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Posts Tagged ‘Holy Scriptures’

St. Matthew xxv.41:  “Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels:”

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

 

I read an anonymous quote this week which seemed appropriate to share with you this Sunday, the fourth of the Four Last Things, Hell:  “Everyone will live forever. Not everyone will enjoy it.”

 

Satan hates us so very much.  For all the rebellion and hatred he bears to God, he cannot hurt God directly, for God is all powerful.  Even when he thought he could hurt Christ, he could not tempt Him into sin.  He could not break Christ on the Cross.  Instead, Christ broke the power of Satan and Hell on the Cross.

However, Satan can hurt God’s creatures.  Unlike the angels, we men are made in the image of God.  Satan seeks to destroy us like a ravening lion. So when Old Scratch and his demons get their filthy claws on us in Hell, they torture for all eternity.

Both man and angel are created, are designed, are built to bask in the presence of the great giver of life, the Lord God Almighty.  As much as man and angel may hate God and seek to flee from his presence, so both are horribly distressed by great longing for God.  That impure corrupted longing turned long ago into distorted loathing and hatred and contempt for the erstwhile object of love.

As Fr. Von Cochem says about the Devil:

Of all the fallen spirits, not one is so abominable as the chief of all, the haughty Lucifer, whose cruelty, malice and spite render him an object of dread not merely to the damned, but also to the devils subject to him. This Lucifer is called by various names in Holy Scriptures, all indicating his malignity. On account of his repulsiveness he is called a dragon; on account of his ferocity, a lion; on account of his malice, the old serpent; on account of his deceitfulness, the father of lies; on account of his haughtiness, king over all the children of pride; and on account of his great power and might, the prince of this world.

The other devils and demons are fallen angels who are not as mighty or created as perfectly good as Lucifer, and therefore are not so evil and ugly as him.  Just as men often in Scripture behold angels and attempt to worship them because of their beauty and goodness, so we would hardly be able to abide the presence of demons in their unhidden form because of their ugliness and wickedness.  That we can scarcely contemplate how miserable in appearance devils are is why they are often portrayed in a gruesome and grotesque manner.

Immediately after making my confession on retreat at Holy Spirit monastery in Conyers, I was visited in a nightmare by a creature so horrible in countenance that I could only barely describe it.  I was immensely terrified and would have been frightened away from spiritual matters entirely – thus acquiescing to the damning of my soul – were I not fortified in the Holy Sacraments and prayer.  The Sacraments are the grace of God the Son and prayer is ultimately of God the Father – when mediated by God the Holy Ghost, we are invincible to all demonic spiritual attack.

Hell is the place reserved for Satan, his demons, and cursed men.  It is a place of everlasting fire.  St. Matthew xxv.41:  “Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels:”  Hell is real and everlasting, as is Heaven.  The wicked and damned go to Hell forever, and the righteous and saved go to Heaven forever.  St. Matthew xxv.46:  “And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.”

The Roman Christians in antiquity would stand prayerfully together as they would be mauled to death by wild animals in the Coliseum.  They could die heroically at peace in our Lord while vicious beasts, deranged by hunger, would pounce upon them, pull them down, and tear their flesh with fang and claw.  They could die this way because they had victory in Christ and knew that Hell had worse to offer.  Think upon that, dear souls!  How ruthlessly did the lions rip into their flesh!  Would the angry hungry evil angels be more merciful than a brutalized innocent animal?  Our brethren knew that the feasting of demons upon their Resurrection bodies would go on for eternity – and the demons would never eat their fill or satisfy their lust for flesh.

Oftentimes I have heard that the company would be better in Hell than in Heaven, as if Hell would be some great party that would never end.  Perhaps the companionship would not be near as boring as would be the squares in Heaven.  But loving-kindness is entirely missing in Hell.  There is no camaraderie amongst the damned.  Hell is the realm where all are embittered against each other, mocking and cursing with enmity for all.

 

St. Mark ix.43-4

And if thy hand offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter into life maimed, than having two hands to go into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched:  Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched.

