The Feast of the Epiphany (2019)
(Ephesians 3:1-12, St. Matthew 2:1-12)
“When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy. And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down and worshipped him.”
How many of us know the definition of the word “Epiphany”?
Not everyone does.
For example, when I first became an Anglican in 1994, even after being raised Roman Catholic, I didn’t know its meaning.
It took about a month (in a parish named Church of the Epiphany) before I came across the propers in their Prayer Book and learned the meaning.
The heading to the propers read: The Epiphany, or the Manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles.
The word Epiphany means “manifestation,” “realization” or “revelation.”
The feast we celebrate today is the Manifestation of Christ to the Gentile magi, whereby they realized, by revelation, that Jesus is the Christ foretold in Scripture.
Did you know that? As I said, I didn’t.
Knowing the lexical and ecclesial definitions of the word Epiphany is good, but we also need to know its doctrinal definition.
We need to know how to apply the Epiphany to life.
The Gospel lesson tells us the doctrinal meaning of the Epiphany has two parts to it.
The first part of the doctrinal meaning is revelation.
The Gospel teaches that God used two means of revelation to lead the magi to Christ.
He used the prophecies of the Hebrew Scriptures (OT) and the star.
These were God’s appointed instruments to tell the magi The Christ had been born into the world and where they could find Him.
The magi were astrologer-philosophers from Persia who studied the Hebrew Scriptures, which had been brought to their land during Judah’s captivity in Babylon.
The magi believed those prophecies, and so they followed the star with great determination and diligence over a very long distance and across very dangerous territory.
They traveled that great distance in order to see the One they had longed for to see: the Child-King, the Messiah whom the Hebrew prophets proclaimed would come.
The second part of the doctrinal message of the Epiphany is seen in what the magi did once they laid their eyes upon Jesus.
The Gospel lesson tells us upon seeing Him they fell onto their knees and worshipped Him!
Worship is the second doctrinal meaning of the Epiphany.
Though Jesus was not in a palace, but rather in a common home in Bethlehem, it did not matter.
God, through the Scriptures, had revealed to them that Jesus was the One…He was the promised Messiah and King, and the star had led them to Bethlehem…so that is where they worshipped Him!
Revelation and Worship are the doctrinal message of the Epiphany!
God provided the magi the means of revelation necessary for them to find the Messiah. They took hold of those means and put them to use faithfully and completely.
And when they saw the fulfillment of that revelation before their eyes they displayed their belief, they displayed the faith that was in their hearts, by offering their worship to Jesus.
This message of revelation and worship is what the Holy Ghost wants us to inwardly digest about this feast and season.
Epiphany is a time for us to search our hearts and lives to see if we are making full use of the means of revelation and worship God has provided us.
It is a time for us to discern whether we are giving due diligence in knowing, and proper homage in worship to our Incarnate Lord and King.
Since the day of Pentecost, God has provided His people with the means of revelation and worship necessary to learn this important lesson and put it into practice in our lives.
In the Epistle (Ephesians 3:10) St. Paul states God provided those means to the Church, for Salvation is ecclesial, not just individual!
It is to the Church God has given the fullness of His revelation in Sacred Scripture, and by His Spirit given their full and proper interpretation in the Seven Ecumenical Councils and Patristic writers.
It is to the Church God has given the Mass whereby the Spirit leads us to offer proper, Biblical worship, and receive Christ’s Body and Blood.
The mass brings revelation and worship, the two parts of the doctrinal meaning of the Epiphany, together in one place; this place.
In the mass we hear with our ears, and hopefully in our hearts, God’s revelation in the texts of the appointed Lessons, the Creed and (hopefully) the sermon.
In the mass we participate in the supreme act of worship; the only act of worship Jesus has commanded us to do; the Holy Eucharist.
Each part of the mass fulfills the message of the Epiphany for all who, by any effort of faith, will hear, see and assist.
In the mass, God has given His Church the means by which we can actively participate in the meaning of the Epiphany!
My brethren, let us use what God has given us to more deeply learn the meaning of the Epiphany.
Let us learn this meaning of revelation and worship!
And then let us live it!
Not just here during mass but out in the world; a world where many know there is a “God,” but do not know Him through Jesus Christ. Many do not know where Jesus can be found or the proper way to worship Him.
By God’s grace, and through this great Feast and Season of The Epiphany given to the Church (five Sundays this year), we do know these things.
And knowing these things, let us express our thanks and our faith by living and declaring them before the world.
Let us not merely know what the word Epiphany means.
Let us live and show the world its meaning, and where they too can find the One manifested to and worshipped by the magi: Jesus Christ. Amen
Christmas One (2018)
(St. Matthew 1:18-25)
“And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins.”
I just don’t understand it.
How can people, Christians, talk about God without talking about Jesus?!
Talking about “God” or spiritual matters without talking about Jesus is like talking about breathing without talking about the lungs.
Scripture teaches that Jesus is God! He is the Second Person of the Holy Trinity. In St. John 8:58 Jesus used the unspeakable Name of God (Yahweh) for Himself. In St. John 10:30 He said “I and my Father are one.”
If Jesus identifies Himself as God, then there is no way we as Christians can leave Jesus’ name out of any discussion we have about God.
And yet often I hear Christians doing that very thing. They discuss God or spiritual matters without using the Name of Jesus.
Back in the mid-1980’s into the mid-90’s I was a huge Contemporary Christian Music fan. It was pretty much the only music I listened to.
But in the early ‘90’s I noticed a change in the genre. A number of artists stopped using the name of Jesus in their songs. Some even exchanged the word “love” for Jesus. I heard one well known artist justify this by saying “Well, God is love you know…”
Of course that is true. God is love.
But when the Second Person of the Holy Trinity took a rational, human soul and body into His eternal divinity and was made man, His Father gave Him a name. That name is Jesus!
If the Father wanted His Son to be called another name, or be known by one of His attributes, He would have had the angel tell that to Joseph.
But the angel did not tell Joseph to call the Son the Blessed Virgin Mary would bear any name but Jesus!
Joseph was told to call His name Jesus for a very specific reason:“…for he shall save his people from their sins.”
If God the Father, through the angel, told Joseph to name His only-begotten Son Jesus, than we as Christians should use that name.
Especially when He is the one saving us from our sins.
The main reason Christians say they avoid using the name of Jesus in conversations about God or spiritual matters is they don’t want to offend.
But is that the real reason? And even if it is, is it a good reason?
Honestly, I don’t think we are really that afraid of offending people.
We do that easily enough with all sorts of things these days. We just happen to live at a time when many people are easily offended.
But even if that is the reason, in St. Matthew 11:6 Jesus says “And blessed is he, whosoever shall not be offended in me.” So, it’s not a good reason.
I think the real reason is we are timid. Either we lack confidence in Jesus, or more likely, we lack confidence in our relationship with Jesus.
We lack confidence in Jesus because we do not take time to really know Him through the study Scripture and prayer.
We lack confidence in our relationship with Jesus because we do not consistently do the things Jesus teaches in Scripture, and therefore present an unconfident witness.
If either or both of these is true in our life.
If we either lack confidence in Jesus or lack confidence in our relationship with Jesus, then we need to make the effort to know Him better and be more obedient to what He teaches.
When we are confident in Jesus we will not be timid to use His Name.
When we are confident about our relationship with Jesus we will not be timid about using His Name.
When we are confident in Jesus we won’t be concerned about offending people because we have faith in Christ and want them to have it too.
In St. Matthew 10:32-39 Jesus anticipates the kind of societal atmosphere we are just beginning to face here in our country.
Keep in mind previous generations of Christians, including the generation of the Apostles, faced a more hostile atmosphere than we are.
In vss. 32, 33 Jesus says “Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven. But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven.”
We don’t have to say “I do not believe in Jesus” to deny Him.
We also deny Him when we talk about God or spiritual matters but avoid or decide to not say His Name.
And then as this passage goes on, Jesus gets very personal.
In vv. 36, 37 He says “And a man’s foes shall be they of his own household. He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.”
Our families are our most intimate relationships. We’re kind of stuck with them and they’re kind of stuck with us.
If Jesus expects us to talk about Him with our closest relations, even it means we risk losing them, why would He not expect us to talk about Him to those who are outside our family?
Let me be clear, God is not expecting us to be William Wallace as he’s depicted in the movie Braveheart. We are not called to “go and pick a fight!”
But He does expect us to “confess Him” and not be offended by Him; to use His name when we speak about God and spiritual matters.
He expects us to uphold what I think of as the “Acts 4 Standard.”
In Acts 4:2 we are told SS. Peter and John were arrested because they “…preached through Jesus the resurrection from the dead.” They were tried before the Sanhedrin and in v. 18 were “…commanded…not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus.”
In vv. 19, 20 Peter and John answered “Whether it be right in the sight of God to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye. For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard.”
The world, even friends and family, may tell us to not talk about Jesus; to not use His Name. But we must speak the things we have seen and heard.
God expects us to confess the name of Jesus in the public square: to our families, friends, co-workers, or strangers; at least when situations or conversations about God or spiritual matters come up.
They are God-given opportunities to share the hope we have in Jesus!
Our fearlessness may cause others to be less fearful?
Our willingness may turn hearts towards Christ?
My brethren, the Father gave His only-begotten Son a particular name.
That name is Jesus! May we never be offended or timid to use it. Amen.
(Titus 2:11-15, St. Luke 2:1-14)
“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”
Tonight when you get home, or tomorrow depending on your family’s tradition, you will open up gifts; Christmas gifts. But no matter what you may get, God has already given us a better one!
The true gift of Christmas is Christ. The true gift of Christmas is the salvation Christ has brought to the world.
The angel told the shepherds “…behold, I bring you tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.”
St. Paul wrote “The grace of salvation hath appeared to all men…”
That Savior is Jesus! That grace of salvation is Jesus!
Jesus is the true gift of Christmas!
In the past 100 years or so, Christian thought has strayed away from the teachings of the Church Fathers and the consensus fidelium.
In doing so, it has whittled Jesus’ gift of salvation down to a mere individual, almost static declaration of “being saved.” The thought is “if I believe, I am saved.”
But salvation as Scripture teaches it is more than that. Salvation is dynamic. It’s relational. It’s impactful. It is more than just “having faith.”
2 Peter 1:5-9 states we must “…add to… faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; And to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; And to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity. For if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Salvation is more than faith standing alone. Salvation affects all of life. It is life. It transforms our lives. Jesus was born to transform our lives.
Of course we must have faith! But we must add to faith a life of faith. We must add to our faith, the life of Christ. This is the gift.
In St. John 10:10 Jesus says “…I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.” St. John 20:31 states we have been given Scripture “…that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name.”
The gift of Jesus Christ is a relationship by which faith becomes a life of faithfulness. It is a faith relationship which transforms our lives!
In the fourth century, St. Athanasius taught “[Jesus] became what we are so that he might make us what he is.” This is wonderful definition of the gift of salvation.
An even better one is 1 Peter 1:3, 4 “According as [Jesus’] divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness…that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world…”
By the gift of salvation a transformation takes place. We become partakers of the divine nature. We become partakers of Christ. We become Christ-like.
The gift of salvation is the infusion of the divine nature of Jesus Christ into our spirits and lives.
Titus 3:5, 6 states: “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost; Which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour;”
Romans 8:11 adds “But if the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwelleth in you.”
Salvation is a theandric act; a theandric gift. It is the act of God in us.
The gift of salvation transforms us by the Holy Ghost into the image and likeness of Christ. When sustained by the Holy Eucharist, Scripture and prayer the gift of salvation transforms our lives.
So yes, we must have faith. But we also must have the life of faith.
We must remember the gift of salvation is Jesus Christ, given to us freely by the Father to transform our lives for the salvation of our souls.
I wish you all a blessed Christmas! I hope you enjoy the gifts you will find under your tree.
But please remember the great Gift: The gift of Jesus Christ transforming our souls, our minds, our hearts and our lives on this day and always. Amen.
Advent Four (2018)
(Philippians 4:4-7, St. John 1:19-28)
“Be careful for nothing…”
We live in a very anxious world. The daily news headlines are filled with stories of those who act out their anxieties on themselves or others.
Those being diagnosed with anxiety disorders continue to rise. A September 2018 article I read stated 1 in 5 adults in the US is affected, 400 million worldwide.
In today’s Epistle St. Paul exhorts “Be careful for nothing…”
The world “careful” used in the King James means “anxious.”
In this verse St. Paul exhorts us to not be anxious about anything.
This can be easier said than done.
Sometimes the circumstances of life cause us to feel anxious.
Sometimes they create clinical-level anxiety.
I know this, having gone through two episodes of it in my own life.
But St. Paul’s exhortation is not some macho, “grow up will you…” or “just get over it.” charge. No! In the Epistle, he tells us why we should not be anxious…“The Lord is at hand.”
Jesus the Lord is at hand in two ways.
First, Jesus is at hand because, by the Holy Ghost, He dwells with us and within us. At Holy Baptism His Presence came to dwell within us. We are “in Christ,” At Confirmation His Presence is sealed upon us. In the Holy Eucharist His Presence is sustained within us.
Second, He is at hand because He is coming again! Just as assuredly as Jesus came the first time as a babe in Bethlehem, so He will come again a second time to deliver us and bring us to eternal life in heaven.
Because the Lord is at hand within us and is coming again for us, we can say with St. Paul (Romans 8:35-39) “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution…For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Because the Lord is at hand, we truly have no need to be anxious.
But since we are a fallen people, with a fallen human nature, living in a fallen world, we will be subject to it and may succumb to it.
Since this happens we need a powerful weapon to aid us in (hopefully) preventing and overcoming anxiety. And we have it. That weapon is prayer.
