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Posts Tagged ‘Bethlehem’

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

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

 

“Preparing for Our Lord’s Return”

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Second Sunday of Advent – December 7th – judgment,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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“Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.”

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

 

“Putting on the Whole Armor of God”

My dear children, we are all in danger.  We are all under attack.

The serpent in the Garden beguiled the woman and tempted the man, bringing sin and death into our world and our lineage.  We are made to live forever, yet we continue to drop off despite our best efforts to hang on.

Each one of us is assailed every day, beset by temptation and trial, the “wiles of the devil”.  Have you ever wanted another fifteen minutes’ sleep instead of showing up to work on time?  Would you rather do something in your home instead of say your prayers?  Then you are under enemy fire through temptation.

In the Martyrdom of St. Polycarp around the end of the First Century, we read of what those condemned to die faced (2:4 – 3:1) “The devil tried many devices against them.  But thanks be to God, his might did not prevail over any.”

We read in the Revelation of St. John xii.7:  “And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels,”  We are in a fight whether or not we recognize it.  Before we can put up an adequate defense, before we can recognize that we need a savior, we must realize that we are in terrible shape, and the enemy relents not, continuing to attack us in our weakness as well as our strength.  We are in danger, for we are under attack.

We are insufficient to the task of defending ourselves against the powers of evil.  We ourselves are influenced by the taint of wickedness and sin.  We are surrounded by evil intelligences seeking our destruction.  The rest of humanity, also under the influence of sin, distorts our sense of righteousness and entices us to follow it.  We need help.  We need divine help.

 

But thanks be to God, we read in this epistle lesson, as well as many other Scripture verses, that God has defended us.  “Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.”

This is not a new concept.  Centuries earlier, Isaiah wrote in lix.17:  “For he put on righteousness as a breastplate, and an helmet of salvation upon his head; and he put on the garments of vengeance for clothing, and was clad with zeal as a cloke.”

St. Paul also wrote in 2 Corinthians x.3-4:  “For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh:  (For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds;)”

 

Of course, using armor and weapons in this warfare means that we cannot fight naked, unarmored, and unarmed; that is, without help from outside of ourselves.

How are to be strong except in the Lord and the power of his might?  All strength comes from God; all salvation comes from God.  There is no one to help us but God.  We have no life except in God.

We have the very Son of God, our noble captain.  We have all the faithful saints as our comrades.  We have Truth, righteousness, the Gospel of peace, faith, salvation, and the Holy Ghost as our armor.  We go forth in prayer, perseverance, and supplication.  Christ has already won the ultimate battle on the Cross.  Christ defeated death on that Cross.  And yet we still fight the good fight.  Christ has gone on to open Heaven to us, but He has not left us alone.  He has sent us the Comforter, the Spirit of Truth, the Holy Ghost.

 

With these spiritual protections and the very presence of God, we should not fear in the face of the ancient enemy or the contemporary ally of that enemy.

King David sings in Psalm lxxi.2:  “Be thou my stronghold, whereunto I may alway resort:”  This is a prayer, which is answered by God’s promise.

Psalm xxvii.1:  “THE LORD is my light and my salvation; whom then shall I fear? * the LORD is the strength of my life; of whom then shall I be afraid?”  Without God, we are weakened in darkness, caught by our enemies.  We are caught by death, by hunger, by thirst, by nakedness, by unpopularity and loneliness, by disease, by icy coldness and scorching heat.  Without God, we are utterly at a loss, destitute, defeated.

“MY brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might.”  How are we to be strong in the Lord and in the power of his might?  St. Paul continues on and tells us that we are to “Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.”

We as Christians are not alone.  First and most importantly, we are members grafted onto Him, the True Vine, the Lord of Lords, the Alpha and the Omega.  We are members of Christ by His gracious allowance.  He is most generous and courteous to us.  Through our Holy Baptism into His death and Resurrection, He accepts us as members of His Body.  We are never alone, for we are in Christ.

