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Posts Tagged ‘Hell’

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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“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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“I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord, as said the prophet Esaias.”

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

 

Hell

 

Those words of St. John Baptist build upon the prophecy of Isaiah, where in the fortieth chapter he says:

The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain: And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together: for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it.

St. John Baptist, one of the central figures of Advent, called men to repentance.  The tricky part of calling for repentance is that it assumes a couple of rough things.  First, calling for repentance assumes that there is something to repent from.  In other words, you’re doing something wrong.  Second, calling for repentance assumes that there is a better way.  In other words, I’m doing something right.  Fundamentally, a call for repentance is a call to make a choice.

In Deuteronomy, we read of an earlier choice.  “I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life.”  The whole story of the Bible, from the Law through the Prophets and culminating in Christ, points us the way to righteousness, the way to Heaven, the way to communion with God forever.

But if we may choose life, then there is another way we may choose, and we are free to choose it:  Hell.

 

Speaking of Hell makes us sound like loons.  Nobody in polite society wants to hear us talk about Hell.  But Hell is a central doctrine of the New Testament.  Christ spoke of Hell more than anyone else in the Bible, warning people from Hell to salvation in Him.  Hell is mentioned in the Apostles Creed.  Hell is a reminder that each of us faces an ultimate choice about our fate.  This is impolite.  We want to ignore it.  We want to lock it in the cellar with the red-headed step-child.  We want to ameliorate this doctrine, soften it.  We want to explain it away.  As a child I asked about Hell.  I was told:  ‘There is a Hell, but no one really is in it.  Maybe Hitler.’  Hell is awkward!

It is so awkward, that if we lower the standards for Christianity by removing it, more people will find us more attractive.  Here at our parish, we are committed to growing.  Many of us are praying and thinking hard about what we can do to grow and spread the Kingdom of God.  If we toss aside the doctrine of Hell, then more people here in Augusta will find us palatable.  But those people who would then come here would remain unconverted to the full Gospel of Christ, and we as Anglican Catholics are committed to preaching God’s truth entire.  We have seen all too well the dangers of preaching simply what we like, discarding our Prayer Book and rewriting Church teachings.

When we teach the whole truth and nothing but the truth, we hold up our people to Christ so that they may be truly converted, heart and soul.  But many find holding up the whole truth offensive.  In the days to come, they will find it more and more offensive.  To offer real Christian discipleship to some, many will turn us down.  This too is part of having a choice.

 

Now just because Hell and permanent alienation from God and goodness and joy and life are terribly sad choices doesn’t mean that they aren’t choices.  Therefore, blinding ourselves to the reality that some people make these horrible choices is not noble, it is pathetic.  Hell is a logical, Scriptural, and necessary part of Christian doctrine.  Mature Christians, that is, Baptized and Confirmed adult believers, must sternly look this possibility in the face lest we have no happy effect upon those who have not yet committed their lives to Christ.

Admittedly, choosing is a tricky thing.

This can be seen by the parable of the two sons in St. Matthew xxi:28–31:

A certain man had two sons; and he came to the first, and said, Son, go work to day in my vineyard.  He answered and said, I will not: but afterward he repented, and went.  And he came to the second, and said likewise. And he answered and said, I go, sir: and went not.  Whether of them twain did the will of his father? They say unto him, The first.

Flapping your gums and moving air about, pantomiming pure and soulful answers is easy.  At the end of the day, you get up off your duff and go to work in your father’s vineyard . . . or you don’t.  Christ makes this most clear.

Indeed, Christ speaks of relentlessly evil choices in the parable of the wicked husbandmen in St. Luke xx:9-16:

A certain man planted a vineyard, and let it forth to husbandmen, and went into a far country for a long time.  And at the season he sent a servant to the husbandmen, that they should give him of the fruit of the vineyard: but the husbandmen beat him, and sent him away empty.  And again he sent another servant: and they beat him also, and entreated him shamefully, and sent him away empty.  And again he sent a third: and they wounded him also, and cast him out.  Then said the lord of the vineyard, What shall I do? I will send my beloved son: it may be they will reverence him when they see him.  But when the husbandmen saw him, they reasoned among themselves, saying, This is the heir: come, let us kill him, that the inheritance may be ours.  So they cast him out of the vineyard, and killed him. What therefore shall the lord of the vineyard do unto them?  He shall come and destroy these husbandmen, and shall give the vineyard to others. And when they heard it, they said, God forbid.

Some sinners are unrepentant and choose to continue to sin.  They are relentless in their movement away from Christ and vigorous in their pursuit of self-interest.

In that little gem of a book, The Great Divorce, C. S. Lewis says:

There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, in the end, ‘Thy will be done.’ All that are in Hell, choose it. Without that self-choice there could be no Hell.

