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“And he said unto him, If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.”

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

 

“Can’t Get Saved Till You Know You Need Saving”

At the end of today’s Gospel, the rich man asks Abraham to save his brothers.  Though he suffers torment for his neglectful life, he genuinely loves his brothers.  He doesn’t want them to suffer his hellish fate.  So from across the great gulf, the rich man asks Abraham to send the comforted Lazarus back to warn his brothers of the torment that awaits them unless they turn from their wicked ways.

“Abraham saith unto him, They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them. And he said, Nay, father Abraham: but if one went unto them from the dead, they will repent. And he said unto him, If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.”

Since our Lord Christ is the one telling this story, and since He is the first of all men died and rose from the dead into everlasting life, we can read this and assume He means Himself.  That is, if the wicked do not heed the Law and the prophets, then they will not heed the Son of God rising from the dead.

Christ has not come as a warning, but as a solution to the hitherto intractable problem of sin and death in our world.  The Law of Moses and the prophets of Israel show the way to holiness and good behavior to the nation of Israel and unto the whole world.  But people have not heeded their calls to righteousness.  People instead continue living lives of selfishness and sin.  People would rather feel pleasant sensations than face the objective hard reality of goodness and truth.  We would rather feel good with our friends and family than face the truth of our relationship with Christ.

Each of us who has lived into maturity has faced the choice whether to live inside of loving-kindness or live outside of loving-kindness.  Each of us has faced the decision of whether or not to follow our baser instincts rather than do the right thing.  The easier route is almost always the wrong route.  The wide inclusive way is almost always the way to brokenness and selfishness.

Christians may find this appeal to the Law and the prophets reminds us of the warning of St. Paul in his Second Epistle to the Corinthians, “the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life.”

But the relationship between law and faith is not truly one of contradiction.  We read in St. James:  “wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?”  After all, he reasons, “The devils also believe and tremble.”

So how can it be that if the brothers heed not Moses and the prophets neither will they be persuaded if one rose from the dead?  Why does Christ tell such a great story to end it with this teaching?  How can Moses and the prophets matter so much to the good people of metropolitan Augusta today?

 

The beginning of the answer lies in that great Summary of the Law recited here all but one Sunday a month:

“THOU shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it; Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”

We need to get right with God; we need to get right with our fellow man.  St. Paul writes in that same epistle:  “…behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.”

The next clue is the basic kerygma, or preaching message, of the New Testament:  Christ is God who came down among us, died for us, rose again from the dead, and saved us all from sin and death.

Without that operative bit, “rose again from the dead”, we cannot be saved.  That jump from Christ’s death to our salvation in His Resurrection from the dead is only possible for those who operate within some kind of goodness told of in the law and the prophets, the kind of goodness which depends upon (“hangs”) all the law and the prophets.

This is because one of the most important parts of the Law of Moses for us is to quicken our sense of sin.  As St. Paul says in Romans:

“What shall we say then? Is the law sin? God forbid. Nay, I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet.”

If we do not think that good things are good, then we also do not think that bad things are bad.  If Christ came to save us from our sins, the burden of these ultimately bad things which separate us from God, and we do not think separation from God is ultimately bad, then we see no need for Christ to save us.  We think that we do not need Christ, His Church, and His Sacraments because we misperceive the world around us.  That is, we hold tight the lie that we do not need saving.  Thus, we do not need a savior.

This is most obviously true with those who hold that nothing means anything, or nihilists.  Some atheists fall into this category.  Also, Buddhists are resistant to faith in Christ because they believe – and theirs too is a leap of faith – that pain is an illusion and death is not a real thing.  If pain and death are not actual problems, then you do not need actual relief from them, and you do not need the Great Physician of our souls.

