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Posts Tagged ‘John Wesley’

In the Collect for Advent, we pray to God, “that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the quick and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal….”

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

 

“Preparing for Heaven”

A wonderful Christmas hymn by Blessed Charles Wesley concludes with this stanza:

Made perfect first in love,
And sanctified by grace,
We shall from earth remove,
And see His glorious face:
His love shall then be fully showed,
And man shall all be lost in God.

We will experience Heaven as being lost in God; solely desiring Him and living with Him; detached entirely from the things of this broken and corrupt world.

Father Paul Raftery said:

Man is made for union with God. The fulfillment of this union comes in heaven. Only there will the human creature, into which God has placed a profound desire for Himself, have the satisfaction of all its hopes and desires. All the limited goods of this world cannot touch the desire for God that He has place within us. Nor can we simply turn off this desire. It is fixed within us, an irrevocable part of our nature.

Heaven is eternal presence of God.  God created all good things.  Only perfect things and imperfect things exist.  We are fooled by imperfect things to not follow God.  Thus we say with Hank Williams, Jr., “If Heaven ain’t a lot like Dixie, I don’t want to go.”  But God eternally satisfies us; he made us this way.  The real attraction of ourselves to a broken thing is in how that imperfect thing shows off God to us.

Today, we are confused why Heaven can be so delightful because we are confused in our attachment to the world.  Our spiritual work as we mature in Christ is to detach from earthly things and see the sweetness of God.  As we walk the Christian Way, we increasingly understand that our true desire is for God.  We will thus eagerly desire to live with Him for all eternity.

So we must lose our attachment to the broken things of God and the lusts thereof (“the world”) which is done by attacking our lusts of those things (“the flesh”).  Thus we must battle our flesh in order to get ready for Heaven.

 

Now we do not battle our flesh by ourselves and thereby gain Heaven.  Not at all.  We are Christians, not Buddhists.  St. John iii.16 reads, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”

Christ our Lord came down from Heaven and was born a little baby on Christmas day over two thousand years ago.  He defeated sin and death by His Crucifixion and Resurrection and prepared a place for us in Heaven in the Ascension.  In our Baptism, we connect to Christ in His death and Resurrection, so we can enter wrapped in Christ into Heaven.  We are part of Christ.  We are made holy through Christ in Holy Baptism, the Holy Eucharist, and the other Sacraments.

About the Holy Communion, Christ says in St. John vi.53:  “Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you.”  So we know from Scripture that we ought to follow the precepts of the Church and communicate regularly.  Indeed, to be a member in good standing, you must eat Christ’s Body and drink His Blood at least three times a year.  This is one of the Six Duties of Churchmen.

Besides Holy Baptism and the Mass, we are brought into Christ through His other Sacraments.  If married, we ought to be married in Holy Church.  We ought to use Confession as required.  We ought to be Confirmed.  We ought to receive Unction if necessary.  We ought to be Ordained if so called.  These are all sure and certain means of grace which help unite us to Christ.

 

Besides the Sacramental means of grace, in order to gain Heaven we must live our lives in this world in keeping with our divine calling.  We are to imitate Christ.  Christ is without blemish and without flaw.  But we are well blemished and deeply flawed.  What are we to do?

Christ tells us in St. Matthew v.48, “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.”  In order to perfectly love and to live without sin, there are three things we must do.

First, we must keep the Ten Commandments and other matters of moral law, including the Church’s Law of Marriage to keep sexual purity.  Thus we try to obey God’s will.

Second, we must repent of our sins when we fall, using the Sacrament of Penance when necessary, and firmly resolve not to commit those sins again, even when we keep falling into the same sins.

Taken together, these first two non-Sacramental actions are also two of the Six Duties of Churchmen:  Keeping a clean conscience and keeping the Church’s Law of Marriage.

But the things of this world are lovely and sweet because they are created by God.  Foolishly, we chase them instead of living holy lives.  So the third thing we ought to do after the Sacraments is to break our attachment to the good things which God has made.  This is called mortification.

Mortifying ourselves means living a life of countless little deaths of our own pleasure and our own will so that we may clear our minds of our inordinate love – that is, our love which is out of order – for this world so we can focus on loving God.

So mortification is essential to living with God in Heaven forever.  While we have time on God’s green Earth, we must demonstrate that we chose God instead of his good things.

There are three ways we may mortify ourselves.  First, we fast.  Second, we give alms.  Third, we offer to God things which are perfectly legitimate for us to use.  Notice again that both fasting and almsgiving are found in the Six Duties of Churchmen.  There is a reason why the Six Duties are the irreducible minimum of the practice of the Christian Faith.

The reason why the Scriptures and Church tell us to fast and give alms is not to lose weight, control diabetes, and help make sure someone else gets the food they need to eat.  Those are good goals, but those are worldly reasons to fast and donate to a good cause.

The spiritual point of fasting and giving alms is to recollect that our bodies and wealth are God’s good gift and belong to him, and that our bodies and wealth should be used to glorify God and not ourselves.  So we fast and we give alms, mortifying our bodies and souls.

Our bodies and wealth are good things, but we curtail them for the glory of God.  It is okay for us to have that cookie and to buy something for ourselves, but by not eating that cookie and giving someone else the money we wanted to spend on ourselves, we thwart or deny our own appetites for God’s sake.  In the Holy Ghost, we tame our passions.  In a tiny way, we join in Christ’s Passion and Crucifixion.

