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

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

 

“Preparing for Our Lord’s Return”

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Second Sunday of Advent – December 7th – judgment,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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“Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

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

 

“Baptism, Death, and Life Everlasting”

In the Easter bulletin, I wrote:

Today is the most glorious day of the entire Christian Year, the Feast of the Resurrection, Easter Day.  Jesus Christ, Son of God yet fully man, defeated the powers of sin, Satan, separation, death, disease, despair, and decay by dying for us and then rising from the dead.

Christ invites us to join Him in His Resurrection.  We who are Baptized die to our “old man” of sin and are given new life – Resurrection life – in Christ.  We are being transformed by God into loving, virtuous, and holy men and women, overcoming all manner of barriers and obstacles as only God can do.

I invite you to follow along with this theme of us joining with Christ in dying to sin and rising to Resurrection life.

In St. John 12.24-25, Christ says:

Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit.  He that loveth his life shall lose it; and he that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal.

In Baptism, we die unto sin so that we may bring forth much fruit.

In II Timothy ii.11-13, St. Paul shows that we are mystically joined with Christ:

It is a faithful saying: For if we be dead with him, we shall also live with him:  If we suffer, we shall also reign with him: if we deny him, he also will deny us:  If we believe not, yet he abideth faithful: he cannot deny himself.

Looking to today’s Epistle, found on page 197 of your Prayer Book, St. Paul writes that the old man is put to death in Baptism, in which we are ‘identified’ with Christ in His Resurrection.  The Christian’s very self is transformed into a creature which can live the life Christ demands of us, the life to which we are called, a life in which sin and death have been put to death..

Let’s look at the Epistle lesson verse by verse.

3 KNOW ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death?  Being Baptized into Christ establishes a bond between the one Baptized and Christ.  The person is now on the record for Christ.

This bond allows the person Baptized and Christ our Lord to share suffering and dying and Resurrection.  Christ does not merely claim the person Baptized.  According to Scripture, Christ shares His death and then Resurrection with the one Baptized.  Christ did not only defeat sin in His death, but Christ has brought the one Baptized into that death and victory over sin.  The one Baptized does not share a metaphor or analogy with Christ; he actually participates in Christ’s death and victory over death.

4 Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.  “Buried with him” actually means in Greek, “co-buried”.  We who are Baptized not only die with Christ, but we rise again with Christ.

Our new life is the Resurrection life of Christ.  We go beyond identifying with Christ’s life in Holy Baptism to actually living Christ’s life.  Christ is more than our Lord; we share His holy and divine life.  That means that we begin to live out Christ’s holy and divine life in our own lives.  We do not say the Summary of the Law or the Ten Commandments at the beginning of the Mass to torture us with something unattainable.  We say them so that we always keep in front of us a reminder of how we are supposed to live.

5 For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection:  St. Paul here uses the image of a branch grafted onto a tree so that they form one living creature.

Likeness here means a mold.  Have you ever had the dentist make a mold of your teeth?  A tray of liquid material is pressed against your teeth until the liquid hardens.  The material is removed, and a reverse form of your teeth has been made.  The mold is made in the likeness of your teeth, perfect in form, but different in material.  So it is that we are joined with Christ in the Sacrament of Baptism to experience His death and defeat of sin, while yet we remain ourselves.  We do not lose our individual identity.  Our self which God created is good.  It is sin which is evil.

Just as we fully share in Christ’s death in Baptism, so too we share in Christ’s Resurrection.  After all, Christ’s death and Resurrection are two sides of the same act of loving-kindness, of sacrificial love.

6 knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin.  The “old man” is our old self.  This self was part of the old order of the world, where sin was in our nature and Satan ruled.  This self was ruled by selfishness and stood condemned before God.  This self was crucified and buried with Christ through Holy Baptism.

This “body of sin” was the self which was oriented towards the things of this sinful world and not the things of God.  This was us shut off against the generosity of the Father, the sacrifice of Christ, and the life of the Holy Ghost.

