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Posts Tagged ‘Chosen People’

“If there had been a law given which could have given life, verily righteousness should have been by the law.  But the scripture hath concluded all under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe.”

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

 

In Genesis (xvii.7), God promises Abraham, “I will establish my covenant between me and thee and thy seed after thee in their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee.”

God made a promise to Abraham, a promise which was fulfilled in Christ.  Then why the Law?  The Law does not save.  It does not annul or replace the promise made to Abraham.  It was “a temporary expedient”; it prepared us for faith in Christ; it showed us the way of righteousness.  But the Law was powerless to lead us into righteousness.  At our best, we could avoid sin, but life with God is more than avoiding sin.  Ultimately, the Law taught us how helpless we are to condemnation.

Remember that the Jews were the Chosen People because they had something that the Gentiles did not:  The sure and certain knowledge of where they had violated God’s Law.  This did not make them holy.  This did not save them.  This did not bring them into communion with God.  But this did let them be schooled in righteousness.

The Gentiles did not have this.  The Law was not a remedy for sin, but it was a diagnostic guide.  It made you aware of the symptoms of sin, the presence of sin.  Thus, the Law was a gift, but Law was also a burden.

The Law could not grant the power to accomplish what it commanded.  It did not give people the means to overcome sin, but it made them aware of sin.  So, at least they could ask for forgiveness, which is a blessing.  As St. Paul says a few verses after this lesson:  “Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith.”

Isaac Williams preached:

The Law was to convince them of sin, and bring them to Christ: thus John the Baptist preached repentance; for if they had believed Moses they would have believed in Christ. The Law was but the means, not the end; but the Jews were now making it the end; whereas the end of the Law is Christ, in Whom is the promise, and the blessing, and the covenant, and righteousness, and life; not for a time only, but for ever.

Christ’s Advent removed the need for the Law.  St. Paul had a clear sense of the historical demarcations of the usefulness of the Law:  From Sinai to Christ.  The Law had a transitional function until the seed of promise came to us in Christ.  Christ, unlike the Law, is able to redeem us from sin, grant us everlasting life, and cover us with His righteousness.

Christ says in St. Matthew (v.17-18):

Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil.  For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.

The Law of Moses cannot be unwritten.  St. Paul does not dispute this.  He says, however, that the purpose for which the Law was written has been fulfilled in Christ our Lord.  It has not been made wrong.  It has been superseded.

The Law of Moses was a provisional kind of temporary:  Till the seed came.  Obedience to God is less than brotherhood with Christ and full communion with God.  With Abraham and in Christ, faith, not obedience, is the effectual element.  We still must do no murder, but if we leave murder be, we may be saved in Christ our Lord.

St. Paul writes in Philippians that as to righteousness under the Law as a Pharisee, he was blameless, yet that did not give him eternal life.  Christ gave him eternal life.  There is no life eternal in the Law of Moses.

Whereas the Law was given on Sinai from God through Moses to the Jews, Christ came for us all, both Jew and Gentile.  We are all under the power of sin.  We are all hemmed in, confined, and imprisoned by sin.  The virtue of the promise is given to those that believe.

John Wesley wrote:

Will it follow from hence that the law is against, opposite to, the promises of God? By no means. They are well consistent. But yet the law cannot give life, as the promise doth. If there had been a law which could have given life – Which could have entitled a sinner to life, God would have spared his own Son, and righteousness, or justification. with all the blessings consequent upon it, would have been by that law.

 

From Adam and Eve in the Garden, sin and death have been ever with us.  God did not create us to suffer and die – our sin so corrupted us – but it is our fallen estate.

In the Burial Office, we read at the graveside:

Man, that is born of a woman, hath but a short time to live, and is full of misery. He cometh up, and is cut down, like a flower; he fleeth as it were a shadow, and never continueth in one stay.

In the midst of life we are in death; of whom may we seek for succour, but of thee, O Lord, who for our sins art justly displeased?

Sin and death have an existential hold over us.  We stand condemned by our sins and estranged from our good God.  We have no escape by clawing our way out of the pit.

