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“Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall.”

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

 

“Temptation in Our Lives, Churches, and Society”

Looking at today’s Epistle lesson, we should know that the Corinthians were proud converts from the pagan religions of Greece and Rome.  Unlike many of the other church folk to whom St. Paul corresponded, they were not mostly converts from Judaism.  Their problems were different.

The Corinthians were tempted to compromise with their old religion, the religion of their friends, families, and social superiors. The Corinthians were tempted to consider Holy Baptism and the Blessed Sacrament as magical talismans which warded off evil and ill health.  Of course, they are nothing of the sort!  These Sacraments connect us deeply into eternal life in Christ.

St. Paul wrote to former pagans living in a pagan society.  He warns them from continuing to participate in banquets dedicated to heathen gods.  These compromises were hazardous to their spiritual health.  They were to avoid these sources of temptations lest what happened to Israel in the wilderness happen to them.

A healthy familiarity with Exodus comes in handy when reading this lesson.  Like the Corinthians and their Holy Baptism, Israel underwent a type of baptism with Moses in the Red Sea.  Like the Corinthians and receiving Holy Communion, Israel ate manna from Heaven and drank water which miraculously sprang from the rock.  But these blessings did not keep Israel from being “overthrown in the wilderness”.  They worshipped the golden calf and were punished.  They tempted God and were destroyed by serpents.  They rebelled from God and suffered horribly.  In the end, only Caleb and Joshua out of all those thousands made it into the Holy Land.  St. Paul writes, “Now all these things happened unto them for ensamples:” – or examples – “and they are written for our admonition.”

But with this warning to avoid compromise with unrighteousness and pacts with wickedness, St. Paul gives the Corinthians good news:  God always helps us in temptation.  At the end of the lesson we receive, along with our brethren the Corinthians, the promise that God will guard us from suffering unbearable temptation:  “God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.”

On the one hand, God only allowing us to be tempted at a level we can resist means that we are fully culpable for each and every sin we commit.  We can resist every temptation.  Therefore, if we fail to resist a temptation, we are to blame for not having resisted more.

On the other hand, God loves us and cares for us so much that he will not tolerate his beloved souls mistakenly breaking communion with Christ our Lord.  Being grafted onto Christ, we never suffer any temptation which forces us to break communion with him without our consent.  Christ wants us with Him for all eternity.

As an aside, notice that the Apostle to the Gentiles does not say here that God will not suffer us to receive more than we can handle.  We often receive more than we can handle.  I understand, not from experience, that young mothers can feel overwhelmed from lack of sleep and a demanding little baby.  I sometimes temporarily feel overwhelmed.  God will allow our decisions and the working of our mortal life to require more of us than we can possibly give.  It is precisely at this time that we should turn to God for comfort, meaning both strength for the journey and consolation.  We will never be tempted beyond what we can bear, but we may be given more to handle than we can bear.

 

Now, having seen how St. Paul considers temptation in First Corinthians, let us turn to three ways that we may be tempted.  We may be tempted morally in our lives of personal sanctity such as bearing good fruit in our relationship with Christ and other people.  We may be tempted sacramentally and ecclesiastically in our communal experience of worship, fellowship, service, and doctrine.  And we may be tempted socially in our lives in society and culture.

We manfully fight against temptation to secure our moral lives.  Three weeks ago we read in Romans vi that we were buried in Christ’s Crucifixion and raised in His Resurrection.  Our old man of sin died, and we put on Christ.  Two weeks ago we read that in Christ we went from earning wages of sin through our actions to receiving the free gift of God, “eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”  Last week we read in Romans viii that we have received the spirit of adoption, making us sons of God.  Instead of being slaves of sin, we are heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ.  Out of this new life in Christ we are expected to bear good fruit as befits a good tree.

Christ recognizes that temptation is dangerous and includes in the prayer He taught His disciples “and lead us not into temptation”.  St. Peter recognizes this and warns us in his first epistle, in words oft recited in Compline, “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour:  Whom resist stedfast in the faith.”  We are to pray to avoid temptation.  We are soberly to discern our actual situation regarding sin and temptation, sticking to the truth and not deceiving ourselves.  We are to watch for temptation with vigilance, never letting down our guard and allowing temptation to take hold and grow like a cancer into sin.  We are never in so great a danger as when we think that we are no longer susceptible to the power of temptation.

Since our old man of sin is dead and we are living in Christ, made one with His Body, we ought to strive to resist temptation and produce good works.  We can only produce good works in conjunction with avoiding sin.  Remember that the goodness of our good works does not come from our finite sinful lives but in Christ’s infinite holy life.  We guard against temptation to keep producing good works that joyfully reflect the beauty of the world, love amongst men, and love between God and man.

Think of our consecrated lives in Christ as a clear mirror which reflects Christ’s love back at Him and our fellow man.  Think of sin as besmirching that formerly clear mirror so that our reflection of Christ’s love is muddled and rendered ineffectual.  We watch out for temptation to keep our good works good.

 

We manfully fight against temptation to secure our sacramental and ecclesiastical lives.  If you recall, I once ran in horror from the Anglican Catholic Church.  I developed five reasons to never become a “Continuer”.  Yet in my fourteen years in the Episcopal Church, I saw heresy after heresy.  I tried to follow Christ, suffering mockery with my comrades, while others forged a new religion utterly at variance with the historic and Apostolic religion of the faith once delivered to the saints.  I fell to the temptation of compromise with the intolerable – valuing ersatz visible union – than to conforming myself to unwavering Gospel truth.

Beaten and humbled, I finally surrendered, yielded my own willfulness, and submitted to the Gospel in the Anglican Catholic Church.  Nightmares I had suffered for ten years vanished.  My broken and compromised faith slowly healed.  I welcomed good old-fashioned sin and forgiveness in the parish without any heresy and false sacramental unity.

We Anglican Catholics truly believe all the ancient truths of the Christian faith without any whitewashing.  I came to regard with great affection the Affirmation of St. Louis, a witness for the Gospel against the temptations of today:  No mealy mouthed half assurances about abortion; clear teaching about Apostolic Order and completeness of Holy Scripture; traditional liturgy; robust understanding of the sanctity of marriage.  I underwent Confirmation at the hands of Archbishop Haverland, as some of you did as well, as some of you look forward to doing.

