Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Body of Christ’

“I THANK my God upon every remembrance of you”

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

 

 

“Our Highest Calling”

St. Paul dearly loved the Church at Philippi, and today’s Epistle lesson shows it.  The prayer and rejoicing which shine forth in these verses set the tone for the entire epistle.  Let’s take a closer look at it.

 

 

“I THANK my God upon every remembrance of you “

“I thank” is the same root as Eucharist, actually eucharisto here.  He thanks God for his remembrance of them.  They have supported him in his mission amongst the Gentiles.  St. Paul is grateful for them.

St. Paul loved all of the Philippians and cared for them all, even though he had words of warning for some of them.  He could criticize them, indeed he was obligated by his office as apostle to admonish them, but that in no way diminished his love for them.  God loves us all, regardless of whether or not we deserve his love.  That’s the way that the love of God is – it is never earned, only given – and received.  St. Paul knew this personally, for he had been a persecutor of the Church and was complicit in the martyrdom of St. Stephen.

 

 

“always in every prayer of mine for you all making request with joy,”

Here St. Paul mentions prayer twice, once with the word prayer and also in “making request”.  He writes, “for you all” praying for all of the Philippians, not just the elite or saints, including those who are difficult, the ones he will later chastise.

This prayer for each other builds what they already have between them and is a result of the love they have between them.  The relationship of prayer with those who are joined in Christ is never simple and one-directional.  They are bound in prayer for each other to God as they are bound together in Christ’s love.

“With joy” opens one of the important themes of the epistle.  He prays for them with joy.  In Ephesians, he writes so much of love.  Here in Philippians, he writes wrapped in joy.  He wrote in Galatians v.22, “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy,” and so on.  As John Wesley said, “Joy peculiarly enlivens prayer.”

 

 

“for your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now;”

One reason for St. Paul’s joy is fellowship, or in Greek, koinonia.  In Christian terms, fellowship is more than association.  It is an evocative word, summoning meanings of emotion and practicality.  The Gospel brings all Christians into a relationship of responsibility for each other.

In this particular situation, the Philippians have shared responsibility with St. Paul for his missions.  The Philippians have looked after St. Paul – and he after them – with care, joy, thanksgiving, and prayer.  They have a past together, but they also have a future together.  He was genuinely thankful for the Philippians’ participation in his ministry.  For truly the ministry is neither yours or mine but His – Christ’s.  They shared in His ministry together.

 

 

“being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ:”

God, by his grace, has begun a good work in them which he will bring to perfection.  What God begins, he sees through to the end; the end of God’s work is perfection, or it is not God’s work at all.  The “day of Jesus Christ” is the day of Christ’s Second Coming.  This is when the worship of Him by the entire cosmos in ii.10-11 will manifestly become a reality.  When Christ returns, we will then see

That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

 

 

“even as it is meet for me to think this of you all, because I have you in my heart; inasmuch as both in my bonds, and in the defence and confirmation of the gospel, ye all are partakers of my grace.”

“To think this” is not just the stuff of intellect, but to judge or to hold an opinion; to have an attitude toward something.  To “have you in my heart” speaks to the deep emotional bond St. Paul has with the Philippians.  The heart is not just seat of emotions but center of a person.

St. Paul is explaining to them why he loves them and feels so close to them.  He himself is preparing for trial in Rome, and is probably using evidence and trial terms in this epistle.  They have helped him afford to travel and preach.  They have operated together, if even not in the same place always.  He longs for them, and he prays for them.

 

 

“For God is my record, how greatly I long after you all in the tender mercies of Christ Jesus.”

Like in a trial, St. Paul swears under oath – as God is my record.  He eagerly desires to be with them.  He longs after them and yearns for them.  He uses the words tender mercies for compassion, which means guts.  An old way of saying this is “bowels of mercy”.  And these are not St. Paul’s tender mercies, but Christ’s.  He loves them, but it is not his own tenderness which he has towards them, but the tenderness of Christ Himself.

Remember that we, you and me, are no longer simply our own persons but are united to Christ as members of His Body.  The love we have for one another shares in the love Christ has for each of us.  That is to say, I love you with the love Christ loves you.  That love is much better and more perfect and complete than my own impaired, imperfect, and limited love.  As Christians, we love each other with the infinite love of Christ Himself.  This is the love of God which can work miracles.  This is what we have right here together in this parish.

 

 

“And this I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and in all judgment;”

He begins by writing of “your love”, the loving-kindness which the Philippians have with each other, their mutual love which is the reflection of the love of God.  He prays that this love of God which they have for each other “may abound yet more and more”!  He wishes above all things, so much so that he goes to the Lord in prayer to intercede on their behalf, that the Christian self-sacrificial loving-kindness which they have for one another would continue to increase to maturity.

To this unquenchable fire of divine love he then follows “in knowledge and in all judgment” – this is the fruit of the love.  And why do they need this knowledge and judgment?

 

 

“that ye may approve things that are excellent; that ye may be sincere and without offence till the day of Christ;”

The word “approve” here means to discern or prove.  This is not a nod of the head.  This is a searching understanding for that which is spiritually solid and excellent.  He asks for an increase of love for right judgment so to approve only the best things.  And why?

“That ye may be sincere and without offence till the day of Christ”  Sincere here literally means, “tested by sunlight”, like holding up jars of jelly or glasses of wine.  “Without offence” means “without stumbling”, or without offense, such as in 1 Corinthians x.32:  “Give none offence, neither to the Jews, nor to the Gentiles, nor to the church of God:”  The “day of Christ” is the parousia, which is the Second Coming of Christ.  St. Paul often mentions this as a way to remind the churches to prepare for this day, which of course is a day which we should prepare for as well.

What a wonderful prayer!  We could not ask God for something more wonderful for each other.  Loving-kindness, spiritual knowledge, discernment of excellence, all effective to ensure that they be judged by Christ on the last day to be blameless.

 

 

“being filled with the fruits of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ, unto the glory and praise of God.”

This “being filled with the fruits of righteousness” means completed, brought to maturity, and perfected.  Being morally and spiritually perfected and brought to maturity gives rise to the “fruits of righteousness”.  This term is from the Old Testament.  Righteousness means being right with God.

The reading concludes with “the fruits of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ, unto the glory and praise of God.”  We do not repair our relationship with God through our own effort.  Christ completes us and our relationship with Him.  The fruits of righteousness are by Christ, are from outside of ourselves.  We are the recipients of the fruits of righteousness as we are recipients of the fruits of the orange tree.  The tree makes the fruit, and we receive and eat the fruit.