We as Christians are not alone.  Second and most graciously, others are also members of Christ alongside us.  We have brothers and sisters uncounted throughout the world and across time.  St. Mark xii.26-27:  “And as touching the dead, that they rise: have ye not read in the book of Moses, how in the bush God spake unto him, saying, I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob? He is not the God of the dead, but the God of the living:”

We are forever alive in Christ; in Christ we all have eternal life.  We are right now the brothers and sisters of all the saints whose names we read in the Holy Mass – and have been read for many centuries – along with all the saints who appear in the back of the bulletin, along with those whom we pray for that we have known, along with saints we will never personally know until Heaven.  We are members of Christ, yes and true; but we are also members one of another.  We had better grow close to each other here and now, for we will be seeing each other for all eternity.  And not just us, but many others born and those yet to be born.  We are a powerful army, the great host of the Lord God of Sabaoth.  We are members of Holy Church.  We are the chosen, the elect of God Almighty.  The world may turn its back on us, but first it turned its back on Christ, our High King and brother through divine adoption.

Psalm xviii.1-2:  “I WILL love thee, O LORD, my strength. * The LORD is my stony rock, and my defence;  My Saviour, my God, and my might, in whom I will trust; * my buckler, the horn also of my salvation, and my refuge.”

Even in the Old Testament, King David sang of the great power, support, and defense of our great, good, and powerful God.  He sang that we trust him.  He sang that the Lord was his “buckler, the horn also of my salvation, and my refuge.”  Buckler, or shield:  David used God to defend himself.  Horn:  David called upon God to assist him and summon help in time of need.  Refuge:  David used God to hide himself in him, to rest assured that his enemies would not destroy him.

This is why we flee to Christ.  He is God Incarnate.  He is the Almighty Sovereign Lord God of the Universe Who has come down amongst us as a little baby in tiny Bethlehem.  Bethlehem in Hebrew is Beth Lehem, or House of Bread.  Christ is Heavenly Bread sent down from Heaven for us to eat, like manna.  But unlike manna which lasted for but a day or two and gave nutrition only for a day or two, Christ’s own Blessed Body gives eternal life.  Christ is God, and Christ offered up His Body for us to eat and offered up His Blood for us to drink.

Yesterday, our young Mr. Jordan Hewett received the completion of his Baptism in the Sacrament of Confirmation.  He has now literally entered into the communion of Christ by communing with His Body and Blood.  He has eaten the Bread of Heaven.  He has drank Christ’s own Blood poured out for the life of the world.

Christ died on the Cross so that our newest communicant might be saved, and Christ offered him His Body and His Blood so that Jordan might receive Divine Medicine, the only cure and stay against death, disease, and decay.  Jordan has partaken of everlasting life, like so many of you have!  We are defended against “the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.”  We are here to put on “the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.”

We are weak, but He is strong.  So we wrap ourselves, not in the temporary flag of this mortal country, but in the Flesh and Blood of our Lord Christ.  We put on the whole armor of God, which is God Himself!  We bury ourselves deep into the bosom of our Lord so that all the ailments of this world cannot touch us.

Oh, but we are still subject to “the rulers of the darkness of this world.”  Unless Christ returns first in power and great glory, we will die, we will draw our last breath, our eternal spirits will separate from our bodies, “earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust.”  But lest we forget the words which follow, recall that we will rise again, “in sure and certain hope of the Resurrection unto eternal life, through our Lord Jesus Christ, at whose coming in glorious majesty to judge the world, the earth and the sea shall give up their dead; and the corruptible bodies of those who sleep in him shall be changed, and made like unto his own glorious body; according to the mighty working whereby he is able to subdue all things unto himself.”

Christ is God.  Christ is Lord.  We are fully vested in Christ, and Christ will redeem us, Christ is redeeming us, and Christ has redeemed us.  We are entirely secure and safe in our Lord Christ.

Christ is our savior and our friend, He Who delivers us from the power of Hell and brings us into everlasting life through His Body and Blood.

Christ guards us and wards us with powerful arms and armor, so that each of us may:

take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness; and your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace; above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God:

We do this not alone by ourselves, but constantly “Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints;”

We are never alone.  We are saved by the Body and Blood of Christ.  We are mighty in the Holy Ghost.

