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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 the Collect for Advent, 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 Heaven”

A wonderful Christmas hymn by Blessed Charles Wesley concludes with this stanza:

Made perfect first in love,
And sanctified by grace,
We shall from earth remove,
And see His glorious face:
His love shall then be fully showed,
And man shall all be lost in God.

We will experience Heaven as being lost in God; solely desiring Him and living with Him; detached entirely from the things of this broken and corrupt world.

Father Paul Raftery said:

Man is made for union with God. The fulfillment of this union comes in heaven. Only there will the human creature, into which God has placed a profound desire for Himself, have the satisfaction of all its hopes and desires. All the limited goods of this world cannot touch the desire for God that He has place within us. Nor can we simply turn off this desire. It is fixed within us, an irrevocable part of our nature.

Heaven is eternal presence of God.  God created all good things.  Only perfect things and imperfect things exist.  We are fooled by imperfect things to not follow God.  Thus we say with Hank Williams, Jr., “If Heaven ain’t a lot like Dixie, I don’t want to go.”  But God eternally satisfies us; he made us this way.  The real attraction of ourselves to a broken thing is in how that imperfect thing shows off God to us.

Today, we are confused why Heaven can be so delightful because we are confused in our attachment to the world.  Our spiritual work as we mature in Christ is to detach from earthly things and see the sweetness of God.  As we walk the Christian Way, we increasingly understand that our true desire is for God.  We will thus eagerly desire to live with Him for all eternity.

So we must lose our attachment to the broken things of God and the lusts thereof (“the world”) which is done by attacking our lusts of those things (“the flesh”).  Thus we must battle our flesh in order to get ready for Heaven.

 

Now we do not battle our flesh by ourselves and thereby gain Heaven.  Not at all.  We are Christians, not Buddhists.  St. John iii.16 reads, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”

Christ our Lord came down from Heaven and was born a little baby on Christmas day over two thousand years ago.  He defeated sin and death by His Crucifixion and Resurrection and prepared a place for us in Heaven in the Ascension.  In our Baptism, we connect to Christ in His death and Resurrection, so we can enter wrapped in Christ into Heaven.  We are part of Christ.  We are made holy through Christ in Holy Baptism, the Holy Eucharist, and the other Sacraments.

About the Holy Communion, Christ says in St. John vi.53:  “Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you.”  So we know from Scripture that we ought to follow the precepts of the Church and communicate regularly.  Indeed, to be a member in good standing, you must eat Christ’s Body and drink His Blood at least three times a year.  This is one of the Six Duties of Churchmen.

Besides Holy Baptism and the Mass, we are brought into Christ through His other Sacraments.  If married, we ought to be married in Holy Church.  We ought to use Confession as required.  We ought to be Confirmed.  We ought to receive Unction if necessary.  We ought to be Ordained if so called.  These are all sure and certain means of grace which help unite us to Christ.

 

Besides the Sacramental means of grace, in order to gain Heaven we must live our lives in this world in keeping with our divine calling.  We are to imitate Christ.  Christ is without blemish and without flaw.  But we are well blemished and deeply flawed.  What are we to do?

Christ tells us in St. Matthew v.48, “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.”  In order to perfectly love and to live without sin, there are three things we must do.

First, we must keep the Ten Commandments and other matters of moral law, including the Church’s Law of Marriage to keep sexual purity.  Thus we try to obey God’s will.

Second, we must repent of our sins when we fall, using the Sacrament of Penance when necessary, and firmly resolve not to commit those sins again, even when we keep falling into the same sins.

Taken together, these first two non-Sacramental actions are also two of the Six Duties of Churchmen:  Keeping a clean conscience and keeping the Church’s Law of Marriage.

But the things of this world are lovely and sweet because they are created by God.  Foolishly, we chase them instead of living holy lives.  So the third thing we ought to do after the Sacraments is to break our attachment to the good things which God has made.  This is called mortification.

Mortifying ourselves means living a life of countless little deaths of our own pleasure and our own will so that we may clear our minds of our inordinate love – that is, our love which is out of order – for this world so we can focus on loving God.

