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Posts Tagged ‘St. Peter’

“For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

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

“Living in the Gift of God”

A good way to understand how the world works without Christ is to pick up one of those magazines near your grocery store check-out line.  Good looks are exalted.  Wealth is celebrated.  Look also at your television, and you see popularity held in high esteem.  Look out the window in your neighborhood, and you find people with well-manicured lawns respected more than those with messes in their front yards.

Do not get me wrong.  An attractive physical countenance can signal health and conscientiousness.  Wealth may be an indicator for wisdom and perseverance.  Popularity may simply be the logical outcome of someone who considers their neighbor and cares for the well-being of the community.  Well-manicured lawns might belong to those who are diligent and care for the feelings of their neighbors.  All these things may be true.  And certainly health, conscientiousness, wisdom, perseverance, neighborliness, and diligence are all good things.

Yet Holy Scripture keeps pointing to what is going on underneath the surface.  In Proverbs xiv.12 we read:  “There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death.”

Rules and standards are tricky things.  We rightly teach our children to make their beds in the morning and brush their teeth before turning in for the night.  But following rules and standards is not ultimately helpful.  Reading God’s word to us in the Holy Bible as taught by Holy Church, we see that the law kills but the spirit gives life.

All the things of this world are mutable, or changeable.  They have their time, and then they pass away.  We rarely have belongings of those who lived only a few generations before us.  I mentioned my family’s cavalry saber from the Battle of Atlanta and others were surprised we still had ours.  There used to be regiments full of them shiny in parade; now the few remaining are battered and scattered.  That is only a hundred and fifty years ago.

Even huge monuments fall to dust.  The great Temple in Jerusalem is reduced to a single wall.  The Colossus at Rhodes has fallen long ago.  The Great Library in Alexandria burned fourteen centuries ago and its remains have been raided into oblivion long before today.  The things of this world suffer corruption and death.

But God would have us look beyond the things of this world, beyond the things of corruption and death.  He says to Moses more than three thousand years ago in Deuteronomy xxx.19:

I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live:

God wants us to live.  He hates that we fell away from him in the garden he made for us.  He hates that Adam and Eve ran and hid from him and that we run and hide from him even today.  He loves us and wants us with him.  He wants to give us things which last forever, like life and love and communion with each other.

But we go off and chase after the things of this world.  Each and every one of us is predisposed to do so, and we sure enough go ahead and follow our predispositions.  We are like silly birds which love things which are shiny and flashy.  We would rather eat dessert all day than sit down to a proper meal which would nourish us.

And what do we have after all those temporary joys and delights?  What do we have after we have indulged our sweet tooth, slept in instead of worked hard, socialized with our friends instead of spent hard quiet work on ourselves?  We have nothing.  It is all gone.  Both the simple and fancy joys which we follow build up nothing permanent in our lives.

But God shows us a better way.  Two chapters after today’s Epistle, St. Paul succinctly states (viii.6):  “For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace.”

St. Peter sums up what is missing in his first Epistle (1 St. Peter i.3-4):

3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to his abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 To an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you,

On our own, we can do nothing that builds up treasure in heaven, only treasure on earth which rots and can be stolen.  But with Christ, the Son of God made man for our salvation, we can have a most marvelous inheritance – “incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you”.  What we cannot do on our own, Christ can do for us.

Last week, little Avery Elizabeth was Baptized back there at our Baptismal font.  She entered into eternal life there, though her mortal body may die a hundred years from now.  She now tastes Heaven.  She has been buried and Resurrected in Christ’s Crucifixion and Resurrection through the mystical waters of Holy Baptism.

Each one of us who has believed in our Lord Christ and been Baptized into His death and Resurrection have a part of that marvelous inheritance that will glory in God’s presence for all times, even past the end of this world.  We who are justified in Christ participate in His life, his love, and His communion both with God the Father and each of us.

St. Paul writes this famous phrase exactly about this salvation and what we do next in his Epistle to the Romans:  “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

This separation from God and reliance upon the world and ourselves is sin.  In Spanish, the word sin means without.  That’s a fine way of remembering what sin is.  We think of sin as a thing, a substance.  It is not.  It is a lack, a brokenness.

But funny enough, when we serve sin, sin pays us for our service.  The more we serve sin, the more sin pays us.  And sin always pays on time.  But as St. Paul writes, sin pays its wages in death.

