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Posts Tagged ‘Epistle to the Romans’

“Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall.”

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

 

“Temptation in Our Lives, Churches, and Society”

Looking at today’s Epistle lesson, we should know that the Corinthians were proud converts from the pagan religions of Greece and Rome.  Unlike many of the other church folk to whom St. Paul corresponded, they were not mostly converts from Judaism.  Their problems were different.

The Corinthians were tempted to compromise with their old religion, the religion of their friends, families, and social superiors. The Corinthians were tempted to consider Holy Baptism and the Blessed Sacrament as magical talismans which warded off evil and ill health.  Of course, they are nothing of the sort!  These Sacraments connect us deeply into eternal life in Christ.

St. Paul wrote to former pagans living in a pagan society.  He warns them from continuing to participate in banquets dedicated to heathen gods.  These compromises were hazardous to their spiritual health.  They were to avoid these sources of temptations lest what happened to Israel in the wilderness happen to them.

A healthy familiarity with Exodus comes in handy when reading this lesson.  Like the Corinthians and their Holy Baptism, Israel underwent a type of baptism with Moses in the Red Sea.  Like the Corinthians and receiving Holy Communion, Israel ate manna from Heaven and drank water which miraculously sprang from the rock.  But these blessings did not keep Israel from being “overthrown in the wilderness”.  They worshipped the golden calf and were punished.  They tempted God and were destroyed by serpents.  They rebelled from God and suffered horribly.  In the end, only Caleb and Joshua out of all those thousands made it into the Holy Land.  St. Paul writes, “Now all these things happened unto them for ensamples:” – or examples – “and they are written for our admonition.”

But with this warning to avoid compromise with unrighteousness and pacts with wickedness, St. Paul gives the Corinthians good news:  God always helps us in temptation.  At the end of the lesson we receive, along with our brethren the Corinthians, the promise that God will guard us from suffering unbearable temptation:  “God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.”

On the one hand, God only allowing us to be tempted at a level we can resist means that we are fully culpable for each and every sin we commit.  We can resist every temptation.  Therefore, if we fail to resist a temptation, we are to blame for not having resisted more.

On the other hand, God loves us and cares for us so much that he will not tolerate his beloved souls mistakenly breaking communion with Christ our Lord.  Being grafted onto Christ, we never suffer any temptation which forces us to break communion with him without our consent.  Christ wants us with Him for all eternity.

As an aside, notice that the Apostle to the Gentiles does not say here that God will not suffer us to receive more than we can handle.  We often receive more than we can handle.  I understand, not from experience, that young mothers can feel overwhelmed from lack of sleep and a demanding little baby.  I sometimes temporarily feel overwhelmed.  God will allow our decisions and the working of our mortal life to require more of us than we can possibly give.  It is precisely at this time that we should turn to God for comfort, meaning both strength for the journey and consolation.  We will never be tempted beyond what we can bear, but we may be given more to handle than we can bear.

 

Now, having seen how St. Paul considers temptation in First Corinthians, let us turn to three ways that we may be tempted.  We may be tempted morally in our lives of personal sanctity such as bearing good fruit in our relationship with Christ and other people.  We may be tempted sacramentally and ecclesiastically in our communal experience of worship, fellowship, service, and doctrine.  And we may be tempted socially in our lives in society and culture.

We manfully fight against temptation to secure our moral lives.  Three weeks ago we read in Romans vi that we were buried in Christ’s Crucifixion and raised in His Resurrection.  Our old man of sin died, and we put on Christ.  Two weeks ago we read that in Christ we went from earning wages of sin through our actions to receiving the free gift of God, “eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”  Last week we read in Romans viii that we have received the spirit of adoption, making us sons of God.  Instead of being slaves of sin, we are heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ.  Out of this new life in Christ we are expected to bear good fruit as befits a good tree.

Christ recognizes that temptation is dangerous and includes in the prayer He taught His disciples “and lead us not into temptation”.  St. Peter recognizes this and warns us in his first epistle, in words oft recited in Compline, “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.”  We are to pray to avoid temptation.  We are soberly to discern our actual situation regarding sin and temptation, sticking to the truth and not deceiving ourselves.  We are to watch for temptation with vigilance, never letting down our guard and allowing temptation to take hold and grow like a cancer into sin.  We are never in so great a danger as when we think that we are no longer susceptible to the power of temptation.