I look at my friends who are priests in the Episcopal Church and the Neo-Anglicans of the Anglican Church in North America and wonder what happened.  Those ecclesiastical bodies either remain or claim to remain in sacramental communion with the Church of England, that same church which claims to ordain women into the priesthood and thereby proves that they do not adhere to the universal Catholic understanding of Holy Order.  We simply mean different things with the same words by “priesthood”, “episcopacy”, and “Sacraments” than they do.  We continue Anglicanism because we keep the same faith that Lady Julian, Charles I, Samuel Seabury, John Keble, and Albert Chambers did, even if we keep neither the once-venerated name nor the buildings of the Episcopal Church.

 

We manfully fight against temptation to witness in our public lives in society.  We can consider this in two ways, enticing society and threatening society.  The company of our good friends and of the “better” elements of society can tempt us away from the Gospel truth.  A desire to fit in with those friends who might be offended tempts us into living a public life without spiritual integrity.

We know from Holy Scripture and the teaching of our Mother the Church that we were created male and female.  In a day when marriage is openly mocked in both same-sex unions and open acceptance of divorce and remarriage, the confusion brought about by claiming to be male when born female and vice versa tempts many of us to humor those who confound the truth of the matter.  When we acquiesce or conform to those who spin fables, who entice us with social station, employment, and good reputation, then we may very well be yielding to the temptation of participating in the sins of others by silence or approval.  Many fall into sin under the guise of good manners.  Sacrificial loving-kindness produces true good manners but tolerates no caving to temptation.

Dangerous society holds its own temptations as well.  During the Boko Haram attack on the Nigerian schoolgirls this April, a seven-year-old girl was asked to deny Christ with a rifle to her head.  She refused.  Urgently asked again, she refused again.  Amazed, the Moslem jihadists let her go.  Who of us here today would have been so bold?  As Christ said, “Verily I say unto you, Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, he shall not enter therein.”

This past week, the Chaldean Christian primate of Iraq announced that the last Christian families in Mosul had fled with their lives before the onslaught of the ISIL.  This is the first time in 1,600 years that this ancient city has had no Christians in it.  Many are martyred, others have fled, and their property has been confiscated to distribute to Moslems.  In China, the Communist government is trying to take control of all Christian churches.  No one is dying, but would I resist unto death the government dictating to me how to preach and administer the Holy Sacraments?  I would like to think so.  But I have not suffered that temptation yet.  I pray that I never do.  But our brethren around the world are paying with their lives this very day.

 

Temptation is so important to our life with God that we pray about it every time we pray the Lord’s Prayer.  The wholesome habits, Christian character, and openness to God that helps us avoid and survive temptation helps us flower with the fruit of many virtues and good works pleasing to God.

Remember that in our Christian pilgrimage, God will not allow us to be tempted beyond what we can bear.  So whether in our day to day lives, our lives in Christian unity, or moment of need before the despisers of Christ, the Lord will cover and protect us in our hour of temptation.

 

“Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall.”

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

 

 

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

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

“Living in the Gift of God”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fr. Melville Scott said:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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“ALL of you be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility: for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble.”

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

 

“Clothed with Humility”

“Humility is a virtue all preach, none practise, and yet everybody is content to hear. The master thinks it good doctrine for his servant, the laity for the clergy, and the clergy for the laity.” – John Selden

Several years ago, my eyesight increasingly did not serve me as well as it had.  For my entire life until then, I had excellent eyesight.  Then, I didn’t.  With my wife’s urging, I submitted myself to the eye doctor, who did strange things with my eyes.  She then handed me a slip of paper with odd numbers on it.  I then handed this paper to another lady, picked out some frames, and left.  Days later, I came back to receive a new pair of glasses.  Putting them on, I could see well again.  I did nothing.  But I went to the people that did this well.  The same is true for the veterinarian, the tailor, and the auto mechanic.  They do that which I cannot do.  I must submit myself to their expertise in order to receive their help.  If I act proudly and insist I know what I’m doing even when I don’t, then I cannot see, have a sick animal, an ill-fitting pair of pants, and a car that won’t run.

Humility involves knowing:  Knowing that I am incapable, that I cannot do some things.  Humility also involves action:  Acting in submission to those who can do what I cannot do.  For example:  I need saving.  But, I cannot save myself.  So, I submit myself to Christ, Who can save me.

 

God in his Holy Scripture commands us to be humble if we are to truly follow God the Father and Christ our Lord.

The prophetess Huldah says in 2 Chronicles xxxiv.27 – “Because thine heart was tender, and thou didst humble thyself before God, when thou heardest his words against this place, and against the inhabitants thereof, and humbledst thyself before me, and didst rend thy clothes, and weep before me; I have even heard thee also, saith the LORD.”

The prophet Isaiah writes in lvii.15 – “For thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy; I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones.”

The prophet Micah writes in vi.8 – “He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the LORD require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?”

Christ Himself says in St. Luke xiv.11 – “For whosoever exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.”

St. Paul writes in Philippians ii.3 – “Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves.”

St. James writes in iv.6 – “But he giveth more grace. Wherefore he saith, God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble.”

Keeping with the Holy Writ, the saints and Fathers of the Church admonish us to humility.  St. Benedict is the father of western monasticism and founder of the Benedictine Order of monks.  A brief biography of him appears on the back of today’s bulletin.  Here is a section of Chapter 7 of the Holy Rule of St. Benedict, On Humility:

“The first degree of humility, then, is that a man always have the fear of God before his eyes, shunning all forgetfulness and that he be ever mindful of all that God hath commanded, that he always considereth in his mind how those who despise God will burn in hell for their sins, and that life everlasting is prepared for those who fear God. And whilst he guardeth himself evermore against sin and vices of thought, word, deed, and self-will, let him also hasten to cut off the desires of the flesh.

Let a man consider that God always seeth him from Heaven, that the eye of God beholdeth his works everywhere, and that the angels report them to Him every hour. The Prophet telleth us this when he showeth God thus ever present in our thoughts, saying: “The searcher of hearts and reins is God”.

We are thus forbidden to do our own will, since the Scripture saith to us: “And turn away from thy evil will”. And thus, too, we ask God in prayer that His will may be done in us.”

 

Not only does God desire us to be humble, but humility is the only realistic way of looking at the world, for it alone leads to truth.  Pride always leads us into warped perceptions of reality, similar to bad eyesight.  Pride leads us to think that we are more powerful than we are.  Pride leads us to act as if we were God.  And “God resisteth the proud.”

