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“WATCH thou in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, make full proof of thy ministry. For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand.”

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

 

“The work of the evangelist”

Why do we sing the Gospel during the Mass?  Why do we stand when it is proclaimed?  Why do we sometimes process the Gospel out amongst the congregation to proclaim it?  Why must the Gospeller be in Holy Orders?

We read in Isaiah lii.7:  “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings, that publisheth peace; that bringeth good tidings of good, that publisheth salvation; that saith unto Zion, Thy God reigneth!”

Beautiful feet?  That sounds over the top.  Yet over-the-top is how we proclaim the Gospel both here at St. Luke’s and in catholic churches around the world throughout the ages.

St. Luke’s Gospel tells the story of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, from before His Annunciation till His Ascension into Heaven.  His is the Greatest Story Ever Told, and our patron saint, St. Luke the Evangelist, is one of the sacred four who told the story so that the rest of us might hear it.

 

The patron saint of our parish wrote almost as much of the New Testament as Saint Paul.  He is the only Gentile who wrote one of our Gospels.  According to Colossians iv.14, we know that he was a physician.  As a doctor and writer of a Gospel, he is considered the patron saint of doctors and healers.  His sign as evangelist is the ox with wings, giving us the name of our newsletter, the Winged Bull.

He is also the patron saint of artists.  During the Middle Ages, many Guilds of St. Luke encouraged and defended artists in important cities in Rome, Flanders, and across Europe.  Here at our parish, our Creative Christians group continues this tradition by encouraging both Christian art and Christian artists.

But St. Luke did not only write a Gospel leaving us inspired depictions of the life of the Blessed Mother, our Lord Christ, and the early Church.  St. Luke also did the work of an evangelist by journeying with St. Paul on at least two of his mission trips, staying with him in Rome.  Our patron is counted among the Seventy who Christ commissioned and sent out to do ministry in today’s Gospel lesson.

 

St. Luke wrote his Gospel in Greek, helping spread the Good News of Christ throughout the pagan Gentile world of the First Century.  The Early Church suffered greatly for proclaiming the Gospel.  St. Paul and all the Apostles save St. John met their Lord in the martyr’s death.

And lest we think that the persecution of Christians is a bygone practice, this Wednesday we celebrate the faithful Christian witness of eight Anglican clergymen whom the Japanese killed for preaching the Gospel in occupied New Guinea during World War II.  Tens of thousands of priests and millions of faithful Christians died at the hands of the Communists in Russia and elsewhere in the Twentieth Century.  The Moslems have killed far more over the centuries, and they are still at it today.

Closer to home, we hear rumblings of persecution.  I warned in my annual report last year of coming troubles.  As St. Peter writes in his first epistle, “be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear:”

This week, news came out of Houston, Texas which has troubled the hearts and minds of many Christians.  Let us look into what the facts are:

The city council and mayor of Houston passed an ordinance which would permit women to use men’s bathrooms and men women’s bathrooms and allowing people to file complaints with the city government if they are not allowed to use the bathroom they want.

Houston preachers and others organized a petition for a referendum to overturn the ordinance at the November election.  The city government claimed that too many of the signatures were not valid and refused to schedule the vote.  Christian activists then sued the city to accept the signatures and thus the petition and put the ordinance to the vote.

In response, the city’s lawyers issued subpoenas to five conservative preachers to hand over sermons to determine of any preaching related to homosexuality, so-called gender identity, or even the mayor.  A subpoena is a legal writ compelling someone to appear before court or to surrender documents to the court.  These preachers would now have to surrender to a law court any sermon mentioning any of these topics.

The mayor has asked if the preachers gave instructions on how to sign the petition.  The city attorneys hold that the subpoenas are valid because the preachers worked to organize the repeal petition and are thus pertinent to the case.

Both conservative and liberal ministers have spoken out against the subpoenas.  There has been a public outcry over the city’s actions.  An interdenominational coalition of over 400 churches in Houston have opposed these subpoenas.  This local action has sparked national debate.  Some pastors have refused to hand over sermons.