Christ is very clear what He would have us do:  Follow Him.  But sometimes laying down your nets and following Christ is not as difficult as it gets.  When the going gets really rough, Christ turns to an equally rough saying in St. Matthew v.30:

And if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell.

 

But we should not so much seek to avoid Hell as to embrace Christ, and with Him, all goodness, righteousness, health, peace, and life everlasting.  All this, in the presence of God, is Heaven.

What have we to do to gain Heaven and forever lose Hell?  We must participate fully in Christ and His salvation.  In the words of St. Paul in the eighth chapter of Romans:

That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.

Every member we have is ours to make choices with.  But notice here how the apostle focuses on the heart and the mouth.  Our heart is where our treasure is.  If you value more highly your wit, your lineage, your possessions, your politics, or even your family higher than you value Christ, then your heart is not in the right place.

Your heart is where you love.  I love Christ.  I love my wife.  I love my mama.  I love my country.  I love my friends.  But without Christ, none of these loves would stand.  For Christ is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.  He was present at creation, and He knew me in my mother’s womb.  As St. John wrote:  “We love him, because he first loved us.”

I was asked once if a court of law sought to convict me of being a Christian, was there enough evidence to secure a conviction?  A court cannot read my heart, but it sure can hear my words.  Not only must I believe in my heart, but I must confess with my lips.

Here in St. Luke Church, we acknowledge Christ at Mass, Offices, Baptisms, Confirmations, Institutions, and Burials.  And that’s just in worship!  I walk around here and Augusta and hear from your lips the faith you place in Christ.  Well, I hear it from some.  If you aren’t using your lips to confess your faith in Christ on your own time, then I’d say that you have some work you need to get to.

 

My dear sons and daughters, we must believe in our hearts, we must confess with our lips, and we must let go of those things which keep us from Heaven by dragging us down to Hell.  Our respectability, our patriotism, our family, our work, our ideals, the things of this world.  These are usually good things, perhaps even things to which we are called to do.  Yet if we do even one of them to the exclusion of loving Christ first and foremost, then we have given up on living with Him forever.  For Christ must come before our respectability, our patriotism, our family, our work, and our ideals.  And if we are with Christ foremost, then we can rest assured (Romans viii.38-39) “that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

If Christ comes first, then all the rest will follow.  If we put Christ second, then we never had any part of Him.  And that, by definition, is Hell.

 

“I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord, as said the prophet Esaias.”

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

 

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“And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost”

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

 

Most of us sitting in here and our friends, families, neighbors, and total strangers outside this church are not ready for what is to come.  We will die and be judged.  If we don’t die first, then Christ will return and judge us.  Each and every one of us has offended God and earned the fires of Hell.  Only Christ stands between us and everlasting damnation.

Since we have lived for ourselves and not treated God or our neighbors with pure loving-kindness, that lack of love has prepared us for the pains and separation of Hell.  Since we think that we are always right and think it proper to sit in judgement of our neighbors, we will fit right in there.

The Blood of Christ will get us into Heaven if we call upon His Holy Name and submit our straggly ole selves to dying and being reborn with Him in the sacrament of Holy Baptism.  But even when He claims us for His own, we, being the way we are, are in no fit shape to live in the presence of God forever, much less a single day.

For this reason, Christ has ascended into Heaven and ten days later given us the Holy Ghost.  When the disciples walked and talked with Him on earth, they did not have the Holy Ghost.  Christ left them staring up at the sky, and He sent the Comforter, the Spirit of Truth to them in the Upper Room ten days later, on Pentecost, this very day.

Today we celebrate the coming of the Holy Ghost upon the gathered brethren, the Church.  We celebrate that Christ gave us the Holy Spirit of God to be with us and dwell within us so that we might snap to it and get with the program.  We are not okay the way we are.  We are not ready for Heaven.

Do you think about dying?  Do you think about mortality?  I grew up among churches that held proper funerals with proper viewings.  I knew that my elders died, and that one day, hopefully long in the future, I would join them.  I walked the cemeteries containing the bones of my ancestors.  I visited the grave of my first namesake.  I figured that I would die – one day.

But when I grew up some to be a teenager and looked at the Army and Marines with an increasingly serious eye, I began to reflect on what might happen if I did join up.  I wanted to be a good young man and do right by my country.  If that involved combat, then that would involve death.  If it did not involve my death, it would involve the death of somebody else.  That stopped me cold.  I enjoyed the next few years with cars and girls and kept thinking about that in the back of my mind.

When I finally did swear the oath, I was ready.  I wasn’t a soldier yet, mind you, but I stepped up to be made into one.

When we take up our cross and follow Christ along the path of sorrows up to our own Golgotha, we should know that we are facing death in a mature and adult way.  When we follow the way of Christ, when we keep the faith and run the course, then we are Heaven-bound.  It is better to finish the race dead last than it is to fall out.  We must step up and remain faithful to Christ to the very end.