Part of the proclamation of the Gospel which we Anglicans have tried to be too polite to preach is that things are bad, death is a real problem, all that we do to try to accommodate ourselves to pain and death is wrong-headed, and we need saving.  We would rather keep our position in society than appear ridiculous, speak against the culture, and risk losing it.  We would rather participate in the sins of others by concealing them, defending them, or simply remaining silent.  This is not the Gospel of Christ.  This is what Christ preached against and would save us from.

Instead, we must loudly and openly acknowledge the wrongness – the sinfulness – of the flesh, the world, and the devil.  We should live such lives of goodness that others find us to stand out from this world of sin, pain, sickness, and death.  Our words and our actions should prick the consciences of those around us.  Others should find us uncomfortable yet fascinating to be around.  Others should be constantly surprised that we do not act as others act.  Others should find themselves drawn to how we behave, to how we love them.  We should be beacons in the darkness, candles on candlesticks, not under bushels.

I guarantee you that if we practice this, it will draw negative attention to us.  Is this too high an honor to render to Christ?  When persecutors spill the blood of martyrs, is this unfortunate?  Or is this their greatest glory?  Is it not rather the greatest sermon their souls could sing forth?  Their ultimate declaration that they follow the ways of their good God no matter what the cost?  Their ultimate declaration that they will not be persuaded by the ways of sin, disease, pestilence, murder, and death?  Rejection by the world is our treasure!

Dear children of God, we must show the loving-kindness of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost forth in our lives.  We must love the Lord our God with all our heart, with all our soul, and with all our minds.  We must love our neighbor as ourselves.  We must show forth the light of Christ in this broken world so that God the Holy Ghost can prick the consciences of those who lie wallowing in the despair of sin and death who are waiting – just waiting – for the hour of their deliverance to come.

The goodness and holiness which others see in us greatly affects what the Holy Ghost can do in the hearts of men.  Every wicked and selfish act we commit takes those closest to us further from Christ.

Will you instead dare to tell forth the Good News of Christ in your actions and in your love?

 

“And he said unto him, If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.”

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

 

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“THE Spirit of the Lord God is upon me; because the LORD hath anointed me to preach good tidings”

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

 

Fr. Massey Shepherd said that today’s lesson describes “the saving, missionary work of the Messiah.”  This lesson from Isaiah is especially important as Christ read it publicly in the synagogue to announce the beginning of His public ministry in St. Luke iv.18-19.  Let’s take a closer look at it.

The 61st chapter of Isaiah begins:  THE Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me;

You can’t chose the prophetic mission; God chooses you.  When God gives a mission, he always provides the means to accomplish the mission.  The Lord does not make a promise that can’t be kept.  Like a priest and priestly gift of the Holy Ghost given in the sacrament of ordination, he who is called is given the necessary things to complete the mission.  St. Paul says in II Corinthians iii.5:  “Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think any thing as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is of God;”

Isaiah continues:  because the LORD hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek;

In telling of Christ reading the passage in the synagogue, St. Luke reads “poor” instead of “meek”.  In the early Third Century, the author Origen wrote, “By the poor He means the Gentile nations, for they were poor, possessing nothing at all, having neither God, nor Law, nor Prophets, nor justice, and the other virtues.”  This certainly agrees with the Great Commission, “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:”  Christ came to preach the Good News to the Jews first, but also to all nations.

Isaiah continues:  he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,

The “brokenhearted” are wounded and need healing.  Psalm cxliii.3 reads:  “He healeth those that are broken in heart, * and giveth medicine to heal their sickness.”

St. Cyril of Alexandria said:  “He calls those broken hearted, who are weak, of an infirm mind, and unable to resist the assaults of the passions, and to them He promises a healing remedy.”  St. Basil agrees:  “He came to heal the broken hearted, i.e. to afford a remedy to those that have their heart broken by Satan through sin, because beyond all other things sin lays prostrate the human heart.”  In other words, the brokenhearted are those who are weak and infirm by sin and uncontrolled passions, which is the condition we all share until redeemed by God.

