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Posts Tagged ‘suffering’

“…ourselves also, which have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body.”

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

 

“Hoping amidst Our Suffering”

“We are marching to Zion” How many of us remember that song from our youth?  Probably most of us who grew up Methodist or Baptist.  We are on the journey of salvation.

We are saved through our faith in Christ.  We were saved when we were born again in Holy Baptism.  We were saved when Christ won the victory over sin and death and Satan on the Cross at Calvary.  We will be saved when Christ judges us on the Last Great Day.  Salvation is both simple in the Person of Christ but complex in what Christ accomplishes and how He is present to us.

The trouble is that we still experience sin, disease, and death in our lives even though we are saved and being saved.  Even though the Holy Ghost dwells within us, we still experience suffering.  The challenge for the Christian is to go on hoping amidst our suffering.

 

In the part of Romans before today’s reading, St. Paul describes the great dichotomy between flesh and spirit, Law and Christ, and death and life.  He then continues by beautifully showing that Christians are the adopted sons of God the Father through his Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ.

His last words before today’s reading are these:

The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God:  And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together.

So we pick up here.

18 I RECKON that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.

Now St. Paul mentions suffering having taught that we are free in Christ and adopted sons of the Father.  Each of us experiences suffering.  There is no point in denying that we suffer.  Suffering is a fact.  You do not have to read the Chronicle to know this; you know this in living your life.

But we are on the journey towards God; the journey of salvation.  If we are saved from sins and are made inheritors of eternal life, then why are things still broken?  Why do we still hurt?

St. Paul’s answer is that while we are on the journey, we have not reached our final destination, which is God.  Today’s sufferings are not even worthy of being compared with the glory which we shall live in later.

19 For the earnest expectation of the creature waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God.

Our Authorized Version uses the word creature where we today normally say creation.  So we might hear this rather as “For the earnest expectation of creation waits for the manifestation of the sons of God.”

John Wesley describes this earnest expectation in other words.  He calls it “a vehement longing”.  Creation vehemently longs for the final manifestation of mankind as the sons of God, which will happen after Judgement Day.

St. John Chrysostom says about this:

“…the Apostle makes a living person of the creature here, and says that it groaneth and travaileth: not that he heard any groan conveyed from the earth and heaven to him, but that he might show the exceeding greatness of the good things to come; and the desire of freedom from the ills which now pervaded them.”

20 For the creature was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of him who hath subjected the same in hope,

For the creature was made subject to vanity.   God cursed the world when Adam as the top of the physical creation fell into sin and incurred the wrath and judgement of God.  Creation itself, which was created perfect by God, became corruptible.  Man’s body became mortal, and creation brought forth thorns and thistles.

We see that creation shares the fate of mankind in Genesis iii.17-19, when God reveals his judgement to Adam:

And unto Adam he said, Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying, Thou shalt not eat of it: cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life; Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field; In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.

21 because the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God.

The creature itself also shall be delivered.  Creation itself shall be delivered and not destroyed.  Creation shall be redeemed along with man per Revelation xxi.1, recalling Isaiah lxv.17:  “And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea.”  As Christ’s Body was not the same after His Resurrection as it was before, but rather it was glorified, so God’s creation will not be the same but restored and made “new”.

22 For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now.

Travaileth literally means to suffer the pains of childbirth, to be delivered of the curse.

Creation is not satisfied to live under the curse.  And neither should we.  We make our little surrenders to the powers and principalities of this world by calling death natural and sin inevitable, when nothing could be further from the truth.

Thus if we are to have hope, so too creation is to have hope.  And creation is burdened by sin but does not act in sin.  We may not look in hope to the Second Coming of our Lord, but all of creation can’t hardly wait until He gets here and frees it finally.  If creation groans and travails in pain waiting for its final deliverance, so we who are endowed with reason as Christ is ought to feel it even more.

