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Posts Tagged ‘humility’

“There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all. “

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

 

“Life in Unity with God”

Today’s Epistle moves the argument from the unity of Jews and Gentiles in Christ to a strong exhortation on Christian ethics.  These six verses combine a plea for Christian unity with the theological foundations of Christian unity.  So we are here looking at the highest ideals of Christ’s Body, the Church.

1 I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called,

The first verse begins with three items:  St. Paul as prisoner, walking worthy, and the subject of vocation or being called.  St. Paul cannot be with the Ephesians because he is currently held prisoner, and this gives him a moral edge.  He is suffering for the Faith, and so he has a right to speak with authority.  He is not ashamed to assert this authority.

The phrase “walk worthy” shows that this life is not to be talked about but lived out.  We actively walk our Christian life, actively engaging in this world and in our common life together.  The use of vocation comes from the Latin, “to call”, which we aptly capture in our word, “calling”.  A calling and a vocation are the same.  And the Christian walk is a result of being called by our Lord into that life.

2 With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love;

St. Paul here lists three virtues as key to the Christian walk to which we have been called to by our Lord:  Lowliness and meekness, longsuffering, and forbearing one another in love.  Also recounted in Colossians iii.12-13, these virtues let us live together in unity with God, unity which has already been proven to transcend the differences of Jew and Greek.  These virtues are the foundation of God’s holy plan for our individual lives, our lives together in Christ, and the life of the entire redeemed cosmos, or created order.  The harmony amongst Christians is the first-fruits of the universal harmony of the whole cosmos in Christ our Lord, heralded in the Revelation of St. John.

First, lowliness and meekness are humility – not haughtiness of spirit and self-assertion.  We are not to vaunt ourselves over others.  We are to take our place and do what we are called to do without assuming we know better and pushing others aside so that we may do better.  Our rota system of coffee hour, wherein a Sunday is assigned to the willing who has authority over refreshments after Mass for that day, gives us each an opportunity to thrive in serving others while not crowing about our superiority and not pushing others aside so that we may have our turn.  Each of us who volunteers for this ministry has a turn, and no one may add to and change that turn without that party’s permission.  We each get to serve others as well as we can without strutting or pushing.

Second, long-suffering is a better translation of makrothumia than patience, because it not only means enduring provocations but refusing to give up hope for improved relations.  Patience can give the sense of only suffering for a while until the problem goes away.  Long-suffering, as here written by St. Paul in the Scriptures, shows that the end result is good, holy, and right relations between brethren and the firm practice of hope as that holy result is worked out.

Christians don’t just give up and walk away from difficult relationships.  Christians dig deep and love like Christ loves until a good relationship flourishes.  Long-suffering means that we must not only endure but change into the image of Christ so that we may grow in loving-kindness.

Third, forbearing one another in love is the culmination of these three holy virtues with which we live out our high calling.  We do not simply shrivel up so that others may flourish around us; instead, we live boldly in Christ-like loving-kindness, forgiving those who sin against us while striving with all our might not to sin against others, thereby building up godly relationships with our brother and with our neighbor, just as Christ commanded us in His holy Gospel, St. John xiii:34, “A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.”

3 Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

“Endeavouring” can also be translated, “taking pains” – that is, a great striving and work of the whole self.  This involves initiative, not waiting around for someone else to start working.  This is attached to the calling, our vocation in God.

St. Paul has previously mentioned in Ephesians i.10, “That in the dispensation of the fulness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in him:”  This is the end to which we are heading.  This is that “unity of Spirit” which Christ has in store for us and for the entire cosmos.  Any impairment we suffer with regards to unity is an impairment of the whole world.

By our failure to love one another as Christ loves us, we fail to live out the Eschaton, the holy end to all times which Christ has been bringing us.  We work against Christ when we hold grudges, when we vaunt ourselves in front of others, when we work to silence others, when we work to politic our way into getting our peculiar lovely thing accepted by the group.  All those things are not even worthy of secular societies.

Keeping the “unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace”:  We have unity in the Holy Ghost; we must work and strive manfully to maintain, to keep this unity.  Our unity together as members of one Body is an act of God, not an act of man or great work by the Christian community.

