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Posts Tagged ‘St. Matthew’

“And when the king came in to see the guests, he saw there a man which had not on a wedding-garment: and he saith unto him, Friend, how camest thou in hither not having a wedding-garment? And he was speechless.”

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

 

“So those servants went out into the highways, and gathered together all as many as they found, both bad and good: and the wedding was furnished with guests.”

All men have evil in them, and some men have good besides the evil.  In this present age of the Church, there is good mixed with bad, one with the other.  We must suffer the bad with the good, until the day of judgement.

Consider the parable of the wheat and the tares, in St. Matthew xiii.24-30.  The sower sowed wheat in his field.  At night, the enemy sowed tares in it.  The wheat and tares grow up together, but the tares are not weeded out lest by pulling them the wheat is pulled too.  Come harvest-time, the two will be separated, and the tares burnt.

All men are wicked.  Only some men are good, and they by God.  Consider the Last Supper (St. Matthew xxvi.21-22):  “And as they did eat, he said, Verily I say unto you, that one of you shall betray me.  And they were exceeding sorrowful, and began every one of them to say unto him, Lord, is it I?”  The apostles knew they were evil.

Being a wicked person does not exclude one from God’s call.  The Church contains both good and evil until the Last Judgement.  When the king judges, he will separate the bad from the good.

 

“And when the king came in to see the guests, he saw there a man which had not on a wedding garment:”

Now the wedding feast of Christ and His Church is filled with guests.  Both the good and bad were invited, but the bad are not to remain bad.  They are to put on new clothes fit for the king’s feast:  wedding-garments.  The King then comes up to behold his guests and ensure that they properly honor the marriage of his Son and the Church, delighting in those properly attired and condemning those improperly dressed.  This is the Last Judgement.

Alas, as the king enjoys the company of those who have finally heeded the call to the joyous feast, he finds one who has not put off his old ways.  There is only one who has done so, for those who continue to serve wickedness after coming to faith are all of but one kind.

St. Gregory the Great wrote,

What ought we to understand by the wedding garment, but charity?  For this the Lord had upon Him, when He came to espouse the Church to Himself.  He then enters in to the wedding feast, but without the wedding garment, who has faith in the Church, but not charity.

 

“And he saith unto him, Friend, how camest thou in hither not having a wedding garment? And he was speechless.”

The Christian who continues in his beloved sin can produce no excuse.  He stands mute.  Questioned by God, there can be no blustering or denial as the angels and the world bear witness against the sinner.  He has no words.

Indeed, the one who has carried the stink of his former life to tKhe great feast seems surprised.  Perhaps he did not consider that he was unprepared.  He sat at table with his fellows in good cheer until light shone upon his soul and his filth discovered.

 

“Then said the king to the servants, Bind him hand and foot, and take him away, and cast him into outer darkness; there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.  For many are called, but few are chosen.”

Many people never set off with a right foot.  They distract themselves with the affairs of the world.  They seethe in resentment against the good God.  Others accept the invitation but do not finish the course.  They tire and fall away.  They cannot shake loose of their favorite delicious sin.  Many are called, but few are chosen.

These terrible closing words warn us that on the last great day we might be represented by the one who wore not a wedding-garment.  If we do not continue to the end, we will not prove suitable for our high calling.

This parable warns us that we have no claim on the privileges of God’s kingdom if we are unwilling to change into the likeness of Christ.  Answering the door to our heart is not the same as welcoming Christ to live in us.

 

What is this wedding-garment?  St. Paul writes in his first epistle to St. Timothy (1 Timothy i.5):  “Now the end of the commandment is charity out of a pure heart, and of a good conscience, and of faith unfeigned:”  In 1 Corinthians xiii.1, he says, “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.”  Pure and undefiled love is the wedding-garment, without which we are cast out of the king’s banquet and into the outer darkness of eternal torment.

If we have such love, then we ought have no fear of being cast out of the feast.  As loving-kindness grows, so must desire wane.  Every soul possesses wickedness.  We must starve that sleepless unending maelstrom of desire which moves the evil inside us and replace it with the self-sacrificial loving-kindness of Christ our Lord.  Remember with St. John (1 St. John i.8-9):  “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.  If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”  At the Lord’s Feast, we dress ourselves in righteousness and love lest we give offense to God’s purity and holiness.

This divine love:  What are we to do?  Later in this same chapter of St. Matthew (St. Matthew xxii.37-40) we read:

Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.  This is the first and great commandment.  And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.  On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.

We were born in grace, but that grace was polluted.  Throughout history we see the human story, poor souls crying out for redemption from the bondage of sin and death.  We see propitiatory sacrifices made to gods to sway their favor towards us.  We see moral goodness coëxisting with unspeakable horrors.  We know what we are.  We are more than a mess.  We are more than conflicted.  We hide evil within our breasts.  The only effectual remedy is to crucify our wicked nature upon the Cross of Christ, the Cross of love.  Our bonds of continuing sin and dark desires will bind us body and soul for all eternity if we do not change into the loving-kindness of Christ.

Faith is necessary but not sufficient.  As St. James wrote (St. James ii.19), “Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble.”  St. Peter proclaimed Jesus as the Christ, yet devils fearing his healing powers loudly acknowledged Him the Son of God.  So faith is needed, but without love it is incomplete and thus ineffective.  Again we find in 1 Corinthians xiii.2:  “Though I have all knowledge and all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing.”

But as faith without love is incomplete, this godly love requires faith, too.  How can you love the Lord your God without faith in him?  Psalm liii.1:  “THE foolish body hath said in his heart, There is no God.”  St. Augustine preached, “Possible it is that ye may believe that Christ hath come and not love Christ.  But it is not possible that ye should love Christ, and yet say that Christ hath not come.”

The wedding garment is faith completed by love.  Faithful and loving Christians love Christ, love their neighbors, love their enemies, love one another.  It is difficult indeed to love our enemies, but they are our neighbors too.  If you have difficulty loving your enemy, consider our Lord, torn asunder, hanging from His Cross, saying (St. Luke xxiii.39) “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.”

The first martyr, St. Stephen the Deacon, after rebuking the Jews and asking the Lord to receive his spirit, then prayed (Acts vii.60), “Lord, lay not this sin to their charge.  And when he had said this, he fell asleep.”  His last prayer, his last words, were for his murderers.  That is loving your neighbor.

