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Posts Tagged ‘Holy Communion’

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

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

 

“Preparing for Heaven”

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

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

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

Father Paul Raftery said:

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

“Good Fruit and the Mystery of Salvation”

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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“If I must needs glory, I will glory of the things which concern mine infirmities.”

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

 

While St. Paul seldom boasts in his letters, he makes up for it here.  But the Corinthians have it coming.  For even though he evangelized them, they turned their back on him as soon as the Judaizers followed him, preaching that the Corinthians had to follow the Jewish Law in order to be truly Christian.  Thus, they felt that they were superior to St. Paul and his apostolic teaching.  He shows in this Epistle that, if they had any reason to have confidence in the flesh, then he had more.  He shows that he places his trust in Christ, rather than in the Law, more confidence in his weaknesses, than his supposed strengths.  Like a fool, he boasts in his weakness and the sufferings he had endured for Christ.  He powerfully shows his anger at, and disappointment in, the Corinthians.

This boasting in Christ instead of in his own merits records for posterity the sufferings St. Paul endured as a minister of the Gospel and Apostle to the Gentiles.  Indeed, his account of suffering here far exceeds what is recorded in the Acts of the Apostles.  When we compare our suffering for the Gospel to his, we fall shamefully short.  We are pitiful compared to this hero of the faith who claimed his efforts were pitiful compared to Christ.  That should give us a proper perspective to consider our work on behalf of the Gospel of Christ.  What he freely gave again and again, we carefully guard and hold back again and again.

Let’s look at the Epistle verse by verse.

Verse 20:  “Ye suffer fools gladly, seeing ye yourselves are wise. For ye suffer, if a man bring you into bondage, if a man devour you, if a man take of you, if a man exalt himself, if a man smite you on the face.”  The Corinthians have been duped and treated poorly, and yet they think themselves superior to St. Paul!  They have mindlessly obeyed, spent lavishly on, been taken advantage of by, and submitted themselves to false teachers, like fools following whatever goofy fad ensnares the Hollywood elite.  If they can hearken to such fakers, then they can listen to St. Paul.

Verse 21:  “I speak as concerning reproach, as though we had been weak. Howbeit whereinsoever any is bold, (I speak foolishly,) I am bold also.”  St. Paul says here, “as though we had been weak” although it was the Corinthians themselves who had been foolishly led.  He then leads into his major premise:  If anyone actually has reason to boast, you can be assured that he has more.

Verse 22:  “Are they Hebrews? so am I. Are they Israelites? so am I. Are they the seed of Abraham? so am I.”  Here begins the boasting, although he had reiterated that this whole line of commentary is foolish.  He is every bit as Jewish as the Judaizer heretics are.  They have no superiority here.

Verse 23:  “Are they ministers of Christ? (I speak as a fool) I am more; in labours more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent, in deaths oft.”  If he is every bit as Jewish as they are, then note too that St. Paul has suffered greatly for the Gospel of our Lord in work, scourgings, prison time, and being surrounded by death.  They have nothing on him one way, and they have nothing on him the other.

Verse 24:  “Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one.”  Deuteronomy xxv.1-3 prescribes the maximum number of lashes allowable under the Law of Moses as forty.  In order to not inadvertently exceed this number, the number given was thirty-nine, so if they lost count, they did not violate the Law.  So St. Paul has received the maximum allowable scourging on five separate occasions.  This is not recorded elsewhere in Scripture.  We have here proof that St. Paul did many heroic things which were not recorded elsewhere in the New Testament.  We see here that the Jews persistently and with great determination attempted to shut St. Paul up.

Verse 25:  “Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep;”  This verse is a traditional favorite of youth groups.  “Beaten with rods” was a Roman punishment, showing Roman hostility in addition to the previously noted Jewish hostility.  The whole world seemed to work against the Apostle to the Gentiles, seeking to silence the proclamation of the Good News.  He was stoned, the same punishment for which he held the coats of those who martyred St. Stephen.  He was shipwrecked three times before his voyage to Rome recounted in the Acts.  He spent “a night and a day” marooned in the open ocean, adrift at sea.  This is a tale of high adventure greater than one by Robert Louis Stevenson!

Verse 26:  “In journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren;”  He moves here to a nearly hypnotic repetition of where he had been in trouble.  What a catalog!  Who among us except the most seasoned travelers have even been to such a variety of places, much less suffered for our great Incarnate God there?  As for me, I think I have only been mildly in peril once by my own countrymen.  So many of our fellow saints have followed the way of St. Paul, have followed the way of Christ!  So much suffering, and for such a good cause!

