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“And he said unto him, If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.”

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

 

“Can’t Get Saved Till You Know You Need Saving”

At the end of today’s Gospel, the rich man asks Abraham to save his brothers.  Though he suffers torment for his neglectful life, he genuinely loves his brothers.  He doesn’t want them to suffer his hellish fate.  So from across the great gulf, the rich man asks Abraham to send the comforted Lazarus back to warn his brothers of the torment that awaits them unless they turn from their wicked ways.

“Abraham saith unto him, They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them. And he said, Nay, father Abraham: but if one went unto them from the dead, they will repent. And he said unto him, If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.”

Since our Lord Christ is the one telling this story, and since He is the first of all men died and rose from the dead into everlasting life, we can read this and assume He means Himself.  That is, if the wicked do not heed the Law and the prophets, then they will not heed the Son of God rising from the dead.

Christ has not come as a warning, but as a solution to the hitherto intractable problem of sin and death in our world.  The Law of Moses and the prophets of Israel show the way to holiness and good behavior to the nation of Israel and unto the whole world.  But people have not heeded their calls to righteousness.  People instead continue living lives of selfishness and sin.  People would rather feel pleasant sensations than face the objective hard reality of goodness and truth.  We would rather feel good with our friends and family than face the truth of our relationship with Christ.

Each of us who has lived into maturity has faced the choice whether to live inside of loving-kindness or live outside of loving-kindness.  Each of us has faced the decision of whether or not to follow our baser instincts rather than do the right thing.  The easier route is almost always the wrong route.  The wide inclusive way is almost always the way to brokenness and selfishness.

Christians may find this appeal to the Law and the prophets reminds us of the warning of St. Paul in his Second Epistle to the Corinthians, “the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life.”

But the relationship between law and faith is not truly one of contradiction.  We read in St. James:  “wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?”  After all, he reasons, “The devils also believe and tremble.”

So how can it be that if the brothers heed not Moses and the prophets neither will they be persuaded if one rose from the dead?  Why does Christ tell such a great story to end it with this teaching?  How can Moses and the prophets matter so much to the good people of metropolitan Augusta today?

 

The beginning of the answer lies in that great Summary of the Law recited here all but one Sunday a month:

“THOU shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it; Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”

We need to get right with God; we need to get right with our fellow man.  St. Paul writes in that same epistle:  “…behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.”

The next clue is the basic kerygma, or preaching message, of the New Testament:  Christ is God who came down among us, died for us, rose again from the dead, and saved us all from sin and death.

Without that operative bit, “rose again from the dead”, we cannot be saved.  That jump from Christ’s death to our salvation in His Resurrection from the dead is only possible for those who operate within some kind of goodness told of in the law and the prophets, the kind of goodness which depends upon (“hangs”) all the law and the prophets.

This is because one of the most important parts of the Law of Moses for us is to quicken our sense of sin.  As St. Paul says in Romans:

“What shall we say then? Is the law sin? God forbid. Nay, I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet.”

If we do not think that good things are good, then we also do not think that bad things are bad.  If Christ came to save us from our sins, the burden of these ultimately bad things which separate us from God, and we do not think separation from God is ultimately bad, then we see no need for Christ to save us.  We think that we do not need Christ, His Church, and His Sacraments because we misperceive the world around us.  That is, we hold tight the lie that we do not need saving.  Thus, we do not need a savior.

This is most obviously true with those who hold that nothing means anything, or nihilists.  Some atheists fall into this category.  Also, Buddhists are resistant to faith in Christ because they believe – and theirs too is a leap of faith – that pain is an illusion and death is not a real thing.  If pain and death are not actual problems, then you do not need actual relief from them, and you do not need the Great Physician of our souls.

Part of the proclamation of the Gospel which we Anglicans have tried to be too polite to preach is that things are bad, death is a real problem, all that we do to try to accommodate ourselves to pain and death is wrong-headed, and we need saving.  We would rather keep our position in society than appear ridiculous, speak against the culture, and risk losing it.  We would rather participate in the sins of others by concealing them, defending them, or simply remaining silent.  This is not the Gospel of Christ.  This is what Christ preached against and would save us from.

Instead, we must loudly and openly acknowledge the wrongness – the sinfulness – of the flesh, the world, and the devil.  We should live such lives of goodness that others find us to stand out from this world of sin, pain, sickness, and death.  Our words and our actions should prick the consciences of those around us.  Others should find us uncomfortable yet fascinating to be around.  Others should be constantly surprised that we do not act as others act.  Others should find themselves drawn to how we behave, to how we love them.  We should be beacons in the darkness, candles on candlesticks, not under bushels.

