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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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In today’s collect, we pray to God, “that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the quick and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal….”

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

 

“Preparing for Death”

I remember watching my father breathe his last breath and literally expire.  One minute my father lay sick, and the next minute his body lay dead.  Right before was the last minute of my life with him, and right after was the first minute of my life without him.

Anguish washed over my soul.  I did not know how to breathe without him in my life; I did not know how to eat, sleep, or go to school without his presence.  But I learned.  And learning how to live my life without him was horrible beyond description.

 

We fear death.  We fear death because in dying we leave this way of existence and head into another way of existence, a way which we know nothing about by personal experience.

We fear death because we have seen others die.  We continue on, and they apparently do not.  We wish to continue on, even if our current life is miserable.  We instinctively cherish our own lives and do not want to give them up.

We fear death because death comes when the body sustains irreparable damage by accident, disease, or age.  All three are deeply ugly in our sight.  We shudder when we imagine ourselves receiving damage from a horrible accident, or succumbing to a deadly disease, or wasting away in our elder infirmity.  We would rather live in our youthful bodies, or failing that, our bodies as we currently have them.

We fear death because we naturally perceive that death is contrary to the created order of things.  Why would God create us if we were to die?  God Incarnate, Christ Himself cried when He beheld the dead body of His friend Lazarus.  If God who overcomes death cries at death, we who cannot overcome death certainly quail in its presence.

 

Death is one of the essential facts of Creation’s brokenness.  The other is sin, intimately related to death.

In Genesis, we read that “God created the heaven and the earth.”  And after each day of Creation, “God saw that it was good.”  Except on the last day, when “God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.”  On that sixth day, “God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good.”

So the human race is the capstone upon Creation, that finishing part that made it “very good” in God’s sight.  We were to live with God for all eternity in the Garden.  Possessing both body and soul, we were to walk with God and enjoy his immediate and direct presence.

But our ancestors broke our communion with God when they defied him and sought to live in power and glory without him, partaking of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.  And lest they stretched forth their hands and partake of the Tree of Life, God expelled them from the Garden.

Before he expelled them, God cursed us, saying, “In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.”

So it is that death is an unnatural state brought upon by Man’s Fall into sin.  It is necessarily related to sin.  Sin brought death into the world of men.  The only way to remedy death is by remedying sin.

 

Death is a miserable predicament.  Death breaks asunder that which God created to be one.  We are meant to be whole, body and soul.  Death is like unto divorce, which rips apart that which God has joined together.  Once God has put these things together into one essential and holy thing, it is against nature and God to destroy it.  Thus, death is an abomination by its nature and by its disobedience to God’s will.

We brought upon ourselves this death, this destruction.  By following their will instead of God’s will, Adam and Eve chose to destroy themselves.  They didn’t know what they were getting into, but out of their stupid lust they went and wrecked what God had created.

And we are no better than they were.  You and I are guilty of this sin.  We have caused our own deaths.  Even the best of us “have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;”  By thinking that our ways are better than God’s ways, we stray from him.  God is the creator, nurturer, and sustainer of life; yet we think that we can create, nurture, and sustain ourselves away from him.  Each one of us has earned his own death.

 

So from the time of Adam and Eve until the Annunciation to the Blessed Virgin Mary, death reigned in the lives of men without any sure remedy.  But God did not leave men alone.  The Patriarchs spoke with God personally, and he guided them.  God gave the Law through Moses to Israel.  God sent the Prophets to preach to Israel.

Then, as St. Paul wrote in Galatians iv.4:  “But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman ….”  Christ became Man, uniting the fulness of divinity and the fulness of humanity in one holy Person.  St. Paul also wrote in Romans xiv.9, “For to this end Christ both died, and rose, and revived, that he might be Lord both of the dead and living.”

We need not die like those without hope.  Christ took on our mortal human nature and died.  God the Father sent God the Son into the world as the Christ, the Messiah, the Savior of the world.  And He conquered death.  But He conquered death in a most interesting way:  Christ conquered death by dying Himself.  He apparently yielded to sin and death.

But no!  Christ rose from the grave, defeating death and sin.  In Christ, we are victorious over the grave.  The grave has claimed the life of almost every man who ever lived, save only Enos and Elijah in the Old Testament.  Christ has destroyed the hold of the grave over us.  Yet we must enter the grave just like our Lord Christ did.  Each of us will die, but for those who are counted among the redeemed of the Lord, we will live with God for all eternity.

 

So, given that each of us must die unless the Lord returns first, it obviously follows that we must prepare for our deaths.  I say obviously, but sometimes it doesn’t seem obvious at all.  I want to forget that I will die, my body will rot, and my soul will flee.  I want to live my life blissfully ignoring this obvious fact of my life.  I want to ignore it because I want to do whatever I want whenever I want.  I want to dictate the terms of my life to God, just like Adam and Eve did, just you do, just like we all do.

This is wrong.  But we still do it.  So, the first thing we must do to prepare for our inevitable end is to think upon our death each and every day.  This is called memento mori.  Some will object that this is morbid and sad.  To this the Church answers that the only way to life everlasting is through faith in Christ, and that means that we must think on our death and on our Savior.  So first, remember that you will die.

Secondly, we must not only remember that we will die but have faith in Christ and repent of our sins.  The minimum duty of Churchmen, the Six Duties of Churchmen, are not only our least duty but also our saving path.

We must attend Mass each and every Sunday and Holy Day of Obligation.  We must receive the Body and Blood of Christ at least three times a year, one of those times being during Christmastide.  We must tithe, fast, and keep the Church’s rules for sexual relations.  And we must keep our consciences clean.  These tidily fall into three sections for preparing ourselves for Heaven.

First, we must focus upon the objective worship of Christ in the Mass.  We each subjectively worship Christ in many parts of our lives, such as holy thoughts, devout feelings, and inspired sharing.  But Christ gave us His Body and Blood to partake of it, not to ignore it.  When we join ourselves with Christ’s offering of Himself to the Father, we mystically join together with Christ.  A woman who has done this reverently for seventy years is better prepared to meet Christ’s Judgement than a man who mostly forgets to show up to worship.

Second, tithing, fasting, and keeping the Church’s Law of Marriage help us live our lives in the moral way Christ would have us live them.  We ought to be generous, loving, patient, self-sacrificing, and treat our selves and other people’s selves in holiness and godliness.  If we were to tithe, fast, and keep ourselves sexually as we are supposed to while worshipping God and keeping our consciences pure, then we would find ourselves moving in the right direction to God, thus preparing for our judgement.