Shall we applaud ourselves for accepting the invitation to dine with the King?  For when we examine our hearts as we shall one day be judged, we see all manner of vile and abhorrent offenses against divine love.  Have we done our duty towards God?  Have we forgiven those who have offended us?  Have we begged forgiveness from others for having offended them?  Have we not crowed as we have seen our rivals humiliated and thwarted?  Have we not crossed on the other side of the road when we saw our neighbor in need?  Have we not cursed God when we had not our own way?

Look at your neighbor who offends you and your neighbor whom you offend.  Behold this person.  Can you see that he is a man whom God has made?  Do you hate him because he is God’s precious creation?  Even the saints argue with each other.  But insofar as God has made this man, we cannot revile or spite him.  We may hate the evil which others do, just as we hate the evil which we do, but we do not hate the soul lovingly created by our Heavenly Father.

Insofar as any of us are evil – and we are all partly evil – it is through disobedience to God, particularly in not loving him and not loving our neighbor.  Of this, we are all guilty.  What we despise in others resides in our own hearts.  Every man has sin.  God loves his creation and hates the disobedience.  God preserves the man and cures the sin.  When we are finally made whole, we shall remain entirely human but without a spot of sin, filled with love, like our Lord Christ.

To live the life of love, we must extend His self-sacrificial loving-kindness in our lives.  It is easy to love our friends and family.  Beasts and birds have this sort of love.  The sparrow does not look after his offspring thinking that they will look after him in his old age.  Rather, he feeds them out of natural paternal affection.  The bird neither reflects upon his actions nor hides secret intentions.  We have, lurking somewhere in our hearts, an inclination to provide for our young.  But we still must labor against our unnatural inclinations to greed and sloth in doing so.  Even when we love our spouses and children and friends, we have not yet that unblemished wedding-garment.

We must extend the love in our lives to God.  We love God in our hearts.  We love God with our souls.  We love God with our minds.  We love God when we draw near to him, and when we draw those we love towards him.  We draw our husband towards God.  We draw our sister towards God.  We draw our friend towards God.  We draw our enemy towards God.  These are not pleasant words but a harsh challenge.

Do we draw those whom we despise towards God?  We most likely are afraid of the answer.  Yet each of us have known those loving souls who elevate those around them, who draw them towards light and goodness, towards God.

St. Augustine said:

So let charity be advanced, so be it nourished, that being nourished it may be perfected; so be ‘the wedding garment’ put on; so be the image of God, after which we were created, by this our advancing, engraven anew in us.

 

“And when the king came in to see the guests, he saw there a man which had not on a wedding-garment: and he saith unto him, Friend, how camest thou in hither not having a wedding-garment? And he was speechless.”

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

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“If there had been a law given which could have given life, verily righteousness should have been by the law.  But the scripture hath concluded all under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe.”

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

 

In Genesis (xvii.7), God promises Abraham, “I will establish my covenant between me and thee and thy seed after thee in their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee.”

God made a promise to Abraham, a promise which was fulfilled in Christ.  Then why the Law?  The Law does not save.  It does not annul or replace the promise made to Abraham.  It was “a temporary expedient”; it prepared us for faith in Christ; it showed us the way of righteousness.  But the Law was powerless to lead us into righteousness.  At our best, we could avoid sin, but life with God is more than avoiding sin.  Ultimately, the Law taught us how helpless we are to condemnation.

Remember that the Jews were the Chosen People because they had something that the Gentiles did not:  The sure and certain knowledge of where they had violated God’s Law.  This did not make them holy.  This did not save them.  This did not bring them into communion with God.  But this did let them be schooled in righteousness.

The Gentiles did not have this.  The Law was not a remedy for sin, but it was a diagnostic guide.  It made you aware of the symptoms of sin, the presence of sin.  Thus, the Law was a gift, but Law was also a burden.

The Law could not grant the power to accomplish what it commanded.  It did not give people the means to overcome sin, but it made them aware of sin.  So, at least they could ask for forgiveness, which is a blessing.  As St. Paul says a few verses after this lesson:  “Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith.”

Isaac Williams preached:

The Law was to convince them of sin, and bring them to Christ: thus John the Baptist preached repentance; for if they had believed Moses they would have believed in Christ. The Law was but the means, not the end; but the Jews were now making it the end; whereas the end of the Law is Christ, in Whom is the promise, and the blessing, and the covenant, and righteousness, and life; not for a time only, but for ever.

Christ’s Advent removed the need for the Law.  St. Paul had a clear sense of the historical demarcations of the usefulness of the Law:  From Sinai to Christ.  The Law had a transitional function until the seed of promise came to us in Christ.  Christ, unlike the Law, is able to redeem us from sin, grant us everlasting life, and cover us with His righteousness.

Christ says in St. Matthew (v.17-18):

Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil.  For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.

The Law of Moses cannot be unwritten.  St. Paul does not dispute this.  He says, however, that the purpose for which the Law was written has been fulfilled in Christ our Lord.  It has not been made wrong.  It has been superseded.

The Law of Moses was a provisional kind of temporary:  Till the seed came.  Obedience to God is less than brotherhood with Christ and full communion with God.  With Abraham and in Christ, faith, not obedience, is the effectual element.  We still must do no murder, but if we leave murder be, we may be saved in Christ our Lord.

St. Paul writes in Philippians that as to righteousness under the Law as a Pharisee, he was blameless, yet that did not give him eternal life.  Christ gave him eternal life.  There is no life eternal in the Law of Moses.

Whereas the Law was given on Sinai from God through Moses to the Jews, Christ came for us all, both Jew and Gentile.  We are all under the power of sin.  We are all hemmed in, confined, and imprisoned by sin.  The virtue of the promise is given to those that believe.

John Wesley wrote:

Will it follow from hence that the law is against, opposite to, the promises of God? By no means. They are well consistent. But yet the law cannot give life, as the promise doth. If there had been a law which could have given life – Which could have entitled a sinner to life, God would have spared his own Son, and righteousness, or justification. with all the blessings consequent upon it, would have been by that law.

 

From Adam and Eve in the Garden, sin and death have been ever with us.  God did not create us to suffer and die – our sin so corrupted us – but it is our fallen estate.

In the Burial Office, we read at the graveside:

Man, that is born of a woman, hath but a short time to live, and is full of misery. He cometh up, and is cut down, like a flower; he fleeth as it were a shadow, and never continueth in one stay.

In the midst of life we are in death; of whom may we seek for succour, but of thee, O Lord, who for our sins art justly displeased?

