Posts Tagged ‘St. Luke’s Gospel’

“WATCH thou in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, make full proof of thy ministry. For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand.”

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


“The work of the evangelist”

Why do we sing the Gospel during the Mass?  Why do we stand when it is proclaimed?  Why do we sometimes process the Gospel out amongst the congregation to proclaim it?  Why must the Gospeller be in Holy Orders?

We read in Isaiah lii.7:  “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings, that publisheth peace; that bringeth good tidings of good, that publisheth salvation; that saith unto Zion, Thy God reigneth!”

Beautiful feet?  That sounds over the top.  Yet over-the-top is how we proclaim the Gospel both here at St. Luke’s and in catholic churches around the world throughout the ages.

St. Luke’s Gospel tells the story of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, from before His Annunciation till His Ascension into Heaven.  His is the Greatest Story Ever Told, and our patron saint, St. Luke the Evangelist, is one of the sacred four who told the story so that the rest of us might hear it.


The patron saint of our parish wrote almost as much of the New Testament as Saint Paul.  He is the only Gentile who wrote one of our Gospels.  According to Colossians iv.14, we know that he was a physician.  As a doctor and writer of a Gospel, he is considered the patron saint of doctors and healers.  His sign as evangelist is the ox with wings, giving us the name of our newsletter, the Winged Bull.

He is also the patron saint of artists.  During the Middle Ages, many Guilds of St. Luke encouraged and defended artists in important cities in Rome, Flanders, and across Europe.  Here at our parish, our Creative Christians group continues this tradition by encouraging both Christian art and Christian artists.

But St. Luke did not only write a Gospel leaving us inspired depictions of the life of the Blessed Mother, our Lord Christ, and the early Church.  St. Luke also did the work of an evangelist by journeying with St. Paul on at least two of his mission trips, staying with him in Rome.  Our patron is counted among the Seventy who Christ commissioned and sent out to do ministry in today’s Gospel lesson.


St. Luke wrote his Gospel in Greek, helping spread the Good News of Christ throughout the pagan Gentile world of the First Century.  The Early Church suffered greatly for proclaiming the Gospel.  St. Paul and all the Apostles save St. John met their Lord in the martyr’s death.

And lest we think that the persecution of Christians is a bygone practice, this Wednesday we celebrate the faithful Christian witness of eight Anglican clergymen whom the Japanese killed for preaching the Gospel in occupied New Guinea during World War II.  Tens of thousands of priests and millions of faithful Christians died at the hands of the Communists in Russia and elsewhere in the Twentieth Century.  The Moslems have killed far more over the centuries, and they are still at it today.

Closer to home, we hear rumblings of persecution.  I warned in my annual report last year of coming troubles.  As St. Peter writes in his first epistle, “be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear:”

This week, news came out of Houston, Texas which has troubled the hearts and minds of many Christians.  Let us look into what the facts are:

The city council and mayor of Houston passed an ordinance which would permit women to use men’s bathrooms and men women’s bathrooms and allowing people to file complaints with the city government if they are not allowed to use the bathroom they want.

Houston preachers and others organized a petition for a referendum to overturn the ordinance at the November election.  The city government claimed that too many of the signatures were not valid and refused to schedule the vote.  Christian activists then sued the city to accept the signatures and thus the petition and put the ordinance to the vote.

In response, the city’s lawyers issued subpoenas to five conservative preachers to hand over sermons to determine of any preaching related to homosexuality, so-called gender identity, or even the mayor.  A subpoena is a legal writ compelling someone to appear before court or to surrender documents to the court.  These preachers would now have to surrender to a law court any sermon mentioning any of these topics.

The mayor has asked if the preachers gave instructions on how to sign the petition.  The city attorneys hold that the subpoenas are valid because the preachers worked to organize the repeal petition and are thus pertinent to the case.

Both conservative and liberal ministers have spoken out against the subpoenas.  There has been a public outcry over the city’s actions.  An interdenominational coalition of over 400 churches in Houston have opposed these subpoenas.  This local action has sparked national debate.  Some pastors have refused to hand over sermons.

The mayor and city attorney then agreed that the original subpoenas were too broad.  New subpoenas have now been drawn up which do not ask for sermons, but rather for speeches and presentations, and do not ask about homosexuality, but still ask for other things besides those on the petition.

You may ask what a conservative pastor’s PowerPoint presentation on the ordinance has to do with the validity of the signatures on the petition.  The answer is:  Nothing.  The city’s attorneys are still reaching beyond the appropriate legal necessity at hand, which has the effect of threatening the free speech of the preachers and the public practice of religion by the ministers of Christians.

A Christian – or another religion’s – minister preaching, speechifying, or presenting on the sexual nature of God’s Creation and on the divinely ordained morality which faithful people must practice are not crimes, do not threaten the state, and indeed support the wholesomeness, integrity, and the commonweal of the people.