Third, we must keep our consciences pure.  On the one hand, we must avoid sin and eagerly seek after righteousness.  On the other hand, we must confess our sins.  Thus we repent, or turn away from, our sins.  We should privately tell God each day what we have done wrong, our firm resolution to avoid doing that again, and asking him for forgiveness.  We also can assist our devotion at Mass by remembering our sins and earnestly saying the confession with these sins on our hearts.  We can also come to me or another priest and confess our sins in the Sacrament of Penance.

When our last hour comes, our soul will be brutally torn away from our body.  Satan and the wicked demons will assail us at that hour to tempt us away from Christ with thoughts that He cannot save us, that our sins are more than He can forgive, and that we have no need of Christ at all.  Although our guardian angel and patron saints will powerfully intercede for us at that moment, the singularly best way for us to prepare for the torment and temptation of our death is to be strong in prayer and pure in soul.  And that requires preparation.

 

Advent is upon us.  Holy Church has for many centuries preached on death this very Sunday, which is most proper for helping us prepare for Christ’s return or our death, whichever comes first.

This Advent, I urge you to prepare for the inevitable fate you face.  I love you as my dear children.  I want each and every one of you to prosper in the loving-kindness of Jesus Christ our Lord.  I want each and every one of you to live with each other forever in God’s Kingdom.  I want to enjoy your presence forever before God our Father in the Holy Ghost.

With these wishes of love and peace and enjoying you as you were made by our Lord God, I ask you this week to try at least one of two things.  First, thoughtfully make a list of your sins and then reverently confess them to Christ either with the prayer of confession in the Prayer Book or in the Sacrament of Confession.  Second, pick your most intractable or hardest to control sin and try very hard to confess and turn from it every day this week.

The best way to prepare is to exercise.  The best way to prepare for a spiritual struggle is spiritual exercise.  Try at least one of these confessions of sin this week and prepare to meet your maker.  If you earnestly try, you will find yourself in better shape to be judged by Christ.

 

“that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the quick and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal….”

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

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“by their fruits ye shall know them. Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.”

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

 

“Good Fruit and the Mystery of Salvation”

Today’s Epistle shows us that by exchanging masters from sin to God, we thereby become something other than slaves – sons.  We have a new relationship.  Becoming the servant of God, we are given the gifts of the Spirit of God, which allows us to call God Abba, or Father.

Today’s Gospel shows us, in the words of Fr. Shepherd, that “…Not everyone who addresses Christ as ‘Lord’ really belongs to Him, but only those who bring forth in their lives the true faith of the Spirit.”  We show that we follow God’s will not by public declarations and extraordinary acts, but by humble “deeds of righteousness”.

So receiving the Spirit of adoption, we cry, Abba, Father.  We are made heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ.  We are joined with Christ and presented by Him to the Father as part of Him, a member, a cutting away from sin which has been grafted onto the Body of Christ.  Yet as a grafted branch and member of Christ, if we do not produce good fruit, then Christ will claim not to know us on the last day.  The last verse of today’s Gospel and the next two verses of St. Matthew’s Gospel read,

Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.  Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?  And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.

How can we square this in our minds?  How can we take being elected heir of God the Father and yet not know him through our lack of good fruit?  This quandary speaks to the very heart of salvation.  We think of the charges alleged against Baptists, “once saved always saved”, wherein they can do wickedness after they are saved and still go to Heaven.  Martin Luther had a terrible time putting this together, so much so that he wanted St. James’ Epistle cut from the New Testament canon for “faith without works is dead”.  We also think of the Roman Catholics, against whom are alleged that they believe in “works righteousness”, wherein they do good works to be saved.  It is all a terrible mess.

But both of these things are true.  We are both grafted onto the Body of Christ through the action of the Holy Ghost and made joint-heirs with Christ and partakers of heavenly gladness and we might be chopped off that Lordly vine and thrown out to be burned if we do not produce good fruits.  We are adopted sons, but we are expected to do something with this gift.  We are given so much, and we ought to produce good works with what we have been given.

 

Let me explain this mystery of salvation, of justification and sanctification, this mystery of being “saved”.  For I call each and every one of you to both justification, or getting right with God, and to sanctification, or growing holy like God is holy.  We need both.  If you become a member of Christ’s Body, you are bound for eternal life with God.  But to live eternally with God, you must become perfect, become holy.  Both go together.

“Conversion”, “regeneration” or new birth, “strengthening with the Spirit”, and “good fruit” have a right relation to each other.  These relate to each other in Christ’s Body, Holy Church.  Since part of Holy Church, the Church Militant, is here on his earth right now, she, being the Body of Christ our Lord, gives us access in Christ to what we need to live with God forever.

God loves us.  He created us to live with him at the very beginning, but we rejected him.  He sent the Law and the Prophets, but we rejected them.  He sent His only-begotten Son into this world as one of us, to redeem us with His Precious Blood.  God in Three Persons loves us and wants us with him forever.

 

Let us take, for example, our friend the unbaptized sinner.  He wanders through this world hardly knowing right from wrong.  All that he does is tainted with sin both of deeds and of his sinful human nature.  But God as sovereign of the universe, through his angels and his saints, as creator of the world, prepares a path back to himself for the unwashed sinner.  God leads him to salvation in his prevenient grace.

Being thus led, let’s say this sinner sees God in the sky, or in song, or in the love of his fellow man.  His conscience is pricked, and he realizes he needs Christ.  He attends worship.  He learns of the things of God.  He believes in Christ and undergoes Holy Baptism.  He is born again, made regenerate.  He has new life, Christ’s life.  His old sinful self dies, and he is grafted onto the Body of Christ.

In this Sacrament of the Church, not through ritual magic but in the boundless merits of Christ’s Crucifixion and Resurrection, our friend here has his sins completely washed away.  The spiritual consequence of his misdeeds is undone.  Christ has taken away his sinful nature.  Yet our friend has not stopped being himself.  Unfortunately, he will walk out those red doors and sin again.  He is not yet perfect in Christ.

So our friend must be strengthened for the journey of our earthly pilgrimage.  He is currently a babe, a child in Christ.  He is a new Christian.  He may have many years on earth, but he is not spiritually mature.  He needs strength, maturity.  And so Holy Church has his bishop lay his hands upon him and confer the Sacrament of Confirmation.

The essence of Confirmation is not the recital of the Lord’s Prayer, Apostles’ Creed, or Decalogue.  The essence of Confirmation is not even that our friend reaffirms his Baptismal vow to live a Christian life.  The essence of Confirmation is the laying on of episcopal hands, anointing with holy oil, and the giving of the sevenfold gifts of the Holy Ghost.

These gifts are understanding and wisdom so he can discern the truth and its value, are knowledge and counsel so he can apprehend and apply moral laws, true godliness for loving piety, ghostly strength for “courageous spiritual warfare”, and holy fear for the loving desire to please God.  With these gifts imparted, our friend is weaned from childish food and is ready for the holy meal.

