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Posts Tagged ‘Cross’

St. Matthew xxv.41:  “Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels:”

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

 

I read an anonymous quote this week which seemed appropriate to share with you this Sunday, the fourth of the Four Last Things, Hell:  “Everyone will live forever. Not everyone will enjoy it.”

 

Satan hates us so very much.  For all the rebellion and hatred he bears to God, he cannot hurt God directly, for God is all powerful.  Even when he thought he could hurt Christ, he could not tempt Him into sin.  He could not break Christ on the Cross.  Instead, Christ broke the power of Satan and Hell on the Cross.

However, Satan can hurt God’s creatures.  Unlike the angels, we men are made in the image of God.  Satan seeks to destroy us like a ravening lion. So when Old Scratch and his demons get their filthy claws on us in Hell, they torture for all eternity.

Both man and angel are created, are designed, are built to bask in the presence of the great giver of life, the Lord God Almighty.  As much as man and angel may hate God and seek to flee from his presence, so both are horribly distressed by great longing for God.  That impure corrupted longing turned long ago into distorted loathing and hatred and contempt for the erstwhile object of love.

As Fr. Von Cochem says about the Devil:

Of all the fallen spirits, not one is so abominable as the chief of all, the haughty Lucifer, whose cruelty, malice and spite render him an object of dread not merely to the damned, but also to the devils subject to him. This Lucifer is called by various names in Holy Scriptures, all indicating his malignity. On account of his repulsiveness he is called a dragon; on account of his ferocity, a lion; on account of his malice, the old serpent; on account of his deceitfulness, the father of lies; on account of his haughtiness, king over all the children of pride; and on account of his great power and might, the prince of this world.

The other devils and demons are fallen angels who are not as mighty or created as perfectly good as Lucifer, and therefore are not so evil and ugly as him.  Just as men often in Scripture behold angels and attempt to worship them because of their beauty and goodness, so we would hardly be able to abide the presence of demons in their unhidden form because of their ugliness and wickedness.  That we can scarcely contemplate how miserable in appearance devils are is why they are often portrayed in a gruesome and grotesque manner.

Immediately after making my confession on retreat at Holy Spirit monastery in Conyers, I was visited in a nightmare by a creature so horrible in countenance that I could only barely describe it.  I was immensely terrified and would have been frightened away from spiritual matters entirely – thus acquiescing to the damning of my soul – were I not fortified in the Holy Sacraments and prayer.  The Sacraments are the grace of God the Son and prayer is ultimately of God the Father – when mediated by God the Holy Ghost, we are invincible to all demonic spiritual attack.

Hell is the place reserved for Satan, his demons, and cursed men.  It is a place of everlasting fire.  St. Matthew xxv.41:  “Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels:”  Hell is real and everlasting, as is Heaven.  The wicked and damned go to Hell forever, and the righteous and saved go to Heaven forever.  St. Matthew xxv.46:  “And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.”

The Roman Christians in antiquity would stand prayerfully together as they would be mauled to death by wild animals in the Coliseum.  They could die heroically at peace in our Lord while vicious beasts, deranged by hunger, would pounce upon them, pull them down, and tear their flesh with fang and claw.  They could die this way because they had victory in Christ and knew that Hell had worse to offer.  Think upon that, dear souls!  How ruthlessly did the lions rip into their flesh!  Would the angry hungry evil angels be more merciful than a brutalized innocent animal?  Our brethren knew that the feasting of demons upon their Resurrection bodies would go on for eternity – and the demons would never eat their fill or satisfy their lust for flesh.

Oftentimes I have heard that the company would be better in Hell than in Heaven, as if Hell would be some great party that would never end.  Perhaps the companionship would not be near as boring as would be the squares in Heaven.  But loving-kindness is entirely missing in Hell.  There is no camaraderie amongst the damned.  Hell is the realm where all are embittered against each other, mocking and cursing with enmity for all.

 

St. Mark ix.43-4

And if thy hand offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter into life maimed, than having two hands to go into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched:  Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched.

Christ says this not to injure our bodies.  Sin does not work in our hands and feet and eyes.  Sin works in our hearts.  But indeed we should be counted among the blessed if we were to lose our hands and feet and eyes in this world and flourish in Heaven above for all eternity!  The holy martyrs certainly thought so.  St. Lawrence the Deacon was roasted alive.  Yet knowing that Christ was his redeemer, he famously said to his executioners to turn him over, for this side was done!  How could he be so bold as he died a death of torture?  Because His savior lived!  And St. Lawrence was about to join Him in Heaven.  Truly the slings and insults of this world are nothing compared to the agonies of Hell.

So Christ says it is better to cut off your own body parts and live maimed than to go to Hell intact.  And three times here in St. Mark’s Gospel Christ tells us why:  “Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched.”  The filthy, rotten, tormenting, grotesque demons of Hell do not die in Hellfire.  They gnaw on your soul for eternity.  And the fire never wanes or dies either.  For age unto age the blast furnace heat far exceeds the fire into which King Nebuchadnezzar threw Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.  That pagan king heated up that furnace seven times beyond its regular blaze.  So very hot was it that the men who threw the three Jewish lads into it died from exposure to the heat.  Yet God sent his angel to protect the young men in there.  But Hellfire is profoundly hotter than the furnaces of Babylon, and God keeps his holy angels far from pits of Hell.

