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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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“Bring forth the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet: and bring hither the fatted calf, and kill it; and let us eat, and be merry: for this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.”

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

 

Six Sundays ago, the Gospel lesson included the parable of the lost sheep and the parable of the lost coin.  Those two, along with today’s Parable of the Prodigal Son, form the entirety of the fifteenth chapter of the Gospel according to St. Luke.  Lost sheep, lost coin, lost son:  These form one common theme of joy in finding that which was lost.

The first parable is the lost sheep.  Hear this:  “And when he hath found it, he layeth it on his shoulders, rejoicing.  And when he cometh home, he calleth together his friends and neighbours, saying unto them, Rejoice with me; for I have found my sheep which was lost.  I say unto you, that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance.”

The second is the lost coin.  “And when she hath found it, she calleth her friends and her neighbours together, saying, Rejoice with me; for I have found the piece which I had lost.  Likewise, I say unto you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth.”

The third is the lost son.  “But the father said to his servants, Bring forth the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet:  And bring hither the fatted calf, and kill it; and let us eat, and be merry:  For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.”

These three parables show the joy of God when he finds one of his lost ones.

 

Although we call this the Parable of the Prodigal Son, the central figure is the father, who is a type for God.  He loves unconditionally and shows true mercy when it is not deserved.  He opens his arms both to the repentant sinner and the hard-hearted older brother.  The father loved both his sons even when they strayed from his love.  Indeed, it is the unconditional love of the father for the sinful son that allows the son to return home, to repent and be restored.

The younger brother felt hungry and ashamed when feeding the swine.  We ought not to absolve people of their shame.  It is uncomfortable to let people feel ashamed at their misbehavior, but to talk them out of it in order to reduce our anxiety over it might rob them of the spur needed for repentance.  Papering over conflict does not actually reconcile folks; we as Catholic and traditional Christians ought especially to respect that saving souls is more important than explaining away misbehavior, whether in ourselves or others.  If everything is going to be better soon, then we have no need to actually address the root of our problem – living for ourselves instead of God.

When we sin, we blame our alienation on God instead of on ourselves.  “God hates me.  Why has God rejected me?”  Or worse still, “God would not reject me just because of such-and-so”, with such-and-so meaning following your bliss.  If you put your favorite before God, then God is not your favorite.  You have excommunicated yourself, placed yourself under judgement, and damned yourself.  Do not blame God for your bad behavior.  Do not presume to tell God what he does or does not hold true.  Hearken to Scripture and the Church, for they will teach you about God.

The father’s welcome is immediate and overpowering.  It is not a pardon of offences past; it is an acceptance and welcome into the father’s home and family.  The father committed a positive act, not a negative one.  He did not cancel a debt; he restored a relationship.

 

The lost son’s realization of the disparity between his current misery and his former life on the farm are the beginning of his repentance.  This turning begins selfishly – his current life disgusts him and he grieves the loss of the life he once led.  From this urge he considers the facts and sees that he has hurt his father, and he regrets his treatment of him.  Without a doubt, the Holy Ghost can prompt the sinner’s conscience so that even selfish thoughts lead to holy thoughts.  God takes us where we are and works to make us right with him.  He knows that we cannot do it ourselves, because to convert and repent requires looking at oneself in a realistic and unflattering light.  This is a tall order, and we need God’s help to do it.  We must be able to criticize ourselves; otherwise we will always blame our moral failures on external sources and eagerly excuse ourselves.

St. Ambrose of Milan encourages us:  “How merciful! He, though offended, disdains not to hear the name of Father. I have sinned; this is the first confession of sin to the Author of nature, the Ruler of mercy, the Judge of faith. But though God knows all things, He yet waits for the voice of your confession….In vain would you hide from Him whom nothing escapes; and you may safely discover what you know to be already known. Confess the rather that Christ may intercede for thee, the Church plead for you, the people weep over you: nor fear that you will not obtain; your Advocate promises pardon, your Patron favor, your Deliverer promises you the reconciliation of your Father’s affection.”

We do not need first feel sorry for our sins to confess them to God, but we must acknowledge them and turn away from them.  After all, we can have most peculiar relationships with our most difficult and fatal sins.  Sometimes we can plainly look at the facts and know that we have to change, that we have to pry ourselves loose from this deadly sin that almost seems like it is a part of us.  Drunkenness can be like this.  Unchaste sexual behavior can be like this.  And those are just two examples:  I cannot peep into your soul and see what your most difficult sin is.  But when we can catch a bit of breathing space and plainly look at our sin, we know that we do not want to live that life anymore; we understand that we are squeezing something unholy between God and us; we understand that we cannot participate in the eternal and boundless love of God if we insist upon keeping this obstacle between him and us.  It just can’t go on.