The mayor and city attorney then agreed that the original subpoenas were too broad.  New subpoenas have now been drawn up which do not ask for sermons, but rather for speeches and presentations, and do not ask about homosexuality, but still ask for other things besides those on the petition.

You may ask what a conservative pastor’s PowerPoint presentation on the ordinance has to do with the validity of the signatures on the petition.  The answer is:  Nothing.  The city’s attorneys are still reaching beyond the appropriate legal necessity at hand, which has the effect of threatening the free speech of the preachers and the public practice of religion by the ministers of Christians.

A Christian – or another religion’s – minister preaching, speechifying, or presenting on the sexual nature of God’s Creation and on the divinely ordained morality which faithful people must practice are not crimes, do not threaten the state, and indeed support the wholesomeness, integrity, and the commonweal of the people.

The representatives of free American citizens are not called to sift through the words of religious leaders, looking for sedition.  The city is not a political organization which cannot tolerate dissent.  The governmental structures of this world have no legitimate role in approving or disapproving the voice of the Bride of Christ.  Our American governments have no legitimate role in intimidating preachers or believers.

 

We Continuing Anglicans directly descend from those who were quickened with zeal by the Assize Day Sermon by Blessed John Keble at St. Mary’s Church in Oxford, in which he publicly from the University Pulpit criticized the Whig-controlled Parliament for reducing the number of bishops in Ireland without the approval of the Church of Ireland.  As your priest and rector, I stand in a very long line of bishops and priests who have criticized the state when the state has had the worldly effrontery to admonish and attempt to control Holy Mother Church.

This very day last year, Archbishop Haverland sat right there and in the words of our Book of Common Prayer challenged me “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.”

It would certainly please many people if we decided that we would ignore the things of God and whole-hearted accept the things of man.  But that would be forsaking God by making us pleasing to men, and I have been told not to be a “man-pleaser”.

My wife once saw a person wearing button which answered an unasked naughty question with “No thanks, I’d rather go to heaven.”  We lives our lives in this world, oftentimes forgetting that our lives are given to us by our good God in Heaven.  We may choose to do many things.  But we will be called to divine judgement one day.  All choices are not the same.  Some are right, and some are wrong.  When we are enticed, seduced, and tempted to make a wrong choice, it is good for us to say, “No thanks, I’d rather go to Heaven.”

I know you.  I know that most of you won’t budge if this Houston business happened here.  You know me.  You know that I won’t budge if this happened here.  We know our archbishop.  We know that he won’t budge if this happened here.

And this hasn’t happened here in Augusta.  Indeed, we elected a preacher of the Gospel as our mayor.  But this has now happened in these United States.  My dear children of God, I would rather you live your lives in peace, but I tell you this day that we will soon be facing worse, and not just in Texas, but here on the banks of the Savannah River.  Our sister parish across the river, All Saints’, Aiken, witnesses to the Gospel in a state where a Federal court might force their county to issue marriage licenses to people of the same sex.  Dark days are coming.

We here at St. Luke’s will continue to preach the Gospel of Christ our Lord, especially to those who need to hear it.  Many stories are told of the old Roman martyrs, some of whom are named in our Mass, who witnessed to their tormenters and executioners to great effect, converting souls in the Holy Name of Jesus.

If anyone in this world wants to know what I preach, come here to St. Luke’s most any Sunday at 10:30 and hear for himself.  I even put my sermons up on a webpage.  I would love for everyone out there to hear me preach about our Lord and Savior!

The government can hear our public proclamation.  Those who try to order us about and deny us our freedom both to practice and proclaim the True Religion of Christ are the ones who need to hear it the most.  We shall not back down.  St. Luke our patron did not back down.  St. Paul did not back down.  Fr. Keble did not back down, and neither did the faithful gathered together at the Congress of St. Louis in 1977.

