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St. Matthew xxv.41:  “Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels:”

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

 

I read an anonymous quote this week which seemed appropriate to share with you this Sunday, the fourth of the Four Last Things, Hell:  “Everyone will live forever. Not everyone will enjoy it.”

 

Satan hates us so very much.  For all the rebellion and hatred he bears to God, he cannot hurt God directly, for God is all powerful.  Even when he thought he could hurt Christ, he could not tempt Him into sin.  He could not break Christ on the Cross.  Instead, Christ broke the power of Satan and Hell on the Cross.

However, Satan can hurt God’s creatures.  Unlike the angels, we men are made in the image of God.  Satan seeks to destroy us like a ravening lion. So when Old Scratch and his demons get their filthy claws on us in Hell, they torture for all eternity.

Both man and angel are created, are designed, are built to bask in the presence of the great giver of life, the Lord God Almighty.  As much as man and angel may hate God and seek to flee from his presence, so both are horribly distressed by great longing for God.  That impure corrupted longing turned long ago into distorted loathing and hatred and contempt for the erstwhile object of love.

As Fr. Von Cochem says about the Devil:

Of all the fallen spirits, not one is so abominable as the chief of all, the haughty Lucifer, whose cruelty, malice and spite render him an object of dread not merely to the damned, but also to the devils subject to him. This Lucifer is called by various names in Holy Scriptures, all indicating his malignity. On account of his repulsiveness he is called a dragon; on account of his ferocity, a lion; on account of his malice, the old serpent; on account of his deceitfulness, the father of lies; on account of his haughtiness, king over all the children of pride; and on account of his great power and might, the prince of this world.

The other devils and demons are fallen angels who are not as mighty or created as perfectly good as Lucifer, and therefore are not so evil and ugly as him.  Just as men often in Scripture behold angels and attempt to worship them because of their beauty and goodness, so we would hardly be able to abide the presence of demons in their unhidden form because of their ugliness and wickedness.  That we can scarcely contemplate how miserable in appearance devils are is why they are often portrayed in a gruesome and grotesque manner.

Immediately after making my confession on retreat at Holy Spirit monastery in Conyers, I was visited in a nightmare by a creature so horrible in countenance that I could only barely describe it.  I was immensely terrified and would have been frightened away from spiritual matters entirely – thus acquiescing to the damning of my soul – were I not fortified in the Holy Sacraments and prayer.  The Sacraments are the grace of God the Son and prayer is ultimately of God the Father – when mediated by God the Holy Ghost, we are invincible to all demonic spiritual attack.

Hell is the place reserved for Satan, his demons, and cursed men.  It is a place of everlasting fire.  St. Matthew xxv.41:  “Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels:”  Hell is real and everlasting, as is Heaven.  The wicked and damned go to Hell forever, and the righteous and saved go to Heaven forever.  St. Matthew xxv.46:  “And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.”

The Roman Christians in antiquity would stand prayerfully together as they would be mauled to death by wild animals in the Coliseum.  They could die heroically at peace in our Lord while vicious beasts, deranged by hunger, would pounce upon them, pull them down, and tear their flesh with fang and claw.  They could die this way because they had victory in Christ and knew that Hell had worse to offer.  Think upon that, dear souls!  How ruthlessly did the lions rip into their flesh!  Would the angry hungry evil angels be more merciful than a brutalized innocent animal?  Our brethren knew that the feasting of demons upon their Resurrection bodies would go on for eternity – and the demons would never eat their fill or satisfy their lust for flesh.

Oftentimes I have heard that the company would be better in Hell than in Heaven, as if Hell would be some great party that would never end.  Perhaps the companionship would not be near as boring as would be the squares in Heaven.  But loving-kindness is entirely missing in Hell.  There is no camaraderie amongst the damned.  Hell is the realm where all are embittered against each other, mocking and cursing with enmity for all.

 

St. Mark ix.43-4

And if thy hand offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter into life maimed, than having two hands to go into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched:  Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched.

Christ says this not to injure our bodies.  Sin does not work in our hands and feet and eyes.  Sin works in our hearts.  But indeed we should be counted among the blessed if we were to lose our hands and feet and eyes in this world and flourish in Heaven above for all eternity!  The holy martyrs certainly thought so.  St. Lawrence the Deacon was roasted alive.  Yet knowing that Christ was his redeemer, he famously said to his executioners to turn him over, for this side was done!  How could he be so bold as he died a death of torture?  Because His savior lived!  And St. Lawrence was about to join Him in Heaven.  Truly the slings and insults of this world are nothing compared to the agonies of Hell.

So Christ says it is better to cut off your own body parts and live maimed than to go to Hell intact.  And three times here in St. Mark’s Gospel Christ tells us why:  “Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched.”  The filthy, rotten, tormenting, grotesque demons of Hell do not die in Hellfire.  They gnaw on your soul for eternity.  And the fire never wanes or dies either.  For age unto age the blast furnace heat far exceeds the fire into which King Nebuchadnezzar threw Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.  That pagan king heated up that furnace seven times beyond its regular blaze.  So very hot was it that the men who threw the three Jewish lads into it died from exposure to the heat.  Yet God sent his angel to protect the young men in there.  But Hellfire is profoundly hotter than the furnaces of Babylon, and God keeps his holy angels far from pits of Hell.

The rich man asked Father Abraham to send Lazarus with his finger dipped in water so to cool his burnt parched lips.  But Father Abraham told that wicked soul that he had enjoyed his good things in his life and not done justice.  There was no relief for him who had ignored the righteous soul starving at the gate, stepping over the poor man on his way about town.  There is no relief in Hell, there is no companionship in Hell, there is no clean air to breathe in Hell, there is no rest from torment in Hell, and there is no peace and quiet in Hell.

The unforgiving oven of Hell continuously burns all flesh therein.  And since all the cursed souls in Hell possess their eternal bodies, the stench of burning flesh does not abate over the millennia.  The cries of the cursed, the stench of the damned, the torments of the devils, the separation from God, and the sheer inescapability of it all are too gruesome for us to understand but in the extremes of our language.  For we still possess our frail bodies of our mortality.  We still live our lives of decision.  We may yet turn to God.  We may yet spurn Satan and embrace Christ.  Our judgement is still yet to come, for we mortal men remain alive … today.  But as death and judgement await us, so does either Heaven or Hell.

 

St. Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians ii.9, “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.”  Wonderful bounteous beauties await those who follow Christ unto the end.  There, in Heaven, we will eternally witness and experience the dynamic loving-kindness of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.  But those in Hell are denied this, the Beatific Vision.  The damned do not behold God, for they lived without God; they lived for themselves, and so they remain tortured by the lack of God for which they were made in the company of all the foul spirits who rejected God for themselves.  Thus, those in perdition suffer the company of the most selfish wicked souls ever created while those in bliss enjoy the great love of those who put you above themselves.

