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Posts Tagged ‘Philippians’

“I THANK my God upon every remembrance of you”

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

 

 

“Our Highest Calling”

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

 

 

“I THANK my God upon every remembrance of you “

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

 

 

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

 

 

“I THANK my God upon every remembrance of you”

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

 

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“Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.”

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

 

Good tidings of great joy

 

Holy fear is a gift of the Holy Ghost.  It is the appropriate awe of God and the deep recognition of his otherness.  God is creator; he creates.  We are creatures; we are created.  We are utterly dependent upon him; God, thankfully, takes great pity upon us.

There is an impassable gap between Heaven and earth, between the realm where God splendidly lives in ineffable light and this mortal realm where those we love grow sick and die, where we constantly struggle against sin and each other, where even after a good day’s work we ache.  We and God are far, far away from each other.

Sadly, we are the ones who caused this gap, this distance between God and ourselves.  Our ancient ancestors, Adam and Eve, first sinned.  Ah, true, they were tempted.  But temptation doesn’t make a sin.  The sinful heart turns that opportunity of temptation into a sin.

That original disobedience from our Heavenly Father thrust us out into a world of our own making.  I don’t know about you, but I can spend a lot of time on a project, going over and over it again, and still find mistakes on the finished product.  I would rather live in a world of God’s making rather than one of my own.

Or at least I tell myself that.  In fact, I prove with my every act of rebellion against God that I want to live in my own world that is centered on me.  And I am not the only one.  If you listen to your own heart, you too will hear it beating for yourself and not for another.

For God, who is our creator and is so high above us, to become man, He had to abase Himself, to set aside His rightful place, to bear indignities for our sake.  Philippians ii.6-7:  “[W]ho, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: but made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men:”

Imagine if you had to become again a helpless newborn baby.  You would go mad from lack of control over your own body and from the indignities you would face.  Yet God the Son created the universe from nothing, created all life and our very race from dust, and He voluntarily came down to live amongst us in such a limited fashion.  But even as a baby, He was still fully God the Son.

For what is great in the eyes of man is not great in the eyes of God.  The shepherds are lowly in the eyes of this world, but in the eyes of God the Father, they are worthy for his angelic hosts to sing the announcement of God the Son’s human birth.

The word St. Luke uses for glad tidings has the same root as evangelize and evangelist.  Those “glad tidings” are truly the Good News, for God has come to redeem his people.  We are no longer alone in the cosmos.  We are no longer ultimately separated by sin and death from our loving creator.  Heaven bowed down and kissed earth that night in Judea.  The world will never be the same.

And indeed, the world never has been the same.  Around the world the Good News of Christ our Lord spreads.  In this last year, Christians in the Congo, in Egypt, and in Nigeria have lost their mortal lives amidst the business of saving their eternal lives.  The world today is as sinful and difficult as it was for those shepherds on the hill outside of Bethlehem the day before Christ was born, with one difference:  God is now with us.  Our savior has lived among us.  He comes to us in every celebration of the Lord’s Supper.

And just as Christ first came into this world quietly in a stable, so He will come again to right every wrong, to lock sin and death away for all eternity, so that we might live with Him in glory everlasting with God, with the holy angels, with the holy martyrs, and with all our spiritual brothers and sisters.

It is on this day of Christ’s birth that the world changes.  Christ comes and turns the world upside down.  What is expedient in the ways of the world is revealed to be wicked.  What is foolish in the ways of the world is revealed to be holy.  Loving-kindness replaces selfishness as the smart way to live your life.  Loving your neighbor as yourself kicks loving yourself first and foremost off its idolatrous pedestal.

But it is not only we poor creatures huddled together for warmth in the face of the cold night outside for whom Christ comes.  Christ comes and redeems the whole world, for in saving us, He also saves the world:  The world of all humanity, by craftily subverting the faithful into living lives honoring Him and not the world:  But also the wider world of all creation, for it is on Christmas Day, on the Feast of Christ’s Nativity that God the Son sanctifies the material world with His very own presence.  The supernatural and the natural, the spiritual and the physical, the immaterial and the material meet in Christ.