 

“Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.”

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

 

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“WE beseech you, brethren, and exhort you by the Lord Jesus, that as ye have received of us how ye ought to walk and to please God, so ye would abound more and more.”

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

 

“Purity, Holiness, and Loving-Kindness”

 

We can never rest easy in the Christian life.  Not that we are in constant jeopardy of losing our salvation, but that the Lord God of Heaven and Earth is a good God who loves us very much, and we ought to emulate him in all we think, do, and say.  And who among us is as holy and loving as Christ?  I have a long way to go.  So St. Paul might as well be speaking to me here as well as to the Thessalonians, and I can say that he’s speaking here to you as well.

1 Furthermore then we beseech you, brethren, and exhort you by the Lord Jesus, that as ye have received of us how ye ought to walk and to please God, so ye would abound more and more.

St. Paul beseeches and exhorts his fellow Christians to exceed their holiness so far attained, to keep striving forward, to continue to make progress.  St. Paul wants them to move forward not because of what they lack but because of what they have to gain.

We have been taught how to behave.  St. Paul here exhorts us to continue and grow in the way we are to behave.  We should do so willingly, as men freed from the bondage of sin.

How we “ought to walk and to please God” is a gift from God.  Being a gift from God, this moral knowledge is precious and holy.  We are to willingly embrace it and live it more fully every day, not as a burden, for sin was an actual burden, but as liberation and freedom to live eternally with God.

When we look back to life in sin, we see depression, desolation, darkness, and delusion.  We were “sunk” in sin, like trying to wade through a mire instead of marching on the dry, clean, high road of grace.  Even when we wanted to do the right thing, we were incapable of doing so.  But through the grace of God, his unmerited holy favor, we are freed from our sins and given the ability to walk on the King’s highway.

Abounding more and more is what Blessed John Keble preached, “that is a call, as serious as the heart of man could imagine, not to stand still, not to suppose they had done enough.”  We are unlike the beasts and the angels; we are created in the image of God.  God the Son did not manifest in Heaven as a holy angel.  God the Son did not come to earth as a dolphin or orangutan.  God the Son came down to earth and became a man amongst men.  We are made joint-heirs of God the Father through the adoption as sons.  We are joined in the Body of our Lord Jesus Christ to become one with God.  We are made tabernacles of the Holy Ghost.

We are called to holiness in a way no other creature in Heaven or on Earth is called.  The Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, the Eternal Word of God, came down from Heaven and was born a baby Jewish boy of the Blessed Virgin Mary in a small Judean town called Bethlehem.  God now shares our flesh, and when Christ Ascended into Heaven, He took His human body with Him.  Human flesh now resides in the heavenly realms of glory as well as in this created world.  God has taken on man’s nature so that man can take on God’s nature.

We are called out of this world of sinful men and made righteous by God so that we may be sanctified and called holy, chosen, called out from the world, set apart for God.  We are to be given much so that we may abound and abound forever and ever.  This is the Christian calling:  To live with God in his kingdom for all eternity, lost in wonder, love, and praise, fulfilling our created nature more fully than any thought or dream could imagine.  We will never have enough goodness, for God is infinite, and we are created for God.

2 For ye know what commandments we gave you by the Lord Jesus.

3 For this is the will of God, even your sanctification, that ye should abstain from fornication:

Having renounced the world and the sinful pollution of following the ways of the flesh, we offer ourselves as a living sacrifice to God; and since God only accepts pure and holy sacrifices, we must live holy and blameless lives, removing all obstructions to holiness in our lives, putting far from us our worldly and fleshly ways.

Fornication defiles man.  By entering into sexual congress with others outside of God’s design and permission for us, we deface the beautiful image of God in us and others.  Purity and sanctification are utterly opposed to fornication and sins of the flesh.

Moreover, in today’s increasingly immoral society, Christians must be known as chaste.  Obeying the Church’s Law of Marriage is one of the Duties of Churchmen.  The world watches us to see if we are either hypocrites or true lovers of God.

