Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Holy Trinity’

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.

 

 

Read Full Post »

“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.

 

Read Full Post »

O GOD, the King of glory, who hast exalted thine only Son Jesus Christ with great triumph unto thy kingdom in heaven; We beseech thee, leave us not comfortless; but send to us thine Holy Ghost to comfort us, and exalt us unto the same place whither our Saviour Christ is gone before, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the same Holy Ghost, one God, world without end. Amen.

 

Exalted and Comforted

Augusta canal drops over its course from the Savannah River north of the fall line to the center of Augusta, giving it power to run mills.  There is a 52-foot drop in the fall line.

This means that the altitude of the higher part is 52’ higher than the lower part.  “Alt” in altitude means “high”.  We see this in the word “exalt”, which means to raise up on high.

So when we pray in today’s collect that the King of glory has exalted Christ with triumph unto his kingdom, it means that God the Father has raised God the Son up on high with triumph unto his kingdom in Heaven.  This exaltation refers to Christ’s Ascension into Heaven, the feast of which we celebrated here on Thursday.

Then in the collect, we ask that God the Father send to us his Holy Ghost to comfort.  Comfort means to strengthen.  Think of the communion hymn, Strengthen for Service Lord.  Comfort might also mean consolation, but it would be the consolation which rests upon strength.

We ask that God the Father exalt us unto the same place Christ has gone, which is God’s kingdom in Heaven.  We are joined in one Body with Christ.  With Christ as our Head, we as His Body enjoy salvation, forgiveness of sins, everlasting life, and communion with God the Father.  We do not earn this on our own.  We cannot reach Heaven by any effort we make.  But through Christ, we can do all things.  As He is received into Heaven, so too we will be received into Heaven.

Indeed, this four-hundred-and-sixty-five-year-old collect asks God to exalt us just as he has exalted Christ.  Being joined with Christ, we also attain Heaven with Christ.  We are along for the ride, as it were.  Yet in today’s collect we ask God the Father to make it so.  This is precisely along the same lines of praying in the Lord’s Prayer, “thy will be done”.  We pray for the promises of God to come to fruition.

These ten days between Christ’s Ascension to the right hand of God the Father and the coming of the Holy Ghost on Pentecost are particularly interesting.  If you look at the entirety of salvation history, you see God moving upon the cosmos and amongst men.  God created the heavens and the earth.  He moved amongst the patriarchs and prophets, setting Israel apart as a holy nation and giving her the Law of Moses.  God’s revelation continued amongst men, preparing the way for the advent of his messiah and turning to a more spiritual understanding of the Law.

“The Word became flesh and we beheld His glory” in the Person of Jesus Christ, Who is both entirely God and entirely Man.  He suffered, died, and rose again from the dead, confounding Hell and Satan and bringing us all eternal life.  After He taught His disciples for forty days, explaining to them His teachings understood in the light of His Resurrection, He ascended to Heaven.  But first He promised that He would send to His faithful people a comforter, “even the Spirit of truth”.

Why did Christ ascend into Heaven and leave us behind here on earth?  He promised to come again, so we can rest assured that our time on this fragile, sinful, and murderous world is of some value to God.  Seeing as how we are to participate in Christ’s ministry of reconciliation, we should be about grieving with those who grieve and weeping with those who weep and rejoicing with those who rejoice.  We should be loving the Lord our God with all our hearts, minds, and souls.  We should be loving our neighbors as ourselves.  We should be preaching the Gospel in season and out of season.

But why did Christ ascend into Heaven at all?  First, He went to the right of the Father to intercede on behalf of us.  Through the veil of His flesh do we enter into the Holy of Holies in Heaven.  We who are joined to Christ in Holy Baptism are represented in Heaven by our great intercessor, our great High Priest, the Son of God Himself.

Second, His time on earth was done.  Christ ascended into Heaven because He had accomplished that which He had set out to do.  He had sanctified our flesh by becoming one of us, He had taught the people of Israel and His disciples His holy teachings, He suffered for us, died for us, and then rose again from the dead for us.