Ephesians 6:18 tells us prayer is one of the seven pieces of the whole armor of God. We are to “Pray… always with all supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance…”
In the 19th century the great Tractarian Edward Pusey wrote “Nothing makes prayer bad or good but perseverance and longing…” As long as we have true desire to spend time with God in prayer, and then patiently do spend that time in it, our prayer is good and acceptable to God.
In the Epistle St. Paul states our prayers to combat anxiety need two important components: rejoicing and thanksgiving.
We need to pray with joy-filled hearts.
But let us not get joy confused with happiness!
Happiness is an emotion. It is fleeting. It is up and down.
Joy is spiritual; one of the nine Gifts of the Spirit listed in Galatians 5:22. It is steady, unshakeable even. We can have joy in the midst of very difficult circumstance. Nehemiah 8:10 states “…the joy of the Lord is your strength.”
When we pray with joy we become steadfast and unmovable in our faith, as St. Paul exhorts in 1 Corinthians 15:58, and enabled to combat anxiety.
There are wonderful prayers For Joy and For Trustfulness on page 596 of the Prayer Book.
We must also pray with thanksgiving. And not just when we get what we want!
Each day and throughout each day we should pray prayers of thanksgiving for all we have. We must thank God for our life, our next breath, that we have our wits about us, that we are members of a faithful church, that we have family and friends who love and care about us.
The Epistles states we are to be thankful in everything!
We are even to be thankful for those things that may cause us to feel anxiety, for they draw us closer to Christ.
They allow us to pray with St. Paul our desire to “…know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable to his death.” (Philippians 3:10)
Life is filled with anxious moments. Life can throw us into anxiety.
But by prayers filled with rejoicing and thanksgiving we can combat those moments and events. We can work through and even overcome anxiety.
Often we can prevent it. At all times we can persevere through it.
You may find the prayer For Quiet Confidence on page 595 in the Prayer Book to be helpful. Psalm 91 is another fine prayer for anxious times.
Yes, life is filled with anxious moments and events.
Yet in the midst of it our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ stands with us.
Recently in Morning Prayer we read St. Mark 4:35-41.
In this passage, Jesus and the apostles were in a boat on the Sea of Galilee when a big storm came up. As the apostles panicked, Jesus was “asleep on a pillow.” They cried out to Him “Master, carest thou not that we perish?”
Their cry woke Jesus up, and standing He rebuked the wind and the waves saying “Peace, be still.”
Immediately the wind ceased and “…there was a great calm.”
The seas of the world we live in are rolling around us with waves of anxiety, and we, Jesus’ disciples are often in the boat shaking in our boots.
But Jesus is there with us.
As we are about to lose hope, Jesus stands up, calms the waves and brings us safely to the shore.
In our next anxious moment, in our next anxious life-event, let us remember St. Mark 4:35-41. Let us remember Jesus is with us, in the midst of our anxious storms. He is at hand. He never leaves us nor forsakes us.
And let us pray.
Psalm 107:22-31 is a corresponding prayer to that passage in St. Mark.
Let us pray with rejoicing and thanksgiving. Let us pray for quiet confidence. Let us pray for joy and trustfulness.
As we do, we will assuredly find peace. Peace to persevere through anxiety. Peace to overcome it.
The peace of God which passeth all understanding. Amen.
Advent Three (2018)
(1 Corinthians 4:1-5, St. Matthew 11:2-10)
“O Lord Jesus Christ…Grant that the ministers and stewards of thy mysteries may likewise so prepare and make ready thy way…”
Who are we praying for in this morning’s Collect?
We may think the “ministers and stewards” are limited to the ordained clergy; the bishops, priests and deacons of the Church.
Of course we are praying for them, but we are praying for more than them.
We are also praying for all who are in Christ.
We are also praying for all here this morning.
We know the Church has three parts to it. There is the Church Militant (those on earth), the Church Expectant (those in Paradise) and the Church Triumphant (those experiencing the Beatific Vision).
The ministry has two parts to it also.
There is the ordained ministry of bishops, priests and deacons, and there is the lay ministry; the priesthood of believers. Both are the ministers and stewards of the Faith.
1 Peter 2:5 states “Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ.”
In 1 Peter 2:9 he adds “But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people, that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light:”
Each of you here this morning is a member of this royal, holy priesthood. Each of you is the peculiar (possession of) God. Each you us has been called out of darkness and given the privilege to offer up spiritual sacrifices to God and show forth His praises in Christ Jesus our Lord.
In Isaiah Chapter 6 we are told God gave the prophet the incredible privilege of entering into the throne room of heaven.
In vv. 2-4 the prophet saw the perpetual worship occurring in heaven. He saw the angels and archangels and all the company of heaven crying out “Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord of Hosts…” He saw the Temple shake and be filled with smoke.
Realizing what he was seeing and hearing, Isaiah cried out “Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips…”
One of the angels heard Isaiah’s cry and flew to the altar and took a coal from it. He touched that coal to Isaiah’s lips and said “Lo, this hath touched thy lips; and thine iniquity is taken away, and thy sin purged.”
And then in v. 8 Isaiah hears the voice of the Lord Himself saying “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Isaiah answered “Here am I; send me.”
You may be thinking…”That was great for Isaiah, but he was a prophet.”
“That was great for Isaiah, but he entered the throne room of heaven, his lips were touched and his sins cleansed by a coal taken from the altar.”
If that is what you’re thinking, then please think about this also…
You and I have been touched and cleansed by something maybe just as great as a coal from the altar. You and I have been touched and cleansed by the waters of Holy Baptism!
In Baptism, not just our lips, but our whole body and soul were made clean and all of our sin washed away. Not only that, but we were given a new nature; a Christ-like nature. And not only that, we were then ordained into the royal, holy priesthood of believers and became God’s own possession.
Moreover, Isaiah was only permitted to enter into the throne room of heaven once.
You and I get to enter into it every week; every time we are present for the celebration of mass we enter into the throne room of heaven.
Here the royal, holy priesthood of believers, led by the ordained priesthood (the celebrant of the mass) lift up our hearts to be joined with the angels and archangels and all the company of heaven to cry out “Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of Hosts…”
Here we offer the spiritual sacrifice of ourselves, our souls and bodies as living sacrifices, joining them to the Perfect Sacrifice of Jesus Christ offered up one time on the cross, but made Really Present upon the altar in the Holy Eucharist.
What Isaiah was given the blessed privilege of doing only once in his life, you and I get to do every week, every time we are at mass!
You know the Lord is still asking the question Isaiah heard being asked.
He is still asking “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?”
As members of the royal, holy priesthood of believers we are the ones whom that question is being directed to.
In 1 Peter 2:9 we heard the reason why God has called us into the royal, holy priesthood of believers is to “… shew forth (declare) the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light.”
The rest of 1 Peter instructs us how to do this, 3:15 stating the minimum duty: “But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear:”
At minimum we must be willing to share the hope we have in Christ with those who ask, never being ashamed of Christ and always standing for truth.
In doing so we prepare and make ready the way for the second coming of Jesus, “…by turning the hearts of the disobedient to the wisdom of the just.”
Isaiah did this. Are we doing it? Will we do it?
The spiritual gift given to Isaiah wasn’t greater than the ones given to us.
And as if Holy Baptism and the Holy Eucharist are not enough, we have been given the sacraments of Confirmation and Penance to supplement and strengthen us in our “priestly ordination.”
In Confirmation the hands of a holy bishop were laid upon our heads and we were anointed with sacred Oil of Chrism, consecrating us and sealing us with the seven-fold gifts of the Holy Spirit.
In Penance our souls are washed clean again, as clean as they were when we were baptized. This cleansing allows the grace given in the Holy Eucharist to have the fullest benefit our faith allows.
What will we do with these gifts of grace?
How will we respond to our Lord’s call?
As we pray the Collect each day through this week let us be saying to our Lord “Here am I, send me.”
Let us, as ministers and stewards of the Gospel fulfill our calling and do our part in preparing the way for the second coming of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Advent One (2018)
(Romans 13:8-14, St. Matthew 21:1-13)
“Behold, thy King cometh unto thee, meek, and sitting on an ass…”
In a bygone era, if a powerful king was expanding his kingdom and came to a city he desired to conquer, he would send emissaries to the city to offer them terms of peace.
There were no negotiations. The conquering king imposed the terms.
The people of the city could either submit, or resist and be conquered.
If the city wanted peace and accepted the terms, the king would ride into that city on a donkey. If they did not. If they chose war, the king would send his army to besiege the city, and then ride into it on a war horse, usually a white charger.
During Jesus’ life on earth, He offered the world terms of peace.
He sent His emissaries; first St. John Baptist, then His Apostles.
In St. Mark 1:15 Jesus Himself tells us the terms are: “Repent ye, and believe the Gospel.”
To show us His terms are for peace, He rode into Jerusalem on a donkey.
The terms of peace Jesus offered then are still on the table these two-thousand years later.
At Pentecost St. Peter told the crowd of people from all over the world gathered in Jerusalem: “Repent and be baptized everyone of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of your sins…” He then adds “For the promise (the terms of peace) is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call.”
Since those days, Jesus the Christ has been offering those same terms. They are offered to you, and to me, and to all whom the Lord our God has called.
But they are non-negotiable. We must fully submit to Him and His terms.
He will not accept anything less!
One day all men (every person) will kneel before Jesus and confess He is Lord.
Some will have done so willingly unto everlasting salvation, and some will do so by force unto everlasting damnation.
Philippians 2:9-11 tells us: “God also hath highly exalted [Jesus], and given him a name which is above every name: That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
Romans 10:9 states if we accept Jesus’ terms of peace today, confessing Him as Lord and Savior, we will be saved.
If not, the Day will come when Jesus pulls His peace terms off the table.
St. John describes that day for us in Revelation 19:11-16: “And I saw heaven opened, and behold a white horse; and he that sat upon him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he doth judge and make war. His eyes were as a flame of fire, and on his head were many crowns;… And he was clothed with a vesture dipped in blood: and his name is called The Word of God…And out of his mouth goeth a sharp sword that with it he should smite the nations…And he hath on a vesture and on his thigh a name written KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS.”
One Day Jesus will return on a white charger and make war with all peoples and nations that have refused His terms of peace.
We don’t want to be in that company.
We don’t want our family, loved ones and friends to be in it either.
As those who are accepting Jesus’ peace terms, we long for His return.
We may even wonder “What’s taking you so long Jesus? Don’t you see how bad things are?”
2 Peter 3:9 answers this question for us “The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.”
1 Timothy 2:4 states Jesus “…will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.”
Jesus desires for all to accept His peace terms. As God He knows many will not, but He still offers His terms to all and wants them to accept them willingly, by faith. This is the cause for His seemed delay.
Thankfully, He kept those terms on the table during our life-time and so we must be grateful and pray they continue to be extended to others, even if it means we have to face trials or worse.
In the Gospel Lesson we are told that after Jesus arrived in Jerusalem He went into the Temple and cleansed it.
As He did so He said “My house shall be called a house of prayer.”
All who are “in Christ” are the temple of Christ.
1 Corinthians 3:16 reminds us “Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?”
A temple of Christ is a house of prayer. We are to be houses of prayer.
While we have accepted Jesus’ terms of peace we still need cleansing.
The Church gives us the season of Advent to aid us in that cleansing.
Some areas of our lives may need to be overturned and driven out.
All areas need to have the light of the Gospel shined upon them.
Let us use this season to allow the Holy Ghost to do both.
Whether from St. John Baptist along the Jordan or the Apostles on Pentecost, the terms of peace always begin with one word “Repent.”
This Advent let us be careful to not get too caught up with the world’s early celebration of Christmas. There will be time for that.
This Advent let us be mindful of the coming of our Lord, and prepare ourselves with penance. May we shine as houses of prayer for all men to see.
When Jesus comes the Second time it will not be on a donkey with terms of peace. It will be on a white charger making war. Amen.
Sunday Next Before Advent (2018)
(Jeremiah 23:5-8, St. John 6:5-14)
“Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people…” (From the Collect of the Day)
So let’s see…
We have the Sacrament of Holy Baptism, by which we are infused with a new nature and adopted into God’s family, the Church. We have Confirmation, by which the Holy Ghost is sealed upon us.
We have the Holy Eucharist, by which we feed upon the very Body and Blood and of our Lord Jesus Christ. We have the Sacrament of Penance, by which our souls can be restored to their pristine baptismal state.
We have Holy Unction to bring healing, always to our souls and as the Lord wills to our bodies. We also have two other Sacraments; Holy Matrimony and Holy Orders, if we are called to either or both estates.
What God gives to us in the Sacraments is grace.
What He gives us is His unmerited, underserved favor for the sake of the one, perfect sacrifice of His Son, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Each of the Sacraments are real means of grace. Of their own accord (ex opere operato) they administer, they give, grace to us!
True, we can hinder their effectiveness.
As an analogy, if someone gives us a million dollars we can burn it or use it to line a bird cage. But we have still have been given a million dollars.
The Sacraments work in a similar fashion. We can refuse to act upon grace and just keep sinning. But we still have been given grace.
We are all familiar with Jesus’ parable of the Servants with the Talents recorded for us in St. Matthew 25:14-30.
Verse 14 reads “For the kingdom of heaven is as a man travelling into a far country, who called his own servants, and delivered unto them his goods.”
Jesus is the “traveling man” and we are “his own servants.”
Jesus came to earth as Man. He lived, He taught, He did miracles, He suffered, died and arose. And then he Ascended into the “far country” of heaven, leaving His servants (us) His goods. That is, His grace.
The parable goes on to say that to one servant He gave five measures of grace (called “talents” in the parable). To another servant He gave two measures of grace. To a third He gave one measure.
We note that while each was given a different measure (five or two or one), each was give grace. None of his servants were left out.
The parable goes on to tell us what each of the servants did with the measure of grace they were given.