The representatives of free American citizens are not called to sift through the words of religious leaders, looking for sedition.  The city is not a political organization which cannot tolerate dissent.  The governmental structures of this world have no legitimate role in approving or disapproving the voice of the Bride of Christ.  Our American governments have no legitimate role in intimidating preachers or believers.


We Continuing Anglicans directly descend from those who were quickened with zeal by the Assize Day Sermon by Blessed John Keble at St. Mary’s Church in Oxford, in which he publicly from the University Pulpit criticized the Whig-controlled Parliament for reducing the number of bishops in Ireland without the approval of the Church of Ireland.  As your priest and rector, I stand in a very long line of bishops and priests who have criticized the state when the state has had the worldly effrontery to admonish and attempt to control Holy Mother Church.

This very day last year, Archbishop Haverland sat right there and in the words of our Book of Common Prayer challenged me “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.”

It would certainly please many people if we decided that we would ignore the things of God and whole-hearted accept the things of man.  But that would be forsaking God by making us pleasing to men, and I have been told not to be a “man-pleaser”.

My wife once saw a person wearing button which answered an unasked naughty question with “No thanks, I’d rather go to heaven.”  We lives our lives in this world, oftentimes forgetting that our lives are given to us by our good God in Heaven.  We may choose to do many things.  But we will be called to divine judgement one day.  All choices are not the same.  Some are right, and some are wrong.  When we are enticed, seduced, and tempted to make a wrong choice, it is good for us to say, “No thanks, I’d rather go to Heaven.”

I know you.  I know that most of you won’t budge if this Houston business happened here.  You know me.  You know that I won’t budge if this happened here.  We know our archbishop.  We know that he won’t budge if this happened here.

And this hasn’t happened here in Augusta.  Indeed, we elected a preacher of the Gospel as our mayor.  But this has now happened in these United States.  My dear children of God, I would rather you live your lives in peace, but I tell you this day that we will soon be facing worse, and not just in Texas, but here on the banks of the Savannah River.  Our sister parish across the river, All Saints’, Aiken, witnesses to the Gospel in a state where a Federal court might force their county to issue marriage licenses to people of the same sex.  Dark days are coming.

We here at St. Luke’s will continue to preach the Gospel of Christ our Lord, especially to those who need to hear it.  Many stories are told of the old Roman martyrs, some of whom are named in our Mass, who witnessed to their tormenters and executioners to great effect, converting souls in the Holy Name of Jesus.

If anyone in this world wants to know what I preach, come here to St. Luke’s most any Sunday at 10:30 and hear for himself.  I even put my sermons up on a webpage.  I would love for everyone out there to hear me preach about our Lord and Savior!

The government can hear our public proclamation.  Those who try to order us about and deny us our freedom both to practice and proclaim the True Religion of Christ are the ones who need to hear it the most.  We shall not back down.  St. Luke our patron did not back down.  St. Paul did not back down.  Fr. Keble did not back down, and neither did the faithful gathered together at the Congress of St. Louis in 1977.

We at St. Luke Church are uniquely positioned to proclaim the Holy Gospel to souls in peril here in Augusta as the times grow darker.  We preach the unadulterated truth, the whole Gospel, all the Sacraments, without Roman and Eastern doctrinal accretions, and we do so in the traditional language of this nation.

Everything St. Luke wrote was to tell other souls about Christ.  He commended Christ to everyone at all times.  He wrote down timeless truths about our Lord that the other Evangelists did not record.  When we stand under the name of the Evangelist St. Luke, we stand for spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  And like St. Luke, we are not only to sit down and tell other people about Christ, but we are to get up and tell people face to face, traveling to them to share the good news of Christ our Lord.


After St. Paul says in today’s epistle, “WATCH thou in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, make full proof of thy ministry”, he continues and says “For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand.”

The day is coming when we will have to answer for our faith in Christ.  That day may come when we draw our last breath and slip beyond the veil of this mortal life, when we will face the individual judgement.  Jesus will look at each of us and know what we have done with the life He suffered and died to save, that life which the Holy Ghost bestowed with graces.

Or the day is coming when someone out there will make us chose to follow the world or to follow Christ.  Maybe someone will try to seduce you into sexual sin.  Maybe a crook will tempt you to help him commit a crime.  Maybe your own elected government will coerce you to deny Christ and follow the popular godless way.

Will you stay the course and profess your faith in Christ when your livelihood and social standing are threatened?  Will you stay the course and profess your faith in Christ when your life is required of you?  What will you say when they come to coerce you to renounce your faith?  Are you able to say that today?


“WATCH thou in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, make full proof of thy ministry. For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand.”

