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Posts Tagged ‘Ten Commandments’

In the Collect for Advent, we pray to God, “that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the quick and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal….”

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

 

“Preparing for Heaven”

A wonderful Christmas hymn by Blessed Charles Wesley concludes with this stanza:

Made perfect first in love,
And sanctified by grace,
We shall from earth remove,
And see His glorious face:
His love shall then be fully showed,
And man shall all be lost in God.

We will experience Heaven as being lost in God; solely desiring Him and living with Him; detached entirely from the things of this broken and corrupt world.

Father Paul Raftery said:

Man is made for union with God. The fulfillment of this union comes in heaven. Only there will the human creature, into which God has placed a profound desire for Himself, have the satisfaction of all its hopes and desires. All the limited goods of this world cannot touch the desire for God that He has place within us. Nor can we simply turn off this desire. It is fixed within us, an irrevocable part of our nature.

Heaven is eternal presence of God.  God created all good things.  Only perfect things and imperfect things exist.  We are fooled by imperfect things to not follow God.  Thus we say with Hank Williams, Jr., “If Heaven ain’t a lot like Dixie, I don’t want to go.”  But God eternally satisfies us; he made us this way.  The real attraction of ourselves to a broken thing is in how that imperfect thing shows off God to us.

Today, we are confused why Heaven can be so delightful because we are confused in our attachment to the world.  Our spiritual work as we mature in Christ is to detach from earthly things and see the sweetness of God.  As we walk the Christian Way, we increasingly understand that our true desire is for God.  We will thus eagerly desire to live with Him for all eternity.

So we must lose our attachment to the broken things of God and the lusts thereof (“the world”) which is done by attacking our lusts of those things (“the flesh”).  Thus we must battle our flesh in order to get ready for Heaven.

 

Now we do not battle our flesh by ourselves and thereby gain Heaven.  Not at all.  We are Christians, not Buddhists.  St. John iii.16 reads, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”

Christ our Lord came down from Heaven and was born a little baby on Christmas day over two thousand years ago.  He defeated sin and death by His Crucifixion and Resurrection and prepared a place for us in Heaven in the Ascension.  In our Baptism, we connect to Christ in His death and Resurrection, so we can enter wrapped in Christ into Heaven.  We are part of Christ.  We are made holy through Christ in Holy Baptism, the Holy Eucharist, and the other Sacraments.

About the Holy Communion, Christ says in St. John vi.53:  “Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you.”  So we know from Scripture that we ought to follow the precepts of the Church and communicate regularly.  Indeed, to be a member in good standing, you must eat Christ’s Body and drink His Blood at least three times a year.  This is one of the Six Duties of Churchmen.

Besides Holy Baptism and the Mass, we are brought into Christ through His other Sacraments.  If married, we ought to be married in Holy Church.  We ought to use Confession as required.  We ought to be Confirmed.  We ought to receive Unction if necessary.  We ought to be Ordained if so called.  These are all sure and certain means of grace which help unite us to Christ.

 

Besides the Sacramental means of grace, in order to gain Heaven we must live our lives in this world in keeping with our divine calling.  We are to imitate Christ.  Christ is without blemish and without flaw.  But we are well blemished and deeply flawed.  What are we to do?

Christ tells us in St. Matthew v.48, “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.”  In order to perfectly love and to live without sin, there are three things we must do.

First, we must keep the Ten Commandments and other matters of moral law, including the Church’s Law of Marriage to keep sexual purity.  Thus we try to obey God’s will.

Second, we must repent of our sins when we fall, using the Sacrament of Penance when necessary, and firmly resolve not to commit those sins again, even when we keep falling into the same sins.

Taken together, these first two non-Sacramental actions are also two of the Six Duties of Churchmen:  Keeping a clean conscience and keeping the Church’s Law of Marriage.

But the things of this world are lovely and sweet because they are created by God.  Foolishly, we chase them instead of living holy lives.  So the third thing we ought to do after the Sacraments is to break our attachment to the good things which God has made.  This is called mortification.

Mortifying ourselves means living a life of countless little deaths of our own pleasure and our own will so that we may clear our minds of our inordinate love – that is, our love which is out of order – for this world so we can focus on loving God.

So mortification is essential to living with God in Heaven forever.  While we have time on God’s green Earth, we must demonstrate that we chose God instead of his good things.

There are three ways we may mortify ourselves.  First, we fast.  Second, we give alms.  Third, we offer to God things which are perfectly legitimate for us to use.  Notice again that both fasting and almsgiving are found in the Six Duties of Churchmen.  There is a reason why the Six Duties are the irreducible minimum of the practice of the Christian Faith.

The reason why the Scriptures and Church tell us to fast and give alms is not to lose weight, control diabetes, and help make sure someone else gets the food they need to eat.  Those are good goals, but those are worldly reasons to fast and donate to a good cause.

The spiritual point of fasting and giving alms is to recollect that our bodies and wealth are God’s good gift and belong to him, and that our bodies and wealth should be used to glorify God and not ourselves.  So we fast and we give alms, mortifying our bodies and souls.

Our bodies and wealth are good things, but we curtail them for the glory of God.  It is okay for us to have that cookie and to buy something for ourselves, but by not eating that cookie and giving someone else the money we wanted to spend on ourselves, we thwart or deny our own appetites for God’s sake.  In the Holy Ghost, we tame our passions.  In a tiny way, we join in Christ’s Passion and Crucifixion.

But we can mortify ourselves beyond fasting and almsgiving.  We can willingly offer up to God those things which are perfectly okay for us to enjoy.  I do not mean sinful things which we must give up, but things which we peculiarly enjoy.