Sin and death have an existential hold over us.  We stand condemned by our sins and estranged from our good God.  We have no escape by clawing our way out of the pit.

I am fascinated by H. P Lovecraft and the Cthulhu Cosmic Horror stories.  You see, I read Nietzsche (übermensch and all that) and Dylan Thomas (“Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”) before I read H. P. Lovecraft.  This notion of this eternal emptiness, this absolute death, this coldness, this gaping maw that will devour each of us has been with me for a long time.

Thomas and Nietzsche and Lovecraft seem so different with poetry and philosophy and fiction, but raging against the dying of the light does not lead to death having no dominion over us.  The exaltation of will does not overcome the hollowness left by the retreat of God’s morality.  And no human effort avails against monsters so ancient and immense as to ignore us completely whilst driving us incurably mad.  Yet these men touched something in our souls, in our fears.  As a very young child, I had occasional nightmares which taught me dread.  Dread is reasonable, for death calls us all.  But fervently steeling ourselves to hurl ego at the emptiness we feel, whether through embracing chaos and destruction or obeying inflexible rules, does not save us from our mortal predicament.

The great perplexity of emptiness and death, the coldness and void of the tomb, can be overcome neither by valiant effort nor exertion of will nor by righteousness according to the Law, but only by one who can defeat such ill things.  And that One, of course, is Christ.

It makes perfect sense that we gain eternal life through being Baptized into the death and Resurrection of Christ.  Our life that lives eternally in us is from God alone, as our own life is temporary and dies.  Likewise, our righteousness is from God alone because we are flawed and finite.  God’s righteousness is natural to who God is.  It is perfect, infinite, and holy:  All the things that we are not.

Our only salvation is from God, whom as the existentialist theologian I heartily love to hate calls, “the ground of all being”.  All that is, is contingent upon God.  All the preaching in the world, all the rituals of the Church, all the mumbled prayers of the faithful, and all the songs of exaltation do not raise Christ from the dead.  Christ defeated death, and Christ loves us.  He was won the victory.

 

You cannot outrun dread.  You cannot physically hold onto righteousness.  These are not subjects of work.  We cannot earn ourselves salvation, eternal life, the beatific vision, or that deep and living connection with our Creator and Redeemer.  There is none of that.  I can do things to damage my relationship with God, but I cannot fix my relationship with him.

It is as if the Promised Land is on the other side of a river broad, swift, and deep.  I can keep myself from straying too far inland on my side so I that can no longer see the Promised Land, but I cannot build a bridge or swim the fast current to get there.  I cannot get across on my own.  No matter how athletic and healthy I am.  I am crippled, I’m feeble, I’m weak.  However, I can work to avoid following every pretty distraction that’s on my side further away from the shore until I forget all about the Promised Land.  I can work at that.  I would rather look across the swift river and torture myself beholding unattainable bliss.  I can see home, like Moses did from the mountain.  But I cannot get there myself.  I need a savior.

We are not capable in our fallen, mortal, and limited state to fulfill the Law and earn righteousness for ourselves.  The mightiest hero, the holiest saint, the wisest philosopher can no more earn his own righteousness before God than the weakest of us.  We are all under sin; not one of us can save himself from everlasting death.  Only by faith in Christ are we saved.

 

We are called to believe in Christ, to follow Him, and to love like He loves.  If we think that He did not follow the Law correctly, we are the ones who are incorrect, not the Son of God.  We are in no wise capable of challenging God on his own terms.  We must love Christ and conform our lives to His holy life.  Railing against the universe, or as Christ tells St. Paul, “it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks”, gains us nothing.  We ought not futilely concern ourselves with earning our reward, instead following Him in the way which leads to everlasting life.

 

“If there had been a law given which could have given life, verily righteousness should have been by the law.  But the scripture hath concluded all under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe.”

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

 

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St. Matthew xxv.41:  “Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels:”

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

 

I read an anonymous quote this week which seemed appropriate to share with you this Sunday, the fourth of the Four Last Things, Hell:  “Everyone will live forever. Not everyone will enjoy it.”

 

Satan hates us so very much.  For all the rebellion and hatred he bears to God, he cannot hurt God directly, for God is all powerful.  Even when he thought he could hurt Christ, he could not tempt Him into sin.  He could not break Christ on the Cross.  Instead, Christ broke the power of Satan and Hell on the Cross.

However, Satan can hurt God’s creatures.  Unlike the angels, we men are made in the image of God.  Satan seeks to destroy us like a ravening lion. So when Old Scratch and his demons get their filthy claws on us in Hell, they torture for all eternity.

Both man and angel are created, are designed, are built to bask in the presence of the great giver of life, the Lord God Almighty.  As much as man and angel may hate God and seek to flee from his presence, so both are horribly distressed by great longing for God.  That impure corrupted longing turned long ago into distorted loathing and hatred and contempt for the erstwhile object of love.

As Fr. Von Cochem says about the Devil:

Of all the fallen spirits, not one is so abominable as the chief of all, the haughty Lucifer, whose cruelty, malice and spite render him an object of dread not merely to the damned, but also to the devils subject to him. This Lucifer is called by various names in Holy Scriptures, all indicating his malignity. On account of his repulsiveness he is called a dragon; on account of his ferocity, a lion; on account of his malice, the old serpent; on account of his deceitfulness, the father of lies; on account of his haughtiness, king over all the children of pride; and on account of his great power and might, the prince of this world.

The other devils and demons are fallen angels who are not as mighty or created as perfectly good as Lucifer, and therefore are not so evil and ugly as him.  Just as men often in Scripture behold angels and attempt to worship them because of their beauty and goodness, so we would hardly be able to abide the presence of demons in their unhidden form because of their ugliness and wickedness.  That we can scarcely contemplate how miserable in appearance devils are is why they are often portrayed in a gruesome and grotesque manner.

Immediately after making my confession on retreat at Holy Spirit monastery in Conyers, I was visited in a nightmare by a creature so horrible in countenance that I could only barely describe it.  I was immensely terrified and would have been frightened away from spiritual matters entirely – thus acquiescing to the damning of my soul – were I not fortified in the Holy Sacraments and prayer.  The Sacraments are the grace of God the Son and prayer is ultimately of God the Father – when mediated by God the Holy Ghost, we are invincible to all demonic spiritual attack.

Hell is the place reserved for Satan, his demons, and cursed men.  It is a place of everlasting fire.  St. Matthew xxv.41:  “Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels:”  Hell is real and everlasting, as is Heaven.  The wicked and damned go to Hell forever, and the righteous and saved go to Heaven forever.  St. Matthew xxv.46:  “And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.”

