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Posts Tagged ‘Baptism’

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

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

 

“Life in Unity with God”

Today’s Epistle moves the argument from the unity of Jews and Gentiles in Christ to a strong exhortation on Christian ethics.  These six verses combine a plea for Christian unity with the theological foundations of Christian unity.  So we are here looking at the highest ideals of Christ’s Body, the Church.

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

The first verse begins with three items:  St. Paul as prisoner, walking worthy, and the subject of vocation or being called.  St. Paul cannot be with the Ephesians because he is currently held prisoner, and this gives him a moral edge.  He is suffering for the Faith, and so he has a right to speak with authority.  He is not ashamed to assert this authority.

The phrase “walk worthy” shows that this life is not to be talked about but lived out.  We actively walk our Christian life, actively engaging in this world and in our common life together.  The use of vocation comes from the Latin, “to call”, which we aptly capture in our word, “calling”.  A calling and a vocation are the same.  And the Christian walk is a result of being called by our Lord into that life.

2 With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love;

St. Paul here lists three virtues as key to the Christian walk to which we have been called to by our Lord:  Lowliness and meekness, longsuffering, and forbearing one another in love.  Also recounted in Colossians iii.12-13, these virtues let us live together in unity with God, unity which has already been proven to transcend the differences of Jew and Greek.  These virtues are the foundation of God’s holy plan for our individual lives, our lives together in Christ, and the life of the entire redeemed cosmos, or created order.  The harmony amongst Christians is the first-fruits of the universal harmony of the whole cosmos in Christ our Lord, heralded in the Revelation of St. John.

First, lowliness and meekness are humility – not haughtiness of spirit and self-assertion.  We are not to vaunt ourselves over others.  We are to take our place and do what we are called to do without assuming we know better and pushing others aside so that we may do better.  Our rota system of coffee hour, wherein a Sunday is assigned to the willing who has authority over refreshments after Mass for that day, gives us each an opportunity to thrive in serving others while not crowing about our superiority and not pushing others aside so that we may have our turn.  Each of us who volunteers for this ministry has a turn, and no one may add to and change that turn without that party’s permission.  We each get to serve others as well as we can without strutting or pushing.

Second, long-suffering is a better translation of makrothumia than patience, because it not only means enduring provocations but refusing to give up hope for improved relations.  Patience can give the sense of only suffering for a while until the problem goes away.  Long-suffering, as here written by St. Paul in the Scriptures, shows that the end result is good, holy, and right relations between brethren and the firm practice of hope as that holy result is worked out.

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

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

3 Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

“Endeavouring” can also be translated, “taking pains” – that is, a great striving and work of the whole self.  This involves initiative, not waiting around for someone else to start working.  This is attached to the calling, our vocation in God.

St. Paul has previously mentioned in Ephesians i.10, “That in the dispensation of the fulness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in him:”  This is the end to which we are heading.  This is that “unity of Spirit” which Christ has in store for us and for the entire cosmos.  Any impairment we suffer with regards to unity is an impairment of the whole world.

By our failure to love one another as Christ loves us, we fail to live out the Eschaton, the holy end to all times which Christ has been bringing us.  We work against Christ when we hold grudges, when we vaunt ourselves in front of others, when we work to silence others, when we work to politic our way into getting our peculiar lovely thing accepted by the group.  All those things are not even worthy of secular societies.

Keeping the “unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace”:  We have unity in the Holy Ghost; we must work and strive manfully to maintain, to keep this unity.  Our unity together as members of one Body is an act of God, not an act of man or great work by the Christian community.

And what is “the bond of peace” more than loving-kindness?  In Colossians iii.14, which echoes this verse, the bond is love.  Peace is the bond, the glue, the structure which holds together this Christian community of loving-kindness.  These are certainly not the bonds in which St. Paul was being kept.

The “unity of the Spirit” is the “unity which the Spirit creates”.  It is both inward and outward unity which Christians most especially are to exhibit.  We must have real inward unity of hearts and love, but we must also have true outward unity of lack of external divisions.

 

The next three verses get poetic and are thought to be related to a Baptismal liturgy.  The ethics of the first three verses blossom into the confession and worship of the latter three verses.

In the Old Testament, we read the Shema of Deuteronomy vi.4, “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD:”  This evolves some by Zechariah xvi.9, “And the LORD shall be king over all the earth: in that day shall there be one LORD, and his name one.”

St. Paul elaborates this in I Corinthians xii.12-13:  “For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ.  13 For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit.”

 

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

 

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

This one hope of our calling is the actual work of hope and not just a general disposition to hopefulness.  This work of hope of our vocation is granted to both Jew and Gentile and is tied in unity in the Holy Ghost.

5 One Lord, one faith, one baptism,                     

“One Lord” reminded both the Jews and Gentiles that they have but one lord, and this when there were many little lords abounding.  Ephesians opens in i.21 with the triumph of Christ over all other lords, both worldly and otherworldly.

“One faith” reminds us that there are not several faiths, but one faith, faith in Christ Jesus, the catholic and apostolic faith, the orthodox faith, eschewing all heretical and heterodox faiths.

“One Baptism” reminds all Christians that there is only one way into the Christian life – Baptism into the life and death of Christ our Lord.  Indeed, St. Paul mentions Holy Baptism in Ephesians five other times.  This poetry sounds like something said at a Baptism, perhaps even an early liturgy.

St. Paul does not bring to mind Baptism in vain.  Each recollection of baptism brings to mind and encourages the faithful to steadfastly continue walking the Christian walk in their behavior as well as their words.  The ethical challenges of the first three verses naturally bring themselves to the Baptismal language of these last three verses.

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

The Greeks loved to play with prepositions, and this is what St. Paul does here.  The “above all” shows transcendence, or how God the Father is beyond the cosmos.  The “through all” shows omnipresence, or how God the Father is present everywhere at all times.  The “in you all” shows immanence, or how close God the Father is to you everywhere.

 

We are given a poetic and theological vision of the things of God along with the virtues necessary to reach it and experience it in our own lives.  The ideal Christian walk is made manifest in our lives through the love of God and the practice of the holy virtues necessary to our life together:  Lowliness and meekness, longsuffering, and forbearing one another in love.  Let us remember our Baptism, even with holy water when we enter the nave for Mass, and recall that our life is lived with God when it is lived with one another in the unity of the Holy Ghost.