I am fascinated by H. P Lovecraft and the Cthulhu Cosmic Horror stories.  You see, I read Nietzsche (übermensch and all that) and Dylan Thomas (“Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”) before I read H. P. Lovecraft.  This notion of this eternal emptiness, this absolute death, this coldness, this gaping maw that will devour each of us has been with me for a long time.

Thomas and Nietzsche and Lovecraft seem so different with poetry and philosophy and fiction, but raging against the dying of the light does not lead to death having no dominion over us.  The exaltation of will does not overcome the hollowness left by the retreat of God’s morality.  And no human effort avails against monsters so ancient and immense as to ignore us completely whilst driving us incurably mad.  Yet these men touched something in our souls, in our fears.  As a very young child, I had occasional nightmares which taught me dread.  Dread is reasonable, for death calls us all.  But fervently steeling ourselves to hurl ego at the emptiness we feel, whether through embracing chaos and destruction or obeying inflexible rules, does not save us from our mortal predicament.

The great perplexity of emptiness and death, the coldness and void of the tomb, can be overcome neither by valiant effort nor exertion of will nor by righteousness according to the Law, but only by one who can defeat such ill things.  And that One, of course, is Christ.

It makes perfect sense that we gain eternal life through being Baptized into the death and Resurrection of Christ.  Our life that lives eternally in us is from God alone, as our own life is temporary and dies.  Likewise, our righteousness is from God alone because we are flawed and finite.  God’s righteousness is natural to who God is.  It is perfect, infinite, and holy:  All the things that we are not.

Our only salvation is from God, whom as the existentialist theologian I heartily love to hate calls, “the ground of all being”.  All that is, is contingent upon God.  All the preaching in the world, all the rituals of the Church, all the mumbled prayers of the faithful, and all the songs of exaltation do not raise Christ from the dead.  Christ defeated death, and Christ loves us.  He was won the victory.

 

You cannot outrun dread.  You cannot physically hold onto righteousness.  These are not subjects of work.  We cannot earn ourselves salvation, eternal life, the beatific vision, or that deep and living connection with our Creator and Redeemer.  There is none of that.  I can do things to damage my relationship with God, but I cannot fix my relationship with him.

It is as if the Promised Land is on the other side of a river broad, swift, and deep.  I can keep myself from straying too far inland on my side so I that can no longer see the Promised Land, but I cannot build a bridge or swim the fast current to get there.  I cannot get across on my own.  No matter how athletic and healthy I am.  I am crippled, I’m feeble, I’m weak.  However, I can work to avoid following every pretty distraction that’s on my side further away from the shore until I forget all about the Promised Land.  I can work at that.  I would rather look across the swift river and torture myself beholding unattainable bliss.  I can see home, like Moses did from the mountain.  But I cannot get there myself.  I need a savior.

We are not capable in our fallen, mortal, and limited state to fulfill the Law and earn righteousness for ourselves.  The mightiest hero, the holiest saint, the wisest philosopher can no more earn his own righteousness before God than the weakest of us.  We are all under sin; not one of us can save himself from everlasting death.  Only by faith in Christ are we saved.

 

We are called to believe in Christ, to follow Him, and to love like He loves.  If we think that He did not follow the Law correctly, we are the ones who are incorrect, not the Son of God.  We are in no wise capable of challenging God on his own terms.  We must love Christ and conform our lives to His holy life.  Railing against the universe, or as Christ tells St. Paul, “it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks”, gains us nothing.  We ought not futilely concern ourselves with earning our reward, instead following Him in the way which leads to everlasting life.

 

“If there had been a law given which could have given life, verily righteousness should have been by the law.  But the scripture hath concluded all under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe.”

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

 

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“…when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons.”

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

 

“Because we are sons”

 

Regarding the readings or lections for Christmas Day and the Sunday after Christmas, Fr. John Henry Blunt wrote:

“On the one day, the Son of God is shewn to us becoming the Son of Man: on the other, the sons of men are shewn to us becoming the sons of God, through the Adoption won for them by the Holy Child Jesus.  We are “heirs of God through Christ,” because of the fulfilment of the promise conveyed by His Name, “He shall save His people from their sins.”