The Roman Christians in antiquity would stand prayerfully together as they would be mauled to death by wild animals in the Coliseum.  They could die heroically at peace in our Lord while vicious beasts, deranged by hunger, would pounce upon them, pull them down, and tear their flesh with fang and claw.  They could die this way because they had victory in Christ and knew that Hell had worse to offer.  Think upon that, dear souls!  How ruthlessly did the lions rip into their flesh!  Would the angry hungry evil angels be more merciful than a brutalized innocent animal?  Our brethren knew that the feasting of demons upon their Resurrection bodies would go on for eternity – and the demons would never eat their fill or satisfy their lust for flesh.

Oftentimes I have heard that the company would be better in Hell than in Heaven, as if Hell would be some great party that would never end.  Perhaps the companionship would not be near as boring as would be the squares in Heaven.  But loving-kindness is entirely missing in Hell.  There is no camaraderie amongst the damned.  Hell is the realm where all are embittered against each other, mocking and cursing with enmity for all.

 

St. Mark ix.43-4

And if thy hand offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter into life maimed, than having two hands to go into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched:  Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched.

Christ says this not to injure our bodies.  Sin does not work in our hands and feet and eyes.  Sin works in our hearts.  But indeed we should be counted among the blessed if we were to lose our hands and feet and eyes in this world and flourish in Heaven above for all eternity!  The holy martyrs certainly thought so.  St. Lawrence the Deacon was roasted alive.  Yet knowing that Christ was his redeemer, he famously said to his executioners to turn him over, for this side was done!  How could he be so bold as he died a death of torture?  Because His savior lived!  And St. Lawrence was about to join Him in Heaven.  Truly the slings and insults of this world are nothing compared to the agonies of Hell.

So Christ says it is better to cut off your own body parts and live maimed than to go to Hell intact.  And three times here in St. Mark’s Gospel Christ tells us why:  “Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched.”  The filthy, rotten, tormenting, grotesque demons of Hell do not die in Hellfire.  They gnaw on your soul for eternity.  And the fire never wanes or dies either.  For age unto age the blast furnace heat far exceeds the fire into which King Nebuchadnezzar threw Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.  That pagan king heated up that furnace seven times beyond its regular blaze.  So very hot was it that the men who threw the three Jewish lads into it died from exposure to the heat.  Yet God sent his angel to protect the young men in there.  But Hellfire is profoundly hotter than the furnaces of Babylon, and God keeps his holy angels far from pits of Hell.

The rich man asked Father Abraham to send Lazarus with his finger dipped in water so to cool his burnt parched lips.  But Father Abraham told that wicked soul that he had enjoyed his good things in his life and not done justice.  There was no relief for him who had ignored the righteous soul starving at the gate, stepping over the poor man on his way about town.  There is no relief in Hell, there is no companionship in Hell, there is no clean air to breathe in Hell, there is no rest from torment in Hell, and there is no peace and quiet in Hell.

The unforgiving oven of Hell continuously burns all flesh therein.  And since all the cursed souls in Hell possess their eternal bodies, the stench of burning flesh does not abate over the millennia.  The cries of the cursed, the stench of the damned, the torments of the devils, the separation from God, and the sheer inescapability of it all are too gruesome for us to understand but in the extremes of our language.  For we still possess our frail bodies of our mortality.  We still live our lives of decision.  We may yet turn to God.  We may yet spurn Satan and embrace Christ.  Our judgement is still yet to come, for we mortal men remain alive … today.  But as death and judgement await us, so does either Heaven or Hell.

 

St. Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians ii.9, “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.”  Wonderful bounteous beauties await those who follow Christ unto the end.  There, in Heaven, we will eternally witness and experience the dynamic loving-kindness of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.  But those in Hell are denied this, the Beatific Vision.  The damned do not behold God, for they lived without God; they lived for themselves, and so they remain tortured by the lack of God for which they were made in the company of all the foul spirits who rejected God for themselves.  Thus, those in perdition suffer the company of the most selfish wicked souls ever created while those in bliss enjoy the great love of those who put you above themselves.

We were made by God to enjoy God.  To be denied God for eternity is the greatest sorrow man can know.  Now we are on the earth in our mortal life, and so we can only barely glimpse what the damned miss.  For we ourselves are yet getting to know God.  We still foolishly believe that something other than God may bring us greater joy than our Creator.  St. Bonaventure said, “The most terrible penalty of the damned is being shut out forever from the blissful and joyous contemplation of the Blessed Trinity.”  St. John Chrysostom said, “I know many persons only fear Hell because of its pains, but I assert that the loss of the celestial glory is a source of more bitter pain than all the torments of Hell.”  Every moment we feel loss or long for something we cannot have, we are touched by the lack of God in our lives.  So we try to fill up our emptiness with the delights of the flesh and the world, with passions, honors, riches, sensual gratifications, and all the vain and fleeting pleasures of this realm.  But all of these things are hollow and empty.  God alone is the one true source of the soul’s happiness.  To be finally denied the only source of happiness is logically to live in eternal despair and agony.

The eternal sorrow of the damned will recall their many occasions to turn from the way of wickedness, all the wrongs committed against God and neighbor, and all the many times their friends and family urged them to amend their ways.  Thus their conscience will pain them beyond measure, along with the stench, the heat, the cries of the lost, and the torments of demons.  They will forever know that they could have avoided such an unbearable fate had they only responded truthfully to the Lord of life instead of making their own way according to their own perverse and peculiar thoughts.  Alas, the presence of their own minds, will, conscience, and memory, cause the damned everlasting torment so unspeakable that our stomachs quiver in disgust.

 

Dear children of God, do not listen to the whispers of this world, which are either the hushed tones of sinful men or fallen angels.  David said (Psalm xiv.1):  “THE fool hath said in his heart, There is no God.”  You will hear that there is no God, no punishment, and no Hell.  You will be told that you may live your life however selfishly you wish and will never have to answer for your crimes.  But those words tempt you away from Christ and straight into the maw of Satan.

 

To avoid Hell, you must believe in Jesus Christ and give your heart to Him, you must be Baptized into His Death and Resurrection, and you must repent of your sins.

