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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 Judgement”

The end things, or Eschaton in Greek, can be categorized in two parts, the individual and the general.

The individual part of the End of Days is the story of our own soul:  Death, our individual judgement, and then either Heaven or Hell.  These are the Four Last Things.  It is the story of our souls at our individual end according to Scripture, especially in the Gospels.

The general part of the End of Days is the story of the entire cosmos, or Creation:  The approach of the End, the resurrection of the body, the general judgment, and the final consummation of all things, new Heaven and new Earth.  This story is told throughout Scripture but especially in the Revelation of St. John.

So, when we speak of Christ’s judgement of our souls in the end, we mean two things, His judgement of each of us upon our deaths and His judgment of all of us at His Second Coming.

Today, let us consider the individual judgement, Christ’s judgement of our soul upon our death.

 

Think of that for a moment.  As if death is not scary and awful enough, we will undergo judgement before the throne of Christ immediately following our death.  We will draw our last breath, our soul will be ripped apart from our body, and then Christ will judge our earthly life.  Christ will justly judge each immediately separated soul and determine its eternal home.

This is eminently logical, but nevertheless quite dreadful.  For no matter how loving and holy a person we are, and so very few of us can say that, not a single one of us is as loving and holy so to not have horrible sins for which Christ will damn us.

We do not like to admit it, and perhaps some of us never admit it, but we do not live our lives as if we are in the presence of Christ.  Maybe we think that God has more important things to do than concern himself with our little lives.  Maybe we act like functional atheists, living our daily lives like God did not exist, not praying to him, not thanking him for our blessings, and doing what we will as if we were not going to be judged.  Maybe we don’t really understand what we mean by “God” – not thinking of him personally so that we could love him, maybe thinking of God as some kind of divine principle or force.

Did you notice what I left out?  I left out living in our sin because we don’t care what will happen to us in the future so long as we get our pleasure now; living like we are junkies only concerned about getting our next fix, not giving a thought for the consequences of doing so.

Sin is enticing.  If sin were not so tasty, hardly anybody would sin.  Adam and Eve were set not only for life but for eternity in the Garden, but sin was so tasty to them that they risked it all and suffered death and misery just for a taste.

Sin makes us stupid.  We love our sin.  We love our greediness.  We love our booze and pills.  We love our prideful disdain of others.  We love talking behind each other’s backs.  We love sin.  So we focus on our beloved sin instead of Christ and His judgement.

 

Some object to being judged upon our deaths on theological grounds.  Some Protestants hold that the dead fall asleep and wake up at the Second Coming of Christ to be judged in the general judgement then.  But when we read the Holy Scriptures, we see that this is not the case.

In St. Luke xxiii.43, Christ says to the penitent thief, “Verily I say unto thee, To day shalt thou be with me in paradise.”  The penitent thief was about to die, to suffer the separation of his soul from his body which is the curse of our sinful ancestors and his own vile sin.  And after that death, according to our Lord’s own words, that that soul was to be with God in paradise.

Also in 2 Corinthians v.8, we see St. Paul speak of the faithful Christian, “We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord.”  The godly Christian, when he is then absent from his body, is present with Christ.  In other words, the faithful and just Christian is present with the people of God here on earth and with God himself in Heaven.  You go from the one state to the other.

We also see in the parable of Lazarus and Dives that each has undergone judgement upon their deaths.  While this is a parable, its setting keeps with Christ’s words to the penitent thief and St. Paul’s words of encouragement to the faithful.  We die, and then we are judged by God.

 

How will we be judged?  We will be judged by faith and by our actions.  Indeed, perhaps the particular judgement may not be Christ sitting on His throne waiting for our death and then sitting as the judge of our souls.  Instead, the moment of our death may be the end of our chance to alter our eternal destination.  For we will have then had the chance to call upon Christ as our Savior, the chance to respond to God’s election of us in Holy Baptism, and the chance to live holy, loving, and morally upright lives here on earth.  Thus, judgement is also a reckoning.  It is the working out of God’s eternal self and law upon us, his creation.

