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Posts Tagged ‘St. John’

In the Collect for Advent, 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 Heaven”

A wonderful Christmas hymn by Blessed Charles Wesley concludes with this stanza:

Made perfect first in love,
And sanctified by grace,
We shall from earth remove,
And see His glorious face:
His love shall then be fully showed,
And man shall all be lost in God.

We will experience Heaven as being lost in God; solely desiring Him and living with Him; detached entirely from the things of this broken and corrupt world.

Father Paul Raftery said:

Man is made for union with God. The fulfillment of this union comes in heaven. Only there will the human creature, into which God has placed a profound desire for Himself, have the satisfaction of all its hopes and desires. All the limited goods of this world cannot touch the desire for God that He has place within us. Nor can we simply turn off this desire. It is fixed within us, an irrevocable part of our nature.

Heaven is eternal presence of God.  God created all good things.  Only perfect things and imperfect things exist.  We are fooled by imperfect things to not follow God.  Thus we say with Hank Williams, Jr., “If Heaven ain’t a lot like Dixie, I don’t want to go.”  But God eternally satisfies us; he made us this way.  The real attraction of ourselves to a broken thing is in how that imperfect thing shows off God to us.

Today, we are confused why Heaven can be so delightful because we are confused in our attachment to the world.  Our spiritual work as we mature in Christ is to detach from earthly things and see the sweetness of God.  As we walk the Christian Way, we increasingly understand that our true desire is for God.  We will thus eagerly desire to live with Him for all eternity.

So we must lose our attachment to the broken things of God and the lusts thereof (“the world”) which is done by attacking our lusts of those things (“the flesh”).  Thus we must battle our flesh in order to get ready for Heaven.

 

Now we do not battle our flesh by ourselves and thereby gain Heaven.  Not at all.  We are Christians, not Buddhists.  St. John iii.16 reads, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”

Christ our Lord came down from Heaven and was born a little baby on Christmas day over two thousand years ago.  He defeated sin and death by His Crucifixion and Resurrection and prepared a place for us in Heaven in the Ascension.  In our Baptism, we connect to Christ in His death and Resurrection, so we can enter wrapped in Christ into Heaven.  We are part of Christ.  We are made holy through Christ in Holy Baptism, the Holy Eucharist, and the other Sacraments.

About the Holy Communion, Christ says in St. John vi.53:  “Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you.”  So we know from Scripture that we ought to follow the precepts of the Church and communicate regularly.  Indeed, to be a member in good standing, you must eat Christ’s Body and drink His Blood at least three times a year.  This is one of the Six Duties of Churchmen.

Besides Holy Baptism and the Mass, we are brought into Christ through His other Sacraments.  If married, we ought to be married in Holy Church.  We ought to use Confession as required.  We ought to be Confirmed.  We ought to receive Unction if necessary.  We ought to be Ordained if so called.  These are all sure and certain means of grace which help unite us to Christ.

 

Besides the Sacramental means of grace, in order to gain Heaven we must live our lives in this world in keeping with our divine calling.  We are to imitate Christ.  Christ is without blemish and without flaw.  But we are well blemished and deeply flawed.  What are we to do?

Christ tells us in St. Matthew v.48, “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.”  In order to perfectly love and to live without sin, there are three things we must do.

First, we must keep the Ten Commandments and other matters of moral law, including the Church’s Law of Marriage to keep sexual purity.  Thus we try to obey God’s will.

Second, we must repent of our sins when we fall, using the Sacrament of Penance when necessary, and firmly resolve not to commit those sins again, even when we keep falling into the same sins.

Taken together, these first two non-Sacramental actions are also two of the Six Duties of Churchmen:  Keeping a clean conscience and keeping the Church’s Law of Marriage.

But the things of this world are lovely and sweet because they are created by God.  Foolishly, we chase them instead of living holy lives.  So the third thing we ought to do after the Sacraments is to break our attachment to the good things which God has made.  This is called mortification.

Mortifying ourselves means living a life of countless little deaths of our own pleasure and our own will so that we may clear our minds of our inordinate love – that is, our love which is out of order – for this world so we can focus on loving God.

So mortification is essential to living with God in Heaven forever.  While we have time on God’s green Earth, we must demonstrate that we chose God instead of his good things.

There are three ways we may mortify ourselves.  First, we fast.  Second, we give alms.  Third, we offer to God things which are perfectly legitimate for us to use.  Notice again that both fasting and almsgiving are found in the Six Duties of Churchmen.  There is a reason why the Six Duties are the irreducible minimum of the practice of the Christian Faith.

The reason why the Scriptures and Church tell us to fast and give alms is not to lose weight, control diabetes, and help make sure someone else gets the food they need to eat.  Those are good goals, but those are worldly reasons to fast and donate to a good cause.

The spiritual point of fasting and giving alms is to recollect that our bodies and wealth are God’s good gift and belong to him, and that our bodies and wealth should be used to glorify God and not ourselves.  So we fast and we give alms, mortifying our bodies and souls.

Our bodies and wealth are good things, but we curtail them for the glory of God.  It is okay for us to have that cookie and to buy something for ourselves, but by not eating that cookie and giving someone else the money we wanted to spend on ourselves, we thwart or deny our own appetites for God’s sake.  In the Holy Ghost, we tame our passions.  In a tiny way, we join in Christ’s Passion and Crucifixion.

But we can mortify ourselves beyond fasting and almsgiving.  We can willingly offer up to God those things which are perfectly okay for us to enjoy.  I do not mean sinful things which we must give up, but things which we peculiarly enjoy.

An example of this is giving up chocolate for Lent.  We are supposed to fast and give alms during Lent, but we are allowed to do something extra.  Chocolate is a good thing which God has given us.  Some of us like chocolate very much.  For us to willingly offer our temporary abstinence from enjoying the pleasures of chocolate to tame our appetites and show God our thanks is a laudable and praiseworthy task if it is wisely and prudently done.

But giving up chocolate while in the ninth month of pregnancy, immediately after having lost a job or parent, or during a divorce is probably not a good idea.  Mortification has not the urgency which undergoing Holy Baptism and receiving Holy Communion have.

Along with trying to live a righteous life and repenting of sin, putting our wills and appetites to death over and over is a vital and important part of spiritual growth.  Indeed, we cannot really grow in Christ unless we fast, give alms, and deny our wills and appetites on occasion.

 

This week is Embertide in the holy season of Advent, three days of special fasting and abstinence.  Let us fast, give alms, and work at mortifying our will so that we may ably assist the Holy Ghost in breaking the world’s hold upon us so that we may thoroughly thirst for Christ.

 

In the Collect for Advent, 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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“he that is greatest among you, let him be as the younger; and he that is chief, as he that doth serve.”

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

 

“The Apostles”

What is an apostle?

‘Apostle’ literally means, ‘one who is sent’.  Which raises the questions, sent by whom?  Sent for what?  And sent where?

