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Posts Tagged ‘loving-kindness’

“And when the king came in to see the guests, he saw there a man which had not on a wedding-garment: and he saith unto him, Friend, how camest thou in hither not having a wedding-garment? And he was speechless.”

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

 

“So those servants went out into the highways, and gathered together all as many as they found, both bad and good: and the wedding was furnished with guests.”

All men have evil in them, and some men have good besides the evil.  In this present age of the Church, there is good mixed with bad, one with the other.  We must suffer the bad with the good, until the day of judgement.

Consider the parable of the wheat and the tares, in St. Matthew xiii.24-30.  The sower sowed wheat in his field.  At night, the enemy sowed tares in it.  The wheat and tares grow up together, but the tares are not weeded out lest by pulling them the wheat is pulled too.  Come harvest-time, the two will be separated, and the tares burnt.

All men are wicked.  Only some men are good, and they by God.  Consider the Last Supper (St. Matthew xxvi.21-22):  “And as they did eat, he said, Verily I say unto you, that one of you shall betray me.  And they were exceeding sorrowful, and began every one of them to say unto him, Lord, is it I?”  The apostles knew they were evil.

Being a wicked person does not exclude one from God’s call.  The Church contains both good and evil until the Last Judgement.  When the king judges, he will separate the bad from the good.

 

“And when the king came in to see the guests, he saw there a man which had not on a wedding garment:”

Now the wedding feast of Christ and His Church is filled with guests.  Both the good and bad were invited, but the bad are not to remain bad.  They are to put on new clothes fit for the king’s feast:  wedding-garments.  The King then comes up to behold his guests and ensure that they properly honor the marriage of his Son and the Church, delighting in those properly attired and condemning those improperly dressed.  This is the Last Judgement.

Alas, as the king enjoys the company of those who have finally heeded the call to the joyous feast, he finds one who has not put off his old ways.  There is only one who has done so, for those who continue to serve wickedness after coming to faith are all of but one kind.

St. Gregory the Great wrote,

What ought we to understand by the wedding garment, but charity?  For this the Lord had upon Him, when He came to espouse the Church to Himself.  He then enters in to the wedding feast, but without the wedding garment, who has faith in the Church, but not charity.

 

“And he saith unto him, Friend, how camest thou in hither not having a wedding garment? And he was speechless.”

The Christian who continues in his beloved sin can produce no excuse.  He stands mute.  Questioned by God, there can be no blustering or denial as the angels and the world bear witness against the sinner.  He has no words.

Indeed, the one who has carried the stink of his former life to tKhe great feast seems surprised.  Perhaps he did not consider that he was unprepared.  He sat at table with his fellows in good cheer until light shone upon his soul and his filth discovered.

 

“Then said the king to the servants, Bind him hand and foot, and take him away, and cast him into outer darkness; there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.  For many are called, but few are chosen.”

Many people never set off with a right foot.  They distract themselves with the affairs of the world.  They seethe in resentment against the good God.  Others accept the invitation but do not finish the course.  They tire and fall away.  They cannot shake loose of their favorite delicious sin.  Many are called, but few are chosen.

These terrible closing words warn us that on the last great day we might be represented by the one who wore not a wedding-garment.  If we do not continue to the end, we will not prove suitable for our high calling.

This parable warns us that we have no claim on the privileges of God’s kingdom if we are unwilling to change into the likeness of Christ.  Answering the door to our heart is not the same as welcoming Christ to live in us.

 

What is this wedding-garment?  St. Paul writes in his first epistle to St. Timothy (1 Timothy i.5):  “Now the end of the commandment is charity out of a pure heart, and of a good conscience, and of faith unfeigned:”  In 1 Corinthians xiii.1, he says, “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.”  Pure and undefiled love is the wedding-garment, without which we are cast out of the king’s banquet and into the outer darkness of eternal torment.

If we have such love, then we ought have no fear of being cast out of the feast.  As loving-kindness grows, so must desire wane.  Every soul possesses wickedness.  We must starve that sleepless unending maelstrom of desire which moves the evil inside us and replace it with the self-sacrificial loving-kindness of Christ our Lord.  Remember with St. John (1 St. John i.8-9):  “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.  If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”  At the Lord’s Feast, we dress ourselves in righteousness and love lest we give offense to God’s purity and holiness.

This divine love:  What are we to do?  Later in this same chapter of St. Matthew (St. Matthew xxii.37-40) we read:

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.  And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.  On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.

We were born in grace, but that grace was polluted.  Throughout history we see the human story, poor souls crying out for redemption from the bondage of sin and death.  We see propitiatory sacrifices made to gods to sway their favor towards us.  We see moral goodness coëxisting with unspeakable horrors.  We know what we are.  We are more than a mess.  We are more than conflicted.  We hide evil within our breasts.  The only effectual remedy is to crucify our wicked nature upon the Cross of Christ, the Cross of love.  Our bonds of continuing sin and dark desires will bind us body and soul for all eternity if we do not change into the loving-kindness of Christ.

Faith is necessary but not sufficient.  As St. James wrote (St. James ii.19), “Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble.”  St. Peter proclaimed Jesus as the Christ, yet devils fearing his healing powers loudly acknowledged Him the Son of God.  So faith is needed, but without love it is incomplete and thus ineffective.  Again we find in 1 Corinthians xiii.2:  “Though I have all knowledge and all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing.”

But as faith without love is incomplete, this godly love requires faith, too.  How can you love the Lord your God without faith in him?  Psalm liii.1:  “THE foolish body hath said in his heart, There is no God.”  St. Augustine preached, “Possible it is that ye may believe that Christ hath come and not love Christ.  But it is not possible that ye should love Christ, and yet say that Christ hath not come.”

The wedding garment is faith completed by love.  Faithful and loving Christians love Christ, love their neighbors, love their enemies, love one another.  It is difficult indeed to love our enemies, but they are our neighbors too.  If you have difficulty loving your enemy, consider our Lord, torn asunder, hanging from His Cross, saying (St. Luke xxiii.39) “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.”

The first martyr, St. Stephen the Deacon, after rebuking the Jews and asking the Lord to receive his spirit, then prayed (Acts vii.60), “Lord, lay not this sin to their charge.  And when he had said this, he fell asleep.”  His last prayer, his last words, were for his murderers.  That is loving your neighbor.

Shall we applaud ourselves for accepting the invitation to dine with the King?  For when we examine our hearts as we shall one day be judged, we see all manner of vile and abhorrent offenses against divine love.  Have we done our duty towards God?  Have we forgiven those who have offended us?  Have we begged forgiveness from others for having offended them?  Have we not crowed as we have seen our rivals humiliated and thwarted?  Have we not crossed on the other side of the road when we saw our neighbor in need?  Have we not cursed God when we had not our own way?

