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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

As Fr. Von Cochem says about the Devil:

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

St. Mark ix.43-4

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

 

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In today’s collect, we pray to God, “that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the quick and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal….”

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

 

“Preparing for Death”

I remember watching my father breathe his last breath and literally expire.  One minute my father lay sick, and the next minute his body lay dead.  Right before was the last minute of my life with him, and right after was the first minute of my life without him.

Anguish washed over my soul.  I did not know how to breathe without him in my life; I did not know how to eat, sleep, or go to school without his presence.  But I learned.  And learning how to live my life without him was horrible beyond description.

 

We fear death.  We fear death because in dying we leave this way of existence and head into another way of existence, a way which we know nothing about by personal experience.

We fear death because we have seen others die.  We continue on, and they apparently do not.  We wish to continue on, even if our current life is miserable.  We instinctively cherish our own lives and do not want to give them up.

We fear death because death comes when the body sustains irreparable damage by accident, disease, or age.  All three are deeply ugly in our sight.  We shudder when we imagine ourselves receiving damage from a horrible accident, or succumbing to a deadly disease, or wasting away in our elder infirmity.  We would rather live in our youthful bodies, or failing that, our bodies as we currently have them.

We fear death because we naturally perceive that death is contrary to the created order of things.  Why would God create us if we were to die?  God Incarnate, Christ Himself cried when He beheld the dead body of His friend Lazarus.  If God who overcomes death cries at death, we who cannot overcome death certainly quail in its presence.

 

Death is one of the essential facts of Creation’s brokenness.  The other is sin, intimately related to death.

In Genesis, we read that “God created the heaven and the earth.”  And after each day of Creation, “God saw that it was good.”  Except on the last day, when “God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.”  On that sixth day, “God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good.”

So the human race is the capstone upon Creation, that finishing part that made it “very good” in God’s sight.  We were to live with God for all eternity in the Garden.  Possessing both body and soul, we were to walk with God and enjoy his immediate and direct presence.

But our ancestors broke our communion with God when they defied him and sought to live in power and glory without him, partaking of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.  And lest they stretched forth their hands and partake of the Tree of Life, God expelled them from the Garden.

Before he expelled them, God cursed us, saying, “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.”

So it is that death is an unnatural state brought upon by Man’s Fall into sin.  It is necessarily related to sin.  Sin brought death into the world of men.  The only way to remedy death is by remedying sin.

 

Death is a miserable predicament.  Death breaks asunder that which God created to be one.  We are meant to be whole, body and soul.  Death is like unto divorce, which rips apart that which God has joined together.  Once God has put these things together into one essential and holy thing, it is against nature and God to destroy it.  Thus, death is an abomination by its nature and by its disobedience to God’s will.

We brought upon ourselves this death, this destruction.  By following their will instead of God’s will, Adam and Eve chose to destroy themselves.  They didn’t know what they were getting into, but out of their stupid lust they went and wrecked what God had created.

And we are no better than they were.  You and I are guilty of this sin.  We have caused our own deaths.  Even the best of us “have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;”  By thinking that our ways are better than God’s ways, we stray from him.  God is the creator, nurturer, and sustainer of life; yet we think that we can create, nurture, and sustain ourselves away from him.  Each one of us has earned his own death.

 

So from the time of Adam and Eve until the Annunciation to the Blessed Virgin Mary, death reigned in the lives of men without any sure remedy.  But God did not leave men alone.  The Patriarchs spoke with God personally, and he guided them.  God gave the Law through Moses to Israel.  God sent the Prophets to preach to Israel.

Then, as St. Paul wrote in Galatians iv.4:  “But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman ….”  Christ became Man, uniting the fulness of divinity and the fulness of humanity in one holy Person.  St. Paul also wrote in Romans xiv.9, “For to this end Christ both died, and rose, and revived, that he might be Lord both of the dead and living.”

We need not die like those without hope.  Christ took on our mortal human nature and died.  God the Father sent God the Son into the world as the Christ, the Messiah, the Savior of the world.  And He conquered death.  But He conquered death in a most interesting way:  Christ conquered death by dying Himself.  He apparently yielded to sin and death.

But no!  Christ rose from the grave, defeating death and sin.  In Christ, we are victorious over the grave.  The grave has claimed the life of almost every man who ever lived, save only Enos and Elijah in the Old Testament.  Christ has destroyed the hold of the grave over us.  Yet we must enter the grave just like our Lord Christ did.  Each of us will die, but for those who are counted among the redeemed of the Lord, we will live with God for all eternity.

 

So, given that each of us must die unless the Lord returns first, it obviously follows that we must prepare for our deaths.  I say obviously, but sometimes it doesn’t seem obvious at all.  I want to forget that I will die, my body will rot, and my soul will flee.  I want to live my life blissfully ignoring this obvious fact of my life.  I want to ignore it because I want to do whatever I want whenever I want.  I want to dictate the terms of my life to God, just like Adam and Eve did, just you do, just like we all do.

This is wrong.  But we still do it.  So, the first thing we must do to prepare for our inevitable end is to think upon our death each and every day.  This is called memento mori.  Some will object that this is morbid and sad.  To this the Church answers that the only way to life everlasting is through faith in Christ, and that means that we must think on our death and on our Savior.  So first, remember that you will die.

Secondly, we must not only remember that we will die but have faith in Christ and repent of our sins.  The minimum duty of Churchmen, the Six Duties of Churchmen, are not only our least duty but also our saving path.

We must attend Mass each and every Sunday and Holy Day of Obligation.  We must receive the Body and Blood of Christ at least three times a year, one of those times being during Christmastide.  We must tithe, fast, and keep the Church’s rules for sexual relations.  And we must keep our consciences clean.  These tidily fall into three sections for preparing ourselves for Heaven.

First, we must focus upon the objective worship of Christ in the Mass.  We each subjectively worship Christ in many parts of our lives, such as holy thoughts, devout feelings, and inspired sharing.  But Christ gave us His Body and Blood to partake of it, not to ignore it.  When we join ourselves with Christ’s offering of Himself to the Father, we mystically join together with Christ.  A woman who has done this reverently for seventy years is better prepared to meet Christ’s Judgement than a man who mostly forgets to show up to worship.

Second, tithing, fasting, and keeping the Church’s Law of Marriage help us live our lives in the moral way Christ would have us live them.  We ought to be generous, loving, patient, self-sacrificing, and treat our selves and other people’s selves in holiness and godliness.  If we were to tithe, fast, and keep ourselves sexually as we are supposed to while worshipping God and keeping our consciences pure, then we would find ourselves moving in the right direction to God, thus preparing for our judgement.