King Canute was king of England before the Norman Invasion almost one full millennia ago.  Here is a story of Canute according to the Historia Anglorum of Henry, archdeacon of Huntingdon in 1154 (The Chronicle of Henry of Huntingdon, pp 198-199):

“…at the summit of his power, [King Canute] ordered a seat to be placed for him on the sea-shore when the tide was coming in. Then, before a large group of his flattering courtiers, he spoke to the rising sea, saying, “Thou, too, art subject to my command, for the land on which I am seated is mine, and no one has ever resisted my commands with impunity. I command you, then, o waters, not to flow over my land, nor presume to wet the feet and the robe of your lord.”  The tide, however, continued to rise as usual, dashing over his feet and legs without respect to his royal person.  Then the King leaped backwards, saying: “Let all men know how empty and worthless is the power of kings, for there is none worthy of the name, but He whom heaven, earth, and sea obey by eternal laws.”

The king himself knew that pretending to rule over the waves and sea was sheer foolishness.  Humility knows truth and spurns silliness and confusion.

Bishop Mortimer of Essex wrote a lovely little book on the Six Duties of Churchmen.  He also wrote a wise and solid tome called Elements of Moral Theology.  In that work, he writes:

“[The humble man] is ever judging himself as in the eyes of God, not in comparison with his fellow man.  Having a true judgement of himself, he recognizes that all his virtues are themselves the gift of God.  This is the heart of humility.  He does not exalt himself, neither does he despise his fellows.  He honors God and he honors his fellows as God’s creatures.  He honors every man truly in proportion as he finds him honorable in the sight of God.  He rightly and properly honors and prefers good men above bad men.  But he is not thereby proud, because he knows that both he and they owe what goodness they possess to God; the evil which they share with evil men is of themselves.”

Wishful thinking is the enemy of truth and humility.  God knows perfectly how things truly are in his creation.  He would have us know our true condition, so that we may rightly turn to him for help.  The teachings of Holy Scripture and the worship of Holy Church help us to become truly humble.

 

Clothing ourselves with the humility of Christ, we do not resist but rather accept His supernatural blessing and great might against sin and death.  Besides God’s grace and loving-kindness, humility is our greatest defense against sin of all kinds, the world, the flesh, and the devil.

The world teaches us to envy those who have what we lack.  Modern politics tells us that we must resent those who have more than we have, even if we have enough.  Today’s fashion tells us that our clothes and personal products are outdated and make us look old, so we must buy, buy, buy more, newer, expensive things to keep up lest we fall behind.  Popular arts and music tell us that the beautiful things of yesterday are decidedly inferior to what is popular today.

In essence, the world tells us that what we have, no matter how virtuous, how beautiful, and how good, is inferior to what drives the crowds mad today.  And heaven forbid that a follower of new things takes offense at you for sticking with your hard-fought-for understanding of the Gospel and what is good.  The world puts the burden on you to not offend those who follow popular unwholesome ways!

St. Paul uses the word ‘flesh’ to mean our sinful nature.   In older times, people understood that their problems were first and foremost problems with themselves.  Instead of encouraging suspicion towards our own thoughts and action, today’s thought celebrates whatever distortions and perversions lie within our sinful soul.

Therefore, politics must be the reason I do not have that which I am entitled.  God forbid, people today understand that their personal barriers to wholeness are actually the things which God has given them and define them!  So instead of recognizing that I have personal interests which, if indulged, will take me further from God and righteousness, I am to let my lusts and passions drive me into an understanding of myself as good just the way I am.  Since I am therefore okay, then whatever problems I have are of my environment and not myself.  If I am lustful, I thus perceive that I have the right to pursue sexual conquests.  If I am envious, I thus perceive that I have the right to judge others and whisper against them.  If I am angry, I thus perceive that I have the right to hold others to a standard to which I do not hold myself.

Holy Church teaches us that humility is the opposite virtue of one of the seven deadly sins:  Pride.  Instead of reveling in pride, we are to reject pride in all its forms.  This means that we must change the way we live.  Our sinful nature will fight to prevent the grace of God from washing our souls clean of it.  We must be strong and follow Christ’s example.

The third source of sin in our lives is Satan.  His Satanic Majesty is not an impersonal force; he is real and he is out to get us.  Satan is much more like a roaring lion, lurking around “seeking whom he may devour”.  Satan seeks to undo the restorative work of Christ our Lord.

We are in grave danger if we lack humility, for we push God’s grace away from ourselves.  And we need God’s grace to protect us, for the wicked accuser of souls, Satan, roams right outside our door, waiting for us to slip and leave ourselves defenseless.  He is an angry, hungry, old, fallen archangel, a devourer of souls.  He is an intelligence beyond genius, with thousands upon thousands of years of experience in foiling man.  And he wants to eat you up.

Whenever we push God away and declare we don’t need the presence of the Holy Ghost in our lives, Satan is waiting right there with his mighty jaws open to snatch us away and take off with us into perdition.  We need humility if we wish our souls to be saved.  We need humility if we wish to escape the fires of Hell, where “the worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched.”

 

Each of us faces temptation from the world and the devil.  And each of us faces our own sinful nature, our unique and tumultuous inner distortions of soul which confuse us as to what is right and what is wrong.  We lie to ourselves even when we think we are telling ourselves the truth.  We agree with what other people tell us when we like what they say, and we disagree with what other people tell us when we don’t like what they say.  We constantly try to cut deals with God.

But God’s truth is not what we like and dislike.  God’s truth stands fast forever.  He will make no deal with us.  We must accept Christ as our savior and lord of our life or not accept him.

We must kneel down in our hearts and offer up our petulancy and willfulness and accept the teaching of Almighty God in Holy Scripture and Holy Church.  We must strive to grow in humility.  We must acknowledge that we are incapable and follow Christ and Him alone.

 

“ALL of you be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility: for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble.”

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

 

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“The four living creatures had each of them six wings about him; and they were full of eyes within: and they rest not day and night, saying, Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, which was, and is, and is to come.”

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

 

“The Holy Trinity”

The Athanasian Creed, found inside your bulletin, is not in our 1928 American Book of Common Prayer.  However, it has been in other Books of Common Prayer, most notably the English 1549 and 1662 books.  Reciting this Creed in public worship is very Anglican.