All Christians ought to be of one of three states of sexual purity:  virgin, married, or widowed.  Alas, many Christians were not virgins when we married.  Many Christians do not live chastely after losing our spouse.  Many Christians do not live chastely with our spouse.  When we live sexually ordered lives, we live lives following the teaching of Christ and His Bride the Church.  We live lives of purity, reaching towards holiness and loving-kindness without the damage which impurity and sexual immorality brings us.

4 That every one of you should know how to possess his vessel in sanctification and honour;

5 Not in the lust of concupiscence, even as the Gentiles which know not God:

By “lust of concupiscence”, St. Paul means all lusts of the flesh and the eyes which allure us to fleeting carnal delights and take our minds and bodies away from union with God.  Indulging in sinful pleasures disturbs us so that we are no longer temperate in our lives, we are out of balance in our relationship with the physical world, our inner composure with which we meet God is disturbed and unsettled.  When we give in to pursuit of these pleasures, we are knocked off our poise and made unsteady, so that we can no longer stand upright and face our Lord God.

But the lust of the eye and the wandering heart do not only touch our sexual lives.  Our economic lives are touched by this also.  Through envy and jealousy, our social lives are touched by concupiscence, the desire to draw the world into our selves.  We literally lust after the world, the pleasures of the flesh.  Gluttony is strongly allied with Lust and Greed.  They involve the desire to consume God’s good creation instead of relate to God’s creation the way he would have us relate to it – the good order of purity, holiness, and loving-kindness.

6 That no man go beyond and defraud his brother in any matter: because that the Lord is the avenger of all such, as we also have forewarned you and testified.

St. Paul further exhorts Christians to do no injury to our brother.  Just as fornication is acting unjustly towards our neighbors, so too is fraud.  We must not act immoderately or unrighteously towards our neighbors.  We must love our neighbors as ourselves.  Lust and Greed are related in that they involve desiring the things of this world in unholy and unclean ways.  God will avenge those whom we harm while wickedly seeking from our fellows that which is not ours to take.

God will punish Christians who have holy knowledge and training in righteous living harder than those who have not heard the word of grace and live as best as they can in the muck and mire of the world of sinful men.  We ought to love our neighbors and show them the Good News of Jesus Christ rather than condemning their wickedness which they cannot understand without Christ.

We know better than to corrupt ourselves in unchastity and fraudulent behavior.  When we commit sins which we currently live in and do not repent of, we eat and drink the Body and Blood of Christ to our damnation, not to our salvation.  For we cannot partake of holiness when we choose to wallow in unholiness.  We cannot partake of our good God if we insist on dwelling in impurity.  We cannot bring our favorite sins into the presence of God.  If we insist on holding them close to us, we cannot approach him.

To “defraud his brother” is to seek gain at the expense of his brother.  We are not to trick and manipulate others for our own gain.  Tricking a virgin into fornication is the vileness of seduction.  We rightly condemn those who do this.  But tricking our brother into loss for our gain is the same sin in a different way.

We are not to use each other.  Each one of us is a unique individual lovingly created by Almighty God our Heavenly Father in his own image.  God beholds each one of us and finds us so precious and valuable in his sight that he sent God the Son into the world to become one of us, to die on the Cross, and to save us from our sins.  God blesses each one of us so that we may live with him in his kingdom for eternity.  If God did not love each one of us so much, he would not want us so close to him for so long.

Being each a unique and invaluable part of creation, we are to treat others and to be treated with great dignity befitting our rank as adopted sons of God the Father through our Lord Jesus Christ and indwelt by God the Holy Ghost.  We are not to seduce, manipulate, or defraud those for whom Christ died to save from sin and death.  We are to honor and respect and love each other, following the way of Christ.  Purity, holiness, and loving-kindness all go together and all come from God.

7 For God hath not called us unto uncleanness, but unto holiness.

God has called us to holiness.  We must renounce the world of sinful men, the temptations of our fallen nature, and the supernatural evil which lurks about as a lion, seeking someone to devour.  We cannot have both sin and God, for sin is separation from God.