So converted, Baptized, and Confirmed, our good friend receives for the very first time Holy Communion, the Blessed Sacrament, Christ’s gift of Himself to us.  This is his meat and drink for the spiritual life here on earth.  No one separated from Christ’s gift of Himself, His own Body and Blood, can sustain his arduous journey through this life.

Christ came to earth at the Annunciation to the Blessed Virgin Mary, was born on Christmas Day, shed His first Blood at His Circumcision, fasted in the wilderness, taught Israel and beyond, and then carried His own Cross to His Crucifixion so that He might joyously rise again at His Resurrection and ascend into Heaven at His Ascension.  Christ did all this for you and for me.

Christ is not sitting around hanging out with the Father and the Holy Ghost in Heaven; He is interceding for you and me right now before God the Father.  Christ wants us with Him forever, as joint-heirs with Him to God the Father.  Christ wants us in His Baptism and to eat His Sacred Body and drink His Holy Blood.

Only now is our friend full up on the grace Christ would like to give him.  He has experienced conversion of heart.  He has experienced new birth in Christ.  He has received the sevenfold gifts of the Holy Ghost.  He receives the Body and Blood of Christ.  And yet….

And yet our friend may turn his back on God and walk away.  Our friend may decide, although it seems hard to imagine given all the trouble he has gone through, he may freely decide that he would rather follow his own thoughts back into unbelief, follow his own path instead of God’s calling to him, follow his own lusts and desires instead of living a holy and moral life.

Our friend is free.  Christ has freed him from sin.  Yet sin is all around us.  If sin were not so terribly enticing, it wouldn’t be a bother.  You see, sin is mighty tasty.  Sin is that peculiar notion, that third beer, that extramarital affair that seems so wonderful at the time.  Our friend may choose this over his loving Lord Christ.

But our friend still has a lot going for him.  He is grafted onto Christ’s living Body.  Christ would have him exercise his self-discipline and live a morally courageous life.  He could obey those Ten Commandments.  He could pray every day and study the Holy Scriptures.  He could love his enemies and turn the other cheek.

How can we know that our friend, now our brother is doing well?  Some of this holy striving to live a fruitful life is noticeable.

We would see our brother at Mass on Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation.  He would receive the Body and Blood of Christ at least on Christmas, Easter, and Pentecost.

We would see our brother materially support his parish through the tithe.  We might see him at a library fundraiser, but his wife and the parish treasurer would know he was giving God that ten percent of his income that shows he is truly thankful for the blessings God has given him.

We would see our brother remain faithful to his wife.  No shenanigans for this fellow, no flirting with the ladies.  Entered into Holy Matrimony with his wife, his devotion to her through the grace of God will have grown since his conversion, Baptism, and Confirmation.

We would see our brother in line at Confession and see him learn from his mistakes as he paid close attention to his conscience.

We would see our good brother fast.  Mind you, he does not flaunt it or throw it in other people’s faces.  He is a good guest and eats what is set before him at other’s homes, but when you see him out for dinner on Fridays he is never at the steakhouse.  When you go to his home for dinner during Lent, you are served fish and vegetables.

Our good brother bears much fruit.  Having been converted, born again, strengthened for the journey, and nourished at the Lord’s Table, we see him in the parish and the community doing his Six Duties of Churchmen and so much more.  Like a patriarch of old, he is generous to the poor and needy, upright in his conduct, and faithful to his God.  He is not a perfect man, but he is preparing for everlasting life.

This our friend shall not be lopped off the living vine and tossed into the fire.  Our friend bears much fruit, and not a little of it is in setting a good example for the rest of us.

 

For those of us Baptized as infants, hopefully we may avoid our conversion experience.  Although infants are incapable of sin and therefore the washing away of committed sins by Baptism does not help infants, Holy Baptism does kill off the old sinful nature and put the robe of righteousness onto that little baby.  Growing up in the Church, that baby can grow into a lovely young lady.  Weaned off of childish things, she will be strengthened with the Holy Ghost at her Confirmation and receive the solid food of Holy Communion, of Christ’s Body and Blood, for the first time.  Raised properly and not being too contrary, she may never need to go through the time of rebellion from God that would require a conversion of heart.

But for those of us, like myself, who were Baptized as an infant but went through a time of rebellion from God, Christ’s life does not avail for us until we are converted.  Holy Baptism does suck your soul up into Heaven.  It makes us regenerate, but only with conversion of life.  Only the fruitful tree shall enter into the Kingdom of heaven.  We must respond in faith through good works to reckon with the call of Christ in our lives.

 

We were created in the image of God, and our natural and supernatural growth shall be in God’s image.  Therefore, we are to love perfectly.  St. Matthew v.48:  “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.”

Those that are written in the Lamb’s book of life, those who are undefiled, shall enter into the Heavenly Jerusalem.  Since we are washed clean of our sins in Christ, those who are undefiled are those who have been freed from their sins and made perfect in Christ.  He makes abundantly clear to us in the Holy Scriptures and in Holy Church that we are to improve from our sinful, broken, and alienated selves.  Christ wants us in Heaven with Him, but we cannot take our selfishness, idolatrous, and lying ways with us.  We have to grow in morality, in loving-kindness, and in holiness.  Our hearts must burn with loving-kindness for one another just like the Sacred Heart of Christ our Lord.  We may live our homely humble Anglican lives, but all our domestic virtue is but a sensible and decent overflow from the burning furnace of divine love in our hearts.

Here at St. Luke Church, we are more than our members, for we are members of Christ.  Even if we were the weakest and most sinful folk, Christ would still truly be here among us because He is God.  Still, Christ calls us to be perfect as He is perfect.  We, grafted onto Christ, are to become as pure and virtuous and holy as Christ.  We must each work on ourselves in this great community we have here.

The whole parish grows healthier and stronger the more we each grow healthier and stronger in the Lord.  The more we improve our lives, the more we fast according to the rule of Holy Church, the more we attend Mass as we ought, the more we say our prayers and read the Scriptures in between Sundays, the more we all grow.  The more we love our God and love our neighbors, our parish grows into a more loving parish.

Different members have different concerns, but there is one answer which addresses everyone’s concern:  Christ.  He is God come down amongst us to raise us up with Him to live with God the Father forever.  Our spiritual ancestors walked in the cool of the garden with God.  You and I will also walk with God after Christ returns.

