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“If there had been a law given which could have given life, verily righteousness should have been by the law.  But the scripture hath concluded all under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe.”

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

 

In Genesis (xvii.7), God promises Abraham, “I will establish my covenant between me and thee and thy seed after thee in their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee.”

God made a promise to Abraham, a promise which was fulfilled in Christ.  Then why the Law?  The Law does not save.  It does not annul or replace the promise made to Abraham.  It was “a temporary expedient”; it prepared us for faith in Christ; it showed us the way of righteousness.  But the Law was powerless to lead us into righteousness.  At our best, we could avoid sin, but life with God is more than avoiding sin.  Ultimately, the Law taught us how helpless we are to condemnation.

Remember that the Jews were the Chosen People because they had something that the Gentiles did not:  The sure and certain knowledge of where they had violated God’s Law.  This did not make them holy.  This did not save them.  This did not bring them into communion with God.  But this did let them be schooled in righteousness.

The Gentiles did not have this.  The Law was not a remedy for sin, but it was a diagnostic guide.  It made you aware of the symptoms of sin, the presence of sin.  Thus, the Law was a gift, but Law was also a burden.

The Law could not grant the power to accomplish what it commanded.  It did not give people the means to overcome sin, but it made them aware of sin.  So, at least they could ask for forgiveness, which is a blessing.  As St. Paul says a few verses after this lesson:  “Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith.”

Isaac Williams preached:

The Law was to convince them of sin, and bring them to Christ: thus John the Baptist preached repentance; for if they had believed Moses they would have believed in Christ. The Law was but the means, not the end; but the Jews were now making it the end; whereas the end of the Law is Christ, in Whom is the promise, and the blessing, and the covenant, and righteousness, and life; not for a time only, but for ever.

Christ’s Advent removed the need for the Law.  St. Paul had a clear sense of the historical demarcations of the usefulness of the Law:  From Sinai to Christ.  The Law had a transitional function until the seed of promise came to us in Christ.  Christ, unlike the Law, is able to redeem us from sin, grant us everlasting life, and cover us with His righteousness.

Christ says in St. Matthew (v.17-18):

Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil.  For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.

The Law of Moses cannot be unwritten.  St. Paul does not dispute this.  He says, however, that the purpose for which the Law was written has been fulfilled in Christ our Lord.  It has not been made wrong.  It has been superseded.

The Law of Moses was a provisional kind of temporary:  Till the seed came.  Obedience to God is less than brotherhood with Christ and full communion with God.  With Abraham and in Christ, faith, not obedience, is the effectual element.  We still must do no murder, but if we leave murder be, we may be saved in Christ our Lord.

St. Paul writes in Philippians that as to righteousness under the Law as a Pharisee, he was blameless, yet that did not give him eternal life.  Christ gave him eternal life.  There is no life eternal in the Law of Moses.

Whereas the Law was given on Sinai from God through Moses to the Jews, Christ came for us all, both Jew and Gentile.  We are all under the power of sin.  We are all hemmed in, confined, and imprisoned by sin.  The virtue of the promise is given to those that believe.

John Wesley wrote:

Will it follow from hence that the law is against, opposite to, the promises of God? By no means. They are well consistent. But yet the law cannot give life, as the promise doth. If there had been a law which could have given life – Which could have entitled a sinner to life, God would have spared his own Son, and righteousness, or justification. with all the blessings consequent upon it, would have been by that law.

 

From Adam and Eve in the Garden, sin and death have been ever with us.  God did not create us to suffer and die – our sin so corrupted us – but it is our fallen estate.

In the Burial Office, we read at the graveside:

Man, that is born of a woman, hath but a short time to live, and is full of misery. He cometh up, and is cut down, like a flower; he fleeth as it were a shadow, and never continueth in one stay.

In the midst of life we are in death; of whom may we seek for succour, but of thee, O Lord, who for our sins art justly displeased?

Sin and death have an existential hold over us.  We stand condemned by our sins and estranged from our good God.  We have no escape by clawing our way out of the pit.

I am fascinated by H. P Lovecraft and the Cthulhu Cosmic Horror stories.  You see, I read Nietzsche (übermensch and all that) and Dylan Thomas (“Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”) before I read H. P. Lovecraft.  This notion of this eternal emptiness, this absolute death, this coldness, this gaping maw that will devour each of us has been with me for a long time.