 

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

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

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“He hath done all things well: he maketh both the deaf to hear, and the dumb to speak.”

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

 

“Loving our Neighbor through Good Works”

In St. Mark’s Gospel, this healing and the healing of the Syrophoenician woman which precede it together form a turning point in Christ’s ministry.  This healing in particular shows the firstfruits of salvation from the Jewish Messiah which will come to the Gentiles after Pentecost.  Although this miracle is done privately, it is a very inclusive miracle.  Instead of healing only one of the Chosen People, Christ the Messiah heals a man from outside the Old Covenant.

Travelling with His disciples amongst the Gentiles, Jesus fulfills two Messianic prophesies.  These include Isaiah xxxv.5, “Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped” and Ezekiel xxiv.27, “In that day shall thy mouth be opened to him which is escaped, and thou shalt speak, and be no more dumb: and thou shalt be a sign unto them; and they shall know that I am the LORD”.

God has power over hearing and speech.  Exodus iv.11 reads, “And the LORD said unto him, Who hath made man’s mouth? or who maketh the dumb, or deaf, or the seeing, or the blind? have not I the LORD?”.  Christ is a Jew, but He is God Incarnate.  He has power over hearing and speech.

St. Matthew 11.2-6 shows that Christ is doing the works that the Christ was prophesied to do according to the Forerunner, St. John Baptist:

2 Now when John had heard in the prison the works of Christ, he sent two of his disciples,

3 And said unto him, Art thou he that should come, or do we look for another?

4 Jesus answered and said unto them, Go and shew John again those things which ye do hear and see:

5 The blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them.

6 And blessed is he, whosoever shall not be offended in me.

 

31:  JESUS, departing from the coasts of Tyre and Sidon, came unto the sea of Galilee, through the midst of the coasts of Decapolis.

In this part of St. Mark’s Gospel, Christ and the disciples left the pagan region of Tyre and Sidon, the site of ancient Phoenicia and modern Lebanon, and headed back towards Judea.  They stopped off in the area of the Ten Cities, the Decapolis, on the other side of the Sea of Galilee.  These are ten Hellenistic, or culturally Greek, cities east of Samaria and Galilee, across the River Jordan.

Christ had already healed the demoniac possessed by Legion whilst visiting there before, so His reputation probably preceded Him.  According to Acts ix.2, this area was evangelized early.  Decades later, some Christians fled to one of these cities from Judea during the last war between Rome and the Jews.

32:  And they bring unto him one that was deaf, and had an impediment in his speech; and they beseech him to put his hand upon him.

The people of the Decapolis asked Christ to heal this man.  His own people asked on his behalf.  They intercede to the Son of God for his healing.  The week before last, a small group of us gathered to pray for others.  We’ll be doing that again in a few weeks.

Every Sunday and every Mass we lift up the names brought to us by the members of Christ’s Body here in this parish to God the Father Almighty, joining them in the mystical and eternal sacrifice of the Son to the Father in the Eucharist, the good gift.  We bring those we know and love to the attention of God so that he may heal them and have mercy upon them.

The local Gentiles interceded on behalf of their deaf friend who couldn’t speak to the Messiah of Israel.  They showed faith and love:  Faith that Christ could heal him and love for him that he might be healed.

33a:  And he took him aside from the multitude,

Privately, away from the public.  This is normally used for Christ alone with His disciples.

Christ avoids making miracles in public and seeks to avoid public praise for them.  He does not seek His own glory but the healing and mending of the bodies and souls of the lost.

Pseudo-Chrysostom tells that Christ took aside the man privately, “teaching us to cast away vain glory and swelling of heart, for no one can work miracles as he can, who loves humility and is lowly in his conduct.”

Indeed, pride is incompatible with thaumaturgy or wonderworking.  Pride is a sin against God.  God gives the good gifts which we work amongst our fellows.  It is through Christ that we do good works.  Sin and good works are incompatible and irreconcilable; sin and good works in Christ cannot exist together.  We must give up pride and seeking after glory for ourselves or we can no longer do good works in Christ.

33b:  and put his fingers into his ears, and he spit, and touched his tongue;

This seems rather vulgar and unbecoming the founder of our religion.  Yet this putting his hands inside his mouth and spitting makes sense.  Christ actually touched the man, showing that this world is part of God’s creation.  Christ the Son of God uses his perfect fingers and sacred spittle to touch the man in ears and on tongue to heal part of creation which has fallen away from God.

34:  and looking up to heaven, he sighed, and saith unto him, Ephphatha, that is, Be opened.

Christ heals the man with six actions:  taking aside, putting hands in the ear, spitting, touching the tongue, deep groan (“sighed”), and command of healing.  This is like our liturgical action at Mass and other services such as Baptism and Confirmation.  He looked up to Heaven.  He said ephphathah, the Aramaic word for “be opened!”  It serves as a word of power, which is not a magical incantation of superstitious nonsense.  This is a direct command from God to be healed.  As the earlier quote from Exodus iv.11 showed, Christ has the power of God to heal the deaf and mute.

St. Bede says that from Heaven comes all healing, which is why Christ looked up.  All we can do for healing also comes down from Heaven.  Whether it be our medical technology or the wise word properly delivered into the ready ear, all our help comes from our Creator and Redeemer who gives us all good things in the first place.  God uses our hands like he uses the hands of Christ for the good of our fellow man.

Likewise, the good we do must not be good only in our eyes but in the eyes of God as well.  Thus, we ought to always keep a healthy suspicion upon ourselves and watch ourselves to ensure that we do God’s work and not our own particular preferences.

35:  And straightway his ears were opened, and the string of his tongue was loosed, and he spake plain.

“His ears were opened” literally means is ‘his hearing was opened’, referring to the act of hearing not to the thing of ears.  We do hear through our ears, but the ears being restored was secondary to Christ restoring the hearing.  We see that today with the new cochlear implants which do not fix the ears but restore hearing.