Christ says this not to injure our bodies.  Sin does not work in our hands and feet and eyes.  Sin works in our hearts.  But indeed we should be counted among the blessed if we were to lose our hands and feet and eyes in this world and flourish in Heaven above for all eternity!  The holy martyrs certainly thought so.  St. Lawrence the Deacon was roasted alive.  Yet knowing that Christ was his redeemer, he famously said to his executioners to turn him over, for this side was done!  How could he be so bold as he died a death of torture?  Because His savior lived!  And St. Lawrence was about to join Him in Heaven.  Truly the slings and insults of this world are nothing compared to the agonies of Hell.

So Christ says it is better to cut off your own body parts and live maimed than to go to Hell intact.  And three times here in St. Mark’s Gospel Christ tells us why:  “Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched.”  The filthy, rotten, tormenting, grotesque demons of Hell do not die in Hellfire.  They gnaw on your soul for eternity.  And the fire never wanes or dies either.  For age unto age the blast furnace heat far exceeds the fire into which King Nebuchadnezzar threw Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.  That pagan king heated up that furnace seven times beyond its regular blaze.  So very hot was it that the men who threw the three Jewish lads into it died from exposure to the heat.  Yet God sent his angel to protect the young men in there.  But Hellfire is profoundly hotter than the furnaces of Babylon, and God keeps his holy angels far from pits of Hell.

The rich man asked Father Abraham to send Lazarus with his finger dipped in water so to cool his burnt parched lips.  But Father Abraham told that wicked soul that he had enjoyed his good things in his life and not done justice.  There was no relief for him who had ignored the righteous soul starving at the gate, stepping over the poor man on his way about town.  There is no relief in Hell, there is no companionship in Hell, there is no clean air to breathe in Hell, there is no rest from torment in Hell, and there is no peace and quiet in Hell.

The unforgiving oven of Hell continuously burns all flesh therein.  And since all the cursed souls in Hell possess their eternal bodies, the stench of burning flesh does not abate over the millennia.  The cries of the cursed, the stench of the damned, the torments of the devils, the separation from God, and the sheer inescapability of it all are too gruesome for us to understand but in the extremes of our language.  For we still possess our frail bodies of our mortality.  We still live our lives of decision.  We may yet turn to God.  We may yet spurn Satan and embrace Christ.  Our judgement is still yet to come, for we mortal men remain alive … today.  But as death and judgement await us, so does either Heaven or Hell.

 

St. Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians ii.9, “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.”  Wonderful bounteous beauties await those who follow Christ unto the end.  There, in Heaven, we will eternally witness and experience the dynamic loving-kindness of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.  But those in Hell are denied this, the Beatific Vision.  The damned do not behold God, for they lived without God; they lived for themselves, and so they remain tortured by the lack of God for which they were made in the company of all the foul spirits who rejected God for themselves.  Thus, those in perdition suffer the company of the most selfish wicked souls ever created while those in bliss enjoy the great love of those who put you above themselves.

We were made by God to enjoy God.  To be denied God for eternity is the greatest sorrow man can know.  Now we are on the earth in our mortal life, and so we can only barely glimpse what the damned miss.  For we ourselves are yet getting to know God.  We still foolishly believe that something other than God may bring us greater joy than our Creator.  St. Bonaventure said, “The most terrible penalty of the damned is being shut out forever from the blissful and joyous contemplation of the Blessed Trinity.”  St. John Chrysostom said, “I know many persons only fear Hell because of its pains, but I assert that the loss of the celestial glory is a source of more bitter pain than all the torments of Hell.”  Every moment we feel loss or long for something we cannot have, we are touched by the lack of God in our lives.  So we try to fill up our emptiness with the delights of the flesh and the world, with passions, honors, riches, sensual gratifications, and all the vain and fleeting pleasures of this realm.  But all of these things are hollow and empty.  God alone is the one true source of the soul’s happiness.  To be finally denied the only source of happiness is logically to live in eternal despair and agony.

The eternal sorrow of the damned will recall their many occasions to turn from the way of wickedness, all the wrongs committed against God and neighbor, and all the many times their friends and family urged them to amend their ways.  Thus their conscience will pain them beyond measure, along with the stench, the heat, the cries of the lost, and the torments of demons.  They will forever know that they could have avoided such an unbearable fate had they only responded truthfully to the Lord of life instead of making their own way according to their own perverse and peculiar thoughts.  Alas, the presence of their own minds, will, conscience, and memory, cause the damned everlasting torment so unspeakable that our stomachs quiver in disgust.