And what is “the bond of peace” more than loving-kindness?  In Colossians iii.14, which echoes this verse, the bond is love.  Peace is the bond, the glue, the structure which holds together this Christian community of loving-kindness.  These are certainly not the bonds in which St. Paul was being kept.

The “unity of the Spirit” is the “unity which the Spirit creates”.  It is both inward and outward unity which Christians most especially are to exhibit.  We must have real inward unity of hearts and love, but we must also have true outward unity of lack of external divisions.

 

The next three verses get poetic and are thought to be related to a Baptismal liturgy.  The ethics of the first three verses blossom into the confession and worship of the latter three verses.

In the Old Testament, we read the Shema of Deuteronomy vi.4, “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD:”  This evolves some by Zechariah xvi.9, “And the LORD shall be king over all the earth: in that day shall there be one LORD, and his name one.”

St. Paul elaborates this in I Corinthians xii.12-13:  “For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ.  13 For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit.”

 

So:  “There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; One Lord, one faith, one baptism, One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.”

 

4 There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling;

This one hope of our calling is the actual work of hope and not just a general disposition to hopefulness.  This work of hope of our vocation is granted to both Jew and Gentile and is tied in unity in the Holy Ghost.

5 One Lord, one faith, one baptism,                     

“One Lord” reminded both the Jews and Gentiles that they have but one lord, and this when there were many little lords abounding.  Ephesians opens in i.21 with the triumph of Christ over all other lords, both worldly and otherworldly.

“One faith” reminds us that there are not several faiths, but one faith, faith in Christ Jesus, the catholic and apostolic faith, the orthodox faith, eschewing all heretical and heterodox faiths.

“One Baptism” reminds all Christians that there is only one way into the Christian life – Baptism into the life and death of Christ our Lord.  Indeed, St. Paul mentions Holy Baptism in Ephesians five other times.  This poetry sounds like something said at a Baptism, perhaps even an early liturgy.

St. Paul does not bring to mind Baptism in vain.  Each recollection of baptism brings to mind and encourages the faithful to steadfastly continue walking the Christian walk in their behavior as well as their words.  The ethical challenges of the first three verses naturally bring themselves to the Baptismal language of these last three verses.

6 One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.

The Greeks loved to play with prepositions, and this is what St. Paul does here.  The “above all” shows transcendence, or how God the Father is beyond the cosmos.  The “through all” shows omnipresence, or how God the Father is present everywhere at all times.  The “in you all” shows immanence, or how close God the Father is to you everywhere.

 

We are given a poetic and theological vision of the things of God along with the virtues necessary to reach it and experience it in our own lives.  The ideal Christian walk is made manifest in our lives through the love of God and the practice of the holy virtues necessary to our life together:  Lowliness and meekness, longsuffering, and forbearing one another in love.  Let us remember our Baptism, even with holy water when we enter the nave for Mass, and recall that our life is lived with God when it is lived with one another in the unity of the Holy Ghost.

 

“There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.”

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

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“he that is greatest among you, let him be as the younger; and he that is chief, as he that doth serve.”

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

 

“The Apostles”

What is an apostle?

‘Apostle’ literally means, ‘one who is sent’.  Which raises the questions, sent by whom?  Sent for what?  And sent where?

The apostles are personally commissioned by our Lord Christ.  They continue Christ’s ministry in His Church and the world by proclaiming the Gospel and governing the Church.  The apostles are sent to all the nations of the earth.

Acts ii.42:  “And they continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers.”

The apostles are key to the continuation of Christ in His Church.  The apostles’ doctrine and fellowship are the doctrine and fellowship of Christ.  They spent three intense years under Christ, not merely learning but being formed by Him, walking with Him in His ministry and Passion.  He spent forty further days explaining all they had experienced through in light of the Resurrection.  They were the first given the Holy Ghost in St. John xx.22 and then more broadly in Acts ii.4 along with the Blessed Virgin Mary.

The apostles possess grace and authority from Christ Himself, which they then passed on to their successors the bishops as the Church grew.  And the Church here on earth grew rapidly while losing many to martyrdom.