The Athanasian Creed itself is about fifteen centuries old, going back three-quarters of the way to Christ.  It is newer than the Apostles and Nicene Creeds.  It differs from those two by declaring that those who do not agree with it “cannot be saved”.  In this, it is very similar to the first version of the Nicene Creed.

The need for this Creed arose when the Visigoth and Ostrogoth barbarians were conquering what remained of the Roman Empire in Western Europe and North Africa, bringing with them heretical doctrines expelled from the Greek-speaking Church in Eastern Europe and West Asia.

The first half of the creed explains the doctrine of the Holy Trinity in a way which we can understand.  The second half explains the doctrine of Christology in a way which we can understand.  Both of these are complicated doctrines.  They are complicated because both fully conform to Holy Scripture, and the Bible is not a simple book of doctrines.

This Creed simply and repetitively states these complex doctrines in a way the common Christian can understand.  There is no need to go to seminary to grasp a basic and truthful understanding of the Holy Trinity and of Christ.

If you hearken to the words of the Athanasian Creed and understand these basic doctrines, your reading of the Holy Scriptures will be richly rewarded.  You will better understand Genesis, the Gospels, the Epistles, and the Prophets.  Today’s lesson from Revelation and the Gospel particularly make more sense to us when we read them with the true understanding of the Holy Trinity and natures and Person of Christ.

Also, you will better understand the prayers of our incomparable Anglican liturgy.  Your worship of God and your closeness to God will bear fruit from educating your mind in the God’s eternal truth.  We will live forever with God.  We ought to desire to know him a bit.

 

Here is the Athanasian Creed, or Quicunque Vult, along with some explanatory notes.  You may read along in your insert if you like.

 

“WHOSOEVER WILL BE SAVED,

before all things it is necessary that he hold the Catholic Faith.

(This does not mean the modern Church of Rome and her peculiar doctrines, but the entire, whole, ancient, Apostolic, and Catholic Faith.)

Which Faith except everyone do keep whole and undefiled,

without doubt he shall perish everlastingly.

 

And the Catholic Faith is this:

That we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity,

neither confounding the Persons,

nor dividing the Substance. For there is one Person of the Father,

another of the Son, and another of the Holy Ghost.

But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the

Holy Ghost, is all one, the Glory equal, the Majesty co-eternal.

Such as the Father is, such is the Son, and such is the Holy Ghost.

 

The Father uncreate, the Son uncreate, and the Holy Ghost uncreate.

The Father incomprehensible, the Son incomprehensible,

and the Holy Ghost incomprehensible.

The Father eternal, the Son eternal, and the Holy Ghost eternal.

 

And yet they are not three eternals, but one eternal.

As also there are not three incomprehensibles, nor three uncreated,

but one uncreated, and one incomprehensible.

 

So likewise the Father is Almighty, the Son Almighty,

and the Holy Ghost Almighty. And yet they are not three

Almighties, but one Almighty.

 

So the Father is God, the Son is God,

and the Holy Ghost is God.

And yet they are not three Gods, but one God.

So likewise the Father is Lord, the Son Lord,

and the Holy Ghost Lord. And yet not three Lords, but one Lord.

 

For like as we are compelled by the Christian verity (or truth) to acknowledge

every Person by himself to be both God and Lord,

So are we forbidden by the Catholic Religion to say,

There be three Gods, or three Lords.

The Father is made of none, neither created, nor begotten.

The Son is of the Father alone, not made, nor created, but begotten.

The Holy Ghost is of the Father and of the Son,

neither made, nor created, nor begotten, but proceeding.

 

So there is one Father, not three Fathers; one Son, not three Sons;

one Holy Ghost, not three Holy Ghosts.

And in this Trinity none is afore, or after other;

(That means that no Person of the Godhead comes before another Person.)

none is greater, or less than another; But the whole three Persons

are co-eternal together and co-equal.

So that in all things, as is aforesaid,

the Unity in Trinity and the Trinity in Unity is to be worshipped.

He therefore that will be saved must think thus of the Trinity.

 

Furthermore, it is necessary to everlasting salvation that he also

believe rightly the Incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ.

(That is, when we believe in Christ, we know of Whom we believe.  Jehovah’s Witnesses, for example, believe that Christ is a creature of God the Father and not God Himself.  Thus, through their misunderstanding of Who Christ is, even if they say they believe in Christ, they believe in something other than the Christ, in a creature not our Incarnate God.)

For the right Faith is, that we believe and confess,

that our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is God and Man;

God, of the substance of the Father, begotten before the worlds;

and Man of the substance of his Mother, born in the world;

Perfect God and perfect Man,

of a reasonable soul and human flesh subsisting.

 

Equal to the Father, as touching his Godhead; and inferior to the

Father, as touching his manhood; Who, although he be God and Man,

yet he is not two, but one Christ;

One, not by conversion of the Godhead

into flesh but by taking of the Manhood into God;

One altogether; not by confusion of Substance,

but by unity of Person.

(That means that the two substances of God and Man are not mixed together.  Christ is not fifty percent God and fifty percent Man.  That is incorrect.  Rather, Christ is both entirely God and entirely Man.  He is one Person with two different natures.)

For as the reasonable soul

and flesh is one man, so God and Man is one Christ;

Who suffered for our salvation, descended into hell,

rose again the third day from the dead.

He ascended into heaven, he sitteth at the right hand of the Father,

God Almighty, from whence he will come

to judge the quick and the dead.

At whose coming all men will rise again with their bodies

and shall give account for their own works.

And they that have done good shall go into life

everlasting; and they that have done evil into everlasting fire.

 

This is the Catholic Faith, which except a man believe faithfully,

he cannot be saved.”

 

We are to emulate the internal economy of the Holy Trinity in its perpetual gift of loving-kindness between the Persons of the Trinity.  This abundance of agape love pours forth as the gift which is called Creation.  We are creatures of that eternal and dynamic loving-kindness of the three Persons of the Holy Trinity, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.

We are creatures of this overflow of loving-kindness just as children are made by the abundance of love procreatively poured forth from parents in their marriage.  A man and a woman make love, and that love makes children.  So too, the eternal generous love between the three Persons of the Holy Trinity creatively poured forth to form and then sustains the good earth, the angels in Heaven, the stars and moon, and all the rest of Creation, including us.

