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Posts Tagged ‘Isaiah’

“He hath done all things well: he maketh both the deaf to hear, and the dumb to speak.”

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

 

“Loving our Neighbor through Good Works”

In St. Mark’s Gospel, this healing and the healing of the Syrophoenician woman which precede it together form a turning point in Christ’s ministry.  This healing in particular shows the firstfruits of salvation from the Jewish Messiah which will come to the Gentiles after Pentecost.  Although this miracle is done privately, it is a very inclusive miracle.  Instead of healing only one of the Chosen People, Christ the Messiah heals a man from outside the Old Covenant.

Travelling with His disciples amongst the Gentiles, Jesus fulfills two Messianic prophesies.  These include Isaiah xxxv.5, “Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped” and Ezekiel xxiv.27, “In that day shall thy mouth be opened to him which is escaped, and thou shalt speak, and be no more dumb: and thou shalt be a sign unto them; and they shall know that I am the LORD”.

God has power over hearing and speech.  Exodus iv.11 reads, “And the LORD said unto him, Who hath made man’s mouth? or who maketh the dumb, or deaf, or the seeing, or the blind? have not I the LORD?”.  Christ is a Jew, but He is God Incarnate.  He has power over hearing and speech.

St. Matthew 11.2-6 shows that Christ is doing the works that the Christ was prophesied to do according to the Forerunner, St. John Baptist:

2 Now when John had heard in the prison the works of Christ, he sent two of his disciples,

3 And said unto him, Art thou he that should come, or do we look for another?

4 Jesus answered and said unto them, Go and shew John again those things which ye do hear and see:

5 The blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them.

6 And blessed is he, whosoever shall not be offended in me.

 

31:  JESUS, departing from the coasts of Tyre and Sidon, came unto the sea of Galilee, through the midst of the coasts of Decapolis.

In this part of St. Mark’s Gospel, Christ and the disciples left the pagan region of Tyre and Sidon, the site of ancient Phoenicia and modern Lebanon, and headed back towards Judea.  They stopped off in the area of the Ten Cities, the Decapolis, on the other side of the Sea of Galilee.  These are ten Hellenistic, or culturally Greek, cities east of Samaria and Galilee, across the River Jordan.

Christ had already healed the demoniac possessed by Legion whilst visiting there before, so His reputation probably preceded Him.  According to Acts ix.2, this area was evangelized early.  Decades later, some Christians fled to one of these cities from Judea during the last war between Rome and the Jews.

32:  And they bring unto him one that was deaf, and had an impediment in his speech; and they beseech him to put his hand upon him.

The people of the Decapolis asked Christ to heal this man.  His own people asked on his behalf.  They intercede to the Son of God for his healing.  The week before last, a small group of us gathered to pray for others.  We’ll be doing that again in a few weeks.

Every Sunday and every Mass we lift up the names brought to us by the members of Christ’s Body here in this parish to God the Father Almighty, joining them in the mystical and eternal sacrifice of the Son to the Father in the Eucharist, the good gift.  We bring those we know and love to the attention of God so that he may heal them and have mercy upon them.

The local Gentiles interceded on behalf of their deaf friend who couldn’t speak to the Messiah of Israel.  They showed faith and love:  Faith that Christ could heal him and love for him that he might be healed.

33a:  And he took him aside from the multitude,

Privately, away from the public.  This is normally used for Christ alone with His disciples.

Christ avoids making miracles in public and seeks to avoid public praise for them.  He does not seek His own glory but the healing and mending of the bodies and souls of the lost.

Pseudo-Chrysostom tells that Christ took aside the man privately, “teaching us to cast away vain glory and swelling of heart, for no one can work miracles as he can, who loves humility and is lowly in his conduct.”

Indeed, pride is incompatible with thaumaturgy or wonderworking.  Pride is a sin against God.  God gives the good gifts which we work amongst our fellows.  It is through Christ that we do good works.  Sin and good works are incompatible and irreconcilable; sin and good works in Christ cannot exist together.  We must give up pride and seeking after glory for ourselves or we can no longer do good works in Christ.

33b:  and put his fingers into his ears, and he spit, and touched his tongue;

This seems rather vulgar and unbecoming the founder of our religion.  Yet this putting his hands inside his mouth and spitting makes sense.  Christ actually touched the man, showing that this world is part of God’s creation.  Christ the Son of God uses his perfect fingers and sacred spittle to touch the man in ears and on tongue to heal part of creation which has fallen away from God.

34:  and looking up to heaven, he sighed, and saith unto him, Ephphatha, that is, Be opened.

Christ heals the man with six actions:  taking aside, putting hands in the ear, spitting, touching the tongue, deep groan (“sighed”), and command of healing.  This is like our liturgical action at Mass and other services such as Baptism and Confirmation.  He looked up to Heaven.  He said ephphathah, the Aramaic word for “be opened!”  It serves as a word of power, which is not a magical incantation of superstitious nonsense.  This is a direct command from God to be healed.  As the earlier quote from Exodus iv.11 showed, Christ has the power of God to heal the deaf and mute.

