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Posts Tagged ‘St. Matthew’

“And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.”

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

 

Christ was born in time on a specific day.  Some people think Him a mythical figure.  Others think Him some great idea.  Yet others think Him some hobbled-together semi-historical figure who spouts wise teachings.  But we should remember that the Lord was born a Jewish boy of a particular mother in a particular town under the reign of a particular king.  He is God made flesh.  When the Son of God became man, he became a particular man.  A Jewish maiden had a baby, and that baby was the Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father before all worlds.

No wonder many want to contain Christ in myths and ideas.  God has entered our world as one of us!  Shocking!  Scandalous!  Inconvenient!  Nothing God touches remains the same, and God has touched our world with His own flesh.

The Word made Flesh:  The eternal Son of God took on a human body to be one of us:  A Jewish boy born in the Roman province of Judea during the reign of Octavian Augustus.  He is eternally begotten of the Father, light of light, very God of very God; He is born of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

We were created to delight God and delight in God, but through the sin of our ancestors and our personal sins, we have become separated from God.  Our nature has been twisted, darkened, fallen.  We now live separated from God, cut off from life everlasting.  We suffer – the good Lord knows how we suffer! – we suffer and die without our good God.

But the God the Father, Lord of heaven and earth, loves us so deeply, that He gave His only-begotten Son to become one of us.  Of us!  God did not become a seraph to redeem angels.  God did not become a lion to redeem animals.  God became a baby in a dusty little town in order to redeem everyone and everything:  For when God comes into the world, the world changes.  Nothing touched by God can ever stay the same.  So God became one of us so that we might be altered, that we might be changed, that we might be justified, that we might be sanctified, that we might be saved from suffering and sin and death and decay.

God changed His fallen broken world populated by fallen broken people by giving us His Son, Jesus Christ:

But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name:  Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.  And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us . . . .

This is the gift of Christmas:  Hope of eternal life.  Jesus Christ came down from Heaven and became one of us.  He says, “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.”  We exchange tokens of our affection and esteem and love for each other on Christmas.  But God gave us the most miraculous gift of them all:  Life.  Abundant life.  Everlasting life.

How do we receive this great gift from our good God?  Christ Himself shows us how.

Jesus came to us a little baby, a helpless infant.  Babies cannot feed themselves, yet this baby came to feed us.  Babies cannot change themselves, yet this baby came to change us.  The lowliness of the manger was a sign of the humility with which he enrobed Himself when He became one of us, a part of His own creation, so that He might save us.

Later in His life, Christ says (St. Matthew 18.3):  “Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.”  Christ became a child to save us.  We are to become as little children to be saved.

When we experience our loved ones die, we recognize that there is something more.  When we face our own mortality, we shudder over thinking about our own end.  When we look into the faces of children, we see lives extending beyond our own.  There is more, and we are powerless to reach it.  We hurt, we sin, we hurt other people, and we see all the death and disease in the world.  We are separated from this great good thing just beyond the reach of our fingertips.

Christ came to us because He loved us.  We did not love Him first; He first loved us.  He did not come in a mighty fire or a roaring wind or a shocking earthquake; He came to us a humble child born outside with the animals as there was no room in the inn.  All the grace and love and joy in the whole universe is in Him.  We must humble ourselves like little children and take on the swaddling clothes of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

 

“And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.”

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

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“And then shall they see the Son of man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.”

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

 

That Christ will come with glory to judge the quick and the dead is an unalterable dogma.  It is plainly taught in the Holy Scriptures and by Holy Church.

We find this article of faith in the Creeds, the Gospels, and in the New Testament.  Attached to it is Christ’s judgement of sins.  We just said in the Nicene Creed:  “And he shall come again, with glory, to judge both the quick and the dead….”  The Apostles’ Creed and the Advent collect say the same in slightly different words.  In order to be faithful Christians, we must believe this article of faith, that Christ will judge all men when He returns from Heaven.