Fr. Melville Scott said:

Sin has wages; sin has its end; and both the wages and the end is death. The wages are the immediate, the end is the final consequences of sin. The immediate consequences of sin are death, for each sin diminishes our capacity for life intellectual, moral, and spiritual. Sin darkens the intellect, blunts the conscience, and deadens all the faculties of the soul. These consequences are wages, for every sin has its just recompense and reward paid down surely and punctually when we sin. As wages are paid for each day’s labour, so also for each day’s sin. We have not to wait till the final reckoning, for we receive our reward by instalments, though the final reckoning and end of sin is death.

Contrast this to what St. Paul says about what happens when you serve God:  “but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”  When you serve God, you earn no wages.  In fact, you cannot earn anything.  Instead, God gives you a most wonderful gift:  eternal life.  And God the Father does not simply give you the gift of eternal life, he gives the gift of eternal life “through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

In Holy Baptism, we are raised with Christ from the dead.  Therefore, it is not only that we must choose between life and death, but rather that our new life in Christ means that we have already passed through death in Christ’s Resurrection into life everlasting.

We who have new life in Christ have already participated in death.  Man without Christ will die the death and continue in his separation from God for all eternity.  But those with Christ will die the death now in this life through Christ’s death and live forevermore with God in Christ’s Resurrection!  The old man must die, the sinful self must die, the wages of sin indeed is death, which shows that in the midst of life we die to the old and put on the new.

St. Paul exhorts us:  “for as ye have yielded your members servants to uncleanness and to iniquity unto iniquity; even so now yield your members servants to righteousness unto holiness.”  Now that we live in Christ, we ought to serve Him just as well as we served sin before we were joined into Christ’s death and Resurrection.

After God claims us for his own in Holy Baptism, after we are separated from the wicked world, after we are made holy in Christ, so we must live in the result of that powerful divine action, which is living holy lives.  Our old selves are dead, we are alive in Christ, and now our lives must change.

St. Paul continues:  “But now being made free from sin, and become servants to God, ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life.”

As we are devoted to and focused upon God, the things of sin and confusion float away.  We still live in the same world, but we are altered.  Our course through this world is altered.  Having followed Christ and been Baptized into His death and Resurrection, we no longer have the same friends, go to the same places, speak the same words, and sin as comfortably as we once did.

Now we find a different way.  We follow a way now of life in many different ways.  We affirm were once we killed.  We pass by what once enticed us.  We pay attention where we once fled.  We are different, *therefore* we behave differently, act differently, live our life differently.  People notice that something about us has changed.  We bring into the lives of those around us something of which we have been given:  Life, righteousness, and holiness.

Living in right relation to the Lord God creator and ruler of the universe and to our Lord and Savior, our course through our mortal life, how we live our daily life is altered even as we begin to taste immortal life.

We give thanks to God and respond joyfully to serving him, following him with greater ardor and devotion day by day.  Today we build upon yesterday.  Remember the good things of God yesterday?  We build upon them with greater fervor today.  We reach with hope the greater things we have yet to fully experience.

We are not magically rid of all sin in our lives like we have nothing to do with it.  Instead, because of our freedom from death, our foretaste of the good things of God, and the liberation from shameful lusts and such, we are to strive more earnestly to do good in our lives.  We are a gifted people, and thus we are a thankful people.  We live lives of freedom from sin and death, but we must strive earnestly for our good Lord.  By calling him lord, we thus place ourselves into his service and work together towards his goal.

Where we once easily and lazily accomplished much for sin and selfishness, so now we must pledge ourselves over to doing good works and loving one another in participation with His redeeming loving-kindness.

If you have a gift of hospitality, then invite people warmly and entertain them well, giving them a break from the cares of the world and entering a small communion of happiness and joy showing forth the larger communion.  This is an important gift.

If you have a gift of organizing, then help people accomplish together in the Lord’s Name what they could not do separately.  If you have a gift of work with your hands, then work for the physical welfare of the church and the world.  If you have a gift of intercessory prayer, then pray to our good God for the spiritual welfare of God’s people and those still lost.

Let us each work together as mutual servants of our good Lord and build upon the goodness of yesterday with the good hope of tomorrow.

Let us take His gift of eternal life and strive to serve our Lord Jesus Christ in all we do.

“For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

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

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“Honour all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honour the king.”