An example of this is giving up chocolate for Lent.  We are supposed to fast and give alms during Lent, but we are allowed to do something extra.  Chocolate is a good thing which God has given us.  Some of us like chocolate very much.  For us to willingly offer our temporary abstinence from enjoying the pleasures of chocolate to tame our appetites and show God our thanks is a laudable and praiseworthy task if it is wisely and prudently done.

But giving up chocolate while in the ninth month of pregnancy, immediately after having lost a job or parent, or during a divorce is probably not a good idea.  Mortification has not the urgency which undergoing Holy Baptism and receiving Holy Communion have.

Along with trying to live a righteous life and repenting of sin, putting our wills and appetites to death over and over is a vital and important part of spiritual growth.  Indeed, we cannot really grow in Christ unless we fast, give alms, and deny our wills and appetites on occasion.

 

This week is Embertide in the holy season of Advent, three days of special fasting and abstinence.  Let us fast, give alms, and work at mortifying our will so that we may ably assist the Holy Ghost in breaking the world’s hold upon us so that we may thoroughly thirst for Christ.

 

In the Collect for Advent, we pray to God, “that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the quick and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal….”

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

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“God be merciful to me a sinner.”

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

 

 

“The Sin of Presumption”

 

Christ’s story of the Pharisee and the publican is not a contrast between hypocrisy and humility, but between presumption and humility.  The Pharisee was not a hypocrite.  He genuinely believed what he was saying.  He genuinely lived out the life he professed to live.

However, the Pharisee did presume to know the mind of God.  The Pharisee presumed to judge with the judgement of God.  And he did not know the mind of God.  He wrongly judged what was worthy and what was not.  And so he walked away unjustified, not set right with God.

Presumption is a form of pride.  The Pharisee judged himself compared to his fellow man.  That is not the true measurement of a man.  The true measurement of a man is in the sight of his creator.  The Pharisee’s preening missed the point of what he was attempting to do.  And by being so sure he was doing what he was supposed to do, he thereby dismissed the publican who saw reality correctly; the reality that he was a sinner before a righteous God.  All that a sinner before a righteous God can say is, “God be merciful to me a sinner.”

As Bishop Mortimer says of the magnanimous man who judges rightly:

This is the heart of humility.  He does not exalt himself, neither does he despise his fellows.  He honours God, and he honors his fellows as God’s creatures.  He honours every man truly in proportion as he finds him honourable in the sight of God.  He rightly and properly honours and prefers good men above bad men.  But he is not thereby proud, because he knows that both he and they owe what goodness they possess to God; the evil which they share with evil men is of themselves.

This is one way which the Apostle Paul does not fall into the sin of the Pharisee.  St. Paul does not presume the goodness of God for himself.  Instead he sees himself for who he truly is, and it is not pretty:

For I am the least of the apostles, that am not meet to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am: and his grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain; but I laboured more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.

He does not even claim the great labors for the Gospel of Christ which he has done, for they, understood rightly, are due to “grace of God which was with me.”  His persecution of the Church of God is on him; his abundant labours exceeding all others are due to the God alone.  St. Paul merely cooperated with the grace of God; he did not generate the grace of God.

And thus that is another way which the Apostle Paul does not fall into the sin of presumption.  St. Paul does not sleep in late, eat iced cream, and count on God’s grace.  St. Paul “labored more abundantly than they all:”  For if thinking that your good works are due to you alone and that you can successfully work your salvation before God is wrong, so is thinking that God’s grace is coming to you no matter what you do and that you don’t need to do a thing.  Both count on things which are not true, and things that are not true will do you no good before the dread judgement seat of Christ our Lord on the Day of Doom, the Day of Judgement.

So we must steer a middle course between presuming that we can work out our salvation through our shoddy works alone and presuming that we can sit back and let God work his saving magic on us.  Both ways leave us unjustified.  And we cannot live forever with God if we are not justified.

 

So how do we steer this middle course between the two ways to commit the sin of presumption?  After all, the Pharisee tithed, fasted, and prayed at the Temple and still got left out.  How do we live out our faith and good works in the sight of God here in Christ’s Church?

Like so many times before, we should look at Bishop Mortimer’s Six Duties of Churchmen.  Worshipping, receiving Holy Communion, fasting, tithing, confessing, and remaining chaste are the bare minimum level of acceptable Christian service.  My dear children, no less will do.  Receiving Holy Communion, tithing, and chastity are not optional.  Worshipping every Sunday and Holy Day of Obligation, fasting, and confessing your sins are not optional.

Yet they are not sufficient.  They are the bare minimum of our Christian Duty.  But we do not win Heaven by them alone.  They are not enough by themselves.  For without the grace of God, they are worth nothing.

They are no substitute for faith.  Faith is trusting in that which is unseen.  There is no behavior we can enact that makes us right with God.  God makes us right with him based on our faith, which itself is a gift from God.  Faith is the basis upon which we make our decisions to act in a Christian manner, and faith is the likely outcome of behaving in a Christian manner.  Faith in God and good works go hand in hand.

 

So how did the publican get justified?  He stood afar off, the lowered his eyes, he beat his chest, and he prayed, “God be merciful to me a sinner.”

This is the most needful prayer in Scripture.  It is right up there with the Lord’s Prayer.  In fact, this is probably more important.  Like the Summary of the Law is superior to the Ten Commandments even though it is shorter, this Publican’s Prayer is short and sweet, “God be merciful to me a sinner.”

We trust God when we do our best and tell the Lord that we are spent, we are through; we can do no more.  And we know that what we have done is nothing without him.  Knowing in faith that all our actions are insufficient for our eternal life, we turn to God and say, “God be merciful to me a sinner.”  We say it knowing that it is true, that we have no hope for good, no hope for Heaven, no hope for eternal life except God the Father.

