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Posts Tagged ‘Saint Paul’

“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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“Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh.”

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

 

Spirit and flesh.  We hear those words, and we think of spirit being intangible things and flesh meaning our body.  But that’s not how these words are used by St. Paul, or indeed the central tradition of Christ’s Church.

In my chaplaincy residency, people confused the spiritual with the mental or emotional constantly.  I remember sitting around the conference table and realizing that the Presbyterian, Episcopalians, Lutheran, and the liberal Baptists were speaking of one thing and the conservative Baptist and I were speaking of another.  We meant the spiritual realm, the realm of angels, demons, and God; the realm in which we men only partially live.  The modernist Christians meant our emotions, how we feel, our thoughts, and our non-physical comfort.  When St. Paul speaks of the Spirit, he means the Holy Ghost.  When he speaks of spiritual things, he means supernatural non-physical things.  He does not mean the realm of our thoughts and emotions.

Likewise, his use of the word “flesh” can lead to confusion.  Am I not made with spirit and flesh?  If by that I mean my physical meat and bones, then yes.  Did not our Lord Christ take on human flesh when the Blessed Virgin Mary miraculously conceived?  If by that I mean the entirety of our humanity, then yes.

But St. Paul uses the word flesh differently.  His use of this word flesh is reiterated in the Prayer Book order for Holy Baptism, wherein we speak of the world, the flesh, and the devil.

The World,

Moslems and Hindus and atheists put Christians to torture and death every day because Christians follow Jesus and not whatever false idol is placed before them, whether it is Mohammed, Kali, or the Communist Party.  Many Christians in physically safer places fight manfully against the temptations of modern secular society, against the allure of luxury, against the prevailing mores of extramarital sex, against selfishness as a lifestyle, against institutionalized greed.  These fights are all fights against the world.  The world, in Christian terminology, is the world of sinful man.  It is not the Smokey Mountains and New Zealand.  Allah-worshippers burning down your church and old flames seducing you into adultery are both part of the temptations of the world.

The Flesh,

St. Paul writes about the “lust of the flesh” in today’s Epistle.  He is speaking of the fallen part of our humanity, that broken and evil part of ourselves that pulls us over and over again into sin, into spiritual jeopardy.  This flesh is the sinful nature of our souls – our eternal self which includes our body.  Christ says to cut off the offending member and we gasp.  Or we yawn.  But when it comes to our sinful habits that we relish, we do not want to cut that off from us.  Look at yourself, my good people.  You know your foibles.  You know your frailties.  You know which of the deadly sins you are most likely to commit, which sin is most delicious to you.  After all, if you did not find that sin delightful, you would not fail the trial and commit the sin.

No, we each have our own peculiar and individual delights, the taste of which will send us down to the fiery pits of Hell to live with Satan forever.  Is lust your problem?  Greed?  Gluttony?  Anger?  Sloth?  Each of us has major weaknesses where we are very susceptible to cowardly run from the good fight and seek our own pleasure.  And the rest of our sinful nature collaborates with this traitor in our soul.

This bent propensity within ourselves is what St. Paul calls “the flesh”.  If the world is the temptation around us, then the flesh is the temptation within us.

And the Devil

Each one of us has – and do not under any circumstances kid yourselves, you have been found guilty of crimes committed against God – every one of us struggles mightily with exterior temptations and interior temptations and wickedness.  But evil also comes to us in the person of that fallen archangel, Satan.  He tempts us primarily in the imagination.

Satan cannot make us sin.  He cannot control our will.  That part of ourselves that makes our decisions is flawed and weak from sin, but it is ours, not Satan’s.  However, Satan can entice us in our imaginations.  When we are thinking of something wholesome, the devil will whisper naughty things into our imagination.  Before we know it, we are thinking of something naughty.  We get a whiff of the pleasure it would bring us.  Whether we dwell on and delight in this naughtiness is up to us, but if we resist this time we can count on Old Scratch coming back around to tempt us again later.  This is the temptation of the devil.

The Sacrament of Holy Baptism arms us with supernatural gifts and brings us through death into the promise of everlasting life.  New life in Christ puts us in the battle on the winning side.  But battles are dangerous.  We get hurt in this battle.  We get tired.  We start wondering:  “When will it ever end?”  We bow down and cannot hardly think right.

And so we more fully understand the list of sins which St. Paul gives us and the list of the fruit of the Spirit.  We need help in distinguishing between right and wrong, goodness and wickedness, truth and falsehood.  We are complex flawed creatures who need help, who need a guide, who need a standard to judge our actions and thereby our hearts correctly.

Like a GPS device, like a blood pressure test, like balancing our checkbooks, we need to see where we are at and what we need to improve to get where we are going.

So St. Paul writes, “Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like….”

Think on these.  Are you guilty of these?  Oh, I doubt you have murdered anyone recently.  But wrath?  Strife?  Heresies?  Drunkeness?  Hatred?  Lasciviousness?

If so, then St. Paul continues:  “…they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.”  If we are committing anything on this list above, then we know that we are definitely on the wrong track and need to back up and turn around; we need to repent.  Think on that.  If we are letting sedition or drunkenness into our lives, we are on the road to Hell.  We have bent ourselves into destruction when we do these things.

But Blessed Paul the Apostle does not leave it there.  He goes on to the fruit of the Spirit:  “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.”  When we are living lives of meekness and gentleness, then we are on the right track.  When we are sharing peace and joy with our brothers and sisters and neighbors, then we are leading lives according to the Holy Spirit; we are bearing the fruit of God’s presence within our hearts.

We have two ways set before us, the way of life and the way of death, the way of Heaven and the way of Hell, the way of goodness and the way of wickedness.  We cannot overcome the dark forces of sin and death merely by following the law, by acting rightly in all our affairs.  We have darkness within us that will bend our perception of what is right and wrong.  We have darkness within us that leads us to consider ourselves above our neighbors when we are to love our neighbors as ourselves.  We must get outside help for us to live lives of holiness.  We need Christ.

St. Paul finishes this epistle lesson with:  “And they that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts.”  Our sinful nature, our flesh, our old man must suffer death; we must put our sinful self to death.  And that sinful part of ourselves is actually a part of ourselves.  We will hurt mightily as this dead flesh of ours dies.  But it must die.  Like rotten gangrenous flesh in a wound, we must scrape off the old to save the rest.

We hear hard stories of survival where the wolf must chew off his own leg to escape from the trap or where the hiker must cut off his hand to loose himself from an accident.  We must cut off those parts of ourselves which keep us from our good and loving God.  We who are baptized are to inherit the kingdom of God, and we shall, but we cannot bring our sin with us.  And we cannot bring those rotten parts of ourselves which lead us over and over again into sin with us.

My dear children, obey your baptismal vows and manfully fight and “continue Christ’s faithful soldier and servant unto his life’s end.”  This very day, make a firm resolution to put away from you your deepest most intractable sin.  And the Holy Ghost will help you every step of the way.

 

“Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh.”

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

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