We are told the servants with the five measures and the two measures “…went and traded with the same…” They took the grace they were given and put it to use in order to make a gain for their master.
In doing this, they took a great risk. What if they lost what they had been given? While this was possible, they knew their Master would prefer they take a risk rather than do nothing with it.
The parable tells us they were correct in doing so! Verse 21 states the Master told those two servants “Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.”
The third servant, the one who was given one measure of grace, took what He had been given and buried it!
In vss. 24 and 25 he tells us why “Lord, I knew thee that thou art an hard man…And I was afraid, and went and hid thy talent in the earth…”
This third servant was afraid to risk what his Master had given him, and so he buried his measure of grace.
True, he didn’t lose what he had been given, but in burying it he did not do what his Master had called him to do.
We are told the result of his inaction in vss. 28-30 “Take therefore the talent from him…And cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
My brethren, you and I have been given the “talents” of grace.
Maybe five measures, maybe two, maybe one. But we have all been given grace.
What type of servant are we?
What are we doing with the grace we’re given?
Philippians 2:12, 13 teaches us what we are to do with it: “Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.”
God has given each of us the gracious gift of salvation. Ephesians 2:8 tells us “For by grace are ye saved…it is the gift of God.”
As “good and faithful servants” of our Master, we are to take the grace God give us in the Sacraments and work it out. We are to work out, what God has worked in. We don’t work for our salvation. We work out our own salvation.
Doing this will take some risk. People will think we are “religious nuts.” Today we may even be called “bigoted” or “haters.” We know we’re not.
Hopefully we are okay with those labels. They called our Lord far worse!
Hopefully we are willing to accept them in exchange for being called “good and faithful” by our Lord Jesus on the Day of Judgment.
Wow! Our holy, Triune God has given us a lot in the gift of grace!
More than we can fathom. More than we deserve.
But then, that is God. He so loves us that He gave His only begotten Son to suffer and die so we can be saved. He so loves us that He sends His Holy Spirit to us, and into us, to lead and guide us to everlasting life.
What are we doing with these gifts, these talents, these measures of grace?
God has given us the choice, free will, to use them or not.
We can take a risk and “invest” grace or “bury” it.
Seven Sacraments. Seven unmerited, immeasurable means of grace.
May our loving, Heavenly Father stir up our wills by His Holy Spirit, so we may use the gift of grace we are given; working it out to the glory of our Lord Jesus and our own salvation. Amen.
Trinity Twenty-Five (2018)
(St. Matthew 24:23-31)
“Behold, I have told you before.”
Eschatology, the study of the end of time, has become one of the more confusing parts of theology within the Church. But it shouldn’t be.
It is true that Jesus left the date of His return “open.”
In St. Matthew 24:36 He says “But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no not the angels of heaven, but my Father only.”
But this, like some other Christian doctrines, should only lend to mystery. It should not create the confusion, and often fear, it does in our day.
History tells us that up until the 19th century there wasn’t much confusion. While there were people who taught what is called pre-millennialism, they were on the fringes.
In the 19th century John Nelson Darby (founder of the Plymouth Brethren) and later Cyrus Schofield (Schofield Bible author) began to teach dispensational theology, with a pre-millennial view of the “last days.”
After the Civil War, their teachings became very popular in America and by the 20th century pre-millennial dispensationlism became the predominant teaching in Baptist churches.
In the late 20th century evangelists Hal Lindsey and Tim LaHaye caused it to become the predominant belief of many others.
This has caused many Christians in our day, especially Evangelicals, to be infected with “rapture fever,” the end of time view that the world will continually get worse until Jesus comes and rescues the faithful.
In a sermon it is difficult to delve into eschatology deeply. That is better left to a Bible study.
But here the fact can be reinforced that what Jesus teaches in today’s Gospel Lesson is not an end of time message.
It was in fact fulfilled with the destruction of the Temple in AD 70 and events that occurred within the life time of the Apostles.
The Lesson ended with St. Matthew 24:31. Had it continued to v. 34 we would hear Jesus say “This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled.”
A generation in Scripture is 40 years. Jesus spoke those words around AD 33. They were fulfilled in the early 70’s AD.
A look back to St. Matthew 24: 1-3 shows this clearly. Those verses read: “And Jesus went out, and departed from the temple: and his disciples came to him for to shew him the buildings of the temple. And Jesus said unto them, See ye not all these things? verily I say unto you, There shall not be left here one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down. And as he sat upon the mount of Olives, the disciples came unto him privately, saying, Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world?”
In verse 3 the Apostles ask Jesus two questions: 1. When shall these things be? (“these things” being the destruction of the Temple). And 2. What shall be the sign of thy coming and the end of the world?
In St. Matthew 24:4-33 Jesus answers the first question only “When shall these things be? Part of that answer (vss. 23-31) is recorded in today’s Gospel Lesson.
In those verses, Jesus is only answering the first question about the events surrounding the destruction of the Temple. He is not answering the second question about the signs of His coming and the end of the world.
He answers that question in St. Matthew 24:36-51.
Verses 29 and 30 often cause the greatest confusion in exegeting this chapter.
Verse 29 begins: “Immediately after the tribulation of those days…”
This tribulation is the tribulation the Jews in Jerusalem faced when Judea rebelled against their Roman overlords from AD 66 through AD 70. It is not some futuristic tribulation yet to come.
During those years the Roman army besieged the city, and ultimately the Emperor Titus literally pulled the Temple down to the ground.
We can read about those tribulations in the historical accounts written by Josephus (who actually lived in Judea during those days) and Eusebius. What they report is horrible, paralleling what Jesus said would occur.
Verse 30 says: “And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.”
To pre-millennial dispensationalists, this passage is speaking of Jesus’ Second Coming at the end of this world. But when read in context with the whole chapter, we see that Jesus is not speaking about that at all!
No doubt this can be difficult to exegete.
Throughout these passages, Jesus presumes His hearers are familiar with the language of the Prophets, and will use it to aid them in understanding what He’s saying.
Remember, the two Epistles to the Thessalonians (which have eschatological passages) and Revelation were not yet written. All the Apostles could use to aid their understanding was the Prophets.
Most modern translations further complicate the matter.
The words they use direct the reader to look for a sign to come at the end of time, instead of recognizing the signs that had occurred within the generation of the Apostles. A generation that has long since passed.
Going through Verse 30 briefly: The “…sign of the Son of man in heaven…” is Christ’s Ascension. The “…tribes of the earth” that mourn are specifically the Twelve Tribes of Israel (Jews) dispersed throughout the world at that time. And “…they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven” is Jesus quoting from Daniel 7:13, 14 which is a description of Jesus being presented before the Father once He had ascended.
Again, we will need a Bible study to go into this further, but suffice it to say here that what we have heard in the Gospel Lesson are events that occurred during the generation of the Apostles.
They are not events that are still to come.
In the Church’s wisdom, this morning’s Gospel Lesson was chosen to inform us, not to confuse us.
She chose it to inform the generations after AD 70 that just as everything Jesus told the Apostles would occur in their generation about the judgment upon Jerusalem did occur, so will everything Scripture says about the judgment at the end of time occur.
The Church chose this passage for the Gospel Lesson to show us that Scripture is absolutely reliable, and therefore we must study it, righty divide it to understand it properly, and then strive to live it faithfully.
Passages like this morning’s Gospel Lesson should not confuse us, they should encourage us!
God’s Word is absolutely reliable!
Everything Jesus told the Apostles would happen in AD 70, did happen! Therefore we can trust everything else He has said to us will happen.
As Jesus says in St. Matthew 24:35 “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away.” Amen.
Trinity Twenty-Four (2018)
(St. Matthew 9:18-25)
“And the woman was made whole from that hour.”
In this morning’s Collect we petition the Father to “…absolve thy people from their offences…” and for us to be “…delivered from those bands of sin…which we have committed.”
The Church prays this collect because overcoming sin is the greatest challenge to living a faith-filled Christian life.
As soon as a Christian becomes aware of God’s grace working within them, they also become all too aware of their sins, so much so that the fight against it becomes the conscious effort of every faithful believer.
Even St. Paul was aware of this fight.
In Romans 7 he speaks about his own ongoing battle against it.
In vs. 22, 23 he states “For I delight in the law of God after the inward man: But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members.”
At Baptism a war begins!
The new nature given to us in Baptism desires to be faithful and obey the Word of God. But at the same time the old nature inherited in our natural birth wants to sin.
This is a “holy war” between remaining faithful or succumbing to sin. For the rest of our lives we have to be ready and willing to fight this battle.
One reason Confirmation is an essential Sacrament is it “confirms” the grace given to us at Baptism. In Confirmation we formally take hold of baptismal grace, profess personal faith in Christ, and in doing so are sealed with the Holy Spirit by the laying on of hands, to fight this very battle.
Sin is analogous to the blood disease the woman in today’s Gospel had.
Because blood runs throughout the whole body, the issue of blood affected every part of hers.
Sin is very similar. It affects our entire human nature: body and soul.
If undetected or left untreated it grows and eats away at the strength and eventually the very life of the soul.
If it is not repented of and healed, sin will permanently separate us from Christ and cost us everlasting life.
In St. Mark’s account of this healing we are told the woman “…had suffered many things of many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and was nothing bettered, but rather grew worse,”
For twelve years this woman had spent all of her money on worldly cures but was not any better! In fact, she had grown worse.
Sin is a spiritual disease!
And because the source of sin is spiritual, its cure is also spiritual.
Are we looking to the world to cure it?
If we’re paying attention, we will see the world’s “cure” is to stop identifying sin as sin! The world calls evil good and good evil
Don’t waste your time with their cures, so called!
Since the disease of sin attacks the soul, the only One to be seen for healing is the Great Physician of the soul, Jesus Christ!
Like the woman in the Gospel we need to strive to reach Him, believing “If I may but touch his garment, I shall be whole.” If we strive to get to Him as she did, we too will be healed.
In St. Luke’s account of this healing we are told as Jesus was on his way to heal the ruler’s daughter, “the people thronged Him.”
The people surrounded Jesus so tightly some were pushing up against Him.
But in the midst of the throng He felt a touch on the hem of His garment. Just a touch.
St. Luke 8:46 states “And Jesus said ‘Somebody hath touched me; for I perceive that virtue (mighty power) is gone out of me’.”
Out of that throng of people, Jesus felt one touch on the hem of his robe!
How? How could Jesus perceive a touch on His robe with so many pushing on Him? St. Matthew 9:21 tells us “Daughter, be of good comfort; thy faith hath made thee whole.” Jesus perceived the faith in that woman.
Her faith, in Him, made her whole.
The obvious question that presents itself at this point is:
“Where can you and I go to touch the hem of the garment of the Great Physician and be healed of my sins?” “
Where is Jesus’ assured presence to be found?”
The answer is here, at mass, in the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist.
In the Eucharist we find forgiveness for sins and medicine for our souls.
St. Ignatius of Antioch called the Eucharist the “medicine of immortality.”
It is the Bread from Heaven that cleanses and strengthens the soul.
Mass attendance is more than the fulfillment of a religious obligation.
It is a real encounter with the Real, Ascended, Living Jesus Christ!
When we come to the altar rail and eat of the Bread which is His Body, and drink of the Cup which is His Blood, we are the closest we can possibly come here on earth to touching the hem of Jesus’ garment.
In the Eucharist we not only touch Him, we feed upon Him!
The contact is not merely with our five bodily senses, it is with the fullness of our new nature, with the fullness of our very regenerate beings, for He comes to dwell in us, and we in Him.
All who are in the state of grace and receive Him with a true, penitent heart and lively faith leave the rail forgiven and purified.
They are strengthened so they can withstand the temptations, trials and tribulations of life that lie ahead in the coming week.
In the Sacrament of the Eucharist we encounter the Great Physician and are made whole.
My brethren, let us be very careful to not underestimate sin and its effects.
Let us thoroughly know and believe God’s definition of sin as it is plainly taught in Scripture.
Let us not try to reason it away. Let us seek forgiveness, not excuses.
Let us not look to the world for “cures.”
Sin is far more deadly than any physical disease, for sin kills the soul.
Sin severs us from eternal life.
We need the serious diagnosis given in Sacred Scripture, and the aggressive treatment the Sacraments provide to effect true healing.
Scripture and the Sacraments are the means the Great Physician has appointed to work His cure.
There is nothing on this earth that heals with the same assurance.
Fortunately each of us has full access to Him and His appointed means.
We preach the Scriptures, and we believe in and administer all Seven Sacraments.
Let us be sure then to avail ourselves to them. Avail ourselves to Him.
Let us enter into His Real Presence to touch the hem of His garment today, here in the Holy Eucharist, and be healed.
As we do, today’s Collect will be answered in our lives.
We will receive forgiveness for our sins, the greatest obstacle to living a faith-filled Christian life and gaining eternal life. Amen.
Trinity Twenty-Three (2018)
“Brethren, be ye followers of me, and mark them which walk so as ye have us for an ensample.”
Back in 2004 I had several opportunities to hang out and talk theology with a group of Missouri Synod Lutheran pastors.
One of them said something I still remember to this day.
He said “All Christians (he meant orthodox Christians) believe the Bible. The question is, by whose interpretation?”
Over the years I have come to see that pastor was right!
Orthodox Christians “believe the Bible.” The question is interpretation; how we understand and live Scripture.
Before going further, it’s important to recognize that how we interpret Scripture is important. It really is! Scripture itself tells us it’s important.
2 Timothy 2:15 states “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. The Greek for “rightly divided” means to “cut straight.”
Believing the Bible is great, but if wrongly divided, if cut crooked, we can be tossed all over the place spiritually and be led into error. A look inside any contemporary Christian book catalogue or store will show this. Ephesians 4:11-14 speaks directly to this point:
“And [Christ] gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ:… That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive;”
The world is filled with deceivers, wolves in shepherd’s clothes.