Third, we must keep our consciences pure.  On the one hand, we must avoid sin and eagerly seek after righteousness.  On the other hand, we must confess our sins.  Thus we repent, or turn away from, our sins.  We should privately tell God each day what we have done wrong, our firm resolution to avoid doing that again, and asking him for forgiveness.  We also can assist our devotion at Mass by remembering our sins and earnestly saying the confession with these sins on our hearts.  We can also come to me or another priest and confess our sins in the Sacrament of Penance.

When our last hour comes, our soul will be brutally torn away from our body.  Satan and the wicked demons will assail us at that hour to tempt us away from Christ with thoughts that He cannot save us, that our sins are more than He can forgive, and that we have no need of Christ at all.  Although our guardian angel and patron saints will powerfully intercede for us at that moment, the singularly best way for us to prepare for the torment and temptation of our death is to be strong in prayer and pure in soul.  And that requires preparation.

 

Advent is upon us.  Holy Church has for many centuries preached on death this very Sunday, which is most proper for helping us prepare for Christ’s return or our death, whichever comes first.

This Advent, I urge you to prepare for the inevitable fate you face.  I love you as my dear children.  I want each and every one of you to prosper in the loving-kindness of Jesus Christ our Lord.  I want each and every one of you to live with each other forever in God’s Kingdom.  I want to enjoy your presence forever before God our Father in the Holy Ghost.

With these wishes of love and peace and enjoying you as you were made by our Lord God, I ask you this week to try at least one of two things.  First, thoughtfully make a list of your sins and then reverently confess them to Christ either with the prayer of confession in the Prayer Book or in the Sacrament of Confession.  Second, pick your most intractable or hardest to control sin and try very hard to confess and turn from it every day this week.

The best way to prepare is to exercise.  The best way to prepare for a spiritual struggle is spiritual exercise.  Try at least one of these confessions of sin this week and prepare to meet your maker.  If you earnestly try, you will find yourself in better shape to be judged by Christ.

 

“that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the quick and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal….”

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

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“ALL of you be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility: for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble.”

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

 

“Clothed with Humility”

“Humility is a virtue all preach, none practise, and yet everybody is content to hear. The master thinks it good doctrine for his servant, the laity for the clergy, and the clergy for the laity.” – John Selden

Several years ago, my eyesight increasingly did not serve me as well as it had.  For my entire life until then, I had excellent eyesight.  Then, I didn’t.  With my wife’s urging, I submitted myself to the eye doctor, who did strange things with my eyes.  She then handed me a slip of paper with odd numbers on it.  I then handed this paper to another lady, picked out some frames, and left.  Days later, I came back to receive a new pair of glasses.  Putting them on, I could see well again.  I did nothing.  But I went to the people that did this well.  The same is true for the veterinarian, the tailor, and the auto mechanic.  They do that which I cannot do.  I must submit myself to their expertise in order to receive their help.  If I act proudly and insist I know what I’m doing even when I don’t, then I cannot see, have a sick animal, an ill-fitting pair of pants, and a car that won’t run.

Humility involves knowing:  Knowing that I am incapable, that I cannot do some things.  Humility also involves action:  Acting in submission to those who can do what I cannot do.  For example:  I need saving.  But, I cannot save myself.  So, I submit myself to Christ, Who can save me.

 

God in his Holy Scripture commands us to be humble if we are to truly follow God the Father and Christ our Lord.

The prophetess Huldah says in 2 Chronicles xxxiv.27 – “Because thine heart was tender, and thou didst humble thyself before God, when thou heardest his words against this place, and against the inhabitants thereof, and humbledst thyself before me, and didst rend thy clothes, and weep before me; I have even heard thee also, saith the LORD.”

The prophet Isaiah writes in lvii.15 – “For thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy; I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones.”

The prophet Micah writes in vi.8 – “He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the LORD require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?”

Christ Himself says in St. Luke xiv.11 – “For whosoever exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.”

St. Paul writes in Philippians ii.3 – “Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves.”

St. James writes in iv.6 – “But he giveth more grace. Wherefore he saith, God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble.”

Keeping with the Holy Writ, the saints and Fathers of the Church admonish us to humility.  St. Benedict is the father of western monasticism and founder of the Benedictine Order of monks.  A brief biography of him appears on the back of today’s bulletin.  Here is a section of Chapter 7 of the Holy Rule of St. Benedict, On Humility:

“The first degree of humility, then, is that a man always have the fear of God before his eyes, shunning all forgetfulness and that he be ever mindful of all that God hath commanded, that he always considereth in his mind how those who despise God will burn in hell for their sins, and that life everlasting is prepared for those who fear God. And whilst he guardeth himself evermore against sin and vices of thought, word, deed, and self-will, let him also hasten to cut off the desires of the flesh.

Let a man consider that God always seeth him from Heaven, that the eye of God beholdeth his works everywhere, and that the angels report them to Him every hour. The Prophet telleth us this when he showeth God thus ever present in our thoughts, saying: “The searcher of hearts and reins is God”.

We are thus forbidden to do our own will, since the Scripture saith to us: “And turn away from thy evil will”. And thus, too, we ask God in prayer that His will may be done in us.”

 

Not only does God desire us to be humble, but humility is the only realistic way of looking at the world, for it alone leads to truth.  Pride always leads us into warped perceptions of reality, similar to bad eyesight.  Pride leads us to think that we are more powerful than we are.  Pride leads us to act as if we were God.  And “God resisteth the proud.”

King Canute was king of England before the Norman Invasion almost one full millennia ago.  Here is a story of Canute according to the Historia Anglorum of Henry, archdeacon of Huntingdon in 1154 (The Chronicle of Henry of Huntingdon, pp 198-199):

“…at the summit of his power, [King Canute] ordered a seat to be placed for him on the sea-shore when the tide was coming in. Then, before a large group of his flattering courtiers, he spoke to the rising sea, saying, “Thou, too, art subject to my command, for the land on which I am seated is mine, and no one has ever resisted my commands with impunity. I command you, then, o waters, not to flow over my land, nor presume to wet the feet and the robe of your lord.”  The tide, however, continued to rise as usual, dashing over his feet and legs without respect to his royal person.  Then the King leaped backwards, saying: “Let all men know how empty and worthless is the power of kings, for there is none worthy of the name, but He whom heaven, earth, and sea obey by eternal laws.”

The king himself knew that pretending to rule over the waves and sea was sheer foolishness.  Humility knows truth and spurns silliness and confusion.