We were created when God the Son spoke the Word and God the Father breathed the Holy Ghost upon us.  Our lives are inseparable from the Holy Trinity.  Only within the Holy Trinity do our prayers make sense.  Christ Himself taught us to pray by praying “Our Father….”  Christ Himself told His disciples that He would send us a Comforter, the Holy Ghost.

Today, release both your heart and your mind to Almighty God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, and love him with your whole self and not just your emotions.

 

“The four living creatures had each of them six wings about him; and they were full of eyes within: and they rest not day and night, saying, Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, which was, and is, and is to come.”

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

 

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“Then those men, when they had seen the miracle that Jesus did, said, This is of a truth that prophet. that should come into the world.”

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

 

“Holy Scripture”

We read two lessons of Holy Scripture at every Mass and Office at St. Luke Church.  Our incomparable liturgy is full of it.  The minor propers are taken from it.  Our hymns often spring from or reflect upon it.  So please bring your attention to the way Scripture is used in today’s lessons.

In today’s Epistle, St. Paul speaks of two Sinais and two Jerusalems.  Nowhere in the Old Testament do we find two of these places.  St. Paul is being creative.  He is using the Jerusalem of his time as the home to Jewish Christianity.  He contrasts this to the Heavenly Jerusalem which is free of the Law.  In effect, Jerusalem here on earth is the center for Judaism; Jerusalem above is the center for Christianity.  St. Paul uses the same concept of Jerusalem in two different ways.  That’s interesting.

St. John does not contrast his account of the feeding of 5,000 against any other account.  But when we look at all four Gospels, we might get puzzled.  Ss. Matthew and Mark have two feeding accounts, one with 5,000 and one with 4,000.  Ss. Luke and John have only one feeding account, that of the 5,000.

But the differences blossom from there.  In Ss. Matthew and Mark, the disciples notice the hungry people.  In Ss. Luke and John, Christ notices the hungry people.  Only in St. John does Christ ask St. Philip where they should buy bread.  Only in Ss Mark and John are 200 pennies’ worth of bread mentioned.  In Ss. Matthew and Mark’s accounts of the 5,000, Christ blesses the bread.  In their accounts of the 4,000, along with Ss Luke and John, Christ gives thanks over the bread.  St. John’s account, sung earlier, is more like one account one way and another account another way.  That’s kind of confusing.

But this does not include Old Testament foreshadowing of Christ’s feeding of the multitudes.  The people wondering about a prophet at the end points towards Moses, who fed the Israelites with manna from Heaven.  This too is heavenly food provided by a man sent from God.  Indeed, Christ will speak on the bread of life later in the chapter.

The lad and barley loaves hearken back to II Kings iv.42, when Elisha makes a strange stew.  The setting and the people eating points towards prophecy found in Isaiah xlix.9ff.  These point to the re-occurrence or resonance of events throughout Scripture.

 

So what are we to make of all these different accounts in Scripture?  How are we to understand Scripture?  Is the Bible God’s manual for living as some say?  Is it a how-to book on living a righteous life?  Is it primarily an ancient code of ethics?  Are the Scriptures old writings by ancient religious zealots?

To understand Holy Writ, we should first look into it.  St. Paul writes in 2 Timothy iii.16 of the Old Testament, but is applicable to the New as well, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.”

That leads to the question:  What does God-breathed mean?  It literally means inspired by God.  To inspire is to put breath into.  <Breathe in> I am inspired just then.  The breath being put into Scripture is the Holy Ghost.  God inspired his Scripture with himself, the Third Person of the Holy and Ever-Blessed Trinity.  Scripture is godly, it is useful, and it is profitable.  It points us the way and challenges us in righteousness.

We call it God’s word, but it is not God’s Word in that great sense of it as used by St. John in the beginning of his Gospel:  “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”  This Word of God is in Greek Logos, in Latin Verbum.  It is another name for the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, the Son of God.  Christ is the Word of God incarnate among us.  The Word, as God, has no beginning and no end.

But Christ and Holy Scriptures are different things.  We call them both the word of God, but we sometimes need to be careful with exactly what we mean by God’s Word when we say that.

The Affirmation of St. Louis is the founding document of the Anglican Catholic Church.  The Affirmation attests to “The Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments as the authentic record of God’s revelation of Himself, His saving activity, and moral demands–a revelation valid for all men and all time.”  We believe that both the Old and New Testaments are given by God and valid for all men everywhere at any time and record all things needful for the Christian life.

The Thirty-Nine Articles are a Sixteenth-Century list of points of belief that has been updated through the Nineteenth-Century here in America.  The VI Article, Of the Sufficiency of the Holy Scriptures for Salvation, is an awesome testimony of the importance and place of both the Old and New Testaments:

“Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation: so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man, that it should be believed as an article of the Faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation.”

If it’s not in the Bible, we don’t have to believe it.  For example, I believe in the Assumption of our Lady.  There is extra-biblical evidence for it, and it makes sense.  But because it is not in Scripture, I do not teach it as necessary for salvation.

The VI Article precisely describes the best place for the Deuterocanonical, or Apocryphal, Books in our understanding:  “And the other Books (as Hierome saith) the Church doth read for example of life and instruction of manners; but yet doth it not apply them to establish any doctrine;”  The Wisdom of Solomon and First Maccabees are wholesome to read, but we do not derive doctrine from them.

 

Every single word of Scripture is true and given to us from God for our benefit.  However, as a deposit and gift from God we can never completely understand it, nor can we ever fully comprehend the meaning of any given passage.  There is more than we can know, and there will always be much of it that some other Christian will be able to see better than we will.

Because each one of us is so very fallible, we must always remember that the authoritative teaching of Scripture resides only in Holy Church.  Thousands of scholars for hundreds of years have spent their entire careers studying what we call the Bible, only to disagree with each other and not believe a word of it.  Many of them are atheists.  And yet they study Scripture.

Scholars think that St. Paul’s account of the Last Supper came first, followed by Ss Matthew and Luke, followed by St. John.  But while that might be very astute figuring, in an important way, that misses the point.  These accounts are found in Holy Scripture, the written gift of God to Holy Church.

So when they tell us that the end of St. Mark’s Gospel is not original to the book, they may well be right.  But the end of St. Mark’s Gospel is part of the book canonized by the faithful gathered in Holy Church, devoutly read by the faithful, and described by an Ecumenical Council.  In short, it doesn’t matter to us how the Gospels and prophets and epistles and psalms came to be.  It matters to us that they came from God.  Indeed, the questions posed by scholars who do not believe the teachings of Holy Church are often meant to confuse the faithful or to increase your opinion of them.

