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“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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“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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“We give thanks unto the Father, which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light:  Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son:”

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

 

“Baptized into Christ’s Kingdom”

We are subjects of two kingdoms.  We are subjects of Christ our King and citizens of these United States, or whatever country you hail from.  How we live our lives in this green land of America is both informed by our Heavenly King and will influence our life in the hereafter.  Also, our life under Christ our King informs our citizenship here on earth in this great country of ours.

 

Now the kingdom of this world is not simply the domain of Satan, even though St. Paul does call it “the power of darkness”.  The kingdom of this world is that broken part of Creation, of the cosmos, that does not claim Christ as Lord.  Whereas we like to think that the saving work of Christ in the cosmos is expanding, in our own culture we see little evidence of it.  Think for instance of thirty-five years ago, when the popular television series M*A*S*H sympathetically depicted a chaplain amongst its characters.  Such a thing is foreign to television today.

Indeed, university students are increasingly told that their faith holds no bearing – or only poses a burden – on their education, when the original universities were explicitly Christian.  Unelected judges overturn same-sex marriage bans and abortion restrictions partially on the claim of there being no reasonable or non-sectarian basis for them.  In several states of this Union, courts and legislatures require citizens taking out any insurance plan to pay for elective abortions, regardless of their consciences, even though it is simply avoided.

But despite all this and the recent news out of Houston with sermons being demanded of preachers, other governments in the kingdom of this world have had it much worse.  This Wednesday we celebrate the Feast of the Martyrs of Uganda, the dozens of Anglican and Roman Catholic boys who were the sex slaves of the pagan king of Uganda and refused his lustful desires.  For their disobedience to the king of this world and their obedience to the High King of Heaven, they were put to death.  Earlier, the king had grown angry with the missionaries from the Church of England and the Church of Rome as they kept criticizing him and his support of Moslem missionaries.

This past week in Morning Prayer, we read in First Kings about Elijah, Ahab, and Jezebel, how the righteous prophet squared off against the wicked monarchs of Israel.  But before Elijah, Samuel warned Israel against having an earthly king, warning them in I Samuel viii.18:  “And ye shall cry out in that day because of your king which ye shall have chosen you; and the LORD will not hear you in that day.”

 

Worldly governments clearly fail to set out a righteous course for us to live in.  But the government of Christ the King exemplifies all good and glorious things.  Our worldly governments tell us that things which are clearly wrong are right; the government of Christ the King unerringly tells us what the wrong things are with such accuracy and precision that we cannot actually avoid them perfectly.

Today’s Epistle mentions “the inheritance of the saints in light”.  This refers to the Kingdom of God.  In the next verse, “the power of darkness” is the antithesis of the Kingdom.

“And he is the head of the body, the church:”  Coming right after speaking of “all things” and spiritual beings, this shows that the last verses here, vv 18-20, demonstrate an equivalency between the cosmos and the Church.  This is tied to the universal mission of Holy Church, to bring all people to Christ and His kingdom.  The work of the Church is Christ’s salvific work in the whole broken cosmos.  Later in ii.10, Christ is called the “head of every rule and authority”.  Christ created all and rules all, and we are members of His Body in that cosmos and Holy Church.  Each one of us is part of something epic and big.

 

Now, there is one way into Christ’s Kingdom:  Holy Baptism.  We read in St. John iii.5, “Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.”  This is our passport, our entrance; this is how we immigrate from the kingdom of the world to the kingdom of God.  When we are buried with Christ and then share in His Resurrection, we join with Him mystically and sacramentally.  When Christ commands His disciples at the end of St. Matthew’s Gospel, He says,

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

Before we are Augustans, Georgians, or Americans, before we are black, white, or any other race of this world, before all these things, we are under the banner of Christ our King.  By virtue of our supernatural sacramental Baptism into the life and death of Christ our Lord, we are brothers and sisters of the Nigerian schoolgirl held in some African camp more fully than we are brothers and sisters to our natural sister who does not believe.  By virtue of our belief in Christ our King, we are brothers and sisters of the impoverished but faithful Haitian farmer more than we are brothers and sisters to our unbaptized brother with whom we grew up.

