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

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

 

“Good Fruit and the Mystery of Salvation”

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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“that ye might be filled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; that ye might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God;”

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

 

5K races have taken off in popularity.  All sorts of people who would never run the Peachtree Road Race in Atlanta or the Boston Marathon will try to run their local 5K race.  But running a race is not a matter of rolling off your couch and hitting the road.  You have to have good legs and healthy lungs.  You have to get up and go.  Most importantly, even if you have the willingness and the ability to do it, you have to actually practice running in order to grow strong, fast, and hardy enough to run a race.

So it is with our salvation.  We are born again as new Christians through belief in Christ and the waters of Holy Baptism.  God’s grace comes upon us and wipes us clean of sin and sets in us a right mind to pursue the things of God.  Most starkly, instead of going to Hell, we now are going to Heaven.  We do not earn this; this blessing of blessings is given to us.  Like little newborns, we do not even have to earn any part of this gift of life; we are open and receptive and receive God’s goodness.

But as we mature, as we grow strong legs and strong lungs in the Lord, so must we exercise the good gifts which God has given us.  We cannot walk the walk of faith by resting on our hindquarters.  We must put our rear in gear and follow Christ with our legs of faith.  We need to live under the shadow of God’s grace and use it every day if we are to grow strong in the Lord.

Thus, if we are to exercise the good gift or charism of intercessory prayer, we need to get to the business of praying for others.  If we are to exercise the theological virtue of loving-kindness, that means we need to get to the business of loving the Lord our God and our neighbors through specific acts of love.  If we are to exercise Godly wisdom, that means we need to get to the business of obeying the commandments of God and living in love each day, every day.

We are made fit to enter Heaven when our sins are wiped away in Holy Baptism.  But for those of us who do not die immediately after our Baptism, we will sin again.  God expects that we will sin less and our consciences will be convicted of our sin when we do sin, but we will sin again.  I dare say that each adult here has sinned since Baptism.  We will not stay clean and holy in the eyes of God if we do not confess our sins.  In short, there is more to our salvation than God’s applying the merits of the Cross of Christ to us in Holy Baptism.

So it is that the instant act of new life in Christ is a necessary part of a larger movement of grace.  If we are to live in Christ, then we must necessarily grow in Christ.  This is what St. Paul is talking about here in his Epistle to the Colossians.

 

In this epistle, St. Paul says that he had not visited Colossae, and the Christians there did not know him except by reputation.  As Fr. Massey Shepherd wrote, “St. Paul’s intercession is cast in general terms about the theme of spiritual growth both in good works and in the knowledge of God.”

So this epistle is a rather impersonal exposition about life in Christ and growth in the Holy Ghost.  St. Paul mentions seven things which show maturity in the Christian faith:  Wisdom, spiritual understanding, walking worthy, fruit in good work, increasing in knowledge of God, strengthened with might, and giving thanks.

Like him and the Colossians, we are each to be entering into and growing in these activities.  Each one of us is a distinct creature made by God in his image, so each of us will not look exactly alike.  However, each of us ought to be showing evidence of growth and maturity appropriate to our calling.

Are we wise?  Do we show spiritual understanding?  Do we “walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing?”  Do we “bringeth forth fruit?”  Are we “increasing in the knowledge of God?”  Are we “strengthened with all might, according to his glorious power, unto all patience and long-suffering with joyfulness?”  Are we “giving thanks unto the Father, which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light?”

We do these things for the continued conversion of our soul and for the conversion of the souls around us, as well as the overflowing of God’s grace in our lives.  Our bearing the fruit of good work, our being strengthened with might, our giving thanks will be changing ourselves from sinfulness to godliness, noticeable to others and convicting of others, and glorifying to God.

Married couples and family members, even if all Christians, even if all serious Christians, and even if all members of the same parish, can be expected to jostle and bump into each other as they grow.  This is to be expected.  Love and patience are needed as different people grow in their own ways.

Spiritual growth is the maturity and continuation of our salvation.  As Christians, we are called to something, to a status, to a station, to a condition, to a way of being, not just to a person.  Or rather, being called to the Divine Person, we will be changed along the way.  Either way, sanctification is a real thing and one that is part of my journey and part of your journey.

