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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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“we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another.”

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

 

How the Christian Ought to Live, Part 1

 

Today’s Epistle and those of the next two weeks form a continuous reading of the entirety of the twelfth chapter of St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans.  I encourage everyone to read chapter twelve in conjunction with these lessons and sermons.

So today’s lesson begins:  “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.”  Our bodies are to be pledged to and lived in God’s service.  We are noble knights pledging our swords and lives to our king.  This is similar to the vows soldiers, sailors, Marines, and airmen make upon enlistment or commission.  For the United States Army, the vow is to support and defend the Constitution, to bear true faith and allegiance to the same, and either to obey orders from officers or to faithfully discharge the duties of office without any evasion or mental reservation.

In other words, the soldier must be faithful and loyal to his country.  He must not deviate into the service of those opposed to his country.  He will fulfill his duty with his country in mind.  He swears that he is not coerced into giving false service, but rather he is free to obligate himself to this loyalty and allegiance.

All this points to a potentially horrible truth:  The soldier is willing to die for his country.  No one swears this oath and undertakes this discipline wanting to die, but all do it knowing that death may happen.

But the Christian knows that death must happen.  Christ died on the Cross.  The Christian must go to his own Calvary as well.  St. John xii.24:  “Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit.”

Rather, the image of Romans xii.1 is that of worship.  One sacrifices in worship.  This is one of the main reasons that pagans can kill animals or burn incense to their false gods in worship, but you cannot adequately sit at home alone with your Bible in worship.  In worship, one offers something to God.  One sacrifices something.

In the prayer for the Whole State of Christ’s Church, we read:  “We humbly beseech thee most mercifully to accept our [alms and] oblations”.  Our alms are our physical gifts we give to God, most notably bread and wine which is now purchased with money, and therefore the money we give.  Our tithes especially are given in worship.  Think of our oblations as our prayers, presence, worship, and intentions.

If you are bound by chains and dragged into our service and hear those words, “our oblations”, then you may well discard them, for they do not apply to you.  But for everyone who comes here with at least a little desire to worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness, then these words are for you.  Even if you come here intending to show off your new outfit at church, so long as you do intend to show off your new outfit at church, then you too have that little speck of intention towards the worship of God, and thus you participate in the offering up of yourselves.

The Canon of the Mass includes even stronger language.  Midway through it, we read:  “And here we offer and present unto thee, O Lord, our selves, our souls and bodies, to be a reasonable, holy, and living sacrifice unto thee;”  Here do I, or any priest saying the Mass, offer on your behalf as well as mine our whole selves over to God “to be a reasonable, holy, and living sacrifice”.  We worship our good God by giving back to him the lives he first gave us.

When I swore that military oath back in 1990, I knew I might die.  And to be fair, I was willing to lay down my life.  But I had struggled for a couple of years beforehand wondering, “If my life was given to me, by what right had I to risk it?”  But of course, Christ Himself said in St. John’s Gospel:  “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”

We are fully responsible for the lives which God has given us.  And to a great extent, we are free to do what we will with our lives.  The question of “How shall we best live our lives?” is an ancient one.  Notably, Socrates asked this question centuries before the Incarnation of Christ our Savior.

(1) Many people have answers to this question.  Some people think it a good thing to live hedonistically for themselves, avoiding entangling relationships with others, seeking pleasure where they may find it, and avoiding pain at all costs.  This only results in death and the grave.  Not a good option.

(2) Others strap bombs under their clothes and blow themselves up along with busloads of tourists.  To be fair, these people actually think that by killing themselves, they are doing their god’s will.  Of course, they do not think that their bloody god is evil and demonic, although he is.  Yet they still are reaching outside of themselves and beyond their own pleasure.

(3) Others live for something positive.  Some people, especially here in the South and in other traditional cultures, live for their families.  I heard of a Japanese businessman some years ago who put a large sum of money in the bank to be drawn upon by his ancestors centuries in the future.  With compound interest, even a large number of heirs should be very wealthy then.  That’s looking after family that it’s not possible to even meet.

Others lay down their lives for their country and for their country alone.  Millions upon millions of soldiers died on the Eastern Front in World War II, Germans against Russians.  You might ask yourself what compels a man to die on behalf of his atheist or pagan regime.  Laying your life down for another, for your comrade, for your country is the answer.  Whether you sacrifice yourself for your family or your country, such a sacrifice reaches out of the depths of one’s own self and reaches for something greater – the good of your people.