Since our old man of sin is dead and we are living in Christ, made one with His Body, we ought to strive to resist temptation and produce good works.  We can only produce good works in conjunction with avoiding sin.  Remember that the goodness of our good works does not come from our finite sinful lives but in Christ’s infinite holy life.  We guard against temptation to keep producing good works that joyfully reflect the beauty of the world, love amongst men, and love between God and man.

Think of our consecrated lives in Christ as a clear mirror which reflects Christ’s love back at Him and our fellow man.  Think of sin as besmirching that formerly clear mirror so that our reflection of Christ’s love is muddled and rendered ineffectual.  We watch out for temptation to keep our good works good.

 

We manfully fight against temptation to secure our sacramental and ecclesiastical lives.  If you recall, I once ran in horror from the Anglican Catholic Church.  I developed five reasons to never become a “Continuer”.  Yet in my fourteen years in the Episcopal Church, I saw heresy after heresy.  I tried to follow Christ, suffering mockery with my comrades, while others forged a new religion utterly at variance with the historic and Apostolic religion of the faith once delivered to the saints.  I fell to the temptation of compromise with the intolerable – valuing ersatz visible union – than to conforming myself to unwavering Gospel truth.

Beaten and humbled, I finally surrendered, yielded my own willfulness, and submitted to the Gospel in the Anglican Catholic Church.  Nightmares I had suffered for ten years vanished.  My broken and compromised faith slowly healed.  I welcomed good old-fashioned sin and forgiveness in the parish without any heresy and false sacramental unity.

We Anglican Catholics truly believe all the ancient truths of the Christian faith without any whitewashing.  I came to regard with great affection the Affirmation of St. Louis, a witness for the Gospel against the temptations of today:  No mealy mouthed half assurances about abortion; clear teaching about Apostolic Order and completeness of Holy Scripture; traditional liturgy; robust understanding of the sanctity of marriage.  I underwent Confirmation at the hands of Archbishop Haverland, as some of you did as well, as some of you look forward to doing.

I look at my friends who are priests in the Episcopal Church and the Neo-Anglicans of the Anglican Church in North America and wonder what happened.  Those ecclesiastical bodies either remain or claim to remain in sacramental communion with the Church of England, that same church which claims to ordain women into the priesthood and thereby proves that they do not adhere to the universal Catholic understanding of Holy Order.  We simply mean different things with the same words by “priesthood”, “episcopacy”, and “Sacraments” than they do.  We continue Anglicanism because we keep the same faith that Lady Julian, Charles I, Samuel Seabury, John Keble, and Albert Chambers did, even if we keep neither the once-venerated name nor the buildings of the Episcopal Church.

 

We manfully fight against temptation to witness in our public lives in society.  We can consider this in two ways, enticing society and threatening society.  The company of our good friends and of the “better” elements of society can tempt us away from the Gospel truth.  A desire to fit in with those friends who might be offended tempts us into living a public life without spiritual integrity.

We know from Holy Scripture and the teaching of our Mother the Church that we were created male and female.  In a day when marriage is openly mocked in both same-sex unions and open acceptance of divorce and remarriage, the confusion brought about by claiming to be male when born female and vice versa tempts many of us to humor those who confound the truth of the matter.  When we acquiesce or conform to those who spin fables, who entice us with social station, employment, and good reputation, then we may very well be yielding to the temptation of participating in the sins of others by silence or approval.  Many fall into sin under the guise of good manners.  Sacrificial loving-kindness produces true good manners but tolerates no caving to temptation.

Dangerous society holds its own temptations as well.  During the Boko Haram attack on the Nigerian schoolgirls this April, a seven-year-old girl was asked to deny Christ with a rifle to her head.  She refused.  Urgently asked again, she refused again.  Amazed, the Moslem jihadists let her go.  Who of us here today would have been so bold?  As Christ said, “Verily I say unto you, Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, he shall not enter therein.”

This past week, the Chaldean Christian primate of Iraq announced that the last Christian families in Mosul had fled with their lives before the onslaught of the ISIL.  This is the first time in 1,600 years that this ancient city has had no Christians in it.  Many are martyred, others have fled, and their property has been confiscated to distribute to Moslems.  In China, the Communist government is trying to take control of all Christian churches.  No one is dying, but would I resist unto death the government dictating to me how to preach and administer the Holy Sacraments?  I would like to think so.  But I have not suffered that temptation yet.  I pray that I never do.  But our brethren around the world are paying with their lives this very day.

 

Temptation is so important to our life with God that we pray about it every time we pray the Lord’s Prayer.  The wholesome habits, Christian character, and openness to God that helps us avoid and survive temptation helps us flower with the fruit of many virtues and good works pleasing to God.