 

Now, I am going to use five words which end in –ation.  You probably have heard of these.  If you are anything like me, then you also have a hard time remembering what they mean.  But these words help us gain understanding about salvation and growth in holiness, such as written in today’s Epistle.

These “-ation” words are justification, sanctification, consecration, purification, and assimilation.  Christ saves us in justification and sanctification.  Consecration, purification, and assimilation are aspects of sanctification.

Sanctification is thoroughly united with justification, even though St. Paul uses different vocabulary for them.  Sanctification is thereby tied to our salvation; our continued growth in holiness is connected with Christ’s saving us.  The two are inextricably bound.  This is one of the confounding aspects of both medieval and Reformation theology of salvation, or soteriology, where a host of different parties pried the two apart.  That is no good.

Now, sanctification has three aspects:  consecration, purification, and assimilation into the divine character.  That is, we are set apart as holy, or consecrated.  We are made clean from our sinful ways, or purified.  We are made to grow into the likeness of Christ, or assimilated.

To make holy, to sanctify, to consecrate is to set apart for God’s use.  Holy means set apart for God.  We are called out of the sinful condition of humanity and made Christ’s in the Sacrament of Holy Baptism.  We are set apart from the carnal, or fleshy, things of this world.  This is often spoken of with regards to our salvation, to our justification, to use St. Paul’s term.  To be set aside for God’s purposes is to be consecrated, so in consecration we are set apart for God.

This happens initially and powerfully in Holy Baptism.  But we are re-consecrated from time to time as well.  Each time we are given grace, whether in the Blessed Sacrament, in our marriage or ordination, or in our prayers, we are yet again set apart from the things of this world, we are set apart to be God’s.

But to be kept consecrated, we cannot sully ourselves with the stain of sin.  Therefore, we must also be purified of all sin.  This second aspect of sanctification called purification assists in the keeping of this first aspect of sanctification called consecration.

We must keep God’s will as it is known to us in Holy Scriptures, Holy Church, and in our conscience.  We are to remain chaste and free from sexual sin.  We are to live in loving-kindness with other people.  We must live our lives in self-discipline.  And we are to regularly confess our sins in our private prayers, in the Offices and Mass, and sometimes even in private with a priest.  We must remain free from sin.  We must remove all obstacles that keep us away from God.

We are to grow into the likeness of the divine nature of God as it has been revealed to us in Christ our Lord.  He is God incarnate; He is God with us.  As He lived, so are we to live.  He avoided all sin.  He lived in the will of God the Father.  He prayed often and alone, yet He also worshipped in the Temple.  He loved everyone He met.  He prayed for His persecutors and died for our sins.  This is the life we too must live.  This is the life which will let us live in the presence of God for all eternity.  This is the original image of God in which we were made.  We must join in the divine character of God.  We must assimilate into Godliness.

Only through this consecration, purification, and assimilation are we to be both justified and sanctified and fit for the Kingdom of Heaven.  St. Peter quotes:  “Be ye holy; for I am holy,” in I St. Peter i.16.  Christ says, “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect” in St. Matthew v.48.  It is only in the participation of the divine life of God that we are meet to enter into Heaven.

 

We are called to be mature Christians.  We are called to be wise in the Lord, to live our lives with spiritual understanding, to walk worthy in the Lord, to show forth good fruit through good works, to increase in the knowledge of God, to be strengthened with all might, according to his glorious power, unto all patience and long-suffering with joyfulness, and to give thanks to the Father.

How are we to do this?  We can only do this by growing.  If we are to claim the Holy Name of Christ, then we cannot stay as we are.  That’s right:  We are not good enough.  But not in the eyes of the world, but in the eyes of God.  We are not acceptable.  We are made acceptable through Christ, but we must afterwards grow to be like Christ.  Consecrated for God, we must purify ourselves of all sin and grow into the likeness of Christ.

We do this in the same ways that we have considering for months now:  Weekly worship, frequent Holy Communion, regular fasting, tithing, confessing our sins daily, weekly, and as needed, and keeping ourselves chaste.  We will burst forth in holiness and prayer and thankfulness to our Lord God as we diligently apply ourselves to running the race which he has set before us.

 

“that ye might be filled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; that ye might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God;”

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

 

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