 

Our incomparable Anglican liturgy includes a robust confession of sins in each of the three major services of the Church, Mattins, Mass, and Evensong.  If you focus during this prayer of confession, offer yourself up to it to the best of your ability, and firmly intend to turn away from your sins and do better next time, then this prayer is efficacious, it is effective in obtaining what you desire.

When we attach ourselves to Christ’s offering of Himself up as a living sacrifice to God the Father in the Holy Mass, then we participate in Christ’s death and Resurrection again.  When we eat the Body of Christ and drink His holy Blood in faith, we join ourselves mystically and sacramentally into the guaranteed streams of grace pouring from the side of Christ in Heaven upon us here down on earth.

We do our good works in conjunction with our living faith in Christ, knowing that all that we have is not good enough.  But we know from the Gospels that Christ came to us on His own; we did not have to beg and cajole Him down here.  He saved us on the Cross before we were born.  He loved us first.  We can count on Him.

 

“God be merciful to me a sinner.”

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

 

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“Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

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

 

“Baptism, Death, and Life Everlasting”

In the Easter bulletin, I wrote:

Today is the most glorious day of the entire Christian Year, the Feast of the Resurrection, Easter Day.  Jesus Christ, Son of God yet fully man, defeated the powers of sin, Satan, separation, death, disease, despair, and decay by dying for us and then rising from the dead.

Christ invites us to join Him in His Resurrection.  We who are Baptized die to our “old man” of sin and are given new life – Resurrection life – in Christ.  We are being transformed by God into loving, virtuous, and holy men and women, overcoming all manner of barriers and obstacles as only God can do.

I invite you to follow along with this theme of us joining with Christ in dying to sin and rising to Resurrection life.

In St. John 12.24-25, Christ says:

Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit.  He that loveth his life shall lose it; and he that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal.

In Baptism, we die unto sin so that we may bring forth much fruit.

In II Timothy ii.11-13, St. Paul shows that we are mystically joined with Christ:

It is a faithful saying: For if we be dead with him, we shall also live with him:  If we suffer, we shall also reign with him: if we deny him, he also will deny us:  If we believe not, yet he abideth faithful: he cannot deny himself.

Looking to today’s Epistle, found on page 197 of your Prayer Book, St. Paul writes that the old man is put to death in Baptism, in which we are ‘identified’ with Christ in His Resurrection.  The Christian’s very self is transformed into a creature which can live the life Christ demands of us, the life to which we are called, a life in which sin and death have been put to death..

Let’s look at the Epistle lesson verse by verse.

3 KNOW ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death?  Being Baptized into Christ establishes a bond between the one Baptized and Christ.  The person is now on the record for Christ.

This bond allows the person Baptized and Christ our Lord to share suffering and dying and Resurrection.  Christ does not merely claim the person Baptized.  According to Scripture, Christ shares His death and then Resurrection with the one Baptized.  Christ did not only defeat sin in His death, but Christ has brought the one Baptized into that death and victory over sin.  The one Baptized does not share a metaphor or analogy with Christ; he actually participates in Christ’s death and victory over death.

4 Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.  “Buried with him” actually means in Greek, “co-buried”.  We who are Baptized not only die with Christ, but we rise again with Christ.

Our new life is the Resurrection life of Christ.  We go beyond identifying with Christ’s life in Holy Baptism to actually living Christ’s life.  Christ is more than our Lord; we share His holy and divine life.  That means that we begin to live out Christ’s holy and divine life in our own lives.  We do not say the Summary of the Law or the Ten Commandments at the beginning of the Mass to torture us with something unattainable.  We say them so that we always keep in front of us a reminder of how we are supposed to live.

5 For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection:  St. Paul here uses the image of a branch grafted onto a tree so that they form one living creature.

Likeness here means a mold.  Have you ever had the dentist make a mold of your teeth?  A tray of liquid material is pressed against your teeth until the liquid hardens.  The material is removed, and a reverse form of your teeth has been made.  The mold is made in the likeness of your teeth, perfect in form, but different in material.  So it is that we are joined with Christ in the Sacrament of Baptism to experience His death and defeat of sin, while yet we remain ourselves.  We do not lose our individual identity.  Our self which God created is good.  It is sin which is evil.

Just as we fully share in Christ’s death in Baptism, so too we share in Christ’s Resurrection.  After all, Christ’s death and Resurrection are two sides of the same act of loving-kindness, of sacrificial love.

6 knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin.  The “old man” is our old self.  This self was part of the old order of the world, where sin was in our nature and Satan ruled.  This self was ruled by selfishness and stood condemned before God.  This self was crucified and buried with Christ through Holy Baptism.

This “body of sin” was the self which was oriented towards the things of this sinful world and not the things of God.  This was us shut off against the generosity of the Father, the sacrifice of Christ, and the life of the Holy Ghost.

Because our sinful self was put to death with Christ, the “old man” of sin is dead and rendered powerless.  The part of us that looked to this world for our meaning, to ourselves for our pleasure, and to Satan as our ruler has been put to death, and with that death, the power of sin over us has been broken by Christ on the Cross.  Christ sets us free from sin.

7 For he that is dead is freed from sin. On the Cross, our sinful self died and thus is no longer capable of sinning.  Being dead with Christ, we are free from sin.  Our twisted internal nature bent towards sin has been crucified with Christ.

8 Now if we be dead with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him:  To the world outside, nothing happens at Baptism.  But with the eyes of faith in Christ, new life occurs.    We cannot see this under a microscope, but rather in the kingdom of loving-kindness heralded by Christ in His death and Resurrection.  Even we who are Baptized will not realize the full life in Christ until He returns again in power and great glory.  We know that we can begin living with Him now, but we believe that we shall live with Him fully for all eternity.

