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Posts Tagged ‘Last Judgement’

“STIR up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people; that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works, may by thee be plenteously rewarded;”

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

 

“Preparing for Our Lord’s Return”

This beautiful collect is famous for its call for God to “stir up … the wills of thy faithful people.”  Archbishop Cranmer used this old Latin prayer in our Book of Common Prayer.  In this collect, we ask God to stir up our wills, the “wills of thy faithful people”, so that in “bringing forth the fruit of good works”, we may be rewarded plenteously by God himself.

I have heard today called “stir up” Sunday.  These words are inspiring.  We hereby ask God to move us into action by quickening our wills.  The will is the part of ourselves that moves other parts of ourselves into action.  Think of this as cranking a lawn mower.  Before it is started, the lawn mower has an engine, blade, fuel, and physical structure holding it all together.  But one thing is lacking – getting the thing to start doing what it is made to do.

So it is for us.  We have reason, memory, and intellect; we have body, spirit, and all things necessary to love and to serve and to obey Almighty God.  But until we are spurred into action, until our wills are stirred up, we are all potential and no actuality.  In this prayer, we ask God to move us, to start us, to get us going so, in the words of the thanksgiving after Mass, “we may continue in that holy fellowship, and do all such good works as thou hast prepared for us to walk in.”

As Christians, we need to do more than sit pretty and receive God’s grace.  We are called to respond to God’s love; we are to do that which God would have us to do.  We are to “bring forth the fruit of good works.”

 

We pray this prayer on this Sunday, the Sunday next before Advent, for a reason.  During Advent, we are to do works of holiness and righteousness; we are to prepare to receive the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

In the season of Advent in the Christian Year, the faithful look back and remember the first advent of Christ as a baby in Bethlehem and look forward to the second advent (or second coming) of Christ in power and great glory as He returns to put an end to suffering, misery, and death and gloriously fulfill His mission of saving His people and creation.

Advent is a time of compassionately looking back and expectantly looking forward.  Traditional practices of preparing for the coming of our King include lighting the candles of the Advent wreath, omitting our joyful Gloria in Excelsis at Mass, changing the liturgical color to purple and rose, singing Advent hymns, giving for missions in mite boxes, and preaching on the Four Last Things.

What are the “Four Last Things”?  They are death, judgement, Heaven, and Hell.  According to medieval and modern tradition, these are preached on the four Sundays of Advent.  This is part of preparing ourselves for Christ’s arrival, both in the past in His Incarnation and in the future when He returns again.

The ancient tradition of preaching on “The Four Last Things” on the Sundays in Advent (Death, Judgment, Heaven, and Hell), goes back to the early medieval period, more than a thousand years ago.  The Four Last Things were explicitly mentioned in a Confession of Faith at the Second Council of Lyons in 1274.  More than a hundred years later, Saint Vincent Ferrer particularly emphasized the Four Last Things in his preaching.  He died in 1419.  Since that time, it became embedded in the traditions of Holy Church.

First Sunday of Advent – November 30th – the subject is death,

Second Sunday of Advent – December 7th – judgment,

Third Sunday of Advent – December 14th – Heaven, and

Fourth Sunday of Advent – December 21st – the subject is Hell.

They are called the four last things because these are the four last things until Christ returns for the Last Judgement, when He will finally and permanently separate the sheep from the goats, the wheat from the chaff, and the elect from the damned.  We are not gloomy when we consider these serious subjects, preparing for one of the most glorious times of the year, Christmas.  Instead, we take our joy and our preparation to meet that joy seriously.

As we acknowledge that we will die, be judged, and go to either Heaven or hell, so we encourage ourselves to build up what is weak in our lives, repent of our sins, and strive to more fully love our God and our neighbors.  We are reminded that whether we like it or not, whether it is a polite topic or not, each one of us will die unless God returns again first.

And whether we like it or not, once we die, Christ will judge us.  This is inevitable as we come face to face with our maker.  Simply being confronted by the ultimate being who is love himself, our faults and lack of love will become more evident than ever before.  And after the judgement, we will end up in either Heaven or Hell.  There is no third place where we will spend eternity.  We will live with God forever or not.  It is that simple.

These sermons are supposed to examine these last things before Christ returns and inspire us to bring “forth the fruit of good works” so that we of God may “be plenteously rewarded.”  We are to change our behavior and conform to the model of Christ our Lord.  We are to live our lives now as if we truly believed Christ was coming soon, because the fact is that Christ will return, and with His return, this broken mortal life as we know it will disappear into the glory of immortality.

In the words of St. Peter in his second epistle,

But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up.

We do not know when Christ will return, only that He will return.  And when Christ returns, if you are anything like me, you will sorely regret that you did not spend your time now preparing for His return.  For Christ has told us that He will return again and that we will answer for how we have lived our lives.  He says in St. Matthew xvi.27, “For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then he shall reward every man according to his works.”

