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Posts Tagged ‘Romans’

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

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

 

“Church:  Hospital or Hospice?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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“…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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“Parthians, and Medes, and Elamites, and the dwellers in Mesopotamia, and in Judaea, and Cappadocia, in Pontus, and Asia, Phrygia, and Pamphylia, in Egypt, and in the parts of Libya about Cyrene, and strangers of Rome, Jews and proselytes, Cretes and Arabians, we do hear them speak in our tongues the wonderful works of God.”

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

 

“Speaking the wonderful works of God”

 

God has spoken to Man throughout the ages.  God communed with Adam in the cool of the morning.  God accepted Abel’s sacrifice but not Cain’s.  God commanded Noah to build the Ark.  God chose Abraham and sent him on his journey, communicating to his through angels.  God spoke to Moses from the burning bush to lead the Exodus of the Jews from Egypt and gave him his sacred Law.  The tabernacle of the Ark of the Covenant signified the presence of God to the priests and people of Israel.

Yet even when the Ark was lost, God still spoke through the prophets of Israel, correcting and admonishing the priests, kings, and people when they grew lax with God’s Law and sought to worship themselves instead of God.  These prophets and the calamities visited upon the Israelites scattered many of them but sharpened and honed others.

Out of these others came Ss. Mary and Joseph, Ss. Elizabeth and Zacharias, and those who waited for the consolation of Israel.  The Son of God the Father became Man in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary as the Holy Ghost came upon her and the power of the Most High overshadowed her.  God raised a great prophet in the elderly womb of St. Elizabeth.  As her son, St. John the Baptist, preached and prepared those hoping for the restoration of Zion to receive their king, Jesus grew in stature and wisdom until his Baptism by St. John and his ministry amongst the Jews.

Thus we understand the first two verses of Hebrews:  “God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds;”

As we have worshipped in the cycle of Holy Church through the preparation for Easter, Pre-Lent and Lent, and thence through Passion Week and Holy Week, worshipping through the Passion, death, Resurrection, and then Ascension of our Lord Christ, so we come to the time Christ promised us:  Pentecost.

WHEN the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.”

Christ gave the Holy Ghost to the Church to hold her accountable to what He taught her.  We are given the Holy Ghost in the Sacraments to bring God’s presence into our lives and accomplish all things necessary for holiness.  The Third Person of the Holy Trinity, God the Holy Ghost, instructs us, seals us in the knowledge of God, and preserves the teachings of Jesus Christ.

 

From the Confirmation rite found in the Book of Common Prayer:  “Strengthen them, we beseech thee, O Lord, with the Holy Ghost, the Comforter, and daily increase in them thy manifold gifts of grace: the spirit of wisdom and under-standing, the spirit of counsel and ghostly strength, the spirit of knowledge and true godliness; and fill them, O Lord, with the spirit of thy holy fear,”

Zechariah vii.11-12:  “But they refused to hearken, and pulled away the shoulder, and stopped their ears, that they should not hear.  Yea, they made their hearts as an adamant stone, lest they should hear the law, and the words which the LORD of hosts hath sent in his spirit by the former prophets: therefore came a great wrath from the LORD of hosts.”

St. John iv.22b-24 “…Salvation is of the Jews.  But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him. God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.”

Romans viii.9-11:  “But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his. And if Christ be in you, the body is dead because of sin; but the Spirit is life because of righteousness. But if the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwelleth in you.”

I Corinthians ii.9-10, 12:  “But as it is written, 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. But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God…. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God.”

 

We are comforted – strengthened – by the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit also leads us into all truth.  The two come together in that teaching of Christ, that the Holy Ghost will preserve and keep us in the word of God from Christ.  He “brings all things to remembrance”.

In the Collect, God “didst teach the hearts of thy faithful people, by sending to them the light of thy Holy Spirit” and we beseech God to “Grant us by the same Spirit to have a right judgment in all things”.

Teaching the hearts of the faithful and granting us right judgement are both brought about by the first thing St. Peter does after receiving the Holy Ghost at Pentecost.  He preaches.

He preaches that those who have not heard may hear.  He preaches that those who do not understand may understand.  He preaches that those who fail may be strengthened to succeed.  He preaches that the faithless may find faith.  He preaches that the stout-hearted give glory to God and lead others to glorify God as well.  He preaches by telling the truth that the authorities do not want to be told.  He preaches by speaking the wonderful works of God.

Will you stand up alongside the great apostle and speak the wonderful works of God?