 

Our closing hymn today sums up our end with Christ’s end; that is, it matches our holy response to Christ’s work among us with Christ’s Second Coming.  Instead of death, sin, and Hell, instead we sing:

Yea, Amen!  Let all adore thee,

High on thine eternal throne;

Saviour, take the power and glory;

Claim the kingdom for thine own;

Judgement is that mechanism, that decision-making process that aligns our end with the end of the Cosmos.  Our glory in Christ, which is our salvation from sin and entrance into everlasting life with God Almighty, our glory in Christ is but a part of Christ’s glory in epic cosmic victory, banishing forever the powers of wickedness and sin and triumphing eternally in loving-kindness, mercy, and peace with the Triune God, the glorious angels of Heaven, and all the faithful saints.

But Judgment recognizes that all this glory is not a given; it is worked for.  God the Son worked for this glory by suffering the indignity of becoming a mere man as a babe in a manger in Bethlehem, by living the life of a mortal man, of suffering His Passion, of experiencing excruciating death, rising again, defeating death forever, and Ascending into Heaven.  You and I work for it by believing in Christ, joining with Him in His Body the Church so that He can save us, and conforming our sinful lives to His holy life.

Both experience and Scripture show us that we have a choice.  Many exterior forces work upon us, such as where we are born, the caliber of our family, the opportunities to hear the Gospel and so on.  Many interior forces work upon us, such as our mental health, the pain which afflicts us, our past sins, and so on.  Even with these exterior and interior forces working upon us, we still have the choice – even if it is a small one – to follow Christ and obey Him or not to follow Christ and disobey Him.  And what matters is not what we claim to do, but what we actually do, and Christ is the judge of that.

Judgement is Christ stopping the clock at our death and seeing what we have done with our lives.  He is with us every minute of every hour of every day of our life.  He is not ignorant of us when He judges us; He knows us intimately and loves us dearly.  But upon our death, when our soul rips away from our body, our time on Earth is done.  The moment of truth has arrived.  It is the same thing when Christ returns in power and great glory – our moment of truth has arrived.

What have we done with what He has given us?  That is the ultimate point of judgement.

And in the end, the discerner of hearts and lover of souls will decide if we would rather live without Him and thus go to Hell with the wicked angels and men, where God’s presence is withdrawn, or if we would rather live with Him and thus go to Heaven with the holy angels and men, to live in the presence of God for all eternity.

Sometimes we hear of meeting somebody half-way.  Christ has met us all the way.  He left His Heavenly home and come all the way down to earth to become one of us as a little baby that Christmas morning in Bethlehem.  Christ is the only way to God, for He is both man, like us, and God.  Our salvation absolutely and completely relies upon Him.  All our efforts are to become like Him, to help and not hinder Christ’s transformation of us into His divine image.  For Heaven is the home of the divine, and we must be perfectly holy to life with Him there.

At the Resurrection of the Dead, we will receive our new heavenly bodies.  But what about our souls?  We can do nothing about our future bodies now, but each one of us can make the most life-altering decisions about our souls today.

To be awarded Heaven when Christ judges our souls, we must be like Christ:  Pure of heart and innocent in deeds.  We must work with the Holy Ghost in transforming ourselves to Christ’s image by doing works of righteousness and confessing our sins when we fall.

 

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.

 

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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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“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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“Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.”

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

 

In today’s Epistle lesson, St. James does not threaten us with damnation if we do not act a certain way.  He does not chastise us for the ugly results of our misbehavior.  Instead, St. James explains how we relate both to creation and to God, knowing that this knowledge will force us to change our behavior.  So what is this knowledge?

God the Father “begat us with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.”  What are firstfruits?  My wife, Angela, picked up a small tomato plant recently that would fit in our tiny patio area at our condominium.  Remember, we moved recently from a proper house with a proper yard.  We are not used to working with a small space.