Bishop Mortimer of Essex wrote a lovely little book on the Six Duties of Churchmen.  He also wrote a wise and solid tome called Elements of Moral Theology.  In that work, he writes:

“[The humble man] is ever judging himself as in the eyes of God, not in comparison with his fellow man.  Having a true judgement of himself, he recognizes that all his virtues are themselves the gift of God.  This is the heart of humility.  He does not exalt himself, neither does he despise his fellows.  He honors God and he honors his fellows as God’s creatures.  He honors every man truly in proportion as he finds him honorable in the sight of God.  He rightly and properly honors and prefers good men above bad men.  But he is not thereby proud, because he knows that both he and they owe what goodness they possess to God; the evil which they share with evil men is of themselves.”

Wishful thinking is the enemy of truth and humility.  God knows perfectly how things truly are in his creation.  He would have us know our true condition, so that we may rightly turn to him for help.  The teachings of Holy Scripture and the worship of Holy Church help us to become truly humble.

 

Clothing ourselves with the humility of Christ, we do not resist but rather accept His supernatural blessing and great might against sin and death.  Besides God’s grace and loving-kindness, humility is our greatest defense against sin of all kinds, the world, the flesh, and the devil.

The world teaches us to envy those who have what we lack.  Modern politics tells us that we must resent those who have more than we have, even if we have enough.  Today’s fashion tells us that our clothes and personal products are outdated and make us look old, so we must buy, buy, buy more, newer, expensive things to keep up lest we fall behind.  Popular arts and music tell us that the beautiful things of yesterday are decidedly inferior to what is popular today.

In essence, the world tells us that what we have, no matter how virtuous, how beautiful, and how good, is inferior to what drives the crowds mad today.  And heaven forbid that a follower of new things takes offense at you for sticking with your hard-fought-for understanding of the Gospel and what is good.  The world puts the burden on you to not offend those who follow popular unwholesome ways!

St. Paul uses the word ‘flesh’ to mean our sinful nature.   In older times, people understood that their problems were first and foremost problems with themselves.  Instead of encouraging suspicion towards our own thoughts and action, today’s thought celebrates whatever distortions and perversions lie within our sinful soul.

Therefore, politics must be the reason I do not have that which I am entitled.  God forbid, people today understand that their personal barriers to wholeness are actually the things which God has given them and define them!  So instead of recognizing that I have personal interests which, if indulged, will take me further from God and righteousness, I am to let my lusts and passions drive me into an understanding of myself as good just the way I am.  Since I am therefore okay, then whatever problems I have are of my environment and not myself.  If I am lustful, I thus perceive that I have the right to pursue sexual conquests.  If I am envious, I thus perceive that I have the right to judge others and whisper against them.  If I am angry, I thus perceive that I have the right to hold others to a standard to which I do not hold myself.

Holy Church teaches us that humility is the opposite virtue of one of the seven deadly sins:  Pride.  Instead of reveling in pride, we are to reject pride in all its forms.  This means that we must change the way we live.  Our sinful nature will fight to prevent the grace of God from washing our souls clean of it.  We must be strong and follow Christ’s example.

The third source of sin in our lives is Satan.  His Satanic Majesty is not an impersonal force; he is real and he is out to get us.  Satan is much more like a roaring lion, lurking around “seeking whom he may devour”.  Satan seeks to undo the restorative work of Christ our Lord.

We are in grave danger if we lack humility, for we push God’s grace away from ourselves.  And we need God’s grace to protect us, for the wicked accuser of souls, Satan, roams right outside our door, waiting for us to slip and leave ourselves defenseless.  He is an angry, hungry, old, fallen archangel, a devourer of souls.  He is an intelligence beyond genius, with thousands upon thousands of years of experience in foiling man.  And he wants to eat you up.

Whenever we push God away and declare we don’t need the presence of the Holy Ghost in our lives, Satan is waiting right there with his mighty jaws open to snatch us away and take off with us into perdition.  We need humility if we wish our souls to be saved.  We need humility if we wish to escape the fires of Hell, where “the worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched.”

 

Each of us faces temptation from the world and the devil.  And each of us faces our own sinful nature, our unique and tumultuous inner distortions of soul which confuse us as to what is right and what is wrong.  We lie to ourselves even when we think we are telling ourselves the truth.  We agree with what other people tell us when we like what they say, and we disagree with what other people tell us when we don’t like what they say.  We constantly try to cut deals with God.

But God’s truth is not what we like and dislike.  God’s truth stands fast forever.  He will make no deal with us.  We must accept Christ as our savior and lord of our life or not accept him.

We must kneel down in our hearts and offer up our petulancy and willfulness and accept the teaching of Almighty God in Holy Scripture and Holy Church.  We must strive to grow in humility.  We must acknowledge that we are incapable and follow Christ and Him alone.

 

“ALL of you be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility: for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble.”

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

 

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“Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I am.”

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

 

“Son of God and Son of Mary”

 

When we think of Christ, what do we think about Him?  In G. K. Chesterton’s marvelous 1925 book The Everlasting Man, he notes that nobody has ever raised a “statue of Christ in wrath”.  That is, we have made no statues of Christ thrashing money-lenders at the Temple, cursing the fig tree which produced no fruit, or as the fearsome judge and warrior of Revelation.  Instead, we make statues of Christ as “almost entirely mild and merciful”.

Without a doubt, there are many times that Christ was mild and merciful.  But he was also fierce and demanding.  Our Saviour was a real person, with a real personality.  Sometimes we read the Gospels and find seemingly contradictory descriptions of Him, His words, and His actions.  But real people are complex and not simple.

Christ is a historical person.  He lived in Judea of the Roman Empire, an area that spoke Greek because of the Hellenization which followed the victories of Alexander the Great.  Christ was the culmination of the people of Israel.  Christ had a human mama, a young lady whose heart was pierced by a sword in the sorrows she experienced through Him.  He had relatives who initially disapproved of His ministry.  He had a hometown which accepted Him as a carpenter but rejected Him as a religious prophet.  Christ ate.  He cried.  He had friends.  He worshipped in the synagogue and in the Temple.  When He was scourged, He bled.  When He was crucified, He died.  Christ is a man.

“Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I am.”  This is Christ’s clearest declaration that He is divine.  It is obvious from the Jews’ reactions that they understood Him to be saying exactly this; they were offended by His “blasphemy”.

 

Christ’s words, “I am”, can be used without great theological importance:  “I am Fr. Otwell.  I am Angela’s husband.  I am Ray’s boy.”  But Christ says here, “Before Abraham was, I am.”  He is Who He is.  He exists.  This echoes God’s answer to Moses when Moses asked who was speaking to him out of the burning bush:  “God said unto Moses, I AM THAT I AM:”  God is existence.  “I Am” is the Old Testament name of God, what we know as Jehovah or Yahweh, spelled in four Hebrew letters known as the Tetragrammaton.  This is an existential name, this is a holy name.  Jesus, in this sense, has two holy names.