 

“Parthians, and Medes, and Elamites, and the dwellers in Mesopotamia, and in Judaea, and Cappadocia, in Pontus, and Asia, Phrygia, and Pamphylia, in Egypt, and in the parts of Libya about Cyrene, and strangers of Rome, Jews and proselytes, Cretes and Arabians, we do hear them speak in our tongues the wonderful works of God.”

+ 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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“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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“Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.”

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

 

How the Christian Ought to Live, Part 3

 

Some of the first Christians who read these words of St. Paul were suffering persecution at the hands of the Romans.  Imagine your fellow parishioners getting hauled off and executed.  My blood would boil.  I would want to hit them back.  But that is not what our first saints did.  Those first Roman saints, some of whom are remembered in our Mass when we pray for the dead, loved their neighbors as themselves, no matter how their neighbors treated them.  They trusted in God to deal out whatever justice needed handing out.  They kept their eyes on the heavenly goal and lived lives imitating Christ’s life.

 

When we think of Christ as meek and lowly and simple and peaceful, we think of him as very weak, and that it is not actually the case.  What Christ did is turn wickedness on its head.

St. Augustine wrote:  “For the Lord Christ is that Lamb that was himself slain by the wolves, and that now turneth the wolves into lambs.”

Turning the other cheek and returning good for evil doesn’t mean that we are simply to throw marshmallows when our enemies throw rocks.  Living the life of Christ does not mean being weak.  Not only does it take greater strength to overcome our own violent and wicked inclinations, but it takes power to convert wickedness into goodness.

St. Paul is our wonderful example.  As Saul, he persecuted Christ’s Church.  He sought to destroy the members of Christ’s Body.  He held the coats of those who stoned St. Stephen to death and looked on with approval.  Yet Christ chose this vile Saul to become the Apostle to the Gentiles.  Christ not only can do everything, He has already done everything.  No trick gets by our Lord Christ.  No enemy is too determined, too wicked, too powerful, or too smart.  Christ converted St. Paul.

I was no Saul.  But in my younger years, I considered myself a staunch materialist atheist who despised this weakling Christ and silly Christians.  And yes, my old friends were very surprised to hear I converted and, later, to hear that I entered the ministry.  How could I believe these ridiculous things?  I still think that these are ridiculous things.  In the eyes of the world, from the viewpoint of the rulers of the darkness of this world, in the chambers of counsel of spiritual wickedness in high places, the things of God are sad, silly, and fantastic.

But God made the world, and as we read in Genesis, God made the world and called it good.  The disconnect, the difference we perceive between the wickedness of the world and the good world which God created is called sin, or separation from God.  If you grab a plant and yank it out of its flowerpot, roots all dangling in the air, you wouldn’t think that that plant is doing just fine.  But do you think that roots dangling in the air is the way it was made?  That the plant was supposed to enjoy being grabbed and dangled?  Of course not.

But if you listen to the politicians and industrialists, to the university professors and professional instigators, they will tell you to judge things by the state we see them in now, in this dangling without soil around our roots, without the support of the ground we were made to be firmly planted in.

Hollywood folk and advertisers will tell you to relax and enjoy this faulty broken world and pay no attention to its radical disharmony from all that is true and all that is holy.  The angry young men and women of this world will tell you that there is no God and that you are stupid if you go looking for one.  The tired old men and women of this world will tell you to make your peace with the world, for this is as good as it gets.  The busy middle-aged people will tell you to stay busy, do your work, and take whatever pleasure you can find.

But the Gospel of Christ turns the wisdom of the world and its accommodation with sin and evil on its head.

 

Let’s look at the last part of the twelfth chapter of Romans.

“BE not wise in your own conceits.”  We like to feel special, and we especially like to feel special because of something we have done, something we have earned.  But God has made us rely upon one another in matters great and small.  We may learn something when we realize that we cannot Baptize ourselves, Confirm ourselves, or Ordain ourselves.

Sometimes, the smartest fellow in the room can’t see what’s wrong with himself.  Maybe you have heard the old saying, “A man who is his own lawyer has a fool for a client.”  This is as true for lawyers as it is for non-lawyers.  Same thing with doctors.  Sometimes, the expert eye is the closest thing you can get to an objective eye, to the eye of God.  This is why it is so very important to go to another person for spiritual counsel, especially to experienced spiritual directors and priest confessors.  You may wrestle with a problem for months only to find that the elder laywoman or priest confessor sees an obvious solution or improvement.