We at St. Luke Church are uniquely positioned to proclaim the Holy Gospel to souls in peril here in Augusta as the times grow darker.  We preach the unadulterated truth, the whole Gospel, all the Sacraments, without Roman and Eastern doctrinal accretions, and we do so in the traditional language of this nation.

Everything St. Luke wrote was to tell other souls about Christ.  He commended Christ to everyone at all times.  He wrote down timeless truths about our Lord that the other Evangelists did not record.  When we stand under the name of the Evangelist St. Luke, we stand for spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  And like St. Luke, we are not only to sit down and tell other people about Christ, but we are to get up and tell people face to face, traveling to them to share the good news of Christ our Lord.

 

After St. Paul says in today’s epistle, “WATCH thou in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, make full proof of thy ministry”, he continues and says “For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand.”

The day is coming when we will have to answer for our faith in Christ.  That day may come when we draw our last breath and slip beyond the veil of this mortal life, when we will face the individual judgement.  Jesus will look at each of us and know what we have done with the life He suffered and died to save, that life which the Holy Ghost bestowed with graces.

Or the day is coming when someone out there will make us chose to follow the world or to follow Christ.  Maybe someone will try to seduce you into sexual sin.  Maybe a crook will tempt you to help him commit a crime.  Maybe your own elected government will coerce you to deny Christ and follow the popular godless way.

Will you stay the course and profess your faith in Christ when your livelihood and social standing are threatened?  Will you stay the course and profess your faith in Christ when your life is required of you?  What will you say when they come to coerce you to renounce your faith?  Are you able to say that today?

 

“WATCH thou in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, make full proof of thy ministry. For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand.”

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

 

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“he that is greatest among you, let him be as the younger; and he that is chief, as he that doth serve.”

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

 

“The Apostles”

What is an apostle?

‘Apostle’ literally means, ‘one who is sent’.  Which raises the questions, sent by whom?  Sent for what?  And sent where?

The apostles are personally commissioned by our Lord Christ.  They continue Christ’s ministry in His Church and the world by proclaiming the Gospel and governing the Church.  The apostles are sent to all the nations of the earth.

Acts ii.42:  “And they continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers.”

The apostles are key to the continuation of Christ in His Church.  The apostles’ doctrine and fellowship are the doctrine and fellowship of Christ.  They spent three intense years under Christ, not merely learning but being formed by Him, walking with Him in His ministry and Passion.  He spent forty further days explaining all they had experienced through in light of the Resurrection.  They were the first given the Holy Ghost in St. John xx.22 and then more broadly in Acts ii.4 along with the Blessed Virgin Mary.

The apostles possess grace and authority from Christ Himself, which they then passed on to their successors the bishops as the Church grew.  And the Church here on earth grew rapidly while losing many to martyrdom.

The four marks of the Church are found in the Nicene Creed:  One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic.  These four characteristics or marks are found in the Nicene Creed.  Unfortunately, due to a printer’s error centuries ago, our Book of Common Prayer omits the word “Holy”.  Every Sunday we proclaim aloud that the Church is Apostolic.  What then is the character of the apostles?

 

First, apostles are humble.

The Gospel shows the Lord chiding the disciples regarding position and lordship.  Instead, Christ shows another way.  “For whether is greater, he that sitteth at meat, or he that serveth? is not he that sitteth at meat? but I am among you as he that serveth.”  Only the humble may be great in Christ’s kingdom.  They shall rule and lead, but they must serve as they rule.

This is contrary to the way of the world.  Many leaders in the Church have not followed Christ’s path of humility.  But we are called to crucify our old selves and put on Christ.  We must mortify, that is kill off, our old sinful self to put on the Resurrection life of Christ our Lord.

The apostles also continue the ministry of Christ in His Church through their morality and way of life.  The maniple I wear today is derived from the heir of the old deacon’s towel, ready to wipe and to clean.  This humility is also symbolized by the washing of the feet on Maundy Thursday, when the bishop or priest kneels before his people.  Our own archbishop ordinary, that is to say our regular bishop, is quite modest in his life and manners.