I guarantee you that if we practice this, it will draw negative attention to us.  Is this too high an honor to render to Christ?  When persecutors spill the blood of martyrs, is this unfortunate?  Or is this their greatest glory?  Is it not rather the greatest sermon their souls could sing forth?  Their ultimate declaration that they follow the ways of their good God no matter what the cost?  Their ultimate declaration that they will not be persuaded by the ways of sin, disease, pestilence, murder, and death?  Rejection by the world is our treasure!

Dear children of God, we must show the loving-kindness of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost forth in our lives.  We must love the Lord our God with all our heart, with all our soul, and with all our minds.  We must love our neighbor as ourselves.  We must show forth the light of Christ in this broken world so that God the Holy Ghost can prick the consciences of those who lie wallowing in the despair of sin and death who are waiting – just waiting – for the hour of their deliverance to come.

The goodness and holiness which others see in us greatly affects what the Holy Ghost can do in the hearts of men.  Every wicked and selfish act we commit takes those closest to us further from Christ.

Will you instead dare to tell forth the Good News of Christ in your actions and in your love?

 

“And he said unto him, If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.”

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

 

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

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

 

“Purity, Holiness, and Loving-Kindness”

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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“that ye put off concerning the former conversation the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts; and be renewed in the spirit of your mind; and that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.”

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

 

Neither our natural desires nor our cultural correctness will save us.  Only our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will save us.  Only through passing through the veil of His Flesh do we enter into the Holy of Holies in God’s Presence for eternity.

Wearing nice clothes won’t save us.  Speaking proper English won’t save us.  Living in the right neighborhood won’t save us.  Running with the right crowd won’t save us.  Voting conservative Republican won’t save us.  Voting liberal Democrat won’t save us.  Being a good dad won’t save us.  Loving those whom we desire to love won’t save us.

We condemn those who act out their same sex attraction but don’t bother to take a long hard look inside of ourselves to see all the sin and wickedness God sees when he looks inside of us.  God sees it all and loves us anyway.  And he expects us to get right with him and cut out all the selfish behavior and evil thoughts.  But not us.  We look down on those who fall into sins we have no desire to commit and do not love them, and yet without loving them we expect them to change.

Here’s a fact.  Nobody wants to listen to criticism from anyone they don’t trust.  When I was twelve, I was listening to a new hit song which I enjoyed very much.  I enjoyed it so much, I played it for my father.  He listened carefully, and said those words which cut through all my mess and convicted me:  “That’s not very nice.”  I was just having fun with it!  But of course, when I listened to the song with good morals and decent behavior in mind, it really wasn’t wholesome at all.  My father could say that to me, because he loved me, my mother, and my siblings.  He listened when I asked him to, and he commented after hearing me out.  I loved him and I trusted him.  Importantly, I thought highly enough of him to value his opinion.

We do not condemn the wickedness and moral laxity of our world by getting up on our high horse, thundering out judgement like a prophet of old, or by wringing our hands, shaking our heads, and tut-tutting.  After all, it is not for us to condemn the world.  Christ alone will sit in judgement of every single soul who ever lived.  We “take it to the streets” and teach the world the truth when we live redeemed lives in Christ.

We who have sinned and been forgiven owe it to God to strive powerfully in growing in the virtue opposite that sin.  A practical way to do this is to figure out which of the seven deadly sins your sin fits in.  For instance, if you only come to Sunday Mass when you feel like it, that dereliction of duty is a sin of sloth.  The opposite of sloth is diligence.  You owe it to God to practice diligence and not just try to wing it.  Winging it is what got you to skip Mass last time.  You must practice diligence.

What does practicing diligence look like?  How about this:  Measure the time it takes to get ready in the morning and count that against the time you will be appropriately early at church.  Then set your alarm to get up in time to get ready and make it to church on time.  Do you now have a hard time getting up on time?  Then prepare your Saturday evening so that you get to bed on time.  By paying attention to such details, you are actively participating in your salvation by working with God’s forgiving grace and not working against it.  As you improve in diligence, your sins of sloth will decrease.  You will have made a concrete stride in living a holier life, a life lived for Christ and in response to His free and generous gift of grace.