“Recompense to no man evil for evil.  Provide things honest in the sight of all men.”  Why in the world would you possibly want to emulate the behavior of someone who has wronged you?  After Lucy pulls the football away from Charlie Brown, would it help Charlie Brown to pull the football away from Linus?  Misery would be compounded.  Imitating bad behavior shows deficiency of character and takes away legitimate complaint against the offender.  Since God will repay, do not take away your cause from your just God.

“If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men.”  The verse’s modifier, “If it be possible”, should not be an excuse to give up after trying hard to bite our tongue or only when it is really important to us.  Sometimes the faithful Christian must speak an unpopular truth.  If a gunman holds you up on the street and tells you to blaspheme God or die, don’t do it!  Stand your ground and speak the truth in love.  Maybe God will use your words to change another’s heart or to give another strength.  God will weigh your words uttered at your martyrdom when he judges you at your Judgement.  Never let the hatred and wickedness of others cause you to act in wickedness and hatred.

“Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath. For it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord.”  “Give place unto wrath” means to give place unto the wrath of God.  Let God have the wrath.  He is the creator and judge, he is infinite and just and good.  God can handle the situation.  Let him have it.  Don’t fight God for control of meting out his justice against others.  It’s his justice; let him handle it.  It isn’t yours.  And the flipside of this is dangerous – that you will judge incorrectly and let yourself commit wicked deeds and make false accusations without all the knowledge necessary.

“If thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him to drink; for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire upon his head. Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.”  St. Paul would have us here understand that we must not only not do evil to our enemy but that we must actually positively do good to our enemy.  Our enemy ought not to live in fear of our returning and hurting him.  The door to reconciliation with our enemy must always be open.  Kicking a man when he is down is dirty, but we are to give the kicker water when he thirsts and food when he is hungry.

Never allow yourself to hate your enemy. That lets your enemy overcome you.  Instead, overcome your enemy with goodness and loving-kindness, standing in the stead of our good and loving God with them.  Christ first loved us.  We are to first love our neighbors and our enemies.

If we are to stand with Christ and help transform this culture, help transform this city, then we must ourselves first be transformed.  We must change.  If you want someone to tell you that you are perfect just the way you are, you will be disappointed here.  Follow the fads of this world and you will gain applause.  If you come here looking for applause, you will be disappointed.  If you want to follow Christ and serve the poor in spirit and those who mourn of this world, let us make this the place for you.  But to do that, we must all be changed.  We must all put away childish things and the categories and prejudices of this world.  We must love the Lord our God and our neighbors.  Christ, the Son of God, tells us that we must.

You see, to live the Christian life fully, we must put our giant egos to death.  We read in St Matthew xvi.24-25:

“Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.  For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it.”

Indeed, if our enemy is to share in life eternal, he, too, must put his huge ego to death.  We all must.  And we must turn the other cheek and forswear all vengeance, trusting entirely upon the mercy of our Heavenly Father.  We Christians model this holy behavior to our enemy, so that when he pauses and reflects he may see the things of God and turn from his evil ways.  How can our enemy be converted if those who are members of Christ’s Body show him only the way of the world?

My dear children, we are to live like we are already in Heaven.  In our communion with God in the Body of Christ His Holy Church, we have already died to our sin and risen to life eternal.  We are joined in Christ’s mission of reconciling all men to God, and we are to do that by living out Christ’s life here before them.  We are each icons, or images, of Christ to our neighbors around us.  Every single person you know, on some level, is watching you and your behavior and measuring all Christians and Christ Himself by your behavior.  Not to put any pressure on you!

People tell me of the very difficult behavior of family and neighbors, sharing their problems with me.  We must bear our insults with patience, and not return evil for evil.  Those around us notice those who treat us shamefully.  Nobody truly sympathizes with those who treat others horribly.  When they see you suffer with the dignity of Christ and not take the easy road of vengeance, instead returning good for evil, those watching will marvel at your grace and power.  But truly they are marveling at the grace and power of Christ in you.  Every insult you bear with love and dignity, without seeking vengeance and without returning evil for evil, builds heavenly treasure for you and witnesses to the Good News of Christ.

 

You are the nobility of the cosmos.  Demons weep, angels rejoice, nations rise, and civilization falls based on your moral decisions, on your actions and choices.  You are moral actors.  Alone in the universe along angels and demons, we each one of us make moral decisions.  It is given to the mature, adult, Baptised and Confirmed Christian the right and the freedom to make these choices.  We are moral actors.  We will change the world.  Our spiritual forefathers, the saints of yesteryear, the Christians of the old Roman Empire, changed the world.  We face other challenges, even similar challenges in some ways.  And we too will change the world through our choices, through our actions, through our decisions, and through either our obedience or disobedience.