We place ourselves into grave danger when we trivialize our sins of the flesh, our little lusts, our wee gluttonies.  They are fun.  But they are contrary to God.  For instead of enjoying God, we enjoy God’s creation as if it were made as an end to itself and not for the glory of God.  We may enjoy the sexual embrace of our holy spouse as that embrace participates in the goodness of creation and glorifies God.  We may enjoy commercial intercourse with our fellow men as we trade goods and services so that we meet our needs and prosper, give alms to the poor, and generously give to Christ’s Body, Holy Church.  But when we pervert the goodness of creation to steal sexual embraces from those we are not in holy union with and to defraud those whom we interact, then we reject God.  When we embrace sin, we leave no room in our arms to embrace God.

8 He therefore that despiseth, despiseth not man, but God, who hath also given unto us his holy Spirit.

If by our unjust and unrighteous actions, we use and abuse other men, we have departed away from God.  Thus, if we despise men, we despise God instead.  God, who gave us his Holy Spirit to dwell inside of us, is well and truly despised by those who reject him.  We who sin against our fellow man despise God who dwells inside of us.  This tears us apart, and we are no fit vessels thereafter for the Holy Spirit of God.  Truly the Two Great Commandments go together:  To love God and to love our neighbors.

 

Little children, love your God, and love each other.  Live beautiful lives of holiness, purity, and loving-kindness.  Act justly to every person in your life, honor God, and love both God and your neighbor.  Worship Christ, and adore Him in His Body and His Blood.

This week, make an act of love to our Lord Christ every day.  Say to Him, “I love thee Lord Christ, and I want to love Thee more and more.”  Look inside your bulletins to the announcements on the inside right-hand side.  At the end of the announcements, you will see that sentence.  Say it with me:  “I love thee Lord Christ, and I want to love Thee more and more.”  One more time:  “I love thee Lord Christ, and I want to love Thee more and more.”

 

“WE beseech you, brethren, and exhort you by the Lord Jesus, that as ye have received of us how ye ought to walk and to please God, so ye would abound more and more.”

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

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“THE Spirit of the Lord God is upon me; because the LORD hath anointed me to preach good tidings”

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

 

Fr. Massey Shepherd said that today’s lesson describes “the saving, missionary work of the Messiah.”  This lesson from Isaiah is especially important as Christ read it publicly in the synagogue to announce the beginning of His public ministry in St. Luke iv.18-19.  Let’s take a closer look at it.

The 61st chapter of Isaiah begins:  THE Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me;

You can’t chose the prophetic mission; God chooses you.  When God gives a mission, he always provides the means to accomplish the mission.  The Lord does not make a promise that can’t be kept.  Like a priest and priestly gift of the Holy Ghost given in the sacrament of ordination, he who is called is given the necessary things to complete the mission.  St. Paul says in II Corinthians iii.5:  “Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think any thing as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is of God;”

Isaiah continues:  because the LORD hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek;

In telling of Christ reading the passage in the synagogue, St. Luke reads “poor” instead of “meek”.  In the early Third Century, the author Origen wrote, “By the poor He means the Gentile nations, for they were poor, possessing nothing at all, having neither God, nor Law, nor Prophets, nor justice, and the other virtues.”  This certainly agrees with the Great Commission, “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:”  Christ came to preach the Good News to the Jews first, but also to all nations.

Isaiah continues:  he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,

The “brokenhearted” are wounded and need healing.  Psalm cxliii.3 reads:  “He healeth those that are broken in heart, * and giveth medicine to heal their sickness.”

St. Cyril of Alexandria said:  “He calls those broken hearted, who are weak, of an infirm mind, and unable to resist the assaults of the passions, and to them He promises a healing remedy.”  St. Basil agrees:  “He came to heal the broken hearted, i.e. to afford a remedy to those that have their heart broken by Satan through sin, because beyond all other things sin lays prostrate the human heart.”  In other words, the brokenhearted are those who are weak and infirm by sin and uncontrolled passions, which is the condition we all share until redeemed by God.