Thomas and Nietzsche and Lovecraft seem so different with poetry and philosophy and fiction, but raging against the dying of the light does not lead to death having no dominion over us.  The exaltation of will does not overcome the hollowness left by the retreat of God’s morality.  And no human effort avails against monsters so ancient and immense as to ignore us completely whilst driving us incurably mad.  Yet these men touched something in our souls, in our fears.  As a very young child, I had occasional nightmares which taught me dread.  Dread is reasonable, for death calls us all.  But fervently steeling ourselves to hurl ego at the emptiness we feel, whether through embracing chaos and destruction or obeying inflexible rules, does not save us from our mortal predicament.

The great perplexity of emptiness and death, the coldness and void of the tomb, can be overcome neither by valiant effort nor exertion of will nor by righteousness according to the Law, but only by one who can defeat such ill things.  And that One, of course, is Christ.

It makes perfect sense that we gain eternal life through being Baptized into the death and Resurrection of Christ.  Our life that lives eternally in us is from God alone, as our own life is temporary and dies.  Likewise, our righteousness is from God alone because we are flawed and finite.  God’s righteousness is natural to who God is.  It is perfect, infinite, and holy:  All the things that we are not.

Our only salvation is from God, whom as the existentialist theologian I heartily love to hate calls, “the ground of all being”.  All that is, is contingent upon God.  All the preaching in the world, all the rituals of the Church, all the mumbled prayers of the faithful, and all the songs of exaltation do not raise Christ from the dead.  Christ defeated death, and Christ loves us.  He was won the victory.

 

You cannot outrun dread.  You cannot physically hold onto righteousness.  These are not subjects of work.  We cannot earn ourselves salvation, eternal life, the beatific vision, or that deep and living connection with our Creator and Redeemer.  There is none of that.  I can do things to damage my relationship with God, but I cannot fix my relationship with him.

It is as if the Promised Land is on the other side of a river broad, swift, and deep.  I can keep myself from straying too far inland on my side so I that can no longer see the Promised Land, but I cannot build a bridge or swim the fast current to get there.  I cannot get across on my own.  No matter how athletic and healthy I am.  I am crippled, I’m feeble, I’m weak.  However, I can work to avoid following every pretty distraction that’s on my side further away from the shore until I forget all about the Promised Land.  I can work at that.  I would rather look across the swift river and torture myself beholding unattainable bliss.  I can see home, like Moses did from the mountain.  But I cannot get there myself.  I need a savior.

We are not capable in our fallen, mortal, and limited state to fulfill the Law and earn righteousness for ourselves.  The mightiest hero, the holiest saint, the wisest philosopher can no more earn his own righteousness before God than the weakest of us.  We are all under sin; not one of us can save himself from everlasting death.  Only by faith in Christ are we saved.

 

We are called to believe in Christ, to follow Him, and to love like He loves.  If we think that He did not follow the Law correctly, we are the ones who are incorrect, not the Son of God.  We are in no wise capable of challenging God on his own terms.  We must love Christ and conform our lives to His holy life.  Railing against the universe, or as Christ tells St. Paul, “it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks”, gains us nothing.  We ought not futilely concern ourselves with earning our reward, instead following Him in the way which leads to everlasting life.

 

“If there had been a law given which could have given life, verily righteousness should have been by the law.  But the scripture hath concluded all under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe.”

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

 

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“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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“They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick.”

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

 

“Church:  Hospital or Hospice?”

There are no people who are to be unwelcome here!  No one here has ever told me to make this a hoity-toity society parish, but many people have placed little limits here and there about making sure the riff-raff is kept out.  But we are the riff-raff in the eyes of God!  And the truth in the eyes of the eternal and Almighty God is actually true, unlike our notions of polite society which are here today and gone with the wind tomorrow.

We have need of physicians of the soul for we are sinners.  When Christ sat at dinner to eat with St. Matthew and the other tax collectors, he sat with men who were known to take bribes, work for the Roman occupying force, and wring as much as they could out of the population.  When the self-righteous Pharisees complained about that, Christ told them, “They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick.”  The Body of Christ is to be a hospital for repentance and healing and not a club for the redeemed.

We are sinners.  St. Paul says in Romans iii.23, “ For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;”  We are not to be only treating our pain but undergoing spiritual healing.  We can never think first of the pain.  Who would ever set a broken bone if we only thought of the pain?  Who would take months of chemotherapy if we only thought of the pain?  We have amongst this parish survivors of cancer who have undergone very difficult treatment.  I for one am glad that they – y’all – underwent such painful treatment, for I would rather you be with us than not.

If we are doing the Lord’s work, we can welcome the criticisms of our enemies because they give us the opportunity to explain ourselves and what we are doing.  The criticisms of the Pharisees allow Christ to explain the hospital concept.  He isn’t just hanging out; He is doing the work of God with actual people, people like you and me.