The rich man asked Father Abraham to send Lazarus with his finger dipped in water so to cool his burnt parched lips.  But Father Abraham told that wicked soul that he had enjoyed his good things in his life and not done justice.  There was no relief for him who had ignored the righteous soul starving at the gate, stepping over the poor man on his way about town.  There is no relief in Hell, there is no companionship in Hell, there is no clean air to breathe in Hell, there is no rest from torment in Hell, and there is no peace and quiet in Hell.

The unforgiving oven of Hell continuously burns all flesh therein.  And since all the cursed souls in Hell possess their eternal bodies, the stench of burning flesh does not abate over the millennia.  The cries of the cursed, the stench of the damned, the torments of the devils, the separation from God, and the sheer inescapability of it all are too gruesome for us to understand but in the extremes of our language.  For we still possess our frail bodies of our mortality.  We still live our lives of decision.  We may yet turn to God.  We may yet spurn Satan and embrace Christ.  Our judgement is still yet to come, for we mortal men remain alive … today.  But as death and judgement await us, so does either Heaven or Hell.

 

St. Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians ii.9, “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.”  Wonderful bounteous beauties await those who follow Christ unto the end.  There, in Heaven, we will eternally witness and experience the dynamic loving-kindness of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.  But those in Hell are denied this, the Beatific Vision.  The damned do not behold God, for they lived without God; they lived for themselves, and so they remain tortured by the lack of God for which they were made in the company of all the foul spirits who rejected God for themselves.  Thus, those in perdition suffer the company of the most selfish wicked souls ever created while those in bliss enjoy the great love of those who put you above themselves.

We were made by God to enjoy God.  To be denied God for eternity is the greatest sorrow man can know.  Now we are on the earth in our mortal life, and so we can only barely glimpse what the damned miss.  For we ourselves are yet getting to know God.  We still foolishly believe that something other than God may bring us greater joy than our Creator.  St. Bonaventure said, “The most terrible penalty of the damned is being shut out forever from the blissful and joyous contemplation of the Blessed Trinity.”  St. John Chrysostom said, “I know many persons only fear Hell because of its pains, but I assert that the loss of the celestial glory is a source of more bitter pain than all the torments of Hell.”  Every moment we feel loss or long for something we cannot have, we are touched by the lack of God in our lives.  So we try to fill up our emptiness with the delights of the flesh and the world, with passions, honors, riches, sensual gratifications, and all the vain and fleeting pleasures of this realm.  But all of these things are hollow and empty.  God alone is the one true source of the soul’s happiness.  To be finally denied the only source of happiness is logically to live in eternal despair and agony.

The eternal sorrow of the damned will recall their many occasions to turn from the way of wickedness, all the wrongs committed against God and neighbor, and all the many times their friends and family urged them to amend their ways.  Thus their conscience will pain them beyond measure, along with the stench, the heat, the cries of the lost, and the torments of demons.  They will forever know that they could have avoided such an unbearable fate had they only responded truthfully to the Lord of life instead of making their own way according to their own perverse and peculiar thoughts.  Alas, the presence of their own minds, will, conscience, and memory, cause the damned everlasting torment so unspeakable that our stomachs quiver in disgust.

 

Dear children of God, do not listen to the whispers of this world, which are either the hushed tones of sinful men or fallen angels.  David said (Psalm xiv.1):  “THE fool hath said in his heart, There is no God.”  You will hear that there is no God, no punishment, and no Hell.  You will be told that you may live your life however selfishly you wish and will never have to answer for your crimes.  But those words tempt you away from Christ and straight into the maw of Satan.

 

To avoid Hell, you must believe in Jesus Christ and give your heart to Him, you must be Baptized into His Death and Resurrection, and you must repent of your sins.

To grow in Christ as a living branch of his Body, you must obey the Six Precepts or Duties of Churchmen.  That is, worship every Sunday and Holy Day of Obligation.  Receive the Body and Blood of Christ frequently.  Give our Lord the first tenth of your income in the tithe.  Seek after righteousness by keeping your conscience clean of all sin and confess your sins if you fall.  Fast like our Lord did when directed to by His Body.  And keep the marriage laws of the Church, witnessing to the holiness of Christ.

If you are doing all these things, then seriously attend to prayer, good works, and studying the Holy Scripture.  It is possible and not all that difficult to live such a life.  Besides avoiding Hell, the soul who carefully lives a Christian life will grow closer and closer to our Lord while you still draw breath on this earth, after which He will not forget you in the world to come.

 

St. Matthew xxv.41:  “Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels:”

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

 

 

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“Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I am.”

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

 

“Son of God and Son of Mary”

 

When we think of Christ, what do we think about Him?  In G. K. Chesterton’s marvelous 1925 book The Everlasting Man, he notes that nobody has ever raised a “statue of Christ in wrath”.  That is, we have made no statues of Christ thrashing money-lenders at the Temple, cursing the fig tree which produced no fruit, or as the fearsome judge and warrior of Revelation.  Instead, we make statues of Christ as “almost entirely mild and merciful”.

Without a doubt, there are many times that Christ was mild and merciful.  But he was also fierce and demanding.  Our Saviour was a real person, with a real personality.  Sometimes we read the Gospels and find seemingly contradictory descriptions of Him, His words, and His actions.  But real people are complex and not simple.