Verse 27:  “In weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness.”  We see here that not only has he suffered grave dangers, but he has survived in brutal discomfort.  I got a little chilly the other week.  Despite my own disease, I suffer not from watchings, hunger, thirst, cold, and nakedness.  When I think that I have it rough, I can think of the saints of old – and of today elsewhere in the world – and remember that we are promised no comfort save that of Christ and the Holy Ghost.  The correct perspective of our actual situation helps us govern our emotions and expectations, keeping us faithful and drawing us closer in loving-kindness to the Son of God.

Verse 28:  “Beside those things that are without, that which cometh upon me daily, the care of all the churches.”  And what follows the tribulations of torture, shipwreck, fasting, nakedness, and such?  The burden of “care of all the churches”.  Think of that the next time we welcome Archbishop Haverland to our fair parish.  Daily external hardships are only part of the apostle’s suffering.  The internal weight of the care of parishes, the burden of pastoral authority, the cure of souls is of such import that St. Paul mentions it in this privileged place in his list.

He remembers the churches he has founded.  He prays for them.  As we can see in his letters, also called epistles, St. Paul is constantly sending someone to visit a church for him, constantly pressing on to another mission site, disputing publicly in yet another city, being thrown into yet another jail for challenging the authority of the leaders of the synagogue.  St. Paul certainly cares for this church in Corinth, but he cares for many others as well.  This alone should chasten the Corinthians that they have been singled out for such a rant.  But St. Paul cares about the churches which he has not even visited, putting the Corinthians even more to their shame.

Verse 29:  “Who is weak, and I am not weak? who is offended, and I burn not?”  Many Christians throughout his mission field are weak and many suffer indignations every day.  And St. Paul is right there with them in body and in spirit.  He is weak when they are weak.  And he burns when they are offended.  He is not ashamed to say that he is weak; remember, he started today’s Epistle with saying as much.  And indeed, this leads to the next verse.

Verse 30:  “If I must needs glory, I will glory of the things which concern mine infirmities.”  St. Paul “will glory of the things which concern mine infirmities.”  This is madness in the eyes of the world.  Glory in my infirmities?  Infirmities are to be dismissed, saying “that’s nothing”, or they are to be denied, like saying that instead of being disabled I am “otherly abled”, or infirmities are to be pitied and raged against with anger and venom.

But our apostle is doing something different than our broken and deranged natural inclinations would have us do.  He is glorying in his weakness.  He is completely dependent upon his good God.  The entire world is against him, Jews and Romans both.  Yet he perseveres.  This is all due to Christ and to Him alone.  St. Paul knows that all the merit in the world is as nothing compared to the incomparable gift of grace in the Incarnation of Christ, His death upon the Cross, and His Resurrection with power and great glory.  When we acknowledge ourselves to be the weak creatures compared to the sovereign power of God, we open ourselves up to be the grateful beneficiaries of the grace, merits, and goodness of Christ.

You cannot receive anything in a closed fist.  Who of you would cross your arms across your chest and hopes that somebody would let you have your turn to hold the baby?  Who of you would duck your head away when your honey leans close for a kiss?  Who of you would come to Holy Communion and close your hands and your mouth and expect to receive the Body and Blood of our Lord Christ?  You can’t normally receive what you are not open for.  And as St. Paul learned on his way to Damascus, the only way to receive grace when you are not open to it is to be struck blind and knocked to the ground.

As we approach this holy season of Lent, I challenge each one of you to find two things to change your life so that you are more open to receive grace.  I ask you to drop some impediment to God’s grace in your life.  Normally, this is in the form of a Lenten fast.  Have you been hitting the bottle too hard lately?  Drop the booze.  Too much sugar lately?  Cut out the sweets.  Suspect that television, delicacies, or loose talk is interfering with your relationship with God?  Change it up.

I furthermore ask you to add some particular aid to receiving God’s grace this Lent.  Walk the Stations of the Cross every Friday with us.  Say Mattins with us before Sunday School.  Attend a weekday Mass each week.  Make a Lenten Confession.  Dig into your St. Augustine’s Prayer Book and say a devotion to the Sacred Heart each day.

Add one discipline and subtract one distraction and you will see an improvement in your spiritual life this Lent.  I dare you.  Will you dare try?