But we mustn’t presume to be saved.  God has given us great work to do.  And in true Anglican manner, our great work is quite humble.  You and I are to look each other in the eye, to know one another, and to love each other.  You and I are to stand facing the same direction and worship God together.  We are not Hindus who look to wash in the River Ganges.  We are not Moslems who must visit the Black Stone in Mecca.  We are humble sinners, washed in the Blood of Christ, strengthened in the Holy Ghost, and we come together before the altar of God to eat the Body and Blood of Christ our Lord.

Through repentance of our sins, sacramental grace, and self-discipline let us cultivate our spiritual life according to Holy Church so that from the well-tended garden of our hearts comes forth those fruits of the spirit in which progress towards perfection declares itself.  To those who live in those fruits of the spirit come the blessings of the Beatitudes, which indeed are preliminary to the joys of the world to come.

 

“by their fruits ye shall know them. Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.”

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

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“Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

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

 

“Baptism, Death, and Life Everlasting”

In the Easter bulletin, I wrote:

Today is the most glorious day of the entire Christian Year, the Feast of the Resurrection, Easter Day.  Jesus Christ, Son of God yet fully man, defeated the powers of sin, Satan, separation, death, disease, despair, and decay by dying for us and then rising from the dead.

Christ invites us to join Him in His Resurrection.  We who are Baptized die to our “old man” of sin and are given new life – Resurrection life – in Christ.  We are being transformed by God into loving, virtuous, and holy men and women, overcoming all manner of barriers and obstacles as only God can do.

I invite you to follow along with this theme of us joining with Christ in dying to sin and rising to Resurrection life.

In St. John 12.24-25, Christ says:

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.  He that loveth his life shall lose it; and he that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal.

In Baptism, we die unto sin so that we may bring forth much fruit.

In II Timothy ii.11-13, St. Paul shows that we are mystically joined with Christ:

It is a faithful saying: For if we be dead with him, we shall also live with him:  If we suffer, we shall also reign with him: if we deny him, he also will deny us:  If we believe not, yet he abideth faithful: he cannot deny himself.

Looking to today’s Epistle, found on page 197 of your Prayer Book, St. Paul writes that the old man is put to death in Baptism, in which we are ‘identified’ with Christ in His Resurrection.  The Christian’s very self is transformed into a creature which can live the life Christ demands of us, the life to which we are called, a life in which sin and death have been put to death..

Let’s look at the Epistle lesson verse by verse.

3 KNOW ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death?  Being Baptized into Christ establishes a bond between the one Baptized and Christ.  The person is now on the record for Christ.

This bond allows the person Baptized and Christ our Lord to share suffering and dying and Resurrection.  Christ does not merely claim the person Baptized.  According to Scripture, Christ shares His death and then Resurrection with the one Baptized.  Christ did not only defeat sin in His death, but Christ has brought the one Baptized into that death and victory over sin.  The one Baptized does not share a metaphor or analogy with Christ; he actually participates in Christ’s death and victory over death.

4 Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.  “Buried with him” actually means in Greek, “co-buried”.  We who are Baptized not only die with Christ, but we rise again with Christ.

Our new life is the Resurrection life of Christ.  We go beyond identifying with Christ’s life in Holy Baptism to actually living Christ’s life.  Christ is more than our Lord; we share His holy and divine life.  That means that we begin to live out Christ’s holy and divine life in our own lives.  We do not say the Summary of the Law or the Ten Commandments at the beginning of the Mass to torture us with something unattainable.  We say them so that we always keep in front of us a reminder of how we are supposed to live.

5 For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection:  St. Paul here uses the image of a branch grafted onto a tree so that they form one living creature.

Likeness here means a mold.  Have you ever had the dentist make a mold of your teeth?  A tray of liquid material is pressed against your teeth until the liquid hardens.  The material is removed, and a reverse form of your teeth has been made.  The mold is made in the likeness of your teeth, perfect in form, but different in material.  So it is that we are joined with Christ in the Sacrament of Baptism to experience His death and defeat of sin, while yet we remain ourselves.  We do not lose our individual identity.  Our self which God created is good.  It is sin which is evil.

Just as we fully share in Christ’s death in Baptism, so too we share in Christ’s Resurrection.  After all, Christ’s death and Resurrection are two sides of the same act of loving-kindness, of sacrificial love.

6 knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin.  The “old man” is our old self.  This self was part of the old order of the world, where sin was in our nature and Satan ruled.  This self was ruled by selfishness and stood condemned before God.  This self was crucified and buried with Christ through Holy Baptism.

This “body of sin” was the self which was oriented towards the things of this sinful world and not the things of God.  This was us shut off against the generosity of the Father, the sacrifice of Christ, and the life of the Holy Ghost.

Because our sinful self was put to death with Christ, the “old man” of sin is dead and rendered powerless.  The part of us that looked to this world for our meaning, to ourselves for our pleasure, and to Satan as our ruler has been put to death, and with that death, the power of sin over us has been broken by Christ on the Cross.  Christ sets us free from sin.

7 For he that is dead is freed from sin. On the Cross, our sinful self died and thus is no longer capable of sinning.  Being dead with Christ, we are free from sin.  Our twisted internal nature bent towards sin has been crucified with Christ.

8 Now if we be dead with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him:  To the world outside, nothing happens at Baptism.  But with the eyes of faith in Christ, new life occurs.    We cannot see this under a microscope, but rather in the kingdom of loving-kindness heralded by Christ in His death and Resurrection.  Even we who are Baptized will not realize the full life in Christ until He returns again in power and great glory.  We know that we can begin living with Him now, but we believe that we shall live with Him fully for all eternity.

9 knowing that Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more; death hath no more dominion over him.  When Christ arose from the grave, He did not simply start drawing breath after three days without.  He broke through the wall of death and entered into Resurrection life.  This is human life in the presence of God the Father.  Those who are revived will eventually die.  Those who are resurrected will never die again.  Christ will never die again, and having defeated death, He now rules over death where once Satan held sway.

10 For in that he died, he died unto sin once: but in that he liveth, he liveth unto God.  The Passion and death of Christ is a unique event in all of the cosmos for all time.  Christ conquered death.  We who are Baptized into Christ’s death and Resurrection are freed from everlasting death.  We who rise with Christ through Baptism enter into a new relationship with God the Father – now we relate to the Father through the Son, onto Whom we are grafted like a branch to a tree.

The final verse:  11 Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord.  St. Paul calls us to increase our faith in Christ so that we may more fully live in Christ through our Baptism.  The faithful Christian cannot consider sin acceptable because God will forgive us.  We have been joined with Christ in both His death and His Resurrection.  Since our “old man” or “body of sin” has been crucified with Christ, we are dead indeed unto sin.  We no longer are reliable sinners.