St. Bede says that from Heaven comes all healing, which is why Christ looked up.  All we can do for healing also comes down from Heaven.  Whether it be our medical technology or the wise word properly delivered into the ready ear, all our help comes from our Creator and Redeemer who gives us all good things in the first place.  God uses our hands like he uses the hands of Christ for the good of our fellow man.

Likewise, the good we do must not be good only in our eyes but in the eyes of God as well.  Thus, we ought to always keep a healthy suspicion upon ourselves and watch ourselves to ensure that we do God’s work and not our own particular preferences.

35:  And straightway his ears were opened, and the string of his tongue was loosed, and he spake plain.

“His ears were opened” literally means is ‘his hearing was opened’, referring to the act of hearing not to the thing of ears.  We do hear through our ears, but the ears being restored was secondary to Christ restoring the hearing.  We see that today with the new cochlear implants which do not fix the ears but restore hearing.

36:  And he charged them that they should tell no man: but the more he charged them, so much the more a great deal they published it;

God is now at work among the Gentiles.  He has said, “be opened!” and they now hear, and proclaim, and are enthusiastic.  Christ will not finish His work among the Gentiles directly; but His apostles will carry the Gospel to the ends of the earth, performing great works in His Name.  God’s plan of salvation requires we sinful humans to proclaim Christ to the world.

“so much the more a great deal they published it” – published in the sense of ‘they proclaimed it’, with the religious note of proclamation.  When I preach or proclaim the Gospel, I am publishing it.  Think of publish glad tidings, tidings of peace!  I do not publish in the manner of printing a book or magazine, but rather in proclaiming to the hearing of others personally.

It goes on, “And He charged them that they should tell no man.”  Pseudo-Chrysostom: “By which He has taught us not to boast in our powers, but in the cross and humiliation.”  Wherefore it goes on, “but the more He charged them, so much the more a great deal they published it.”

We ought not to seek praise for that which we do well and to praise those who do well to us.  Praise is not our due; even the Son of God did not seek praise.

As for those who seek the approval of others (St. Matthew vi.1-2, 5):

1 Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven.

2 Therefore when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.

5 And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.

Christ tells us to refrain from doing our duty in public so to avoid receiving men’s praises.  Christ often refrained from performing healings in public so to avoid receiving men’s praises.  Both by word and example we are to serve humbly and obediently, willingly sacrificing our pride upon the Cross.  Remember, we can do no good thing on our own, but only insofar as we participate in Christ.

37:  and were beyond measure astonished, saying, He hath done all things well: he maketh both the deaf to hear, and the dumb to speak.

Once the people know that the man they brought forward to be healed has been healed, they get excited and pass on the news.  This is not what Christ wanted.  He healed the man because Christ is the Son of God come into the world to save us, and healing our bodily ailments is one portion of that salvation.  Today’s healing is a foretaste of tomorrow’s incorruptible bodies.

When we follow in His way, the Way of the Cross, we ought to leave others better off for having known us.  I know of many ways in which many of you have made the lives of your fellows better in this vale of suffering and tears.  It is incumbent upon us to serve our fellow man, not as an end unto itself, not as a means of gaining glory for ourselves, not even as a means of gaining glory for God, but to show forth the love of Christ unto those whom He came to save, our very own neighbors.

 

“He hath done all things well: he maketh both the deaf to hear, and the dumb to speak.”

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

 

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“Open ye the gates, that the righteous nation which keepeth the truth may enter in. Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusteth in thee. Trust ye in the Lord for ever: for in the Lord JEHOVAH is everlasting strength: The way of the just is uprightness: thou, most upright, dost weigh the path of the just.”

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

 

“Asking God to Bless America”

We believe God has blessed America.  We ask God to bless America.  But what is blessing?  A good definition of blessing is “the authoritative pronouncement of God’s favour.”  As priest and pastor of this parish, I bless my people every Sunday.  But that does not mean that Holy Ghost power shoots forth from my fingers into the souls of those sitting in these pews.  I do not possess superpowers, much less holy superpowers.  However, I can authoritatively pronounce God’s favour unto his people.  Unmerited favour of God, the grace of God, comes from God alone.  I do not have deep wells and caverns of God’s grace stored inside of me waiting to pour forth upon the blessed company of all faithful people.  I cannot dig deep or pull grace from the ether to splash upon God’s elect.

And neither can anybody else.  A blessing must come from the one who blesses, and no one can produce God’s favor except for the Lord Almighty.  Although I am authorized by Christ’s Body the Church to give God’s blessing, it does not come from me.  My authority is bound to faithfulness in Christ.  That is, if you come to me planning to commit murder, and ask me to bless your planned assassination, then any blessing I give will only be my own, for I cannot pronounce the blessing of Almighty God upon something which he expressly condemns in his Holy Scriptures.

If we think this all the way through, we might find ourselves getting a bit uncomfortable.  If blessings only come from God, and if only things which conform to God’s revelation to us can be blessed, then what do we think we are doing when we ask God to bless America?