But Angela did a fine job and brought home this plant, which we hung up back there and watered.  God’s creation, the sun, has done most of the work.  With some water, the vine itself began growing.  After a little while, our first little tomato matured.  We brought it in and ate the little thing together, enjoying the firstfruits of this new vine at our new home.  I enjoyed it as a very nice moment.

But I did not create the tomato vine, nor did I create the sun and water.  This first tomato was the first taste of things to come which the good Lord has brought us from this plant.  In that first taste was the actuality of that gift and the promise of more gifts to come.

St. James says here that “we should be a kind of firstfruits of” God the Father’s “creatures.”  On each of the six days of creation recounted in the first book of Moses, Genesis, “God saw that” what he had wrought that day “was good.”  But, God changed his judgement of what he beheld later on that sixth day.

“[After] God made the beast of the earth after his kind … God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.  So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.”

After this creation of man, “God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good.”  God made man alone of all creation in his own image.  God gave dominion of all creatures to man alone.  God judged all of creation as very good only after he created man.

These three things distinguish mankind from the rest of God’s creation from the very beginning:  Man is created in God’s image, dominion of all creatures is given to man, and creation was very good only after man was created.  These three things form our understanding of our relation to creation from its very beginning.

But Adam and Eve sinned against God in the Garden of Eden, pushing us away from the holy and pure God out into a broken and enfeebled world of sinful men, patrolled by Satan.  Then, after the holy nation of Israel, set apart by God as a holy people, was led to greater and greater truth through the Law and the prophets, Christ our Lord came into the world.

St. John in his gospel calls Christ the Logos, the Verbum, the Word of God.  So here St. James writes that God the Father “begat us with the word of truth”, Who is Christ our Lord.  We are slaves no longer to hurting one another and our Heavenly Father.  Christ, the Son of God, has taken up our flesh and made it holy through His Incarnation, death, and Resurrection.  We are changed by Christ’s action of wondrous loving-kindness.  We are restored, we are justified through Christ back to the holy state in which God the Father originally created us.

And as we can see that God created us last but called all creation with us very good, God the Father says that we shall be the firstfruits of his creation.  We are the tithe of God’s creation, the very best it has to offer, the first and top-most offering of it to God the Father which represents the whole.  So we are the uppermost cut of God’s creation which is given back to God as a sacrificial offering of love.

For we who are in dominion of the whole world are not to exercise our dominion of the world for our own sakes but for God’s sake as found in Christ.  As God became man to redeem us and all creation, so we return with Christ back to God the Father as a love offering on behalf of all God’s creation.

As men joined together in Holy Church, which is the Body and Bride of Christ, we must also be holy.  We are made holy through God in Christ Jesus.  But we must also comport ourselves in the manner to which we are called.

When I go out on the town, I wear my clericals unless I am on an exclusively recreational or medical mission, for I am a priest of God.  If you as a father sit amongst your children, you act as the most responsible of them, not the least, for you are no child to your children.  We each must behave ourselves in accordance with the manner to which we are called.

Therefore, St. James continues on in this Epistle lesson to explain the way we must behave in keeping with the high calling we receive together as the pinnacle of creation and brothers of our Lord Christ.  He lays out three specific things we must do to live out the calling as the lords and ladies of creation and joint-heirs of Christ.

First, St. James says, “Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath: for the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God.”  We should first seek to understand rather than jumping immediately into feeling anger.  But you might say, ‘I cannot control when I feel angry!’  We indeed can control how we feel.  Try listening to everything before drawing a conclusion.

This teaching on anger is very important.  Christ Himself said in St. Matthew v.21-22:

“Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment:  But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.”

We place ourselves in mortal danger, that is, danger of losing our very lives and our very soul, when we jump into anger.  Let God be angry for us.  He always judges correctly.  He never makes mistakes.  And God is omnipotent, all powerful.  He can actually do something about it.  Be not angry, but rather trust in God.