If we voluntarily allow ourselves to sin, we rupture our relationship with Christ which He bought for us on the Cross and applied to us in this Holy Sacrament of His Body the Church.  If we sin, we break our relationship with Christ, knowing full well what it cost Him to reach us.  We are with Him in a mystical union, and we rip ourselves away from Him when we sin.  Knowing what His sacrifice cost Him, how can we dare to hurt our beloved benefactor and savior?  How can we not only break His heart but rend His Body?

But have hope, you who are Baptized in Christ!  With Him, we have passed from death unto life everlasting!  We are united to Christ, Who is God the Son sent by God the Father to take up our mortal nature so that He might redeem us in His death and Resurrection.  If we hold fast, stay the course, and keep the faith, we too will finish in great unity with God, with never a fear again of death, sickness, and decay.  Alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord, we shall live for Him and in Him forever and ever.  Amen.

 

“Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God 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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“Then said Jesus to them again, Peace be unto you: as my Father hath sent me, even so send I you.”

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

 

Being Sent

THE same day at evening, being the first day of the week….  This first verse shows that the Church has gathered and worshipped together on the Lord’s Day beginning with that very first Easter.

St. Ignatius of Antioch, a disciple of the Apostle John whom the Romans martyred in AD 117, wrote in his Epistle to the Magnesians:

“…those who were brought up in the ancient order of things have come to the possession of a new hope, no longer observing the Sabbath, but living in the observance of the Lord’s Day, on which also our life has sprung up again by Him and by His death….”

The Vigil of Sunday is Saturday night, so there was likely some stages in between our neighbors’ synagogue worship on Saturday morning and our Church worship on Sunday morning.  The Vigil of Easter takes place on Saturday evening, which is the third Jewish liturgical day of Christ’s death.  The Jewish day begins at nightfall.  But the day Christians worship is invariably Sunday.

The doors were shut can also be translated the doors were locked.  St. John says here that the disciples feared the Jews, but they feared the Romans as well.  Their leader, the Christ, had been taken from them.  They were afraid.  If we no longer had Christ, if we lost faith in Christ, we too would be afraid.

Today we keep our church doors unlocked so that anyone off the street (we earnestly hope!) might come in and worship God with us.  But the disciples kept their doors shut and locked to protect themselves from danger.

In other parts of the world, Christian congregations have to post guards.  In one of our parishes in Pakistan, the priest’s son keeps guard with an AK-47 in case Moslem terrorists attack.  Our parishes in the Congo have faced attack, and at least one of them has been completely wiped out – raped and murdered.  We ought to give thanks to our good God that we do not have such problems here.  While being thankful, we should also remain vigilant that such attacks upon the peaceful practice of religion are defended against here.

Peace be unto you is a standard rabbinical greeting.  But it is also used in Judges vi.23 and Daniel x.19 when angels visited the frightened Gideon and Daniel.  Since the disciples are afraid, Christ speaking this privileged religious greeting to them is most appropriate.

As with Gideon and Daniel, the moment of this greeting is important.  Christ is declaring His peace to His disciples.  Christ, being God made man, who was killed and yet triumphed over the grave, has created an eschatological peace, a peace for the end of time, a peace for the disciples and all others as well.

The terrors and sorrows of death, of sickness, of grief are put to bed with their defeat by our King and our God.  We are promised the peace that passeth all understanding.  This peace is not a simple hello; it is not just a comfort and joy amidst grief and fear; no, this peace is a deep permanent peace which will follow you to the grave and out the other side into Resurrection!

Earlier in St. John xiv.27, Christ says:  “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.”  Peace here is not a worldly peace which is a mere respite from trouble; this is an eternal peace which is a gift from Heaven.  With the reception of the Holy Ghost, Christ’s peace becomes something that not only lives inside each of disciples but which they take out into the world.

And when he had so said, he shewed unto them his hands and his side.  Later in verse 25, Christ shows the disciples the nail holes in His hands and the lance wound from His side.  Christ comes to them, gives them His peace, and shows these frightened disciples His sacred wounds.

St. Luke xxiv.39 mentions His hands and feet.  Two hands plus two feet plus one side equals the five wounds of Christ.  If you cross yourself with your hand flat, you are using all five fingers.  Upon my ordination, I changed how I held my hand when I crossed myself so to remember the five wounds of Christ, the wounds Christ suffered when He gave Himself up for me and for you.

After years of modern scholars dismissing the nailing of feet by Romans during First-Century crucifixions, archaeological evidence was found in 1968 showing nail holes in the ankles of one crucified.  As to the objection that nails in the hands would not have held victims up, both the Greek and Hebrew words for hands could also refer to wrists and forearms or lower legs.  The five wounds of Christ are real, despite what skeptics and non-traditional Christians say.  Christ suffered those for us, died, and then rose again.  Here in today’s Gospel, the disciples see it for themselves with their own eyes, and St. John bears testimony to this across nineteen hundred years.

Christ shows the disciples His Body, showing the physical evidence of the continuity of the Crucifixion and the Resurrection.  Theologically, we understand that the Resurrection completes the Crucifixion.  Liturgically, Easter follows Good Friday.  But Christ shows our spiritual ancestors physical evidence of the bodily continuity of Christ’s Body in life, in death, and in Resurrection.

Then were the disciples glad when they saw the Lord.  Of course they were!  Imagine their emotions as their human minds tried to sort out the miraculous workings of God.  Their hearts had been up, down, and all around those last few days.  Now, they have proof that their Christ Who died on the Cross was the very same Who stood before them in the flesh — alive!  The wounds proved it so.

And now, St. John switches terms.  After the Resurrection, St. John begins referring to Christ in His Gospel as the Lord.  Christ is our Lord.  We know that.  But for those who walked with Him for years, they had to learn that.

And lest we forget, those around us who do not have the sweet consolation of Christ in their lives must also learn for themselves that Christ is the Lord.  They will watch you.  They might imitate you, especially if they are children.  They might test you if they are family or friends.  But either way, they will watch you for signs of the Resurrection life in your life.

If you see Christ, if you see Him in life, if you visit Him in His Passion, if you watch Him die, if you mourn for Him, and then if you rejoice in His Resurrection and accept the Peace of the Lord, then you will be different, and those out hurting and grieving in this sinful and broken world will see that difference for themselves.  And with God’s grace, they will want to share in that Resurrection life as well.

As my Father hath sent me, even so send I you.  This closely parallels St. John xvii.18, when Christ prays to the Father, “As thou hast sent me into the world, even so have I also sent them into the world.”  The word apostle means one who is sent.  The disciples in a sense become apostles here, for they shall bear Christ into the world.  They continue the mission of God the Son into the world.  Christ bears witness to the Father, and the apostles bear witness to the Son.

