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Posts Tagged ‘Adam and Eve’

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.

 

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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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“For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

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

“Living in the Gift of God”

A good way to understand how the world works without Christ is to pick up one of those magazines near your grocery store check-out line.  Good looks are exalted.  Wealth is celebrated.  Look also at your television, and you see popularity held in high esteem.  Look out the window in your neighborhood, and you find people with well-manicured lawns respected more than those with messes in their front yards.

Do not get me wrong.  An attractive physical countenance can signal health and conscientiousness.  Wealth may be an indicator for wisdom and perseverance.  Popularity may simply be the logical outcome of someone who considers their neighbor and cares for the well-being of the community.  Well-manicured lawns might belong to those who are diligent and care for the feelings of their neighbors.  All these things may be true.  And certainly health, conscientiousness, wisdom, perseverance, neighborliness, and diligence are all good things.

Yet Holy Scripture keeps pointing to what is going on underneath the surface.  In Proverbs xiv.12 we read:  “There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death.”

Rules and standards are tricky things.  We rightly teach our children to make their beds in the morning and brush their teeth before turning in for the night.  But following rules and standards is not ultimately helpful.  Reading God’s word to us in the Holy Bible as taught by Holy Church, we see that the law kills but the spirit gives life.

All the things of this world are mutable, or changeable.  They have their time, and then they pass away.  We rarely have belongings of those who lived only a few generations before us.  I mentioned my family’s cavalry saber from the Battle of Atlanta and others were surprised we still had ours.  There used to be regiments full of them shiny in parade; now the few remaining are battered and scattered.  That is only a hundred and fifty years ago.

Even huge monuments fall to dust.  The great Temple in Jerusalem is reduced to a single wall.  The Colossus at Rhodes has fallen long ago.  The Great Library in Alexandria burned fourteen centuries ago and its remains have been raided into oblivion long before today.  The things of this world suffer corruption and death.

But God would have us look beyond the things of this world, beyond the things of corruption and death.  He says to Moses more than three thousand years ago in Deuteronomy xxx.19:

I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live:

God wants us to live.  He hates that we fell away from him in the garden he made for us.  He hates that Adam and Eve ran and hid from him and that we run and hide from him even today.  He loves us and wants us with him.  He wants to give us things which last forever, like life and love and communion with each other.

But we go off and chase after the things of this world.  Each and every one of us is predisposed to do so, and we sure enough go ahead and follow our predispositions.  We are like silly birds which love things which are shiny and flashy.  We would rather eat dessert all day than sit down to a proper meal which would nourish us.

And what do we have after all those temporary joys and delights?  What do we have after we have indulged our sweet tooth, slept in instead of worked hard, socialized with our friends instead of spent hard quiet work on ourselves?  We have nothing.  It is all gone.  Both the simple and fancy joys which we follow build up nothing permanent in our lives.

But God shows us a better way.  Two chapters after today’s Epistle, St. Paul succinctly states (viii.6):  “For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace.”

St. Peter sums up what is missing in his first Epistle (1 St. Peter i.3-4):

3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to his abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 To an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you,

On our own, we can do nothing that builds up treasure in heaven, only treasure on earth which rots and can be stolen.  But with Christ, the Son of God made man for our salvation, we can have a most marvelous inheritance – “incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you”.  What we cannot do on our own, Christ can do for us.

Last week, little Avery Elizabeth was Baptized back there at our Baptismal font.  She entered into eternal life there, though her mortal body may die a hundred years from now.  She now tastes Heaven.  She has been buried and Resurrected in Christ’s Crucifixion and Resurrection through the mystical waters of Holy Baptism.

Each one of us who has believed in our Lord Christ and been Baptized into His death and Resurrection have a part of that marvelous inheritance that will glory in God’s presence for all times, even past the end of this world.  We who are justified in Christ participate in His life, his love, and His communion both with God the Father and each of us.