The apostles are personally commissioned by our Lord Christ.  They continue Christ’s ministry in His Church and the world by proclaiming the Gospel and governing the Church.  The apostles are sent to all the nations of the earth.

Acts ii.42:  “And they continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers.”

The apostles are key to the continuation of Christ in His Church.  The apostles’ doctrine and fellowship are the doctrine and fellowship of Christ.  They spent three intense years under Christ, not merely learning but being formed by Him, walking with Him in His ministry and Passion.  He spent forty further days explaining all they had experienced through in light of the Resurrection.  They were the first given the Holy Ghost in St. John xx.22 and then more broadly in Acts ii.4 along with the Blessed Virgin Mary.

The apostles possess grace and authority from Christ Himself, which they then passed on to their successors the bishops as the Church grew.  And the Church here on earth grew rapidly while losing many to martyrdom.

The four marks of the Church are found in the Nicene Creed:  One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic.  These four characteristics or marks are found in the Nicene Creed.  Unfortunately, due to a printer’s error centuries ago, our Book of Common Prayer omits the word “Holy”.  Every Sunday we proclaim aloud that the Church is Apostolic.  What then is the character of the apostles?

 

First, apostles are humble.

The Gospel shows the Lord chiding the disciples regarding position and lordship.  Instead, Christ shows another way.  “For whether is greater, he that sitteth at meat, or he that serveth? is not he that sitteth at meat? but I am among you as he that serveth.”  Only the humble may be great in Christ’s kingdom.  They shall rule and lead, but they must serve as they rule.

This is contrary to the way of the world.  Many leaders in the Church have not followed Christ’s path of humility.  But we are called to crucify our old selves and put on Christ.  We must mortify, that is kill off, our old sinful self to put on the Resurrection life of Christ our Lord.

The apostles also continue the ministry of Christ in His Church through their morality and way of life.  The maniple I wear today is derived from the heir of the old deacon’s towel, ready to wipe and to clean.  This humility is also symbolized by the washing of the feet on Maundy Thursday, when the bishop or priest kneels before his people.  Our own archbishop ordinary, that is to say our regular bishop, is quite modest in his life and manners.

 

Second, apostles proclaim the gospel.

Apostles are men duly commissioned by Christ who are sent to preach the Gospel to the whole world, carrying with them Christ’s doctrine in humility and love.  This proclamation of the Word of God is central to their character.  All of them, except St. John, died the martyr’s death preaching the Gospel of Christ.  Today’s Saint Bartholomew is said to have been horribly murdered for converting the King of Armenia through Gospel preaching and the great work of exorcism.  We see this emphasis on preaching the Gospel in Christ’s own words, from St. Peter on Whitsunday or Pentecost, and from St. Paul in Corinth.

Christ tells the remaining eleven disciples in St. Matthew xxviii.18-20 to teach the nations:

And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth.  Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:  Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.

When the people of Jerusalem wondered if those gathered in the Upper Room who had been given the Holy Ghost on the feast of Pentecost were drunk, St. Peter answered with mighty preaching.  We read the result in Acts ii.37-42:

Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do?  Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.  For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call.  And with many other words did he testify and exhort, saying, Save yourselves from this untoward generation.  Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls.  And they continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers.

St. Paul refers to his own preaching to the church in Corinth in 1 Corinthians xv.1-4, in which he preaches the Gospel he himself was taught:

Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain.  For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures:

The successor to the apostles appointed over us here at St. Luke’s Church is Archbishop Mark Haverland.  He will come to visit us this November 2nd.  He will preach the Gospel, administer the Sacraments, and tend to his flock.  He is the one responsible for our missions both overseas and domestically.  He teaches well and has proven himself to be a staunch and unmovable believer in the Gospel of Christ which he ensures is taught faithfully to you, his faithful people through the likes of me, one of his priests.

 

Third, apostles rule with authority.

Today’s lesson from Acts refers to the wondrous workings of St. Peter, showing that the apostles held healing power comparable to Christ.  St. Paul does similar work later in the Acts.  The apostles work wondrous miracles, they are to be a paradigm of humility according to the Gospel, they preserve the Lord’s doctrine, they form the core of the Church’s fellowship, and they are to become the rulers of Israel.

We ought to remember that the wonderful works and teachings and love shown forth the apostles and their successors are not theirs; they are Christ’s.  Without Christ, none of us can do any good work, can teach God’s honest truth, or love one another and God with all our hearts, with all our souls, and with all our minds.  All our good works, teaching, and love bear fruit in Christ alone.

The Church today is in continuity with the Apostolic Church through the Apostolic Succession.  Our own bishop has received the ensured Sacramental grace of Holy Order through both touching hands on heads and by practicing today the faith of the early Church.  Our doctrine conforms to the doctrine of the early Church.  If it does not, then we must reform so that it does so conform.

The Church is Apostolic because she keeps the faith delivered to her by Christ through the apostles and the successors of the apostles, the bishops.  Their consecrated touch in the Sacrament of Holy Order freely and certainly bestows the Holy Ghost which enables them to perform the work necessary to their calling.  This is clearly shown by St. Clement before the end of the first Century, conforms to the Holy Scriptures, supported by others immediately afterward, and taught throughout the Catholic Church.

Today’s Gospel shows that the Lord will have the Twelve Apostles judge the tribes of Israel.  As those ministers directly commissioned by Christ to grow the Church which He has planted, the apostles have the authority to rule over the Church.

After Pentecost, the apostles delegate authority to bishops, or overseers.  The Greek word for bishop is episcoposEpi means “over” and skopeo means “to see”.  A bishop oversees the church.  They continue the apostolic rule of those of Christ’s own ministry to Christ’s own Church.

Today, we crave Christ’s ministry amongst us.  Christ knew we would, and so He appointed those who would continue His ministry to the Church.  The apostles and the heirs of the apostles provide this leadership.  They are a great blessing from Christ to us.

The bishops ensure we hear the true Gospel every Sunday.  The bishops ensure every priest is vetted and trained before ordination.  That is why I read the Si Quis this morning, so that if any of you had something the bishop needed to know about Dr. Malone before his ordination, he would hear it.  Bishops convene synods of all the parishes, intervene in disturbed parish situations, discipline the clergy, and try to keep unity with good discipline and proper dogma with other Christian bodies.

 

Ask the holy apostles for their prayers.  They were personally selected by Christ, taught by him, and died for him.  They are alive in Christ in His Body, the Church Triumphant in Heaven.

Pray for your bishop, Archbishop Haverland, and your priests, Father Martin and me.  Christ has given us grace in the Holy Ghost to continue His work amongst his people.  But we are still frail sinful men like yourselves.  Pray that we stay humble, proclaim the true Gospel, and rule with loving-kindness and authority.

 

“he that is greatest among you, let him be as the younger; and he that is chief, as he that doth serve.”

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

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“And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible.”

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

 

St. Paul clearly says in today’s Epistle both to strive and to gain an incorruptible crown.  Faith is a gift.  Growing into the likeness of God is a gift.  Salvation is a gift.  Yet our striving matters.  But it is a gift.  This confuses us.