And so we acknowledge our tough sin before God and turn away from it.  That is repentance.  We turn from our sin, we let go of our sin, we drop our sin, we pry ourselves loose from our sin.  Here we are, grabbing this awful thing tight with our arms, and we are so tired, we are so weary.  Without relief, it will drag us down to Hell.  But with the power of the Holy Ghost, we loosen up our cramped arms just barely enough to drop this awful heavy load so that we can turn from where we dropped it and reach out those aching limbs for our loving Heavenly Father to scoop us up in his loving arms.

This is the toughest battle we will ever fight:  Tougher than the Bulge, tougher than Khe Sanh, tougher than Fallujah.  This is tougher than giving birth, than standing trial, than losing your loved one.  This is so tough that the toughest of us can’t do it alone – and even though our Lord the Holy Ghost does the heavy lifting, even though our Lord Christ does the heavy reconciling, even though our Lord the Father does the heavy forgiving, it is enough to make the strongest of us weak in the knees.  But this is the way to forgiveness, the way to peace.  We have to fight the good fight to win the crown.

We are used to working.  We work and we earn our living.  Read it right there in Genesis; there it is:  “And the LORD God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it.”  But this is a different kind of work.  Indeed, this is our life’s work.  I don’t care if you are a butcher, a baker, or a candlestick maker:  Your real job on earth is to get right with God.  He wants you back.  He loves you.  He created you!  Throughout all of history God the Father has been creating and preparing you to come home to him so he can throw you a bigger feast than you can imagine.  He does not throw the feast to woo you back – he throws the feast because he is so glad that you are back safe and sound in his house.  He has missed you in all your wandering.  He wants to run across the fields and hug your neck as you both cry for joy.  Coming to terms with your sins was awful, but this homecoming makes it all worthwhile.  The choicest robe; a ring for your finger.  Man, will he be glad when you finally come home!

We must heed the call of repentance.  One of the six Duties of Churchmen is to keep a clean conscience.  We must examine ourselves for sin, and not just the quick and easy stuff either.  Lurking inside our as-yet-not-completely-sanctified selves is firmly rooted sin which cleverly disguises itself to look like virtue or something inoffensive.  But it stinks to Heaven where God hates it and hates how it is fooling us, using us, and abusing us.  We must carefully and prayerfully expose our souls to God with or without the aid of a priest and acknowledge our sins and turn away from them.  We must do this for the salvation and sanctification of our souls.  We must be ever vigilant to catch creeping sins before they take root in our souls, and when we do find sin, whether habitual or new, we root it out pronto.

 

Two things to sum up:

First:  Everyone, no matter how proud, lustful, greedy, glutinous, angry, envious, or indolent, who repents is welcomed with open arms by God, and everyone with a soul, however holy or wicked, will be welcomed with open arms here at St. Luke Church.

Second:  We need to turn away from our sins and return to God.  Our Heavenly Father will take care of the rest of it.  He will welcome us in his heavenly home.  The future with the fullness of God awaits us.  But we must repent and return to God.  Repent.  Return.

 

“Bring forth the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet: and bring hither the fatted calf, and kill it; and let us eat, and be merry: for this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.”

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

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“Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift.”

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

 

Our worship is the first and foremost thing that Christ wants us to give to God.  “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment.”  We are to give our good God everything.  We are to give him more than our heart, but our soul and mind as well.  We are to withhold nothing from God.  We are to freely offer ourselves to God.

Our worship of God is our primary and ultimate purpose.  This is why our primary reason for gathering together this morning is not to enjoy fellowship, or to improve ourselves, or to better learn the Scriptures or God’s will for us, or to enjoy music and beautiful liturgy.  All of that is at the very best secondary.  All of that serves the main purpose:  To worship God.  God created us to live and walk with him in the Garden of Eden.  By our ancestors’ sin, we fell from grace and that immediacy of our presence with God.  When people tell you that they can talk to God just fine without the Church, the Body of Christ, or without Christ, the Son of God, or without the Holy Ghost, the Third Person of the Ever Blessed Trinity, or without the Sacraments, the sure and certain means of grace given to us by Christ, then know that such people are spouting nonsense, getting in touch with their inner voice at best and communicating with Satan and his demons at the worst.