Christ is a historical person.  He lived in Judea of the Roman Empire, an area that spoke Greek because of the Hellenization which followed the victories of Alexander the Great.  Christ was the culmination of the people of Israel.  Christ had a human mama, a young lady whose heart was pierced by a sword in the sorrows she experienced through Him.  He had relatives who initially disapproved of His ministry.  He had a hometown which accepted Him as a carpenter but rejected Him as a religious prophet.  Christ ate.  He cried.  He had friends.  He worshipped in the synagogue and in the Temple.  When He was scourged, He bled.  When He was crucified, He died.  Christ is a man.

“Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I am.”  This is Christ’s clearest declaration that He is divine.  It is obvious from the Jews’ reactions that they understood Him to be saying exactly this; they were offended by His “blasphemy”.

 

Christ’s words, “I am”, can be used without great theological importance:  “I am Fr. Otwell.  I am Angela’s husband.  I am Ray’s boy.”  But Christ says here, “Before Abraham was, I am.”  He is Who He is.  He exists.  This echoes God’s answer to Moses when Moses asked who was speaking to him out of the burning bush:  “God said unto Moses, I AM THAT I AM:”  God is existence.  “I Am” is the Old Testament name of God, what we know as Jehovah or Yahweh, spelled in four Hebrew letters known as the Tetragrammaton.  This is an existential name, this is a holy name.  Jesus, in this sense, has two holy names.

At one place in the Greek version of the Old Testament that the early Church used, “I am” is translated, “I Am the Existing One.”  This sounds cryptic and unusual to our ears, but it did not sound odd to the hearers of the Gospel in the First Century.  Jews, Gnostics, and pagans all used “I am” in special occasions to point to something beyond, to point to something other, to point to something holy.  And so St. John puts Christ’s sacred words into this context.  Christ declares that He is God.  St. John began his Gospel with the words, “In the beginning was the Word”, the Word that was God, the Word which came into the world.

Christ is God.  God is the existing one.  Every single other creature, including St. Michael and Satan, St. Mary and Judas, our oldest member here to our youngest, dogs, cats, goats, cows, rocks, trees, mountains, plains, planets, and stars all depend upon God for their existence.  God created everything that exists out of nothing.  God is without beginning and without end.  God is not matter; God created matter.  God did not always have us; God created us at a point in time before which we did not exist.

God exists.  We conditionally exist.  We are utterly and profoundly dependent upon God for our very existence.  God created us in love.  God chose us.  We are not accidents.  We are beloved creatures God painstakingly made in his own image so that he could enjoy us and we could enjoy him.  God is love.

Understand here what Christ was saying.  Christ said that He was God – in particular, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity.  Christ explicitly claimed divinity, and the pious Jews with Whom He was arguing understood, for they picked up stones to stone him to death for blasphemy.  The Jewish religion, the Jewish Church if you will, of the Old Testament prepared the Jews for Christ, but God’s gift of himself as a Jew amongst Jews was too much for many of them to accept.

Before we scoff at them, we are in the same boat.  We have enjoyed two thousand years’ of understanding that Christ is God and Man, and yet we still cannot hardly understand it.  But doesn’t it make sense?  God created us out of love, and in the great good gift of freedom, at our creation we chose to worship ourselves instead of him.  So what is he to do?  He sets out to destroy us in the Flood, but saves Noah and then repents of the idea.  So again and again God shows a better way, a way pointing to holiness.  And in the “fullness of time”, God the Father sent His only-begotten Son into the world so that we may be freed from sin and live in beautiful loving communion with God forever.

 

Understand when we contemplate the Cross that we and our sins did not only send a man to die for our wickedness.  We sent the Person Who is the Incarnate God on earth amongst us to His death.  We tried to kill our God; we tried to kill our maker and our lover.

But we cannot keep life himself down.  God is.  God is love.  God is life everlasting.  We can kill the things of God for a while, but God redeems and resurrects.  This is why we not only have love and we not only have forgiveness of sins, but we have everlasting life free of hatred, sin, decay, darkness, and death.  We will live in unblemished glory forever with God, in loving-kindness and praise forever.

The things we think are good here are still only created things.  We think we know love.  We think we know loyalty.  We think we know a job well done.  My dear children, we don’t know nothing yet!  “For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.”

Christ is God, and Christ is Man.  Christ is the Son of God, and Christ is the Son of Mary.  He has two full and complete natures in one sacred Person.  This is why we say that there is no salvation without Christ, why He said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.”  No man can come to the Father, for not a one of us is pure and unspotted and not a one of us is God the Son, Who can approach His Father.

By our Holy Baptism, we are joined into the Body of Christ, and through Christ’s Body are we brought into everlasting life in perfect communion with God.  That is why Baptism is necessary for salvation.  We do not make this stuff up.  This is from Christ, and taught by Christ’s Body, Holy Church.  We set aside our peculiar opinions and foolish notions and selfish desires and lean in the everlasting arms of Christ our Lord.  “So God loved the world, that he gave his only-begotten Son, to the end that all that believe in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”

My dear children, open your hearts and wills and imaginations to the love of God and the presence of Christ in this Holy Mystery.  Be ye converted.  Whatever you are holding back from God, offer it up to Him.  Knock down whatever false idols you have raised in love’s place and make the love of God and the love of your neighbors your highest priority in your life,.

 

“Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I am.”

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

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“Mary said, Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word.”