So mortification is essential to living with God in Heaven forever.  While we have time on God’s green Earth, we must demonstrate that we chose God instead of his good things.

There are three ways we may mortify ourselves.  First, we fast.  Second, we give alms.  Third, we offer to God things which are perfectly legitimate for us to use.  Notice again that both fasting and almsgiving are found in the Six Duties of Churchmen.  There is a reason why the Six Duties are the irreducible minimum of the practice of the Christian Faith.

The reason why the Scriptures and Church tell us to fast and give alms is not to lose weight, control diabetes, and help make sure someone else gets the food they need to eat.  Those are good goals, but those are worldly reasons to fast and donate to a good cause.

The spiritual point of fasting and giving alms is to recollect that our bodies and wealth are God’s good gift and belong to him, and that our bodies and wealth should be used to glorify God and not ourselves.  So we fast and we give alms, mortifying our bodies and souls.

Our bodies and wealth are good things, but we curtail them for the glory of God.  It is okay for us to have that cookie and to buy something for ourselves, but by not eating that cookie and giving someone else the money we wanted to spend on ourselves, we thwart or deny our own appetites for God’s sake.  In the Holy Ghost, we tame our passions.  In a tiny way, we join in Christ’s Passion and Crucifixion.

But we can mortify ourselves beyond fasting and almsgiving.  We can willingly offer up to God those things which are perfectly okay for us to enjoy.  I do not mean sinful things which we must give up, but things which we peculiarly enjoy.

An example of this is giving up chocolate for Lent.  We are supposed to fast and give alms during Lent, but we are allowed to do something extra.  Chocolate is a good thing which God has given us.  Some of us like chocolate very much.  For us to willingly offer our temporary abstinence from enjoying the pleasures of chocolate to tame our appetites and show God our thanks is a laudable and praiseworthy task if it is wisely and prudently done.

But giving up chocolate while in the ninth month of pregnancy, immediately after having lost a job or parent, or during a divorce is probably not a good idea.  Mortification has not the urgency which undergoing Holy Baptism and receiving Holy Communion have.

Along with trying to live a righteous life and repenting of sin, putting our wills and appetites to death over and over is a vital and important part of spiritual growth.  Indeed, we cannot really grow in Christ unless we fast, give alms, and deny our wills and appetites on occasion.

 

This week is Embertide in the holy season of Advent, three days of special fasting and abstinence.  Let us fast, give alms, and work at mortifying our will so that we may ably assist the Holy Ghost in breaking the world’s hold upon us so that we may thoroughly thirst for Christ.

 

In the Collect for Advent, 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.

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“STIR up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people; that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works, may by thee be plenteously rewarded;”

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

 

“Preparing for Our Lord’s Return”

This beautiful collect is famous for its call for God to “stir up … the wills of thy faithful people.”  Archbishop Cranmer used this old Latin prayer in our Book of Common Prayer.  In this collect, we ask God to stir up our wills, the “wills of thy faithful people”, so that in “bringing forth the fruit of good works”, we may be rewarded plenteously by God himself.

I have heard today called “stir up” Sunday.  These words are inspiring.  We hereby ask God to move us into action by quickening our wills.  The will is the part of ourselves that moves other parts of ourselves into action.  Think of this as cranking a lawn mower.  Before it is started, the lawn mower has an engine, blade, fuel, and physical structure holding it all together.  But one thing is lacking – getting the thing to start doing what it is made to do.

So it is for us.  We have reason, memory, and intellect; we have body, spirit, and all things necessary to love and to serve and to obey Almighty God.  But until we are spurred into action, until our wills are stirred up, we are all potential and no actuality.  In this prayer, we ask God to move us, to start us, to get us going so, in the words of the thanksgiving after Mass, “we may continue in that holy fellowship, and do all such good works as thou hast prepared for us to walk in.”

As Christians, we need to do more than sit pretty and receive God’s grace.  We are called to respond to God’s love; we are to do that which God would have us to do.  We are to “bring forth the fruit of good works.”

