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Posts Tagged ‘St. John Chrysostom’

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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“…ourselves also, which have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body.”

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

 

“Hoping amidst Our Suffering”

“We are marching to Zion” How many of us remember that song from our youth?  Probably most of us who grew up Methodist or Baptist.  We are on the journey of salvation.

We are saved through our faith in Christ.  We were saved when we were born again in Holy Baptism.  We were saved when Christ won the victory over sin and death and Satan on the Cross at Calvary.  We will be saved when Christ judges us on the Last Great Day.  Salvation is both simple in the Person of Christ but complex in what Christ accomplishes and how He is present to us.

The trouble is that we still experience sin, disease, and death in our lives even though we are saved and being saved.  Even though the Holy Ghost dwells within us, we still experience suffering.  The challenge for the Christian is to go on hoping amidst our suffering.

 

In the part of Romans before today’s reading, St. Paul describes the great dichotomy between flesh and spirit, Law and Christ, and death and life.  He then continues by beautifully showing that Christians are the adopted sons of God the Father through his Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ.

His last words before today’s reading are these:

The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God:  And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together.

So we pick up here.

18 I RECKON that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.

Now St. Paul mentions suffering having taught that we are free in Christ and adopted sons of the Father.  Each of us experiences suffering.  There is no point in denying that we suffer.  Suffering is a fact.  You do not have to read the Chronicle to know this; you know this in living your life.

But we are on the journey towards God; the journey of salvation.  If we are saved from sins and are made inheritors of eternal life, then why are things still broken?  Why do we still hurt?

St. Paul’s answer is that while we are on the journey, we have not reached our final destination, which is God.  Today’s sufferings are not even worthy of being compared with the glory which we shall live in later.

19 For the earnest expectation of the creature waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God.

Our Authorized Version uses the word creature where we today normally say creation.  So we might hear this rather as “For the earnest expectation of creation waits for the manifestation of the sons of God.”

John Wesley describes this earnest expectation in other words.  He calls it “a vehement longing”.  Creation vehemently longs for the final manifestation of mankind as the sons of God, which will happen after Judgement Day.

St. John Chrysostom says about this:

“…the Apostle makes a living person of the creature here, and says that it groaneth and travaileth: not that he heard any groan conveyed from the earth and heaven to him, but that he might show the exceeding greatness of the good things to come; and the desire of freedom from the ills which now pervaded them.”

20 For the creature was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of him who hath subjected the same in hope,

For the creature was made subject to vanity.   God cursed the world when Adam as the top of the physical creation fell into sin and incurred the wrath and judgement of God.  Creation itself, which was created perfect by God, became corruptible.  Man’s body became mortal, and creation brought forth thorns and thistles.

We see that creation shares the fate of mankind in Genesis iii.17-19, when God reveals his judgement to Adam:

And unto Adam he said, Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying, Thou shalt not eat of it: cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life; Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field; 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.

21 because the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God.

The creature itself also shall be delivered.  Creation itself shall be delivered and not destroyed.  Creation shall be redeemed along with man per Revelation xxi.1, recalling Isaiah lxv.17:  “And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea.”  As Christ’s Body was not the same after His Resurrection as it was before, but rather it was glorified, so God’s creation will not be the same but restored and made “new”.

22 For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now.

Travaileth literally means to suffer the pains of childbirth, to be delivered of the curse.

Creation is not satisfied to live under the curse.  And neither should we.  We make our little surrenders to the powers and principalities of this world by calling death natural and sin inevitable, when nothing could be further from the truth.

Thus if we are to have hope, so too creation is to have hope.  And creation is burdened by sin but does not act in sin.  We may not look in hope to the Second Coming of our Lord, but all of creation can’t hardly wait until He gets here and frees it finally.  If creation groans and travails in pain waiting for its final deliverance, so we who are endowed with reason as Christ is ought to feel it even more.

23 And not only they, but ourselves also, which have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body.

St. John Chrysostom says about v. 23:

“We have received the first-fruits of the Spirit, or “a taste of the things to come.”  What we have been given is already enough to enthuse us to eagerly await the fulfillment of the promise.  “For if the first-fruits be so great that we are thereby freed even from our sins, and attain to righteousness and sanctification, and that those of that time both drave out devils, and raised the dead by their shadow (Acts v. 15), or garments (ib. xix. 12), consider how great the whole must be.  And if the creation, devoid as it is of mind and reason, and though in ignorance of these things, yet groaneth, much more should we.”

waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body.  St. Paul previously in this chapter has been telling us that we are to be adopted.  This will be entirely fulfilled with our glorified body after the Last Judgement.  Then, as the adopted sons of God and joint-heirs with Christ our Lord, we will live in our glorified bodies in everlasting life and immortality with God the Father.

 

We look outside the precincts of our houses of worship and lament the faithless manner in which the affairs of the world are conducted.  We see the lack of hope and culture of death which ensnares both the young and old alike.  We feel the temptations to find solace in anything other than God the eternal.

But in the face of corruption, we ought to remember other words of St. Paul, well expressed in I Corinthians xv.54:  “So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory.”

Christ has won the victory.  We are living and growing in grace right now, waiting for the Second Coming of our Lord.  We are to rejoice, to give thanks, to sing Glory be to God on High for the forgiveness of our sins by God the Son, for our sanctification in God the Holy Ghost, and for life eternal and adoption as sons by God the Father.

 

“…ourselves also, which have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body.”

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

 

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“For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory.”