Listen to what that great man, commanding general, Founding Father, and first president George Washington said about God and our country:

“I dwell on this prospect with every satisfaction which an ardent love for my country can inspire, since there is no truth more thoroughly established than that there exists in the economy and course of nature an indissoluble union between virtue and happiness; between duty and advantage; between the genuine maxims of an honest and magnanimous policy and the solid rewards of public prosperity and felicity; since we ought to be no less persuaded that the propitious smiles of Heaven can never be expected on a nation that disregards the eternal rules of order and right which Heaven itself has ordained; and since the preservation of the sacred fire of liberty and the destiny of the republican model of government are justly considered, perhaps, as deeply, as finally, staked on the experiment entrusted to the hands of the American people.”

“The propitious smiles of Heaven can never be expected on a nation that disregards the eternal rules of order and right which Heaven itself has ordained.”  God’s blessing cannot be expected on a country that ignores what “rules of order and right” God has established.

Isaiah said in the first lesson:  “The way of the just is uprightness: thou, most upright, dost weigh the path of the just.”  God will keep in perfect peace the nation whose mind is focused on him, which trusts in him, which follows the way of righteousness.  And God is the judge of this – “thou, most upright, dost weigh the path of the just.”

God blesses that which conforms itself to God.  God blesses the man and the woman who come together in holy matrimony according to the way which he has blessed.  God blesses the state which punishes the guilty and protects the innocent.  God blesses the businessman who practices Godly virtues in his conduct of business.

You can only get wet if you stand out in the rain.  Hiding under a shelter won’t get you wet.  You have got to go out where the water is, for in the things of God, you can’t bring the water to you.  You cannot bring God’s blessing to you, for God is stronger than you.  You must acknowledge your weakness and humbly go to God.  He is pouring out his grace every single day, and he wants you to get soaking wet with his blessing.  But you must stop fighting against God and follow him in the ways which he has blessed.

Now this is where I get uncomfortable, for I love America.  My ancestors crossed this river into Georgia over two hundred years ago, after the Revolution.  I love America for the freedom I have to preach the Gospel, to live in peace with my wife, to associate with those whom I want, to speak freely, and generally to practice virtue unmolested.  I love America for the vast beautiful lands, communities of loving and generous people, and the beacon of hope she is to so many foreigners who have not had the opportunity to live in freedom and justice in their own lands.

But I am concerned about America when I consider freedom and justice in our land.  We can argue and debate about the state of the nation until the cows come home, but God only blesses those who follow “the way of righteousness”.

We think that America is the city on a hill, a new Israel, a country blessed from the start by our Lord God Almighty.  But there have been many nations in the long, long history of man.  They have their ups and downs.  Many have been wiped off the map.  We have been a blessed nation; it is true.  But we do not deserve God’s blessing.  God gives his blessing to those who follow him.  And to continue to be blessed by God, we must continue to follow him.

In Washington’s words, “there exists in the economy and course of nature an indissoluble union between virtue and happiness;”  If we wish to remain happy, we must, as nation, keep exercising virtue and turn away from vice.  We must embrace righteousness, and turn away from wickedness.  We must embrace justice, and turn away from injustice.

My dear friends in God, I ask you today if you as a citizen of this country help our country exercise Godly virtue, or do you impede it?  Do you obey the law?  Do you pay your taxes?  Do you encourage others in virtue?  Do you treat your neighbor justly?  Do you vote and participate in your social and civic duties so that you build up and not tear down?  Do you pray for our country, for justice, and for our government officials?

It is easy to bemoan the sad state to which things have fallen.  It is also easy to live our lives wrapped up in our own business, ignoring the world around us.  But the Lord calls us not only to behave ourselves but to take responsibility for our neighbors.  Loving our neighbors is not only a spiritual duty but a civic one as well.  If we want our neighbor’s grandchildren to grow old in the fair and free land which George Washington worked so very hard to win and build for us, we need to look after our nation and country as well as our own business.

At the end of the Constitutional Convention in 1787, a man asked Benjamin Franklin what kind of country did they have.  Franklin quipped:  “A Republic, if you can keep it.”

If you value this nation, then we must work and pray together so that we may keep it.

 

“Open ye the gates, that the righteous nation which keepeth the truth may enter in. Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusteth in thee. Trust ye in the Lord for ever: for in the Lord JEHOVAH is everlasting strength: The way of the just is uprightness: thou, most upright, dost weigh the path of the just.”

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

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“And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible.”

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

 

St. Paul clearly says in today’s Epistle both to strive and to gain an incorruptible crown.  Faith is a gift.  Growing into the likeness of God is a gift.  Salvation is a gift.  Yet our striving matters.  But it is a gift.  This confuses us.

Today’s Gospel lesson provides us a parable which helps explain this.  The goodman of the house goes out time and again to hire laborers for his field.  Despite the difference in time worked, he pays them all the same.  Each one of the laborers worked, but the pay they received said nothing about how much they worked and said everything about the generosity of the goodman.