At one place in the Greek version of the Old Testament that the early Church used, “I am” is translated, “I Am the Existing One.”  This sounds cryptic and unusual to our ears, but it did not sound odd to the hearers of the Gospel in the First Century.  Jews, Gnostics, and pagans all used “I am” in special occasions to point to something beyond, to point to something other, to point to something holy.  And so St. John puts Christ’s sacred words into this context.  Christ declares that He is God.  St. John began his Gospel with the words, “In the beginning was the Word”, the Word that was God, the Word which came into the world.

Christ is God.  God is the existing one.  Every single other creature, including St. Michael and Satan, St. Mary and Judas, our oldest member here to our youngest, dogs, cats, goats, cows, rocks, trees, mountains, plains, planets, and stars all depend upon God for their existence.  God created everything that exists out of nothing.  God is without beginning and without end.  God is not matter; God created matter.  God did not always have us; God created us at a point in time before which we did not exist.

God exists.  We conditionally exist.  We are utterly and profoundly dependent upon God for our very existence.  God created us in love.  God chose us.  We are not accidents.  We are beloved creatures God painstakingly made in his own image so that he could enjoy us and we could enjoy him.  God is love.

Understand here what Christ was saying.  Christ said that He was God – in particular, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity.  Christ explicitly claimed divinity, and the pious Jews with Whom He was arguing understood, for they picked up stones to stone him to death for blasphemy.  The Jewish religion, the Jewish Church if you will, of the Old Testament prepared the Jews for Christ, but God’s gift of himself as a Jew amongst Jews was too much for many of them to accept.

Before we scoff at them, we are in the same boat.  We have enjoyed two thousand years’ of understanding that Christ is God and Man, and yet we still cannot hardly understand it.  But doesn’t it make sense?  God created us out of love, and in the great good gift of freedom, at our creation we chose to worship ourselves instead of him.  So what is he to do?  He sets out to destroy us in the Flood, but saves Noah and then repents of the idea.  So again and again God shows a better way, a way pointing to holiness.  And in the “fullness of time”, God the Father sent His only-begotten Son into the world so that we may be freed from sin and live in beautiful loving communion with God forever.

 

Understand when we contemplate the Cross that we and our sins did not only send a man to die for our wickedness.  We sent the Person Who is the Incarnate God on earth amongst us to His death.  We tried to kill our God; we tried to kill our maker and our lover.

But we cannot keep life himself down.  God is.  God is love.  God is life everlasting.  We can kill the things of God for a while, but God redeems and resurrects.  This is why we not only have love and we not only have forgiveness of sins, but we have everlasting life free of hatred, sin, decay, darkness, and death.  We will live in unblemished glory forever with God, in loving-kindness and praise forever.

The things we think are good here are still only created things.  We think we know love.  We think we know loyalty.  We think we know a job well done.  My dear children, we don’t know nothing yet!  “For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.”

Christ is God, and Christ is Man.  Christ is the Son of God, and Christ is the Son of Mary.  He has two full and complete natures in one sacred Person.  This is why we say that there is no salvation without Christ, why He said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.”  No man can come to the Father, for not a one of us is pure and unspotted and not a one of us is God the Son, Who can approach His Father.

By our Holy Baptism, we are joined into the Body of Christ, and through Christ’s Body are we brought into everlasting life in perfect communion with God.  That is why Baptism is necessary for salvation.  We do not make this stuff up.  This is from Christ, and taught by Christ’s Body, Holy Church.  We set aside our peculiar opinions and foolish notions and selfish desires and lean in the everlasting arms of Christ our Lord.  “So God loved the world, that he gave his only-begotten Son, to the end that all that believe in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”

My dear children, open your hearts and wills and imaginations to the love of God and the presence of Christ in this Holy Mystery.  Be ye converted.  Whatever you are holding back from God, offer it up to Him.  Knock down whatever false idols you have raised in love’s place and make the love of God and the love of your neighbors your highest priority in your life,.

 

“Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I am.”

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

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“THERE was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels, and prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven. And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.”

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

 

Nowadays, many people dismiss angels as merely poetic or symbolic, but not truly real.  People, learned people especially, tend to dismiss Satan as the personification of evil, that is, we pretend he is a person exemplifying evil traits and not a real spiritual person.  These notions come from the folly of naturalism, the Enlightenment and Modern philosophy that only “natural (as opposed to supernatural or spiritual) laws and forces operate in the world.”  This notion sits more firmly in minds of even the faithful than we would like to think.

Therefore, we tend to think very little of angels because they are not popular like they were in medieval and ancient times.  They do not really fit in with our modern ways of thinking.  We believe that if we do not think of them much, it does no damage to our Christian faith.

But this last point is wrong.  Not believing in actual spiritual beings called angels does hurt our faith in Christ.  If we do not believe in angels, we cannot consistently hold that Christ was the spiritual God from Heaven come down and made Man, and that directly contradicts the Holy Scriptures, Creeds, and teaching of Holy Mother Church.  You can explain away angels and thus deny Christ, or you can believe in both.

If we believe in Christ and thus believe in angels, then we may be comforted by the idea of the Heavenly Host doing God’s will and ministering to us.  Hebrews i.14:  “Are they not all ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation?”  That we are aided by supernatural spirits gives us comfort, hope, and courage in our battle against sin.  We join the ranks of Christians throughout all the centuries who took practical help from angels.

Naturalistic philosophy holds that science teaches us about our world.  But science can only examine the material world, although it does that very well.  Many questions of our race remain unanswered by science.  Psychology and medicine explain some of the cases of demon possession and miracles in the Bible, but they cannot explain all of them.  Evil angels cause evil disorders.  What science teaches us is correct so far as it can go.  The natural world and the supernatural world are but different parts of God’s good Creation.

Indeed, our personal experiences bear out the existence of both holy and diabolical angels.  Who here has not been sorely tempted and then found sudden inexplicable relief?  Who here was otherwise doing fine until suddenly tempted or troubled with the most unsettling thoughts?  Some of this may come from habit, diet, and rest, but can all of it be explained so?

The Holy Scriptures mention angels many times, but the angels are never the point of the Holy Scriptures.  Thus, most Biblical references are indirect.  To understand angels in the Bible, we must look at references that are about other things and glean what we can from them.

We know they exist and that they communicate with men.  Angels conveyed messages to Abraham, Jacob, Balaam, Moses, Daniel, St. Mary, the ladies at the Empty Tomb, and the apostles.  We know that they are not flesh and blood from Ephesians vi.12.  We know that angels do not marry from St. Matthew xxii.30.  We know that they are wise from 2 Samuel xiv.20.  We know that they are moral creatures from St. John viii.44.  We know that they will be judged on the Last Day from St. Jude 6.  We know that we share with the angels in the communion of saints from Hebrews xii.22-23

Angels appear throughout the Scriptures, from Satan and the angel in the Garden of Eden in Genesis to St. Michael and Satan in the Revelation of St. John the Divine read today for the Epistle.  But angels especially appear around Christ.

