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Posts Tagged ‘Day of Doom’

“God be merciful to me a sinner.”

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

 

 

“The Sin of Presumption”

 

Christ’s story of the Pharisee and the publican is not a contrast between hypocrisy and humility, but between presumption and humility.  The Pharisee was not a hypocrite.  He genuinely believed what he was saying.  He genuinely lived out the life he professed to live.

However, the Pharisee did presume to know the mind of God.  The Pharisee presumed to judge with the judgement of God.  And he did not know the mind of God.  He wrongly judged what was worthy and what was not.  And so he walked away unjustified, not set right with God.

Presumption is a form of pride.  The Pharisee judged himself compared to his fellow man.  That is not the true measurement of a man.  The true measurement of a man is in the sight of his creator.  The Pharisee’s preening missed the point of what he was attempting to do.  And by being so sure he was doing what he was supposed to do, he thereby dismissed the publican who saw reality correctly; the reality that he was a sinner before a righteous God.  All that a sinner before a righteous God can say is, “God be merciful to me a sinner.”

As Bishop Mortimer says of the magnanimous man who judges rightly:

This is the heart of humility.  He does not exalt himself, neither does he despise his fellows.  He honours God, and he honors his fellows as God’s creatures.  He honours every man truly in proportion as he finds him honourable in the sight of God.  He rightly and properly honours and prefers good men above bad men.  But he is not thereby proud, because he knows that both he and they owe what goodness they possess to God; the evil which they share with evil men is of themselves.

This is one way which the Apostle Paul does not fall into the sin of the Pharisee.  St. Paul does not presume the goodness of God for himself.  Instead he sees himself for who he truly is, and it is not pretty:

For I am the least of the apostles, that am not meet to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am: and his grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain; but I laboured more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.

He does not even claim the great labors for the Gospel of Christ which he has done, for they, understood rightly, are due to “grace of God which was with me.”  His persecution of the Church of God is on him; his abundant labours exceeding all others are due to the God alone.  St. Paul merely cooperated with the grace of God; he did not generate the grace of God.

And thus that is another way which the Apostle Paul does not fall into the sin of presumption.  St. Paul does not sleep in late, eat iced cream, and count on God’s grace.  St. Paul “labored more abundantly than they all:”  For if thinking that your good works are due to you alone and that you can successfully work your salvation before God is wrong, so is thinking that God’s grace is coming to you no matter what you do and that you don’t need to do a thing.  Both count on things which are not true, and things that are not true will do you no good before the dread judgement seat of Christ our Lord on the Day of Doom, the Day of Judgement.

So we must steer a middle course between presuming that we can work out our salvation through our shoddy works alone and presuming that we can sit back and let God work his saving magic on us.  Both ways leave us unjustified.  And we cannot live forever with God if we are not justified.

 

So how do we steer this middle course between the two ways to commit the sin of presumption?  After all, the Pharisee tithed, fasted, and prayed at the Temple and still got left out.  How do we live out our faith and good works in the sight of God here in Christ’s Church?

Like so many times before, we should look at Bishop Mortimer’s Six Duties of Churchmen.  Worshipping, receiving Holy Communion, fasting, tithing, confessing, and remaining chaste are the bare minimum level of acceptable Christian service.  My dear children, no less will do.  Receiving Holy Communion, tithing, and chastity are not optional.  Worshipping every Sunday and Holy Day of Obligation, fasting, and confessing your sins are not optional.

Yet they are not sufficient.  They are the bare minimum of our Christian Duty.  But we do not win Heaven by them alone.  They are not enough by themselves.  For without the grace of God, they are worth nothing.

They are no substitute for faith.  Faith is trusting in that which is unseen.  There is no behavior we can enact that makes us right with God.  God makes us right with him based on our faith, which itself is a gift from God.  Faith is the basis upon which we make our decisions to act in a Christian manner, and faith is the likely outcome of behaving in a Christian manner.  Faith in God and good works go hand in hand.