We work with God in our salvation.  God esteems our labor, poor that it may be in his infinite majesty.  We must labor in order to get paid.  Yet we are not paid in accordance with our labor.

We live in a city of wreckage this Sunday morning, even after crews have been working to restore power and fix roads and houses for days.  The storm hit us very hard.  Thankfully, the earthquake seems to have caused no damage.

Among many, I am thankful for the out-of-town utility crews that have been fixing our power lines.  But we cannot simply rest easy and sit back while they come and restore our power.  Other things need to be done.  At the very least, we need to gather up sticks and put them aside for the county to pick up.  We must clean our refrigerators and freezers.  Even though the professionals are doing the heavy lifting, we must handle the small stuff.  Our homes are not back into good order without a little bit of elbow grease on our part.

So it is with the grace of God.  We are entirely stuck without power until he bestows upon us grace from beyond ourselves, grace which we cannot manage on our own.  And yet the job is not entirely done without our participation.

So God has chosen us and adopted us in Holy Baptism and given us grace upon grace in our lives.  But we must participate in this grace, we must work with this grace, but we may not work for this grace.  The distinction is between working in order to gain something and working alongside and in conjunction with something.

Isaiah tells a powerful story at the beginning of his fifth chapter.  Let me read it to you.

Now will I sing to my wellbeloved a song of my beloved touching his vineyard.  My wellbeloved hath a vineyard in a very fruitful hill:  And he fenced it, and gathered out the stone thereof, and planted it with the choicest vine, and built a tower in the midst of it, and also made a winepress therein:  and he looked that it should bring forth grapes, and it brought forth wild grapes.  And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem, and men of Judah, judge, I pray you, betwixt me and my vineyard.  What could have been done more to my vineyard, that I have not done in it?  Wherefore, when I looked that it should bring forth grapes, brought it forth wild grapes?  And now go to:  I will tell you what I will do to my vineyard:  I will take away the hedge thereof, and it shall be eaten up; and break down the wall thereof, and it shall be trodden down:  And I will lay it waste:  it shall not be pruned, nor digged; but there shall come up briers and thorns:  I will also command the clouds that they rain no rain upon it.  For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah his pleasant plant:  and he looked for judgement, but behold oppression; for righteousness, but behold a cry.

Here, the Lord does everything but the people do not contribute their little part.  Isaiah shows that the Lord will prepare a great thing, but if the people do not do it, not only does it not get done, but the Lord will judge the contrary people.

The Lord gave all manner of goodness to Israel, and Israel spurned God’s love and pursued their own ends.  And lest we too quickly hasten to condemn Israel, we do this ourselves all too often.  We substitute what we want for what God has clearly communicated to us.  We substitute our fleshly desires over holy discipline.  We substitute sentimentality over truth and love.  We substitute feeling good and avoiding bad feelings over pursuing holiness.

God has given us good things.  He has communicated his will to us.  He has sent His only-begotten Son into the world to save us from our sins.  He has sent the Holy Ghost into the world to dwell in us, making us tabernacles of God himself.  And yet we run rampant, choosing our own way.  We say with our lips that we love God and our neighbor, but we act like strangers to both neighbor and God.

We ought to pray as Thomas Wilson, sometime Bishop of Sodor and Man, once prayed, “Grant that the end of all my actions, and designs, may be the glory of God.”

This glory of God for which we must strive St. Paul likens to the prize of an athletic contest.  Many of us have been watching – when we have electricity – the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi.  In the Olympics, individuals and teams strive for the gold.  In ancient Greece, athletes strove for laurels, that is, a crown of olive.

St. Paul mentions the crown in II Timothy ii.5:  “And if a man also strive for masteries, yet is he not crowned, except he strive lawfully.”

St. Peter mentions the crown in his first epistle:  “And when the chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away.”

St. John mentions the crown in Revelation ii.10b:  “be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life.”

And again, St. Paul mentions winning the crown in today’s Epistle:  “And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible.”

These bring to my mind my favorite quote of St. John Vianney:  “All that we do without offering it to God is wasted.”  Indeed, all that we do without God is ineffectual.  While our cares and concerns may seem important now, time will wear away even the greatest of monuments, age will wipe away the most notable of lineages.  All that is worthy, all that is eternal, all that is virtuous is the Lord’s.

Either you have the crown or you don’t.  And the crown is bestowed upon you, it is not earned.

We need sustained discipline.  Christians are spiritual athletes, and if we are spiritually lazy, digesting poor spiritual food, and not exercising what God gave us, then we will be sorry spiritual athletes indeed.  We must exercise vigorously whether we feel like it or not, listen to our teachers and coaches, eat a proper diet, get enough sleep, and avoid harmful things.

We are not competing against one another.  Instead of a race with one winner, all who run the race swiftly and with vigor will win the crown which God alone bestows upon his elect.  But we must run.  We must run our hearts out.  We run a difficult course with treacherous obstacles and dangerous challenges.  In this race, some racers will be tempted to quit the course.