The righteousness of the Philippians is from Christ, and to Christ St. Paul gives thanks and praise, for he loves them, and he loves Him Who saved them and is perfecting them in love and righteousness.  His love of them brings him to thank God.  His love of these wonderful people brings him to love God even more.

Here is where the unity of the Two Great Commandments which I recited earlier this Mass comes from.  The love of God and the love of neighbor are essentially one movement of love, one gracious outpouring, one cycle building up one, then the other, and then the one again.  The love of God shows us to love our neighbor, and the love of neighbor lets us give thanks for God’s love.

 

 

Because we are members one with another with our fellow Christians, we are to love our neighbors as ourselves even when our neighbors are not Christian, not our friends, and not our family.  We are to enter into personal loving relationships with our neighbors because we are followers of Christ whom He has redeemed and made righteous.  Christ’s calling is the highest calling in the entire world, the whole cosmos.  In the entirety of our lives, there is nothing we can do that is as important as loving the Lord our God with our whole selves and loving our neighbors as ourselves.

 

 

“I THANK my God upon every remembrance of you”

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

 

Read Full Post »

“They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick.”

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

 

“Church:  Hospital or Hospice?”

There are no people who are to be unwelcome here!  No one here has ever told me to make this a hoity-toity society parish, but many people have placed little limits here and there about making sure the riff-raff is kept out.  But we are the riff-raff in the eyes of God!  And the truth in the eyes of the eternal and Almighty God is actually true, unlike our notions of polite society which are here today and gone with the wind tomorrow.

We have need of physicians of the soul for we are sinners.  When Christ sat at dinner to eat with St. Matthew and the other tax collectors, he sat with men who were known to take bribes, work for the Roman occupying force, and wring as much as they could out of the population.  When the self-righteous Pharisees complained about that, Christ told them, “They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick.”  The Body of Christ is to be a hospital for repentance and healing and not a club for the redeemed.

We are sinners.  St. Paul says in Romans iii.23, “ For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;”  We are not to be only treating our pain but undergoing spiritual healing.  We can never think first of the pain.  Who would ever set a broken bone if we only thought of the pain?  Who would take months of chemotherapy if we only thought of the pain?  We have amongst this parish survivors of cancer who have undergone very difficult treatment.  I for one am glad that they – y’all – underwent such painful treatment, for I would rather you be with us than not.

If we are doing the Lord’s work, we can welcome the criticisms of our enemies because they give us the opportunity to explain ourselves and what we are doing.  The criticisms of the Pharisees allow Christ to explain the hospital concept.  He isn’t just hanging out; He is doing the work of God with actual people, people like you and me.

Christians are to follow Christ in allowing everyone to come in to the community before we expect righteousness of them.  Anyone with a soul is welcome.  We do have standards of conduct, such as repenting of sin, receiving Holy Communion, and fasting, but these standards are for those who are already members, not standards to obey before you come to know Christ.  Thus it is that we are a hospital for sinners.  Faith comes before righteous living. Our modified behavior is our response to the great goodness given to us by Christ our Lord.

“Follow me” is the shortest, simplest, and most succinct call to Christian discipleship.  To follow Christ is to live in His manner of life.  We follow those upon whom we model ourselves.  “Follow me” implies personal loyalty.  Christ is not trying to get people to follow His set of rules or His philosophy but rather His Holy Person.  Our faith is one of loving-kindness between persons.  For instance, I am the husband of Angela, and Angela is the wife of me.  I said that I took her as my wife, and she said she took me, bless her heart, as her husband.  We did not become something complex like cult members or philosophers or disembodied talking heads when we married; we married each other.

Likewise, Christ is not trying to sell something here.  We follow Him.  This is why we are not people of a book like Jews and Mohammedans.  We follow Christ – we are Christians.  We are people in a personal relationship with our Lord and Master.  This is why Apostolic Succession is so important – our faith is transmitted from mouth to ear and heart to heart.  You cannot truly read yourself into the Christian Faith.  Reading theology is not the basis of Christian ministry.  Love between members of the household of God is.  I am your spiritual father, and you are my spiritual children.  And so on.

Buying your child or grandchild a Bible is no substitute for attending Mass with her.  It is more important for him to hear you answer the question in person than to have him look up the answer for himself.  Even though we fail as leaders to our children and priests fail as leaders to our people, this way of communicating between persons is the fundamental way of learning about Christ.  Getting embarrassed about speaking religion to each other is part of our relationship with each other.

Christ is Himself the answer to sin, sickness, and death.  Christ is a bold one, for He is the Incarnate Son of God made flesh down here on earth to save us from sin, sickness, and death.  Christ is both the messenger and the cure.  Christ is both the priest and the victim.  Christ is both God and Man.  Our connection with God, our source of ultimate healing is found in that singular human person, that ancient Jew.  Christ is entirely God and entirely human and yet is but one single Person, the Holy Person whose Name

is above every name: That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.  (Philippians ii.9b-11)

St. Matthew found the “pearl of great price”, and nothing in this world could compare with the Man Who found Him.  So, like the others fishing in their boats, the Evangelist and Apostle dropped what he was doing without a care of what might befall him to follow the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
A hospice is a place where you go to die.  The folks who work with hospice do not allow any fighting to save your life.  They want you to die peacefully and with as little pain as possible.  A hospice is not a place to go in order to heal.  One is supposed to be carried out of a hospice.

A hospital is a place where you go to heal.   One goes to a hospital in order to get back on your feet and eventually leave under your own power, even if they insist on the wheelchair ride to the front door or to your car.

I have had a season-long clinical pastoral education internship at a hospital in Illinois and a year-long CPE residency at a hospital in South Carolina.  One of my problems in these hospitals is that the spiritual care, the pastoral care provided seemed to be of a palliative nature.

According to getpalliativecare.org, palliative care “focuses on providing patients with relief from the symptoms, pain, and stress of a serious illness—whatever the diagnosis.”  Palliative care makes the physical, social, mental, and emotional burdens of being sick more bearable.  It does not attempt to cure the ailment.

I confess that I am not a big fan of palliative care.  I have a painful chronic illness, and I would much rather receive a therapy which gets me healed up and on my way.  Instead, the medicine I take helps me tolerate the burden of being sick.  I am thankful for this care and medication, for it allows me to do more than I was able to do before I took the medicine.