Remember that in our Christian pilgrimage, God will not allow us to be tempted beyond what we can bear.  So whether in our day to day lives, our lives in Christian unity, or moment of need before the despisers of Christ, the Lord will cover and protect us in our hour of temptation.

 

“Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall.”

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

 

 

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“For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

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

“Living in the Gift of God”

A good way to understand how the world works without Christ is to pick up one of those magazines near your grocery store check-out line.  Good looks are exalted.  Wealth is celebrated.  Look also at your television, and you see popularity held in high esteem.  Look out the window in your neighborhood, and you find people with well-manicured lawns respected more than those with messes in their front yards.

Do not get me wrong.  An attractive physical countenance can signal health and conscientiousness.  Wealth may be an indicator for wisdom and perseverance.  Popularity may simply be the logical outcome of someone who considers their neighbor and cares for the well-being of the community.  Well-manicured lawns might belong to those who are diligent and care for the feelings of their neighbors.  All these things may be true.  And certainly health, conscientiousness, wisdom, perseverance, neighborliness, and diligence are all good things.

Yet Holy Scripture keeps pointing to what is going on underneath the surface.  In Proverbs xiv.12 we read:  “There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death.”

Rules and standards are tricky things.  We rightly teach our children to make their beds in the morning and brush their teeth before turning in for the night.  But following rules and standards is not ultimately helpful.  Reading God’s word to us in the Holy Bible as taught by Holy Church, we see that the law kills but the spirit gives life.

All the things of this world are mutable, or changeable.  They have their time, and then they pass away.  We rarely have belongings of those who lived only a few generations before us.  I mentioned my family’s cavalry saber from the Battle of Atlanta and others were surprised we still had ours.  There used to be regiments full of them shiny in parade; now the few remaining are battered and scattered.  That is only a hundred and fifty years ago.

Even huge monuments fall to dust.  The great Temple in Jerusalem is reduced to a single wall.  The Colossus at Rhodes has fallen long ago.  The Great Library in Alexandria burned fourteen centuries ago and its remains have been raided into oblivion long before today.  The things of this world suffer corruption and death.

But God would have us look beyond the things of this world, beyond the things of corruption and death.  He says to Moses more than three thousand years ago in Deuteronomy xxx.19:

I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live:

God wants us to live.  He hates that we fell away from him in the garden he made for us.  He hates that Adam and Eve ran and hid from him and that we run and hide from him even today.  He loves us and wants us with him.  He wants to give us things which last forever, like life and love and communion with each other.

But we go off and chase after the things of this world.  Each and every one of us is predisposed to do so, and we sure enough go ahead and follow our predispositions.  We are like silly birds which love things which are shiny and flashy.  We would rather eat dessert all day than sit down to a proper meal which would nourish us.

And what do we have after all those temporary joys and delights?  What do we have after we have indulged our sweet tooth, slept in instead of worked hard, socialized with our friends instead of spent hard quiet work on ourselves?  We have nothing.  It is all gone.  Both the simple and fancy joys which we follow build up nothing permanent in our lives.

But God shows us a better way.  Two chapters after today’s Epistle, St. Paul succinctly states (viii.6):  “For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace.”

St. Peter sums up what is missing in his first Epistle (1 St. Peter i.3-4):

3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to his abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 To an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you,

On our own, we can do nothing that builds up treasure in heaven, only treasure on earth which rots and can be stolen.  But with Christ, the Son of God made man for our salvation, we can have a most marvelous inheritance – “incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you”.  What we cannot do on our own, Christ can do for us.

Last week, little Avery Elizabeth was Baptized back there at our Baptismal font.  She entered into eternal life there, though her mortal body may die a hundred years from now.  She now tastes Heaven.  She has been buried and Resurrected in Christ’s Crucifixion and Resurrection through the mystical waters of Holy Baptism.

Each one of us who has believed in our Lord Christ and been Baptized into His death and Resurrection have a part of that marvelous inheritance that will glory in God’s presence for all times, even past the end of this world.  We who are justified in Christ participate in His life, his love, and His communion both with God the Father and each of us.

St. Paul writes this famous phrase exactly about this salvation and what we do next in his Epistle to the Romans:  “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

This separation from God and reliance upon the world and ourselves is sin.  In Spanish, the word sin means without.  That’s a fine way of remembering what sin is.  We think of sin as a thing, a substance.  It is not.  It is a lack, a brokenness.