 

As faithful Christians, do not be anxious about Holy Scripture.  God has spoken to you and to all humanity through these books.  Know that Christ is truthfully introduced to you in these writings.  And in this particular lesson today, know that Christ had mercy on the people, made a miracle, and gave to His disciples who fed His people.

Let me share with you two old-fashioned customs which you may care to adopt.  First, I never place any other book on top of the Bible.  I always place the Bible at the top of a stack.

Second, when reading the name of our Lord, Jesus, in Holy Writ, I bow my head just as if I had said His most lovely and Holy Name out loud.  It is a small way of reading Scripture with your whole body.  I do the same thing with Jehovah and Jah, which are the Authorized Version’s writers’ way of rendering Yahweh and Yah.  This also is a sacred name and is not to be read or said in disrespect.

Don’t worry if you don’t understand it all.  No human does, except our Lord Christ.  No saint, no bishop, no doctor of the Church understands all of Scripture.  It came through the pen of man, but it flowed out of God’s loving-kindness and giving of himself.

But the more we learn and know of it, the more the words sing in our hearts, the more we meditate upon God’s written word to us day and night, the closer we get to God.  And that is beautiful.  That is miraculous.  That is a gift from God.

So read your Bible.  Immerse yourself into those sacred words.  Glorify God in your reading of it.  And as the Collect for Advent II says about the sacred Scriptures:  “Grant that we may in such wise hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that by patience and comfort of thy holy Word, we may embrace, and ever hold fast, the blessed hope of everlasting life….”

 

“Then those men, when they had seen the miracle that Jesus did, said, This is of a truth that prophet. that should come into the world.”

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

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Bless them which persecute you: bless, and curse not. Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep. Be of the same mind one toward another.

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

 

We are not living up to our potential.  We want to be better Christians.  We want to feel God’s presence in our lives more than we do now.  We want to live holier lives with fewer sins, trusting in God and feeling his comfort more.  But we don’t.  Because to live a more outrageously Christian life, we would have to change.  We would have to alter comfortable habits.  We would have to change our routine.  And here’s the kicker:  We would have to risk losing what we have.

But it is exactly so that we must lose much of what we have.  We have regular sins we habitually commit.  That’s gotta change.  We have a set of friends that don’t challenge us when we misbehave.  That’s gotta change.  We have God in a box, sometimes on the mantle, sometimes on the bookshelf, sometimes on our nightstand.  That’s gotta change.

It hurts to change, but change we must.  We must direct ourselves outward.  Inward is our own self, our own interests, our own safety.  It is a dangerous world out there.  But God is out there too.  We must direct ourselves outward.  The two great commandments are to love the Lord our God with all our heart, with all our soul, and with all our mind.  And we must love our neighbors as ourselves.  Both God and our neighbors are beyond ourselves, out there.  You cannot stare at your belly button and find God.  But you will find God in the faces of the man who is asking for a handout, the man who has sinned against you, and the woman who lives down the block.

The Church does not exist for herself.  The Church is the Bride and Body of Christ.  The Church, by her nature, serves the Lord.  We too serve the Lord.  We do not all serve the Lord in the same way.  Some serve Him loudly, others quietly.  Some pray more than they can give, and others give more than they can pray.  But we are made holy, consecrated, set apart from the sin and brokenness of the world through our Lord Whom we serve.

How we treat people is vitally important.  First, it is one of the two great commandments.  Second, it is the subject of six of the Ten Commandments.  Third, it is what those outside the fellowship of Christ notice first about us.  Fourth, these are the same people for whom Christ came down from Heaven, for whom Christ lived and suffered amongst us, for whom Christ died on the hard wood of the Cross, for whom Christ rose again on the third day, for whom Christ ascended into Heaven, for whom Christ sent the Holy Ghost, and for whom Christ intercedes at the right hand of God the Father.  Those people outside of ourselves, those people outside the household of faith are pretty darn important, you could say!

 

Loving-kindness is the chief of the theological virtues.  It alone remains after faith and hope have passed away.  As Christians, love is our rule, love is our guide.

But love means almost anything in today’s society.  All sorts of selfish and immoral behaviors are conducted in the name of love.  This is one of the reasons I follow the Authorized Version of the Bible in using loving-kindness for the Greek agape, which is the same as the Latin caritas.  Loving-kindness is the self-sacrificial love manifested in Christ which resides in the will and not in the emotions.  We do not feel in loving-kindness; we act in loving-kindness.

And so St. Paul describes the life of the Christian community, the blessed company of all faithful people, the Body of Christ, the Bride of Christ, that life which is lived in loving-kindness.

Let love be without dissimulation. Abhor that which is evil; cleave to that which is good. Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love; in honour preferring one another; not slothful in business; fervent in spirit; serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope; patient in tribulation; continuing instant in prayer; distributing to the necessity of saints; given to hospitality. Bless them which persecute you: bless, and curse not. Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep. Be of the same mind one toward another. Mind not high things, but condescend to men of low estate.

“Let love be without dissimulation.”  This means that we must stop pretending to love each other.  I understand that it is more polite to pretend to care for someone while mentally reserving bad opinions about them, but it is contrary to Scripture.  We cannot be transformed into lovers of God and our fellow man if we walk around pretending to love them.

“Abhor that which is evil; cleave to that which is good.”  This needs no explanation.  Flee from evil and cling to all that is good.

“Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love; in honour preferring one another;”  When we love each other like Christ loves us, we may not all be close social friends.  But we will be brothers and sisters one to another.  You may know the Greek word for this brotherly love:  Philadelphia.  We have an obligation to act in loving-kindness with everyone everywhere, but we have a special obligation to our brothers and sisters in the Church.  Indeed, each of us ought to seek to honor our brother more than ourselves.  If we do not change our lives within the bosom of Christ’s Church, then what are we really doing here?

“not slothful in business; fervent in spirit; serving the Lord;” Without letting our zeal wane, we are to serve the Lord in a determined fashion filled with the Holy Ghost.  What is your vocation?  What is God calling you to do?  Are you fully involved in serving God?  If not, what are you waiting for?  If God called you, then you have a mission from God to fulfill.  Don’t wait until tomorrow, for tomorrow may never come.  Don’t worry about waiting for the right moment, for you may never feel the time to be right.  Get going with God’s business!