Christians are to follow Christ in allowing everyone to come in to the community before we expect righteousness of them.  Anyone with a soul is welcome.  We do have standards of conduct, such as repenting of sin, receiving Holy Communion, and fasting, but these standards are for those who are already members, not standards to obey before you come to know Christ.  Thus it is that we are a hospital for sinners.  Faith comes before righteous living. Our modified behavior is our response to the great goodness given to us by Christ our Lord.

“Follow me” is the shortest, simplest, and most succinct call to Christian discipleship.  To follow Christ is to live in His manner of life.  We follow those upon whom we model ourselves.  “Follow me” implies personal loyalty.  Christ is not trying to get people to follow His set of rules or His philosophy but rather His Holy Person.  Our faith is one of loving-kindness between persons.  For instance, I am the husband of Angela, and Angela is the wife of me.  I said that I took her as my wife, and she said she took me, bless her heart, as her husband.  We did not become something complex like cult members or philosophers or disembodied talking heads when we married; we married each other.

Likewise, Christ is not trying to sell something here.  We follow Him.  This is why we are not people of a book like Jews and Mohammedans.  We follow Christ – we are Christians.  We are people in a personal relationship with our Lord and Master.  This is why Apostolic Succession is so important – our faith is transmitted from mouth to ear and heart to heart.  You cannot truly read yourself into the Christian Faith.  Reading theology is not the basis of Christian ministry.  Love between members of the household of God is.  I am your spiritual father, and you are my spiritual children.  And so on.

Buying your child or grandchild a Bible is no substitute for attending Mass with her.  It is more important for him to hear you answer the question in person than to have him look up the answer for himself.  Even though we fail as leaders to our children and priests fail as leaders to our people, this way of communicating between persons is the fundamental way of learning about Christ.  Getting embarrassed about speaking religion to each other is part of our relationship with each other.

Christ is Himself the answer to sin, sickness, and death.  Christ is a bold one, for He is the Incarnate Son of God made flesh down here on earth to save us from sin, sickness, and death.  Christ is both the messenger and the cure.  Christ is both the priest and the victim.  Christ is both God and Man.  Our connection with God, our source of ultimate healing is found in that singular human person, that ancient Jew.  Christ is entirely God and entirely human and yet is but one single Person, the Holy Person whose Name

is above every name: That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.  (Philippians ii.9b-11)

St. Matthew found the “pearl of great price”, and nothing in this world could compare with the Man Who found Him.  So, like the others fishing in their boats, the Evangelist and Apostle dropped what he was doing without a care of what might befall him to follow the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
A hospice is a place where you go to die.  The folks who work with hospice do not allow any fighting to save your life.  They want you to die peacefully and with as little pain as possible.  A hospice is not a place to go in order to heal.  One is supposed to be carried out of a hospice.

A hospital is a place where you go to heal.   One goes to a hospital in order to get back on your feet and eventually leave under your own power, even if they insist on the wheelchair ride to the front door or to your car.

I have had a season-long clinical pastoral education internship at a hospital in Illinois and a year-long CPE residency at a hospital in South Carolina.  One of my problems in these hospitals is that the spiritual care, the pastoral care provided seemed to be of a palliative nature.

According to getpalliativecare.org, palliative care “focuses on providing patients with relief from the symptoms, pain, and stress of a serious illness—whatever the diagnosis.”  Palliative care makes the physical, social, mental, and emotional burdens of being sick more bearable.  It does not attempt to cure the ailment.

I confess that I am not a big fan of palliative care.  I have a painful chronic illness, and I would much rather receive a therapy which gets me healed up and on my way.  Instead, the medicine I take helps me tolerate the burden of being sick.  I am thankful for this care and medication, for it allows me to do more than I was able to do before I took the medicine.

But, I much prefer therapy that improves my condition.  One of the reasons I felt so called to amend my life and trust in Christ was that I saw someone live a better and holier life that I did.  Forgive me if you heard my story, but some fellows and I worked together in Atlanta many years ago.  We were smart-alecs, jerks, clever boys with a turn of phrase who thought that we were hilarious.

One of the ladies were worked with seemed like a silly girl.  She dressed funny and talked funny, and we made fun of her.  I’m sure it wasn’t fun to her.  But here’s the kicker – she always treated us with decency and respect.  She was a follower of Christ in that she actually walked with the Son of God and treated other people with the love with which Christ loved her.