But, I much prefer therapy that improves my condition.  One of the reasons I felt so called to amend my life and trust in Christ was that I saw someone live a better and holier life that I did.  Forgive me if you heard my story, but some fellows and I worked together in Atlanta many years ago.  We were smart-alecs, jerks, clever boys with a turn of phrase who thought that we were hilarious.

One of the ladies were worked with seemed like a silly girl.  She dressed funny and talked funny, and we made fun of her.  I’m sure it wasn’t fun to her.  But here’s the kicker – she always treated us with decency and respect.  She was a follower of Christ in that she actually walked with the Son of God and treated other people with the love with which Christ loved her.

Confronted with genuine Christian loving-kindness, I stood convicted of my sins.  I underwent the painful realization that my life of disrespect was not worth living.  I wanted to love other people and myself the way she loved me and the way Christ loved her.  I came back home to church and repented of my sins.  I am honored to tell you here today that in the last few weeks of my father’s life he saw this son of his come back into the Christian walk that he had taught me to walk in.

Here I stand twenty-five years later a changed man.  I am not as good a man as I hope to be someday, but I can safely say that I am a better man.  Angela has known me long enough to attest to the fact that I am a better man today than when she first met me.

But here is the thing about palliative care:  If I had not felt that pain of public humiliation realizing that I treated others poorly, I can’t see as how I would have repented from my sins.  The pain I felt was a good thing.  It taught me, it schooled me that I was on a road to damnation.  I knew my life was out of order when I felt that pain.  I thank God Almighty sitting in Heaven above that I was not provided palliative spiritual care, Christian ministration that got the pain to stop.

That pain was good for me.  I went to the hospital of Christ’s church to get spiritual healing.  If I had been taken to a spiritual hospice, I would have been told that I was good enough just the way I was and that I did not need to change.

My dear children, Christ sat at table full of sinners so that He could redeem them.  Our parish here is named after the most famous physician of Holy Scripture, St. Luke.  Jesus Christ has established His Bride, Holy Church, here on earth to help save sinners.  We sit here on Wheeler Road so that we may do the work of Christ and be a place of spiritual healing.

That means that we will hurt.  We will hurt from our own sins.  And Christ wants us to hurt from our sins.  We are not to cover over our sins and adopt pseudo-therapies that reduce our suffering.  No!  We must suffer fully.  We must feel our hurt so that we may correct our lives!  We must let our brothers and sisters who are members of Christ’s Body feel their hurt so that they may amend their lives.  We spiritually injure our fellow members of Christ’s Church when we try to take away their suffering before the time is over.

That means that others will hurt.  We are a hospital for sinners.  When we welcome people who suffer the pains of this fallen world through their own fault, the fault of others, and the assaults of the Devil, we must take them in and bandage them up like the Good Samaritan did.  We must suffer with them – that is what the word compassion means:  To suffer with.

We must embrace the pain of this world and let folks know that they can come here for spiritual healing.

 

This parish holds together two different notions of what a parish ought to be.  For on the one hand, we know each other well, we are friends with each other, we seek out others who will serve what we have already established as members of this parish, and we seek out others who will keep our parish family going.  This is a cozy, comfortable, and unfruitful way of conducting ourselves.

But on the other hand, we are a mission outpost of the right bank on the Savannah River.  All Saints’, Aiken has the left bank.  This is our duty station, and from here we are to fulfill the Great Commission given to the Apostles and thus to our bishops – “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: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.”

We are both a family and a mission outpost.  As a parish family, we show some of the domestic loving-kindness made possible in Christ our Lord.  But we are also tempted towards living out the Christian life in this parish as a hospice, avoiding pain, keeping peace, and not rocking the boat.

As a mission outpost, we focus on preaching the Gospel and loving our neighbor as ourselves.  Thus we are tempted towards living out the Christian life in this parish as a hospital, dragging in the wounded off the street, binding their wounds, and loving them, encouraging those who have fallen, strengthening those who are weak, and occasionally sending on their way those who simply stopped by for a rest.

Discerning correctly and loving appropriately is the principal challenge for us here at St. Luke Church as we grow into the future.

 

“They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick.”

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

Read Full Post »

“God be merciful to me a sinner.”

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

 

 

“The Sin of Presumption”

 

Christ’s story of the Pharisee and the publican is not a contrast between hypocrisy and humility, but between presumption and humility.  The Pharisee was not a hypocrite.  He genuinely believed what he was saying.  He genuinely lived out the life he professed to live.

However, the Pharisee did presume to know the mind of God.  The Pharisee presumed to judge with the judgement of God.  And he did not know the mind of God.  He wrongly judged what was worthy and what was not.  And so he walked away unjustified, not set right with God.

Presumption is a form of pride.  The Pharisee judged himself compared to his fellow man.  That is not the true measurement of a man.  The true measurement of a man is in the sight of his creator.  The Pharisee’s preening missed the point of what he was attempting to do.  And by being so sure he was doing what he was supposed to do, he thereby dismissed the publican who saw reality correctly; the reality that he was a sinner before a righteous God.  All that a sinner before a righteous God can say is, “God be merciful to me a sinner.”

As Bishop Mortimer says of the magnanimous man who judges rightly:

This is the heart of humility.  He does not exalt himself, neither does he despise his fellows.  He honours God, and he honors his fellows as God’s creatures.  He honours every man truly in proportion as he finds him honourable in the sight of God.  He rightly and properly honours and prefers good men above bad men.  But he is not thereby proud, because he knows that both he and they owe what goodness they possess to God; the evil which they share with evil men is of themselves.

This is one way which the Apostle Paul does not fall into the sin of the Pharisee.  St. Paul does not presume the goodness of God for himself.  Instead he sees himself for who he truly is, and it is not pretty:

For I am the least of the apostles, that am not meet to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am: and his grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain; but I laboured more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.

He does not even claim the great labors for the Gospel of Christ which he has done, for they, understood rightly, are due to “grace of God which was with me.”  His persecution of the Church of God is on him; his abundant labours exceeding all others are due to the God alone.  St. Paul merely cooperated with the grace of God; he did not generate the grace of God.

And thus that is another way which the Apostle Paul does not fall into the sin of presumption.  St. Paul does not sleep in late, eat iced cream, and count on God’s grace.  St. Paul “labored more abundantly than they all:”  For if thinking that your good works are due to you alone and that you can successfully work your salvation before God is wrong, so is thinking that God’s grace is coming to you no matter what you do and that you don’t need to do a thing.  Both count on things which are not true, and things that are not true will do you no good before the dread judgement seat of Christ our Lord on the Day of Doom, the Day of Judgement.