But we can mortify ourselves beyond fasting and almsgiving.  We can willingly offer up to God those things which are perfectly okay for us to enjoy.  I do not mean sinful things which we must give up, but things which we peculiarly enjoy.

An example of this is giving up chocolate for Lent.  We are supposed to fast and give alms during Lent, but we are allowed to do something extra.  Chocolate is a good thing which God has given us.  Some of us like chocolate very much.  For us to willingly offer our temporary abstinence from enjoying the pleasures of chocolate to tame our appetites and show God our thanks is a laudable and praiseworthy task if it is wisely and prudently done.

But giving up chocolate while in the ninth month of pregnancy, immediately after having lost a job or parent, or during a divorce is probably not a good idea.  Mortification has not the urgency which undergoing Holy Baptism and receiving Holy Communion have.

Along with trying to live a righteous life and repenting of sin, putting our wills and appetites to death over and over is a vital and important part of spiritual growth.  Indeed, we cannot really grow in Christ unless we fast, give alms, and deny our wills and appetites on occasion.

 

This week is Embertide in the holy season of Advent, three days of special fasting and abstinence.  Let us fast, give alms, and work at mortifying our will so that we may ably assist the Holy Ghost in breaking the world’s hold upon us so that we may thoroughly thirst for Christ.

 

In the Collect for Advent, we pray to God, “that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the quick and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal….”

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

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“I THANK my God upon every remembrance of you”

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

 

 

“Our Highest Calling”

St. Paul dearly loved the Church at Philippi, and today’s Epistle lesson shows it.  The prayer and rejoicing which shine forth in these verses set the tone for the entire epistle.  Let’s take a closer look at it.

 

 

“I THANK my God upon every remembrance of you “

“I thank” is the same root as Eucharist, actually eucharisto here.  He thanks God for his remembrance of them.  They have supported him in his mission amongst the Gentiles.  St. Paul is grateful for them.

St. Paul loved all of the Philippians and cared for them all, even though he had words of warning for some of them.  He could criticize them, indeed he was obligated by his office as apostle to admonish them, but that in no way diminished his love for them.  God loves us all, regardless of whether or not we deserve his love.  That’s the way that the love of God is – it is never earned, only given – and received.  St. Paul knew this personally, for he had been a persecutor of the Church and was complicit in the martyrdom of St. Stephen.

 

 

“always in every prayer of mine for you all making request with joy,”

Here St. Paul mentions prayer twice, once with the word prayer and also in “making request”.  He writes, “for you all” praying for all of the Philippians, not just the elite or saints, including those who are difficult, the ones he will later chastise.

This prayer for each other builds what they already have between them and is a result of the love they have between them.  The relationship of prayer with those who are joined in Christ is never simple and one-directional.  They are bound in prayer for each other to God as they are bound together in Christ’s love.

“With joy” opens one of the important themes of the epistle.  He prays for them with joy.  In Ephesians, he writes so much of love.  Here in Philippians, he writes wrapped in joy.  He wrote in Galatians v.22, “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy,” and so on.  As John Wesley said, “Joy peculiarly enlivens prayer.”

 

 

“for your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now;”

One reason for St. Paul’s joy is fellowship, or in Greek, koinonia.  In Christian terms, fellowship is more than association.  It is an evocative word, summoning meanings of emotion and practicality.  The Gospel brings all Christians into a relationship of responsibility for each other.

In this particular situation, the Philippians have shared responsibility with St. Paul for his missions.  The Philippians have looked after St. Paul – and he after them – with care, joy, thanksgiving, and prayer.  They have a past together, but they also have a future together.  He was genuinely thankful for the Philippians’ participation in his ministry.  For truly the ministry is neither yours or mine but His – Christ’s.  They shared in His ministry together.

 

 

“being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ:”

God, by his grace, has begun a good work in them which he will bring to perfection.  What God begins, he sees through to the end; the end of God’s work is perfection, or it is not God’s work at all.  The “day of Jesus Christ” is the day of Christ’s Second Coming.  This is when the worship of Him by the entire cosmos in ii.10-11 will manifestly become a reality.  When Christ returns, we will then see

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.

 

 

“even as it is meet for me to think this of you all, because I have you in my heart; inasmuch as both in my bonds, and in the defence and confirmation of the gospel, ye all are partakers of my grace.”

“To think this” is not just the stuff of intellect, but to judge or to hold an opinion; to have an attitude toward something.  To “have you in my heart” speaks to the deep emotional bond St. Paul has with the Philippians.  The heart is not just seat of emotions but center of a person.

St. Paul is explaining to them why he loves them and feels so close to them.  He himself is preparing for trial in Rome, and is probably using evidence and trial terms in this epistle.  They have helped him afford to travel and preach.  They have operated together, if even not in the same place always.  He longs for them, and he prays for them.

 

 

“For God is my record, how greatly I long after you all in the tender mercies of Christ Jesus.”

Like in a trial, St. Paul swears under oath – as God is my record.  He eagerly desires to be with them.  He longs after them and yearns for them.  He uses the words tender mercies for compassion, which means guts.  An old way of saying this is “bowels of mercy”.  And these are not St. Paul’s tender mercies, but Christ’s.  He loves them, but it is not his own tenderness which he has towards them, but the tenderness of Christ Himself.

