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Posts Tagged ‘prayer’

“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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“he that is greatest among you, let him be as the younger; and he that is chief, as he that doth serve.”

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

 

“The Apostles”

What is an apostle?

‘Apostle’ literally means, ‘one who is sent’.  Which raises the questions, sent by whom?  Sent for what?  And sent where?

The apostles are personally commissioned by our Lord Christ.  They continue Christ’s ministry in His Church and the world by proclaiming the Gospel and governing the Church.  The apostles are sent to all the nations of the earth.

Acts ii.42:  “And they continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers.”

The apostles are key to the continuation of Christ in His Church.  The apostles’ doctrine and fellowship are the doctrine and fellowship of Christ.  They spent three intense years under Christ, not merely learning but being formed by Him, walking with Him in His ministry and Passion.  He spent forty further days explaining all they had experienced through in light of the Resurrection.  They were the first given the Holy Ghost in St. John xx.22 and then more broadly in Acts ii.4 along with the Blessed Virgin Mary.

The apostles possess grace and authority from Christ Himself, which they then passed on to their successors the bishops as the Church grew.  And the Church here on earth grew rapidly while losing many to martyrdom.

The four marks of the Church are found in the Nicene Creed:  One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic.  These four characteristics or marks are found in the Nicene Creed.  Unfortunately, due to a printer’s error centuries ago, our Book of Common Prayer omits the word “Holy”.  Every Sunday we proclaim aloud that the Church is Apostolic.  What then is the character of the apostles?

 

First, apostles are humble.

The Gospel shows the Lord chiding the disciples regarding position and lordship.  Instead, Christ shows another way.  “For whether is greater, he that sitteth at meat, or he that serveth? is not he that sitteth at meat? but I am among you as he that serveth.”  Only the humble may be great in Christ’s kingdom.  They shall rule and lead, but they must serve as they rule.

This is contrary to the way of the world.  Many leaders in the Church have not followed Christ’s path of humility.  But we are called to crucify our old selves and put on Christ.  We must mortify, that is kill off, our old sinful self to put on the Resurrection life of Christ our Lord.

The apostles also continue the ministry of Christ in His Church through their morality and way of life.  The maniple I wear today is derived from the heir of the old deacon’s towel, ready to wipe and to clean.  This humility is also symbolized by the washing of the feet on Maundy Thursday, when the bishop or priest kneels before his people.  Our own archbishop ordinary, that is to say our regular bishop, is quite modest in his life and manners.

 

Second, apostles proclaim the gospel.

Apostles are men duly commissioned by Christ who are sent to preach the Gospel to the whole world, carrying with them Christ’s doctrine in humility and love.  This proclamation of the Word of God is central to their character.  All of them, except St. John, died the martyr’s death preaching the Gospel of Christ.  Today’s Saint Bartholomew is said to have been horribly murdered for converting the King of Armenia through Gospel preaching and the great work of exorcism.  We see this emphasis on preaching the Gospel in Christ’s own words, from St. Peter on Whitsunday or Pentecost, and from St. Paul in Corinth.

Christ tells the remaining eleven disciples in St. Matthew xxviii.18-20 to teach the nations:

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

When the people of Jerusalem wondered if those gathered in the Upper Room who had been given the Holy Ghost on the feast of Pentecost were drunk, St. Peter answered with mighty preaching.  We read the result in Acts ii.37-42:

Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do?  Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.  For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call.  And with many other words did he testify and exhort, saying, Save yourselves from this untoward generation.  Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls.  And they continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers.

St. Paul refers to his own preaching to the church in Corinth in 1 Corinthians xv.1-4, in which he preaches the Gospel he himself was taught:

Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain.  For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures:

The successor to the apostles appointed over us here at St. Luke’s Church is Archbishop Mark Haverland.  He will come to visit us this November 2nd.  He will preach the Gospel, administer the Sacraments, and tend to his flock.  He is the one responsible for our missions both overseas and domestically.  He teaches well and has proven himself to be a staunch and unmovable believer in the Gospel of Christ which he ensures is taught faithfully to you, his faithful people through the likes of me, one of his priests.

 

Third, apostles rule with authority.

Today’s lesson from Acts refers to the wondrous workings of St. Peter, showing that the apostles held healing power comparable to Christ.  St. Paul does similar work later in the Acts.  The apostles work wondrous miracles, they are to be a paradigm of humility according to the Gospel, they preserve the Lord’s doctrine, they form the core of the Church’s fellowship, and they are to become the rulers of Israel.