Today’s Gospel lesson provides us a parable which helps explain this.  The goodman of the house goes out time and again to hire laborers for his field.  Despite the difference in time worked, he pays them all the same.  Each one of the laborers worked, but the pay they received said nothing about how much they worked and said everything about the generosity of the goodman.

We work with God in our salvation.  God esteems our labor, poor that it may be in his infinite majesty.  We must labor in order to get paid.  Yet we are not paid in accordance with our labor.

We live in a city of wreckage this Sunday morning, even after crews have been working to restore power and fix roads and houses for days.  The storm hit us very hard.  Thankfully, the earthquake seems to have caused no damage.

Among many, I am thankful for the out-of-town utility crews that have been fixing our power lines.  But we cannot simply rest easy and sit back while they come and restore our power.  Other things need to be done.  At the very least, we need to gather up sticks and put them aside for the county to pick up.  We must clean our refrigerators and freezers.  Even though the professionals are doing the heavy lifting, we must handle the small stuff.  Our homes are not back into good order without a little bit of elbow grease on our part.

So it is with the grace of God.  We are entirely stuck without power until he bestows upon us grace from beyond ourselves, grace which we cannot manage on our own.  And yet the job is not entirely done without our participation.

So God has chosen us and adopted us in Holy Baptism and given us grace upon grace in our lives.  But we must participate in this grace, we must work with this grace, but we may not work for this grace.  The distinction is between working in order to gain something and working alongside and in conjunction with something.

Isaiah tells a powerful story at the beginning of his fifth chapter.  Let me read it to you.

Now will I sing to my wellbeloved a song of my beloved touching his vineyard.  My wellbeloved hath a vineyard in a very fruitful hill:  And he fenced it, and gathered out the stone thereof, and planted it with the choicest vine, and built a tower in the midst of it, and also made a winepress therein:  and he looked that it should bring forth grapes, and it brought forth wild grapes.  And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem, and men of Judah, judge, I pray you, betwixt me and my vineyard.  What could have been done more to my vineyard, that I have not done in it?  Wherefore, when I looked that it should bring forth grapes, brought it forth wild grapes?  And now go to:  I will tell you what I will do to my vineyard:  I will take away the hedge thereof, and it shall be eaten up; and break down the wall thereof, and it shall be trodden down:  And I will lay it waste:  it shall not be pruned, nor digged; but there shall come up briers and thorns:  I will also command the clouds that they rain no rain upon it.  For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah his pleasant plant:  and he looked for judgement, but behold oppression; for righteousness, but behold a cry.

Here, the Lord does everything but the people do not contribute their little part.  Isaiah shows that the Lord will prepare a great thing, but if the people do not do it, not only does it not get done, but the Lord will judge the contrary people.

The Lord gave all manner of goodness to Israel, and Israel spurned God’s love and pursued their own ends.  And lest we too quickly hasten to condemn Israel, we do this ourselves all too often.  We substitute what we want for what God has clearly communicated to us.  We substitute our fleshly desires over holy discipline.  We substitute sentimentality over truth and love.  We substitute feeling good and avoiding bad feelings over pursuing holiness.

God has given us good things.  He has communicated his will to us.  He has sent His only-begotten Son into the world to save us from our sins.  He has sent the Holy Ghost into the world to dwell in us, making us tabernacles of God himself.  And yet we run rampant, choosing our own way.  We say with our lips that we love God and our neighbor, but we act like strangers to both neighbor and God.

We ought to pray as Thomas Wilson, sometime Bishop of Sodor and Man, once prayed, “Grant that the end of all my actions, and designs, may be the glory of God.”

This glory of God for which we must strive St. Paul likens to the prize of an athletic contest.  Many of us have been watching – when we have electricity – the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi.  In the Olympics, individuals and teams strive for the gold.  In ancient Greece, athletes strove for laurels, that is, a crown of olive.

St. Paul mentions the crown in II Timothy ii.5:  “And if a man also strive for masteries, yet is he not crowned, except he strive lawfully.”

St. Peter mentions the crown in his first epistle:  “And when the chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away.”

St. John mentions the crown in Revelation ii.10b:  “be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life.”

And again, St. Paul mentions winning the crown in today’s Epistle:  “And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible.”

These bring to my mind my favorite quote of St. John Vianney:  “All that we do without offering it to God is wasted.”  Indeed, all that we do without God is ineffectual.  While our cares and concerns may seem important now, time will wear away even the greatest of monuments, age will wipe away the most notable of lineages.  All that is worthy, all that is eternal, all that is virtuous is the Lord’s.

Either you have the crown or you don’t.  And the crown is bestowed upon you, it is not earned.

We need sustained discipline.  Christians are spiritual athletes, and if we are spiritually lazy, digesting poor spiritual food, and not exercising what God gave us, then we will be sorry spiritual athletes indeed.  We must exercise vigorously whether we feel like it or not, listen to our teachers and coaches, eat a proper diet, get enough sleep, and avoid harmful things.

We are not competing against one another.  Instead of a race with one winner, all who run the race swiftly and with vigor will win the crown which God alone bestows upon his elect.  But we must run.  We must run our hearts out.  We run a difficult course with treacherous obstacles and dangerous challenges.  In this race, some racers will be tempted to quit the course.

We must hold our bodies in subject to our wills and hold our wills in subject to God’s will.  The way of Christ is tough and exacting.  Soon enough, we will again walk the road to Calvary with Christ and intensely recall how difficult the Via Dolorosa has always been.  Running a race whilst carrying your cross is impossible without the grace of God, whose grace, thankfully, he freely bestows upon us.  He loves us.  He desires us to join in his victory.  He does not want a single one of us to turn from God and consort with the enemy.  He wants abundant life for us all.

So how do we run this race to the satisfaction of God?

The minimum that we can do are the Duties of Churchmen.  But these are not enough.  And there is no maximum that we can do.

But still, first we faithfully fulfill the Duties of Churchmen.  These duties are:

1. Worship God in Church every Sunday and Holy Day of Obligation

2. Receive Holy Communion at least three times a year

3. Keep the fasts of the Church

4. Keep a clean conscience by confessing our sins and seeking righteousness

5. Tithe and give alms

6. Obey the Church’s Law of Marriage

In addition, we must regularly spend time with God in prayer:  adoration, thanksgiving, and confession.  Do not worry yourself about naming lists of loved ones to God.  Marvel at God, gaze upon him, and thank him.  Confess your sins and faults and grow close to him.  And here’s something important that we so often miss:  Slowly and thoughtfully pray the Lord’s Prayer every day.  You may always come to me and ask for more after you do that.

Finally, we must live righteous lives.  Are you living in a sinful situation?  Stop it.  Stop it now.  Don’t reason with evil – avoid it.  If you are living in fornication, or stealing from others, or shirking your duty, or disrespecting your parents, or greedily desiring more than you need, stop it immediately.  Follow the Ten Commandments and all Christian morality.