Because our sinful self was put to death with Christ, the “old man” of sin is dead and rendered powerless.  The part of us that looked to this world for our meaning, to ourselves for our pleasure, and to Satan as our ruler has been put to death, and with that death, the power of sin over us has been broken by Christ on the Cross.  Christ sets us free from sin.

7 For he that is dead is freed from sin. On the Cross, our sinful self died and thus is no longer capable of sinning.  Being dead with Christ, we are free from sin.  Our twisted internal nature bent towards sin has been crucified with Christ.

8 Now if we be dead with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him:  To the world outside, nothing happens at Baptism.  But with the eyes of faith in Christ, new life occurs.    We cannot see this under a microscope, but rather in the kingdom of loving-kindness heralded by Christ in His death and Resurrection.  Even we who are Baptized will not realize the full life in Christ until He returns again in power and great glory.  We know that we can begin living with Him now, but we believe that we shall live with Him fully for all eternity.

9 knowing that Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more; death hath no more dominion over him.  When Christ arose from the grave, He did not simply start drawing breath after three days without.  He broke through the wall of death and entered into Resurrection life.  This is human life in the presence of God the Father.  Those who are revived will eventually die.  Those who are resurrected will never die again.  Christ will never die again, and having defeated death, He now rules over death where once Satan held sway.

10 For in that he died, he died unto sin once: but in that he liveth, he liveth unto God.  The Passion and death of Christ is a unique event in all of the cosmos for all time.  Christ conquered death.  We who are Baptized into Christ’s death and Resurrection are freed from everlasting death.  We who rise with Christ through Baptism enter into a new relationship with God the Father – now we relate to the Father through the Son, onto Whom we are grafted like a branch to a tree.

The final verse:  11 Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord.  St. Paul calls us to increase our faith in Christ so that we may more fully live in Christ through our Baptism.  The faithful Christian cannot consider sin acceptable because God will forgive us.  We have been joined with Christ in both His death and His Resurrection.  Since our “old man” or “body of sin” has been crucified with Christ, we are dead indeed unto sin.  We no longer are reliable sinners.

If we voluntarily allow ourselves to sin, we rupture our relationship with Christ which He bought for us on the Cross and applied to us in this Holy Sacrament of His Body the Church.  If we sin, we break our relationship with Christ, knowing full well what it cost Him to reach us.  We are with Him in a mystical union, and we rip ourselves away from Him when we sin.  Knowing what His sacrifice cost Him, how can we dare to hurt our beloved benefactor and savior?  How can we not only break His heart but rend His Body?

But have hope, you who are Baptized in Christ!  With Him, we have passed from death unto life everlasting!  We are united to Christ, Who is God the Son sent by God the Father to take up our mortal nature so that He might redeem us in His death and Resurrection.  If we hold fast, stay the course, and keep the faith, we too will finish in great unity with God, with never a fear again of death, sickness, and decay.  Alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord, we shall live for Him and in Him forever and ever.  Amen.

 

“Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

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

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“Parthians, and Medes, and Elamites, and the dwellers in Mesopotamia, and in Judaea, and Cappadocia, in Pontus, and Asia, Phrygia, and Pamphylia, in Egypt, and in the parts of Libya about Cyrene, and strangers of Rome, Jews and proselytes, Cretes and Arabians, we do hear them speak in our tongues the wonderful works of God.”

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

 

“Speaking the wonderful works of God”

 

God has spoken to Man throughout the ages.  God communed with Adam in the cool of the morning.  God accepted Abel’s sacrifice but not Cain’s.  God commanded Noah to build the Ark.  God chose Abraham and sent him on his journey, communicating to his through angels.  God spoke to Moses from the burning bush to lead the Exodus of the Jews from Egypt and gave him his sacred Law.  The tabernacle of the Ark of the Covenant signified the presence of God to the priests and people of Israel.