We ought to remember that the wonderful works and teachings and love shown forth the apostles and their successors are not theirs; they are Christ’s.  Without Christ, none of us can do any good work, can teach God’s honest truth, or love one another and God with all our hearts, with all our souls, and with all our minds.  All our good works, teaching, and love bear fruit in Christ alone.

The Church today is in continuity with the Apostolic Church through the Apostolic Succession.  Our own bishop has received the ensured Sacramental grace of Holy Order through both touching hands on heads and by practicing today the faith of the early Church.  Our doctrine conforms to the doctrine of the early Church.  If it does not, then we must reform so that it does so conform.

The Church is Apostolic because she keeps the faith delivered to her by Christ through the apostles and the successors of the apostles, the bishops.  Their consecrated touch in the Sacrament of Holy Order freely and certainly bestows the Holy Ghost which enables them to perform the work necessary to their calling.  This is clearly shown by St. Clement before the end of the first Century, conforms to the Holy Scriptures, supported by others immediately afterward, and taught throughout the Catholic Church.

Today’s Gospel shows that the Lord will have the Twelve Apostles judge the tribes of Israel.  As those ministers directly commissioned by Christ to grow the Church which He has planted, the apostles have the authority to rule over the Church.

After Pentecost, the apostles delegate authority to bishops, or overseers.  The Greek word for bishop is episcoposEpi means “over” and skopeo means “to see”.  A bishop oversees the church.  They continue the apostolic rule of those of Christ’s own ministry to Christ’s own Church.

Today, we crave Christ’s ministry amongst us.  Christ knew we would, and so He appointed those who would continue His ministry to the Church.  The apostles and the heirs of the apostles provide this leadership.  They are a great blessing from Christ to us.

The bishops ensure we hear the true Gospel every Sunday.  The bishops ensure every priest is vetted and trained before ordination.  That is why I read the Si Quis this morning, so that if any of you had something the bishop needed to know about Dr. Malone before his ordination, he would hear it.  Bishops convene synods of all the parishes, intervene in disturbed parish situations, discipline the clergy, and try to keep unity with good discipline and proper dogma with other Christian bodies.

 

Ask the holy apostles for their prayers.  They were personally selected by Christ, taught by him, and died for him.  They are alive in Christ in His Body, the Church Triumphant in Heaven.

Pray for your bishop, Archbishop Haverland, and your priests, Father Martin and me.  Christ has given us grace in the Holy Ghost to continue His work amongst his people.  But we are still frail sinful men like yourselves.  Pray that we stay humble, proclaim the true Gospel, and rule with loving-kindness and authority.

 

“he that is greatest among you, let him be as the younger; and he that is chief, as he that doth serve.”

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

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“O LORD, who for our sake didst fast forty days and forty nights; Give us grace to use such abstinence, that, our flesh being subdued to the Spirit we may ever obey thy godly motions in righteousness, and true holiness, to thy honour and glory, who livest and reignest with the Father and the Holy Ghost, one God, world without end. Amen.”

 

Christ as Example of Obedience to God

 

Why do we do give alms and fast and pray and deny ourselves during Lent?  To a great extent, we do it so that we “may ever obey [Christ’s] godly motions in righteousness and true holiness.”

But how does obedience to the example of Christ help us?  To understand that, we must first go to the beginning.  Here is much of the second and the third chapters of the First Book of Moses, Genesis (ii.7-9 and ii.15-iii.24):

7 And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.

8 And the LORD God planted a garden eastward in Eden; and there he put the man whom he had formed.

9 And out of the ground made the LORD God to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of knowledge of good and evil.

15 And the LORD God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it.

16 And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat:

17 But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.

18 And the LORD God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him.

21 And the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam, and he slept: and he took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh instead thereof;

22 And the rib, which the LORD God had taken from man, made he a woman, and brought her unto the man.

23 And Adam said, This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.

24 Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.

25 And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed.

1 Now the serpent was more subtil than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said unto the woman, Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden?

2 And the woman said unto the serpent, We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden:

3 But of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God hath said, Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die.

4 And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die:

5 For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.

6 And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat.

7 And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons.

8 And they heard the voice of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day: and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God amongst the trees of the garden.

9 And the LORD God called unto Adam, and said unto him, Where art thou?

10 And he said, I heard thy voice in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.

11 And he said, Who told thee that thou wast naked? Hast thou eaten of the tree, whereof I commanded thee that thou shouldest not eat?