In all we do, we are to exercise our wills so that we may love our God and our fellow man more fully.  Virtue, communion with God, and righteous living all help us love God more fully and thereby love our neighbors more fully as well.

If you faithfully fulfill the six Duties of Churchmen, pray adequately and earnestly every day, and live a life of increasing righteousness, then you are well on your way to running the race worthy of a crown.  But remember, you never earn it.  You can never do enough to satisfy God.  God will grant you your crown of glory because he wants to, not because you feel – or don’t feel – like you deserve it.  In God’s open and free love does he give us all that we need for eternal life with him.  Accept the goodness and grace which flows from God and strive mighty hard to live a life worthy of Christ in the Holy Ghost.

 

“And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible.”

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

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“we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another.”

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

 

How the Christian Ought to Live, Part 1

 

Today’s Epistle and those of the next two weeks form a continuous reading of the entirety of the twelfth chapter of St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans.  I encourage everyone to read chapter twelve in conjunction with these lessons and sermons.

So today’s lesson begins:  “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.”  Our bodies are to be pledged to and lived in God’s service.  We are noble knights pledging our swords and lives to our king.  This is similar to the vows soldiers, sailors, Marines, and airmen make upon enlistment or commission.  For the United States Army, the vow is to support and defend the Constitution, to bear true faith and allegiance to the same, and either to obey orders from officers or to faithfully discharge the duties of office without any evasion or mental reservation.

In other words, the soldier must be faithful and loyal to his country.  He must not deviate into the service of those opposed to his country.  He will fulfill his duty with his country in mind.  He swears that he is not coerced into giving false service, but rather he is free to obligate himself to this loyalty and allegiance.

All this points to a potentially horrible truth:  The soldier is willing to die for his country.  No one swears this oath and undertakes this discipline wanting to die, but all do it knowing that death may happen.

But the Christian knows that death must happen.  Christ died on the Cross.  The Christian must go to his own Calvary as well.  St. John xii.24:  “Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit.”

Rather, the image of Romans xii.1 is that of worship.  One sacrifices in worship.  This is one of the main reasons that pagans can kill animals or burn incense to their false gods in worship, but you cannot adequately sit at home alone with your Bible in worship.  In worship, one offers something to God.  One sacrifices something.

In the prayer for the Whole State of Christ’s Church, we read:  “We humbly beseech thee most mercifully to accept our [alms and] oblations”.  Our alms are our physical gifts we give to God, most notably bread and wine which is now purchased with money, and therefore the money we give.  Our tithes especially are given in worship.  Think of our oblations as our prayers, presence, worship, and intentions.

If you are bound by chains and dragged into our service and hear those words, “our oblations”, then you may well discard them, for they do not apply to you.  But for everyone who comes here with at least a little desire to worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness, then these words are for you.  Even if you come here intending to show off your new outfit at church, so long as you do intend to show off your new outfit at church, then you too have that little speck of intention towards the worship of God, and thus you participate in the offering up of yourselves.

The Canon of the Mass includes even stronger language.  Midway through it, we read:  “And here we offer and present unto thee, O Lord, our selves, our souls and bodies, to be a reasonable, holy, and living sacrifice unto thee;”  Here do I, or any priest saying the Mass, offer on your behalf as well as mine our whole selves over to God “to be a reasonable, holy, and living sacrifice”.  We worship our good God by giving back to him the lives he first gave us.

When I swore that military oath back in 1990, I knew I might die.  And to be fair, I was willing to lay down my life.  But I had struggled for a couple of years beforehand wondering, “If my life was given to me, by what right had I to risk it?”  But of course, Christ Himself said in St. John’s Gospel:  “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”

We are fully responsible for the lives which God has given us.  And to a great extent, we are free to do what we will with our lives.  The question of “How shall we best live our lives?” is an ancient one.  Notably, Socrates asked this question centuries before the Incarnation of Christ our Savior.

(1) Many people have answers to this question.  Some people think it a good thing to live hedonistically for themselves, avoiding entangling relationships with others, seeking pleasure where they may find it, and avoiding pain at all costs.  This only results in death and the grave.  Not a good option.

(2) Others strap bombs under their clothes and blow themselves up along with busloads of tourists.  To be fair, these people actually think that by killing themselves, they are doing their god’s will.  Of course, they do not think that their bloody god is evil and demonic, although he is.  Yet they still are reaching outside of themselves and beyond their own pleasure.

(3) Others live for something positive.  Some people, especially here in the South and in other traditional cultures, live for their families.  I heard of a Japanese businessman some years ago who put a large sum of money in the bank to be drawn upon by his ancestors centuries in the future.  With compound interest, even a large number of heirs should be very wealthy then.  That’s looking after family that it’s not possible to even meet.

Others lay down their lives for their country and for their country alone.  Millions upon millions of soldiers died on the Eastern Front in World War II, Germans against Russians.  You might ask yourself what compels a man to die on behalf of his atheist or pagan regime.  Laying your life down for another, for your comrade, for your country is the answer.  Whether you sacrifice yourself for your family or your country, such a sacrifice reaches out of the depths of one’s own self and reaches for something greater – the good of your people.

There is honor in this.  There is nobility in this.  Indeed, the noble pagans – Socrates, Confucius, Cicero – aspired to this as the best end result they could manage.  But even there, alas, there is no salvation.  There is nothing vital and eternal.  There is Hades and Sheol, the cold, endless, sleepy afterlife.

(4) But St. Paul shows us yet again a “more excellent way”:  “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.”

We can live for Him Who came down to earth and died for us on the Cross, Who rose again from the dead and ascended into Heaven, preparing for us many mansions in the eternal light of God the Father.  Indeed, we can live for Him Who sent God the Holy Ghost into the world to make us meet and fitting tabernacles for God the Father.

We can live for God every single day of our lives.  We are to pray continually, and when we lead upright, sacrificial lives of loving-kindness to Almighty God, we become a living sacrifice to our good and generous Father in Heaven.

But St. Paul does not stop there.  He has more to say:  “And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.”

As we give ourselves, offer ourselves up as a reasonable, holy, acceptable, and living sacrifice to God, we are not merely to give lip service, we are not merely to hand over the mess which we currently are, but we are to reach even further, and become ourselves transformed by God.  In Hebrews we read:  “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”  God changes us.  We do not remain the same.  Our minds are renewed by our gracious God.  We are so to emulate God in our minds and in our wills that we “may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.”

St. Paul continues:  “For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith.”

Going beyond our private selfish lives, we are to submit to God’s perfect will, we are to become like God, to be transformed by the renewing of our minds, to live lives worthy of offering unto God; and these lives we live here in Augusta and in our families will point towards God.  People other than ourselves will see God in us, in our lives, in our humility, in our conduct, in our speech, in our decisions, in what we value, in what we refuse to accept.  In knowing us, they will not be unfamiliar with God, for we will have been transformed.  They will see us worshipping God and being transformed by him, they will see God working in our lives, and we will be their good examples.  They will either be attracted or repulsed by what they see, but if we are living robust lives with spiritual integrity, they will be seeing the things of God in us.