St. Gabriel appeared to Zacharias to announce the birth of St. John Baptist.  The same St. Gabriel appeared unto the Blessed Virgin Mary to announce the birth of our Lord and Savior.  The heavenly host appeared to the shepherds “keeping watch over their flock by night”.  Angels ministered to Christ in the wilderness after His Temptation and announced His Resurrection on Easter morn.  Christ taught that angels minister to His children.  Christ exorcized demons and came to deliver men from the power of the one who had power over body and soul in Hell.

Fr. Hall:  “It has always been generally believed by Christians that multitudes of angels exist; that they are created and personal spirits, possessed of high intellectual power and capable of considerable although limited influence upon nature and upon man; that they belong to various orders, to which diverse functions are distributed; that, originally created good, many of them have fallen away, and under Satan’s leadership oppose themselves to divine purposes and to man’s moral and spiritual welfare; and that the holy angels not only minister to God in heavenly places, but also to the souls of men, defending them against the assaults of Satan and his hosts.”

Other than this common core of belief, Christians from the age of the early Church Fathers until now have supposed many things.  The most accepted of these, Pseudo-Dionysius, whose writings have been very persuasive, lists nine orders of angels he found in Holy Scripture.  The highest of the three sets of three are the thrones, Cherubim, and Seraphim, who minister directly to God in his presence.  The middle of the three sets are the dominions, virtues, and powers, who are, in the words of Fr. Hall, “more or less associated with works of power in nature and warfare.”  The lowest order includes principalities, archangels, and angels, who are often God’s messengers to men.  These orders are included in the Eastern liturgies of St. Basil and St. James and are included in our closing hymn today.

Angels have more powers than men but less than God.  They are personal, moral creatures who possess free will, know more than men, and enjoy the presence of God – the Beatific Vision.  But they do not know the Day of Judgement, and they cannot discern men’s thoughts.  They are not of flesh and blood but seem to have power over men’s bodies.  They are local in presence and motion but can move very swiftly.

Since they do not marry, they do not generate themselves.  They were each created directly by God.  Unlike us, when some of them fell, they did not all fall.  Therefore, Christ did not have to come to save angels.  Christ only came to save man.

Holy Scripture assumes that there are seven archangels, of whom Ss. Michael and Gabriel are named in the primary canon and Ss. Uriel and Raphael are named in the deutero-canonical Scripture, otherwise known as the Apocrypha.  Jewish tradition names the other three.

We know angels protect us and guide us in God’s will.  They seek to help us towards salvation and guard us against the evil angels.  They accompany our prayers to Heaven, witness our tribulations, rejoice over our repentance, come with Christ on the Day of Judgement, and generally do God’s bidding.

Fr. John Henry Blunt wrote:  “It has been a constant tradition of Christianity that angels attend at the ministration of Holy Baptism, and at the celebration of the Holy Communion; and that as Lazarus was the object of their tender care, so in sickness and death they are about the bed of the faithful, and carry their souls to the presence of Christ in Paradise.”

Then, there are evil angels.  God is good, and he created everything good.  But those of us with free will, namely men and angels, have the capacity to rebel against God and goodness.

Our pets and animals, however, cannot willfully choose evil.  They naturally live for the glory of God.  However, we are responsible as stewards with dominion over the earth to take care of them and treat them well.  But these animals of ours cannot choose evil.

But the evil angels do.  They beheld God’s face and wanted to live for themselves anyway.  They were given freedom by God and chose to misuse that good gift.  Evil angels fell before the Fall of Man, for Satan there tempted Eve in the Garden of Eden.  Evil came to men from fallen angels.  Many theologians have sought to explain this, but that is the extent to which Scripture teaches.  We can only speculate how Satan and the evil angels fell and why they tempted man.

Satan has limited dominion over our world and will be consigned to the “lake of fire and brimstone” at the Day of Doom.  Since we are fallen and unstable, we are particularly susceptible to the wiles of Satan and his demons.  They are far older, wiser, and more evil than we are; they are very dangerous.  But in the Sacrament of Holy Baptism, we are washed in the Blood of the Lamb Who Was Slain, and their evil influence upon us is limited.

Unclean spirits cannot alter God’s natural laws but only manipulate them for evil purposes.  Holy Scripture shows this limitation.  When we use mediums and other wicked means to communicate with the dead, setting aside cases of fraud, the poor quality and vanity of that supernatural communication shows the origin of these communications to be from demons.  St. John warns us to test the spirits.  St. Paul tells us that the power to discern spirits is a gift of the Holy Ghost.  Christ said, “by their fruits ye shall know them.”

In St. Matthew, we see that the damnation of Satan and the demons is eternal.  His work to corrupt man had its singular epic success in the fall of man, but subsequently their evil work has expended itself upon sinful men.  The plans of God are not thwarted.  Satan can plot and plan all he likes, but the eternal goodness of God continues on as always, unabated, unaltered.  Those evil plans are often turned into following God’s perfect plan, as goodness and grace and protection pours upon his people through his ministering spirits.  We repent and return to God despite the wiles and viciousness of the Devil.  The holy angels protect and defend us, the Holy Scriptures teach us, the Holy Sacraments empower us, and the Holy Spirit of God lives in us.  The power and hostility of demons are real, but God’s eternity, grace, and loving-kindness are so much more powerful.  We are not pawns in the battle of good and evil.  We are powerful yet flawed men who must decide for ourselves if we shall fight on behalf of our Father in Heaven, His Son Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost alongside the saints and angels, or if we shall fight in rebellion to the Blessed and ever glorious Holy Trinity along with other evil men and the wicked angels.

We have countless fellow-creatures and friends who wish us well, who watch over us day and night, who are always ready to whisper to us a word of encouragement or warning.  They possess heavenly rectitude and wise judgement and ever stand ready as good examples for us.  Satan and his evil angels are out to get us, but our friends the heavenly host do battle and assist us.

The angels in Heaven are above us now, but after the Last Judgement when we enter into the glory that Christ has prepared for us, we shall indeed be higher than the angels.  Angels are not little gods.  They, too, are creatures.  We never worship them.  Only Christ can lead us into Salvation.  They are not our brothers, but they are our fellow creatures who share in God’s love and ministry.  We are never alone.  We always have help.