St. Francis of Assisi, one of my favorite saints, made the first Christmas crèche in Greccio on Christmas Eve 1223.  He made a scene with a live baby surrounded by live animals.  He did this so that we would not only understand with our heads that God is very near us, but so that we could feel in our hearts that God is very near us.

In the nativity scene I grew up with, the Holy Family gathered in the middle while animals were off to each side.  Above them, angels kept watch and sang the Lord’s praises.  All three levels of creation were visibly represented to me there:  The angels up above, creatures of pure spirit; the animals on either side, creatures of pure flesh; and the Holy Family in the middle, creatures of both flesh and spirit.  Christ came to become one of us, and in doing so, He redeemed every part of God’s creation.

The angelic host of Heaven sings with joy and celebrates the Advent of Christ into our lives.  All God’s spiritual creatures sing out with gladness for the great love and mercy which the Father has bestowed upon us, which the Holy Ghost has made possible, in that the Son now breathes with a boy’s nostrils the air of our earth.

We regale each other with stories of how a president slept in a specific house or how some famous figure touched the lives of one of our ancestors.  But here we speak of the True King of all that ever was, that is, and ever will be living amongst shepherds and sheep and lying in a manger.  The idea is too wondrous for us.  We choke on it, thinking that He must not be so majestic to live with such common folk.

And friends, that is what the world will tell you tomorrow.  Foolishly thinking Christmas to be over, they will tell you that this Christ is not so majestic after all.  “He’s a fable, a story.  He’s so far lost in the mists of mythology that we actually don’t know anything about Him at all.  He’s all well and good for the fools and simpletons who need Him as a crutch, but I am important and have things to do.”  And indeed, some desperate souls will think these things.

But for those of us who travel with Him to that manger crib in Bethlehem, we have met our Lord Christ.  That is why I have included in each bulletin a Christmas devotion I encourage you to use throughout the Twelve Days of Christmas – right up until January 6th, the Epiphany.  But whether or not you use this particular devotion, think on the gift of God’s presence both now and into eternity from our God and Savior Jesus Christ:  I warmly encourage you to give Christ yourself in return.  After all, before we loved Him, He loved us first.

 

 

Christ came to us to take His place amongst us as flawed and fallible people struggling against temptation and living between birth and death.  Never before had God taken upon Himself such vulnerability.  Never before had God come, not in booming voice or cloud or fire, but in human flesh, not simply appearing like one of us, but actually becoming one of us.  We can say Christ is our brother more truly than we can call an angel or a horse our brother, for Christ truly is born of a woman into the family of Man.  Christ knew the love of a child for his mother.  He knew the sweat and exertion of physical toil with his earthly father.  He knew the camaraderie of the disciples.  He knew temptation, betrayal, suffering, and death.  And He is the first of all men to know the eternal reality of Resurrection — but He won’t be the last.

For it is through this veil of His human flesh that we come to enter into Heaven.  We are able to enter into the Holies of Holies in Heaven “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;”  Christ does not only come to earth and become a newborn Jewish boy in Bethlehem to live alongside of us.  No, He comes down to us and becomes one of us so that we follow Him up into Heaven, into His Resurrection, into the presence of God the Father in the Holy Ghost forevermore.

Our human world, our world of family, of temptations, of nations and wars, of sickness and death, this our human world has on Christmas morning been pierced with the lava-hot loving-kindness of God’s own presence.  God is this day with us.  Christ our Lord is born in Bethlehem so that He may live amongst us, to the end that He might show us His love, become the way to salvation, die upon the Cross for our redemption, and leave us His Church.

And tonight we remember and recollect that blessed night over two thousand years ago when God the Son came to us in that little child.  Tonight we celebrate the invasion of this world of sin and sadness, death and decay by the Prince of Peace, the King of Kings, the Lord of Lords, the Alpha and the Omega.  We look forward to when that little boy will come again as a conquering king on the Last Day, when He shall come to judge the living and the dead.