9 knowing that Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more; death hath no more dominion over him.  When Christ arose from the grave, He did not simply start drawing breath after three days without.  He broke through the wall of death and entered into Resurrection life.  This is human life in the presence of God the Father.  Those who are revived will eventually die.  Those who are resurrected will never die again.  Christ will never die again, and having defeated death, He now rules over death where once Satan held sway.

10 For in that he died, he died unto sin once: but in that he liveth, he liveth unto God.  The Passion and death of Christ is a unique event in all of the cosmos for all time.  Christ conquered death.  We who are Baptized into Christ’s death and Resurrection are freed from everlasting death.  We who rise with Christ through Baptism enter into a new relationship with God the Father – now we relate to the Father through the Son, onto Whom we are grafted like a branch to a tree.

The final verse:  11 Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord.  St. Paul calls us to increase our faith in Christ so that we may more fully live in Christ through our Baptism.  The faithful Christian cannot consider sin acceptable because God will forgive us.  We have been joined with Christ in both His death and His Resurrection.  Since our “old man” or “body of sin” has been crucified with Christ, we are dead indeed unto sin.  We no longer are reliable sinners.

If we voluntarily allow ourselves to sin, we rupture our relationship with Christ which He bought for us on the Cross and applied to us in this Holy Sacrament of His Body the Church.  If we sin, we break our relationship with Christ, knowing full well what it cost Him to reach us.  We are with Him in a mystical union, and we rip ourselves away from Him when we sin.  Knowing what His sacrifice cost Him, how can we dare to hurt our beloved benefactor and savior?  How can we not only break His heart but rend His Body?

But have hope, you who are Baptized in Christ!  With Him, we have passed from death unto life everlasting!  We are united to Christ, Who is God the Son sent by God the Father to take up our mortal nature so that He might redeem us in His death and Resurrection.  If we hold fast, stay the course, and keep the faith, we too will finish in great unity with God, with never a fear again of death, sickness, and decay.  Alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord, we shall live for Him and in Him forever and ever.  Amen.

 

“Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God 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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“For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory.”

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

 

The Resurrection Life

 

St. John Chrysostom preached:

“Our first man is buried: buried not in earth, but in water; not death-destroyed, but buried by death’s destroyer, not by the law of nature, but by the governing command that is stronger than nature. For what has been done by nature, may perchance be undone; but what has been done by His command, never. Nothing is more blessed than this burial, whereat all are rejoicing, both Angels, and men, and the Lord of Angels. At this burial, no need is there of vestments, nor of coffin, nor of anything else of that kind. Wouldest thou see the symbol of this? I will show thee a pool wherein the one was buried, the other raised; in the Red Sea the Egyptians were sunk beneath it, but the Israelites went up from out of it; in the same act he buries the one, generates the other.”

The Resurrection doesn’t make sense to our natural selves, making better sense when talked about in analogies to Israelites and Egyptians.  What does Christ’s Resurrection mean?

 

Christ is our new Adam.  Death came into the world through Adam.  Romans v.12:  “Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned:”

But eternal life has come into the world through the new Adam, Christ.  I Corinthians xv.45:  “The first man Adam was made a living soul; the last Adam was made a quickening spirit.”  In a sense, God has re-made creation through Christ.

Sin is a shattered state of alienation and decay which entered into God’s good world through Adam’s sin.  Since Adam is our progenitor, this disease came to afflict us all.

But Christ has taken up our nature into Himself.  He is God, but He has taken on human nature.  Through that nature, He died on the Cross.  With His Resurrection from the dead, this new Resurrection life has entered into our nature as well.  Christ’s Resurrection has exalted our human nature, and insomuch as we share in Christ’s Resurrection by mystical joining with Him, so we share in this sacred exalted human nature as well.

Death and new birth are both accomplished together in the same action of Holy Baptism.

Now, we who have joined in Christ through the waters of Holy Baptism are joint-heirs with Him.  We are graciously part of Him.  We share in His Resurrection.  We are living in what we can call a foretaste of that which is to come, after our bodily deaths when our bodies will be resurrected and rejoined with our souls.  Then, we shall suffer no sickness or sin, no decay or death.  But the great effect is after we die on this earth at the general resurrection of the dead, when we are rejoined with new and glorified bodies.

 

Because of Christ’s Resurrection from the dead, we are also participating in heavenly grace and the promise of everlasting life in Christ’s Holy Sacraments, especially Holy Baptism and the Holy Eucharist.

In Holy Baptism, we are regenerated – literally born again – by water and the Holy Ghost.  We die like Egypt and come out like Israel in the Red Sea.  When we are baptized into Christ, our sins are mystically washed away, and we pass from this sinful world into the beginning of the Resurrection Life which Christ has both won and created for us.  All our sins are forgiven us.  We are introduced into the inheritance of everlasting life.  We are grafted into Christ’s Body the Church and are so united with Christ.  We begin receiving the benefits of everlasting life here and now.

In the Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ, we sacramentally and mysteriously yet truly eat the Body and Blood of Christ.  We are united with Christ in this Sacrament.  All the supernatural virtue of the Sacraments comes from being united with Christ.  All this goodness comes from Christ.  Christ is the eternal Son of God Who existed before the Creation of the heavens and the earth.  And yet He is a man from Judea.  He has identified Himself with us, bringing us all manner of goodness which God alone can provide.

Holy Baptism opens us up to the possibility of experiencing other sacraments as well.  I participate in the ministry of Christ in the Sacrament of Holy Order only after having been forgiven my sins and united with Christ’s Body in Holy Baptism.