The four marks of the Church are found in the Nicene Creed:  One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic.  These four characteristics or marks are found in the Nicene Creed.  Unfortunately, due to a printer’s error centuries ago, our Book of Common Prayer omits the word “Holy”.  Every Sunday we proclaim aloud that the Church is Apostolic.  What then is the character of the apostles?

 

First, apostles are humble.

The Gospel shows the Lord chiding the disciples regarding position and lordship.  Instead, Christ shows another way.  “For whether is greater, he that sitteth at meat, or he that serveth? is not he that sitteth at meat? but I am among you as he that serveth.”  Only the humble may be great in Christ’s kingdom.  They shall rule and lead, but they must serve as they rule.

This is contrary to the way of the world.  Many leaders in the Church have not followed Christ’s path of humility.  But we are called to crucify our old selves and put on Christ.  We must mortify, that is kill off, our old sinful self to put on the Resurrection life of Christ our Lord.

The apostles also continue the ministry of Christ in His Church through their morality and way of life.  The maniple I wear today is derived from the heir of the old deacon’s towel, ready to wipe and to clean.  This humility is also symbolized by the washing of the feet on Maundy Thursday, when the bishop or priest kneels before his people.  Our own archbishop ordinary, that is to say our regular bishop, is quite modest in his life and manners.

 

Second, apostles proclaim the gospel.

Apostles are men duly commissioned by Christ who are sent to preach the Gospel to the whole world, carrying with them Christ’s doctrine in humility and love.  This proclamation of the Word of God is central to their character.  All of them, except St. John, died the martyr’s death preaching the Gospel of Christ.  Today’s Saint Bartholomew is said to have been horribly murdered for converting the King of Armenia through Gospel preaching and the great work of exorcism.  We see this emphasis on preaching the Gospel in Christ’s own words, from St. Peter on Whitsunday or Pentecost, and from St. Paul in Corinth.

Christ tells the remaining eleven disciples in St. Matthew xxviii.18-20 to teach the nations:

And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth.  Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:  Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.

When the people of Jerusalem wondered if those gathered in the Upper Room who had been given the Holy Ghost on the feast of Pentecost were drunk, St. Peter answered with mighty preaching.  We read the result in Acts ii.37-42:

Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do?  Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.  For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call.  And with many other words did he testify and exhort, saying, Save yourselves from this untoward generation.  Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls.  And they continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers.

St. Paul refers to his own preaching to the church in Corinth in 1 Corinthians xv.1-4, in which he preaches the Gospel he himself was taught:

Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain.  For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures:

The successor to the apostles appointed over us here at St. Luke’s Church is Archbishop Mark Haverland.  He will come to visit us this November 2nd.  He will preach the Gospel, administer the Sacraments, and tend to his flock.  He is the one responsible for our missions both overseas and domestically.  He teaches well and has proven himself to be a staunch and unmovable believer in the Gospel of Christ which he ensures is taught faithfully to you, his faithful people through the likes of me, one of his priests.

 

Third, apostles rule with authority.

Today’s lesson from Acts refers to the wondrous workings of St. Peter, showing that the apostles held healing power comparable to Christ.  St. Paul does similar work later in the Acts.  The apostles work wondrous miracles, they are to be a paradigm of humility according to the Gospel, they preserve the Lord’s doctrine, they form the core of the Church’s fellowship, and they are to become the rulers of Israel.

We ought to remember that the wonderful works and teachings and love shown forth the apostles and their successors are not theirs; they are Christ’s.  Without Christ, none of us can do any good work, can teach God’s honest truth, or love one another and God with all our hearts, with all our souls, and with all our minds.  All our good works, teaching, and love bear fruit in Christ alone.

The Church today is in continuity with the Apostolic Church through the Apostolic Succession.  Our own bishop has received the ensured Sacramental grace of Holy Order through both touching hands on heads and by practicing today the faith of the early Church.  Our doctrine conforms to the doctrine of the early Church.  If it does not, then we must reform so that it does so conform.