And let us dare not forget the words of the Mass, which in a short while I shall sing on behalf of all the faithful gathered here together:  “Therefore with angels and archangels, and all the company of heaven, we laud and magnify Thy glorious Name, evermore praising Thee, and saying, Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of Hosts, heaven and earth are full of Thy glory: Glory be to Thee, O Lord most High.”

Believe in the holy angels of God.  Ask for divine help from on high whenever you are in trouble or temptation.  Befriend your guardian angel.  Y’all are in it together.  And as St. Peter warns:  “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.”

 

St. Michael and All Angels, pray for us.  Amen.

“THERE was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels, and prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven. And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.”

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

 

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“Thou hypocrite, cast out first the beam out of thine own eye, and then shalt thou see clearly to pull out the mote that is in thy brother’s eye.”

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

 

The beam and the mote continue the theme of not judging and of getting one’s own self in order before instructing or guiding others.  If we cannot be taught, if we cannot be reproved, then how can we grow?  How can we become like God?  If you receive a criticism and immediately criticize the criticizer, then you cannot be schooled.  Nothing is quite a waste of humanity as the soul who cannot bear reproof.  Now, bearing reproof means that we must value truth and beauty and holiness above the sad shaky structure we have built for our ego.

We obfuscate our own flaws when we criticize others; we draw attention to what they have done wrong in hopes that our own sins will remain hidden.  Beware of the person who constantly criticizes, for that person is no doubt in league with Satan.  Satan is the accuser – he who sits among us and criticizes takes the place of Satan by accusing his brothers and sisters.  When we relentlessly criticize our brothers and sisters, were are doing Satan’s work of accusing them.  We are to diligently search our consciences and confess to God our sins and wrongful deeds with an open and humble heart, without any condemnation of our fellows, so that our good and gracious God may forgive us our sins.

 

God judges.  Men take for themselves the privileges of God when they themselves judge.  Think of the wheat and the tares.  The wheat and tares grow together, not being pulled apart, until they are separated at the great harvest.  We do not have the authority or the competence to judge another person.  We cannot see what lies inside the heart of another.  When we think we can see that, then we know that our imagination has overpowered our sensibility.

Practically, the man who regularly and openly judges others will find that others will turn the tables about and regularly and openly judge him.  Therefore, he ought not to judge lest he himself be judged.

When we judge others with our most troubling faults, then we get to project our faults onto another.  This projection relieves the burden of our own faults by giving us a scapegoat.  Our competence to judge is limited by our desire to see others exceed us in our sins, thereby lessening our tension between the self we would like to be and the self which we actually are.  Our judgements often tell us far more about ourselves than we would like others to actually know.  We display our innermost and secret flaws and sins by what we condemn in others.

When we face our own faults while not projecting them onto others, then we can view ourselves evenly and truly and thereby ask God to take away our sins and improve our flawed character.  Only when we do not judge others and view ourselves candidly can we then receive the overwhelmingly generous mercy of God and not his judgement.

Father Hart of St. Benedict’s, Chapel Hill, wrote, “It is easy to take a mental photograph that freezes individuals in time, perhaps at their worst.”  We remember the one betrayal by this person instead of ninety nine loyal moments.  Is she loyal or treacherous?  We see what we want to see.  We bring our own desires and shaky little belief system with us when we are looking out at other people. What we see in others is actually a pretty good indicator of what we truly see in ourselves.

“Not so!” cries he who contradicts.  In point of fact, she did betray her friends on that occasion.  But was that occasion the only occasion?  Yes?  Oh, so she is mostly loyal.  Perhaps she needs a little work.  But is she treacherous?  Rarely.  We project onto others what we would have ourselves see.  This is one of the reasons we must release our expectations of other people.  We may never get through to our numbskull son no matter how wonderfully we act.  And we have to accept that others may refuse to see us as we see ourselves.  But we can try to see others through the Sacred Heart of compassion and mercy that our savior Christ sees them.  We can try to conform ourselves to the mind of Christ, as St. Paul says.  We can try to notice how we generally see people and make allowances for that, like our eye doctors make allowances for our troubled vision when making a new eyeglass prescription for us.  The one thing that we are guaranteed of is that our spiritual vision is not 20/20.  We see things incorrectly.  We must trust in Christ, we must rely on Him to show us how others really are.  We must trust in Him to tell us the truth about ourselves.  We need to take these stirrings of conscience and repent of our sins and then go forth into the world loving our neighbors as ourselves, judging not lest we be judged, and being therefore merciful, as our heavenly Father is merciful.

One of the Duties of Churchmen is to maintain a clear conscience.  We must keep ourselves as pure as possible so that we might grow in the Lord.  As we grow and Christ removes our sins from us, then we might gain the wisdom and spiritual clarity to be a great boon and blessing upon our brothers and sisters.  Oh!  To have a few old folks in this parish upon whom the young would seek out to lay their burdens down!  How can we see the beam in our eye unless we begin to resemble the mind of Christ and begin to see as He sees and love as He loves?  Then and then alone may we without grave jeopardy encourage our younger brothers and sisters in the faith to avoid this or that and to take on that or this.  Let us all resolve to put aside our pride and arrogance and take upon our shoulders the mantle of loving-kindness and humility.  Then, as St. John Chrysostom says, “correct him indeed, but not as an enemy seeking revenge, but as a physician applying a remedy.”

 

More than the simple wrongness of the uneducated educating the uneducated, more than the scandal of the person who would not be taught teaching others is the presumption of the person who has not and yet wishes to bestow.  How can you give what you do not have?

Those who feel entitled to instruct others or guide others or correct others place themselves into mortal danger.  Who are we to be so superior as to instruct another?  Yet in our various offices we must instruct others.  As a priest, I would be remiss if I did not educate.  Parents too.  School sports leagues would collapse without all the coaches required to keep all those children playing.  We need instruction.  What we never need is the presumption that we have something over someone else that we need to impart.  Some of the most embarrassing moments of my life were when I felt like I had experienced something already and I needed to guide some new person away from danger.  Life is not that simple.  My need for importance opened my mouth and guided my foot into it, not my blissful desire for others to avoid pain and suffering.  Those of us who in any way attempt to teach another must be ever on the watch for the sin of presumption.

Indeed, sometimes we have achieved eminence in one field and thus feel comfortable instructing others in everything.  Lady De Burgh in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice easily falls into this category.  Particularly awful are the high-born who feel the need to explain to the low-born what is wrong with them and how they can escape their misery.  Simply silly are businessmen who tell priests how to run churches and priests who tell businessmen how to run businesses.  In all these cases, each one is shaped and formed by concerns peculiar to his station which bend and warp his understanding in ways he may not even notice.  Even when we are attempting to speak truly and genuinely try to help out, our unknown distortions muddy our insight.  When we think that we have no distortions, then truly we are in grave danger.  Better to know that your opinions are suspect than to confidently assert your own myopia.