We were made by God to enjoy God.  To be denied God for eternity is the greatest sorrow man can know.  Now we are on the earth in our mortal life, and so we can only barely glimpse what the damned miss.  For we ourselves are yet getting to know God.  We still foolishly believe that something other than God may bring us greater joy than our Creator.  St. Bonaventure said, “The most terrible penalty of the damned is being shut out forever from the blissful and joyous contemplation of the Blessed Trinity.”  St. John Chrysostom said, “I know many persons only fear Hell because of its pains, but I assert that the loss of the celestial glory is a source of more bitter pain than all the torments of Hell.”  Every moment we feel loss or long for something we cannot have, we are touched by the lack of God in our lives.  So we try to fill up our emptiness with the delights of the flesh and the world, with passions, honors, riches, sensual gratifications, and all the vain and fleeting pleasures of this realm.  But all of these things are hollow and empty.  God alone is the one true source of the soul’s happiness.  To be finally denied the only source of happiness is logically to live in eternal despair and agony.

The eternal sorrow of the damned will recall their many occasions to turn from the way of wickedness, all the wrongs committed against God and neighbor, and all the many times their friends and family urged them to amend their ways.  Thus their conscience will pain them beyond measure, along with the stench, the heat, the cries of the lost, and the torments of demons.  They will forever know that they could have avoided such an unbearable fate had they only responded truthfully to the Lord of life instead of making their own way according to their own perverse and peculiar thoughts.  Alas, the presence of their own minds, will, conscience, and memory, cause the damned everlasting torment so unspeakable that our stomachs quiver in disgust.

 

Dear children of God, do not listen to the whispers of this world, which are either the hushed tones of sinful men or fallen angels.  David said (Psalm xiv.1):  “THE fool hath said in his heart, There is no God.”  You will hear that there is no God, no punishment, and no Hell.  You will be told that you may live your life however selfishly you wish and will never have to answer for your crimes.  But those words tempt you away from Christ and straight into the maw of Satan.

 

To avoid Hell, you must believe in Jesus Christ and give your heart to Him, you must be Baptized into His Death and Resurrection, and you must repent of your sins.

To grow in Christ as a living branch of his Body, you must obey the Six Precepts or Duties of Churchmen.  That is, worship every Sunday and Holy Day of Obligation.  Receive the Body and Blood of Christ frequently.  Give our Lord the first tenth of your income in the tithe.  Seek after righteousness by keeping your conscience clean of all sin and confess your sins if you fall.  Fast like our Lord did when directed to by His Body.  And keep the marriage laws of the Church, witnessing to the holiness of Christ.

If you are doing all these things, then seriously attend to prayer, good works, and studying the Holy Scripture.  It is possible and not all that difficult to live such a life.  Besides avoiding Hell, the soul who carefully lives a Christian life will grow closer and closer to our Lord while you still draw breath on this earth, after which He will not forget you in the world to come.

 

St. Matthew xxv.41:  “Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels:”

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

 

 

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“God be merciful to me a sinner.”

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

 

 

“The Sin of Presumption”

 

Christ’s story of the Pharisee and the publican is not a contrast between hypocrisy and humility, but between presumption and humility.  The Pharisee was not a hypocrite.  He genuinely believed what he was saying.  He genuinely lived out the life he professed to live.

However, the Pharisee did presume to know the mind of God.  The Pharisee presumed to judge with the judgement of God.  And he did not know the mind of God.  He wrongly judged what was worthy and what was not.  And so he walked away unjustified, not set right with God.

Presumption is a form of pride.  The Pharisee judged himself compared to his fellow man.  That is not the true measurement of a man.  The true measurement of a man is in the sight of his creator.  The Pharisee’s preening missed the point of what he was attempting to do.  And by being so sure he was doing what he was supposed to do, he thereby dismissed the publican who saw reality correctly; the reality that he was a sinner before a righteous God.  All that a sinner before a righteous God can say is, “God be merciful to me a sinner.”

As Bishop Mortimer says of the magnanimous man who judges rightly:

This is the heart of humility.  He does not exalt himself, neither does he despise his fellows.  He honours God, and he honors his fellows as God’s creatures.  He honours every man truly in proportion as he finds him honourable in the sight of God.  He rightly and properly honours and prefers good men above bad men.  But he is not thereby proud, because he knows that both he and they owe what goodness they possess to God; the evil which they share with evil men is of themselves.

This is one way which the Apostle Paul does not fall into the sin of the Pharisee.  St. Paul does not presume the goodness of God for himself.  Instead he sees himself for who he truly is, and it is not pretty:

For I am the least of the apostles, that am not meet to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am: and his grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain; but I laboured more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.

He does not even claim the great labors for the Gospel of Christ which he has done, for they, understood rightly, are due to “grace of God which was with me.”  His persecution of the Church of God is on him; his abundant labours exceeding all others are due to the God alone.  St. Paul merely cooperated with the grace of God; he did not generate the grace of God.

And thus that is another way which the Apostle Paul does not fall into the sin of presumption.  St. Paul does not sleep in late, eat iced cream, and count on God’s grace.  St. Paul “labored more abundantly than they all:”  For if thinking that your good works are due to you alone and that you can successfully work your salvation before God is wrong, so is thinking that God’s grace is coming to you no matter what you do and that you don’t need to do a thing.  Both count on things which are not true, and things that are not true will do you no good before the dread judgement seat of Christ our Lord on the Day of Doom, the Day of Judgement.

So we must steer a middle course between presuming that we can work out our salvation through our shoddy works alone and presuming that we can sit back and let God work his saving magic on us.  Both ways leave us unjustified.  And we cannot live forever with God if we are not justified.

 

So how do we steer this middle course between the two ways to commit the sin of presumption?  After all, the Pharisee tithed, fasted, and prayed at the Temple and still got left out.  How do we live out our faith and good works in the sight of God here in Christ’s Church?

Like so many times before, we should look at Bishop Mortimer’s Six Duties of Churchmen.  Worshipping, receiving Holy Communion, fasting, tithing, confessing, and remaining chaste are the bare minimum level of acceptable Christian service.  My dear children, no less will do.  Receiving Holy Communion, tithing, and chastity are not optional.  Worshipping every Sunday and Holy Day of Obligation, fasting, and confessing your sins are not optional.

Yet they are not sufficient.  They are the bare minimum of our Christian Duty.  But we do not win Heaven by them alone.  They are not enough by themselves.  For without the grace of God, they are worth nothing.

They are no substitute for faith.  Faith is trusting in that which is unseen.  There is no behavior we can enact that makes us right with God.  God makes us right with him based on our faith, which itself is a gift from God.  Faith is the basis upon which we make our decisions to act in a Christian manner, and faith is the likely outcome of behaving in a Christian manner.  Faith in God and good works go hand in hand.

 

So how did the publican get justified?  He stood afar off, the lowered his eyes, he beat his chest, and he prayed, “God be merciful to me a sinner.”

This is the most needful prayer in Scripture.  It is right up there with the Lord’s Prayer.  In fact, this is probably more important.  Like the Summary of the Law is superior to the Ten Commandments even though it is shorter, this Publican’s Prayer is short and sweet, “God be merciful to me a sinner.”