Remember that we, you and me, are no longer simply our own persons but are united to Christ as members of His Body.  The love we have for one another shares in the love Christ has for each of us.  That is to say, I love you with the love Christ loves you.  That love is much better and more perfect and complete than my own impaired, imperfect, and limited love.  As Christians, we love each other with the infinite love of Christ Himself.  This is the love of God which can work miracles.  This is what we have right here together in this parish.

 

 

“And this I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and in all judgment;”

He begins by writing of “your love”, the loving-kindness which the Philippians have with each other, their mutual love which is the reflection of the love of God.  He prays that this love of God which they have for each other “may abound yet more and more”!  He wishes above all things, so much so that he goes to the Lord in prayer to intercede on their behalf, that the Christian self-sacrificial loving-kindness which they have for one another would continue to increase to maturity.

To this unquenchable fire of divine love he then follows “in knowledge and in all judgment” – this is the fruit of the love.  And why do they need this knowledge and judgment?

 

 

“that ye may approve things that are excellent; that ye may be sincere and without offence till the day of Christ;”

The word “approve” here means to discern or prove.  This is not a nod of the head.  This is a searching understanding for that which is spiritually solid and excellent.  He asks for an increase of love for right judgment so to approve only the best things.  And why?

“That ye may be sincere and without offence till the day of Christ”  Sincere here literally means, “tested by sunlight”, like holding up jars of jelly or glasses of wine.  “Without offence” means “without stumbling”, or without offense, such as in 1 Corinthians x.32:  “Give none offence, neither to the Jews, nor to the Gentiles, nor to the church of God:”  The “day of Christ” is the parousia, which is the Second Coming of Christ.  St. Paul often mentions this as a way to remind the churches to prepare for this day, which of course is a day which we should prepare for as well.

What a wonderful prayer!  We could not ask God for something more wonderful for each other.  Loving-kindness, spiritual knowledge, discernment of excellence, all effective to ensure that they be judged by Christ on the last day to be blameless.

 

 

“being filled with the fruits of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ, unto the glory and praise of God.”

This “being filled with the fruits of righteousness” means completed, brought to maturity, and perfected.  Being morally and spiritually perfected and brought to maturity gives rise to the “fruits of righteousness”.  This term is from the Old Testament.  Righteousness means being right with God.

The reading concludes with “the fruits of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ, unto the glory and praise of God.”  We do not repair our relationship with God through our own effort.  Christ completes us and our relationship with Him.  The fruits of righteousness are by Christ, are from outside of ourselves.  We are the recipients of the fruits of righteousness as we are recipients of the fruits of the orange tree.  The tree makes the fruit, and we receive and eat the fruit.

The righteousness of the Philippians is from Christ, and to Christ St. Paul gives thanks and praise, for he loves them, and he loves Him Who saved them and is perfecting them in love and righteousness.  His love of them brings him to thank God.  His love of these wonderful people brings him to love God even more.

Here is where the unity of the Two Great Commandments which I recited earlier this Mass comes from.  The love of God and the love of neighbor are essentially one movement of love, one gracious outpouring, one cycle building up one, then the other, and then the one again.  The love of God shows us to love our neighbor, and the love of neighbor lets us give thanks for God’s love.

 

 

Because we are members one with another with our fellow Christians, we are to love our neighbors as ourselves even when our neighbors are not Christian, not our friends, and not our family.  We are to enter into personal loving relationships with our neighbors because we are followers of Christ whom He has redeemed and made righteous.  Christ’s calling is the highest calling in the entire world, the whole cosmos.  In the entirety of our lives, there is nothing we can do that is as important as loving the Lord our God with our whole selves and loving our neighbors as ourselves.

 

 

“I THANK my God upon every remembrance of you”

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

 

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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.

 

“Trusting in Christ”

 

We are all under sin; not one of us can save himself from everlasting death.  Only by faith in Christ are we saved.

 

We cannot earn our salvation.  We cannot become righteous before God by following the Law of Moses.  Following the Ten Commandments does not make us righteous before God.  Following the Six Duties of Churchmen does not make us righteous before God.  The Law and all such plans teach us how far short we fall from where we ought to be.

This helps us open up ourselves to God.  The spiritual truth that we can do nothing to earn our salvation is difficult to hear.  People listening to Christ preach found it difficult to hear; we sitting here at St. Luke Church find it difficult to hear.

God promised Abraham in Genesis xii.2-3:  “And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing:  And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed.”

Abraham showed that he believed God by his willingness to obey God and sacrifice his son, Isaac.  But after Abraham, the people knew the promise, but knowing the promise of greatness to come did nothing to inspire them to be good.  Perhaps it made righteousness less desirable to pursue, for virtue takes effort, and Abraham’s descendants assuredly knew that their promise was to come true.

So God gave Moses the Law to give to Israel.  Israel could never completely fulfill the Law of Moses, but they had it to guide them as they became a nation out in the wilderness, through the time of the judges, and of the kings, and of the prophets.  They were taught righteousness.

 

St. Paul says as much in Galatians iii.24:  “Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith.”  The Law was powerless to lead Israel into righteousness.  Ultimately, the Law showed us how we each were condemned as being not good enough.

John Wesley speaks to this:

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.

Similarly, Isaac Williams says:

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. It was to this the prophets of old looked,’ to this the saints of the elder covenant aspired, to behold Christ, the end of the Law, in Whom dwells the fulness of all good, the love of God flowing down from Heaven, and embracing all men; as the fragrant oil that came down on the head of Aaron, and went to the skirts of his clothing.