Second, St. James continues:  “Wherefore lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness….”  I have been a little boy, a fraternity pledge, a paid scholar at the School of Infantry, and a choral scholar at seminary.  I know how to cuss.  I was raised well after the Sixties and the Baby Boom, so I know how to participate in all the superfluity of naughtiness literally like there is no tomorrow.

Dear people of God, we cannot allow filthiness and naughtiness into our hearts even in secret without disinheriting ourselves from the inheritance Christ has won for us on the Cross and the empty tomb.  We cannot join ourselves to selfish things whether culturally high or low as the gutter without turning our back on our good God.  If we love pleasure more than we love Christ, then we hate Christ with our minds, our hearts, our bodies, and our whole souls.

Third, St. James writes to us:  “…Receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls.”  Our salvation is not a thing of pride.  Our relationship with Christ is not a thing we have accomplished.  The eternal action of spiritual things has not been done by us.  We are the recipients of the goodness of God in our lives.  True, we can open or close ourselves to a certain degree, but even that is done by the grace of God.  Knowing that all goodness which flows to us comes from God, and especially the heavenly goodness of salvation and our attachment to the Body of Christ through the grafting of the Holy Ghost, then the best we can do is to meekly receive the good gift given to us.

And there we have it.  We must know one thing and do three things.  We must know that God created us from the beginning to be the apex of his glorious creation, even to the point of sending his beloved Son our Saviour Jesus Christ to redeem us from our sins and join us to His holy Person through the power of the Holy Ghost.  We must know that we are the rightful heirs, through no virtue or good decision of our own, that being the rightful heirs of God we are the lords of creation and must conduct ourselves like nobility.

And we must act like God’s chosen.  We are not to give in to anger so that we may work the righteousness of God.  We must act like the joint-heirs of Christ by avoiding “all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness” both in our lives and secretly in our hearts.  We must act the lords of this world by receiving with meekness the engrafted Word of God which saves our souls.

This week, go back to your homes and into our community and act like the noble bearers of God’s Word which you are.  Act like Christ gave you the most precious gift He could give:  Himself.

 

“Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.”

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

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“For what glory is it, if, when ye be buffeted for your faults, ye shall take it patiently? but if, when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable with God.”

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

 

St. Luke Church is suffering from an insidious rot that has infected us from out there – the sinful world of men.  This rot is incubated in our own sinful natures, our flesh.  This rot is greatly exacerbated by the accusations of the great foe, Satan.

Part of adolescence is learning to discern between conforming to others from weakness and obeying legitimate and effective mores and rules.  Most of us have acted cruelly to someone who did not fit in at some point in our lives.  Human experience shows that those of us who have felt excluded act particularly nastily in excluding others when we get the chance.  We want revenge.  We want to feed the dragon of self-pity that lies smoking at the bottom of our hearts.

We must never feed this dragon of self-pity, we must never offer justifications for our naughty behavior.  We must always turn to face that which is good, that which is true, and that which is beautiful.  We must always pursue holiness, just as we must always cut off whatever tempts us to sin.  This is repentance.

Spiritually mature Christians must discern between what is the good and loving thing to do and the evil and hateful thing to do.  Sometimes there are tough calls.  Sometimes people of good will can see good reasons on opposing sides.  But most of the time, if we listen to God the Holy Ghost speaking to us through the life of Christ, the Holy Scriptures, and our Mother the Church, then we know what we ought to do.

The rot that spreads through the members of this parish is the sin of gossip, backbiting, and ungracious speaking.  Christ says in St. Mark vii.18-20 that it is not what goes into the man that makes him unclean but rather what comes out of him.  To make sure we understand precisely what He is saying, Christ lists it out for us in verses 21-23:

“For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, Thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness: All these evil things come from within, and defile the man.”