Yet even when the Ark was lost, God still spoke through the prophets of Israel, correcting and admonishing the priests, kings, and people when they grew lax with God’s Law and sought to worship themselves instead of God.  These prophets and the calamities visited upon the Israelites scattered many of them but sharpened and honed others.

Out of these others came Ss. Mary and Joseph, Ss. Elizabeth and Zacharias, and those who waited for the consolation of Israel.  The Son of God the Father became Man in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary as the Holy Ghost came upon her and the power of the Most High overshadowed her.  God raised a great prophet in the elderly womb of St. Elizabeth.  As her son, St. John the Baptist, preached and prepared those hoping for the restoration of Zion to receive their king, Jesus grew in stature and wisdom until his Baptism by St. John and his ministry amongst the Jews.

Thus we understand the first two verses of Hebrews:  “God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds;”

As we have worshipped in the cycle of Holy Church through the preparation for Easter, Pre-Lent and Lent, and thence through Passion Week and Holy Week, worshipping through the Passion, death, Resurrection, and then Ascension of our Lord Christ, so we come to the time Christ promised us:  Pentecost.

WHEN the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. 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, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.”

Christ gave the Holy Ghost to the Church to hold her accountable to what He taught her.  We are given the Holy Ghost in the Sacraments to bring God’s presence into our lives and accomplish all things necessary for holiness.  The Third Person of the Holy Trinity, God the Holy Ghost, instructs us, seals us in the knowledge of God, and preserves the teachings of Jesus Christ.

 

From the Confirmation rite found in the Book of Common Prayer:  “Strengthen them, we beseech thee, O Lord, with the Holy Ghost, the Comforter, and daily increase in them thy manifold gifts of grace: the spirit of wisdom and under-standing, the spirit of counsel and ghostly strength, the spirit of knowledge and true godliness; and fill them, O Lord, with the spirit of thy holy fear,”

Zechariah vii.11-12:  “But they refused to hearken, and pulled away the shoulder, and stopped their ears, that they should not hear.  Yea, they made their hearts as an adamant stone, lest they should hear the law, and the words which the LORD of hosts hath sent in his spirit by the former prophets: therefore came a great wrath from the LORD of hosts.”

St. John iv.22b-24 “…Salvation is of the Jews.  But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him. God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.”

Romans viii.9-11:  “But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his. And if Christ be in you, the body is dead because of sin; but the Spirit is life because of righteousness. But if the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwelleth in you.”

I Corinthians ii.9-10, 12:  “But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him. But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God…. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God.”

 

We are comforted – strengthened – by the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit also leads us into all truth.  The two come together in that teaching of Christ, that the Holy Ghost will preserve and keep us in the word of God from Christ.  He “brings all things to remembrance”.

In the Collect, God “didst teach the hearts of thy faithful people, by sending to them the light of thy Holy Spirit” and we beseech God to “Grant us by the same Spirit to have a right judgment in all things”.

Teaching the hearts of the faithful and granting us right judgement are both brought about by the first thing St. Peter does after receiving the Holy Ghost at Pentecost.  He preaches.

He preaches that those who have not heard may hear.  He preaches that those who do not understand may understand.  He preaches that those who fail may be strengthened to succeed.  He preaches that the faithless may find faith.  He preaches that the stout-hearted give glory to God and lead others to glorify God as well.  He preaches by telling the truth that the authorities do not want to be told.  He preaches by speaking the wonderful works of God.

Will you stand up alongside the great apostle and speak the wonderful works of God?

 

“Parthians, and Medes, and Elamites, and the dwellers in Mesopotamia, and in Judaea, and Cappadocia, in Pontus, and Asia, Phrygia, and Pamphylia, in Egypt, and in the parts of Libya about Cyrene, and strangers of Rome, Jews and proselytes, Cretes and Arabians, we do hear them speak in our tongues the wonderful works of God.”

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

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