Look at your neighbor who offends you and your neighbor whom you offend.  Behold this person.  Can you see that he is a man whom God has made?  Do you hate him because he is God’s precious creation?  Even the saints argue with each other.  But insofar as God has made this man, we cannot revile or spite him.  We may hate the evil which others do, just as we hate the evil which we do, but we do not hate the soul lovingly created by our Heavenly Father.

Insofar as any of us are evil – and we are all partly evil – it is through disobedience to God, particularly in not loving him and not loving our neighbor.  Of this, we are all guilty.  What we despise in others resides in our own hearts.  Every man has sin.  God loves his creation and hates the disobedience.  God preserves the man and cures the sin.  When we are finally made whole, we shall remain entirely human but without a spot of sin, filled with love, like our Lord Christ.

To live the life of love, we must extend His self-sacrificial loving-kindness in our lives.  It is easy to love our friends and family.  Beasts and birds have this sort of love.  The sparrow does not look after his offspring thinking that they will look after him in his old age.  Rather, he feeds them out of natural paternal affection.  The bird neither reflects upon his actions nor hides secret intentions.  We have, lurking somewhere in our hearts, an inclination to provide for our young.  But we still must labor against our unnatural inclinations to greed and sloth in doing so.  Even when we love our spouses and children and friends, we have not yet that unblemished wedding-garment.

We must extend the love in our lives to God.  We love God in our hearts.  We love God with our souls.  We love God with our minds.  We love God when we draw near to him, and when we draw those we love towards him.  We draw our husband towards God.  We draw our sister towards God.  We draw our friend towards God.  We draw our enemy towards God.  These are not pleasant words but a harsh challenge.

Do we draw those whom we despise towards God?  We most likely are afraid of the answer.  Yet each of us have known those loving souls who elevate those around them, who draw them towards light and goodness, towards God.

St. Augustine said:

So let charity be advanced, so be it nourished, that being nourished it may be perfected; so be ‘the wedding garment’ put on; so be the image of God, after which we were created, by this our advancing, engraven anew in us.

 

“And when the king came in to see the guests, he saw there a man which had not on a wedding-garment: and he saith unto him, Friend, how camest thou in hither not having a wedding-garment? And he was speechless.”

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

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“There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all. “

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

 

“Life in Unity with God”

Today’s Epistle moves the argument from the unity of Jews and Gentiles in Christ to a strong exhortation on Christian ethics.  These six verses combine a plea for Christian unity with the theological foundations of Christian unity.  So we are here looking at the highest ideals of Christ’s Body, the Church.

1 I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called,

The first verse begins with three items:  St. Paul as prisoner, walking worthy, and the subject of vocation or being called.  St. Paul cannot be with the Ephesians because he is currently held prisoner, and this gives him a moral edge.  He is suffering for the Faith, and so he has a right to speak with authority.  He is not ashamed to assert this authority.

The phrase “walk worthy” shows that this life is not to be talked about but lived out.  We actively walk our Christian life, actively engaging in this world and in our common life together.  The use of vocation comes from the Latin, “to call”, which we aptly capture in our word, “calling”.  A calling and a vocation are the same.  And the Christian walk is a result of being called by our Lord into that life.

2 With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love;

St. Paul here lists three virtues as key to the Christian walk to which we have been called to by our Lord:  Lowliness and meekness, longsuffering, and forbearing one another in love.  Also recounted in Colossians iii.12-13, these virtues let us live together in unity with God, unity which has already been proven to transcend the differences of Jew and Greek.  These virtues are the foundation of God’s holy plan for our individual lives, our lives together in Christ, and the life of the entire redeemed cosmos, or created order.  The harmony amongst Christians is the first-fruits of the universal harmony of the whole cosmos in Christ our Lord, heralded in the Revelation of St. John.

First, lowliness and meekness are humility – not haughtiness of spirit and self-assertion.  We are not to vaunt ourselves over others.  We are to take our place and do what we are called to do without assuming we know better and pushing others aside so that we may do better.  Our rota system of coffee hour, wherein a Sunday is assigned to the willing who has authority over refreshments after Mass for that day, gives us each an opportunity to thrive in serving others while not crowing about our superiority and not pushing others aside so that we may have our turn.  Each of us who volunteers for this ministry has a turn, and no one may add to and change that turn without that party’s permission.  We each get to serve others as well as we can without strutting or pushing.

Second, long-suffering is a better translation of makrothumia than patience, because it not only means enduring provocations but refusing to give up hope for improved relations.  Patience can give the sense of only suffering for a while until the problem goes away.  Long-suffering, as here written by St. Paul in the Scriptures, shows that the end result is good, holy, and right relations between brethren and the firm practice of hope as that holy result is worked out.

Christians don’t just give up and walk away from difficult relationships.  Christians dig deep and love like Christ loves until a good relationship flourishes.  Long-suffering means that we must not only endure but change into the image of Christ so that we may grow in loving-kindness.

Third, forbearing one another in love is the culmination of these three holy virtues with which we live out our high calling.  We do not simply shrivel up so that others may flourish around us; instead, we live boldly in Christ-like loving-kindness, forgiving those who sin against us while striving with all our might not to sin against others, thereby building up godly relationships with our brother and with our neighbor, just as Christ commanded us in His holy Gospel, St. John xiii:34, “A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.”

3 Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

“Endeavouring” can also be translated, “taking pains” – that is, a great striving and work of the whole self.  This involves initiative, not waiting around for someone else to start working.  This is attached to the calling, our vocation in God.

St. Paul has previously mentioned in Ephesians i.10, “That in the dispensation of the fulness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in him:”  This is the end to which we are heading.  This is that “unity of Spirit” which Christ has in store for us and for the entire cosmos.  Any impairment we suffer with regards to unity is an impairment of the whole world.

By our failure to love one another as Christ loves us, we fail to live out the Eschaton, the holy end to all times which Christ has been bringing us.  We work against Christ when we hold grudges, when we vaunt ourselves in front of others, when we work to silence others, when we work to politic our way into getting our peculiar lovely thing accepted by the group.  All those things are not even worthy of secular societies.

Keeping the “unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace”:  We have unity in the Holy Ghost; we must work and strive manfully to maintain, to keep this unity.  Our unity together as members of one Body is an act of God, not an act of man or great work by the Christian community.

And what is “the bond of peace” more than loving-kindness?  In Colossians iii.14, which echoes this verse, the bond is love.  Peace is the bond, the glue, the structure which holds together this Christian community of loving-kindness.  These are certainly not the bonds in which St. Paul was being kept.