 

Besides everlasting life and the Sacraments, a third way Christ’s Resurrection affects us is Christian morality.  The natural morality of upright and virtuous pagans is an entirely different matter than Christian righteousness.  The righteousness which flows from Christ is not a propositional ethic.  That is, it cannot be summed up in a set of precepts, statutes, or laws.  The Ten Commandments are different for Christians than they were for Jews and certainly different than they would be for non-believers.

Those who do not claim faith in God see these laws as different rules that can be obeyed and disobeyed.  The usefulness of a commandment of God can be appropriated without belief in God.  You can obey it or disobey it as you see fit.

The Jews differ from Christians in that they find in God’s commandments a way to be faithful and true to God.  They cannot divorce the law from the law-giver.  But Christians differ from the Jews as well.

The closer the Christian becomes with God in Christ, the more the moral laws become guideposts for us instead of harsh laws and static rules.  In loving-kindness with Christ, we shall not murder with our hands or in our hearts, we shall not commit adultery with our bodies or in our eyes.  We grow in the Holy Ghost, being little homes for the Holy Ghost, gaining clear understanding of the horror and pain of sin and death and of the delight and wonder of love and mercy.  We therefore seek to act morally for the sake of God’s glory and in relation with God’s love but not for the human results of acting morally.

Think of Christian righteousness as a matter more like the imitation of a child with his parent than like a subject obeying the laws of his king.  The child imitates his mother or father on the inside of himself; he seeks to grow up to be like his parent.  While the subject might use the language of child and parent, he does not seek to imitate his king.  He seeks to obey him.  This law is external; it comes from outside the self.

As we grow in righteousness, we find ourselves increasingly “in harmony with the eternal plan of God.”  Our souls grow increasingly converted, and we begin to behave in accordance with our good God Who saved us and sanctifies us.  Here, moral growth is tied to spiritual growth.  God listens to our prayers best when we listen to him and when our petitions and intercessions most fully intend “thy will be done”.  So our very lives become more resonant with the things of God and become imbued with self-sacrificial loving-kindness.

So we see that Christ’s Resurrection opens the door to everlasting life for the likes of you and me, participation in the life of Christ in the sacraments, and revolutionizes morality.  In all of these, we are changed.  The Christian lives in Christ.  Our “old man” dies the death, and indeed he must die if we are to live.  We cannot have it both ways.  We cannot hedge our bets.  We are all in or all out.  I invite each of you to ponder Christ in your hearts so that you may fully embrace His Resurrection.

 

“For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory.”

+ In the Name of the Father, and to the Son, and to 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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Bless them which persecute you: bless, and curse not. Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep. Be of the same mind one toward another.

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

 

We are not living up to our potential.  We want to be better Christians.  We want to feel God’s presence in our lives more than we do now.  We want to live holier lives with fewer sins, trusting in God and feeling his comfort more.  But we don’t.  Because to live a more outrageously Christian life, we would have to change.  We would have to alter comfortable habits.  We would have to change our routine.  And here’s the kicker:  We would have to risk losing what we have.

But it is exactly so that we must lose much of what we have.  We have regular sins we habitually commit.  That’s gotta change.  We have a set of friends that don’t challenge us when we misbehave.  That’s gotta change.  We have God in a box, sometimes on the mantle, sometimes on the bookshelf, sometimes on our nightstand.  That’s gotta change.

It hurts to change, but change we must.  We must direct ourselves outward.  Inward is our own self, our own interests, our own safety.  It is a dangerous world out there.  But God is out there too.  We must direct ourselves outward.  The two great commandments are to love the Lord our God with all our heart, with all our soul, and with all our mind.  And we must love our neighbors as ourselves.  Both God and our neighbors are beyond ourselves, out there.  You cannot stare at your belly button and find God.  But you will find God in the faces of the man who is asking for a handout, the man who has sinned against you, and the woman who lives down the block.

The Church does not exist for herself.  The Church is the Bride and Body of Christ.  The Church, by her nature, serves the Lord.  We too serve the Lord.  We do not all serve the Lord in the same way.  Some serve Him loudly, others quietly.  Some pray more than they can give, and others give more than they can pray.  But we are made holy, consecrated, set apart from the sin and brokenness of the world through our Lord Whom we serve.

How we treat people is vitally important.  First, it is one of the two great commandments.  Second, it is the subject of six of the Ten Commandments.  Third, it is what those outside the fellowship of Christ notice first about us.  Fourth, these are the same people for whom Christ came down from Heaven, for whom Christ lived and suffered amongst us, for whom Christ died on the hard wood of the Cross, for whom Christ rose again on the third day, for whom Christ ascended into Heaven, for whom Christ sent the Holy Ghost, and for whom Christ intercedes at the right hand of God the Father.  Those people outside of ourselves, those people outside the household of faith are pretty darn important, you could say!

 

Loving-kindness is the chief of the theological virtues.  It alone remains after faith and hope have passed away.  As Christians, love is our rule, love is our guide.

But love means almost anything in today’s society.  All sorts of selfish and immoral behaviors are conducted in the name of love.  This is one of the reasons I follow the Authorized Version of the Bible in using loving-kindness for the Greek agape, which is the same as the Latin caritas.  Loving-kindness is the self-sacrificial love manifested in Christ which resides in the will and not in the emotions.  We do not feel in loving-kindness; we act in loving-kindness.

And so St. Paul describes the life of the Christian community, the blessed company of all faithful people, the Body of Christ, the Bride of Christ, that life which is lived in loving-kindness.

Let love be without dissimulation. Abhor that which is evil; cleave to that which is good. Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love; in honour preferring one another; not slothful in business; fervent in spirit; serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope; patient in tribulation; continuing instant in prayer; distributing to the necessity of saints; given to hospitality. Bless them which persecute you: bless, and curse not. Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep. Be of the same mind one toward another. Mind not high things, but condescend to men of low estate.