12 And the man said, The woman whom thou gavest to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I did eat.

13 And the LORD God said unto the woman, What is this that thou hast done? And the woman said, The serpent beguiled me, and I did eat.

14 And the LORD God said unto the serpent, Because thou hast done this, thou art cursed above all cattle, and above every beast of the field; upon thy belly shalt thou go, and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life:

15 And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.

16 Unto the woman he said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.

17 And unto Adam he said, Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying, Thou shalt not eat of it: cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life;

19 In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.

20 And Adam called his wife’s name Eve; because she was the mother of all living.

22 And the LORD God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil: and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever:

23 Therefore the LORD God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from whence he was taken.

24 So he drove out the man; and he placed at the east of the garden of Eden Cherubims, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life.

 

Adam was utterly dependent upon God.  God gave him his life, gave him his mastery over all creation.  God created him a helpmate suited for him.  He depended upon God for all things.  He utterly trusted God.  God told Adam that he may eat of every tree in the Garden except only the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  And prodded by the temptations of the Devil, Adam’s own flesh, his wife, gives him the fruit of the tree, and he did eat it.  And his eyes having been opened, there was no way to unopen them.  There was no way to unring that bell.

Immediately Adam lost his faith in God, his trust in God the Father with whom he conversed in the Garden.  For you see, our first ancestors walked and talked with God in the cool of the day, innocent as lambs and naked as jaybirds.  But when Adam ate that fruit, his unexamined innocent trust in God collapsed like an old shack in a thunderstorm.

When we lost our innocent trust in God, our faith in the Almighty, then we lost everything.

Punishments are meted out.  But the main thing here is that Adam absolutely knew God in a personal relationship like two friends taking a stroll through a garden.  God gave Adam everything, except the poisonous knowledge that interrupted God’s plan of a lovely creation which glorified him.  Adam and Eve clothe themselves, hide from God, blame others, suffer curses, and are driven out of the luxurious Garden of nature at peace with itself and us.  We worry about environmental change now, but the greatest damage occurred when we lost the Garden, when the earth lost the Garden.

Adam threw away his experiential and existential love of and trust in God.  We and all the cosmos suffer for his great sin.

*That* is the proper context in which to understand today’s Gospel lesson.

For what Adam threw away, Christ picked back up.  When Adam sought to eat that which was forbidden to him by God and offered to him by Satan, Christ refused to eat that which was offered Satan and ate only what was offered to him by God.  Adam disobeyed, and we all therefore die.  Christ obeyed, and we all therefore live.  Christ brought us back to God by restoring the profound trust, reliance, and faith in God.  Christ was God become Man Who lived a perfect human life while remaining perfect God.  In Christ, God and Man are joined together.  We are saved through Christ, we become inheritors of eternal life in Him, and through the veil of His flesh we enter into Heaven.

 

There are very many parallels between this section of Genesis and our Lord Christ and even the Blessed Virgin Mary.  Indeed, God’s curse upon the serpent in Genesis iii.15, “And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.” is called the Protoevangelium, a glimpse at the Gospel to come.

Consider also Genesis iii.19.  God told Adam, “In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.”  But Christ said in St. John vi.48-51, “I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.”

Moreover, St. Paul says in Romans v.17-19:  “For if by one man’s offence death reigned by one; much more they which receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness shall reign in life by one, Jesus Christ.)  Therefore as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life.  For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous.”  Where Adam brought in sin and death, Christ brought in righteousness and everlasting life.

So what has this to do with Lent?  We have just begun our forty-day adventure, preparing “our selves, our souls and bodies” for the great high Feast of Easter, the annual celebration of Christ’s Resurrection from the dead.  Today’s Gospel shows us how Christ, too, went through a forty-day trial in the wilderness.  Through faithfulness and trust in God the Father, Christ withstands the full force of Satanic temptation, alluring, powerful, and striking in the hour of greatest need.

God specifically told Adam not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  This is a command not to do one thing.  And Adam did that one thing.

The Fall was predicated upon the only commandment God gave being broken.  But the penalty and consequences of this lapse into sin caused misery, suffering, and death for the entire cosmos.  We still fail to obey God in all we do and say.  We are still wounded by this vile infection of distrust.  So Christ had to come down from Heaven to become one of us and absolutely and completely live out a life of faithful righteousness.

 

We do not give alms and fast and pray and deny ourselves in order to get holy enough to be acceptable to God.  We can never make up for our sins and alienation from God.  God has accomplished the work of reconciliation, of salvation, in Christ our Lord.  We cannot add to it.  God provides everything we need both in the Garden of Eden eons ago and in Augusta today.