 

“If I must needs glory, I will glory of the things which concern mine infirmities.”

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

 

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“that ye might be filled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; that ye might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God;”

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

 

5K races have taken off in popularity.  All sorts of people who would never run the Peachtree Road Race in Atlanta or the Boston Marathon will try to run their local 5K race.  But running a race is not a matter of rolling off your couch and hitting the road.  You have to have good legs and healthy lungs.  You have to get up and go.  Most importantly, even if you have the willingness and the ability to do it, you have to actually practice running in order to grow strong, fast, and hardy enough to run a race.

So it is with our salvation.  We are born again as new Christians through belief in Christ and the waters of Holy Baptism.  God’s grace comes upon us and wipes us clean of sin and sets in us a right mind to pursue the things of God.  Most starkly, instead of going to Hell, we now are going to Heaven.  We do not earn this; this blessing of blessings is given to us.  Like little newborns, we do not even have to earn any part of this gift of life; we are open and receptive and receive God’s goodness.

But as we mature, as we grow strong legs and strong lungs in the Lord, so must we exercise the good gifts which God has given us.  We cannot walk the walk of faith by resting on our hindquarters.  We must put our rear in gear and follow Christ with our legs of faith.  We need to live under the shadow of God’s grace and use it every day if we are to grow strong in the Lord.

Thus, if we are to exercise the good gift or charism of intercessory prayer, we need to get to the business of praying for others.  If we are to exercise the theological virtue of loving-kindness, that means we need to get to the business of loving the Lord our God and our neighbors through specific acts of love.  If we are to exercise Godly wisdom, that means we need to get to the business of obeying the commandments of God and living in love each day, every day.

We are made fit to enter Heaven when our sins are wiped away in Holy Baptism.  But for those of us who do not die immediately after our Baptism, we will sin again.  God expects that we will sin less and our consciences will be convicted of our sin when we do sin, but we will sin again.  I dare say that each adult here has sinned since Baptism.  We will not stay clean and holy in the eyes of God if we do not confess our sins.  In short, there is more to our salvation than God’s applying the merits of the Cross of Christ to us in Holy Baptism.

So it is that the instant act of new life in Christ is a necessary part of a larger movement of grace.  If we are to live in Christ, then we must necessarily grow in Christ.  This is what St. Paul is talking about here in his Epistle to the Colossians.

 

In this epistle, St. Paul says that he had not visited Colossae, and the Christians there did not know him except by reputation.  As Fr. Massey Shepherd wrote, “St. Paul’s intercession is cast in general terms about the theme of spiritual growth both in good works and in the knowledge of God.”

So this epistle is a rather impersonal exposition about life in Christ and growth in the Holy Ghost.  St. Paul mentions seven things which show maturity in the Christian faith:  Wisdom, spiritual understanding, walking worthy, fruit in good work, increasing in knowledge of God, strengthened with might, and giving thanks.

Like him and the Colossians, we are each to be entering into and growing in these activities.  Each one of us is a distinct creature made by God in his image, so each of us will not look exactly alike.  However, each of us ought to be showing evidence of growth and maturity appropriate to our calling.

Are we wise?  Do we show spiritual understanding?  Do we “walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing?”  Do we “bringeth forth fruit?”  Are we “increasing in the knowledge of God?”  Are we “strengthened with all might, according to his glorious power, unto all patience and long-suffering with joyfulness?”  Are we “giving thanks unto the Father, which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light?”

We do these things for the continued conversion of our soul and for the conversion of the souls around us, as well as the overflowing of God’s grace in our lives.  Our bearing the fruit of good work, our being strengthened with might, our giving thanks will be changing ourselves from sinfulness to godliness, noticeable to others and convicting of others, and glorifying to God.

Married couples and family members, even if all Christians, even if all serious Christians, and even if all members of the same parish, can be expected to jostle and bump into each other as they grow.  This is to be expected.  Love and patience are needed as different people grow in their own ways.

Spiritual growth is the maturity and continuation of our salvation.  As Christians, we are called to something, to a status, to a station, to a condition, to a way of being, not just to a person.  Or rather, being called to the Divine Person, we will be changed along the way.  Either way, sanctification is a real thing and one that is part of my journey and part of your journey.

 

Now, I am going to use five words which end in –ation.  You probably have heard of these.  If you are anything like me, then you also have a hard time remembering what they mean.  But these words help us gain understanding about salvation and growth in holiness, such as written in today’s Epistle.

