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“We give thanks unto the Father, which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light:  Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son:”

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

 

“Baptized into Christ’s Kingdom”

We are subjects of two kingdoms.  We are subjects of Christ our King and citizens of these United States, or whatever country you hail from.  How we live our lives in this green land of America is both informed by our Heavenly King and will influence our life in the hereafter.  Also, our life under Christ our King informs our citizenship here on earth in this great country of ours.

 

Now the kingdom of this world is not simply the domain of Satan, even though St. Paul does call it “the power of darkness”.  The kingdom of this world is that broken part of Creation, of the cosmos, that does not claim Christ as Lord.  Whereas we like to think that the saving work of Christ in the cosmos is expanding, in our own culture we see little evidence of it.  Think for instance of thirty-five years ago, when the popular television series M*A*S*H sympathetically depicted a chaplain amongst its characters.  Such a thing is foreign to television today.

Indeed, university students are increasingly told that their faith holds no bearing – or only poses a burden – on their education, when the original universities were explicitly Christian.  Unelected judges overturn same-sex marriage bans and abortion restrictions partially on the claim of there being no reasonable or non-sectarian basis for them.  In several states of this Union, courts and legislatures require citizens taking out any insurance plan to pay for elective abortions, regardless of their consciences, even though it is simply avoided.

But despite all this and the recent news out of Houston with sermons being demanded of preachers, other governments in the kingdom of this world have had it much worse.  This Wednesday we celebrate the Feast of the Martyrs of Uganda, the dozens of Anglican and Roman Catholic boys who were the sex slaves of the pagan king of Uganda and refused his lustful desires.  For their disobedience to the king of this world and their obedience to the High King of Heaven, they were put to death.  Earlier, the king had grown angry with the missionaries from the Church of England and the Church of Rome as they kept criticizing him and his support of Moslem missionaries.

This past week in Morning Prayer, we read in First Kings about Elijah, Ahab, and Jezebel, how the righteous prophet squared off against the wicked monarchs of Israel.  But before Elijah, Samuel warned Israel against having an earthly king, warning them in I Samuel viii.18:  “And ye shall cry out in that day because of your king which ye shall have chosen you; and the LORD will not hear you in that day.”

 

Worldly governments clearly fail to set out a righteous course for us to live in.  But the government of Christ the King exemplifies all good and glorious things.  Our worldly governments tell us that things which are clearly wrong are right; the government of Christ the King unerringly tells us what the wrong things are with such accuracy and precision that we cannot actually avoid them perfectly.

Today’s Epistle mentions “the inheritance of the saints in light”.  This refers to the Kingdom of God.  In the next verse, “the power of darkness” is the antithesis of the Kingdom.

“And he is the head of the body, the church:”  Coming right after speaking of “all things” and spiritual beings, this shows that the last verses here, vv 18-20, demonstrate an equivalency between the cosmos and the Church.  This is tied to the universal mission of Holy Church, to bring all people to Christ and His kingdom.  The work of the Church is Christ’s salvific work in the whole broken cosmos.  Later in ii.10, Christ is called the “head of every rule and authority”.  Christ created all and rules all, and we are members of His Body in that cosmos and Holy Church.  Each one of us is part of something epic and big.

 

Now, there is one way into Christ’s Kingdom:  Holy Baptism.  We read in St. John iii.5, “Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.”  This is our passport, our entrance; this is how we immigrate from the kingdom of the world to the kingdom of God.  When we are buried with Christ and then share in His Resurrection, we join with Him mystically and sacramentally.  When Christ commands His disciples at the end of St. Matthew’s Gospel, He says,

“All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world.”

Before we are Augustans, Georgians, or Americans, before we are black, white, or any other race of this world, before all these things, we are under the banner of Christ our King.  By virtue of our supernatural sacramental Baptism into the life and death of Christ our Lord, we are brothers and sisters of the Nigerian schoolgirl held in some African camp more fully than we are brothers and sisters to our natural sister who does not believe.  By virtue of our belief in Christ our King, we are brothers and sisters of the impoverished but faithful Haitian farmer more than we are brothers and sisters to our unbaptized brother with whom we grew up.