The Church is Apostolic because she keeps the faith delivered to her by Christ through the apostles and the successors of the apostles, the bishops.  Their consecrated touch in the Sacrament of Holy Order freely and certainly bestows the Holy Ghost which enables them to perform the work necessary to their calling.  This is clearly shown by St. Clement before the end of the first Century, conforms to the Holy Scriptures, supported by others immediately afterward, and taught throughout the Catholic Church.

Today’s Gospel shows that the Lord will have the Twelve Apostles judge the tribes of Israel.  As those ministers directly commissioned by Christ to grow the Church which He has planted, the apostles have the authority to rule over the Church.

After Pentecost, the apostles delegate authority to bishops, or overseers.  The Greek word for bishop is episcoposEpi means “over” and skopeo means “to see”.  A bishop oversees the church.  They continue the apostolic rule of those of Christ’s own ministry to Christ’s own Church.

Today, we crave Christ’s ministry amongst us.  Christ knew we would, and so He appointed those who would continue His ministry to the Church.  The apostles and the heirs of the apostles provide this leadership.  They are a great blessing from Christ to us.

The bishops ensure we hear the true Gospel every Sunday.  The bishops ensure every priest is vetted and trained before ordination.  That is why I read the Si Quis this morning, so that if any of you had something the bishop needed to know about Dr. Malone before his ordination, he would hear it.  Bishops convene synods of all the parishes, intervene in disturbed parish situations, discipline the clergy, and try to keep unity with good discipline and proper dogma with other Christian bodies.

 

Ask the holy apostles for their prayers.  They were personally selected by Christ, taught by him, and died for him.  They are alive in Christ in His Body, the Church Triumphant in Heaven.

Pray for your bishop, Archbishop Haverland, and your priests, Father Martin and me.  Christ has given us grace in the Holy Ghost to continue His work amongst his people.  But we are still frail sinful men like yourselves.  Pray that we stay humble, proclaim the true Gospel, and rule with loving-kindness and authority.

 

“he that is greatest among you, let him be as the younger; and he that is chief, as he that doth serve.”

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

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

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

 

“Clothed with Humility”

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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“LET this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: but made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.”

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

 

“Christ’s Humility”

 

We live in an era where rudeness, anger, superiority, insults, and taking offense have won the day.  Gone are the days of quiet suffering and the noble poor.  Some people here and there still comport themselves well, but our culture does not support this.  People grab all they can.  Manipulating markets and regulations to make billions is justified equally as smashing windows and stealing is justified by looters.  Bad behavior and self-justification rule the day.

My children, we are surrounded with this.  We are tempted by the whisper that if you no longer love your spouse, you should get a new one.  We are tempted by the whisper that you owe your family nothing and indeed, your friends are your family.  We are tempted by the whisper that you can worship God quite nicely at home in bed or out on a mountain or by the sea instead of in church.  We are tempted by the whisper that seeking your own good over the good of others is acceptable because they should have the sense to look out for themselves.

Beloved, those whispers are not the way of Christ.  They are not the way of the Cross.

The Eternal Word, the Son of God, has always been God.  It is of his essence, of his nature to reign in Heaven with God the Father and the Holy Ghost.  He emptied Himself, He divested Himself, He humbled Himself to come down among us and become man.  He, of His divine nature, is above the estate of men.  But God the Son humbled Himself to become one of us.  He did not think He was too good to do this.  He is too good to do this.  And yet, because He loves us and wishes to save us, He left His Heavenly station to become one of us.  Indeed, Christmas is a feast of the humility of God.

And so is Palm Sunday.  As we have just shown, the throngs hail Christ as their king.  But this is the only honor that Christ receives from men during His last week.  Christ, the Sovereign God of the Universe, Who had just entered the holy city of Jerusalem meekly, sitting on an ass, will now suffer the following things:

He will be betrayed for thirty pieces of silver.

The authorities will free a rioter, a bandit instead of Him.

He will suffer scourging, a profound whipping and flaying of the skin that the film The Passion of the Christ showed in excellent and disgusting detail.

The soldiers will put Him in a purple robe, place a crown of thorns upon His brow, and mock Him as a false king.

They will then spit on Him, beat Him, strip Him of His clothes, and march Him uphill to His death on Calvary.

Passers-by will revile Him.  The chief priests, scribes, and elders will mock Him.