These “-ation” words are justification, sanctification, consecration, purification, and assimilation.  Christ saves us in justification and sanctification.  Consecration, purification, and assimilation are aspects of sanctification.

Sanctification is thoroughly united with justification, even though St. Paul uses different vocabulary for them.  Sanctification is thereby tied to our salvation; our continued growth in holiness is connected with Christ’s saving us.  The two are inextricably bound.  This is one of the confounding aspects of both medieval and Reformation theology of salvation, or soteriology, where a host of different parties pried the two apart.  That is no good.

Now, sanctification has three aspects:  consecration, purification, and assimilation into the divine character.  That is, we are set apart as holy, or consecrated.  We are made clean from our sinful ways, or purified.  We are made to grow into the likeness of Christ, or assimilated.

To make holy, to sanctify, to consecrate is to set apart for God’s use.  Holy means set apart for God.  We are called out of the sinful condition of humanity and made Christ’s in the Sacrament of Holy Baptism.  We are set apart from the carnal, or fleshy, things of this world.  This is often spoken of with regards to our salvation, to our justification, to use St. Paul’s term.  To be set aside for God’s purposes is to be consecrated, so in consecration we are set apart for God.

This happens initially and powerfully in Holy Baptism.  But we are re-consecrated from time to time as well.  Each time we are given grace, whether in the Blessed Sacrament, in our marriage or ordination, or in our prayers, we are yet again set apart from the things of this world, we are set apart to be God’s.

But to be kept consecrated, we cannot sully ourselves with the stain of sin.  Therefore, we must also be purified of all sin.  This second aspect of sanctification called purification assists in the keeping of this first aspect of sanctification called consecration.

We must keep God’s will as it is known to us in Holy Scriptures, Holy Church, and in our conscience.  We are to remain chaste and free from sexual sin.  We are to live in loving-kindness with other people.  We must live our lives in self-discipline.  And we are to regularly confess our sins in our private prayers, in the Offices and Mass, and sometimes even in private with a priest.  We must remain free from sin.  We must remove all obstacles that keep us away from God.

We are to grow into the likeness of the divine nature of God as it has been revealed to us in Christ our Lord.  He is God incarnate; He is God with us.  As He lived, so are we to live.  He avoided all sin.  He lived in the will of God the Father.  He prayed often and alone, yet He also worshipped in the Temple.  He loved everyone He met.  He prayed for His persecutors and died for our sins.  This is the life we too must live.  This is the life which will let us live in the presence of God for all eternity.  This is the original image of God in which we were made.  We must join in the divine character of God.  We must assimilate into Godliness.

Only through this consecration, purification, and assimilation are we to be both justified and sanctified and fit for the Kingdom of Heaven.  St. Peter quotes:  “Be ye holy; for I am holy,” in I St. Peter i.16.  Christ says, “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect” in St. Matthew v.48.  It is only in the participation of the divine life of God that we are meet to enter into Heaven.

 

We are called to be mature Christians.  We are called to be wise in the Lord, to live our lives with spiritual understanding, to walk worthy in the Lord, to show forth good fruit through good works, to increase in the knowledge of God, to be strengthened with all might, according to his glorious power, unto all patience and long-suffering with joyfulness, and to give thanks to the Father.

How are we to do this?  We can only do this by growing.  If we are to claim the Holy Name of Christ, then we cannot stay as we are.  That’s right:  We are not good enough.  But not in the eyes of the world, but in the eyes of God.  We are not acceptable.  We are made acceptable through Christ, but we must afterwards grow to be like Christ.  Consecrated for God, we must purify ourselves of all sin and grow into the likeness of Christ.

We do this in the same ways that we have considering for months now:  Weekly worship, frequent Holy Communion, regular fasting, tithing, confessing our sins daily, weekly, and as needed, and keeping ourselves chaste.  We will burst forth in holiness and prayer and thankfulness to our Lord God as we diligently apply ourselves to running the race which he has set before us.

 

“that ye might be filled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; that ye might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God;”

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

 

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“MY brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might.”

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

 

What are soldiers trained to do?  They are trained to endure, to obey, to keep moving on no matter how tired, uncomfortable, or discouraged they get.  Soldiers are trained to keep their tools and weapons in good working order, clean and ready for use.  Soldiers are trained to be courageous in the face of danger, yet they are taught not to take undue risk.  Soldiers are trained to make use of what they have, whether that be intelligence, strength, cunning, or stamina.  Soldiers are trained to never quit, not through false and sappy feelings, but through hard discipline.  Christians have a lot to learn from soldiers.