And those outside the Faith, those outside the household of God will not be the only ones who see this.  St. Paul continues, finishing today’s lesson:  “For as we have many members in one body, and all members have not the same office:  So we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another.”

In the Prayer of Thanksgiving in our beautiful Prayer Book, we read:  “that we are very members incorporate in the mystical body of thy Son, which is the blessed company of all faithful people;”  You right there, and all of your brothers and sisters, are members of Christ’s Body.  We call this the Church, the Bride of Christ.  Just as when a man takes a woman to be his bride they become one flesh, one body, members of each other, so too Christ takes His Church, which is His Body, to be His Holy Bride.  We see in Holy Matrimony a window into the mystery which is Christ and His Church.

And I say that to point out that each one of us are members in this one Body, Holy Mother Church.  For in Christ, the Church births new Christians through the Sacrament of Holy Baptism, in which we are renewed, regenerated, born again, made anew, transformed by the action of the Holy Ghost through the ministry of Christ to become a Holy People.  We, you and I, are joint-heirs of Christ, for we are adopted by God the Father.  Through God’s action, not through our own merit or through any offices of our own, are we united mystically and sacramentally to God.

We can sit down, drink some tea, and think of nice things; we can go to church, go back home, and remain unaffected to the best of our ability.  We may think ourselves above, or below, our brothers and sisters.  We may hold ourselves aloof, apart, beyond, beside, but not in direct relationship with these other Christians we worship with.  But none of that is:  “every one members one of another”.

We are to give ourselves entirely over to God.  We are to conform our minds, our wills, and our entire selves to the mind and will of God.  And we are made one body, “every one members one of another.”

My dear children, we are not fully Christian unless we are these things.  The sacramental washing with water in Holy Baptism immerses us fully into new life in Christ, and that requires our hearts and minds make the full journey also.

What is holding you back?  It’s probably not patriotism, for this is a cynical age.  Family?  Perhaps, but we are selfish.  Money?  Sex?  Living our own private lives?  Holding to our own peculiar opinions?  We are members one of another with our brothers and sisters in Christ.  We all together are one Body, which is the Body of Christ, for we are joined with Christ, and made adopted sons of God the Father.  Our salvation lies through Christ, and in Christ we are joined together.

Understand this:  Without the fools and the snobs sitting to your left and to your right, to your front and to your back, you are not saved.  No one can go this alone.  Christ wills that we all may be one.  We are in this together more than we can possibly understand here in our one short lifetime.

 

“we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another.”

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

 

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“And he spake to them a parable; Behold the fig tree, and all the trees; when they now shoot forth, ye see and know of your own selves that summer is now nigh at hand. So likewise ye, when ye see these things come to pass, know ye that the kingdom of God is nigh at hand.”

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

 

Judgement

 

In the Tuesday night Bible study we have been reading the fifth chapter of St. Mark.  In this chapter, people fall down before Christ and worship Him.  One is a demoniac; another is a leader of the synagogue; the third is the woman with a hemorrhage.  Reading about them and studying the Gospel, I have often asked myself how they, alone of all the people around them, knew to bow before and worship Christ.

So when I think of the end of today’s Epistle, which recounts four Old Testament prophecies of Gentiles worshipping the Lord, I again wonder how folks recognize divinity and whom to worship.  I learned about God from my earliest days.  My mother first took me to church in her womb, I was Baptized as an infant, and I remember early days standing next to my father as he sang hymns in worship and praise of God.

I did not have to judge whether or not to give worship to God then.  But I had to do that later, as I was becoming a man.  Then I had to look around and figure out what all this foolishness was about.  I cannot speak to every person’s reasons, but I came to a lively faith in Christ as an adult after acknowledging the wisdom of my fathers, the logic of belief in philosophy, and, importantly, through the generous and self-sacrificing acts of love and goodness on the part of a Baptist coworker.

Did you see what I did?  I measured Christ and found that He fit.  This is a terribly arrogant thing to do, but in this world and in my life I needed convincing over and above my raising.  The same thing happened when I felt called to become a Catholic.  I had to use my judgement, poor as it was, to determine where God was calling me.  Indeed, I spent too long as an Episcopalian and could have become Anglican Catholic years before.  But I didn’t, which shows how we can make faulty judgements which God will correct over time.  We are never so old or so wise that our judgement is unimpaired and perfect.  We are never so old or so wise that we don’t need correction from time to time.

 

In the Office of Institution which the archbishop read right here almost two months ago, we read:

“And as a canonically instituted Priest into the Office of Rector of —— Parish, (or Church,) you are faithfully to feed that portion of the flock of Christ which is now intrusted to you; not as a man-pleaser, but as continually bearing in mind that you are accountable to us here, and to the Chief Bishop and Sovereign Judge of all, hereafter.”

According to the Book of Common Prayer and Archbishop Haverland, I am to bear in mind continually that I am accountable to him here on earth and to our Lord, “the Chief Bishop and Sovereign Judge of all, hereafter.”

An explicit part of my work here as rector is to hold myself up for judgement by our bishop and by Christ.  I shall be judged both here on earth and there on the Day of Doom, that is, the day of reckoning or day of judgement.

When we let ourselves be held accountable by others, we hold ourselves up for judgement.  Mrs. Gladys Fox and Mrs. Sam Nechtman have done excellent work straightening and keeping up our financial records over the past year and a half.  Last year, their work was scrutinized by a committee led by Mr. Leroy Walker for the explicit purpose of holding their work accountable.  They voluntarily held themselves up for judgement.  And their work was measured and judged to be excellent.  This is judgement.

 

When we behold the fig tree and see that it now shoots forth leaves, then we remember that trees shoot forth leaves during Spring.  Thus we arrive at the judgement that Summer is nigh at hand when the fig tree shoots forth leaves.

We measure the observed event by what we already know and that results in a judgement.  We observe that we have lied to our sweetheart, we remember that lying is a sin, and thus we derive from these two facts the fact that we have sinned.  This is what Christ refers to when He says in St. Matthew vii.1-2:  “Judge not, that ye be not judged.  For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.”

The measuring stick by which we judge others is the same one by which we shall be judged.  Therefore even being selfish, we ought to show others great all-encompassing mercy so that Christ will show us great mercy at the Last Judgement.

Yet we do not do this.  Oh, sometimes we do.  Perhaps we have grown more generous over time, a mark of spiritual maturity.  But we perceive things incorrectly.  Even the best and most spiritual Christian views himself with poor eyesight.  As St. Paul says in I Corinthians xiii.12, “For now we see through a glass, darkly, but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.”

We see through a glass darkly; we know only in part.  When we get to Heaven after Christ’s Judgement of us, then we shall see “face to face” and “know even as also I am known.”  But for now, we know imperfectly.  And we know ourselves less perfectly than we would ever suppose.

