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“Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall.”

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

 

“Temptation in Our Lives, Churches, and Society”

Looking at today’s Epistle lesson, we should know that the Corinthians were proud converts from the pagan religions of Greece and Rome.  Unlike many of the other church folk to whom St. Paul corresponded, they were not mostly converts from Judaism.  Their problems were different.

The Corinthians were tempted to compromise with their old religion, the religion of their friends, families, and social superiors. The Corinthians were tempted to consider Holy Baptism and the Blessed Sacrament as magical talismans which warded off evil and ill health.  Of course, they are nothing of the sort!  These Sacraments connect us deeply into eternal life in Christ.

St. Paul wrote to former pagans living in a pagan society.  He warns them from continuing to participate in banquets dedicated to heathen gods.  These compromises were hazardous to their spiritual health.  They were to avoid these sources of temptations lest what happened to Israel in the wilderness happen to them.

A healthy familiarity with Exodus comes in handy when reading this lesson.  Like the Corinthians and their Holy Baptism, Israel underwent a type of baptism with Moses in the Red Sea.  Like the Corinthians and receiving Holy Communion, Israel ate manna from Heaven and drank water which miraculously sprang from the rock.  But these blessings did not keep Israel from being “overthrown in the wilderness”.  They worshipped the golden calf and were punished.  They tempted God and were destroyed by serpents.  They rebelled from God and suffered horribly.  In the end, only Caleb and Joshua out of all those thousands made it into the Holy Land.  St. Paul writes, “Now all these things happened unto them for ensamples:” – or examples – “and they are written for our admonition.”

But with this warning to avoid compromise with unrighteousness and pacts with wickedness, St. Paul gives the Corinthians good news:  God always helps us in temptation.  At the end of the lesson we receive, along with our brethren the Corinthians, the promise that God will guard us from suffering unbearable temptation:  “God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.”

On the one hand, God only allowing us to be tempted at a level we can resist means that we are fully culpable for each and every sin we commit.  We can resist every temptation.  Therefore, if we fail to resist a temptation, we are to blame for not having resisted more.

On the other hand, God loves us and cares for us so much that he will not tolerate his beloved souls mistakenly breaking communion with Christ our Lord.  Being grafted onto Christ, we never suffer any temptation which forces us to break communion with him without our consent.  Christ wants us with Him for all eternity.

As an aside, notice that the Apostle to the Gentiles does not say here that God will not suffer us to receive more than we can handle.  We often receive more than we can handle.  I understand, not from experience, that young mothers can feel overwhelmed from lack of sleep and a demanding little baby.  I sometimes temporarily feel overwhelmed.  God will allow our decisions and the working of our mortal life to require more of us than we can possibly give.  It is precisely at this time that we should turn to God for comfort, meaning both strength for the journey and consolation.  We will never be tempted beyond what we can bear, but we may be given more to handle than we can bear.

 

Now, having seen how St. Paul considers temptation in First Corinthians, let us turn to three ways that we may be tempted.  We may be tempted morally in our lives of personal sanctity such as bearing good fruit in our relationship with Christ and other people.  We may be tempted sacramentally and ecclesiastically in our communal experience of worship, fellowship, service, and doctrine.  And we may be tempted socially in our lives in society and culture.

We manfully fight against temptation to secure our moral lives.  Three weeks ago we read in Romans vi that we were buried in Christ’s Crucifixion and raised in His Resurrection.  Our old man of sin died, and we put on Christ.  Two weeks ago we read that in Christ we went from earning wages of sin through our actions to receiving the free gift of God, “eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”  Last week we read in Romans viii that we have received the spirit of adoption, making us sons of God.  Instead of being slaves of sin, we are heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ.  Out of this new life in Christ we are expected to bear good fruit as befits a good tree.

Christ recognizes that temptation is dangerous and includes in the prayer He taught His disciples “and lead us not into temptation”.  St. Peter recognizes this and warns us in his first epistle, in words oft recited in Compline, “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour:  Whom resist stedfast in the faith.”  We are to pray to avoid temptation.  We are soberly to discern our actual situation regarding sin and temptation, sticking to the truth and not deceiving ourselves.  We are to watch for temptation with vigilance, never letting down our guard and allowing temptation to take hold and grow like a cancer into sin.  We are never in so great a danger as when we think that we are no longer susceptible to the power of temptation.