Our adoption as sons of God happens because of Christ.  Christ is God the Son Who has taken on Flesh and is born of a woman.  Because of Christ’s Incarnation, we can have the Spirit of God in our hearts and call God the Father, Abba, or father.

 

So let’s look at today’s lesson from St. Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians in the fourth chapter, beginning with verses 1-3:

“1 Now I say, That the heir, as long as he is a child, differeth nothing from a servant, though he be lord of all;

2 But is under tutors and governors until the time appointed of the father.

3 Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world:”

Before Christ came into the world, there were pretty much only two sorts of people.  There were the chosen people of God, the Jews, and there were those who did not worship the one true God, the pagans.  St. Paul describes both of them as being held “in bondage under the elements of the world.”

God treated the Jews as his chosen race, but he treated them mostly like quarrelsome children.  Think of how God punished David for his adultery or how God spoke to Job out of the whirlwind.  In the previous chapter here in Galatians, St. Paul writes of how the Law of Moses was like a tutor teaching the children of Israel.

But God considered the pagans far more harshly, as they followed not God but the seasons and the stars and all manner of fables they told themselves to make sense of a harsh and unforgiving world.  They grasped at foolishness in order to gain some knowledge of natural religion.

Thus all of humanity had the potential to become the sons of God, but this was a latent and untouched potential, for humanity had not reached the point where Christ’s presence and teaching would be most effective.

St. Paul continues with verses 4-5:

“4 But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law,

5 To redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons.”

God the Father sent forth the Second Person of the Trinity, the Son of God, down to earth to be born of a woman.  God the Son pre-existed Jesus Christ, Who is God the Son Incarnate among us.  God the Son had no beginning and no end, and in the words of the Nicene Creed, is “eternally begotten” of the Father.

“The fulness of the time” is an awesome phrase.  Why was the year of Christ’s birth so “meet and right” for His Incarnation?  Fr. Melville Scott says it better than I do:

“Christ’s coming took place … at the time most suitable, when the world had learned that it was hopeless to think of improving the human race by means of any of the religions or philosophies then existing; when all was ready for the diffusion of a world creed, and the Empire by its arms and laws had paved the road for the messengers of the King of Kings.’”

And so the time was right for the Blessed Virgin Mary to give birth to the Christ.  And in His Circumcision and Presentation at the Temple, Christ was clearly born under the Law, so that He might “redeem them that were under the law.”

The last two verses of today’s epistle are verses 6-7:

“6 And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father.

7 Wherefore thou art no more a servant, but a son; and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ.”

Because we are sons of God through Christ, Christ does two things.  First He delivers us from evil, and then He supplies us with good.  The evil is the curse of the Law, from which Christ delivers us.  St. Paul spills a lot of ink on this one.  We are no longer condemned for our sins because Christ has come into the world as one of us, suffered and died for us, and rose again from the dead, defeating death and sin and Hell forever.

The good He does is gain us our “promotion to sonship”, and so God the Father fills our hearts with the Spirit of his Son.  With the shared sonship of the Father, the brotherhood of Christ, and the indwelling of the Holy Ghost, we who have faith in Christ and been washed in the waters of Holy Baptism receive abundant new life and participate in communion with God.  Through that vital connection to the creator of the universe, we may realize and act upon our adopted sonship.  At the Last Day, our souls shall rejoin our bodies, and we shall enter into Resurrection and perfect communion with the Triune God for all eternity.  But even now we have access to the promises of God in our lives, in our world.

 

Because the Son of God was made flesh, we receive the adoption of sons.  By the adoption of sons, we enjoy communion with the Father.  Because we are sons, we have the Spirit of the Son in our hearts.

Christ taking on human flesh at the Annunciation – a holy day of obligation coming up in March, by the way – by His taking on our flesh from the Blessed Mother, St. Mary, we are ultimately saved from sin and promoted to the first-rank of creation.  We enjoy blessed sweet communion with God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost.  Nobody on earth can look at you like you’re nothing, for you are the blessed sons of God.