36:  And he charged them that they should tell no man: but the more he charged them, so much the more a great deal they published it;

God is now at work among the Gentiles.  He has said, “be opened!” and they now hear, and proclaim, and are enthusiastic.  Christ will not finish His work among the Gentiles directly; but His apostles will carry the Gospel to the ends of the earth, performing great works in His Name.  God’s plan of salvation requires we sinful humans to proclaim Christ to the world.

“so much the more a great deal they published it” – published in the sense of ‘they proclaimed it’, with the religious note of proclamation.  When I preach or proclaim the Gospel, I am publishing it.  Think of publish glad tidings, tidings of peace!  I do not publish in the manner of printing a book or magazine, but rather in proclaiming to the hearing of others personally.

It goes on, “And He charged them that they should tell no man.”  Pseudo-Chrysostom: “By which He has taught us not to boast in our powers, but in the cross and humiliation.”  Wherefore it goes on, “but the more He charged them, so much the more a great deal they published it.”

We ought not to seek praise for that which we do well and to praise those who do well to us.  Praise is not our due; even the Son of God did not seek praise.

As for those who seek the approval of others (St. Matthew vi.1-2, 5):

1 Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven.

2 Therefore when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.

5 And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.

Christ tells us to refrain from doing our duty in public so to avoid receiving men’s praises.  Christ often refrained from performing healings in public so to avoid receiving men’s praises.  Both by word and example we are to serve humbly and obediently, willingly sacrificing our pride upon the Cross.  Remember, we can do no good thing on our own, but only insofar as we participate in Christ.

37:  and were beyond measure astonished, saying, He hath done all things well: he maketh both the deaf to hear, and the dumb to speak.

Once the people know that the man they brought forward to be healed has been healed, they get excited and pass on the news.  This is not what Christ wanted.  He healed the man because Christ is the Son of God come into the world to save us, and healing our bodily ailments is one portion of that salvation.  Today’s healing is a foretaste of tomorrow’s incorruptible bodies.

When we follow in His way, the Way of the Cross, we ought to leave others better off for having known us.  I know of many ways in which many of you have made the lives of your fellows better in this vale of suffering and tears.  It is incumbent upon us to serve our fellow man, not as an end unto itself, not as a means of gaining glory for ourselves, not even as a means of gaining glory for God, but to show forth the love of Christ unto those whom He came to save, our very own neighbors.

 

“He hath done all things well: he maketh both the deaf to hear, and the dumb to speak.”

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

 

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“Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word: for mine eyes have seen thy salvation, which thou hast prepared before the face of all people; a light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel.”

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

 

How old are we?  We value our history, yet we often forget how old we really are.  We think of the past ten years here and the founding of this parish thirty-two years ago.  We think of the independence of the Episcopal Church in the late Eighteenth Century and the first Mass at Jamestown in the early Seventeenth Century.  We think of the Reformation, the Great Schism, the Ecumenical Councils, and the early Church.

But we go much further back.  The Temple Christ was presented in was built in 516 B.C., twenty-five hundred years ago, and there had been another Temple before that, and the Law had been given centuries before that.  We and our spiritual ancestors have been worshipping the Lord our God for well over three thousand years.

Christians value what is old.  The blessing of candles was added to our celebration of this feast a full thousand years ago.  The events of this feast described in the Gospel happened two thousand years ago.  Both Simeon and Anna were quite elderly and waited for many years to behold the Christ.  Christ was presented to the Temple and the Blessed Virgin Mary was purified according to the ancient Law of Moses.

We do not throw away our old customs and people here.  Indeed, our young are expected to follow in the elder ways, just like our older folk are.  We are not interested in changing with the times.  We are interested in remaining faithful to our Lord.  Christ, Who transformed history and the world by coming into the world, submitted Himself to Law and the customs of the Chosen People again and again.  As it says in Proverbs xxii.28:  “Remove not the ancient landmark, which thy fathers have set.”

It is from this deep connection to the goodness and glory of God shining in the past that we take the light of Christ out into the world today.

When you drive a golf ball, hit a hockey puck, or throw a football, you bring your club, your stick, your arm back to whip it forward for great effect.  We draw strength from the past as we live the Gospel in this present day.  We join in with the prophets, patriarchs, and saints of more than three thousand years when we proclaim Holy Scripture, live in loving-kindness, and show forth the light of Christ into the world right outside those red doors.

 

This connection with the past is a particularly Jewish and Christian concern, for ours is a religion of history.  History doesn’t matter with the moon god or Buddha.  Christ was born on a particular day and presented to the Temple forty days afterward.  History matters for us.

The earliest Christian heretic, Marcion, made the first formal canon of Scripture, in which he cut out the entire Old Testament and most of the New.  Marcion’s heresy held that the God of the Old Testament was not the God of the New Testament.

But the Son of God was present at the creation of the world.  The Son of God sent the God the Holy Ghost to speak to the prophets.  The Son of God was born a baby in Bethlehem and was given the name Jesus.  Marcion taught some kind of religion, but that religion was not Christianity.

For Christianity is the renewal of the Jewish religion for all people, under the Messiah, the Christ.  As St. Paul says in Galatians iv.4:  Christ was “born of a woman, born under the law, that he might redeem those under the law.”  St. Paul, who is the Apostle to the Gentiles, was very clear that Christ came first for the Jews.  Indeed, Christ Himself stated this exact same thing.

Christ completes the Law, and the New Covenant completes the Old.  If you look in the Prayer Book or your bulletin, you will see that this feast is called both the Presentation and the Purification.

The Purification and the Presentation both derive from the birth of Christ by the Blessed Virgin Mary, a singular act of our salvation intimately involving the two greatest figures of our salvation.  And both of them obey the Law of Moses in the circumcision, the presentation, and the purification.  Christ and St. Mary both fulfill the Law.  They are both good Jews.

 

Christ fulfilled all righteousness when His Body, the new temple, was presented into the old Temple.  We have absolutely 100% continuity with the Jews of old.  By our entrance into the death and resurrection of Christ in Holy Baptism, we are joined with Christ and made members of Him.  We, who are not born Jews and part of the Old Covenant, are joined with Christ our Lord and made, in effect, into Jews through Him.

Through the outward cultic sacrifices of the Temple, we who are joined with Christ now offer spiritual sacrifices through the new Temple, His Body.  As you have seen today, we continue this cultic presence of the Old Testament with our Christian worship which includes incense, priests, Scripture readings, and the Ten Commandments.