Because God became Man in Christ our Lord, we are free.  We are free from the sins and mistakes of our past. That is what makes this night so special.

So tonight, let us gather around the Christmas crib and forget ourselves for a moment, letting ourselves rest and worshipping Christ our God and our Savior.

 

“Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.”

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

 

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“…Walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, with all lowliness and meekness, with long-suffering, forbearing one another in love; endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”

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

 

Fr. F. P. Harton, Dean of Wells in the Church of England and great scholar and believer wrote:  “Humility consists in seeing oneself truly, as one is in the sight of God, nothing more nor less, realizing that one’s whole being, with whatever is good in it, is God’s though defiled by one’s own sin; and in desiring that place and those things only which God wills for us, loving His will above all things and one’s own not at all.”

Humility is not a popular virtue, but a necessary one for the Christian soul.  Why?  Because God loves humility.

–        In the Magnificat, the wonderful song of St. Mary:  “For he hath regarded the low estate of his handmaiden: for, behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.”

–        In St. Luke xviii.13-14:  “And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner.  I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.”

–        Also, the same in today’s Gospel:  “For whosoever exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.”

–        St. Augustine, that great Doctor of the Church, prayed:  “Diffidam mihi, fidam in Te.”  Let me distrust myself and put my trust in Thee.

Our prayers are not magic.  They are not incantations that effect a change in the world.  Instead, our prayers are conversation with the great Creator and Redeemer of the world.  The only way our prayers are efficacious and effect change in the world is when we come to God as we are, without pretense, without deceit, and without pride.  If we come to God to seek his face, but spend our time preening in front of a spiritual mirror, looking only at ourselves, then our time is wasted.  We must see who and what we are and then let go of ourselves to reach out and cling to safety to the great sovereign Lord of the universe.

Philippians ii.3:  “In lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself.”  If I think that I am better than another person, then I fundamentally misconstrue that person’s relationship with God, God’s relationship with me, and my relationship with that person.  If I think that I am better than another person, then I am wrongly and sinfully giving myself higher honor than another.  And what does Christ say of this in today’s Gospel?  “Give this man place; and thou begin with shame to take the lowest place.”

When we sin, when we see that sin in ourselves, let us humbly turn to the Lord our God, and seeing his great love for us, confess our sin and turn from it entirely.

Fr. Bede Frost said:  “Humility … consists in a true knowledge and acknowledgement of what one is….”  Humility lies in accepting that we are so very weak and God is so very strong, that we are so very wicked and God is so very good, that we are so very thoughtless and God is so very mindful of us, that we are so very weak and unable to help ourselves and God is so very powerful and ready to help us.  We act in humility when we behold ourselves as we truly are in right relation with each other.

Any way we act towards our neighbors which is not grounded in love is foolish, for it is not building us treasure in heaven.  Our default position regarding others is to use them to get us what we want, whether we want recognition and respect, whether we want advancement and profit, whether we want good feelings, or whether we want darker things.  Christ did not come to us for His Own sake, for Christ needed nothing, for Christ is God.  No, Christ came to us to save us from the mess we have made.  Christ did not come to profit from us, but to give us blessings upon blessings, to save our lives for all eternity, to show us loving-kindness and heavenly grace.  If we walk in the way of the Cross, then we too will suffer and die, but we will live in love and live for all eternity.

Our primary responsibility to God is to love him; likewise, our primary responsibility to our fellow man is to love him.  And if we love like Christ, then we love our fellow man even, or especially, when he is not lovable, when he hates us, when he mocks us, when he insults us, when he lies to others about us, when he sins against us – all these things in no wise bar us from loving him, but indeed show that he needs our love more than ever.  In all humility, we see that we, too, are sinners and have done others wrong, have done God wrong.  We have no superior standing to answer insult with insult, hate with hate, sin with sin.  Seeing ourselves as we really are, sinners who have hurt our neighbors and hurt our good God, we humbly love one another as Christ has loved us.