What about St. Paul’s teaching on anger today?  We all feel anger on occasion.  But do we let it go in and then usher it out, firmly shutting the door after it has been evicted?  Not always.  Have you ever nurtured your anger, relished it?  That is, have you thought about the person who has angered you and thought and thought about it again until you have prolonged your anger, you have deepened your anger?  If you have, then that is a sin against the love of God.  St. Paul tells us to “let not the sun go down upon your wrath.”  If we sin in anger and God forgives us, then we owe it to God “to go forth and sin no more”.  We do that by practicing the virtue opposite to anger, love.

How do you learn to love your neighbor?  By making small discrete acts of selflessness to others.  Holding the door open for another might be too showy, but especially in parish living, cleaning up after another and then not telling anybody you did it is a perfect little act of selflessness.  By many small acts of caring for another without drawing attention to yourself, you slowly learn to love others.  If you actually love your fellows, it is much harder both to get angry and to stay angry with them.  Practicing the virtue opposite your sin helps build up your life in Christ and makes you a better person, a person who more closely resembles Christ.

This practicing the opposite virtue from your sin does not go alone.  It goes along with regular discipline.  This means that you keep your six duties of churchmen and that you pray each and every day.  It does not matter that you do not feel like taking a few minutes to pray each morning – that is why it is called discipline.

We have freedom in Christ.  This does not mean that we all sprawl out lazily and do whatever we feel like because we have been Baptized into the death and resurrection of Christ.  It means that sin is defeated in us.  The trouble is that temptations continue until Christ returns again.  We must strive with all our powers not to fall into temptation.  A hard day’s work at defeating temptation only means that you made it one more day.  Think of it this way:  We are addicted to sin.  We know how to quit, but we keep falling off the wagon.  Unless we surrender ourselves to Satan and his demons and quit resisting temptation altogether, then we prosper more when we resist temptation more successfully and fall into sin less.

As St. Paul says, “that ye put off concerning the former conversation the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts; and be renewed in the spirit of your mind; and that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.”  Putting off the old man is quitting the life of sin, and putting on the new man is entering into the pursuit of holiness.  Christians do not have a choice in this matter.  Those who are under the banner of our Lord Christ must fight against sin and pursue holiness.

We enter into new life in Christ through the waters of Holy Baptism.  In that amazing Sacrament, you promised, or had promised for you, to “renounce the devil and all his works, the vain pomp and glory of the world, with all covetous desires of the same, and the sinful desires of the flesh, so that thou wilt not follow, nor be led by them….”  It is right there in your Book of Common Prayer.  It follows after that that you promised to accept Jesus Christ “and desire to follow him as thy Saviour and Lord.”

If we believe in Christ and accept new life forever with God in his holy presence, then we must put off the old man and put on the new man.  Our lives must change.

So I ask you:  Are you leading a holier life than you were?  Are you behaving in a more moral fashion than you were?  Do you pray more effectively than you used to?  Do you read more Scripture than you used to?  Do you attend to worship, communion, fasting, tithing, chastity, and confession of your sins better than before?  If not, then ask yourself:  How have I slipped?  Then recall God the Father’s great love for you and how he sent His only Son into the world to save your soul from death and sin.  Then ask yourself:  What must I do to improve, to grow?

Ezekiel prophesied and the Lord asked him, “can these bones live?”  No matter how dry you feel inside, no matter how weary you feel with struggling with the same sins decade after decade, God loves you and wishes for you to live to the fullness of his glory.  He made you.  He loves you.  He empowers you.

Next Sunday, God willing, we will all witness the miraculous Sacrament of Confirmation, the seal of the Holy Ghost laid upon one of our regular visitors, Mrs. Aileen Cappa.  In this Holy Sacrament, she will be strengthened by the Holy Ghost and receive the seven-fold gifts of the Holy Ghost.  She will never be the same.  She will be changed for eternity.  All Christians have supernatural assistance against the wiles of the world, the flesh, and the devil by virtue of Holy Baptism.  In Confirmation, she will be further strengthened and given those holy gifts bestowed by the Holy Ghost and found in Scripture.

We are weak, but God is on our side.  God is not on our side to give us those selfish things we want for ourselves, but rather God is on our side because we have joined God’s side against sin and death and the devil.  We are changed by virtue of the God’s grace.

So I ask you again:  Are you leading a more Godly life today than you were before?  If not, what are you going to do about that?

 

“that ye put off concerning the former conversation the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts; and be renewed in the spirit of your mind; and that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.”

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

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“For our citizenship is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ”

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

 

As we see in today’s Gospel, “Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s,” we owe allegiance to two different authorities.  We must obey the laws of our government here in the world, and we must bend the knee and bow the head for our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in all things.