23 And not only they, but ourselves also, which have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body.

St. John Chrysostom says about v. 23:

“We have received the first-fruits of the Spirit, or “a taste of the things to come.”  What we have been given is already enough to enthuse us to eagerly await the fulfillment of the promise.  “For if the first-fruits be so great that we are thereby freed even from our sins, and attain to righteousness and sanctification, and that those of that time both drave out devils, and raised the dead by their shadow (Acts v. 15), or garments (ib. xix. 12), consider how great the whole must be.  And if the creation, devoid as it is of mind and reason, and though in ignorance of these things, yet groaneth, much more should we.”

waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body.  St. Paul previously in this chapter has been telling us that we are to be adopted.  This will be entirely fulfilled with our glorified body after the Last Judgement.  Then, as the adopted sons of God and joint-heirs with Christ our Lord, we will live in our glorified bodies in everlasting life and immortality with God the Father.

 

We look outside the precincts of our houses of worship and lament the faithless manner in which the affairs of the world are conducted.  We see the lack of hope and culture of death which ensnares both the young and old alike.  We feel the temptations to find solace in anything other than God the eternal.

But in the face of corruption, we ought to remember other words of St. Paul, well expressed in I Corinthians xv.54:  “So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory.”

Christ has won the victory.  We are living and growing in grace right now, waiting for the Second Coming of our Lord.  We are to rejoice, to give thanks, to sing Glory be to God on High for the forgiveness of our sins by God the Son, for our sanctification in God the Holy Ghost, and for life eternal and adoption as sons by God the Father.

 

“…ourselves also, which have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body.”

+ 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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“Then were the disciples glad when they saw the Lord.”

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

 

Christ brings his disciples three things in this Gospel lesson:  First, He brings His Resurrected and Glorified Body.  Second, He brings peace to his disciples.  Third, He brings them the Holy Ghost and the power to remit and retain sins.

First, Christ shows them His Resurrected and Glorified Body.

In this Gospel lesson, Christ makes his way past the locked doors of the disciples’ room and “came and stood in the midst” of them.  Afterward, He showed them “his hands and his side”.  If we think about this, we should be almost as astonished as the disciples were.  On the one hand, Christ can make it past the locked doors into the midst of the room.  On the other hand, He showed them the Sacred Wounds of His Crucifixion.

We are familiar with the concept of ghosts who can walk through walls.  We are also familiar with showing people our scars.  But the two together do not make sense.  Christ’s Resurrected Body is corporeal in the wounds to His hands and side and yet is also capable of passing through material objects.  This does not fit neatly within the words and categories with which we normally think.

But after all, if the stone in front of the tomb could not hold Christ, neither could the locked door in front of the disciples.  Christ was not simply resuscitated; His Body did not just regain the life it had lost.  Instead, Christ experienced Resurrection, new life where the old had died, and this is exactly the new life which He promises to those of us who follow Him.  We too will have glorified bodies in the general resurrection of the dead.  We too will have bodies like Christ’s Body shown here in St. John’s Gospel.

Second, Christ brings peace to the disciples.

The events of this lesson occur on the evening of Easter Day.  Why were they afraid?  Christ had been killed and laid in the grave.  They had a report that He was now alive again.  They were frightened.  They were confused.  At this time, Christ comes to them through the locked door, stood in the midst of them, and tells them, “Peace be unto you.”  Suddenly, their incredulity at the word of St. Mary Magdalene vanishes, for they have beheld the Son of God risen from the tomb with their very own eyes!  The nail prints and spear wound prove to them Who He is.  He shows them evidence of Who He was to them, and they believe Him.

Remember, these men fled during Christ’s Passion.  They had failed Him by fleeing, now they crave the peace which He brings to them.  They had thought that Christ had failed them by dying, and lo! He appears among them!  His disciples respond with joy to seeing their Risen Lord.  They had heard St. Mary Magdalene’s testimony which now they believe whole-heartedly.  Christ has brought peace to the disciples.