 

Second, apostles proclaim the gospel.

Apostles are men duly commissioned by Christ who are sent to preach the Gospel to the whole world, carrying with them Christ’s doctrine in humility and love.  This proclamation of the Word of God is central to their character.  All of them, except St. John, died the martyr’s death preaching the Gospel of Christ.  Today’s Saint Bartholomew is said to have been horribly murdered for converting the King of Armenia through Gospel preaching and the great work of exorcism.  We see this emphasis on preaching the Gospel in Christ’s own words, from St. Peter on Whitsunday or Pentecost, and from St. Paul in Corinth.

Christ tells the remaining eleven disciples in St. Matthew xxviii.18-20 to teach the nations:

And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, 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. Amen.

When the people of Jerusalem wondered if those gathered in the Upper Room who had been given the Holy Ghost on the feast of Pentecost were drunk, St. Peter answered with mighty preaching.  We read the result in Acts ii.37-42:

Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do?  Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.  For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call.  And with many other words did he testify and exhort, saying, Save yourselves from this untoward generation.  Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls.  And they continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers.

St. Paul refers to his own preaching to the church in Corinth in 1 Corinthians xv.1-4, in which he preaches the Gospel he himself was taught:

Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain.  For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures:

The successor to the apostles appointed over us here at St. Luke’s Church is Archbishop Mark Haverland.  He will come to visit us this November 2nd.  He will preach the Gospel, administer the Sacraments, and tend to his flock.  He is the one responsible for our missions both overseas and domestically.  He teaches well and has proven himself to be a staunch and unmovable believer in the Gospel of Christ which he ensures is taught faithfully to you, his faithful people through the likes of me, one of his priests.

 

Third, apostles rule with authority.

Today’s lesson from Acts refers to the wondrous workings of St. Peter, showing that the apostles held healing power comparable to Christ.  St. Paul does similar work later in the Acts.  The apostles work wondrous miracles, they are to be a paradigm of humility according to the Gospel, they preserve the Lord’s doctrine, they form the core of the Church’s fellowship, and they are to become the rulers of Israel.

We ought to remember that the wonderful works and teachings and love shown forth the apostles and their successors are not theirs; they are Christ’s.  Without Christ, none of us can do any good work, can teach God’s honest truth, or love one another and God with all our hearts, with all our souls, and with all our minds.  All our good works, teaching, and love bear fruit in Christ alone.

The Church today is in continuity with the Apostolic Church through the Apostolic Succession.  Our own bishop has received the ensured Sacramental grace of Holy Order through both touching hands on heads and by practicing today the faith of the early Church.  Our doctrine conforms to the doctrine of the early Church.  If it does not, then we must reform so that it does so conform.

The Church is Apostolic because she keeps the faith delivered to her by Christ through the apostles and the successors of the apostles, the bishops.  Their consecrated touch in the Sacrament of Holy Order freely and certainly bestows the Holy Ghost which enables them to perform the work necessary to their calling.  This is clearly shown by St. Clement before the end of the first Century, conforms to the Holy Scriptures, supported by others immediately afterward, and taught throughout the Catholic Church.

Today’s Gospel shows that the Lord will have the Twelve Apostles judge the tribes of Israel.  As those ministers directly commissioned by Christ to grow the Church which He has planted, the apostles have the authority to rule over the Church.

After Pentecost, the apostles delegate authority to bishops, or overseers.  The Greek word for bishop is episcoposEpi means “over” and skopeo means “to see”.  A bishop oversees the church.  They continue the apostolic rule of those of Christ’s own ministry to Christ’s own Church.

Today, we crave Christ’s ministry amongst us.  Christ knew we would, and so He appointed those who would continue His ministry to the Church.  The apostles and the heirs of the apostles provide this leadership.  They are a great blessing from Christ to us.