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

 

Church and State

We look in our own society and the societies known by history, and we see many institutions such as guilds, labor unions, Elk Clubs, neighborhood groups, clan groups, professional organizations, corporations, colleges and universities, and many more.  But three core institutions have been observable in any age over the last two thousand years or more.  Two are natural:  Family and State.  The third is supernatural:  Church.

Each of these have their own proper spheres into which the others are not to intrude.  Family may not legitimately condone killing, which belongs to the State.  State cannot direct reproduction, which belongs to the family.  Church strengthens, supports, and corrects both family and State without ever performing their functions herself.

Due to the influence of the Catholic Church among the Easterners, Romans, and Anglicans, much of the ancient morality of man has grown.  Holy Church has born witness to the love of God, and slowly abortion, infanticide, slavery, rape, and the inhuman treatment of women have subsided.  In many societies today, none of those things are considered decent, and those who commit such must delude themselves in order to do so.

Unfortunately, family, state, and church sometime slip loose from their proper roles.  We see that Church and State often oppose each other in human experience.  Often, government captures and controls religion.  Rarely, religion captures and controls the government.

One of the reasons Western Civilization grew to become the preeminent civilization in the world is due to the two poles of Church and State in the European Middles Ages.  Individuals had to choose who to obey:  Prince or bishop.  This led to the political development of individual conscience, which was strengthened by the loss of a huge portion of the population in the Black Death.  In England, the serfs were freed.  Over the centuries, the Church of England placed English Bibles in every parish, the Book of Common Prayer was placed in the hands of every parishioner, and Parliament gained power from the king.

Church law, called canon law, rules the churches which we voluntarily attach ourselves to.  The laws of our government do not govern our churches; we govern ourselves, except in odd cases of property disputes, often involving the decaying husk of the Episcopal Church.

Why?  Christ did not accept the expectations of the Zionists around Him who wanted Him to claim the earthly throne of David, overthrow the Roman occupiers, and restore the united Kingdom of Israel in West Asia.  He obeyed the authorities of His day.

St. Paul and St. Peter wrote that Christians must obey the authority of government but give different reasons for doing so.  For St. Peter, in the words of Fr. Shepherd, obedience is “… a means of winning [pagans’] respect and of putting to silence the malicious slanders of the pagan mobs against the Church.” Church and state were quite separate in the early Church.

But with the conversion of Constantine, Emperor of Rome, and the establishment of Christianity as the official religion of the Roman Empire, authority became murkier.  Emperors convened Ecumenical Councils of undoubted catholicity.  Bishops, especially the Bishop of Rome, came to exercise governmental authority.  When the Western Roman Empire collapsed, the authority of the Pope kept anarchy and starvation from devastating Rome.  But this change in the practice of Christianity in Western Civilization led to great disagreement within Christianity.  Over the years, it led to political and then economic freedom.  Eventually, it led to our American republic.

Early colonists in New England opposed the Church of England sending a bishop to America, for they feared the political tyranny which would follow.  Indeed, Anglicans in the American Episcopal Church first received a bishop from the outcast Non-Juroring bishops of Scotland, who were outside of the established Church of England.

As Anglican Catholics today, through the days of King Henry VIII, and as far back as the primitive Catholics of the early Church, having the Church in bed with the government is dangerous.  Unlike the rhetoric of the secularists and atheists of today, it is not dangerous for them.  It is dangerous for the Church.

The Church cannot speak the undiluted Word of God when she has a committee of Parliament or Congress approving new bishops and overseeing her budget.  The Oxford Movement of the 1830s arose from exactly such a conflict when Parliament voted to reduce the number of Irish bishops without the consent of the Church of Ireland.  The Church of England did not get approval for their 1928 Book of Common Prayer because Parliament voted against it.  Could you imagine such a thing today in America?

So we have two reciprocal acknowledgements, one of which St. Peter writes about in today’s Epistle.  First, the government has a responsibility to govern a free people who may freely follow the religion of their choice.  Second, the Church has a responsibility to acknowledge that the State has a proper job to do and Christians should let the State do it, and even sometimes to assist the State in doing it.

First.  The Bill of Rights and the Constitution of these United States guarantee us the right to assemble, to speak, to own property, and to practice our religion freely.  Historically, there have been reasonable and modest limits to these rights.  We cannot own other people.  We cannot assemble in the middle of the street.  We cannot invade someone else’s property and yell at them.  We cannot offer child sacrifice.