To grow in Christ as a living branch of his Body, you must obey the Six Precepts or Duties of Churchmen.  That is, worship every Sunday and Holy Day of Obligation.  Receive the Body and Blood of Christ frequently.  Give our Lord the first tenth of your income in the tithe.  Seek after righteousness by keeping your conscience clean of all sin and confess your sins if you fall.  Fast like our Lord did when directed to by His Body.  And keep the marriage laws of the Church, witnessing to the holiness of Christ.

If you are doing all these things, then seriously attend to prayer, good works, and studying the Holy Scripture.  It is possible and not all that difficult to live such a life.  Besides avoiding Hell, the soul who carefully lives a Christian life will grow closer and closer to our Lord while you still draw breath on this earth, after which He will not forget you in the world to come.

 

St. Matthew xxv.41:  “Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels:”

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

 

 

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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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“We give thanks unto the Father, which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light:  Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son:”

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

 

“Baptized into Christ’s Kingdom”

We are subjects of two kingdoms.  We are subjects of Christ our King and citizens of these United States, or whatever country you hail from.  How we live our lives in this green land of America is both informed by our Heavenly King and will influence our life in the hereafter.  Also, our life under Christ our King informs our citizenship here on earth in this great country of ours.

 

Now the kingdom of this world is not simply the domain of Satan, even though St. Paul does call it “the power of darkness”.  The kingdom of this world is that broken part of Creation, of the cosmos, that does not claim Christ as Lord.  Whereas we like to think that the saving work of Christ in the cosmos is expanding, in our own culture we see little evidence of it.  Think for instance of thirty-five years ago, when the popular television series M*A*S*H sympathetically depicted a chaplain amongst its characters.  Such a thing is foreign to television today.

Indeed, university students are increasingly told that their faith holds no bearing – or only poses a burden – on their education, when the original universities were explicitly Christian.  Unelected judges overturn same-sex marriage bans and abortion restrictions partially on the claim of there being no reasonable or non-sectarian basis for them.  In several states of this Union, courts and legislatures require citizens taking out any insurance plan to pay for elective abortions, regardless of their consciences, even though it is simply avoided.

But despite all this and the recent news out of Houston with sermons being demanded of preachers, other governments in the kingdom of this world have had it much worse.  This Wednesday we celebrate the Feast of the Martyrs of Uganda, the dozens of Anglican and Roman Catholic boys who were the sex slaves of the pagan king of Uganda and refused his lustful desires.  For their disobedience to the king of this world and their obedience to the High King of Heaven, they were put to death.  Earlier, the king had grown angry with the missionaries from the Church of England and the Church of Rome as they kept criticizing him and his support of Moslem missionaries.

This past week in Morning Prayer, we read in First Kings about Elijah, Ahab, and Jezebel, how the righteous prophet squared off against the wicked monarchs of Israel.  But before Elijah, Samuel warned Israel against having an earthly king, warning them in I Samuel viii.18:  “And ye shall cry out in that day because of your king which ye shall have chosen you; and the LORD will not hear you in that day.”

 

Worldly governments clearly fail to set out a righteous course for us to live in.  But the government of Christ the King exemplifies all good and glorious things.  Our worldly governments tell us that things which are clearly wrong are right; the government of Christ the King unerringly tells us what the wrong things are with such accuracy and precision that we cannot actually avoid them perfectly.

Today’s Epistle mentions “the inheritance of the saints in light”.  This refers to the Kingdom of God.  In the next verse, “the power of darkness” is the antithesis of the Kingdom.

“And he is the head of the body, the church:”  Coming right after speaking of “all things” and spiritual beings, this shows that the last verses here, vv 18-20, demonstrate an equivalency between the cosmos and the Church.  This is tied to the universal mission of Holy Church, to bring all people to Christ and His kingdom.  The work of the Church is Christ’s salvific work in the whole broken cosmos.  Later in ii.10, Christ is called the “head of every rule and authority”.  Christ created all and rules all, and we are members of His Body in that cosmos and Holy Church.  Each one of us is part of something epic and big.

 

Now, there is one way into Christ’s Kingdom:  Holy Baptism.  We read in St. John iii.5, “Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.”  This is our passport, our entrance; this is how we immigrate from the kingdom of the world to the kingdom of God.  When we are buried with Christ and then share in His Resurrection, we join with Him mystically and sacramentally.  When Christ commands His disciples at the end of St. Matthew’s Gospel, He says,

“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.”

Before we are Augustans, Georgians, or Americans, before we are black, white, or any other race of this world, before all these things, we are under the banner of Christ our King.  By virtue of our supernatural sacramental Baptism into the life and death of Christ our Lord, we are brothers and sisters of the Nigerian schoolgirl held in some African camp more fully than we are brothers and sisters to our natural sister who does not believe.  By virtue of our belief in Christ our King, we are brothers and sisters of the impoverished but faithful Haitian farmer more than we are brothers and sisters to our unbaptized brother with whom we grew up.

 

So what does this new citizenship look like?  We read in Ephesians v.1-5:

“Be ye therefore followers of God, as dear children; And walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweetsmelling savour. But fornication, and all uncleanness, or covetousness, let it not be once named among you, as becometh saints; Neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor jesting, which are not convenient: but rather giving of thanks. For this ye know, that no whoremonger, nor unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, hath any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.”

First, we must walk in sacrificial loving-kindness.  We must love the Lord our God with all our hearts, with all our soul, and with all our minds, and we must love our neighbors as ourselves.  This is unbelievably difficult, but we have no alternative.  God is love, and we are to conform ourselves to God.

Second, we are very specifically told to avoid wicked behavior.  After all, Christ says, “Ye shall know them by their fruits.”  So we are to avoid fornication, uncleanness, covetousness, filthiness, foolish talking, jesting.  We are not to be whoremongers, unclean, covetous, or idolaters.  Essentially, we are to pay attention and keep the Ten Commandments.

We are to love and we are to keep moral lives.  Third, we are to give thanks.  It is no mistake that each of our regular services in our Book of Common Prayer includes a prayer of thanksgiving.  We are to thank God for the goodness in our lives.  We are to thank God for our lives, God himself, other people, and all the goodness of God.  Love without thanks is hardly love indeed.

 

Today’s Epistle begins, “Giving thanks unto the Father, which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light: Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son:”

Moving from darkness into light reminds the Christian soul of the Exodus, especially the miraculous passage through the Red Sea.  While Moses his prophet stretched out his hand, the Lord caused the wind to blow on the sea, exposing the seabed so that the people of Israel could escape from Pharaoh and his army, freeing them to reach the Holy Land.  So likewise, we are in bondage to sin and death in the kingdom of this world, no matter how fine it is otherwise to us.  And God brings us out of “from the power of darkness”.  Through the miracle of Christ’s death and Resurrection, we transfer from one side to the other.