The bishops ensure we hear the true Gospel every Sunday.  The bishops ensure every priest is vetted and trained before ordination.  That is why I read the Si Quis this morning, so that if any of you had something the bishop needed to know about Dr. Malone before his ordination, he would hear it.  Bishops convene synods of all the parishes, intervene in disturbed parish situations, discipline the clergy, and try to keep unity with good discipline and proper dogma with other Christian bodies.

 

Ask the holy apostles for their prayers.  They were personally selected by Christ, taught by him, and died for him.  They are alive in Christ in His Body, the Church Triumphant in Heaven.

Pray for your bishop, Archbishop Haverland, and your priests, Father Martin and me.  Christ has given us grace in the Holy Ghost to continue His work amongst his people.  But we are still frail sinful men like yourselves.  Pray that we stay humble, proclaim the true Gospel, and rule with loving-kindness and authority.

 

“he that is greatest among you, let him be as the younger; and he that is chief, as he that doth serve.”

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

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“Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.”

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

 

How the Christian Ought to Live, Part 3

 

Some of the first Christians who read these words of St. Paul were suffering persecution at the hands of the Romans.  Imagine your fellow parishioners getting hauled off and executed.  My blood would boil.  I would want to hit them back.  But that is not what our first saints did.  Those first Roman saints, some of whom are remembered in our Mass when we pray for the dead, loved their neighbors as themselves, no matter how their neighbors treated them.  They trusted in God to deal out whatever justice needed handing out.  They kept their eyes on the heavenly goal and lived lives imitating Christ’s life.

 

When we think of Christ as meek and lowly and simple and peaceful, we think of him as very weak, and that it is not actually the case.  What Christ did is turn wickedness on its head.

St. Augustine wrote:  “For the Lord Christ is that Lamb that was himself slain by the wolves, and that now turneth the wolves into lambs.”

Turning the other cheek and returning good for evil doesn’t mean that we are simply to throw marshmallows when our enemies throw rocks.  Living the life of Christ does not mean being weak.  Not only does it take greater strength to overcome our own violent and wicked inclinations, but it takes power to convert wickedness into goodness.

St. Paul is our wonderful example.  As Saul, he persecuted Christ’s Church.  He sought to destroy the members of Christ’s Body.  He held the coats of those who stoned St. Stephen to death and looked on with approval.  Yet Christ chose this vile Saul to become the Apostle to the Gentiles.  Christ not only can do everything, He has already done everything.  No trick gets by our Lord Christ.  No enemy is too determined, too wicked, too powerful, or too smart.  Christ converted St. Paul.

I was no Saul.  But in my younger years, I considered myself a staunch materialist atheist who despised this weakling Christ and silly Christians.  And yes, my old friends were very surprised to hear I converted and, later, to hear that I entered the ministry.  How could I believe these ridiculous things?  I still think that these are ridiculous things.  In the eyes of the world, from the viewpoint of the rulers of the darkness of this world, in the chambers of counsel of spiritual wickedness in high places, the things of God are sad, silly, and fantastic.

But God made the world, and as we read in Genesis, God made the world and called it good.  The disconnect, the difference we perceive between the wickedness of the world and the good world which God created is called sin, or separation from God.  If you grab a plant and yank it out of its flowerpot, roots all dangling in the air, you wouldn’t think that that plant is doing just fine.  But do you think that roots dangling in the air is the way it was made?  That the plant was supposed to enjoy being grabbed and dangled?  Of course not.

But if you listen to the politicians and industrialists, to the university professors and professional instigators, they will tell you to judge things by the state we see them in now, in this dangling without soil around our roots, without the support of the ground we were made to be firmly planted in.

Hollywood folk and advertisers will tell you to relax and enjoy this faulty broken world and pay no attention to its radical disharmony from all that is true and all that is holy.  The angry young men and women of this world will tell you that there is no God and that you are stupid if you go looking for one.  The tired old men and women of this world will tell you to make your peace with the world, for this is as good as it gets.  The busy middle-aged people will tell you to stay busy, do your work, and take whatever pleasure you can find.

But the Gospel of Christ turns the wisdom of the world and its accommodation with sin and evil on its head.