Today, the pagan mobs are starting to howl against Holy Church.  Right now, civil discourse and freedom of speech are under attack.  Tomorrow, it might be the right to assemble together or the right to hold property.

As the influence of Christianity wanes and the hostility of the political elites grows in our fair land, we hear from Washington the replacement of talk of the freedom of religion with the freedom of worship.  This is an insidious substitution alien to our republic.  We worship in this building.  But we mostly practice our religion outside of these red doors.  We worship an hour or three a week, but we practice our religion 168 hours a week.

I took a Czechoslovakian girl to the school sock hop our first year in high school.  The Cold War was still on.  Her mother had sneaked her across the Iron Curtain into Austria.  She had never gone to church, for the communist authorities had told her parents that she could either go to church or go to school.  1982 Czechoslovakia apparently had freedom of worship, but it certainly did not have freedom of religion.

Today’s Red China bans the Roman Catholic Church and supports the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association which obeys the Party leaders in Beijing.  “Roman” Catholics can worship there legally, but they cannot follow the heirs of the apostles their Church deems legitimate.  The Communists won’t even allow Papists to be Papists.

As Christians and citizens and as American lovers of political freedom, we must remain vigilant against efforts by the state to constrain the freedom to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ publically even if it is not popular.  We must remain vigilant against efforts by the state to constrain the public practice of our religion in our everyday lives.  We must pray for those in authority, and most of us should exercise our ballot and right to protest to prevent the denigration of the dignity of the Bride of Christ, Holy Mother Church.

Second.  We acknowledge the Christ to be our true Lord and King in a way that the lords and kings of this earth cannot begin to touch.  We will always obey Christ over the demands of the State, even if the State puts us to death.  The Roman Empire allowed Christians to live if they worshipped the Emperor as a god.  But Christians have only one God, and he was most certainly not a man in a toga in Rome.

For most countries at most times, Christians can live in relative harmony with their government.  They cannot live with radical Moslems, Stalin, and Hitler of course, but in most countries at most times.  Why is this?  Because in the words of Christ and the teaching of the Apostles, governments have a proper place in God’s creation.

In today’s Epistle, we read such words from St. Peter.  Hear these words:

“Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake: whether it be to the king, as supreme; or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers, and for the praise of them that do well. For so is the will of God, that with well doing ye may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men: as free, and not using your liberty for a cloke of maliciousness, but as the servants of God.”

St. Peter gives us several reasons and principles for living a Christian life regarding our government.

First, you are to “Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake.”  Accepting the authority of laws simply because they are laws is known as legal positivism.  But as Christians, we absolutely will refuse to obey laws if they are contrary to God’s will.  No Christian acting as a Christian could legitimately have participated in the offering of incense to the Roman emperor or the Nazi slaughter of the Jews.

We obey the government’s laws for the sake of Christ.  Just as we claim our sin is ours alone but our virtue comes from God, so the virtue of the State comes from Christ, and we obey the State only for Christ.

Second, we give obedience “unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers, and for the praise of them that do well.”  The main reason St. Peter gives for obeying the state is because the government punishes the wicked and praises the good.  When the state government locks up a murderer and when the county government gives a medal to a fireman who rescued a child from a burning house, those governments are acting best according to the Gospel.

Third, we give obedience to the authorities so that we may be counted as good by the citizens of the State.  Not everyone in society is a Christian.  In some societies, very few people indeed follow Christ.  But good people are found everywhere.  When Christians obey the laws of the country, then “with well doing ye may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men.”  It is hard to whip up opposition to Christians when they follow the laws, live moral lives, and pay their taxes.  If we are to be mocked and derided, we should suffer it for Christ’s sake, not for the sake of our own immorality.  By obeying the laws of man, we gain respect of those who would hate the Church.

Fourth, we have liberty in Christ.  But you are not to use “your liberty for a cloke of maliciousness, but as the servants of God.”  The freedom we have in Christ is to be used to further the kingdom, to excel each other in righteousness, to do good works, and to love our neighbors as ourselves.  We are not to use our liberty as an excuse to follow our own selfish and immoral proclivities.