The “unity of the Spirit” is the “unity which the Spirit creates”.  It is both inward and outward unity which Christians most especially are to exhibit.  We must have real inward unity of hearts and love, but we must also have true outward unity of lack of external divisions.

 

The next three verses get poetic and are thought to be related to a Baptismal liturgy.  The ethics of the first three verses blossom into the confession and worship of the latter three verses.

In the Old Testament, we read the Shema of Deuteronomy vi.4, “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD:”  This evolves some by Zechariah xvi.9, “And the LORD shall be king over all the earth: in that day shall there be one LORD, and his name one.”

St. Paul elaborates this in I Corinthians xii.12-13:  “For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ.  13 For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit.”

 

So:  “There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; One Lord, one faith, one baptism, One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.”

 

4 There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling;

This one hope of our calling is the actual work of hope and not just a general disposition to hopefulness.  This work of hope of our vocation is granted to both Jew and Gentile and is tied in unity in the Holy Ghost.

5 One Lord, one faith, one baptism,                     

“One Lord” reminded both the Jews and Gentiles that they have but one lord, and this when there were many little lords abounding.  Ephesians opens in i.21 with the triumph of Christ over all other lords, both worldly and otherworldly.

“One faith” reminds us that there are not several faiths, but one faith, faith in Christ Jesus, the catholic and apostolic faith, the orthodox faith, eschewing all heretical and heterodox faiths.

“One Baptism” reminds all Christians that there is only one way into the Christian life – Baptism into the life and death of Christ our Lord.  Indeed, St. Paul mentions Holy Baptism in Ephesians five other times.  This poetry sounds like something said at a Baptism, perhaps even an early liturgy.

St. Paul does not bring to mind Baptism in vain.  Each recollection of baptism brings to mind and encourages the faithful to steadfastly continue walking the Christian walk in their behavior as well as their words.  The ethical challenges of the first three verses naturally bring themselves to the Baptismal language of these last three verses.

6 One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.

The Greeks loved to play with prepositions, and this is what St. Paul does here.  The “above all” shows transcendence, or how God the Father is beyond the cosmos.  The “through all” shows omnipresence, or how God the Father is present everywhere at all times.  The “in you all” shows immanence, or how close God the Father is to you everywhere.

 

We are given a poetic and theological vision of the things of God along with the virtues necessary to reach it and experience it in our own lives.  The ideal Christian walk is made manifest in our lives through the love of God and the practice of the holy virtues necessary to our life together:  Lowliness and meekness, longsuffering, and forbearing one another in love.  Let us remember our Baptism, even with holy water when we enter the nave for Mass, and recall that our life is lived with God when it is lived with one another in the unity of the Holy Ghost.

 

“There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.”

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

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

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

 

“Church:  Hospital or Hospice?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

But on the other hand, we are a mission outpost of the right bank on the Savannah River.  All Saints’, Aiken has the left bank.  This is our duty station, and from here we are to fulfill the Great Commission given to the Apostles and thus to our bishops – “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.”

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

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

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

 

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

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

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“…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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“BE ye doers of the word, and not hearers only”

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

 

“Acting upon Your Living Faith in Christ”

This epistle forms a single reading with last week’s epistle, and together they are the readings for Thanksgiving Day.  Last week’s reading of St. James i speaks of hearing the Word of God.  This Sunday’s reading gets to acting upon what has been heard.

St. James begins by speaking of a mirror, or a glass.  He says that a man who looks at himself in the mirror sees but for a moment what manner of man he is and then straightway forgets once he turns away.  He is then free to deceive himself.  Instead of this temporary self-knowledge, we are to look to the “perfect law of liberty”.

But the law of liberty is very dangerous.  God intends freedom for us, but without the ordered practice of obedience to God in loving-kindness, our use of God’s freedom for us descends into selfish license.  We thereby use God’s gifts for our own sakes, not for God’s higher end.

This ties into this Rogation Sunday because we then become unthankful of God’s gifts.  Today we prayed for all things.  Yet we take the good things of this life for granted.  God gives us good gifts, and we are to return thanks unto God.  When we refuse to give thanks for what we have, we spiral out of control and into the error that we earned what we have, that we deserve good things in this life, that we are blameless for the wrongs we have committed, and that we may take vengeance for wrongs others have committed against us.  We live in a loveless, ungenerous, unthankful world of selfishness, pride, ego, loneliness, and self-destruction.

In the next chapter, St. James ii.14-20:

“What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him? If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit? Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone. Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works. Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble. But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?”

We must hear and receive God’s word, but we must obey it and act upon it also.  In days of old, we prayed to God on Rogation days to preserve our crops and guard us from volcanoes.  Today in our Litany, we pray for many and sundry things – all things necessary for a happy and holy life.  But all our prayers are in vain if we merely mouth the words without faith and action.

An annual theme in our society is the great preponderance of New Year’s resolutions that fall by the wayside so early in the New Year.  For instance, I have heard that gyms and fitness centers sell many memberships to people who never return to exercise.  How many times have we resolved to lose weight, or manage our money better, or improve our relationships with family, or pray and meditate more often?

All our faith in Christ our Lord is feeble, weak, and ineffectual without actual work for the Kingdom of God.  Foreign missions are important, but this does not mean that we must do mission work overseas.  Caring for vulnerable mothers in grave danger is a good thing, but this does not mean that we must volunteer at Augusta Care Pregnancy Center.

We need not do this or that special thing, but we must do some things.  And not just any things, but the right things for our place in God’s order.  St. James concludes today’s Epistle with:  “Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.”  All Christians are obliged to do such things.

For Christ calls us to love our God and our neighbor.  Loving-kindness is not a feeling.  It is more akin to simple action than to raw emotion.  The love of Christ sat not still but rather propelled Him to suffer His Passion and die for our sins on Calvary.  We would not have the hope of eternal life, of forgiveness of sins, of communion with God, and of loving-kindness with all mankind without the love of Christ which moved Him to die for us and raise us with Him in eternal life.

Later this week, we celebrate the Feast of the Ascension of our Lord.  Christ’s great love and mighty action did not end on Easter morning when He defeated death rising from the grave.  Christ then ascended into Heaven, thereby opening up life in the presence of God the Father for us.  Christ did not rest then either.  On Pentecost, He sent us the Holy Ghost so that we would not be left without a comforter on our earthly pilgrimage.

Yet even then Christ did not rest.  According to the Epistle to the Hebrews x.19-22:

“Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh; and having an high priest over the house of God; let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water.”