So we must steer a middle course between presuming that we can work out our salvation through our shoddy works alone and presuming that we can sit back and let God work his saving magic on us.  Both ways leave us unjustified.  And we cannot live forever with God if we are not justified.

 

So how do we steer this middle course between the two ways to commit the sin of presumption?  After all, the Pharisee tithed, fasted, and prayed at the Temple and still got left out.  How do we live out our faith and good works in the sight of God here in Christ’s Church?

Like so many times before, we should look at Bishop Mortimer’s Six Duties of Churchmen.  Worshipping, receiving Holy Communion, fasting, tithing, confessing, and remaining chaste are the bare minimum level of acceptable Christian service.  My dear children, no less will do.  Receiving Holy Communion, tithing, and chastity are not optional.  Worshipping every Sunday and Holy Day of Obligation, fasting, and confessing your sins are not optional.

Yet they are not sufficient.  They are the bare minimum of our Christian Duty.  But we do not win Heaven by them alone.  They are not enough by themselves.  For without the grace of God, they are worth nothing.

They are no substitute for faith.  Faith is trusting in that which is unseen.  There is no behavior we can enact that makes us right with God.  God makes us right with him based on our faith, which itself is a gift from God.  Faith is the basis upon which we make our decisions to act in a Christian manner, and faith is the likely outcome of behaving in a Christian manner.  Faith in God and good works go hand in hand.

 

So how did the publican get justified?  He stood afar off, the lowered his eyes, he beat his chest, and he prayed, “God be merciful to me a sinner.”

This is the most needful prayer in Scripture.  It is right up there with the Lord’s Prayer.  In fact, this is probably more important.  Like the Summary of the Law is superior to the Ten Commandments even though it is shorter, this Publican’s Prayer is short and sweet, “God be merciful to me a sinner.”

We trust God when we do our best and tell the Lord that we are spent, we are through; we can do no more.  And we know that what we have done is nothing without him.  Knowing in faith that all our actions are insufficient for our eternal life, we turn to God and say, “God be merciful to me a sinner.”  We say it knowing that it is true, that we have no hope for good, no hope for Heaven, no hope for eternal life except God the Father.

 

Our incomparable Anglican liturgy includes a robust confession of sins in each of the three major services of the Church, Mattins, Mass, and Evensong.  If you focus during this prayer of confession, offer yourself up to it to the best of your ability, and firmly intend to turn away from your sins and do better next time, then this prayer is efficacious, it is effective in obtaining what you desire.

When we attach ourselves to Christ’s offering of Himself up as a living sacrifice to God the Father in the Holy Mass, then we participate in Christ’s death and Resurrection again.  When we eat the Body of Christ and drink His holy Blood in faith, we join ourselves mystically and sacramentally into the guaranteed streams of grace pouring from the side of Christ in Heaven upon us here down on earth.

We do our good works in conjunction with our living faith in Christ, knowing that all that we have is not good enough.  But we know from the Gospels that Christ came to us on His own; we did not have to beg and cajole Him down here.  He saved us on the Cross before we were born.  He loved us first.  We can count on Him.

 

“God be merciful to me a sinner.”

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

 

Read Full Post »

“by their fruits ye shall know them. Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.”

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

 

“Good Fruit and the Mystery of Salvation”

Today’s Epistle shows us that by exchanging masters from sin to God, we thereby become something other than slaves – sons.  We have a new relationship.  Becoming the servant of God, we are given the gifts of the Spirit of God, which allows us to call God Abba, or Father.

Today’s Gospel shows us, in the words of Fr. Shepherd, that “…Not everyone who addresses Christ as ‘Lord’ really belongs to Him, but only those who bring forth in their lives the true faith of the Spirit.”  We show that we follow God’s will not by public declarations and extraordinary acts, but by humble “deeds of righteousness”.

So receiving the Spirit of adoption, we cry, Abba, Father.  We are made heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ.  We are joined with Christ and presented by Him to the Father as part of Him, a member, a cutting away from sin which has been grafted onto the Body of Christ.  Yet as a grafted branch and member of Christ, if we do not produce good fruit, then Christ will claim not to know us on the last day.  The last verse of today’s Gospel and the next two verses of St. Matthew’s Gospel read,

Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.  Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?  And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.

How can we square this in our minds?  How can we take being elected heir of God the Father and yet not know him through our lack of good fruit?  This quandary speaks to the very heart of salvation.  We think of the charges alleged against Baptists, “once saved always saved”, wherein they can do wickedness after they are saved and still go to Heaven.  Martin Luther had a terrible time putting this together, so much so that he wanted St. James’ Epistle cut from the New Testament canon for “faith without works is dead”.  We also think of the Roman Catholics, against whom are alleged that they believe in “works righteousness”, wherein they do good works to be saved.  It is all a terrible mess.

But both of these things are true.  We are both grafted onto the Body of Christ through the action of the Holy Ghost and made joint-heirs with Christ and partakers of heavenly gladness and we might be chopped off that Lordly vine and thrown out to be burned if we do not produce good fruits.  We are adopted sons, but we are expected to do something with this gift.  We are given so much, and we ought to produce good works with what we have been given.

 

Let me explain this mystery of salvation, of justification and sanctification, this mystery of being “saved”.  For I call each and every one of you to both justification, or getting right with God, and to sanctification, or growing holy like God is holy.  We need both.  If you become a member of Christ’s Body, you are bound for eternal life with God.  But to live eternally with God, you must become perfect, become holy.  Both go together.

“Conversion”, “regeneration” or new birth, “strengthening with the Spirit”, and “good fruit” have a right relation to each other.  These relate to each other in Christ’s Body, Holy Church.  Since part of Holy Church, the Church Militant, is here on his earth right now, she, being the Body of Christ our Lord, gives us access in Christ to what we need to live with God forever.

God loves us.  He created us to live with him at the very beginning, but we rejected him.  He sent the Law and the Prophets, but we rejected them.  He sent His only-begotten Son into this world as one of us, to redeem us with His Precious Blood.  God in Three Persons loves us and wants us with him forever.

 

Let us take, for example, our friend the unbaptized sinner.  He wanders through this world hardly knowing right from wrong.  All that he does is tainted with sin both of deeds and of his sinful human nature.  But God as sovereign of the universe, through his angels and his saints, as creator of the world, prepares a path back to himself for the unwashed sinner.  God leads him to salvation in his prevenient grace.