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

 

The Feast of the Annunciation is popularly called “Lady Day”, although it is a feast of our Lord.  The date derives from an ancient idea, that you died on the day of your conception.  Through figuring, early Christians thought that Christ died on March 25th, which meant His incarnation took place on March 25th.  This led to December 25th as His birthday and to June 24th as the date of the conception and death of St. John Baptist.  Despite early medieval attempts to move the feast outside of Lent, the original date prevailed.

From 1066 to 1752, the English held March 25th as New Year’s Day.  Blessed Richard Hooker in his Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity during Elizabethan times wrote, “We begin therefore our ecclesiastical year with the glorious annunciation of his birth by angelical embassage.”  For nearly 700 years, New Year’s Day was today.  Can you imagine?

 

Our Lady was a woman amongst men, poor amongst powerful, young amongst those wizened in years, and unmarried amongst married.  She was faithful, but she was the least of the Jews.  And yet, through her faithfulness and obedience to God, she becomes the greatest of all people, men or women, who have ever lived who were not God Incarnate.

St. Gabriel tells her that God has “highly favored” her amongst all other people.  You see, God heaps blessings on those the world despises.  We see with the eyes of this world, of this culture, and yet God despises our order and our values except insofar as they conform to him.  God blesses those whom he finds worthy and not those whom the world bathes with awards, treasure, and honor.  “Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.” says Christ.  And again He says, “Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven.”  And in the Old Testament, Isaiah lv.9:  “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

St. Mary’s response in great faith made her in the Holy Ghost a vessel through which God the Father poured God the Son into the world.  The Blessed Virgin, though a creature, though our sister through Adam and Eve, became a vital and critically important part of God’s salvation of all the world and all mankind.  We owe a great debt of thanks to her, but she gave it all up to God, and she would have us give it all up to God.  When we submit ourselves to our loving and almighty God, the greatest things in Heaven and Earth can happen.  Again and again, we see in Sacred Scripture God raising up men and women to fulfill his righteous will amongst us.  Since we are created in God’s image and redeemed by God’s Son, we are important.  As obedient to God’s will, we act vitally important.

 

The Blessed Virgin’s obedience did not lead to happiness unbounded.  Remember her mourning at the Cross?  Remember St. Simeon in St. Luke ii.35 prophesying, “Yea, a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also”?  She gave birth, not in the inn, but in the stables.  They could only afford the sacrifice of the poor when they presented Christ to the Temple.  She and Joseph fled with Christ to Egypt to save His life.  She saw the priests and scribes conspire to kill Him.  And yes, she was there at Pentecost as well.  She lived a blessed life, but she lived neither a sumptuous or easy life.

We think that God’s blessing will bring prosperity and joy, but often God’s blessing brings hard, difficult, and painful work.  Death and suffering accompany us on the journey Godward.

Those with easy lives might think they have gotten away with a well-lived life, when they have done nothing.  Those who have faced an uphill battle through trial and tribulation may cry out for a rest, but may indeed have won a crown.

And note that heavenly visits inspire fear and wonder.  We want to see an angel to comfort us and to strengthen our faith, but indeed we may cower in fear upon the sight of one.  We pray for divine guidance, but find that truly divine guidance will lead us into danger and out of worldly prosperity.  Our simple earthly minds cannot fathom nor comprehend the immense and profound wonder that a heavenly being such as St. Gabriel would have upon us.

Never doubt the courage of the Virgin when she placed herself into God’s hands during the visit by the angel.  Such an overwhelming and scary experience for a young woman!  But perhaps this is what our Lord meant when He said that we had to become as little children to enter into the Kingdom of God.  He would have us remain innocent and open to fantastic experience, not hardened and jaded like we had earned every year of our life through hard work and bitter disappointment.

And if anything can happen, then what is next?  Probably not what we expect.  The faithful Christian should have a heart like St. Mary, open to the unbelievable possibilities of Almighty God, our Heavenly Father.  We must truly believe that the Holy Ghost can do all things.  We must truly believe that Christ is one of us and lived a life amongst us.  We must believe in miracles and goodness and holiness and not insist upon having things our way.

 

As we are all brothers of Christ through adoption, and since we enter into eternal life through Christ, so we may faithfully and truly say that the Blessed Virgin Mary is the mother of us all.  Christ saying to St. John from the Cross, “behold your mother”, and saying to his mother from the Cross, “behold your son”, is the symbol of this truth.

Moreover, St. Mary had the Lord inside of her just as the Messiah was within Israel, and Christ came forth from His mother just as out of Israel the Messiah came forth.

As the Blessed Virgin Mary is our mother and as she is a type of Israel, so she is a type of Holy Church.  Through our mother Holy Church, we are birthed into new life.  Thus Christians may call St. Mary our mother as well.  It is as St. Mary as mother of us who through obedience allowed salvation into the world through Christ flips the work of Eve, who though mother of us all, allowed sin into the world through Adam.

 

In the lady parts of our Lady, God the Son became Incarnate Body and Blood, anticipating and prefiguring how this bread and wine shall become the Body and Blood of Christ for us to eat and drink on God’s altar in just a few minutes.  St. John Baptist leapt in his mother’s womb when he encountered our Lord Jesus in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary.  So we bow and kneel before Christ in His Blessed Sacrament of the Altar.  And the Blessed Virgin helped make it happen.

If you love Jesus, you have to love His mama, for He certainly did.  If you would love like Christ loves, you would love the Blessed Virgin Mary.  But if somehow you love the Blessed Virgin more than Christ, she would be the first one to correct you and point you to her Son, for she followed Him, and obeyed Him, and was there at the Cross and on Pentecost.