We trust God when we do our best and tell the Lord that we are spent, we are through; we can do no more.  And we know that what we have done is nothing without him.  Knowing in faith that all our actions are insufficient for our eternal life, we turn to God and say, “God be merciful to me a sinner.”  We say it knowing that it is true, that we have no hope for good, no hope for Heaven, no hope for eternal life except God the Father.

 

Our incomparable Anglican liturgy includes a robust confession of sins in each of the three major services of the Church, Mattins, Mass, and Evensong.  If you focus during this prayer of confession, offer yourself up to it to the best of your ability, and firmly intend to turn away from your sins and do better next time, then this prayer is efficacious, it is effective in obtaining what you desire.

When we attach ourselves to Christ’s offering of Himself up as a living sacrifice to God the Father in the Holy Mass, then we participate in Christ’s death and Resurrection again.  When we eat the Body of Christ and drink His holy Blood in faith, we join ourselves mystically and sacramentally into the guaranteed streams of grace pouring from the side of Christ in Heaven upon us here down on earth.

We do our good works in conjunction with our living faith in Christ, knowing that all that we have is not good enough.  But we know from the Gospels that Christ came to us on His own; we did not have to beg and cajole Him down here.  He saved us on the Cross before we were born.  He loved us first.  We can count on Him.

 

“God be merciful to me a sinner.”

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

 

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“by their fruits ye shall know them. Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.”

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

 

“Good Fruit and the Mystery of Salvation”

Today’s Epistle shows us that by exchanging masters from sin to God, we thereby become something other than slaves – sons.  We have a new relationship.  Becoming the servant of God, we are given the gifts of the Spirit of God, which allows us to call God Abba, or Father.

Today’s Gospel shows us, in the words of Fr. Shepherd, that “…Not everyone who addresses Christ as ‘Lord’ really belongs to Him, but only those who bring forth in their lives the true faith of the Spirit.”  We show that we follow God’s will not by public declarations and extraordinary acts, but by humble “deeds of righteousness”.

So receiving the Spirit of adoption, we cry, Abba, Father.  We are made heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ.  We are joined with Christ and presented by Him to the Father as part of Him, a member, a cutting away from sin which has been grafted onto the Body of Christ.  Yet as a grafted branch and member of Christ, if we do not produce good fruit, then Christ will claim not to know us on the last day.  The last verse of today’s Gospel and the next two verses of St. Matthew’s Gospel read,

Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.  Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?  And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.

How can we square this in our minds?  How can we take being elected heir of God the Father and yet not know him through our lack of good fruit?  This quandary speaks to the very heart of salvation.  We think of the charges alleged against Baptists, “once saved always saved”, wherein they can do wickedness after they are saved and still go to Heaven.  Martin Luther had a terrible time putting this together, so much so that he wanted St. James’ Epistle cut from the New Testament canon for “faith without works is dead”.  We also think of the Roman Catholics, against whom are alleged that they believe in “works righteousness”, wherein they do good works to be saved.  It is all a terrible mess.

But both of these things are true.  We are both grafted onto the Body of Christ through the action of the Holy Ghost and made joint-heirs with Christ and partakers of heavenly gladness and we might be chopped off that Lordly vine and thrown out to be burned if we do not produce good fruits.  We are adopted sons, but we are expected to do something with this gift.  We are given so much, and we ought to produce good works with what we have been given.

 

Let me explain this mystery of salvation, of justification and sanctification, this mystery of being “saved”.  For I call each and every one of you to both justification, or getting right with God, and to sanctification, or growing holy like God is holy.  We need both.  If you become a member of Christ’s Body, you are bound for eternal life with God.  But to live eternally with God, you must become perfect, become holy.  Both go together.

“Conversion”, “regeneration” or new birth, “strengthening with the Spirit”, and “good fruit” have a right relation to each other.  These relate to each other in Christ’s Body, Holy Church.  Since part of Holy Church, the Church Militant, is here on his earth right now, she, being the Body of Christ our Lord, gives us access in Christ to what we need to live with God forever.

God loves us.  He created us to live with him at the very beginning, but we rejected him.  He sent the Law and the Prophets, but we rejected them.  He sent His only-begotten Son into this world as one of us, to redeem us with His Precious Blood.  God in Three Persons loves us and wants us with him forever.

 

Let us take, for example, our friend the unbaptized sinner.  He wanders through this world hardly knowing right from wrong.  All that he does is tainted with sin both of deeds and of his sinful human nature.  But God as sovereign of the universe, through his angels and his saints, as creator of the world, prepares a path back to himself for the unwashed sinner.  God leads him to salvation in his prevenient grace.

Being thus led, let’s say this sinner sees God in the sky, or in song, or in the love of his fellow man.  His conscience is pricked, and he realizes he needs Christ.  He attends worship.  He learns of the things of God.  He believes in Christ and undergoes Holy Baptism.  He is born again, made regenerate.  He has new life, Christ’s life.  His old sinful self dies, and he is grafted onto the Body of Christ.

In this Sacrament of the Church, not through ritual magic but in the boundless merits of Christ’s Crucifixion and Resurrection, our friend here has his sins completely washed away.  The spiritual consequence of his misdeeds is undone.  Christ has taken away his sinful nature.  Yet our friend has not stopped being himself.  Unfortunately, he will walk out those red doors and sin again.  He is not yet perfect in Christ.

So our friend must be strengthened for the journey of our earthly pilgrimage.  He is currently a babe, a child in Christ.  He is a new Christian.  He may have many years on earth, but he is not spiritually mature.  He needs strength, maturity.  And so Holy Church has his bishop lay his hands upon him and confer the Sacrament of Confirmation.

The essence of Confirmation is not the recital of the Lord’s Prayer, Apostles’ Creed, or Decalogue.  The essence of Confirmation is not even that our friend reaffirms his Baptismal vow to live a Christian life.  The essence of Confirmation is the laying on of episcopal hands, anointing with holy oil, and the giving of the sevenfold gifts of the Holy Ghost.

These gifts are understanding and wisdom so he can discern the truth and its value, are knowledge and counsel so he can apprehend and apply moral laws, true godliness for loving piety, ghostly strength for “courageous spiritual warfare”, and holy fear for the loving desire to please God.  With these gifts imparted, our friend is weaned from childish food and is ready for the holy meal.

So converted, Baptized, and Confirmed, our good friend receives for the very first time Holy Communion, the Blessed Sacrament, Christ’s gift of Himself to us.  This is his meat and drink for the spiritual life here on earth.  No one separated from Christ’s gift of Himself, His own Body and Blood, can sustain his arduous journey through this life.

Christ came to earth at the Annunciation to the Blessed Virgin Mary, was born on Christmas Day, shed His first Blood at His Circumcision, fasted in the wilderness, taught Israel and beyond, and then carried His own Cross to His Crucifixion so that He might joyously rise again at His Resurrection and ascend into Heaven at His Ascension.  Christ did all this for you and for me.

Christ is not sitting around hanging out with the Father and the Holy Ghost in Heaven; He is interceding for you and me right now before God the Father.  Christ wants us with Him forever, as joint-heirs with Him to God the Father.  Christ wants us in His Baptism and to eat His Sacred Body and drink His Holy Blood.