The continuation of the Resurrection is the evangelization of the entire world.  Our sharing the Good News is an extension of Christ’s Resurrection.  The living out in our lives loving-kindness and communion with God brings forth Christ’s Resurrection into the lives of those who did not experience it themselves.  We continue, we carry on, that which has been given to us.  Like as we have mothers and fathers, so we bring forth children who themselves become fathers and mothers.  I may not have earthly children, but I may have spiritual children.  Likewise, he who has earthly children may be destitute of spiritual children.

And when he had said this, he breathed on them….  God breathes the breath of life into Adam in Genesis ii.7.  Some ancients at that time held that the breath of a holy man had great power.  Christ certainly has great power.

The filioque clause of the Nicene Creed which we say every Sunday means from the son.  The Creed in its Western revised form we use says that the Holy Ghost proceeds from the Father and from the Son.  This verse is evidence that the Holy Ghost does in fact proceed forth from the Son, but not necessarily in the same way as from the Father.  We could change the Creed back to the way it was and drop this and be fine, but we are not incorrect in saying that the Son sends the Holy Ghost into the world.

Receive ye the Holy Ghost:  But wait:  The Holy Ghost comes upon the Apostles and Blessed Virgin Mary at Pentecost according to St. Luke in the Acts of the Apostles!  What does this mean?

The Second Council of Constantinople, being the fifth Ecumenical Council, condemned the view of Theodore of Mopsuestia.  Theodore held that Christ did not really impart the gift of the Holy Ghost upon the Apostles on the night of Easter.  This is contradicted right here in St. John’s Gospel.

St. John Chrysostom preached that this gift of the Holy Ghost empowered the forgiveness of sins while the gift of the Holy Ghost at Pentecost in Acts gave “the power to work miracles and raise the dead.”  Others have made different suggestions, but the fact here is that He breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost.  Christ gives the Holy Ghost to those who will preach His Gospel and …

Whosesoever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whosesoever sins ye retain, they are retained.  This Authorized Version translation wisely shows these sentences in passive voice.  That is, these things are done, but it does not say who does the doing of them.  This is important, for when a priest says that he forgives you your sins, technically he is authoritatively declaring that your sins are forgiven.  And they are forgiven.

But God is the actor, not the priest, not the apostle.  When a bishop as the successor of the apostles, and priests as his parish agents, forgive sins or do not forgive sins, then so those sins are forgiven or not forgiven.  But the apostle, the bishop, and the priest are agents of God, and God is the one who completes the action.  This is the Sacramental grace of Penance or Confession.

The role of the forgiveness or retention of sins, as well as of binding and loosing, directly supports the command to take the Gospel to all nations, to be sent as Christ has been sent.  The world is to be freed from the tyranny of the world, the flesh, and the devil.  Souls will be saved, people will be liberated, sins will be forgiven, and loving-kindness shall rule all relationships upon the preaching of the Good News of Jesus Christ!

 

“Then said Jesus to them again, Peace be unto you: as my Father hath sent me, even so send I you.”

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

 

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“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 sweet-smelling savour.”

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

 

The disciples who followed Christ literally followed where He went and did what He did.  They learned by doing.  In that sense, I was a disciple of my father in my early years.  I remember the first time I sat in front of my father on stage at our pre-school.  I crossed my legs the same way he did because, although I was scared in front of all those people, it was safe and right to imitate my daddy.  Disciples follow and imitate.  In this way, disciples are like children.  This is how St. Paul can open up this reading of Ephesians with “BE ye therefore followers of God, as dear children;” for followers and children are so very similar.

 

We are to imitate Christ.  One of the most famous and popular books of Christian devotion for all time, treasured by the likes of Ignatius of Loyola, John Wesley, and Robert E. Lee, is Thomas a Kempis’s The Imitation of Christ.  I strongly recommend each of you to consider reading it.

We are to imitate Christ’s loving-kindness.  We must walk in love.  Loving-kindness is the essential ingredient in following Christ – loving in our hearts, loving in our minds, loving in our bodies.  All that we do must be in love.  If we truly act in love, then we are imitating Christ.

The Prayer of St. Francis, written in the early years of the XX Century and not by him, faithfully sums up his teaching and offers us a most excellent understanding of living in love and imitating Christ.  A lovely needlework of this prayer is hung above our coffee pots next to the kitchen door in the parish hall.  I invite you all to recall Christ’s love of you and your imitation of Christ when you pass by this embroidered prayer.  This is the prayer:

Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace;

Where there is hatred, let me sow love;

Where there is injury, pardon;

Where there is error, truth;

Where there is doubt, faith;

Where there is despair, hope;

Where there is darkness, light;

And where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master, Grant that I may not so much seek

To be consoled as to console;

To be understood as to understand;

To be loved as to love.

For it is in giving that we receive;

It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;

And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

Throughout the history of Holy Church, imitating Christ and following the way of love has had several components.  One part has been the soul’s interior regard of love – recollection of love, intercessory prayer, and acts of devotion.  Another part has involved the soul deeply in participation in the Body and Blood of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament.  A third part has emphasized outward and physical performances of love.

 

Through our Incarnate Son of God, we are to imitate God.  We are created in his image, and although we, his handiwork, have been defaced by sin, the original stamp of God on us remains.  Our human nature has fallen into sin, but first God created it in his image.

Our part of Christ’s redemption of us is imitating God.  We are to imitate God, and the way we do that is through the love and sacrifice of Christ.  Christ sacrificed His high station in Heaven and His life upon the Cross for us to God the Father.  This is love.  Love and sacrifice go hand in hand.  Love without sacrifice is hollow and empty.  Sacrifice without love is meaningless and despairing.  Sacrifice in love redeems the world.  If you and I imitate Christ and sacrifice for one another in loving-kindness, you and I can move mountains.

We complain about budget deficits, empty pews, and lack of activities.  We complain about crooked politicians, policies working against God’s laws, and wicked behavior in high places.  We complain about broken families, alienated loved ones, and lost friends.  But we have an answer for all these:  Christ.

But when we say the answer is Christ, in our despair we cry out like atheists.  But what about right now?  What about those hurting people?  What about my hurts?  Yes, Christ cleansed us from our sin in Holy Baptism.  Yes, Christ has won the victory and will return one day in power and great glory.  But what about now?  What about my sick spouse?  What about my dead child?  What about my scorned neighbor?  Oh Lord, what about my lost job?

And by the answer, “Christ”, we mean the love and sacrifice of Christ lived out in our lives.  Christians are members of Christ’s Body, the Church.  We imitate God in Christ our Lord.  We love one another not out of indifference, not until it becomes uncomfortable, but we love one another, as known persons with faces, unto sacrifice.