 

So what does this new citizenship look like?  We read in Ephesians v.1-5:

“Be ye therefore followers of God, as dear children; And walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweetsmelling savour. But fornication, and all uncleanness, or covetousness, let it not be once named among you, as becometh saints; Neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor jesting, which are not convenient: but rather giving of thanks. For this ye know, that no whoremonger, nor unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, hath any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.”

First, we must walk in sacrificial loving-kindness.  We must love the Lord our God with all our hearts, with all our soul, and with all our minds, and we must love our neighbors as ourselves.  This is unbelievably difficult, but we have no alternative.  God is love, and we are to conform ourselves to God.

Second, we are very specifically told to avoid wicked behavior.  After all, Christ says, “Ye shall know them by their fruits.”  So we are to avoid fornication, uncleanness, covetousness, filthiness, foolish talking, jesting.  We are not to be whoremongers, unclean, covetous, or idolaters.  Essentially, we are to pay attention and keep the Ten Commandments.

We are to love and we are to keep moral lives.  Third, we are to give thanks.  It is no mistake that each of our regular services in our Book of Common Prayer includes a prayer of thanksgiving.  We are to thank God for the goodness in our lives.  We are to thank God for our lives, God himself, other people, and all the goodness of God.  Love without thanks is hardly love indeed.

 

Today’s Epistle begins, “Giving thanks unto the Father, which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light: Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son:”

Moving from darkness into light reminds the Christian soul of the Exodus, especially the miraculous passage through the Red Sea.  While Moses his prophet stretched out his hand, the Lord caused the wind to blow on the sea, exposing the seabed so that the people of Israel could escape from Pharaoh and his army, freeing them to reach the Holy Land.  So likewise, we are in bondage to sin and death in the kingdom of this world, no matter how fine it is otherwise to us.  And God brings us out of “from the power of darkness”.  Through the miracle of Christ’s death and Resurrection, we transfer from one side to the other.

 

Having passed from the old way of death to the new way of life, Christ having given us the forgiveness of sins, so we are to imitate our God and King.

The way we worship is to obey.  And we become like Christ.  When the early Church worshipped Christ their God, they became more and more like Christ, and they grew like wildfire.  The early Christians did not visit and attend congregations to find out which ones were the most like what they wanted, asking to make the service the way they wanted, requiring the teaching to be like they wanted.  In all things, they obeyed Holy Church, they obeyed their Lord and Savior, they became like Him as disciples, and they grew and spread.  This is the way not only of faithfulness to God, not only of resisting the sinfulness of the world, but is also the way of evangelism, growth, and maturity.

Almost like the Anglo-Saxons of Wessex over eleven hundred years ago, our king is our best man, the man who exemplifies our ideals, the man whom we seek to emulate.  Blessed Alfred the Great, King of Wessex was one such king of this world; Christ, the King of Heaven and Earth, is the king of the whole cosmos and of the whole Church.

With God, we know who is king.  We know that His rule is always right and holy.  We know that we have no say in His rule.  And indeed, while God wants our whole selves, our souls and bodies, we actually live in great freedom, freedom from sin, death, and Hell.

God the Father calls us to live our lives in the service of Christ our King.  We are to live meek, humble lives in penitence and holiness, avoiding sin, and loving our God with our whole being and our neighbor as ourselves.

 

“We give thanks unto the Father, which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light:  Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son:”

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

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“Thou hypocrite, cast out first the beam out of thine own eye, and then shalt thou see clearly to pull out the mote that is in thy brother’s eye.”

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

 

The beam and the mote continue the theme of not judging and of getting one’s own self in order before instructing or guiding others.  If we cannot be taught, if we cannot be reproved, then how can we grow?  How can we become like God?  If you receive a criticism and immediately criticize the criticizer, then you cannot be schooled.  Nothing is quite a waste of humanity as the soul who cannot bear reproof.  Now, bearing reproof means that we must value truth and beauty and holiness above the sad shaky structure we have built for our ego.