“Let love be without dissimulation.”  This means that we must stop pretending to love each other.  I understand that it is more polite to pretend to care for someone while mentally reserving bad opinions about them, but it is contrary to Scripture.  We cannot be transformed into lovers of God and our fellow man if we walk around pretending to love them.

“Abhor that which is evil; cleave to that which is good.”  This needs no explanation.  Flee from evil and cling to all that is good.

“Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love; in honour preferring one another;”  When we love each other like Christ loves us, we may not all be close social friends.  But we will be brothers and sisters one to another.  You may know the Greek word for this brotherly love:  Philadelphia.  We have an obligation to act in loving-kindness with everyone everywhere, but we have a special obligation to our brothers and sisters in the Church.  Indeed, each of us ought to seek to honor our brother more than ourselves.  If we do not change our lives within the bosom of Christ’s Church, then what are we really doing here?

“not slothful in business; fervent in spirit; serving the Lord;” Without letting our zeal wane, we are to serve the Lord in a determined fashion filled with the Holy Ghost.  What is your vocation?  What is God calling you to do?  Are you fully involved in serving God?  If not, what are you waiting for?  If God called you, then you have a mission from God to fulfill.  Don’t wait until tomorrow, for tomorrow may never come.  Don’t worry about waiting for the right moment, for you may never feel the time to be right.  Get going with God’s business!

“rejoicing in hope; patient in tribulation; continuing instant in prayer;”  How ought we to live?  We not only are to live in hope of Christ’s return and life everlasting, we are to rejoice in that hope.  And yet while we are waiting, we suffer.  We see suffering all around us.  We experience suffering in our bodies, in our minds, in our families, in our friends.  Here, we have a difficult word from St. Paul:  Be patient.  We are not to be lazy, but we should bear our pains, our griefs, and our sorrows.  This is hard, and this is why St. Paul follows this with prayer.

We must continue instant in prayer; that is, we are to pray to God at all times.  We are to pray with our mouths, we are to pray with our bodies, we are to pray with our thoughts, and we are to pray with our actions.  Kneeling before God is prayer.  Contemplating the wonders of Holy Scripture is prayer.  Serving each other in Christ’s Holy Name is prayer.  And of course, following the Mass and praying the Lord’s Prayer is prayer.

“distributing to the necessity of saints; given to hospitality.”  We must look after others.  In particular, we must look after our own people.  The Holy Order of Deacons was created to serve the widows and destitute of the Body of Christ.  We must look after our own.  And we must also look after the stranger.  Our service to those whom we do not know opens a relationship wherein we can live out our Christian lives in front of somebody new.  This and proclamation are the earliest and best ways of evangelism.  More importantly, they show loving-kindness both to brother and stranger alike.

“Bless them which persecute you: bless, and curse not.”  Hurting those that hurt you is directly contrary to the teaching of Christ.  St. Paul writes later, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord.”  The greatest help you can give someone who has lost his way or is mired in sin is to live a holy and virtuous life brimming over with loving-kindness.  Take it from me, the example of my elders and the close reasoning of apologists were not the things that tipped me over into worshipping Christ our Lord.

Instead, it was the meek, humble, honest, decent, and loving co-worker who never returned evil for evil, but instead always returned good for evil.  “Who can live like that?” I said.  Who indeed?  A Christian, a woman filled with the love of God, who knew that God absolutely loves her and gives her the stability and confidence to love those around her, even a sarcastic jerk.  I cannot recall her name, but she changed my life, and her example comes down through the decades to you right here in this church.  We should all be like her.

“Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep.”  When people lose someone close to them, invariably some people say that they don’t know how to talk to them.  This counsel from St. Paul is excellent:  “Weep with them that weep.”  You don’t have to cheer up the sad.  Sometimes, there are most excellent reasons to be sad.  I didn’t need someone to tell me a joke and crack me up when my dog died.  I needed someone to commiserate with me, to share my sufferings, even if only a little.

Likewise, when your brother rejoices, rejoice with him!  When your sister rejoices, don’t put your feelings above hers and grow jealous – rejoice with her!  “So we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another.”  When our brother weeps, open up your heart and weep a little with your brother.  When your sisters rejoices, open up your heart and rejoice with your sister.

We are now come to the end of today’s Epistle Lesson.  This last part is hard for us:  “Be of the same mind one toward another. Mind not high things, but condescend to men of low estate.”

I’ve said before that there is only one thing needed to be welcomed to St. Luke Church:  A soul.  But there are many divisions within our society that have nothing to do with whether we have souls or not or even whether we have faith or not.  We have the high and haughty of this society which look down their noses at those they perceive to be of lower class.  And we have the working and poor folk who look down their noses at those they perceive to be rich and snobby.

These are unholy and unchristian distinctions.  The early Church encompassed all believers.  We do not have eight different parishes spread throughout Augusta, catering to different races, classes, strata, or other such things.  No.  Our primary identifier in this society must be that of Christian, a follower of Christ.  You cannot take anything else with you when you go to Heaven.  All you will have is Christ.  All you need is Christ.

For a long time, I very much sought to live inside my identity as a Georgian and a Southerner.  And I am not ashamed by either label.  But one day, kneeling before the Blessed Sacrament at Benediction, I sang the hymn, “O Saving Victim Opening Wide”.  I regularly did this.  But this one evening, something was different.  As I sang, “O grant us life that shall not end / in our true native land with thee”, I heard it differently than before.  Where is my true native land?  With Thee, with Christ in Heaven above.  Everything else is dross, is consumable, will be burned in the cleansing fire.