Confronted with genuine Christian loving-kindness, I stood convicted of my sins.  I underwent the painful realization that my life of disrespect was not worth living.  I wanted to love other people and myself the way she loved me and the way Christ loved her.  I came back home to church and repented of my sins.  I am honored to tell you here today that in the last few weeks of my father’s life he saw this son of his come back into the Christian walk that he had taught me to walk in.

Here I stand twenty-five years later a changed man.  I am not as good a man as I hope to be someday, but I can safely say that I am a better man.  Angela has known me long enough to attest to the fact that I am a better man today than when she first met me.

But here is the thing about palliative care:  If I had not felt that pain of public humiliation realizing that I treated others poorly, I can’t see as how I would have repented from my sins.  The pain I felt was a good thing.  It taught me, it schooled me that I was on a road to damnation.  I knew my life was out of order when I felt that pain.  I thank God Almighty sitting in Heaven above that I was not provided palliative spiritual care, Christian ministration that got the pain to stop.

That pain was good for me.  I went to the hospital of Christ’s church to get spiritual healing.  If I had been taken to a spiritual hospice, I would have been told that I was good enough just the way I was and that I did not need to change.

My dear children, Christ sat at table full of sinners so that He could redeem them.  Our parish here is named after the most famous physician of Holy Scripture, St. Luke.  Jesus Christ has established His Bride, Holy Church, here on earth to help save sinners.  We sit here on Wheeler Road so that we may do the work of Christ and be a place of spiritual healing.

That means that we will hurt.  We will hurt from our own sins.  And Christ wants us to hurt from our sins.  We are not to cover over our sins and adopt pseudo-therapies that reduce our suffering.  No!  We must suffer fully.  We must feel our hurt so that we may correct our lives!  We must let our brothers and sisters who are members of Christ’s Body feel their hurt so that they may amend their lives.  We spiritually injure our fellow members of Christ’s Church when we try to take away their suffering before the time is over.

That means that others will hurt.  We are a hospital for sinners.  When we welcome people who suffer the pains of this fallen world through their own fault, the fault of others, and the assaults of the Devil, we must take them in and bandage them up like the Good Samaritan did.  We must suffer with them – that is what the word compassion means:  To suffer with.

We must embrace the pain of this world and let folks know that they can come here for spiritual healing.

 

This parish holds together two different notions of what a parish ought to be.  For on the one hand, we know each other well, we are friends with each other, we seek out others who will serve what we have already established as members of this parish, and we seek out others who will keep our parish family going.  This is a cozy, comfortable, and unfruitful way of conducting ourselves.

But on the other hand, we are a mission outpost of the right bank on the Savannah River.  All Saints’, Aiken has the left bank.  This is our duty station, and from here we are to fulfill the Great Commission given to the Apostles and thus to our bishops – “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.”

We are both a family and a mission outpost.  As a parish family, we show some of the domestic loving-kindness made possible in Christ our Lord.  But we are also tempted towards living out the Christian life in this parish as a hospice, avoiding pain, keeping peace, and not rocking the boat.

As a mission outpost, we focus on preaching the Gospel and loving our neighbor as ourselves.  Thus we are tempted towards living out the Christian life in this parish as a hospital, dragging in the wounded off the street, binding their wounds, and loving them, encouraging those who have fallen, strengthening those who are weak, and occasionally sending on their way those who simply stopped by for a rest.

Discerning correctly and loving appropriately is the principal challenge for us here at St. Luke Church as we grow into the future.

 

“They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick.”

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

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“Parthians, and Medes, and Elamites, and the dwellers in Mesopotamia, and in Judaea, and Cappadocia, in Pontus, and Asia, Phrygia, and Pamphylia, in Egypt, and in the parts of Libya about Cyrene, and strangers of Rome, Jews and proselytes, Cretes and Arabians, we do hear them speak in our tongues the wonderful works of God.”

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

 

“Speaking the wonderful works of God”

 

God has spoken to Man throughout the ages.  God communed with Adam in the cool of the morning.  God accepted Abel’s sacrifice but not Cain’s.  God commanded Noah to build the Ark.  God chose Abraham and sent him on his journey, communicating to his through angels.  God spoke to Moses from the burning bush to lead the Exodus of the Jews from Egypt and gave him his sacred Law.  The tabernacle of the Ark of the Covenant signified the presence of God to the priests and people of Israel.

Yet even when the Ark was lost, God still spoke through the prophets of Israel, correcting and admonishing the priests, kings, and people when they grew lax with God’s Law and sought to worship themselves instead of God.  These prophets and the calamities visited upon the Israelites scattered many of them but sharpened and honed others.