He will die on the hard wood of the Cross.

 

Remembering all this, the Apostle Paul exhorts us in today’s lesson from Philippians to have the “mind of Christ”.  He would have us take up Christ’s humility and willingness to become a servant.

Dare we?  Dare we follow Christ on His way to the Cross?

Are we willing to die unto sin?  And come Easter, are we willing to arise unto a new life of righteousness?

 

“LET this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: but made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.”

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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“…Walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, with all lowliness and meekness, with long-suffering, forbearing one another in love; endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”

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

 

Fr. F. P. Harton, Dean of Wells in the Church of England and great scholar and believer wrote:  “Humility consists in seeing oneself truly, as one is in the sight of God, nothing more nor less, realizing that one’s whole being, with whatever is good in it, is God’s though defiled by one’s own sin; and in desiring that place and those things only which God wills for us, loving His will above all things and one’s own not at all.”

Humility is not a popular virtue, but a necessary one for the Christian soul.  Why?  Because God loves humility.

–        In the Magnificat, the wonderful song of St. Mary:  “For he hath regarded the low estate of his handmaiden: for, behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.”

–        In St. Luke xviii.13-14:  “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.  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.”

–        Also, the same in today’s Gospel:  “For whosoever exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.”

–        St. Augustine, that great Doctor of the Church, prayed:  “Diffidam mihi, fidam in Te.”  Let me distrust myself and put my trust in Thee.

Our prayers are not magic.  They are not incantations that effect a change in the world.  Instead, our prayers are conversation with the great Creator and Redeemer of the world.  The only way our prayers are efficacious and effect change in the world is when we come to God as we are, without pretense, without deceit, and without pride.  If we come to God to seek his face, but spend our time preening in front of a spiritual mirror, looking only at ourselves, then our time is wasted.  We must see who and what we are and then let go of ourselves to reach out and cling to safety to the great sovereign Lord of the universe.

Philippians ii.3:  “In lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself.”  If I think that I am better than another person, then I fundamentally misconstrue that person’s relationship with God, God’s relationship with me, and my relationship with that person.  If I think that I am better than another person, then I am wrongly and sinfully giving myself higher honor than another.  And what does Christ say of this in today’s Gospel?  “Give this man place; and thou begin with shame to take the lowest place.”

When we sin, when we see that sin in ourselves, let us humbly turn to the Lord our God, and seeing his great love for us, confess our sin and turn from it entirely.

Fr. Bede Frost said:  “Humility … consists in a true knowledge and acknowledgement of what one is….”  Humility lies in accepting that we are so very weak and God is so very strong, that we are so very wicked and God is so very good, that we are so very thoughtless and God is so very mindful of us, that we are so very weak and unable to help ourselves and God is so very powerful and ready to help us.  We act in humility when we behold ourselves as we truly are in right relation with each other.

Any way we act towards our neighbors which is not grounded in love is foolish, for it is not building us treasure in heaven.  Our default position regarding others is to use them to get us what we want, whether we want recognition and respect, whether we want advancement and profit, whether we want good feelings, or whether we want darker things.  Christ did not come to us for His Own sake, for Christ needed nothing, for Christ is God.  No, Christ came to us to save us from the mess we have made.  Christ did not come to profit from us, but to give us blessings upon blessings, to save our lives for all eternity, to show us loving-kindness and heavenly grace.  If we walk in the way of the Cross, then we too will suffer and die, but we will live in love and live for all eternity.

Our primary responsibility to God is to love him; likewise, our primary responsibility to our fellow man is to love him.  And if we love like Christ, then we love our fellow man even, or especially, when he is not lovable, when he hates us, when he mocks us, when he insults us, when he lies to others about us, when he sins against us – all these things in no wise bar us from loving him, but indeed show that he needs our love more than ever.  In all humility, we see that we, too, are sinners and have done others wrong, have done God wrong.  We have no superior standing to answer insult with insult, hate with hate, sin with sin.  Seeing ourselves as we really are, sinners who have hurt our neighbors and hurt our good God, we humbly love one another as Christ has loved us.