 

The Blessed Virgin Mary shows us that God chooses the weak of this world, shows us that following God can be costly, and shows us that she is our mother as well as our sister.  But most importantly, the Blessed Virgin is the model for Christian discipleship.

“Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word.” This is the model of the humble and faithful Christian’s prayer, placing himself under God’s will.

Father Massey Shepherd said that St. Mary is the “perfect example of a humble acceptance of God’s favor and a ready and trusting obedience to His will.  Here, indeed, one witnesses in purest form the self-giving response of a human life to the redeeming purpose of God.”

St. Mary is told she will be the mother of the Son of the Highest, and yet she makes no grand claims.  She calls herself handmaiden, a servant, chosen by another.  How often does God give us something small and we claim something big?  How often do we boast of our station or wealth or knowledge or capabilities when it all came from our good God and we earned so very little of it?  Give God the glory!  We should learn from her.

And then she wishes that God’s will be done, foreshadowing Christ’s teaching of that in his prayer, “Thy will be done.”  The Blessed Virgin teaches us how to behave before our Lord God.  She is the prototypical Christian, our mother by example if our sister by birth.

St. Mary’s “yes”, as well as our “yes”, is only the beginning of a marvelous and gracious journey of faith.  In the Gospel and the mission of the Church, each moment opens with opportunities to follow Christ, obey God, and spread the Gospel.  Like St. Mary, our obedience to God should form our essential identity in Christ.

What St. Mary started at home one day by emptying herself to God before St. Gabriel culminated in Christ emptying Himself on the hard wood of the Cross that dark day upon the hilltop.  We empty ourselves for God, not negotiating and wheedling with him about what pet trifles we might keep.  Jesus says in St. Luke’s Gospel, “No man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.”

We surrender all to God.  We obey God.  We follow God.  We empty ourselves for God.  God is all we have, for we and all we have come from him.

 

“Mary said, Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word.”

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

 

 

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“we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another.”

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

 

How the Christian Ought to Live, Part 1

 

Today’s Epistle and those of the next two weeks form a continuous reading of the entirety of the twelfth chapter of St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans.  I encourage everyone to read chapter twelve in conjunction with these lessons and sermons.

So today’s lesson begins:  “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.”  Our bodies are to be pledged to and lived in God’s service.  We are noble knights pledging our swords and lives to our king.  This is similar to the vows soldiers, sailors, Marines, and airmen make upon enlistment or commission.  For the United States Army, the vow is to support and defend the Constitution, to bear true faith and allegiance to the same, and either to obey orders from officers or to faithfully discharge the duties of office without any evasion or mental reservation.

In other words, the soldier must be faithful and loyal to his country.  He must not deviate into the service of those opposed to his country.  He will fulfill his duty with his country in mind.  He swears that he is not coerced into giving false service, but rather he is free to obligate himself to this loyalty and allegiance.

All this points to a potentially horrible truth:  The soldier is willing to die for his country.  No one swears this oath and undertakes this discipline wanting to die, but all do it knowing that death may happen.

But the Christian knows that death must happen.  Christ died on the Cross.  The Christian must go to his own Calvary as well.  St. John xii.24:  “Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit.”

Rather, the image of Romans xii.1 is that of worship.  One sacrifices in worship.  This is one of the main reasons that pagans can kill animals or burn incense to their false gods in worship, but you cannot adequately sit at home alone with your Bible in worship.  In worship, one offers something to God.  One sacrifices something.

In the prayer for the Whole State of Christ’s Church, we read:  “We humbly beseech thee most mercifully to accept our [alms and] oblations”.  Our alms are our physical gifts we give to God, most notably bread and wine which is now purchased with money, and therefore the money we give.  Our tithes especially are given in worship.  Think of our oblations as our prayers, presence, worship, and intentions.

If you are bound by chains and dragged into our service and hear those words, “our oblations”, then you may well discard them, for they do not apply to you.  But for everyone who comes here with at least a little desire to worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness, then these words are for you.  Even if you come here intending to show off your new outfit at church, so long as you do intend to show off your new outfit at church, then you too have that little speck of intention towards the worship of God, and thus you participate in the offering up of yourselves.

The Canon of the Mass includes even stronger language.  Midway through it, we read:  “And here we offer and present unto thee, O Lord, our selves, our souls and bodies, to be a reasonable, holy, and living sacrifice unto thee;”  Here do I, or any priest saying the Mass, offer on your behalf as well as mine our whole selves over to God “to be a reasonable, holy, and living sacrifice”.  We worship our good God by giving back to him the lives he first gave us.

When I swore that military oath back in 1990, I knew I might die.  And to be fair, I was willing to lay down my life.  But I had struggled for a couple of years beforehand wondering, “If my life was given to me, by what right had I to risk it?”  But of course, Christ Himself said in St. John’s Gospel:  “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”

We are fully responsible for the lives which God has given us.  And to a great extent, we are free to do what we will with our lives.  The question of “How shall we best live our lives?” is an ancient one.  Notably, Socrates asked this question centuries before the Incarnation of Christ our Savior.

(1) Many people have answers to this question.  Some people think it a good thing to live hedonistically for themselves, avoiding entangling relationships with others, seeking pleasure where they may find it, and avoiding pain at all costs.  This only results in death and the grave.  Not a good option.