Our prize is Heaven, and in Heaven we will live with God forever.  But we won’t only live with God forever, we will live with our faithful brothers and sisters who also faithfully ran the course.  We will live with the elect of God forever.  And if we are going to live with our brethren forever, we had better learn some good manners so that we all get along in Christ.

Christ has sent us the Holy Ghost.  We are bought with the death of Christ and are marching on to the heavenly Jerusalem, but we are not ready to live there.

Daddy Hall said of the Holy Ghost:  “He is also the gift of God, and it is by His presence that the Father and the Son are made present in our hearts and operate effectually for our good.”  By the indwelling of the Holy Ghost does the redeeming work of Christ avail us.  In the Holy Ghost, we are made proper children of God.  By the indwelling of the Holy Ghost, our very bodies are made temples of Almighty God.  Our own bodies!

Christ says in St. Matthew’s Gospel, “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.”  We have a very high bar to meet, and Christ gave us the Holy Ghost to stay with us and in us for our journey here on Earth.  We do not even have to earn our salvation, for Christ has done that for us.  Even as we grow in holiness befitting Heaven, we have the Holy Ghost – who is God, mind you – to dwell within us.

Summarizing St. John, Hall says:  “[The Holy Ghost] is sent by the Son, and it is by His operation that we are made members of Christ and Christ comes to us with saving power.”  Christ is with us through the Holy Ghost.  With the Holy Ghost, we grow ever closer to Christ.

To do anything other than strive hard to improve ourselves into the likeness of Christ is sheer laziness and impudence.  How dare we look our Savior in the eye as He sits in judgement of us on that last great day and say “thank you for saving me” having held back part of ourselves as we tried to skate by with the least we could do!  It’s a disgrace.  It’s an affront.  It puts our sins and contrariness between us and our Lord.  And we will no doubt pay the price for our mouthiness and disobedience in the future.  For those of us going to Heaven, we will be made fit for that beautiful place of light and refreshment whether we like it or not.

The Holy Ghost unifies us with our Savior.  We enter Heaven through the Body of Christ.  That Body of Christ is right here among us right now, in that tabernacle behind that veil.  Christ’s Body is both Man and God which allows us access to eternity and endless loving-kindness.  We enter Heaven through that Body, and in the next few minutes, Christ’s Body will be with us and given to you.  We don’t take Christ’s Body; we receive Christ’s Body.  This is why we cross our palms right over left to make a throne for Christ to dwell upon.  This is why we open our mouths and take Christ’s Body, either from that throne you have made for Him or from the hand of Christ’s priest.  We receive Christ, and in receiving Christ with faith and repentance, we are joined with Christ.  Receiving Christ without faith and repentance damns us to Hell.  It is better to cross our arms in front of our chests and receive a blessing than to eat the Body of Christ unworthily.  The Holy Ghost carries the grace of Christ to us in that most Holy Sacrament, and to receive Christ unworthily dishonors the Holy Spirit of God as well.  But when we receive Christ faithfully and truly, then the Holy Ghost works in us to bring us ever closer to God, purifying us and strengthening us with Heavenly Grace freely given from on high.

A certain modern set of preachers and praise songs will tell you that to fall in love with Jesus is to lose control in the mode of a teeny-bopper or fanboy.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Following Christ and being filled with the Holy Ghost enables each one of us to grow into the full stature of the man or woman we are each called to be by God the Father.  We are given the gifts we are given so that we may exercise Christ’s ministry amidst this hurting and fallen world.  We are strengthened with virtues and heavenly power not for us to lose control, not for us to selfishly pursue our own agendas, not to benefit our friends, but instead to advance the Kingdom of God here on earth, to build up Christ’s Church, to help save the lost, to build up and not to tear down, to love one another as Christ loves us.

My sons and daughters, I commend to you this day of Pentecost calling upon God the Holy Ghost to strengthen you in all virtue and help root out all vice from you.  Pray to God the Holy Ghost to confirm and strengthen you in the way of life everlasting.  Ask God the Holy Ghost to guard and ward your way in this life, to convict you of your sins so that you may repent and be forgiven, and to protect you amidst the temptations of our wily enemy.

 

“And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost”

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

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My beloved children and dear brother, please turn in your Prayer Books to page 179.  Let us read together the Collect for the Sunday after Ascension Day:

“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.”

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

 

Christ has become man, taught us, suffered for us, died for us, rose from the grave for us, and ascended into Heaven for us.  Christ has sent the Holy Ghost to comfort us and lift us up to Heaven, where He has gone to prepare a place for us.