St. Paul writes this famous phrase exactly about this salvation and what we do next in his Epistle to the Romans:  “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

This separation from God and reliance upon the world and ourselves is sin.  In Spanish, the word sin means without.  That’s a fine way of remembering what sin is.  We think of sin as a thing, a substance.  It is not.  It is a lack, a brokenness.

But funny enough, when we serve sin, sin pays us for our service.  The more we serve sin, the more sin pays us.  And sin always pays on time.  But as St. Paul writes, sin pays its wages in death.

Fr. Melville Scott said:

Sin has wages; sin has its end; and both the wages and the end is death. The wages are the immediate, the end is the final consequences of sin. The immediate consequences of sin are death, for each sin diminishes our capacity for life intellectual, moral, and spiritual. Sin darkens the intellect, blunts the conscience, and deadens all the faculties of the soul. These consequences are wages, for every sin has its just recompense and reward paid down surely and punctually when we sin. As wages are paid for each day’s labour, so also for each day’s sin. We have not to wait till the final reckoning, for we receive our reward by instalments, though the final reckoning and end of sin is death.

Contrast this to what St. Paul says about what happens when you serve God:  “but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”  When you serve God, you earn no wages.  In fact, you cannot earn anything.  Instead, God gives you a most wonderful gift:  eternal life.  And God the Father does not simply give you the gift of eternal life, he gives the gift of eternal life “through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

In Holy Baptism, we are raised with Christ from the dead.  Therefore, it is not only that we must choose between life and death, but rather that our new life in Christ means that we have already passed through death in Christ’s Resurrection into life everlasting.

We who have new life in Christ have already participated in death.  Man without Christ will die the death and continue in his separation from God for all eternity.  But those with Christ will die the death now in this life through Christ’s death and live forevermore with God in Christ’s Resurrection!  The old man must die, the sinful self must die, the wages of sin indeed is death, which shows that in the midst of life we die to the old and put on the new.

St. Paul exhorts us:  “for as ye have yielded your members servants to uncleanness and to iniquity unto iniquity; even so now yield your members servants to righteousness unto holiness.”  Now that we live in Christ, we ought to serve Him just as well as we served sin before we were joined into Christ’s death and Resurrection.

After God claims us for his own in Holy Baptism, after we are separated from the wicked world, after we are made holy in Christ, so we must live in the result of that powerful divine action, which is living holy lives.  Our old selves are dead, we are alive in Christ, and now our lives must change.

St. Paul continues:  “But now being made free from sin, and become servants to God, ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life.”

As we are devoted to and focused upon God, the things of sin and confusion float away.  We still live in the same world, but we are altered.  Our course through this world is altered.  Having followed Christ and been Baptized into His death and Resurrection, we no longer have the same friends, go to the same places, speak the same words, and sin as comfortably as we once did.

Now we find a different way.  We follow a way now of life in many different ways.  We affirm were once we killed.  We pass by what once enticed us.  We pay attention where we once fled.  We are different, *therefore* we behave differently, act differently, live our life differently.  People notice that something about us has changed.  We bring into the lives of those around us something of which we have been given:  Life, righteousness, and holiness.

Living in right relation to the Lord God creator and ruler of the universe and to our Lord and Savior, our course through our mortal life, how we live our daily life is altered even as we begin to taste immortal life.

We give thanks to God and respond joyfully to serving him, following him with greater ardor and devotion day by day.  Today we build upon yesterday.  Remember the good things of God yesterday?  We build upon them with greater fervor today.  We reach with hope the greater things we have yet to fully experience.

We are not magically rid of all sin in our lives like we have nothing to do with it.  Instead, because of our freedom from death, our foretaste of the good things of God, and the liberation from shameful lusts and such, we are to strive more earnestly to do good in our lives.  We are a gifted people, and thus we are a thankful people.  We live lives of freedom from sin and death, but we must strive earnestly for our good Lord.  By calling him lord, we thus place ourselves into his service and work together towards his goal.