For instance, this can be an issue in Moslem countries which ban alcohol.  If faithful Moslems see people become Christians so they can justify drunkeness, then they will not respect Christianity, Christ, or Christians.  We are free so that we may serve our good God without bounds, not so that we may live selfish lives.

 

We should give thanks for the role Christ’s Church has played throughout the last two thousand years in elevating societies in common decency and political freedom.  We should give thanks for this country and her governments in preserving and safeguarding freedom.

We should go home today with two things in particular in mind.  First, we should prayerfully consider how we are to participate in these governments through voluntary support such as military service and voting.  Second, we should obey the laws of our governments to the best of our abilities except when our governments would have us act contrary to God’s will as found in Holy Scripture and the holy tradition of Church.  This latter refusal to participate, or even to rebel against the State, should only be done in strong consideration with the clergy and our church brethren, for such a rebellion might be more an outpouring of our malicious heart and not the witness of Almighty God.  Be careful.  Pray and obey.

 

“Honour all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honour the king.”

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

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“For what glory is it, if, when ye be buffeted for your faults, ye shall take it patiently? but if, when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable with God.”

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

 

St. Luke Church is suffering from an insidious rot that has infected us from out there – the sinful world of men.  This rot is incubated in our own sinful natures, our flesh.  This rot is greatly exacerbated by the accusations of the great foe, Satan.

Part of adolescence is learning to discern between conforming to others from weakness and obeying legitimate and effective mores and rules.  Most of us have acted cruelly to someone who did not fit in at some point in our lives.  Human experience shows that those of us who have felt excluded act particularly nastily in excluding others when we get the chance.  We want revenge.  We want to feed the dragon of self-pity that lies smoking at the bottom of our hearts.

We must never feed this dragon of self-pity, we must never offer justifications for our naughty behavior.  We must always turn to face that which is good, that which is true, and that which is beautiful.  We must always pursue holiness, just as we must always cut off whatever tempts us to sin.  This is repentance.

Spiritually mature Christians must discern between what is the good and loving thing to do and the evil and hateful thing to do.  Sometimes there are tough calls.  Sometimes people of good will can see good reasons on opposing sides.  But most of the time, if we listen to God the Holy Ghost speaking to us through the life of Christ, the Holy Scriptures, and our Mother the Church, then we know what we ought to do.

The rot that spreads through the members of this parish is the sin of gossip, backbiting, and ungracious speaking.  Christ says in St. Mark vii.18-20 that it is not what goes into the man that makes him unclean but rather what comes out of him.  To make sure we understand precisely what He is saying, Christ lists it out for us in verses 21-23:

“For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, Thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness: All these evil things come from within, and defile the man.”

In today’s Epistle, St. Peter writes of how to behave when accused falsely.  Mind you, he is not speaking of how to feel justified when you are confronted with your own bad behavior.  He is speaking of suffering with Christ.  Christ suffered innocently.  When you suffer innocently for the sake of Christ, then you suffer alongside Christ.  This is a great consolation.

St. Peter is not saying that you suffer alongside Christ when you reap the punishment for the sin you have sown.  When you hurt someone else and you are called out on it, your cheeks will burn with shame.  And they ought to burn with shame.  Embrace the pain and let it instruct you so that you never hurt anyone else like that again.

My dear children, the day is coming when we may indeed suffer for the Christian Faith.  Our brothers and sisters around the world suffer so.  We benefit from the protection of a free and civilized nation.  Many of us here have served this nation so that it may protect our families and churches in a free and just society.

But nothing in this sinful world of men is perfect.  Brokenness and alienation from God is found everywhere we look.  We can safely expect that we will not be as free to worship Christ in peace in the future as we are now.  When that day comes, we will join the early Christians in facing persecution for worshipping Christ.  When that day comes, we will suffer alongside Christ.

But when we suffer the penalty for our poor behavior today, we are not suffering alongside Christ.  Sinning against God and hurting our brothers and sisters is exactly the behavior that Christ had to die on the Cross to forgive us of.

Not sinning against, not threatening, and not reviling our God and our neighbors is a non-negotiable part of the Christian faith.  We do not vaunt ourselves over against our neighbors.  This means that the loving-kindness of God is found in holy behaviors and not found in sinful behaviors.  We are not saved by obeying the rules and following the law, but we are damned if we don’t obey and follow the way of our Lord and Savior.