We obfuscate our own flaws when we criticize others; we draw attention to what they have done wrong in hopes that our own sins will remain hidden.  Beware of the person who constantly criticizes, for that person is no doubt in league with Satan.  Satan is the accuser – he who sits among us and criticizes takes the place of Satan by accusing his brothers and sisters.  When we relentlessly criticize our brothers and sisters, were are doing Satan’s work of accusing them.  We are to diligently search our consciences and confess to God our sins and wrongful deeds with an open and humble heart, without any condemnation of our fellows, so that our good and gracious God may forgive us our sins.

 

God judges.  Men take for themselves the privileges of God when they themselves judge.  Think of the wheat and the tares.  The wheat and tares grow together, not being pulled apart, until they are separated at the great harvest.  We do not have the authority or the competence to judge another person.  We cannot see what lies inside the heart of another.  When we think we can see that, then we know that our imagination has overpowered our sensibility.

Practically, the man who regularly and openly judges others will find that others will turn the tables about and regularly and openly judge him.  Therefore, he ought not to judge lest he himself be judged.

When we judge others with our most troubling faults, then we get to project our faults onto another.  This projection relieves the burden of our own faults by giving us a scapegoat.  Our competence to judge is limited by our desire to see others exceed us in our sins, thereby lessening our tension between the self we would like to be and the self which we actually are.  Our judgements often tell us far more about ourselves than we would like others to actually know.  We display our innermost and secret flaws and sins by what we condemn in others.

When we face our own faults while not projecting them onto others, then we can view ourselves evenly and truly and thereby ask God to take away our sins and improve our flawed character.  Only when we do not judge others and view ourselves candidly can we then receive the overwhelmingly generous mercy of God and not his judgement.

Father Hart of St. Benedict’s, Chapel Hill, wrote, “It is easy to take a mental photograph that freezes individuals in time, perhaps at their worst.”  We remember the one betrayal by this person instead of ninety nine loyal moments.  Is she loyal or treacherous?  We see what we want to see.  We bring our own desires and shaky little belief system with us when we are looking out at other people. What we see in others is actually a pretty good indicator of what we truly see in ourselves.

“Not so!” cries he who contradicts.  In point of fact, she did betray her friends on that occasion.  But was that occasion the only occasion?  Yes?  Oh, so she is mostly loyal.  Perhaps she needs a little work.  But is she treacherous?  Rarely.  We project onto others what we would have ourselves see.  This is one of the reasons we must release our expectations of other people.  We may never get through to our numbskull son no matter how wonderfully we act.  And we have to accept that others may refuse to see us as we see ourselves.  But we can try to see others through the Sacred Heart of compassion and mercy that our savior Christ sees them.  We can try to conform ourselves to the mind of Christ, as St. Paul says.  We can try to notice how we generally see people and make allowances for that, like our eye doctors make allowances for our troubled vision when making a new eyeglass prescription for us.  The one thing that we are guaranteed of is that our spiritual vision is not 20/20.  We see things incorrectly.  We must trust in Christ, we must rely on Him to show us how others really are.  We must trust in Him to tell us the truth about ourselves.  We need to take these stirrings of conscience and repent of our sins and then go forth into the world loving our neighbors as ourselves, judging not lest we be judged, and being therefore merciful, as our heavenly Father is merciful.

One of the Duties of Churchmen is to maintain a clear conscience.  We must keep ourselves as pure as possible so that we might grow in the Lord.  As we grow and Christ removes our sins from us, then we might gain the wisdom and spiritual clarity to be a great boon and blessing upon our brothers and sisters.  Oh!  To have a few old folks in this parish upon whom the young would seek out to lay their burdens down!  How can we see the beam in our eye unless we begin to resemble the mind of Christ and begin to see as He sees and love as He loves?  Then and then alone may we without grave jeopardy encourage our younger brothers and sisters in the faith to avoid this or that and to take on that or this.  Let us all resolve to put aside our pride and arrogance and take upon our shoulders the mantle of loving-kindness and humility.  Then, as St. John Chrysostom says, “correct him indeed, but not as an enemy seeking revenge, but as a physician applying a remedy.”

 

More than the simple wrongness of the uneducated educating the uneducated, more than the scandal of the person who would not be taught teaching others is the presumption of the person who has not and yet wishes to bestow.  How can you give what you do not have?