Christ keeps open the way into Heaven for us, and we must “draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith….”  Actions are terribly important.  They complete the faith in which they are undertaken.

I would like you to do two things this week, each of which is found in the Six Duties of Churchmen, which are the irreducible practice of the Christian Faith.  These Duties I consistently hold up as our practice here in this parish and teach in our Confirmation class.

First, we have the great privilege of participating in Holy Church’s special days of Rogation Monday, Rogation Tuesday, and Rogation Wednesday.  If you look on page li in the Roman numeral section at the beginning of your Prayer Book, you will see at the top A Table of Fasts, under which you will see the Rogation Days listed as days of Solemn Supplication.

Supplication means to petition God to do something.  Twice in Acts and elsewhere in the Bible, Christians fast and pray to God.  We are to abstain from high-quality food or other such pleasure, typically meaning meat, on these Rogation days.  We are also to pray God to provide his goodness towards us.

This morning’s Litany is a wonderful example of praying thusly.  Pray for your family, parish, community, nation, and world.  And if you do not abstain tomorrow on Memorial Day, remember nonetheless to pray for our war dead and then pick up your abstention on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Second, we have the last of our Springtime Holy Days of Obligation this Thursday.  Just as we are obliged to worship God every Sunday, so we are obliged to worship God this Thursday.  As usual, we will have noon and 6 pm Masses for your convenience on Ascension Day.  We will join in worshipping God in celebration of the great work He did for us by ascending with His human Body into Heaven, thereby opening Heaven up for us men.

Notice that both of these, prayer and abstinence on Rogation Days and worship on Ascension Day, are part of the Duties of Churchmen.  Part of the duty of Fasting is to keep the fasts of the Church, including the abstention of Rogation Days.  Part of the duty of Worship is to worship God in Church on Holy Days of Obligation.  These two things which I ask you today are concrete and godly ways to act upon your living faith in Christ.

 

“BE ye doers of the word, and not hearers only”

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

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“For what glory is it, if, when ye be buffeted for your faults, ye shall take it patiently? but if, when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable with God.”

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

 

St. Luke Church is suffering from an insidious rot that has infected us from out there – the sinful world of men.  This rot is incubated in our own sinful natures, our flesh.  This rot is greatly exacerbated by the accusations of the great foe, Satan.

Part of adolescence is learning to discern between conforming to others from weakness and obeying legitimate and effective mores and rules.  Most of us have acted cruelly to someone who did not fit in at some point in our lives.  Human experience shows that those of us who have felt excluded act particularly nastily in excluding others when we get the chance.  We want revenge.  We want to feed the dragon of self-pity that lies smoking at the bottom of our hearts.

We must never feed this dragon of self-pity, we must never offer justifications for our naughty behavior.  We must always turn to face that which is good, that which is true, and that which is beautiful.  We must always pursue holiness, just as we must always cut off whatever tempts us to sin.  This is repentance.

Spiritually mature Christians must discern between what is the good and loving thing to do and the evil and hateful thing to do.  Sometimes there are tough calls.  Sometimes people of good will can see good reasons on opposing sides.  But most of the time, if we listen to God the Holy Ghost speaking to us through the life of Christ, the Holy Scriptures, and our Mother the Church, then we know what we ought to do.

The rot that spreads through the members of this parish is the sin of gossip, backbiting, and ungracious speaking.  Christ says in St. Mark vii.18-20 that it is not what goes into the man that makes him unclean but rather what comes out of him.  To make sure we understand precisely what He is saying, Christ lists it out for us in verses 21-23:

“For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, Thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness: All these evil things come from within, and defile the man.”

In today’s Epistle, St. Peter writes of how to behave when accused falsely.  Mind you, he is not speaking of how to feel justified when you are confronted with your own bad behavior.  He is speaking of suffering with Christ.  Christ suffered innocently.  When you suffer innocently for the sake of Christ, then you suffer alongside Christ.  This is a great consolation.

St. Peter is not saying that you suffer alongside Christ when you reap the punishment for the sin you have sown.  When you hurt someone else and you are called out on it, your cheeks will burn with shame.  And they ought to burn with shame.  Embrace the pain and let it instruct you so that you never hurt anyone else like that again.

My dear children, the day is coming when we may indeed suffer for the Christian Faith.  Our brothers and sisters around the world suffer so.  We benefit from the protection of a free and civilized nation.  Many of us here have served this nation so that it may protect our families and churches in a free and just society.

But nothing in this sinful world of men is perfect.  Brokenness and alienation from God is found everywhere we look.  We can safely expect that we will not be as free to worship Christ in peace in the future as we are now.  When that day comes, we will join the early Christians in facing persecution for worshipping Christ.  When that day comes, we will suffer alongside Christ.

But when we suffer the penalty for our poor behavior today, we are not suffering alongside Christ.  Sinning against God and hurting our brothers and sisters is exactly the behavior that Christ had to die on the Cross to forgive us of.

Not sinning against, not threatening, and not reviling our God and our neighbors is a non-negotiable part of the Christian faith.  We do not vaunt ourselves over against our neighbors.  This means that the loving-kindness of God is found in holy behaviors and not found in sinful behaviors.  We are not saved by obeying the rules and following the law, but we are damned if we don’t obey and follow the way of our Lord and Savior.

Remember, Christ was innocent.  “There was no guile found in His mouth.”  St. Peter shows that we are to bear suffering like Christ did.  Christ calmly bore wrongs and did not avenge.  John Calvin wrote:  “Christ abstained from every kind of retaliation.  Our minds, therefore, ought to be bridled, lest we should seek to render evil for evil.”

He did not revile or seek vengeance against Judas.  He did not tell the thieves crucified next to Him that they deserved their punishment as He did not deserve His.  Instead, He forgave the penitent thief who had said that his own condemnation was just.  Christ did not call out Judas’ betrayal to the other disciples but let them learn of it when Judas came leading the soldiers of the priests.  Christ loved and obeyed unto death.  This is directly contrary to the way of this world.

And we as Christians follow Christ.  The holier we grow through the Paraclete, the Comforter, the Holy Spirit of God, the less comfortable with the world we will be.

Christ is our judge.  He will judge us and our behavior on the basis of what a just and sinless man would have done – on what He would have done.  This indeed is “what would Jesus do?”  Christ turned the other cheek and walked the extra mile.  Christ extracted no vengeance.  Those of us, who count offenses and desire to avenge them, sin and fall short of the glory of God.  We as brothers and sisters under the pain of eternal separation from God in Hell cannot countenance, cover, participate in, or make excuses for counting offense and seeking vengeance by any in the household of God.