 

Here at St. Luke’s this Advent, we will follow the custom of Holy Church and prepare for the coming of Christ at Christmas and in the future.  Our main goal now is to think ahead to next month on how we are going to join in the Church’s preparation for Christ’s return.  What concrete steps will we take this Advent to prepare for Christ’s return?

Will you take advantage of our weekday Masses to attend an extra Mass per week of Advent?

Will you take advantage of our Sunday Morning Prayer to add to your prayer life on the Sundays of Advent?

Will you forgo listening to Christmas music to concentrate instead upon the Church’s season of Advent, of preparing to make the most of Christmas?

Will you take on the responsibility of reading a chapter of Scripture each day of Advent?

Will you respond to the sermons on death and judgement, Heaven and Hell by confessing your sins to your priest this Advent?

Will you respond to the glory of Christ’s Incarnation, or taking on of our frail human nature, to give sacrificially over and above your tithe for missions with the mite box?

Will you reflect upon your calling from God and the need of your parish to discern a new area of ministry for you to enter into?

You do not have to decide today.  But Advent begins next week.  How will you prepare for the coming of Christ this Advent?

 

“STIR up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people; that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works, may by thee be plenteously rewarded;”

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

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“And he spake to them a parable; Behold the fig tree, and all the trees; when they now shoot forth, ye see and know of your own selves that summer is now nigh at hand. So likewise ye, when ye see these things come to pass, know ye that the kingdom of God is nigh at hand.”

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

 

Judgement

 

In the Tuesday night Bible study we have been reading the fifth chapter of St. Mark.  In this chapter, people fall down before Christ and worship Him.  One is a demoniac; another is a leader of the synagogue; the third is the woman with a hemorrhage.  Reading about them and studying the Gospel, I have often asked myself how they, alone of all the people around them, knew to bow before and worship Christ.

So when I think of the end of today’s Epistle, which recounts four Old Testament prophecies of Gentiles worshipping the Lord, I again wonder how folks recognize divinity and whom to worship.  I learned about God from my earliest days.  My mother first took me to church in her womb, I was Baptized as an infant, and I remember early days standing next to my father as he sang hymns in worship and praise of God.

I did not have to judge whether or not to give worship to God then.  But I had to do that later, as I was becoming a man.  Then I had to look around and figure out what all this foolishness was about.  I cannot speak to every person’s reasons, but I came to a lively faith in Christ as an adult after acknowledging the wisdom of my fathers, the logic of belief in philosophy, and, importantly, through the generous and self-sacrificing acts of love and goodness on the part of a Baptist coworker.

Did you see what I did?  I measured Christ and found that He fit.  This is a terribly arrogant thing to do, but in this world and in my life I needed convincing over and above my raising.  The same thing happened when I felt called to become a Catholic.  I had to use my judgement, poor as it was, to determine where God was calling me.  Indeed, I spent too long as an Episcopalian and could have become Anglican Catholic years before.  But I didn’t, which shows how we can make faulty judgements which God will correct over time.  We are never so old or so wise that our judgement is unimpaired and perfect.  We are never so old or so wise that we don’t need correction from time to time.

 

In the Office of Institution which the archbishop read right here almost two months ago, we read:

“And as a canonically instituted Priest into the Office of Rector of —— Parish, (or Church,) you are faithfully to feed that portion of the flock of Christ which is now intrusted to you; not as a man-pleaser, but as continually bearing in mind that you are accountable to us here, and to the Chief Bishop and Sovereign Judge of all, hereafter.”

According to the Book of Common Prayer and Archbishop Haverland, I am to bear in mind continually that I am accountable to him here on earth and to our Lord, “the Chief Bishop and Sovereign Judge of all, hereafter.”

An explicit part of my work here as rector is to hold myself up for judgement by our bishop and by Christ.  I shall be judged both here on earth and there on the Day of Doom, that is, the day of reckoning or day of judgement.

When we let ourselves be held accountable by others, we hold ourselves up for judgement.  Mrs. Gladys Fox and Mrs. Sam Nechtman have done excellent work straightening and keeping up our financial records over the past year and a half.  Last year, their work was scrutinized by a committee led by Mr. Leroy Walker for the explicit purpose of holding their work accountable.  They voluntarily held themselves up for judgement.  And their work was measured and judged to be excellent.  This is judgement.

 

When we behold the fig tree and see that it now shoots forth leaves, then we remember that trees shoot forth leaves during Spring.  Thus we arrive at the judgement that Summer is nigh at hand when the fig tree shoots forth leaves.

We measure the observed event by what we already know and that results in a judgement.  We observe that we have lied to our sweetheart, we remember that lying is a sin, and thus we derive from these two facts the fact that we have sinned.  This is what Christ refers to when He says in St. Matthew vii.1-2:  “Judge not, that ye be not judged.  For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.”