 

We pray this prayer on this Sunday, the Sunday next before Advent, for a reason.  During Advent, we are to do works of holiness and righteousness; we are to prepare to receive the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

In the season of Advent in the Christian Year, the faithful look back and remember the first advent of Christ as a baby in Bethlehem and look forward to the second advent (or second coming) of Christ in power and great glory as He returns to put an end to suffering, misery, and death and gloriously fulfill His mission of saving His people and creation.

Advent is a time of compassionately looking back and expectantly looking forward.  Traditional practices of preparing for the coming of our King include lighting the candles of the Advent wreath, omitting our joyful Gloria in Excelsis at Mass, changing the liturgical color to purple and rose, singing Advent hymns, giving for missions in mite boxes, and preaching on the Four Last Things.

What are the “Four Last Things”?  They are death, judgement, Heaven, and Hell.  According to medieval and modern tradition, these are preached on the four Sundays of Advent.  This is part of preparing ourselves for Christ’s arrival, both in the past in His Incarnation and in the future when He returns again.

The ancient tradition of preaching on “The Four Last Things” on the Sundays in Advent (Death, Judgment, Heaven, and Hell), goes back to the early medieval period, more than a thousand years ago.  The Four Last Things were explicitly mentioned in a Confession of Faith at the Second Council of Lyons in 1274.  More than a hundred years later, Saint Vincent Ferrer particularly emphasized the Four Last Things in his preaching.  He died in 1419.  Since that time, it became embedded in the traditions of Holy Church.

First Sunday of Advent – November 30th – the subject is death,

Second Sunday of Advent – December 7th – judgment,

Third Sunday of Advent – December 14th – Heaven, and

Fourth Sunday of Advent – December 21st – the subject is Hell.

They are called the four last things because these are the four last things until Christ returns for the Last Judgement, when He will finally and permanently separate the sheep from the goats, the wheat from the chaff, and the elect from the damned.  We are not gloomy when we consider these serious subjects, preparing for one of the most glorious times of the year, Christmas.  Instead, we take our joy and our preparation to meet that joy seriously.

As we acknowledge that we will die, be judged, and go to either Heaven or hell, so we encourage ourselves to build up what is weak in our lives, repent of our sins, and strive to more fully love our God and our neighbors.  We are reminded that whether we like it or not, whether it is a polite topic or not, each one of us will die unless God returns again first.

And whether we like it or not, once we die, Christ will judge us.  This is inevitable as we come face to face with our maker.  Simply being confronted by the ultimate being who is love himself, our faults and lack of love will become more evident than ever before.  And after the judgement, we will end up in either Heaven or Hell.  There is no third place where we will spend eternity.  We will live with God forever or not.  It is that simple.

These sermons are supposed to examine these last things before Christ returns and inspire us to bring “forth the fruit of good works” so that we of God may “be plenteously rewarded.”  We are to change our behavior and conform to the model of Christ our Lord.  We are to live our lives now as if we truly believed Christ was coming soon, because the fact is that Christ will return, and with His return, this broken mortal life as we know it will disappear into the glory of immortality.

In the words of St. Peter in his second epistle,

But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up.

We do not know when Christ will return, only that He will return.  And when Christ returns, if you are anything like me, you will sorely regret that you did not spend your time now preparing for His return.  For Christ has told us that He will return again and that we will answer for how we have lived our lives.  He says in St. Matthew xvi.27, “For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then he shall reward every man according to his works.”

 

Here at St. Luke’s this Advent, we will follow the custom of Holy Church and prepare for the coming of Christ at Christmas and in the future.  Our main goal now is to think ahead to next month on how we are going to join in the Church’s preparation for Christ’s return.  What concrete steps will we take this Advent to prepare for Christ’s return?

Will you take advantage of our weekday Masses to attend an extra Mass per week of Advent?

Will you take advantage of our Sunday Morning Prayer to add to your prayer life on the Sundays of Advent?

Will you forgo listening to Christmas music to concentrate instead upon the Church’s season of Advent, of preparing to make the most of Christmas?

Will you take on the responsibility of reading a chapter of Scripture each day of Advent?

Will you respond to the sermons on death and judgement, Heaven and Hell by confessing your sins to your priest this Advent?