 

So what does this new citizenship look like?  We read in Ephesians v.1-5:

“Be ye therefore followers of God, as dear children; And walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweetsmelling savour. But fornication, and all uncleanness, or covetousness, let it not be once named among you, as becometh saints; Neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor jesting, which are not convenient: but rather giving of thanks. For this ye know, that no whoremonger, nor unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, hath any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.”

First, we must walk in sacrificial loving-kindness.  We must love the Lord our God with all our hearts, with all our soul, and with all our minds, and we must love our neighbors as ourselves.  This is unbelievably difficult, but we have no alternative.  God is love, and we are to conform ourselves to God.

Second, we are very specifically told to avoid wicked behavior.  After all, Christ says, “Ye shall know them by their fruits.”  So we are to avoid fornication, uncleanness, covetousness, filthiness, foolish talking, jesting.  We are not to be whoremongers, unclean, covetous, or idolaters.  Essentially, we are to pay attention and keep the Ten Commandments.

We are to love and we are to keep moral lives.  Third, we are to give thanks.  It is no mistake that each of our regular services in our Book of Common Prayer includes a prayer of thanksgiving.  We are to thank God for the goodness in our lives.  We are to thank God for our lives, God himself, other people, and all the goodness of God.  Love without thanks is hardly love indeed.

 

Today’s Epistle begins, “Giving thanks unto the Father, which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light: Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son:”

Moving from darkness into light reminds the Christian soul of the Exodus, especially the miraculous passage through the Red Sea.  While Moses his prophet stretched out his hand, the Lord caused the wind to blow on the sea, exposing the seabed so that the people of Israel could escape from Pharaoh and his army, freeing them to reach the Holy Land.  So likewise, we are in bondage to sin and death in the kingdom of this world, no matter how fine it is otherwise to us.  And God brings us out of “from the power of darkness”.  Through the miracle of Christ’s death and Resurrection, we transfer from one side to the other.

 

Having passed from the old way of death to the new way of life, Christ having given us the forgiveness of sins, so we are to imitate our God and King.

The way we worship is to obey.  And we become like Christ.  When the early Church worshipped Christ their God, they became more and more like Christ, and they grew like wildfire.  The early Christians did not visit and attend congregations to find out which ones were the most like what they wanted, asking to make the service the way they wanted, requiring the teaching to be like they wanted.  In all things, they obeyed Holy Church, they obeyed their Lord and Savior, they became like Him as disciples, and they grew and spread.  This is the way not only of faithfulness to God, not only of resisting the sinfulness of the world, but is also the way of evangelism, growth, and maturity.

Almost like the Anglo-Saxons of Wessex over eleven hundred years ago, our king is our best man, the man who exemplifies our ideals, the man whom we seek to emulate.  Blessed Alfred the Great, King of Wessex was one such king of this world; Christ, the King of Heaven and Earth, is the king of the whole cosmos and of the whole Church.

With God, we know who is king.  We know that His rule is always right and holy.  We know that we have no say in His rule.  And indeed, while God wants our whole selves, our souls and bodies, we actually live in great freedom, freedom from sin, death, and Hell.

God the Father calls us to live our lives in the service of Christ our King.  We are to live meek, humble lives in penitence and holiness, avoiding sin, and loving our God with our whole being and our neighbor as ourselves.

 

“We give thanks unto the Father, which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light:  Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son:”

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

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“And he spake to them a parable; Behold the fig tree, and all the trees; when they now shoot forth, ye see and know of your own selves that summer is now nigh at hand. So likewise ye, when ye see these things come to pass, know ye that the kingdom of God is nigh at hand.”

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

 

Judgement

 

In the Tuesday night Bible study we have been reading the fifth chapter of St. Mark.  In this chapter, people fall down before Christ and worship Him.  One is a demoniac; another is a leader of the synagogue; the third is the woman with a hemorrhage.  Reading about them and studying the Gospel, I have often asked myself how they, alone of all the people around them, knew to bow before and worship Christ.