(2) Others strap bombs under their clothes and blow themselves up along with busloads of tourists.  To be fair, these people actually think that by killing themselves, they are doing their god’s will.  Of course, they do not think that their bloody god is evil and demonic, although he is.  Yet they still are reaching outside of themselves and beyond their own pleasure.

(3) Others live for something positive.  Some people, especially here in the South and in other traditional cultures, live for their families.  I heard of a Japanese businessman some years ago who put a large sum of money in the bank to be drawn upon by his ancestors centuries in the future.  With compound interest, even a large number of heirs should be very wealthy then.  That’s looking after family that it’s not possible to even meet.

Others lay down their lives for their country and for their country alone.  Millions upon millions of soldiers died on the Eastern Front in World War II, Germans against Russians.  You might ask yourself what compels a man to die on behalf of his atheist or pagan regime.  Laying your life down for another, for your comrade, for your country is the answer.  Whether you sacrifice yourself for your family or your country, such a sacrifice reaches out of the depths of one’s own self and reaches for something greater – the good of your people.

There is honor in this.  There is nobility in this.  Indeed, the noble pagans – Socrates, Confucius, Cicero – aspired to this as the best end result they could manage.  But even there, alas, there is no salvation.  There is nothing vital and eternal.  There is Hades and Sheol, the cold, endless, sleepy afterlife.

(4) But St. Paul shows us yet again a “more excellent way”:  “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.”

We can live for Him Who came down to earth and died for us on the Cross, Who rose again from the dead and ascended into Heaven, preparing for us many mansions in the eternal light of God the Father.  Indeed, we can live for Him Who sent God the Holy Ghost into the world to make us meet and fitting tabernacles for God the Father.

We can live for God every single day of our lives.  We are to pray continually, and when we lead upright, sacrificial lives of loving-kindness to Almighty God, we become a living sacrifice to our good and generous Father in Heaven.

But St. Paul does not stop there.  He has more to say:  “And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.”

As we give ourselves, offer ourselves up as a reasonable, holy, acceptable, and living sacrifice to God, we are not merely to give lip service, we are not merely to hand over the mess which we currently are, but we are to reach even further, and become ourselves transformed by God.  In Hebrews we read:  “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”  God changes us.  We do not remain the same.  Our minds are renewed by our gracious God.  We are so to emulate God in our minds and in our wills that we “may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.”

St. Paul continues:  “For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith.”

Going beyond our private selfish lives, we are to submit to God’s perfect will, we are to become like God, to be transformed by the renewing of our minds, to live lives worthy of offering unto God; and these lives we live here in Augusta and in our families will point towards God.  People other than ourselves will see God in us, in our lives, in our humility, in our conduct, in our speech, in our decisions, in what we value, in what we refuse to accept.  In knowing us, they will not be unfamiliar with God, for we will have been transformed.  They will see us worshipping God and being transformed by him, they will see God working in our lives, and we will be their good examples.  They will either be attracted or repulsed by what they see, but if we are living robust lives with spiritual integrity, they will be seeing the things of God in us.

And those outside the Faith, those outside the household of God will not be the only ones who see this.  St. Paul continues, finishing today’s lesson:  “For as we have many members in one body, and all members have not the same office:  So we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another.”

In the Prayer of Thanksgiving in our beautiful Prayer Book, we read:  “that we are very members incorporate in the mystical body of thy Son, which is the blessed company of all faithful people;”  You right there, and all of your brothers and sisters, are members of Christ’s Body.  We call this the Church, the Bride of Christ.  Just as when a man takes a woman to be his bride they become one flesh, one body, members of each other, so too Christ takes His Church, which is His Body, to be His Holy Bride.  We see in Holy Matrimony a window into the mystery which is Christ and His Church.

And I say that to point out that each one of us are members in this one Body, Holy Mother Church.  For in Christ, the Church births new Christians through the Sacrament of Holy Baptism, in which we are renewed, regenerated, born again, made anew, transformed by the action of the Holy Ghost through the ministry of Christ to become a Holy People.  We, you and I, are joint-heirs of Christ, for we are adopted by God the Father.  Through God’s action, not through our own merit or through any offices of our own, are we united mystically and sacramentally to God.

We can sit down, drink some tea, and think of nice things; we can go to church, go back home, and remain unaffected to the best of our ability.  We may think ourselves above, or below, our brothers and sisters.  We may hold ourselves aloof, apart, beyond, beside, but not in direct relationship with these other Christians we worship with.  But none of that is:  “every one members one of another”.

We are to give ourselves entirely over to God.  We are to conform our minds, our wills, and our entire selves to the mind and will of God.  And we are made one body, “every one members one of another.”

My dear children, we are not fully Christian unless we are these things.  The sacramental washing with water in Holy Baptism immerses us fully into new life in Christ, and that requires our hearts and minds make the full journey also.

What is holding you back?  It’s probably not patriotism, for this is a cynical age.  Family?  Perhaps, but we are selfish.  Money?  Sex?  Living our own private lives?  Holding to our own peculiar opinions?  We are members one of another with our brothers and sisters in Christ.  We all together are one Body, which is the Body of Christ, for we are joined with Christ, and made adopted sons of God the Father.  Our salvation lies through Christ, and in Christ we are joined together.

Understand this:  Without the fools and the snobs sitting to your left and to your right, to your front and to your back, you are not saved.  No one can go this alone.  Christ wills that we all may be one.  We are in this together more than we can possibly understand here in our one short lifetime.