Christ’s first desire was to save the Jews.  Saving the Gentiles is secondary, especially in the sense that it relies upon God’s redeeming work in Israel.  God’s salvation of Israel prepares and spills over graciously into the Gentile part of humanity.  Salvation comes through the Jews.  Any denial of this perverts the ministry of Christ into something unscriptural and unchristian, a thing for anti-Semites and the heretic Marcion.

We who are not born into the covenant of Israel are not God’s second choice, exactly, but it was not through us that God wrought salvation in our fallen world.  It is through the Jews that salvation has come to us all.

Have you been a staunch member of this parish a long time?  Are you of a good family?  Are you among the wealthy?  Know that no matter how superior your social position is in this society at large or in this parish in particular, you are a sojourner, an immigrant, a newcomer; you are an undeserving recipient of God’s free grace.  As the old saying goes, we are beggars telling other beggars where to find a meal.  God raised up Israel to be set apart from all the rest of the world, and from the tribe of Judah did God the Father send His only-begotten Son of God to be born of a daughter of Jacob, Mary Ever-Virgin.  Through the Jews did salvation come, and from the Jews has come “a light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel”.

 

We who are Baptized have died and risen again in Christ.  We are no longer part of the world.  God calls us out of the world.  As Christians, we are part of something far grander than the things of this world.  Christ has gone before us and made us citizens of Heaven.  This world is crumbling away, and there is no stopping it.  We have been saved from it, and we are being saved from it.

We read in Isaiah viii.15:  “And many among them shall stumble, and fall, and be broken, and be snared, and be taken.”  Christ will be – and was – and yet remains – “unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness”.  Christ divides men one from another.  He says in St. Matthew x.34:  “For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law.”

This sinful world is a tough place.  But God is tougher.  God the Son can take all the blasphemies and humiliations we can give Him and still defeat sin and death.  This Presentation of Christ to the Temple, along with the Circumcision and the finding of the boy Christ in the Temple, shows that there is more to Christ’s early life than angels and animals and mangers.  Today’s feast points us towards Golgotha … and beyond.  In the wisdom of Holy Mother Church, today we grow close to the Pre-Lenten season.

The finest and swankiest people of Israel would have no doubt sagged in dismay if they had known the true nature of the gentle infant carried that day through the streets of Jerusalem.  Years later, those same people and kinds of people shouted “crucify Him” to that same babe in that same city.  Christ upset, literally overturned, the sinful nature of the world.  Those who had grown comfortable in and profited from this fallen world would suffer as a result of the coming salvation.

Christ challenges the prejudices of those who rule this world.  Christ’s witness of loving-kindness and obedience to God the Father smells of rebellion to the authorities of this world.  Christ spent much of His ministry on earth with the poor commoners of Judea.  Perhaps He knew them better because God the Son came down from Heaven into a family that had to offer the pauper’s sacrifice of two turtledoves at His Presentation to the Temple.

One Herod killed a region full of little boys to try to suppress Christ’s Advent.  Another Herod decapitated St. John Baptist at a banquet.  The Roman governor Pilate washed his hands clean of Christ.  The rich and powerful and well-heeled of this world did not welcome Christ.  And of course they would not.  They wanted to kill Him.  He was willing to die for them.  That’s the biggest difference in the world.

 

Would we strive for holiness?  Would we love our Lord and each other?  Would we be a light to the world?  Let us reach out to our Lord Christ.  Let us throw ourselves and our brokenness, our alienation, our sinful thoughts, and our wicked acts onto his broken and bruised back and let Him carry us.  Let us change our habits and our ways to fit with the new world of grace and loving-kindness which Christ brings down to us from Heaven.  Let us carry Christ in our hearts out into the world.

 

“Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word: for mine eyes have seen thy salvation, which thou hast prepared before the face of all people; a light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel.”

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

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If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen? And this commandment have we from him, That he who loveth God love his brother also.

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

 

God became Man in Christ for our salvation.  He gives us His Body and His Blood for us to consume so that we may dwell in Him and He may dwell in us.  The Blessed Sacrament flows from the Incarnation.

The Eucharist is primarily sacrifice and secondarily communion.  Dean Harton said, “The Mass is the most perfect act of worship possible to man, and as such its action is essentially Godward, the offering to the Father of the sacrifice of Christ; and the inestimable benefits which the worshipper receives in Holy Communion are consequent upon this.”

Christ is present in the Mass as Victim, the Lamb who was slain.  Communion with Him is communion with the broken body and spilt blood of Calvary, a holy meal of spiritual food.  St. John vi.55:  “My flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed.”  We receive Christ when we receive Holy Communion, the whole Christ.  All His love and virtues and mind are ours when we receive Holy Communion.  We do not receive a portion of Christ; we receive all of Christ.  Since we receive all of Christ in Holy Communion, partaking in the Blessed Sacrament is the very center of Christian life.  How can we be Christian if we do not receive Christ?

God became Man to save both our bodies and our souls, the whole man.  Our words at Holy Communion show this:  “The Body of our Lord Jesus Christ, which was given for thee, preserve thy body and soul unto everlasting life.”

Union with Christ in the Blessed Sacrament is no mere metaphor.  St. John vi.57:  “As the living Father hath sent me, and I live by the Father:  so he that eateth me, even he shall live by me.”  New life is given to us in Holy Baptism, and that life is built upon and sustained in Holy Communion.

Christ gradually transforms us into the likeness of Himself.  We overcome sin and grow in virtue as we become more like Him.  This transformation grows with our devout reception of the Body and Blood of Christ.  We do not simply imitate Christ; we join with Christ in union.  He dwells within us and transforms us from the inside out.  We eat His Body and drink His Blood so that He may dwell inside of us.  He directs our soul, the soul which is His home.

If we seek not His Kingdom and do not consent to these changes, then this transformation will indeed be stunted.  We may receive the Holy Communion every day and increase hardly at all in virtue and Christ-likeness if we seek to remain selfish and slothful.  The disposition with which we receive Christ in the Blessed Sacrament matters a great deal.