Only now is our friend full up on the grace Christ would like to give him.  He has experienced conversion of heart.  He has experienced new birth in Christ.  He has received the sevenfold gifts of the Holy Ghost.  He receives the Body and Blood of Christ.  And yet….

And yet our friend may turn his back on God and walk away.  Our friend may decide, although it seems hard to imagine given all the trouble he has gone through, he may freely decide that he would rather follow his own thoughts back into unbelief, follow his own path instead of God’s calling to him, follow his own lusts and desires instead of living a holy and moral life.

Our friend is free.  Christ has freed him from sin.  Yet sin is all around us.  If sin were not so terribly enticing, it wouldn’t be a bother.  You see, sin is mighty tasty.  Sin is that peculiar notion, that third beer, that extramarital affair that seems so wonderful at the time.  Our friend may choose this over his loving Lord Christ.

But our friend still has a lot going for him.  He is grafted onto Christ’s living Body.  Christ would have him exercise his self-discipline and live a morally courageous life.  He could obey those Ten Commandments.  He could pray every day and study the Holy Scriptures.  He could love his enemies and turn the other cheek.

How can we know that our friend, now our brother is doing well?  Some of this holy striving to live a fruitful life is noticeable.

We would see our brother at Mass on Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation.  He would receive the Body and Blood of Christ at least on Christmas, Easter, and Pentecost.

We would see our brother materially support his parish through the tithe.  We might see him at a library fundraiser, but his wife and the parish treasurer would know he was giving God that ten percent of his income that shows he is truly thankful for the blessings God has given him.

We would see our brother remain faithful to his wife.  No shenanigans for this fellow, no flirting with the ladies.  Entered into Holy Matrimony with his wife, his devotion to her through the grace of God will have grown since his conversion, Baptism, and Confirmation.

We would see our brother in line at Confession and see him learn from his mistakes as he paid close attention to his conscience.

We would see our good brother fast.  Mind you, he does not flaunt it or throw it in other people’s faces.  He is a good guest and eats what is set before him at other’s homes, but when you see him out for dinner on Fridays he is never at the steakhouse.  When you go to his home for dinner during Lent, you are served fish and vegetables.

Our good brother bears much fruit.  Having been converted, born again, strengthened for the journey, and nourished at the Lord’s Table, we see him in the parish and the community doing his Six Duties of Churchmen and so much more.  Like a patriarch of old, he is generous to the poor and needy, upright in his conduct, and faithful to his God.  He is not a perfect man, but he is preparing for everlasting life.

This our friend shall not be lopped off the living vine and tossed into the fire.  Our friend bears much fruit, and not a little of it is in setting a good example for the rest of us.

 

For those of us Baptized as infants, hopefully we may avoid our conversion experience.  Although infants are incapable of sin and therefore the washing away of committed sins by Baptism does not help infants, Holy Baptism does kill off the old sinful nature and put the robe of righteousness onto that little baby.  Growing up in the Church, that baby can grow into a lovely young lady.  Weaned off of childish things, she will be strengthened with the Holy Ghost at her Confirmation and receive the solid food of Holy Communion, of Christ’s Body and Blood, for the first time.  Raised properly and not being too contrary, she may never need to go through the time of rebellion from God that would require a conversion of heart.

But for those of us, like myself, who were Baptized as an infant but went through a time of rebellion from God, Christ’s life does not avail for us until we are converted.  Holy Baptism does suck your soul up into Heaven.  It makes us regenerate, but only with conversion of life.  Only the fruitful tree shall enter into the Kingdom of heaven.  We must respond in faith through good works to reckon with the call of Christ in our lives.

 

We were created in the image of God, and our natural and supernatural growth shall be in God’s image.  Therefore, we are to love perfectly.  St. Matthew v.48:  “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.”

Those that are written in the Lamb’s book of life, those who are undefiled, shall enter into the Heavenly Jerusalem.  Since we are washed clean of our sins in Christ, those who are undefiled are those who have been freed from their sins and made perfect in Christ.  He makes abundantly clear to us in the Holy Scriptures and in Holy Church that we are to improve from our sinful, broken, and alienated selves.  Christ wants us in Heaven with Him, but we cannot take our selfishness, idolatrous, and lying ways with us.  We have to grow in morality, in loving-kindness, and in holiness.  Our hearts must burn with loving-kindness for one another just like the Sacred Heart of Christ our Lord.  We may live our homely humble Anglican lives, but all our domestic virtue is but a sensible and decent overflow from the burning furnace of divine love in our hearts.

Here at St. Luke Church, we are more than our members, for we are members of Christ.  Even if we were the weakest and most sinful folk, Christ would still truly be here among us because He is God.  Still, Christ calls us to be perfect as He is perfect.  We, grafted onto Christ, are to become as pure and virtuous and holy as Christ.  We must each work on ourselves in this great community we have here.

The whole parish grows healthier and stronger the more we each grow healthier and stronger in the Lord.  The more we improve our lives, the more we fast according to the rule of Holy Church, the more we attend Mass as we ought, the more we say our prayers and read the Scriptures in between Sundays, the more we all grow.  The more we love our God and love our neighbors, our parish grows into a more loving parish.

Different members have different concerns, but there is one answer which addresses everyone’s concern:  Christ.  He is God come down amongst us to raise us up with Him to live with God the Father forever.  Our spiritual ancestors walked in the cool of the garden with God.  You and I will also walk with God after Christ returns.

But we mustn’t presume to be saved.  God has given us great work to do.  And in true Anglican manner, our great work is quite humble.  You and I are to look each other in the eye, to know one another, and to love each other.  You and I are to stand facing the same direction and worship God together.  We are not Hindus who look to wash in the River Ganges.  We are not Moslems who must visit the Black Stone in Mecca.  We are humble sinners, washed in the Blood of Christ, strengthened in the Holy Ghost, and we come together before the altar of God to eat the Body and Blood of Christ our Lord.

Through repentance of our sins, sacramental grace, and self-discipline let us cultivate our spiritual life according to Holy Church so that from the well-tended garden of our hearts comes forth those fruits of the spirit in which progress towards perfection declares itself.  To those who live in those fruits of the spirit come the blessings of the Beatitudes, which indeed are preliminary to the joys of the world to come.

 

“by their fruits ye shall know them. Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.”

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

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“For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

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

“Living in the Gift of God”

A good way to understand how the world works without Christ is to pick up one of those magazines near your grocery store check-out line.  Good looks are exalted.  Wealth is celebrated.  Look also at your television, and you see popularity held in high esteem.  Look out the window in your neighborhood, and you find people with well-manicured lawns respected more than those with messes in their front yards.

Do not get me wrong.  An attractive physical countenance can signal health and conscientiousness.  Wealth may be an indicator for wisdom and perseverance.  Popularity may simply be the logical outcome of someone who considers their neighbor and cares for the well-being of the community.  Well-manicured lawns might belong to those who are diligent and care for the feelings of their neighbors.  All these things may be true.  And certainly health, conscientiousness, wisdom, perseverance, neighborliness, and diligence are all good things.

Yet Holy Scripture keeps pointing to what is going on underneath the surface.  In Proverbs xiv.12 we read:  “There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death.”