 

Now, Advent is not simply the name of this season of the Church’s kalendar.  It means arrival, emergence, dawn, and occurrence.  It comes to us from the Latin words for to come.   Advent means Christ coming to us:  “O come, o come Emmanuel.”

In this holy season, our focus often rests on the prophecies leading up to Christ being born a babe in Bethlehem.  Today’s Epistle to the Romans (xv.12) reads:  “And again, Esaias saith, There shall be a root of Jesse, and he that shall rise to reign over the Gentiles; in him shall the Gentiles trust.”  This is the first advent of Christ into the world.  We remember this when the priest reads the Last Gospel after Mass:  “And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us.”

The Second Coming of Christ is His returning in glory to judge the living and the dead.  Our risen and glorified Lord will then confront all mankind.  He will end the world as we know it and usher in a new world of redeemed mankind living fully the life of Heaven.

Today’s Gospel wondrously tells of Christ’s return.  In St. Matthew’s Gospel (xxvi.64b), Christ answers the high priest during His Passion, “nevertheless I say unto you, Hereafter shall ye see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven.”

After Christ ascends into Heaven, angels tell the astonished apostles (Acts i.11):  “Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? this same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven.”

Christ will return.  We do not know when.  Christ says in St. Matthew (xxv.13):  “Watch therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of man cometh.”

We know that Christ’s return will be spectacular.  Christ says in St. Matthew (xxiv.27), “For as the lightning cometh out of the east, and shineth even unto the west; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be.”  The Bible uses strange prophetic imagery regarding His return to convey truth beyond our experience.  Our knowledge of the Lord’s return is of necessity partial.

But we are promised that:

  1. The trumpet will sound and all men will hear it,
  2. Our bodies, whether living and dead, will change in an instant,
  3. The cosmic regeneration of a new heaven and a new earth will occur as the former will have passed away,
  4. Our Lord will appear in glory,
  5. We will all be judged according to our deeds, and
  6. God’s Kingdom will be perfectly established.

 

Divine judgement is the process whereby Christ determines the eternal fate of men.  All men live forever.  Christ’s judgement determines where and how we will live forever.  We mean two things when we speak of Christ’s judgement of our souls in the end:  His particular judgement of each of us upon our deaths and his general judgment of us all at His Second Coming.

Jesus is our judge.  St. Paul says in Colossians, “For in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily.” Christ is God.  He is omniscient.  He judges truly.  He plumbs the secrets of each man’s soul.  He better understands why we do things than we understand them ourselves.  He considers every fact in His judgement; He is unlike a human judge who only has a limited and fallible understanding.  Christ fully shares the love of God as creator and as redeemer.  He values the souls of men more highly than we value ourselves.

God created us good, but we, like a dog returning to its vomit, continually turn to sin, to destruction, to death.  What can God do with us in such a state?  He can either dispose of us or save us.  God has chosen to save us from sin and death.  With infinite love and grace unbounded God sent his only-begotten Son into the world to save us from our sins.  He restores us to life.  The judgement of God is personal, but if we step back, we may consider it as the presence of God which reveals the truth about our state.  In order to live with God in love forever, we must first be judged.  Christ’s presence effects judgement.

 

When we die, we face the particular judgement, one of the two last judgements of God.  Before this judgement, we faced the daily judgement of our conscience.

The particular judgement differs from the general.  It is less a formal judgement than the completion of our life’s work.  We will have lived our life and made our inclinations and habits known to Him.  It is a private affair between Christ and the soul.  It is preliminary.  It is the last of the long line of similar judgements in our life.  The time of decision is over, for we are dead.  If we have not stifled our conscience, we will have been judging our actions during our life.

As we look at ourselves and other men, widespread solid evidence of our salvation is not apparent.  We do not die perfectly loving, perfectly moral, and perfectly faithful.  One must be holy to live in Heaven, and we do not die holy.  Our righteousness is that of Christ, but Christ does not take over our selves, remove our free will, and govern our actions to be only righteous.