How do we prepare ourselves to communicate with Christ to our greatest advantage?  First we need faith, without which no advantage comes from receiving the Blessed Sacrament.  Second we must possess a “loving desire” for Christ, part of which is a gift from God and part of which we may strive to cultivate.  Third we must be truly penitent.  We must heartily desire to put away all sins from us and to labor mightily to avoid falling into those sins again.  Last we must possess humility, for if we are so full of ourselves, then we intend to give Christ very little room inside of our inward selves.

Once we are prepared, how do we approach Christ at the altar?  We adore Christ when the love, the agape, the charity, the loving-kindness which began in desire for God grows so that we love Christ as He comes to us; we adore Him in His sacred Presence.  Then, our growing humility leads us to receive Him so that we give ourselves to Christ more fully; we do not receive Christ for our personal gain, we receive Christ so that we might be His.  From the very creation of our soul to this day, our inmost self cries out for union with Christ.  We need Him as a condition of our very existence.  Whether we are a mansion or hut, our dwelling rests securely upon the solid ground of Christ.  In reception of Christ in the Eucharist, the desire for Christ only grows in the faithful, loving, penitent, and humble soul.

Once we have received Christ in the Holy Sacrament of the Altar, how should we then respond to His gift of Himself to us?  Our disposition after Holy Communion should include praise, thanksgiving, and loving-kindness.  Immediately after communion is a terribly important and precious moment, when our soul has been laid bare by communication with God Himself.  We ought to focus entirely upon Him Who gave Himself to us.  We lean upon Christ, we lean into Christ, we trust Him with our deepest self more and more.  Our heart, our mind, and our will rest upon Christ.

Thus we praise God for Himself as we increasingly know Him.  We give thanks to God for the immeasurable gift of His own Self to us poor creatures.  We grow in charity, in loving-kindness towards God and towards our fellow man.  For as our desire for Christ grows and as our transformation into Christ-likeness grows, then we grow in the same loving-kindness of our fellows that Christ has.  We love God, God loves us, we grow into the mind and love of God, and thereby begin to share in the loving-kindness God has for all of his creation.  We love our fellow parishioners, family members, and coworkers more and more as we faithfully, lovingly, penitentially, and humbly receive Christ in the Blessed Sacrament.  We carry Christ into the world in the throne of our hearts.  As we grow in Christ, others can perceive Christ sitting in glory in the throne of our hearts; and they will want that immediacy with their good God as well.  “Ye are the light of the world” says Christ in St. Matthew v.14.

 

Loving-kindness is more than a warm disposition toward another.  Loving-kindness is not the kind of love that is based on how attractive you find the object of your love.  Loving-kindness is based upon sacrifice.  Loving-kindness is bolder than a mother’s love for her newborn and warmer than a groom’s love for his bride.  Loving-kindness resonates more with our fundamental nature than either of these loves; we were created to enjoy communion with God.  We see this in the Garden of Eden, where both Adam and Eve walked with God.  But even before Eve, Adam walked with God alone.  We have other kinds of love of our fellow men, but first, last, and always we are built to love God.  We love others most honestly and selflessly as a natural and supernatural result of our love of God.

So much of the time, we feel that the love others have for us depends upon how we act or what we do.  Lovers only love us when they feel attraction, when we lose weight, when we put out.  Families and friends love us when we remember their birthdays, when we do the dishes, when we help take care of ailing relatives, when we don’t mess up and hurt them.  But God loves us unconditionally all of the time.  Moreover, God loved us so much, that God the Son came down from Heaven and was born the Christ child from the Blessed Virgin Mary.  He lived among us, suffered for us, and died for us.  He rose again from the grave, defeating death, and ascended into Heaven, thereby preparing a place for us and perpetually interceding before God the Father as our great high priest.

God knew us and loved us when we were in our mother’s womb.  God loved us as a baby, as a child, and as an adult.  We have never been far from the love of God.  Nothing we can do can drive God away from us.  Even when we hate and despise him, God the Holy Ghost prepares in us and around us a way back to God the Father through God the Son.  We may keep resisting, but God never tires of loving us and accepting us back.  We can damage our families and friends and steal and hurt them so much that they would rather us never to have been born, never to return back home, but God always rejoices in our creation and longs for us to return to him, no matter how foul our sins have made us.  We always have a bath and new clothes waiting for us with God.

How little like God are we!  We place innumerable conditions upon those whom we ought to love!  We place unconscionable conditions upon our fellow parishioners!  We judge and divide us from each other and exalt ourselves above our fellows.  Our self-deception and self-exaltation and self-righteousness have made us so odious, so nasty to our neighbors and fellow-citizens that we can blame no one but ourselves for their not responding to the light of Christ within us.

Loving-kindness does not attract; attraction is a baser kind of love.  Loving-kindness sacrifices the self on behalf of other.  Loving-kindness knows no cost.  Loving-kindness understands no reciprocation.  Some of us walk around and spout nonsense to each other about a God that hates the sinner, a God that gleefully damns those who screwed up and ought to have known better.  This is blasphemy, for such a God is based upon our addled and self-indulgent desires more than upon the everlasting reality of a good God who rejoices when the lost are saved and gave absolutely everything to redeem us all.  We can never deserve the love of God.  When we love like God loves, then others can never deserve our love either; they simply have it.

Christ died for us and gave His broken sacrificed Body and Blood to us in the Blessed Sacrament.  We eat His Body and drink His Blood, rightly so, for He has commanded us to do this.  But what an effrontery to Heaven it is for us to commune with Christ and enjoy all the benefits of His passion, death, and resurrection and then turn around and seek vengeance against the offences other have committed against us!  True, we may wish God to avenge us, but do we wish God to avenge our fellows for the sins we have committed against them?  Of course not!  Even a cursory examination of our conscience and our behavior towards others reveals miles and miles of layers of hypocrisy, loathing, and self-exaltation.

Do we love some fellow Christians, parishioners at our own St. Luke, and yet gossip, backbite, and snicker at others, recounting with allies old sins committed against us?  This is an outrage against the holy and loving sacrifice of our own good God!  We must take and dash these sins against the rock of Christ, vow never to commit them again, and then develop a repugnance of and revulsion against our attitudes and behavior which led us to commit these sins.