Authentic humility keeps Christ as the only true focus of the human soul.  Only when Christ is our north star do we even have a shot at speaking truly and guiding rightly.

 

Our inclination is to understand and alleviate and excuse our own sin but not to understand and mitigate and relieve the sins of others.  As instructed by the Church in the Book of Common Prayer, I abstain from flesh meat on Friday, except during Christmastide and when I am sick.  But it is rather funny how often I feel sick when Friday rolls around.  My mind is constantly spinning out excuses for my own behavior.  I can assure you that my mind is not constantly spinning out excuses for your behavior.

One of the most difficult moments of my life was when some of my fellows from my old residence hall came and sat down with me at lunch in college.  I held a position of minor authority, and I had wielded that authority in such a way that I hurt one of their friends who was clearly in the wrong.  They sat down at table with me and exposed my hypocrisy in that I had shielded them from harm but not their friend.  They were my friends, their friend was not my friend.  I was stunned.  I was floored.  I could not believe my own hypocrisy!  The more I thought of their words, the more I realized that they were entirely correct and I was entirely in the wrong.  Moved by my newly maturing Christian faith, I confessed my sin.  Still angry, they heard me and forgave me.  Let me tell you, if they had not confronted my rank hypocrisy, I would never have known it.  Those boys changed my life.  I am chastened to this day to remember their words.

The reason why I tell this story is not to encourage those of you who have truth to tell to others.  No, the reason I share this story of mine is to remember that each one of us lives lives of hypocrisy when we think that there is nothing wrong.  Each of us, when we are eating our lunch thinking that nothing in the world is wrong, should know that iron-clad proof of our hypocrisy awaits us.  We are not God.  We had best be meekly eating our lunch when we are confronted with our misdeeds.  Meekly.  With humility, without airs, without pretension, with loving-kindness both to God and man.

 

Authenticity is a byword amongst the young nowadays.  Age and cassocks do not convey authority like they once did.  Authenticity still conveys authority.  We all, not just me, must speak with authenticity.  We must be seen to exemplify the Christian life.  We must at the very minimum meet the simplest Duties of Churchmen in order to be taken seriously.  If we cannot be bothered to worship on Sundays, then they will not take our invitations to join them here seriously.  If we cannot be bothered to prepare to receive Holy Communion with fasting, prayer, and confession, then our speaking highly of the Body and Blood of Christ and His divine grace which it conveys will fall on deaf ears.  If we cannot obey God’s law about marriage, about adultery, about fornication, about coveting, and about all sexual matters, then our opposing same-sex marriage will seem to them like rank hypocrisy, and indeed it will be so.

We are commanded at the beginning of the Gospel lesson to be merciful because God is merciful.  Are you widely known in your circles as merciful?  Are you known as a lady or gentleman who can be counted upon to overlook a slight?  Do your children know that you will forgive them when they step out of line?  Do your friends know that they can always turn to you for a sympathetic ear and not a mouth that will start talking about your favorite things?  Yeah?  Me neither.

 

“Thou hypocrite, cast out first the beam out of thine own eye, and then shalt thou see clearly to pull out the mote that is in thy brother’s eye.”

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

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What man of you, having an hundred sheep, if he lose one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go after that which is lost, until he find it? And when he hath found it, he layeth it on his shoulders, rejoicing.”

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

 

Here we are, gathered on the right bank of the Savannah at the Fall Line. We are St. Luke Church, and we are a mission post of the Kingdom of God in a dangerous wilderness. We are facing two threats and have one special mission. Our first threat is external. Our ancient enemy, Satan, patrols outside our post seeking whom he may pick off. Our second threat is internal. We ourselves have fallen under some influence of Satan and have not only turned on each other but are losing our discipline. In the face of these two threats, we have a mission: To seek out and secure the lost not only of metropolitan Augusta but of our own St. Luke as well. As usual, we can rely upon God Almighty, the grace of the Christ in the sacraments, and the fellowship of the communion of saints. We will be following our great captain, Jesus Christ the righteous.

Our external threat: Satan

St. Peter tells us: “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, knowing that the same afflictions are accomplished in your brethren that are in the world.”

His Satanic Majesty is not an impersonal force; he is real, and he is out to get us. He seeks to undo the restorative work of Christ. Here in our parish, Satan lurks around “seeking whom he may devour”. We must resist him, steadfast in the faith.

Satan is much more like a roaring lion than he is like an evil God. There is only one God. The world was created entirely good. Those evil angels and we men fell from God’s grace. God sent Christ into the world to redeem us from the bondage of sin and death. That is our great story. And it has a happy end: Our redemption and everlasting glory.

Although we are to cast our anxieties upon God, we must still remain vigilant. Christ commanded St. Peter and his comrades to remain watchful in the Garden of Gethsemane. He says to St. Peter in St. Mark xiv.38: “Watch ye and pray, lest ye enter into temptation. The spirit truly is ready, but the flesh is weak.”

Christ knows that St. Peter had to be wary as Satan prowls around, seeking someone to devour. St. Luke xxii.31: “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat.” The great adversary is out there, waiting to strike at us, not to injure us, but to devour us. Our souls are in immortal danger right now as we worship here in this little building. We must resist him firmly in the faith and know that our brethren throughout the world face the same danger. We truly are comrades with our brother Christians, for Satan eagerly and relentlessly seeks our destruction in his belly.

Our internal threat: Composure and discipline

We stumble around, groping in the dark without God. “What do I do now?” people ask. Most people most of the time seem unaware of God. Even solid churchmen among us spend much of their day apart from God and make major decisions without consulting him.

We must humble ourselves so that God might exalt us in due time – not in our time. In Christ we know that God cares for us, so we may cast all our anxieties upon him who loves us so much that he sent his own son for us. We pray to God to grant us the infinite supernatural graces to complete us after our Baptism through suffering.

Humility is a counter-cultural value. Pagans despised humility and magnified the proud and accomplished. Humility is not self-deprecation and not a weaselly sentiment. Humility recognizes that all that is comes entirely from God and exists “under the mighty hand of God”. Even when we fail and God chastensus and we feel his mighty hand, then we humbly know ourselves and know God to be the lover of our souls.

Through humility do we learn to throw down our anxieties and cares to God. We let God deal with all that mess. We live simply, with our every breath dependent upon the good God who loves us so much that he gave us his Holy Ghost to dwell within us. We have no worries because we know that we are safe with God. The enemy is outside, lurking about, and he is most dangerous indeed. But humble before God, no enemy can touch us. God’s caresses may feel like the hand of the enemy, but in humility we obey and love and lean upon him wholly. God is benevolent.