Will you respond to the glory of Christ’s Incarnation, or taking on of our frail human nature, to give sacrificially over and above your tithe for missions with the mite box?

Will you reflect upon your calling from God and the need of your parish to discern a new area of ministry for you to enter into?

You do not have to decide today.  But Advent begins next week.  How will you prepare for the coming of Christ this Advent?

 

“STIR up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people; that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works, may by thee be plenteously rewarded;”

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

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

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

“Living in the Gift of God”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fr. Melville Scott said:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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O GOD, the King of glory, who hast exalted thine only Son Jesus Christ with great triumph unto thy kingdom in heaven; We beseech thee, leave us not comfortless; but send to us thine Holy Ghost to comfort us, and exalt us unto the same place whither our Saviour Christ is gone before, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the same Holy Ghost, one God, world without end. Amen.

 

Exalted and Comforted

Augusta canal drops over its course from the Savannah River north of the fall line to the center of Augusta, giving it power to run mills.  There is a 52-foot drop in the fall line.

This means that the altitude of the higher part is 52’ higher than the lower part.  “Alt” in altitude means “high”.  We see this in the word “exalt”, which means to raise up on high.

So when we pray in today’s collect that the King of glory has exalted Christ with triumph unto his kingdom, it means that God the Father has raised God the Son up on high with triumph unto his kingdom in Heaven.  This exaltation refers to Christ’s Ascension into Heaven, the feast of which we celebrated here on Thursday.

Then in the collect, we ask that God the Father send to us his Holy Ghost to comfort.  Comfort means to strengthen.  Think of the communion hymn, Strengthen for Service Lord.  Comfort might also mean consolation, but it would be the consolation which rests upon strength.

We ask that God the Father exalt us unto the same place Christ has gone, which is God’s kingdom in Heaven.  We are joined in one Body with Christ.  With Christ as our Head, we as His Body enjoy salvation, forgiveness of sins, everlasting life, and communion with God the Father.  We do not earn this on our own.  We cannot reach Heaven by any effort we make.  But through Christ, we can do all things.  As He is received into Heaven, so too we will be received into Heaven.

Indeed, this four-hundred-and-sixty-five-year-old collect asks God to exalt us just as he has exalted Christ.  Being joined with Christ, we also attain Heaven with Christ.  We are along for the ride, as it were.  Yet in today’s collect we ask God the Father to make it so.  This is precisely along the same lines of praying in the Lord’s Prayer, “thy will be done”.  We pray for the promises of God to come to fruition.

These ten days between Christ’s Ascension to the right hand of God the Father and the coming of the Holy Ghost on Pentecost are particularly interesting.  If you look at the entirety of salvation history, you see God moving upon the cosmos and amongst men.  God created the heavens and the earth.  He moved amongst the patriarchs and prophets, setting Israel apart as a holy nation and giving her the Law of Moses.  God’s revelation continued amongst men, preparing the way for the advent of his messiah and turning to a more spiritual understanding of the Law.

“The Word became flesh and we beheld His glory” in the Person of Jesus Christ, Who is both entirely God and entirely Man.  He suffered, died, and rose again from the dead, confounding Hell and Satan and bringing us all eternal life.  After He taught His disciples for forty days, explaining to them His teachings understood in the light of His Resurrection, He ascended to Heaven.  But first He promised that He would send to His faithful people a comforter, “even the Spirit of truth”.

Why did Christ ascend into Heaven and leave us behind here on earth?  He promised to come again, so we can rest assured that our time on this fragile, sinful, and murderous world is of some value to God.  Seeing as how we are to participate in Christ’s ministry of reconciliation, we should be about grieving with those who grieve and weeping with those who weep and rejoicing with those who rejoice.  We should be loving the Lord our God with all our hearts, minds, and souls.  We should be loving our neighbors as ourselves.  We should be preaching the Gospel in season and out of season.

But why did Christ ascend into Heaven at all?  First, He went to the right of the Father to intercede on behalf of us.  Through the veil of His flesh do we enter into the Holy of Holies in Heaven.  We who are joined to Christ in Holy Baptism are represented in Heaven by our great intercessor, our great High Priest, the Son of God Himself.