Once we have taken our blinders off and taken a long hard look at ourselves, and knowing what we know about ourselves, we are to always treat ourselves harsher than we treat others.  All the great saints have done the same.  The holiest teachers of Christian morality throughout the ages – St. Francis of Assisi, St. Dominic, St. Alphonsus – have applied exceptional rigor to their own spiritual lives while acknowledging the weak humanity in the lives of others.  We should all pull a breath, give our neighbor a break, and come down on ourselves doubly hard.  Examine your conscience so carefully and regularly so never to let those who hate you truly condemn you of something you have not condemned in yourself already.

I understand that a couple of weeks ago that Fr. Rosenkranz said that anxiety and prayerful living were contradictory.  Let me add to that:  Anxiety and humble living are contradictory.  St. Luke xii.27-28:  “Consider the lilies how they grow: they toil not, they spin not; and yet I say unto you, that Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.  If then God so clothe the grass, which is to day in the field, and to morrow is cast into the oven; how much more will he clothe you, O ye of little faith?”  The Lord will provide for us; do not worry, he loves us and sends us good things.

Yet our anxiety comes from a perception of ourselves in the world which is wrong and leads us to desiring things we ought not to desire, to expecting things which never come, and to feeling dissatisfied with the lot the Lord has given us.  Our anxiety betrays our mistrust of the providence of God the Father.  This is not accurate; this is a false view of God and his creation; this is no good.

There are two ways to gain humility:  Following Christ and accepting humiliations.

To follow Christ means, after having taken a good look at oneself and learning of our profound and utter poverty of soul, and then moving on from there, that we behold Christ as He is in the Scriptures and in the Sacraments, in His infinite Being, and in His unimaginable goodness and reaching a profound feeling of Him or a deepened faith in Him.

To accept humiliations means to practice humility in the best and foremost way of practicing it:  Not only to experience, not only to acknowledge, but to embrace and to accept the humiliations which come your way during the course of your life.

To accept a rebuke is one of the most powerful spiritual acts you can commit.  To truly thank another for his criticism of you frees your soul.  Taking responsibility for one’s own actions is something I hope that we learn in the process of growing up, but many an adult try to slip out of bad consequences.  It is no lie that priests ought not to grant absolution to a criminal who is unwilling to answer for his crimes.  If we resist the humiliation or make light of the slight, then we are not accepting the humiliation.

Accept your humiliations and learn from them.  Learn that you are fallible.  Trust not in your own righteousness.  Accept that you have only one savior, and you are not him.  You cannot truly trust in Christ, to lean on Him for salvation, if you really think in the back of your mind that you can pull this off by yourself.  You can’t.  He can.

When we seek to avoid humiliations and deep time with Christ and wish to find our own way to humility and loving-kindness, we err again.  We will not find our own special way to quick and easy humility.  One of the great benefits that older converts to Christianity bring us is an ignorance of the childish faith we passed through to become adults.  They convert to Christianity, wait for virtues to spring up everywhere, and realize that saying “I believe” does not finish their Christian walk.

I will be dead honest with you:  The Christian walk is very difficult.  Many do not make it.  They fall out along the way.  The devil tempts them away.  The world tempts them away.  Their own vices and flesh tempt them away.  Christ’s walk led Him to death on Golgotha, and you can expect the same.  Oh, you might die in your sleep, but that doesn’t make walking the walk instead of talking the talk any less difficult.

Pride is a deadly sin, and its antidote is humility.  Our society thinks very little of humility, and humility is often portrayed as self-abasing untruths.  A lady will put on a grand party, the food, the music, the company will be all excellent, everyone will be impressed, and when complimented she will say, “Oh, I know it’s nothing, but it’s the little bit I could do.”  That’s a lie.  It was a grand party, and everyone had a grand time.  Pictures from it made the newspaper.  It may not advance your salvation a whit, it may mean nothing in the grand scheme of things, but feigning incapacity when excellence has been witnessed is false and self-flattering.