 

So how did the publican get justified?  He stood afar off, the lowered his eyes, he beat his chest, and he prayed, “God be merciful to me a sinner.”

This is the most needful prayer in Scripture.  It is right up there with the Lord’s Prayer.  In fact, this is probably more important.  Like the Summary of the Law is superior to the Ten Commandments even though it is shorter, this Publican’s Prayer is short and sweet, “God be merciful to me a sinner.”

We trust God when we do our best and tell the Lord that we are spent, we are through; we can do no more.  And we know that what we have done is nothing without him.  Knowing in faith that all our actions are insufficient for our eternal life, we turn to God and say, “God be merciful to me a sinner.”  We say it knowing that it is true, that we have no hope for good, no hope for Heaven, no hope for eternal life except God the Father.

 

Our incomparable Anglican liturgy includes a robust confession of sins in each of the three major services of the Church, Mattins, Mass, and Evensong.  If you focus during this prayer of confession, offer yourself up to it to the best of your ability, and firmly intend to turn away from your sins and do better next time, then this prayer is efficacious, it is effective in obtaining what you desire.

When we attach ourselves to Christ’s offering of Himself up as a living sacrifice to God the Father in the Holy Mass, then we participate in Christ’s death and Resurrection again.  When we eat the Body of Christ and drink His holy Blood in faith, we join ourselves mystically and sacramentally into the guaranteed streams of grace pouring from the side of Christ in Heaven upon us here down on earth.

We do our good works in conjunction with our living faith in Christ, knowing that all that we have is not good enough.  But we know from the Gospels that Christ came to us on His own; we did not have to beg and cajole Him down here.  He saved us on the Cross before we were born.  He loved us first.  We can count on Him.

 

“God be merciful to me a sinner.”

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

 

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What man of you, having an hundred sheep, if he lose one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go after that which is lost, until he find it? And when he hath found it, he layeth it on his shoulders, rejoicing.”

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

 

Here we are, gathered on the right bank of the Savannah at the Fall Line. We are St. Luke Church, and we are a mission post of the Kingdom of God in a dangerous wilderness. We are facing two threats and have one special mission. Our first threat is external. Our ancient enemy, Satan, patrols outside our post seeking whom he may pick off. Our second threat is internal. We ourselves have fallen under some influence of Satan and have not only turned on each other but are losing our discipline. In the face of these two threats, we have a mission: To seek out and secure the lost not only of metropolitan Augusta but of our own St. Luke as well. As usual, we can rely upon God Almighty, the grace of the Christ in the sacraments, and the fellowship of the communion of saints. We will be following our great captain, Jesus Christ the righteous.

Our external threat: Satan

St. Peter tells us: “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour: whom resist stedfast in the faith, knowing that the same afflictions are accomplished in your brethren that are in the world.”

His Satanic Majesty is not an impersonal force; he is real, and he is out to get us. He seeks to undo the restorative work of Christ. Here in our parish, Satan lurks around “seeking whom he may devour”. We must resist him, steadfast in the faith.

Satan is much more like a roaring lion than he is like an evil God. There is only one God. The world was created entirely good. Those evil angels and we men fell from God’s grace. God sent Christ into the world to redeem us from the bondage of sin and death. That is our great story. And it has a happy end: Our redemption and everlasting glory.

Although we are to cast our anxieties upon God, we must still remain vigilant. Christ commanded St. Peter and his comrades to remain watchful in the Garden of Gethsemane. He says to St. Peter in St. Mark xiv.38: “Watch ye and pray, lest ye enter into temptation. The spirit truly is ready, but the flesh is weak.”

Christ knows that St. Peter had to be wary as Satan prowls around, seeking someone to devour. St. Luke xxii.31: “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat.” The great adversary is out there, waiting to strike at us, not to injure us, but to devour us. Our souls are in immortal danger right now as we worship here in this little building. We must resist him firmly in the faith and know that our brethren throughout the world face the same danger. We truly are comrades with our brother Christians, for Satan eagerly and relentlessly seeks our destruction in his belly.