Isaiah continues:  to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound;

Proclaiming liberty to the captive is associated with the year of Jubilee.  Leviticus xxv.10:  “And ye shall hallow the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof: it shall be a jubile unto you; and ye shall return every man unto his possession, and ye shall return every man unto his family.”

Sometimes we think that liberty means that we can do whatever we like.  But liberty and restoration to God’s good order are intimately related; we were originally at liberty in the Garden before the Fall distorted our wills.

St. John Chrysostom sees this:  “But the worst captivity is that of the mind, of which he here speaks. For sin exercises the worst of all tyrannies, commanding to do evil, and destroying them that obey it. From this prison of the soul Christ lets us free.”

St. Luke reads “to set at liberty them that are bruised” instead of “them that are bound”.  St. Cyril of Alexandria explains:  “For the darkness which the Devil has spread over the human heart, Christ the Sun of Righteousness has removed making men, as the Apostle says, children not of night and darkness, but of light and the day. For they who one time wandered have discovered the path of the righteous. It follows, To set at liberty them that are bruised.

Isaiah continues:  to proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD, and the day of vengeance of our God;

A liberal Protestant who commented on this verse said that the word “Vengeance” here is “dubious”.  But the Venerable Bede did not think so:  “After the acceptable year of the Lord, he adds, And the day of retribution; that is, the final retribution, when the Lord shall give to every one according to his work.”  Salvation and judgement go hand in hand.

Isaiah continues:  to comfort all that mourn; to appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness;

Comforting those that mourn is prominent in Isaiah.  When those who came back from the Babylonian Exile returned, they had high hopes.  But what they found was chaos, degeneracy, and sin.  They mourned “in Zion”.  Isaiah spoke the good word of God to them, giving them hope.  And today, these words give hope to those who mourn as well.

The lesson concludes:  that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that he might be glorified.

“Trees of righteousness” will be what those redeemed and comforted become.  And why? “that he might be glorified”; so God might be praised.

 

We are glad at the Good News; joy rises in our hearts and out our mouths when we hear and experience it.  We are called to be righteous within the call of the Good News and inside the joy over the salvation which it proclaims to us.  Gospel, joy, righteousness, salvation:  They all go together.

If righteousness doesn’t come after the glad tidings and joy and salvation, then these had no effect.

Therefore, upon hearing the glad tidings with joy, we are to strive for that righteousness which is part of our salvation.  Not that we can do it all by ourselves, but the good news is that we are not by ourselves.  God speaks to us, and we are never the same.  We become a holy people consecrated for God.  We are set apart.  We are saved.  We are joyous.  And being changed, we must love and spread this good news, these tidings of salvation which causes joy and effects righteousness.  Our growing in righteousness, our joy, and our spreading the Good News are all intertwined.  We must grow both personally and together as a holy people, and we must share these glad tidings.  This is who we are.  We are people who are redeemed by God, because God came down from Heaven and became one of us.  We are forever changed when we look into the eyes of Christ.  The holy angels veil their faces to the presence of God in Heaven, but we look God full in the face in the person of Christ our Lord.

In today’s Collect, we prayed:  “Grant that the same light enkindled in our hearts may shine forth in our lives.”  When put to the flame of God’s love, we ignite and become light by which others see God.

Nashotah House seminary has a prayer for those who are trained there:  “so penetrate them with your Spirit and fill them with your love, that they may go forth animated with earnest zeal for your glory; and may your ever living Word so dwell within their hearts, that they may speak with that resistless energy of love which shall melt the hearts of sinners to the love of you.”

When we hear the Good News of Christ and are filled with the Holy Ghost, we simply must pass on what we have experienced.  As Our Lady sings in that great hymn the Magnificat:  “My soul doth magnify the Lord, And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.”  We burn without being consumed by the loving-kindness of God himself.  People will notice!