Where we once easily and lazily accomplished much for sin and selfishness, so now we must pledge ourselves over to doing good works and loving one another in participation with His redeeming loving-kindness.

If you have a gift of hospitality, then invite people warmly and entertain them well, giving them a break from the cares of the world and entering a small communion of happiness and joy showing forth the larger communion.  This is an important gift.

If you have a gift of organizing, then help people accomplish together in the Lord’s Name what they could not do separately.  If you have a gift of work with your hands, then work for the physical welfare of the church and the world.  If you have a gift of intercessory prayer, then pray to our good God for the spiritual welfare of God’s people and those still lost.

Let us each work together as mutual servants of our good Lord and build upon the goodness of yesterday with the good hope of tomorrow.

Let us take His gift of eternal life and strive to serve our Lord Jesus Christ in all we do.

“For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

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

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“Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.”

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

 

In today’s Epistle lesson, St. James does not threaten us with damnation if we do not act a certain way.  He does not chastise us for the ugly results of our misbehavior.  Instead, St. James explains how we relate both to creation and to God, knowing that this knowledge will force us to change our behavior.  So what is this knowledge?

God the Father “begat us with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.”  What are firstfruits?  My wife, Angela, picked up a small tomato plant recently that would fit in our tiny patio area at our condominium.  Remember, we moved recently from a proper house with a proper yard.  We are not used to working with a small space.

But Angela did a fine job and brought home this plant, which we hung up back there and watered.  God’s creation, the sun, has done most of the work.  With some water, the vine itself began growing.  After a little while, our first little tomato matured.  We brought it in and ate the little thing together, enjoying the firstfruits of this new vine at our new home.  I enjoyed it as a very nice moment.

But I did not create the tomato vine, nor did I create the sun and water.  This first tomato was the first taste of things to come which the good Lord has brought us from this plant.  In that first taste was the actuality of that gift and the promise of more gifts to come.

St. James says here that “we should be a kind of firstfruits of” God the Father’s “creatures.”  On each of the six days of creation recounted in the first book of Moses, Genesis, “God saw that” what he had wrought that day “was good.”  But, God changed his judgement of what he beheld later on that sixth day.

“[After] God made the beast of the earth after his kind … God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.  So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.”

After this creation of man, “God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good.”  God made man alone of all creation in his own image.  God gave dominion of all creatures to man alone.  God judged all of creation as very good only after he created man.

These three things distinguish mankind from the rest of God’s creation from the very beginning:  Man is created in God’s image, dominion of all creatures is given to man, and creation was very good only after man was created.  These three things form our understanding of our relation to creation from its very beginning.

But Adam and Eve sinned against God in the Garden of Eden, pushing us away from the holy and pure God out into a broken and enfeebled world of sinful men, patrolled by Satan.  Then, after the holy nation of Israel, set apart by God as a holy people, was led to greater and greater truth through the Law and the prophets, Christ our Lord came into the world.

St. John in his gospel calls Christ the Logos, the Verbum, the Word of God.  So here St. James writes that God the Father “begat us with the word of truth”, Who is Christ our Lord.  We are slaves no longer to hurting one another and our Heavenly Father.  Christ, the Son of God, has taken up our flesh and made it holy through His Incarnation, death, and Resurrection.  We are changed by Christ’s action of wondrous loving-kindness.  We are restored, we are justified through Christ back to the holy state in which God the Father originally created us.

And as we can see that God created us last but called all creation with us very good, God the Father says that we shall be the firstfruits of his creation.  We are the tithe of God’s creation, the very best it has to offer, the first and top-most offering of it to God the Father which represents the whole.  So we are the uppermost cut of God’s creation which is given back to God as a sacrificial offering of love.