Christ judges us upon our deaths as either saved or damned.  If saved, our spiritual progress does not end there.  It continues on after our deaths until our dross is fully burned off, leaving only purity behind.  Isaiah (i.25) says:  “I will turn my hand upon thee, and purely purge away thy dross, and take away all thy tin:”  One must not hold to the peculiar Roman doctrines of Purgatory, indulgences, and the treasury of merits to acknowledge the universal Church’s teaching on the matter.

God is all-knowing, all-loving, and all-wise.  He can search a man’s heart and weigh what he finds, even if the man had few opportunities to make moral actions in the light of God’s revelation.  Out of the least opportunities in the young and the ignorant, Christ can make accurate and unerring judgements.  His judgement is not hampered by our limits.

If a man is damned at his particular judgement, it will be as Abraham said in the parable of Lazarus and Dives (St. Luke xvi.31):  “If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.”  Which is to say that the pattern of wickedness and resistance to goodness the man had chosen for himself during his life will carry on for eternity.

But for those who are who are saved comes something entirely different.  Hebrews (xii.14) reads:  “Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord:”  None of us reach perfection in this life of ours, this vale of tears, of labor and pain and death.  But we start a good work that is made perfect in Christ.  Christ makes us perfect.  Christ makes us holy.

All men, no matter what heights of holiness they have achieved in this life, will no doubt have much to learn and much to cast aside before they finally enter into God’s presence in Heaven.  Our personal journey towards perfection will continue on until the day of the Lord’s Second Advent.  The purification of our souls is precious for those who desire God.

There may be pain in this growth, as perfection in Christ might require a necessary suffering on our part to refine our imperfect souls.  St. Paul says in 1 Corinthians (iii.15), “If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire.”  Rest assured, Christ will weigh our life upon our death, and we do not want to be found wanting.

 

The general judgement follows the Resurrection of the Dead at Christ’s Second Coming.  Having been raised from the dead, all men will stand before Christ our Judge.  Our Lord describes this in St. Matthew (xvi.27):  “For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then he shall reward every man according to his works.”

The Revelation has a longer description of it (xx.11-15):

And I saw a great white throne, and him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them.  And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works.  And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works.  And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire.  This is the second death.  And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.

 

Sin is enticing.  If sin were not so tasty, nobody would sin.  In the Garden, Adam and Eve were not only set for life, but for all eternity; yet sin was so tasty to them that they risked it all and suffered death and misery just for a bite.  We love our sin.  We love our greediness.  We love our booze and pills.  We love our prideful contempt of others.  We love talking behind each other’s backs.  We do love our sin.  So we focus on our beloved sin instead of Christ and His judgement.

We do not like to admit it, and perhaps some of us never will, but we tend not to live our lives as if we were in the presence of Christ.  Maybe we think that God has greater things to do than concern himself with our lives.  Maybe we act like atheists, living our daily lives as if God did not exist, not praying to him, not thanking him, and doing what we like instead of what he requires.

Reverend Fathers, brothers and sisters, it is better to judge ourselves now so that we may amend our broken and sinful ways while there is time.  When we die, we will no longer have time to repent and amend our wrong ways.  So must we comport ourselves and live our lives that we can joyfully and hopefully anticipate Christ’s Second Coming.

 

“And then shall they see the Son of man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.”

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

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“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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“Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.”

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

 

How the Christian Ought to Live, Part 3

 

Some of the first Christians who read these words of St. Paul were suffering persecution at the hands of the Romans.  Imagine your fellow parishioners getting hauled off and executed.  My blood would boil.  I would want to hit them back.  But that is not what our first saints did.  Those first Roman saints, some of whom are remembered in our Mass when we pray for the dead, loved their neighbors as themselves, no matter how their neighbors treated them.  They trusted in God to deal out whatever justice needed handing out.  They kept their eyes on the heavenly goal and lived lives imitating Christ’s life.

 

When we think of Christ as meek and lowly and simple and peaceful, we think of him as very weak, and that it is not actually the case.  What Christ did is turn wickedness on its head.

St. Augustine wrote:  “For the Lord Christ is that Lamb that was himself slain by the wolves, and that now turneth the wolves into lambs.”