Since our old man of sin is dead and we are living in Christ, made one with His Body, we ought to strive to resist temptation and produce good works.  We can only produce good works in conjunction with avoiding sin.  Remember that the goodness of our good works does not come from our finite sinful lives but in Christ’s infinite holy life.  We guard against temptation to keep producing good works that joyfully reflect the beauty of the world, love amongst men, and love between God and man.

Think of our consecrated lives in Christ as a clear mirror which reflects Christ’s love back at Him and our fellow man.  Think of sin as besmirching that formerly clear mirror so that our reflection of Christ’s love is muddled and rendered ineffectual.  We watch out for temptation to keep our good works good.

 

We manfully fight against temptation to secure our sacramental and ecclesiastical lives.  If you recall, I once ran in horror from the Anglican Catholic Church.  I developed five reasons to never become a “Continuer”.  Yet in my fourteen years in the Episcopal Church, I saw heresy after heresy.  I tried to follow Christ, suffering mockery with my comrades, while others forged a new religion utterly at variance with the historic and Apostolic religion of the faith once delivered to the saints.  I fell to the temptation of compromise with the intolerable – valuing ersatz visible union – than to conforming myself to unwavering Gospel truth.

Beaten and humbled, I finally surrendered, yielded my own willfulness, and submitted to the Gospel in the Anglican Catholic Church.  Nightmares I had suffered for ten years vanished.  My broken and compromised faith slowly healed.  I welcomed good old-fashioned sin and forgiveness in the parish without any heresy and false sacramental unity.

We Anglican Catholics truly believe all the ancient truths of the Christian faith without any whitewashing.  I came to regard with great affection the Affirmation of St. Louis, a witness for the Gospel against the temptations of today:  No mealy mouthed half assurances about abortion; clear teaching about Apostolic Order and completeness of Holy Scripture; traditional liturgy; robust understanding of the sanctity of marriage.  I underwent Confirmation at the hands of Archbishop Haverland, as some of you did as well, as some of you look forward to doing.

I look at my friends who are priests in the Episcopal Church and the Neo-Anglicans of the Anglican Church in North America and wonder what happened.  Those ecclesiastical bodies either remain or claim to remain in sacramental communion with the Church of England, that same church which claims to ordain women into the priesthood and thereby proves that they do not adhere to the universal Catholic understanding of Holy Order.  We simply mean different things with the same words by “priesthood”, “episcopacy”, and “Sacraments” than they do.  We continue Anglicanism because we keep the same faith that Lady Julian, Charles I, Samuel Seabury, John Keble, and Albert Chambers did, even if we keep neither the once-venerated name nor the buildings of the Episcopal Church.

 

We manfully fight against temptation to witness in our public lives in society.  We can consider this in two ways, enticing society and threatening society.  The company of our good friends and of the “better” elements of society can tempt us away from the Gospel truth.  A desire to fit in with those friends who might be offended tempts us into living a public life without spiritual integrity.

We know from Holy Scripture and the teaching of our Mother the Church that we were created male and female.  In a day when marriage is openly mocked in both same-sex unions and open acceptance of divorce and remarriage, the confusion brought about by claiming to be male when born female and vice versa tempts many of us to humor those who confound the truth of the matter.  When we acquiesce or conform to those who spin fables, who entice us with social station, employment, and good reputation, then we may very well be yielding to the temptation of participating in the sins of others by silence or approval.  Many fall into sin under the guise of good manners.  Sacrificial loving-kindness produces true good manners but tolerates no caving to temptation.

Dangerous society holds its own temptations as well.  During the Boko Haram attack on the Nigerian schoolgirls this April, a seven-year-old girl was asked to deny Christ with a rifle to her head.  She refused.  Urgently asked again, she refused again.  Amazed, the Moslem jihadists let her go.  Who of us here today would have been so bold?  As Christ said, “Verily I say unto you, Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, he shall not enter therein.”

This past week, the Chaldean Christian primate of Iraq announced that the last Christian families in Mosul had fled with their lives before the onslaught of the ISIL.  This is the first time in 1,600 years that this ancient city has had no Christians in it.  Many are martyred, others have fled, and their property has been confiscated to distribute to Moslems.  In China, the Communist government is trying to take control of all Christian churches.  No one is dying, but would I resist unto death the government dictating to me how to preach and administer the Holy Sacraments?  I would like to think so.  But I have not suffered that temptation yet.  I pray that I never do.  But our brethren around the world are paying with their lives this very day.

 

Temptation is so important to our life with God that we pray about it every time we pray the Lord’s Prayer.  The wholesome habits, Christian character, and openness to God that helps us avoid and survive temptation helps us flower with the fruit of many virtues and good works pleasing to God.