For we who are in dominion of the whole world are not to exercise our dominion of the world for our own sakes but for God’s sake as found in Christ.  As God became man to redeem us and all creation, so we return with Christ back to God the Father as a love offering on behalf of all God’s creation.

As men joined together in Holy Church, which is the Body and Bride of Christ, we must also be holy.  We are made holy through God in Christ Jesus.  But we must also comport ourselves in the manner to which we are called.

When I go out on the town, I wear my clericals unless I am on an exclusively recreational or medical mission, for I am a priest of God.  If you as a father sit amongst your children, you act as the most responsible of them, not the least, for you are no child to your children.  We each must behave ourselves in accordance with the manner to which we are called.

Therefore, St. James continues on in this Epistle lesson to explain the way we must behave in keeping with the high calling we receive together as the pinnacle of creation and brothers of our Lord Christ.  He lays out three specific things we must do to live out the calling as the lords and ladies of creation and joint-heirs of Christ.

First, St. James says, “Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath: for the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God.”  We should first seek to understand rather than jumping immediately into feeling anger.  But you might say, ‘I cannot control when I feel angry!’  We indeed can control how we feel.  Try listening to everything before drawing a conclusion.

This teaching on anger is very important.  Christ Himself said in St. Matthew v.21-22:

“Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment:  But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.”

We place ourselves in mortal danger, that is, danger of losing our very lives and our very soul, when we jump into anger.  Let God be angry for us.  He always judges correctly.  He never makes mistakes.  And God is omnipotent, all powerful.  He can actually do something about it.  Be not angry, but rather trust in God.

Second, St. James continues:  “Wherefore lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness….”  I have been a little boy, a fraternity pledge, a paid scholar at the School of Infantry, and a choral scholar at seminary.  I know how to cuss.  I was raised well after the Sixties and the Baby Boom, so I know how to participate in all the superfluity of naughtiness literally like there is no tomorrow.

Dear people of God, we cannot allow filthiness and naughtiness into our hearts even in secret without disinheriting ourselves from the inheritance Christ has won for us on the Cross and the empty tomb.  We cannot join ourselves to selfish things whether culturally high or low as the gutter without turning our back on our good God.  If we love pleasure more than we love Christ, then we hate Christ with our minds, our hearts, our bodies, and our whole souls.

Third, St. James writes to us:  “…Receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls.”  Our salvation is not a thing of pride.  Our relationship with Christ is not a thing we have accomplished.  The eternal action of spiritual things has not been done by us.  We are the recipients of the goodness of God in our lives.  True, we can open or close ourselves to a certain degree, but even that is done by the grace of God.  Knowing that all goodness which flows to us comes from God, and especially the heavenly goodness of salvation and our attachment to the Body of Christ through the grafting of the Holy Ghost, then the best we can do is to meekly receive the good gift given to us.

And there we have it.  We must know one thing and do three things.  We must know that God created us from the beginning to be the apex of his glorious creation, even to the point of sending his beloved Son our Saviour Jesus Christ to redeem us from our sins and join us to His holy Person through the power of the Holy Ghost.  We must know that we are the rightful heirs, through no virtue or good decision of our own, that being the rightful heirs of God we are the lords of creation and must conduct ourselves like nobility.

And we must act like God’s chosen.  We are not to give in to anger so that we may work the righteousness of God.  We must act like the joint-heirs of Christ by avoiding “all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness” both in our lives and secretly in our hearts.  We must act the lords of this world by receiving with meekness the engrafted Word of God which saves our souls.

This week, go back to your homes and into our community and act like the noble bearers of God’s Word which you are.  Act like Christ gave you the most precious gift He could give:  Himself.

 

“Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.”

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

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“Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.”

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

 

Good tidings of great joy

 

Holy fear is a gift of the Holy Ghost.  It is the appropriate awe of God and the deep recognition of his otherness.  God is creator; he creates.  We are creatures; we are created.  We are utterly dependent upon him; God, thankfully, takes great pity upon us.