Rules and standards are tricky things.  We rightly teach our children to make their beds in the morning and brush their teeth before turning in for the night.  But following rules and standards is not ultimately helpful.  Reading God’s word to us in the Holy Bible as taught by Holy Church, we see that the law kills but the spirit gives life.

All the things of this world are mutable, or changeable.  They have their time, and then they pass away.  We rarely have belongings of those who lived only a few generations before us.  I mentioned my family’s cavalry saber from the Battle of Atlanta and others were surprised we still had ours.  There used to be regiments full of them shiny in parade; now the few remaining are battered and scattered.  That is only a hundred and fifty years ago.

Even huge monuments fall to dust.  The great Temple in Jerusalem is reduced to a single wall.  The Colossus at Rhodes has fallen long ago.  The Great Library in Alexandria burned fourteen centuries ago and its remains have been raided into oblivion long before today.  The things of this world suffer corruption and death.

But God would have us look beyond the things of this world, beyond the things of corruption and death.  He says to Moses more than three thousand years ago in Deuteronomy xxx.19:

I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live:

God wants us to live.  He hates that we fell away from him in the garden he made for us.  He hates that Adam and Eve ran and hid from him and that we run and hide from him even today.  He loves us and wants us with him.  He wants to give us things which last forever, like life and love and communion with each other.

But we go off and chase after the things of this world.  Each and every one of us is predisposed to do so, and we sure enough go ahead and follow our predispositions.  We are like silly birds which love things which are shiny and flashy.  We would rather eat dessert all day than sit down to a proper meal which would nourish us.

And what do we have after all those temporary joys and delights?  What do we have after we have indulged our sweet tooth, slept in instead of worked hard, socialized with our friends instead of spent hard quiet work on ourselves?  We have nothing.  It is all gone.  Both the simple and fancy joys which we follow build up nothing permanent in our lives.

But God shows us a better way.  Two chapters after today’s Epistle, St. Paul succinctly states (viii.6):  “For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace.”

St. Peter sums up what is missing in his first Epistle (1 St. Peter i.3-4):

3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to his abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 To an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you,

On our own, we can do nothing that builds up treasure in heaven, only treasure on earth which rots and can be stolen.  But with Christ, the Son of God made man for our salvation, we can have a most marvelous inheritance – “incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you”.  What we cannot do on our own, Christ can do for us.

Last week, little Avery Elizabeth was Baptized back there at our Baptismal font.  She entered into eternal life there, though her mortal body may die a hundred years from now.  She now tastes Heaven.  She has been buried and Resurrected in Christ’s Crucifixion and Resurrection through the mystical waters of Holy Baptism.

Each one of us who has believed in our Lord Christ and been Baptized into His death and Resurrection have a part of that marvelous inheritance that will glory in God’s presence for all times, even past the end of this world.  We who are justified in Christ participate in His life, his love, and His communion both with God the Father and each of us.

St. Paul writes this famous phrase exactly about this salvation and what we do next in his Epistle to the Romans:  “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

This separation from God and reliance upon the world and ourselves is sin.  In Spanish, the word sin means without.  That’s a fine way of remembering what sin is.  We think of sin as a thing, a substance.  It is not.  It is a lack, a brokenness.

But funny enough, when we serve sin, sin pays us for our service.  The more we serve sin, the more sin pays us.  And sin always pays on time.  But as St. Paul writes, sin pays its wages in death.

Fr. Melville Scott said:

Sin has wages; sin has its end; and both the wages and the end is death. The wages are the immediate, the end is the final consequences of sin. The immediate consequences of sin are death, for each sin diminishes our capacity for life intellectual, moral, and spiritual. Sin darkens the intellect, blunts the conscience, and deadens all the faculties of the soul. These consequences are wages, for every sin has its just recompense and reward paid down surely and punctually when we sin. As wages are paid for each day’s labour, so also for each day’s sin. We have not to wait till the final reckoning, for we receive our reward by instalments, though the final reckoning and end of sin is death.

Contrast this to what St. Paul says about what happens when you serve God:  “but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”  When you serve God, you earn no wages.  In fact, you cannot earn anything.  Instead, God gives you a most wonderful gift:  eternal life.  And God the Father does not simply give you the gift of eternal life, he gives the gift of eternal life “through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

In Holy Baptism, we are raised with Christ from the dead.  Therefore, it is not only that we must choose between life and death, but rather that our new life in Christ means that we have already passed through death in Christ’s Resurrection into life everlasting.

We who have new life in Christ have already participated in death.  Man without Christ will die the death and continue in his separation from God for all eternity.  But those with Christ will die the death now in this life through Christ’s death and live forevermore with God in Christ’s Resurrection!  The old man must die, the sinful self must die, the wages of sin indeed is death, which shows that in the midst of life we die to the old and put on the new.

St. Paul exhorts us:  “for as ye have yielded your members servants to uncleanness and to iniquity unto iniquity; even so now yield your members servants to righteousness unto holiness.”  Now that we live in Christ, we ought to serve Him just as well as we served sin before we were joined into Christ’s death and Resurrection.

After God claims us for his own in Holy Baptism, after we are separated from the wicked world, after we are made holy in Christ, so we must live in the result of that powerful divine action, which is living holy lives.  Our old selves are dead, we are alive in Christ, and now our lives must change.

St. Paul continues:  “But now being made free from sin, and become servants to God, ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life.”

As we are devoted to and focused upon God, the things of sin and confusion float away.  We still live in the same world, but we are altered.  Our course through this world is altered.  Having followed Christ and been Baptized into His death and Resurrection, we no longer have the same friends, go to the same places, speak the same words, and sin as comfortably as we once did.

Now we find a different way.  We follow a way now of life in many different ways.  We affirm were once we killed.  We pass by what once enticed us.  We pay attention where we once fled.  We are different, *therefore* we behave differently, act differently, live our life differently.  People notice that something about us has changed.  We bring into the lives of those around us something of which we have been given:  Life, righteousness, and holiness.

Living in right relation to the Lord God creator and ruler of the universe and to our Lord and Savior, our course through our mortal life, how we live our daily life is altered even as we begin to taste immortal life.

We give thanks to God and respond joyfully to serving him, following him with greater ardor and devotion day by day.  Today we build upon yesterday.  Remember the good things of God yesterday?  We build upon them with greater fervor today.  We reach with hope the greater things we have yet to fully experience.

We are not magically rid of all sin in our lives like we have nothing to do with it.  Instead, because of our freedom from death, our foretaste of the good things of God, and the liberation from shameful lusts and such, we are to strive more earnestly to do good in our lives.  We are a gifted people, and thus we are a thankful people.  We live lives of freedom from sin and death, but we must strive earnestly for our good Lord.  By calling him lord, we thus place ourselves into his service and work together towards his goal.

Where we once easily and lazily accomplished much for sin and selfishness, so now we must pledge ourselves over to doing good works and loving one another in participation with His redeeming loving-kindness.

If you have a gift of hospitality, then invite people warmly and entertain them well, giving them a break from the cares of the world and entering a small communion of happiness and joy showing forth the larger communion.  This is an important gift.