The antidote to the sin of pride is neither more lies nor more sin, but rather more truth – truth told from God’s perspective.

 

“…Walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, with all lowliness and meekness, with long-suffering, forbearing one another in love; endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”

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

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“These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.”

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

 

I John v.4-5:  “For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith.  Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God?”

Peace comes from overcoming the world; those of us who believe in Christ overcome the world, as Christ has overcome the world.

In today’s Gospel, the words of Christ were directed to His disciples.  The scattering of the disciples cannot take away the peace which Christ gives.  This is like Christ not being alone during His crucifixion because He remained in communion with the Father.

Francis Moloney says that “The oneness between Jesus and the Father is Jesus’ assurance of victory, no matter how convincingly the forces of this world may appear to have won the day in the violence that will terminate Jesus’ life.”

So to His initial disciples Christ says that His victory is so universal and complete that He can promise peace to His troubled and failing disciples.  They are unable to accept His departure, they are unable to remain steadfast at His side, they are unable to keep from losing hope, and yet they possess the peace of Christ.  Obviously, this peace does not look like the peace of the world with which we are familiar.

The scattering of the disciples is akin to inexcusable failure among us.

Amidst our own failures, even amidst our own death, when we are so very alone and no one else present shares what we are going through, we are not alone; Christ is with us.  We worry so much about our present cares and worries, about the messes of our families and ourselves, about the pain and consternation others experience that we forget about the example of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, Who when He hung alone on the hard wood of the Cross enjoyed mystic communion with God the Father in Heaven and was by no means alone.  He is our salvation; He is our communion with God the Father in Heaven.  When we are with Him, we are never alone, we are entirely at peace; there is no force in the world, no sin, no temptation, no devil, no enemy that can disrupt us.  If the connection relied upon our own feeble miserable powers, then we would have much to fear.  We should tremble and shake and jump at our own shadow, for death and disgrace would be ready to jump us at any time.  But not so with Christ!  He has won the victory!  He tells us, “I have overcome the world.”  Not just the evil forces of the world, not just the natural calamities of the world, not just the wicked hearts of men who rule the world, but He has overcome the world and all that therein is.  He is supremely victorious.  Christ has defeated death itself.

In ancient classic stories, we read about heroic deeds.  Prometheus stole fire from the gods.  Beowulf slew Grendel.  Hercules killed the Hydra.  But Christ defeated death.  And unlike Prometheus, Beowulf, and Hercules, Christ is a historical figure of antiquity, born a Jew in the Roman Empire and judged by Pilate.  Christ defeated death.  Unless He returns in the Second Advent before our death, we will have to suffer our own personal death.  But as we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, Christ has been there before us, and He will be there with us as we ourselves go.  Even in death, we will not be alone.  Even in death, we will have the peace of God.

The peace of man is peaceful and restful indeed.  When we receive a good night’s sleep, we enjoy a bit of worldly peace.  Nothing stirs us.  Our dreams are lovely.  We awake refreshed.  We do not feel well rested every night, but when we do, we have experienced a bit of worldly peace.

As a child, I fished for bream with a cane pole beside my grandfather.  The occasional breeze through the still hot air, song of a bird, and ploop from the lake when a turtle moved were all I could hear.  We sat in silence; we sat in peace.  I remember those days, and I miss those days.  Fishing with my grandfather was lovely.  But it brought me only a peace of this world.

To look for a deeper peace, I consider my days as a hospital chaplain in the Labor and Delivery ward.  The anxiety, pain, and weariness of the ladies before their child was delivered stay with me.  But I remember many mothers on the other side of their labor.  With exhausted but peaceful smiles, they could hardly take their eyes off their babies.  Mother and child had both passed successfully through the hours of agony and travail.  The mother was no longer expecting; the child who was so long expected was now with the family.  Like a nativity scene, family members and friends and nurses gathered around to adore the mother and child.  The whole child’s life lies before them, with trials and problems and restless nights.  Yet the danger and pain of childbirth has ended.  New life is out into the world.  Tomorrow’s challenges are for tomorrow; today she may rest from her labors.  And yet even this peace, this lovely and blessed peace, is still of this world.