Remember, Christ was innocent.  “There was no guile found in His mouth.”  St. Peter shows that we are to bear suffering like Christ did.  Christ calmly bore wrongs and did not avenge.  John Calvin wrote:  “Christ abstained from every kind of retaliation.  Our minds, therefore, ought to be bridled, lest we should seek to render evil for evil.”

He did not revile or seek vengeance against Judas.  He did not tell the thieves crucified next to Him that they deserved their punishment as He did not deserve His.  Instead, He forgave the penitent thief who had said that his own condemnation was just.  Christ did not call out Judas’ betrayal to the other disciples but let them learn of it when Judas came leading the soldiers of the priests.  Christ loved and obeyed unto death.  This is directly contrary to the way of this world.

And we as Christians follow Christ.  The holier we grow through the Paraclete, the Comforter, the Holy Spirit of God, the less comfortable with the world we will be.

Christ is our judge.  He will judge us and our behavior on the basis of what a just and sinless man would have done – on what He would have done.  This indeed is “what would Jesus do?”  Christ turned the other cheek and walked the extra mile.  Christ extracted no vengeance.  Those of us, who count offenses and desire to avenge them, sin and fall short of the glory of God.  We as brothers and sisters under the pain of eternal separation from God in Hell cannot countenance, cover, participate in, or make excuses for counting offense and seeking vengeance by any in the household of God.

Harken to my words, good people of God:

  • We will neither gossip, backbite, or attack others nor will we tolerate those who do.
  • We will challenge each other, preferably in private, but in public if it necessary.
  • We will challenge each other when our brother or our sister speaks ill of anybody in our hearing.
  • We will no longer recount ill deeds committed by others.
  • We will only tolerate tales of wrong deeds by those who personally confess them.

If I speak ill of someone, please pull me aside and let me know so that I may repent and be saved.  I need God’s grace in my poor and sinful life.  I need it.  I am not sufficient by myself.  I am not okay in my own skin.  My very flesh pulls me away from God and into temptation to sin.  I need help.  I need my bishop.  I need my wife.  I need the faithful people of God.

And so do you.  Not a one of you lives a life in perfect communion with God.  We all feel the loneliness of desolation at times, but we live it every moment.  We are not complete until our hearts rest within Almighty God our Heavenly Father.  We are not consecrated unto God until we have received the Baptism of Christ and Communion of His very Flesh and Blood.

Let us be gentle and walk humbly in loving-kindness with all people.  Let us submit ourselves to each other in that great love so that we, with the grace of God and power of the Holy Ghost, may climb the ladder of perfection up to Heaven.

 

“For what glory is it, if, when ye be buffeted for your faults, ye shall take it patiently? but if, when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable with God.”

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. Receive Holy Communion at least three times a year

3. Keep the fasts of the Church

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

5. Tithe and give alms

6. Obey the Church’s Law of Marriage

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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“THERE was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels, and prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven. And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.”

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

 

Nowadays, many people dismiss angels as merely poetic or symbolic, but not truly real.  People, learned people especially, tend to dismiss Satan as the personification of evil, that is, we pretend he is a person exemplifying evil traits and not a real spiritual person.  These notions come from the folly of naturalism, the Enlightenment and Modern philosophy that only “natural (as opposed to supernatural or spiritual) laws and forces operate in the world.”  This notion sits more firmly in minds of even the faithful than we would like to think.

Therefore, we tend to think very little of angels because they are not popular like they were in medieval and ancient times.  They do not really fit in with our modern ways of thinking.  We believe that if we do not think of them much, it does no damage to our Christian faith.

But this last point is wrong.  Not believing in actual spiritual beings called angels does hurt our faith in Christ.  If we do not believe in angels, we cannot consistently hold that Christ was the spiritual God from Heaven come down and made Man, and that directly contradicts the Holy Scriptures, Creeds, and teaching of Holy Mother Church.  You can explain away angels and thus deny Christ, or you can believe in both.

If we believe in Christ and thus believe in angels, then we may be comforted by the idea of the Heavenly Host doing God’s will and ministering to us.  Hebrews i.14:  “Are they not all ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation?”  That we are aided by supernatural spirits gives us comfort, hope, and courage in our battle against sin.  We join the ranks of Christians throughout all the centuries who took practical help from angels.