Remember that in our Christian pilgrimage, God will not allow us to be tempted beyond what we can bear.  So whether in our day to day lives, our lives in Christian unity, or moment of need before the despisers of Christ, the Lord will cover and protect us in our hour of temptation.

 

“Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall.”

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

 

 

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“If I must needs glory, I will glory of the things which concern mine infirmities.”

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

 

While St. Paul seldom boasts in his letters, he makes up for it here.  But the Corinthians have it coming.  For even though he evangelized them, they turned their back on him as soon as the Judaizers followed him, preaching that the Corinthians had to follow the Jewish Law in order to be truly Christian.  Thus, they felt that they were superior to St. Paul and his apostolic teaching.  He shows in this Epistle that, if they had any reason to have confidence in the flesh, then he had more.  He shows that he places his trust in Christ, rather than in the Law, more confidence in his weaknesses, than his supposed strengths.  Like a fool, he boasts in his weakness and the sufferings he had endured for Christ.  He powerfully shows his anger at, and disappointment in, the Corinthians.

This boasting in Christ instead of in his own merits records for posterity the sufferings St. Paul endured as a minister of the Gospel and Apostle to the Gentiles.  Indeed, his account of suffering here far exceeds what is recorded in the Acts of the Apostles.  When we compare our suffering for the Gospel to his, we fall shamefully short.  We are pitiful compared to this hero of the faith who claimed his efforts were pitiful compared to Christ.  That should give us a proper perspective to consider our work on behalf of the Gospel of Christ.  What he freely gave again and again, we carefully guard and hold back again and again.

Let’s look at the Epistle verse by verse.

Verse 20:  “Ye suffer fools gladly, seeing ye yourselves are wise. For ye suffer, if a man bring you into bondage, if a man devour you, if a man take of you, if a man exalt himself, if a man smite you on the face.”  The Corinthians have been duped and treated poorly, and yet they think themselves superior to St. Paul!  They have mindlessly obeyed, spent lavishly on, been taken advantage of by, and submitted themselves to false teachers, like fools following whatever goofy fad ensnares the Hollywood elite.  If they can hearken to such fakers, then they can listen to St. Paul.

Verse 21:  “I speak as concerning reproach, as though we had been weak. Howbeit whereinsoever any is bold, (I speak foolishly,) I am bold also.”  St. Paul says here, “as though we had been weak” although it was the Corinthians themselves who had been foolishly led.  He then leads into his major premise:  If anyone actually has reason to boast, you can be assured that he has more.

Verse 22:  “Are they Hebrews? so am I. Are they Israelites? so am I. Are they the seed of Abraham? so am I.”  Here begins the boasting, although he had reiterated that this whole line of commentary is foolish.  He is every bit as Jewish as the Judaizer heretics are.  They have no superiority here.

Verse 23:  “Are they ministers of Christ? (I speak as a fool) I am more; in labours more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent, in deaths oft.”  If he is every bit as Jewish as they are, then note too that St. Paul has suffered greatly for the Gospel of our Lord in work, scourgings, prison time, and being surrounded by death.  They have nothing on him one way, and they have nothing on him the other.

Verse 24:  “Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one.”  Deuteronomy xxv.1-3 prescribes the maximum number of lashes allowable under the Law of Moses as forty.  In order to not inadvertently exceed this number, the number given was thirty-nine, so if they lost count, they did not violate the Law.  So St. Paul has received the maximum allowable scourging on five separate occasions.  This is not recorded elsewhere in Scripture.  We have here proof that St. Paul did many heroic things which were not recorded elsewhere in the New Testament.  We see here that the Jews persistently and with great determination attempted to shut St. Paul up.

Verse 25:  “Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep;”  This verse is a traditional favorite of youth groups.  “Beaten with rods” was a Roman punishment, showing Roman hostility in addition to the previously noted Jewish hostility.  The whole world seemed to work against the Apostle to the Gentiles, seeking to silence the proclamation of the Good News.  He was stoned, the same punishment for which he held the coats of those who martyred St. Stephen.  He was shipwrecked three times before his voyage to Rome recounted in the Acts.  He spent “a night and a day” marooned in the open ocean, adrift at sea.  This is a tale of high adventure greater than one by Robert Louis Stevenson!

Verse 26:  “In journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren;”  He moves here to a nearly hypnotic repetition of where he had been in trouble.  What a catalog!  Who among us except the most seasoned travelers have even been to such a variety of places, much less suffered for our great Incarnate God there?  As for me, I think I have only been mildly in peril once by my own countrymen.  So many of our fellow saints have followed the way of St. Paul, have followed the way of Christ!  So much suffering, and for such a good cause!