There is an impassable gap between Heaven and earth, between the realm where God splendidly lives in ineffable light and this mortal realm where those we love grow sick and die, where we constantly struggle against sin and each other, where even after a good day’s work we ache.  We and God are far, far away from each other.

Sadly, we are the ones who caused this gap, this distance between God and ourselves.  Our ancient ancestors, Adam and Eve, first sinned.  Ah, true, they were tempted.  But temptation doesn’t make a sin.  The sinful heart turns that opportunity of temptation into a sin.

That original disobedience from our Heavenly Father thrust us out into a world of our own making.  I don’t know about you, but I can spend a lot of time on a project, going over and over it again, and still find mistakes on the finished product.  I would rather live in a world of God’s making rather than one of my own.

Or at least I tell myself that.  In fact, I prove with my every act of rebellion against God that I want to live in my own world that is centered on me.  And I am not the only one.  If you listen to your own heart, you too will hear it beating for yourself and not for another.

For God, who is our creator and is so high above us, to become man, He had to abase Himself, to set aside His rightful place, to bear indignities for our sake.  Philippians ii.6-7:  “[W]ho, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: but made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men:”

Imagine if you had to become again a helpless newborn baby.  You would go mad from lack of control over your own body and from the indignities you would face.  Yet God the Son created the universe from nothing, created all life and our very race from dust, and He voluntarily came down to live amongst us in such a limited fashion.  But even as a baby, He was still fully God the Son.

For what is great in the eyes of man is not great in the eyes of God.  The shepherds are lowly in the eyes of this world, but in the eyes of God the Father, they are worthy for his angelic hosts to sing the announcement of God the Son’s human birth.

The word St. Luke uses for glad tidings has the same root as evangelize and evangelist.  Those “glad tidings” are truly the Good News, for God has come to redeem his people.  We are no longer alone in the cosmos.  We are no longer ultimately separated by sin and death from our loving creator.  Heaven bowed down and kissed earth that night in Judea.  The world will never be the same.

And indeed, the world never has been the same.  Around the world the Good News of Christ our Lord spreads.  In this last year, Christians in the Congo, in Egypt, and in Nigeria have lost their mortal lives amidst the business of saving their eternal lives.  The world today is as sinful and difficult as it was for those shepherds on the hill outside of Bethlehem the day before Christ was born, with one difference:  God is now with us.  Our savior has lived among us.  He comes to us in every celebration of the Lord’s Supper.

And just as Christ first came into this world quietly in a stable, so He will come again to right every wrong, to lock sin and death away for all eternity, so that we might live with Him in glory everlasting with God, with the holy angels, with the holy martyrs, and with all our spiritual brothers and sisters.

It is on this day of Christ’s birth that the world changes.  Christ comes and turns the world upside down.  What is expedient in the ways of the world is revealed to be wicked.  What is foolish in the ways of the world is revealed to be holy.  Loving-kindness replaces selfishness as the smart way to live your life.  Loving your neighbor as yourself kicks loving yourself first and foremost off its idolatrous pedestal.

But it is not only we poor creatures huddled together for warmth in the face of the cold night outside for whom Christ comes.  Christ comes and redeems the whole world, for in saving us, He also saves the world:  The world of all humanity, by craftily subverting the faithful into living lives honoring Him and not the world:  But also the wider world of all creation, for it is on Christmas Day, on the Feast of Christ’s Nativity that God the Son sanctifies the material world with His very own presence.  The supernatural and the natural, the spiritual and the physical, the immaterial and the material meet in Christ.

St. Francis of Assisi, one of my favorite saints, made the first Christmas crèche in Greccio on Christmas Eve 1223.  He made a scene with a live baby surrounded by live animals.  He did this so that we would not only understand with our heads that God is very near us, but so that we could feel in our hearts that God is very near us.