Christ will come again in power and great glory to judge us and bring us to Heaven.  We must be ready for Him, and the Holy Ghost is with us and in us to prepare us.  We find in St. Peter’s letter that we must prepare by soberly assessing our situation and carefully watching in prayer.  We are heading to Heaven, where we will live with God forever in perfect love.  Therefore, we must practice loving each other in the fullness of loving-kindness.  The deep and abiding loving-kindness we have for one another will cover a multitude of sins.  To prepare ourselves for Heaven, we must practice hospitality with each other without grudging.  This means that we do not count another’s sins.  We do not compare ourselves with each other.  We do not form sides or parties opposed to each other, for that is against Christ, against the Holy Ghost, against charity, and against hospitality.  To prepare ourselves for Heaven, we must open our hearts and our hands and accept our brothers and sisters in Christ as brothers and sisters in our hearts.  We will fail and hurt each other and sin against each other, but shrouded in loving-kindness and open hospitality, Christ will forgive us our sins and fill our hearts with love by the Holy Ghost.

But make no mistake:  We will suffer for holding fast to Christ.  He came into this world to save us, and the world put Him to death.  When we follow Christ, we also will die.  We will suffer public humiliation when we choose the way of Christ over the way of our friends and neighbors.  We will suffer pain and disease and death in this fallen and broken world.  We will suffer ostracism when we speak boldly and plainly for Jesus Christ.  We cannot be ugly or ungracious, but neither can we back off an inch from what is true.  Christ says the Holy Ghost, the Comforter, is the Spirit of Truth.  We must speak plainly and lovingly and take our lumps.

We will be tempted to shut our mouths; we will be tempted to temper the truth in order to spare the feelings of others; we will be tempted to relativize God’s Son and His teaching so we fit in better with our modern, secular, and pluralistic society.  But we have been bought with a terrible price by a mighty God who loves us more than a mother loves her child.  We must share the Good News of Jesus Christ with our words and with our lives.  Visitors to our little parish must be able to pick up the Bible and read of Christ in the Gospels and then look at us and say, “Right there!  These people love each other as Christ loved them!  I want to love God and my fellows and be loved in return with them!”  We must put away our silly and childish notions of fairness and thinking that we can rightly discern the hearts of others and take the great risk of opening up ourselves to Christ and to other people in loving-kindness through the Holy Ghost.

David sang, “The Lord is my light, and my salvation; whom then shall I fear?”  When we love Christ and we understand in our deepest self that He loves us, when we are fortified with the sacramental power of Christ, when we profess the Gospel of Christ, we are on solid rock and can be touched by no man.  We may follow Christ to be crucified ourselves, but we know in our gut that we are His and He is ours.  We cannot be moved.  When we fear God, then we fear no man.  With joy and gladness we open our hearts to each other and bear one another’s burdens.  When our brother falls, we bend down and pick him up so that he might finish the race.  Only Satan wants us to kick dust in his face and mock him.  When our sister cries, we draw near to her and comfort her, like a father lifting up his daughter.  Only Satan wants us to tell her to stop her weeping and get with the program.

The Devil is watching each one of us closely.  When we stray from the righteous and just path of Christ, we are easy pickings for our wicked and supernatural foe, that evil angel.  He will turn our hearts to hatred and evil under the guise of being right.  Satan seeks to build up in us the vices of pride, lust, greed, gluttony, anger, envy, and sloth.  He wants us negligent in our religious and family and work duties.  He wants us to compare ourselves to other people and resent their easy lives and dwell on our bad luck.  He wants us to raise our hackles and get mad at other folks in their faults and stupidities.  He wants us to satisfy our every desire and complain when we must make do without.  He wants us to earn more, save more, give less, and rely upon the security of our worldly treasure.  He wants us to give in to the passions of our bodies and imaginations through fantasy, pornography, and sex outside of holy matrimony.  But most of all, he wants us to think of ourselves first, to think of our families first, to think of our people and country first, and think of our own parish first.  He wants our every desire and concern to revolve around what we feel, giving no thought to actually listening to others and what they feel.  Satan wants us to decide for ourselves the value of other people, their opinions, and their feelings.  Satan wants us to throw Christ off his throne in our hearts and decide for ourselves what is right and what is wrong.  He wants us to kill God.

The word which means to kill God is deicide.  The only difference in spelling between decide and deicide is that extra ‘I’.  I decide where God fits in my life.  I want what I want.  I want my ego in charge of my life.

This way leads to endless sin, disease, sickness, and death.  We must throw down the ‘I’ from our heart and praise Christ Who reigns within our hearts through the Holy Ghost, the Comforter.  We must say, “Get behind me, Satan!” and rush into the loving arms of God our Father.  We must shut our mouths and listen . . . to the direction of the Holy Spirit of God.  We must follow Christ.  Following Christ is a hard path, and it will lead in our death, but through the veil of His holy Flesh, we will pass from death into life everlasting.  Washed in the blood of Christ, God claims us for his own.  Like the Jews in Egypt who put lamb’s blood on their doors to keep away the angel of death during the Passover, so we have the blood of the eternal Lamb on our souls so that we might stay alive and stay with God.