Those who feel entitled to instruct others or guide others or correct others place themselves into mortal danger.  Who are we to be so superior as to instruct another?  Yet in our various offices we must instruct others.  As a priest, I would be remiss if I did not educate.  Parents too.  School sports leagues would collapse without all the coaches required to keep all those children playing.  We need instruction.  What we never need is the presumption that we have something over someone else that we need to impart.  Some of the most embarrassing moments of my life were when I felt like I had experienced something already and I needed to guide some new person away from danger.  Life is not that simple.  My need for importance opened my mouth and guided my foot into it, not my blissful desire for others to avoid pain and suffering.  Those of us who in any way attempt to teach another must be ever on the watch for the sin of presumption.

Indeed, sometimes we have achieved eminence in one field and thus feel comfortable instructing others in everything.  Lady De Burgh in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice easily falls into this category.  Particularly awful are the high-born who feel the need to explain to the low-born what is wrong with them and how they can escape their misery.  Simply silly are businessmen who tell priests how to run churches and priests who tell businessmen how to run businesses.  In all these cases, each one is shaped and formed by concerns peculiar to his station which bend and warp his understanding in ways he may not even notice.  Even when we are attempting to speak truly and genuinely try to help out, our unknown distortions muddy our insight.  When we think that we have no distortions, then truly we are in grave danger.  Better to know that your opinions are suspect than to confidently assert your own myopia.

Authentic humility keeps Christ as the only true focus of the human soul.  Only when Christ is our north star do we even have a shot at speaking truly and guiding rightly.

 

Our inclination is to understand and alleviate and excuse our own sin but not to understand and mitigate and relieve the sins of others.  As instructed by the Church in the Book of Common Prayer, I abstain from flesh meat on Friday, except during Christmastide and when I am sick.  But it is rather funny how often I feel sick when Friday rolls around.  My mind is constantly spinning out excuses for my own behavior.  I can assure you that my mind is not constantly spinning out excuses for your behavior.

One of the most difficult moments of my life was when some of my fellows from my old residence hall came and sat down with me at lunch in college.  I held a position of minor authority, and I had wielded that authority in such a way that I hurt one of their friends who was clearly in the wrong.  They sat down at table with me and exposed my hypocrisy in that I had shielded them from harm but not their friend.  They were my friends, their friend was not my friend.  I was stunned.  I was floored.  I could not believe my own hypocrisy!  The more I thought of their words, the more I realized that they were entirely correct and I was entirely in the wrong.  Moved by my newly maturing Christian faith, I confessed my sin.  Still angry, they heard me and forgave me.  Let me tell you, if they had not confronted my rank hypocrisy, I would never have known it.  Those boys changed my life.  I am chastened to this day to remember their words.

The reason why I tell this story is not to encourage those of you who have truth to tell to others.  No, the reason I share this story of mine is to remember that each one of us lives lives of hypocrisy when we think that there is nothing wrong.  Each of us, when we are eating our lunch thinking that nothing in the world is wrong, should know that iron-clad proof of our hypocrisy awaits us.  We are not God.  We had best be meekly eating our lunch when we are confronted with our misdeeds.  Meekly.  With humility, without airs, without pretension, with loving-kindness both to God and man.

 

Authenticity is a byword amongst the young nowadays.  Age and cassocks do not convey authority like they once did.  Authenticity still conveys authority.  We all, not just me, must speak with authenticity.  We must be seen to exemplify the Christian life.  We must at the very minimum meet the simplest Duties of Churchmen in order to be taken seriously.  If we cannot be bothered to worship on Sundays, then they will not take our invitations to join them here seriously.  If we cannot be bothered to prepare to receive Holy Communion with fasting, prayer, and confession, then our speaking highly of the Body and Blood of Christ and His divine grace which it conveys will fall on deaf ears.  If we cannot obey God’s law about marriage, about adultery, about fornication, about coveting, and about all sexual matters, then our opposing same-sex marriage will seem to them like rank hypocrisy, and indeed it will be so.