Isaiah continues:  to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound;

Proclaiming liberty to the captive is associated with the year of Jubilee.  Leviticus xxv.10:  “And ye shall hallow the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof: it shall be a jubile unto you; and ye shall return every man unto his possession, and ye shall return every man unto his family.”

Sometimes we think that liberty means that we can do whatever we like.  But liberty and restoration to God’s good order are intimately related; we were originally at liberty in the Garden before the Fall distorted our wills.

St. John Chrysostom sees this:  “But the worst captivity is that of the mind, of which he here speaks. For sin exercises the worst of all tyrannies, commanding to do evil, and destroying them that obey it. From this prison of the soul Christ lets us free.”

St. Luke reads “to set at liberty them that are bruised” instead of “them that are bound”.  St. Cyril of Alexandria explains:  “For the darkness which the Devil has spread over the human heart, Christ the Sun of Righteousness has removed making men, as the Apostle says, children not of night and darkness, but of light and the day. For they who one time wandered have discovered the path of the righteous. It follows, To set at liberty them that are bruised.

Isaiah continues:  to proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD, and the day of vengeance of our God;

A liberal Protestant who commented on this verse said that the word “Vengeance” here is “dubious”.  But the Venerable Bede did not think so:  “After the acceptable year of the Lord, he adds, And the day of retribution; that is, the final retribution, when the Lord shall give to every one according to his work.”  Salvation and judgement go hand in hand.

Isaiah continues:  to comfort all that mourn; to appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness;

Comforting those that mourn is prominent in Isaiah.  When those who came back from the Babylonian Exile returned, they had high hopes.  But what they found was chaos, degeneracy, and sin.  They mourned “in Zion”.  Isaiah spoke the good word of God to them, giving them hope.  And today, these words give hope to those who mourn as well.

The lesson concludes:  that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that he might be glorified.

“Trees of righteousness” will be what those redeemed and comforted become.  And why? “that he might be glorified”; so God might be praised.

 

We are glad at the Good News; joy rises in our hearts and out our mouths when we hear and experience it.  We are called to be righteous within the call of the Good News and inside the joy over the salvation which it proclaims to us.  Gospel, joy, righteousness, salvation:  They all go together.

If righteousness doesn’t come after the glad tidings and joy and salvation, then these had no effect.

Therefore, upon hearing the glad tidings with joy, we are to strive for that righteousness which is part of our salvation.  Not that we can do it all by ourselves, but the good news is that we are not by ourselves.  God speaks to us, and we are never the same.  We become a holy people consecrated for God.  We are set apart.  We are saved.  We are joyous.  And being changed, we must love and spread this good news, these tidings of salvation which causes joy and effects righteousness.  Our growing in righteousness, our joy, and our spreading the Good News are all intertwined.  We must grow both personally and together as a holy people, and we must share these glad tidings.  This is who we are.  We are people who are redeemed by God, because God came down from Heaven and became one of us.  We are forever changed when we look into the eyes of Christ.  The holy angels veil their faces to the presence of God in Heaven, but we look God full in the face in the person of Christ our Lord.

In today’s Collect, we prayed:  “Grant that the same light enkindled in our hearts may shine forth in our lives.”  When put to the flame of God’s love, we ignite and become light by which others see God.

Nashotah House seminary has a prayer for those who are trained there:  “so penetrate them with your Spirit and fill them with your love, that they may go forth animated with earnest zeal for your glory; and may your ever living Word so dwell within their hearts, that they may speak with that resistless energy of love which shall melt the hearts of sinners to the love of you.”

When we hear the Good News of Christ and are filled with the Holy Ghost, we simply must pass on what we have experienced.  As Our Lady sings in that great hymn the Magnificat:  “My soul doth magnify the Lord, And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.”  We burn without being consumed by the loving-kindness of God himself.  People will notice!