 

Dear children of God, do not listen to the whispers of this world, which are either the hushed tones of sinful men or fallen angels.  David said (Psalm xiv.1):  “THE fool hath said in his heart, There is no God.”  You will hear that there is no God, no punishment, and no Hell.  You will be told that you may live your life however selfishly you wish and will never have to answer for your crimes.  But those words tempt you away from Christ and straight into the maw of Satan.

 

To avoid Hell, you must believe in Jesus Christ and give your heart to Him, you must be Baptized into His Death and Resurrection, and you must repent of your sins.

To grow in Christ as a living branch of his Body, you must obey the Six Precepts or Duties of Churchmen.  That is, worship every Sunday and Holy Day of Obligation.  Receive the Body and Blood of Christ frequently.  Give our Lord the first tenth of your income in the tithe.  Seek after righteousness by keeping your conscience clean of all sin and confess your sins if you fall.  Fast like our Lord did when directed to by His Body.  And keep the marriage laws of the Church, witnessing to the holiness of Christ.

If you are doing all these things, then seriously attend to prayer, good works, and studying the Holy Scripture.  It is possible and not all that difficult to live such a life.  Besides avoiding Hell, the soul who carefully lives a Christian life will grow closer and closer to our Lord while you still draw breath on this earth, after which He will not forget you in the world to come.

 

St. Matthew xxv.41:  “Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels:”

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

 

 

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“For what glory is it, if, when ye be buffeted for your faults, ye shall take it patiently? but if, when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable with God.”

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

 

St. Luke Church is suffering from an insidious rot that has infected us from out there – the sinful world of men.  This rot is incubated in our own sinful natures, our flesh.  This rot is greatly exacerbated by the accusations of the great foe, Satan.

Part of adolescence is learning to discern between conforming to others from weakness and obeying legitimate and effective mores and rules.  Most of us have acted cruelly to someone who did not fit in at some point in our lives.  Human experience shows that those of us who have felt excluded act particularly nastily in excluding others when we get the chance.  We want revenge.  We want to feed the dragon of self-pity that lies smoking at the bottom of our hearts.

We must never feed this dragon of self-pity, we must never offer justifications for our naughty behavior.  We must always turn to face that which is good, that which is true, and that which is beautiful.  We must always pursue holiness, just as we must always cut off whatever tempts us to sin.  This is repentance.

Spiritually mature Christians must discern between what is the good and loving thing to do and the evil and hateful thing to do.  Sometimes there are tough calls.  Sometimes people of good will can see good reasons on opposing sides.  But most of the time, if we listen to God the Holy Ghost speaking to us through the life of Christ, the Holy Scriptures, and our Mother the Church, then we know what we ought to do.

The rot that spreads through the members of this parish is the sin of gossip, backbiting, and ungracious speaking.  Christ says in St. Mark vii.18-20 that it is not what goes into the man that makes him unclean but rather what comes out of him.  To make sure we understand precisely what He is saying, Christ lists it out for us in verses 21-23:

“For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, Thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness: All these evil things come from within, and defile the man.”

In today’s Epistle, St. Peter writes of how to behave when accused falsely.  Mind you, he is not speaking of how to feel justified when you are confronted with your own bad behavior.  He is speaking of suffering with Christ.  Christ suffered innocently.  When you suffer innocently for the sake of Christ, then you suffer alongside Christ.  This is a great consolation.

St. Peter is not saying that you suffer alongside Christ when you reap the punishment for the sin you have sown.  When you hurt someone else and you are called out on it, your cheeks will burn with shame.  And they ought to burn with shame.  Embrace the pain and let it instruct you so that you never hurt anyone else like that again.

My dear children, the day is coming when we may indeed suffer for the Christian Faith.  Our brothers and sisters around the world suffer so.  We benefit from the protection of a free and civilized nation.  Many of us here have served this nation so that it may protect our families and churches in a free and just society.

But nothing in this sinful world of men is perfect.  Brokenness and alienation from God is found everywhere we look.  We can safely expect that we will not be as free to worship Christ in peace in the future as we are now.  When that day comes, we will join the early Christians in facing persecution for worshipping Christ.  When that day comes, we will suffer alongside Christ.