 

“Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.”

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

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“we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another.”

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

 

How the Christian Ought to Live, Part 1

 

Today’s Epistle and those of the next two weeks form a continuous reading of the entirety of the twelfth chapter of St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans.  I encourage everyone to read chapter twelve in conjunction with these lessons and sermons.

So today’s lesson begins:  “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.”  Our bodies are to be pledged to and lived in God’s service.  We are noble knights pledging our swords and lives to our king.  This is similar to the vows soldiers, sailors, Marines, and airmen make upon enlistment or commission.  For the United States Army, the vow is to support and defend the Constitution, to bear true faith and allegiance to the same, and either to obey orders from officers or to faithfully discharge the duties of office without any evasion or mental reservation.

In other words, the soldier must be faithful and loyal to his country.  He must not deviate into the service of those opposed to his country.  He will fulfill his duty with his country in mind.  He swears that he is not coerced into giving false service, but rather he is free to obligate himself to this loyalty and allegiance.

All this points to a potentially horrible truth:  The soldier is willing to die for his country.  No one swears this oath and undertakes this discipline wanting to die, but all do it knowing that death may happen.

But the Christian knows that death must happen.  Christ died on the Cross.  The Christian must go to his own Calvary as well.  St. John xii.24:  “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.”

Rather, the image of Romans xii.1 is that of worship.  One sacrifices in worship.  This is one of the main reasons that pagans can kill animals or burn incense to their false gods in worship, but you cannot adequately sit at home alone with your Bible in worship.  In worship, one offers something to God.  One sacrifices something.

In the prayer for the Whole State of Christ’s Church, we read:  “We humbly beseech thee most mercifully to accept our [alms and] oblations”.  Our alms are our physical gifts we give to God, most notably bread and wine which is now purchased with money, and therefore the money we give.  Our tithes especially are given in worship.  Think of our oblations as our prayers, presence, worship, and intentions.

If you are bound by chains and dragged into our service and hear those words, “our oblations”, then you may well discard them, for they do not apply to you.  But for everyone who comes here with at least a little desire to worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness, then these words are for you.  Even if you come here intending to show off your new outfit at church, so long as you do intend to show off your new outfit at church, then you too have that little speck of intention towards the worship of God, and thus you participate in the offering up of yourselves.

The Canon of the Mass includes even stronger language.  Midway through it, we read:  “And here we offer and present unto thee, O Lord, our selves, our souls and bodies, to be a reasonable, holy, and living sacrifice unto thee;”  Here do I, or any priest saying the Mass, offer on your behalf as well as mine our whole selves over to God “to be a reasonable, holy, and living sacrifice”.  We worship our good God by giving back to him the lives he first gave us.

When I swore that military oath back in 1990, I knew I might die.  And to be fair, I was willing to lay down my life.  But I had struggled for a couple of years beforehand wondering, “If my life was given to me, by what right had I to risk it?”  But of course, Christ Himself said in St. John’s Gospel:  “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”

We are fully responsible for the lives which God has given us.  And to a great extent, we are free to do what we will with our lives.  The question of “How shall we best live our lives?” is an ancient one.  Notably, Socrates asked this question centuries before the Incarnation of Christ our Savior.

(1) Many people have answers to this question.  Some people think it a good thing to live hedonistically for themselves, avoiding entangling relationships with others, seeking pleasure where they may find it, and avoiding pain at all costs.  This only results in death and the grave.  Not a good option.

(2) Others strap bombs under their clothes and blow themselves up along with busloads of tourists.  To be fair, these people actually think that by killing themselves, they are doing their god’s will.  Of course, they do not think that their bloody god is evil and demonic, although he is.  Yet they still are reaching outside of themselves and beyond their own pleasure.

(3) Others live for something positive.  Some people, especially here in the South and in other traditional cultures, live for their families.  I heard of a Japanese businessman some years ago who put a large sum of money in the bank to be drawn upon by his ancestors centuries in the future.  With compound interest, even a large number of heirs should be very wealthy then.  That’s looking after family that it’s not possible to even meet.

Others lay down their lives for their country and for their country alone.  Millions upon millions of soldiers died on the Eastern Front in World War II, Germans against Russians.  You might ask yourself what compels a man to die on behalf of his atheist or pagan regime.  Laying your life down for another, for your comrade, for your country is the answer.  Whether you sacrifice yourself for your family or your country, such a sacrifice reaches out of the depths of one’s own self and reaches for something greater – the good of your people.