If you have a gift of organizing, then help people accomplish together in the Lord’s Name what they could not do separately.  If you have a gift of work with your hands, then work for the physical welfare of the church and the world.  If you have a gift of intercessory prayer, then pray to our good God for the spiritual welfare of God’s people and those still lost.

Let us each work together as mutual servants of our good Lord and build upon the goodness of yesterday with the good hope of tomorrow.

Let us take His gift of eternal life and strive to serve our Lord Jesus Christ in all we do.

“For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

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

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“Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

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

 

“Baptism, Death, and Life Everlasting”

In the Easter bulletin, I wrote:

Today is the most glorious day of the entire Christian Year, the Feast of the Resurrection, Easter Day.  Jesus Christ, Son of God yet fully man, defeated the powers of sin, Satan, separation, death, disease, despair, and decay by dying for us and then rising from the dead.

Christ invites us to join Him in His Resurrection.  We who are Baptized die to our “old man” of sin and are given new life – Resurrection life – in Christ.  We are being transformed by God into loving, virtuous, and holy men and women, overcoming all manner of barriers and obstacles as only God can do.

I invite you to follow along with this theme of us joining with Christ in dying to sin and rising to Resurrection life.

In St. John 12.24-25, Christ says:

Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit.  He that loveth his life shall lose it; and he that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal.

In Baptism, we die unto sin so that we may bring forth much fruit.

In II Timothy ii.11-13, St. Paul shows that we are mystically joined with Christ:

It is a faithful saying: For if we be dead with him, we shall also live with him:  If we suffer, we shall also reign with him: if we deny him, he also will deny us:  If we believe not, yet he abideth faithful: he cannot deny himself.

Looking to today’s Epistle, found on page 197 of your Prayer Book, St. Paul writes that the old man is put to death in Baptism, in which we are ‘identified’ with Christ in His Resurrection.  The Christian’s very self is transformed into a creature which can live the life Christ demands of us, the life to which we are called, a life in which sin and death have been put to death..

Let’s look at the Epistle lesson verse by verse.

3 KNOW ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death?  Being Baptized into Christ establishes a bond between the one Baptized and Christ.  The person is now on the record for Christ.

This bond allows the person Baptized and Christ our Lord to share suffering and dying and Resurrection.  Christ does not merely claim the person Baptized.  According to Scripture, Christ shares His death and then Resurrection with the one Baptized.  Christ did not only defeat sin in His death, but Christ has brought the one Baptized into that death and victory over sin.  The one Baptized does not share a metaphor or analogy with Christ; he actually participates in Christ’s death and victory over death.

4 Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.  “Buried with him” actually means in Greek, “co-buried”.  We who are Baptized not only die with Christ, but we rise again with Christ.

Our new life is the Resurrection life of Christ.  We go beyond identifying with Christ’s life in Holy Baptism to actually living Christ’s life.  Christ is more than our Lord; we share His holy and divine life.  That means that we begin to live out Christ’s holy and divine life in our own lives.  We do not say the Summary of the Law or the Ten Commandments at the beginning of the Mass to torture us with something unattainable.  We say them so that we always keep in front of us a reminder of how we are supposed to live.

5 For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection:  St. Paul here uses the image of a branch grafted onto a tree so that they form one living creature.

Likeness here means a mold.  Have you ever had the dentist make a mold of your teeth?  A tray of liquid material is pressed against your teeth until the liquid hardens.  The material is removed, and a reverse form of your teeth has been made.  The mold is made in the likeness of your teeth, perfect in form, but different in material.  So it is that we are joined with Christ in the Sacrament of Baptism to experience His death and defeat of sin, while yet we remain ourselves.  We do not lose our individual identity.  Our self which God created is good.  It is sin which is evil.

Just as we fully share in Christ’s death in Baptism, so too we share in Christ’s Resurrection.  After all, Christ’s death and Resurrection are two sides of the same act of loving-kindness, of sacrificial love.

6 knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin.  The “old man” is our old self.  This self was part of the old order of the world, where sin was in our nature and Satan ruled.  This self was ruled by selfishness and stood condemned before God.  This self was crucified and buried with Christ through Holy Baptism.

This “body of sin” was the self which was oriented towards the things of this sinful world and not the things of God.  This was us shut off against the generosity of the Father, the sacrifice of Christ, and the life of the Holy Ghost.

Because our sinful self was put to death with Christ, the “old man” of sin is dead and rendered powerless.  The part of us that looked to this world for our meaning, to ourselves for our pleasure, and to Satan as our ruler has been put to death, and with that death, the power of sin over us has been broken by Christ on the Cross.  Christ sets us free from sin.

7 For he that is dead is freed from sin. On the Cross, our sinful self died and thus is no longer capable of sinning.  Being dead with Christ, we are free from sin.  Our twisted internal nature bent towards sin has been crucified with Christ.

8 Now if we be dead with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him:  To the world outside, nothing happens at Baptism.  But with the eyes of faith in Christ, new life occurs.    We cannot see this under a microscope, but rather in the kingdom of loving-kindness heralded by Christ in His death and Resurrection.  Even we who are Baptized will not realize the full life in Christ until He returns again in power and great glory.  We know that we can begin living with Him now, but we believe that we shall live with Him fully for all eternity.

9 knowing that Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more; death hath no more dominion over him.  When Christ arose from the grave, He did not simply start drawing breath after three days without.  He broke through the wall of death and entered into Resurrection life.  This is human life in the presence of God the Father.  Those who are revived will eventually die.  Those who are resurrected will never die again.  Christ will never die again, and having defeated death, He now rules over death where once Satan held sway.

10 For in that he died, he died unto sin once: but in that he liveth, he liveth unto God.  The Passion and death of Christ is a unique event in all of the cosmos for all time.  Christ conquered death.  We who are Baptized into Christ’s death and Resurrection are freed from everlasting death.  We who rise with Christ through Baptism enter into a new relationship with God the Father – now we relate to the Father through the Son, onto Whom we are grafted like a branch to a tree.

The final verse:  11 Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord.  St. Paul calls us to increase our faith in Christ so that we may more fully live in Christ through our Baptism.  The faithful Christian cannot consider sin acceptable because God will forgive us.  We have been joined with Christ in both His death and His Resurrection.  Since our “old man” or “body of sin” has been crucified with Christ, we are dead indeed unto sin.  We no longer are reliable sinners.

If we voluntarily allow ourselves to sin, we rupture our relationship with Christ which He bought for us on the Cross and applied to us in this Holy Sacrament of His Body the Church.  If we sin, we break our relationship with Christ, knowing full well what it cost Him to reach us.  We are with Him in a mystical union, and we rip ourselves away from Him when we sin.  Knowing what His sacrifice cost Him, how can we dare to hurt our beloved benefactor and savior?  How can we not only break His heart but rend His Body?

But have hope, you who are Baptized in Christ!  With Him, we have passed from death unto life everlasting!  We are united to Christ, Who is God the Son sent by God the Father to take up our mortal nature so that He might redeem us in His death and Resurrection.  If we hold fast, stay the course, and keep the faith, we too will finish in great unity with God, with never a fear again of death, sickness, and decay.  Alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord, we shall live for Him and in Him forever and ever.  Amen.