 

Let’s look at the last part of the twelfth chapter of Romans.

“BE not wise in your own conceits.”  We like to feel special, and we especially like to feel special because of something we have done, something we have earned.  But God has made us rely upon one another in matters great and small.  We may learn something when we realize that we cannot Baptize ourselves, Confirm ourselves, or Ordain ourselves.

Sometimes, the smartest fellow in the room can’t see what’s wrong with himself.  Maybe you have heard the old saying, “A man who is his own lawyer has a fool for a client.”  This is as true for lawyers as it is for non-lawyers.  Same thing with doctors.  Sometimes, the expert eye is the closest thing you can get to an objective eye, to the eye of God.  This is why it is so very important to go to another person for spiritual counsel, especially to experienced spiritual directors and priest confessors.  You may wrestle with a problem for months only to find that the elder laywoman or priest confessor sees an obvious solution or improvement.

“Recompense to no man evil for evil.  Provide things honest in the sight of all men.”  Why in the world would you possibly want to emulate the behavior of someone who has wronged you?  After Lucy pulls the football away from Charlie Brown, would it help Charlie Brown to pull the football away from Linus?  Misery would be compounded.  Imitating bad behavior shows deficiency of character and takes away legitimate complaint against the offender.  Since God will repay, do not take away your cause from your just God.

“If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men.”  The verse’s modifier, “If it be possible”, should not be an excuse to give up after trying hard to bite our tongue or only when it is really important to us.  Sometimes the faithful Christian must speak an unpopular truth.  If a gunman holds you up on the street and tells you to blaspheme God or die, don’t do it!  Stand your ground and speak the truth in love.  Maybe God will use your words to change another’s heart or to give another strength.  God will weigh your words uttered at your martyrdom when he judges you at your Judgement.  Never let the hatred and wickedness of others cause you to act in wickedness and hatred.

“Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath. For it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord.”  “Give place unto wrath” means to give place unto the wrath of God.  Let God have the wrath.  He is the creator and judge, he is infinite and just and good.  God can handle the situation.  Let him have it.  Don’t fight God for control of meting out his justice against others.  It’s his justice; let him handle it.  It isn’t yours.  And the flipside of this is dangerous – that you will judge incorrectly and let yourself commit wicked deeds and make false accusations without all the knowledge necessary.

“If thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him to drink; for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire upon his head. Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.”  St. Paul would have us here understand that we must not only not do evil to our enemy but that we must actually positively do good to our enemy.  Our enemy ought not to live in fear of our returning and hurting him.  The door to reconciliation with our enemy must always be open.  Kicking a man when he is down is dirty, but we are to give the kicker water when he thirsts and food when he is hungry.

Never allow yourself to hate your enemy. That lets your enemy overcome you.  Instead, overcome your enemy with goodness and loving-kindness, standing in the stead of our good and loving God with them.  Christ first loved us.  We are to first love our neighbors and our enemies.

If we are to stand with Christ and help transform this culture, help transform this city, then we must ourselves first be transformed.  We must change.  If you want someone to tell you that you are perfect just the way you are, you will be disappointed here.  Follow the fads of this world and you will gain applause.  If you come here looking for applause, you will be disappointed.  If you want to follow Christ and serve the poor in spirit and those who mourn of this world, let us make this the place for you.  But to do that, we must all be changed.  We must all put away childish things and the categories and prejudices of this world.  We must love the Lord our God and our neighbors.  Christ, the Son of God, tells us that we must.

You see, to live the Christian life fully, we must put our giant egos to death.  We read in St Matthew xvi.24-25:

“Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.  For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it.”

Indeed, if our enemy is to share in life eternal, he, too, must put his huge ego to death.  We all must.  And we must turn the other cheek and forswear all vengeance, trusting entirely upon the mercy of our Heavenly Father.  We Christians model this holy behavior to our enemy, so that when he pauses and reflects he may see the things of God and turn from his evil ways.  How can our enemy be converted if those who are members of Christ’s Body show him only the way of the world?