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



Read Full Post »

“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.


Read Full Post »

“The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are”

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


This parable of Christ’s shows a tension in God’s progressive revelation to us.  What do I mean by progressive revelation?  Consider the Holy Scriptures.  God reveals himself to Abraham as an individual man and through his family, then more fully to Moses and the nation of Israel through the Law, and then more fully to Israel and other nations through the Prophets of old.  Then, “when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son” into the world to be born by the Holy Ghost of the Blessed Virgin Mary and made man.  God became one of us in Jesus of Galilee, and He changed our relationship with God.

St. Paul speaks of this in the fourth chapter of Galatians (iv.1-7):  “Now I say, That the heir, as long as he is a child, differeth nothing from a servant, though he be lord of all; But is under tutors and governors until the time appointed of the father.  Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world:  But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, To redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons.  And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father.  Wherefore thou art no more a servant, but a son; and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ.”

My dear children, we who believe in Christ and have been baptized into His Death and Resurrection are the adopted sons of God the Father and the adopted brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ our Lord.  By the very nature of God and how he has related himself to us, we are in, or have been called to be in, a personal relationship to the High King of Heaven.  Look around you and take care to see the invisible and supernatural crowns upon the heads of the others in here.  It is no lie that the saints are portrayed in art with halos around their heads.

And as adopted sons of God the Father, we can learn several things that peal like bells throughout Scripture.  First, God is a person, or rather, Three Persons.  We cannot have a relationship to God which is not a personal relationship.  Second, we are wanted.  As adopted sons of God, we should know in our very heart of hearts that God wants us.  God chose us.  God chose you, and God chose me.  We are valuable, we are wanted.  Third, since God chose or elected us to be in a personal relationship with him, then we cannot make our way to God under our own power or by our own will.  We are called out of this mess we are in, we are summoned forth from this existence of sin and sorrow and death and decay, and we are elected into holy relationship with God.  We absolutely and in no way can earn this.  Not even if we do everything that we ought to do and even if we avoid everything we ought to avoid.  In no way can we behave or act in any way good enough for us to deserve God’s love.  We do not deserve and cannot deserve life everlasting in the presence of God.

So:  First, God is personal.  Second, you are wanted.  Third:  You cannot deserve him.

Let’s go back to the parable Christ speaks in the eighteenth chapter of St. Luke’s Gospel.

The Pharisee “went up into the temple to pray.”  And what does he do?  He “stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess.”

He thanks God all right; he thanks God that he is not like lesser men, sinful men, men who commit awful sins, who are unjust, who do not fast like they ought, and who do not give of their wealth as they ought.  Most notably, the Pharisee thanks God that he is not like the other man there praying, the publican.

At this point, a lot of us suffer the temptation to say “thank God that I am not like that Pharisee!”  Boy howdy, look at him, proud as a peacock, trusting in himself, and thinking he’s so superior to that other man, the man who actually gets it right!  But before we think that we are not like that Pharisee, let’s consider it a bit.

The man makes two related moves.  First, he thanks God that he is not like other men are.  We all have choices to make in our lives.  The men he’s referring to are those who commit adultery, they cheat on their wives.  I think to myself, “Am I such a man?  Why no, I am not.”  But Christ says, “That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.”  Christ has fulfilled the Law; Christ has gone deep into the human heart; Christ tells us that to make that little evil act of will quietly inside of us is to break the commandment.  To be wicked in a tiny little thing that you don’t share with anybody else is to break off your relationship with God the Father in Heaven above and throw yourself at the feet of Satan and his demons.

The Pharisee does not get this.  He doesn’t care if his heart is right; he is not on the lookout for his interior spiritual life.  He actually cares about his relationship with God, but he thinks that he can maintain that relationship by following God’s Law; by dotting every I and crossing every T.  But the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, Jesus Christ tells us that this is not so.

St. Paul says of this in Second Corinthians iii.2-4:  “Forasmuch as ye are manifestly declared to be the epistle of Christ ministered by us, written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God; not in tables of stone, but in fleshy tables of the heart.  And such trust have we through Christ to God-ward:  Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think any thing as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is of God;”

The Pharisee trusts in himself instead of in God.  He has read God’s Law and seeks to obey it.  He leads an upright life.  He tithes.  He fasts.  He goes to the temple to pray.  The Pharisee is a man of very high personal integrity.  He is no hypocrite.  He is no slacker.  As such, I am in no position to point at him and thank God that I am not like him.  In reading God’s word and seeking to do God’s will, that Pharisee of this parable is a far better man than I am.  He comports himself far better than most folks do, for he genuinely seeks the will of God and to do his holy will.  Yet he is profoundly wrong about how he goes about it.