American Christianity for generations has been steeped in comfort, a victim of our own success.  We have air conditioning and heating.  Did anybody walk here today?  Take public transportation?  We all have cars.  One of my first congregations still had an outhouse 20 years ago, but we have two sets of restrooms here.  I do not ask Gladys or Sam, our treasurers this, and so I do not know for sure, but we would be in the majority of parishes if some of us did not tithe our income or make a strenuous effort to do so.

But our physical comfort is not near the temptation to sin that our spiritual comfort is.  When we sit in our favorite chair, complacent and self-satisfied with our relationship with God, we are at our weakest and most vulnerable to sin.  When we speak our personal feelings on religion as if they were the very word of God, we step off into the deep water of sin.  And all of our hot air won’t keep us afloat.

The freedom we enjoy is wonderful, especially when we consider state churches and persecution.  But we seldom use our freedom wisely.  Instead of hard discipline, we strongly prefer false and sappy feelings.  Anybody here who accomplished all the prayer and Scripture reading they set out to do this week probably has been putting some effort into making sure he did so.  For the rest of us, if we do not slog through the distractions of life and keep on keeping on in our prayers, we will never attain that level of personal devotion we know that we need.

For instead of hard-won discipline, most of us are content with pious feelings and simple understanding.  I do not mean child-like faith, which is pure and innocent, but I mean sloppy and ill-formed understanding.

One of my great frustrations every week is having to stop every so often when writing my sermon and look things up.  It disrupts the flow.  I already have a sense of what I want to say, or so I think.  But no one cares if my private train of thought is disrupted.  No one cares to hear what I have to say on my own.  Only by searching Scripture and the reflections of the saints and doctors of the Church do I keep myself from mistakenly spouting error and so keep myself growing in knowledge.

One of the profound dangers we face is when we substitute our soft fluffy and sappy feelings for a real relationship of trust, love, and obedience with Christ.  When we love our traditional liturgy more than we love Christ, we have worshipped an idol.  When we love our angel figures more than our guardian angel, we have loved wrongly.  When we love our traditional family Bible more than we love reading the Holy Scriptures, then we have missed the point.  When we love traditional marriage more than we love our spouse, we dishonor our vows made before God.

We love the soft and comfortable more than we love the actual and real because we want to remain in control.  Difficult things – unpleasant things – inconvenient things happen when we step off in faith and actually show Christian loving-kindness to our undeserving neighbor instead of opining about the undeserving wretches in society.  We are forced to change our comfortable ways when we look our estranged neighbor in the eye and actually listen to her.

In all this, we play a game of defense instead of a game of offense.  We play not to lose instead of playing to win.  If I stay within my aptly-named comfort zone, then I will not face uncomfortable challenges.  If I avoid my neighbor, then I will not face the consequences of my troublesome ways.  If I don’t read my Scripture, then I will not face my lack of spiritual understanding.  If I don’t examine my conscience, then I will not face my own sin.

We will jump through nearly any hoop to keep from confronting ourselves.  We trust ourselves more than Christ, even when we betray ourselves.

Most Christians throughout the years, even in St. Paul’s time, but especially in our own soft time, have preferred to cut and run rather than stand and fight.

 

Last week we saw Aileen Cappa receive strengthening in the Spirit and the seven-fold gifts of the Holy Ghost in the Sacrament of Confirmation.  To quote the Book of Common Prayer’s service of Confirmation:  “the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and ghostly strength, the spirit of knowledge and true godliness; and … the spirit of thy holy fear.”

She is now powerfully armed in this daily fight with sin and wickedness, and not only her, but all those of us who are Confirmed in our Holy Mother Church.  Yet if we do not daily practice prayer, perseverance, and supplication, then we might as well do as Job’s wife suggested to him:  “curse God, and die”.  The end result is the same.

 

It is no mistake that the Duties of Churchmen, being the irreducible minimum of Christian practice, are also good strong counsels for living mightily in the Lord and in resistance to the world, the flesh, and the devil.  If we worship our Lord Christ in the Holy Trinity every Sunday, we live under God’s might.  If we commune with Christ in the Holy Communion, then we eat and drink Christ.  If we fast, then we discipline our body to withstand temptation and live in loving-kindness.  If we tithe and give alms generously, we discipline our worldly life, submit ourself to our mighty God, and provide support for our Holy Church.  If we keep the Church’s law of marriage, remaining chaste in all our relations, then we discipline our bodies and temper our unruly passions.  If we examine our conscience and confess our sins, we keep ourselves squared-away and devoted to our Lord.