 

“Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

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

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“…ourselves also, which have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body.”

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

 

“Hoping amidst Our Suffering”

“We are marching to Zion” How many of us remember that song from our youth?  Probably most of us who grew up Methodist or Baptist.  We are on the journey of salvation.

We are saved through our faith in Christ.  We were saved when we were born again in Holy Baptism.  We were saved when Christ won the victory over sin and death and Satan on the Cross at Calvary.  We will be saved when Christ judges us on the Last Great Day.  Salvation is both simple in the Person of Christ but complex in what Christ accomplishes and how He is present to us.

The trouble is that we still experience sin, disease, and death in our lives even though we are saved and being saved.  Even though the Holy Ghost dwells within us, we still experience suffering.  The challenge for the Christian is to go on hoping amidst our suffering.

 

In the part of Romans before today’s reading, St. Paul describes the great dichotomy between flesh and spirit, Law and Christ, and death and life.  He then continues by beautifully showing that Christians are the adopted sons of God the Father through his Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ.

His last words before today’s reading are these:

The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God:  And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together.

So we pick up here.

18 I RECKON that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.

Now St. Paul mentions suffering having taught that we are free in Christ and adopted sons of the Father.  Each of us experiences suffering.  There is no point in denying that we suffer.  Suffering is a fact.  You do not have to read the Chronicle to know this; you know this in living your life.

But we are on the journey towards God; the journey of salvation.  If we are saved from sins and are made inheritors of eternal life, then why are things still broken?  Why do we still hurt?

St. Paul’s answer is that while we are on the journey, we have not reached our final destination, which is God.  Today’s sufferings are not even worthy of being compared with the glory which we shall live in later.

19 For the earnest expectation of the creature waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God.

Our Authorized Version uses the word creature where we today normally say creation.  So we might hear this rather as “For the earnest expectation of creation waits for the manifestation of the sons of God.”

John Wesley describes this earnest expectation in other words.  He calls it “a vehement longing”.  Creation vehemently longs for the final manifestation of mankind as the sons of God, which will happen after Judgement Day.

St. John Chrysostom says about this:

“…the Apostle makes a living person of the creature here, and says that it groaneth and travaileth: not that he heard any groan conveyed from the earth and heaven to him, but that he might show the exceeding greatness of the good things to come; and the desire of freedom from the ills which now pervaded them.”

20 For the creature was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of him who hath subjected the same in hope,

For the creature was made subject to vanity.   God cursed the world when Adam as the top of the physical creation fell into sin and incurred the wrath and judgement of God.  Creation itself, which was created perfect by God, became corruptible.  Man’s body became mortal, and creation brought forth thorns and thistles.

We see that creation shares the fate of mankind in Genesis iii.17-19, when God reveals his judgement to Adam:

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; Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field; 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.

21 because the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God.

The creature itself also shall be delivered.  Creation itself shall be delivered and not destroyed.  Creation shall be redeemed along with man per Revelation xxi.1, recalling Isaiah lxv.17:  “And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea.”  As Christ’s Body was not the same after His Resurrection as it was before, but rather it was glorified, so God’s creation will not be the same but restored and made “new”.

22 For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now.

Travaileth literally means to suffer the pains of childbirth, to be delivered of the curse.

Creation is not satisfied to live under the curse.  And neither should we.  We make our little surrenders to the powers and principalities of this world by calling death natural and sin inevitable, when nothing could be further from the truth.

Thus if we are to have hope, so too creation is to have hope.  And creation is burdened by sin but does not act in sin.  We may not look in hope to the Second Coming of our Lord, but all of creation can’t hardly wait until He gets here and frees it finally.  If creation groans and travails in pain waiting for its final deliverance, so we who are endowed with reason as Christ is ought to feel it even more.

23 And not only they, but ourselves also, which have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body.

St. John Chrysostom says about v. 23:

“We have received the first-fruits of the Spirit, or “a taste of the things to come.”  What we have been given is already enough to enthuse us to eagerly await the fulfillment of the promise.  “For if the first-fruits be so great that we are thereby freed even from our sins, and attain to righteousness and sanctification, and that those of that time both drave out devils, and raised the dead by their shadow (Acts v. 15), or garments (ib. xix. 12), consider how great the whole must be.  And if the creation, devoid as it is of mind and reason, and though in ignorance of these things, yet groaneth, much more should we.”

waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body.  St. Paul previously in this chapter has been telling us that we are to be adopted.  This will be entirely fulfilled with our glorified body after the Last Judgement.  Then, as the adopted sons of God and joint-heirs with Christ our Lord, we will live in our glorified bodies in everlasting life and immortality with God the Father.

 

We look outside the precincts of our houses of worship and lament the faithless manner in which the affairs of the world are conducted.  We see the lack of hope and culture of death which ensnares both the young and old alike.  We feel the temptations to find solace in anything other than God the eternal.

But in the face of corruption, we ought to remember other words of St. Paul, well expressed in I Corinthians xv.54:  “So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory.”

Christ has won the victory.  We are living and growing in grace right now, waiting for the Second Coming of our Lord.  We are to rejoice, to give thanks, to sing Glory be to God on High for the forgiveness of our sins by God the Son, for our sanctification in God the Holy Ghost, and for life eternal and adoption as sons by God the Father.

 

“…ourselves also, which have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body.”

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

 

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“Then said Jesus to them again, Peace be unto you: as my Father hath sent me, even so send I you.”

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

 

Being Sent

THE same day at evening, being the first day of the week….  This first verse shows that the Church has gathered and worshipped together on the Lord’s Day beginning with that very first Easter.

St. Ignatius of Antioch, a disciple of the Apostle John whom the Romans martyred in AD 117, wrote in his Epistle to the Magnesians:

“…those who were brought up in the ancient order of things have come to the possession of a new hope, no longer observing the Sabbath, but living in the observance of the Lord’s Day, on which also our life has sprung up again by Him and by His death….”

The Vigil of Sunday is Saturday night, so there was likely some stages in between our neighbors’ synagogue worship on Saturday morning and our Church worship on Sunday morning.  The Vigil of Easter takes place on Saturday evening, which is the third Jewish liturgical day of Christ’s death.  The Jewish day begins at nightfall.  But the day Christians worship is invariably Sunday.

The doors were shut can also be translated the doors were locked.  St. John says here that the disciples feared the Jews, but they feared the Romans as well.  Their leader, the Christ, had been taken from them.  They were afraid.  If we no longer had Christ, if we lost faith in Christ, we too would be afraid.

Today we keep our church doors unlocked so that anyone off the street (we earnestly hope!) might come in and worship God with us.  But the disciples kept their doors shut and locked to protect themselves from danger.

In other parts of the world, Christian congregations have to post guards.  In one of our parishes in Pakistan, the priest’s son keeps guard with an AK-47 in case Moslem terrorists attack.  Our parishes in the Congo have faced attack, and at least one of them has been completely wiped out – raped and murdered.  We ought to give thanks to our good God that we do not have such problems here.  While being thankful, we should also remain vigilant that such attacks upon the peaceful practice of religion are defended against here.