Our almsgiving and fasting and praying and denial of ourselves help us grow closer to our Lord Christ.  We are mystically joined in Him and made one body with Him.  The Holy Ghost within us uses our little offerings to grow more and more like our good Lord.  He makes our pitiful hearts like his Sacred Heart, full of loving-kindness and mercy.  Our feeble efforts at love are expertly and divinely guided by the Holy Spirit of God to become more like Christ’s great offering of love on the Cross.  That is why we give and fast and pray and deny ourselves:  So that we might love like God loves.

 

“O LORD, who for our sake didst fast forty days and forty nights; Give us grace to use such abstinence, that, our flesh being subdued to the Spirit we may ever obey thy godly motions in righteousness, and true holiness, to thy honour and glory, who livest and reignest with the Father and the Holy Ghost, one God, world without end. Amen.”

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“And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible.”

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

 

St. Paul clearly says in today’s Epistle both to strive and to gain an incorruptible crown.  Faith is a gift.  Growing into the likeness of God is a gift.  Salvation is a gift.  Yet our striving matters.  But it is a gift.  This confuses us.

Today’s Gospel lesson provides us a parable which helps explain this.  The goodman of the house goes out time and again to hire laborers for his field.  Despite the difference in time worked, he pays them all the same.  Each one of the laborers worked, but the pay they received said nothing about how much they worked and said everything about the generosity of the goodman.

We work with God in our salvation.  God esteems our labor, poor that it may be in his infinite majesty.  We must labor in order to get paid.  Yet we are not paid in accordance with our labor.

We live in a city of wreckage this Sunday morning, even after crews have been working to restore power and fix roads and houses for days.  The storm hit us very hard.  Thankfully, the earthquake seems to have caused no damage.

Among many, I am thankful for the out-of-town utility crews that have been fixing our power lines.  But we cannot simply rest easy and sit back while they come and restore our power.  Other things need to be done.  At the very least, we need to gather up sticks and put them aside for the county to pick up.  We must clean our refrigerators and freezers.  Even though the professionals are doing the heavy lifting, we must handle the small stuff.  Our homes are not back into good order without a little bit of elbow grease on our part.

So it is with the grace of God.  We are entirely stuck without power until he bestows upon us grace from beyond ourselves, grace which we cannot manage on our own.  And yet the job is not entirely done without our participation.

So God has chosen us and adopted us in Holy Baptism and given us grace upon grace in our lives.  But we must participate in this grace, we must work with this grace, but we may not work for this grace.  The distinction is between working in order to gain something and working alongside and in conjunction with something.

Isaiah tells a powerful story at the beginning of his fifth chapter.  Let me read it to you.

Now will I sing to my wellbeloved a song of my beloved touching his vineyard.  My wellbeloved hath a vineyard in a very fruitful hill:  And he fenced it, and gathered out the stone thereof, and planted it with the choicest vine, and built a tower in the midst of it, and also made a winepress therein:  and he looked that it should bring forth grapes, and it brought forth wild grapes.  And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem, and men of Judah, judge, I pray you, betwixt me and my vineyard.  What could have been done more to my vineyard, that I have not done in it?  Wherefore, when I looked that it should bring forth grapes, brought it forth wild grapes?  And now go to:  I will tell you what I will do to my vineyard:  I will take away the hedge thereof, and it shall be eaten up; and break down the wall thereof, and it shall be trodden down:  And I will lay it waste:  it shall not be pruned, nor digged; but there shall come up briers and thorns:  I will also command the clouds that they rain no rain upon it.  For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah his pleasant plant:  and he looked for judgement, but behold oppression; for righteousness, but behold a cry.

Here, the Lord does everything but the people do not contribute their little part.  Isaiah shows that the Lord will prepare a great thing, but if the people do not do it, not only does it not get done, but the Lord will judge the contrary people.

The Lord gave all manner of goodness to Israel, and Israel spurned God’s love and pursued their own ends.  And lest we too quickly hasten to condemn Israel, we do this ourselves all too often.  We substitute what we want for what God has clearly communicated to us.  We substitute our fleshly desires over holy discipline.  We substitute sentimentality over truth and love.  We substitute feeling good and avoiding bad feelings over pursuing holiness.