Turning the other cheek and returning good for evil doesn’t mean that we are simply to throw marshmallows when our enemies throw rocks.  Living the life of Christ does not mean being weak.  Not only does it take greater strength to overcome our own violent and wicked inclinations, but it takes power to convert wickedness into goodness.

St. Paul is our wonderful example.  As Saul, he persecuted Christ’s Church.  He sought to destroy the members of Christ’s Body.  He held the coats of those who stoned St. Stephen to death and looked on with approval.  Yet Christ chose this vile Saul to become the Apostle to the Gentiles.  Christ not only can do everything, He has already done everything.  No trick gets by our Lord Christ.  No enemy is too determined, too wicked, too powerful, or too smart.  Christ converted St. Paul.

I was no Saul.  But in my younger years, I considered myself a staunch materialist atheist who despised this weakling Christ and silly Christians.  And yes, my old friends were very surprised to hear I converted and, later, to hear that I entered the ministry.  How could I believe these ridiculous things?  I still think that these are ridiculous things.  In the eyes of the world, from the viewpoint of the rulers of the darkness of this world, in the chambers of counsel of spiritual wickedness in high places, the things of God are sad, silly, and fantastic.

But God made the world, and as we read in Genesis, God made the world and called it good.  The disconnect, the difference we perceive between the wickedness of the world and the good world which God created is called sin, or separation from God.  If you grab a plant and yank it out of its flowerpot, roots all dangling in the air, you wouldn’t think that that plant is doing just fine.  But do you think that roots dangling in the air is the way it was made?  That the plant was supposed to enjoy being grabbed and dangled?  Of course not.

But if you listen to the politicians and industrialists, to the university professors and professional instigators, they will tell you to judge things by the state we see them in now, in this dangling without soil around our roots, without the support of the ground we were made to be firmly planted in.

Hollywood folk and advertisers will tell you to relax and enjoy this faulty broken world and pay no attention to its radical disharmony from all that is true and all that is holy.  The angry young men and women of this world will tell you that there is no God and that you are stupid if you go looking for one.  The tired old men and women of this world will tell you to make your peace with the world, for this is as good as it gets.  The busy middle-aged people will tell you to stay busy, do your work, and take whatever pleasure you can find.

But the Gospel of Christ turns the wisdom of the world and its accommodation with sin and evil on its head.

 

Let’s look at the last part of the twelfth chapter of Romans.

“BE not wise in your own conceits.”  We like to feel special, and we especially like to feel special because of something we have done, something we have earned.  But God has made us rely upon one another in matters great and small.  We may learn something when we realize that we cannot Baptize ourselves, Confirm ourselves, or Ordain ourselves.

Sometimes, the smartest fellow in the room can’t see what’s wrong with himself.  Maybe you have heard the old saying, “A man who is his own lawyer has a fool for a client.”  This is as true for lawyers as it is for non-lawyers.  Same thing with doctors.  Sometimes, the expert eye is the closest thing you can get to an objective eye, to the eye of God.  This is why it is so very important to go to another person for spiritual counsel, especially to experienced spiritual directors and priest confessors.  You may wrestle with a problem for months only to find that the elder laywoman or priest confessor sees an obvious solution or improvement.

“Recompense to no man evil for evil.  Provide things honest in the sight of all men.”  Why in the world would you possibly want to emulate the behavior of someone who has wronged you?  After Lucy pulls the football away from Charlie Brown, would it help Charlie Brown to pull the football away from Linus?  Misery would be compounded.  Imitating bad behavior shows deficiency of character and takes away legitimate complaint against the offender.  Since God will repay, do not take away your cause from your just God.

“If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men.”  The verse’s modifier, “If it be possible”, should not be an excuse to give up after trying hard to bite our tongue or only when it is really important to us.  Sometimes the faithful Christian must speak an unpopular truth.  If a gunman holds you up on the street and tells you to blaspheme God or die, don’t do it!  Stand your ground and speak the truth in love.  Maybe God will use your words to change another’s heart or to give another strength.  God will weigh your words uttered at your martyrdom when he judges you at your Judgement.  Never let the hatred and wickedness of others cause you to act in wickedness and hatred.

“Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath. For it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord.”  “Give place unto wrath” means to give place unto the wrath of God.  Let God have the wrath.  He is the creator and judge, he is infinite and just and good.  God can handle the situation.  Let him have it.  Don’t fight God for control of meting out his justice against others.  It’s his justice; let him handle it.  It isn’t yours.  And the flipside of this is dangerous – that you will judge incorrectly and let yourself commit wicked deeds and make false accusations without all the knowledge necessary.

“If thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him to drink; for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire upon his head. Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.”  St. Paul would have us here understand that we must not only not do evil to our enemy but that we must actually positively do good to our enemy.  Our enemy ought not to live in fear of our returning and hurting him.  The door to reconciliation with our enemy must always be open.  Kicking a man when he is down is dirty, but we are to give the kicker water when he thirsts and food when he is hungry.

Never allow yourself to hate your enemy. That lets your enemy overcome you.  Instead, overcome your enemy with goodness and loving-kindness, standing in the stead of our good and loving God with them.  Christ first loved us.  We are to first love our neighbors and our enemies.

If we are to stand with Christ and help transform this culture, help transform this city, then we must ourselves first be transformed.  We must change.  If you want someone to tell you that you are perfect just the way you are, you will be disappointed here.  Follow the fads of this world and you will gain applause.  If you come here looking for applause, you will be disappointed.  If you want to follow Christ and serve the poor in spirit and those who mourn of this world, let us make this the place for you.  But to do that, we must all be changed.  We must all put away childish things and the categories and prejudices of this world.  We must love the Lord our God and our neighbors.  Christ, the Son of God, tells us that we must.

You see, to live the Christian life fully, we must put our giant egos to death.  We read in St Matthew xvi.24-25:

“Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.  For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it.”

Indeed, if our enemy is to share in life eternal, he, too, must put his huge ego to death.  We all must.  And we must turn the other cheek and forswear all vengeance, trusting entirely upon the mercy of our Heavenly Father.  We Christians model this holy behavior to our enemy, so that when he pauses and reflects he may see the things of God and turn from his evil ways.  How can our enemy be converted if those who are members of Christ’s Body show him only the way of the world?

My dear children, we are to live like we are already in Heaven.  In our communion with God in the Body of Christ His Holy Church, we have already died to our sin and risen to life eternal.  We are joined in Christ’s mission of reconciling all men to God, and we are to do that by living out Christ’s life here before them.  We are each icons, or images, of Christ to our neighbors around us.  Every single person you know, on some level, is watching you and your behavior and measuring all Christians and Christ Himself by your behavior.  Not to put any pressure on you!

People tell me of the very difficult behavior of family and neighbors, sharing their problems with me.  We must bear our insults with patience, and not return evil for evil.  Those around us notice those who treat us shamefully.  Nobody truly sympathizes with those who treat others horribly.  When they see you suffer with the dignity of Christ and not take the easy road of vengeance, instead returning good for evil, those watching will marvel at your grace and power.  But truly they are marveling at the grace and power of Christ in you.  Every insult you bear with love and dignity, without seeking vengeance and without returning evil for evil, builds heavenly treasure for you and witnesses to the Good News of Christ.

 

You are the nobility of the cosmos.  Demons weep, angels rejoice, nations rise, and civilization falls based on your moral decisions, on your actions and choices.  You are moral actors.  Alone in the universe along angels and demons, we each one of us make moral decisions.  It is given to the mature, adult, Baptised and Confirmed Christian the right and the freedom to make these choices.  We are moral actors.  We will change the world.  Our spiritual forefathers, the saints of yesteryear, the Christians of the old Roman Empire, changed the world.  We face other challenges, even similar challenges in some ways.  And we too will change the world through our choices, through our actions, through our decisions, and through either our obedience or disobedience.

 

“Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.”

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

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