Out of these others came Ss. Mary and Joseph, Ss. Elizabeth and Zacharias, and those who waited for the consolation of Israel.  The Son of God the Father became Man in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary as the Holy Ghost came upon her and the power of the Most High overshadowed her.  God raised a great prophet in the elderly womb of St. Elizabeth.  As her son, St. John the Baptist, preached and prepared those hoping for the restoration of Zion to receive their king, Jesus grew in stature and wisdom until his Baptism by St. John and his ministry amongst the Jews.

Thus we understand the first two verses of Hebrews:  “God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds;”

As we have worshipped in the cycle of Holy Church through the preparation for Easter, Pre-Lent and Lent, and thence through Passion Week and Holy Week, worshipping through the Passion, death, Resurrection, and then Ascension of our Lord Christ, so we come to the time Christ promised us:  Pentecost.

WHEN the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.”

Christ gave the Holy Ghost to the Church to hold her accountable to what He taught her.  We are given the Holy Ghost in the Sacraments to bring God’s presence into our lives and accomplish all things necessary for holiness.  The Third Person of the Holy Trinity, God the Holy Ghost, instructs us, seals us in the knowledge of God, and preserves the teachings of Jesus Christ.

 

From the Confirmation rite found in the Book of Common Prayer:  “Strengthen them, we beseech thee, O Lord, with the Holy Ghost, the Comforter, and daily increase in them thy manifold gifts of grace: the spirit of wisdom and under-standing, the spirit of counsel and ghostly strength, the spirit of knowledge and true godliness; and fill them, O Lord, with the spirit of thy holy fear,”

Zechariah vii.11-12:  “But they refused to hearken, and pulled away the shoulder, and stopped their ears, that they should not hear.  Yea, they made their hearts as an adamant stone, lest they should hear the law, and the words which the LORD of hosts hath sent in his spirit by the former prophets: therefore came a great wrath from the LORD of hosts.”

St. John iv.22b-24 “…Salvation is of the Jews.  But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him. God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.”

Romans viii.9-11:  “But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his. And if Christ be in you, the body is dead because of sin; but the Spirit is life because of righteousness. But if the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwelleth in you.”

I Corinthians ii.9-10, 12:  “But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him. But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God…. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God.”

 

We are comforted – strengthened – by the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit also leads us into all truth.  The two come together in that teaching of Christ, that the Holy Ghost will preserve and keep us in the word of God from Christ.  He “brings all things to remembrance”.

In the Collect, God “didst teach the hearts of thy faithful people, by sending to them the light of thy Holy Spirit” and we beseech God to “Grant us by the same Spirit to have a right judgment in all things”.

Teaching the hearts of the faithful and granting us right judgement are both brought about by the first thing St. Peter does after receiving the Holy Ghost at Pentecost.  He preaches.

He preaches that those who have not heard may hear.  He preaches that those who do not understand may understand.  He preaches that those who fail may be strengthened to succeed.  He preaches that the faithless may find faith.  He preaches that the stout-hearted give glory to God and lead others to glorify God as well.  He preaches by telling the truth that the authorities do not want to be told.  He preaches by speaking the wonderful works of God.

Will you stand up alongside the great apostle and speak the wonderful works of God?

 

“Parthians, and Medes, and Elamites, and the dwellers in Mesopotamia, and in Judaea, and Cappadocia, in Pontus, and Asia, Phrygia, and Pamphylia, in Egypt, and in the parts of Libya about Cyrene, and strangers of Rome, Jews and proselytes, Cretes and Arabians, we do hear them speak in our tongues the wonderful works of God.”

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

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“For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory.”

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

 

The Resurrection Life

 

St. John Chrysostom preached:

“Our first man is buried: buried not in earth, but in water; not death-destroyed, but buried by death’s destroyer, not by the law of nature, but by the governing command that is stronger than nature. For what has been done by nature, may perchance be undone; but what has been done by His command, never. Nothing is more blessed than this burial, whereat all are rejoicing, both Angels, and men, and the Lord of Angels. At this burial, no need is there of vestments, nor of coffin, nor of anything else of that kind. Wouldest thou see the symbol of this? I will show thee a pool wherein the one was buried, the other raised; in the Red Sea the Egyptians were sunk beneath it, but the Israelites went up from out of it; in the same act he buries the one, generates the other.”

The Resurrection doesn’t make sense to our natural selves, making better sense when talked about in analogies to Israelites and Egyptians.  What does Christ’s Resurrection mean?