Peace be unto you is a standard rabbinical greeting.  But it is also used in Judges vi.23 and Daniel x.19 when angels visited the frightened Gideon and Daniel.  Since the disciples are afraid, Christ speaking this privileged religious greeting to them is most appropriate.

As with Gideon and Daniel, the moment of this greeting is important.  Christ is declaring His peace to His disciples.  Christ, being God made man, who was killed and yet triumphed over the grave, has created an eschatological peace, a peace for the end of time, a peace for the disciples and all others as well.

The terrors and sorrows of death, of sickness, of grief are put to bed with their defeat by our King and our God.  We are promised the peace that passeth all understanding.  This peace is not a simple hello; it is not just a comfort and joy amidst grief and fear; no, this peace is a deep permanent peace which will follow you to the grave and out the other side into Resurrection!

Earlier in St. John xiv.27, Christ 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.”  Peace here is not a worldly peace which is a mere respite from trouble; this is an eternal peace which is a gift from Heaven.  With the reception of the Holy Ghost, Christ’s peace becomes something that not only lives inside each of disciples but which they take out into the world.

And when he had so said, he shewed unto them his hands and his side.  Later in verse 25, Christ shows the disciples the nail holes in His hands and the lance wound from His side.  Christ comes to them, gives them His peace, and shows these frightened disciples His sacred wounds.

St. Luke xxiv.39 mentions His hands and feet.  Two hands plus two feet plus one side equals the five wounds of Christ.  If you cross yourself with your hand flat, you are using all five fingers.  Upon my ordination, I changed how I held my hand when I crossed myself so to remember the five wounds of Christ, the wounds Christ suffered when He gave Himself up for me and for you.

After years of modern scholars dismissing the nailing of feet by Romans during First-Century crucifixions, archaeological evidence was found in 1968 showing nail holes in the ankles of one crucified.  As to the objection that nails in the hands would not have held victims up, both the Greek and Hebrew words for hands could also refer to wrists and forearms or lower legs.  The five wounds of Christ are real, despite what skeptics and non-traditional Christians say.  Christ suffered those for us, died, and then rose again.  Here in today’s Gospel, the disciples see it for themselves with their own eyes, and St. John bears testimony to this across nineteen hundred years.

Christ shows the disciples His Body, showing the physical evidence of the continuity of the Crucifixion and the Resurrection.  Theologically, we understand that the Resurrection completes the Crucifixion.  Liturgically, Easter follows Good Friday.  But Christ shows our spiritual ancestors physical evidence of the bodily continuity of Christ’s Body in life, in death, and in Resurrection.

Then were the disciples glad when they saw the Lord.  Of course they were!  Imagine their emotions as their human minds tried to sort out the miraculous workings of God.  Their hearts had been up, down, and all around those last few days.  Now, they have proof that their Christ Who died on the Cross was the very same Who stood before them in the flesh — alive!  The wounds proved it so.

And now, St. John switches terms.  After the Resurrection, St. John begins referring to Christ in His Gospel as the Lord.  Christ is our Lord.  We know that.  But for those who walked with Him for years, they had to learn that.

And lest we forget, those around us who do not have the sweet consolation of Christ in their lives must also learn for themselves that Christ is the Lord.  They will watch you.  They might imitate you, especially if they are children.  They might test you if they are family or friends.  But either way, they will watch you for signs of the Resurrection life in your life.

If you see Christ, if you see Him in life, if you visit Him in His Passion, if you watch Him die, if you mourn for Him, and then if you rejoice in His Resurrection and accept the Peace of the Lord, then you will be different, and those out hurting and grieving in this sinful and broken world will see that difference for themselves.  And with God’s grace, they will want to share in that Resurrection life as well.

As my Father hath sent me, even so send I you.  This closely parallels St. John xvii.18, when Christ prays to the Father, “As thou hast sent me into the world, even so have I also sent them into the world.”  The word apostle means one who is sent.  The disciples in a sense become apostles here, for they shall bear Christ into the world.  They continue the mission of God the Son into the world.  Christ bears witness to the Father, and the apostles bear witness to the Son.

The continuation of the Resurrection is the evangelization of the entire world.  Our sharing the Good News is an extension of Christ’s Resurrection.  The living out in our lives loving-kindness and communion with God brings forth Christ’s Resurrection into the lives of those who did not experience it themselves.  We continue, we carry on, that which has been given to us.  Like as we have mothers and fathers, so we bring forth children who themselves become fathers and mothers.  I may not have earthly children, but I may have spiritual children.  Likewise, he who has earthly children may be destitute of spiritual children.

And when he had said this, he breathed on them….  God breathes the breath of life into Adam in Genesis ii.7.  Some ancients at that time held that the breath of a holy man had great power.  Christ certainly has great power.

The filioque clause of the Nicene Creed which we say every Sunday means from the son.  The Creed in its Western revised form we use says that the Holy Ghost proceeds from the Father and from the Son.  This verse is evidence that the Holy Ghost does in fact proceed forth from the Son, but not necessarily in the same way as from the Father.  We could change the Creed back to the way it was and drop this and be fine, but we are not incorrect in saying that the Son sends the Holy Ghost into the world.

Receive ye the Holy Ghost:  But wait:  The Holy Ghost comes upon the Apostles and Blessed Virgin Mary at Pentecost according to St. Luke in the Acts of the Apostles!  What does this mean?

The Second Council of Constantinople, being the fifth Ecumenical Council, condemned the view of Theodore of Mopsuestia.  Theodore held that Christ did not really impart the gift of the Holy Ghost upon the Apostles on the night of Easter.  This is contradicted right here in St. John’s Gospel.

St. John Chrysostom preached that this gift of the Holy Ghost empowered the forgiveness of sins while the gift of the Holy Ghost at Pentecost in Acts gave “the power to work miracles and raise the dead.”  Others have made different suggestions, but the fact here is that He breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost.  Christ gives the Holy Ghost to those who will preach His Gospel and …

Whosesoever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whosesoever sins ye retain, they are retained.  This Authorized Version translation wisely shows these sentences in passive voice.  That is, these things are done, but it does not say who does the doing of them.  This is important, for when a priest says that he forgives you your sins, technically he is authoritatively declaring that your sins are forgiven.  And they are forgiven.

But God is the actor, not the priest, not the apostle.  When a bishop as the successor of the apostles, and priests as his parish agents, forgive sins or do not forgive sins, then so those sins are forgiven or not forgiven.  But the apostle, the bishop, and the priest are agents of God, and God is the one who completes the action.  This is the Sacramental grace of Penance or Confession.

The role of the forgiveness or retention of sins, as well as of binding and loosing, directly supports the command to take the Gospel to all nations, to be sent as Christ has been sent.  The world is to be freed from the tyranny of the world, the flesh, and the devil.  Souls will be saved, people will be liberated, sins will be forgiven, and loving-kindness shall rule all relationships upon the preaching of the Good News of Jesus Christ!

 

“Then said Jesus to them again, Peace be unto you: as my Father hath sent me, even so send I you.”

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

 

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