Naturalistic philosophy holds that science teaches us about our world.  But science can only examine the material world, although it does that very well.  Many questions of our race remain unanswered by science.  Psychology and medicine explain some of the cases of demon possession and miracles in the Bible, but they cannot explain all of them.  Evil angels cause evil disorders.  What science teaches us is correct so far as it can go.  The natural world and the supernatural world are but different parts of God’s good Creation.

Indeed, our personal experiences bear out the existence of both holy and diabolical angels.  Who here has not been sorely tempted and then found sudden inexplicable relief?  Who here was otherwise doing fine until suddenly tempted or troubled with the most unsettling thoughts?  Some of this may come from habit, diet, and rest, but can all of it be explained so?

The Holy Scriptures mention angels many times, but the angels are never the point of the Holy Scriptures.  Thus, most Biblical references are indirect.  To understand angels in the Bible, we must look at references that are about other things and glean what we can from them.

We know they exist and that they communicate with men.  Angels conveyed messages to Abraham, Jacob, Balaam, Moses, Daniel, St. Mary, the ladies at the Empty Tomb, and the apostles.  We know that they are not flesh and blood from Ephesians vi.12.  We know that angels do not marry from St. Matthew xxii.30.  We know that they are wise from 2 Samuel xiv.20.  We know that they are moral creatures from St. John viii.44.  We know that they will be judged on the Last Day from St. Jude 6.  We know that we share with the angels in the communion of saints from Hebrews xii.22-23

Angels appear throughout the Scriptures, from Satan and the angel in the Garden of Eden in Genesis to St. Michael and Satan in the Revelation of St. John the Divine read today for the Epistle.  But angels especially appear around Christ.

St. Gabriel appeared to Zacharias to announce the birth of St. John Baptist.  The same St. Gabriel appeared unto the Blessed Virgin Mary to announce the birth of our Lord and Savior.  The heavenly host appeared to the shepherds “keeping watch over their flock by night”.  Angels ministered to Christ in the wilderness after His Temptation and announced His Resurrection on Easter morn.  Christ taught that angels minister to His children.  Christ exorcized demons and came to deliver men from the power of the one who had power over body and soul in Hell.

Fr. Hall:  “It has always been generally believed by Christians that multitudes of angels exist; that they are created and personal spirits, possessed of high intellectual power and capable of considerable although limited influence upon nature and upon man; that they belong to various orders, to which diverse functions are distributed; that, originally created good, many of them have fallen away, and under Satan’s leadership oppose themselves to divine purposes and to man’s moral and spiritual welfare; and that the holy angels not only minister to God in heavenly places, but also to the souls of men, defending them against the assaults of Satan and his hosts.”

Other than this common core of belief, Christians from the age of the early Church Fathers until now have supposed many things.  The most accepted of these, Pseudo-Dionysius, whose writings have been very persuasive, lists nine orders of angels he found in Holy Scripture.  The highest of the three sets of three are the thrones, Cherubim, and Seraphim, who minister directly to God in his presence.  The middle of the three sets are the dominions, virtues, and powers, who are, in the words of Fr. Hall, “more or less associated with works of power in nature and warfare.”  The lowest order includes principalities, archangels, and angels, who are often God’s messengers to men.  These orders are included in the Eastern liturgies of St. Basil and St. James and are included in our closing hymn today.

Angels have more powers than men but less than God.  They are personal, moral creatures who possess free will, know more than men, and enjoy the presence of God – the Beatific Vision.  But they do not know the Day of Judgement, and they cannot discern men’s thoughts.  They are not of flesh and blood but seem to have power over men’s bodies.  They are local in presence and motion but can move very swiftly.

Since they do not marry, they do not generate themselves.  They were each created directly by God.  Unlike us, when some of them fell, they did not all fall.  Therefore, Christ did not have to come to save angels.  Christ only came to save man.

Holy Scripture assumes that there are seven archangels, of whom Ss. Michael and Gabriel are named in the primary canon and Ss. Uriel and Raphael are named in the deutero-canonical Scripture, otherwise known as the Apocrypha.  Jewish tradition names the other three.

We know angels protect us and guide us in God’s will.  They seek to help us towards salvation and guard us against the evil angels.  They accompany our prayers to Heaven, witness our tribulations, rejoice over our repentance, come with Christ on the Day of Judgement, and generally do God’s bidding.