Harken to my words, good people of God:

  • We will neither gossip, backbite, or attack others nor will we tolerate those who do.
  • We will challenge each other, preferably in private, but in public if it necessary.
  • We will challenge each other when our brother or our sister speaks ill of anybody in our hearing.
  • We will no longer recount ill deeds committed by others.
  • We will only tolerate tales of wrong deeds by those who personally confess them.

If I speak ill of someone, please pull me aside and let me know so that I may repent and be saved.  I need God’s grace in my poor and sinful life.  I need it.  I am not sufficient by myself.  I am not okay in my own skin.  My very flesh pulls me away from God and into temptation to sin.  I need help.  I need my bishop.  I need my wife.  I need the faithful people of God.

And so do you.  Not a one of you lives a life in perfect communion with God.  We all feel the loneliness of desolation at times, but we live it every moment.  We are not complete until our hearts rest within Almighty God our Heavenly Father.  We are not consecrated unto God until we have received the Baptism of Christ and Communion of His very Flesh and Blood.

Let us be gentle and walk humbly in loving-kindness with all people.  Let us submit ourselves to each other in that great love so that we, with the grace of God and power of the Holy Ghost, may climb the ladder of perfection up to Heaven.

 

“For what glory is it, if, when ye be buffeted for your faults, ye shall take it patiently? but if, when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable with God.”

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

 

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“Ye call me Master and Lord: and ye say well; for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you.”

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

 

 

Christ shows us that loving-kindness is not a sweet sentiment held from afar, not a slogan church folk use, and not even a genial disposition of good-will and friendliness bestowed upon friend and foe alike.  The “unconditional positive regard” of modern psychotherapy and is lovely, but it is not loving-kindness.

Christ shows us that loving-kindness is self-sacrifice, the pouring out of our own selves to God, the giving up of our hearts, our souls, and our minds to God.  Loving-kindness is acknowledging that God made us, that we are his, and that we offer ourselves back to God in a wonderfully fluid back-and-forth motion of generosity and love.  Loving-kindness is letting God use us in the service of our fellow creatures, these others whom God has also made in loving-kindness, our brothers and our sisters.

The way of the Cross is the way of sacrifice.  We are to stoop down before each other and wash each other’s feet.  We are to bow to each other and beg forgiveness for the sins we have committed.  We are to abase ourselves, surrendering our pride and utterly false sense of superiority, so that we may serve our brothers and sisters.  Christ, the Son of God, washed the feet of His disciples.

Think for a moment, about kneeling before another and washing his feet.  Think….   For some of us, judging by your reactions to liturgical foot-washing held in the confines of the church-building, this is a horrible thing to do.  It runs contrary to our cultural expectations of dignity and social touching.  And yet Christ commands that we do it if we truly wish to follow Him.

If Christ is extraordinarily specific about this, and yet we earnestly seek to avoid doing what He told His disciples to do, then we must seriously ask ourselves if we truly wish to follow Christ.  Do we?  Do we truly wish to love others as Christ loved us?  Christ loved us to death on the Cross.  Christ loved His disciples by stooping and washing their feet.  Christ loved His followers by giving them His very Body to eat and His very Blood to drink.

If we wish to give more than lazy lip-service to our Incarnate God, the Messiah, the Christ, then we will pick up our Cross and follow Christ to our earthly deaths, we will kneel beside our Lord Jesus and wash the feet of our brothers and sisters, and we will eat His Body and drink His Blood.  Christ gives us these things to do in the Holy Gospels.  Following Christ and participating in life everlasting requires – not suggests, not recommends – requires that we do these three things:  carry our cross, love God and our neighbor, and feast upon His Body and Blood.  Simply put:  You are no follower of Christ if you refuse to do these things.

 

Let us consider St. Matthew xxv.31-46:

31 When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory:

32 And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats:

33 And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left.

34 Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world:

35 For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in:

36 Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.

37 Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink?

38 When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee?

39 Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?

40 And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.

41 Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels:

42 For I was an hungred, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink:

43 I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not.

44 Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee?

45 Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me.

46 And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.

We see here the explicit and fundamental unity between the two great commandments, to love God and to love our neighbor.  My dear children, we are to love, for God is love.

We think that we can reduce the Christian Religion to a set of moral laws, or a set of theological precepts, or a cultural phenomenon.  But Christ’s Religion is a vital relationship with Him, Who is both God and Man, and Who thus bridges the gap between our sinful world of death and life eternal in Heaven above with God forever unto ages of ages.  Amen.

Therefore, if we must have a vital relationship with Him to be saved, so must we have a vital relationship of loving-kindness with our brothers and sisters to be saved.  For what we do not do for them, we do not do for Christ.  Christ will judge us on our love for each other.

Christ will judge us one day in our future.  Then, He shall see us and know if we have fed the hungry, given drink to the thirsty, comforted the weak-hearted, wept with those who weep, and rejoiced with those who rejoice.  He knows our heart and knows how we love.  He who made us and knows everything there is to know about us knows how we struggle and fight to be His good soldiers.

So we have a choice.  We may abandon the broken things of this world to embrace the endless riches of God in Christ our Lord, or we may remain sitting in the dirt, playing in the mud, wallowing alone in our own selfishness.

 

Tonight we commemorate the institution of the sacrament of Christ’s Body and Blood.  Tomorrow we commemorate His most holy death.  Sunday we commemorate the Resurrection of the God-Man, Jesus Christ.  As St. Paul says, “behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.”

What will you choose?  Will you turn your back on Christ like the disciples did this same night many centuries ago?  Will you deny Him three times like St. Peter?  Will you jeer at Him like the Jews and Romans along the Via Dolorosa?  Will you desert Him at the Cross?  Or will you pick up your cross and follow Him to Calvary?  His journey to the Cross is awful; it’s mind-blowing; it will break your heart.  Will you follow Christ?

 

“Ye call me Master and Lord: and ye say well; for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you.”

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

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“WE beseech you, brethren, and exhort you by the Lord Jesus, that as ye have received of us how ye ought to walk and to please God, so ye would abound more and more.”

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

 

“Purity, Holiness, and Loving-Kindness”

 

We can never rest easy in the Christian life.  Not that we are in constant jeopardy of losing our salvation, but that the Lord God of Heaven and Earth is a good God who loves us very much, and we ought to emulate him in all we think, do, and say.  And who among us is as holy and loving as Christ?  I have a long way to go.  So St. Paul might as well be speaking to me here as well as to the Thessalonians, and I can say that he’s speaking here to you as well.