We are commanded at the beginning of the Gospel lesson to be merciful because God is merciful.  Are you widely known in your circles as merciful?  Are you known as a lady or gentleman who can be counted upon to overlook a slight?  Do your children know that you will forgive them when they step out of line?  Do your friends know that they can always turn to you for a sympathetic ear and not a mouth that will start talking about your favorite things?  Yeah?  Me neither.

 

“Thou hypocrite, cast out first the beam out of thine own eye, and then shalt thou see clearly to pull out the mote that is in thy brother’s eye.”

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

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“Be ye kind one to another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.”

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

 

When we look at St. Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians, we see that Christians do bad things and are often indistinguishable to the world from those who are not Christians.

“Good people” and “bad people” are categories of this world, and by this world, I mean those things which we pledged at Baptism to renounce – the world, the flesh, and the devil.  Satan wants us to think of ourselves as good people and other people as bad people.  He wants us to feel justified in our own skin.  He wants us so comfortable with our ways that we don’t reach out to God and get our own skin saved – he wants that because he wants our skin for himself.  He is a dangerous adversary who wants us to rely upon ourselves, to think that we are okay right where we are, to think that our walk with God is just fine.  The devil desires that we get so complacent that we don’t reach our hands out to our loving Father.  Satan wants us to go it alone, because when we face death, there is only one who has defeated death, has bound the devil, has entered Heaven to prepare a place for us, and has sent the Holy Ghost, and that is Jesus Christ the Righteous, and He alone is the propitiation for our sins.  Satan does not want us to enter into a living relationship with our Lord.

Looking at our neighbors, the devil wants us to look down our nose at the man whom the world casts off as criminal or trash or no good.  He wants us to close our fist and not be generous.  We might be entertaining angels unaware, and the devil would rather us welcome his demons and not those angels of God.

You see, we do not deserve Christ.  We do not deserve to be Christians.  We do not deserve the Seven Sacraments provided by Christ’s Body the Church.  We do not deserve good things.  We have sinned against God and our neighbors.  We have earned and deserved the wrath and separation from our God and our fellows.  It is only for Christ’s sake that God has forgiven any of us and each of us our sins.

Today, St. Paul addresses four of our sins:  greediness, anger, stealing, and corrupt communication.

The word translated as greediness in verse 19 is sometimes translated as covetousness and other times as adultery.  These three words are all vices of self-assertion.  Desiring more for ourselves, desiring the possessions of another, and desiring the wife of another have putting ourselves before others as the root of them all.  The ruthless, merciless, surrender to our own impulses, which involves trampling upon the persons and rights of others, lies at the heart of these vices.  And this word, greediness, is attached to uncleanness and alienation from God.

St. Paul writes, “Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath; neither give place to the devil.”  Some of us are aware of what we are feeling and keep in mind that emotions may sway our actions and thoughts.  Others do not recognize how we are feeling and what effect that our emotions might be having.  We may be led to places we never intended.  Anger is a powerful emotion.  Scripture shows that feeling anger in a holy way is very difficult.  Jesus could do it when he cleared out the Temple of buyers and sellers, but He was God and always in control.  When we let anger get the upper hand on us, we become tools for evil.  God created us good, but we tend to want to do our own thing.  If we combine that tendency to do our own thing with a good solid feeling of anger, each one of us can do some terribly ugly things to our brothers and sisters.

St. Paul admonishes us to limit this anger.  “Let not the sun go down upon your wrath.”  If we wake up the next day with the same anger, chances are we are cherishing that anger.  We should only cherish lovely things, like sacred hymns, the smell of autumn in the forest, or the waves lapping against the sand.  We ought not to cherish things which lead us to chase after the Evil One.  St. Peter refers to the devil “as a roaring lion … seeking whom he may devour.”  Anger will devour you.  Anger tempts you to turn your brother or sister into your enemy.  When it happens, perhaps it is okay to let yourself feel that anger, but heaven forbid if you nourish it, cherish it, let the sun go down upon it, and call it your friend.  You will end up enslaved to the Father of Lies if you do.  I know it is a hard thing, but your Lord Jesus is there for you.  Speak to him in prayer.  Use the sense God gave you and think about something else.  Create a positive memory to replace the ugly one you have in your head.  What helps me the most is to remember that the Glorious God of Heaven and Earth, the God who pours his Holy Spirit upon us, made this person I am angry with and loves this person just like he loves me.  I remember then that this anger I feel is a small pitiful thing to a loving God who is just as present with the person I am angry with as he is with me.  When I get angry, I feel small.  And I don’t like that.