Christ has gone up to prepare a place for us.  In Hebrews we read:  “Seeing that we have a great High Priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.”

Christ has passed into the heavens.  When we claim Christ and He claims us, we can approach the throne of grace that our sins may be forgiven and that we receive heavenly grace in our present trials and temptations.  We have an ‘in’ with the master of the universe.  We are connected; we are family.  When my great-uncle returned from Italy and France after the Second World War, his sister’s husband, my grandfather got him a job at the plant.  My uncle had an in, he had a job, he had a place.  We also know the boss; we know the ruler of heaven.  Christ is there right now interceding with His Father in Heaven for us.  We must turn to Him and receive the healing balm which our cracked and soiled and bruised soul needs.  He will pour on us grace, unmerited favor, the loving-kindness of Heaven upon us to heal our inward parts.  He will give us those things we need for our outward parts as well.

We sang a few minutes ago the words of Caroline Maria Noel:  “In your hearts enthrone him; / There let him subdue / All that is not holy, / All that is not true: / Crown him as your Captain / In temptation’s hour; / Let his will enfold you / In its light and power.”

The Holy Ghost is working on each one of us right now.  He is working and guiding our most cherished matriarch with scores of years of faithfulness.  He is working and guiding the perpetrators of that horrible beating down at the riverfront last week.  We cannot control God, but we can *try* to cooperate with him.  When Christ knocks on our door, even if we can’t open the door, even if we can’t say, “come on in”, then at least we can unlock the door and stand aside.  Christ will come and reign in our hearts.  And with our great captain and high priest reigning inside of us, He will root out “all that is not holy, all that is not true.”  When tempted, we do not fall limp like a silly person and just fall in with whatever we feel.  No!  We stand firm and rely upon Christ who reigns within us and we fight against those temptations.  We will sometimes fail, and God will forgive us.  But our forgiveness was purchased at great price.  Every sin we commit is like flushing diamonds down the commode.  Every sin we commit is like splattering mud on a palace.  We wash our cars and go out to spas and salons.  We give more thought to our outward appearance than we give to our souls!  Talking about misplaced priorities!  Our hair will fall out and our truck will rust out, but our soul is going either to Heaven or Hell for all eternity.  Which do you think we should look after first?

The Holy Ghost is ready and waiting closer to us than the air in our lungs, and he is ready to guide us and hold onto us no matter what befalls us.  It is not an act of courage to allow Christ to reign within us; it is an act of desperation.  Times are tough, they always have been since the Garden of Eden, and we had better hold on to the best thing that comes to us.  And Christ comes to each of us.

I’m going to stop preaching soon.  While we dress and set the altar and the collection plate goes around, you all are going to have some time to think, time to prepare.  We will pray for the church and the world.  We will confess our sins and receive forgiveness for them.  All of us together will join in the great prayer of our Holy Mother Church, the Bride of Christ.  We will follow Christ in praying like He taught His disciples to pray.  And then we shall come to the Body and Blood of Christ, given to us.  I will say, “The Body of our Lord Jesus Christ, which was given for thee, preserve thy body and soul unto everlasting life. Take and eat this in remembrance that Christ died for thee, and feed on him in thy heart by faith, with thanksgiving.”  After our thanksgiving we will praise God singing songs of worship and adoration.

Each one of us has to make a choice.  We have chosen before, but today is a new day, and we have to choose again.  Will we worship and praise our God and Savior Jesus Christ in Heaven?  Or shall we throw Him off the throne of our hearts and rule ourselves all the way down to Hell?

 

“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.”

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

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“Be ye kind one to another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.”

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

 

When we look at St. Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians, we see that Christians do bad things and are often indistinguishable to the world from those who are not Christians.

“Good people” and “bad people” are categories of this world, and by this world, I mean those things which we pledged at Baptism to renounce – the world, the flesh, and the devil.  Satan wants us to think of ourselves as good people and other people as bad people.  He wants us to feel justified in our own skin.  He wants us so comfortable with our ways that we don’t reach out to God and get our own skin saved – he wants that because he wants our skin for himself.  He is a dangerous adversary who wants us to rely upon ourselves, to think that we are okay right where we are, to think that our walk with God is just fine.  The devil desires that we get so complacent that we don’t reach our hands out to our loving Father.  Satan wants us to go it alone, because when we face death, there is only one who has defeated death, has bound the devil, has entered Heaven to prepare a place for us, and has sent the Holy Ghost, and that is Jesus Christ the Righteous, and He alone is the propitiation for our sins.  Satan does not want us to enter into a living relationship with our Lord.

Looking at our neighbors, the devil wants us to look down our nose at the man whom the world casts off as criminal or trash or no good.  He wants us to close our fist and not be generous.  We might be entertaining angels unaware, and the devil would rather us welcome his demons and not those angels of God.