If we truly show the loving-kindness of God to our neighbors, we will become a light unto the world here in the city of Augusta.  Sinners would be convicted and repent and return to our good God.  Our parish would be spoken of in hushed tones by the more than 500,000 other people in the CSRA.  St. Luke Church would have no budget problems, have a choir, and have to build a new building to accommodate all the new people if we truly loved God and our neighbors as Christ loves us.  Our children would ask for a double portion of what we have, disaffected former members would clamor to return and be restored, and tired Episcopalians and ignorant Neo-Anglicans would throw themselves on their knees and say, “Thank God for this refuge.”  But none of this is happening.

That these things are not happening is a judgement by God against us and our parish.  We have His Body and His Blood offered at this altar through the ancient ministry Christ Himself ordained almost two millennia ago.  We are washed in the Blood of the Lamb in Holy Baptism.  Most of us were Confirmed with the seven-fold gifts of the Holy Ghost before I was born.  We have no excuse for our immoral and reckless and selfish behavior except for your immoral and reckless and selfish priest who fails to exhibit Christ to you in an effective manner.  But even this your miserable servant is not excuse enough, for you have the Holy Mysteries of Christ’s Body and Blood, you have the glorious liturgy, you have the Holy Scriptures.  Every regular parishioner here knows better despite your sorry excuse of a priest.

We must each truly and earnestly repent of our sins, live in loving-kindness with our neighbors, and intend to live a new life – not the same old life we have been living and which has become entirely too familiar and comfortable for us – so that we may follow the commandments of God and walk henceforth in his holy ways – not our own ways which we blasphemously have shanghaied God’s holy Name for.  If you are here to live and to die comfortably in the ways of the Twentieth-Century Episcopal Church you grew up in or converted into, I hereby announce that you are in the right place for the wrong reason.

It is not our musty hymnal, old people, small building, and low community profile that keep us small and on the verge of death as a parish.  Great publicity, contemporary praise music, a multitude of community programs, and an extroverted golden-throated priest will not make up for this hollow shell of the Christian Religion.  It is the lack of a generous loving-kindness springing from a vital faith in Christ our God.  Until we have a razor-sharp focus on Christ our Lord lived out in a vital faith through acts exemplifying our growing loving-kindness, then this parish deserves to slowly rot away.

If we seek God, if we seek to live, if we seek growth, if we seek adventure, then let us love with the love which Christ has loved us.  Believe in Christ.  Repent of your sins.  Love one another.  I commend reading today’s Epistle in your Prayer Book at home to each of you.

Finally, let us hear the words of St. Paul in his great description of agape, of loving-kindness, of charity:

1 “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.

2 And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing.

3 And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.

4 Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up,

5 Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil;

6 Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth;

7 Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.

8 Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away.

9 For we know in part, and we prophesy in part.

10 But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.

11 When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.

12 For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.

13 And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.”

If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen? And this commandment have we from him, That he who loveth God love his brother also.

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

 

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“Then were the disciples glad when they saw the Lord.”

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

 

Christ brings his disciples three things in this Gospel lesson:  First, He brings His Resurrected and Glorified Body.  Second, He brings peace to his disciples.  Third, He brings them the Holy Ghost and the power to remit and retain sins.

First, Christ shows them His Resurrected and Glorified Body.

In this Gospel lesson, Christ makes his way past the locked doors of the disciples’ room and “came and stood in the midst” of them.  Afterward, He showed them “his hands and his side”.  If we think about this, we should be almost as astonished as the disciples were.  On the one hand, Christ can make it past the locked doors into the midst of the room.  On the other hand, He showed them the Sacred Wounds of His Crucifixion.

We are familiar with the concept of ghosts who can walk through walls.  We are also familiar with showing people our scars.  But the two together do not make sense.  Christ’s Resurrected Body is corporeal in the wounds to His hands and side and yet is also capable of passing through material objects.  This does not fit neatly within the words and categories with which we normally think.

But after all, if the stone in front of the tomb could not hold Christ, neither could the locked door in front of the disciples.  Christ was not simply resuscitated; His Body did not just regain the life it had lost.  Instead, Christ experienced Resurrection, new life where the old had died, and this is exactly the new life which He promises to those of us who follow Him.  We too will have glorified bodies in the general resurrection of the dead.  We too will have bodies like Christ’s Body shown here in St. John’s Gospel.

Second, Christ brings peace to the disciples.

The events of this lesson occur on the evening of Easter Day.  Why were they afraid?  Christ had been killed and laid in the grave.  They had a report that He was now alive again.  They were frightened.  They were confused.  At this time, Christ comes to them through the locked door, stood in the midst of them, and tells them, “Peace be unto you.”  Suddenly, their incredulity at the word of St. Mary Magdalene vanishes, for they have beheld the Son of God risen from the tomb with their very own eyes!  The nail prints and spear wound prove to them Who He is.  He shows them evidence of Who He was to them, and they believe Him.

Remember, these men fled during Christ’s Passion.  They had failed Him by fleeing, now they crave the peace which He brings to them.  They had thought that Christ had failed them by dying, and lo! He appears among them!  His disciples respond with joy to seeing their Risen Lord.  They had heard St. Mary Magdalene’s testimony which now they believe whole-heartedly.  Christ has brought peace to the disciples.

Peace means not having to fear.  They were hiding behind a locked door in fear when Christ brought them peace.  Part of their commissioning is to bring that peace and witness of the presence of Christ from that first day of the week to all believers for years afterward.  They will bring Christ’s forgiveness to all.

Third, Christ gives them the Holy Ghost and the power to remit and retain sins.

“Whosesoever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whosesoever sins ye retain, they are retained.”   The different Gospels give specific instances of how the mission work with which Christ commissions the Apostles is to be carried out.  In St. Matthew, we read “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:  Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you.”   In St. Mark, we read “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.  He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.”   In St. Luke we read, “And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.”  Here in St. John, we find the remitting and retaining of sins.

The Apostles are to continue Christ’s mission, for as the Son has been sent by the Father, so the Apostles are to be sent by the Son.  It is these Christians who show forth the presence of Christ.   Earlier in St. John we read, “Jesus cried and said, He that believeth on me, believeth not on me, but on him that sent me.  And he that seeth me seeth him that sent me.”  Christ breathes on them and gives them the Holy Ghost with the power to remit and retain sins.  Christ commissions them to go out and spread His Good News.