 

Having passed from the old way of death to the new way of life, Christ having given us the forgiveness of sins, so we are to imitate our God and King.

The way we worship is to obey.  And we become like Christ.  When the early Church worshipped Christ their God, they became more and more like Christ, and they grew like wildfire.  The early Christians did not visit and attend congregations to find out which ones were the most like what they wanted, asking to make the service the way they wanted, requiring the teaching to be like they wanted.  In all things, they obeyed Holy Church, they obeyed their Lord and Savior, they became like Him as disciples, and they grew and spread.  This is the way not only of faithfulness to God, not only of resisting the sinfulness of the world, but is also the way of evangelism, growth, and maturity.

Almost like the Anglo-Saxons of Wessex over eleven hundred years ago, our king is our best man, the man who exemplifies our ideals, the man whom we seek to emulate.  Blessed Alfred the Great, King of Wessex was one such king of this world; Christ, the King of Heaven and Earth, is the king of the whole cosmos and of the whole Church.

With God, we know who is king.  We know that His rule is always right and holy.  We know that we have no say in His rule.  And indeed, while God wants our whole selves, our souls and bodies, we actually live in great freedom, freedom from sin, death, and Hell.

God the Father calls us to live our lives in the service of Christ our King.  We are to live meek, humble lives in penitence and holiness, avoiding sin, and loving our God with our whole being and our neighbor as ourselves.

 

“We give thanks unto the Father, which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light:  Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son:”

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

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“They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick.”

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

 

“Church:  Hospital or Hospice?”

There are no people who are to be unwelcome here!  No one here has ever told me to make this a hoity-toity society parish, but many people have placed little limits here and there about making sure the riff-raff is kept out.  But we are the riff-raff in the eyes of God!  And the truth in the eyes of the eternal and Almighty God is actually true, unlike our notions of polite society which are here today and gone with the wind tomorrow.

We have need of physicians of the soul for we are sinners.  When Christ sat at dinner to eat with St. Matthew and the other tax collectors, he sat with men who were known to take bribes, work for the Roman occupying force, and wring as much as they could out of the population.  When the self-righteous Pharisees complained about that, Christ told them, “They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick.”  The Body of Christ is to be a hospital for repentance and healing and not a club for the redeemed.

We are sinners.  St. Paul says in Romans iii.23, “ For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;”  We are not to be only treating our pain but undergoing spiritual healing.  We can never think first of the pain.  Who would ever set a broken bone if we only thought of the pain?  Who would take months of chemotherapy if we only thought of the pain?  We have amongst this parish survivors of cancer who have undergone very difficult treatment.  I for one am glad that they – y’all – underwent such painful treatment, for I would rather you be with us than not.

If we are doing the Lord’s work, we can welcome the criticisms of our enemies because they give us the opportunity to explain ourselves and what we are doing.  The criticisms of the Pharisees allow Christ to explain the hospital concept.  He isn’t just hanging out; He is doing the work of God with actual people, people like you and me.

Christians are to follow Christ in allowing everyone to come in to the community before we expect righteousness of them.  Anyone with a soul is welcome.  We do have standards of conduct, such as repenting of sin, receiving Holy Communion, and fasting, but these standards are for those who are already members, not standards to obey before you come to know Christ.  Thus it is that we are a hospital for sinners.  Faith comes before righteous living. Our modified behavior is our response to the great goodness given to us by Christ our Lord.

“Follow me” is the shortest, simplest, and most succinct call to Christian discipleship.  To follow Christ is to live in His manner of life.  We follow those upon whom we model ourselves.  “Follow me” implies personal loyalty.  Christ is not trying to get people to follow His set of rules or His philosophy but rather His Holy Person.  Our faith is one of loving-kindness between persons.  For instance, I am the husband of Angela, and Angela is the wife of me.  I said that I took her as my wife, and she said she took me, bless her heart, as her husband.  We did not become something complex like cult members or philosophers or disembodied talking heads when we married; we married each other.

Likewise, Christ is not trying to sell something here.  We follow Him.  This is why we are not people of a book like Jews and Mohammedans.  We follow Christ – we are Christians.  We are people in a personal relationship with our Lord and Master.  This is why Apostolic Succession is so important – our faith is transmitted from mouth to ear and heart to heart.  You cannot truly read yourself into the Christian Faith.  Reading theology is not the basis of Christian ministry.  Love between members of the household of God is.  I am your spiritual father, and you are my spiritual children.  And so on.

Buying your child or grandchild a Bible is no substitute for attending Mass with her.  It is more important for him to hear you answer the question in person than to have him look up the answer for himself.  Even though we fail as leaders to our children and priests fail as leaders to our people, this way of communicating between persons is the fundamental way of learning about Christ.  Getting embarrassed about speaking religion to each other is part of our relationship with each other.

Christ is Himself the answer to sin, sickness, and death.  Christ is a bold one, for He is the Incarnate Son of God made flesh down here on earth to save us from sin, sickness, and death.  Christ is both the messenger and the cure.  Christ is both the priest and the victim.  Christ is both God and Man.  Our connection with God, our source of ultimate healing is found in that singular human person, that ancient Jew.  Christ is entirely God and entirely human and yet is but one single Person, the Holy Person whose Name

is above every name: That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.  (Philippians ii.9b-11)

St. Matthew found the “pearl of great price”, and nothing in this world could compare with the Man Who found Him.  So, like the others fishing in their boats, the Evangelist and Apostle dropped what he was doing without a care of what might befall him to follow the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
A hospice is a place where you go to die.  The folks who work with hospice do not allow any fighting to save your life.  They want you to die peacefully and with as little pain as possible.  A hospice is not a place to go in order to heal.  One is supposed to be carried out of a hospice.

A hospital is a place where you go to heal.   One goes to a hospital in order to get back on your feet and eventually leave under your own power, even if they insist on the wheelchair ride to the front door or to your car.

I have had a season-long clinical pastoral education internship at a hospital in Illinois and a year-long CPE residency at a hospital in South Carolina.  One of my problems in these hospitals is that the spiritual care, the pastoral care provided seemed to be of a palliative nature.