There are many ways one gets adopted nowadays.  One of those ways is when orphans in foreign countries, orphans living in hideous squalor, without family, without health care, without prospects for a long useful happy life, when those orphans get adopted by American or Australian or what have you couples, then they are brought into a safe and prosperous country and given – given is the word, mind you, for these are children without power or authority of their own – and given sonship or daughtership.  Such a child is instantly given safety, clothes, a warm bed, loving parents, good medical care, schooling, and citizenship.  If the child is handicapped, then even more is given to the child, for now the child’s disability is less crippling due to a more accepting society, laws guaranteeing access to public places, and healthcare which makes adjustments or corrections allowing for a more dignified and able life.

But there’s more.  The child also becomes an heir of the family.  Adopted children are not accorded lesser rights than natural-born children.  They are accorded the exact same rights as children born into the family, but they are given them graciously.  If the impoverished child is adopted into a rich family, that child will be heir to great wealth.

All of humanity suffers under the constraints of sin, disease, death, suffering, toil and all the consequences of our fall into sin.  Each of us suffers so.  On this earth in this life, we might think that some suffer more and some suffer less, but if we are to go to Hell, then we will all suffer horribly forever.  Unless.  Unless God were to come into the world and take on human flesh from a human mother, forever sanctifying the race which fell from God’s favor.  If only a woman would perfectly obey where the first woman disobeyed.  Then we might have salvation.

And we do thus have salvation through Christ!  For He truly became flesh inside the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary and united God and Man forever in His precious Body.  Think on that when you kneel for the Holy Communion today.  God and Man together made one Person in Christ Jesus our Lord, Who gave His precious Body and Blood to feed you, to eat and drink in your mouth, to take into your body so that you, body and soul, may be taken up into eternal communion with God the Father, so that you may become a vessel and tabernacle of the Holy Ghost, so that you may become the adopted brothers of the Son of God and eternal sons of the eternal God.

We hardly ever think on this.  But we should.  We should think on it every single day of our lives.  And I’ll tell you what:  You ought to be reminded of this every single day of your lives.  For each of us, if we are to claim the name of Christian, are to pray the Lord’s Prayer every single day of our lives unless in a coma until the day we die.

And it starts off, “Our Father….”

We think that this is a simple and decent prayer and certainly one that other religions should be able to say with us.  But they can’t!  And why not?

Atheists acknowledge no God.  Jews dare not call our God father.  Moslems think of themselves as slaves of God, not sons.  Hindus and Buddhists and Shinto folk do not conceive of God like we do.

Only Christians dare to call Almighty God their father!  Isn’t that a kick in the pants?  We sit around thinking, “Well, we’re saying the Lord’s Prayer.  Communion will finally be here and then we sing and then we eat.”

Instead, we ought to stop and savor the word:  Father.

 

I want to leave you with two big thoughts of how our adoption as sons of God permanently changes our lives.

The first thought is this:  If we are truly adopted sons of the Most High God, the creator of Heaven and earth, then we are not merely passing through this world.  God created this earth we stand on.  And this is the day which the Lord has made.  If we are the sons of God, then we are no longer renters with no attachment or investment in the things God has made and loved, but we are heirs and thereby owners of these things as well.  Everything we let slide here we will have to answer for.  I wouldn’t be surprised if we’ll have to fix it ourselves.

The last thought is this:  If we who believe in Christ, are washed in Holy Baptism, and commune with Christ in His Body and Blood are sons of God and tabernacles of the Holy Ghost, then we are all brothers and sisters.  If we are joint-heirs with Christ of eternal life, then we will be more than neighbors for all of eternity:  We will be related.  Do we act like family?  Do we love each other through thick and thin?  Do we accord each other mutual respect?  Or do we take advantage of each other?  Worse yet, do we ignore each other?  Do we gossip, slander, or insult each other?  I wouldn’t be surprised if we will have to own up to each ill-considered and hateful word we’ve ever said about each other either in Heaven or before we get there.

 

“…when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons.”

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

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