By breathing the Holy Ghost upon the Apostles, Christ has given them eternal life and the ability to confer eternal life upon others.  The power to forgive sins gives these disciples the power to confer to others eternal life.  We find a similar notion in Ezekiel, in the passage of the Valley of Dry Bones:  “Thus saith the Lord GOD unto these bones; Behold, I will cause breath to enter into you, and ye shall live:  And I will lay sinews upon you, and will bring up flesh upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and ye shall live; and ye shall know that I am the LORD.”

St. John is not alone in giving His followers the power to forgive sins and the power to withhold forgiveness of sins.  St. Matthew speaks of binding and loosing “whatever”; St. Matthew relates this in Christ giving the keys to St. Peter.  St. John makes it specifically about sins.  Of course, forgiving and holding sins implies authority over status of communion with the community, restoring members back to its good graces, and excommunicating members.  This authority is used when a priest acts in the Sacrament of Penance.

The Sacrament of Penance does not entirely depend upon this verse, but this verse does inform Holy Mother Church in making Penance a Sacrament which only priests (and bishops) are allowed to enact.  In our Book of Common Prayer, the Ordination Rite reads:  “Receive ye the Holy Ghost … Whose sins thou dost forgive, they are forgiven; and whose sins thou dost retain, they are retained.”  This comes directly from this Twentieth Chapter of St. John’s Gospel.

Christ came into the world to restore men to Himself and to the Father.  This mission and bestowal directly aids this mission.  For them to be sent forth and to remit and retain sins, they must be preaching the Gospel, like it says in the other Gospels.  They must go forth and instruct the people concerning God, they must move the hearts of people concerning God, and they must take their place in the high drama of converting souls.  This is their charge, this is their ability, this is their duty.

The power and purpose of Christ’s Resurrection does not end with that first Easter, nor with all the countless little Easters thereafter.  The presence of Christ, the peace of Christ, and the forgiveness of sins starts at that empty tomb but spirals outward throughout all the world.

 

The Apostles spread the faith of Christ Jesus throughout the world, they suffered humiliations and death bravely, and they passed onto us, two millennia later, the Christian faith.  They had failed Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane, but they did not fail Christ in reaching the corners of the earth.

We can see that the disciples receiving the peace of Christ and receiving the Holy Ghost and the ability to forgive and retain sins is all predicated upon the witness of the disciples beholding our risen Lord with the nail prints in his hands and the spear wound in his side.  Christ is truly bodily risen.  Make no mistake, this is not any literary or allegorical understanding; Christ is risen in His glorified Body, bearing the marks of His victory over sin, death, Hell, and Satan.  Only since His very physical yet glorified Body is risen does Christ breathe the Holy Ghost out upon the disciples.

 

“Then were the disciples glad when they saw the Lord.”

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

 

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“Be ye kind one to another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.”

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

 

When we look at St. Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians, we see that Christians do bad things and are often indistinguishable to the world from those who are not Christians.

“Good people” and “bad people” are categories of this world, and by this world, I mean those things which we pledged at Baptism to renounce – the world, the flesh, and the devil.  Satan wants us to think of ourselves as good people and other people as bad people.  He wants us to feel justified in our own skin.  He wants us so comfortable with our ways that we don’t reach out to God and get our own skin saved – he wants that because he wants our skin for himself.  He is a dangerous adversary who wants us to rely upon ourselves, to think that we are okay right where we are, to think that our walk with God is just fine.  The devil desires that we get so complacent that we don’t reach our hands out to our loving Father.  Satan wants us to go it alone, because when we face death, there is only one who has defeated death, has bound the devil, has entered Heaven to prepare a place for us, and has sent the Holy Ghost, and that is Jesus Christ the Righteous, and He alone is the propitiation for our sins.  Satan does not want us to enter into a living relationship with our Lord.

Looking at our neighbors, the devil wants us to look down our nose at the man whom the world casts off as criminal or trash or no good.  He wants us to close our fist and not be generous.  We might be entertaining angels unaware, and the devil would rather us welcome his demons and not those angels of God.

You see, we do not deserve Christ.  We do not deserve to be Christians.  We do not deserve the Seven Sacraments provided by Christ’s Body the Church.  We do not deserve good things.  We have sinned against God and our neighbors.  We have earned and deserved the wrath and separation from our God and our fellows.  It is only for Christ’s sake that God has forgiven any of us and each of us our sins.

Today, St. Paul addresses four of our sins:  greediness, anger, stealing, and corrupt communication.

The word translated as greediness in verse 19 is sometimes translated as covetousness and other times as adultery.  These three words are all vices of self-assertion.  Desiring more for ourselves, desiring the possessions of another, and desiring the wife of another have putting ourselves before others as the root of them all.  The ruthless, merciless, surrender to our own impulses, which involves trampling upon the persons and rights of others, lies at the heart of these vices.  And this word, greediness, is attached to uncleanness and alienation from God.

St. Paul writes, “Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath; neither give place to the devil.”  Some of us are aware of what we are feeling and keep in mind that emotions may sway our actions and thoughts.  Others do not recognize how we are feeling and what effect that our emotions might be having.  We may be led to places we never intended.  Anger is a powerful emotion.  Scripture shows that feeling anger in a holy way is very difficult.  Jesus could do it when he cleared out the Temple of buyers and sellers, but He was God and always in control.  When we let anger get the upper hand on us, we become tools for evil.  God created us good, but we tend to want to do our own thing.  If we combine that tendency to do our own thing with a good solid feeling of anger, each one of us can do some terribly ugly things to our brothers and sisters.