Our internal threat: Composure and discipline

We stumble around, groping in the dark without God. “What do I do now?” people ask. Most people most of the time seem unaware of God. Even solid churchmen among us spend much of their day apart from God and make major decisions without consulting him.

We must humble ourselves so that God might exalt us in due time – not in our time. In Christ we know that God cares for us, so we may cast all our anxieties upon him who loves us so much that he sent his own son for us. We pray to God to grant us the infinite supernatural graces to complete us after our Baptism through suffering.

Humility is a counter-cultural value. Pagans despised humility and magnified the proud and accomplished. Humility is not self-deprecation and not a weaselly sentiment. Humility recognizes that all that is comes entirely from God and exists “under the mighty hand of God”. Even when we fail and God chastensus and we feel his mighty hand, then we humbly know ourselves and know God to be the lover of our souls.

Through humility do we learn to throw down our anxieties and cares to God. We let God deal with all that mess. We live simply, with our every breath dependent upon the good God who loves us so much that he gave us his Holy Ghost to dwell within us. We have no worries because we know that we are safe with God. The enemy is outside, lurking about, and he is most dangerous indeed. But humble before God, no enemy can touch us. God’s caresses may feel like the hand of the enemy, but in humility we obey and love and lean upon him wholly. God is benevolent.

Be sober, be watchful” Don’t mess around. Be serious. It’s dangerous out there. The peace which comes with Christ is a pilgrim’s peace on a long journey. We are on the move, and the enemy is following us every step of the way. Put on the whole armor of God, but take comfort that Christ has won the victory. St. Peter remembered being caught off guard by the maid’s question during Christ’s Passion and how he failed. St. Peter bought his humility with a high price.

Our best work at this church for the parish itself and also for your own soul is to rely on Christ completely and let the Holy Spirit of God purify you. Soon we will be looking at the Duties of Churchmen, those minimal things necessary to properly call yourself a Christian alive and at work in the parish and the world. Perhaps we ought to think of ourselves as what Augusta once was: a frontier fort. We are on the border of the world and Heaven. We have a highly experienced, well-armed, and determined enemy seeking our ruin. We must maintain vigilance at all times. We must never let dissension run riot through our ranks, sapping our strength and poisoning the wells of our hearts. We are staking out new territory, we are claiming the world for Christ, we are engaged in a great adventure. And there will be casualties. We know too many of them. But we have our Blessed Lord and His holy sacraments. We have our community of the faithful, our brothers and sisters whom we may rely upon. We have Holy Church, against which the gates of Hell shall never prevail.

We must keep our heads and not lose our cool. Simple rah-rah enthusiasm is immature and not ultimately helpful. Christ leads us in the direction of mature Christian adults, not wild children. Satan must be resisted “steadfast in the faith”. We must be strong in our faith and work towards fuller spiritual maturity in God. And we know that we are not alone: The brethren also suffer and fight on.

The victory belongs to Christ, and all our sufferings are not in vain. We look forward to the Day of Doom, that is to say, the day of judgement, for those Baptized in the blood of the Lamb and who have followed Him shall be claimed by Him. By joining into the Body of Christ, we too will be victorious. Romans viii.37: “Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us.”

Our Mission: Seeking the Lost

Luke Timothy Johnson calls these two parables, “pure Gospel”. Why? The nine pieces of silver and ninety-nine sheep were not enough to keep the woman and the shepherd from looking for what was lost. It is the will of God that all the lost should be found and returned to their rightful place. No matter how much we have and no matter how good things are at the present, we are to join with our Lord and seek out the lost and help restore them through repentance unto God.

Indeed, we are to pass over the blemishes of the sinner and seek out one to pursue. We shan’t complain about our brethren who have slipt away; we shan’t shake our heads in disgust over those whose behavior we disapprove; we shan’t mock those silly fools who consistently fail to see the light as we see it. Instead of self-congratulation, we are to search out and seek the lost and lead them to reformation. We are to lead them without airs and superiority, but with the common brokenness that we sinners know all too well. We have nothing over our lost brother except that we have been found.