God has given us good things.  He has communicated his will to us.  He has sent His only-begotten Son into the world to save us from our sins.  He has sent the Holy Ghost into the world to dwell in us, making us tabernacles of God himself.  And yet we run rampant, choosing our own way.  We say with our lips that we love God and our neighbor, but we act like strangers to both neighbor and God.

We ought to pray as Thomas Wilson, sometime Bishop of Sodor and Man, once prayed, “Grant that the end of all my actions, and designs, may be the glory of God.”

This glory of God for which we must strive St. Paul likens to the prize of an athletic contest.  Many of us have been watching – when we have electricity – the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi.  In the Olympics, individuals and teams strive for the gold.  In ancient Greece, athletes strove for laurels, that is, a crown of olive.

St. Paul mentions the crown in II Timothy ii.5:  “And if a man also strive for masteries, yet is he not crowned, except he strive lawfully.”

St. Peter mentions the crown in his first epistle:  “And when the chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away.”

St. John mentions the crown in Revelation ii.10b:  “be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life.”

And again, St. Paul mentions winning the crown in today’s Epistle:  “And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible.”

These bring to my mind my favorite quote of St. John Vianney:  “All that we do without offering it to God is wasted.”  Indeed, all that we do without God is ineffectual.  While our cares and concerns may seem important now, time will wear away even the greatest of monuments, age will wipe away the most notable of lineages.  All that is worthy, all that is eternal, all that is virtuous is the Lord’s.

Either you have the crown or you don’t.  And the crown is bestowed upon you, it is not earned.

We need sustained discipline.  Christians are spiritual athletes, and if we are spiritually lazy, digesting poor spiritual food, and not exercising what God gave us, then we will be sorry spiritual athletes indeed.  We must exercise vigorously whether we feel like it or not, listen to our teachers and coaches, eat a proper diet, get enough sleep, and avoid harmful things.

We are not competing against one another.  Instead of a race with one winner, all who run the race swiftly and with vigor will win the crown which God alone bestows upon his elect.  But we must run.  We must run our hearts out.  We run a difficult course with treacherous obstacles and dangerous challenges.  In this race, some racers will be tempted to quit the course.

We must hold our bodies in subject to our wills and hold our wills in subject to God’s will.  The way of Christ is tough and exacting.  Soon enough, we will again walk the road to Calvary with Christ and intensely recall how difficult the Via Dolorosa has always been.  Running a race whilst carrying your cross is impossible without the grace of God, whose grace, thankfully, he freely bestows upon us.  He loves us.  He desires us to join in his victory.  He does not want a single one of us to turn from God and consort with the enemy.  He wants abundant life for us all.

So how do we run this race to the satisfaction of God?

The minimum that we can do are the Duties of Churchmen.  But these are not enough.  And there is no maximum that we can do.

But still, first we faithfully fulfill the Duties of Churchmen.  These duties are:

1. Worship God in Church every Sunday and Holy Day of Obligation

2. Receive Holy Communion at least three times a year

3. Keep the fasts of the Church

4. Keep a clean conscience by confessing our sins and seeking righteousness

5. Tithe and give alms

6. Obey the Church’s Law of Marriage

In addition, we must regularly spend time with God in prayer:  adoration, thanksgiving, and confession.  Do not worry yourself about naming lists of loved ones to God.  Marvel at God, gaze upon him, and thank him.  Confess your sins and faults and grow close to him.  And here’s something important that we so often miss:  Slowly and thoughtfully pray the Lord’s Prayer every day.  You may always come to me and ask for more after you do that.

Finally, we must live righteous lives.  Are you living in a sinful situation?  Stop it.  Stop it now.  Don’t reason with evil – avoid it.  If you are living in fornication, or stealing from others, or shirking your duty, or disrespecting your parents, or greedily desiring more than you need, stop it immediately.  Follow the Ten Commandments and all Christian morality.

In all we do, we are to exercise our wills so that we may love our God and our fellow man more fully.  Virtue, communion with God, and righteous living all help us love God more fully and thereby love our neighbors more fully as well.

If you faithfully fulfill the six Duties of Churchmen, pray adequately and earnestly every day, and live a life of increasing righteousness, then you are well on your way to running the race worthy of a crown.  But remember, you never earn it.  You can never do enough to satisfy God.  God will grant you your crown of glory because he wants to, not because you feel – or don’t feel – like you deserve it.  In God’s open and free love does he give us all that we need for eternal life with him.  Accept the goodness and grace which flows from God and strive mighty hard to live a life worthy of Christ in the Holy Ghost.

 

“And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible.”

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

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