Therefore, Jesus has given His Church the Apostles (New Testament) and Prophets (Old Testament) [see Ephesians 2:19-22] so that teachers, pastors and evangelists will lead the saints with a steady hand, like a good captain in rough seas, so they become perfected in Christ.
How is that calling fulfilled?
By rightly dividing the Word of truth! By interpreting Scripture properly.
As we learned last week from the survey, this is very important.
There are three prevalent ways Scripture is interpreted in these days.
The first is by ourselves. I’ll call this Solo (s-o-l-o) Scriptura.
Solo Scriptura is practiced by “me and my Bible” Christians.
They believe all of Scripture is clear and therefore can be self-interpreted.
Many extend the line a little further and trust their pastor, who personally interprets Scripture for himself and then teaches it to them.
This is dangerous. It leads to errors. It leads to each doing that which is right in their own eyes.
2 Peter 1:20 states “Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation.”
The word “prophecy’ here is propheteia.
It means “a discourse emanating from divine inspiration and declaring the purposes of God.” This is what Scripture is.
Scripture is God’s inspired discourse with man. It is not to be interpreted privately; not even by teachers, pastors and evangelists.
The second way of interpreting is by using a doctrinal statement.
I’ll call this Sola (s-o-l-a) Scriptura or “Positionalism.”
This way became very prominent after the Reformation in the 16th century where just about every Protestant denomination put together a confession of faith. Some still use them.
Lutherans have The Book of Concord (1580), which contains the confessions and catechisms they use to interpret Scripture.
Calvinists have various confessions, the Helvetic (1536) and Westminster (1646) being the most prominent.
Even the Anabaptists, the predecessors of American Baptists and Evangelicals, at one time used the Schleitheim Confession (1527).
Each of these confessions takes a “position” on how Scripture should be interpreted. Typically it’s rather narrow.
Anglicans almost fell into this error with the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion (1571), which is more of a statement than a confession of faith.
While some of the Articles are sound, their overall ambiguity contributed to the various “parties” that developed within the Anglican Communion, which blew up in the latter part of the 20th century.
The errors of this way are two-fold: they are reactionary and truncated.
They are reactionary in that they overreacted to the errors of the Roman Church (which were, and are real), and often “threw the baby out with the bathwater,” tossing out good doctrine and practice along with bad.
They are truncated in that they lop off portions of the faith and practices the Church handed down through the centuries, and overstate others.
The Faith (Scripture) is a seamless garment. We don’t lop parts off. We don’t tear it into portions.
We receive wholly, believe it wholly and follow it wholly.
The third way to interpret Scripture is the Catholic way.
I’ll call this Prima Scriptura; Scripture first.
This way uses Sacred Tradition to interpret Scripture.
2 Thessalonians 2:15 states “Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle.”
Along with Scripture, the Apostles had an oral Tradition which they taught to the churches they founded and then passed on to their successors, the Fathers of the Church; those bishops, theologians, pastors and evangelists who immediately followed the Apostles.
The Father’s received that Tradition and used it to interpret Scripture. And they passed that Tradition down to their successors, who have passed it down to us, today.
The Catholic way places Scripture first, interpreting every part in its proper sense, and uses the unbroken teaching of the Fathers to interpret what is less clear or disputed.
Sometimes that interpretation is direct; we use the actual words they did. An example of this is the Ecumenical Councils.
Other times that interpretation is indirect; we use the techniques they used to understand Scripture so we can explain its unchanging truths in contemporary terms.
In 1 Corinthians 11:1 St. Paul exhorts “Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ.” In v. 16 of that chapter, after teaching on the role of men and women in the Church he says “But if any man seem to be contentious, we have no such custom, neither the churches of God.” In other words, if anyone disagrees, tell them I teach the same thing in all the churches.
In 1 Thessalonians 1:6 he praises them because “…ye became followers of us, and of the Lord…” And in 2:14 “For ye, brethren, became followers of the churches of God which in Judaea are in Christ Jesus.”
The Corinthians and Thessalonians did not interpret Scripture privately.
They were not reactionary towards it or truncate the teachings and example of the Apostles and the churches they founded.
Rather they received them wholly as Christ commanded; together, seamlessly, Scripture being interpreted by Tradition, the two together like a hand in a glove.
You and I are called to do the same. So is our church. And we do.
Scripture and Tradition, East and West, from AD 90 through today; we follow the Fathers, orthodox bishops, pastors and teachers who have gone before us and our amongst us today.
This is the strength and the beauty of Anglican Catholicism.
We have little fear of being tossed to and fro or deceived.
So that Lutheran pastor’s statement was right.
How we understand Scripture, how we live Scripture, depends on how we interpret it.
We know our answer to this question. We know how we interpret it.
We follow those who followed St. Paul and the other Apostles, who followed Christ.
We follow Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition…
Just as Christ intended His Church to do. Amen.
Christ the King (2018)
(Colossians 1:12-20, St. John 18:33-38)
“Pilate said unto Jesus, ‘Art thou the King of the Jews?’”
Who is Jesus?
This is not as simple a question as it may seem.
In a poll of Evangelical Christians, taken just this year, 78% believe Jesus is the “First and greatest being created by God.”
That answer is heretical; the heresy known as Arianism.
Arius was a 4th century presbyter of the Church at Alexandria, Egypt who taught Jesus was not co-eternal and consubstantial with His Father, but rather a created being with a definite origin in time.
In Arius’ words, “there was [a time] when he (the Son) was not.”
This heresy was corrected by the First Ecumenical Council at Nicea in AD 325. From that council we have been given the Nicene Creed.
The true belief is Jesus is begotten, not created. He is consubstantial (of the same eternal substance) with the Father (and the Holy Ghost).
We profess the Nicene Creed each Sunday to teach us of this truth.
As the Epistle states “…by him [Jesus] were all things created, that are in heaven and that are in earth, visible and invisible…all things were created by him. And he is before all things, and by him all things consist.”
There was never a time when He, when Jesus, was not!
True belief in the Nature and Person of Jesus is essential because it has a direct effect upon His sacrifice for the sins of the world!
If Jesus is not (as we profess in the Nicene Creed) “…of one [of the same] substance with the Father…who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven, And was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary, And was made man…” then His sacrifice on the cross is incomplete!
Only God can save, therefore Jesus must be fully Eternal God, who took a complete human nature (body and soul) into His eternal divinity in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and was made man.
Two complete natures in One Person. Fully Eternal God, Fully man.
Outside of this truth, Jesus cannot be the Saviour!
I realize this is rather technical for a sermon, yet in truth, for Christians, this should be well known. A “no brainer.”
And yet as the poll shows, it’s not.
So then I ask again, “Who is Jesus?”
As Anglican Catholics we know He is God and the Son of God; the “…Word made flesh [who] dwelt among us…” (St. John 1:14).
And as the Word made flesh, Jesus has three offices: He is Prophet, He is Priest, and He is King.
Let us look at each…
Jesus is prophet. But He is so in an exclusive way.
While He made prophetic pronouncements, such as the one’s we recently studied in Sunday school from St. Mark (13:1-23) about the destruction of the Temple and the tribulations that accompany it (all which did happen in AD 70), Jesus is more so the fulfillment of prophecy.
Jesus fulfills all of the Messianic prophecies declared in the Old Testament.
When we read of the child to be conceived of a virgin in Isaiah 7:14, or the King that would come to save Israel in Jeremiah 23:5, 6 we know the Scriptures are speaking of Jesus.
He is the fulfillment of those prophecies.
He has declared things that have, are and will come to pass; and also has, is and will fulfill all that has been declared about the Messiah.
Jesus is Prophet of all prophets.
Jesus is also priest. But not a priest like Aaron or the Levites who ministered in the Tabernacle under the Old Covenant.
He is a priest after the order of Melchisedec; the priest-king of Salem to whom Abraham gave the tithe from the spoils he took when he rescued Lot from the pagan kings of Canaan (Genesis 14:14-20).
Of Jesus’ priesthood Hebrews 7:18 states “Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec.”
Jesus’ priesthood is unique in that He is not only the One who offered a sacrifice (as all priests do) He Himself was the sacrifice He offered!
Hebrews 10:10-12 states “…we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. And every priest (Old Covenant) standeth daily ministering and offering oftentimes the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins: But this man [Jesus], after he had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God;”
Jesus, as both priest and victim; offered the sacrifice of Himself on the altar of the cross. His sacrifice is the propitiation for our sins.
Jesus is Priest of all priests.
Jesus is King. He is the King of all kings and the Lord of all lords.
In the Gospel Lesson He told Pilate “To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world,”
But Jesus, as with His office as prophet and priest, is a unique king.
He also told Pilate “My kingdom is not of this world”
Jesus Kingdom is not an earthly kingdom. At least not at this time. At this time it is a spiritual kingdom. It is the Kingdom of God.
St. Augustine of Hippo wrote “…Christ did not become the King of Israel to exact tribute, or to arm a body of men, or to conquer visible foes; but rather that he might rule souls, and counsel them regarding eternity; and that he might lead to the kingdom of heaven all such as believe in him, hope in him, and love him.”
Today, Jesus’ kingdom is not of this world. It is a spiritual kingdom.
Citizenship into this kingdom is prepared for by repentance and bestowed by baptism through faith.
This citizenship demands detachment from worldly affairs and a hunger and thirst after righteousness. Even more, every citizen is called by their King to take up their own cross and follow Him.
One day, Jesus’ kingdom, the Kingdom of God will be made present in this world. Only those who have been subject to Him in His spiritual kingdom today will be with Him in that eternal kingdom in the Day to come.
Who is Jesus? He is the Second Person of the Eternal Trinity; the Eternal Word made Flesh. He is Prophet. He is Priest.
Above all He is King; the King of the Kingdom of Heaven.
And by baptism and faith you and I have citizenship in His Kingdom.
Are we taking up our cross, whatever form it takes, and following Him?
Our citizenship in His eternal Kingdom in heaven weighs in the balance of our answer, our response, our actions.
Christ is King. And at the Name of Jesus, every knee shall bow and every tongue confess, to the glory of His co-eternal and glorious Father. Amen.
Trinity Twenty-One (2018)
(Ephesians 6:10-20, St. John 4:46-54)
“Grant, we beseech thee, merciful Lord, to thy faithful people pardon and peace, that they may be cleansed from all their sins, and serve thee with a quiet mind;…”
As people we pursue a lot of things.
We pursue a good education. We pursue a good job. We pursue a spouse. We pursue having and raising children. As we work we pursue retirement, and then once we are retired we pursue doing as many of the things possible we couldn’t not do while we were working and raising children.
None of these pursuits in and of themselves are bad. They are not sinful.
God wants His people to pursue good things. He is particularly pleased when those pursuits bring Him glory through His Son, Jesus.
As good as pursuing godly things is there is one pursuit we should have as a priority. That pursuit is true peace.
True peace is peace with God. It is the peace that passes all understanding.
But in order for us to have true peace, we need to know and have experienced in our lives and spirits being pardoned from our sins.
Having peace and being pardoned of sin by God are intrinsically linked.
There is no peace without pardon, and the result of pardon is peace.
If we are pursuing other things in our lives, even good things, but are living with unconfessed sin there is no way we will have peace.
At least not the type of peace today’s Collect petitions God for.
Isaiah 26:3 states “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on thee,..”
When we have unconfessed sin we will not have “perfect peace.” Instead we will “hide” from God. Our minds cannot be stayed on Him when we are hiding. Our prayer life and study time break down, cutting off grace.
Think of a child who knows he or she has disobeyed their parents.
Perhaps they were playing in the house and broke a household item of importance or value.
The child knew they should not have been playing in the house and that their disobedience resulted in the item being broken.
The child will likely hide from his parents. They might stay in their room or away from the house as long as they can. Some “run away” from home.
As children of our Father in heaven, we do the same with sin.
We know we should not have committed it and as a direct result we’ve broken one of His valued commandments or an important precept of His Word. This causes a sense of guilt and a loss of peace.
Initially the guilt and loss of peace are “good.” They are signs we are in the state of grace and the Holy Ghost is working within us and convicting us.
But this sense of guilt and loss of peace must be dealt with. It needs to be cleansed and healed. When it is not it may cause us to hide from God.
We may stay away from His house (from church and mass). We may stop praying. We may “run away” from Him for a period. Maybe worst of all, we may just go on with life as if that sin didn’t happen.
All of these are wrong.
They do nothing to resolve the sin, and actually compound it.
Unresolved sin causes us to lose our sense of peace with God.
It separates us from Him.
Obviously the correct response and action to take when we become aware we have fallen into sin is to seek pardon and cleansing from God for it.
1 John 1:9 tells us “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
God’s forgiveness and cleansing restores our peace.
When we were children and we finally went to our parents and admitted we broke a household item, a large burden, like “the weight of the world” was lifted from us. Even if we were punished for our disobedience.
The same is true when we confess our sins.
Hebrews 12:1 exhorts us to “…lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us,…”
St. James 5:16 exhorts “Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.”
When we confess our sins, we lay aside this weight as we receive pardon for our sins and our peace is restored.
In most cases we can have the weight of sin lifted from us through a sincere confession in our private prayers and in the General Confession during Mass.
In our private prayers we ask the Lord directly for His pardon and absolution. In the Mass the priest, acting as Christ’s representative (persona Christi) pronounces the absolution on His behalf.
But when the sin is a grave matter, or our conscience cannot be calmed in our prayers or at mass, then we should receive the Sacrament of Penance.
By this Sacrament we go to the Father through His priest, receive counsel to calm our conscience, and most importantly are assured of His forgiveness. The final words the priest says to the penitent are “Go in peace, the Lord hath put away all thy sins.”