St. Paul says, “Let him that stole steal no more.”  We are bound by Apostolic doctrine to welcome with open arms all criminals and violators of the social order.  Christ’s Church is not for respectable people; mystical communion with the Body of Christ is for all people, no matter what they have done with their lives.  The Church is neither a club nor a sports team; the Church is a vital organism which is the body of our Risen Savior.

St. Paul also says, “Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers.”  Holy speech is speaking the truth and avoiding contortions that contaminate clear communication between members of the Body of Christ.  Holy speech is part of being a Christian.  We ought not say everything that pops into our head, like that anger which needs to be put down by the end of the day.  Indeed, a Christian ought to be listening more than speaking.  But we must speak to each other in ways that we can each understand, edifying each other with the companionship reserved for those who are joined to Christ, loving each other and caring for each other and looking after each other.  We do not do this because we belong to the tribe of Christians or Anglicans, but because we are more brother and sister to each other in Christ than we are brother and sister to our natural siblings.  Hateful speech is a sin and must be repented of, which means it must be confessed to God and then action must be taken to avoid that sin in the future.

When we consider these sins, we see that they are sins of fellowship.  These sins of fellowship carry a dreadful penalty for those who abuse or vaunt themselves over the brethren:  Grieving the Holy Spirit of God.  Our seemingly little crimes against our fellows touch the biggest, deepest, and mightiest parts of our relationship with God.  Our love of God and our love of neighbor relate more intimately than a holy scholar with a mountain of books and a lifetime of study can possibly understand, yet it can be realized by the loving widow living a lifetime of prayer and faithfulness.

At the end of the epistle St. Paul says, “Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice: and be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.”  Speaking forthrightly to our brothers and sisters and letting not the sun go down upon our anger are parts of a larger and more fundamental whole.  It is almost as if St. Paul understands what parish life is like.  He is an apostle of Christ, and he knows the human heart.  He knows our willingness to be led astray, he knows our tendency to nurture our hurts, he knows our tendency to treat our neighbors and brothers and sisters with ugliness, dishonesty, hurtful words, and gossip.

The relationship of loving neighbor and loving God works the other way as well – God’s love is the example and source for our love of neighbor, no matter how he lies, rages, and steals.  Our love is no more to be based on the merit of the one we love than the love of God is based upon our merit.  We can never be worthy of God’s love, but that does not mean that God is a hard, judging, vengeful father.  It means that divine, wondrous, and life-giving love is priceless – we cannot imagine the price of such love, as it is too high for our dim understanding to contemplate.  Real love, true love, godly love is a gift that is free for the taking, and a gift which transforms the giver into the likeness of God.  By giving the gift of love and forgiveness unconditionally to those who do not deserve it, we grow closer to our good God and closer to love itself.

One puts off the old sinful man or nature we are born with and puts on the new holy man made in the image of God in the Sacrament of Baptism, which is the gateway to new life in a relationship with our Lord Jesus.  The new man is the ongoing fellowship with God in Christ.  Studying the Bible and trying to live an upright and moral life are nothing but paths to Hell without that ongoing fellowship with God in Christ.  The thief, the murderer, and the adulterer who gain that fellowship or communion with God are better off than those who try to do it themselves.  Remember the parable of the Pharisee and the Publican?  It is far better to be a horrible and notorious sinner who repents to God than to be a moral and learned man who relies upon his own understanding and sense of self-worth.  Our minds and hearts are clouded without that regular and renewed fellowship with the Person of the God-Man Jesus Christ the Righteous.