But hearing the glad tidings, hearing the Gospel of Christ forces a crisis.  You either believe or not believe.  You cannot punt on this decision.  You cannot split the difference or decide not to decide.  And to our shame, many of us did not believe at first.  We humans are weak.  We are scared creatures.  It is a big world and without God we are terribly afraid of death.  Even Churchmen struggle with the little deaths of humiliation and poverty and shame.  This is not good.  This is not right.  But there it is.  Telling what the Lord has done for us forces a crisis in the hearer.  For better or worse, it is done.

And yet, the joy in our hearts propels us to share it.  We tell our friends when we find a really great deal at the store.  We pass on the accomplishments of our children and grandchildren with our neighbors.  We will even complain about the government, about the weather, about our favorite television show getting cancelled.  But people balk when it comes to sharing the Gospel.

I think it is because so much is on the line, so much is at stake.  You can pass up a great deal or a free meal, but passing up eternal salvation is more important than that.  Or perhaps we think it rude to make someone else uncomfortable.  And if we are slapping people around with big ole floppy Bibles, then we’re not really sharing the Good News, are we?  No.  When we share those glad tidings which we have heard, which caused joy to erupt in our hearts, which changed our lives for the better, making us holier, more righteous, purer in heart, cleaner in thoughts, then we have to share it.  We are changed for the better.

I like to tell people how I have improved over the years.  It was awkward “coming out” as a minister when I was younger – people remembered me all too well from childhood.  One of the things I love about my relationship with my wife Angela is that she has known me for a long time.  Certainly not as long as some of you have known each other, but she and I have known each other for our entire adult lives.  And we’re pretty sure that we met and I offended her when we were teenagers.  But when things are difficult and down, she knows that I have grown in Christ.  I’m getting better.  As for me, watching her blossom in the Lord has been a beautiful thing.  Of course I love the Lord, for He has wrought such great works in our lives!  Not that I don’t still mess up.  Not that I don’t have bad days, painful days, difficult days.  Not that everything is wonderful all the time.

But I attest before you and the angels in Heaven that God showed me a “more perfect way”.  Christ has shown me loving-kindness without bounds.  Of course I will stand up and preach!  And when your life has been touched by the Lord, you too will tell of His greatness, His loving-kindness, His overwhelming and gracious forgiveness, and the joy that sings out from your heart.  I’m not saying you have to walk around with a stupid grin plastered on your face.  I’m saying:  When your life is better for Christ saving you, you should speak your mind in your own voice.  You should tell your story, your part of the Greatest Story Ever Told.

If you walk through those red doors which symbolize the Blood of Christ and walk out into the world, you will meet untold numbers of folk in ashes, who mourn, who know all too well the spirit of heaviness.  They long for relief.  They subject themselves to trivial nonsense to dull the pain and take attention away from despair.  They inoculate themselves with false hope so that the return of disappointment does not crush them.

But the good word of the Lord offers them “beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness….”  They think that they live lives of their own making, selfishly thinking of themselves, but they, like us, are also called so “that they might be called Trees of righteousness.”  The Revised Standard Version, sounding mighty English, says instead “oaks of righteousness”.

Those mournful, despairing, confused people out there are called by God through you sitting here today that they might be sturdy oaks of righteousness so “that he might be glorified.”  We are made to praise the Lord.  This is the chief and highest end of man.  Why are we given free will, that is, why do we have conscious and reflective choice?  So that we may choose God.

But our wills, our minds, and our hearts are so damaged by the great Fall we experienced that we cannot begin to save ourselves.  “So God loved the world, that he gave his only-begotten Son, to the end that all that believe in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”  We are saved by the action of our loving Father in Heaven, who sent His only-begotten Son into the world, being born a baby in a manger in Bethlehem, so that He may save us from death, disease, and sin, by His Crucifixion and Resurrection, and then sent God the Holy Ghost to set us on fire to serve him in righteousness, joy, truth, and most especially loving-kindness.

I want you to commit to two things today:

First, believe the Good News in your heart and joyfully live it in your life.

And then, carry it out into the world and tell of those good tidings.

 

“THE Spirit of the Lord God is upon me; because the LORD hath anointed me to preach good tidings”

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

 

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