We are not capable in our fallen, mortal, and limited state to fulfill the Law and earn for ourselves righteousness.  The mightiest hero, the holiest saint, the wisest philosopher can no more earn his own righteousness before God than the weakest of us.  We all are in the same boat when it comes to deserving our own salvation.

 

We do not do the work of salvation – Christ does.  In Acts xxvi.14, St. Paul tells his personal story of the futility of seeking to earn salvation through righteous living instead of Christ:  “And when we were all fallen to the earth, I heard a voice speaking unto me, and saying in the Hebrew tongue, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks.”

Indeed, when St. Paul addressed divisions in the Church, he said in 1 Corinthians iii.6:  “I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase.”  Christ, being God, is utterly trustworthy.  We can completely depend upon Him.  We do not live under the law, struggling and kicking.  Each of us has our own work as members of Christ’s Body the Church, but we fool ourselves if we consider that our work is somehow necessary to the fruition of God’s work in us.  Unless the Lord returns first, we shall each of us die.  Not a single one of us is indispensable.  Only Christ is indispensable, and we are made members of Him, and consequently into Christ’s indispensable character through faith and the Sacrament of Holy Baptism.

After all, we read in Proverbs iii.5:  “Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding.”  Depending upon Christ, we are not to depend upon ourselves.  We are not to depend on the works of our hands.

But the works we create are not entirely worthless.  We are to offer up to God the works of our hands.  One of my spiritual heroes, the Cure d’Ars, St. Jean Marie Baptist Vianney, said, “All that we do without offering it to God is wasted.”  Our work is important as a faithful response to Christ’s life-saving work of death and Resurrection.  Thus we ought to not rely upon ourselves but place all our weight upon Christ.

And we are in no hurry.  That anxious desire to hurry is a sign of brokenness, of corruption of our holy selves.  Christ enjoys no anxiety.  He neither races to His Passion in Jerusalem nor does He seek to avoid it.

Even our knowledge of God is imperfect.  1 Corinthians xiii.12:  “For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.”  We see imperfectly today but after Christ returns we shall see Him and know Him face to face.  Until then, we only have faith – we trust that He is here saving us.

Christ shows us all love.  Christ exemplifies sacrificial loving-kindness because He sacrificed Himself for us because He loved us when we were unworthy of His love.  The Law teaches us that we are sinners who need Christ.  It is thus for us not to try to earn our salvation through the Law but to believe and trust in Christ.  When we lean upon Christ for support, He supports us with His love, and we are saved through God Incarnate and not the written Law.

We are called to believe in Christ, to follow Him, and to love like He loves.  We must simply and meekly love Christ and our neighbor.  We trust in Him and follow Him, conforming our lives to His holy life.  We need not concern ourselves with earning our reward but following Him in His way.

This journey through life is a journey following Christ, not our own conceits.  We must simply and earnestly rely upon Christ.  It is in this way that we are free from both the Law and from anxiety.  We don’t have to earn or deserve anything.  All the doing happened before you and I showed up.  Calvary happened almost twenty centuries ago.  Our job is to open ourselves up and follow the Son of God, Christ Jesus our Lord.

Yet this does not mean that we are to be lazy and pay attention to frivolous things.  This does mean that we live lives of assurance.  We do not need to worry about our salvation, for Christ has already won that for us.  We do not need to worry about our earthly legacy, for it will be swept away by the ravages of time and of little consequence in the afterlife.  We do not need to worry about our loved ones, for the Great Physician and Lover of our Souls is looking after them far better than we ever could.

This does not mean that we give up.  This means that we give in.  We give in to Christ.  We give in to relying upon Christ.  We give in to following Christ.  We give in to loving God and others like Christ first loved us.

And He even explains why.  Loving-kindness.  We read in St. John iii.16-17:  “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.  For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.”

 

“…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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“…ourselves also, which have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body.”

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

 

“Hoping amidst Our Suffering”

“We are marching to Zion” How many of us remember that song from our youth?  Probably most of us who grew up Methodist or Baptist.  We are on the journey of salvation.

We are saved through our faith in Christ.  We were saved when we were born again in Holy Baptism.  We were saved when Christ won the victory over sin and death and Satan on the Cross at Calvary.  We will be saved when Christ judges us on the Last Great Day.  Salvation is both simple in the Person of Christ but complex in what Christ accomplishes and how He is present to us.

The trouble is that we still experience sin, disease, and death in our lives even though we are saved and being saved.  Even though the Holy Ghost dwells within us, we still experience suffering.  The challenge for the Christian is to go on hoping amidst our suffering.

 

In the part of Romans before today’s reading, St. Paul describes the great dichotomy between flesh and spirit, Law and Christ, and death and life.  He then continues by beautifully showing that Christians are the adopted sons of God the Father through his Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ.

His last words before today’s reading are these:

The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God:  And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together.

So we pick up here.

18 I RECKON that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.

Now St. Paul mentions suffering having taught that we are free in Christ and adopted sons of the Father.  Each of us experiences suffering.  There is no point in denying that we suffer.  Suffering is a fact.  You do not have to read the Chronicle to know this; you know this in living your life.

But we are on the journey towards God; the journey of salvation.  If we are saved from sins and are made inheritors of eternal life, then why are things still broken?  Why do we still hurt?

St. Paul’s answer is that while we are on the journey, we have not reached our final destination, which is God.  Today’s sufferings are not even worthy of being compared with the glory which we shall live in later.