My dear children, we are to live like we are already in Heaven.  In our communion with God in the Body of Christ His Holy Church, we have already died to our sin and risen to life eternal.  We are joined in Christ’s mission of reconciling all men to God, and we are to do that by living out Christ’s life here before them.  We are each icons, or images, of Christ to our neighbors around us.  Every single person you know, on some level, is watching you and your behavior and measuring all Christians and Christ Himself by your behavior.  Not to put any pressure on you!

People tell me of the very difficult behavior of family and neighbors, sharing their problems with me.  We must bear our insults with patience, and not return evil for evil.  Those around us notice those who treat us shamefully.  Nobody truly sympathizes with those who treat others horribly.  When they see you suffer with the dignity of Christ and not take the easy road of vengeance, instead returning good for evil, those watching will marvel at your grace and power.  But truly they are marveling at the grace and power of Christ in you.  Every insult you bear with love and dignity, without seeking vengeance and without returning evil for evil, builds heavenly treasure for you and witnesses to the Good News of Christ.

 

You are the nobility of the cosmos.  Demons weep, angels rejoice, nations rise, and civilization falls based on your moral decisions, on your actions and choices.  You are moral actors.  Alone in the universe along angels and demons, we each one of us make moral decisions.  It is given to the mature, adult, Baptised and Confirmed Christian the right and the freedom to make these choices.  We are moral actors.  We will change the world.  Our spiritual forefathers, the saints of yesteryear, the Christians of the old Roman Empire, changed the world.  We face other challenges, even similar challenges in some ways.  And we too will change the world through our choices, through our actions, through our decisions, and through either our obedience or disobedience.

 

“Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.”

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

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“Then were the disciples glad when they saw the Lord.”

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

 

Christ brings his disciples three things in this Gospel lesson:  First, He brings His Resurrected and Glorified Body.  Second, He brings peace to his disciples.  Third, He brings them the Holy Ghost and the power to remit and retain sins.

First, Christ shows them His Resurrected and Glorified Body.

In this Gospel lesson, Christ makes his way past the locked doors of the disciples’ room and “came and stood in the midst” of them.  Afterward, He showed them “his hands and his side”.  If we think about this, we should be almost as astonished as the disciples were.  On the one hand, Christ can make it past the locked doors into the midst of the room.  On the other hand, He showed them the Sacred Wounds of His Crucifixion.

We are familiar with the concept of ghosts who can walk through walls.  We are also familiar with showing people our scars.  But the two together do not make sense.  Christ’s Resurrected Body is corporeal in the wounds to His hands and side and yet is also capable of passing through material objects.  This does not fit neatly within the words and categories with which we normally think.

But after all, if the stone in front of the tomb could not hold Christ, neither could the locked door in front of the disciples.  Christ was not simply resuscitated; His Body did not just regain the life it had lost.  Instead, Christ experienced Resurrection, new life where the old had died, and this is exactly the new life which He promises to those of us who follow Him.  We too will have glorified bodies in the general resurrection of the dead.  We too will have bodies like Christ’s Body shown here in St. John’s Gospel.

Second, Christ brings peace to the disciples.

The events of this lesson occur on the evening of Easter Day.  Why were they afraid?  Christ had been killed and laid in the grave.  They had a report that He was now alive again.  They were frightened.  They were confused.  At this time, Christ comes to them through the locked door, stood in the midst of them, and tells them, “Peace be unto you.”  Suddenly, their incredulity at the word of St. Mary Magdalene vanishes, for they have beheld the Son of God risen from the tomb with their very own eyes!  The nail prints and spear wound prove to them Who He is.  He shows them evidence of Who He was to them, and they believe Him.

Remember, these men fled during Christ’s Passion.  They had failed Him by fleeing, now they crave the peace which He brings to them.  They had thought that Christ had failed them by dying, and lo! He appears among them!  His disciples respond with joy to seeing their Risen Lord.  They had heard St. Mary Magdalene’s testimony which now they believe whole-heartedly.  Christ has brought peace to the disciples.