“rejoicing in hope; patient in tribulation; continuing instant in prayer;”  How ought we to live?  We not only are to live in hope of Christ’s return and life everlasting, we are to rejoice in that hope.  And yet while we are waiting, we suffer.  We see suffering all around us.  We experience suffering in our bodies, in our minds, in our families, in our friends.  Here, we have a difficult word from St. Paul:  Be patient.  We are not to be lazy, but we should bear our pains, our griefs, and our sorrows.  This is hard, and this is why St. Paul follows this with prayer.

We must continue instant in prayer; that is, we are to pray to God at all times.  We are to pray with our mouths, we are to pray with our bodies, we are to pray with our thoughts, and we are to pray with our actions.  Kneeling before God is prayer.  Contemplating the wonders of Holy Scripture is prayer.  Serving each other in Christ’s Holy Name is prayer.  And of course, following the Mass and praying the Lord’s Prayer is prayer.

“distributing to the necessity of saints; given to hospitality.”  We must look after others.  In particular, we must look after our own people.  The Holy Order of Deacons was created to serve the widows and destitute of the Body of Christ.  We must look after our own.  And we must also look after the stranger.  Our service to those whom we do not know opens a relationship wherein we can live out our Christian lives in front of somebody new.  This and proclamation are the earliest and best ways of evangelism.  More importantly, they show loving-kindness both to brother and stranger alike.

“Bless them which persecute you: bless, and curse not.”  Hurting those that hurt you is directly contrary to the teaching of Christ.  St. Paul writes later, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord.”  The greatest help you can give someone who has lost his way or is mired in sin is to live a holy and virtuous life brimming over with loving-kindness.  Take it from me, the example of my elders and the close reasoning of apologists were not the things that tipped me over into worshipping Christ our Lord.

Instead, it was the meek, humble, honest, decent, and loving co-worker who never returned evil for evil, but instead always returned good for evil.  “Who can live like that?” I said.  Who indeed?  A Christian, a woman filled with the love of God, who knew that God absolutely loves her and gives her the stability and confidence to love those around her, even a sarcastic jerk.  I cannot recall her name, but she changed my life, and her example comes down through the decades to you right here in this church.  We should all be like her.

“Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep.”  When people lose someone close to them, invariably some people say that they don’t know how to talk to them.  This counsel from St. Paul is excellent:  “Weep with them that weep.”  You don’t have to cheer up the sad.  Sometimes, there are most excellent reasons to be sad.  I didn’t need someone to tell me a joke and crack me up when my dog died.  I needed someone to commiserate with me, to share my sufferings, even if only a little.

Likewise, when your brother rejoices, rejoice with him!  When your sister rejoices, don’t put your feelings above hers and grow jealous – rejoice with her!  “So we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another.”  When our brother weeps, open up your heart and weep a little with your brother.  When your sisters rejoices, open up your heart and rejoice with your sister.

We are now come to the end of today’s Epistle Lesson.  This last part is hard for us:  “Be of the same mind one toward another. Mind not high things, but condescend to men of low estate.”

I’ve said before that there is only one thing needed to be welcomed to St. Luke Church:  A soul.  But there are many divisions within our society that have nothing to do with whether we have souls or not or even whether we have faith or not.  We have the high and haughty of this society which look down their noses at those they perceive to be of lower class.  And we have the working and poor folk who look down their noses at those they perceive to be rich and snobby.

These are unholy and unchristian distinctions.  The early Church encompassed all believers.  We do not have eight different parishes spread throughout Augusta, catering to different races, classes, strata, or other such things.  No.  Our primary identifier in this society must be that of Christian, a follower of Christ.  You cannot take anything else with you when you go to Heaven.  All you will have is Christ.  All you need is Christ.

For a long time, I very much sought to live inside my identity as a Georgian and a Southerner.  And I am not ashamed by either label.  But one day, kneeling before the Blessed Sacrament at Benediction, I sang the hymn, “O Saving Victim Opening Wide”.  I regularly did this.  But this one evening, something was different.  As I sang, “O grant us life that shall not end / in our true native land with thee”, I heard it differently than before.  Where is my true native land?  With Thee, with Christ in Heaven above.  Everything else is dross, is consumable, will be burned in the cleansing fire.

And so I followed my call up north to Wisconsin, and from there to Illinois.  For five years I sojourned amongst the Yankees, and found that I was brother to them and they were to me.  For all of us who are in Christ are one.  We are “members one of another”.  We are joined in a way that mysteriously transcends the foolishness of the world.  I know this seems wildly ridiculous, very pie-in-the-sky.  But Christ is real.  God created the world.  If you look around and see the hatred, war, theft, murder, assault, rape, abortion, prostitution, and domestic violence around you, if you look around and see the graft, corruption, manipulation, unbridled greed, and downright lies, you will see the filth that we live in.  We are called out of that.  We are called out to leave that behind.

But if we answer that call, if we turn our backs on the warped selfishness which has enslaved our home and instead turn to Christ, we must change our lives.  We must love one another through thick and thin.  When I served at the Episcopal cathedral in Peoria, one of the men was convicted of a crime.  We all threw him a going away party the night before he went to prison and looked after his family while he was gone.  The bishop drove him to the prison gate.  Now that’s loving your brother.  That’s not kicking a man when he was down.

We must reach out to those who slap our hands away.  And we must do it without self-congratulation and pride.  Humbly, knowing that all lovely things are a gift from God and no doing of our own, humbly we lift our hands up to Heaven and thank the good Lord for his gracious mercies.  And with loving-kindness and gratitude in our hearts for our Lord above, loving the Lord our God with all our hearts, with all our souls, and with all our minds, we turn our gaze to earth and love our neighbors as ourselves.

 

Bless them which persecute you: bless, and curse not. Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep. Be of the same mind one toward another.

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

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“But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof.”

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

 

Death

 

There are three ways that we can meet the end of our mortal life here on this earth.  From most likely to happen to least are:  Our death, Christ’s return, or direct entry to Heaven like Enoch, Elijah, and St. Mary.

In Genesis v.24 we read:  “And Enoch walked with God: and he was not; for God took him.”

Not to spoil Naomi’s Sunday School, but in II Kings ii.11 we read:  “behold, there appeared a chariot of fire, and horses of fire, and parted them both asunder; and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven.”  Elijah did not die, but he was taken up into heaven.