Like Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathitein in the second chapter of Job, we sit in the ashes with our grieving friend seven days and seven nights without saying a word.  And unlike Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar, we don’t get smart with our opinions starting on the eighth day.  We sit in the ashes with our grieving friend.  That is love and sacrifice, my dear children.

Remember how Christ said to turn the other cheek, to give the man who asks for a coat your cloak as well, to walk the extra mile?  Love does not involve what you can get away with doing.  We are to love unto sacrifice.  We are to enter into hurt ourselves on behalf of another.

That means that we listen to one another even when they irritate us horribly.  That means that we shut our mouths when someone wants to share their pain with us.  That means that we put our rear in gear and get off our duff, roll up our sleeves, and help someone out.  That means that we weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice.  We move beyond our own comfort, our own self-satisfied opinions,and our own hurts to move out into the world of hurt and pain and sorrow and misery propelled by our Savior’s love and sacrifice for us, taking His healing balm into the world that knows original and actual sin and nothing but natural remedies, not a one of which avails.

We imitate Christ when we interpose ourselves between pain, sin, and disorder and our beloved brother.  On our wedding day, a family friend found me and kept kidding around with jokes until my brother and I walked out to the altar.  Stupid silly jokes kept me from getting anxious before the service on our big day.  That is interposing between disorder and our brother.

We imitate Christ when we pick up the burden our brother must carry.  St. Simon of Cyrene was compelled to bear the Cross of our Lord on His way to Calvary.  A well-known example in the church of doing this is when the ladies of the parish provide plenty of food for a grieving family.  We ate chicken casseroles and ham for a month after my father died.  Our grief was so profound that feeding ourselves was difficult.  The ladies of our church fed us during that time.  God bless them for it.  This too is interposing between death and our brother.

We imitate Christ when we pay what our brother must pay.  The Good Samaritan paid the room and board and medical costs of the wounded Jew.  Mrs. Day of Day’s Inn paid for the Mercer University education of one of my friends who lost her father fleeing from the Communists in Cambodia and arrived in America with nothing.  Mrs. Day had a fortune.  My friend had no money.  But thanks to Mrs. Day, she received a very nice private college education, became wealthy, and now helps spread that wealth to those who have very little themselves.  God bless both of them for it.  This also is interposing between poverty and our brother.

In his Epistle to the Galatians, vi.2, St. Paul writes:  “Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ.”  We are not Christians if we do not bear one another’s burdens.  We are not followers of Christ if we do not walk the Way of the Cross.  We are not participating in Christ’s ministry if we do not interpose between sin, death, and wickedness and our brother.  Christ tells us in the Summary of the Law to “Love thy neighbor as thyself.”  This is how we spread the Good News of Christ.  This is how we serve to forward the Kingdom of God.  This is how we imitate God.  This is how we imitate Christ.

This holy season of Lent, each of you search yourself.  Examine your thoughts, your heart, and your actions.  Do you love your neighbor in your thoughts?  Do you sacrifice for your brother in your heart?  Do you interpose on behalf of your brother in your actions?  If you are like the rest of us, and you are, then you are failing to love like Christ somewhere in your life.

In prayer and fasting, through the grace of the Holy Ghost, find that place that needs changing.  Resolve to change that.  Say it out loud to yourself, write it down someplace where you will see it every day.  Change this.  God the Holy Ghost will ably assist you in conforming to Christ and doing God the Father’s holy will on earth.

 

“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 sweet-smelling savour.”

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

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“WE beseech you, brethren, and exhort you by the Lord Jesus, that as ye have received of us how ye ought to walk and to please God, so ye would abound more and more.”

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

 

“Purity, Holiness, and Loving-Kindness”

 

We can never rest easy in the Christian life.  Not that we are in constant jeopardy of losing our salvation, but that the Lord God of Heaven and Earth is a good God who loves us very much, and we ought to emulate him in all we think, do, and say.  And who among us is as holy and loving as Christ?  I have a long way to go.  So St. Paul might as well be speaking to me here as well as to the Thessalonians, and I can say that he’s speaking here to you as well.

1 Furthermore then we beseech you, brethren, and exhort you by the Lord Jesus, that as ye have received of us how ye ought to walk and to please God, so ye would abound more and more.

St. Paul beseeches and exhorts his fellow Christians to exceed their holiness so far attained, to keep striving forward, to continue to make progress.  St. Paul wants them to move forward not because of what they lack but because of what they have to gain.

We have been taught how to behave.  St. Paul here exhorts us to continue and grow in the way we are to behave.  We should do so willingly, as men freed from the bondage of sin.

How we “ought to walk and to please God” is a gift from God.  Being a gift from God, this moral knowledge is precious and holy.  We are to willingly embrace it and live it more fully every day, not as a burden, for sin was an actual burden, but as liberation and freedom to live eternally with God.

When we look back to life in sin, we see depression, desolation, darkness, and delusion.  We were “sunk” in sin, like trying to wade through a mire instead of marching on the dry, clean, high road of grace.  Even when we wanted to do the right thing, we were incapable of doing so.  But through the grace of God, his unmerited holy favor, we are freed from our sins and given the ability to walk on the King’s highway.

Abounding more and more is what Blessed John Keble preached, “that is a call, as serious as the heart of man could imagine, not to stand still, not to suppose they had done enough.”  We are unlike the beasts and the angels; we are created in the image of God.  God the Son did not manifest in Heaven as a holy angel.  God the Son did not come to earth as a dolphin or orangutan.  God the Son came down to earth and became a man amongst men.  We are made joint-heirs of God the Father through the adoption as sons.  We are joined in the Body of our Lord Jesus Christ to become one with God.  We are made tabernacles of the Holy Ghost.

We are called to holiness in a way no other creature in Heaven or on Earth is called.  The Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, the Eternal Word of God, came down from Heaven and was born a baby Jewish boy of the Blessed Virgin Mary in a small Judean town called Bethlehem.  God now shares our flesh, and when Christ Ascended into Heaven, He took His human body with Him.  Human flesh now resides in the heavenly realms of glory as well as in this created world.  God has taken on man’s nature so that man can take on God’s nature.

We are called out of this world of sinful men and made righteous by God so that we may be sanctified and called holy, chosen, called out from the world, set apart for God.  We are to be given much so that we may abound and abound forever and ever.  This is the Christian calling:  To live with God in his kingdom for all eternity, lost in wonder, love, and praise, fulfilling our created nature more fully than any thought or dream could imagine.  We will never have enough goodness, for God is infinite, and we are created for God.