Peace means not having to fear.  They were hiding behind a locked door in fear when Christ brought them peace.  Part of their commissioning is to bring that peace and witness of the presence of Christ from that first day of the week to all believers for years afterward.  They will bring Christ’s forgiveness to all.

Third, Christ gives them the Holy Ghost and the power to remit and retain sins.

“Whosesoever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whosesoever sins ye retain, they are retained.”   The different Gospels give specific instances of how the mission work with which Christ commissions the Apostles is to be carried out.  In St. Matthew, we read “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:  Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you.”   In St. Mark, we read “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.  He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.”   In St. Luke we read, “And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.”  Here in St. John, we find the remitting and retaining of sins.

The Apostles are to continue Christ’s mission, for as the Son has been sent by the Father, so the Apostles are to be sent by the Son.  It is these Christians who show forth the presence of Christ.   Earlier in St. John we read, “Jesus cried and said, He that believeth on me, believeth not on me, but on him that sent me.  And he that seeth me seeth him that sent me.”  Christ breathes on them and gives them the Holy Ghost with the power to remit and retain sins.  Christ commissions them to go out and spread His Good News.

By breathing the Holy Ghost upon the Apostles, Christ has given them eternal life and the ability to confer eternal life upon others.  The power to forgive sins gives these disciples the power to confer to others eternal life.  We find a similar notion in Ezekiel, in the passage of the Valley of Dry Bones:  “Thus saith the Lord GOD unto these bones; Behold, I will cause breath to enter into you, and ye shall live:  And I will lay sinews upon you, and will bring up flesh upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and ye shall live; and ye shall know that I am the LORD.”

St. John is not alone in giving His followers the power to forgive sins and the power to withhold forgiveness of sins.  St. Matthew speaks of binding and loosing “whatever”; St. Matthew relates this in Christ giving the keys to St. Peter.  St. John makes it specifically about sins.  Of course, forgiving and holding sins implies authority over status of communion with the community, restoring members back to its good graces, and excommunicating members.  This authority is used when a priest acts in the Sacrament of Penance.

The Sacrament of Penance does not entirely depend upon this verse, but this verse does inform Holy Mother Church in making Penance a Sacrament which only priests (and bishops) are allowed to enact.  In our Book of Common Prayer, the Ordination Rite reads:  “Receive ye the Holy Ghost … Whose sins thou dost forgive, they are forgiven; and whose sins thou dost retain, they are retained.”  This comes directly from this Twentieth Chapter of St. John’s Gospel.

Christ came into the world to restore men to Himself and to the Father.  This mission and bestowal directly aids this mission.  For them to be sent forth and to remit and retain sins, they must be preaching the Gospel, like it says in the other Gospels.  They must go forth and instruct the people concerning God, they must move the hearts of people concerning God, and they must take their place in the high drama of converting souls.  This is their charge, this is their ability, this is their duty.

The power and purpose of Christ’s Resurrection does not end with that first Easter, nor with all the countless little Easters thereafter.  The presence of Christ, the peace of Christ, and the forgiveness of sins starts at that empty tomb but spirals outward throughout all the world.

 

The Apostles spread the faith of Christ Jesus throughout the world, they suffered humiliations and death bravely, and they passed onto us, two millennia later, the Christian faith.  They had failed Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane, but they did not fail Christ in reaching the corners of the earth.

We can see that the disciples receiving the peace of Christ and receiving the Holy Ghost and the ability to forgive and retain sins is all predicated upon the witness of the disciples beholding our risen Lord with the nail prints in his hands and the spear wound in his side.  Christ is truly bodily risen.  Make no mistake, this is not any literary or allegorical understanding; Christ is risen in His glorified Body, bearing the marks of His victory over sin, death, Hell, and Satan.  Only since His very physical yet glorified Body is risen does Christ breathe the Holy Ghost out upon the disciples.

 

“Then were the disciples glad when they saw the Lord.”

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

 

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