Second, His time on earth was done.  Christ ascended into Heaven because He had accomplished that which He had set out to do.  He had sanctified our flesh by becoming one of us, He had taught the people of Israel and His disciples His holy teachings, He suffered for us, died for us, and then rose again from the dead for us.

Then, He proved to many people in person that He was indeed raised from the dead, showing His five sacred wounds of nails and spear.  He unfolded and explained the Scriptures to them to show that His Advent, Passion, Death, and Resurrection were all foretold.  He then commissioned the disciples with the breath of the Holy Ghost to preach the Gospel to the ends of the earth.  The religion of the Old Testament was completed with Christ and was then to be taught to the Gentiles.  Christ showed His disciples these things.

Having completed His work here on earth, Christ was not about to leave the fledging Church without divine inspiration.  As God moved upon creation with the patriarchs, Law, prophets, and Christ, so God would move upon creation with the presence of the Holy Ghost.  The Holy Ghost strengthens Christ’s Church upon earth exactly according to His promise of old.

When the Church acts in unity together with Christ, she speaks the truth of God.  The Holy Ghost is in her.  It is through the acclamation of Holy Church that the writings of the New Testament were canonized.  Why was Jude included and Clement I not included?  Because Christ’s Bride the Church discerns it to be so.  Why do we have the threefold ministry of bishops, priests, and deacons?  Because Christ’s Body the Church discerns it to be so.

We will one day come home to live with our Heavenly Father through His Son our Lord Jesus Christ.  We today are strengthened and renewed by the Holy Ghost which eternally proceeds forth from God the Father and is sent by God the Son into the world.  These three – the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost – are three divine Persons but one God sharing the nature of divinity.  We are not alone.  Today we are in the presence of God in the Person of the Holy Ghost, the Comforter.

Dear children of God, do not be overcome by this deadly and sad world.  Every week, members of this parish share their joys and sorrows with me, and we have sorrows indeed.  The world is a dangerous and sinful place.  But you and I are heading towards Heaven and are protected, guided, and strengthened by God the Holy Ghost!

 

O GOD, the King of glory, who hast exalted thine only Son Jesus Christ with great triumph unto thy kingdom in heaven; We beseech thee, leave us not comfortless; but send to us thine Holy Ghost to comfort us, and exalt us unto the same place whither our Saviour Christ is gone before, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the same Holy Ghost, one God, world without end. 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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“THE Spirit of the Lord God is upon me; because the LORD hath anointed me to preach good tidings”

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

 

Fr. Massey Shepherd said that today’s lesson describes “the saving, missionary work of the Messiah.”  This lesson from Isaiah is especially important as Christ read it publicly in the synagogue to announce the beginning of His public ministry in St. Luke iv.18-19.  Let’s take a closer look at it.

The 61st chapter of Isaiah begins:  THE Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me;

You can’t chose the prophetic mission; God chooses you.  When God gives a mission, he always provides the means to accomplish the mission.  The Lord does not make a promise that can’t be kept.  Like a priest and priestly gift of the Holy Ghost given in the sacrament of ordination, he who is called is given the necessary things to complete the mission.  St. Paul says in II Corinthians iii.5:  “Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think any thing as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is of God;”

Isaiah continues:  because the LORD hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek;

In telling of Christ reading the passage in the synagogue, St. Luke reads “poor” instead of “meek”.  In the early Third Century, the author Origen wrote, “By the poor He means the Gentile nations, for they were poor, possessing nothing at all, having neither God, nor Law, nor Prophets, nor justice, and the other virtues.”  This certainly agrees with the Great Commission, “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:”  Christ came to preach the Good News to the Jews first, but also to all nations.

Isaiah continues:  he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,

The “brokenhearted” are wounded and need healing.  Psalm cxliii.3 reads:  “He healeth those that are broken in heart, * and giveth medicine to heal their sickness.”

St. Cyril of Alexandria said:  “He calls those broken hearted, who are weak, of an infirm mind, and unable to resist the assaults of the passions, and to them He promises a healing remedy.”  St. Basil agrees:  “He came to heal the broken hearted, i.e. to afford a remedy to those that have their heart broken by Satan through sin, because beyond all other things sin lays prostrate the human heart.”  In other words, the brokenhearted are those who are weak and infirm by sin and uncontrolled passions, which is the condition we all share until redeemed by God.