God has given us himself in direct supernatural revelation so that we can surely and certainly approach the throne of grace in heaven.  We do this by worshipping God with our all, holding nothing back.  If we give God our heart without also giving him our mind, we are actively disobeying the first great commandment.  As creator of the world and author of our lives, God is all we ever had.  As redeemer and sanctifier of our souls, God is all we can ever have.  God is our all.  God demands our all.

 

Isaac Williams said:  “First take care that the heart be right, for to the heart of the worshipper God looks.”

The purity of heart, the transparency of soul which occurs in worship can be marred and disfigured by grudges and ill-will.  In our grand and incomparable liturgy, we hear the words of the invitation to confession:  “YE who do truly and earnestly repent you of your sins, and are in love and charity with your neighbours, and intend to lead a new life, following the commandments of God, and walking from henceforth in his holy ways….”  We clear our consciences in the confession and receive the assurance of God’s pardon in the absolution.  We must be right with God and man, with Christ our Lord and our most difficult and irritating neighbors, in order to worship the Lord “in the beauty of holiness.”

The mere act of approaching the altar exposes “our selves, our souls and bodies” to the presence of the Almighty God of the universe.  Our finitude, our limitedness, our smallness come to mind as we approach the infinite Deity.  To commune with God necessarily demands that we ourselves have some touch of the purity and loving-kindness that he has.  We cannot make ourselves pure, for that is God’s prerogative and power.  But God commands us to get right with each other, to reconcile to each other.

In the entire history of the Christian Church, the norm has been to approach the altar in worship with no sin.  In the earliest days, the faithful Christian was supposed to remain out of serious sin after his baptism.  As the years progressed, the faithful Christian was supposed to make a private confession with sacramental absolution.  Our Eastern Orthodox brethren still hold to this ancient standard.  Our Roman brethren have reduced this to making a confession once annually.

One of the Duties of Churchmen is to keep a clean conscience.  To confess your sins to a priest in the sacrament of penance at least once a year is too hard a burden to demand for all, but the duty to carefully guard, examine, and prune your conscience as God would have you is the absolute least you can do.  We Anglican Catholics have substituted a cycle of public confessions in the offices and the Mass instead of the requirement of sacramental confession.  Each of us must faithfully prepare for each service by examining our consciences and whole-heartedly confessing our sins in our prayer of confession.

I ritually wash my hands in the sacristy before I even come out to the sanctuary.  I ritually wash my hands again during the offertory before the great Eucharistic prayer begins.  We ought to be clean when we come before the Lord.  While our neighbors might not appreciate it, we do not have to be clean on our outside – I would rather you come to Mass after having mown the grass than have you not come at all – but we must be clean on the inside, clean in our consciences, right with our neighbors, right with God.

 

Hear again what Christ told his students:  “Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift.”  We are to reconcile with our brother if he has something against us!  The duty, the requirement, the necessity if you wish to live forever in Christ is to seek out the one who “has ought against thee” and reconcile with him before approaching the altar with your gift.  This isn’t the soft and cuddly pastel Christ that we like to think about!  This teaching of Christ judges us!  We stand convicted by the words of Christ to his hearers, for we do not obey Christ’s teaching.

St. Gregory the Great said: “Lo, He is not willing to accept sacrifice at the hands of those who are at variance.  Hence then consider how great an evil is strife, which throws away what should be the means of remission of sin.”

If we have ought against our brother, we do not need to seek reconciliation with him.  To do right by our brother who has offended us, we need to forgive him.  We do not need to tell him that we have forgiven him.  We do not need for him to acknowledge that we have forgiven him.  All we need to do is forgive him.  Then we no longer have ought against our brother.

If you and I have mutually offended each other, then I must forgive you for the injury done to me, and I must go to you for reconciliation so that you may forgive me for the injury done to you.  We need not forgive each other at the same time.  I do not even need to let you know that you offended me.  My duty is to forgive and to seek forgiveness.  I have no business judging whether or not you have behaved yourself and forgiven me properly.  No man has the competence to do so, and no man has the authority to do so.

We have an obligation to ask pardon of those whom we have offended.  Furthermore, we have an obligation to pardon those who ask pardon of us.  All this is to be done with an honest and forthright mind, with no dissimulation or dishonesty.  Asking pardon of our sin when we fully intend to sin again is a mockery of asking pardon and is an additional sin added to the first.  To say we are sorry when we actually delight in our action is adding lying upon hurtfulness.  Lying is in league with accusation, and both of these are part of Satan’s realm rather than Christ’s.  Falsely apologizing and falsely forgiving plant us more firmly with cancer, disease, warfare, strife, and death over against loving-kindness, gentleness, good humor, procreation, and life.