But hearing the glad tidings, hearing the Gospel of Christ forces a crisis.  You either believe or not believe.  You cannot punt on this decision.  You cannot split the difference or decide not to decide.  And to our shame, many of us did not believe at first.  We humans are weak.  We are scared creatures.  It is a big world and without God we are terribly afraid of death.  Even Churchmen struggle with the little deaths of humiliation and poverty and shame.  This is not good.  This is not right.  But there it is.  Telling what the Lord has done for us forces a crisis in the hearer.  For better or worse, it is done.

And yet, the joy in our hearts propels us to share it.  We tell our friends when we find a really great deal at the store.  We pass on the accomplishments of our children and grandchildren with our neighbors.  We will even complain about the government, about the weather, about our favorite television show getting cancelled.  But people balk when it comes to sharing the Gospel.

I think it is because so much is on the line, so much is at stake.  You can pass up a great deal or a free meal, but passing up eternal salvation is more important than that.  Or perhaps we think it rude to make someone else uncomfortable.  And if we are slapping people around with big ole floppy Bibles, then we’re not really sharing the Good News, are we?  No.  When we share those glad tidings which we have heard, which caused joy to erupt in our hearts, which changed our lives for the better, making us holier, more righteous, purer in heart, cleaner in thoughts, then we have to share it.  We are changed for the better.

I like to tell people how I have improved over the years.  It was awkward “coming out” as a minister when I was younger – people remembered me all too well from childhood.  One of the things I love about my relationship with my wife Angela is that she has known me for a long time.  Certainly not as long as some of you have known each other, but she and I have known each other for our entire adult lives.  And we’re pretty sure that we met and I offended her when we were teenagers.  But when things are difficult and down, she knows that I have grown in Christ.  I’m getting better.  As for me, watching her blossom in the Lord has been a beautiful thing.  Of course I love the Lord, for He has wrought such great works in our lives!  Not that I don’t still mess up.  Not that I don’t have bad days, painful days, difficult days.  Not that everything is wonderful all the time.

But I attest before you and the angels in Heaven that God showed me a “more perfect way”.  Christ has shown me loving-kindness without bounds.  Of course I will stand up and preach!  And when your life has been touched by the Lord, you too will tell of His greatness, His loving-kindness, His overwhelming and gracious forgiveness, and the joy that sings out from your heart.  I’m not saying you have to walk around with a stupid grin plastered on your face.  I’m saying:  When your life is better for Christ saving you, you should speak your mind in your own voice.  You should tell your story, your part of the Greatest Story Ever Told.

If you walk through those red doors which symbolize the Blood of Christ and walk out into the world, you will meet untold numbers of folk in ashes, who mourn, who know all too well the spirit of heaviness.  They long for relief.  They subject themselves to trivial nonsense to dull the pain and take attention away from despair.  They inoculate themselves with false hope so that the return of disappointment does not crush them.

But the good word of the Lord offers them “beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness….”  They think that they live lives of their own making, selfishly thinking of themselves, but they, like us, are also called so “that they might be called Trees of righteousness.”  The Revised Standard Version, sounding mighty English, says instead “oaks of righteousness”.

Those mournful, despairing, confused people out there are called by God through you sitting here today that they might be sturdy oaks of righteousness so “that he might be glorified.”  We are made to praise the Lord.  This is the chief and highest end of man.  Why are we given free will, that is, why do we have conscious and reflective choice?  So that we may choose God.

But our wills, our minds, and our hearts are so damaged by the great Fall we experienced that we cannot begin to save ourselves.  “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.”  We are saved by the action of our loving Father in Heaven, who sent His only-begotten Son into the world, being born a baby in a manger in Bethlehem, so that He may save us from death, disease, and sin, by His Crucifixion and Resurrection, and then sent God the Holy Ghost to set us on fire to serve him in righteousness, joy, truth, and most especially loving-kindness.

I want you to commit to two things today:

First, believe the Good News in your heart and joyfully live it in your life.

And then, carry it out into the world and tell of those good tidings.

 

“THE Spirit of the Lord God is upon me; because the LORD hath anointed me to preach good tidings”

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

 

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