Isaiah continues:  to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound;

Proclaiming liberty to the captive is associated with the year of Jubilee.  Leviticus xxv.10:  “And ye shall hallow the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof: it shall be a jubile unto you; and ye shall return every man unto his possession, and ye shall return every man unto his family.”

Sometimes we think that liberty means that we can do whatever we like.  But liberty and restoration to God’s good order are intimately related; we were originally at liberty in the Garden before the Fall distorted our wills.

St. John Chrysostom sees this:  “But the worst captivity is that of the mind, of which he here speaks. For sin exercises the worst of all tyrannies, commanding to do evil, and destroying them that obey it. From this prison of the soul Christ lets us free.”

St. Luke reads “to set at liberty them that are bruised” instead of “them that are bound”.  St. Cyril of Alexandria explains:  “For the darkness which the Devil has spread over the human heart, Christ the Sun of Righteousness has removed making men, as the Apostle says, children not of night and darkness, but of light and the day. For they who one time wandered have discovered the path of the righteous. It follows, To set at liberty them that are bruised.

Isaiah continues:  to proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD, and the day of vengeance of our God;

A liberal Protestant who commented on this verse said that the word “Vengeance” here is “dubious”.  But the Venerable Bede did not think so:  “After the acceptable year of the Lord, he adds, And the day of retribution; that is, the final retribution, when the Lord shall give to every one according to his work.”  Salvation and judgement go hand in hand.

Isaiah continues:  to comfort all that mourn; to appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness;

Comforting those that mourn is prominent in Isaiah.  When those who came back from the Babylonian Exile returned, they had high hopes.  But what they found was chaos, degeneracy, and sin.  They mourned “in Zion”.  Isaiah spoke the good word of God to them, giving them hope.  And today, these words give hope to those who mourn as well.

The lesson concludes:  that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that he might be glorified.

“Trees of righteousness” will be what those redeemed and comforted become.  And why? “that he might be glorified”; so God might be praised.

 

We are glad at the Good News; joy rises in our hearts and out our mouths when we hear and experience it.  We are called to be righteous within the call of the Good News and inside the joy over the salvation which it proclaims to us.  Gospel, joy, righteousness, salvation:  They all go together.

If righteousness doesn’t come after the glad tidings and joy and salvation, then these had no effect.

Therefore, upon hearing the glad tidings with joy, we are to strive for that righteousness which is part of our salvation.  Not that we can do it all by ourselves, but the good news is that we are not by ourselves.  God speaks to us, and we are never the same.  We become a holy people consecrated for God.  We are set apart.  We are saved.  We are joyous.  And being changed, we must love and spread this good news, these tidings of salvation which causes joy and effects righteousness.  Our growing in righteousness, our joy, and our spreading the Good News are all intertwined.  We must grow both personally and together as a holy people, and we must share these glad tidings.  This is who we are.  We are people who are redeemed by God, because God came down from Heaven and became one of us.  We are forever changed when we look into the eyes of Christ.  The holy angels veil their faces to the presence of God in Heaven, but we look God full in the face in the person of Christ our Lord.

In today’s Collect, we prayed:  “Grant that the same light enkindled in our hearts may shine forth in our lives.”  When put to the flame of God’s love, we ignite and become light by which others see God.

Nashotah House seminary has a prayer for those who are trained there:  “so penetrate them with your Spirit and fill them with your love, that they may go forth animated with earnest zeal for your glory; and may your ever living Word so dwell within their hearts, that they may speak with that resistless energy of love which shall melt the hearts of sinners to the love of you.”

When we hear the Good News of Christ and are filled with the Holy Ghost, we simply must pass on what we have experienced.  As Our Lady sings in that great hymn the Magnificat:  “My soul doth magnify the Lord, And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.”  We burn without being consumed by the loving-kindness of God himself.  People will notice!