 

Christ is our new Adam.  Death came into the world through Adam.  Romans v.12:  “Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned:”

But eternal life has come into the world through the new Adam, Christ.  I Corinthians xv.45:  “The first man Adam was made a living soul; the last Adam was made a quickening spirit.”  In a sense, God has re-made creation through Christ.

Sin is a shattered state of alienation and decay which entered into God’s good world through Adam’s sin.  Since Adam is our progenitor, this disease came to afflict us all.

But Christ has taken up our nature into Himself.  He is God, but He has taken on human nature.  Through that nature, He died on the Cross.  With His Resurrection from the dead, this new Resurrection life has entered into our nature as well.  Christ’s Resurrection has exalted our human nature, and insomuch as we share in Christ’s Resurrection by mystical joining with Him, so we share in this sacred exalted human nature as well.

Death and new birth are both accomplished together in the same action of Holy Baptism.

Now, we who have joined in Christ through the waters of Holy Baptism are joint-heirs with Him.  We are graciously part of Him.  We share in His Resurrection.  We are living in what we can call a foretaste of that which is to come, after our bodily deaths when our bodies will be resurrected and rejoined with our souls.  Then, we shall suffer no sickness or sin, no decay or death.  But the great effect is after we die on this earth at the general resurrection of the dead, when we are rejoined with new and glorified bodies.

 

Because of Christ’s Resurrection from the dead, we are also participating in heavenly grace and the promise of everlasting life in Christ’s Holy Sacraments, especially Holy Baptism and the Holy Eucharist.

In Holy Baptism, we are regenerated – literally born again – by water and the Holy Ghost.  We die like Egypt and come out like Israel in the Red Sea.  When we are baptized into Christ, our sins are mystically washed away, and we pass from this sinful world into the beginning of the Resurrection Life which Christ has both won and created for us.  All our sins are forgiven us.  We are introduced into the inheritance of everlasting life.  We are grafted into Christ’s Body the Church and are so united with Christ.  We begin receiving the benefits of everlasting life here and now.

In the Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ, we sacramentally and mysteriously yet truly eat the Body and Blood of Christ.  We are united with Christ in this Sacrament.  All the supernatural virtue of the Sacraments comes from being united with Christ.  All this goodness comes from Christ.  Christ is the eternal Son of God Who existed before the Creation of the heavens and the earth.  And yet He is a man from Judea.  He has identified Himself with us, bringing us all manner of goodness which God alone can provide.

Holy Baptism opens us up to the possibility of experiencing other sacraments as well.  I participate in the ministry of Christ in the Sacrament of Holy Order only after having been forgiven my sins and united with Christ’s Body in Holy Baptism.

 

Besides everlasting life and the Sacraments, a third way Christ’s Resurrection affects us is Christian morality.  The natural morality of upright and virtuous pagans is an entirely different matter than Christian righteousness.  The righteousness which flows from Christ is not a propositional ethic.  That is, it cannot be summed up in a set of precepts, statutes, or laws.  The Ten Commandments are different for Christians than they were for Jews and certainly different than they would be for non-believers.

Those who do not claim faith in God see these laws as different rules that can be obeyed and disobeyed.  The usefulness of a commandment of God can be appropriated without belief in God.  You can obey it or disobey it as you see fit.

The Jews differ from Christians in that they find in God’s commandments a way to be faithful and true to God.  They cannot divorce the law from the law-giver.  But Christians differ from the Jews as well.

The closer the Christian becomes with God in Christ, the more the moral laws become guideposts for us instead of harsh laws and static rules.  In loving-kindness with Christ, we shall not murder with our hands or in our hearts, we shall not commit adultery with our bodies or in our eyes.  We grow in the Holy Ghost, being little homes for the Holy Ghost, gaining clear understanding of the horror and pain of sin and death and of the delight and wonder of love and mercy.  We therefore seek to act morally for the sake of God’s glory and in relation with God’s love but not for the human results of acting morally.

Think of Christian righteousness as a matter more like the imitation of a child with his parent than like a subject obeying the laws of his king.  The child imitates his mother or father on the inside of himself; he seeks to grow up to be like his parent.  While the subject might use the language of child and parent, he does not seek to imitate his king.  He seeks to obey him.  This law is external; it comes from outside the self.

As we grow in righteousness, we find ourselves increasingly “in harmony with the eternal plan of God.”  Our souls grow increasingly converted, and we begin to behave in accordance with our good God Who saved us and sanctifies us.  Here, moral growth is tied to spiritual growth.  God listens to our prayers best when we listen to him and when our petitions and intercessions most fully intend “thy will be done”.  So our very lives become more resonant with the things of God and become imbued with self-sacrificial loving-kindness.