Christ promises a peace which transcends our experience and our imagination.  If we dismiss this peace or consign it to some worldly meaning, then we do it and the bringer of it, Christ Jesus, a disservice.  The peace of God is not necessarily a peace of rest, of comfort, and of recuperation.  The peace of Christ exists when the disciples break discipline and scatter before the enemies of Christ, even though Christ has overcome the world.  This peace of Christ is not dependent upon us, but upon Christ.  This peace of Christ is not brought about by our good works or serene thoughts.  This peace does not come from within.  This peace comes from without; it comes from Christ, as Christ comes from God the Father in Heaven.

When we attempt to build peace for ourselves, we build it on top of things which can neither bear such a tremendous weight nor such a precious cargo.  We build our peace atop a pile of money for financial security.  We build our peace atop a pile of family whom we love and who will support us when we need them.  We build our peace atop a church service that feels comfortable to us instead of one that truly proclaims the Word of God.  We build our peace atop a sense of well-being that accompanies a privileged place in our society, a gentleman, a veteran, a mother, a priest.  We build our peace atop good things that cannot bear the weight, and since they cannot bear the weight, our peace is a lie that is about to crumble beneath and overthrow us.  Only when our peace is built upon the rock of our salvation, Jesus Christ, do we have someone unassailable and sturdy to rely entirely upon.

Peace is promised to us in Holy Scripture.  In Isaiah (ix.6) we read:  “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counseller, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.”

Earlier in St. John’s Gospel (xiv.27), Jesus says:  “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you.  Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.”

St. Paul writes in Philippians (iv.6-7):  “Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.  And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”

We have this peace; we must adjust ourselves to Christ so that we may feel this peace and use it in our lives; we must stop resisting God’s love and plan for us so that we might grow into the mature Christian adults He wants us to be, so that we might enjoy Heaven with Him and serve as a light to this broken and distressed world so that we might bring Christ to others.

Christ’s peace was based upon the unshakable rock of God the Father.  Our hope likewise is to rest on Christ, unshakeable rock that He is, Who has overcome the world and defeated death itself.  We can face anything if we rest in Christ, for what can shake us?  What can move us?  Poor Job did not know Christ when he faced his catastrophes, yet he still had faith in God.  Death cannot break our peace and overthrow us, for Christ is our rock and our salvation and He has defeated death.  The loss of our riches, our families, our homes, our friends all cannot assail the peace of God, because his peace is not predicated upon such secondary goods; it is founded squarely upon Christ Himself.

This is why we love Christ more than our children or our spouses.  Like it or not, we will one day lose our children and our spouses, but we need never lose Christ.  Like it or not, one day we will be separated from that money, but we need never lose Christ.  We may go blind and never see another sunset; our senses of taste and smell might fail so that we never enjoy our favorite meal again.  We may go deaf and not be able to hold a conversation with those around us.  But we need never lose Christ.  If Satan and his evil angels and all the powers of Hell were to assail you when you got home this afternoon, for all the harm and foulness he could do to you, he could never, no not ever, take Christ away from you.  We are absolutely unassailable in our relationship with Jesus Christ.  Nobody can ever take away our Baptism and our salvation.  Nobody can strip away from us our Confirmation and the seven-fold gifts of the Holy Ghost.  Others can take away our property, our freedom, and our lives, but they cannot strip from us our salvation and ultimate peace in Jesus Christ.

Christ has overcome the world, and therein is why the disciples have peace.  Christ has left us to Ascend to the Father, and we are broken and pitiful men and women.  Yet we have the deepest peace there is:  unity with Christ and thereby with the Father, and soon, at Pentecost, with God the Holy Ghost.  We are deeply and profoundly united with God through Christ and in the Holy Ghost.  Amidst the pains and harrowing suffering of this wicked world wherein the Prince of this world has authority, we live with God even now, we have peace even now.

 

“These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.”

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

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