In the first parable, the shepherd lays the found sheep upon his shoulders, a very physical, very touching move that has the shepherd carrying the lost sheep. The lost sheep does not return on its own power, but on the power of the shepherd. It reminds us of Ezekiel xxxiv.11: “For thus saith the Lord GOD; Behold, I, even I, will both search my sheep, and seek them out.” This sentiment is echoed in St. Luke xix.10: “For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.”

The shepherd knows nothing of acceptable losses. Even with the ninety nine safe and together, he still goes out to rescue the lost. Finding the lost sheep, he places it upon his shoulders and carried it home, rejoicing. The shepherd knows nothing of pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps. The shepherd does not point the direction back home to the lost sheep and then leave him be. The shepherd lays the lost sheep across his shoulders and joyfully bears the sheep back home. The lost sheep need not even walk; he is carried. The good shepherd does not only consider each of his sheep wholly and entirely valuable, but he will bear the burden of that sheep for the joy of returning him back home.

The value of one. Christ lets us know in the first parable that the one lost sheep is worth going out alone to find him. Christ lets us know in the second parable that one lost coin is worth diligently sweeping out a house to find it. Christ lets us know in the Parable of the Prodigal Son that one lost son is worth receiving in honor and then a party when he is found. One. Just one. Each one. Herein lies the power of the Gospel against the our world with war, terrorism, crime, economies sliding, and disasters. One. St. Matthew x.29-31: “Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? and one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear ye not therefore, ye are of more value than many sparrows.”One. God loves us each one. Each one out there he loves as well. We are to help him win them one by one.

The humblest man knows that he is an individual of unique worth. God knows us as we are knit together in our mothers’ wombs. God creates us individually. We must grow and learn to love one another with the sacrificial love of loving-kindness. But first we are made individually. Even twins and triplets have their individual births. And one day, unless the Lord comes back beforehand, we will each die individually. Christ our Lord is a man, and as men and women we will one day see Him face to face. We have an individual personal relationship with Christ. He knows us and seeks us.

Governments don’t save, corporations don’t save, and institutions don’t save. People save. The Fire Department does not save you from a burning building; a firefighter plucks you out of harm’s way. The Church doesn’t save you; Christ pays the price. Our social existence both on earth and in Heaven is personal. Each of us has our own experiences. Each of us has been lost in our own way. Each of us knows but one Savior: Christ.

Each soul has the urgent value of the lost coin. Each soul is precious to the Lord. All the frantic sweeping and diligent searching is worthwhile, for the lady’s silver coin was so dear to her. God grieves to lose a single soul; all of Heaven rejoices “over one sinner who repenteth.” Christ even descended into Hades for the lost dead of the Old Covenant. No search is too grand, too costly for God. He would that we all be saved, he would that we all repent.

A scholar said, “Our earth is watched by an encompassing kingdom.” Heaven is very close indeed, and it is also too far for us to reach. The holy angels in heaven around the throne of God sing and rejoice with the finding of each lost sinner. You see, this is value that Heaven places on saving the lost. We reflect on saving the lost and think “that’s too evangelical” or “crying babies in here will disturb my worship” or “we need better attendance and giving numbers”. Heaven rejoices when the sinner is saved! “Glory be to God on high” sounds when the recalcitrant wanderer finally is led home. In St. Luke’s Gospel, the Parable of the Prodigal Son follows today’s parables. Remember how the elder brother who had been faithful all those years was so very sore over the welcome the father gave to his brother, the prodigal son? Heaven knows nothing of this. The angels and saints sing to the highest Heaven when the lost sheep is restored to the shepherd. Do the angels and saints sigh and complain to their neighbor saying, “well, I guess we’ll have to make room for another”? No! They rejoice! “I say unto you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth.”

We shall one day all share in the joy of God, which of course is the truest joy of them all, and we know that God loves dearly to save the lost and rejoices in their homecoming.

What man of you, having an hundred sheep, if he lose one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go after that which is lost, until he find it? And when he hath found it, he layeth it on his shoulders, rejoicing.”

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

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