There is honor in this.  There is nobility in this.  Indeed, the noble pagans – Socrates, Confucius, Cicero – aspired to this as the best end result they could manage.  But even there, alas, there is no salvation.  There is nothing vital and eternal.  There is Hades and Sheol, the cold, endless, sleepy afterlife.

(4) But St. Paul shows us yet again a “more excellent way”:  “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.”

We can live for Him Who came down to earth and died for us on the Cross, Who rose again from the dead and ascended into Heaven, preparing for us many mansions in the eternal light of God the Father.  Indeed, we can live for Him Who sent God the Holy Ghost into the world to make us meet and fitting tabernacles for God the Father.

We can live for God every single day of our lives.  We are to pray continually, and when we lead upright, sacrificial lives of loving-kindness to Almighty God, we become a living sacrifice to our good and generous Father in Heaven.

But St. Paul does not stop there.  He has more to say:  “And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.”

As we give ourselves, offer ourselves up as a reasonable, holy, acceptable, and living sacrifice to God, we are not merely to give lip service, we are not merely to hand over the mess which we currently are, but we are to reach even further, and become ourselves transformed by God.  In Hebrews we read:  “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”  God changes us.  We do not remain the same.  Our minds are renewed by our gracious God.  We are so to emulate God in our minds and in our wills that we “may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.”

St. Paul continues:  “For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith.”

Going beyond our private selfish lives, we are to submit to God’s perfect will, we are to become like God, to be transformed by the renewing of our minds, to live lives worthy of offering unto God; and these lives we live here in Augusta and in our families will point towards God.  People other than ourselves will see God in us, in our lives, in our humility, in our conduct, in our speech, in our decisions, in what we value, in what we refuse to accept.  In knowing us, they will not be unfamiliar with God, for we will have been transformed.  They will see us worshipping God and being transformed by him, they will see God working in our lives, and we will be their good examples.  They will either be attracted or repulsed by what they see, but if we are living robust lives with spiritual integrity, they will be seeing the things of God in us.

And those outside the Faith, those outside the household of God will not be the only ones who see this.  St. Paul continues, finishing today’s lesson:  “For as we have many members in one body, and all members have not the same office:  So we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another.”

In the Prayer of Thanksgiving in our beautiful Prayer Book, we read:  “that we are very members incorporate in the mystical body of thy Son, which is the blessed company of all faithful people;”  You right there, and all of your brothers and sisters, are members of Christ’s Body.  We call this the Church, the Bride of Christ.  Just as when a man takes a woman to be his bride they become one flesh, one body, members of each other, so too Christ takes His Church, which is His Body, to be His Holy Bride.  We see in Holy Matrimony a window into the mystery which is Christ and His Church.

And I say that to point out that each one of us are members in this one Body, Holy Mother Church.  For in Christ, the Church births new Christians through the Sacrament of Holy Baptism, in which we are renewed, regenerated, born again, made anew, transformed by the action of the Holy Ghost through the ministry of Christ to become a Holy People.  We, you and I, are joint-heirs of Christ, for we are adopted by God the Father.  Through God’s action, not through our own merit or through any offices of our own, are we united mystically and sacramentally to God.

We can sit down, drink some tea, and think of nice things; we can go to church, go back home, and remain unaffected to the best of our ability.  We may think ourselves above, or below, our brothers and sisters.  We may hold ourselves aloof, apart, beyond, beside, but not in direct relationship with these other Christians we worship with.  But none of that is:  “every one members one of another”.

We are to give ourselves entirely over to God.  We are to conform our minds, our wills, and our entire selves to the mind and will of God.  And we are made one body, “every one members one of another.”

My dear children, we are not fully Christian unless we are these things.  The sacramental washing with water in Holy Baptism immerses us fully into new life in Christ, and that requires our hearts and minds make the full journey also.

What is holding you back?  It’s probably not patriotism, for this is a cynical age.  Family?  Perhaps, but we are selfish.  Money?  Sex?  Living our own private lives?  Holding to our own peculiar opinions?  We are members one of another with our brothers and sisters in Christ.  We all together are one Body, which is the Body of Christ, for we are joined with Christ, and made adopted sons of God the Father.  Our salvation lies through Christ, and in Christ we are joined together.

Understand this:  Without the fools and the snobs sitting to your left and to your right, to your front and to your back, you are not saved.  No one can go this alone.  Christ wills that we all may be one.  We are in this together more than we can possibly understand here in our one short lifetime.

 

“we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another.”

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

 

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