Verse 27:  “In weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness.”  We see here that not only has he suffered grave dangers, but he has survived in brutal discomfort.  I got a little chilly the other week.  Despite my own disease, I suffer not from watchings, hunger, thirst, cold, and nakedness.  When I think that I have it rough, I can think of the saints of old – and of today elsewhere in the world – and remember that we are promised no comfort save that of Christ and the Holy Ghost.  The correct perspective of our actual situation helps us govern our emotions and expectations, keeping us faithful and drawing us closer in loving-kindness to the Son of God.

Verse 28:  “Beside those things that are without, that which cometh upon me daily, the care of all the churches.”  And what follows the tribulations of torture, shipwreck, fasting, nakedness, and such?  The burden of “care of all the churches”.  Think of that the next time we welcome Archbishop Haverland to our fair parish.  Daily external hardships are only part of the apostle’s suffering.  The internal weight of the care of parishes, the burden of pastoral authority, the cure of souls is of such import that St. Paul mentions it in this privileged place in his list.

He remembers the churches he has founded.  He prays for them.  As we can see in his letters, also called epistles, St. Paul is constantly sending someone to visit a church for him, constantly pressing on to another mission site, disputing publicly in yet another city, being thrown into yet another jail for challenging the authority of the leaders of the synagogue.  St. Paul certainly cares for this church in Corinth, but he cares for many others as well.  This alone should chasten the Corinthians that they have been singled out for such a rant.  But St. Paul cares about the churches which he has not even visited, putting the Corinthians even more to their shame.

Verse 29:  “Who is weak, and I am not weak? who is offended, and I burn not?”  Many Christians throughout his mission field are weak and many suffer indignations every day.  And St. Paul is right there with them in body and in spirit.  He is weak when they are weak.  And he burns when they are offended.  He is not ashamed to say that he is weak; remember, he started today’s Epistle with saying as much.  And indeed, this leads to the next verse.

Verse 30:  “If I must needs glory, I will glory of the things which concern mine infirmities.”  St. Paul “will glory of the things which concern mine infirmities.”  This is madness in the eyes of the world.  Glory in my infirmities?  Infirmities are to be dismissed, saying “that’s nothing”, or they are to be denied, like saying that instead of being disabled I am “otherly abled”, or infirmities are to be pitied and raged against with anger and venom.

But our apostle is doing something different than our broken and deranged natural inclinations would have us do.  He is glorying in his weakness.  He is completely dependent upon his good God.  The entire world is against him, Jews and Romans both.  Yet he perseveres.  This is all due to Christ and to Him alone.  St. Paul knows that all the merit in the world is as nothing compared to the incomparable gift of grace in the Incarnation of Christ, His death upon the Cross, and His Resurrection with power and great glory.  When we acknowledge ourselves to be the weak creatures compared to the sovereign power of God, we open ourselves up to be the grateful beneficiaries of the grace, merits, and goodness of Christ.

You cannot receive anything in a closed fist.  Who of you would cross your arms across your chest and hopes that somebody would let you have your turn to hold the baby?  Who of you would duck your head away when your honey leans close for a kiss?  Who of you would come to Holy Communion and close your hands and your mouth and expect to receive the Body and Blood of our Lord Christ?  You can’t normally receive what you are not open for.  And as St. Paul learned on his way to Damascus, the only way to receive grace when you are not open to it is to be struck blind and knocked to the ground.

As we approach this holy season of Lent, I challenge each one of you to find two things to change your life so that you are more open to receive grace.  I ask you to drop some impediment to God’s grace in your life.  Normally, this is in the form of a Lenten fast.  Have you been hitting the bottle too hard lately?  Drop the booze.  Too much sugar lately?  Cut out the sweets.  Suspect that television, delicacies, or loose talk is interfering with your relationship with God?  Change it up.

I furthermore ask you to add some particular aid to receiving God’s grace this Lent.  Walk the Stations of the Cross every Friday with us.  Say Mattins with us before Sunday School.  Attend a weekday Mass each week.  Make a Lenten Confession.  Dig into your St. Augustine’s Prayer Book and say a devotion to the Sacred Heart each day.

Add one discipline and subtract one distraction and you will see an improvement in your spiritual life this Lent.  I dare you.  Will you dare try?

 

“If I must needs glory, I will glory of the things which concern mine infirmities.”

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

 

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