But when we suffer the penalty for our poor behavior today, we are not suffering alongside Christ.  Sinning against God and hurting our brothers and sisters is exactly the behavior that Christ had to die on the Cross to forgive us of.

Not sinning against, not threatening, and not reviling our God and our neighbors is a non-negotiable part of the Christian faith.  We do not vaunt ourselves over against our neighbors.  This means that the loving-kindness of God is found in holy behaviors and not found in sinful behaviors.  We are not saved by obeying the rules and following the law, but we are damned if we don’t obey and follow the way of our Lord and Savior.

Remember, Christ was innocent.  “There was no guile found in His mouth.”  St. Peter shows that we are to bear suffering like Christ did.  Christ calmly bore wrongs and did not avenge.  John Calvin wrote:  “Christ abstained from every kind of retaliation.  Our minds, therefore, ought to be bridled, lest we should seek to render evil for evil.”

He did not revile or seek vengeance against Judas.  He did not tell the thieves crucified next to Him that they deserved their punishment as He did not deserve His.  Instead, He forgave the penitent thief who had said that his own condemnation was just.  Christ did not call out Judas’ betrayal to the other disciples but let them learn of it when Judas came leading the soldiers of the priests.  Christ loved and obeyed unto death.  This is directly contrary to the way of this world.

And we as Christians follow Christ.  The holier we grow through the Paraclete, the Comforter, the Holy Spirit of God, the less comfortable with the world we will be.

Christ is our judge.  He will judge us and our behavior on the basis of what a just and sinless man would have done – on what He would have done.  This indeed is “what would Jesus do?”  Christ turned the other cheek and walked the extra mile.  Christ extracted no vengeance.  Those of us, who count offenses and desire to avenge them, sin and fall short of the glory of God.  We as brothers and sisters under the pain of eternal separation from God in Hell cannot countenance, cover, participate in, or make excuses for counting offense and seeking vengeance by any in the household of God.

Harken to my words, good people of God:

  • We will neither gossip, backbite, or attack others nor will we tolerate those who do.
  • We will challenge each other, preferably in private, but in public if it necessary.
  • We will challenge each other when our brother or our sister speaks ill of anybody in our hearing.
  • We will no longer recount ill deeds committed by others.
  • We will only tolerate tales of wrong deeds by those who personally confess them.

If I speak ill of someone, please pull me aside and let me know so that I may repent and be saved.  I need God’s grace in my poor and sinful life.  I need it.  I am not sufficient by myself.  I am not okay in my own skin.  My very flesh pulls me away from God and into temptation to sin.  I need help.  I need my bishop.  I need my wife.  I need the faithful people of God.

And so do you.  Not a one of you lives a life in perfect communion with God.  We all feel the loneliness of desolation at times, but we live it every moment.  We are not complete until our hearts rest within Almighty God our Heavenly Father.  We are not consecrated unto God until we have received the Baptism of Christ and Communion of His very Flesh and Blood.

Let us be gentle and walk humbly in loving-kindness with all people.  Let us submit ourselves to each other in that great love so that we, with the grace of God and power of the Holy Ghost, may climb the ladder of perfection up to Heaven.

 

“For what glory is it, if, when ye be buffeted for your faults, ye shall take it patiently? but if, when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable with God.”

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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“The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are”

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

 

This parable of Christ’s shows a tension in God’s progressive revelation to us.  What do I mean by progressive revelation?  Consider the Holy Scriptures.  God reveals himself to Abraham as an individual man and through his family, then more fully to Moses and the nation of Israel through the Law, and then more fully to Israel and other nations through the Prophets of old.  Then, “when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son” into the world to be born by the Holy Ghost of the Blessed Virgin Mary and made man.  God became one of us in Jesus of Galilee, and He changed our relationship with God.

St. Paul speaks of this in the fourth chapter of Galatians (iv.1-7):  “Now I say, That the heir, as long as he is a child, differeth nothing from a servant, though he be lord of all; But is under tutors and governors until the time appointed of the father.  Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world:  But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, To redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons.  And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father.  Wherefore thou art no more a servant, but a son; and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ.”