Being thus led, let’s say this sinner sees God in the sky, or in song, or in the love of his fellow man.  His conscience is pricked, and he realizes he needs Christ.  He attends worship.  He learns of the things of God.  He believes in Christ and undergoes Holy Baptism.  He is born again, made regenerate.  He has new life, Christ’s life.  His old sinful self dies, and he is grafted onto the Body of Christ.

In this Sacrament of the Church, not through ritual magic but in the boundless merits of Christ’s Crucifixion and Resurrection, our friend here has his sins completely washed away.  The spiritual consequence of his misdeeds is undone.  Christ has taken away his sinful nature.  Yet our friend has not stopped being himself.  Unfortunately, he will walk out those red doors and sin again.  He is not yet perfect in Christ.

So our friend must be strengthened for the journey of our earthly pilgrimage.  He is currently a babe, a child in Christ.  He is a new Christian.  He may have many years on earth, but he is not spiritually mature.  He needs strength, maturity.  And so Holy Church has his bishop lay his hands upon him and confer the Sacrament of Confirmation.

The essence of Confirmation is not the recital of the Lord’s Prayer, Apostles’ Creed, or Decalogue.  The essence of Confirmation is not even that our friend reaffirms his Baptismal vow to live a Christian life.  The essence of Confirmation is the laying on of episcopal hands, anointing with holy oil, and the giving of the sevenfold gifts of the Holy Ghost.

These gifts are understanding and wisdom so he can discern the truth and its value, are knowledge and counsel so he can apprehend and apply moral laws, true godliness for loving piety, ghostly strength for “courageous spiritual warfare”, and holy fear for the loving desire to please God.  With these gifts imparted, our friend is weaned from childish food and is ready for the holy meal.

So converted, Baptized, and Confirmed, our good friend receives for the very first time Holy Communion, the Blessed Sacrament, Christ’s gift of Himself to us.  This is his meat and drink for the spiritual life here on earth.  No one separated from Christ’s gift of Himself, His own Body and Blood, can sustain his arduous journey through this life.

Christ came to earth at the Annunciation to the Blessed Virgin Mary, was born on Christmas Day, shed His first Blood at His Circumcision, fasted in the wilderness, taught Israel and beyond, and then carried His own Cross to His Crucifixion so that He might joyously rise again at His Resurrection and ascend into Heaven at His Ascension.  Christ did all this for you and for me.

Christ is not sitting around hanging out with the Father and the Holy Ghost in Heaven; He is interceding for you and me right now before God the Father.  Christ wants us with Him forever, as joint-heirs with Him to God the Father.  Christ wants us in His Baptism and to eat His Sacred Body and drink His Holy Blood.

Only now is our friend full up on the grace Christ would like to give him.  He has experienced conversion of heart.  He has experienced new birth in Christ.  He has received the sevenfold gifts of the Holy Ghost.  He receives the Body and Blood of Christ.  And yet….

And yet our friend may turn his back on God and walk away.  Our friend may decide, although it seems hard to imagine given all the trouble he has gone through, he may freely decide that he would rather follow his own thoughts back into unbelief, follow his own path instead of God’s calling to him, follow his own lusts and desires instead of living a holy and moral life.

Our friend is free.  Christ has freed him from sin.  Yet sin is all around us.  If sin were not so terribly enticing, it wouldn’t be a bother.  You see, sin is mighty tasty.  Sin is that peculiar notion, that third beer, that extramarital affair that seems so wonderful at the time.  Our friend may choose this over his loving Lord Christ.

But our friend still has a lot going for him.  He is grafted onto Christ’s living Body.  Christ would have him exercise his self-discipline and live a morally courageous life.  He could obey those Ten Commandments.  He could pray every day and study the Holy Scriptures.  He could love his enemies and turn the other cheek.

How can we know that our friend, now our brother is doing well?  Some of this holy striving to live a fruitful life is noticeable.

We would see our brother at Mass on Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation.  He would receive the Body and Blood of Christ at least on Christmas, Easter, and Pentecost.

We would see our brother materially support his parish through the tithe.  We might see him at a library fundraiser, but his wife and the parish treasurer would know he was giving God that ten percent of his income that shows he is truly thankful for the blessings God has given him.

We would see our brother remain faithful to his wife.  No shenanigans for this fellow, no flirting with the ladies.  Entered into Holy Matrimony with his wife, his devotion to her through the grace of God will have grown since his conversion, Baptism, and Confirmation.

We would see our brother in line at Confession and see him learn from his mistakes as he paid close attention to his conscience.

We would see our good brother fast.  Mind you, he does not flaunt it or throw it in other people’s faces.  He is a good guest and eats what is set before him at other’s homes, but when you see him out for dinner on Fridays he is never at the steakhouse.  When you go to his home for dinner during Lent, you are served fish and vegetables.

Our good brother bears much fruit.  Having been converted, born again, strengthened for the journey, and nourished at the Lord’s Table, we see him in the parish and the community doing his Six Duties of Churchmen and so much more.  Like a patriarch of old, he is generous to the poor and needy, upright in his conduct, and faithful to his God.  He is not a perfect man, but he is preparing for everlasting life.

This our friend shall not be lopped off the living vine and tossed into the fire.  Our friend bears much fruit, and not a little of it is in setting a good example for the rest of us.

 

For those of us Baptized as infants, hopefully we may avoid our conversion experience.  Although infants are incapable of sin and therefore the washing away of committed sins by Baptism does not help infants, Holy Baptism does kill off the old sinful nature and put the robe of righteousness onto that little baby.  Growing up in the Church, that baby can grow into a lovely young lady.  Weaned off of childish things, she will be strengthened with the Holy Ghost at her Confirmation and receive the solid food of Holy Communion, of Christ’s Body and Blood, for the first time.  Raised properly and not being too contrary, she may never need to go through the time of rebellion from God that would require a conversion of heart.

But for those of us, like myself, who were Baptized as an infant but went through a time of rebellion from God, Christ’s life does not avail for us until we are converted.  Holy Baptism does suck your soul up into Heaven.  It makes us regenerate, but only with conversion of life.  Only the fruitful tree shall enter into the Kingdom of heaven.  We must respond in faith through good works to reckon with the call of Christ in our lives.

 

We were created in the image of God, and our natural and supernatural growth shall be in God’s image.  Therefore, we are to love perfectly.  St. Matthew v.48:  “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.”