You see, we do not deserve Christ.  We do not deserve to be Christians.  We do not deserve the Seven Sacraments provided by Christ’s Body the Church.  We do not deserve good things.  We have sinned against God and our neighbors.  We have earned and deserved the wrath and separation from our God and our fellows.  It is only for Christ’s sake that God has forgiven any of us and each of us our sins.

Today, St. Paul addresses four of our sins:  greediness, anger, stealing, and corrupt communication.

The word translated as greediness in verse 19 is sometimes translated as covetousness and other times as adultery.  These three words are all vices of self-assertion.  Desiring more for ourselves, desiring the possessions of another, and desiring the wife of another have putting ourselves before others as the root of them all.  The ruthless, merciless, surrender to our own impulses, which involves trampling upon the persons and rights of others, lies at the heart of these vices.  And this word, greediness, is attached to uncleanness and alienation from God.

St. Paul writes, “Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath; neither give place to the devil.”  Some of us are aware of what we are feeling and keep in mind that emotions may sway our actions and thoughts.  Others do not recognize how we are feeling and what effect that our emotions might be having.  We may be led to places we never intended.  Anger is a powerful emotion.  Scripture shows that feeling anger in a holy way is very difficult.  Jesus could do it when he cleared out the Temple of buyers and sellers, but He was God and always in control.  When we let anger get the upper hand on us, we become tools for evil.  God created us good, but we tend to want to do our own thing.  If we combine that tendency to do our own thing with a good solid feeling of anger, each one of us can do some terribly ugly things to our brothers and sisters.

St. Paul admonishes us to limit this anger.  “Let not the sun go down upon your wrath.”  If we wake up the next day with the same anger, chances are we are cherishing that anger.  We should only cherish lovely things, like sacred hymns, the smell of autumn in the forest, or the waves lapping against the sand.  We ought not to cherish things which lead us to chase after the Evil One.  St. Peter refers to the devil “as a roaring lion … seeking whom he may devour.”  Anger will devour you.  Anger tempts you to turn your brother or sister into your enemy.  When it happens, perhaps it is okay to let yourself feel that anger, but heaven forbid if you nourish it, cherish it, let the sun go down upon it, and call it your friend.  You will end up enslaved to the Father of Lies if you do.  I know it is a hard thing, but your Lord Jesus is there for you.  Speak to him in prayer.  Use the sense God gave you and think about something else.  Create a positive memory to replace the ugly one you have in your head.  What helps me the most is to remember that the Glorious God of Heaven and Earth, the God who pours his Holy Spirit upon us, made this person I am angry with and loves this person just like he loves me.  I remember then that this anger I feel is a small pitiful thing to a loving God who is just as present with the person I am angry with as he is with me.  When I get angry, I feel small.  And I don’t like that.

St. Paul says, “Let him that stole steal no more.”  We are bound by Apostolic doctrine to welcome with open arms all criminals and violators of the social order.  Christ’s Church is not for respectable people; mystical communion with the Body of Christ is for all people, no matter what they have done with their lives.  The Church is neither a club nor a sports team; the Church is a vital organism which is the body of our Risen Savior.

St. Paul also says, “Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers.”  Holy speech is speaking the truth and avoiding contortions that contaminate clear communication between members of the Body of Christ.  Holy speech is part of being a Christian.  We ought not say everything that pops into our head, like that anger which needs to be put down by the end of the day.  Indeed, a Christian ought to be listening more than speaking.  But we must speak to each other in ways that we can each understand, edifying each other with the companionship reserved for those who are joined to Christ, loving each other and caring for each other and looking after each other.  We do not do this because we belong to the tribe of Christians or Anglicans, but because we are more brother and sister to each other in Christ than we are brother and sister to our natural siblings.  Hateful speech is a sin and must be repented of, which means it must be confessed to God and then action must be taken to avoid that sin in the future.

When we consider these sins, we see that they are sins of fellowship.  These sins of fellowship carry a dreadful penalty for those who abuse or vaunt themselves over the brethren:  Grieving the Holy Spirit of God.  Our seemingly little crimes against our fellows touch the biggest, deepest, and mightiest parts of our relationship with God.  Our love of God and our love of neighbor relate more intimately than a holy scholar with a mountain of books and a lifetime of study can possibly understand, yet it can be realized by the loving widow living a lifetime of prayer and faithfulness.

At the end of the epistle St. Paul says, “Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice: and be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.”  Speaking forthrightly to our brothers and sisters and letting not the sun go down upon our anger are parts of a larger and more fundamental whole.  It is almost as if St. Paul understands what parish life is like.  He is an apostle of Christ, and he knows the human heart.  He knows our willingness to be led astray, he knows our tendency to nurture our hurts, he knows our tendency to treat our neighbors and brothers and sisters with ugliness, dishonesty, hurtful words, and gossip.