So we see that Christ’s Resurrection opens the door to everlasting life for the likes of you and me, participation in the life of Christ in the sacraments, and revolutionizes morality.  In all of these, we are changed.  The Christian lives in Christ.  Our “old man” dies the death, and indeed he must die if we are to live.  We cannot have it both ways.  We cannot hedge our bets.  We are all in or all out.  I invite each of you to ponder Christ in your hearts so that you may fully embrace His Resurrection.

 

“For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory.”

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

 

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“…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.”

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

 

“Because we are sons”

 

Regarding the readings or lections for Christmas Day and the Sunday after Christmas, Fr. John Henry Blunt wrote:

“On the one day, the Son of God is shewn to us becoming the Son of Man: on the other, the sons of men are shewn to us becoming the sons of God, through the Adoption won for them by the Holy Child Jesus.  We are “heirs of God through Christ,” because of the fulfilment of the promise conveyed by His Name, “He shall save His people from their sins.”

Our adoption as sons of God happens because of Christ.  Christ is God the Son Who has taken on Flesh and is born of a woman.  Because of Christ’s Incarnation, we can have the Spirit of God in our hearts and call God the Father, Abba, or father.

 

So let’s look at today’s lesson from St. Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians in the fourth chapter, beginning with verses 1-3:

“1 Now I say, That the heir, as long as he is a child, differeth nothing from a servant, though he be lord of all;

2 But is under tutors and governors until the time appointed of the father.

3 Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world:”

Before Christ came into the world, there were pretty much only two sorts of people.  There were the chosen people of God, the Jews, and there were those who did not worship the one true God, the pagans.  St. Paul describes both of them as being held “in bondage under the elements of the world.”

God treated the Jews as his chosen race, but he treated them mostly like quarrelsome children.  Think of how God punished David for his adultery or how God spoke to Job out of the whirlwind.  In the previous chapter here in Galatians, St. Paul writes of how the Law of Moses was like a tutor teaching the children of Israel.

But God considered the pagans far more harshly, as they followed not God but the seasons and the stars and all manner of fables they told themselves to make sense of a harsh and unforgiving world.  They grasped at foolishness in order to gain some knowledge of natural religion.

Thus all of humanity had the potential to become the sons of God, but this was a latent and untouched potential, for humanity had not reached the point where Christ’s presence and teaching would be most effective.

St. Paul continues with verses 4-5:

“4 But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law,

5 To redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons.”

God the Father sent forth the Second Person of the Trinity, the Son of God, down to earth to be born of a woman.  God the Son pre-existed Jesus Christ, Who is God the Son Incarnate among us.  God the Son had no beginning and no end, and in the words of the Nicene Creed, is “eternally begotten” of the Father.

“The fulness of the time” is an awesome phrase.  Why was the year of Christ’s birth so “meet and right” for His Incarnation?  Fr. Melville Scott says it better than I do:

“Christ’s coming took place … at the time most suitable, when the world had learned that it was hopeless to think of improving the human race by means of any of the religions or philosophies then existing; when all was ready for the diffusion of a world creed, and the Empire by its arms and laws had paved the road for the messengers of the King of Kings.’”

And so the time was right for the Blessed Virgin Mary to give birth to the Christ.  And in His Circumcision and Presentation at the Temple, Christ was clearly born under the Law, so that He might “redeem them that were under the law.”

The last two verses of today’s epistle are verses 6-7:

“6 And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father.

7 Wherefore thou art no more a servant, but a son; and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ.”

Because we are sons of God through Christ, Christ does two things.  First He delivers us from evil, and then He supplies us with good.  The evil is the curse of the Law, from which Christ delivers us.  St. Paul spills a lot of ink on this one.  We are no longer condemned for our sins because Christ has come into the world as one of us, suffered and died for us, and rose again from the dead, defeating death and sin and Hell forever.

The good He does is gain us our “promotion to sonship”, and so God the Father fills our hearts with the Spirit of his Son.  With the shared sonship of the Father, the brotherhood of Christ, and the indwelling of the Holy Ghost, we who have faith in Christ and been washed in the waters of Holy Baptism receive abundant new life and participate in communion with God.  Through that vital connection to the creator of the universe, we may realize and act upon our adopted sonship.  At the Last Day, our souls shall rejoin our bodies, and we shall enter into Resurrection and perfect communion with the Triune God for all eternity.  But even now we have access to the promises of God in our lives, in our world.