And so I followed my call up north to Wisconsin, and from there to Illinois.  For five years I sojourned amongst the Yankees, and found that I was brother to them and they were to me.  For all of us who are in Christ are one.  We are “members one of another”.  We are joined in a way that mysteriously transcends the foolishness of the world.  I know this seems wildly ridiculous, very pie-in-the-sky.  But Christ is real.  God created the world.  If you look around and see the hatred, war, theft, murder, assault, rape, abortion, prostitution, and domestic violence around you, if you look around and see the graft, corruption, manipulation, unbridled greed, and downright lies, you will see the filth that we live in.  We are called out of that.  We are called out to leave that behind.

But if we answer that call, if we turn our backs on the warped selfishness which has enslaved our home and instead turn to Christ, we must change our lives.  We must love one another through thick and thin.  When I served at the Episcopal cathedral in Peoria, one of the men was convicted of a crime.  We all threw him a going away party the night before he went to prison and looked after his family while he was gone.  The bishop drove him to the prison gate.  Now that’s loving your brother.  That’s not kicking a man when he was down.

We must reach out to those who slap our hands away.  And we must do it without self-congratulation and pride.  Humbly, knowing that all lovely things are a gift from God and no doing of our own, humbly we lift our hands up to Heaven and thank the good Lord for his gracious mercies.  And with loving-kindness and gratitude in our hearts for our Lord above, loving the Lord our God with all our hearts, with all our souls, and with all our minds, we turn our gaze to earth and love our neighbors as ourselves.

 

Bless them which persecute you: bless, and curse not. Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep. Be of the same mind one toward another.

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

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“Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift.”

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

 

Our worship is the first and foremost thing that Christ wants us to give to God.  “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment.”  We are to give our good God everything.  We are to give him more than our heart, but our soul and mind as well.  We are to withhold nothing from God.  We are to freely offer ourselves to God.

Our worship of God is our primary and ultimate purpose.  This is why our primary reason for gathering together this morning is not to enjoy fellowship, or to improve ourselves, or to better learn the Scriptures or God’s will for us, or to enjoy music and beautiful liturgy.  All of that is at the very best secondary.  All of that serves the main purpose:  To worship God.  God created us to live and walk with him in the Garden of Eden.  By our ancestors’ sin, we fell from grace and that immediacy of our presence with God.  When people tell you that they can talk to God just fine without the Church, the Body of Christ, or without Christ, the Son of God, or without the Holy Ghost, the Third Person of the Ever Blessed Trinity, or without the Sacraments, the sure and certain means of grace given to us by Christ, then know that such people are spouting nonsense, getting in touch with their inner voice at best and communicating with Satan and his demons at the worst.

God has given us himself in direct supernatural revelation so that we can surely and certainly approach the throne of grace in heaven.  We do this by worshipping God with our all, holding nothing back.  If we give God our heart without also giving him our mind, we are actively disobeying the first great commandment.  As creator of the world and author of our lives, God is all we ever had.  As redeemer and sanctifier of our souls, God is all we can ever have.  God is our all.  God demands our all.

 

Isaac Williams said:  “First take care that the heart be right, for to the heart of the worshipper God looks.”

The purity of heart, the transparency of soul which occurs in worship can be marred and disfigured by grudges and ill-will.  In our grand and incomparable liturgy, we hear the words of the invitation to confession:  “YE who do truly and earnestly repent you of your sins, and are in love and charity with your neighbours, and intend to lead a new life, following the commandments of God, and walking from henceforth in his holy ways….”  We clear our consciences in the confession and receive the assurance of God’s pardon in the absolution.  We must be right with God and man, with Christ our Lord and our most difficult and irritating neighbors, in order to worship the Lord “in the beauty of holiness.”

The mere act of approaching the altar exposes “our selves, our souls and bodies” to the presence of the Almighty God of the universe.  Our finitude, our limitedness, our smallness come to mind as we approach the infinite Deity.  To commune with God necessarily demands that we ourselves have some touch of the purity and loving-kindness that he has.  We cannot make ourselves pure, for that is God’s prerogative and power.  But God commands us to get right with each other, to reconcile to each other.

In the entire history of the Christian Church, the norm has been to approach the altar in worship with no sin.  In the earliest days, the faithful Christian was supposed to remain out of serious sin after his baptism.  As the years progressed, the faithful Christian was supposed to make a private confession with sacramental absolution.  Our Eastern Orthodox brethren still hold to this ancient standard.  Our Roman brethren have reduced this to making a confession once annually.

One of the Duties of Churchmen is to keep a clean conscience.  To confess your sins to a priest in the sacrament of penance at least once a year is too hard a burden to demand for all, but the duty to carefully guard, examine, and prune your conscience as God would have you is the absolute least you can do.  We Anglican Catholics have substituted a cycle of public confessions in the offices and the Mass instead of the requirement of sacramental confession.  Each of us must faithfully prepare for each service by examining our consciences and whole-heartedly confessing our sins in our prayer of confession.

I ritually wash my hands in the sacristy before I even come out to the sanctuary.  I ritually wash my hands again during the offertory before the great Eucharistic prayer begins.  We ought to be clean when we come before the Lord.  While our neighbors might not appreciate it, we do not have to be clean on our outside – I would rather you come to Mass after having mown the grass than have you not come at all – but we must be clean on the inside, clean in our consciences, right with our neighbors, right with God.

 

Hear again what Christ told his students:  “Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift.”  We are to reconcile with our brother if he has something against us!  The duty, the requirement, the necessity if you wish to live forever in Christ is to seek out the one who “has ought against thee” and reconcile with him before approaching the altar with your gift.  This isn’t the soft and cuddly pastel Christ that we like to think about!  This teaching of Christ judges us!  We stand convicted by the words of Christ to his hearers, for we do not obey Christ’s teaching.