1 Furthermore then we beseech you, brethren, and exhort you by the Lord Jesus, that as ye have received of us how ye ought to walk and to please God, so ye would abound more and more.

St. Paul beseeches and exhorts his fellow Christians to exceed their holiness so far attained, to keep striving forward, to continue to make progress.  St. Paul wants them to move forward not because of what they lack but because of what they have to gain.

We have been taught how to behave.  St. Paul here exhorts us to continue and grow in the way we are to behave.  We should do so willingly, as men freed from the bondage of sin.

How we “ought to walk and to please God” is a gift from God.  Being a gift from God, this moral knowledge is precious and holy.  We are to willingly embrace it and live it more fully every day, not as a burden, for sin was an actual burden, but as liberation and freedom to live eternally with God.

When we look back to life in sin, we see depression, desolation, darkness, and delusion.  We were “sunk” in sin, like trying to wade through a mire instead of marching on the dry, clean, high road of grace.  Even when we wanted to do the right thing, we were incapable of doing so.  But through the grace of God, his unmerited holy favor, we are freed from our sins and given the ability to walk on the King’s highway.

Abounding more and more is what Blessed John Keble preached, “that is a call, as serious as the heart of man could imagine, not to stand still, not to suppose they had done enough.”  We are unlike the beasts and the angels; we are created in the image of God.  God the Son did not manifest in Heaven as a holy angel.  God the Son did not come to earth as a dolphin or orangutan.  God the Son came down to earth and became a man amongst men.  We are made joint-heirs of God the Father through the adoption as sons.  We are joined in the Body of our Lord Jesus Christ to become one with God.  We are made tabernacles of the Holy Ghost.

We are called to holiness in a way no other creature in Heaven or on Earth is called.  The Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, the Eternal Word of God, came down from Heaven and was born a baby Jewish boy of the Blessed Virgin Mary in a small Judean town called Bethlehem.  God now shares our flesh, and when Christ Ascended into Heaven, He took His human body with Him.  Human flesh now resides in the heavenly realms of glory as well as in this created world.  God has taken on man’s nature so that man can take on God’s nature.

We are called out of this world of sinful men and made righteous by God so that we may be sanctified and called holy, chosen, called out from the world, set apart for God.  We are to be given much so that we may abound and abound forever and ever.  This is the Christian calling:  To live with God in his kingdom for all eternity, lost in wonder, love, and praise, fulfilling our created nature more fully than any thought or dream could imagine.  We will never have enough goodness, for God is infinite, and we are created for God.

2 For ye know what commandments we gave you by the Lord Jesus.

3 For this is the will of God, even your sanctification, that ye should abstain from fornication:

Having renounced the world and the sinful pollution of following the ways of the flesh, we offer ourselves as a living sacrifice to God; and since God only accepts pure and holy sacrifices, we must live holy and blameless lives, removing all obstructions to holiness in our lives, putting far from us our worldly and fleshly ways.

Fornication defiles man.  By entering into sexual congress with others outside of God’s design and permission for us, we deface the beautiful image of God in us and others.  Purity and sanctification are utterly opposed to fornication and sins of the flesh.

Moreover, in today’s increasingly immoral society, Christians must be known as chaste.  Obeying the Church’s Law of Marriage is one of the Duties of Churchmen.  The world watches us to see if we are either hypocrites or true lovers of God.

All Christians ought to be of one of three states of sexual purity:  virgin, married, or widowed.  Alas, many Christians were not virgins when we married.  Many Christians do not live chastely after losing our spouse.  Many Christians do not live chastely with our spouse.  When we live sexually ordered lives, we live lives following the teaching of Christ and His Bride the Church.  We live lives of purity, reaching towards holiness and loving-kindness without the damage which impurity and sexual immorality brings us.

4 That every one of you should know how to possess his vessel in sanctification and honour;

5 Not in the lust of concupiscence, even as the Gentiles which know not God:

By “lust of concupiscence”, St. Paul means all lusts of the flesh and the eyes which allure us to fleeting carnal delights and take our minds and bodies away from union with God.  Indulging in sinful pleasures disturbs us so that we are no longer temperate in our lives, we are out of balance in our relationship with the physical world, our inner composure with which we meet God is disturbed and unsettled.  When we give in to pursuit of these pleasures, we are knocked off our poise and made unsteady, so that we can no longer stand upright and face our Lord God.

But the lust of the eye and the wandering heart do not only touch our sexual lives.  Our economic lives are touched by this also.  Through envy and jealousy, our social lives are touched by concupiscence, the desire to draw the world into our selves.  We literally lust after the world, the pleasures of the flesh.  Gluttony is strongly allied with Lust and Greed.  They involve the desire to consume God’s good creation instead of relate to God’s creation the way he would have us relate to it – the good order of purity, holiness, and loving-kindness.

6 That no man go beyond and defraud his brother in any matter: because that the Lord is the avenger of all such, as we also have forewarned you and testified.

St. Paul further exhorts Christians to do no injury to our brother.  Just as fornication is acting unjustly towards our neighbors, so too is fraud.  We must not act immoderately or unrighteously towards our neighbors.  We must love our neighbors as ourselves.  Lust and Greed are related in that they involve desiring the things of this world in unholy and unclean ways.  God will avenge those whom we harm while wickedly seeking from our fellows that which is not ours to take.

God will punish Christians who have holy knowledge and training in righteous living harder than those who have not heard the word of grace and live as best as they can in the muck and mire of the world of sinful men.  We ought to love our neighbors and show them the Good News of Jesus Christ rather than condemning their wickedness which they cannot understand without Christ.

We know better than to corrupt ourselves in unchastity and fraudulent behavior.  When we commit sins which we currently live in and do not repent of, we eat and drink the Body and Blood of Christ to our damnation, not to our salvation.  For we cannot partake of holiness when we choose to wallow in unholiness.  We cannot partake of our good God if we insist on dwelling in impurity.  We cannot bring our favorite sins into the presence of God.  If we insist on holding them close to us, we cannot approach him.

To “defraud his brother” is to seek gain at the expense of his brother.  We are not to trick and manipulate others for our own gain.  Tricking a virgin into fornication is the vileness of seduction.  We rightly condemn those who do this.  But tricking our brother into loss for our gain is the same sin in a different way.

We are not to use each other.  Each one of us is a unique individual lovingly created by Almighty God our Heavenly Father in his own image.  God beholds each one of us and finds us so precious and valuable in his sight that he sent God the Son into the world to become one of us, to die on the Cross, and to save us from our sins.  God blesses each one of us so that we may live with him in his kingdom for eternity.  If God did not love each one of us so much, he would not want us so close to him for so long.

