world by standing tall and fighting hard for what is right.

We only become humble when we learn to accept the chastening of humiliation.

We only love when we reach outside of ourselves into that wild and chaotic world of other people and risk ourselves amongst them.

We only believe the truth when we are willing to be corrected by the Holy Ghost in Scripture and Church.

To become worthy of the glorified body that awaits those who love the Lord, we must slough off the old skin of pride, hatred, and flattery and build up our souls in humility, love, and truth.

 

“For our citizenship is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ: who shall change the body of our humiliation that it may be conformed unto the body of his glory”

+ 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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