There is honor in this.  There is nobility in this.  Indeed, the noble pagans – Socrates, Confucius, Cicero – aspired to this as the best end result they could manage.  But even there, alas, there is no salvation.  There is nothing vital and eternal.  There is Hades and Sheol, the cold, endless, sleepy afterlife.

(4) But St. Paul shows us yet again a “more excellent way”:  “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.”

We can live for Him Who came down to earth and died for us on the Cross, Who rose again from the dead and ascended into Heaven, preparing for us many mansions in the eternal light of God the Father.  Indeed, we can live for Him Who sent God the Holy Ghost into the world to make us meet and fitting tabernacles for God the Father.

We can live for God every single day of our lives.  We are to pray continually, and when we lead upright, sacrificial lives of loving-kindness to Almighty God, we become a living sacrifice to our good and generous Father in Heaven.

But St. Paul does not stop there.  He has more to say:  “And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.”

As we give ourselves, offer ourselves up as a reasonable, holy, acceptable, and living sacrifice to God, we are not merely to give lip service, we are not merely to hand over the mess which we currently are, but we are to reach even further, and become ourselves transformed by God.  In Hebrews we read:  “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”  God changes us.  We do not remain the same.  Our minds are renewed by our gracious God.  We are so to emulate God in our minds and in our wills that we “may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.”

St. Paul continues:  “For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith.”

Going beyond our private selfish lives, we are to submit to God’s perfect will, we are to become like God, to be transformed by the renewing of our minds, to live lives worthy of offering unto God; and these lives we live here in Augusta and in our families will point towards God.  People other than ourselves will see God in us, in our lives, in our humility, in our conduct, in our speech, in our decisions, in what we value, in what we refuse to accept.  In knowing us, they will not be unfamiliar with God, for we will have been transformed.  They will see us worshipping God and being transformed by him, they will see God working in our lives, and we will be their good examples.  They will either be attracted or repulsed by what they see, but if we are living robust lives with spiritual integrity, they will be seeing the things of God in us.

And those outside the Faith, those outside the household of God will not be the only ones who see this.  St. Paul continues, finishing today’s lesson:  “For as we have many members in one body, and all members have not the same office:  So we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another.”

In the Prayer of Thanksgiving in our beautiful Prayer Book, we read:  “that we are very members incorporate in the mystical body of thy Son, which is the blessed company of all faithful people;”  You right there, and all of your brothers and sisters, are members of Christ’s Body.  We call this the Church, the Bride of Christ.  Just as when a man takes a woman to be his bride they become one flesh, one body, members of each other, so too Christ takes His Church, which is His Body, to be His Holy Bride.  We see in Holy Matrimony a window into the mystery which is Christ and His Church.

And I say that to point out that each one of us are members in this one Body, Holy Mother Church.  For in Christ, the Church births new Christians through the Sacrament of Holy Baptism, in which we are renewed, regenerated, born again, made anew, transformed by the action of the Holy Ghost through the ministry of Christ to become a Holy People.  We, you and I, are joint-heirs of Christ, for we are adopted by God the Father.  Through God’s action, not through our own merit or through any offices of our own, are we united mystically and sacramentally to God.

We can sit down, drink some tea, and think of nice things; we can go to church, go back home, and remain unaffected to the best of our ability.  We may think ourselves above, or below, our brothers and sisters.  We may hold ourselves aloof, apart, beyond, beside, but not in direct relationship with these other Christians we worship with.  But none of that is:  “every one members one of another”.

We are to give ourselves entirely over to God.  We are to conform our minds, our wills, and our entire selves to the mind and will of God.  And we are made one body, “every one members one of another.”

My dear children, we are not fully Christian unless we are these things.  The sacramental washing with water in Holy Baptism immerses us fully into new life in Christ, and that requires our hearts and minds make the full journey also.

What is holding you back?  It’s probably not patriotism, for this is a cynical age.  Family?  Perhaps, but we are selfish.  Money?  Sex?  Living our own private lives?  Holding to our own peculiar opinions?  We are members one of another with our brothers and sisters in Christ.  We all together are one Body, which is the Body of Christ, for we are joined with Christ, and made adopted sons of God the Father.  Our salvation lies through Christ, and in Christ we are joined together.

Understand this:  Without the fools and the snobs sitting to your left and to your right, to your front and to your back, you are not saved.  No one can go this alone.  Christ wills that we all may be one.  We are in this together more than we can possibly understand here in our one short lifetime.

 

“we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another.”

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

 

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