According to the non-Scriptural but goodly understanding of the early Church, the Blessed Virgin Mary did not die and meet corruption on earth but was assumed directly into Heaven.

So we know that we can be taken into heaven without dying, but we have only two Scriptural and one post-Scriptural examples of this.  We had better not count on God ‘miracleing’ us off of the earth.

We also know that the Lord will return one day to judge the quick – or living – and the dead.  This is known as the Second Coming.  This first day of that holy season, we may think of this as Christ’s Second Advent.

As Isaiah says in the thirteenth chapter, “the day of the Lord is at hand” and “Behold, the day of the Lord cometh”.  As Christ says in the Gospel according to St. Matthew about the five wise and five foolish virgins, “Watch therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of man cometh.”  As St. Paul says in I Thessalonians:  “For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.”

But we still wait for Christ’s Second Advent.  We do not know when it will be; only that it will be.  Until then, we are left with only one expectation of how we shall meet our end here on earth:  Our death.

Death is an unnatural state brought upon by Man’s Fall into sin. 

In the third chapter of Genesis we read words familiar from our Ash Wednesday service:  “for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.”  Due to sin entering into the lives of the ancestors of our human race, Adam and Eve, we suffer a debilitating separation from God, who is the only source of goodness, holiness, health, and life.  Therefore, we labor under the conditions of wickedness, disease, and death.

Death is necessarily related to sin.  Sin brought death into the world of men.  Only by addressing sin can we effectively address death.  We must understand that the cancer that killed my father twenty-four years ago is related to the sin I committed yesterday, as well as to the slaughter of the Holy Innocents by King Herod, and is only effectively met by the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross.

We cannot meet death on death’s terms without losing.  On death’s terms, we will suffer violence at the hands of other people, sickness and deterioration at the hands of disease, and will die eternally separated from God in Hell forever.  That is what death is.  Death is a metaphysical sickness which medicine and clean living can at most delay.  Death is our end without God.

Therefore, we must appeal to God to assist us with our death.  We must prepare for death.

Momento mori.  In Latin, that means, “Remember that you will die.”  Every day we must be mindful of death if we are to prepare for death.  We have heard that we ought to live each day as if it would be our last.  We should not take this to mean that we ought not to plan ahead, but rather that we firmly understand that our time is the Lord’s, and he will give us what he wants, not what we think we need.  We must always be mindful of our coming death.  Have you heard the Coast Guard’s motto?  Semper Paratus, which means Always ready.  Do you remember that Scout motto?  Be prepared.  To be ready for our death, we must be prepared.

Part of preparing for our death is to make provision for the disposition of our earthly substance.  We ought to have our financial things in order for those who will dispose of our estate.  We ought to leave our valuables where our loved ones can find them.  Importantly, we ought to leave plans for what type of funeral we are to have.  As a parishioner here at St. Luke, you are absolutely entitled to a Prayer Book funeral, a Prayer Book committal, and a requiem Mass.  These are free of charge.  You may choose one, two, or all three of them.  But you really ought to consult with me about them, write down what you want, and keep those instructions in a place your loved ones can find immediately upon your death.

But that is simply the beginning of our preparations for death.  We must also provide for those who are dependent upon us.  We must leave instructions on who should care for our minor children, an infirm parent, and any household pets we might have.  Your dog or cat will still need fresh water the day of your death.

We ought also to provide for the distribution of our worldly wealth.  Our families should be provided for.  We ought to heed the Book of Common Prayer in the Visitation of the Sick, where it enjoins the priest “to advise the People, whilst they are in health, to make Wills arranging for the disposal of their temporal goods, and, when of ability, to leave Bequests for religious and charitable uses.”

Unclear wishes about the disposition of your property often lead to courts, and courts tend to disrupt the harmony of families.  Far better to prepare ahead of time than to leave confusion and bitterness in your wake.  Also important is to leave bequests for scholarships, good works, and parish support.  Our parish is currently operating under a tremendous financial difficulty which is only bearable for a while due to the generosity of dead parishioners and their bequests.

Another important part of preparing for our death is shaping our legacy while we are alive.  We buried a fine man this past week, Francis “Mac” MacDonald.  Mac and his wife Gini left behind a formidable legacy of generosity, hard work, diligent governance, and loving-kindness.  Any Christian should be honored to walk in their paths.  But each of us walks his own path.  You will leave behind a legacy.  What will people say about you?

The final and most important part of preparing for our death is preparing our soul to meet her maker and redeemer.  As best we can tell from Holy Scripture and the teachings of Holy Church, we will be judged initially upon our death and then finally upon Christ’s Second Coming.  What will He say to you?

If we trust in, if we depend upon, if we rely upon ourselves, our wealth, our ideology, or anything other than Christ, we probably won’t like what He has to say to us on that Last Great Day.  There is no one who can defeat death other than Christ.  There is no one who loves us enough to interpose Himself between us and death than Christ.  There is no solution to the problem of death other than Christ.

Christ came to us on Christmas morning to save us from death.  Through sin, death entered into the world of men.  Starting with Abel and lasting through this very moment, we men have died the death of this world.  Little babies die in the womb.  Old women die in their beds.  Young men die in combat.  Old men die in the hospital.  We die.

But God has intervened in our situation.  We need not die like those without hope.  God the Father sent God the Son into the world as the Christ, the Messiah, the Savior of the world.  And He conquered death.  But He conquered death in a most interesting way:  Christ conquered death by dying Himself.  This apparently gave Satan and sin and death the victory.  But no!  Christ rose from the grave and killed death itself.  No mythic hero of ancient literature accomplished such a feat!  Christ died, defeating death by dying Himself and Resurrecting.

We who live in Him participate in the victory which He won without our assistance.  When we join in His holy Body the Church, we too will experience Resurrection on that Last Great Day.

The ignorant of our society claim that Christians wish ill on the world by praying and hoping for Christ’s Second Coming.  This is foolishness.  We Christians pray and hope for Christ to come again soon so that death may be overcome all the sooner.  We know that it will mean that we will face Christ as judge in the Last Judgement, but we so eagerly seek for death to be done for forever.

As we reflect upon our own deaths and the deaths of our loved ones, let us put on Christ our Lord and put to death our sins.

 

“But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof.”

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

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