According to getpalliativecare.org, palliative care “focuses on providing patients with relief from the symptoms, pain, and stress of a serious illness—whatever the diagnosis.”  Palliative care makes the physical, social, mental, and emotional burdens of being sick more bearable.  It does not attempt to cure the ailment.

I confess that I am not a big fan of palliative care.  I have a painful chronic illness, and I would much rather receive a therapy which gets me healed up and on my way.  Instead, the medicine I take helps me tolerate the burden of being sick.  I am thankful for this care and medication, for it allows me to do more than I was able to do before I took the medicine.

But, I much prefer therapy that improves my condition.  One of the reasons I felt so called to amend my life and trust in Christ was that I saw someone live a better and holier life that I did.  Forgive me if you heard my story, but some fellows and I worked together in Atlanta many years ago.  We were smart-alecs, jerks, clever boys with a turn of phrase who thought that we were hilarious.

One of the ladies were worked with seemed like a silly girl.  She dressed funny and talked funny, and we made fun of her.  I’m sure it wasn’t fun to her.  But here’s the kicker – she always treated us with decency and respect.  She was a follower of Christ in that she actually walked with the Son of God and treated other people with the love with which Christ loved her.

Confronted with genuine Christian loving-kindness, I stood convicted of my sins.  I underwent the painful realization that my life of disrespect was not worth living.  I wanted to love other people and myself the way she loved me and the way Christ loved her.  I came back home to church and repented of my sins.  I am honored to tell you here today that in the last few weeks of my father’s life he saw this son of his come back into the Christian walk that he had taught me to walk in.

Here I stand twenty-five years later a changed man.  I am not as good a man as I hope to be someday, but I can safely say that I am a better man.  Angela has known me long enough to attest to the fact that I am a better man today than when she first met me.

But here is the thing about palliative care:  If I had not felt that pain of public humiliation realizing that I treated others poorly, I can’t see as how I would have repented from my sins.  The pain I felt was a good thing.  It taught me, it schooled me that I was on a road to damnation.  I knew my life was out of order when I felt that pain.  I thank God Almighty sitting in Heaven above that I was not provided palliative spiritual care, Christian ministration that got the pain to stop.

That pain was good for me.  I went to the hospital of Christ’s church to get spiritual healing.  If I had been taken to a spiritual hospice, I would have been told that I was good enough just the way I was and that I did not need to change.

My dear children, Christ sat at table full of sinners so that He could redeem them.  Our parish here is named after the most famous physician of Holy Scripture, St. Luke.  Jesus Christ has established His Bride, Holy Church, here on earth to help save sinners.  We sit here on Wheeler Road so that we may do the work of Christ and be a place of spiritual healing.

That means that we will hurt.  We will hurt from our own sins.  And Christ wants us to hurt from our sins.  We are not to cover over our sins and adopt pseudo-therapies that reduce our suffering.  No!  We must suffer fully.  We must feel our hurt so that we may correct our lives!  We must let our brothers and sisters who are members of Christ’s Body feel their hurt so that they may amend their lives.  We spiritually injure our fellow members of Christ’s Church when we try to take away their suffering before the time is over.

That means that others will hurt.  We are a hospital for sinners.  When we welcome people who suffer the pains of this fallen world through their own fault, the fault of others, and the assaults of the Devil, we must take them in and bandage them up like the Good Samaritan did.  We must suffer with them – that is what the word compassion means:  To suffer with.

We must embrace the pain of this world and let folks know that they can come here for spiritual healing.

 

This parish holds together two different notions of what a parish ought to be.  For on the one hand, we know each other well, we are friends with each other, we seek out others who will serve what we have already established as members of this parish, and we seek out others who will keep our parish family going.  This is a cozy, comfortable, and unfruitful way of conducting ourselves.

But on the other hand, we are a mission outpost of the right bank on the Savannah River.  All Saints’, Aiken has the left bank.  This is our duty station, and from here we are to fulfill the Great Commission given to the Apostles and thus to our bishops – “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.”

We are both a family and a mission outpost.  As a parish family, we show some of the domestic loving-kindness made possible in Christ our Lord.  But we are also tempted towards living out the Christian life in this parish as a hospice, avoiding pain, keeping peace, and not rocking the boat.

As a mission outpost, we focus on preaching the Gospel and loving our neighbor as ourselves.  Thus we are tempted towards living out the Christian life in this parish as a hospital, dragging in the wounded off the street, binding their wounds, and loving them, encouraging those who have fallen, strengthening those who are weak, and occasionally sending on their way those who simply stopped by for a rest.

Discerning correctly and loving appropriately is the principal challenge for us here at St. Luke Church as we grow into the future.

 

“They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick.”

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

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“He hath done all things well: he maketh both the deaf to hear, and the dumb to speak.”

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

 

“Loving our Neighbor through Good Works”

In St. Mark’s Gospel, this healing and the healing of the Syrophoenician woman which precede it together form a turning point in Christ’s ministry.  This healing in particular shows the firstfruits of salvation from the Jewish Messiah which will come to the Gentiles after Pentecost.  Although this miracle is done privately, it is a very inclusive miracle.  Instead of healing only one of the Chosen People, Christ the Messiah heals a man from outside the Old Covenant.

Travelling with His disciples amongst the Gentiles, Jesus fulfills two Messianic prophesies.  These include Isaiah xxxv.5, “Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped” and Ezekiel xxiv.27, “In that day shall thy mouth be opened to him which is escaped, and thou shalt speak, and be no more dumb: and thou shalt be a sign unto them; and they shall know that I am the LORD”.

God has power over hearing and speech.  Exodus iv.11 reads, “And the LORD said unto him, Who hath made man’s mouth? or who maketh the dumb, or deaf, or the seeing, or the blind? have not I the LORD?”.  Christ is a Jew, but He is God Incarnate.  He has power over hearing and speech.

St. Matthew 11.2-6 shows that Christ is doing the works that the Christ was prophesied to do according to the Forerunner, St. John Baptist:

2 Now when John had heard in the prison the works of Christ, he sent two of his disciples,

3 And said unto him, Art thou he that should come, or do we look for another?

4 Jesus answered and said unto them, Go and shew John again those things which ye do hear and see:

5 The blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them.

6 And blessed is he, whosoever shall not be offended in me.

 

31:  JESUS, departing from the coasts of Tyre and Sidon, came unto the sea of Galilee, through the midst of the coasts of Decapolis.