My dear children, we who believe in Christ and have been baptized into His Death and Resurrection are the adopted sons of God the Father and the adopted brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ our Lord.  By the very nature of God and how he has related himself to us, we are in, or have been called to be in, a personal relationship to the High King of Heaven.  Look around you and take care to see the invisible and supernatural crowns upon the heads of the others in here.  It is no lie that the saints are portrayed in art with halos around their heads.

And as adopted sons of God the Father, we can learn several things that peal like bells throughout Scripture.  First, God is a person, or rather, Three Persons.  We cannot have a relationship to God which is not a personal relationship.  Second, we are wanted.  As adopted sons of God, we should know in our very heart of hearts that God wants us.  God chose us.  God chose you, and God chose me.  We are valuable, we are wanted.  Third, since God chose or elected us to be in a personal relationship with him, then we cannot make our way to God under our own power or by our own will.  We are called out of this mess we are in, we are summoned forth from this existence of sin and sorrow and death and decay, and we are elected into holy relationship with God.  We absolutely and in no way can earn this.  Not even if we do everything that we ought to do and even if we avoid everything we ought to avoid.  In no way can we behave or act in any way good enough for us to deserve God’s love.  We do not deserve and cannot deserve life everlasting in the presence of God.

So:  First, God is personal.  Second, you are wanted.  Third:  You cannot deserve him.

Let’s go back to the parable Christ speaks in the eighteenth chapter of St. Luke’s Gospel.

The Pharisee “went up into the temple to pray.”  And what does he do?  He “stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess.”

He thanks God all right; he thanks God that he is not like lesser men, sinful men, men who commit awful sins, who are unjust, who do not fast like they ought, and who do not give of their wealth as they ought.  Most notably, the Pharisee thanks God that he is not like the other man there praying, the publican.

At this point, a lot of us suffer the temptation to say “thank God that I am not like that Pharisee!”  Boy howdy, look at him, proud as a peacock, trusting in himself, and thinking he’s so superior to that other man, the man who actually gets it right!  But before we think that we are not like that Pharisee, let’s consider it a bit.

The man makes two related moves.  First, he thanks God that he is not like other men are.  We all have choices to make in our lives.  The men he’s referring to are those who commit adultery, they cheat on their wives.  I think to myself, “Am I such a man?  Why no, I am not.”  But Christ says, “That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.”  Christ has fulfilled the Law; Christ has gone deep into the human heart; Christ tells us that to make that little evil act of will quietly inside of us is to break the commandment.  To be wicked in a tiny little thing that you don’t share with anybody else is to break off your relationship with God the Father in Heaven above and throw yourself at the feet of Satan and his demons.

The Pharisee does not get this.  He doesn’t care if his heart is right; he is not on the lookout for his interior spiritual life.  He actually cares about his relationship with God, but he thinks that he can maintain that relationship by following God’s Law; by dotting every I and crossing every T.  But the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, Jesus Christ tells us that this is not so.

St. Paul says of this in Second Corinthians iii.2-4:  “Forasmuch as ye are manifestly declared to be the epistle of Christ ministered by us, written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God; not in tables of stone, but in fleshy tables of the heart.  And such trust have we through Christ to God-ward:  Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think any thing as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is of God;”

The Pharisee trusts in himself instead of in God.  He has read God’s Law and seeks to obey it.  He leads an upright life.  He tithes.  He fasts.  He goes to the temple to pray.  The Pharisee is a man of very high personal integrity.  He is no hypocrite.  He is no slacker.  As such, I am in no position to point at him and thank God that I am not like him.  In reading God’s word and seeking to do God’s will, that Pharisee of this parable is a far better man than I am.  He comports himself far better than most folks do, for he genuinely seeks the will of God and to do his holy will.  Yet he is profoundly wrong about how he goes about it.

Second, the Pharisee says that he is not like the publican standing near him.  In comparing himself to another, the Pharisee has made a mistake almost all of us make at one time or another:  He has compared his spiritual state to another’s in a favorable light.

I ask of you all:  Who among you can see into another man’s heart?  Who here knows how another considers God’s counsel upon her bed?  Which of us can possibly know the details necessary to judge another correctly, much less possess the wisdom to do so?  The obvious answer of course is that none of us can.