 

Because the Son of God was made flesh, we receive the adoption of sons.  By the adoption of sons, we enjoy communion with the Father.  Because we are sons, we have the Spirit of the Son in our hearts.

Christ taking on human flesh at the Annunciation – a holy day of obligation coming up in March, by the way – by His taking on our flesh from the Blessed Mother, St. Mary, we are ultimately saved from sin and promoted to the first-rank of creation.  We enjoy blessed sweet communion with God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost.  Nobody on earth can look at you like you’re nothing, for you are the blessed sons of God.

There are many ways one gets adopted nowadays.  One of those ways is when orphans in foreign countries, orphans living in hideous squalor, without family, without health care, without prospects for a long useful happy life, when those orphans get adopted by American or Australian or what have you couples, then they are brought into a safe and prosperous country and given – given is the word, mind you, for these are children without power or authority of their own – and given sonship or daughtership.  Such a child is instantly given safety, clothes, a warm bed, loving parents, good medical care, schooling, and citizenship.  If the child is handicapped, then even more is given to the child, for now the child’s disability is less crippling due to a more accepting society, laws guaranteeing access to public places, and healthcare which makes adjustments or corrections allowing for a more dignified and able life.

But there’s more.  The child also becomes an heir of the family.  Adopted children are not accorded lesser rights than natural-born children.  They are accorded the exact same rights as children born into the family, but they are given them graciously.  If the impoverished child is adopted into a rich family, that child will be heir to great wealth.

All of humanity suffers under the constraints of sin, disease, death, suffering, toil and all the consequences of our fall into sin.  Each of us suffers so.  On this earth in this life, we might think that some suffer more and some suffer less, but if we are to go to Hell, then we will all suffer horribly forever.  Unless.  Unless God were to come into the world and take on human flesh from a human mother, forever sanctifying the race which fell from God’s favor.  If only a woman would perfectly obey where the first woman disobeyed.  Then we might have salvation.

And we do thus have salvation through Christ!  For He truly became flesh inside the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary and united God and Man forever in His precious Body.  Think on that when you kneel for the Holy Communion today.  God and Man together made one Person in Christ Jesus our Lord, Who gave His precious Body and Blood to feed you, to eat and drink in your mouth, to take into your body so that you, body and soul, may be taken up into eternal communion with God the Father, so that you may become a vessel and tabernacle of the Holy Ghost, so that you may become the adopted brothers of the Son of God and eternal sons of the eternal God.

We hardly ever think on this.  But we should.  We should think on it every single day of our lives.  And I’ll tell you what:  You ought to be reminded of this every single day of your lives.  For each of us, if we are to claim the name of Christian, are to pray the Lord’s Prayer every single day of our lives unless in a coma until the day we die.

And it starts off, “Our Father….”

We think that this is a simple and decent prayer and certainly one that other religions should be able to say with us.  But they can’t!  And why not?

Atheists acknowledge no God.  Jews dare not call our God father.  Moslems think of themselves as slaves of God, not sons.  Hindus and Buddhists and Shinto folk do not conceive of God like we do.

Only Christians dare to call Almighty God their father!  Isn’t that a kick in the pants?  We sit around thinking, “Well, we’re saying the Lord’s Prayer.  Communion will finally be here and then we sing and then we eat.”

Instead, we ought to stop and savor the word:  Father.

 

I want to leave you with two big thoughts of how our adoption as sons of God permanently changes our lives.

The first thought is this:  If we are truly adopted sons of the Most High God, the creator of Heaven and earth, then we are not merely passing through this world.  God created this earth we stand on.  And this is the day which the Lord has made.  If we are the sons of God, then we are no longer renters with no attachment or investment in the things God has made and loved, but we are heirs and thereby owners of these things as well.  Everything we let slide here we will have to answer for.  I wouldn’t be surprised if we’ll have to fix it ourselves.

The last thought is this:  If we who believe in Christ, are washed in Holy Baptism, and commune with Christ in His Body and Blood are sons of God and tabernacles of the Holy Ghost, then we are all brothers and sisters.  If we are joint-heirs with Christ of eternal life, then we will be more than neighbors for all of eternity:  We will be related.  Do we act like family?  Do we love each other through thick and thin?  Do we accord each other mutual respect?  Or do we take advantage of each other?  Worse yet, do we ignore each other?  Do we gossip, slander, or insult each other?  I wouldn’t be surprised if we will have to own up to each ill-considered and hateful word we’ve ever said about each other either in Heaven or before we get there.

 

“…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.”

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

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