In this part of St. Mark’s Gospel, Christ and the disciples left the pagan region of Tyre and Sidon, the site of ancient Phoenicia and modern Lebanon, and headed back towards Judea.  They stopped off in the area of the Ten Cities, the Decapolis, on the other side of the Sea of Galilee.  These are ten Hellenistic, or culturally Greek, cities east of Samaria and Galilee, across the River Jordan.

Christ had already healed the demoniac possessed by Legion whilst visiting there before, so His reputation probably preceded Him.  According to Acts ix.2, this area was evangelized early.  Decades later, some Christians fled to one of these cities from Judea during the last war between Rome and the Jews.

32:  And they bring unto him one that was deaf, and had an impediment in his speech; and they beseech him to put his hand upon him.

The people of the Decapolis asked Christ to heal this man.  His own people asked on his behalf.  They intercede to the Son of God for his healing.  The week before last, a small group of us gathered to pray for others.  We’ll be doing that again in a few weeks.

Every Sunday and every Mass we lift up the names brought to us by the members of Christ’s Body here in this parish to God the Father Almighty, joining them in the mystical and eternal sacrifice of the Son to the Father in the Eucharist, the good gift.  We bring those we know and love to the attention of God so that he may heal them and have mercy upon them.

The local Gentiles interceded on behalf of their deaf friend who couldn’t speak to the Messiah of Israel.  They showed faith and love:  Faith that Christ could heal him and love for him that he might be healed.

33a:  And he took him aside from the multitude,

Privately, away from the public.  This is normally used for Christ alone with His disciples.

Christ avoids making miracles in public and seeks to avoid public praise for them.  He does not seek His own glory but the healing and mending of the bodies and souls of the lost.

Pseudo-Chrysostom tells that Christ took aside the man privately, “teaching us to cast away vain glory and swelling of heart, for no one can work miracles as he can, who loves humility and is lowly in his conduct.”

Indeed, pride is incompatible with thaumaturgy or wonderworking.  Pride is a sin against God.  God gives the good gifts which we work amongst our fellows.  It is through Christ that we do good works.  Sin and good works are incompatible and irreconcilable; sin and good works in Christ cannot exist together.  We must give up pride and seeking after glory for ourselves or we can no longer do good works in Christ.

33b:  and put his fingers into his ears, and he spit, and touched his tongue;

This seems rather vulgar and unbecoming the founder of our religion.  Yet this putting his hands inside his mouth and spitting makes sense.  Christ actually touched the man, showing that this world is part of God’s creation.  Christ the Son of God uses his perfect fingers and sacred spittle to touch the man in ears and on tongue to heal part of creation which has fallen away from God.

34:  and looking up to heaven, he sighed, and saith unto him, Ephphatha, that is, Be opened.

Christ heals the man with six actions:  taking aside, putting hands in the ear, spitting, touching the tongue, deep groan (“sighed”), and command of healing.  This is like our liturgical action at Mass and other services such as Baptism and Confirmation.  He looked up to Heaven.  He said ephphathah, the Aramaic word for “be opened!”  It serves as a word of power, which is not a magical incantation of superstitious nonsense.  This is a direct command from God to be healed.  As the earlier quote from Exodus iv.11 showed, Christ has the power of God to heal the deaf and mute.

St. Bede says that from Heaven comes all healing, which is why Christ looked up.  All we can do for healing also comes down from Heaven.  Whether it be our medical technology or the wise word properly delivered into the ready ear, all our help comes from our Creator and Redeemer who gives us all good things in the first place.  God uses our hands like he uses the hands of Christ for the good of our fellow man.

Likewise, the good we do must not be good only in our eyes but in the eyes of God as well.  Thus, we ought to always keep a healthy suspicion upon ourselves and watch ourselves to ensure that we do God’s work and not our own particular preferences.

35:  And straightway his ears were opened, and the string of his tongue was loosed, and he spake plain.

“His ears were opened” literally means is ‘his hearing was opened’, referring to the act of hearing not to the thing of ears.  We do hear through our ears, but the ears being restored was secondary to Christ restoring the hearing.  We see that today with the new cochlear implants which do not fix the ears but restore hearing.

36:  And he charged them that they should tell no man: but the more he charged them, so much the more a great deal they published it;

God is now at work among the Gentiles.  He has said, “be opened!” and they now hear, and proclaim, and are enthusiastic.  Christ will not finish His work among the Gentiles directly; but His apostles will carry the Gospel to the ends of the earth, performing great works in His Name.  God’s plan of salvation requires we sinful humans to proclaim Christ to the world.

“so much the more a great deal they published it” – published in the sense of ‘they proclaimed it’, with the religious note of proclamation.  When I preach or proclaim the Gospel, I am publishing it.  Think of publish glad tidings, tidings of peace!  I do not publish in the manner of printing a book or magazine, but rather in proclaiming to the hearing of others personally.

It goes on, “And He charged them that they should tell no man.”  Pseudo-Chrysostom: “By which He has taught us not to boast in our powers, but in the cross and humiliation.”  Wherefore it goes on, “but the more He charged them, so much the more a great deal they published it.”

We ought not to seek praise for that which we do well and to praise those who do well to us.  Praise is not our due; even the Son of God did not seek praise.

As for those who seek the approval of others (St. Matthew vi.1-2, 5):

1 Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven.

2 Therefore when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.

5 And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.

Christ tells us to refrain from doing our duty in public so to avoid receiving men’s praises.  Christ often refrained from performing healings in public so to avoid receiving men’s praises.  Both by word and example we are to serve humbly and obediently, willingly sacrificing our pride upon the Cross.  Remember, we can do no good thing on our own, but only insofar as we participate in Christ.

37:  and were beyond measure astonished, saying, He hath done all things well: he maketh both the deaf to hear, and the dumb to speak.

Once the people know that the man they brought forward to be healed has been healed, they get excited and pass on the news.  This is not what Christ wanted.  He healed the man because Christ is the Son of God come into the world to save us, and healing our bodily ailments is one portion of that salvation.  Today’s healing is a foretaste of tomorrow’s incorruptible bodies.

When we follow in His way, the Way of the Cross, we ought to leave others better off for having known us.  I know of many ways in which many of you have made the lives of your fellows better in this vale of suffering and tears.  It is incumbent upon us to serve our fellow man, not as an end unto itself, not as a means of gaining glory for ourselves, not even as a means of gaining glory for God, but to show forth the love of Christ unto those whom He came to save, our very own neighbors.

 

“He hath done all things well: he maketh both the deaf to hear, and the dumb to speak.”

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

 

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