19 For the earnest expectation of the creature waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God.

Our Authorized Version uses the word creature where we today normally say creation.  So we might hear this rather as “For the earnest expectation of creation waits for the manifestation of the sons of God.”

John Wesley describes this earnest expectation in other words.  He calls it “a vehement longing”.  Creation vehemently longs for the final manifestation of mankind as the sons of God, which will happen after Judgement Day.

St. John Chrysostom says about this:

“…the Apostle makes a living person of the creature here, and says that it groaneth and travaileth: not that he heard any groan conveyed from the earth and heaven to him, but that he might show the exceeding greatness of the good things to come; and the desire of freedom from the ills which now pervaded them.”

20 For the creature was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of him who hath subjected the same in hope,

For the creature was made subject to vanity.   God cursed the world when Adam as the top of the physical creation fell into sin and incurred the wrath and judgement of God.  Creation itself, which was created perfect by God, became corruptible.  Man’s body became mortal, and creation brought forth thorns and thistles.

We see that creation shares the fate of mankind in Genesis iii.17-19, when God reveals his judgement to Adam:

And unto Adam he said, Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying, Thou shalt not eat of it: cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life; Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field; In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.

21 because the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God.

The creature itself also shall be delivered.  Creation itself shall be delivered and not destroyed.  Creation shall be redeemed along with man per Revelation xxi.1, recalling Isaiah lxv.17:  “And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea.”  As Christ’s Body was not the same after His Resurrection as it was before, but rather it was glorified, so God’s creation will not be the same but restored and made “new”.

22 For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now.

Travaileth literally means to suffer the pains of childbirth, to be delivered of the curse.

Creation is not satisfied to live under the curse.  And neither should we.  We make our little surrenders to the powers and principalities of this world by calling death natural and sin inevitable, when nothing could be further from the truth.

Thus if we are to have hope, so too creation is to have hope.  And creation is burdened by sin but does not act in sin.  We may not look in hope to the Second Coming of our Lord, but all of creation can’t hardly wait until He gets here and frees it finally.  If creation groans and travails in pain waiting for its final deliverance, so we who are endowed with reason as Christ is ought to feel it even more.

23 And not only they, but ourselves also, which have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body.

St. John Chrysostom says about v. 23:

“We have received the first-fruits of the Spirit, or “a taste of the things to come.”  What we have been given is already enough to enthuse us to eagerly await the fulfillment of the promise.  “For if the first-fruits be so great that we are thereby freed even from our sins, and attain to righteousness and sanctification, and that those of that time both drave out devils, and raised the dead by their shadow (Acts v. 15), or garments (ib. xix. 12), consider how great the whole must be.  And if the creation, devoid as it is of mind and reason, and though in ignorance of these things, yet groaneth, much more should we.”

waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body.  St. Paul previously in this chapter has been telling us that we are to be adopted.  This will be entirely fulfilled with our glorified body after the Last Judgement.  Then, as the adopted sons of God and joint-heirs with Christ our Lord, we will live in our glorified bodies in everlasting life and immortality with God the Father.

 

We look outside the precincts of our houses of worship and lament the faithless manner in which the affairs of the world are conducted.  We see the lack of hope and culture of death which ensnares both the young and old alike.  We feel the temptations to find solace in anything other than God the eternal.

But in the face of corruption, we ought to remember other words of St. Paul, well expressed in I Corinthians xv.54:  “So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory.”

Christ has won the victory.  We are living and growing in grace right now, waiting for the Second Coming of our Lord.  We are to rejoice, to give thanks, to sing Glory be to God on High for the forgiveness of our sins by God the Son, for our sanctification in God the Holy Ghost, and for life eternal and adoption as sons by God the Father.

 

“…ourselves also, which have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body.”

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

 

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“Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift.”

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

 

Our worship is the first and foremost thing that Christ wants us to give to God.  “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment.”  We are to give our good God everything.  We are to give him more than our heart, but our soul and mind as well.  We are to withhold nothing from God.  We are to freely offer ourselves to God.

Our worship of God is our primary and ultimate purpose.  This is why our primary reason for gathering together this morning is not to enjoy fellowship, or to improve ourselves, or to better learn the Scriptures or God’s will for us, or to enjoy music and beautiful liturgy.  All of that is at the very best secondary.  All of that serves the main purpose:  To worship God.  God created us to live and walk with him in the Garden of Eden.  By our ancestors’ sin, we fell from grace and that immediacy of our presence with God.  When people tell you that they can talk to God just fine without the Church, the Body of Christ, or without Christ, the Son of God, or without the Holy Ghost, the Third Person of the Ever Blessed Trinity, or without the Sacraments, the sure and certain means of grace given to us by Christ, then know that such people are spouting nonsense, getting in touch with their inner voice at best and communicating with Satan and his demons at the worst.

God has given us himself in direct supernatural revelation so that we can surely and certainly approach the throne of grace in heaven.  We do this by worshipping God with our all, holding nothing back.  If we give God our heart without also giving him our mind, we are actively disobeying the first great commandment.  As creator of the world and author of our lives, God is all we ever had.  As redeemer and sanctifier of our souls, God is all we can ever have.  God is our all.  God demands our all.

 

Isaac Williams said:  “First take care that the heart be right, for to the heart of the worshipper God looks.”