 

We cannot count on God’s mercy upon us when we systematically and incautiously deny our mercy upon others.  “Judge not, let ye be judged” is no lie – so as we judge, so will we be judged.  If you constantly rule for yourself in your mortal state, you can count on the Infinite Judge of Righteousness to rule against you in your immortal state.

John Wesley said:  “For neither thy gift nor thy prayer will atone for thy want of love: but this will make them both an abomination before God.”

The gift of loving-kindness is the greatest offering we can bring to worship our God.  Who cares about the perishable riches of this world compared to the imperishable riches of love?  “God is love.”  “The greatest of these is charity.”  Nothing raises us so close to heaven as loving-kindness among those who have died to sin and risen in Christ.  The sacrifice of our self and sinful pride in the service of loving one other is the greatest gift we could offer.

We are prone to excusing our everyday little sins.  We wink at our sins and say to ourselves, “Well, that’s just who I am!”  We manage not to keep track of them and to lose sight of them once committed.  But do we ever keep track of those offenses committed against us by others!  By counting offenses committed against us and forgetting those offenses committed by us, we sin against truth and lie.  But God sees all and knows all.  He sees the sins we commit but forget, and he knows that we absolve ourselves of those sins but condemn others for their offenses.  Furthermore, he knows that we seek not the truth, but our own advantage.

We sin against others, forgive ourselves, hold others’ sins against us, and then lie about it.  We are doubly damned for our every sin, for we are liars as well as offenders.  God is love, and in hating our brother we hate God.  God is truth, and in despising truth we despise God.  We hate and despise God daily and then sweetly present ourselves disheveled without preparation on Sunday mornings and expect to receive God’s blessings for our great service.  Instead we ought to examine our consciences every day, beg our brothers for their forgiveness, meekly forgive the offenses they have committed against us, and quietly prepare to approach the altar of God.

 

Pseudo-Chrysostom said:  “See the mercy of God, that He thinks rather of man’s benefit than of His own honour; He loves concord in the faithful more than offering at His altar; for so long as there are dissensions among the faithful, their gift is not looked upon, their prayer is not heard. For no one can be a true friend at the same time to two who are enemies to each other. In like manner, we do not keep our fealty to God, if we do not love His friends and hate His enemies.”

My dear children, we must get right with God.  “This is a true saying, and worthy of all men to be received, That Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.”  God wants us to be with him.  He gave up His own Son to be born one of us by the Blessed Virgin Mary, to live as one of us in Nazareth, to teach His people among the nation of Israel, to suffer and die upon the hard wood of the Cross so that all men everywhere at all times might be reconciled to Him and through Him to God the Father.  God wants us in a bad way.  You matter to him.  He knew you in your mother’s womb.  He wants you.

For us to have a proper relationship with him is hard because of our sin, our separateness, our brokenness.  And by sin I do not just mean those condemned in the Ten Commandments, although they are a breathtakingly good start.  We must not only not murder our brother, we must also not nurse anger towards our brother.  We must not only not commit adultery, we must also not lust.  We must not only not commit the outward and public sin, but we must also root out of our hearts the inward and private sin which we dare not share with the world.  God knows that we harbor such evil inward thoughts, even when we are not completely aware of them in ourselves.

This is one of the main reasons we ought to confess our sins to our priests – searching our consciences and verbally confessing our sins is so horrible and distasteful that we earnestly despise and hate our sins for being ours.  We wish nothing more than to remove those sins far away from us, and Christ has given authority to his priests to speak that forgiveness to us.  We cannot make ourselves right with God, for God is all powerful and we are too weak and corrupt.  But we can fight manfully against the world, the flesh, and the devil.  “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.”  We cannot win the victory, for Christ has already won the victory.  Christ says, “In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.”

God has given us Christ to make us right with him.  We must trust in Christ, rely on Christ, believe in Christ, rest in Christ.  We must be united with Christ, with His Body and with His Blood.  We are to renounce all the things which lead us away from Christ, those things which stand between us and Christ.  And my good people, the grudges between you and your brother are getting in between you and Christ.  We must turn away from the altar to reconcile with our brother who has ought against us so that we may with purity of purpose “go unto the altar of God, even unto the God of my joy and gladness.”

 

“Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift.”

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

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