In 2 Corinthians 2:10 St. Paul writes “…for if I forgave any thing, to whom I forgave it, for your sakes [I forgave it] in the person of Christ:” St. Paul, as an apostle, pronounced absolution in the Name and Person of Christ.
Bishops in valid Apostolic Succession and those priests ordained by them do this same thing.
We do not have the ability to forgive sins, only God has the ability to forgive, but through the charism of ordination given by the laying on of hands we, in the name of and in the person of Christ, have the authority to pronounce absolution to those who are penitent and confess their sins.
When the laity partakes in the ministry of reconciliation consistently, and the clergy rightly and duly administer absolution faithfully, it is a means by which perfect peace can be restored.
The Collect states the purpose for God’s faithful people to seek pardon and peace is so we can serve Him with a quiet mind.
Philippians 2:5 states “Let this mind be in you, which was in Christ Jesus.”
Romans 10:2 states “And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God.”
If our minds are conformed to the world and not to Christ, then we will not be able to serve God with a quiet mind.
The ability to serve God begins with knowing we have been cleansed of our sins by the perfect shed blood of our Lord Jesus on the cross.
With the weight of sin lifted off our shoulders, and peace between ourselves and God flowing through our hearts and minds, we become freed to serve Him and pursue what is godly, as we have been created to do.
May we seek the pardon and peace of our merciful Lord, and use the quiet mind that comes from it to faithfully serve Him unto all good works. Amen.
Trinity Twenty (2018)
(St. Matthew 22:1-14, Ephesians 5:15-21)
“Jesus said, The kingdom of heaven is like unto a certain king, which made a marriage for his son…”
It is such a privilege to be here at mass this morning, isn’t it?
As we heard in the Gospel lesson, not everyone is invited to come.
When the servants of the king went out into the highways to invite wedding guests, the man who came into the banquet hall without a wedding garment on was cast out!
That wedding garment is the righteousness of Christ.
We must be clothed with Christ’s righteousness if we are to dine at the wedding supper of the Lamb.
How are we clothed in Christ’s righteousness? By Holy Baptism and faith.
Galatians 3:27 states “For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ.”
In Baptism we are clothed with the righteousness of Christ, and we must have His righteousness upon us to be able to dine here at His Holy Table.
In our church’s practice we require Confirmation before receiving the Eucharist. I understand the reasons, but think we (G-4) should consider the practices of the Orthodox and Roman churches, both which practice forms of paedocommunion, and adjust accordingly. That’s just my opinion.
Each of us here this morning has been clothed in Christ’s righteousness and has confirmed it with a declaration of personal faith in Confirmation.
This being so, we have a standing invitation from the Father to attend the wedding supper of His Son, our Lord Jesus, at least every Sunday.
What do we do with that invitation?
As we are told in the Gospel lesson, a number of those invited “made light of it.” They ignored the gracious invitation they had been given and went about their own business. They thought their invitation was “No big deal…”
Many today think this same way.
I think this is primarily because, consciously or subconsciously, they think “It’s just common bread and a common cup.” It’s a mere memorial, or a mere “spiritual” (meaning non-real) presence. Jesus isn’t “Really Present.”
This is unbiblical!
Jesus, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, the One who spoke the world into being, the Word made flesh who dwelt among us, spoke the words “This is my Body…This is my Blood.”
Did His words not effect what they declared? Of course they did!
In St. John 6:55 Jesus says “For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed.”
The Body and Blood of Jesus become Really Present, in a way not explained by God in Sacred Scripture and best left alone by us, when the very words Jesus spoke are said by a bishop or priest over the bread and wine set apart by His command.
And you and I are invited to dine with Him, to dine upon Him; His Body, His Blood made Really Present, each time a mass is celebrated.
What do we think about God’s invitation? How important is it to us?
Do we “make light of it?” Do we think “No big deal?”
Do we think, “There will be another mass next Sunday, it can wait, I’ll go then. This Sunday I’ve got fill in the blank to do, and right now it’s more important.”
Now of course there are times when we truly cannot get to mass.
We may be sick. We may become a shut in. We may have to work. We may be out of town and there isn’t a proper parish nearby.
There can be other circumstances too when we are prevented from being at mass. God understands this.
It’s those “other times”, those “other reasons” that can be a problem.
A number of years ago I heard a talk given by a Roman priest where he recalled a conversation he had with a Presbyterian minister.
The minister said, “Reverend (he would not call the priest father), if I believed what you do about the Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, I’d be flat on my face before it and you’d have to pull me away!”
That minister recognized something that many of us do not. And we actually do believe Jesus is Really Present in the Eucharist!
What he said is a bit extreme. Jesus doesn’t expect us to stay here. In fact He told us to “Go, into all the world…”
But He does expect us to accept His invitation. As the Gospel shows, He doesn’t just overlook reasons that make light of His invitation.
He expects us to understand the privilege we have, and be here.
“…many are called, but few are chosen.” These are very pointed words.
Some find them harsh, but they are not! They are honest truth.
The Father calls many to the marriage feast. How many? All who have been baptized. That’s a lot of people!
And yet while many are called, few are chosen.
The Father respects the gift of free will He has given to each of us.
Each of us has the choice, the real choice, to accept His gracious invitation or refuse it. And a lot of people do refuse it.
Some choose to not come to the marriage feast. Some go even further and choose to reject the grace of Holy Baptism they have been blessed with.
Let us be among the chosen few! Let us both accept the grace of Baptism we have been blessed with and the invitation we have to the marriage feast.
Ephesians 1:3,4 states “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ: According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love:”
Brethren, let us live as those who have been chosen in Christ!
Today’s Epistle teaches us how to do so.
Ephesians 5:15, 17 states “See then that ye walk circumspectly (exactly, accurately, diligently), not as fools, but as wise… Wherefore be ye not unwise, but understanding what the will of the Lord is.”
The Lord’s will is for us to accept the invitation He gives us to the marriage supper. The Lord’s will for us is, unless really prevented, to be here at mass!
Let us not be unwise. Let us not make light of the invitation. Let us not refuse it.
It really is a privilege to be here at mass this morning.
Hopefully we see this more now than we did when we walked into the nave
Our Father in heaven has called and chosen us. Our Lord Jesus is Really Present. Our bodies and souls are fed with the Bread of heaven.
How could we refuse so wonderful an invitation? Amen.
Trinity Nineteen (2018)
(St. Matthew 9:1-8)
“Jesus entered into a ship, and passed over, and came into his own city.”
I believe we all know that the chapter breaks and verse numbering in our Bibles are not in the original texts. They’re great to have, but not inspired.
Schemes for ordering the content of Scripture did not begin to be used until the fifth century, and the chapter and verse scheme used by all current Bibles was not constructed until the 16th century.
The point I’m trying to make is this. As we read Scripture we need to be aware that where one chapter or verse ends is not necessarily the best place.
Now, I’m not saying we should reorder the chapters and verses. What I am saying is we need to be mindful of this and not cut our thoughts off from one chapter to another or one verse to another, based on it alone.
A good example of this is today’s Gospel Lesson.
St. Matthew 9:1 says “Jesus entered into a ship and passed over…” This naturally engenders the question “Where did He enter the ship?”
St. Matthew 8:28 tells us. “And when he was come over to the other side into the country of the Gergesenes…” We may know this area better as the land of the Gadarenes. That is how St. Mark and St. Luke identify it.
Jesus had entered the ship in Gadara, which is located on the south-eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee. From there He sailed to Capernaum on the northern shore. Jesus had adopted Capernaum as His home city.
I’m making this distinction because the city of Gadara and the city of Capernaum received Jesus quite differently.
As the Lesson reports, the people of Capernaum received Jesus joyfully and they glorified God for the healing of the man sick of the palsy.
The situation in Gadara was much different.
When Jesus arrived there St. Matthew tells us He was met by two men who were possessed with demons. Those demons confronted Jesus saying “…what have we to do with thee…?”
Off in the distance, Jesus saw a herd of swine feeding along the coast and commanded the demons in those two men to leave and enter into the herd.
The demons had to obey Jesus, and when they entered the swine they caused the whole herd to run down the hill into the sea where they drowned.
When word of what Jesus did in healing the two demon possessed men reached Gadara, Scripture tells us the “whole city” came out to meet Him.
But upon seeing Jesus what did they do?
Did they invite Him into the city joyfully like the people of Capernaum did? Did they glorify God like the people of Capernaum had? No!
St. Matthew 8:34 states “…they besought him, that he would depart out of their coasts.”
In other words, they told Jesus “Get out! We don’t want you here!”
Reading this today, as those who believe in Jesus, we think “How could the Gadarenes do that? How could they kick Jesus out of town?”
But should we really be surprised?
In our nation, and even in some parts of the Church, people are saying the very same thing “What have we to do with thee you Jesus! Get out!”
Why is this?
In St. Luke’s account of this miracle, chapter 8, we are told the Gadarenes told Jesus to leave because “ …they were taken with great fear.”
What did they fear? I guess it’s possible they feared Jesus’ power, and thought He might use it to harm them? That’s possible.
What is more likely though is they were afraid Jesus would exorcise their demons too, and they did not want to let go of them!
Think of it…Gadarenes were Jews and yet they were raising swine!
In Deuteronomy 14:8 God told Israel they were not to eat or touch swine.
Yet here the Gadarenes were raising them.
The raising of swine, and Jesus sending the demons into them to their death, is a symbol of what He desired to do for all the people of Gadara.
He wanted to cast their sinfulness out of them.
He wanted to forgive and heal them, as He would do in Capernaum.
But the Gadarenes did not want that! They wanted to keep their sins (like they wanted to keep raising their swine), and told Jesus “Go away!”
An ever increasing number of people think the way the Gadarenes did.
They want to keep raising swine; keep doing what God’s Word says all men and women are not to do. They want to keep their sins!
2 Timothy 3:1-5 states “This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves (selfie culture), covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, Without natural affection (same-sex attraction), trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, Traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof:”
Now I’m not saying we are in the “last days.”But we are seeing these very sins increase in our country right before our eyes! And churches, the ones that “a have a form of godliness” are complicit in it.
Those who perpetrate, perpetuate and enable such sins are saying:
“What have we to do with thee Jesus? We know that you can heal us of our sins, but we don’t want you to! Get out! Leave us alone! Go away!
As Jesus did in Gadara, He is seemingly doing today.
At their behest Jesus is leaving; leaving those who want to sin, to live in their sins. He won’t force us to repent, believe, be healed and be saved.
Don’t misunderstand. Jesus graciously offers forgiveness to EVERYONE (St. John 3:16, 17)
He desires it. He died for it. But He won’t force it.
The question that begs to be answered then is this…What about us?
Are we citizens of Capernaum or citizens of Gadara?
Do we receive Jesus with great joy? Do we rejoice in the forgiveness and healing we see Him bringing to others; to their sins and other ailments? Do we follow after Him and plead with Him to forgive and heal us too?
Or do we reject Jesus because we want to keep our swine, keep our sins?
Maybe not all of them, but some or even one of them?
Do we want Jesus to leave us, leave us alone with our sins because our desire for them is greater than our desire for Him?
Brethren we see an astonishingly increasing number of people around us who want to live like the Gadarenes.
People who want to keep doing what God’s Word plainly says is sinful.
People who do not want Jesus to forgive and heal them.
People who are telling Jesus to leave them alone. What about us? My hope is we are saying…
“Welcome to Capernaum Lord Jesus!” Amen.
St. Michael and All Angels (2018)
(St. Matthew 18:1-10, Revelation 12:7-12)
“Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought his angels, and prevailed not.”
Angelology, the study of angels, is not something the Church addresses on a regular basis throughout the year.
Were it not for this feast day there would be no natural place to work a sermon on angels into the lectionary of the Prayer Book (though the Missal provides several other feasts for angels).
Not that there is a need to become experts in angelology, but since there are many myths and much lore about them in our day, it is important that we have a basic, Scriptural and orthodox understanding of them.
There are two verses in the Epistle to the Hebrews which form “book ends” for teaching us the ministry and witness of the angels.
The first verse is Hebrews 1:14, where Scripture teaches “Are (the angels) not all ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be the heirs of salvation?”
The first part of the angelic ministry is to minister to Christians, the heirs of salvation.” Specifically this is all who have been baptized into Christ.
Of course those whom God has marked for salvation but have not yet been converted and baptized are also included as “heirs of salvation,” God knowing those who are His.
Many of the Fathers of the Church taught every child is given a Guardian Angel from the moment of their conception. I believe they are right.
In the concluding verse of the Gospel lesson Jesus says: “take heed that ye despise not these little ones; for I say unto you, That in heaven their angels so behold the face of my father which is in heaven.” The Greek word for “little ones” is micros, which means small or infantile.
Here Jesus is certainly speaking of all who in His day were circumcised and in our day are baptized, and may be speaking of all babies in general.
The point is adult conversion and faith are not prerequisites for receiving the angelic ministry.
In God’s eternal providence, angels are sent by Him to guide and protect the heirs of salvation from spiritual and physical harm.
In the New Testament we are given an example of this ministry in Acts 12:6-10 when St. Peter was freed from prison by an angel.
In the OT there are several examples of this ministry. One of them is found in Daniel 6 where Daniel was saved from death in the lion’s den by an angel.
In v. 22 Daniel testifies to Darius the king: “My God hath sent his angel to shut the lion’s mouths, that they have not hurt me.”
There are other examples of angelic ministry in Scripture, and in each of them we find the angels doing the same thing; they minister to God’s heirs of salvation by ministering to their need, whatever it may be.
Ministering to the heirs of salvation is the primary work and purpose of the angels, but there is a second part too. Hebrews 13:1, 2, teaches their ministry provides us with the opportunity to follow the angelic example and serve the needs of others.
Those verses state: “Let brotherly love continue. Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.”