The purity of heart, the transparency of soul which occurs in worship can be marred and disfigured by grudges and ill-will.  In our grand and incomparable liturgy, we hear the words of the invitation to confession:  “YE who do truly and earnestly repent you of your sins, and are in love and charity with your neighbours, and intend to lead a new life, following the commandments of God, and walking from henceforth in his holy ways….”  We clear our consciences in the confession and receive the assurance of God’s pardon in the absolution.  We must be right with God and man, with Christ our Lord and our most difficult and irritating neighbors, in order to worship the Lord “in the beauty of holiness.”

The mere act of approaching the altar exposes “our selves, our souls and bodies” to the presence of the Almighty God of the universe.  Our finitude, our limitedness, our smallness come to mind as we approach the infinite Deity.  To commune with God necessarily demands that we ourselves have some touch of the purity and loving-kindness that he has.  We cannot make ourselves pure, for that is God’s prerogative and power.  But God commands us to get right with each other, to reconcile to each other.

In the entire history of the Christian Church, the norm has been to approach the altar in worship with no sin.  In the earliest days, the faithful Christian was supposed to remain out of serious sin after his baptism.  As the years progressed, the faithful Christian was supposed to make a private confession with sacramental absolution.  Our Eastern Orthodox brethren still hold to this ancient standard.  Our Roman brethren have reduced this to making a confession once annually.

One of the Duties of Churchmen is to keep a clean conscience.  To confess your sins to a priest in the sacrament of penance at least once a year is too hard a burden to demand for all, but the duty to carefully guard, examine, and prune your conscience as God would have you is the absolute least you can do.  We Anglican Catholics have substituted a cycle of public confessions in the offices and the Mass instead of the requirement of sacramental confession.  Each of us must faithfully prepare for each service by examining our consciences and whole-heartedly confessing our sins in our prayer of confession.

I ritually wash my hands in the sacristy before I even come out to the sanctuary.  I ritually wash my hands again during the offertory before the great Eucharistic prayer begins.  We ought to be clean when we come before the Lord.  While our neighbors might not appreciate it, we do not have to be clean on our outside – I would rather you come to Mass after having mown the grass than have you not come at all – but we must be clean on the inside, clean in our consciences, right with our neighbors, right with God.

 

Hear again what Christ told his students:  “Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift.”  We are to reconcile with our brother if he has something against us!  The duty, the requirement, the necessity if you wish to live forever in Christ is to seek out the one who “has ought against thee” and reconcile with him before approaching the altar with your gift.  This isn’t the soft and cuddly pastel Christ that we like to think about!  This teaching of Christ judges us!  We stand convicted by the words of Christ to his hearers, for we do not obey Christ’s teaching.

St. Gregory the Great said: “Lo, He is not willing to accept sacrifice at the hands of those who are at variance.  Hence then consider how great an evil is strife, which throws away what should be the means of remission of sin.”

If we have ought against our brother, we do not need to seek reconciliation with him.  To do right by our brother who has offended us, we need to forgive him.  We do not need to tell him that we have forgiven him.  We do not need for him to acknowledge that we have forgiven him.  All we need to do is forgive him.  Then we no longer have ought against our brother.

If you and I have mutually offended each other, then I must forgive you for the injury done to me, and I must go to you for reconciliation so that you may forgive me for the injury done to you.  We need not forgive each other at the same time.  I do not even need to let you know that you offended me.  My duty is to forgive and to seek forgiveness.  I have no business judging whether or not you have behaved yourself and forgiven me properly.  No man has the competence to do so, and no man has the authority to do so.

We have an obligation to ask pardon of those whom we have offended.  Furthermore, we have an obligation to pardon those who ask pardon of us.  All this is to be done with an honest and forthright mind, with no dissimulation or dishonesty.  Asking pardon of our sin when we fully intend to sin again is a mockery of asking pardon and is an additional sin added to the first.  To say we are sorry when we actually delight in our action is adding lying upon hurtfulness.  Lying is in league with accusation, and both of these are part of Satan’s realm rather than Christ’s.  Falsely apologizing and falsely forgiving plant us more firmly with cancer, disease, warfare, strife, and death over against loving-kindness, gentleness, good humor, procreation, and life.

 

We cannot count on God’s mercy upon us when we systematically and incautiously deny our mercy upon others.  “Judge not, let ye be judged” is no lie – so as we judge, so will we be judged.  If you constantly rule for yourself in your mortal state, you can count on the Infinite Judge of Righteousness to rule against you in your immortal state.

John Wesley said:  “For neither thy gift nor thy prayer will atone for thy want of love: but this will make them both an abomination before God.”

The gift of loving-kindness is the greatest offering we can bring to worship our God.  Who cares about the perishable riches of this world compared to the imperishable riches of love?  “God is love.”  “The greatest of these is charity.”  Nothing raises us so close to heaven as loving-kindness among those who have died to sin and risen in Christ.  The sacrifice of our self and sinful pride in the service of loving one other is the greatest gift we could offer.

We are prone to excusing our everyday little sins.  We wink at our sins and say to ourselves, “Well, that’s just who I am!”  We manage not to keep track of them and to lose sight of them once committed.  But do we ever keep track of those offenses committed against us by others!  By counting offenses committed against us and forgetting those offenses committed by us, we sin against truth and lie.  But God sees all and knows all.  He sees the sins we commit but forget, and he knows that we absolve ourselves of those sins but condemn others for their offenses.  Furthermore, he knows that we seek not the truth, but our own advantage.