We must hold our bodies in subject to our wills and hold our wills in subject to God’s will.  The way of Christ is tough and exacting.  Soon enough, we will again walk the road to Calvary with Christ and intensely recall how difficult the Via Dolorosa has always been.  Running a race whilst carrying your cross is impossible without the grace of God, whose grace, thankfully, he freely bestows upon us.  He loves us.  He desires us to join in his victory.  He does not want a single one of us to turn from God and consort with the enemy.  He wants abundant life for us all.

So how do we run this race to the satisfaction of God?

The minimum that we can do are the Duties of Churchmen.  But these are not enough.  And there is no maximum that we can do.

But still, first we faithfully fulfill the Duties of Churchmen.  These duties are:

1. Worship God in Church every Sunday and Holy Day of Obligation

2. Receive Holy Communion at least three times a year

3. Keep the fasts of the Church

4. Keep a clean conscience by confessing our sins and seeking righteousness

5. Tithe and give alms

6. Obey the Church’s Law of Marriage

In addition, we must regularly spend time with God in prayer:  adoration, thanksgiving, and confession.  Do not worry yourself about naming lists of loved ones to God.  Marvel at God, gaze upon him, and thank him.  Confess your sins and faults and grow close to him.  And here’s something important that we so often miss:  Slowly and thoughtfully pray the Lord’s Prayer every day.  You may always come to me and ask for more after you do that.

Finally, we must live righteous lives.  Are you living in a sinful situation?  Stop it.  Stop it now.  Don’t reason with evil – avoid it.  If you are living in fornication, or stealing from others, or shirking your duty, or disrespecting your parents, or greedily desiring more than you need, stop it immediately.  Follow the Ten Commandments and all Christian morality.

In all we do, we are to exercise our wills so that we may love our God and our fellow man more fully.  Virtue, communion with God, and righteous living all help us love God more fully and thereby love our neighbors more fully as well.

If you faithfully fulfill the six Duties of Churchmen, pray adequately and earnestly every day, and live a life of increasing righteousness, then you are well on your way to running the race worthy of a crown.  But remember, you never earn it.  You can never do enough to satisfy God.  God will grant you your crown of glory because he wants to, not because you feel – or don’t feel – like you deserve it.  In God’s open and free love does he give us all that we need for eternal life with him.  Accept the goodness and grace which flows from God and strive mighty hard to live a life worthy of Christ in the Holy Ghost.

 

“And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible.”

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

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“THE Spirit of the Lord God is upon me; because the LORD hath anointed me to preach good tidings”

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

 

Fr. Massey Shepherd said that today’s lesson describes “the saving, missionary work of the Messiah.”  This lesson from Isaiah is especially important as Christ read it publicly in the synagogue to announce the beginning of His public ministry in St. Luke iv.18-19.  Let’s take a closer look at it.

The 61st chapter of Isaiah begins:  THE Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me;

You can’t chose the prophetic mission; God chooses you.  When God gives a mission, he always provides the means to accomplish the mission.  The Lord does not make a promise that can’t be kept.  Like a priest and priestly gift of the Holy Ghost given in the sacrament of ordination, he who is called is given the necessary things to complete the mission.  St. Paul says in II Corinthians iii.5:  “Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think any thing as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is of God;”

Isaiah continues:  because the LORD hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek;

In telling of Christ reading the passage in the synagogue, St. Luke reads “poor” instead of “meek”.  In the early Third Century, the author Origen wrote, “By the poor He means the Gentile nations, for they were poor, possessing nothing at all, having neither God, nor Law, nor Prophets, nor justice, and the other virtues.”  This certainly agrees with the Great Commission, “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:”  Christ came to preach the Good News to the Jews first, but also to all nations.

Isaiah continues:  he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,

The “brokenhearted” are wounded and need healing.  Psalm cxliii.3 reads:  “He healeth those that are broken in heart, * and giveth medicine to heal their sickness.”

St. Cyril of Alexandria said:  “He calls those broken hearted, who are weak, of an infirm mind, and unable to resist the assaults of the passions, and to them He promises a healing remedy.”  St. Basil agrees:  “He came to heal the broken hearted, i.e. to afford a remedy to those that have their heart broken by Satan through sin, because beyond all other things sin lays prostrate the human heart.”  In other words, the brokenhearted are those who are weak and infirm by sin and uncontrolled passions, which is the condition we all share until redeemed by God.

Isaiah continues:  to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound;

Proclaiming liberty to the captive is associated with the year of Jubilee.  Leviticus xxv.10:  “And ye shall hallow the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof: it shall be a jubile unto you; and ye shall return every man unto his possession, and ye shall return every man unto his family.”

Sometimes we think that liberty means that we can do whatever we like.  But liberty and restoration to God’s good order are intimately related; we were originally at liberty in the Garden before the Fall distorted our wills.

St. John Chrysostom sees this:  “But the worst captivity is that of the mind, of which he here speaks. For sin exercises the worst of all tyrannies, commanding to do evil, and destroying them that obey it. From this prison of the soul Christ lets us free.”