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

 

The Resurrection Life

 

St. John Chrysostom preached:

“Our first man is buried: buried not in earth, but in water; not death-destroyed, but buried by death’s destroyer, not by the law of nature, but by the governing command that is stronger than nature. For what has been done by nature, may perchance be undone; but what has been done by His command, never. Nothing is more blessed than this burial, whereat all are rejoicing, both Angels, and men, and the Lord of Angels. At this burial, no need is there of vestments, nor of coffin, nor of anything else of that kind. Wouldest thou see the symbol of this? I will show thee a pool wherein the one was buried, the other raised; in the Red Sea the Egyptians were sunk beneath it, but the Israelites went up from out of it; in the same act he buries the one, generates the other.”

The Resurrection doesn’t make sense to our natural selves, making better sense when talked about in analogies to Israelites and Egyptians.  What does Christ’s Resurrection mean?

 

Christ is our new Adam.  Death came into the world through Adam.  Romans v.12:  “Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned:”

But eternal life has come into the world through the new Adam, Christ.  I Corinthians xv.45:  “The first man Adam was made a living soul; the last Adam was made a quickening spirit.”  In a sense, God has re-made creation through Christ.

Sin is a shattered state of alienation and decay which entered into God’s good world through Adam’s sin.  Since Adam is our progenitor, this disease came to afflict us all.

But Christ has taken up our nature into Himself.  He is God, but He has taken on human nature.  Through that nature, He died on the Cross.  With His Resurrection from the dead, this new Resurrection life has entered into our nature as well.  Christ’s Resurrection has exalted our human nature, and insomuch as we share in Christ’s Resurrection by mystical joining with Him, so we share in this sacred exalted human nature as well.

Death and new birth are both accomplished together in the same action of Holy Baptism.

Now, we who have joined in Christ through the waters of Holy Baptism are joint-heirs with Him.  We are graciously part of Him.  We share in His Resurrection.  We are living in what we can call a foretaste of that which is to come, after our bodily deaths when our bodies will be resurrected and rejoined with our souls.  Then, we shall suffer no sickness or sin, no decay or death.  But the great effect is after we die on this earth at the general resurrection of the dead, when we are rejoined with new and glorified bodies.

 

Because of Christ’s Resurrection from the dead, we are also participating in heavenly grace and the promise of everlasting life in Christ’s Holy Sacraments, especially Holy Baptism and the Holy Eucharist.

In Holy Baptism, we are regenerated – literally born again – by water and the Holy Ghost.  We die like Egypt and come out like Israel in the Red Sea.  When we are baptized into Christ, our sins are mystically washed away, and we pass from this sinful world into the beginning of the Resurrection Life which Christ has both won and created for us.  All our sins are forgiven us.  We are introduced into the inheritance of everlasting life.  We are grafted into Christ’s Body the Church and are so united with Christ.  We begin receiving the benefits of everlasting life here and now.

In the Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ, we sacramentally and mysteriously yet truly eat the Body and Blood of Christ.  We are united with Christ in this Sacrament.  All the supernatural virtue of the Sacraments comes from being united with Christ.  All this goodness comes from Christ.  Christ is the eternal Son of God Who existed before the Creation of the heavens and the earth.  And yet He is a man from Judea.  He has identified Himself with us, bringing us all manner of goodness which God alone can provide.

Holy Baptism opens us up to the possibility of experiencing other sacraments as well.  I participate in the ministry of Christ in the Sacrament of Holy Order only after having been forgiven my sins and united with Christ’s Body in Holy Baptism.

 

Besides everlasting life and the Sacraments, a third way Christ’s Resurrection affects us is Christian morality.  The natural morality of upright and virtuous pagans is an entirely different matter than Christian righteousness.  The righteousness which flows from Christ is not a propositional ethic.  That is, it cannot be summed up in a set of precepts, statutes, or laws.  The Ten Commandments are different for Christians than they were for Jews and certainly different than they would be for non-believers.

Those who do not claim faith in God see these laws as different rules that can be obeyed and disobeyed.  The usefulness of a commandment of God can be appropriated without belief in God.  You can obey it or disobey it as you see fit.

The Jews differ from Christians in that they find in God’s commandments a way to be faithful and true to God.  They cannot divorce the law from the law-giver.  But Christians differ from the Jews as well.

The closer the Christian becomes with God in Christ, the more the moral laws become guideposts for us instead of harsh laws and static rules.  In loving-kindness with Christ, we shall not murder with our hands or in our hearts, we shall not commit adultery with our bodies or in our eyes.  We grow in the Holy Ghost, being little homes for the Holy Ghost, gaining clear understanding of the horror and pain of sin and death and of the delight and wonder of love and mercy.  We therefore seek to act morally for the sake of God’s glory and in relation with God’s love but not for the human results of acting morally.

Think of Christian righteousness as a matter more like the imitation of a child with his parent than like a subject obeying the laws of his king.  The child imitates his mother or father on the inside of himself; he seeks to grow up to be like his parent.  While the subject might use the language of child and parent, he does not seek to imitate his king.  He seeks to obey him.  This law is external; it comes from outside the self.

As we grow in righteousness, we find ourselves increasingly “in harmony with the eternal plan of God.”  Our souls grow increasingly converted, and we begin to behave in accordance with our good God Who saved us and sanctifies us.  Here, moral growth is tied to spiritual growth.  God listens to our prayers best when we listen to him and when our petitions and intercessions most fully intend “thy will be done”.  So our very lives become more resonant with the things of God and become imbued with self-sacrificial loving-kindness.

So we see that Christ’s Resurrection opens the door to everlasting life for the likes of you and me, participation in the life of Christ in the sacraments, and revolutionizes morality.  In all of these, we are changed.  The Christian lives in Christ.  Our “old man” dies the death, and indeed he must die if we are to live.  We cannot have it both ways.  We cannot hedge our bets.  We are all in or all out.  I invite each of you to ponder Christ in your hearts so that you may fully embrace His Resurrection.

 

“For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory.”

+ In the Name of the Father, and to the Son, and to 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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“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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