 

“we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another.”

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

 

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“For our citizenship is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ: who shall change the body of our humiliation that it may be conformed unto the body of his glory”

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

 

In today’s Epistle, St. Paul begins:  “BRETHREN, be followers together of me, and mark them which walk so as ye have us for an ensample.”

The Philippians are to imitate St. Paul as he imitates Christ.  Christ sent the Holy Ghost into the world and into our hearts, gave us the Blessed Sacrament to commune directly with Him, and gave us the Church and the priesthood to provide us with the Blessed Sacrament.  God’s grace is constantly mediated to us.  Indeed, we are ministers one to another and together to the world.  There is someone in your life right now for whom Christ has appointed you to be a minister to.  That person will get to know the love of God in Christ through your ministry to him or her.  You may well not even know who that person is, because you are to be living in the image of Christ at all times and before all men.

We need godly models to emulate.  When we are children, we unconsciously model ourselves after our parents, as well as siblings and friends.  We do not pick our accent as children; it just comes to us.  Models for those in formation provide a picture of what a mature and seasoned individual can be.  Of course, we will not grow up to be our mentor’s image, but we will grow up to be our mentor’s colleague.  Teaching your child your trade is a perfect example of this.

So it is with matters of faith.  The best way to learn how to pray is to pray along with someone who already knows.  This is one reason why Holy Mother Church puts such emphasis on public worship.  If you are interested in learning how to say Evening Prayer on your own, then simply come to our Tuesday night worship and learn by doing.  Once you have the basic tools of prayer – the Lord’s Prayer, the creeds, the Glory be to the Father – then you will find it easy to join in communal prayer here in church or pray to our good God in the privacy of your room.  We learn by modeling, and St. Paul is a most excellent example to follow.

He continues:  “(For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ: whose end is destruction, whose god is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things.)  For our citizenship is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ:”

This reminds me of Colossians iii.2:  “Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth.”

It is shameful for Christians to live lives of self-indulgence.  While God created the world and he created it good, and while we may enjoy God’s good earth and the things thereof, all our enjoyment must be so ordered that it glorifies God.  Fast cars, fancy wine, tasty food, and nice clothes are to be driven, sipped, eaten, and worn for the Lord.

If we live our lives to maximize our own personal happiness, then that happiness had best be in the Lord.  If we live for our own selves and our own amusement, that is where we put our treasure.  If our god is our belly, then our end will be destruction, for the belly will pass away at the end of our lives, but our standing in the eyes of God is forever.

Each of us must therefore make a choice.  We cling to this world and the pleasures thereof, or we accept whole-heartedly our citizenship in heaven.  Right now, each of us who is Baptized and believes has one foot in heaven and one foot on earth.  But one day, unless the Lord comes again first, we shall die and leave our body behind to decay without us.  If we put our trust in pleasures and comfort and our belly, then we have rejected our greater glorious citizenship.  But, if we claim the Heaven which claims us for its own, then we are inheritors of eternal life in Christ.  We will live for all eternity, for all ages, with God who is the maker of both body and soul and the ultimate end for whom we are created.

To be a citizen of Heaven involves declaring openly that you belong to Heaven and Heaven is where your loyalties lay.  Many Americans are proud to be citizens and to call this fair land home.  In my experience, naturalized citizens love this country more than native-born ones, for they do not take it for granted.  They left their native lands for good reasons.  Likewise, we are not native-born citizens of Heaven but naturalized citizens by virtue of the Blood of Christ which has washed us clean of our stains and sins.  We are entering into a new country, the Heavenly realm, the home of Almighty God, his holy angels, and the Church Triumphant.

To accept this claim of eternal life with God, we must put aside all that which would keep us here in our native land of sin and death.  Heaven accepts no sin or death within its precincts.  We must leave them behind.  Who wants to bring diabetes and cancer and arthritic joints into eternity?  Who wants to bring idolatry and adultery and thievery into the presence of God?  God the Son came down here to end the power of that stuff over us so we could rise with Him into holiness.

Unfortunately, we are a hard-hearted and contrary people.  All of us are.  The sweetest and gentlest of us can be hard-hearted spiritually.  Look past the surface and into the heart.  We must go to war inside of ourselves on the side of Christ and the holy angels.  We are given grace and divine aid in the fight to shake off the putrid stench of sin and death.  Shall we go to Heaven?  Or shall we rot in Hell?  Hell will let us take our favorite sins with us, but Heaven is a lot more comfortable in the long run!

St. Paul concludes:  “who shall change the body of our humiliation that it may be conformed unto the body of his glory, according to the working whereby he is able even to subject all things unto himself.”

God did not create us to be disembodied souls floating about.  He created us with physical bodies on his physical earth and called it all very good.  Christ was made Incarnate as one of us, with a body of bone, meat, and blood like everyone else.  He Ascended into Heaven in His glorified Body to break the seal of the Heavenly realm so that we could all go with Him and live with Him forevermore.  Thus, since God’s creation was created good and since God became a man, so our bodies are part of God’s plan.  Our bodies are profoundly ours in that they are part of who we are.  Our souls are one with our bodies, and we will have our glorified bodies with us forever.  But these sickly bodies of this world will die the death of this world.

God has a plan for our bodies.  They are not to be abused but are to be used on behalf of God’s will.  What we do with them now will have a direct effect on where we spend eternity.