Those that are written in the Lamb’s book of life, those who are undefiled, shall enter into the Heavenly Jerusalem.  Since we are washed clean of our sins in Christ, those who are undefiled are those who have been freed from their sins and made perfect in Christ.  He makes abundantly clear to us in the Holy Scriptures and in Holy Church that we are to improve from our sinful, broken, and alienated selves.  Christ wants us in Heaven with Him, but we cannot take our selfishness, idolatrous, and lying ways with us.  We have to grow in morality, in loving-kindness, and in holiness.  Our hearts must burn with loving-kindness for one another just like the Sacred Heart of Christ our Lord.  We may live our homely humble Anglican lives, but all our domestic virtue is but a sensible and decent overflow from the burning furnace of divine love in our hearts.

Here at St. Luke Church, we are more than our members, for we are members of Christ.  Even if we were the weakest and most sinful folk, Christ would still truly be here among us because He is God.  Still, Christ calls us to be perfect as He is perfect.  We, grafted onto Christ, are to become as pure and virtuous and holy as Christ.  We must each work on ourselves in this great community we have here.

The whole parish grows healthier and stronger the more we each grow healthier and stronger in the Lord.  The more we improve our lives, the more we fast according to the rule of Holy Church, the more we attend Mass as we ought, the more we say our prayers and read the Scriptures in between Sundays, the more we all grow.  The more we love our God and love our neighbors, our parish grows into a more loving parish.

Different members have different concerns, but there is one answer which addresses everyone’s concern:  Christ.  He is God come down amongst us to raise us up with Him to live with God the Father forever.  Our spiritual ancestors walked in the cool of the garden with God.  You and I will also walk with God after Christ returns.

But we mustn’t presume to be saved.  God has given us great work to do.  And in true Anglican manner, our great work is quite humble.  You and I are to look each other in the eye, to know one another, and to love each other.  You and I are to stand facing the same direction and worship God together.  We are not Hindus who look to wash in the River Ganges.  We are not Moslems who must visit the Black Stone in Mecca.  We are humble sinners, washed in the Blood of Christ, strengthened in the Holy Ghost, and we come together before the altar of God to eat the Body and Blood of Christ our Lord.

Through repentance of our sins, sacramental grace, and self-discipline let us cultivate our spiritual life according to Holy Church so that from the well-tended garden of our hearts comes forth those fruits of the spirit in which progress towards perfection declares itself.  To those who live in those fruits of the spirit come the blessings of the Beatitudes, which indeed are preliminary to the joys of the world to come.

 

“by their fruits ye shall know them. Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.”

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

Read Full Post »

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Read Full Post »

Bless them which persecute you: bless, and curse not. Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep. Be of the same mind one toward another.

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

 

We are not living up to our potential.  We want to be better Christians.  We want to feel God’s presence in our lives more than we do now.  We want to live holier lives with fewer sins, trusting in God and feeling his comfort more.  But we don’t.  Because to live a more outrageously Christian life, we would have to change.  We would have to alter comfortable habits.  We would have to change our routine.  And here’s the kicker:  We would have to risk losing what we have.

But it is exactly so that we must lose much of what we have.  We have regular sins we habitually commit.  That’s gotta change.  We have a set of friends that don’t challenge us when we misbehave.  That’s gotta change.  We have God in a box, sometimes on the mantle, sometimes on the bookshelf, sometimes on our nightstand.  That’s gotta change.

It hurts to change, but change we must.  We must direct ourselves outward.  Inward is our own self, our own interests, our own safety.  It is a dangerous world out there.  But God is out there too.  We must direct ourselves outward.  The two great commandments are to love the Lord our God with all our heart, with all our soul, and with all our mind.  And we must love our neighbors as ourselves.  Both God and our neighbors are beyond ourselves, out there.  You cannot stare at your belly button and find God.  But you will find God in the faces of the man who is asking for a handout, the man who has sinned against you, and the woman who lives down the block.

The Church does not exist for herself.  The Church is the Bride and Body of Christ.  The Church, by her nature, serves the Lord.  We too serve the Lord.  We do not all serve the Lord in the same way.  Some serve Him loudly, others quietly.  Some pray more than they can give, and others give more than they can pray.  But we are made holy, consecrated, set apart from the sin and brokenness of the world through our Lord Whom we serve.

How we treat people is vitally important.  First, it is one of the two great commandments.  Second, it is the subject of six of the Ten Commandments.  Third, it is what those outside the fellowship of Christ notice first about us.  Fourth, these are the same people for whom Christ came down from Heaven, for whom Christ lived and suffered amongst us, for whom Christ died on the hard wood of the Cross, for whom Christ rose again on the third day, for whom Christ ascended into Heaven, for whom Christ sent the Holy Ghost, and for whom Christ intercedes at the right hand of God the Father.  Those people outside of ourselves, those people outside the household of faith are pretty darn important, you could say!

 

Loving-kindness is the chief of the theological virtues.  It alone remains after faith and hope have passed away.  As Christians, love is our rule, love is our guide.

But love means almost anything in today’s society.  All sorts of selfish and immoral behaviors are conducted in the name of love.  This is one of the reasons I follow the Authorized Version of the Bible in using loving-kindness for the Greek agape, which is the same as the Latin caritas.  Loving-kindness is the self-sacrificial love manifested in Christ which resides in the will and not in the emotions.  We do not feel in loving-kindness; we act in loving-kindness.

And so St. Paul describes the life of the Christian community, the blessed company of all faithful people, the Body of Christ, the Bride of Christ, that life which is lived in loving-kindness.

Let love be without dissimulation. Abhor that which is evil; cleave to that which is good. Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love; in honour preferring one another; not slothful in business; fervent in spirit; serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope; patient in tribulation; continuing instant in prayer; distributing to the necessity of saints; given to hospitality. Bless them which persecute you: bless, and curse not. Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep. Be of the same mind one toward another. Mind not high things, but condescend to men of low estate.

“Let love be without dissimulation.”  This means that we must stop pretending to love each other.  I understand that it is more polite to pretend to care for someone while mentally reserving bad opinions about them, but it is contrary to Scripture.  We cannot be transformed into lovers of God and our fellow man if we walk around pretending to love them.

“Abhor that which is evil; cleave to that which is good.”  This needs no explanation.  Flee from evil and cling to all that is good.

“Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love; in honour preferring one another;”  When we love each other like Christ loves us, we may not all be close social friends.  But we will be brothers and sisters one to another.  You may know the Greek word for this brotherly love:  Philadelphia.  We have an obligation to act in loving-kindness with everyone everywhere, but we have a special obligation to our brothers and sisters in the Church.  Indeed, each of us ought to seek to honor our brother more than ourselves.  If we do not change our lives within the bosom of Christ’s Church, then what are we really doing here?