God sends His angels to us so we can minister to them!
Of course we likely will not know with any surety when we have ministered to an angel, but the testimony of Scripture is we can.
Does this mean angels can take a human form? Yes, it does.
We know this is true from Genesis 19 where two angels were sent by God to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah. (Abraham’s nephew) Lot took them into his home and fed them.
Genesis 19:5 states the men of Sodom believed those angels were human and tried to storm Lot’s house to commit the sin of sodomy with them. Lot held the men of Sodom at bay until the angels smote them with blindness.
Scripture does not say explicitly why God sends angels for us to minister to unawares, but it is reasonable to say He does so in order to test our faithfulness and obedience to His Word.
In Galatians 6:9, 10 St. Paul exhorts, “And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap if we faint not. As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good to all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith.”
Of course God may not give us the opportunity to do good to an angelic visitor posing as a person, but the very fact Scripture says He sends them to us for that reason provides additional motivation for us to serve everyone we can, especially fellow heirs of salvation; our sisters and brothers in Christ.
We never know when the stranger God gives us opportunity to minister to may be an angelic visitor sent to us to test our faithfulness.
What a blessed opportunity God gives us to imitate the ministry of His angels as we meet the needs of others. We can read a wonderful example of that blessing in the Apocryphal Book of Tobit.
The purpose and work of the angels can then be summed up in two words: “ministry” and “service.”
As heirs of salvation by Holy Baptism and faith, we need to look for opportunities to emulate the purpose and work of the angels.
Certainly we shouldn’t pass any opportunities by.
Angels have been sent by God to minister and serve us, as well as to give us the opportunity to imitate them and minister and serve others.
Though their work on God’s behalf goes beyond this (as we heard in Revelation this morning), for us who have been created “a little lower” than the angels, but will one day judge them, this is the part of their ministry we can best emulate as we await the fulfillment of the Kingdom.
May God grant us the grace, wisdom and courage to imitate the angels.
And may He send us His angels to give us aid in our times of need. Amen.
Trinity Seventeen (2018)
“I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called…”
Today’s Epistle has a number of parallels between it and 1 Thessalonians, which we are currently reading in Morning Prayer. Maybe you’ve seen them too?
In the Epistle, St. Paul is exhorting the Ephesians to walk worthy of their “vocation.” In Greek this word is klesis. It means “calling” or more specifically their “divine invitation to embrace salvation”.
In 1 Thessalonians, St. Paul is commending the Thessalonians for doing that very thing.
1 Thessalonians 1:6, 7 states “And ye became followers of us, and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Ghost: So that ye were ensamples to all that believe in Macedonia and Achaia (A hi ya).”
St. Paul wrote this Epistle from Athens, which is over 300 miles from Thessalonika. From that distance he was hearing how faithful they were being to their calling in Christ.
In verses 8 and 9 he continues to boast “For from you sounded out the word of the Lord not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place your faith to God-ward is spread abroad; so that we need not to speak any thing…how ye turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God;” What a powerful witness the Thessalonians gave!
They were living in the often obscene decadence of Greco-Roman society. Adultery, fornication and same-sex activity (particularly between men and boys) was openly accepted, especially in certain social circles.
They were idolaters of the worst sort; giving homage to all sorts of images and idols, and erecting temples to worship them.
And yet the Thessalonian Christians turned away from all of it and followed Christ, even though it often meant being cut off from society. They were ostracized. Pagan neighbors would no longer accept them or purchase their goods or wares.
And not only did the Thessalonians convert; they weren’t timid. They trusted God would protect and prosper them as He willed.
What then does walking worthy of our vocation look like?
In the Epistle St. Paul says walking worthy is living “with all lowliness and meekness.” The word “meek” gets a bad rap these days. Often people mistake it as a synonym for “weak.” That is so untrue!
Jesus was the meekest man to walk this earth. He is eternal God, and yet He chose to humble Himself and was made man.
The Creator became one of His own creatures! That is lowliness.
Moreover, all power and authority in heaven and in earth has been given to Him. He could have crushed His enemies with a single word, yet He did not.
That is meekness; having authority and power yet keeping restraint.
St. Matthew 12:20 says Jesus “…shall not strive, nor cry; neither shall any man hear his voice in the streets. A bruised reed shall he not break, and smoking flax shall he not quench, till he send forth judgment unto victory.”
For you and I meekness is knowing we have God’s grace working within us and that by it we are being saved, and yet not becoming haughty or loose about it. It means not putting others down who do not have faith in Christ and sharing that faith with them in word and deed. Further it means not abusing the grace we are given by being careless about sin.
In doing this, we walk worthy of our vocation in Christ.
St. Paul goes on to say we fulfill our calling when we walk “…with long-suffering, forbearing one another in love; endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit and the bond of peace.”
As Christians we know that true love, is Christ-like love. It is agape.
1 Corinthians 13:4-8 defines this love in detail. We are told “Charity suffereth long and is kind.” “…it Beareth all things…and endureth all things…” Here again, let us think of the ministry of Jesus.
How patient He was with the religious leaders who (as we are seeing in our study of St. Mark) tried to trip Him up time and again. How patient He was with the common people who were looking for a very different kind of Messiah. How patient He was with His own disciples and the Apostles, who despite being with Him for three years still didn’t believe as they should’ve.
Seeing His example, how then can any of us lose patience with those we may be praying for or witnessing to? How about fellow parishioners?
No! We must be long suffering. We must bear one another’s faults, ignorance and indiscretions. We must forgive as we have been forgiven.
We must lift one another up when we fall. We must keep love, unity and peace amongst us, and (as much as possible) with all men.
1 Thessalonians 4:9 and 11 states “But as touching brotherly love ye need not that I write unto you: for ye yourselves are taught of God to love one another…And that ye study to be quiet, and to do your own business, and to work with your own hands, as we commanded you;”
In doing this, we walk worthy of our vocation in Christ.
As with much of the Christian faith, doing this is a challenge.
But, it is a challenge we can accomplish. But, not of ourselves.
To walk worthy of our vocation we need grace. We need God’s unmerited favor in Christ working with us, in us and through us.
But the great news is we have it! We have the grace we need!
In the Collect we prayed that God’s grace may always “… (precede) and follow us, and make us continually to be given to all good works.”
Brethren, we have this grace!
In Holy Baptism we were given “preceding grace”; that grace that goes before us at all times and in all places.
In the Holy Eucharist we are given “sustaining grace”; that grace that follows us and strengthens us day by day and moment by moment as we are challenged with sin.
As we live by faith in Jesus Christ, that grace manifests itself in a walk worthy of the calling we have been given in Christ Jesus.
We need to take hold of that grace each day and live by faith in Jesus.
As Romans 1:17 states “…The just shall live by faith.”
Brethren may we, like the Thessalonians, walk worthy of the vocation to which we have been called.
May we become followers of the Thessalonians who followed St. Paul, who followed Christ and live in lowliness, meekness, love, unity and peace.
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Ghost be with us all.
Trinity Sixteen (2018)
(Ephesians 3:13-21, St. Luke 7:11-17)
“For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ…”
Whether we realize it or not. Whether we are willing to acknowledge it or not. We are in the midst of a war. A spiritual war. A war for souls.
It is a war for own soul. It is a war for the souls of our children and grandchildren. It is a war for the souls of our friends and neighbors. It is a war for the soul of the Church herself!
This war has two fronts. The first front is the war within ourselves; the war between our flesh and our spirit. We learned about this front two Sunday’s ago.
The second front is the war Satan is waging against the Church and for the souls of all men.
In Revelation 13:7 we are told that between Christ’s Ascension and His return, Satan is given the opportunity “…to make war with the saints, and to overcome them: and power was given him over all kindreds, and tongues, and nations.”
Being that we are in a war, a war we cannot escape for it surrounds us and takes place within us, we must fight. Fighting takes weapons.
What weapons are we to use to fight this war?
They are not earthly power. They are not guns, politics or money.
This past Monday we read in Morning Prayer (2 Corinthians 10:3-5)
“For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh: (For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds;) Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ;”
Though this war manifests itself in the flesh, in society, in governments and institutions, in the Church even, ultimately the war is spiritual. And because the warfare is spiritual, the weapons we must use to fight it must be spiritual too. Spiritual weapons for a spiritual war. Weapons given to us by God.
St. Paul lists the weapons we are to use in Ephesians 6:10-18.
In verses 10-12 he writes “Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might. Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of 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.”
After telling us who our enemies are, St. Paul then lists the weapons we are to use to fight against them: truth, righteousness, the gospel of peace, faith, the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit; the Word of God.
Each of these is a powerful, spiritual weapon. We need to learn how to use them properly and then wield them bravely.
There is though one other weapon (a very powerful weapon) St. Paul lists in that passage. It is a weapon we can wield every day, at any time day or night. That weapon is prayer.
In Ephesians 6:18 he states “Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints;”
Throughout Scripture we learn just how powerful prayer is.
Here are two well known examples:
In Gethsemane, on the night of His passion, St. Matthew 26:39 states Jesus “…fell on his face, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt.”
All of Satan’s power was unleashed upon Jesus. The only way His human nature and fleshly body could withstand that attack was by prayer.
Here is another.
St. Peter had been put in prison by Herod. He had just martyred St. James and St. Peter would be next.
Acts 12:5 tells us “Peter therefore was kept in prison: but prayer was made without ceasing [by] the church unto God for him.”
We know what happened next… St. Peter was freed by an angel! The prayers of the Church delivered him from Herod’s treachery.
Two instances of the very powerful, spiritual weapon of prayer.
Jesus wielded it for Himself, and the Church wielded it for St. Peter.
Both were answered, and Satan, working through the evil of man, was defeated.
Prayer is one of the most powerful weapons Jesus has given us.
But we must know how to wield it and then wield it properly.
We must pray for the right things.
1 John 5:14 states “And this is the confidence that we have in him, that, if we ask any thing according to his will, he heareth us:”
So then what sort of things are we to pray for?
In the Epistle St. Paul teaches us four important things to pray for:
- For our spirits to be strengthened by the Holy Spirit.
- That Christ may dwell in our hearts by faith.
- That we would comprehend how broad, how deep, how long and how high Christ’s love for us is.
- That we might be filled with all the fullness of God.
This prayer is both one St. Paul prayed for the Ephesians and a model for prayer that we should use today.
We are to pray it for ourselves, for all whom we love, and for the Church.
As we do, as we wield this spiritual weapon bravely, we will wield it powerfully and properly.
On paper (or in hearing it) this all seems pretty simple. And it is.
But we have to do it! We, as Jesus did, must fall on our face and pray this for our self. We, as the Christians in Jerusalem did for St. Peter, must pray without ceasing for those whom we love and for the Church.
Brethren, if we are to have victory in this two front war we need to pray!
We must learn how if need be. The stakes are too high not to.
Jesus teaches us how; in the Lord’s Prayer and by His example recorded in the Gospels.
The Apostles teach us by example in Acts and throughout the Epistles.
What we must do is learn, know and follow those examples and become men and women of prayer.
Prayer is a very powerful, spiritual weapon; one of the most powerful weapons God has given to us.
We need to wield it by faith in Jesus and in accord with Scripture.
It is our best hope for winning the very real war for souls. Amen.
Trinity Fifteen (2018)
(Galatians 6:11-18, St. Matthew 6:24-34)
“But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ…”
What are we glorying in for salvation?
The word “glory” here means “boast;” what we have confidence in.
St. Paul is saying “But God forbid that I should boast in anything for salvation, except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ…”
What are we boasting in?
As we are starting to learn in our Thursday study of this epistle, some of the Galatians were boasting in their Judaism.
They were boasting in the fact they were sons and daughters of Abraham.
They were boasting (at least the males) that they were circumcised.
They were boasting they continued to keep the Temple sacrifices.
They were boasting in their observance of the ceremonial Law.
St. Paul tells them directly they are wrong in doing this! Very wrong!
He had been a Jew of all Jews, and found that it could not save him.
In Galatians 1:13, 14 he had told them “For ye have heard of my [manner of life] in time past in the Jews’ religion, how that beyond measure I… profited… above many my equals in mine own nation, being more exceedingly zealous of the traditions of my fathers.”
This prompted him to go on to say (in Galatians 3:1) “O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you?” In other words, who has led you astray?
That was the Galatians. What about us? What are we boasting in?
That we have been baptized?
That we’ve been confirmed?
That we go to Sunday mass, at least most of the time, and of course on Christmas and Easter?
That we are “good people” who do not break the Ten Commandments?
That we are pious Catholics?
If we are going to boast in anything, then like the Galatians we must boast in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ!
Any other boasting than this is futile; deadly even.
We cannot fall into the trap that God saves people outside of the cross; outside of faith in the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ.
We cannot think we will be saved because we are Anglican Catholics.
We cannot think some will be saved because they are “spiritual.”
Both are lies from Satan!
St. Paul warned the Galatians about falling into the trap of believing that “another gospel,” a false gospel, a cross-less gospel can save them.
The Galatians’ false gospel was mixing Judaism into Christianity.
Today the false gospel has two forms: “I can be saved by being spiritual” false gospel and the “I can be saved by being religious” false gospel.
The former believes Jesus was a great teacher whose death was tragic, but not the means of salvation.
The latter believes salvation can be had by the mere practice of religion.
Both of these false gospels essentially believe the same thing…”I don’t need the cross to be saved.”
Both are deadly to the soul.
St. Paul describes all false gospels well in 1 Timothy 3:5: They “[Have] a form of godliness, but [deny] the power thereof:”
To which the Apostle adds: “from such turn away.”
We must turn away from any and all forms of false gospels!
We must never have confidence that anything is saving us except faith, given to us by grace, in the passion, death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. In the cross alone can we glory!
This morning’s Gospel lesson begins with these words from Jesus “No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other.”