St. Luke reads “to set at liberty them that are bruised” instead of “them that are bound”.  St. Cyril of Alexandria explains:  “For the darkness which the Devil has spread over the human heart, Christ the Sun of Righteousness has removed making men, as the Apostle says, children not of night and darkness, but of light and the day. For they who one time wandered have discovered the path of the righteous. It follows, To set at liberty them that are bruised.

Isaiah continues:  to proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD, and the day of vengeance of our God;

A liberal Protestant who commented on this verse said that the word “Vengeance” here is “dubious”.  But the Venerable Bede did not think so:  “After the acceptable year of the Lord, he adds, And the day of retribution; that is, the final retribution, when the Lord shall give to every one according to his work.”  Salvation and judgement go hand in hand.

Isaiah continues:  to comfort all that mourn; to appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness;

Comforting those that mourn is prominent in Isaiah.  When those who came back from the Babylonian Exile returned, they had high hopes.  But what they found was chaos, degeneracy, and sin.  They mourned “in Zion”.  Isaiah spoke the good word of God to them, giving them hope.  And today, these words give hope to those who mourn as well.

The lesson concludes:  that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that he might be glorified.

“Trees of righteousness” will be what those redeemed and comforted become.  And why? “that he might be glorified”; so God might be praised.

 

We are glad at the Good News; joy rises in our hearts and out our mouths when we hear and experience it.  We are called to be righteous within the call of the Good News and inside the joy over the salvation which it proclaims to us.  Gospel, joy, righteousness, salvation:  They all go together.

If righteousness doesn’t come after the glad tidings and joy and salvation, then these had no effect.

Therefore, upon hearing the glad tidings with joy, we are to strive for that righteousness which is part of our salvation.  Not that we can do it all by ourselves, but the good news is that we are not by ourselves.  God speaks to us, and we are never the same.  We become a holy people consecrated for God.  We are set apart.  We are saved.  We are joyous.  And being changed, we must love and spread this good news, these tidings of salvation which causes joy and effects righteousness.  Our growing in righteousness, our joy, and our spreading the Good News are all intertwined.  We must grow both personally and together as a holy people, and we must share these glad tidings.  This is who we are.  We are people who are redeemed by God, because God came down from Heaven and became one of us.  We are forever changed when we look into the eyes of Christ.  The holy angels veil their faces to the presence of God in Heaven, but we look God full in the face in the person of Christ our Lord.

In today’s Collect, we prayed:  “Grant that the same light enkindled in our hearts may shine forth in our lives.”  When put to the flame of God’s love, we ignite and become light by which others see God.

Nashotah House seminary has a prayer for those who are trained there:  “so penetrate them with your Spirit and fill them with your love, that they may go forth animated with earnest zeal for your glory; and may your ever living Word so dwell within their hearts, that they may speak with that resistless energy of love which shall melt the hearts of sinners to the love of you.”

When we hear the Good News of Christ and are filled with the Holy Ghost, we simply must pass on what we have experienced.  As Our Lady sings in that great hymn the Magnificat:  “My soul doth magnify the Lord, And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.”  We burn without being consumed by the loving-kindness of God himself.  People will notice!

But hearing the glad tidings, hearing the Gospel of Christ forces a crisis.  You either believe or not believe.  You cannot punt on this decision.  You cannot split the difference or decide not to decide.  And to our shame, many of us did not believe at first.  We humans are weak.  We are scared creatures.  It is a big world and without God we are terribly afraid of death.  Even Churchmen struggle with the little deaths of humiliation and poverty and shame.  This is not good.  This is not right.  But there it is.  Telling what the Lord has done for us forces a crisis in the hearer.  For better or worse, it is done.

And yet, the joy in our hearts propels us to share it.  We tell our friends when we find a really great deal at the store.  We pass on the accomplishments of our children and grandchildren with our neighbors.  We will even complain about the government, about the weather, about our favorite television show getting cancelled.  But people balk when it comes to sharing the Gospel.

I think it is because so much is on the line, so much is at stake.  You can pass up a great deal or a free meal, but passing up eternal salvation is more important than that.  Or perhaps we think it rude to make someone else uncomfortable.  And if we are slapping people around with big ole floppy Bibles, then we’re not really sharing the Good News, are we?  No.  When we share those glad tidings which we have heard, which caused joy to erupt in our hearts, which changed our lives for the better, making us holier, more righteous, purer in heart, cleaner in thoughts, then we have to share it.  We are changed for the better.

I like to tell people how I have improved over the years.  It was awkward “coming out” as a minister when I was younger – people remembered me all too well from childhood.  One of the things I love about my relationship with my wife Angela is that she has known me for a long time.  Certainly not as long as some of you have known each other, but she and I have known each other for our entire adult lives.  And we’re pretty sure that we met and I offended her when we were teenagers.  But when things are difficult and down, she knows that I have grown in Christ.  I’m getting better.  As for me, watching her blossom in the Lord has been a beautiful thing.  Of course I love the Lord, for He has wrought such great works in our lives!  Not that I don’t still mess up.  Not that I don’t have bad days, painful days, difficult days.  Not that everything is wonderful all the time.