Fr. John Henry Blunt wrote:  “It has been a constant tradition of Christianity that angels attend at the ministration of Holy Baptism, and at the celebration of the Holy Communion; and that as Lazarus was the object of their tender care, so in sickness and death they are about the bed of the faithful, and carry their souls to the presence of Christ in Paradise.”

Then, there are evil angels.  God is good, and he created everything good.  But those of us with free will, namely men and angels, have the capacity to rebel against God and goodness.

Our pets and animals, however, cannot willfully choose evil.  They naturally live for the glory of God.  However, we are responsible as stewards with dominion over the earth to take care of them and treat them well.  But these animals of ours cannot choose evil.

But the evil angels do.  They beheld God’s face and wanted to live for themselves anyway.  They were given freedom by God and chose to misuse that good gift.  Evil angels fell before the Fall of Man, for Satan there tempted Eve in the Garden of Eden.  Evil came to men from fallen angels.  Many theologians have sought to explain this, but that is the extent to which Scripture teaches.  We can only speculate how Satan and the evil angels fell and why they tempted man.

Satan has limited dominion over our world and will be consigned to the “lake of fire and brimstone” at the Day of Doom.  Since we are fallen and unstable, we are particularly susceptible to the wiles of Satan and his demons.  They are far older, wiser, and more evil than we are; they are very dangerous.  But in the Sacrament of Holy Baptism, we are washed in the Blood of the Lamb Who Was Slain, and their evil influence upon us is limited.

Unclean spirits cannot alter God’s natural laws but only manipulate them for evil purposes.  Holy Scripture shows this limitation.  When we use mediums and other wicked means to communicate with the dead, setting aside cases of fraud, the poor quality and vanity of that supernatural communication shows the origin of these communications to be from demons.  St. John warns us to test the spirits.  St. Paul tells us that the power to discern spirits is a gift of the Holy Ghost.  Christ said, “by their fruits ye shall know them.”

In St. Matthew, we see that the damnation of Satan and the demons is eternal.  His work to corrupt man had its singular epic success in the fall of man, but subsequently their evil work has expended itself upon sinful men.  The plans of God are not thwarted.  Satan can plot and plan all he likes, but the eternal goodness of God continues on as always, unabated, unaltered.  Those evil plans are often turned into following God’s perfect plan, as goodness and grace and protection pours upon his people through his ministering spirits.  We repent and return to God despite the wiles and viciousness of the Devil.  The holy angels protect and defend us, the Holy Scriptures teach us, the Holy Sacraments empower us, and the Holy Spirit of God lives in us.  The power and hostility of demons are real, but God’s eternity, grace, and loving-kindness are so much more powerful.  We are not pawns in the battle of good and evil.  We are powerful yet flawed men who must decide for ourselves if we shall fight on behalf of our Father in Heaven, His Son Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost alongside the saints and angels, or if we shall fight in rebellion to the Blessed and ever glorious Holy Trinity along with other evil men and the wicked angels.

We have countless fellow-creatures and friends who wish us well, who watch over us day and night, who are always ready to whisper to us a word of encouragement or warning.  They possess heavenly rectitude and wise judgement and ever stand ready as good examples for us.  Satan and his evil angels are out to get us, but our friends the heavenly host do battle and assist us.

The angels in Heaven are above us now, but after the Last Judgement when we enter into the glory that Christ has prepared for us, we shall indeed be higher than the angels.  Angels are not little gods.  They, too, are creatures.  We never worship them.  Only Christ can lead us into Salvation.  They are not our brothers, but they are our fellow creatures who share in God’s love and ministry.  We are never alone.  We always have help.

And let us dare not forget the words of the Mass, which in a short while I shall sing on behalf of all the faithful gathered here together:  “Therefore with angels and archangels, and all the company of heaven, we laud and magnify Thy glorious Name, evermore praising Thee, and saying, Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of Hosts, heaven and earth are full of Thy glory: Glory be to Thee, O Lord most High.”

Believe in the holy angels of God.  Ask for divine help from on high whenever you are in trouble or temptation.  Befriend your guardian angel.  Y’all are in it together.  And as St. Peter warns:  “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour:  Whom resist stedfast in the faith.”

 

St. Michael and All Angels, pray for us.  Amen.

“THERE was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels, and prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven. And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.”

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

 

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

Our external threat: Satan

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

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

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

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

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

Our internal threat: Composure and discipline

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Our Mission: Seeking the Lost

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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