The relationship of loving neighbor and loving God works the other way as well – God’s love is the example and source for our love of neighbor, no matter how he lies, rages, and steals.  Our love is no more to be based on the merit of the one we love than the love of God is based upon our merit.  We can never be worthy of God’s love, but that does not mean that God is a hard, judging, vengeful father.  It means that divine, wondrous, and life-giving love is priceless – we cannot imagine the price of such love, as it is too high for our dim understanding to contemplate.  Real love, true love, godly love is a gift that is free for the taking, and a gift which transforms the giver into the likeness of God.  By giving the gift of love and forgiveness unconditionally to those who do not deserve it, we grow closer to our good God and closer to love itself.

One puts off the old sinful man or nature we are born with and puts on the new holy man made in the image of God in the Sacrament of Baptism, which is the gateway to new life in a relationship with our Lord Jesus.  The new man is the ongoing fellowship with God in Christ.  Studying the Bible and trying to live an upright and moral life are nothing but paths to Hell without that ongoing fellowship with God in Christ.  The thief, the murderer, and the adulterer who gain that fellowship or communion with God are better off than those who try to do it themselves.  Remember the parable of the Pharisee and the Publican?  It is far better to be a horrible and notorious sinner who repents to God than to be a moral and learned man who relies upon his own understanding and sense of self-worth.  Our minds and hearts are clouded without that regular and renewed fellowship with the Person of the God-Man Jesus Christ the Righteous.

But the soul who comes to Jesus to join in fellowship to God is held to a higher standard than ordinary folk.  This could seem unfair until we recall the Parable of the Talents – to those to whom much is given much is expected.  Once again, fellowship and communion with Christ and His body the Church provides the holy strengthening we Christians need in the form of the Sacrament of Confirmation.  A Christian who is baptized but not confirmed is missing out.  The seven-fold gifts of the Holy Ghost given in that good and holy thing assist us in our living.  Regular confession – alone at night or in the morning, during the Offices or the Holy Eucharist, and in private with a priest – clears the sins off the soul but imposes the duty to strive hard to stay free of the sin from which we have been saved and redeemed.  Christ did not die on the Cross to save us just so we break free from his loving embrace and dive right back into the muck!

Sin tempts everybody in this fallen world of death.  Only Jesus Christ provides the antidote to sin and victory over death.  Sin is the opposite of communion with God.  Death is the opposite of life everlasting, the result of communion with God.  Outside of communion with God, there is no remedy for sin and death.  God gave himself to us in Jesus Christ so that we might have communion with him and live in holiness.  Without accepting the good gift of God in Jesus, there is no communion with God.

And there is no communion with God without communion with all those who have communion with God.  If you are part of Christ, you are a member of His Body.  One part of the Body cannot hate another part.  Christians must – not ought, not should, but must – put away lying words and falsehoods, not steal from each other, and put far away all corrupt communication.

Every moral teacher and most people can imagine a world in which “all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamor, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice”.  What all the moral teachers in the world cannot do by themselves is bring us to that world.  But Jesus can.  Jesus forgives us our sins because He is the same God we have offended with our sins, and that forgiveness gives us heavenly power from above to forgive others and live a life of love and not of sin.  No one other than Jesus can do this.  We are not special because we are Christians; Jesus is special because He is God.  Jesus does not profit from the sacrifice of His Passion and His death on a tree, but we do.  The ultimate law of God’s universe is to love one another.

 

“Be ye kind one to another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.”

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

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“If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?”

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

 

Lazarus suffered right in front of the rich man’s home.  At any time, on any day, at any passing of the gate, the rich man could easily have relieved his suffering.

The rich man did not see Lazarus.  He paid him no mind.  He looked past him.  Lazarus was invisible to him.

If the rich man had been guilty of murder, adultery, theft – then surely Jesus would have mentioned this.  He is told as wearing fine clothes and eating very well.  The rich man was not known for being evil, he was known for being rich.  He had not an evil reputation.

However, that irrational part of God’s creation, the dogs, did what their Maker would have them do – lick the wounds of Lazarus – while that rational part of creation formed in the image of God, the rich man, chose to ignore him.  The dogs condemn the rich man, for he refused to open his eyes and learn pity even from the dogs.

St. Augustine says, “Of these two then, tell me, which died well, and which died ill? Do not ask the eyes, return to the heart. For if ye ask the eyes, they will answer you falsely.”

Jesus says earlier in this chapter in the fifteenth verse, “for that which is highly esteemed among men is abomination in the sight of God.”

By refusing to look after Lazarus, the rich man who was so proud in this world became a beggar of drops of water in the afterlife.

A person who cuts himself off from other people and from his God locks himself in a prison of his own making.  The rich man locked his own self into the place of torment.  There is a fundamental continuity within God’s creation between this world and the next.  “Life here fashions our eternal destiny.”