In today’s Epistle, St. Peter writes of how to behave when accused falsely.  Mind you, he is not speaking of how to feel justified when you are confronted with your own bad behavior.  He is speaking of suffering with Christ.  Christ suffered innocently.  When you suffer innocently for the sake of Christ, then you suffer alongside Christ.  This is a great consolation.

St. Peter is not saying that you suffer alongside Christ when you reap the punishment for the sin you have sown.  When you hurt someone else and you are called out on it, your cheeks will burn with shame.  And they ought to burn with shame.  Embrace the pain and let it instruct you so that you never hurt anyone else like that again.

My dear children, the day is coming when we may indeed suffer for the Christian Faith.  Our brothers and sisters around the world suffer so.  We benefit from the protection of a free and civilized nation.  Many of us here have served this nation so that it may protect our families and churches in a free and just society.

But nothing in this sinful world of men is perfect.  Brokenness and alienation from God is found everywhere we look.  We can safely expect that we will not be as free to worship Christ in peace in the future as we are now.  When that day comes, we will join the early Christians in facing persecution for worshipping Christ.  When that day comes, we will suffer alongside Christ.

But when we suffer the penalty for our poor behavior today, we are not suffering alongside Christ.  Sinning against God and hurting our brothers and sisters is exactly the behavior that Christ had to die on the Cross to forgive us of.

Not sinning against, not threatening, and not reviling our God and our neighbors is a non-negotiable part of the Christian faith.  We do not vaunt ourselves over against our neighbors.  This means that the loving-kindness of God is found in holy behaviors and not found in sinful behaviors.  We are not saved by obeying the rules and following the law, but we are damned if we don’t obey and follow the way of our Lord and Savior.

Remember, Christ was innocent.  “There was no guile found in His mouth.”  St. Peter shows that we are to bear suffering like Christ did.  Christ calmly bore wrongs and did not avenge.  John Calvin wrote:  “Christ abstained from every kind of retaliation.  Our minds, therefore, ought to be bridled, lest we should seek to render evil for evil.”

He did not revile or seek vengeance against Judas.  He did not tell the thieves crucified next to Him that they deserved their punishment as He did not deserve His.  Instead, He forgave the penitent thief who had said that his own condemnation was just.  Christ did not call out Judas’ betrayal to the other disciples but let them learn of it when Judas came leading the soldiers of the priests.  Christ loved and obeyed unto death.  This is directly contrary to the way of this world.

And we as Christians follow Christ.  The holier we grow through the Paraclete, the Comforter, the Holy Spirit of God, the less comfortable with the world we will be.

Christ is our judge.  He will judge us and our behavior on the basis of what a just and sinless man would have done – on what He would have done.  This indeed is “what would Jesus do?”  Christ turned the other cheek and walked the extra mile.  Christ extracted no vengeance.  Those of us, who count offenses and desire to avenge them, sin and fall short of the glory of God.  We as brothers and sisters under the pain of eternal separation from God in Hell cannot countenance, cover, participate in, or make excuses for counting offense and seeking vengeance by any in the household of God.

Harken to my words, good people of God:

  • We will neither gossip, backbite, or attack others nor will we tolerate those who do.
  • We will challenge each other, preferably in private, but in public if it necessary.
  • We will challenge each other when our brother or our sister speaks ill of anybody in our hearing.
  • We will no longer recount ill deeds committed by others.
  • We will only tolerate tales of wrong deeds by those who personally confess them.

If I speak ill of someone, please pull me aside and let me know so that I may repent and be saved.  I need God’s grace in my poor and sinful life.  I need it.  I am not sufficient by myself.  I am not okay in my own skin.  My very flesh pulls me away from God and into temptation to sin.  I need help.  I need my bishop.  I need my wife.  I need the faithful people of God.

And so do you.  Not a one of you lives a life in perfect communion with God.  We all feel the loneliness of desolation at times, but we live it every moment.  We are not complete until our hearts rest within Almighty God our Heavenly Father.  We are not consecrated unto God until we have received the Baptism of Christ and Communion of His very Flesh and Blood.