St. Gregory the Great said: “Lo, He is not willing to accept sacrifice at the hands of those who are at variance.  Hence then consider how great an evil is strife, which throws away what should be the means of remission of sin.”

If we have ought against our brother, we do not need to seek reconciliation with him.  To do right by our brother who has offended us, we need to forgive him.  We do not need to tell him that we have forgiven him.  We do not need for him to acknowledge that we have forgiven him.  All we need to do is forgive him.  Then we no longer have ought against our brother.

If you and I have mutually offended each other, then I must forgive you for the injury done to me, and I must go to you for reconciliation so that you may forgive me for the injury done to you.  We need not forgive each other at the same time.  I do not even need to let you know that you offended me.  My duty is to forgive and to seek forgiveness.  I have no business judging whether or not you have behaved yourself and forgiven me properly.  No man has the competence to do so, and no man has the authority to do so.

We have an obligation to ask pardon of those whom we have offended.  Furthermore, we have an obligation to pardon those who ask pardon of us.  All this is to be done with an honest and forthright mind, with no dissimulation or dishonesty.  Asking pardon of our sin when we fully intend to sin again is a mockery of asking pardon and is an additional sin added to the first.  To say we are sorry when we actually delight in our action is adding lying upon hurtfulness.  Lying is in league with accusation, and both of these are part of Satan’s realm rather than Christ’s.  Falsely apologizing and falsely forgiving plant us more firmly with cancer, disease, warfare, strife, and death over against loving-kindness, gentleness, good humor, procreation, and life.

 

We cannot count on God’s mercy upon us when we systematically and incautiously deny our mercy upon others.  “Judge not, let ye be judged” is no lie – so as we judge, so will we be judged.  If you constantly rule for yourself in your mortal state, you can count on the Infinite Judge of Righteousness to rule against you in your immortal state.

John Wesley said:  “For neither thy gift nor thy prayer will atone for thy want of love: but this will make them both an abomination before God.”

The gift of loving-kindness is the greatest offering we can bring to worship our God.  Who cares about the perishable riches of this world compared to the imperishable riches of love?  “God is love.”  “The greatest of these is charity.”  Nothing raises us so close to heaven as loving-kindness among those who have died to sin and risen in Christ.  The sacrifice of our self and sinful pride in the service of loving one other is the greatest gift we could offer.

We are prone to excusing our everyday little sins.  We wink at our sins and say to ourselves, “Well, that’s just who I am!”  We manage not to keep track of them and to lose sight of them once committed.  But do we ever keep track of those offenses committed against us by others!  By counting offenses committed against us and forgetting those offenses committed by us, we sin against truth and lie.  But God sees all and knows all.  He sees the sins we commit but forget, and he knows that we absolve ourselves of those sins but condemn others for their offenses.  Furthermore, he knows that we seek not the truth, but our own advantage.

We sin against others, forgive ourselves, hold others’ sins against us, and then lie about it.  We are doubly damned for our every sin, for we are liars as well as offenders.  God is love, and in hating our brother we hate God.  God is truth, and in despising truth we despise God.  We hate and despise God daily and then sweetly present ourselves disheveled without preparation on Sunday mornings and expect to receive God’s blessings for our great service.  Instead we ought to examine our consciences every day, beg our brothers for their forgiveness, meekly forgive the offenses they have committed against us, and quietly prepare to approach the altar of God.

 

Pseudo-Chrysostom said:  “See the mercy of God, that He thinks rather of man’s benefit than of His own honour; He loves concord in the faithful more than offering at His altar; for so long as there are dissensions among the faithful, their gift is not looked upon, their prayer is not heard. For no one can be a true friend at the same time to two who are enemies to each other. In like manner, we do not keep our fealty to God, if we do not love His friends and hate His enemies.”

My dear children, we must get right with God.  “This is a true saying, and worthy of all men to be received, That Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.”  God wants us to be with him.  He gave up His own Son to be born one of us by the Blessed Virgin Mary, to live as one of us in Nazareth, to teach His people among the nation of Israel, to suffer and die upon the hard wood of the Cross so that all men everywhere at all times might be reconciled to Him and through Him to God the Father.  God wants us in a bad way.  You matter to him.  He knew you in your mother’s womb.  He wants you.

For us to have a proper relationship with him is hard because of our sin, our separateness, our brokenness.  And by sin I do not just mean those condemned in the Ten Commandments, although they are a breathtakingly good start.  We must not only not murder our brother, we must also not nurse anger towards our brother.  We must not only not commit adultery, we must also not lust.  We must not only not commit the outward and public sin, but we must also root out of our hearts the inward and private sin which we dare not share with the world.  God knows that we harbor such evil inward thoughts, even when we are not completely aware of them in ourselves.

This is one of the main reasons we ought to confess our sins to our priests – searching our consciences and verbally confessing our sins is so horrible and distasteful that we earnestly despise and hate our sins for being ours.  We wish nothing more than to remove those sins far away from us, and Christ has given authority to his priests to speak that forgiveness to us.  We cannot make ourselves right with God, for God is all powerful and we are too weak and corrupt.  But we can fight manfully against the world, the flesh, and the devil.  “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.”  We cannot win the victory, for Christ has already won the victory.  Christ says, “In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.”

God has given us Christ to make us right with him.  We must trust in Christ, rely on Christ, believe in Christ, rest in Christ.  We must be united with Christ, with His Body and with His Blood.  We are to renounce all the things which lead us away from Christ, those things which stand between us and Christ.  And my good people, the grudges between you and your brother are getting in between you and Christ.  We must turn away from the altar to reconcile with our brother who has ought against us so that we may with purity of purpose “go unto the altar of God, even unto the God of my joy and gladness.”

 

“Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift.”

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

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