The rich man requests Father Abraham to send Lazarus first to cool his lips and then to return from the dead and go to his brothers.  By telling Abraham that his brothers will listen to a man returned from the dead, the rich man thus implies that he himself had not been adequately warned.  This is a form of self-justification.  Abraham disputes the logic of the request.  For example, in St. Matthew’s Gospel, Herod thought that Jesus was St. John the Baptist risen from the grave but yet that did not cause him to repent of his wicked ways.

The juxtaposition of the existences of the rich man and poor man would have simply been a classical reversal of fortune story except that the poor man lay at the rich man’s gate.  He had before him opportunities without number to do the right thing, but did not, for he had not love.

St. John Chrysostom says, “He died then indeed in body, but his soul was dead before.  For he did none of the works of the soul.  All that warmth which issues from the love of our neighbor had fled, and he was more dead than his body.”

The rich man was absorbed by the things of the world and did not renounce them in his heart.  He was owned by his possessions instead of holding them in trust for the Lord.  He was a slave to the things of this world.  He loved his things and not his suffering neighbor.

Sin is being without Christian love.  The rich man did not love his neighbor.  That lack of love led to profound and eternal consequences.  Think:  His ignoring his neighbor at his gate led to his damnation.  His lack of charity towards others led to an eternity without charity for himself.

Fr. Melville Scott said, “Lazarus, borne by loving angels, is placed next to Abraham at the feast of Paradise, as the beloved S. John was placed next to Christ at the last supper, enjoying rest and comfort, the most blessed companionship and affection, but Dives has no place here in a home of love into which he is spiritually incapable of entrance.  In Hades he awakes to gaze on the gulf he himself has fixed; to endure the flame of remorse he himself has kindled, and the parching thirst contracted in his desert life of selfishness.  He has made his own punishment….”

The rich man says that his brothers will repent if Lazarus is sent to them.  This acknowledges that they have something of which to repent and that he ought to have repented during his life.  Effectively, he admits that he sinned.

But see how the rich man started accepting his guilt after suffering anguish in hell, not during his life of comfort.  This realization grew from the consequence of his sin and was not efficacious.  True penitence springs from realizing the wrong you have done or sorrow for hurting others, not from sorrow from hurting yourself.  “I’m sorry that I got caught” is not true repentance.

Even when through his anguish the rich man sees his sin and is moved to ask of Abraham, what he asks first of Abraham is relief from that suffering.  The rich man’s selfishness becomes more perfect in Hades.  He recognizes it more clearly, yet he also acts within his selfishness more perfectly as well.  He has trapped himself in his own torment.

Even in death, the rich man tries to cut deals and manipulate.  Even in death, he seeks to control the fate of others, after he has so poorly controlled his own fate.

Here we see again the profound continuity of life here and beyond.  The rich man in Hades remains attached to the things of this world and suffers accordingly; Lazarus no longer is attached, no longer suffers, and rests peaceably, nestled with his people.

Father Crouse says, “What does it mean that the rich man is in hell?  It is not some arbitrary punishment visited upon him from outside; it is simply the description of the parched, tormented soul which has rejected the love of God.  That is what hell is: nothing more, and nothing less than the practical denial of God’s love.”

This ‘hell as separation from God’, of course, is not some wishy-washy “spiritual” but actually materialist understanding of frowning at people and thus earning a well-deserved reputation as a sourpuss.  Rather, this is the actual existential personal reality of rejecting the bonds of love which unite us with our heavenly Father and our brothers and sisters and ending in everlasting torment without the love of either other people or God.

That the rich man did not commit sins that were audacious in the eyes of the world, of his family, or of his friends does not make those sins any the less wicked.  God cares not for the fashion of this world.  Clever insults and droll jabs can leave their mark in hurting others and can show a disdain for the God-given beauty and integrity and salvation-worthiness of our neighbor that God will forgive but will not ignore.

We create our own notions of righteousness, our own ‘philosophies of life’.  But we are judged by the one eternal God’s judgement according to his righteousness.  We create our own systems of value to justify ourselves, whereas we should be like the Publican who stood afar off, asked God to have mercy upon him, and justified God.

Love of neighbor and love of God are fundamentally bound together.  “God is love” is quite correct.  How we live and love is the greatest adventure of our lives!  But it is so difficult to live out.

This loving each other involves willing the best and highest good for each other and acting in accordance with that will.  This is a very tall order.  How can we do this?

Jesus says, “With men it is impossible, but not with God: for with God all things are possible.”

How we can start is this.  Every day, examine your conscience.  Find your faults.  Acknowledge them before the Lord.  Resolve not to do them again.  Ask the good and gracious and loving Lord for forgiveness.  That is repentance.

Brothers and sisters, I commend to you to seriously confess your sins during this mass.

I commend to you to make your private confession to Fr. Nick or another wise and discrete priest of the diocese.

But I absolutely implore you to go home, remember your sins, and fall on your knees and say, “Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner!”

 

“If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?”

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

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