Let us be gentle and walk humbly in loving-kindness with all people.  Let us submit ourselves to each other in that great love so that we, with the grace of God and power of the Holy Ghost, may climb the ladder of perfection up to Heaven.

 

“For what glory is it, if, when ye be buffeted for your faults, ye shall take it patiently? but if, when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable with God.”

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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“that ye put off concerning the former conversation the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts; and be renewed in the spirit of your mind; and that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.”

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

 

Neither our natural desires nor our cultural correctness will save us.  Only our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will save us.  Only through passing through the veil of His Flesh do we enter into the Holy of Holies in God’s Presence for eternity.

Wearing nice clothes won’t save us.  Speaking proper English won’t save us.  Living in the right neighborhood won’t save us.  Running with the right crowd won’t save us.  Voting conservative Republican won’t save us.  Voting liberal Democrat won’t save us.  Being a good dad won’t save us.  Loving those whom we desire to love won’t save us.

We condemn those who act out their same sex attraction but don’t bother to take a long hard look inside of ourselves to see all the sin and wickedness God sees when he looks inside of us.  God sees it all and loves us anyway.  And he expects us to get right with him and cut out all the selfish behavior and evil thoughts.  But not us.  We look down on those who fall into sins we have no desire to commit and do not love them, and yet without loving them we expect them to change.

Here’s a fact.  Nobody wants to listen to criticism from anyone they don’t trust.  When I was twelve, I was listening to a new hit song which I enjoyed very much.  I enjoyed it so much, I played it for my father.  He listened carefully, and said those words which cut through all my mess and convicted me:  “That’s not very nice.”  I was just having fun with it!  But of course, when I listened to the song with good morals and decent behavior in mind, it really wasn’t wholesome at all.  My father could say that to me, because he loved me, my mother, and my siblings.  He listened when I asked him to, and he commented after hearing me out.  I loved him and I trusted him.  Importantly, I thought highly enough of him to value his opinion.

We do not condemn the wickedness and moral laxity of our world by getting up on our high horse, thundering out judgement like a prophet of old, or by wringing our hands, shaking our heads, and tut-tutting.  After all, it is not for us to condemn the world.  Christ alone will sit in judgement of every single soul who ever lived.  We “take it to the streets” and teach the world the truth when we live redeemed lives in Christ.

We who have sinned and been forgiven owe it to God to strive powerfully in growing in the virtue opposite that sin.  A practical way to do this is to figure out which of the seven deadly sins your sin fits in.  For instance, if you only come to Sunday Mass when you feel like it, that dereliction of duty is a sin of sloth.  The opposite of sloth is diligence.  You owe it to God to practice diligence and not just try to wing it.  Winging it is what got you to skip Mass last time.  You must practice diligence.

What does practicing diligence look like?  How about this:  Measure the time it takes to get ready in the morning and count that against the time you will be appropriately early at church.  Then set your alarm to get up in time to get ready and make it to church on time.  Do you now have a hard time getting up on time?  Then prepare your Saturday evening so that you get to bed on time.  By paying attention to such details, you are actively participating in your salvation by working with God’s forgiving grace and not working against it.  As you improve in diligence, your sins of sloth will decrease.  You will have made a concrete stride in living a holier life, a life lived for Christ and in response to His free and generous gift of grace.

What about St. Paul’s teaching on anger today?  We all feel anger on occasion.  But do we let it go in and then usher it out, firmly shutting the door after it has been evicted?  Not always.  Have you ever nurtured your anger, relished it?  That is, have you thought about the person who has angered you and thought and thought about it again until you have prolonged your anger, you have deepened your anger?  If you have, then that is a sin against the love of God.  St. Paul tells us to “let not the sun go down upon your wrath.”  If we sin in anger and God forgives us, then we owe it to God “to go forth and sin no more”.  We do that by practicing the virtue opposite to anger, love.