In God we will be more satisfied and more useful than ever before.  Forget this business of sitting on a cloud with a harp.  With our Lord, we will be the full stature of who he created us to be; we will be fully ourselves, beyond our unsteady selves now.  We will be without sin, washed clean in the Blood of the Lamb, living in the presence of God.  We will have changed from the body of our humiliation to conform to the body of his glory.

Our bodies’ transformations will occur in the future.  It will be accomplished through the power of God in Christ.  And we will receive a new body.  We have not earned a new body.  We do not yet have a new body.  That is for later.  Our fight so far is not yet over.  We cannot sit back and call it a day.  The battle we fight between good and evil, Heaven and Hell, rages on.  We look around at our brothers and sisters and know that they, too, are in the fight.  We are in the fight together.  We are not just brothers and sisters; we are comrades.  We dare not let any of our brethren fail and quit.  We are striving to live out our lives in the shadow of the Cross of Christ.  It is not over until Christ comes again in glory to judge both the quick and the dead or until our time here on earth is done.  Either way, we are not calling the shots; we have not yet earned our heavenly crown; we do not yet have our glorified bodies.

The way to that heavenly crown, the way to that glorified body, is the way Christ showed us:  The way of the Cross.  We are to die to this world and rise gloriously for eternity.

Christ’s Holy Body suffered horribly, and the wounds upon it were blasphemies.  Our frail imperfect bodies suffer too, but Christ’s Body was more horribly disfigured precisely because of its perfection.  Our imperfect bodies are marred with imperfection, and that is awful; but worse is that His perfect Body was marred with the burden of sin and disfigured by imperfection.  Truly He bore our griefs and carried our sorrows.

Are you ready to receive your martyrdom?  Are you willing to follow Christ to the Cross?  Or do you wish to run away from the challenges of life, to escape from the pain of our existence, to live a life of ease and luxury?  Comfort in this world does not make for holy men and holy women.

I could run down a list of heroes of our culture who did not sit still but went out and worked hard to accomplish something great, to learn something new, to build up and not tear down.  But what is the point?  We know that we are to act, to learn, to build.  From Christ’s teachings, we know that we are to love, to sacrifice, to worship.  Contrary to what some say, you cannot truly worship God from your kitchen table Sunday morning when you can make it to the offering of the Body and Blood of Christ.  You cannot truly love your neighbor as yourself if you refuse to go out and meet your neighbor.  You cannot sacrifice for something wonderful if you are unwilling to let go of your tight grip on the pitiful excuse of the life you live.

We are called to follow the way of Christ, the way of the Cross.  That means that we must endure the taunts and jests of those who mock us and despise us.  This is hard.  In the words of the Forty-Fourth Psalm:

“Thou makest us to be rebuked of our neighbours, * to be laughed to scorn, and had in derision of them that are round about us.

Thou makest us to be a by-word among the nations, * and that the peoples shake their heads at us.”

If you pick up your cross and follow Christ, others will not understand.  Friends will laugh at you for taking this whole superstitious nonsense seriously.  Family will not understand why you are taking the hard road.  Your reputation may suffer and your feelings will hurt if you follow Christ.

To follow the way of the Cross means that we are to fall down and then get right back up again.  This is hard.  It is easier to stay down.  I think of that boxing match in Cool Hand Luke.  Squared off against a large and powerful man, Luke keeps getting knocked down.  His friends tell him, “Stay down, Luke.”  Yet he keeps getting up.  Luke’s opponent’s victory turns into defeat as he ever more easily knocks down the staggering Luke.  The crowd shows silent disgust.  His opponent says to him, “Stay down.  You’re beat.”  But the sheer unwillingness to accept defeat as everyone averts their eyes from the horror of the beating wins Luke a victory far beyond beating his opponent.  He assumes heroic stature in the eyes of his fellow men.  Getting back up after getting knocked down is essential for the victorious Christian.

To follow the way of the Cross means to willingly lay down your life when the time comes.  This too is hard.  Charles Stuart, King and Martyr, exemplifies this for us.  Charles might have been a good man, but he acted the tyrant.  When the Parliamentarians won the English Civil War, they offered him his life in exchange for the apostolic episcopacy of the Church of England, our ancestor.  At first, in weakness, he agreed.  But then, God spoke to him through his conscience.  Saint Charles reneged on the deal, honored the Church of Christ, was taken to the executioner’s block, and accepted his fate, winning the crown incorruptible and saving the integrity of the Church of England.

By contrast, that integrity was cheaply thrown away by his Hanoverian successor, Elizabeth II, when she accepted women priests in that formerly Catholic body, breaking our communion with them.  What Elizabeth gave up without a fight, Saint Charles repented from giving up, knowing it would mean his death.  That is what we need as Christians:  No retreat, no surrender to the evils of this world by standing tall and fighting hard for what is right.

We only become humble when we learn to accept the chastening of humiliation.

We only love when we reach outside of ourselves into that wild and chaotic world of other people and risk ourselves amongst them.

We only believe the truth when we are willing to be corrected by the Holy Ghost in Scripture and Church.

To become worthy of the glorified body that awaits those who love the Lord, we must slough off the old skin of pride, hatred, and flattery and build up our souls in humility, love, and truth.

 

“For our citizenship is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ: who shall change the body of our humiliation that it may be conformed unto the body of his glory”

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

 

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