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Posts Tagged ‘Confirmation’

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

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

 

“Putting on the Whole Armor of God”

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

“Loving our Neighbor through Good Works”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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“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.

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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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“that ye put off concerning the former conversation the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts; and be renewed in the spirit of your mind; and that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.”

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

 

Neither our natural desires nor our cultural correctness will save us.  Only our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will save us.  Only through passing through the veil of His Flesh do we enter into the Holy of Holies in God’s Presence for eternity.

Wearing nice clothes won’t save us.  Speaking proper English won’t save us.  Living in the right neighborhood won’t save us.  Running with the right crowd won’t save us.  Voting conservative Republican won’t save us.  Voting liberal Democrat won’t save us.  Being a good dad won’t save us.  Loving those whom we desire to love won’t save us.

We condemn those who act out their same sex attraction but don’t bother to take a long hard look inside of ourselves to see all the sin and wickedness God sees when he looks inside of us.  God sees it all and loves us anyway.  And he expects us to get right with him and cut out all the selfish behavior and evil thoughts.  But not us.  We look down on those who fall into sins we have no desire to commit and do not love them, and yet without loving them we expect them to change.

Here’s a fact.  Nobody wants to listen to criticism from anyone they don’t trust.  When I was twelve, I was listening to a new hit song which I enjoyed very much.  I enjoyed it so much, I played it for my father.  He listened carefully, and said those words which cut through all my mess and convicted me:  “That’s not very nice.”  I was just having fun with it!  But of course, when I listened to the song with good morals and decent behavior in mind, it really wasn’t wholesome at all.  My father could say that to me, because he loved me, my mother, and my siblings.  He listened when I asked him to, and he commented after hearing me out.  I loved him and I trusted him.  Importantly, I thought highly enough of him to value his opinion.

We do not condemn the wickedness and moral laxity of our world by getting up on our high horse, thundering out judgement like a prophet of old, or by wringing our hands, shaking our heads, and tut-tutting.  After all, it is not for us to condemn the world.  Christ alone will sit in judgement of every single soul who ever lived.  We “take it to the streets” and teach the world the truth when we live redeemed lives in Christ.

We who have sinned and been forgiven owe it to God to strive powerfully in growing in the virtue opposite that sin.  A practical way to do this is to figure out which of the seven deadly sins your sin fits in.  For instance, if you only come to Sunday Mass when you feel like it, that dereliction of duty is a sin of sloth.  The opposite of sloth is diligence.  You owe it to God to practice diligence and not just try to wing it.  Winging it is what got you to skip Mass last time.  You must practice diligence.

What does practicing diligence look like?  How about this:  Measure the time it takes to get ready in the morning and count that against the time you will be appropriately early at church.  Then set your alarm to get up in time to get ready and make it to church on time.  Do you now have a hard time getting up on time?  Then prepare your Saturday evening so that you get to bed on time.  By paying attention to such details, you are actively participating in your salvation by working with God’s forgiving grace and not working against it.  As you improve in diligence, your sins of sloth will decrease.  You will have made a concrete stride in living a holier life, a life lived for Christ and in response to His free and generous gift of grace.

What about St. Paul’s teaching on anger today?  We all feel anger on occasion.  But do we let it go in and then usher it out, firmly shutting the door after it has been evicted?  Not always.  Have you ever nurtured your anger, relished it?  That is, have you thought about the person who has angered you and thought and thought about it again until you have prolonged your anger, you have deepened your anger?  If you have, then that is a sin against the love of God.  St. Paul tells us to “let not the sun go down upon your wrath.”  If we sin in anger and God forgives us, then we owe it to God “to go forth and sin no more”.  We do that by practicing the virtue opposite to anger, love.

How do you learn to love your neighbor?  By making small discrete acts of selflessness to others.  Holding the door open for another might be too showy, but especially in parish living, cleaning up after another and then not telling anybody you did it is a perfect little act of selflessness.  By many small acts of caring for another without drawing attention to yourself, you slowly learn to love others.  If you actually love your fellows, it is much harder both to get angry and to stay angry with them.  Practicing the virtue opposite your sin helps build up your life in Christ and makes you a better person, a person who more closely resembles Christ.

This practicing the opposite virtue from your sin does not go alone.  It goes along with regular discipline.  This means that you keep your six duties of churchmen and that you pray each and every day.  It does not matter that you do not feel like taking a few minutes to pray each morning – that is why it is called discipline.

We have freedom in Christ.  This does not mean that we all sprawl out lazily and do whatever we feel like because we have been Baptized into the death and resurrection of Christ.  It means that sin is defeated in us.  The trouble is that temptations continue until Christ returns again.  We must strive with all our powers not to fall into temptation.  A hard day’s work at defeating temptation only means that you made it one more day.  Think of it this way:  We are addicted to sin.  We know how to quit, but we keep falling off the wagon.  Unless we surrender ourselves to Satan and his demons and quit resisting temptation altogether, then we prosper more when we resist temptation more successfully and fall into sin less.

As St. Paul says, “that ye put off concerning the former conversation the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts; and be renewed in the spirit of your mind; and that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.”  Putting off the old man is quitting the life of sin, and putting on the new man is entering into the pursuit of holiness.  Christians do not have a choice in this matter.  Those who are under the banner of our Lord Christ must fight against sin and pursue holiness.

We enter into new life in Christ through the waters of Holy Baptism.  In that amazing Sacrament, you promised, or had promised for you, to “renounce the devil and all his works, the vain pomp and glory of the world, with all covetous desires of the same, and the sinful desires of the flesh, so that thou wilt not follow, nor be led by them….”  It is right there in your Book of Common Prayer.  It follows after that that you promised to accept Jesus Christ “and desire to follow him as thy Saviour and Lord.”

If we believe in Christ and accept new life forever with God in his holy presence, then we must put off the old man and put on the new man.  Our lives must change.

So I ask you:  Are you leading a holier life than you were?  Are you behaving in a more moral fashion than you were?  Do you pray more effectively than you used to?  Do you read more Scripture than you used to?  Do you attend to worship, communion, fasting, tithing, chastity, and confession of your sins better than before?  If not, then ask yourself:  How have I slipped?  Then recall God the Father’s great love for you and how he sent His only Son into the world to save your soul from death and sin.  Then ask yourself:  What must I do to improve, to grow?

Ezekiel prophesied and the Lord asked him, “can these bones live?”  No matter how dry you feel inside, no matter how weary you feel with struggling with the same sins decade after decade, God loves you and wishes for you to live to the fullness of his glory.  He made you.  He loves you.  He empowers you.

Next Sunday, God willing, we will all witness the miraculous Sacrament of Confirmation, the seal of the Holy Ghost laid upon one of our regular visitors, Mrs. Aileen Cappa.  In this Holy Sacrament, she will be strengthened by the Holy Ghost and receive the seven-fold gifts of the Holy Ghost.  She will never be the same.  She will be changed for eternity.  All Christians have supernatural assistance against the wiles of the world, the flesh, and the devil by virtue of Holy Baptism.  In Confirmation, she will be further strengthened and given those holy gifts bestowed by the Holy Ghost and found in Scripture.

We are weak, but God is on our side.  God is not on our side to give us those selfish things we want for ourselves, but rather God is on our side because we have joined God’s side against sin and death and the devil.  We are changed by virtue of the God’s grace.

So I ask you again:  Are you leading a more Godly life today than you were before?  If not, what are you going to do about that?

 

“that ye put off concerning the former conversation the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts; and be renewed in the spirit of your mind; and that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.”

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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