Then, He proved to many people in person that He was indeed raised from the dead, showing His five sacred wounds of nails and spear.  He unfolded and explained the Scriptures to them to show that His Advent, Passion, Death, and Resurrection were all foretold.  He then commissioned the disciples with the breath of the Holy Ghost to preach the Gospel to the ends of the earth.  The religion of the Old Testament was completed with Christ and was then to be taught to the Gentiles.  Christ showed His disciples these things.

Having completed His work here on earth, Christ was not about to leave the fledging Church without divine inspiration.  As God moved upon creation with the patriarchs, Law, prophets, and Christ, so God would move upon creation with the presence of the Holy Ghost.  The Holy Ghost strengthens Christ’s Church upon earth exactly according to His promise of old.

When the Church acts in unity together with Christ, she speaks the truth of God.  The Holy Ghost is in her.  It is through the acclamation of Holy Church that the writings of the New Testament were canonized.  Why was Jude included and Clement I not included?  Because Christ’s Bride the Church discerns it to be so.  Why do we have the threefold ministry of bishops, priests, and deacons?  Because Christ’s Body the Church discerns it to be so.

We will one day come home to live with our Heavenly Father through His Son our Lord Jesus Christ.  We today are strengthened and renewed by the Holy Ghost which eternally proceeds forth from God the Father and is sent by God the Son into the world.  These three – the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost – are three divine Persons but one God sharing the nature of divinity.  We are not alone.  Today we are in the presence of God in the Person of the Holy Ghost, the Comforter.

Dear children of God, do not be overcome by this deadly and sad world.  Every week, members of this parish share their joys and sorrows with me, and we have sorrows indeed.  The world is a dangerous and sinful place.  But you and I are heading towards Heaven and are protected, guided, and strengthened by God the Holy Ghost!

 

O GOD, the King of glory, who hast exalted thine only Son Jesus Christ with great triumph unto thy kingdom in heaven; We beseech thee, leave us not comfortless; but send to us thine Holy Ghost to comfort us, and exalt us unto the same place whither our Saviour Christ is gone before, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the same Holy Ghost, one God, world without end. Amen.

Read Full Post »

“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.

 

Read Full Post »

“Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth:”

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

 

“Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth….”  Christ instructs the disciples that the Holy Ghost will become their teacher after He leaves them.  In leading them into all truth, the Holy Ghost will not teach new doctrine, because Christ Himself is all truth.  Rather, God’s continuing revelation of himself profoundly entered upon in Christ’s first Advent will not end but indeed continue after Christ’s Ascension after His Resurrection.

Christ promises in St. John viii.31-32:  “If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”  In accordance with Christ’s promise, the Holy Ghost speaks to and instructs us of the things of Christ, who received all He had from the Father.  Within the accord of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost is all truth and goodness.  The Holy Ghost will lead us in the path of truth in accord with the promise of Christ.

What does this guidance look like which Christ has promised in the Holy Ghost?  A Scriptural example of being guided in the truth is found in the Acts of the Apostles viii.31:  The Ethiopian eunuch was reading Scripture without understanding it.  When St. Philip observed that he was reading Scripture, he asked the eunuch if he knew what it meant.  The Ethiopian replied, “‘How can I, except some man should guide me?’ And he desired Philip that he would come up and sit with him.”  St. Philip sat down with the reader of Scripture and showed him, guided him in understanding what it meant.  The apostle was not the Scripture, but showed him how to understand the Scripture.  This is an example of guiding in the knowledge of God.

Sometimes we experience fresh insight into the things of God or we “hear God’s voice” instructing and comforting us in our lives, perhaps in our distress.  We ought to be extraordinarily wary of attributing any internal thought or feeling to God the Holy Ghost.  Yet truly we might be hearing from the Holy Ghost.  We must ask ourselves:  “Is this thought or feeling in one accord with Christ and His Church?”  If not, then we ought to reject attributing the authority of God to what we have experienced.  But if it is in accord with Christ and His teaching, then we may carefully and humbly attribute it to God the Holy Ghost for our personal edification and instruction.  Let us remember that my particular inspiration is for me, and it is not for me to teach or instruct you.  For our common instruction, we have Holy Scriptures and the official dogma of Holy Church our mother.