In St. James 1:8 we are told “A double minded man is unstable in all his ways.”
In 1 Kings 18:21 Elijah asked the people of Israel “How long halt ye between two opinions? If the Lord be God, follow Him: but if Baal (a false god, a false gospel), then follow him.”
Each of these exhortations applies here.
We, each of us, must decide.
Are we going to rely solely upon the cross; upon faith in Jesus Christ crucified, dead and buried, and risen again, for our salvation?
Or, are we going to rely on some other gospel? A false gospel?
The choice is truly ours.
We have been given the grace to make the right choice.
But we have also been given free will to make another choice.
We must choose wisely. Our eternal destiny is at stake.
If, as I believe each of us do and will, glory only in the cross of Christ for our salvation, then we must understand something very specific.
Glorying in the cross means having the world crucified unto us, and us unto the world. In other words, we must die to the ways of the world and live unto Jesus Christ; the Way, the Truth and the Life…exclusively!
In Galatians 2:20 St. Paul states “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.”
If we are to glory in the cross, then we must become crucified with Christ.
If we are to glory in the cross we must be dying to ourselves and to the world, and living for Christ and the building up of His Church.
There can only be one Master, one mind, one opinion!
At times we will falter, yes. But we can never give up or give in.
We must, by grace (always by grace) strive to live “in Christ.”
Only then do we have the assurance of salvation.
As I conclude, I ask us each again: What are we glorying in for salvation?
God forbid that it is anything other than the cross; other than the passion, death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ! Amen.
Trinity Fourteen (2018)
“And they that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts.”
Within the life of a Christian there is a dichotomy of natures.
The first nature is the old nature.
This is the nature we inherit from Adam; the nature we are born with from our mother’s womb.
In the Epistle St. Paul calls this nature “the flesh.”
The second nature is the new nature.
This is the nature we inherit from Christ; the nature we are born again into when we pass through the waters of Holy Baptism.
In the Epistle St. Paul calls this nature “the Spirit.”
These two natures co-exist side by side within each Christian. But, while they co-exist, they do not co-operate. In fact quite the opposite is true.
From the moment God regenerates us by His Holy Spirit in Baptism, these two natures war against one another to gain control over our lives.
In the Epistle St. Paul describes this ongoing war after this manner:
“For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would.”
This is quite a quandary we find ourselves in, isn’t it? We are in the midst of a spiritual war, the outcome of which will determine our eternal destiny.
It is a war we cannot ignore. No Christian can escape it.
In fact, if we do not sense this war going on within us, we should be greatly concerned! It could mean the flesh is winning, dulling our senses to sin and leading us to fall out of the state of grace.
If then we cannot escape this spiritual war, how are we to fight it?
How can our spirit gain consistent victory over our flesh within our lives?
In the Epistle St. Paul provides the answer: “I say then, walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh.”
Every day of our life we must, by an act of our will aided by sacramental grace, live in the way the Holy Spirit of God, according to the Holy Word of God, has called us to live. We must “…walk in the Spirit.”
This is more easily said than done.
Without making any excuses, when it comes to this spiritual war we may be living in the most difficult era in the Church’s history.
Not that there is something new under the sun in the way of sin, for the sins the Epistle lists have been around for many years.
In every era of the Church’s history God’s people have had to face the soul threatening challenges of these sins, and by His grace overcome them.
There is though one important difference in this era compared to others.
Because of technological advances (many of which are very beneficial) there is an ever-increasing number of ways God’s people are attacked and the flesh enticed.
In times past people had to go to the “shady side of town” to see what we can see in our own living rooms!
With cable and satellite television, and the internet in every home and on phones, the “shady side of town” can now come to us.
Our Lord taught that the eyes are the windows of the soul.
What we view with our eyes, we begin to desire with our hearts.
Satan knows this too, and so every day we are bombarded with his “pro-sin” message, and we don’t even have to leave our homes to see it!
Adding to what the world throws at us is the increase in churches that compromise with the ways of the world.
Many of them teach and / or believe that no transformation of life is necessary in order to be “a Christian.”
This sort of “come as you are, remain as you are” religion is not Christian!
True, God graciously receives us as we are. His forgiveness is real!
But once received, He then demands we use that grace to change from what we have been in the flesh to who He calls us in Christ to be in the Spirit.
We are to “…go and sin no more.”, as Jesus told the woman caught in adultery in St. John 8.
The Church’s duty is to utilize the power of the Spirit, working in her by the Word and the Sacraments, to teach people to walk in the Spirit and defeat the flesh!
As you can see then, in this war between the spirit and the flesh it very much seems as if the proverbial deck is stacked against us.
The world is on the side of the flesh, a number of churches are now on the side of the flesh, and our own flesh is on the side of the flesh!
And yet while this is true, the strategy for victory remains the same: “…walk in the Spirit!”
The powerful grace of God, won for the Church by our Lord on the Cross, working within our spirits, is far greater than power of the flesh!
But…but, we must walk in it.
We must live in the state of grace God has birthed us into by Baptism.
We must take hold of the grace God gives us in the Eucharist and through prayer, and put it to use.
We must seek wisdom and knowledge through the study of Scripture and Catholic tradition, to know who Christ is, who we are in Him, and the means He has provided for us to defeat the flesh.
And, we must not do those things that entice our flesh to sin (and we all know what they are for us individually).
As we walk, as we live, this way, we will build up the fruit of the Spirit within our spirits and defeat the works of the flesh.
My brethren, plainly put walking in the Spirit means two things:
First, it means taking hold of grace and doing that which his godly.
Second, it means taking hold of grace and not doing what is sinful.
In Christ you and I can do this.
It will not be easy. We will fail at times. Battles will be lost.
And yet in Christ victory in this spiritual war is ours!
We can mortify the flesh with its affections and lusts, and walk in the Spirit unto everlasting life. Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Trinity Thirteen (2018)
(Galatians 3:16-22, St. Luke 10:23-37)
“Then said Jesus unto Him, Go, and do thou likewise.”
The most important part of our Christian witness, especially to unbelievers and the world in general, are our moral decisions and behavior.
The world hears the verbal testimony of many Christians but then sees many of them (maybe us?) live in a manner that is inconsistent with, or that contradicts that verbal testimony.
Like the lawyer in this morning’s Gospel Lesson who wanted to “justify himself” we (Christians generally) often do what is necessary to appear religious and make ourselves feel like true Christians.
But then we don’t live by the Faith and practice the morals Scripture teaches are necessary to true Christianity; Faith and morality that transform worldly thinking and living into Christian thinking and living.
Religion is part of life, but Christ is not the substance of life.
There is a lot of talk, but little change in thought, word or deed.
In the 17th century Bishop Jeremy Taylor taught: “He that will be pleased in his prayers, must make his prayers his rule (the way he lives): all our duty is there set down, because in all our duty we beg the divine assistance; and remember, that you are bound to do all those duties, for the doing of which you have prayed for the divine assistance.”
In other words, “Lex orandi, lex credendi”, “the law of prayer, is the law of belief.” What we pray for and profess to believe is to mirror what we actually think, say and live. They cannot contradict one another.
If they do, we prove ourselves to be less than who we profess to be.
Like the lawyer in the Gospel, we merely seek to justify ourselves.
So then how do we accomplish being what we believe and profess to be?
We must submit ourselves wholly to the Lord Jesus Christ.
Throughout his Epistle to the Galatians, and also in his Epistle to the Romans St. Paul is most clear that we cannot be saved by keeping the Law; by being “a good person” as we often hear it said.
All who have tried have failed.
We fail for two reasons.
First, the Law was never intended to be the way man achieves righteousness and justification before God.
As the Epistle states, God justified Abraham by faith 430 years before He gave Moses the Law. So justification was never to come by the Law.
The purpose of the Law, as St. Paul so insightfully explains, is to be a “school master” that shows us how sin-filled we are.
In Galatians 3:24 St. Paul states “Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith.”
Once we understand this we are left with no other choice than to flee to Christ by grace and call upon Him by faith if we are to be saved.
The second reason we fail is that we have a sin nature.
While we may not want to visibly break the Ten Commandments; we don’t want to commit murder, adultery or theft, at least not in our deeds (physically, in our actions), we know sin is not only committed in deed.
It is also committed in word. It is also committed in thought.
By self-discipline, unaided by grace, we may be able to keep ourselves from breaking the Law in deed. But we are not able to keep ourselves from breaking it in thought, and likely not in word either.
To keep the Law in deed, in word and in thought we need grace, which is obtained by faith in Jesus Christ. In Christ, the Holy Ghost comes to dwell in us, enabling us to keep the Law, not by its letter, but by its spirit.
The seed promised to Abraham has come. That “seed” is Jesus Christ.
By His full obedience to the Law in thought, word and deed He has become the Mediator and Advocate for all who will call upon Him by faith.
As we submit ourselves to Jesus. As we make Him the object of our obedience, and strive by grace to be His disciples, we fulfill the Law.
If our objective is to please Jesus by living the way He calls His disciples to live, we will keep the Law without any concern for its letter.
Like the driver of a car who abides by the speed limit, not so he won’t be stopped by the police and issued a citation, but because he is focused on being a safe driver; a faithful disciple of Jesus obeys the Law not to avoid being punished by God in eternal hell, but because he or she is focused on pleasing their Master and gaining eternal life by and in Him
As we keep Christ, as we remain His faithful servants, we will find that we will also be keeping the Law; not by its letter, but by its spirit; by the Holy Spirit who dwells in us and gives the “mind of Christ.”
Brethren, let us pray that we would be disciples of Jesus in thought, word and deed.
Not by striving to keep the letter of the Law, but because by grace through faith we strive to keep Christ, to obey His Word and seek to please Him.
Let us not be like the lawyer who wanted to merely justify himself. Instead, let us be true Christians, justified by our faith and good works in Christ.
In so doing our witness will be genuine, as we receive all the blessings that can be obtained by being found in Him. Amen.
Trinity Twelve (2018)
(St. Mark 7:31-37, 2 Corinthians 3:4-9)
“…He hath done all things well:”
From our perspective, over two-thousand years after the fact, the statement I’ve quoted from this morning’s Gospel may sound very obvious.
Already knowing who Jesus is and what He did throughout His earthly ministry, and above all His sacrificial passion and death, the statement “He has done all things well;” sounds elementary.
We think “Well of course Jesus has done all things well; He is the Son of God, the Creator and Savior of the world.”
For us this is obvious, but for those who lived in Judea in the days of our Lord’s earthly ministry; who knew Jesus as a carpenter from Nazareth or a prophet from Galilee, it was not so obvious.
They did not know what we do about who Jesus is, and so for them having to declare “He has done all things well” makes sense.
In our day there are still many people who do not know who Jesus is.
Like the Jews of Jesus’ day they know of Him, something about Him, but they do not know Him. Certainly not the way you and I know Him.
Many of these people were raised in a form of the Christian religion, just as most of the Jews in Jesus’ day were raised in a form of Judaism.
Often their understanding and image of Jesus is faulty. They may have been raised in a church that teaches a false gospel with a false Christ.
Or maybe other Christians in their lives, from when they were young or today, have been inconsistent or poor witnesses for Christ, leaving them with a false impression of who He really is.
Sure, some are looking for excuses to not know and believe in Jesus, but others really have been turned away from Christ by churches and Christians.
This being so, as faithful Christians we have to do what we can to correct this situation.
Our lives need to be thoroughly Christian, and we need to present a witness for Christ that is both true and consistent.
This is what it really means to be an evangelical Christian.
The term “evangelical Christian” is really redundant.
All Christians are to be evangelical.
Each of us should live a consistent, truth-filled Christian life.
As St. Paul states in today’s Epistle, God has made us “able ministers of the new testament.”
All who have been baptized, and more so all who have been confirmed and regularly feed upon our Lord’s Body and Blood in the Eucharist, have all they need to be evangelical.
We are capable of living an “evangelical life”; a life that consistently witnesses the truth of Jesus Christ.
Each of us is spiritually equipped to be an able minister of the Good News.
The witness each of gives (the way we witness) differs, but the intent is the same: to let the Spirit use us to bring Christ to men and men to Christ.
Being an “evangelical Christian” should be who we are.
The word “well” in Greek is kalos. It means excellent.
Jesus has done all things excellently.
His life was excellent.
His teachings and miracles were excellent.
His sacrificial passion and death is the excellent (the perfect and the complete) means by which the sins of the world have been taken away.
What about us? Are we doing all things well?
Are we living an excellent Christian life?
If not, then why not? What is holding us back?
The two things that most often hold us back from excellence are: insufficient knowledge of Christ and the practice of sin.
Insufficient knowledge prevents us from knowing Christ, through His Word, well enough that to conform our lives to Him.
How well do we know Jesus ourselves?
There is no way we can be able ministers of the New Testament if our relationship with Christ is not personal, or we lack mature knowledge of His Word because we don’t read it daily and study it consistently.
The practice of sin is an even greater impediment to living an excellent Christian life.
The fact is we all commit acts of sin in our thoughts, words or deeds.
While we should not, and we don’t have to, we do. Our first nature is still so much a part of who we are that we will fall from time to time.
This isn’t something we should approve of or just accept, but it is something we need to be aware of so when it happens we will know to stop, confess, and repent (turn back the right way).
Falling into sin is much different though than practicing sin.
We will never be an excellent Christian if we allow the practice of sin (no matter the form) to take root in our souls and grow in our lives.
St. James reminds us “A double minded man is unstable in all his ways.” Such instability prevents us from becoming an excellent Christian.
So we need to take inventory of our lives on a regular basis.
We should do this daily, and certainly each week before we partake of Jesus’ Body and Blood in the Eucharist.
We then need to confess and turn from any sins we are committing often.
Throughout each day we need strive against sin; never accepting it.