So when I think of the end of today’s Epistle, which recounts four Old Testament prophecies of Gentiles worshipping the Lord, I again wonder how folks recognize divinity and whom to worship.  I learned about God from my earliest days.  My mother first took me to church in her womb, I was Baptized as an infant, and I remember early days standing next to my father as he sang hymns in worship and praise of God.

I did not have to judge whether or not to give worship to God then.  But I had to do that later, as I was becoming a man.  Then I had to look around and figure out what all this foolishness was about.  I cannot speak to every person’s reasons, but I came to a lively faith in Christ as an adult after acknowledging the wisdom of my fathers, the logic of belief in philosophy, and, importantly, through the generous and self-sacrificing acts of love and goodness on the part of a Baptist coworker.

Did you see what I did?  I measured Christ and found that He fit.  This is a terribly arrogant thing to do, but in this world and in my life I needed convincing over and above my raising.  The same thing happened when I felt called to become a Catholic.  I had to use my judgement, poor as it was, to determine where God was calling me.  Indeed, I spent too long as an Episcopalian and could have become Anglican Catholic years before.  But I didn’t, which shows how we can make faulty judgements which God will correct over time.  We are never so old or so wise that our judgement is unimpaired and perfect.  We are never so old or so wise that we don’t need correction from time to time.

 

In the Office of Institution which the archbishop read right here almost two months ago, we read:

“And as a canonically instituted Priest into the Office of Rector of —— Parish, (or Church,) you are faithfully to feed that portion of the flock of Christ which is now intrusted to you; not as a man-pleaser, but as continually bearing in mind that you are accountable to us here, and to the Chief Bishop and Sovereign Judge of all, hereafter.”

According to the Book of Common Prayer and Archbishop Haverland, I am to bear in mind continually that I am accountable to him here on earth and to our Lord, “the Chief Bishop and Sovereign Judge of all, hereafter.”

An explicit part of my work here as rector is to hold myself up for judgement by our bishop and by Christ.  I shall be judged both here on earth and there on the Day of Doom, that is, the day of reckoning or day of judgement.

When we let ourselves be held accountable by others, we hold ourselves up for judgement.  Mrs. Gladys Fox and Mrs. Sam Nechtman have done excellent work straightening and keeping up our financial records over the past year and a half.  Last year, their work was scrutinized by a committee led by Mr. Leroy Walker for the explicit purpose of holding their work accountable.  They voluntarily held themselves up for judgement.  And their work was measured and judged to be excellent.  This is judgement.

 

When we behold the fig tree and see that it now shoots forth leaves, then we remember that trees shoot forth leaves during Spring.  Thus we arrive at the judgement that Summer is nigh at hand when the fig tree shoots forth leaves.

We measure the observed event by what we already know and that results in a judgement.  We observe that we have lied to our sweetheart, we remember that lying is a sin, and thus we derive from these two facts the fact that we have sinned.  This is what Christ refers to when He says in St. Matthew vii.1-2:  “Judge not, that ye be not judged.  For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.”

The measuring stick by which we judge others is the same one by which we shall be judged.  Therefore even being selfish, we ought to show others great all-encompassing mercy so that Christ will show us great mercy at the Last Judgement.

Yet we do not do this.  Oh, sometimes we do.  Perhaps we have grown more generous over time, a mark of spiritual maturity.  But we perceive things incorrectly.  Even the best and most spiritual Christian views himself with poor eyesight.  As St. Paul says in I Corinthians xiii.12, “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.”

We see through a glass darkly; we know only in part.  When we get to Heaven after Christ’s Judgement of us, then we shall see “face to face” and “know even as also I am known.”  But for now, we know imperfectly.  And we know ourselves less perfectly than we would ever suppose.