Indeed, each of us should understand that the “old man” inside of you, the struggling sinful man inside of you, keeps you from seeing yourself clearly.  If you hearken unto God’s Word and live the life of Christian adventure working diligently at your prayers and confessing your sins regularly, then you stand an excellent chance of understanding what is right and what is wrong.

But despite this, being a frail and fallible human being despite your wisdom and strength, you will misjudge yourself often and regularly.  We dare not trust our own judgement of ourselves.  And it is precisely because we shall be judged by Christ with the standards with which we have judged others that we may experience a profound grace from Christ regarding our failed confessions.  Showing mercy to our struggling brothers, sisters, and neighbors is how we judge in the loving-kindness with which Christ died for us on the Cross.

 

We must have compassion on our fellow creatures because we must adjust our judgement to Christ’s, and Christ is the Incarnate God, and, as St. John tells us, God is love.  This is why the two great commandments are to love God and to love our neighbor.  The two are inextricably bound together, tighter than the tightest knot.  God created us to love us.  God came down to earth to love us and save us.  God taught us to love each other and to love him too.  If we would behold our vilest neighbor as Christ beholds him, then our hearts would melt with divine love.  We would give him the choicest seat, kill the fatted lamb, and put a ring on his finger.  We would never in a million years – which is but a drop in the bucket of eternity, by the way – keep recounting past acts in ways that exalt our own role and denigrate our neighbor.

And this is the type of thing I hear all the time in this parish.  I recognize it because it is one of my sins too.  But Christ will damn us for this sin if we do not release it.  We can have no part of it.  We must throw it down at the feet of Christ, fall on our knees, and say,

“ALMIGHTY God, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Maker of all things, Judge of all men; We acknowledge and bewail our manifold sins and wickedness, Which we, from time to time, most grievously have committed, By thought, word, and deed, Against thy Divine Majesty, Provoking most justly thy wrath and indignation against us. We do earnestly repent, And are heartily sorry for these our misdoings; The remembrance of them is grievous unto us; The burden of them is intolerable. Have mercy upon us, Have mercy upon us, most merciful Father; For thy Son our Lord Jesus Christ’s sake, Forgive us all that is past; And grant that we may ever hereafter Serve and please thee In newness of life, To the honour and glory of thy Name; Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”

We must thrust aside all sins and naughtiness if we dare to face Christ with certainty on that Last Great Day, when Christ will pronounce truth and Judgement over all Mankind in general and over every single one of us in particular.

 

Therefore, we ought to do three things:

First, we must diligently search our hearts after studying the Holy Scriptures and bathing ourselves in prayer so that we may find and repent of the many sins which are weighing us down like stones in the pockets of a drowning man.

Second, we must relentlessly practice compassion and self-sacrificial loving-kindness with every single person in our lives, particularly in our families, in our parish, and in the faces of those whom we despise.  We must serve others by acting like servants for them alongside our Saviour Christ.

Third, we must conform our opinions, understandings, and judgements to those of Christ our Lord.  St. Augustine said, “If you believe what you like in the Gospel and reject what you like, it is not the Gospel you believe but yourselves.”  Each of us have parts of the Gospel which are hard for us to hear.  For some, it is holding on to a cherished notion.  For others, it is keeping score of offenses, real and imagined.  For others, it is living in anxiety and fear of the things of this world.  For yet others, it is trusting in this world’s goods instead of storing treasures in Heaven above.  We must acknowledge before God that He is greater than we are, that he is wiser than we are, that he is smarter than we are, and so we must conform ourselves to his holy self.

So:  Confess your sins, love thy neighbor, and conform to God.  Do these things, and you will be in far better shape to answer to Christ our God and our King, the great Judge Eternal, on the Day of Doom, the Day of Judgement, when the disposition of all men will be made for eternity.

 

“And he spake to them a parable; Behold the fig tree, and all the trees; when they now shoot forth, ye see and know of your own selves that summer is now nigh at hand. So likewise ye, when ye see these things come to pass, know ye that the kingdom of God is nigh at hand.”

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

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“And when they had brought their ships to land, they forsook all, and followed him.”

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

 

 

“They forsook all”:  Ss. Peter, James, and John respond to Christ by giving up their belongings, their work tools, and their livelihood to go and follow Christ.  To follow Christ means not only to go where He goes, but also implies a commitment that overrides all other ties.  Elsewhere in the New Testament and St. Luke, the call to discipleship is responded to by a leaving of things behind.

St. Luke xiv.26-27:  “If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple. And whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple.”

In Acts ix.15-16, the Lord says to Ananias about Saul:  “Go thy way: for he is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel: For I will shew him how great things he must suffer for my name’s sake.”

We are not all called to give up all the physical means which support us in this life.  But the example of Christ’s disciples here is for each one of us.  We must understand that all we have comes from Him; our plenteousness, our comfort, our good life, our next meal, our paycheck or retirement check comes from Almighty God.  We may not see it that way, but that is our false vision and not the truth.  We must realize that we are to trust wholly upon Christ, that we are to rely upon Him, that we are to hold Him as our fundamental relationship.  All that we have is so much garbage without Christ, for all our earthly treasure will be worth nothing in our life eternal.  When we realize this, when we feel it, when we are as sure of it as our own name and our next breath of air, then we know that we could leave it all behind in an instant and follow Christ.  We are probably not called to offer all that we have up for Him, but we must all be willing to sacrifice everything we have to keep our relationship with Christ.

In the Old Testament, we learn of how much God expects of us and how much the Patriarchs would give him.

Genesis xxii.9-12:  “And they came to the place which God had told him of; and Abraham built an altar there, and laid the wood in order, and bound Isaac his son, and laid him on the altar upon the wood.  And Abraham stretched forth his hand, and took the knife to slay his son.  And the angel of the LORD called unto him out of heaven, and said, Abraham, Abraham: and he said, Here am I.  And he said, Lay not thine hand upon the lad, neither do thou any thing unto him: for now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son from me.”

Abraham willingly offered his only son Isaac to God and was stayed from killing him only by an angel of the Lord.  God wanted Abraham to know that he entirely relied upon, trusted, and obeyed God before God gave him the blessing of a great multitude of descendants.

You and I may not be called to give our all to God, but we must be willing to do so if we are so called.  Those heroes of the Christian faith, those monks and nuns and friars and sisters, they give up their worldly goods to leave behind the life of plenty and embrace poverty.

For tertiaries in our Franciscan Order of the Divine Compassion, that is, laypeople and clergy who do not leave the world but try to live after the example of Brother Francis in their regular lives, instead of giving up property and embracing poverty, they embrace simplicity.  They do not own vacation homes and fancy cars.  They live on what they need and freely give of what they do not.

As not all of us are called to embrace poverty, not all of us are called to embrace simplicity either.  But we are called absolutely to trust in Christ and to give generously to the Church and to the poor.  Indeed, this is one of the six essential Duties of Churchmen.  You can pick up the St. Augustine Prayer Book in the middle rack of your pew and turn to the bottom of page eight.  I’m not making this up.