But the soul who comes to Jesus to join in fellowship to God is held to a higher standard than ordinary folk.  This could seem unfair until we recall the Parable of the Talents – to those to whom much is given much is expected.  Once again, fellowship and communion with Christ and His body the Church provides the holy strengthening we Christians need in the form of the Sacrament of Confirmation.  A Christian who is baptized but not confirmed is missing out.  The seven-fold gifts of the Holy Ghost given in that good and holy thing assist us in our living.  Regular confession – alone at night or in the morning, during the Offices or the Holy Eucharist, and in private with a priest – clears the sins off the soul but imposes the duty to strive hard to stay free of the sin from which we have been saved and redeemed.  Christ did not die on the Cross to save us just so we break free from his loving embrace and dive right back into the muck!

Sin tempts everybody in this fallen world of death.  Only Jesus Christ provides the antidote to sin and victory over death.  Sin is the opposite of communion with God.  Death is the opposite of life everlasting, the result of communion with God.  Outside of communion with God, there is no remedy for sin and death.  God gave himself to us in Jesus Christ so that we might have communion with him and live in holiness.  Without accepting the good gift of God in Jesus, there is no communion with God.

And there is no communion with God without communion with all those who have communion with God.  If you are part of Christ, you are a member of His Body.  One part of the Body cannot hate another part.  Christians must – not ought, not should, but must – put away lying words and falsehoods, not steal from each other, and put far away all corrupt communication.

Every moral teacher and most people can imagine a world in which “all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamor, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice”.  What all the moral teachers in the world cannot do by themselves is bring us to that world.  But Jesus can.  Jesus forgives us our sins because He is the same God we have offended with our sins, and that forgiveness gives us heavenly power from above to forgive others and live a life of love and not of sin.  No one other than Jesus can do this.  We are not special because we are Christians; Jesus is special because He is God.  Jesus does not profit from the sacrifice of His Passion and His death on a tree, but we do.  The ultimate law of God’s universe is to love one another.

 

“Be ye kind one to another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.”

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

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“If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?”

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

 

Lazarus suffered right in front of the rich man’s home.  At any time, on any day, at any passing of the gate, the rich man could easily have relieved his suffering.

The rich man did not see Lazarus.  He paid him no mind.  He looked past him.  Lazarus was invisible to him.

If the rich man had been guilty of murder, adultery, theft – then surely Jesus would have mentioned this.  He is told as wearing fine clothes and eating very well.  The rich man was not known for being evil, he was known for being rich.  He had not an evil reputation.

However, that irrational part of God’s creation, the dogs, did what their Maker would have them do – lick the wounds of Lazarus – while that rational part of creation formed in the image of God, the rich man, chose to ignore him.  The dogs condemn the rich man, for he refused to open his eyes and learn pity even from the dogs.

St. Augustine says, “Of these two then, tell me, which died well, and which died ill? Do not ask the eyes, return to the heart. For if ye ask the eyes, they will answer you falsely.”

Jesus says earlier in this chapter in the fifteenth verse, “for that which is highly esteemed among men is abomination in the sight of God.”

By refusing to look after Lazarus, the rich man who was so proud in this world became a beggar of drops of water in the afterlife.

A person who cuts himself off from other people and from his God locks himself in a prison of his own making.  The rich man locked his own self into the place of torment.  There is a fundamental continuity within God’s creation between this world and the next.  “Life here fashions our eternal destiny.”

The rich man requests Father Abraham to send Lazarus first to cool his lips and then to return from the dead and go to his brothers.  By telling Abraham that his brothers will listen to a man returned from the dead, the rich man thus implies that he himself had not been adequately warned.  This is a form of self-justification.  Abraham disputes the logic of the request.  For example, in St. Matthew’s Gospel, Herod thought that Jesus was St. John the Baptist risen from the grave but yet that did not cause him to repent of his wicked ways.

The juxtaposition of the existences of the rich man and poor man would have simply been a classical reversal of fortune story except that the poor man lay at the rich man’s gate.  He had before him opportunities without number to do the right thing, but did not, for he had not love.

St. John Chrysostom says, “He died then indeed in body, but his soul was dead before.  For he did none of the works of the soul.  All that warmth which issues from the love of our neighbor had fled, and he was more dead than his body.”