Peace means not having to fear.  They were hiding behind a locked door in fear when Christ brought them peace.  Part of their commissioning is to bring that peace and witness of the presence of Christ from that first day of the week to all believers for years afterward.  They will bring Christ’s forgiveness to all.

Third, Christ gives them the Holy Ghost and the power to remit and retain sins.

“Whosesoever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whosesoever sins ye retain, they are retained.”   The different Gospels give specific instances of how the mission work with which Christ commissions the Apostles is to be carried out.  In St. Matthew, we read “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.”   In St. Mark, we read “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.  He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.”   In St. Luke we read, “And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.”  Here in St. John, we find the remitting and retaining of sins.

The Apostles are to continue Christ’s mission, for as the Son has been sent by the Father, so the Apostles are to be sent by the Son.  It is these Christians who show forth the presence of Christ.   Earlier in St. John we read, “Jesus cried and said, He that believeth on me, believeth not on me, but on him that sent me.  And he that seeth me seeth him that sent me.”  Christ breathes on them and gives them the Holy Ghost with the power to remit and retain sins.  Christ commissions them to go out and spread His Good News.

By breathing the Holy Ghost upon the Apostles, Christ has given them eternal life and the ability to confer eternal life upon others.  The power to forgive sins gives these disciples the power to confer to others eternal life.  We find a similar notion in Ezekiel, in the passage of the Valley of Dry Bones:  “Thus saith the Lord GOD unto these bones; Behold, I will cause breath to enter into you, and ye shall live:  And I will lay sinews upon you, and will bring up flesh upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and ye shall live; and ye shall know that I am the LORD.”

St. John is not alone in giving His followers the power to forgive sins and the power to withhold forgiveness of sins.  St. Matthew speaks of binding and loosing “whatever”; St. Matthew relates this in Christ giving the keys to St. Peter.  St. John makes it specifically about sins.  Of course, forgiving and holding sins implies authority over status of communion with the community, restoring members back to its good graces, and excommunicating members.  This authority is used when a priest acts in the Sacrament of Penance.

The Sacrament of Penance does not entirely depend upon this verse, but this verse does inform Holy Mother Church in making Penance a Sacrament which only priests (and bishops) are allowed to enact.  In our Book of Common Prayer, the Ordination Rite reads:  “Receive ye the Holy Ghost … Whose sins thou dost forgive, they are forgiven; and whose sins thou dost retain, they are retained.”  This comes directly from this Twentieth Chapter of St. John’s Gospel.

Christ came into the world to restore men to Himself and to the Father.  This mission and bestowal directly aids this mission.  For them to be sent forth and to remit and retain sins, they must be preaching the Gospel, like it says in the other Gospels.  They must go forth and instruct the people concerning God, they must move the hearts of people concerning God, and they must take their place in the high drama of converting souls.  This is their charge, this is their ability, this is their duty.

The power and purpose of Christ’s Resurrection does not end with that first Easter, nor with all the countless little Easters thereafter.  The presence of Christ, the peace of Christ, and the forgiveness of sins starts at that empty tomb but spirals outward throughout all the world.

 

The Apostles spread the faith of Christ Jesus throughout the world, they suffered humiliations and death bravely, and they passed onto us, two millennia later, the Christian faith.  They had failed Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane, but they did not fail Christ in reaching the corners of the earth.

We can see that the disciples receiving the peace of Christ and receiving the Holy Ghost and the ability to forgive and retain sins is all predicated upon the witness of the disciples beholding our risen Lord with the nail prints in his hands and the spear wound in his side.  Christ is truly bodily risen.  Make no mistake, this is not any literary or allegorical understanding; Christ is risen in His glorified Body, bearing the marks of His victory over sin, death, Hell, and Satan.  Only since His very physical yet glorified Body is risen does Christ breathe the Holy Ghost out upon the disciples.

 

“Then were the disciples glad when they saw the Lord.”

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

 

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