St. Paul admonishes us to limit this anger.  “Let not the sun go down upon your wrath.”  If we wake up the next day with the same anger, chances are we are cherishing that anger.  We should only cherish lovely things, like sacred hymns, the smell of autumn in the forest, or the waves lapping against the sand.  We ought not to cherish things which lead us to chase after the Evil One.  St. Peter refers to the devil “as a roaring lion … seeking whom he may devour.”  Anger will devour you.  Anger tempts you to turn your brother or sister into your enemy.  When it happens, perhaps it is okay to let yourself feel that anger, but heaven forbid if you nourish it, cherish it, let the sun go down upon it, and call it your friend.  You will end up enslaved to the Father of Lies if you do.  I know it is a hard thing, but your Lord Jesus is there for you.  Speak to him in prayer.  Use the sense God gave you and think about something else.  Create a positive memory to replace the ugly one you have in your head.  What helps me the most is to remember that the Glorious God of Heaven and Earth, the God who pours his Holy Spirit upon us, made this person I am angry with and loves this person just like he loves me.  I remember then that this anger I feel is a small pitiful thing to a loving God who is just as present with the person I am angry with as he is with me.  When I get angry, I feel small.  And I don’t like that.

St. Paul says, “Let him that stole steal no more.”  We are bound by Apostolic doctrine to welcome with open arms all criminals and violators of the social order.  Christ’s Church is not for respectable people; mystical communion with the Body of Christ is for all people, no matter what they have done with their lives.  The Church is neither a club nor a sports team; the Church is a vital organism which is the body of our Risen Savior.

St. Paul also says, “Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers.”  Holy speech is speaking the truth and avoiding contortions that contaminate clear communication between members of the Body of Christ.  Holy speech is part of being a Christian.  We ought not say everything that pops into our head, like that anger which needs to be put down by the end of the day.  Indeed, a Christian ought to be listening more than speaking.  But we must speak to each other in ways that we can each understand, edifying each other with the companionship reserved for those who are joined to Christ, loving each other and caring for each other and looking after each other.  We do not do this because we belong to the tribe of Christians or Anglicans, but because we are more brother and sister to each other in Christ than we are brother and sister to our natural siblings.  Hateful speech is a sin and must be repented of, which means it must be confessed to God and then action must be taken to avoid that sin in the future.

When we consider these sins, we see that they are sins of fellowship.  These sins of fellowship carry a dreadful penalty for those who abuse or vaunt themselves over the brethren:  Grieving the Holy Spirit of God.  Our seemingly little crimes against our fellows touch the biggest, deepest, and mightiest parts of our relationship with God.  Our love of God and our love of neighbor relate more intimately than a holy scholar with a mountain of books and a lifetime of study can possibly understand, yet it can be realized by the loving widow living a lifetime of prayer and faithfulness.

At the end of the epistle St. Paul says, “Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice: and be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.”  Speaking forthrightly to our brothers and sisters and letting not the sun go down upon our anger are parts of a larger and more fundamental whole.  It is almost as if St. Paul understands what parish life is like.  He is an apostle of Christ, and he knows the human heart.  He knows our willingness to be led astray, he knows our tendency to nurture our hurts, he knows our tendency to treat our neighbors and brothers and sisters with ugliness, dishonesty, hurtful words, and gossip.

The relationship of loving neighbor and loving God works the other way as well – God’s love is the example and source for our love of neighbor, no matter how he lies, rages, and steals.  Our love is no more to be based on the merit of the one we love than the love of God is based upon our merit.  We can never be worthy of God’s love, but that does not mean that God is a hard, judging, vengeful father.  It means that divine, wondrous, and life-giving love is priceless – we cannot imagine the price of such love, as it is too high for our dim understanding to contemplate.  Real love, true love, godly love is a gift that is free for the taking, and a gift which transforms the giver into the likeness of God.  By giving the gift of love and forgiveness unconditionally to those who do not deserve it, we grow closer to our good God and closer to love itself.

One puts off the old sinful man or nature we are born with and puts on the new holy man made in the image of God in the Sacrament of Baptism, which is the gateway to new life in a relationship with our Lord Jesus.  The new man is the ongoing fellowship with God in Christ.  Studying the Bible and trying to live an upright and moral life are nothing but paths to Hell without that ongoing fellowship with God in Christ.  The thief, the murderer, and the adulterer who gain that fellowship or communion with God are better off than those who try to do it themselves.  Remember the parable of the Pharisee and the Publican?  It is far better to be a horrible and notorious sinner who repents to God than to be a moral and learned man who relies upon his own understanding and sense of self-worth.  Our minds and hearts are clouded without that regular and renewed fellowship with the Person of the God-Man Jesus Christ the Righteous.

But the soul who comes to Jesus to join in fellowship to God is held to a higher standard than ordinary folk.  This could seem unfair until we recall the Parable of the Talents – to those to whom much is given much is expected.  Once again, fellowship and communion with Christ and His body the Church provides the holy strengthening we Christians need in the form of the Sacrament of Confirmation.  A Christian who is baptized but not confirmed is missing out.  The seven-fold gifts of the Holy Ghost given in that good and holy thing assist us in our living.  Regular confession – alone at night or in the morning, during the Offices or the Holy Eucharist, and in private with a priest – clears the sins off the soul but imposes the duty to strive hard to stay free of the sin from which we have been saved and redeemed.  Christ did not die on the Cross to save us just so we break free from his loving embrace and dive right back into the muck!

Sin tempts everybody in this fallen world of death.  Only Jesus Christ provides the antidote to sin and victory over death.  Sin is the opposite of communion with God.  Death is the opposite of life everlasting, the result of communion with God.  Outside of communion with God, there is no remedy for sin and death.  God gave himself to us in Jesus Christ so that we might have communion with him and live in holiness.  Without accepting the good gift of God in Jesus, there is no communion with God.

And there is no communion with God without communion with all those who have communion with God.  If you are part of Christ, you are a member of His Body.  One part of the Body cannot hate another part.  Christians must – not ought, not should, but must – put away lying words and falsehoods, not steal from each other, and put far away all corrupt communication.

Every moral teacher and most people can imagine a world in which “all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamor, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice”.  What all the moral teachers in the world cannot do by themselves is bring us to that world.  But Jesus can.  Jesus forgives us our sins because He is the same God we have offended with our sins, and that forgiveness gives us heavenly power from above to forgive others and live a life of love and not of sin.  No one other than Jesus can do this.  We are not special because we are Christians; Jesus is special because He is God.  Jesus does not profit from the sacrifice of His Passion and His death on a tree, but we do.  The ultimate law of God’s universe is to love one another.

 

“Be ye kind one to another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.”

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

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