The disciples forsook all and followed Christ.  We are also to follow Christ.  Our internal disposition towards Christ influences the outward disposition of our property.  At the absolute minimum, we are each required to give support to our Holy Mother the Church and to the poor.  At the absolute most, we are called to renounce the world and give away all our possessions.  In between, we are expected to tithe.

The tithe is ten percent of our income given to the support of church and for the poor.  For many American Christians, this ten percent is not sacrificial and should be given without any conditions to the parish.  Everyone is welcome to give of their abundance for special projects and particular ministries, but for all those who are well outside of poverty themselves, these special gifts are to be given over and above one’s tithes.  Now, this is not absolute.  But to not tithe to one’s parish when one has the means is remarkably stingy.  The tithe is a typically adequate gift of our property to our generous God who gave us his only-begotten Son to die on the Cross for our salvation.  To give gifts to be used in one’s favorite ministry or special project when one is capable of tithing and does not displays a fundamental misunderstanding of one of our most basic duties as Christians.  Just like people who display a fundamental misunderstanding of our other basic duties – Sunday attendance at worship every week, regular communion, keeping one’s conscience clean, obeying the Church’s law of marriage, and keeping the fasts of the Church – people who willfully neglect giving to the parish and to the poor within their means need to repent of their wickedness.

But in any case, we see the disciples giving up their means of making a living and following Christ.  We do not see everyone in the crowd which He has been teaching make the same commitment.  Not everyone is to surrender all they have.  Indeed, for a working man to give up the tools of his trade and leaving his family in the lurch would be a very naughty thing indeed.  Instead, we must be willing to surrender all we have.  We all need to take up our cross and follow Christ.  We do not know where He will take us.  We cannot see the future.  When we see a Baptism or Confirmation, we normally respond with joy and perhaps forget to think about how difficult the road might be.  When we see a wedding, we rarely think about the financial and sexual temptations which lie ahead, the family difficulties which remain unseen, and the stories which the couple might one day tell.

How unlike this were our representatives of the Second Continental Congress which met in June and July of 1776.  They had a very good notion of what they were getting into.  Battles had been fought.  Men had died.  People had been driven from their homes.  These men had lived through the French and Indian War; they knew a good amount of the horrors which awaited them.  Nevertheless, they swore a compact together.  In the words of Benjamin Franklin, “We must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately.”  These men knew what was at stake, and because they knew how valuable freedom was and what it meant to the men, women, and children living in the country, so they agreed, “And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.”

Christians who live eternally in Christ cannot pledge anything less to the author of our lives, our Lord God Almighty!

 

“And when they had brought their ships to land, they forsook all, and followed him.”

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

 

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If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen? And this commandment have we from him, That he who loveth God love his brother also.

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

 

God became Man in Christ for our salvation.  He gives us His Body and His Blood for us to consume so that we may dwell in Him and He may dwell in us.  The Blessed Sacrament flows from the Incarnation.

The Eucharist is primarily sacrifice and secondarily communion.  Dean Harton said, “The Mass is the most perfect act of worship possible to man, and as such its action is essentially Godward, the offering to the Father of the sacrifice of Christ; and the inestimable benefits which the worshipper receives in Holy Communion are consequent upon this.”

Christ is present in the Mass as Victim, the Lamb who was slain.  Communion with Him is communion with the broken body and spilt blood of Calvary, a holy meal of spiritual food.  St. John vi.55:  “My flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed.”  We receive Christ when we receive Holy Communion, the whole Christ.  All His love and virtues and mind are ours when we receive Holy Communion.  We do not receive a portion of Christ; we receive all of Christ.  Since we receive all of Christ in Holy Communion, partaking in the Blessed Sacrament is the very center of Christian life.  How can we be Christian if we do not receive Christ?

God became Man to save both our bodies and our souls, the whole man.  Our words at Holy Communion show this:  “The Body of our Lord Jesus Christ, which was given for thee, preserve thy body and soul unto everlasting life.”

Union with Christ in the Blessed Sacrament is no mere metaphor.  St. John vi.57:  “As the living Father hath sent me, and I live by the Father:  so he that eateth me, even he shall live by me.”  New life is given to us in Holy Baptism, and that life is built upon and sustained in Holy Communion.

Christ gradually transforms us into the likeness of Himself.  We overcome sin and grow in virtue as we become more like Him.  This transformation grows with our devout reception of the Body and Blood of Christ.  We do not simply imitate Christ; we join with Christ in union.  He dwells within us and transforms us from the inside out.  We eat His Body and drink His Blood so that He may dwell inside of us.  He directs our soul, the soul which is His home.

If we seek not His Kingdom and do not consent to these changes, then this transformation will indeed be stunted.  We may receive the Holy Communion every day and increase hardly at all in virtue and Christ-likeness if we seek to remain selfish and slothful.  The disposition with which we receive Christ in the Blessed Sacrament matters a great deal.

How do we prepare ourselves to communicate with Christ to our greatest advantage?  First we need faith, without which no advantage comes from receiving the Blessed Sacrament.  Second we must possess a “loving desire” for Christ, part of which is a gift from God and part of which we may strive to cultivate.  Third we must be truly penitent.  We must heartily desire to put away all sins from us and to labor mightily to avoid falling into those sins again.  Last we must possess humility, for if we are so full of ourselves, then we intend to give Christ very little room inside of our inward selves.

Once we are prepared, how do we approach Christ at the altar?  We adore Christ when the love, the agape, the charity, the loving-kindness which began in desire for God grows so that we love Christ as He comes to us; we adore Him in His sacred Presence.  Then, our growing humility leads us to receive Him so that we give ourselves to Christ more fully; we do not receive Christ for our personal gain, we receive Christ so that we might be His.  From the very creation of our soul to this day, our inmost self cries out for union with Christ.  We need Him as a condition of our very existence.  Whether we are a mansion or hut, our dwelling rests securely upon the solid ground of Christ.  In reception of Christ in the Eucharist, the desire for Christ only grows in the faithful, loving, penitent, and humble soul.

Once we have received Christ in the Holy Sacrament of the Altar, how should we then respond to His gift of Himself to us?  Our disposition after Holy Communion should include praise, thanksgiving, and loving-kindness.  Immediately after communion is a terribly important and precious moment, when our soul has been laid bare by communication with God Himself.  We ought to focus entirely upon Him Who gave Himself to us.  We lean upon Christ, we lean into Christ, we trust Him with our deepest self more and more.  Our heart, our mind, and our will rest upon Christ.

Thus we praise God for Himself as we increasingly know Him.  We give thanks to God for the immeasurable gift of His own Self to us poor creatures.  We grow in charity, in loving-kindness towards God and towards our fellow man.  For as our desire for Christ grows and as our transformation into Christ-likeness grows, then we grow in the same loving-kindness of our fellows that Christ has.  We love God, God loves us, we grow into the mind and love of God, and thereby begin to share in the loving-kindness God has for all of his creation.  We love our fellow parishioners, family members, and coworkers more and more as we faithfully, lovingly, penitentially, and humbly receive Christ in the Blessed Sacrament.  We carry Christ into the world in the throne of our hearts.  As we grow in Christ, others can perceive Christ sitting in glory in the throne of our hearts; and they will want that immediacy with their good God as well.  “Ye are the light of the world” says Christ in St. Matthew v.14.