“not slothful in business; fervent in spirit; serving the Lord;” Without letting our zeal wane, we are to serve the Lord in a determined fashion filled with the Holy Ghost.  What is your vocation?  What is God calling you to do?  Are you fully involved in serving God?  If not, what are you waiting for?  If God called you, then you have a mission from God to fulfill.  Don’t wait until tomorrow, for tomorrow may never come.  Don’t worry about waiting for the right moment, for you may never feel the time to be right.  Get going with God’s business!

“rejoicing in hope; patient in tribulation; continuing instant in prayer;”  How ought we to live?  We not only are to live in hope of Christ’s return and life everlasting, we are to rejoice in that hope.  And yet while we are waiting, we suffer.  We see suffering all around us.  We experience suffering in our bodies, in our minds, in our families, in our friends.  Here, we have a difficult word from St. Paul:  Be patient.  We are not to be lazy, but we should bear our pains, our griefs, and our sorrows.  This is hard, and this is why St. Paul follows this with prayer.

We must continue instant in prayer; that is, we are to pray to God at all times.  We are to pray with our mouths, we are to pray with our bodies, we are to pray with our thoughts, and we are to pray with our actions.  Kneeling before God is prayer.  Contemplating the wonders of Holy Scripture is prayer.  Serving each other in Christ’s Holy Name is prayer.  And of course, following the Mass and praying the Lord’s Prayer is prayer.

“distributing to the necessity of saints; given to hospitality.”  We must look after others.  In particular, we must look after our own people.  The Holy Order of Deacons was created to serve the widows and destitute of the Body of Christ.  We must look after our own.  And we must also look after the stranger.  Our service to those whom we do not know opens a relationship wherein we can live out our Christian lives in front of somebody new.  This and proclamation are the earliest and best ways of evangelism.  More importantly, they show loving-kindness both to brother and stranger alike.

“Bless them which persecute you: bless, and curse not.”  Hurting those that hurt you is directly contrary to the teaching of Christ.  St. Paul writes later, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord.”  The greatest help you can give someone who has lost his way or is mired in sin is to live a holy and virtuous life brimming over with loving-kindness.  Take it from me, the example of my elders and the close reasoning of apologists were not the things that tipped me over into worshipping Christ our Lord.

Instead, it was the meek, humble, honest, decent, and loving co-worker who never returned evil for evil, but instead always returned good for evil.  “Who can live like that?” I said.  Who indeed?  A Christian, a woman filled with the love of God, who knew that God absolutely loves her and gives her the stability and confidence to love those around her, even a sarcastic jerk.  I cannot recall her name, but she changed my life, and her example comes down through the decades to you right here in this church.  We should all be like her.

“Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep.”  When people lose someone close to them, invariably some people say that they don’t know how to talk to them.  This counsel from St. Paul is excellent:  “Weep with them that weep.”  You don’t have to cheer up the sad.  Sometimes, there are most excellent reasons to be sad.  I didn’t need someone to tell me a joke and crack me up when my dog died.  I needed someone to commiserate with me, to share my sufferings, even if only a little.

Likewise, when your brother rejoices, rejoice with him!  When your sister rejoices, don’t put your feelings above hers and grow jealous – rejoice with her!  “So we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another.”  When our brother weeps, open up your heart and weep a little with your brother.  When your sisters rejoices, open up your heart and rejoice with your sister.

We are now come to the end of today’s Epistle Lesson.  This last part is hard for us:  “Be of the same mind one toward another. Mind not high things, but condescend to men of low estate.”

I’ve said before that there is only one thing needed to be welcomed to St. Luke Church:  A soul.  But there are many divisions within our society that have nothing to do with whether we have souls or not or even whether we have faith or not.  We have the high and haughty of this society which look down their noses at those they perceive to be of lower class.  And we have the working and poor folk who look down their noses at those they perceive to be rich and snobby.

These are unholy and unchristian distinctions.  The early Church encompassed all believers.  We do not have eight different parishes spread throughout Augusta, catering to different races, classes, strata, or other such things.  No.  Our primary identifier in this society must be that of Christian, a follower of Christ.  You cannot take anything else with you when you go to Heaven.  All you will have is Christ.  All you need is Christ.

For a long time, I very much sought to live inside my identity as a Georgian and a Southerner.  And I am not ashamed by either label.  But one day, kneeling before the Blessed Sacrament at Benediction, I sang the hymn, “O Saving Victim Opening Wide”.  I regularly did this.  But this one evening, something was different.  As I sang, “O grant us life that shall not end / in our true native land with thee”, I heard it differently than before.  Where is my true native land?  With Thee, with Christ in Heaven above.  Everything else is dross, is consumable, will be burned in the cleansing fire.

And so I followed my call up north to Wisconsin, and from there to Illinois.  For five years I sojourned amongst the Yankees, and found that I was brother to them and they were to me.  For all of us who are in Christ are one.  We are “members one of another”.  We are joined in a way that mysteriously transcends the foolishness of the world.  I know this seems wildly ridiculous, very pie-in-the-sky.  But Christ is real.  God created the world.  If you look around and see the hatred, war, theft, murder, assault, rape, abortion, prostitution, and domestic violence around you, if you look around and see the graft, corruption, manipulation, unbridled greed, and downright lies, you will see the filth that we live in.  We are called out of that.  We are called out to leave that behind.

But if we answer that call, if we turn our backs on the warped selfishness which has enslaved our home and instead turn to Christ, we must change our lives.  We must love one another through thick and thin.  When I served at the Episcopal cathedral in Peoria, one of the men was convicted of a crime.  We all threw him a going away party the night before he went to prison and looked after his family while he was gone.  The bishop drove him to the prison gate.  Now that’s loving your brother.  That’s not kicking a man when he was down.

We must reach out to those who slap our hands away.  And we must do it without self-congratulation and pride.  Humbly, knowing that all lovely things are a gift from God and no doing of our own, humbly we lift our hands up to Heaven and thank the good Lord for his gracious mercies.  And with loving-kindness and gratitude in our hearts for our Lord above, loving the Lord our God with all our hearts, with all our souls, and with all our minds, we turn our gaze to earth and love our neighbors as ourselves.

 

Bless them which persecute you: bless, and curse not. Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep. Be of the same mind one toward another.