But I attest before you and the angels in Heaven that God showed me a “more perfect way”.  Christ has shown me loving-kindness without bounds.  Of course I will stand up and preach!  And when your life has been touched by the Lord, you too will tell of His greatness, His loving-kindness, His overwhelming and gracious forgiveness, and the joy that sings out from your heart.  I’m not saying you have to walk around with a stupid grin plastered on your face.  I’m saying:  When your life is better for Christ saving you, you should speak your mind in your own voice.  You should tell your story, your part of the Greatest Story Ever Told.

If you walk through those red doors which symbolize the Blood of Christ and walk out into the world, you will meet untold numbers of folk in ashes, who mourn, who know all too well the spirit of heaviness.  They long for relief.  They subject themselves to trivial nonsense to dull the pain and take attention away from despair.  They inoculate themselves with false hope so that the return of disappointment does not crush them.

But the good word of the Lord offers them “beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness….”  They think that they live lives of their own making, selfishly thinking of themselves, but they, like us, are also called so “that they might be called Trees of righteousness.”  The Revised Standard Version, sounding mighty English, says instead “oaks of righteousness”.

Those mournful, despairing, confused people out there are called by God through you sitting here today that they might be sturdy oaks of righteousness so “that he might be glorified.”  We are made to praise the Lord.  This is the chief and highest end of man.  Why are we given free will, that is, why do we have conscious and reflective choice?  So that we may choose God.

But our wills, our minds, and our hearts are so damaged by the great Fall we experienced that we cannot begin to save ourselves.  “So God loved the world, that he gave his only-begotten Son, to the end that all that believe in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”  We are saved by the action of our loving Father in Heaven, who sent His only-begotten Son into the world, being born a baby in a manger in Bethlehem, so that He may save us from death, disease, and sin, by His Crucifixion and Resurrection, and then sent God the Holy Ghost to set us on fire to serve him in righteousness, joy, truth, and most especially loving-kindness.

I want you to commit to two things today:

First, believe the Good News in your heart and joyfully live it in your life.

And then, carry it out into the world and tell of those good tidings.

 

“THE Spirit of the Lord God is upon me; because the LORD hath anointed me to preach good tidings”

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

 

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“These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.”

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

 

I John v.4-5:  “For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith.  Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God?”

Peace comes from overcoming the world; those of us who believe in Christ overcome the world, as Christ has overcome the world.

In today’s Gospel, the words of Christ were directed to His disciples.  The scattering of the disciples cannot take away the peace which Christ gives.  This is like Christ not being alone during His crucifixion because He remained in communion with the Father.

Francis Moloney says that “The oneness between Jesus and the Father is Jesus’ assurance of victory, no matter how convincingly the forces of this world may appear to have won the day in the violence that will terminate Jesus’ life.”

So to His initial disciples Christ says that His victory is so universal and complete that He can promise peace to His troubled and failing disciples.  They are unable to accept His departure, they are unable to remain steadfast at His side, they are unable to keep from losing hope, and yet they possess the peace of Christ.  Obviously, this peace does not look like the peace of the world with which we are familiar.

The scattering of the disciples is akin to inexcusable failure among us.

Amidst our own failures, even amidst our own death, when we are so very alone and no one else present shares what we are going through, we are not alone; Christ is with us.  We worry so much about our present cares and worries, about the messes of our families and ourselves, about the pain and consternation others experience that we forget about the example of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, Who when He hung alone on the hard wood of the Cross enjoyed mystic communion with God the Father in Heaven and was by no means alone.  He is our salvation; He is our communion with God the Father in Heaven.  When we are with Him, we are never alone, we are entirely at peace; there is no force in the world, no sin, no temptation, no devil, no enemy that can disrupt us.  If the connection relied upon our own feeble miserable powers, then we would have much to fear.  We should tremble and shake and jump at our own shadow, for death and disgrace would be ready to jump us at any time.  But not so with Christ!  He has won the victory!  He tells us, “I have overcome the world.”  Not just the evil forces of the world, not just the natural calamities of the world, not just the wicked hearts of men who rule the world, but He has overcome the world and all that therein is.  He is supremely victorious.  Christ has defeated death itself.

In ancient classic stories, we read about heroic deeds.  Prometheus stole fire from the gods.  Beowulf slew Grendel.  Hercules killed the Hydra.  But Christ defeated death.  And unlike Prometheus, Beowulf, and Hercules, Christ is a historical figure of antiquity, born a Jew in the Roman Empire and judged by Pilate.  Christ defeated death.  Unless He returns in the Second Advent before our death, we will have to suffer our own personal death.  But as we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, Christ has been there before us, and He will be there with us as we ourselves go.  Even in death, we will not be alone.  Even in death, we will have the peace of God.

The peace of man is peaceful and restful indeed.  When we receive a good night’s sleep, we enjoy a bit of worldly peace.  Nothing stirs us.  Our dreams are lovely.  We awake refreshed.  We do not feel well rested every night, but when we do, we have experienced a bit of worldly peace.