But funny enough, when we serve sin, sin pays us for our service.  The more we serve sin, the more sin pays us.  And sin always pays on time.  But as St. Paul writes, sin pays its wages in death.

Fr. Melville Scott said:

Sin has wages; sin has its end; and both the wages and the end is death. The wages are the immediate, the end is the final consequences of sin. The immediate consequences of sin are death, for each sin diminishes our capacity for life intellectual, moral, and spiritual. Sin darkens the intellect, blunts the conscience, and deadens all the faculties of the soul. These consequences are wages, for every sin has its just recompense and reward paid down surely and punctually when we sin. As wages are paid for each day’s labour, so also for each day’s sin. We have not to wait till the final reckoning, for we receive our reward by instalments, though the final reckoning and end of sin is death.

Contrast this to what St. Paul says about what happens when you serve God:  “but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”  When you serve God, you earn no wages.  In fact, you cannot earn anything.  Instead, God gives you a most wonderful gift:  eternal life.  And God the Father does not simply give you the gift of eternal life, he gives the gift of eternal life “through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

In Holy Baptism, we are raised with Christ from the dead.  Therefore, it is not only that we must choose between life and death, but rather that our new life in Christ means that we have already passed through death in Christ’s Resurrection into life everlasting.

We who have new life in Christ have already participated in death.  Man without Christ will die the death and continue in his separation from God for all eternity.  But those with Christ will die the death now in this life through Christ’s death and live forevermore with God in Christ’s Resurrection!  The old man must die, the sinful self must die, the wages of sin indeed is death, which shows that in the midst of life we die to the old and put on the new.

St. Paul exhorts us:  “for as ye have yielded your members servants to uncleanness and to iniquity unto iniquity; even so now yield your members servants to righteousness unto holiness.”  Now that we live in Christ, we ought to serve Him just as well as we served sin before we were joined into Christ’s death and Resurrection.

After God claims us for his own in Holy Baptism, after we are separated from the wicked world, after we are made holy in Christ, so we must live in the result of that powerful divine action, which is living holy lives.  Our old selves are dead, we are alive in Christ, and now our lives must change.

St. Paul continues:  “But now being made free from sin, and become servants to God, ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life.”

As we are devoted to and focused upon God, the things of sin and confusion float away.  We still live in the same world, but we are altered.  Our course through this world is altered.  Having followed Christ and been Baptized into His death and Resurrection, we no longer have the same friends, go to the same places, speak the same words, and sin as comfortably as we once did.

Now we find a different way.  We follow a way now of life in many different ways.  We affirm were once we killed.  We pass by what once enticed us.  We pay attention where we once fled.  We are different, *therefore* we behave differently, act differently, live our life differently.  People notice that something about us has changed.  We bring into the lives of those around us something of which we have been given:  Life, righteousness, and holiness.

Living in right relation to the Lord God creator and ruler of the universe and to our Lord and Savior, our course through our mortal life, how we live our daily life is altered even as we begin to taste immortal life.

We give thanks to God and respond joyfully to serving him, following him with greater ardor and devotion day by day.  Today we build upon yesterday.  Remember the good things of God yesterday?  We build upon them with greater fervor today.  We reach with hope the greater things we have yet to fully experience.

We are not magically rid of all sin in our lives like we have nothing to do with it.  Instead, because of our freedom from death, our foretaste of the good things of God, and the liberation from shameful lusts and such, we are to strive more earnestly to do good in our lives.  We are a gifted people, and thus we are a thankful people.  We live lives of freedom from sin and death, but we must strive earnestly for our good Lord.  By calling him lord, we thus place ourselves into his service and work together towards his goal.

Where we once easily and lazily accomplished much for sin and selfishness, so now we must pledge ourselves over to doing good works and loving one another in participation with His redeeming loving-kindness.

If you have a gift of hospitality, then invite people warmly and entertain them well, giving them a break from the cares of the world and entering a small communion of happiness and joy showing forth the larger communion.  This is an important gift.

If you have a gift of organizing, then help people accomplish together in the Lord’s Name what they could not do separately.  If you have a gift of work with your hands, then work for the physical welfare of the church and the world.  If you have a gift of intercessory prayer, then pray to our good God for the spiritual welfare of God’s people and those still lost.

Let us each work together as mutual servants of our good Lord and build upon the goodness of yesterday with the good hope of tomorrow.

Let us take His gift of eternal life and strive to serve our Lord Jesus Christ in all we do.

“For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

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

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