Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘St. Stephen’

“I THANK my God upon every remembrance of you”

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

 

 

“Our Highest Calling”

St. Paul dearly loved the Church at Philippi, and today’s Epistle lesson shows it.  The prayer and rejoicing which shine forth in these verses set the tone for the entire epistle.  Let’s take a closer look at it.

 

 

“I THANK my God upon every remembrance of you “

“I thank” is the same root as Eucharist, actually eucharisto here.  He thanks God for his remembrance of them.  They have supported him in his mission amongst the Gentiles.  St. Paul is grateful for them.

St. Paul loved all of the Philippians and cared for them all, even though he had words of warning for some of them.  He could criticize them, indeed he was obligated by his office as apostle to admonish them, but that in no way diminished his love for them.  God loves us all, regardless of whether or not we deserve his love.  That’s the way that the love of God is – it is never earned, only given – and received.  St. Paul knew this personally, for he had been a persecutor of the Church and was complicit in the martyrdom of St. Stephen.

 

 

“always in every prayer of mine for you all making request with joy,”

Here St. Paul mentions prayer twice, once with the word prayer and also in “making request”.  He writes, “for you all” praying for all of the Philippians, not just the elite or saints, including those who are difficult, the ones he will later chastise.

This prayer for each other builds what they already have between them and is a result of the love they have between them.  The relationship of prayer with those who are joined in Christ is never simple and one-directional.  They are bound in prayer for each other to God as they are bound together in Christ’s love.

“With joy” opens one of the important themes of the epistle.  He prays for them with joy.  In Ephesians, he writes so much of love.  Here in Philippians, he writes wrapped in joy.  He wrote in Galatians v.22, “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy,” and so on.  As John Wesley said, “Joy peculiarly enlivens prayer.”

 

 

“for your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now;”

One reason for St. Paul’s joy is fellowship, or in Greek, koinonia.  In Christian terms, fellowship is more than association.  It is an evocative word, summoning meanings of emotion and practicality.  The Gospel brings all Christians into a relationship of responsibility for each other.

In this particular situation, the Philippians have shared responsibility with St. Paul for his missions.  The Philippians have looked after St. Paul – and he after them – with care, joy, thanksgiving, and prayer.  They have a past together, but they also have a future together.  He was genuinely thankful for the Philippians’ participation in his ministry.  For truly the ministry is neither yours or mine but His – Christ’s.  They shared in His ministry together.

 

 

“being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ:”

God, by his grace, has begun a good work in them which he will bring to perfection.  What God begins, he sees through to the end; the end of God’s work is perfection, or it is not God’s work at all.  The “day of Jesus Christ” is the day of Christ’s Second Coming.  This is when the worship of Him by the entire cosmos in ii.10-11 will manifestly become a reality.  When Christ returns, we will then see

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.

 

 

“even as it is meet for me to think this of you all, because I have you in my heart; inasmuch as both in my bonds, and in the defence and confirmation of the gospel, ye all are partakers of my grace.”

“To think this” is not just the stuff of intellect, but to judge or to hold an opinion; to have an attitude toward something.  To “have you in my heart” speaks to the deep emotional bond St. Paul has with the Philippians.  The heart is not just seat of emotions but center of a person.

St. Paul is explaining to them why he loves them and feels so close to them.  He himself is preparing for trial in Rome, and is probably using evidence and trial terms in this epistle.  They have helped him afford to travel and preach.  They have operated together, if even not in the same place always.  He longs for them, and he prays for them.

 

 

“For God is my record, how greatly I long after you all in the tender mercies of Christ Jesus.”

Like in a trial, St. Paul swears under oath – as God is my record.  He eagerly desires to be with them.  He longs after them and yearns for them.  He uses the words tender mercies for compassion, which means guts.  An old way of saying this is “bowels of mercy”.  And these are not St. Paul’s tender mercies, but Christ’s.  He loves them, but it is not his own tenderness which he has towards them, but the tenderness of Christ Himself.

Remember that we, you and me, are no longer simply our own persons but are united to Christ as members of His Body.  The love we have for one another shares in the love Christ has for each of us.  That is to say, I love you with the love Christ loves you.  That love is much better and more perfect and complete than my own impaired, imperfect, and limited love.  As Christians, we love each other with the infinite love of Christ Himself.  This is the love of God which can work miracles.  This is what we have right here together in this parish.

 

 

“And this I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and in all judgment;”

He begins by writing of “your love”, the loving-kindness which the Philippians have with each other, their mutual love which is the reflection of the love of God.  He prays that this love of God which they have for each other “may abound yet more and more”!  He wishes above all things, so much so that he goes to the Lord in prayer to intercede on their behalf, that the Christian self-sacrificial loving-kindness which they have for one another would continue to increase to maturity.

To this unquenchable fire of divine love he then follows “in knowledge and in all judgment” – this is the fruit of the love.  And why do they need this knowledge and judgment?

 

 

“that ye may approve things that are excellent; that ye may be sincere and without offence till the day of Christ;”

The word “approve” here means to discern or prove.  This is not a nod of the head.  This is a searching understanding for that which is spiritually solid and excellent.  He asks for an increase of love for right judgment so to approve only the best things.  And why?

“That ye may be sincere and without offence till the day of Christ”  Sincere here literally means, “tested by sunlight”, like holding up jars of jelly or glasses of wine.  “Without offence” means “without stumbling”, or without offense, such as in 1 Corinthians x.32:  “Give none offence, neither to the Jews, nor to the Gentiles, nor to the church of God:”  The “day of Christ” is the parousia, which is the Second Coming of Christ.  St. Paul often mentions this as a way to remind the churches to prepare for this day, which of course is a day which we should prepare for as well.

What a wonderful prayer!  We could not ask God for something more wonderful for each other.  Loving-kindness, spiritual knowledge, discernment of excellence, all effective to ensure that they be judged by Christ on the last day to be blameless.

 

 

“being filled with the fruits of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ, unto the glory and praise of God.”

This “being filled with the fruits of righteousness” means completed, brought to maturity, and perfected.  Being morally and spiritually perfected and brought to maturity gives rise to the “fruits of righteousness”.  This term is from the Old Testament.  Righteousness means being right with God.

The reading concludes with “the fruits of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ, unto the glory and praise of God.”  We do not repair our relationship with God through our own effort.  Christ completes us and our relationship with Him.  The fruits of righteousness are by Christ, are from outside of ourselves.  We are the recipients of the fruits of righteousness as we are recipients of the fruits of the orange tree.  The tree makes the fruit, and we receive and eat the fruit.

The righteousness of the Philippians is from Christ, and to Christ St. Paul gives thanks and praise, for he loves them, and he loves Him Who saved them and is perfecting them in love and righteousness.  His love of them brings him to thank God.  His love of these wonderful people brings him to love God even more.

Here is where the unity of the Two Great Commandments which I recited earlier this Mass comes from.  The love of God and the love of neighbor are essentially one movement of love, one gracious outpouring, one cycle building up one, then the other, and then the one again.  The love of God shows us to love our neighbor, and the love of neighbor lets us give thanks for God’s love.

 

 

Because we are members one with another with our fellow Christians, we are to love our neighbors as ourselves even when our neighbors are not Christian, not our friends, and not our family.  We are to enter into personal loving relationships with our neighbors because we are followers of Christ whom He has redeemed and made righteous.  Christ’s calling is the highest calling in the entire world, the whole cosmos.  In the entirety of our lives, there is nothing we can do that is as important as loving the Lord our God with our whole selves and loving our neighbors as ourselves.

 

 

“I THANK my God upon every remembrance of you”

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

 

Read Full Post »

“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.

Read Full Post »