Once we have taken our blinders off and taken a long hard look at ourselves, and knowing what we know about ourselves, we are to always treat ourselves harsher than we treat others.  All the great saints have done the same.  The holiest teachers of Christian morality throughout the ages – St. Francis of Assisi, St. Dominic, St. Alphonsus – have applied exceptional rigor to their own spiritual lives while acknowledging the weak humanity in the lives of others.  We should all pull a breath, give our neighbor a break, and come down on ourselves doubly hard.  Examine your conscience so carefully and regularly so never to let those who hate you truly condemn you of something you have not condemned in yourself already.

I understand that a couple of weeks ago that Fr. Rosenkranz said that anxiety and prayerful living were contradictory.  Let me add to that:  Anxiety and humble living are contradictory.  St. Luke xii.27-28:  “Consider the lilies how they grow: they toil not, they spin not; and yet I say unto you, that Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.  If then God so clothe the grass, which is to day in the field, and to morrow is cast into the oven; how much more will he clothe you, O ye of little faith?”  The Lord will provide for us; do not worry, he loves us and sends us good things.

Yet our anxiety comes from a perception of ourselves in the world which is wrong and leads us to desiring things we ought not to desire, to expecting things which never come, and to feeling dissatisfied with the lot the Lord has given us.  Our anxiety betrays our mistrust of the providence of God the Father.  This is not accurate; this is a false view of God and his creation; this is no good.

There are two ways to gain humility:  Following Christ and accepting humiliations.

To follow Christ means, after having taken a good look at oneself and learning of our profound and utter poverty of soul, and then moving on from there, that we behold Christ as He is in the Scriptures and in the Sacraments, in His infinite Being, and in His unimaginable goodness and reaching a profound feeling of Him or a deepened faith in Him.

To accept humiliations means to practice humility in the best and foremost way of practicing it:  Not only to experience, not only to acknowledge, but to embrace and to accept the humiliations which come your way during the course of your life.

To accept a rebuke is one of the most powerful spiritual acts you can commit.  To truly thank another for his criticism of you frees your soul.  Taking responsibility for one’s own actions is something I hope that we learn in the process of growing up, but many an adult try to slip out of bad consequences.  It is no lie that priests ought not to grant absolution to a criminal who is unwilling to answer for his crimes.  If we resist the humiliation or make light of the slight, then we are not accepting the humiliation.

Accept your humiliations and learn from them.  Learn that you are fallible.  Trust not in your own righteousness.  Accept that you have only one savior, and you are not him.  You cannot truly trust in Christ, to lean on Him for salvation, if you really think in the back of your mind that you can pull this off by yourself.  You can’t.  He can.

When we seek to avoid humiliations and deep time with Christ and wish to find our own way to humility and loving-kindness, we err again.  We will not find our own special way to quick and easy humility.  One of the great benefits that older converts to Christianity bring us is an ignorance of the childish faith we passed through to become adults.  They convert to Christianity, wait for virtues to spring up everywhere, and realize that saying “I believe” does not finish their Christian walk.

I will be dead honest with you:  The Christian walk is very difficult.  Many do not make it.  They fall out along the way.  The devil tempts them away.  The world tempts them away.  Their own vices and flesh tempt them away.  Christ’s walk led Him to death on Golgotha, and you can expect the same.  Oh, you might die in your sleep, but that doesn’t make walking the walk instead of talking the talk any less difficult.

Pride is a deadly sin, and its antidote is humility.  Our society thinks very little of humility, and humility is often portrayed as self-abasing untruths.  A lady will put on a grand party, the food, the music, the company will be all excellent, everyone will be impressed, and when complimented she will say, “Oh, I know it’s nothing, but it’s the little bit I could do.”  That’s a lie.  It was a grand party, and everyone had a grand time.  Pictures from it made the newspaper.  It may not advance your salvation a whit, it may mean nothing in the grand scheme of things, but feigning incapacity when excellence has been witnessed is false and self-flattering.

The antidote to the sin of pride is neither more lies nor more sin, but rather more truth – truth told from God’s perspective.

 

“…Walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, with all lowliness and meekness, with long-suffering, forbearing one another in love; endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”

+ 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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