In the nativity scene I grew up with, the Holy Family gathered in the middle while animals were off to each side.  Above them, angels kept watch and sang the Lord’s praises.  All three levels of creation were visibly represented to me there:  The angels up above, creatures of pure spirit; the animals on either side, creatures of pure flesh; and the Holy Family in the middle, creatures of both flesh and spirit.  Christ came to become one of us, and in doing so, He redeemed every part of God’s creation.

The angelic host of Heaven sings with joy and celebrates the Advent of Christ into our lives.  All God’s spiritual creatures sing out with gladness for the great love and mercy which the Father has bestowed upon us, which the Holy Ghost has made possible, in that the Son now breathes with a boy’s nostrils the air of our earth.

We regale each other with stories of how a president slept in a specific house or how some famous figure touched the lives of one of our ancestors.  But here we speak of the True King of all that ever was, that is, and ever will be living amongst shepherds and sheep and lying in a manger.  The idea is too wondrous for us.  We choke on it, thinking that He must not be so majestic to live with such common folk.

And friends, that is what the world will tell you tomorrow.  Foolishly thinking Christmas to be over, they will tell you that this Christ is not so majestic after all.  “He’s a fable, a story.  He’s so far lost in the mists of mythology that we actually don’t know anything about Him at all.  He’s all well and good for the fools and simpletons who need Him as a crutch, but I am important and have things to do.”  And indeed, some desperate souls will think these things.

But for those of us who travel with Him to that manger crib in Bethlehem, we have met our Lord Christ.  That is why I have included in each bulletin a Christmas devotion I encourage you to use throughout the Twelve Days of Christmas – right up until January 6th, the Epiphany.  But whether or not you use this particular devotion, think on the gift of God’s presence both now and into eternity from our God and Savior Jesus Christ:  I warmly encourage you to give Christ yourself in return.  After all, before we loved Him, He loved us first.

 

 

Christ came to us to take His place amongst us as flawed and fallible people struggling against temptation and living between birth and death.  Never before had God taken upon Himself such vulnerability.  Never before had God come, not in booming voice or cloud or fire, but in human flesh, not simply appearing like one of us, but actually becoming one of us.  We can say Christ is our brother more truly than we can call an angel or a horse our brother, for Christ truly is born of a woman into the family of Man.  Christ knew the love of a child for his mother.  He knew the sweat and exertion of physical toil with his earthly father.  He knew the camaraderie of the disciples.  He knew temptation, betrayal, suffering, and death.  And He is the first of all men to know the eternal reality of Resurrection — but He won’t be the last.

For it is through this veil of His human flesh that we come to enter into Heaven.  We are able to enter into the Holies of Holies in Heaven “by the blood of Jesus, By a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh;”  Christ does not only come to earth and become a newborn Jewish boy in Bethlehem to live alongside of us.  No, He comes down to us and becomes one of us so that we follow Him up into Heaven, into His Resurrection, into the presence of God the Father in the Holy Ghost forevermore.

Our human world, our world of family, of temptations, of nations and wars, of sickness and death, this our human world has on Christmas morning been pierced with the lava-hot loving-kindness of God’s own presence.  God is this day with us.  Christ our Lord is born in Bethlehem so that He may live amongst us, to the end that He might show us His love, become the way to salvation, die upon the Cross for our redemption, and leave us His Church.

And tonight we remember and recollect that blessed night over two thousand years ago when God the Son came to us in that little child.  Tonight we celebrate the invasion of this world of sin and sadness, death and decay by the Prince of Peace, the King of Kings, the Lord of Lords, the Alpha and the Omega.  We look forward to when that little boy will come again as a conquering king on the Last Day, when He shall come to judge the living and the dead.

Because God became Man in Christ our Lord, we are free.  We are free from the sins and mistakes of our past. That is what makes this night so special.

So tonight, let us gather around the Christmas crib and forget ourselves for a moment, letting ourselves rest and worshipping Christ our God and our Savior.

 

“Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.”

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

 

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