This saying does not mean that there are two spheres, in which there exist different sovereigns, thereby leaving the public realm of politics and society to the authorities of the world and the rest to God.  No; all is subject to God, and in some areas the authorities of the world are to be obeyed.  This is a curtailment of the authority of the world, not a freeing of the things of the world.  We have an absolute and unconditional loyalty to God, and a subordinate and conditional loyalty to the state; subordinate in that the state’s authority rests under the Lordship of Jesus Christ, and conditional in that only those lawful requirements of the state need be obeyed.  Thus, the state can never lawfully command you to do something forbidden by God or contrary to the mind of Christ.  Christians can never tolerate state tyranny, for the Christian always has another source of authority.

That people of goodwill always possess at least two sets of authorities to decide between is not a given in human history.  Ancient Rome held that you could believe in your god so long as you obeyed Rome first, last, and always.  Most countries have followed suit.  Moslems hold that the Koran is actually the words of their God, and those words call for a unified and holy society.  Western notions developed through Christianity of competing authorities contradict a Moslem world view.  Truly pagan areas of the globe, where families and clans rule supreme with their shamanistic religious practices united to them, breed fatalism and give no freedom for persons of goodwill to choose anything other than what has been given them.  True freedom of conscience is only found in Christianity and Judaism.  Modern secular societies are either ameliorated by the heritage of these religious sensibilities, like in Britain and France, or they become totalitarian systems, like in Soviet Russia and Nazi Germany.  Jesus, in this teaching of “rendering unto Caesar”, charters the fundamental root of civil liberty for ages upon ages of men.  Like so many citizens of these United States, I believe that these freedoms have their greatest expression here in our country.  Other Christians and Jews are free to disagree with me.

Indeed, exercising the freedom to worship according to the dictates of our several consciences is one of the most brilliant of the ways of honoring our worldly home.  Since our country is so free that our dear parish can own this building and money to keep it up while providing physical security for our ministry, we should give this country our thanks.  Those who have put their own bodies and lives on the line to preserve the integrity and freedom of this country are to be not only lauded, but taken care of when their day of strength is past.  Yet the most honorable way to honor our freedom of religion is to come before our Lord and pray to Him, to place ourselves within His most holy will, and to receive Holy Baptism and the Blessed Sacrament of the Altar.

But that same civil liberty means that we are guaranteed to rub shoulders with those who do not follow Christ.  Saint Paul writes, “For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ: whose end is destruction, whose god is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things.”

Those who are enemies of the cross of Christ are those who belong to this world.  This is a terrible and lurid description of the worldly.  They have nothing higher to pursue but their own desires, attempting to fill an ever-empty hole in their lives.  Men who discern nothing beyond this world live like there is nothing beyond this world.  Physical delights become primary to them, for there is nothing to supersede them.  For such degradation, Saint Paul weeps.

Against those are the ones who seek to live the Christian life.  “Our country is in heaven”; “our conversation is in heaven”; “our commonwealth is in heaven”.  Less than ‘citizenship’, it is more the way of living associated with a city; in this case, the city is the heavenly city of God.  Since Philippi was a proud Roman colony who thought of themselves as Romans, this term would have been especially significant to them.  Saint Paul tells the faithful in this worldly patriotic city that they belong to a heavenly community, with its own laws and customs to which they must conform.

We have been bought for a price and then set free.  We are, in our new transformed and healed nature, citizens of Heaven, not slaves of Hell.

If you ask most of those who are enemies of the Cross of Christ why they are enemies of the Cross of Christ, they would answer that they are not, that they chose no such thing, that they do not even believe in the Christ.  It is not through ill will or desire to be evil that most people do wicked things, but because they are following their own bellies.  Often they don’t mean any harm by it.  Their minds are on earthly things because that is all that they know.  Many Christians today make excuses for the supernatural spirituality of Christ and attempt to explain it away in materialistic terms.  Their minds are on earthly things because they think they have the world all figured out, and they will overcome it all by themselves.  Many good people who vote in every election, help keep their neighborhood clean, raise fine families in fancy houses, serve their country in the armed forces, and never have a bad word to say about their neighbors put their minds entirely on earthly things and have no room whatsoever in their lives to conform themselves to the mind of Christ.