Second, the Pharisee says that he is not like the publican standing near him.  In comparing himself to another, the Pharisee has made a mistake almost all of us make at one time or another:  He has compared his spiritual state to another’s in a favorable light.

I ask of you all:  Who among you can see into another man’s heart?  Who here knows how another considers God’s counsel upon her bed?  Which of us can possibly know the details necessary to judge another correctly, much less possess the wisdom to do so?  The obvious answer of course is that none of us can.

We do sometimes notice others who possess a grace, demonstrate magnanimous loving-kindness, show a tenderness of heart that we lack.  We see good examples of Christian love and conduct among us here and out in our lives, examples we would seek to emulate.  We read in II Kings ii.9:  “And it came to pass, when they were gone over, that Elijah said unto Elisha, Ask what I shall do for thee, before I be taken away from thee. And Elisha said, I pray thee, let a double portion of thy spirit be upon me.”

The problem is not that we recognize both the good and the wicked, but that our selves are so utterly and completely compromised to seek our own good over the good of others that we in no way may trust ourselves when we think that we can objectively trust our judgement that we are superior to another.  The Pharisee is a man of uprightness and integrity, but he frankly and simply does not know himself well enough to suspect that his heart might lie to him.  Our hearts lie to us all the time!  This is why Christ tells us that we can sin in our heart.  This is why St. Paul says that we can show forth God on “the fleshly tables of the heart” with the “Spirit of the living God”.  We cannot do it without God’s Holy Spirit.  Learn, my dear children, from the Pharisee and see that we cannot trust in ourselves.

In the parable, Christ shows us “a more excellent way”:  The publican.  What does the publican do?  “And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner.”

He stands afar off.  He does go to the temple to pray, but he does not go to the best, most prominent place to pray.  Jewish men prayed at the temple, so that is what he does, but he is not haughty about it.

He does not lift his eyes unto heaven.  He does not think that he has done right by God – because truly he has not – and therefore does not think him the equal of God.

He smotes upon his breast.  In other words, he beats his chest.  He is a penitent sinner, and he hits himself over his heart.

He says, “God be merciful to me a sinner.”  The publican truly knows himself, what he has done, who his redeemer is, and that he must ask for mercy.  And so simply and plainly, with the fewest words possible, he humbly makes his supplication to God.  This prayer, along with the invocation of Christ, forms what our Orthodox brethren call the Jesus Prayer:  “Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon me, a sinner.”

At the very end of the parable, after the two have had their talk with God, we read, “I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.”

Think on this:  “Every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.”  The world as we know it is upside-down.  Well, perhaps not the world.  Even convicted felons know that murder and stealing are wrong.  This is why so many people who are firmly committed to doing wrong – stealing, lying, sleeping around – are most alert for people judging them.  No, the world is not so much upside down as we – you and me – are upside down.  When it comes to our poor selves, we get tangled and confused and consistently substitute our sinful desires for the general good or the good of others.  When a young man seduces a young woman, he is putting his own desires over her well-being.  When a woman steals from her employer, she is putting her own desires over the good of the company.  When a boy lies to his parents, he is putting his own desire over the truth and the common good.

Destruction follows seducing, stealing, and lying to our neighbors or loved ones.  When each one of us sins, we bring something unholy into God’s good Creation, we rend people apart from one another, and we obstruct the flow of God’s free unmerited favor.  We hurt others, and we hurt ourselves, regardless of our intentions.  This is why Christ says at the end of the parable that “this man went down to his house justified rather than the other.”  Justification is rightness before God; his accounting us just or righteous.  Justification and righteousness are translated similarly.  Despite his integrity, good works, and pious intent, the Pharisee did not go “down to his house justified”.  Despite his sins, the publican did go “down to his house justified”.  The difference is that the one deceived himself and trusted in himself rather than God and that the other knew the truth of himself as a sore sinner and threw himself upon God for mercy.

My good and faithful children, beware of the lies your hearts tell yourselves.  Beware of favorably comparing yourselves to others.  Beware of the deluding voice of your hearts when they tell you that by doing the right things you have thereby pleased God.  God is not mocked; God is not deceived.  He sees into your hearts and knows each of your secret desires.

I ask each of you to do the following this week:  First, remember that you are somehow deluding yourself.  Second, stop yourself several times this week and consider how Christ might view your reasons for what you are doing or saying right then.  Are they wholesome?  Are you deceiving yourself?  Last, when you catch yourself in some slippery self-justification, come clean to God.  He loves you and loves to hear the truth out of your mouth.


“The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are”

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


Read Full Post »

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

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


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

Our external threat: Satan

St. Peter tells us: “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour: whom resist stedfast in the faith, knowing that the same afflictions are accomplished in your brethren that are in the world.”

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

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

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

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

Our internal threat: Composure and discipline

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Our Mission: Seeking the Lost

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read Full Post »