If you aren’t doing the basics required of you, then don’t fiddle around with trying to make up for it.  Do not worry about taking on additional fasts if you live in fornication.  Do not worry about attending extra services if you do not receive Holy Communion at least three times a year.  Do not try to make up in almsgiving your lack of soulful confession of sins.  Like good soldiers, good Christians must live out the basics before moving on to more advanced parts.  If you do not confess your sins, then you are not ready to teach.  If you do not attend Mass, you are not ready for Holy Orders.  If you do not fast, then you are not ready to govern.

A Christian without holy discipline is a Christian just waiting to wander out into sin without even realizing it.

I would rather us cancel Tuesday night prayer, supper, and Bible study and have every single one of us prayerfully examine our consciences every single day and confess our sins.

I would rather us cancel the Blessing of the Animals, Shrove Tuesday pancake supper, along with every special event and have every single one of us worship God in the Holy Mass every single Sunday without fail.

I would rather us cancel Sunday School and have every single one of us tithe as able and give alms.

I would rather us give up coffee hour and have every single one of us stay purely chaste in sexual holiness.

But there are no trade-offs like these.  We will keep our calendar the way it is, but we must remember that opening our lives up to Christ and following Him all the way to our own Calvary is not an option, that believing the fullness of the Gospel is not an option, that living a devoted, loving, and disciplined Christian life is not an option – these are essential.  Because in the end, nothing, nothing under Heaven, no, nothing at all shall separate you from the love of Christ.

 

“MY brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might.”

+ 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? And this commandment have we from him, That he who loveth God love his brother also.

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

 

God became Man in Christ for our salvation.  He gives us His Body and His Blood for us to consume so that we may dwell in Him and He may dwell in us.  The Blessed Sacrament flows from the Incarnation.

The Eucharist is primarily sacrifice and secondarily communion.  Dean Harton said, “The Mass is the most perfect act of worship possible to man, and as such its action is essentially Godward, the offering to the Father of the sacrifice of Christ; and the inestimable benefits which the worshipper receives in Holy Communion are consequent upon this.”

Christ is present in the Mass as Victim, the Lamb who was slain.  Communion with Him is communion with the broken body and spilt blood of Calvary, a holy meal of spiritual food.  St. John vi.55:  “My flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed.”  We receive Christ when we receive Holy Communion, the whole Christ.  All His love and virtues and mind are ours when we receive Holy Communion.  We do not receive a portion of Christ; we receive all of Christ.  Since we receive all of Christ in Holy Communion, partaking in the Blessed Sacrament is the very center of Christian life.  How can we be Christian if we do not receive Christ?

God became Man to save both our bodies and our souls, the whole man.  Our words at Holy Communion show this:  “The Body of our Lord Jesus Christ, which was given for thee, preserve thy body and soul unto everlasting life.”

Union with Christ in the Blessed Sacrament is no mere metaphor.  St. John vi.57:  “As the living Father hath sent me, and I live by the Father:  so he that eateth me, even he shall live by me.”  New life is given to us in Holy Baptism, and that life is built upon and sustained in Holy Communion.

Christ gradually transforms us into the likeness of Himself.  We overcome sin and grow in virtue as we become more like Him.  This transformation grows with our devout reception of the Body and Blood of Christ.  We do not simply imitate Christ; we join with Christ in union.  He dwells within us and transforms us from the inside out.  We eat His Body and drink His Blood so that He may dwell inside of us.  He directs our soul, the soul which is His home.

If we seek not His Kingdom and do not consent to these changes, then this transformation will indeed be stunted.  We may receive the Holy Communion every day and increase hardly at all in virtue and Christ-likeness if we seek to remain selfish and slothful.  The disposition with which we receive Christ in the Blessed Sacrament matters a great deal.

How do we prepare ourselves to communicate with Christ to our greatest advantage?  First we need faith, without which no advantage comes from receiving the Blessed Sacrament.  Second we must possess a “loving desire” for Christ, part of which is a gift from God and part of which we may strive to cultivate.  Third we must be truly penitent.  We must heartily desire to put away all sins from us and to labor mightily to avoid falling into those sins again.  Last we must possess humility, for if we are so full of ourselves, then we intend to give Christ very little room inside of our inward selves.