Be sober, be watchful” Don’t mess around. Be serious. It’s dangerous out there. The peace which comes with Christ is a pilgrim’s peace on a long journey. We are on the move, and the enemy is following us every step of the way. Put on the whole armor of God, but take comfort that Christ has won the victory. St. Peter remembered being caught off guard by the maid’s question during Christ’s Passion and how he failed. St. Peter bought his humility with a high price.

Our best work at this church for the parish itself and also for your own soul is to rely on Christ completely and let the Holy Spirit of God purify you. Soon we will be looking at the Duties of Churchmen, those minimal things necessary to properly call yourself a Christian alive and at work in the parish and the world. Perhaps we ought to think of ourselves as what Augusta once was: a frontier fort. We are on the border of the world and Heaven. We have a highly experienced, well-armed, and determined enemy seeking our ruin. We must maintain vigilance at all times. We must never let dissension run riot through our ranks, sapping our strength and poisoning the wells of our hearts. We are staking out new territory, we are claiming the world for Christ, we are engaged in a great adventure. And there will be casualties. We know too many of them. But we have our Blessed Lord and His holy sacraments. We have our community of the faithful, our brothers and sisters whom we may rely upon. We have Holy Church, against which the gates of Hell shall never prevail.

We must keep our heads and not lose our cool. Simple rah-rah enthusiasm is immature and not ultimately helpful. Christ leads us in the direction of mature Christian adults, not wild children. Satan must be resisted “steadfast in the faith”. We must be strong in our faith and work towards fuller spiritual maturity in God. And we know that we are not alone: The brethren also suffer and fight on.

The victory belongs to Christ, and all our sufferings are not in vain. We look forward to the Day of Doom, that is to say, the day of judgement, for those Baptized in the blood of the Lamb and who have followed Him shall be claimed by Him. By joining into the Body of Christ, we too will be victorious. Romans viii.37: “Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us.”

Our Mission: Seeking the Lost

Luke Timothy Johnson calls these two parables, “pure Gospel”. Why? The nine pieces of silver and ninety-nine sheep were not enough to keep the woman and the shepherd from looking for what was lost. It is the will of God that all the lost should be found and returned to their rightful place. No matter how much we have and no matter how good things are at the present, we are to join with our Lord and seek out the lost and help restore them through repentance unto God.

Indeed, we are to pass over the blemishes of the sinner and seek out one to pursue. We shan’t complain about our brethren who have slipt away; we shan’t shake our heads in disgust over those whose behavior we disapprove; we shan’t mock those silly fools who consistently fail to see the light as we see it. Instead of self-congratulation, we are to search out and seek the lost and lead them to reformation. We are to lead them without airs and superiority, but with the common brokenness that we sinners know all too well. We have nothing over our lost brother except that we have been found.

In the first parable, the shepherd lays the found sheep upon his shoulders, a very physical, very touching move that has the shepherd carrying the lost sheep. The lost sheep does not return on its own power, but on the power of the shepherd. It reminds us of Ezekiel xxxiv.11: “For thus saith the Lord GOD; Behold, I, even I, will both search my sheep, and seek them out.” This sentiment is echoed in St. Luke xix.10: “For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.”

The shepherd knows nothing of acceptable losses. Even with the ninety nine safe and together, he still goes out to rescue the lost. Finding the lost sheep, he places it upon his shoulders and carried it home, rejoicing. The shepherd knows nothing of pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps. The shepherd does not point the direction back home to the lost sheep and then leave him be. The shepherd lays the lost sheep across his shoulders and joyfully bears the sheep back home. The lost sheep need not even walk; he is carried. The good shepherd does not only consider each of his sheep wholly and entirely valuable, but he will bear the burden of that sheep for the joy of returning him back home.

The value of one. Christ lets us know in the first parable that the one lost sheep is worth going out alone to find him. Christ lets us know in the second parable that one lost coin is worth diligently sweeping out a house to find it. Christ lets us know in the Parable of the Prodigal Son that one lost son is worth receiving in honor and then a party when he is found. One. Just one. Each one. Herein lies the power of the Gospel against the our world with war, terrorism, crime, economies sliding, and disasters. One. St. Matthew x.29-31: “Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? and one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear ye not therefore, ye are of more value than many sparrows.”One. God loves us each one. Each one out there he loves as well. We are to help him win them one by one.

The humblest man knows that he is an individual of unique worth. God knows us as we are knit together in our mothers’ wombs. God creates us individually. We must grow and learn to love one another with the sacrificial love of loving-kindness. But first we are made individually. Even twins and triplets have their individual births. And one day, unless the Lord comes back beforehand, we will each die individually. Christ our Lord is a man, and as men and women we will one day see Him face to face. We have an individual personal relationship with Christ. He knows us and seeks us.

Governments don’t save, corporations don’t save, and institutions don’t save. People save. The Fire Department does not save you from a burning building; a firefighter plucks you out of harm’s way. The Church doesn’t save you; Christ pays the price. Our social existence both on earth and in Heaven is personal. Each of us has our own experiences. Each of us has been lost in our own way. Each of us knows but one Savior: Christ.

Each soul has the urgent value of the lost coin. Each soul is precious to the Lord. All the frantic sweeping and diligent searching is worthwhile, for the lady’s silver coin was so dear to her. God grieves to lose a single soul; all of Heaven rejoices “over one sinner who repenteth.” Christ even descended into Hades for the lost dead of the Old Covenant. No search is too grand, too costly for God. He would that we all be saved, he would that we all repent.

A scholar said, “Our earth is watched by an encompassing kingdom.” Heaven is very close indeed, and it is also too far for us to reach. The holy angels in heaven around the throne of God sing and rejoice with the finding of each lost sinner. You see, this is value that Heaven places on saving the lost. We reflect on saving the lost and think “that’s too evangelical” or “crying babies in here will disturb my worship” or “we need better attendance and giving numbers”. Heaven rejoices when the sinner is saved! “Glory be to God on high” sounds when the recalcitrant wanderer finally is led home. In St. Luke’s Gospel, the Parable of the Prodigal Son follows today’s parables. Remember how the elder brother who had been faithful all those years was so very sore over the welcome the father gave to his brother, the prodigal son? Heaven knows nothing of this. The angels and saints sing to the highest Heaven when the lost sheep is restored to the shepherd. Do the angels and saints sigh and complain to their neighbor saying, “well, I guess we’ll have to make room for another”? No! They rejoice! “I say unto you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth.”

We shall one day all share in the joy of God, which of course is the truest joy of them all, and we know that God loves dearly to save the lost and rejoices in their homecoming.

What man of you, having an hundred sheep, if he lose one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go after that which is lost, until he find it? And when he hath found it, he layeth it on his shoulders, rejoicing.”

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

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