And if we find ourselves caught in a cycle of sin, practicing it, we need to use the grace we’ve been given and fight against it with all our might.
If that is, we want to live an excellent Christian life.
Brethren, Jesus truly has done “all things well.”
He has done all things excellently.
We will never reach His level of excellence, and yet by grace we can strive towards real excellence; strive to grow in our knowledge of Christ and to end the practice of sin.
Let us then, again always by grace, strive to do all things God calls us to do well. Let us be excellent Christians; excellent in and for Christ.
In doing so we will be true and consistent witnesses for Christ and able ministers of the Gospel.
This is as greatly needed today as it was in Jesus’ day.
For there are still many who do not know Jesus the way we do. Amen.
Trinity Eleven 2018
(St. Luke 18:9-14, 1 Corinthians 15:1-11)
“Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received and wherein ye stand; By which ye are saved…”
Our church has its roots in the Anglican heritage, so an important part of our faith and worship is necessarily tied to the traditions of that heritage.
The liturgies we utilize, our emphasis on a Biblical use of the Sacraments, and the pious practices we are encouraged to participate in form an important part of our practice and witness of the Christian Faith.
This being so, and without devaluing them, it must be stated we are not to rely on, or believe that any of them, alone or together can give us salvation.
If the substance of our faith is our religious heritage or our religious practices we will be left dead in our sins; for no one has, or ever will be, justified by their religion alone.
The way by which we are saved is belief in the Gospel; the finished work of Christ on the Cross and His Resurrection from the dead!
In this morning’s Gospel our Lord tells of two men who went into the Temple in Jerusalem to pray.
The first was a “religious man,” a Pharisee, who thought his religious heritage would save him.
He thought: “I’m a son of Abraham, I have been circumcised and observe the Passover. As long as I continue to go to the Temple on the appointed days and keep the external demands of the Law I’ll be okay. I am justified.”
How wrong he was!
Jesus tells us it was the second man, a publican, “a sinner,” a man who did not trust his religious heritage or his own works, but rather trusted God’s grace and believed in His mercy; he is the one who whom God justified.
The testimony St. Paul gives us in 1 Corinthians 15:1, 2 is in perfect accord with what Jesus teaches in the parable.
In essence St. Paul says: “I have preached the Gospel to you and you have received it and stand upon it by faith. And if you keep it in your memory; in your heart, soul, mind and strength, it will save you.”
By grace, the initial measure of which is given in Holy Baptism, we are lead to believe the Gospel and build a true and living faith.
By that true and living faith our salvation is made real and sure.
Since belief in the Gospel is the key to salvation it is very important for us to know exactly what it is, for today there are many false gospels out there.
In 1 Corinthians 15:3-9 St. Paul provides four of the essential points of the Gospel that we must be believe to be saved:
- That Christ died for my sins. (He is a personal Savior)
- That He was buried and rose again on the third day.
- That He was seen alive by credible, faithful witnesses.
- And that all of this is in accord with Sacred Scripture.
This is what we must believe, confess and keep continuously within their hearts (“in memory” as St. Paul states it) in order to be saved.
This is the means by which God accounts us righteous in Christ.
The traditions of our religion and the piety we practice, no matter how much they help frame and aid us in our understanding of the Faith (and they help a lot), can never alter the fact it is the Gospel, it is the finished work of Jesus Christ, that saves us!
The moment we begin to rely on our religious actions and piety to save us.
The moment those actions become means in themselves instead of, as they are meant to be, a means to an end.
That is the moment we become self-righteous and Christ’s righteousness is of no effect for us.
The whole work of salvation then from first to last is of God.
It is “from faith to faith…” as St. Paul writes in Romans 1:17.
Jesus has done the “works” of the Gospel, each of which is recorded in Sacred Scripture.
In Holy Baptism He infuses those works in our souls, giving us ears to hear and understand Scripture so we can believe and confess Christ by faith.
In Confirmation the Spirit seals those works upon us.
In the Eucharist those works are strengthened in us unto everlasting life.
These means are God’s instruments to place us, and keep us, in the state of grace and justification, but we must receive and cooperate with them by faith.
We can’t be like the Pharisee in Jesus’ parable thinking “I’m a Christian. I’ve been baptized and confirmed, I receive the Eucharist. As long as I go to church (at least most of the time) and keep the Ten Commandments (at least on the outside) I’ll be okay. I’m justified.”
That is a dangerously wrong way to think.
Yes, we should practice our religion, but we must first and foremost believe the Gospel; believe upon Christ by faith, to be saved.
Romans 3:26 states God sent His Son to declare He is just, and the justifier of all those who believe in Jesus.
My brethren, we are very blessed to be Anglican Catholics.
Our traditions are so rich.
Our liturgies are unsurpassed in their ability to worship God in spirit and truth, with decency and order, and in the beauty of holiness.
Our doctrine and use of the Sacraments are evangelical and Biblically sound.
But let one thing be and remain clearly understood.
All that is traditional and beautiful in the our church’s practices, and as good as they are and as much as we should revere them, they must forever be secondary and subject to the substance of the Gospel and the finished, saving work of Jesus as they are inerrantly declared in Sacred Scripture.
For it is by Christ, through belief in the Gospel of Christ by faith, we are saved. Amen.
(St. Luke 9:28-36, 2 Peter 1:13-18)
“For we have not followed cunningly devised fables, when we made known unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Within our collective Christian experience it’s likely we’ve each had moments when we’ve felt the particular presence of God moving within our spirit in a manner that can only be described as being beyond the norm.
Those experiences may have been emotionally exhilarating, or they may have been a time of intense calm and peace.
Either way, some time in our lives we have likely known God’s presence in a way that was more powerful or intimate than usual.
As powerful or intimate as those moments were, I would think they still pale in comparison to what SS. Peter, James and John experienced when they saw Jesus transfigured.
In the Gospel we are told “…the fashion of (Jesus’) countenance was altered, and his raiment was white and glistering.”
Picture that for a moment.
Right before their very eyes the constitution of Jesus’ body changed, as His eternal, divine glory, showed through the veil of His human flesh.
As if that was not enough, Moses and Elijah appeared with Jesus and talked with Him about His pending passion and death.
And if that was not enough, once Moses and Elijah had departed from view, the glory cloud, the shekinah as it is called in Hebrew, enveloped them and the apostles heard the Voice of the Father Himself call out from it “This is my beloved Son; hear Him!”
I think we have to admit that was one incredible experience!
One which we likely will not even approach having until the day we see the Lord face to face for ourselves.
And yet as tremendous an experience as it was, note that when
St. Peter recounts it for us in today’s Epistle he puts it into perspective.
He does not deny the event was awesome.
But then in v. 19 (the lesson ends at v. 18) he puts it into perspective when he states: “We also have a more-sure (a confirmed) word of prophecy, whereunto ye do well that ye take heed.”
St. Peter is in effect saying, “Yes, the experience I had when I saw the Lord transfigured before my eyes was real and awesome.
And yet there is something even more-sure upon which I rest my faith, and you should rest yours…The more-sure Word of Sacred Scripture!”
The written Word of God, as it has been preserved, interpreted, preached and taught by the Church Catholic throughout the ages is to be the foundation and substance of our faith, and the place where we and every generation is to turn to assuredly hear the very Voice of God.
The backbone of Anglican Catholicism is our emphasis on the primacy of Sacred Scripture in teaching the Faith.
While the extraordinary experiences God sprinkles within our lives are not to be rejected outright; for they often aid us in our faith, they must be tested by something more-sure than our emotions, by something more-sure than the experience itself.
They must be tested by the stable surety of Scripture.
In the 4th century, St. Cyril of Jerusalem wrote: “Let us assert of the Holy Spirit only what is written. Let us not busy ourselves about what is not written. The Holy Spirit has authored the Scriptures. He has spoken of himself all he wished, or all that we could grasp. Let us confine ourselves to what he has said, for it is reckless to do otherwise.”
God our Father, through the Holy Spirit, has given us the written Word to hear with surety the voice of the Incarnate Word, Jesus Christ; the One with whom He is well pleased and sent into the world to save us from our sins.
By this Word, by God’s Word, our faith must be confirmed.
While this is what God Himself, in His own Word, commands His people to do, we know that in our day many do not listen and obey.
In our day, maybe more than at any other time in Church’s history, experience and emotion are thought to be equal, if not a superior rule for faith and practice.
Many look to their subjective emotions, experiences and interpretations to find their own version of “truth” and use them to form what they believe.
In almost every other area of life we know that our emotions often deceive, and that our perspective on an experience changes over time, so much so that we would not want to make any important decision based upon them.
Yet many people determine their eternal destiny before God based upon their experiences and emotions instead of upon the stable, unchanging rock of the more sure Word.
They turn the process around, confirming the Word by their experiences instead of confirming their experiences by the Word.
We must be careful to not fall prey to anything like this for it can lead to error, apostasy or heresy.
Instead, our faith must be based and built upon the sure foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone.
It must be based and built firmly upon the Word of God.
It would be wrong to just disregard what the apostles received in their vision on the mountain, or those experiences God has given us in our lives.
God has a purpose for those moments and we should not “quench the Spirit” when they come.
But St. Peter teaches us that Christians are to read, hear and believe Sacred Scripture over and above every spiritual experience we have.
We must be careful to not follow “cunningly devised fables.”
Instead we are to do as St. Paul exhorts us to do in 1 Thessalonians 5:21 “Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.”
The standard for proving all things of and from God is the Scriptures.
When we obey this inspired command, we can be sure we will be hearing God’s voice, and in doing so confirm that our faith is genuine and acceptable to Him.
My brethren, God has given us His more sure Word.
Let us listen to the Father’s command to hear and obey it over all things.
For in doing so we will know we are truly following the Saviour in the way of salvation He has made for us. Amen.
Trinity Nine (2018)
(St. Luke 15:11-32)
“Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee, and am no more worthy to be called thy son:”
Who is the “Prodigal Son?”
I am. And so are you.
At some time in life, every baptized person is a prodigal son / a prodigal daughter. Let me explain…
Most often this parable is used to teach about a “big falling away,” the kind of sin that needs a major conversion; a crisis conversion, to rectify.
That application is the most plain, but there are others.
Unlike some other parables, Jesus does not give an explanation for this one, and therefore we have latitude in understanding and applying it to our lives.
Let us then see how the lesson of this parable applies more broadly.
Like the Prodigal Son in Jesus’ parable each of us has sinned.
We may not have wasted all of our substance, but we’ve wasted some of it.
That’s what sin is. It’s wasting the grace the Father gives us in Christ.
St. Ambrose said our “substance” is the image of God that dwells within.
In Romans 3:23 we are reminded “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.”
1 John 1:8 states “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.”
And in 1 Peter 2:25 we are told “For ye were as sheep going astray; but are now returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls.”
Because each of us sins, each of us is a prodigal.
Each of us has turned away, and turns away.
Let us take a moment to reflect upon what we have thought, said and done with our lives in the past 24 hours.
And then let us compare this to what we know Scripture teaches us we should have thought, said and done with our lives over that period.
Let’s take that moment now……
This is something we should do every day of our lives when we pray.
Take time to examine our conscience, asking the Holy Spirit to show us the ways we have sinned in thought, word or deed.
We should also do this before mass. We should get here early enough to sit quietly in the pew and prepare ourselves to receive the Holy Eucharist.
This way when we say the General Confession during mass we will be well aware of what we are confessing.
Now, having taken that moment to compare what we have done to what we know we should have done, how are we not prodigals?
St. James 4:17 states “Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin.”
If we know (and we do) the way we are to live in order to be faithful Christians, but don’t do it, then we too have sinned against heaven and in God’s sight.
And if we sin against heaven and in God’s sight then the evidence seems pretty clear. I am a prodigal son!
Brethren, peace be with you. Yes, we sin daily in thought, word and deed and therefore are, in a true sense, prodigals.
But God has provided the means for our forgiveness and restoration.
1 John 1:9 states “If we confess our sins, (God) is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
We have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ, and in Him we have the forgiveness of our sins!
We need to do like the Prodigal Son in the parable did.
We need to look into our soul and “come to ourselves.”
And then we, again like the Prodigal Son, must go to our Father and tell Him we have sinned.
We need to acknowledge what we know to be true.
We need to “…humbly confess our sins unto Almighty God” (BCP pg. 6)
We must do this daily.
In fact we should do it more often than that!
As soon as we recognize that what we are thinking, saying or doing is not in accord with God’s Word, we need to do three things:
First, stop! Immediately. Not “later” or “next time.”
Stop thinking, saying or doing whatever the sinful thing is!
It’s the Spirit who shows us we are sinning, so we know we can.
Second, we need to arise and turn from that sin.
We need to walk away from the situation, leave the room or the place, turn off the show or the song, end the conversation, begin a new thought.
Third, we need to go to our Father.
We need to tell Him what we have done and ask Him to forgive us.
We should do this as soon as we can; immediately if we can.
When we do these three sincerely, and with urgency and conviction; we have absolute surety the Father hears us and forgives us.
And if we don’t catch ourselves, or do not stop ourselves in the moment, then we need to be sure to examine ourselves daily, go to our Father in prayer, and make a thorough confession to Him.
We don’t have to have a “big falling away” to be prodigals.
Daily sin can have the same effect.
We don’t have to remain prodigals either.
God has given us the grace to be faithful.
In Holy Baptism, in the Holy Eucharist and in prayer grace is given.
We must take hold of it and use it.
Use it to examine ourselves before God in accord with His Word.
Use it to go to the Father and confess.
Use it to accept His forgiveness and strive to sin-less in the future.
Like the father in the parable, our Father in heaven is willing to; He wants to, show us compassion. He wants to forgive us!
He wants to restore us to the full privileges we have in Christ.
But He won’t make us.
He leaves that decision up to us. Amen.