 

Loving-kindness is more than a warm disposition toward another.  Loving-kindness is not the kind of love that is based on how attractive you find the object of your love.  Loving-kindness is based upon sacrifice.  Loving-kindness is bolder than a mother’s love for her newborn and warmer than a groom’s love for his bride.  Loving-kindness resonates more with our fundamental nature than either of these loves; we were created to enjoy communion with God.  We see this in the Garden of Eden, where both Adam and Eve walked with God.  But even before Eve, Adam walked with God alone.  We have other kinds of love of our fellow men, but first, last, and always we are built to love God.  We love others most honestly and selflessly as a natural and supernatural result of our love of God.

So much of the time, we feel that the love others have for us depends upon how we act or what we do.  Lovers only love us when they feel attraction, when we lose weight, when we put out.  Families and friends love us when we remember their birthdays, when we do the dishes, when we help take care of ailing relatives, when we don’t mess up and hurt them.  But God loves us unconditionally all of the time.  Moreover, God loved us so much, that God the Son came down from Heaven and was born the Christ child from the Blessed Virgin Mary.  He lived among us, suffered for us, and died for us.  He rose again from the grave, defeating death, and ascended into Heaven, thereby preparing a place for us and perpetually interceding before God the Father as our great high priest.

God knew us and loved us when we were in our mother’s womb.  God loved us as a baby, as a child, and as an adult.  We have never been far from the love of God.  Nothing we can do can drive God away from us.  Even when we hate and despise him, God the Holy Ghost prepares in us and around us a way back to God the Father through God the Son.  We may keep resisting, but God never tires of loving us and accepting us back.  We can damage our families and friends and steal and hurt them so much that they would rather us never to have been born, never to return back home, but God always rejoices in our creation and longs for us to return to him, no matter how foul our sins have made us.  We always have a bath and new clothes waiting for us with God.

How little like God are we!  We place innumerable conditions upon those whom we ought to love!  We place unconscionable conditions upon our fellow parishioners!  We judge and divide us from each other and exalt ourselves above our fellows.  Our self-deception and self-exaltation and self-righteousness have made us so odious, so nasty to our neighbors and fellow-citizens that we can blame no one but ourselves for their not responding to the light of Christ within us.

Loving-kindness does not attract; attraction is a baser kind of love.  Loving-kindness sacrifices the self on behalf of other.  Loving-kindness knows no cost.  Loving-kindness understands no reciprocation.  Some of us walk around and spout nonsense to each other about a God that hates the sinner, a God that gleefully damns those who screwed up and ought to have known better.  This is blasphemy, for such a God is based upon our addled and self-indulgent desires more than upon the everlasting reality of a good God who rejoices when the lost are saved and gave absolutely everything to redeem us all.  We can never deserve the love of God.  When we love like God loves, then others can never deserve our love either; they simply have it.

Christ died for us and gave His broken sacrificed Body and Blood to us in the Blessed Sacrament.  We eat His Body and drink His Blood, rightly so, for He has commanded us to do this.  But what an effrontery to Heaven it is for us to commune with Christ and enjoy all the benefits of His passion, death, and resurrection and then turn around and seek vengeance against the offences other have committed against us!  True, we may wish God to avenge us, but do we wish God to avenge our fellows for the sins we have committed against them?  Of course not!  Even a cursory examination of our conscience and our behavior towards others reveals miles and miles of layers of hypocrisy, loathing, and self-exaltation.

Do we love some fellow Christians, parishioners at our own St. Luke, and yet gossip, backbite, and snicker at others, recounting with allies old sins committed against us?  This is an outrage against the holy and loving sacrifice of our own good God!  We must take and dash these sins against the rock of Christ, vow never to commit them again, and then develop a repugnance of and revulsion against our attitudes and behavior which led us to commit these sins.

If we truly show the loving-kindness of God to our neighbors, we will become a light unto the world here in the city of Augusta.  Sinners would be convicted and repent and return to our good God.  Our parish would be spoken of in hushed tones by the more than 500,000 other people in the CSRA.  St. Luke Church would have no budget problems, have a choir, and have to build a new building to accommodate all the new people if we truly loved God and our neighbors as Christ loves us.  Our children would ask for a double portion of what we have, disaffected former members would clamor to return and be restored, and tired Episcopalians and ignorant Neo-Anglicans would throw themselves on their knees and say, “Thank God for this refuge.”  But none of this is happening.

That these things are not happening is a judgement by God against us and our parish.  We have His Body and His Blood offered at this altar through the ancient ministry Christ Himself ordained almost two millennia ago.  We are washed in the Blood of the Lamb in Holy Baptism.  Most of us were Confirmed with the seven-fold gifts of the Holy Ghost before I was born.  We have no excuse for our immoral and reckless and selfish behavior except for your immoral and reckless and selfish priest who fails to exhibit Christ to you in an effective manner.  But even this your miserable servant is not excuse enough, for you have the Holy Mysteries of Christ’s Body and Blood, you have the glorious liturgy, you have the Holy Scriptures.  Every regular parishioner here knows better despite your sorry excuse of a priest.

We must each truly and earnestly repent of our sins, live in loving-kindness with our neighbors, and intend to live a new life – not the same old life we have been living and which has become entirely too familiar and comfortable for us – so that we may follow the commandments of God and walk henceforth in his holy ways – not our own ways which we blasphemously have shanghaied God’s holy Name for.  If you are here to live and to die comfortably in the ways of the Twentieth-Century Episcopal Church you grew up in or converted into, I hereby announce that you are in the right place for the wrong reason.

It is not our musty hymnal, old people, small building, and low community profile that keep us small and on the verge of death as a parish.  Great publicity, contemporary praise music, a multitude of community programs, and an extroverted golden-throated priest will not make up for this hollow shell of the Christian Religion.  It is the lack of a generous loving-kindness springing from a vital faith in Christ our God.  Until we have a razor-sharp focus on Christ our Lord lived out in a vital faith through acts exemplifying our growing loving-kindness, then this parish deserves to slowly rot away.

If we seek God, if we seek to live, if we seek growth, if we seek adventure, then let us love with the love which Christ has loved us.  Believe in Christ.  Repent of your sins.  Love one another.  I commend reading today’s Epistle in your Prayer Book at home to each of you.

Finally, let us hear the words of St. Paul in his great description of agape, of loving-kindness, of charity:

1 “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.

2 And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing.

3 And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.

4 Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up,

5 Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil;

6 Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth;

7 Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.

8 Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away.

9 For we know in part, and we prophesy in part.

10 But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.

11 When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.

12 For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.

13 And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.”

If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen? And this commandment have we from him, That he who loveth God love his brother also.

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

 

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