We sin against others, forgive ourselves, hold others’ sins against us, and then lie about it.  We are doubly damned for our every sin, for we are liars as well as offenders.  God is love, and in hating our brother we hate God.  God is truth, and in despising truth we despise God.  We hate and despise God daily and then sweetly present ourselves disheveled without preparation on Sunday mornings and expect to receive God’s blessings for our great service.  Instead we ought to examine our consciences every day, beg our brothers for their forgiveness, meekly forgive the offenses they have committed against us, and quietly prepare to approach the altar of God.

 

Pseudo-Chrysostom said:  “See the mercy of God, that He thinks rather of man’s benefit than of His own honour; He loves concord in the faithful more than offering at His altar; for so long as there are dissensions among the faithful, their gift is not looked upon, their prayer is not heard. For no one can be a true friend at the same time to two who are enemies to each other. In like manner, we do not keep our fealty to God, if we do not love His friends and hate His enemies.”

My dear children, we must get right with God.  “This is a true saying, and worthy of all men to be received, That Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.”  God wants us to be with him.  He gave up His own Son to be born one of us by the Blessed Virgin Mary, to live as one of us in Nazareth, to teach His people among the nation of Israel, to suffer and die upon the hard wood of the Cross so that all men everywhere at all times might be reconciled to Him and through Him to God the Father.  God wants us in a bad way.  You matter to him.  He knew you in your mother’s womb.  He wants you.

For us to have a proper relationship with him is hard because of our sin, our separateness, our brokenness.  And by sin I do not just mean those condemned in the Ten Commandments, although they are a breathtakingly good start.  We must not only not murder our brother, we must also not nurse anger towards our brother.  We must not only not commit adultery, we must also not lust.  We must not only not commit the outward and public sin, but we must also root out of our hearts the inward and private sin which we dare not share with the world.  God knows that we harbor such evil inward thoughts, even when we are not completely aware of them in ourselves.

This is one of the main reasons we ought to confess our sins to our priests – searching our consciences and verbally confessing our sins is so horrible and distasteful that we earnestly despise and hate our sins for being ours.  We wish nothing more than to remove those sins far away from us, and Christ has given authority to his priests to speak that forgiveness to us.  We cannot make ourselves right with God, for God is all powerful and we are too weak and corrupt.  But we can fight manfully against the world, the flesh, and the devil.  “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.”  We cannot win the victory, for Christ has already won the victory.  Christ says, “In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.”

God has given us Christ to make us right with him.  We must trust in Christ, rely on Christ, believe in Christ, rest in Christ.  We must be united with Christ, with His Body and with His Blood.  We are to renounce all the things which lead us away from Christ, those things which stand between us and Christ.  And my good people, the grudges between you and your brother are getting in between you and Christ.  We must turn away from the altar to reconcile with our brother who has ought against us so that we may with purity of purpose “go unto the altar of God, even unto the God of my joy and gladness.”

 

“Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift.”

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

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“A certain man made a great supper.”

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

 

We may read earlier in St. Luke’s Gospel: “And Jesus said unto him, No man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.”

We are each called to the great supper of the eternal good host.  Yet as we see in the Holy Gospel, not all who are called respond to that call.  The Holy Ghost prompts each and every one of us to respond to the call of God, but we are not all equally responsive.

In the context of Christ’s own time, the original invitation is for the pious Jews, the second invitation to the “the poor, and the maimed, and the halt, and the blind” in the “streets and lanes of the city” is for the impious Jews, and the last invitation to the riffraff out in the “the high-ways and hedges” is for the Gentiles, in other words, folks like us. This is our place in salvation history. Put all together, all the guests who attend become the reconstituted Israel, the new Church.

Considering it thusly, those of us sitting here today would not have identified with the fancy people first invited who rejected their invitations, nor even with the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame who were invited in their stead, but rather with the country bumpkins. We are the bums. But, we are bums invited to an incredible feast. Our thanks and praise should echo from the highest heavens! We who are last are coming to a magnificent banquet which will satisfy our every need, will make us whole, will change our lives.

There is no shame in not being called first so long as one comes when called. Here’s an example of being called first, second, and last.

That part of the universal Church of Christ called the Church of England stopped obeying the Church of Rome in the Sixteenth Century. The Church of England carried on the ministry and work and witness of the one ancient Apostolic and Catholic Church for generations. When England made her colonies, the Church of England was right there with them. St. Paul’s Church downtown was part of the Church of England when she was founded. These American Anglican parishes suffered a break from the Church of England as our nation won her independence and then reconstituted themselves as the Protestant Episcopal Church.

As the Episcopal Church, God’s great banquet was fully spread for generations in America, until most of the members of it made their excuses not to come to God’s great spread.  That was when we, the Anglican Catholic Church, the faithful remnant of the worldwide Anglican Church, sprang forth at the great Congress of St. Louis to continue the apostolic and catholic work of the Anglican Church as handed to us by the Episcopal Church and the Church of England.  The continuation of grace and glory of the Anglican Church as handed to us by the Episcopal Church and the Church of England puts us not in the first call nor the second call, but firmly in the third call.

Although as Christians in general and Anglicans in particular we are part of the last call, yet we have much to learn from those first few who threw away their good invitation.

A great book title I saw many years ago was Yes, Lord, I Have Sinned: But I Have Several Excellent Excuses. There are always excuses if you roll up your sleeves and diligently apply yourself to look for one or are creative enough to invent one.