We do sometimes notice others who possess a grace, demonstrate magnanimous loving-kindness, show a tenderness of heart that we lack.  We see good examples of Christian love and conduct among us here and out in our lives, examples we would seek to emulate.  We read in II Kings ii.9:  “And it came to pass, when they were gone over, that Elijah said unto Elisha, Ask what I shall do for thee, before I be taken away from thee. And Elisha said, I pray thee, let a double portion of thy spirit be upon me.”

The problem is not that we recognize both the good and the wicked, but that our selves are so utterly and completely compromised to seek our own good over the good of others that we in no way may trust ourselves when we think that we can objectively trust our judgement that we are superior to another.  The Pharisee is a man of uprightness and integrity, but he frankly and simply does not know himself well enough to suspect that his heart might lie to him.  Our hearts lie to us all the time!  This is why Christ tells us that we can sin in our heart.  This is why St. Paul says that we can show forth God on “the fleshly tables of the heart” with the “Spirit of the living God”.  We cannot do it without God’s Holy Spirit.  Learn, my dear children, from the Pharisee and see that we cannot trust in ourselves.

In the parable, Christ shows us “a more excellent way”:  The publican.  What does the publican do?  “And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner.”

He stands afar off.  He does go to the temple to pray, but he does not go to the best, most prominent place to pray.  Jewish men prayed at the temple, so that is what he does, but he is not haughty about it.

He does not lift his eyes unto heaven.  He does not think that he has done right by God – because truly he has not – and therefore does not think him the equal of God.

He smotes upon his breast.  In other words, he beats his chest.  He is a penitent sinner, and he hits himself over his heart.

He says, “God be merciful to me a sinner.”  The publican truly knows himself, what he has done, who his redeemer is, and that he must ask for mercy.  And so simply and plainly, with the fewest words possible, he humbly makes his supplication to God.  This prayer, along with the invocation of Christ, forms what our Orthodox brethren call the Jesus Prayer:  “Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon me, a sinner.”

At the very end of the parable, after the two have had their talk with God, we read, “I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.”

Think on this:  “Every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.”  The world as we know it is upside-down.  Well, perhaps not the world.  Even convicted felons know that murder and stealing are wrong.  This is why so many people who are firmly committed to doing wrong – stealing, lying, sleeping around – are most alert for people judging them.  No, the world is not so much upside down as we – you and me – are upside down.  When it comes to our poor selves, we get tangled and confused and consistently substitute our sinful desires for the general good or the good of others.  When a young man seduces a young woman, he is putting his own desires over her well-being.  When a woman steals from her employer, she is putting her own desires over the good of the company.  When a boy lies to his parents, he is putting his own desire over the truth and the common good.

Destruction follows seducing, stealing, and lying to our neighbors or loved ones.  When each one of us sins, we bring something unholy into God’s good Creation, we rend people apart from one another, and we obstruct the flow of God’s free unmerited favor.  We hurt others, and we hurt ourselves, regardless of our intentions.  This is why Christ says at the end of the parable that “this man went down to his house justified rather than the other.”  Justification is rightness before God; his accounting us just or righteous.  Justification and righteousness are translated similarly.  Despite his integrity, good works, and pious intent, the Pharisee did not go “down to his house justified”.  Despite his sins, the publican did go “down to his house justified”.  The difference is that the one deceived himself and trusted in himself rather than God and that the other knew the truth of himself as a sore sinner and threw himself upon God for mercy.

My good and faithful children, beware of the lies your hearts tell yourselves.  Beware of favorably comparing yourselves to others.  Beware of the deluding voice of your hearts when they tell you that by doing the right things you have thereby pleased God.  God is not mocked; God is not deceived.  He sees into your hearts and knows each of your secret desires.

I ask each of you to do the following this week:  First, remember that you are somehow deluding yourself.  Second, stop yourself several times this week and consider how Christ might view your reasons for what you are doing or saying right then.  Are they wholesome?  Are you deceiving yourself?  Last, when you catch yourself in some slippery self-justification, come clean to God.  He loves you and loves to hear the truth out of your mouth.

 

“The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are”

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

 

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