Addressing people’s felt needs does nothing for the truth, because they do not need what they seek, they try to fill lusts and desires that they have no business filling, and they need what they do not seek.  If we do not stand condemned by your own actions, we do not feel like we need a savior.  If we think this world is the most important thing and that we are doing quite well in this world, then what do we need saving from?  If we are faithful and loyal to our country, our family, and our community and think that we are doing passably well enough with those, then we do not feel like we need a savior.  To preach the Gospel effectively to people who think they have no need that they cannot fill themselves, one must first convict them of their sins and of their lack of heavenly communion.  “There is no salvation for a sinner until he knows and admits that he is a sinner.”

If we keep our minds on earthly things, then our end will be destruction, for all this that we see will pass away.  Indeed, as too many of us know all too well, the things and people of this world which we love often pass away from us before our very eyes.  When we think of the natural world as part of our birthright and not as something we hold in trust for the living God, then we pollute and destroy it to satisfy our lusts and desires.  When we think of God’s wonderful gift of new life to be an inconvenience and imposition on us, then we think the abortion of new lives to be a good thing.  When we think the destruction of our enemies to be more important than the innate goodness of God-given human life and the possibility of repentance, then we think killing people to be a good thing.

We have a rule when we light and extinguish the candles at the altar:  “Never let a shadow fall upon the cross.”  The candles closest to the cross are lit first and extinguished last, the candles furthest away from the cross are lit last and extinguished first, thereby never letting a shadow fall on the Cross of Christ.  As we do it at our holy altar of God here in our sanctuary, so we should do at our holy altar of God here in our hearts.  We should always light the candles of our interests and desires in relation to how they stand before the cross.  Each and every single one of us, no matter how mature in years or in faith, wants to hold things which are contrary to the acceptable worship of God.  These are precisely the things which we should put far away from us.

We get confused by our deep abiding sense of selfishness.  We desperately want the things we already want to do, to be good and holy.  We want God and our church and sometimes our priests and holy laypeople to bless cherished things that sum up our private interests and desires.  Oftentimes, these interests and desires might be quite noble and uplifting in another context.  An example close to my heart is the Humane Society.  Taking in, cleaning up, and adopting out stray animals seem to me to be very good things.  We got our cat from the Athens Area Humane Society.  But saving wayward cats and dogs is only a good thing derived from the ultimate good thing:  the meet and right worship of Jesus Christ.  The Humane Society (as I know it) is not an evil organization.  It is simply not the Church of Christ.  Many wonderful and kind people volunteer for the Humane Society, but together they do not form the “blessed company of all faithful people”.  They may be the members of an organization, but they are not the members of one body.

We must diligently, quietly, and carefully search our consciences so that we subordinate the good we do underneath the good which is Christ.  Do we like to eat?  Let us eat for Christ.  Do we like to cook?  Let us cook for Christ.  Do we like to serve in the military?  Let us serve for Christ.  Do we enjoy our job?  Let us work for Christ.  All things we do, from darning socks to field stripping a rifle, let us do for our Lord.  He comes first.

The world around us grows increasingly devoid of meaning, yet we stand as a band of poor folks who try to put God first in our lives.  We may have a hard time believing that everything will turn out okay for those who love the Lord, but we may rest completely safe in the Lord our God through our gift of faith.  We can only see the parts, but God can see the whole.  We may wonder why our brother is worth saving, but God knows why.  We may wonder what our sister is bringing on the journey, but the Lord gave it to her.  Our “citizenship is in heaven.”

Jesus does not give us another law to obey in this teaching.  Remember, Jesus came to fulfill the Law, to write a new law in our hearts, not to add to a burden of new rules.  How we are to understand and live out His important teaching is more important than the answers we develop and invent.  That might be a difficult saying for some to hear, but without a doubt we must render unto God the things that are God’s.  That means, like in the words of our liturgy, our selves, our souls and bodies.  We must prepare ourselves and receive those holy Sacraments that are proper for our station:  Baptism, Confirmation, Holy Eucharist, Holy Matrimony, Holy Orders, Penance, and Unction of the Sick.  We must attend divine worship on each Sunday and the major Feasts of the Church Year.  We must attend to our spiritual development, leaning upon each other for learning and support, diligently reading the Holy Scriptures, and praying in our own voice to our great God.  We must attend to the spiritual development of our children, our neighbors, and our heritage.  We must give of our substance, and yes, that means ideally the first 10% of our harvest, but not only that, but our talents and labor, not only for the parish but for those who are hurting and needy in this broken and sin-sick world.  We must each sacrifice our lives to our good God, so that love and communion and holiness abound.  And where holiness abounds, we should not be too surprised when we find that wholeness abounds.

 

“For our citizenship is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ”

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

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