How do you learn to love your neighbor?  By making small discrete acts of selflessness to others.  Holding the door open for another might be too showy, but especially in parish living, cleaning up after another and then not telling anybody you did it is a perfect little act of selflessness.  By many small acts of caring for another without drawing attention to yourself, you slowly learn to love others.  If you actually love your fellows, it is much harder both to get angry and to stay angry with them.  Practicing the virtue opposite your sin helps build up your life in Christ and makes you a better person, a person who more closely resembles Christ.

This practicing the opposite virtue from your sin does not go alone.  It goes along with regular discipline.  This means that you keep your six duties of churchmen and that you pray each and every day.  It does not matter that you do not feel like taking a few minutes to pray each morning – that is why it is called discipline.

We have freedom in Christ.  This does not mean that we all sprawl out lazily and do whatever we feel like because we have been Baptized into the death and resurrection of Christ.  It means that sin is defeated in us.  The trouble is that temptations continue until Christ returns again.  We must strive with all our powers not to fall into temptation.  A hard day’s work at defeating temptation only means that you made it one more day.  Think of it this way:  We are addicted to sin.  We know how to quit, but we keep falling off the wagon.  Unless we surrender ourselves to Satan and his demons and quit resisting temptation altogether, then we prosper more when we resist temptation more successfully and fall into sin less.

As St. Paul says, “that ye put off concerning the former conversation the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts; and be renewed in the spirit of your mind; and that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.”  Putting off the old man is quitting the life of sin, and putting on the new man is entering into the pursuit of holiness.  Christians do not have a choice in this matter.  Those who are under the banner of our Lord Christ must fight against sin and pursue holiness.

We enter into new life in Christ through the waters of Holy Baptism.  In that amazing Sacrament, you promised, or had promised for you, to “renounce the devil and all his works, the vain pomp and glory of the world, with all covetous desires of the same, and the sinful desires of the flesh, so that thou wilt not follow, nor be led by them….”  It is right there in your Book of Common Prayer.  It follows after that that you promised to accept Jesus Christ “and desire to follow him as thy Saviour and Lord.”

If we believe in Christ and accept new life forever with God in his holy presence, then we must put off the old man and put on the new man.  Our lives must change.

So I ask you:  Are you leading a holier life than you were?  Are you behaving in a more moral fashion than you were?  Do you pray more effectively than you used to?  Do you read more Scripture than you used to?  Do you attend to worship, communion, fasting, tithing, chastity, and confession of your sins better than before?  If not, then ask yourself:  How have I slipped?  Then recall God the Father’s great love for you and how he sent His only Son into the world to save your soul from death and sin.  Then ask yourself:  What must I do to improve, to grow?

Ezekiel prophesied and the Lord asked him, “can these bones live?”  No matter how dry you feel inside, no matter how weary you feel with struggling with the same sins decade after decade, God loves you and wishes for you to live to the fullness of his glory.  He made you.  He loves you.  He empowers you.

Next Sunday, God willing, we will all witness the miraculous Sacrament of Confirmation, the seal of the Holy Ghost laid upon one of our regular visitors, Mrs. Aileen Cappa.  In this Holy Sacrament, she will be strengthened by the Holy Ghost and receive the seven-fold gifts of the Holy Ghost.  She will never be the same.  She will be changed for eternity.  All Christians have supernatural assistance against the wiles of the world, the flesh, and the devil by virtue of Holy Baptism.  In Confirmation, she will be further strengthened and given those holy gifts bestowed by the Holy Ghost and found in Scripture.

We are weak, but God is on our side.  God is not on our side to give us those selfish things we want for ourselves, but rather God is on our side because we have joined God’s side against sin and death and the devil.  We are changed by virtue of the God’s grace.

So I ask you again:  Are you leading a more Godly life today than you were before?  If not, what are you going to do about that?

 

“that ye put off concerning the former conversation the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts; and be renewed in the spirit of your mind; and that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.”

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

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