Once we are prepared, how do we approach Christ at the altar?  We adore Christ when the love, the agape, the charity, the loving-kindness which began in desire for God grows so that we love Christ as He comes to us; we adore Him in His sacred Presence.  Then, our growing humility leads us to receive Him so that we give ourselves to Christ more fully; we do not receive Christ for our personal gain, we receive Christ so that we might be His.  From the very creation of our soul to this day, our inmost self cries out for union with Christ.  We need Him as a condition of our very existence.  Whether we are a mansion or hut, our dwelling rests securely upon the solid ground of Christ.  In reception of Christ in the Eucharist, the desire for Christ only grows in the faithful, loving, penitent, and humble soul.

Once we have received Christ in the Holy Sacrament of the Altar, how should we then respond to His gift of Himself to us?  Our disposition after Holy Communion should include praise, thanksgiving, and loving-kindness.  Immediately after communion is a terribly important and precious moment, when our soul has been laid bare by communication with God Himself.  We ought to focus entirely upon Him Who gave Himself to us.  We lean upon Christ, we lean into Christ, we trust Him with our deepest self more and more.  Our heart, our mind, and our will rest upon Christ.

Thus we praise God for Himself as we increasingly know Him.  We give thanks to God for the immeasurable gift of His own Self to us poor creatures.  We grow in charity, in loving-kindness towards God and towards our fellow man.  For as our desire for Christ grows and as our transformation into Christ-likeness grows, then we grow in the same loving-kindness of our fellows that Christ has.  We love God, God loves us, we grow into the mind and love of God, and thereby begin to share in the loving-kindness God has for all of his creation.  We love our fellow parishioners, family members, and coworkers more and more as we faithfully, lovingly, penitentially, and humbly receive Christ in the Blessed Sacrament.  We carry Christ into the world in the throne of our hearts.  As we grow in Christ, others can perceive Christ sitting in glory in the throne of our hearts; and they will want that immediacy with their good God as well.  “Ye are the light of the world” says Christ in St. Matthew v.14.

 

Loving-kindness is more than a warm disposition toward another.  Loving-kindness is not the kind of love that is based on how attractive you find the object of your love.  Loving-kindness is based upon sacrifice.  Loving-kindness is bolder than a mother’s love for her newborn and warmer than a groom’s love for his bride.  Loving-kindness resonates more with our fundamental nature than either of these loves; we were created to enjoy communion with God.  We see this in the Garden of Eden, where both Adam and Eve walked with God.  But even before Eve, Adam walked with God alone.  We have other kinds of love of our fellow men, but first, last, and always we are built to love God.  We love others most honestly and selflessly as a natural and supernatural result of our love of God.

So much of the time, we feel that the love others have for us depends upon how we act or what we do.  Lovers only love us when they feel attraction, when we lose weight, when we put out.  Families and friends love us when we remember their birthdays, when we do the dishes, when we help take care of ailing relatives, when we don’t mess up and hurt them.  But God loves us unconditionally all of the time.  Moreover, God loved us so much, that God the Son came down from Heaven and was born the Christ child from the Blessed Virgin Mary.  He lived among us, suffered for us, and died for us.  He rose again from the grave, defeating death, and ascended into Heaven, thereby preparing a place for us and perpetually interceding before God the Father as our great high priest.

God knew us and loved us when we were in our mother’s womb.  God loved us as a baby, as a child, and as an adult.  We have never been far from the love of God.  Nothing we can do can drive God away from us.  Even when we hate and despise him, God the Holy Ghost prepares in us and around us a way back to God the Father through God the Son.  We may keep resisting, but God never tires of loving us and accepting us back.  We can damage our families and friends and steal and hurt them so much that they would rather us never to have been born, never to return back home, but God always rejoices in our creation and longs for us to return to him, no matter how foul our sins have made us.  We always have a bath and new clothes waiting for us with God.

How little like God are we!  We place innumerable conditions upon those whom we ought to love!  We place unconscionable conditions upon our fellow parishioners!  We judge and divide us from each other and exalt ourselves above our fellows.  Our self-deception and self-exaltation and self-righteousness have made us so odious, so nasty to our neighbors and fellow-citizens that we can blame no one but ourselves for their not responding to the light of Christ within us.