 

Now, the Holy Ghost does not speak “for” himself, but on behalf of Christ.  Keeping in mind that he speaks not for himself but for Christ, let us look at St. John xii.49:  “For I [Christ] have not spoken of myself; but the Father which sent me, he gave me a commandment, what I should say, and what I should speak.”  Again in St. John xiv.10:  “Believest thou not that I am in the Father, and the Father in me? the words that I speak unto you I speak not of myself: but the Father that dwelleth in me, he doeth the works.”

What Christ says about the Holy Ghost speaking on behalf of Him, Christ also says about Himself concerning the Father.  The Holy Ghost speaks for Christ, and Christ speaks for the Father.  Both the Holy Ghost and the Son of God do not speak for themselves but on behalf of another person of the Holy and ever-blessed Trinity.

Each person of the Holy Trinity is at unity with each other.  There is no division within God; there is no division within the three Persons of God.  The First Article of Religion, found in our Prayer Book, states that “There is but one living and true God, everlasting, without body, parts, or passions;” and “in unity of this Godhead there be three Persons, of one substance, power, and eternity; the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.”

The Holy Ghost only speaks what the Son tells Him.  Christ says, “All things that the Father hath are mine:”  All that the Son has is from the Father.  Each member is in unity with each other; there is only one God.  When we are led and guided by the Holy Ghost, we are being led and guided by God.

 

Intriguingly, Christ says in today’s Gospel that the Holy Ghost “will shew you things to come.”  Does the Holy Ghost act like a sorcerer, giving us peaks into the future?  Will he give us next week’s lottery numbers?  Is this some strange new doctrine?  No.

We do not need knowledge of the future; what we need is a fuller understanding of the things of Christ.  Some of the things of Christ we will not understand or recognize in importance until future things come to pass for us, and at that time, the Holy Ghost will still be there for us and guiding us into all truth.

In the past, Christ sent his disciples the Holy Ghost after He left them.  And in the future, Christ will come again in power and great glory for the Last Judgement.  The time when the Holy Ghost will be with us is an interim time between the first and second Advents of Christ.

We should have great confidence because we are being led by the Holy Ghost, the Third Person of the Holy Trinity.  We are not alone.  He shall “shew you things to come” – this is an on-going relationship we have with him, and he will be with us along our journey.  We can count on it, for Christ told us it is so.

We live in the tension between the gift of today and the promise of tomorrow.  Christ will come again; but we are also told to live thoroughly into the day we have been given.  Christ says in St. Matthew vi.34:  “Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.”

Unlike some Eastern and New Age religions, the Christian religion is one of both today and tomorrow.  We are not to live a moral life today so that we may live in Heaven tomorrow, we are to live in the presence of God all the time.  Today we live in the presence of God the Holy Ghost, tomorrow we live in the presence of the Son of God when He returns, and forever we live with God the Father in Heaven.  Thus, today we feel an inherent tension in living the Christian life.

The Holy Ghost directs the Bride of Christ, the Church, on this side of death until Christ returns.  He teaches no new doctrine, but explains us Christ’s doctrine as the ages roll by.  For instance, now we have more explicit notions of salvation through faith and the apostolic succession.  As new challenges face us, the Holy Ghost through the teaching office of Holy Church illumines Christ’s teachings so that we can face these new challenges, such as environmental pollution, embryonic stem cell research, and artificial birth control.

 

The Holy Ghost leads us into all truth.  The Holy Ghost does not speak for himself, but on behalf of Christ, Who in turn speaks of what the Father has given Him.  And the Holy Ghost will accompany us, speaking through the Church and in our hearts, from the day of Pentecost until the day Christ returns again.

 

“Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth:”

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

Read Full Post »