As a child, I fished for bream with a cane pole beside my grandfather.  The occasional breeze through the still hot air, song of a bird, and ploop from the lake when a turtle moved were all I could hear.  We sat in silence; we sat in peace.  I remember those days, and I miss those days.  Fishing with my grandfather was lovely.  But it brought me only a peace of this world.

To look for a deeper peace, I consider my days as a hospital chaplain in the Labor and Delivery ward.  The anxiety, pain, and weariness of the ladies before their child was delivered stay with me.  But I remember many mothers on the other side of their labor.  With exhausted but peaceful smiles, they could hardly take their eyes off their babies.  Mother and child had both passed successfully through the hours of agony and travail.  The mother was no longer expecting; the child who was so long expected was now with the family.  Like a nativity scene, family members and friends and nurses gathered around to adore the mother and child.  The whole child’s life lies before them, with trials and problems and restless nights.  Yet the danger and pain of childbirth has ended.  New life is out into the world.  Tomorrow’s challenges are for tomorrow; today she may rest from her labors.  And yet even this peace, this lovely and blessed peace, is still of this world.

Christ promises a peace which transcends our experience and our imagination.  If we dismiss this peace or consign it to some worldly meaning, then we do it and the bringer of it, Christ Jesus, a disservice.  The peace of God is not necessarily a peace of rest, of comfort, and of recuperation.  The peace of Christ exists when the disciples break discipline and scatter before the enemies of Christ, even though Christ has overcome the world.  This peace of Christ is not dependent upon us, but upon Christ.  This peace of Christ is not brought about by our good works or serene thoughts.  This peace does not come from within.  This peace comes from without; it comes from Christ, as Christ comes from God the Father in Heaven.

When we attempt to build peace for ourselves, we build it on top of things which can neither bear such a tremendous weight nor such a precious cargo.  We build our peace atop a pile of money for financial security.  We build our peace atop a pile of family whom we love and who will support us when we need them.  We build our peace atop a church service that feels comfortable to us instead of one that truly proclaims the Word of God.  We build our peace atop a sense of well-being that accompanies a privileged place in our society, a gentleman, a veteran, a mother, a priest.  We build our peace atop good things that cannot bear the weight, and since they cannot bear the weight, our peace is a lie that is about to crumble beneath and overthrow us.  Only when our peace is built upon the rock of our salvation, Jesus Christ, do we have someone unassailable and sturdy to rely entirely upon.

Peace is promised to us in Holy Scripture.  In Isaiah (ix.6) we read:  “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counseller, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.”

Earlier in St. John’s Gospel (xiv.27), Jesus says:  “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you.  Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.”

St. Paul writes in Philippians (iv.6-7):  “Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.  And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”

We have this peace; we must adjust ourselves to Christ so that we may feel this peace and use it in our lives; we must stop resisting God’s love and plan for us so that we might grow into the mature Christian adults He wants us to be, so that we might enjoy Heaven with Him and serve as a light to this broken and distressed world so that we might bring Christ to others.

Christ’s peace was based upon the unshakable rock of God the Father.  Our hope likewise is to rest on Christ, unshakeable rock that He is, Who has overcome the world and defeated death itself.  We can face anything if we rest in Christ, for what can shake us?  What can move us?  Poor Job did not know Christ when he faced his catastrophes, yet he still had faith in God.  Death cannot break our peace and overthrow us, for Christ is our rock and our salvation and He has defeated death.  The loss of our riches, our families, our homes, our friends all cannot assail the peace of God, because his peace is not predicated upon such secondary goods; it is founded squarely upon Christ Himself.

This is why we love Christ more than our children or our spouses.  Like it or not, we will one day lose our children and our spouses, but we need never lose Christ.  Like it or not, one day we will be separated from that money, but we need never lose Christ.  We may go blind and never see another sunset; our senses of taste and smell might fail so that we never enjoy our favorite meal again.  We may go deaf and not be able to hold a conversation with those around us.  But we need never lose Christ.  If Satan and his evil angels and all the powers of Hell were to assail you when you got home this afternoon, for all the harm and foulness he could do to you, he could never, no not ever, take Christ away from you.  We are absolutely unassailable in our relationship with Jesus Christ.  Nobody can ever take away our Baptism and our salvation.  Nobody can strip away from us our Confirmation and the seven-fold gifts of the Holy Ghost.  Others can take away our property, our freedom, and our lives, but they cannot strip from us our salvation and ultimate peace in Jesus Christ.

Christ has overcome the world, and therein is why the disciples have peace.  Christ has left us to Ascend to the Father, and we are broken and pitiful men and women.  Yet we have the deepest peace there is:  unity with Christ and thereby with the Father, and soon, at Pentecost, with God the Holy Ghost.  We are deeply and profoundly united with God through Christ and in the Holy Ghost.  Amidst the pains and harrowing suffering of this wicked world wherein the Prince of this world has authority, we live with God even now, we have peace even now.

 

“These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.”

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

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