Loving-kindness does not attract; attraction is a baser kind of love.  Loving-kindness sacrifices the self on behalf of other.  Loving-kindness knows no cost.  Loving-kindness understands no reciprocation.  Some of us walk around and spout nonsense to each other about a God that hates the sinner, a God that gleefully damns those who screwed up and ought to have known better.  This is blasphemy, for such a God is based upon our addled and self-indulgent desires more than upon the everlasting reality of a good God who rejoices when the lost are saved and gave absolutely everything to redeem us all.  We can never deserve the love of God.  When we love like God loves, then others can never deserve our love either; they simply have it.

Christ died for us and gave His broken sacrificed Body and Blood to us in the Blessed Sacrament.  We eat His Body and drink His Blood, rightly so, for He has commanded us to do this.  But what an effrontery to Heaven it is for us to commune with Christ and enjoy all the benefits of His passion, death, and resurrection and then turn around and seek vengeance against the offences other have committed against us!  True, we may wish God to avenge us, but do we wish God to avenge our fellows for the sins we have committed against them?  Of course not!  Even a cursory examination of our conscience and our behavior towards others reveals miles and miles of layers of hypocrisy, loathing, and self-exaltation.

Do we love some fellow Christians, parishioners at our own St. Luke, and yet gossip, backbite, and snicker at others, recounting with allies old sins committed against us?  This is an outrage against the holy and loving sacrifice of our own good God!  We must take and dash these sins against the rock of Christ, vow never to commit them again, and then develop a repugnance of and revulsion against our attitudes and behavior which led us to commit these sins.

If we truly show the loving-kindness of God to our neighbors, we will become a light unto the world here in the city of Augusta.  Sinners would be convicted and repent and return to our good God.  Our parish would be spoken of in hushed tones by the more than 500,000 other people in the CSRA.  St. Luke Church would have no budget problems, have a choir, and have to build a new building to accommodate all the new people if we truly loved God and our neighbors as Christ loves us.  Our children would ask for a double portion of what we have, disaffected former members would clamor to return and be restored, and tired Episcopalians and ignorant Neo-Anglicans would throw themselves on their knees and say, “Thank God for this refuge.”  But none of this is happening.

That these things are not happening is a judgement by God against us and our parish.  We have His Body and His Blood offered at this altar through the ancient ministry Christ Himself ordained almost two millennia ago.  We are washed in the Blood of the Lamb in Holy Baptism.  Most of us were Confirmed with the seven-fold gifts of the Holy Ghost before I was born.  We have no excuse for our immoral and reckless and selfish behavior except for your immoral and reckless and selfish priest who fails to exhibit Christ to you in an effective manner.  But even this your miserable servant is not excuse enough, for you have the Holy Mysteries of Christ’s Body and Blood, you have the glorious liturgy, you have the Holy Scriptures.  Every regular parishioner here knows better despite your sorry excuse of a priest.

We must each truly and earnestly repent of our sins, live in loving-kindness with our neighbors, and intend to live a new life – not the same old life we have been living and which has become entirely too familiar and comfortable for us – so that we may follow the commandments of God and walk henceforth in his holy ways – not our own ways which we blasphemously have shanghaied God’s holy Name for.  If you are here to live and to die comfortably in the ways of the Twentieth-Century Episcopal Church you grew up in or converted into, I hereby announce that you are in the right place for the wrong reason.

It is not our musty hymnal, old people, small building, and low community profile that keep us small and on the verge of death as a parish.  Great publicity, contemporary praise music, a multitude of community programs, and an extroverted golden-throated priest will not make up for this hollow shell of the Christian Religion.  It is the lack of a generous loving-kindness springing from a vital faith in Christ our God.  Until we have a razor-sharp focus on Christ our Lord lived out in a vital faith through acts exemplifying our growing loving-kindness, then this parish deserves to slowly rot away.

If we seek God, if we seek to live, if we seek growth, if we seek adventure, then let us love with the love which Christ has loved us.  Believe in Christ.  Repent of your sins.  Love one another.  I commend reading today’s Epistle in your Prayer Book at home to each of you.

Finally, let us hear the words of St. Paul in his great description of agape, of loving-kindness, of charity:

1 “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.

2 And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing.

3 And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.

4 Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up,

5 Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil;

6 Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth;

7 Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.

8 Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away.

9 For we know in part, and we prophesy in part.

10 But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.

11 When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.

12 For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.

13 And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.”

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? And this commandment have we from him, That he who loveth God love his brother also.

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

 

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