Back to the Gospel lesson, all who made excuses from attending the great supper did not make sinful excuses. The matters involved were innocent. But, their excuses showed their deep involvement and complicity in the world. The host did not demand that they give up these pursuits, but the invited guests would rather do their business than come to the supper. They did not have to do those things at that time, but they choose to do them then instead of later.

The guests who would not come had different reasons but the same heart: They put themselves first. These things were lawful in themselves, but by the actions of their hearts these things became stumbling blocks. As Father Melville Scott put it, “There is room at the feast, but no room in their hearts.”

In our everyday lives, we have many things which must be done: groceries, work, laundry, family, driving, eating, sleeping, bathing. And these things are all quite decent in themselves. However, each day we suffer the temptation to place these decent things above the things of God, beyond the invitation by God to sup with him. And that is the time when those otherwise good things become stumbling blocks, temptations to serve ourselves before our good God, to put our hand to the plough and look back.

It would be funny if it were not true. Worldly and unimportant things demand our immediate attention when God comes calling. John Wesley said, “The most urgent worldly affairs frequently fall out just at the time when God makes the freest offers of salvation.”

These excuses show how much we are tangled up in owning things and relationships with persons other than God. We cannot hear the call of God amidst all the noise. Invited, the first guests had agreed to come, but when the time came to bathe and dress and set out, they made their excuses. Instead of responding to the call of God, we keep our head down and our mouth busy addressing things of our own interest.

My old professor Luke Timothy Johnson wrote:

“[T]he call of God issued by the prophet must relativize all other claims on life. The parable shows how entanglement with persons and things can in effect be a refusal of the invitation. The demands make clear that the choice for discipleship demands precisely the choice against a complete involvement in possessions or people. There is little that is gentle or reassuring in this.”

This cold realization of our own propensity to wander is good to keep in mind when we consider that God invites us to the greatest feast of all, the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. Every human being is invited to come, and when those who are bidden refuse to come due to their selfish choices, then God will find others to take their place and reject the ones who rejected him. It is not so much that God damns people as people damn themselves. But in the face of the damned, others will be called to take their place, for God would have everyone, even those whom we despise, partake of the great feast.

God says in the Revelation of St. John the Divine: “Blessed are they which are called unto the marriage supper of the Lamb” (Rev. xix. 9.)

One of our obligations as Christians is to attend Mass every Sunday.  As a measure of mercy, those who cannot make their Sunday duty may attend a weekday service.  The Lord has prepared the greatest feast ever known – the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, Who gave Himself to us for our salvation, not when we asked for it, not when we deserved it, but rather when in the fullness of time He came down from Heaven and was made incarnate in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Incarnate means “in the flesh”, but we could more literally read it as “in the meat”.  Christ took on meat for us and then gave us Himself as a holy meal.  Adam ate the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil in the Garden of Eden, disobeying God and bringing the curse of sin and pain and isolation and sickness and disease and separation from God and death upon all our heads.  The New Adam, Jesus Christ the Righteous, came down from Heaven and gave us His very Flesh and Blood as a consecrated meal to counteract and remedy Adam’s Fall.  Christ provides the cure for our grave disease of sin and death, and that cure is found in His very Incarnate Body, wherein God became Man and so saved us all.

Yes, one of the most basic obligations of the Christian is to attend the Holy Eucharist every Sunday.  Yes, sometimes we’re sick; sometimes our car breaks down; sometimes we have work.  But we are obliged to God the Father, creator of Heaven and Earth, to pay attention to the Son of God and partake of the mysteries of His Body and Blood every week.

Now, we do not need to actually eat His Body and drink His Blood every week.  Sometimes we are not in loving-kindness with our neighbors; sometimes we have unrepentant sin.  To eat His Body and drink His Blood when we are willfully engaging in sin and refusing to repent of it is to eat and drink to our damnation.  We rightfully abstain from receiving the Holy Communion when we are out of sorts with God and our fellow man.  Yet as Christians we are obliged to receive Christ’s Body and Blood at least three times a year.  But we give God the glory when we faithfully attend the Holy Mass even when we do not receive.

We must give of ourselves to Him who gave Himself to us. This mutual giving of self is the essence of loving-kindness, the sacrificial love which is the highest and most noble and honorable love of all.

You and I can only invite so many people to our home for a feast lest we run out of room. But the heavenly banqueter can and does invite everybody to the great feast. There is plenty of room for everyone. There is no lack; there is only abundance. The more we promote each other’s happiness, the more happiness there is for everyone. The more we love each other, the more love there is amongst us all. The more we give of ourselves to God and to our neighbor, the more we love in the pureness of loving-kindness. It is here that we best remember, in the words of St. John, that God is love.

Outside of sacred Scripture, I can think of no better words that the words of Blessed George Herbert, Seventeenth-Century Anglican country priest and poet, in his poem, Love (III):

Love bade me welcome, yet my soul drew back,
Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-ey’d Love, observing me grow slack
From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning
If I lack’d anything.

“A guest,” I answer’d, “worthy to be here”;
Love said, “You shall be he.”
“I, the unkind, the ungrateful? ah my dear,
I cannot look on thee.”
Love took my hand and smiling did reply,
“Who made the eyes but I?”

“Truth, Lord, but I have marr’d them; let my shame
Go where it doth deserve.”
“And know you not,” says Love, “who bore the blame?”
“My dear, then I will serve.”
“You must sit down,” says Love, “and taste my meat.”
So I did sit and eat.

 

“A certain man made a great supper.”

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

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