Being each a unique and invaluable part of creation, we are to treat others and to be treated with great dignity befitting our rank as adopted sons of God the Father through our Lord Jesus Christ and indwelt by God the Holy Ghost.  We are not to seduce, manipulate, or defraud those for whom Christ died to save from sin and death.  We are to honor and respect and love each other, following the way of Christ.  Purity, holiness, and loving-kindness all go together and all come from God.

7 For God hath not called us unto uncleanness, but unto holiness.

God has called us to holiness.  We must renounce the world of sinful men, the temptations of our fallen nature, and the supernatural evil which lurks about as a lion, seeking someone to devour.  We cannot have both sin and God, for sin is separation from God.

We place ourselves into grave danger when we trivialize our sins of the flesh, our little lusts, our wee gluttonies.  They are fun.  But they are contrary to God.  For instead of enjoying God, we enjoy God’s creation as if it were made as an end to itself and not for the glory of God.  We may enjoy the sexual embrace of our holy spouse as that embrace participates in the goodness of creation and glorifies God.  We may enjoy commercial intercourse with our fellow men as we trade goods and services so that we meet our needs and prosper, give alms to the poor, and generously give to Christ’s Body, Holy Church.  But when we pervert the goodness of creation to steal sexual embraces from those we are not in holy union with and to defraud those whom we interact, then we reject God.  When we embrace sin, we leave no room in our arms to embrace God.

8 He therefore that despiseth, despiseth not man, but God, who hath also given unto us his holy Spirit.

If by our unjust and unrighteous actions, we use and abuse other men, we have departed away from God.  Thus, if we despise men, we despise God instead.  God, who gave us his Holy Spirit to dwell inside of us, is well and truly despised by those who reject him.  We who sin against our fellow man despise God who dwells inside of us.  This tears us apart, and we are no fit vessels thereafter for the Holy Spirit of God.  Truly the Two Great Commandments go together:  To love God and to love our neighbors.

 

Little children, love your God, and love each other.  Live beautiful lives of holiness, purity, and loving-kindness.  Act justly to every person in your life, honor God, and love both God and your neighbor.  Worship Christ, and adore Him in His Body and His Blood.

This week, make an act of love to our Lord Christ every day.  Say to Him, “I love thee Lord Christ, and I want to love Thee more and more.”  Look inside your bulletins to the announcements on the inside right-hand side.  At the end of the announcements, you will see that sentence.  Say it with me:  “I love thee Lord Christ, and I want to love Thee more and more.”  One more time:  “I love thee Lord Christ, and I want to love Thee more and more.”

 

“WE beseech you, brethren, and exhort you by the Lord Jesus, that as ye have received of us how ye ought to walk and to please God, so ye would abound more and more.”

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

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Bless them which persecute you: bless, and curse not. Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep. Be of the same mind one toward another.

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

 

We are not living up to our potential.  We want to be better Christians.  We want to feel God’s presence in our lives more than we do now.  We want to live holier lives with fewer sins, trusting in God and feeling his comfort more.  But we don’t.  Because to live a more outrageously Christian life, we would have to change.  We would have to alter comfortable habits.  We would have to change our routine.  And here’s the kicker:  We would have to risk losing what we have.

But it is exactly so that we must lose much of what we have.  We have regular sins we habitually commit.  That’s gotta change.  We have a set of friends that don’t challenge us when we misbehave.  That’s gotta change.  We have God in a box, sometimes on the mantle, sometimes on the bookshelf, sometimes on our nightstand.  That’s gotta change.

It hurts to change, but change we must.  We must direct ourselves outward.  Inward is our own self, our own interests, our own safety.  It is a dangerous world out there.  But God is out there too.  We must direct ourselves outward.  The two great commandments are to love the Lord our God with all our heart, with all our soul, and with all our mind.  And we must love our neighbors as ourselves.  Both God and our neighbors are beyond ourselves, out there.  You cannot stare at your belly button and find God.  But you will find God in the faces of the man who is asking for a handout, the man who has sinned against you, and the woman who lives down the block.

The Church does not exist for herself.  The Church is the Bride and Body of Christ.  The Church, by her nature, serves the Lord.  We too serve the Lord.  We do not all serve the Lord in the same way.  Some serve Him loudly, others quietly.  Some pray more than they can give, and others give more than they can pray.  But we are made holy, consecrated, set apart from the sin and brokenness of the world through our Lord Whom we serve.

How we treat people is vitally important.  First, it is one of the two great commandments.  Second, it is the subject of six of the Ten Commandments.  Third, it is what those outside the fellowship of Christ notice first about us.  Fourth, these are the same people for whom Christ came down from Heaven, for whom Christ lived and suffered amongst us, for whom Christ died on the hard wood of the Cross, for whom Christ rose again on the third day, for whom Christ ascended into Heaven, for whom Christ sent the Holy Ghost, and for whom Christ intercedes at the right hand of God the Father.  Those people outside of ourselves, those people outside the household of faith are pretty darn important, you could say!

 

Loving-kindness is the chief of the theological virtues.  It alone remains after faith and hope have passed away.  As Christians, love is our rule, love is our guide.

But love means almost anything in today’s society.  All sorts of selfish and immoral behaviors are conducted in the name of love.  This is one of the reasons I follow the Authorized Version of the Bible in using loving-kindness for the Greek agape, which is the same as the Latin caritas.  Loving-kindness is the self-sacrificial love manifested in Christ which resides in the will and not in the emotions.  We do not feel in loving-kindness; we act in loving-kindness.

And so St. Paul describes the life of the Christian community, the blessed company of all faithful people, the Body of Christ, the Bride of Christ, that life which is lived in loving-kindness.

Let love be without dissimulation. Abhor that which is evil; cleave to that which is good. Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love; in honour preferring one another; not slothful in business; fervent in spirit; serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope; patient in tribulation; continuing instant in prayer; distributing to the necessity of saints; given to hospitality. Bless them which persecute you: bless, and curse not. Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep. Be of the same mind one toward another. Mind not high things, but condescend to men of low estate.

“Let love be without dissimulation.”  This means that we must stop pretending to love each other.  I understand that it is more polite to pretend to care for someone while mentally reserving bad opinions about them, but it is contrary to Scripture.  We cannot be transformed into lovers of God and our fellow man if we walk around pretending to love them.

“Abhor that which is evil; cleave to that which is good.”  This needs no explanation.  Flee from evil and cling to all that is good.

“Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love; in honour preferring one another;”  When we love each other like Christ loves us, we may not all be close social friends.  But we will be brothers and sisters one to another.  You may know the Greek word for this brotherly love:  Philadelphia.  We have an obligation to act in loving-kindness with everyone everywhere, but we have a special obligation to our brothers and sisters in the Church.  Indeed, each of us ought to seek to honor our brother more than ourselves.  If we do not change our lives within the bosom of Christ’s Church, then what are we really doing here?

“not slothful in business; fervent in spirit; serving the Lord;” Without letting our zeal wane, we are to serve the Lord in a determined fashion filled with the Holy Ghost.  What is your vocation?  What is God calling you to do?  Are you fully involved in serving God?  If not, what are you waiting for?  If God called you, then you have a mission from God to fulfill.  Don’t wait until tomorrow, for tomorrow may never come.  Don’t worry about waiting for the right moment, for you may never feel the time to be right.  Get going with God’s business!

“rejoicing in hope; patient in tribulation; continuing instant in prayer;”  How ought we to live?  We not only are to live in hope of Christ’s return and life everlasting, we are to rejoice in that hope.  And yet while we are waiting, we suffer.  We see suffering all around us.  We experience suffering in our bodies, in our minds, in our families, in our friends.  Here, we have a difficult word from St. Paul:  Be patient.  We are not to be lazy, but we should bear our pains, our griefs, and our sorrows.  This is hard, and this is why St. Paul follows this with prayer.

We must continue instant in prayer; that is, we are to pray to God at all times.  We are to pray with our mouths, we are to pray with our bodies, we are to pray with our thoughts, and we are to pray with our actions.  Kneeling before God is prayer.  Contemplating the wonders of Holy Scripture is prayer.  Serving each other in Christ’s Holy Name is prayer.  And of course, following the Mass and praying the Lord’s Prayer is prayer.

“distributing to the necessity of saints; given to hospitality.”  We must look after others.  In particular, we must look after our own people.  The Holy Order of Deacons was created to serve the widows and destitute of the Body of Christ.  We must look after our own.  And we must also look after the stranger.  Our service to those whom we do not know opens a relationship wherein we can live out our Christian lives in front of somebody new.  This and proclamation are the earliest and best ways of evangelism.  More importantly, they show loving-kindness both to brother and stranger alike.

“Bless them which persecute you: bless, and curse not.”  Hurting those that hurt you is directly contrary to the teaching of Christ.  St. Paul writes later, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord.”  The greatest help you can give someone who has lost his way or is mired in sin is to live a holy and virtuous life brimming over with loving-kindness.  Take it from me, the example of my elders and the close reasoning of apologists were not the things that tipped me over into worshipping Christ our Lord.

Instead, it was the meek, humble, honest, decent, and loving co-worker who never returned evil for evil, but instead always returned good for evil.  “Who can live like that?” I said.  Who indeed?  A Christian, a woman filled with the love of God, who knew that God absolutely loves her and gives her the stability and confidence to love those around her, even a sarcastic jerk.  I cannot recall her name, but she changed my life, and her example comes down through the decades to you right here in this church.  We should all be like her.

“Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep.”  When people lose someone close to them, invariably some people say that they don’t know how to talk to them.  This counsel from St. Paul is excellent:  “Weep with them that weep.”  You don’t have to cheer up the sad.  Sometimes, there are most excellent reasons to be sad.  I didn’t need someone to tell me a joke and crack me up when my dog died.  I needed someone to commiserate with me, to share my sufferings, even if only a little.

Likewise, when your brother rejoices, rejoice with him!  When your sister rejoices, don’t put your feelings above hers and grow jealous – rejoice with her!  “So we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another.”  When our brother weeps, open up your heart and weep a little with your brother.  When your sisters rejoices, open up your heart and rejoice with your sister.

We are now come to the end of today’s Epistle Lesson.  This last part is hard for us:  “Be of the same mind one toward another. Mind not high things, but condescend to men of low estate.”

I’ve said before that there is only one thing needed to be welcomed to St. Luke Church:  A soul.  But there are many divisions within our society that have nothing to do with whether we have souls or not or even whether we have faith or not.  We have the high and haughty of this society which look down their noses at those they perceive to be of lower class.  And we have the working and poor folk who look down their noses at those they perceive to be rich and snobby.

These are unholy and unchristian distinctions.  The early Church encompassed all believers.  We do not have eight different parishes spread throughout Augusta, catering to different races, classes, strata, or other such things.  No.  Our primary identifier in this society must be that of Christian, a follower of Christ.  You cannot take anything else with you when you go to Heaven.  All you will have is Christ.  All you need is Christ.

For a long time, I very much sought to live inside my identity as a Georgian and a Southerner.  And I am not ashamed by either label.  But one day, kneeling before the Blessed Sacrament at Benediction, I sang the hymn, “O Saving Victim Opening Wide”.  I regularly did this.  But this one evening, something was different.  As I sang, “O grant us life that shall not end / in our true native land with thee”, I heard it differently than before.  Where is my true native land?  With Thee, with Christ in Heaven above.  Everything else is dross, is consumable, will be burned in the cleansing fire.

And so I followed my call up north to Wisconsin, and from there to Illinois.  For five years I sojourned amongst the Yankees, and found that I was brother to them and they were to me.  For all of us who are in Christ are one.  We are “members one of another”.  We are joined in a way that mysteriously transcends the foolishness of the world.  I know this seems wildly ridiculous, very pie-in-the-sky.  But Christ is real.  God created the world.  If you look around and see the hatred, war, theft, murder, assault, rape, abortion, prostitution, and domestic violence around you, if you look around and see the graft, corruption, manipulation, unbridled greed, and downright lies, you will see the filth that we live in.  We are called out of that.  We are called out to leave that behind.

But if we answer that call, if we turn our backs on the warped selfishness which has enslaved our home and instead turn to Christ, we must change our lives.  We must love one another through thick and thin.  When I served at the Episcopal cathedral in Peoria, one of the men was convicted of a crime.  We all threw him a going away party the night before he went to prison and looked after his family while he was gone.  The bishop drove him to the prison gate.  Now that’s loving your brother.  That’s not kicking a man when he was down.

We must reach out to those who slap our hands away.  And we must do it without self-congratulation and pride.  Humbly, knowing that all lovely things are a gift from God and no doing of our own, humbly we lift our hands up to Heaven and thank the good Lord for his gracious mercies.  And with loving-kindness and gratitude in our hearts for our Lord above, loving the Lord our God with all our hearts, with all our souls, and with all our minds, we turn our gaze to earth and love our neighbors as ourselves.

 

Bless them which persecute you: bless, and curse not. Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep. Be of the same mind one toward another.

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I want you to commit to two things today:

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

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

 

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

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

 

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