The rich man was absorbed by the things of the world and did not renounce them in his heart.  He was owned by his possessions instead of holding them in trust for the Lord.  He was a slave to the things of this world.  He loved his things and not his suffering neighbor.

Sin is being without Christian love.  The rich man did not love his neighbor.  That lack of love led to profound and eternal consequences.  Think:  His ignoring his neighbor at his gate led to his damnation.  His lack of charity towards others led to an eternity without charity for himself.

Fr. Melville Scott said, “Lazarus, borne by loving angels, is placed next to Abraham at the feast of Paradise, as the beloved S. John was placed next to Christ at the last supper, enjoying rest and comfort, the most blessed companionship and affection, but Dives has no place here in a home of love into which he is spiritually incapable of entrance.  In Hades he awakes to gaze on the gulf he himself has fixed; to endure the flame of remorse he himself has kindled, and the parching thirst contracted in his desert life of selfishness.  He has made his own punishment….”

The rich man says that his brothers will repent if Lazarus is sent to them.  This acknowledges that they have something of which to repent and that he ought to have repented during his life.  Effectively, he admits that he sinned.

But see how the rich man started accepting his guilt after suffering anguish in hell, not during his life of comfort.  This realization grew from the consequence of his sin and was not efficacious.  True penitence springs from realizing the wrong you have done or sorrow for hurting others, not from sorrow from hurting yourself.  “I’m sorry that I got caught” is not true repentance.

Even when through his anguish the rich man sees his sin and is moved to ask of Abraham, what he asks first of Abraham is relief from that suffering.  The rich man’s selfishness becomes more perfect in Hades.  He recognizes it more clearly, yet he also acts within his selfishness more perfectly as well.  He has trapped himself in his own torment.

Even in death, the rich man tries to cut deals and manipulate.  Even in death, he seeks to control the fate of others, after he has so poorly controlled his own fate.

Here we see again the profound continuity of life here and beyond.  The rich man in Hades remains attached to the things of this world and suffers accordingly; Lazarus no longer is attached, no longer suffers, and rests peaceably, nestled with his people.

Father Crouse says, “What does it mean that the rich man is in hell?  It is not some arbitrary punishment visited upon him from outside; it is simply the description of the parched, tormented soul which has rejected the love of God.  That is what hell is: nothing more, and nothing less than the practical denial of God’s love.”

This ‘hell as separation from God’, of course, is not some wishy-washy “spiritual” but actually materialist understanding of frowning at people and thus earning a well-deserved reputation as a sourpuss.  Rather, this is the actual existential personal reality of rejecting the bonds of love which unite us with our heavenly Father and our brothers and sisters and ending in everlasting torment without the love of either other people or God.

That the rich man did not commit sins that were audacious in the eyes of the world, of his family, or of his friends does not make those sins any the less wicked.  God cares not for the fashion of this world.  Clever insults and droll jabs can leave their mark in hurting others and can show a disdain for the God-given beauty and integrity and salvation-worthiness of our neighbor that God will forgive but will not ignore.

We create our own notions of righteousness, our own ‘philosophies of life’.  But we are judged by the one eternal God’s judgement according to his righteousness.  We create our own systems of value to justify ourselves, whereas we should be like the Publican who stood afar off, asked God to have mercy upon him, and justified God.

Love of neighbor and love of God are fundamentally bound together.  “God is love” is quite correct.  How we live and love is the greatest adventure of our lives!  But it is so difficult to live out.

This loving each other involves willing the best and highest good for each other and acting in accordance with that will.  This is a very tall order.  How can we do this?

Jesus says, “With men it is impossible, but not with God: for with God all things are possible.”

How we can start is this.  Every day, examine your conscience.  Find your faults.  Acknowledge them before the Lord.  Resolve not to do them again.  Ask the good and gracious and loving Lord for forgiveness.  That is repentance.

Brothers and sisters, I commend to you to seriously confess your sins during this mass.

I commend to you to make your private confession to Fr. Nick or another wise and discrete priest of the diocese.

But I absolutely implore you to go home, remember your sins, and fall on your knees and say, “Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner!”

 

“If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?”

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

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