But hearing the glad tidings, hearing the Gospel of Christ forces a crisis.  You either believe or not believe.  You cannot punt on this decision.  You cannot split the difference or decide not to decide.  And to our shame, many of us did not believe at first.  We humans are weak.  We are scared creatures.  It is a big world and without God we are terribly afraid of death.  Even Churchmen struggle with the little deaths of humiliation and poverty and shame.  This is not good.  This is not right.  But there it is.  Telling what the Lord has done for us forces a crisis in the hearer.  For better or worse, it is done.

And yet, the joy in our hearts propels us to share it.  We tell our friends when we find a really great deal at the store.  We pass on the accomplishments of our children and grandchildren with our neighbors.  We will even complain about the government, about the weather, about our favorite television show getting cancelled.  But people balk when it comes to sharing the Gospel.

I think it is because so much is on the line, so much is at stake.  You can pass up a great deal or a free meal, but passing up eternal salvation is more important than that.  Or perhaps we think it rude to make someone else uncomfortable.  And if we are slapping people around with big ole floppy Bibles, then we’re not really sharing the Good News, are we?  No.  When we share those glad tidings which we have heard, which caused joy to erupt in our hearts, which changed our lives for the better, making us holier, more righteous, purer in heart, cleaner in thoughts, then we have to share it.  We are changed for the better.

I like to tell people how I have improved over the years.  It was awkward “coming out” as a minister when I was younger – people remembered me all too well from childhood.  One of the things I love about my relationship with my wife Angela is that she has known me for a long time.  Certainly not as long as some of you have known each other, but she and I have known each other for our entire adult lives.  And we’re pretty sure that we met and I offended her when we were teenagers.  But when things are difficult and down, she knows that I have grown in Christ.  I’m getting better.  As for me, watching her blossom in the Lord has been a beautiful thing.  Of course I love the Lord, for He has wrought such great works in our lives!  Not that I don’t still mess up.  Not that I don’t have bad days, painful days, difficult days.  Not that everything is wonderful all the time.

But I attest before you and the angels in Heaven that God showed me a “more perfect way”.  Christ has shown me loving-kindness without bounds.  Of course I will stand up and preach!  And when your life has been touched by the Lord, you too will tell of His greatness, His loving-kindness, His overwhelming and gracious forgiveness, and the joy that sings out from your heart.  I’m not saying you have to walk around with a stupid grin plastered on your face.  I’m saying:  When your life is better for Christ saving you, you should speak your mind in your own voice.  You should tell your story, your part of the Greatest Story Ever Told.

If you walk through those red doors which symbolize the Blood of Christ and walk out into the world, you will meet untold numbers of folk in ashes, who mourn, who know all too well the spirit of heaviness.  They long for relief.  They subject themselves to trivial nonsense to dull the pain and take attention away from despair.  They inoculate themselves with false hope so that the return of disappointment does not crush them.

But the good word of the Lord offers them “beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness….”  They think that they live lives of their own making, selfishly thinking of themselves, but they, like us, are also called so “that they might be called Trees of righteousness.”  The Revised Standard Version, sounding mighty English, says instead “oaks of righteousness”.

Those mournful, despairing, confused people out there are called by God through you sitting here today that they might be sturdy oaks of righteousness so “that he might be glorified.”  We are made to praise the Lord.  This is the chief and highest end of man.  Why are we given free will, that is, why do we have conscious and reflective choice?  So that we may choose God.

But our wills, our minds, and our hearts are so damaged by the great Fall we experienced that we cannot begin to save ourselves.  “So God loved the world, that he gave his only-begotten Son, to the end that all that believe in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”  We are saved by the action of our loving Father in Heaven, who sent His only-begotten Son into the world, being born a baby in a manger in Bethlehem, so that He may save us from death, disease, and sin, by His Crucifixion and Resurrection, and then sent God the Holy Ghost to set us on fire to serve him in righteousness, joy, truth, and most especially loving-kindness.

I want you to commit to two things today:

First, believe the Good News in your heart and joyfully live it in your life.

And then, carry it out into the world and tell of those good tidings.

 

“THE Spirit of the Lord God is upon me; because the LORD hath anointed me to preach good tidings”

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

 

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