Indeed, each of us should understand that the “old man” inside of you, the struggling sinful man inside of you, keeps you from seeing yourself clearly.  If you hearken unto God’s Word and live the life of Christian adventure working diligently at your prayers and confessing your sins regularly, then you stand an excellent chance of understanding what is right and what is wrong.

But despite this, being a frail and fallible human being despite your wisdom and strength, you will misjudge yourself often and regularly.  We dare not trust our own judgement of ourselves.  And it is precisely because we shall be judged by Christ with the standards with which we have judged others that we may experience a profound grace from Christ regarding our failed confessions.  Showing mercy to our struggling brothers, sisters, and neighbors is how we judge in the loving-kindness with which Christ died for us on the Cross.

 

We must have compassion on our fellow creatures because we must adjust our judgement to Christ’s, and Christ is the Incarnate God, and, as St. John tells us, God is love.  This is why the two great commandments are to love God and to love our neighbor.  The two are inextricably bound together, tighter than the tightest knot.  God created us to love us.  God came down to earth to love us and save us.  God taught us to love each other and to love him too.  If we would behold our vilest neighbor as Christ beholds him, then our hearts would melt with divine love.  We would give him the choicest seat, kill the fatted lamb, and put a ring on his finger.  We would never in a million years – which is but a drop in the bucket of eternity, by the way – keep recounting past acts in ways that exalt our own role and denigrate our neighbor.

And this is the type of thing I hear all the time in this parish.  I recognize it because it is one of my sins too.  But Christ will damn us for this sin if we do not release it.  We can have no part of it.  We must throw it down at the feet of Christ, fall on our knees, and say,

“ALMIGHTY God, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Maker of all things, Judge of all men; We acknowledge and bewail our manifold sins and wickedness, Which we, from time to time, most grievously have committed, By thought, word, and deed, Against thy Divine Majesty, Provoking most justly thy wrath and indignation against us. We do earnestly repent, And are heartily sorry for these our misdoings; The remembrance of them is grievous unto us; The burden of them is intolerable. Have mercy upon us, Have mercy upon us, most merciful Father; For thy Son our Lord Jesus Christ’s sake, Forgive us all that is past; And grant that we may ever hereafter Serve and please thee In newness of life, To the honour and glory of thy Name; Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”

We must thrust aside all sins and naughtiness if we dare to face Christ with certainty on that Last Great Day, when Christ will pronounce truth and Judgement over all Mankind in general and over every single one of us in particular.

 

Therefore, we ought to do three things:

First, we must diligently search our hearts after studying the Holy Scriptures and bathing ourselves in prayer so that we may find and repent of the many sins which are weighing us down like stones in the pockets of a drowning man.

Second, we must relentlessly practice compassion and self-sacrificial loving-kindness with every single person in our lives, particularly in our families, in our parish, and in the faces of those whom we despise.  We must serve others by acting like servants for them alongside our Saviour Christ.

Third, we must conform our opinions, understandings, and judgements to those of Christ our Lord.  St. Augustine said, “If you believe what you like in the Gospel and reject what you like, it is not the Gospel you believe but yourselves.”  Each of us have parts of the Gospel which are hard for us to hear.  For some, it is holding on to a cherished notion.  For others, it is keeping score of offenses, real and imagined.  For others, it is living in anxiety and fear of the things of this world.  For yet others, it is trusting in this world’s goods instead of storing treasures in Heaven above.  We must acknowledge before God that He is greater than we are, that he is wiser than we are, that he is smarter than we are, and so we must conform ourselves to his holy self.

So:  Confess your sins, love thy neighbor, and conform to God.  Do these things, and you will be in far better shape to answer to Christ our God and our King, the great Judge Eternal, on the Day of Doom, the Day of Judgement, when the disposition of all men will be made for eternity.

 

“And he spake to them a parable; Behold the fig tree, and all the trees; when they now shoot forth, ye see and know of your own selves that summer is now nigh at hand. So likewise ye, when ye see these things come to pass, know ye that the kingdom of God is nigh at hand.”

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

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