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

Read Full Post »

“And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost”

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

 

Most of us sitting in here and our friends, families, neighbors, and total strangers outside this church are not ready for what is to come.  We will die and be judged.  If we don’t die first, then Christ will return and judge us.  Each and every one of us has offended God and earned the fires of Hell.  Only Christ stands between us and everlasting damnation.

Since we have lived for ourselves and not treated God or our neighbors with pure loving-kindness, that lack of love has prepared us for the pains and separation of Hell.  Since we think that we are always right and think it proper to sit in judgement of our neighbors, we will fit right in there.

The Blood of Christ will get us into Heaven if we call upon His Holy Name and submit our straggly ole selves to dying and being reborn with Him in the sacrament of Holy Baptism.  But even when He claims us for His own, we, being the way we are, are in no fit shape to live in the presence of God forever, much less a single day.

For this reason, Christ has ascended into Heaven and ten days later given us the Holy Ghost.  When the disciples walked and talked with Him on earth, they did not have the Holy Ghost.  Christ left them staring up at the sky, and He sent the Comforter, the Spirit of Truth to them in the Upper Room ten days later, on Pentecost, this very day.

Today we celebrate the coming of the Holy Ghost upon the gathered brethren, the Church.  We celebrate that Christ gave us the Holy Spirit of God to be with us and dwell within us so that we might snap to it and get with the program.  We are not okay the way we are.  We are not ready for Heaven.

Do you think about dying?  Do you think about mortality?  I grew up among churches that held proper funerals with proper viewings.  I knew that my elders died, and that one day, hopefully long in the future, I would join them.  I walked the cemeteries containing the bones of my ancestors.  I visited the grave of my first namesake.  I figured that I would die – one day.

But when I grew up some to be a teenager and looked at the Army and Marines with an increasingly serious eye, I began to reflect on what might happen if I did join up.  I wanted to be a good young man and do right by my country.  If that involved combat, then that would involve death.  If it did not involve my death, it would involve the death of somebody else.  That stopped me cold.  I enjoyed the next few years with cars and girls and kept thinking about that in the back of my mind.

When I finally did swear the oath, I was ready.  I wasn’t a soldier yet, mind you, but I stepped up to be made into one.

When we take up our cross and follow Christ along the path of sorrows up to our own Golgotha, we should know that we are facing death in a mature and adult way.  When we follow the way of Christ, when we keep the faith and run the course, then we are Heaven-bound.  It is better to finish the race dead last than it is to fall out.  We must step up and remain faithful to Christ to the very end.

Our prize is Heaven, and in Heaven we will live with God forever.  But we won’t only live with God forever, we will live with our faithful brothers and sisters who also faithfully ran the course.  We will live with the elect of God forever.  And if we are going to live with our brethren forever, we had better learn some good manners so that we all get along in Christ.

Christ has sent us the Holy Ghost.  We are bought with the death of Christ and are marching on to the heavenly Jerusalem, but we are not ready to live there.

Daddy Hall said of the Holy Ghost:  “He is also the gift of God, and it is by His presence that the Father and the Son are made present in our hearts and operate effectually for our good.”  By the indwelling of the Holy Ghost does the redeeming work of Christ avail us.  In the Holy Ghost, we are made proper children of God.  By the indwelling of the Holy Ghost, our very bodies are made temples of Almighty God.  Our own bodies!

Christ says in St. Matthew’s Gospel, “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.”  We have a very high bar to meet, and Christ gave us the Holy Ghost to stay with us and in us for our journey here on Earth.  We do not even have to earn our salvation, for Christ has done that for us.  Even as we grow in holiness befitting Heaven, we have the Holy Ghost – who is God, mind you – to dwell within us.

Summarizing St. John, Hall says:  “[The Holy Ghost] is sent by the Son, and it is by His operation that we are made members of Christ and Christ comes to us with saving power.”  Christ is with us through the Holy Ghost.  With the Holy Ghost, we grow ever closer to Christ.

To do anything other than strive hard to improve ourselves into the likeness of Christ is sheer laziness and impudence.  How dare we look our Savior in the eye as He sits in judgement of us on that last great day and say “thank you for saving me” having held back part of ourselves as we tried to skate by with the least we could do!  It’s a disgrace.  It’s an affront.  It puts our sins and contrariness between us and our Lord.  And we will no doubt pay the price for our mouthiness and disobedience in the future.  For those of us going to Heaven, we will be made fit for that beautiful place of light and refreshment whether we like it or not.

The Holy Ghost unifies us with our Savior.  We enter Heaven through the Body of Christ.  That Body of Christ is right here among us right now, in that tabernacle behind that veil.  Christ’s Body is both Man and God which allows us access to eternity and endless loving-kindness.  We enter Heaven through that Body, and in the next few minutes, Christ’s Body will be with us and given to you.  We don’t take Christ’s Body; we receive Christ’s Body.  This is why we cross our palms right over left to make a throne for Christ to dwell upon.  This is why we open our mouths and take Christ’s Body, either from that throne you have made for Him or from the hand of Christ’s priest.  We receive Christ, and in receiving Christ with faith and repentance, we are joined with Christ.  Receiving Christ without faith and repentance damns us to Hell.  It is better to cross our arms in front of our chests and receive a blessing than to eat the Body of Christ unworthily.  The Holy Ghost carries the grace of Christ to us in that most Holy Sacrament, and to receive Christ unworthily dishonors the Holy Spirit of God as well.  But when we receive Christ faithfully and truly, then the Holy Ghost works in us to bring us ever closer to God, purifying us and strengthening us with Heavenly Grace freely given from on high.

A certain modern set of preachers and praise songs will tell you that to fall in love with Jesus is to lose control in the mode of a teeny-bopper or fanboy.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Following Christ and being filled with the Holy Ghost enables each one of us to grow into the full stature of the man or woman we are each called to be by God the Father.  We are given the gifts we are given so that we may exercise Christ’s ministry amidst this hurting and fallen world.  We are strengthened with virtues and heavenly power not for us to lose control, not for us to selfishly pursue our own agendas, not to benefit our friends, but instead to advance the Kingdom of God here on earth, to build up Christ’s Church, to help save the lost, to build up and not to tear down, to love one another as Christ loves us.

My sons and daughters, I commend to you this day of Pentecost calling upon God the Holy Ghost to strengthen you in all virtue and help root out all vice from you.  Pray to God the Holy Ghost to confirm and strengthen you in the way of life everlasting.  Ask God the Holy Ghost to guard and ward your way in this life, to convict you of your sins so that you may repent and be forgiven, and to protect you amidst the temptations of our wily enemy.

 

“And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost”

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

Read Full Post »