2 For ye know what commandments we gave you by the Lord Jesus.

3 For this is the will of God, even your sanctification, that ye should abstain from fornication:

Having renounced the world and the sinful pollution of following the ways of the flesh, we offer ourselves as a living sacrifice to God; and since God only accepts pure and holy sacrifices, we must live holy and blameless lives, removing all obstructions to holiness in our lives, putting far from us our worldly and fleshly ways.

Fornication defiles man.  By entering into sexual congress with others outside of God’s design and permission for us, we deface the beautiful image of God in us and others.  Purity and sanctification are utterly opposed to fornication and sins of the flesh.

Moreover, in today’s increasingly immoral society, Christians must be known as chaste.  Obeying the Church’s Law of Marriage is one of the Duties of Churchmen.  The world watches us to see if we are either hypocrites or true lovers of God.

All Christians ought to be of one of three states of sexual purity:  virgin, married, or widowed.  Alas, many Christians were not virgins when we married.  Many Christians do not live chastely after losing our spouse.  Many Christians do not live chastely with our spouse.  When we live sexually ordered lives, we live lives following the teaching of Christ and His Bride the Church.  We live lives of purity, reaching towards holiness and loving-kindness without the damage which impurity and sexual immorality brings us.

4 That every one of you should know how to possess his vessel in sanctification and honour;

5 Not in the lust of concupiscence, even as the Gentiles which know not God:

By “lust of concupiscence”, St. Paul means all lusts of the flesh and the eyes which allure us to fleeting carnal delights and take our minds and bodies away from union with God.  Indulging in sinful pleasures disturbs us so that we are no longer temperate in our lives, we are out of balance in our relationship with the physical world, our inner composure with which we meet God is disturbed and unsettled.  When we give in to pursuit of these pleasures, we are knocked off our poise and made unsteady, so that we can no longer stand upright and face our Lord God.

But the lust of the eye and the wandering heart do not only touch our sexual lives.  Our economic lives are touched by this also.  Through envy and jealousy, our social lives are touched by concupiscence, the desire to draw the world into our selves.  We literally lust after the world, the pleasures of the flesh.  Gluttony is strongly allied with Lust and Greed.  They involve the desire to consume God’s good creation instead of relate to God’s creation the way he would have us relate to it – the good order of purity, holiness, and loving-kindness.

6 That no man go beyond and defraud his brother in any matter: because that the Lord is the avenger of all such, as we also have forewarned you and testified.

St. Paul further exhorts Christians to do no injury to our brother.  Just as fornication is acting unjustly towards our neighbors, so too is fraud.  We must not act immoderately or unrighteously towards our neighbors.  We must love our neighbors as ourselves.  Lust and Greed are related in that they involve desiring the things of this world in unholy and unclean ways.  God will avenge those whom we harm while wickedly seeking from our fellows that which is not ours to take.

God will punish Christians who have holy knowledge and training in righteous living harder than those who have not heard the word of grace and live as best as they can in the muck and mire of the world of sinful men.  We ought to love our neighbors and show them the Good News of Jesus Christ rather than condemning their wickedness which they cannot understand without Christ.

We know better than to corrupt ourselves in unchastity and fraudulent behavior.  When we commit sins which we currently live in and do not repent of, we eat and drink the Body and Blood of Christ to our damnation, not to our salvation.  For we cannot partake of holiness when we choose to wallow in unholiness.  We cannot partake of our good God if we insist on dwelling in impurity.  We cannot bring our favorite sins into the presence of God.  If we insist on holding them close to us, we cannot approach him.

To “defraud his brother” is to seek gain at the expense of his brother.  We are not to trick and manipulate others for our own gain.  Tricking a virgin into fornication is the vileness of seduction.  We rightly condemn those who do this.  But tricking our brother into loss for our gain is the same sin in a different way.

We are not to use each other.  Each one of us is a unique individual lovingly created by Almighty God our Heavenly Father in his own image.  God beholds each one of us and finds us so precious and valuable in his sight that he sent God the Son into the world to become one of us, to die on the Cross, and to save us from our sins.  God blesses each one of us so that we may live with him in his kingdom for eternity.  If God did not love each one of us so much, he would not want us so close to him for so long.

Being each a unique and invaluable part of creation, we are to treat others and to be treated with great dignity befitting our rank as adopted sons of God the Father through our Lord Jesus Christ and indwelt by God the Holy Ghost.  We are not to seduce, manipulate, or defraud those for whom Christ died to save from sin and death.  We are to honor and respect and love each other, following the way of Christ.  Purity, holiness, and loving-kindness all go together and all come from God.

7 For God hath not called us unto uncleanness, but unto holiness.

God has called us to holiness.  We must renounce the world of sinful men, the temptations of our fallen nature, and the supernatural evil which lurks about as a lion, seeking someone to devour.  We cannot have both sin and God, for sin is separation from God.

We place ourselves into grave danger when we trivialize our sins of the flesh, our little lusts, our wee gluttonies.  They are fun.  But they are contrary to God.  For instead of enjoying God, we enjoy God’s creation as if it were made as an end to itself and not for the glory of God.  We may enjoy the sexual embrace of our holy spouse as that embrace participates in the goodness of creation and glorifies God.  We may enjoy commercial intercourse with our fellow men as we trade goods and services so that we meet our needs and prosper, give alms to the poor, and generously give to Christ’s Body, Holy Church.  But when we pervert the goodness of creation to steal sexual embraces from those we are not in holy union with and to defraud those whom we interact, then we reject God.  When we embrace sin, we leave no room in our arms to embrace God.

8 He therefore that despiseth, despiseth not man, but God, who hath also given unto us his holy Spirit.

If by our unjust and unrighteous actions, we use and abuse other men, we have departed away from God.  Thus, if we despise men, we despise God instead.  God, who gave us his Holy Spirit to dwell inside of us, is well and truly despised by those who reject him.  We who sin against our fellow man despise God who dwells inside of us.  This tears us apart, and we are no fit vessels thereafter for the Holy Spirit of God.  Truly the Two Great Commandments go together:  To love God and to love our neighbors.

 

Little children, love your God, and love each other.  Live beautiful lives of holiness, purity, and loving-kindness.  Act justly to every person in your life, honor God, and love both God and your neighbor.  Worship Christ, and adore Him in His Body and His Blood.

This week, make an act of love to our Lord Christ every day.  Say to Him, “I love thee Lord Christ, and I want to love Thee more and more.”  Look inside your bulletins to the announcements on the inside right-hand side.  At the end of the announcements, you will see that sentence.  Say it with me:  “I love thee Lord Christ, and I want to love Thee more and more.”  One more time:  “I love thee Lord Christ, and I want to love Thee more and more.”

 

“WE beseech you, brethren, and exhort you by the Lord Jesus, that as ye have received of us how ye ought to walk and to please God, so ye would abound more and more.”

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

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