The measuring stick by which we judge others is the same one by which we shall be judged.  Therefore even being selfish, we ought to show others great all-encompassing mercy so that Christ will show us great mercy at the Last Judgement.

Yet we do not do this.  Oh, sometimes we do.  Perhaps we have grown more generous over time, a mark of spiritual maturity.  But we perceive things incorrectly.  Even the best and most spiritual Christian views himself with poor eyesight.  As St. Paul says in I 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 through a glass darkly; we know only in part.  When we get to Heaven after Christ’s Judgement of us, then we shall see “face to face” and “know even as also I am known.”  But for now, we know imperfectly.  And we know ourselves less perfectly than we would ever suppose.

Indeed, each of us should understand that the “old man” inside of you, the struggling sinful man inside of you, keeps you from seeing yourself clearly.  If you hearken unto God’s Word and live the life of Christian adventure working diligently at your prayers and confessing your sins regularly, then you stand an excellent chance of understanding what is right and what is wrong.

But despite this, being a frail and fallible human being despite your wisdom and strength, you will misjudge yourself often and regularly.  We dare not trust our own judgement of ourselves.  And it is precisely because we shall be judged by Christ with the standards with which we have judged others that we may experience a profound grace from Christ regarding our failed confessions.  Showing mercy to our struggling brothers, sisters, and neighbors is how we judge in the loving-kindness with which Christ died for us on the Cross.

 

We must have compassion on our fellow creatures because we must adjust our judgement to Christ’s, and Christ is the Incarnate God, and, as St. John tells us, God is love.  This is why the two great commandments are to love God and to love our neighbor.  The two are inextricably bound together, tighter than the tightest knot.  God created us to love us.  God came down to earth to love us and save us.  God taught us to love each other and to love him too.  If we would behold our vilest neighbor as Christ beholds him, then our hearts would melt with divine love.  We would give him the choicest seat, kill the fatted lamb, and put a ring on his finger.  We would never in a million years – which is but a drop in the bucket of eternity, by the way – keep recounting past acts in ways that exalt our own role and denigrate our neighbor.

And this is the type of thing I hear all the time in this parish.  I recognize it because it is one of my sins too.  But Christ will damn us for this sin if we do not release it.  We can have no part of it.  We must throw it down at the feet of Christ, fall on our knees, and say,

“ALMIGHTY God, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Maker of all things, Judge of all men; We acknowledge and bewail our manifold sins and wickedness, Which we, from time to time, most grievously have committed, By thought, word, and deed, Against thy Divine Majesty, Provoking most justly thy wrath and indignation against us. We do earnestly repent, And are heartily sorry for these our misdoings; The remembrance of them is grievous unto us; The burden of them is intolerable. Have mercy upon us, Have mercy upon us, most merciful Father; For thy Son our Lord Jesus Christ’s sake, Forgive us all that is past; And grant that we may ever hereafter Serve and please thee In newness of life, To the honour and glory of thy Name; Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”

We must thrust aside all sins and naughtiness if we dare to face Christ with certainty on that Last Great Day, when Christ will pronounce truth and Judgement over all Mankind in general and over every single one of us in particular.

 

Therefore, we ought to do three things:

First, we must diligently search our hearts after studying the Holy Scriptures and bathing ourselves in prayer so that we may find and repent of the many sins which are weighing us down like stones in the pockets of a drowning man.

Second, we must relentlessly practice compassion and self-sacrificial loving-kindness with every single person in our lives, particularly in our families, in our parish, and in the faces of those whom we despise.  We must serve others by acting like servants for them alongside our Saviour Christ.

Third, we must conform our opinions, understandings, and judgements to those of Christ our Lord.  St. Augustine said, “If you believe what you like in the Gospel and reject what you like, it is not the Gospel you believe but yourselves.”  Each of us have parts of the Gospel which are hard for us to hear.  For some, it is holding on to a cherished notion.  For others, it is keeping score of offenses, real and imagined.  For others, it is living in anxiety and fear of the things of this world.  For yet others, it is trusting in this world’s goods instead of storing treasures in Heaven above.  We must acknowledge before God that He is greater than we are, that he is wiser than we are, that he is smarter than we are, and so we must conform ourselves to his holy self.

So:  Confess your sins, love thy neighbor, and conform to God.  Do these things, and you will be in far better shape to answer to Christ our God and our King, the great Judge Eternal, on the Day of Doom, the Day of Judgement, when the disposition of all men will be made for eternity.

 

“And he spake to them a parable; Behold the fig tree, and all the trees; when they now shoot forth, ye see and know of your own selves that summer is now nigh at hand. So likewise ye, when ye see these things come to pass, know ye that the kingdom of God is nigh at hand.”

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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